Cooking with ingredients – when 1+1=3

We were visiting family in Lindsay this weekend.  We arrived home around 5PM and I was in a hurry to go to a friends house to watch the big football game (the first full game I`ve seen all year).

Our plan was to watch the game, order a pizza and drink a few beer.  There wasn`t much time and our needs were simple.

In a fit of madness I decided that I had time to make my own pizza dough.  I made my first pizza from scratch in the last few months and may be developing a bit of an addiction.  The process is simple, almost effortless and the taste is simply superior.  In less than 5 minutes of effort (plus waiting time for the dough to raise) you can easily create enough dough for 2 pizzas.

I took the ingredients to a friends house – a pizza bar in a back pack.  I presented some options and we came up with a spicy little number that tasted awesome, cost less and left a smaller environmental mark on our world (sans takeout box).

We also remarked how much cooking from ingredients fills you quicker than eating typical fast food.  3 slices of the homemade pizza (we cooked one of the two), filled me to the brim.  I would have inhaled half an extra large of a commercial product.

Writing about food has really forced us to think a great deal about it.  Thinking about it is creating radical changes in my life – even the definition of eating something easy (fast food vs cooking) is being rewritten.  I`m thankful and excited at the same time.

San Diego – A model of a beer scene

I have been stating that the U.S. is kicking Canada`s butt in terms of it`s beer scene for about 2 years (by many accounts I was very late to the table with that assessment).

It`s not that we don`t have good beer.  Our craft beer scene is picking up momentum and some world-class pint glasses are appearing in Canada.  Progress is slow and consumers are supporting the scene slower.  With the LCBO (Ontario`s Government Liquor monopoly) now devoting shelves to Ontario Craft Beer, a strengthening of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association and brewers who are starting to get International recognition (Mill Street, Beau`s and others) there is great potential for where beer may go in Ontario, and Canada.

The US now supports more than 2,000 craft beers who support each other and educate the public on the beer scene as a whole.  People are excited about breweries and brew masters and the industry is becoming closer to rock and roll than mass food production.  Brewers are combining efforts, producing unique and rare beers and making them accessible to the general public.

The less restrictive import laws also allow the US to indulge in beer from around the world.  I have been to more than 10 stores which offer 500+ brands of beer (Premiere Gourmet being the closes in Buffalo – they stock up to 1,600 different flavors).

You may recall that I visited Stone Brewery in the Spring.  They are nestled in the outskirts of San Diego, California.  They were also named (once again) as the number one brewery in America.  They set an aspirational example of what a brewery can be (if you have not seen the 3-minute video they produced called I am a Craft Brewer, you simply must).

I recently revisited San Diego.  I didn`t have the chance to get back to Stone (it was about $100 cab ride from where I was staying) but I did get out on the town.

Of 10 or 15 bars and restaurants I visited, 100% of their draft beer was craft beer – more than 90% of that was local.  When a tap wasn`t local it made sense (i.e. a Japanese craft beer available on draft in a sushi restaurant).

The support of local beer was everywhere.  The convention center which housed our conference even offered local bottle beer (an amazing and pretty Red Trolley Ale).  This may have been the first time I have seen craft beer at a mass convention in my life.

If I had a sudden bout of memory loss and found myself trying to figure out where in the world I was, it would have been easy to diagnose which city I was in by merely reading the taps of beer.

The day after I returned from my trip I ended up in a large hotel in Toronto.  The lobby bar supported mostly large US mass-produced beer.  This is not an indictment of the hotel – they are not an exception in our city.  It is however, a pint worth thinking over…

Eat, Drink and Give

A quick post this morning to draw attention to a worthy cause and a great event.

This Tuesday evening is Eat, Drink and Give – a crazy amount of chefs and wineries are gathering at Roy Thompson Hall to create the food event of the winter.  The food, wine, space and time have been donated to raise funds for Haiti.

Tickets are $75 and the event runs from 6.30-9.30.  Click here to see the current participants – the list is stunning.

If you are attending, we`d love to meet up so drop a comment below and we`ll figure out how to find each other.

Wondertwin Power: Michael Pollan and Nancy Duarte

There is a shortage of phenomenal presentations in the world.

A phenomenal presentation is a combination of parts which rarely even appear by themselves – a great speaker, presentation material, expertise, appropriate props and audience engagement.  The importance of topic appears way down the list – great presentations transcend that.

Nancy Duarte helps people make great presentations.  She works with some of the world’s best.  Al Gore’s inconvenient Truth was prepared by her (and her team) as were a chunk of TED Presentations.

Nancy writes about including S.T.A.R. moments (Something They WIll Always Remember) in your presentations.  She worked with food advocate Pollan to develop a recent speech for POP!TECH (similar to TED – their differentiator is that they try to push their impact beyond the presentation by fostering collaborations to create world change).

Doug Neff, from the Duarte team, wrote about the experience of working with Pollan here.  There are some practical takeaways for presenters and presentation makers in that article.

To see the actual presentation (great food for thought), check it out below (less than 20 minutes and will likely pull you in during the first 60 seconds):

[vodpod id=Video.2510101&w=425&h=350&fv=]

ANy other favourite food presentations out there – or am I just that odd?

Red Pearl Kitchen San Diego

I recall a time in my life that the concept of business travel sounded very prestigious and romantic.  It was a long, long time ago, but I do remember it.  J

I travel every few months.  There are some definite benefits to travel so I`m not entirely bitter about the deal.  I`ve had an inspiring week and an exciting time, certainly enjoyed some nicer weather than we had at home and met some great people.

The drawbacks are the obvious ones – time away from those you love, odd sleep patterns, long hours, extra work piling up, cramped travel, dragging bags and so forth.

It`s a tolerable balance.  I`m not anti-business travel it`s just different from I dreamed it would be.  I would fantasize that you would be whisked to a magical city, do your gig and explore a foreign land on endless adventures.  My reality, as I get older, is that the exploration becomes less and less and the appeal of a simple meal and a night of tossing and turning in a comfy bed is more alluring than conquering new worlds.  This holds especially true when I am attending conferences (which I was this week) – my brain is so filled with great information, ideas, plans and excitement that adding more stimuli is just overwhelming.

There are, of course, exceptions.  With 7 days abroad I did manage to take some time to explore San Diego.  It`s a charming city with a central airport and a tonne of great food, drink and entertainment.  I managed one solid night on the town on Saturday and was thrilled with the discovery of Red Pearl Kitchen.

I stumbled on the Red Pearl after seeing a poster for Asian Cuisine that looked more like an ad for a new Grand Theft Auto video game.  It was clear that this was Asian food with a modern flare.  The poster was dominated by a picture of a woman who, at first glance, appeared to be wearing traditional attire but the longer you looked, the quicker you realized she wasn`t.  The nylons were far more modern, the pose more evocative, a tattoo peaked out and so forth.  There was no photo of the restaurant but it was clear what the message was – modern Asian cuisine.  This is the power of design to me.

I was a little sceptical – so many offerings of fusion end up being merely excuses for poor execution of traditional dishes.  The possibility of something spicy was just too exciting to pass up.

As I opened the door it became apparent this was going to be a different experience.  I couldn`t see very far into the restaurant as the entrance gave access to a ramp that wrapped behind an extensive bar and into the restaurant.  The lighting was dim and moody and music was loud.  I had entered a bar as much as I had entered a restaurant.

Red Pearl Kitchen San Diego February

The music stayed loud all night.  It wasn`t uncomfortable – you could easily converse over it but it was loud enough to dim he conversation of others around you.  The music was familiar from my youth and was fun – I remember Jackson 5 in particular.

I grabbed a seat at the bar.  There were 4 taps – all local or Asian (Kirin on tap!). I also noticed a few bottles of Hitachino Nest which I recognized as a fantastic Japanese craft beer.  They also had a great Scotch selection – the place couldn`t be awful!

Red Pearl Kitchen San Diego February

My bartender was fantastic.  Friendly, courteous and knew her stuff.  She gave an honest walk through of her recommendations on the menu and I followed her suggestions to try the Salt and Pepper Shrimp and the Spicy Beef.  Both were fabulous.  When I asked for local reccomendations she gave me a handwritten list of 5 or 6 places to visit for food and drink – these are the types of things that happen so rarely and will be long remembered.

The Salt and Pepper Shrimp were lightly breaded crustaceans paired with fresh chives and a dipping sauce that was refreshingly spicy.  The beef was tender, tasty and plentiful.  The mushrooms stood out in the dish and it was made with an extra kick of hot as I had requested.

Ivanna, my friendly bartender, offered a suggestion for a beverage.  She held up a bottle of Vodka which had hot peppers floating in it – the bar did it`s own infusion.  This was mixed with a combination of their own lemon squash, simple syrup, muddled Thai basil and a slice of green apple .  Easily one of the best cocktails I`ve had in years and bonus points for the unsolicited recommendation.

It was a great place, awesome night and a great balance between very serious food and drink without taking itself too seriously.

Where do bananas come from

They say 1,000 words is worth a picture…

Where do bananas come from February

There are 124 Transport trailers on that boat – two boats a week arrive in San Diego.  One is from Costa Rica, the other from Hondouras.  As soon as the ship is emptied it is sent back with empty trailers to fill again.

It`s been very powerful seeing the boat there for the whole week I have been here.  The irony that I have travelled from just as far as the bananas is not lost on me.

I don`t eat a lot of bananas – maybe 1 a year.  I do eat plenty of other food from just as far, especially in the winter.  There can be many complex problems with eating locally as well so this isn`t drawing any significant conclusion.

It is, however, making me think.  A lot.

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet – Resources from the road

I am in the middle of a cross-continental road trip.  I am in stretch of working 12 days in a row which includes two long days of flying.  The travel is compounded by a severely deviated septum which means I come down with a sinus infection after 1 out of every 3 or 4 flights.  This trip is the one – I am stuffed beyond acceptable limits.

Despite the long stretch, the cold and long days on the road, I am thrilled with this trip.  I have learned a lot and am coming home a better person for it – both in regards to new skills and perspective.

The travel does make updating the blog a little challenging – I am at ac conference that has activities which consume 10-14 hours per day.  It makes features like Cheap Tuesday Gourmet a challenge.  But a challenge is merely a game in disguise so I`ve decided to make wine from these sour grapes and use todays post to feature great resources for cooking and eating affordably that we`ve found online.  Here`s a few:

Cheap Healthy Good – a 5-day a week blog that features recipes, seasonal ingredients and ideas for eating well and cheap.
CheapCooking.com – menu planning, education, recipes and techniques.
YumYum.com (students) – 20,000 student recipes to learn from and share
Recipe Street – Simple recipes.  Period.
Healthy Cheap Food – different link than our first but premise is the same.
NetMums – cooking on a budget – general tips on shopping, planning and cooking better.
Frugal Meals for Big Families – Cooking affordably for the big family (i.e. 6 people).

Any other sites out there our community needs to know about?  Would love to hear your ideas…

Final thoughts on cooking Sous Vide at home

It was quite the adventure and I am thankful for the loan of the SousVide Supreme. When they lent their unit to us there were no conditions attached – we only post about things we genuinely like and this made the cut.  There is enough negativity in the world without us adding more to it here!

There were several lessons learned, some victories and challenges.  I’ve had some time to reflect on the experience and here’s what has stuck with me:

  • The machine was easy to use, accurate and allowed us to adjust temperature quickly.
  • It was the easiest cleaning kitchen appliance I’ve ever used.
  • Using a proper sealing system would have offered more options, control and reliability than what we had to work with us.
  • The precision of control is exciting – and knowing that you can come close to replicating a world-class recipe is a definite benefit of the technique.
  • As superficial as this is, it was darned cool to cook Sous Vide at home and share the results with friends.
  • The use of plastic in cooking offers some potential challenges – both sustainably and, possibly, for health.  I am not a scientist and do not know the facts well enough but a comment left by Diane mentioned the possible estrogen content that could come with this.  A dear friend of ours is a scientist and I remember her telling me of experiments involving control groups of snails – one group raised in a plastic bottle and another in glass.  The group in plastic had significantly higher estrogen content.  On the flip side I think of the amount of bottled water (and pop) I drank in my past and tend to think that it would be far more plastic than the amount I’d consume from SousVide cooking at home.
  • The texture, flavor and taste of food are definitely different than any I’ve had before.  It can be hit or miss depending on your taste.
  • The technique is very easy – I believe further experimentation with recipes would have found some we love.  The hard-cooked egg was definitely on the right track.  I’d love to take it further and try moose, ribs and a lot more vegetable dishes.
  • There are few cookbooks.  Do your research in advance – learning what is possible is far more work than cooking it.
  • I would like to try to eat more Sous Vide prepared by people with more experience than I have – though I think I could have learned plenty more without this luxury.
  • I would try to cook it again.

We`d love to hear about any other adventures out there – for now, this is the end of our Sous Vide adventures at home.

Sous Vide – Eggs two ways

My interest in Sous Vide was all the fault of Herve This (ThEEs).

Dr. This is a mad scientist.  He dedicates his studies to understanding food and cooking and coined the term `Molecular Gastronomy` (based on work he had done with Nicholas Kurti).  He was the first person in the world to obtain a PhD in molecular gastronomy.

Sous Vide   Eggs two ways January

His field of study is often confused with a style of cuisine which stole the title to describe cooking with tools of science (such as mysterious powders and processes).  The focus of his art is to understand what happens to our food as we cook it and learning how we can modify our approaches.  He teamed up with Farran Adria, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller and Harold McGee to create a mission statement for their approach to food and technique that could form the mission statement of almost any cook – professional or pedestrian (we wrote about his super cool project here).

Thes challenges age-old techniques to determine the best way to approach cooking.  He discovered that one set of egg white proteins solidify at 142°F, the yolk starts to solidify at 158°F and a final set of egg whites solidify at 184°F.  He determined that the optimal temperature for cooking an egg is precisely 149°F for as long as you want.  As long as the temperature the egg is being cooked in is stable, you cannot overcook it (after all it can`t get hotter than the temperature it is cooked within).

Thes uses a precise oven to cook `soft boiled eggs.`  If you are interested in his writing, Google Books has an almost complete version of Kitchen Mysteries (we wrote how to access this and others online for free, legally, here).  There is also a great review of his egg science in Discover Magazine which reviews eggs he cooked at 140°F (60°C), 153°F (67°C) and 70°F (158°C) .  You can find that article here.

Thes also proved that you can overcook a hard boiled egg.  There are two consequences to this crime: the yolk will be off center and the proteins of the egg (which naturally contain sulfur atoms) will release a gas (dihydrogen sulfide) which creates a foul smell and reacts with iron ions in the egg and creates a greenish rim around the outside of the yolk.

All of that is a very long introduction to our migration towards the Sous Vide Egg.  Our experiences as Sous Vide `chefs` was off to a rocky start – in the terms of traffic lights we had found a yellow light (the pork belly) and a red light (the tuna).  Sous Vide was proving to be interesting but challenging to the palate (yet remarkably easy to do).  We were in need of a hit.

We had two options – soft cooked and hard-cooked in shell.  Soft cooked would yield a soft yolk and white while hard-cooked would cook both parts to a tender firmness.  The SousVide Supreme recommended soft cooked to be done at 147°F (64°C) while hard-cooked asked for 160°F (71°C) – both for 45 minutes.  Simply set the temperature, wait for the water to come to temperature and drop the whole eggs in the water.

Sous Vide   Eggs two ways January

The soft cooked egg was unlike any we had eaten before.  The entire thing was soft – which is, of course, entirely different from runny.  The whites were cooked through but had the texture of jelly.  It was tough to peel the shell back without them spilling over.  It reminded me of discovering surface tension as a child when you filled the glass just over the rim.  With each prod of a fork I expected the entire soft egg to spring a leak and drain on to my plate.  I have left the photos in Toronto (I am in San Diego) and will update this post by next Friday morning to include photos of them.

Soft cooked eggs were good – but an acquired texture.  With time I could see that I could be converted to these possibly being the best eggs I ever ate.  Another yellow light – it was getting late in our experiments to find a big win.

The hard-cooked eggs went in. These were the best eggs I ever ate in my life.  Delicate, soft, yet cooked through  The yolk became a moist golden nugget of pure happiness.  The whites were tender and moist and beyond tasty.

I am not a breakfast person – these eggs would change that.  They were everything I looked for in an egg – and never knew I wanted.  If you own a small brunch shop, you really must consider an investment in this type of thing – you could own the hard-cooked egg in an entire city; just make sure we get an invite!

We finally found our success!  I am sure there would have been many more with more time to experiment (and more knowledge).  I`ll wrap up our final thoughts on the experiment tomorrow.

Sous Vide Tuna – Chicken of the sea

Our Sous Vide adventure continued with a fish course.  This time we trusted a very reliable source – Thomas Keller’s Sous Vide Cookbook, Under Pressure.

The recipe was simple.  A great piece of tuna sealed with precisely weighed oil – 50% olive oil and 50% canola.  There was no final seer and the recipe was quick (14 minutes).

Sous Vide Tuna   Chicken of the sea Tuna January Cooking Recipes [Read more...]