31 October 2005

30 October 2005

One more thing to do with a pumpkin

Saw this on a couple of sites and tracked down the original site.

Here's the link:

Happy Hallowe'en! And yes, I *am* dressing up for work tomorrow.



29 October 2005


This week I've been following an eGullet thread about McDonald's new PR campaign meant to brainwash us into chanting their McManta about how healthy their McVittles are because they use high McQuality ingredients. Here's a link to the 24 October 2005 Reuters story that caught the Gifted Gourmet's eye: McDonald's touts quality in ad campaign.

Personally, my favourite line is from their hired marketing strategy gun, Jack Trout of Trout & Partners, "Maybe if people think they have this terrific quality, then they'll forget about the calories and the fat."

But wait...in a
McAnnouncement on 25 October 2005 (yes, one day later), they told the world that they'll make nutritional info available on McFood wrappers. How are people supposed to "forget about the calories and fat" if the numbers are staring up at them while they mow down their Double Big Macs, large fries and McFlurrys...or is that McFlurries...? Maybe McMinds are hoping that globs of “special” sauce will cover up the info and people will be too lazy to clean it up to care.

Mind you, if their branding McGuru had done zir homework, zie would have realized that fast food went down this road before –remember the the 2003 “
KFC is health food” campaign? (No, don’t try and access the article’s link to the media release; KFC removed it from their web site…even though other releases dating back to Feb 1999 seem to be there.)

The new McAd campaign ballyhoos the use of “USDA eggs,” “high quality chicken” and how they can trace back “more than 10 per cent” of McBeef to the individual McMoo. Woo. What about the other 80-something per cent? Don’t forget that in Canada they launched their “we proudly serve Alberta beef” campaign when that Albertan Mad Cow was discovered. The ads went away...signalling they were no longer proud to serve Alberta beef.

Another good Trout quotation "Will it fix it with the naysayers? No. But what it will do is present more of a rationale for the people who take their kids to this place."

I think it says soo much. McDonald’s realizes that parents are concerned about what they feed their kids—but not so concerned as to stop taking the little ones to McD’s on a regular basis. I also read disdain into the last two words of the quotation—do you get the idea that Mr. Trout doesn’t go to McDonald’s, nor feed his spawn there? It’s the “this place” phrase, not “this restaurant (remember McDonald’s thinks of itself as a restaurant and not a fast food outlet) or even “McDonald’s”

I can understand why McDonald’s is doing this. Currently six of 10 Americans are considered to be obese…and instead of blaming their own lack of nutritional education, diminished self-control or even herd mentality that attracts them to the toys, games or picutres of glisteny-shiny burgers for their obesity, some of these people are blaming fast food and launching multi-million class-action lawsuits. The Mothercorp doesn’t want to be held accountable for its products, much in the same way that Big Tobacco has.

I’m sure the people at McHO and Trout think this was a great article—they got the idea across that the food is prepared with top-quality ingredients. I (and a number of others) are not reading it that way—it’s a very negative story…but then again, I’m not their target audience…because I have a brain and am capable of critical thinking.

But of course, it’s all about transparency, isn’t it? As transparent as the grease-shined wrappers that enrobe their burgers and fries.

as always,



27 October 2005


"It's like eating a slice of chai tea." -- Marilyn

Since my posting my pumpkinny memories, people have been asking me about halva. Most of them knew about the sesame and honey kind, but didn't realize that there were more kinds than that, nor is this type of candy popular in many countries.

"Halva" (halawah, hulva, hulwa...the spellings go on and on), is the name given to a huge range of sweets made in the Middle East, Central Asia and India. The word itself comes from the Arabic word for sweet, hulw. A couple of people called it by other names, but I use the English wordform...and so does my mum and a number of other Indians I know.

Halva History
Even though some think of halva as an Indian invention, both The Penguin Companion to Food (my personal food bible) and Food in History by Reay Tannahill consider it to have Arabic roots.

In the seventh century; hulw was a date paste that was kneaded with milk, which eventually evolved into other forms including stiffer confections made with wheat or semolina flour and sweetened with fruit paste, syrup or honey and flavoured with nuts, spices or even rose water before deep frying.

As Arabic influence spread, halva took on local flare. Nepalese versions can be sweet, made from carrot and barley, or savoury, made from barley, ghee, water and salt. Middle Eastern halva can be made with nuts, dried fruits, yoghurt, honey and spices. In Turkey and Greece, halva is made without grain and are made with cooked egg, syrup, nuts and sometimes fruit.

Indian Halva
In India, halva's popularity became the root of halvais, the confectioners caste. Many Indian versions are made with semolina and ghee. Depending upon where you go, you can find types that use spices, nuts, or seeds. Non-semolina-based confections can be made from zedoary flour or veg (carrot, potatoes, beets or squash), fruit (bananas, mangoes, papayas) or legumes (lentils, peanuts, mung beans). Other ingredients can include cream, egg custard or coconut milk and can be flavoured with any number of nuts, spices and/or dried fruits.

European Halva
What many people find in Europe and North America is sesame halva. This is actually a by-product of sesame oil production, by sweetening ground sesame sees with honey or a sugar syrup, and then pressing the mixture into cakes.

If you are looking for halva recipes, try the Wikipedia entry, Kate Wood's raw vegan version or Gourmet Magazine's frozen pistachio halvah pie.

And yes, that is a picture of my mum's pumpkin halva...mmmmmmmm.....

as always,


25 October 2005

The Hungry Years

Kept hearing good buzz about William Leith's The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict so I picked it up.

I'm only about 20 pages in and it is a good read--well written and oh so real...can totally relate to a few things he's writing about: the various stages of fat dressing and of course, the love of carbs...toast, mashed potatoes, bread...

Only one question...do all editions smell like McDonald's french fries, or is it just mine?

as always,


23 October 2005

It doesn't take guts to do this

My father is obsessed with giant pumpkin competitions, clipping newspaper articles about colossal cucurbits (yeah, had to look it up) and tacking them to the bulletin board. I don’t know if he was ever truly serious about growing them—the competition-sized ones—but he did try his hand at it, much to mum’s chagrin.

But growing pumpkins in a small backyard plot, is kind of like just allowing a camel's head in the tent...pretty soon the entire beast is indoors and you are out in the desert cold: slowly more and more of the garden was devoted to growing, obese squash.

While the veg’s size was impressive, their colour wasn't. Instead of the violently orange specimens that populate the grocery stores, our home-grown ones were pallid, almost anaemic-looking beach balls that infested the garden…there’s a reason pumpkin patches are out in the open and not in shady areas.

So...what do you do with all that pumpkin flesh? I mean, 10 or 50 pounds is doable, but what do you do with a couple of hundred pounds of it? Most of it went into pies and side dishes (steamed, pureed, roasted)...and some were sacrificed via interesting kitchen experiments that will neither be repeated nor mentioned.

For the halva of it
To me, apart from those garden-memories, pumpkins remind me of halva. “Halva” is a sort of catch-all term for sweets found in the Middle East, Central Asia and India. In India, the versions and textures change with ingredients—semolina vs zedoary flour, fruit vs. veg, nuts, coconut, raisins and, of course, spices. It can be served as a type of warm milkshake, a milk pudding or as dense as fudge.

Mum's version is fudgey with a sticky-dense consistency, loaded with cashews and raisins and caramelly-colour...well more like the colour of treacle toffee. It’s cardamom-scented and loaded with nuts and raisins.

I'll be honest with you. Making it from scratch is time and labour-consuming—approximately three and a half hours of stirring. I’ve developed an easier version that won’t leave you tied to the hob for a good part of the day.

There’s lots of play room for it. If you’d rather not have a fudge, but would prefer something more like milk pudding, then omit the cornstarch. If you want it sweeter add more sugar, if you want it less sweet (the raisins will add a lot of sugar to the confection), then take out some of the brown sugar...it also depends upon your favourite brand of canned pureed pumpkin and what the manufacturers have added to it. You can also change the nuts or dried fruit or even add things like shredded coconut.

Easy Pumpkin Halva

900mL(2 x 15oz cans) of canned pureed pumpkin
150g brown sugar
2mL salt
250mL warm milk
30g cornstarch
50g butter
5mL ground cardamom
50g toasted almonds
50g plumped sultana raisins

Make a slurry from 250 milk and cornstarch; set aside.

In a heavy bottomed skillet, over medium heat, combine the pumpkin, sugar and salt; stir until incorporated. Pour in the slurry and stir well. Add the butter and cardamom and continue stirring. If the mixture seems too runny to form a fudge, add more slurry, if it’s too thick add some more milk and continue stirring.

Keep stirring until the mixture gets to the soft-ball stage and cleanly pulls away from the pot’s sides and forms a sticky ball. Fold in the nuts and sultanas.

Pour into a 1.5L pan and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. You might find some butter rising to the surface—that’s fine just get out your skimming spoon again. After it has cooled, cut into pieces and enjoy.

as always,


20 October 2005

While I'm still thinking of it

How could I not include a recipe for Nipples of Venus with a piece on gastroporn? I don't know... must have been distracted....

This is a hard recipe to find. I didn't have any in my books (well, not the ones I searched) . Most of of the ones I found didn't evoke the same memories from when I first heard of them, years ago, in the movie Amadeus. This one just seemed right--I found this online at
The Hungry Browser. Sorry, haven't tried making them and I haven't any piccies.

Capezzoli di Venere (Nipples of Venus)
SALIERI Cappezzoli di Venere. Nipples of Venus. Roman chestnuts in brandied sugar.

This is from an Italian cookbook and the author says: "These heavenly truffles are a little time-consuming but repay the effort. With fresh chestnuts, the truffles are richer-tasting than with canned. For variety, add finely chopped toasted almonds or freshly grated nutmeg to the truffle mixture."

6 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
16 oz. can whole chestnuts, or 1 1/4 pound fresh
6 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 1/2 Tablespoons brandy or other liqueur
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the chocolate coating ingredients:
14 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
1 to 1 1/2 cups pure cocoa powder

To prepare centers, melt chocolate in a double boiler and allow to cool. If using fresh chestnuts, cut a cross on the flat side of each shell, put in a large pan, cover with cold water, and boil for 5 minutes. Remove the shells and inner skins. Rice the chestnuts. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add chestnuts and flavorings to the butter/sugar mixture and blend well, then stir in the cooled chocolate. Mix well. Roll into balls 1-1/2 inches in diameter; if mixture becomes too soft to shape, chill for several minutes.

To coat, melt the chocolate on a plate over boiling water; let cool. Carefully roll the truffles in melted chocolate, then place on a plate of cocoa powder and allow to dry for several minutes. Dust each truffle with cocoa and place in paper candy cup. Store in refrigerator.

as always,


19 October 2005


I was wandering around the eGullet site, I noticed a thread discussing a Frederick Kaufman interview on NY Public Radio, comparing FoodTV to porn. Listen to it if you can--it's interesting, but if you (like I) are on dial-up, be prepared for about 20-30 minutes (thanks to the bf for letting me use his highspeed).

As someone who uses
The Food Network as company while puttering around or doing homework or convalescing on the chesterfield (or writing this article), I say..well... yeah?! Of course cooking shows are porn...it's just porn you can watch if your parents/kids/boss/secretary/parish priest walks into the room.

Todd first pointed out the similarities to me a couple of years ago, using
Nigella Lawson's shows as proof (and he should know)--lighting, camera angles, focussing in and out--plus, well, it's Nigella. The way she licks her fingers and coyly glances at the camera, her curvyness and then there are her little appreciative noises...

Look at the way things are presented on a number of shows--lighting to capture the glisten of a steak and pumped up audio track to capture every sizzle, slurp and snap during the cooking and eating processes. Have you ever noticed how gosh-darned perfect the produce is-I've never seen tomatoes that red in my local Zehrs, nor peas so plump nor meat so perfectly trimmed. Yeah, it looks so easy when you have swap-outs and food fluffers on set.

The presenters seem fall into few stereotypes (my comparisons, not necessarily the radio show's): the hard-edged chick who's done it all and seen it all (
Christine Cushing), the good-time girl disguised as Miss Sweet-and-Innocent (Rachel Ray), and of course the one who spent too much time in the make-up trailer and looks kinda skanky but men probably drool over (Giada diLorentiis). And then there are the men: the knight in shining armor (Tyler Florence), the bad boy (Gordon Ramsay) and, one of my favourites, the lovable geek (Alton Brown).

The music doesn't help/hurt...he station ID music always sounded as if heavily influenced by "The Stripper" to me.

If anything in the comparison bothers me, it's the idea that food as a taboo.

I mean, with real porn, picture has always been the horny guy in a dark room, with only the blue flickering tube as company as he, well, you know...Sex is still a taboo to many--something we know that happens (otherwise, how else would most of us be here--no Virginia, there is no stork), most of us enjoy, but don't want to think of something our parents as active participants.

With food-- and the food cops out there watching everything that we put into our coffee cups and lunch trays--it seems to easy for some people to feel guilty about. The number of times I've heard "Oh, I could never eat that, I'd be so bad if I did" whenever I brought home baking into the office makes me want to reply "if you think this will make you bad, you really live a sheltered life, don't you?"...but I don't...I smile in my Nigella-like way, lower my vocal register and say "one little taste won't hurt." --and you know what? It never does.

as always,


17 October 2005

Food for thought: Health Food Junkies

Just came across Diet-obsessed parents putting their kids' health at risk and a few other articles on the growth of orthorexia in Britain. The Scotsman and Daily Mail also have run stories on this.

Basically, according to Dr. Steve Bateman, children's health is being endangered by well-meaning parents who force their children to eat only the "purest" foods. Strict diets that limit the amounts of sugar, fat, salt and artificial additives may actually be depriving children of certain nutrients for growing bodies, possibly leading to upset tummies, headaches, skin problems and irritable bowel syndrome. In some cases, parental fear has caused some children to starve to death--it's like anorexia, but instead of starving to be thin, you're starving because you are afraid of available foods.

What I'm getting from the articles is people don't know how to eat, nor what they need to eat to survive. With nutrition reports contracting themselves left, right and centre (think of the vilification of
eggs), and a public being led by the nose by marketers and image consultants instead of by common sense. No wonder my generation and younger ones have a distorted view of food and health.

How many school boards have actually dropped home ec requirements? I remember getting not only info on how to prepare food, but also (in conjunction with the health classes) what the body needs to keep running effectively. When you add the current "updating" to
Canada's Food Guide, and the lobbying by every food association and food production company to have people eat more of this, less of that and increase portion sizes...it really isn't surprising.

We do need to be aware of what's being fed and injected to the cows, chickens and other meats we eat, as we need to know about genetic modification, pesticides and worker conditions. But we also need to know that food, as faddish as it is, is critical to our physical and emotional well being. It's all about making informed decisions, and knowing how to view information with a critical eye.

as always,


15 October 2005


This week, a a bunch of people at work thought it would be fun to go Oktoberfesting…and asked me to organize it…apparently because I know a little bit about food, I’m supposed to know about bratwurst and beer.


The things I do for my company... so I did the research and found some place with a really good reputation for food (if I had to go, I might as well do my best to avoid indigestion, heartburn and oil splatters that won't come out of cotton) and reserved a table…and you know what? I didn't mind it...in fact, I had a pretty good time.

It was corporate night, so the crowds weren't too unruly--can't get too drunk in front of the boss or the big client--that is if you want to keep your job. Anyway, the hall was decked out in streamers and banners and the obligatory oom-pah-pah band was situated right in front of the dance floor. Long, plastic-covered tables were in neat rows all around the all around the room's perimeter. The staff was dressed in lederhosen and dirndls-they were really, really friendly and willing to put up with the myriad of questions that I and my fellow novice festers were asking.

We listened to the band (my manager used to be in a polka band when he was a teenager and he knew every song played)--it's amazing how many songs from the Sound of Music was was on the set list-- and watched as our servers turned into the club dancers and did traditional Barvarian folk dances. And of course we changed the traditional Oktoberfest cheer before toasting our friends and neighbours...several times.Beer flowed by the pitcher and there was a schnaps bar in the corner.

Unfortunately, cold medication prevented me from partaking in the fun stuff, so I was relegated to a cranberry-orange juice. As we were a small group, we took our meal tickets to the kitchen counter and had our choice of a schnitzel, sausage, pigtail or cabbage roll dinner. The sides were roasted potatoes, sauerkraut, boiled mixed veg (peas, carrots and I think corn), rye bread and dill pickles.

So, what was I to do?

I had sworn off schnitzel years ago, but I thought 'if anything would get me back onto it, this should. Oh boy, did I make the right decision. The meat was not heavy, but juicy--and not too salty. The portions were huge (a bit big for me, but I finished most of it (feed a cold, starve a fever--well, feed a fever as well...). Afterwards a number of us went up for the apple streudel...oh my...a very nice streudel it was.

Weiner Schnitzel
4 120-150g veal cutlets, pounded until they are thin (you can use chicken or pork as well)

For the breading
2 eggs
unseasoned breadcrumbs
salt and black pepper
oil or lard for frying

Putting it together
Before you take out the cutlets, prepare three plates for the breading--the first has flour seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper, the second has two beaten eggs, and the third has the crumbs.Heat the fat in a frypan.Bread the meat by first covering it in flour, then dipping it in the egg and then finally dredge the pieces in the breadcrumbs. Fry both sides--don't let them stay too long in the fat as they won't take long to cook. Drain the excess oil on kitchen towelling.You can serve it with a lemon wedge or sweet mustard, but I find it a bit too sweet for my liking. What I wound up doing was cutting it with a bit of regular, prepared mustard--it added a really nice bite (yes, I know all the Germans and Austrians reading this are probably shaking their heads at me).

as always,


14 October 2005

The stuff in the back of the fridge: 4000-year-old Chinese noodles

I read this in yesterday's Globe and Mail and thought it warranted an "extra" post this month.

They published
Pasta its prime: 4,000-year-old noodles, an article about the discovery of 4,000 year-old noodles in north-west China, as reported in the British journal Nature. You may need to be an online subscriber to view the above link article...you definitely need to be a subscriber to view the paper on the magazine site.

The Chinese researchers who found the prehistoric noodles say it supports the theory that the noodle birthplace is in China and not Italy.

The 50-cm long, 0.3-cm , delicate, wide, yellow pasta strands were found covered in sediment, in a well-preserved earthenware bowl, in a settlement on the Yellow River that was destroyed by earthquakes and flooding 4,000 years ago. Since they are about twice the length of a standard spaghetti strand, researchers say it took quite a bit of slurping power to eat them.

They are similar to the traditional Chinese La-Mian noodle (similar to the Japanese
Raman noodle), and made by hand, pulling and stretching the dough. Unlike modern Chinese and Italian pasta, which are made from durum or bread wheat, these were made from millet. The strands quickly turned to powder when exposed to air.

Before this finding, researchers said the first written record of noodles appears in a book that dates to the
Eastern Han Dynasty; it has the first description of the origin and production of Chinese noodles.

Food experts generally recognize the noodle's Chinese origins, but many Italians believe that pasta is an Italian-born food. The article suggests (okay, it states) that "it may be that the Italians were the first to serve up pasta with sauce" which contradicts the wikipedia entry for Ramen, but we won't tell the journalist this...The manager of Rome's
Museo della Pasta (yes, the Pasta Museum) states they have an 11th Century document claiming pasta's Italian origins.

The researchers said that they didn't try the noodles--and from the picture (above), I don't blame them.

as always,


01 October 2005

Brain food

When I was little, Mum fed me plates of fish claiming they would make my brain "big and strong." I'd always assumed that she made this up, but it turns out she was right.

It was clear that my latest foray into academia, coupled with a full-time job, would stretch my already overtaxed brain cells. So when my search for dietary assistance proved that yes, indeed, fish is brain food, my brain ached just a little less. Omega-three fatty acids' effects on the brain are well documented in a myriad of discussion papers, articles and books.

Yes, I know, most fish that are part of the entire Omega-three mystique are considered fatty -- salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines -- in comparison to something like halibut or cod. I'm not a dietician so I won't even attempt to do the subject of nutrients justice, but since the brain is approximately 60 per cent fat, it only stands to reason that certain fats and oils, taken in appropriate amounts, are beneficial to the upkeep and well-being of the little grey cells.

Much to My Darling Dearest's chagrin, I love fish and seafood. Much to my chagrin, he can't stand anything that grew up in the water or near the water, so I can only enjoy a fishy feast on my own or with one of my other fin-friendly friends.

When I'm on my own, I don't do anything particularly exotic or complicated: steaming a filet with some herbs in parchment, quick and easy fish and chips, even one of the many variants of a sandwich--a burger, pita or a wrap. But I think my preferred dish is a pasta puttanesca with tuna. There's just something about the simplicity of flavours and textures that makes me very happy.

I keep all the ingredients on hand, so it's quick to prepare, and like most pasta sauces, it can easily be used with rice instead of noodles. Don't let the anchovies scare you---they melt into the oil leaving a really deep and rich salty flavour. However if that's the only thing that's putting you off this dish, don't use them, but substitute a tablespoon's worth of dark soy sauce, and add it with the tomatoes and wine. The spicing is to taste, so if the chili pepper is too much for you, just leave it out...then again, if it's too little for you, just add more.

You can put any leftover sauce in an airtight container and refrigerated for a few days; I've also frozen the sauce without problems. I don't promise this tuna dish will make your brain work better, but it will put your hunger pangs to rest.

Puttanesca Sauce with Tuna
Serves two
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, sliced into thinnish rings
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 anchovy fillets, chopped
ground black pepper, to taste

1 small red chili chopped (if you wish, you could deseed it, but then what's the point)
2 t pickled capers, rinsed and drained
8-10 pitted black olives, chopped
420 g (one 14 oz) tin diced tomatoes, (you can drain them if you want)
60 mL red wine (optional)
1 200g tin tuna, drained

Heat the oil in a large frypan over medium heat; add black pepper and the chilli pepper and stir for a minute or two. Stir until the anchovies have melted into the oil.

Then tip in the onion and cook until softened, stirring occasionally; add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Next, add the capers, olives, tomatoes and wine and bring to the boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the tuna and simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes, occasionally stirring. I tend to let it simmer longer because I prefer the flavour of concentrated tomatoes--and I don't like a particularly wet sauce. Give it a taste and decide if it needs additional salt or pepper. Serve over pasta or rice.

as always,