Sunday, March 8, 2009

The First Lunch.

I suppose the best way to cure first-timer’s writers block is to start with a picture, and there you go.

I saw a sign at a preferably unnamed coffee shop the other day stating that a house isn’t a home without tea. Corny? Yes sir, especially coming from a place that encourages people to not drink coffee and tea at their own home but instead spend all their time at the nearest coffee shop (there is one on every block). But still, nothing makes me feel more at home and comfy than lying on my couch in the living room, basking in the sunshine, with a cup of tea. I get home and put the kettle on. You come to my house for a cup of tea. Coming over in the evening for a drink will, with a few special exceptions, end with a pot of lemon tea with honey. I have a fabulous roommate who loves tea more than I do, and she’s got no less than six tea pots (and a coffee bodum). I get in trouble if I make the wrong tea in the wrong tea pot. Needless to say, I caught on quickly. Chai in the brown betty?? Shit hits the fan!

Welcome to my blog. I’ve never done this before and it’s all very exciting… Here’s what I propose to do: I will make all kinds of food, mostly healthy stuff, and tell you how I do it. I want to encourage everyone to cook awesome food for themselves and their friends and family, from scratch. No more frozen lasagne. Sound good?? My food philosophy is simple - I eat mostly plants, and while I rarely eat animals, I don’t follow any sort of vegan or vegetarian diet in any way. And I eat pretty damn well, if I do say so myself.

So Wednesday morning was as good as any morning to get things going. My cousin Celia was going to come for breakfast. However, there was an incident involving four Italian 40-something brothers with big necklaces and dyed hair whom she was buying some cardboard boxes from that ran a bit late so it turned into lunch. No worries…

I have been travelling a bit and moving around a lot over the past few years. Only recently have I moved into a place that I love, with a kitchen that I’m not afraid to cook in (meaning no cockroaches and a clean stove). Where I’m going here is that I am SO excited to have a full kitchen, that I don’t have to run to the shop any time I want to cook a meal. I have spices and a freezer and some dry staples… Heaven on earth! I always love visiting my parents house because for the week I am there, I can cook every evening, using up everything in the fridge, pantry, and probably some stuff from the freezer left over from the last time I was home. My mom will call home asking what she can pick up and the answer is ‘Nothing! Just wine! Or maybe a bottle of gin..’ My mom likes to drink when I come home and we make things like champagne cocktails, or drink a lot of my dad’s homemade wine.. But that’s another story.

Anyways, here I was planning on serving breakfast and I need to switch it up to lunch! No sweat - no need to head out because all I have is some eggs and hot sauce. Not in this kitchen!! I find lentils, spinach, and a LOT of zucchini. (How green of me…) I also had some tempeh marinating, as it was preparing to pretend to be bacon. Tempeh: it’s fermented soybeans and plain it tastes pretty terrible. I’ve heard you are supposed to steam it before even marinating it, but this particular morning I just didn’t feel like it. I chopped it into bacon-like slices and put it in a bowl with some soy sauce, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, some garlic, and some of the sauce from a jar of chipotle peppers I had opened up on a previous occasion - which would deliver that smoky flavour that we all love about bacon - (I just have to say it once again, I LOVE that I had all these things in my cupboard!) and let it sit until Celia showed up. I made something that resembled dahl, and broiled the zucchini (just the way my sister would make it for me). As soon as Celia arrived I fried the tempeh (of course, this along with the zucchini in the oven set off the smoke alarm, which likes goes off at any chance it gets) and then we feasted.

*Notice the tea pot - this is NOT for Earl Grey. Usually only rooibos or lemon makes it into the shell pot.

Do you want recipes?

Since we just met each other, I feel the need to explain my recipe habits. And to do that, I’ll give you a tiny little background story. A while ago I had a job helping develop and test recipes. This means making a dish EXACTLY according to the recipe. Now, when I cook I do not use ½ teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper, ½ cup of chopped spinach.. You get the idea? Being precise with my spices was so hard, and putting chopped tomatoes into a measuring cup seemed crazy to me! I believe cooking is an art. Baking is a whole other story - taking butter and eggs and flour and sugar and mixing them all together, then putting them in an oven and getting a cake an hour later, that is sheer science. If you miss something, it’s just not going to work out, no questions asked. Imagine doing to grade seven volcano science experiment using water instead of vinegar. Pretty obvious stuff.

But back to cooking, it’s an art. Put whatever the hell you want in there. Any recipe is a guideline. I use them as ideas, and then I switch it up based on what I like or, more often, on what I have in the house. Be adventurous! Go with what you like! Love garlic? Then put the entire head in there! Know what things taste like, how salt helps things taste good and lemon juice brightens anything up when you add it at the end. You will get results when you follow recipes to the letter, but it’s when you get a bit wild and crazy with making dinner that you start to truly learn how to cook.

So the moral of that rant is please don’t follow the amounts I give you - I don’t. They are all approximations! It will make you a more independent and brave cook. Trial and error truly does work!

1 cup dry lentils (I use green)
Half an onion
1” fresh ginger
2-4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon coriander
1 dry chilli, or ½ teaspoon chilli flakes

-Put the lentils into a bowl with enough water to cover them all and let them sit, as you want to begin rehydrating them.
-Chop up your onion, ginger and garlic and dump them in a big wok with some oil (I used extra virgin, to be exact) to start cooking. Leave them in there on medium heat until they start to turn translucent - it’s going to smell awesome. This should take at least 5 to 10 minutes.
-Now you can pop in the lentils, water and all. Let it all simmer for a while and let all the water cook out. -When it is relatively dry, it’s time to add the spices. Please be heavy handed when it comes to all of these! They are the base of all Indian cooking and, if you have looked at the recipe, where ALL the flavour comes from. Don’t be stingy! There should be enough to cover everything in your pan. Stir it all up so that everything is coated, and then let that cook for a while. It’s going to dry out a bit, which is good. This is toasting all your spices a little bit, which is going to make your dahl taste that much better.
-Next add water. Start with a cup. Just pour it in, and then let it cook off (it should be at a simmer, meaning bubbles should be forming. But not boiling!) - this will take about 10 minutes. This is going to further cook your lentils, and get the spicy flavours right into them. If after adding a cup of water your lentils aren’t fully cooked, add another cup. Let them get to a consistency that you like.*

*If you feel like letting things get a bit creamy, add a can of coconut milk after that first cup of water. Let that cook down a bit (as in, the liquid will reduce because you are cooking it all uncovered) and then, if you feel like getting really rowdy, puree it all a bit.

How does my sister always do her zucchini? Simple. Cut them in quarters, pop them in a pan, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic and some salt and pepper and broil them until they get some nice char marks on them. Finish them with some lemon juice as soon as they come out of the oven (and right after you get the smoke alarm to stop beeping), and eat them for any meal you feel like.

And yes, this entire meal goes very well with a nice cup of tea.

1 comment:

  1. you rule, love! well done! i'll be checking back in...