Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Screw Cork! Caps work just as well!

I may be a snob about a few things (movies in particular) but wine isn't one of them. The science is in regarding the cap vs. cork debate on wine and it's clear that the cap works just as well but adds convenience.

Globe and Mail wine connoisseur and fellow alcohol snob Beppi Crosariol agrees with me.

He writes:

Some avid wine drinkers know – and too many do not – that cork is highly susceptible to a foul-smelling but otherwise harmless defect commonly known as cork taint. Officially called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, it is not to be confused with those little particles falling into the bottle as you wrestle with a dried-out cork. TCA is a specific chemical fault and it smells, depending on whom you consult, like mouldy cardboard, damp newspapers, sweaty socks or my neighbour's unwashed dog in the rain.

So why use cork? Partially I think it's part of the experience. Searching through the kitchen drawers for a corkscrew and fumbling to stick it through the cork and turn against mounting resistance seems to make the effort of enjoying the wine more pleasurable but only in the way being made to wear a toga and ceremoniously dunked with maple syrup is tantamount to entering high school.

Let's hear it for TCA less wine. I love progress.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Shoe Burger


Thursday, June 18, 2009

A curious letter from Doctor Who

This is a letter I received from Tom Baker about ten years ago when I first started working on the cookbook (not a typo -- it's really been that long) It didn't make it in the book because I didn't know quite what to do with it and I never got written permission to use it. I do think this blog is a good place to put it and it's a shame to go to waste. It is pretty entertaining and I hope more people can make sense of it than me.

I asked Mr. Baker if he could give me a recipe, his favourite foods or an anecdote.

This is what I got:

To begin at the beginning. I was born with several teeth on the 20th Jan. 1934. I mention the teeth not to brag but to praise my mother who adored me and told me that she went through hell for the first few hours of my life. Not only did I seem glad to be out of the womb and into the Liverpool air, but I was simply an ecstatic and voracious feeder; which I still am. Or, if you like, which is still true.

My darling mother told me that me appetite, like my acting was way over the top of anything she could imagine. And so sharp were my teeth that I made mince meat of my mother's nipples. I waited till she died before I revealed this piece of autobiography. Of course these are very dim memories for me.

Because the tooth fairy had been so good to me I was deprived of my mother's molk within three hours of my attack on her nipples; both of them. I hope it's clear that I'm talking about both my mother's nipples and not the nipples of the tooth fiary for whom I have the greatest respect. My mohter was a martyr to her love for me.

Oh, get on with it, Tom.

So there you have the beginning of my eating experience, my own mother!

I'll give you a piece of advice here; never trust a man who would eat his own mother.

My mother also told me that the Germans had heard about me and that's why they declared war on Liverpool and began to bomb us so often. I had no idea that they were also attacking the rest of the country. So within a short time the country was short of food, all my fault, and then began the austerity programme. Each day at six o'clock in the morning and then at midday and again at six at night a large wooden spoon was produced from behind the oven and I was fed cod liver oil. In no time I was hooked and would mew for my CLO.

We also were fed a nice looking asphalt like substance called malt. I grew to like this as much as my thrice daily CLO. Whatever these aids to life contained they sure made me grow. By the time I was six years old I was bout five feet and eight inches tall and often topped in the street by recruiting sergeants with gruff voices who demanded to know why I was not in the army. When they discovered I was only six and not eighteen they whistled Rule Britannia and marvelled.

About this time, 1940, I started on a course to become a professional liar. We were keen Roman Catholics in my bit of Liverpool and confession was a must if you were interested in Eternal life. Following this sacrament, I made my first communion. For the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Nudists among your readers I should explain.

This second steop on teh way to perfection was called: "First Holy Communion," and it was a very special morning indeed. IN fact it was the most amazing morning of my entire life. It was the mornign of the day that I ate God. Shall I say that again? OK. It was the morning of the day that I first ate God. I swallowed His body, His blood, His Soul and His Divinity. It really was a big day for me. I should add for those of you who like all the details that I did not bite Him nor did I chew Him.

No, He was so tender that He just dissolved on my tongue and I ingested Him. It was my first meal on that glorious May morning 1940.

So, to recap: My first meal was milk and both my mother's nipples. This was followed by a mixture called Cow and Gate. This was a white paste, I think, that tasted vaguely of cows and I don't (know) what else. But it was a great fertilizer and made babies grow tall. Then came the Malt and the Cod Liver Oil on top of the Cow and Gate. And then, as I have just told you, I started to eat God.

Well this mixture acted like magic and I grew like a beanstalk in a Pantomime. By the time I was eight I was as tall as a Grenadier guardsman though of course much thinner. I was called lofty by any passer by.

Then came Bovril, which is an essence of beef. Taken in large quantities with say spinach seems to produce a state of credulousness that surpasses disbelief. So Nipples Blood God and Spinach were my early influences. You can imagine the exquisite sense of anticipation I feel in a restaurant when I ask the waiter to bring the Menu! But I'm always disappointed. If it wasn't for the Spinach, I'd be in despair.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Don't chop those carrots!

Chopping carrots was always a bit of a chore, but I never knew there were drawbacks to both health and taste. BBC News has released this story Cancer boost from whole carrots and the findings are

Scientists found "boiled before cut" carrots contained 25% more of the anti-cancer compound falcarinol than those chopped up first.

Experiments on rats fed falcarinol have shown they develop fewer tumours.

The Newcastle University study will be presented at NutrEvent, a conference on nutrition and health, to be held in France.

Lead researcher Dr Kirsten Brandt, from Newcastle University's School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, said: "Chopping up your carrots increases the surface area so more of the nutrients leach out into the water while they are cooked.

"By keeping them whole and chopping them up afterwards you are locking in nutrients and the taste, so the carrot is better for you all round."

The Newcastle scientist, along with colleagues at the University of Denmark, discovered the health benefits of falcarinol in carrots four years ago.

Lead researcher Dr Kirsten Brandt, from Newcastle University's School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, said: "Chopping up your carrots increases the surface area so more of the nutrients leach out into the water while they are cooked.

Twenty five percent is a pretty significant difference especially considering a reduction in tumors by a third for rats. I'm not sure what the comparison for humans is and what exactly type of cancer it would affect but so far this is only one study and hopefully there will be more to come

From a pure culinary perspective, I think just as many restaurants will find this interesting:

Dr Brandt added that in blind taste studies the whole carrots also tasted much better.

Eight of ten people favoured the whole vegetables over those that were pre-chopped.

This is because the naturally occurring sugars which are responsible for giving the carrot its distinctively sweet flavour were also found in higher concentrations in the carrot that had been cooked whole.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Home Made Chicken Noodle Soup

This is a home made chicken soup recipe I came up with in honour of dear friend, fellow browncoat, Jewish mum mom (oops -- American!) and current scholarly influence Candace Uhlmeyer.

Nothing quite soothes quite like a chicken soup and for once, I even made the stock myself. One can learn a lot about cooking just by walking through the grocery store in search of nothing in particular. I love not having to look at a list and wondering which isle I should head to next. Some of the most interesting things have come from just wondering what to do with a particular ingredient I've never had before. Hopefully, I'll find some use for that dragon fruit but in the meantime, I was elated to come across a hoard of freshly wrapped stock chicken bones.

Cheap too. That's the important part, especially in this day and age and the soup has lasted me over a week infusing me with protein and vegetable nutrients.

Oddly enough, one of my early influences in cooking was Bugs Bunny cartoons. For some reason, Bugs was always to be the main ingredient of a soup. Perhaps the act of chopping up ingredients and throwing ingredients in a big pot provided more comedic fodder, but the message was that soups are pretty easy to make.

A chicken soup needn't be complicated. In fact, the simpler the soup, the better and you'll be more inclined to make them more which is the same mistake people with crock pots make. I think it's important to use home made chicken stock (not broth -- which isn't as tasty), and healthier too as there is less sodium.

And it's low in fat and cholesterol and rabbit friendly of course...

So here's the recipe:

The Stock:

It's Gordon Ramsay's actually so I'll summarize it here as it's quite simple. It makes about six cups.


(my comments are in italics)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped (I used 2 shallots, tasted better)
2 celery sticks, chopped (I used three, It tastes better and makes the soup a bit crunchier)
1 leek, washed and sliced (make sure to get plenty of the green bits. That's where the flavour lives)
1 bay leaf
1 thyme spring
3 garlic cloves, peeled (I smashed them a bit. The flavour gets out better)
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp flour
2 lb raw chicken bones (I doubled this and some of the bones had some meat on them. Chicken backs are preferable to legs and wing bones)
sea salt and black pepper

1. Heat olive oil in stock pot and add vegetables, herbs, and garlic. Cook until golden over medium heat stirring occasionally.
2. Stir in paste and flour and cook another minute.
3. Add bones and pour in enough cold water to cover.
4. Season and bring to a boil.
5. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface.
6. Reduce heat and let simmer gently for one hour.
7. Let the stock stand for a few minutes, then pass through a fine strainer and let cool.
Refrigerate and use within five days or freeze for up to three months.

The Soup

6 cups of stock (above)
1 chicken breast
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 leek, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 handful of egg noodles, fine (important to have the fine ones)
1/2 tsp thyme, dried
1/2 tsp basil, dried
1 garlic clove, chopped finely
1 small handful of fine egg noodles.


1. Heat stock in pot and bring to a boil.
2. Add chicken breast, carrot, leek, onion, celery, garlic and herbs and simmer for one hour. Add more water if necessary.
3. Remove chicken breast and chop into bite sized chunks. Return to pot.
4. Add noodles and simmer until they are soft.
5. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Food Price Hikes

The BBC reports that food prices are going up which is not suprising. This is bad news on many levels, because most of the cheapest foods available, are high in sodium, fat and calories. It is for the most part, easier to keep prices down that way. It's not made any easier when the cheapest cut of meat is the hot dog.

Let's face it, we can't all make the most of rice and beans which are healthy for the price but hardly exciting.

They report the following price increases:

Rice - up 81%
Pork sausages - up 51%
Mince - up 22%
Milk - up 14%

Well so much for Rice being cheap, so that just leaves the beans. I firmly believe that culinary education is the key here and people all over the world, including Britain, have forgotten how to cook.

Gordon Ramsay has done a good job at educating the public in England and here in Canada we have some pretty smart home grown chefs on the Food Network, but it's not enough. A little patience, imagination and I think above all, planning menus and shopping lists but we're not used to doing that.

Thankfully the web is making it easier to save money more than ever. Sites like Frugal Shopper and other various articles onsaving money have made an impact on every day budget cuts in grocery bills.

Just remember, fresh is better than dried but anything is better and cheaper than what comes in a frozen box. Consider a lasagna, and add up the costs. A box of frozen lasagna that costs $2.39 will be far more expensive than a large lasagna you make yourself and cut up into lunch sized portions. Price reduced warehouses don't necessarily have cheaper ingredients. Some of these places hike up the prices on some ingredients (meats or vegetables) to compensate. It's always good to compare prices. Years of experience in retail has taught me the value of knowing what the competitor values as their core customer expectation and how to compete with that.

Do the math. Fresh is cheaper than frozen and store bought. It might take a little more effort and time but it's worth it. Those lunches at work add up and you'll lose weight with less added sugar, fats and carbohydrates.

Work up a timetable during weekends. Freeze what you can, prepare ahead, clip coupons, price check and you'll be on the road to a healthier bank account and waist line.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

It's ratio, not recipe

If there is a secret to cooking just about anything, Michael Ruhlman's new book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking might have the answer the foodie has been looking for. He sums it up pretty well in this interview with the Globe and Mail.

A ratio is a fixed proportion of ingredients relative to another, and these proportions form the backbone of the culinary arts. A recipe is a specific set of measurements and instructions for combining those measured ingredients. These ratios are starting points.

There are recipes in the book however but Ruhlman is aware of the irony of that. The recipes are very simple and form a basis for more complex recipes. If you know the basic ratio of ingredients (fat, flour and sugar) in a cookie dough, Ruhlman argues that it empowers the cook to create any number cookie recipes.

He also talks about the usefulness of using mass measurements instead of volume. That might explain some of those heavy, dry cakes I've had to suffer through in the past.

It's critical. Ratios don't work with volume, which is why most recipes don't always double well. Flour, depending on the humidity in the air and how long it's been sitting in its sack, weighs anywhere between roughly four and six ounces [per cup]. That means that if a recipe for bread calls for four cups of flour, you could have either sixteen ounces, a pound, or a pound and a half; that's 50 per cent more, and you don't know which one it is. But if you weigh, it's always going to be the same, which is why professional chefs love to use weight.

I've been meaning to buy a scale for some time.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ingredient Guru: The Bay Scallop

Gordon Ramsay fans and foodies around the world must surely know the Sea Scallop is a popular staple of fine dining around the world. That buttery, savory seafood taste that rolls off the tongue echoes through the palate like a Mozart concerto on a sunny day. It's a staple of most fine dining starter menus and tapas style restaurants in those tres chique parts of town.

But the Sea Scallops retarded younger brother is every bit as tasty, if not smaller, and I think less demanding on the stove. They're smaller but can be stir-fryed in butter and garlic much easier. They cook through much simpler and brown easier. They're great in pasta sauce and even go great in stuffing for chicken and other poultry.

I've tried both but find the bay scallops to be somewhat stronger in flavour. The Atlantic scallops I buy are small about a half an inch wide and are caught off the coast of Cape Breton Island. According to this site there are four distinct species.

One of my favourite recipes is the simplest:

Garlic Penne with Bay Scallops and Snap Peas


2 tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced (substitute 1 tsp of garlic powder)
1 tbsp of thyme leaves
1/2 lb of Bay scallops
1/2 cup each sugar snap peas, green beans, yellow zucchini
300 grams of Penne (or substitute any pasta)
salt and pepper to taste


1. Boil salted water and add Penne.
1. Heat olive oil and butter in a pan and add garlic over medium-low heat.
2. When the garlic is browned slightly, add teh thyme and the scallops. Saute until the scallops start to turn brown and lose their greyness.
3. Add the vegetables and stir until heated through and the vegetables are slightly tender but still slightly crunchy.
4. Drain the pasta when cooked al dente (or slightly more), and plate with the scallops and vegetables on top.
5. Season to taste.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Indian Food Made Easy

Here's a television show I wish I could see. Indian food has had a profound effect on British taste buds in the last twenty or so years. I have discovered my love for curry and Indian food which despite its reputation for being exotic and spicy, is as broad and varied as most national cuisines due to the country's size and unique regional cultures. My research for the book led me to appreciate Indian food more and I had included an "Indian Style Vegetable" recipe for that very reason.

The website will give you a good rundown like most BBC food show sites. There are recipes to try and video demonstrations. I also like the glossary. I had forgotten that tandoori meant the oven the food was cooked it.

In the UK, the word tandoori is frequently used to describe food that has been marinated in a spice paste made of ginger, cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric and cayenne mixed with puréed garlic, puréed ginger, lemon juice, oil and, frequently, yoghurt.

That is also my understanding of the term and how it is used locally.
Speaking of Yoghurt, that's one of the greatest low-fat cream substitutes I've been able to find.

If you're planning on exploring Indian food more closely I recommend you try this page that outlines the essential ingredients. The spices alone should be in every foodie's pantry.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I Hate Cilantro too!

If we judge flavour by how edible and/or safe a food is then, Cilantro (or Chinese Parsley or Coriander) has to rank up somewhere in the near-poisonous zone. Turkish delight tastes like soap too, but at least it's sweet.

Now I'm somewhat comforted to learn that there is support for the few of us who would rather do without this garnish menace. Thanks to Larry Moran over at Sandwalk, I've learned there is a website dedicated to putting the hate on this herb from hell.

They have Haikus so you know it must be good:

Sometimes I forget...
Then it rears its ugly stench.
Please, someone kill me.

I will admit that I've used the dried spice version (technically Coriander Seed) as a spice on a few occasions, but the funky taste isn't as dominant and it has a sweeter aftertaste. I've never tasted it alone, so that might explain why I'm less hostile to it.

Some have suggested there might be genetic component involved in the perception of the taste, but it has never been established.

If you don't like the flavour of cilantro, I recommend you substitute Italian leafy parsley in a recipe instead. I've been doing that for some time and get a similar texture with an equally strong and more pleasant flavour.

Update: I just found this great piece in the Wall Street Journal.

At the annual Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, Dr. Wysocki and fellow researchers asked 41 pairs of identical twins and 12 pairs of fraternal twins to rate the "pleasantness" of cilantro. His scale ranged from plus 11 to minus 11, with zero indicating "neither pleasant nor unpleasant." More than 80% of the identical twins gave ratings similar to their siblings, while only 42% of the fraternal twins did -- suggesting cilantro hatred may be a genetic trait. But Dr. Wysocki cautions that he hasn't yet analyzed enough fraternal twins to draw a firm conclusion.

Dr. Wysocki contends dislike of cilantro stems from its odor, not its taste. His hypothesis is that those who don't like it are unable to detect chemicals in the leaf that are pleasing to those who like the herb.

Interesting. Maybe that's why it's fine for me to use coriander seed, unless it's chemically different.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscar Night Cuisine

Massimo Capra has a great Oscar night "buffet-style" menu here. That's not a bad idea as I usually snack throughout the evening. I like Capra's style and simple Italian one pot approach to cooking.

I don't know anyone who would prepare this extravagant a menu for an Oscar telecast. At least now I know how to get more people to come over and visit.





Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Proof Omega-3's exist

It was the default text so I just went with it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Look at this Richard! Just Look at it"

The London Telegraph has published this marvelously funny complaint letter from a Virgin airline passenger en route to India.

I love the Virgin brand, I really do which is why I continue to use it despite a series of unfortunate incidents over the last few years. This latest incident takes the biscuit.

Ironically, by the end of the flight I would have gladly paid over a thousand rupees for a single biscuit following the culinary journey of hell I was subjected to at the hands of your corporation.

I don't know what it is about airline food myself but some of the cheapest airlines have the best food. Air France's food is notoriously bad, while some of the smaller airlines in North America (West Jet, Continental) use well stocked, if simple and to the point, frozen entrees.

It appears to be in an evidence bag from the scene of a crime. A CRIME AGAINST BLOODY COOKING. Either that or some sort of back-street underground cookie, purchased off a gun-toting maniac high on his own supply of yeast. You certainly wouldn’t want to be caught carrying one of these through customs. Imagine biting into a piece of brass Richard. That would be softer on the teeth than the specimen above.

I rather enjoyed Air Transat's Pizza pockets and a few meals were quite nice, but I'm happy to have skipped out on this one.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Reuben Pie

Behold The Reuben Pie!

Please excuse the messy photo but The Pie just goes where it wants to go. Now that's a meat pie!

Like many great dishes, the origins of The Reuben sandwich are contentious, but for all accounts, it is most attributable to New York Delicatessens especially Reuben's Delicatessen around the turn of the century. Whether people love it or hate seems to depend on their affection for sauerkraut or rye bread, but it has been a favourite sandwich of mine for many years now.

This is why!


1 lb lean ground beef
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 egg
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp ketchup
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or pressed
1 16oz can of Sauerkraut, drained
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
1 tbsp caraway seeds
1 tsp celery seeds
1/4 cup of rye breadcrumbs
1/4 cup of onions, chopped
1 can (4oz) French fried onions (or onion rings in chip section, or potato chips)


Preheat oven 400 degrees F.

Mix meat, oatmeal, egg, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, garlic and pepper. Press into a 9 inch or 10 inch pie plate as if it were a crust. A deep dish pie plate is best! Press firmly to build up the sides all away around. Bake for 20 minutes until it has been evenly browned. Pour off excess juices and fat.

Meanwhile, mix the sauerkraut, cheese, seeds, and the fresh onions.

Reduce heat to 375 and pack the remaining ingredients firmly into the meat shell. Bake another 20 minutes. Crumble the french fried onions and the breadcrumbs and bake 5 more minutes.

Serve immediately in pie shapes wedges.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jeffrey Combs: The legend, the actor

"He used to bring beautiful women here... eat fine meals, drink fine wine, listen to music... but it always ended with screaming. " - Jeffrey Combs in From Beyond.

Welcome fellow Jeffrey Combs fans and soon to be Jeffrey Combs fans.

If you haven't seen Elisa's wonderful blog Combs Corner, be sure to drop by especially if you are a fan of Jeffrey Combs and his wonderful contribution to science fiction, horror film and television. If you are not aware of Combs' talents, then you are in for a treat. His sometimes serious, sometimes colourful, sometimes completely outrageous and entertaining and unique approach to the genremake him the perfect modern Vincent Price. Gordon and I were very excited to get a recipe from him. That Tortilla Soup is really fabulous, so be sure to try it if you haven't already!

Elisa has an anecdote I wrote here and I'm very proud to have contributed something. Please feel free to comment if you like.

If you would like to order a copy from me, you can email me here with name and address. The book is $15 US plus shipping and handling.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Duck Fat : Ingredient Guru

Good? Yes. Healthy? No.

Duck Fat is not a good fat though it is a highly respected way of cooking food. It is high in cholesterol and not recommended by doctors or nutritionists to use in cooking. Chefs love it of course and it can be useful in frying or sauteing potatoes, legumes or other vegetables.

If you prefer flavour and want to cut down on cholesterol then use 1 tsp of duck fat to 1 tablespoon of olive or canola oil. It will give your veggies a nice flavour, but will reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet.

Use wisely.

It won't help your waistline, but this is one of the most common ways to cook potatoes using duck fat.

Baked Potatoes

About a pound or two of potatoes can be used.
Rosemary or Thyme (tablespoon each if fresh, a teaspoon each if dried)

Heat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Toss wedges or slices of potatoes with 1 tsp of duck fat in a bowl and 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a bowl. Sprinkle with sea salt, pepper, and dried or fresh thyme or rosemary. Bake, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are very browned and crisp, 30 to 40 minutes.

The bottom line is if you are watching your cholesterol, you should avoid most animal fats in general. Canola and Olive oils are good to use as they have a good balance of mono, polyunsaturated fat content. Olive oil even has the benefit of flavanoids though has a lower smoking rate, and isn't good for frying as Canola is.