Being a student, I am often too busy to spend much time cooking for myself. As a culinary student, I find this a little upsetting because that means less time to experiment with ingredients and techniques. Luckily, the slow cooker is here to save the day.
Winter is the best time to pull out the slow cooker and infuse your kitchen with the rising aroma of a warm, home cooked meal. This simple recipe cooks on low for ten hours, rendering each ingredient incapable of holding any form. A potage is a smooth, uniformly blended soup. The best way to make a potage is low heat for several hours. Using a slow cooker means you can just toss the ingredients in the crock, set the temperature and forget about it until it is done.
It is commonly known that chili and cocoa pair well together. This combination can be found in many desserts, from spicy hot chocolate to chili chocolate tarts. Sauces like black mole and chocolate chili barbecue sauce are excellent to compliment flavours in poultry and meats. Even chili chocolate beer exists. I thought it was time to combine chili and cocoa powder with butternut squash. The deep, density of cocoa brings out the earthy qualities to butternut squash and chili always adds an incredible kick. Those combined with the nutty coconut milk makes a perfect, hearty winter meal. This recipe got me through a week’s worth of lunches (and few dinners on really busy days).
Butternut Squash Potage With Chili and Cocoa Powder
1 large butternut squash
2 cups of water
2 cans of coconut milk
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
¾-1 teaspoon salt
Remove the skin from the squash and cut it in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut the squash into large chunks.
Place all ingredients in a large 6.5-quart cooker and cook on low for 10 hours. I usually start my before I go to bed and forget about it until morning.
When your soup is finished cooking, it is time to turn it into a potage. Using an immersion blender, blend ingredients together until completely smooth.
Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with feta or goat cheese, paprika and cracked pepper.
There will be a lot of soup, so you may want to portion some into containers and freeze for later.
As a lifelong lover of cooking, I have always been passionate about food and food culture. I realize now how lucky I was growing up to have had information about healthy eating practices, access to fresh farm produce and an environment where food actually tasted like something that was plucked from the ground. My desire to cook and make flavor come alive was born from being around food that actually tasted like food and from being embedded in a community culture where food and its origins mattered.
America has always been known as a land of abundance. Unfortunately, where there is great abundance can come great ignorance. We do not have to deeply think about food because its abundance is embedded in the American consumer culture. We shop at supermarkets full of individually wrapped products, pumped full of preservatives to maintain longer shelf life. We see uniform produce, shipped during any season from around the world, stunted of true flavor and lacking nutrients. Ready-to-eat meals are pre-prepared to satiate our assertion of independence from the kitchen. Hefty cuts of meat are laid out in packages designed to make us forget that it was once part of an animal, while undesirable cuts are disposed of. What would it look like if our culture were designed to have us question our food and even beyond that and be genuinely curious about where it comes from and how it might help or harm our health?
Michael Pollan, author of The Food Movement, Rising says, “The food movement gathers around “the recognition that today’s food and farming economy is unsustainable.” Vast expanses of fields containing a single high yield crop saps valuable nutrients from the soil. Our inability to stop the momentum of the system of supply and demand has left our once vibrant and nutrient rich land an assembly line of fast food catering to the needs of the masses. Our bodies have responded to our high sugar, high salt, and bland diets with chronic disease, obesity, diabetes and weak flavor palettes. As a chef in training, I cannot abide.
Pollan aptly defines the food movement by stating that it reflects our “attempt to redefine, or escape, the role of consumer.” This can be seen in the small farms, businesses and markets popping up around the country. Farm-to-table dining was started with the realization that the best ingredients can be found close to home. Chefs are working with local farms and only seasonal produce to achieve the freshest meals possible. Huge growth in Do-It-Yourself (DIY) community has developed as well. People are actively learning how to make food products on their own in small batches with simple techniques. There is a strong urge to take part in the process of making food rather than just purchasing and heating it. The food movement is like beautification for our taste buds and our communities.
To celebrate: truffles!
Korean Yuja (or Yuzu in Japanese) can be called citron in English as it doesn’t have a direct translation.. It is often used in honey teas, desserts and liquor infusions in both countries. The flesh of this citrus is quite tart and an excellent flavour booster for just about anything. I was clever enough to bring a small jar of yuja honey tea back to the States with me. Like all citrus, it compliments the bitterness of chocolate perfectly. And when the whole pomegranate kernels burst in your mouth, you know you can die happy.
I like to think of this dish as a kind of soup without the broth. Warming, cozy and comforting, I make it all the time when I want something easy. It is kind of a non-recipe and can make good use of random bits of food you have lying around. Put as much or as little of each as you want/have. Improvise. Create.
One-Pan Roasted Winter Meal
brussel sprouts, cleaned and quartered
sausage or tofu (or your protein of choice)
sauerkraut and some of the juice
mushrooms, halved or quartered
toasted sesame oil
Preheat oven at 425ºF/220ºC/Gas Mark 7.
Combine the dressing ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.
All ingredients are to cleaned and chopped into bite sized pieces. They should be around the same size so they bake evenly. Put everything directly into your casserole dish/baking pan.
Drizzle the dressing all over the ingredients and mix until everything is saturated.
Put the uncovered pan in the oven for about 45-50 minutes. Check every 15 minutes and stir so nothing gets burned. When the carrots (or potatoes, if you use them) are soft, remove from heat.
Garnish with Greek yogurt, hot sauce and more cracked black pepper. Dig in.
I tend to get my culinary resourcefulness from what surrounds me, so I like to keep my kitchen full of diverse and inspirational ingredients. When I begin a cooking endeavor, I get out everything I feel might pique my creativity and sort through the combinations until I get a flash of genius. I must say, I am proud of this recipe.
Tilapia has a mild, almost sweet flavour and a delicate texture. It is like a slightly fishy canvas that absorbs whatever you put on it. Pomegranate molasses is the base of the marinade for the tilapia and it adds so much to the complexity of the dish. Fennel and kielbasa add the right combination of crisp and meat to make the perfect salsa atop a bitable taco.
Pomegranate molasses is one of those miracle condiments that compliments everything. It is made by boiling pomegranate juice into a thick, sweet reduction and retains its tart qualities as well. Dark and almost black with a reddish hue, pomegranate molasses hails from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. It is typically used in marinades for fish and meat, included in sauces and used as syrup for drinks and desserts.
I came across a bottle of it when I visited one of my best friends in Toronto last summer. We entered a well-known Middle Eastern establishment in Kensington Market that sells falafel, Turkish delights and various Mediterranean staples. I was instantly intoxicated by the place. While browsing the shelves, I zeroed in on the bottles of pomegranate molasses and asked what it was used for. The vendor said “all the things.” I’ve been using it ever since. I doubt it is available at any supermarket around where I live now, but can certainly be found online. I think next time I will try making it myself.
Pomegranate Molasses Tilapia Tacos with Kielbasa Fennel Salsa
For the fish:
2 tilapia filets
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
dash olive oil
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
For the salsa:
½ a bulb of fresh, thinly sliced and roughly chopped fennel
3-4 inches of kielbasa, diced
½ of a red bell pepper, deseeded and diced
1 chopped red onion
4 cloves of chopped garlic
½ a lemon
pinch of salt
Clean and prepare the filets. Place them in a baking pan and sprinkle sea salt all around them. Spoon a teaspoon of pomegranate molasses down the middle of each filet and drizzle olive oil on each. Set aside to marinade.
Start preparing your ingredients for the salsa. Preheat oven at 400ºF/200ºC/Gas mark 6.
On medium heat, brown the onion and garlic on the stovetop in some cooking oil. Stir intermittently.
Add the fennel. Cook until soft then add the bell pepper and kielbasa. Sprinkle salt to taste. After 3-4 more minutes, remove from heat.
Lay the salsa abed the tilapia. The filets should be buried underneath the colourful spread. Squeeze the lemon on top the contents.
Place the pan into a fully heated oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. Remove when the tilapia is opaque. Do not overcook or fish will lose its tenderness and be rubbery.
Heat corn tortillas in a clean stovetop pan. Each side should have pleasing burn marks and some bubbling.
On each tortilla, break-up a fork full of tilapia and scoop some of the salsa and its juice.
Top with goat chevre or greek yogurt and chopped cilantro. Dip in your favourite hot sauce.
Devour. Savour. Enjoy the complexities delicacies of flavour and be astonished by what you just made.
Well, I did it. I made it through 2014, just like the rest of you. Big deal, right? Sometimes life is tough. We all have to trudge through the shit, but we don’t always come out clean on the other side.
2014 was a devilish year full of chaos (read: threats), discovery, challenges and love. The threats seem like a distant memory now, as I suspected they would, but there is nothing better at turning one’s life upside-down than being in a far away land and feeling unstable. I won’t go too in depth on that subject. Instead, click here. It may give you a vague sense of what I experienced in my final year of working at a Hagwon in Korea. I will say that I left Korea in the fall of 2014 with my sense of trust deeply shaken and my nerves shot, but thanks to Love, I felt hopeful. My support system was, and has been, so solid that even in the thick of the crises, lies and sleepless nights, I never fell. I stood tall, held my ground and was able to see the light ahead.
So, thank you Love. You saved the year and so much more. I dedicate this post, this year’s motto (see below) and my love, to you.
The most common variety of passion fruit is small and purple. Creatively named “Common Purple”, this thick-skinned, tropical fruit contains pleasantly crispy seeds and yields small amounts of juice. But, that yield is dazzling. Passion fruit is mouthwateringly fresh and the flavour is absolutely seductive. Tart, sweet and delicately strong: a little juice goes a long way in any recipe. I am appalled to acknowledge that I have not tried the entire range of passion fruit varieties. This will now go on my bucket list.
This year’s motto: Stepping Out Clean in Twenty-Fifteen
Passion fruit is a good place to start. And chocolate helps a lot. These truffles are deliriously decadent and will help you find strength to defeat all your foes.
Vegan Passion Fruit Truffles
1 cup cocoa powder
2 juiced passion fruits, separated from seeds
½ cup of coconut cream
4 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon sugar
pinch of salt
-Heat the coconut cream, passion fruit juice, sugar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a soft boil. Stir continuously.
-Turn heat off and add coconut oil. Stir until fully incorporated.
-Add cocoa powder in small batches and mix until thick and smooth.
–Optional: If you like the texture of the passion fruit seeds, add some or all into the mixture.
-Form teaspoon sized balls by rolling them in the palm of your hand and dust with more cocoa powder.
-Store in the refrigerator. They should keep well in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. If removed, they will only last a day.
I have a slightly bizarre sense of pride regarding my ability to make an exciting meal out of left over food. I prefer to think of these meals as transformations, rather than leftovers. As a cook for a community where many events and retreats are held, I often find myself serving anywhere from 30-100 people for meals. Depending on the popularity and quantity of previously made dishes, there are often leftovers, sometimes very large amounts of them. Since I really hate throwing food out, I always try to make something different with leftovers so the community members don’t find themselves stuck with the same meals over and over. Simple and effective transformations happen regularly. Have an excess of leftover vegetables? Blended soups are excellent ways to transform veggies into something fun and new. Sick of all that chili? Turn it into an enchilada casserole.
Here are a few tricks behind the Art of Leftover Wrangling:
a) You have to be fearless. Don’t be afraid of flavour. Don’t be afraid to do something unconventional. This also means you can’t be afraid to fail. Honestly, if I’d have given up after making that horrible vinegary collard green soup that one time, my tail would still be down marking my shame. If you do ruin a dish (or several) don’t let it deter you from future transformationing.
b) Use your senses, not your preconceived idea of what you think does or does not go well together. Taste everything in combinations before counting them out.
c) Blend. Blend. Blend. Blend soups, blend sauces, blend dips. An emersion blender is a cook’s best friend.
d) If you’ve overcooked a piece of meat or let your fish get too dry, turn it into a sumptuous burger by mixing it with a grain, blended vegetables and some raw eggs to bind it. Transformed!
e) If all else fails, throw your leftovers in a pan and top it with some cheese. Seriously. Melted cheese makes everything better.
I actually find working with leftovers to be fun and rewarding, especially when you thought it was a lost cause. It forces me to be creative with what I have available. This blog will feature leftovers transformed. I will regularly post re-creations, tips and ideas.
Every time I attempt to describe what molecular gastronomy is, a jumble of words escape my mouth in my overexcitement and I can never satisfyingly unravel much more than: spheres, foams and balsamic caviar. I’m also certain the words “cool” and “awesome” materialize uncontrollably about 15 times per sentence. So, what is molecular gastronomy? Here’s how I understand it:
Traditionally, cooking and food preparation have always been considered an art or intuitive skill. We learn cooking methods passed down to us based on accepted techniques or we use our intuition to try (or discover) something new. Molecular gastronomy is a branch of food science that uses physics, chemistry and a bunch of really cool lab equipment to focus on the scientific investigation of cooking. Basic cooking methods and beliefs were put through extensive testing to see if they had any scientific merits to back up what was claimed. Cooking As Art met Cooking As Science and they went to work.
Though molecular gastronomy is a field of food science, one thing that perhaps distinguishes it from other fields (like food microbiology, sensory analysis and food engineering) is that practitioners of the field are cooks working in a kitchen, not scientists working in a lab. Although with some of the better-equipped restaurant kitchens, the line between kitchen and lab is a little fuzzy. This notion is so exciting to me. It seems like this science was developed purely for the love of eating.
Pioneers of scientific cookery were interested in debunking or explaining old wives tales about cooking, experimenting with existing recipes, inventing new ones and introducing new tools and technologies. They investigated the chemical changes during cooking in order to find the most favourable methods of preparing food. Some of their inquiries might have been:
Should beans be cooked with the lid on or off?
Will meat stock produce more flavour if I start with hot water or cold water?
What new cooking methods might produce improved results of texture and flavor?
The term “Molecular Gastronomy” was coined by physicist Nicholas Kurti and physical chemist Hervé This in 1992. It was also the title of the workshops they held, which drew scientists and professional cooks to discuss the science behind traditional cooking. Kurti became one of the UK’s first TV cooks when he hosted a cooking show called “Physicist in the Kitchen” in 1969. Some of Kurti’s demonstrations included making meringue in a vacuum chamber, cooking sausages by connecting them across a car battery and a reverse baked alaska which was hot on the inside, cold on the outside and cooked in a microwave.
Top chefs such as Ferran Adria of El Bulli and Heston Blumenthal (my personal hero) of The Fat Duck have become associated with the movement because of their scientific approach to cooking, although they are said to disapprove of the term because it makes cuisine sound inaccessible and snobby. Instead, they prefer to call it modern or modernist cuisine.
The objectives of molecular gastronomy today have changed somewhat. Though scientific approach is still the essence of experiments done in its name, the focal point is more on the experience of eating food and the techniques used to create unique and artful presentations. It is revolutionizing traditional cooking and transforming eating into a sort of multi-sensory experience. For example, scented air is often used to play with diners memories and emotions (the smells of leather chair and fireplace for a Christmas meal). When diners uncover their dish, puffs of air float into their nostrils titillating their sense of smell. Certain techniques have become quite popular and are now easily reproducible, such as making spheres, foams, gels and faux caviar.
Molecular gastronomy has now become more accessible to the at-home cook who doesn’t have expensive lab equipment hanging out in their kitchen. Products can be bought online to help you experiment in your own kitchen and instructional videos can be found on YouTube. Here are a few:
How to make food spheres
How to make foams
How to make faux caviar
How to make gels
I recently bought a few molecular gastronomy kits and have been experimenting in my own kitchen. It is a squeal worthy sort of satisfaction to change flavours and textures around. I will be posting my experiments and I hope they inspire others to think outside the box, too. Happy experimenting!
Order molecular gastronomy materials online here or here.