Friday, October 31, 2014

Anything that Moves by Dana Goodyear [book review]

Warning: I am going to talk about something you may find a little disgusting.

I'm part of a food-related book club called The Kitchen Reader. (Actually, I'm its facilitator, too.) Our October book is Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture by Dana Goodyear, chosen by Melissa of Melos Bookshelf. Modern Western eating patterns are so different from other cultures and times. This book chronicles some of the fringe eating that is emerging (or re-emerging) in America.

While the book has lots to say about eating organ meats, raw milk, live seafood, and so on, an issue that caught my eye was about insects. Eating insects is a polarizing issue, but probably shouldn't be.

A quarter of the world regularly eats insects, did you know? I learned that from a recent National Geographic print magazine. (Two of the pictures in this post are snaps of the September 2014 issue.) In fact, please go watch National Geographic's short animated video called Edible Insects. It's less than two minutes long. Go on, it's quite educational!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thai Basil and Cashew Stir-Fry

Sometimes my body just craves a big pile of vegetables. One of these days was last week during my half term holidays. After ten weeks at school my body was run down and seeking nutrients. What I needed was more sleep, less stress, and some highly healthy food.

In the past I have arrived at my half term break on the verge of illness. Many years I have made it to the Saturday after school ends and succumbed to a cold or the flu. I have laid on the couch and dribbled away my holiday.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Quinoa, Broccoli, and Bacon Fritters

You might not know this about me: I am obsessed with correct punctuation. It began as a young child. Thanks to my book-loving parents, I owned more than 200 books by the time I was nine, and they were alphabetised and organised on my bookshelf.

My father took a break from his work to do a PhD when I was ten, and he moved our family to Scotland to complete it over five years at the University of Aberdeen. It involved a huge thesis and he talked about it constantly with our family. I was old enough to understand a little of the subject matter. His thesis later became a 380 page book called Attributes and Atonement: The Holy Love of God in the Theology of PT Forsyth.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

French Onion Soup

Onions are a thing of beauty, aren't they? No? You think they are too mundane to be beautiful? They have such a humble exterior, hiding away those lovely, thin layers.

In a passage I found so memorable in the book The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon writes about how to meditate on an onion. "Take one of the onion (preferably the best looking),... and sit down at the kitchen table.... To do it justice, you should arrange to have sixty minutes or so free for this part of the exercise. Admittedly, spending an hour in the society of an onion may be something you have never done before.... Onions are excellent company."

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Molecular Gastronomy by Herve This [book review]

This month I have been dipping into Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor by Herve This as part of the Kitchen Reader book club. It is a guidebook about the chemistry and physics behind cooking processes. It reports on cooking experiments from a scientific and analytical standpoint.

There are 101 chapters! Each one concerns a discrete cooking question. What difference does it make to salt meat before or after adding it to a hot pan? What is the effect of resting the meat after boiling or frying it? What makes a souffle rise? What kind of wine makes the best marinades? What are the preferred cheeses for fondue?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Caramelised Cherry Tomatoes

Caramelised cherry tomatoes, otherwise known as my new easiest side dish. I have started a new job and I am working much longer hours than before. I have to admit that I gave up on cooking for a while. I bought fast food from the train station and enlisted the nearby delivery restaurants to keep us fed for a month. But too much food cooked outside my own kitchen starts to taste strange after a while. Enter: this laughably easy dish.

I bought some white fish to pan fry since that's a fast main dish. Then I added this Donna Hay recipe for caramelised cherry tomatoes. The idea is really that you pan fry some chicken or fish and remove it. Then deglaze the pan for two minutes with balsamic vinegar and halved cherry tomatoes. Then serve. That is all! Cooking the tomatoes add only two minutes to the overall time of making dinner. I served it on some courgette noodles (they were raw, and the balsamic juices warmed them a bit). That's the kind of fast food I need right now.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee [book review]

Our August Kitchen Reader book was Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America by Thomas J Craughwell. It's a history book that covers Jefferson's time in France before he was president of the USA. He was appointed minister to France for almost five years. This book shows that Jefferson was not only a diplomat, politician, founding father of the US and intellectual, he was also a gourmand.

When Jefferson went to France he took his slave, James Hemings. He made an arrangement with Hemings that if he learned French cookery and then returned to the USA with Jefferson to teach someone else, Jefferson would grant his freedom. The book promises to elaborate on the five years Hemings spent in Paris becoming a French chef in order to bring French cuisine back to America.

Sadly, the book is not really focused on Heming's cooking at all. Instead, it is an interesting book about Jefferson's public life in France and what he learned there. I suppose there is not much evidence remaining about Heming's life in Paris. The book is obviously well researched, but there is virtually nothing about the courses Hemings took, what he thought of Paris, and what he learned to cook. Overall, I was disappointed by this book, though if it had been presented as a book about Jefferson's love of food and his time in France it would have lived up to expectations.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Balsamic Chicken

My favourite camera lens is broken right now. I discovered this just after I plated this balsamic chicken and was ready to take pictures. My friend, Jess, was coming over to eat with Anthony and I; I had finished cooking about ten minutes early in order to snap some pictures. But after one shot, the camera showed an error message: "Communication between the camera and lens is faulty". Oh no!

I switched the camera off and on again (the universal fix for technology?). I was able to take one more picture (which is above) before the error message popped up again. However, the light meter and auto focus both didn't work, hence the courgettes are in focus and the chicken is not. In the end I decided that I really like this picture.... It's hugely overexposed but we'll just call that a "feature" and leave it at that!

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender [book review]

Each July in our food book club, The Kitchen Reader, we read a novel with a food-themed plot. This year we chose The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. It's about Rose, a girl who one day discovers that she can taste her mother's sadness in the food that she prepares for the family. Then she realises that in any food she can taste the emotions of whoever made it. It's a bit of a shock to her to discover things about her mother and others that were previously hidden. As Rose matures she learns a lot about herself and others.

As it turns out, this is a novel less about food than the title suggests. It is mostly a book that explores family relationships and growing up. Rose's ability to taste emotions makes explicit how confusing young people find it to see adult things for the first time. It is hard work growing up and navigating friendships, romantic feelings, a complicated family. And there are some food-related gems as well.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Dip

Carrots are my favourite vegetable and I even contemplated photographing this carrot dip with carrot sticks for dipping. Because that is indeed one of the ways I ate it! But for this photo, I made cucumber dippers. My friend Michael showed me how to cut cucumber on a steep diagonal to make perfect chip-sized dippers. I am always looking for more ways to make vegetables feel like a natural part of fun eating. Cucumber dippers and carrot dip are great examples of fun vegetables!

And so there is no need for chips and salsa at your next snack attack or movie night. If you are searching for ways to eat more vegetables, try this easy carrot dip with veggie dippers. It's also good with sweet pepper strips, celery sticks, or even rectangles of the ribs of Chinese cabbage. (I have tried this and it was superb!)


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