Jamie Oliver is fired up about making a difference – TED

We are fired up this week.

Jamie Oliver (British celebrity chef who is gaining ground in the US) spoke at TED this week.  He passionately describes his mission to change how we eat and how our children do.

Set aside the 20 minutes to watch this video, it`s worth every moment.  If you do, we`d love to get a discussion going in the comments section below.  Jamie Oliver is fired up about making a difference   TED February

Dehydrated Onions and Carrots

The dehydrator was out and we had a counter full of onions and carrots.  I almost passed them by justifying that they were one of few foods I can buy local and fresh (though not nearly as good as the moment they come from the ground) throughout the year.  I also associate them with the hard chunks I have received in homemade instant soup recipes – the kind that you add water, an oxo cube and transform a jar of pebbles into nourishment.

Then again, the carrots and onions were there.  I have eaten dehydrated versions of them my entire life (not in great quantity, mind you) and I like the idea of learning more about what you eat by cooking it at least once (something I`ve wanted to extend to the world of cheese for some time).

Dehydrated Onions and Carrots Preserving Recipes Onion February Carrot [Read more...]

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet – Solutions for Healthy and Affordable Eating

We started this series of posts in response to many things – an undeniable motivator (as previously shared) was the focus on poverty and eating well and a particular scene in Food, Inc which spoke to the cost of good food vs. `filler`.

Michael Pollan shares that the cost of food on the outside of a store is dramatically more expensive than the inner aisles (see his 2007 article here).   The article is a must-read and it`s fascinating food for thought to consider that a dollar yields 250 calories of carrots compared to 1,200 calories of potato chips.  I find Pollans` writing fascinating and thought provoking.  I also find it deeply troubling.

As our $6 dinner for 4 people roasts in the oven, I find myself deep in reflection.

According to Discover Magazine (here),  15-35% of North American food spoils in the field while 10-15% is lost in transport.

The Farmer`s I speak with (regularly), feel that the argument for cheaper food is dangerous – it threatens their livelihoods, could create shortcuts and threaten the future of farming.  Cheaper can come with ethical issues as well – both of what goes into the product and how it is created.

There are enough voices fighting the virtues of all sides of the arguments.  I`m not nearly enough of an expert in any of the above – though I`ll cheer for anyone trying to make a difference.  There`s enough battling in the world of food – much of it is important – but we also need to findprovide solutions.  A significant amount of food is rotting while people are starving or not being able to afford fresh, real food.

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet has been both easier than I thought and way more difficult than I could have imagined.

Making the cost work has been easy.  Most meals have been less than $2 and focused on good food with solid technique.  They have been healthy, satisfying and simple to make – even when balancing a 60 hour work week, writing 7 days a week, a young puppy and life at large.

What`s been tough?  The meals could have been better, healthier and cheaper.

Recall our recipe for roasted red peppers in the fall.  We bought a bushel (25-30 pounds) of red peppers for $14.  Our freezer is full of $0.30-$0.40 bags of fire roasted peppers that take any soup to another universe.

Our canned peas taste like summer and cost about $0.70 each.

Our Romano beans were about $0.60 a can.

Fresh from the field beans were pressure canned for well under a dollar.

Our preserved turkey stock was practically free with the leftover carcass from Christmas.

We preserved 24 liters of peaches for around $19.  126 liters of tomato sauce cost us about $1 each.

Garlic scapes and wild leek chutes fill our freezer all waiting for sauces and soups.  More than 60 units of these flavors fill our freezer – the total cost was $4.

There is certainly start-up costs and a learning curve.  It`s not easy (though not difficult) and takes some time.  It`s also the way that many families functioned for a long time from all around the world.

The results are stunning.  When we opened our first can of peas last night we both started to laugh.  We have 10 cans of summer peas left that taste like they just came from the field.  They contain peas, water and a bit of salt and nothing else.

I haven`t been using our preserves in these posts because I thought that was cheating.  It`s time to change that.  Starting next week we`ll be using the pantry to raise the bar a little.

From now on we will also price all of our preserving posts (based on ingredients).  Not all of our preserves will be considered cheap (wild blueberries with maple syrup is an adorable jam but not for the most cost conscious), but I want to help get the message out that preserving can help make a significant difference – in the amount of food that rots, the cost of what you eat and the quality and taste of what appears on your plate.

I`m also asking for those of you who preserve to share the word with your own communities (online and organic).  Together we can make a difference.  There are so many problems in our food system – we have part of the solution and we need to continue to inspire those around us with it.

Adventures in dehydrating – pineapples and apples

Adventures in dehydrating   pineapples and apples Preserving Recipes Pinapple February Apple

Our initial batch of dehydrating was feverish – there were lemons, oranges, pears, apples, lemon and lime zest and then we paused.  We had to eat some of our bounty after all. [Read more...]

The joys of a pantry

Last night`s dinner plan was simple, yet special.  Two small moose steaks, pickled wild leeks and crab were the focus – our family had harvested all 3 ingredients.  We were going to match that with peas and pickled beets that we preserved.  It would also be the first test of our own canned peas.

Once the small package of steak defrosted, I opened the package.  The butcher butchered the cut of meat.  It was a single cut, folded in two and the width varied from less than half an inch to more than 2 inches.  There was no question – the plan for dinner had to change fast.

It`s times like this that having more than 100 flavors of preserves of different types is an absolute joy (we`ve made about 60 of the current flavors).  We didn`t have a lot of other ingredients in the fridge so a bit of creativity and a lot of options help out.

I resigned myself to a stir fry of sorts – the only fresh veggie we had was an onion.  I recalled that we had a comment (from Ferdzy of Seasonal Ontario Food) on our blog suggesting that we could use our dehydrated oranges for a chinese recipe called orange beef.  Most of the recipes I found called for deep frying the meat; I varied a fair distance from the suggested technique but decided that orange moose was the way to go.

The beets and leeks went back into the pantry and out came the dehydrated mandarin slices from Christmas.

Our stiry fry was served on fried rice which featured Ontario pressure canned peas.  For those new to pressure canning, it is simply a way to presserve low acid foods (pickles and fruits are high acid) such as most vegetables.  I hadn`t tried our peas before and almost melted when I did – though they are soft (they were cooked for 15 minutes at high heat in the jar), they taste like a summer pea.

The joys of a pantry February

The meal was fabulous – a combination of so many flavors that came together from the great wall of preserves.

Winter is a great time to learn how to preserved and to discover that it`s not complicated and that it`s easier than you may think.  It`s a great time to practice and hone your technique and experiment with ingredients from further away (marmalade is great to make in winter).

Soon we will have an abundant crop of options (more than 30 fresh and local ingredients can be preserved in the Spring of Ontario).  The work that we did last year feels so little in comparison to our options and flavors now.

Toronto Restaurants supporting local in different ways

I shared a lot of great conversation around food and what is happening in our city this week.  It`s a fascinating time in food and there`s a lot of great support for local and (or) sustainable foods across our city.

The Royal York Hotel made news over the last few years with their apiary.  They have an entire colony of bees on their roof which are tended for honey.  There are more than 40,000 of natures farmers working the roof to provide a sweet taste for guests in the hotel (which also features a high tea).

Vertical Restaurant announced (last summer) that they would begin to grow many of their own ingredients in Stouffville.  Chef Tawfik Shehata tends his garden and fuses many of the ingredients into the daily menu.

Chef Martin Kouprie of Pangea is an active scuba diver who is an active supporter of sustainable food.  Their website features a list of local partnerships (check these out here).  The list includes many food heroes in our province (foragers, cheese makers, farmers)  and their products frequently appear on the menu.  Chef had also supported local wine by implementing a no-corkage policy on Ontario Wine (I believe this is still in place as a permanent policy).

Mark Cutrara (Cowbell) features farmers and artists on his website and specializes in nose-to-tail preparation of local harvest.  Much (of not all) of their food is butchered in-house and offers courses in the art of butchery and their approach to food.

It`s an exciting time to be involved in food across this city – any favourite gems out there?

There`s a lot of great stuff happening around our city – these are 3 powerful examples of how exciting is becoming with it`s approaches and connections to local food and it`s producers.

Bitchin`Kitchen

Every once in a while you witness something that your brain can`t process.

Bitchin` Kitchen is a web-based cooking show and channel.  You can find them here – including a tonne of their videos.  I`ve watched several – they are not conservative, perhaps not for the entire family but mostly tongue-in-cheek humour and some cooking undertones (that was also tongue-in-cheek – there is actually some serious cooking advice here as well).

Although there is an affiliation with the Food Network I haven`t seen any sign of this show on it – perhaps it`s still on it`s way to our Northern Clime.  Then again, the bios do seem to point me to the fact that these dudes are actually Canadian (they are based out of Montreal) and the more I read, the more I wonder if I`m actually the last person on the Internet to discover them.

I really like that they are doing something different – I also love the branding of the entire thing.  A skull pierced with a fork and knife, pink kitchen and sketch humour that they bring into each episode is a lot of fun and something different.

You can follow them on Twitter here.

Large companies investigating food ethics?

The last few weeks have seen a few announcements from large food chains that possibly show a changing approach to food.

On January 26, Target announced that they would no longer sell farmed salmon.  Their justification was a shift towards greater sustainability and approaches which preserve local habitats.  I am not qualified to comment on the validity of the argument though Seachoice (a Canadian program supported by 5 Canadian Conservation organizations including the Suzuki Foundation) agrees with their assessment of farmed salmon (placing the wild salmon as an item of some concern).

Farmed salmon has come under fire for a variety of reasons (which of course have counterpoints) which include unnatural diets (including corn), threats to local habitat and use of antibiotics that can alter the salmon and their environment.  I have seen a single salmon farm in my life – it was a series of nets just off the shores of Cape Breton.  I was told by local scuba divers that there was a giant amount of refuse in the area (fish do have to use the bathroom) that they anecdotally felt was altering the local aquaculture.  There were also concerns of the nets breaking and the farmed salmon mixing with the wild salmon in the area.

There are many sides to any argument and now that the second largest discount retailer in the US has stepped in, the argument is bound to escalate.

Whole Foods is a less surprising entrant to the world of food ethics.  They have announced that they are phasing out sources of oil that originate from the Alberta Oil Sands, justifying that they `create higher than normal greenhouse footprints.`

There are many sides to this debate as well and I suppose it`s less surprising that a company like Whole Foods is stepping into a debate like this one.

An any rate, 2 fairly significant stories in a short time.  It`s fascinating to watch and we`ll be looking for more.

Guerrilla Gardening

Imagine an independent army of citizens who hide in plain sight with a single mission: to add beauty to their towns and cities.

Guerrilla Gardening has been around for many years (it’s roots go back to the 1970′s) though it’s picked up steam with the progress of the Internet and the ability for people to mobilize with like-minded others.

The soldiers of this war arm themselves with typical gardening tools in addition to modern weapons of a city planter.  In order to avoid resistance of planting in places that one does not have permission, gardeners find innovative ways to secretly plant in public.  Seed bombs, seed balloons and seed pills are all used for random plots of flowers (see more about them here).

New gadgets appear to be on their way as well (I say “appear” as I can’t tell how much of these are real vs tongue in cheek): a device that automatically drops seeds from you shoes, a briefcase with a hole for planting through and the like.

The recent wave of this movement started in 2004 in the UK.  Richard Reynolds wrote a book and launched a website to inspire and gather the masses.  If nothing else, check out their Troop Digs – it’s a page of before and after shots from around the world of the results of this secret army.

I’ve been dreaming about Guerrilla Farming for some time – hiding food crops around the city and seeing what happens.  All things in good time…

I really do adore this project and the spirit behind it – the spirit carried out by people around the world trying to make it just a little better.

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet – Chicken Barley soup for 80 cents

I wholly believe that part of the difficulty of eating affordably is, in some cases, completely solvable by learning simple cooking techniques.  This won`t solve all the world`s problems but I know that some easy tricks could make a difference.

Last night was a good test of our committment – it`s a busy week and the evening was chock full.  I had a 30 minute chunk of time between arriving from work and needing to head out the door to meet Dana for a walk.  30 minutes to get dinner on, change, clean a little, return some calls – you know the drill.

I decided on a chicken barley soup.  The goal was something warm and hearty for last night as well as something that could be used for lunches through the week.  I spent $7.50 on ingredients – barley, tinned tomatoes, a 2-pound bag of onions and a full (`double`) chicken breast with skin and bones in tact.

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet   Chicken Barley soup for 80 cents February Cooking Recipes Cheap Tuesday Gourmet

[Read more...]