Thursday, 28 August 2008

I wanna be a chocolate god post 5: how to get on my truffle list

Ooooh. Raspberry dark chocolate and cardamom white chocolate truffles. Layers of goodness. Here you see an army of the white chocolate centers (vegan white chocolate, cocoa butter, freshly ground green cardamom, powdered soy milk), and then the finished truffles, with the dark layer made using the method described here. I made the centers, let them harden overnight (they're not melty, they're crumbly), and then wrapped them in prepared dark chocolate/raspberry stuff. Please read this about chocolate.

Now for the long, long rant. I cook a lot. I bake a lot. I make truffles. There are people who I love to give treats to, and those who rarely get any. Why? 

How to get me to give you truffles:
(or cake, or cookies, or entire dinners)

1. Say please and thank you. They really are magic words. People like giving gifts to those who appreciate them. There is little pleasure in (and therefore little motivation to)  giving to those who are dismissive or rude. 

2. A gift is not an act of charity or obligation. It is an expression of love, friendship, goodwill.. etc. Acknowledge it. You are being given something that, by definition, you have done nothing to deserve. How wonderful! Acting like you are simply getting your due makes you look like a selfish, spoiled, entitled asshat.

3. Unless constructive criticism is solicited, don't offer it. If someone is perfecting a recipe, or wants to know if there is anything that would make you like it more, they'll probably ask. Otherwise, you're being critical and mean. 

4. Say something nice, and ONLY something nice. "Thank you", for example. Don't use backhanded compliments like "Wow, this is much less repulsive than I thought it would be." If you categorically hate a certain ingredient, politely turn the gift down, or accept it ("thank you") and put it aside to deal with later. If you willingly bite into something you know you hate, and you find out (oh the shock!) that you still don't like it, it's your problem. At that point, you just have to suck it up. 

Oh, and just in case it's not obvious, comments like "this is good for a vegan cookie" or "wow, this tastes like real cake" are backhanded compliments, are rude, and will put you in my "no presents" book forever. 

5. Be generally nice. I'm more likely to take the time to set some yummy aside for you if the thought of your sweet little mug fills me with joy instead of anger. Just to revise, being nice is not just the absence of being mean. Being nice goes beyond the contractual relationship that we have (colleague, flatmate, whatever). Some things that are nice: washing out someone elses coffee cup when you're doing dishes anyway, turning off your cell phone during dinner, not putting in your ipod earphones when someone else in in midsentence. Saying hi, bye, please, thanks (ie, not treating people like furniture). Being sensitive to other people's comfort (So, inviting me out to dinner, and then eating steak in front of me is NOT NICE, because it means that I can't enjoy my food. In fact, it means that I'll probably be focusing mainly on not gagging. If you can't envision eating in a restaurant without eating steak, then don't invite me. We'll do coffee instead, or just go for a walk, okay?).  Basically, being nice is actively noticing someone is there, and doing little things to make their life better at no real cost to you. I don't give truffles to people who treat me like furniture, or who clearly expend the minimal civil amount of time and thought on me. Like I said, gifts are not charities. I do give out stuff as charity, but that's a whole different pot of beans that we can get into another time. 

6. If said truffles are part of a dinner/afternoon tea, be a gracious guest. Show appreciation. (Basically, do 1-5). Barring genuine mistakes, it is unacceptable to arrive with a gift or contribution that the host is ethically opposed to. For example, it is rude to bring non-vegan wine to a dinner party that I am hosting, even if I am the only vegan there. 

7. Don't be a martyr. You are not doing someone a favour by accepting their gift. They are doing you one by offering it. Graciously accepting a gift is a skill, so learn it. If you ask me to make you something (even "just so you can try it") and then go on at length about how very open minded you are to deign to accept my vegan truffles/ice cream/cake/sushi, you will never get them again, even if you follow that up with groans of pleasure, profuse thanks, and by nominating me for Grand Poobah of the Cooking Universe. Similarly, if it takes a little extra time or effort to locate "something vegan" to feed me or bring to dinner, don't whine about it. If coming to my dinner parties is such a horrible chore, choose not to come. If you choose to come, be a gracious guest, not a martyr. Gracious guests get invited back often and fed goodies. They are a joy. 

Basically, unless you are in a restaurant, people are not your personal chefs and are in no way obliged to make you anything, ever (though I'd hate to live in a world where people only did what they were obliged to do). If they do, it's because they're giving you a gift. Act accordingly, and you shall get more gifts (everyone wins, because nothing is more fun that giving gifts to those who are good at accepting them). Act like they're your personal household staff, and you will soon find that if you want truffles, you'll have to pay for them. 

An embarrassment of riches

In keeping with what I said on the last post, here is another simple weekday meal. If you have cooked beans on hand (and one should always have some cooked beans on hand), it's ready very quickly. All you have to do is throw stuff in the pot and simmer it. Thrown in first and simmered for about 10mins: about 2c big white beans (any beans will work, though I think white beans or chickpeas or favas are best here), 3 large tomatoes, 5 cloves garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, saffron. water to cover (I used the bean cooking water). Thrown in second: 1 can artichoke hearts, halved. Thrown in just before eating: some spinach that was left in the fridge. See? Easy peasy. You can eat this with crusty bread. We ate it with wheatberries, olives and fresh dates. Yum.

Now, I wasn't planning on putting spinach in this, but I have a policy of Eating All My Food. The western world throws out about a third (yes, between 30% and 40%) of all our food. Good food, not spoilt. Stuff we produce and maybe buy and then just chuck. Leftovers from restaurants. One of the wonderful things about cooking is that once you get comfy not sticking too closely to a recipe, you don't ever have to throw out edible food again. Throw odds and ends into soups, stews and curries. Robust stews are especially good ways to deal with veg that is past it's prime. Snack on that 1/3 of a bell pepper or random too-small-for-a-real-dinner amount of pasta left on the fridge shelf (it's better for you than potato chips anyways), and don't buy more than you can eat. When you eat out, bring a tupperware container if you're one of those people who can't finish restaurant portions (saving the food by putting it in a disposable styrofoam package is a little counterproductive, wouldn't you say?). Remember that food thrown into landfills doesn't "just decompose". Or at least not quickly, since we throw things out in hefty plastic bags, and the conditions in landfills promote preservation, not decomposition.

Yes. Those are my words of wisdom. If you finish your veggies, next post I will address the age-old question of "how to get other people to give you truffles".

waiting for a miracle with: leonard cohen.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

just cook.

I very often hear people complain that they don't have the time or skills to cook. But everyone with an opposable thumb, passable hand-eye coordination and a few basic implements can cook. So I thought I'd take the time to write why I actually enjoy cooking, why I think it's worth the time, and what I do to make it something to look forward to rather than a chore.

First off, when I cooks, I cooks. I don't do a million other things at the same time. I may listen to music or a podcast, but I don't email, read, do work that I've taken home, fix the sink and change my bike tires while I cook dinner. I usually give cooking my full attention when I'm doing it. I don't rush (which means if i only have time to make pasta and chopped tomatoes, that's what I make, rather than trying to fit a dish with a 45 minute prep time into 10 minutes). Studies show that the more you take notice of an activity, the more you enjoy it. Cooking has lovely textures and smells and colours and tastes, and at the end of it, you have food! How satisfying is that? Cooking and eating are incredibly sensual things that offer so much pleasure if you just take a little time to actually notice them. You get to be creative, and with a little practice, you get to make things exactly the way you like them. Besides, what are you going to do with the half hour you would "save" by not cooking for yourself? Watch tv? Text message? Surf the internets?

Second, I have a realistic expectation of what I'm going to eat on a day to day basis. If you eat out all the time, every meal is Christmas-fancy. If you cook, much of the time food is plainer, in that I rarely make more than a single dish at once. Add salad, and you have a dinner. There is a reason things like lasagna, pilaf and biyriani tend to be featured on special-occasion menus in the backs of cookbooks. They take more time (and sometimes more money) than can be invested on most Wednesday nights. In this post, the soup is a weekday dinner. The pilaf (which was followed by cake and homemade sorbet) was a mini-dinner party that I spent about 2 hours cooking for, including making the seitan the night before). Many of the things in this blog are tagged "quickie". Those are simple things, as in they involve little time (though I do have a very well stocked spice cabinet).

Also, I accept and enjoy that there is a learning curve. When I'm just figuring out how to make a particular kind of dish, or working with spices that are new to me, I don't expect perfection right away. Remember when you were a kid and it was fun to see yourself improve? Well, cooking new stuff is like that. I ate a lot of misshapen and oddly-spiced potato roti while I was working out how to make them. Not that they were *bad*. They were fine, though one memorable batch required vast amounts of mango chutney.... and another batch simply got magically transformed into pizza crusts. But now they're better. When I was learning to make truffles, I botched a few batches and ended up with very very very expensive brownies. Some people (like me) are very adventurous cooks who don't really use recipes and don't mind the occasional disaster. Some cooks stick to a few basic techniques that they know well and follow recipes carefully when they deviate from it. Find a style that works for you. But if you want to know how to cook for everyday life, you have to learn to eat for everyday life. I don't know how people have the expectation that every day should be fancy food. Especially if you are just beginning to cook, start simple. Get good ingredients and appreciate everyday food.

Third, cooking lets you eat real food, not processed crap. What could possibly be more important than taking care of your basic health? Is taking half an hour a day to take care of yourself too inconvenient? Hmmmm.... last time I checked, being in bad health and having no energy was also inconvenient. (Plus, need I remind you that more energy and well-being equals better sex?) My health and sanity are non-negotiable. I will not give them up to crappy "food" and a lifestyle that makes exercise and downtime impossible.

Last, we have to eat. And life is short. If you can't take joy in everyday things, than what the hell is the point of life anyway? If there's something that gets done every day, several times a day (eating, moving from place to place, working), I *make* it enjoyable (cooking, riding my bike, having a job I love even though it pays less and is less stable than many other jobs I could have). I absolutely refuse to spend most of my life doing things I dislike, or even things that I'm indifferent to. That would just be a stupid waste. Those of us that are lucky enough to have the means (financial and mental) to be happy should. I have zero sympathy for those who live in self-imposed misery.

Okay, now the food. All I had left in the veg box was parsnips, spuds and a really sad looking carrot. I picked up some spinach on the way home and made this soup, which isn't terribly photogenic, but it was oh-so yummy. I didn't really know what I was going to do with the parsnips, except roast them, because I looooove roasted parsnips and am ambivalent at best about non-roasted parsnips. Soup: parsnips, sad carrot, onions and garlic, all coated with ras-el-hanout and roasted in the oven. Then I dumped the veggies into a pot, deglazed the roasting dish with some water and added that too, blended the whole thing, added some lemon juice and chopped spinach and topped it with pomegranite molasses. Yum. I ate it with potato roti, because I apparently can't get enough potato roti these days.

Also, apple pilaf from a bike-y dyke-y dinner this weekend: wheatberries and spuds boiled with cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves. Apples (6), caramelized onions(2), toasted and ground cumin and coriander, mexican oregano, zuchinni (1 small), carrot (1 small, happy), maplesmokey seitan crumbles (homemade), toasted walnuts (generous handful). Served with salad.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

august is the yummiest month

The new spuds are arriving in the veg box, and there are plums everywhere. I've been eating raspberries for breakfast all week and having a multicoloured tomato salad at least once a day for the past while. August is the yummiest month.

Trufflespuds: Boiled new potatoes, scooped out and then mashed with truffle oil, salt and parsley and then restuffed into the skins and baked, topped with slices of summer truffle. OH THE YUMNESS! *ahem* The poor potatoes have to go through a lot (boiled, mashed and baked), but it's all very worth it. On the side you see purple stuff (onions,purple kale, ungodly amounts of garlic, godly amounts of chili, nutmeg, raisins, sprouted azuki beans)

Plum Cake: Self-raising white flour, polenta (about 1:2), brown sugar, salt, baking powder, okara from almond-soy milk mixed with water to a yogurtish consistency, almond essence, rosewater, apple cider vinegar, Victoria plums, itsy-bitsy plums (the size of grapes!).

music: kd lang. all you can eat.

Monday, 11 August 2008

A commandment from the chocolate god

Thou shalt not use blood chocolate. I post a lot of chocolate stuff, and so I think I have some responsibility to ask you not to use chocolate produced by slaves when you make the lovely, decadent dark chocolate goodness from my blog. Animal slavery is not vegan. Human slavery is also not vegan. Both suck, and the edge of guilt will ruin the otherwise perfect taste of chocolate. And it will break my little dancing vegan chocolate god heart. For more info, go here.

You can be a chocolate snob like me and still not rely on child slaves to get the stuff to your table. Many of the fair-trade, organic chocolate bars have failed miserably to impress me, but just as many have knocked my socks off with how good they are. Here are my recommendations:
For cooking cakes etc: Green & Blacks or GEPA dark chocolates, Plamil for cases where you want a dairy-free milk or white chocolate. Green and Blacks also makes kick-ass coco powder.
For super decadent stuff (truffles, hot chocolate): Valhrona, either tempered or not, depending on the application.
For straight up eating (decadent): Coppeneur, Charlemagne, Coco of Bruntsfield, Luento Santoro
For straight up eating (fun): Dagoba (if you can get it fresh-ish... I don't know why, but I've had extremely bad luck with getting stale/bloom-ish chocolate from this company, yet their lavender chocolate is so good, I still buy it.)

Generally, stuff marked organic (or fair trade) is slave free, as is single-origin chocolate that is not from the Cote d'Ivoire. Please do your sleuthwork if you are unsure of the origins of your chocolate. Here is a link to a list of some slave-free chocolates. If you're too lazy to do your own research, please please please stick to the brands that others have taken the time to research for you.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

i wanna be a chocolate god post 4: enlightenment

Sweet Jeebus. After making this, I think I'm going to become a hot chocolate activist and lobby to have this sort of thing declared "real hot chocolate" and everything else clearly labelled as "a vague suggestion of what hot chocolate might be if it were done all the way". The "just add soy milk and stir" or even "melt really good chocolate into the soy/nut milk of your choice, along with a few spices" has got nothing on the crazy elaborate preparations from the enlightenment. Drinking this sure enlightened me. Hot chocolate cobbled together from a few different 16-18th century recipes, most of which are already vegan! Yay!: For 8 people: Start with 1 batch almond/hazelnut milk (I made this in the soy milk maker). Place the milk in a pot with mortar and pestled: generous 1/2 tsp annatto, 1 heaping tsp anisseed, a scant tsp of strong cinnamon (the kind used in indian cooking), 3-5 cloves, as many candied rose petals as you want - I used about two tablespoons. Add a whole vanilla bean and an ancho chilli (deseeded), both were dried, so I just cut them into strips with scissors, since the whole mess is going to be strained later. Heat this all to a simmer, then turn it off and let it sit for a few hours (I left it for about 8 hours) This should be a) bright orange (yup, that's it in the pot, with the tomato for comparison) b) not sweet and c) kinda thin. Then, strain the whole thing into a pot, and dissolve about 150 g of good dark chocolate in it (I used 75% untempered chocolate from Valhrona) plus a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa. Sweeten to taste with agave. Drink. It will become immediately clear why this is considered an aphrodisiac. I nearly went off in my pants while drinking it.

You really do need to let the almond/hazelnut milk and spices sit for a good few hours. When I tried a little sample of it early on in the afternoon, it was quite jarring, but by the evening, all the flavours had rounded out and melded. There was a bit left, and we had it for breakfast, and I have to say that it was even better. Next time I think I'll start the hot chocolate the day before and let it steep (before the straining step) overnight. Oh, and this is not suitable for american "serving sizes". I served it in small cups, which I think amounted to just over half a cup per serving.

Just for the record, I am completely and utterly unable to understand how anyone sees being vegan as deprivation.

music of the gods for the drink of the gods: dead can dance

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Pancrepe scramble

You know, it all started off with one substitution too many. I decided to make crepes. I didn't have enough wheat flour, so I used rice flour. There may have also been some creativity with soy and coconut milk. It should have worked. I mean, I've made rice flour crepes before, but this time it didn't. They just lost structural integrity. Then I thought...these look....scrambled. It is one of the better kitchen rescues that I've done. I may never make unscrambled pancakes or crepes again. You see, if you accept that the purpose of pancakes is to be coated in stuff (maple syrup, usually), then it becomes obvious that scrambling them a) increases the surface to volume ratio of the pancake bits, allowing more stuff to adhere to each bit and b) introduces more nooks and crannies where sauce can get into the pancake, or bits of fruit can hold on to it. The word "velcro" springs to mind. Also, it's wonderfully satisfyingly messy-looking. The basic method is: pretend you are making pancakes, pouring out one giant pancake on your pan (my pancake recipe makes 3 giant pancakes, so I repeat this three times) but when it gets to the bit where you flip it over, just scramble it instead. There's a photo of a real live nude pancrepe being scrambled in a cast iron pan. Yum. Put all the scrambled pancake aside, and throw piles of chopped fruit or veg into the pan and heat through. Add scrambled pancake. Place mess in bowl. Douse with sauce. Eat.

Combo 1: rice-flour coconut/soy milk "crepe" with bananas, kiwis, cashews, pistachios, coco nibs. Sauce: soy milk, cardamom, cinnamon, sugar.

Combo 2: wheat flour/ almond milk pancakes with strawberries, blueberries, mango, kiwi, plum, fresh figs, nuts, ground green cardamom, sea salt. Sauce: fresh mint leaves, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, maple syrup.

Combo 3: buckwheat/chocolate stout (spanky's homemade chocolate stout, no less)/flax seed crepe with onions,apples, capers, green pepper and smoked okara and almond cheese (okara, ground almonds, nutritional yeast, tahini, garlic powder, grated onion, dijon mustard, sweet/light miso, lemon juice, smoked salt, smoked paprika, thickened with kuzu)

I think I might try a vaguely mexican combo next...I'm thinking a cornmeal scrambled pancake with yellow squash, beans, smoked chilis and cacao nibs. ....

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

kale, spuds, chillis. what else do you need, really?

I wasn't planning on blogging this, but... yum!

Potato roti: About 3-4 spuds worth of leftover mashed spuds, or microwaved spuds that have been mashed. Mix in curry powder, mango powder, nutritional yeast. Roti dough: about a cup of whole wheat flour and a cup of ww spelt flour, sprinkle of crushed flax seeds, a nice sprinkle of white poppy seeds, dash of salt. Add water (enough that the dough is wet but not sticky), knead, and set aside while you make the greens. It is KEY to let the dough rest in quiet for at least 20 minutes, or you will rush it, which will upset the dough, and then it will retaliate and the roti won't be as wonderful as they could, all because you couldn't wait 20 minutes. So step away from the dough.

Kale: dry-roast a heaping tbs paunch poran, plus extra cumin, plus crushed chilli, plus asafoetida. Then add two large onions, chopped + water. When the onions have cooked through, add a handful of fenugreek (methi) leaves and um, 5 cloves of chopped garlic. Then all the kale you can handle and a few mushrooms if they're looking at you, all sad and excluded-feeling (like mine were). Cook the kale uncovered, you need to cook all the water off. ALL OF IT. When it's all cooked up, salt to taste, mix, and then add about half a cup of toasted chickpea flour. Mix. Turn off heat. Now, go back to your roti.

Repeat after me: The point of potato roti is to get as much potato product as humanly possible in the roti. Keeping this in mind the entire time, assemble your roti: Put a goodly layer of flour on the cupboard, or whatever surface you're using. Divide dough in 4. Take one chunk, knead, and form into a ball. The dryer you make the dough (ie, the more flour you knead into it), the harder it will be to roll out your roti. So knead just enough to make the dough unsticky. Squish the ball and roll it out in a smallish circle. Say.... the size of a saucer. Now, take a quarter of the spud mixture and put in in the middle of the rolled-out dough. Even though you don't think it will reach, pull the edges of the dough up around the spuds and seal it by pinching. See? It reaches! You will now have a dough-covered spud sphere. Do not get demoralized. Flip the sphere over so that the seam is on the bottom. Now dust the top with four and roll out the roti, squishing down gently. You should end up with a roti the size of a large dinner plate (do not exceed the size of your roti-cooking pan). If you cheated, and didn't let the dough rest, or were overzealous with the kneading just now, the roti will get back at you by exploding, leaving you with a mashed potato covered cupboard. Otherwise, you should be fine. Cook on a hot pan. No oil. The roti should puff up a little, which is how you know it's time to flip it. You'll just have to be figure out when to take it off the heat after flipping it. Good luck.

The whole dinner took about half an hour to make. Roti get fast to make, but you'll want to set aside a fair amount of time the first few times you do it.

Roti music: Cabaret. And I was singing along....badly.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

taking a bow. plus, going all medieval on your ass

Lelly gave me a blog award! Eeeeeeeeeeee! How very exciting! Thank you! Apparently I am supposed to put up this little banner thing. And nominate more people. I can do that. But Lelly already nominated Vincent over at Vegan Improv. *sigh* Once again, Lelly is a step ahead of me. Now, I suspect that the people I nominate are supposed to nominate yet more people, so get on it you guys!

First, I nominate Tuimeltje over at twigs and tofu, because she tries new stuff, and rocks.

And Jake, who writes some of the funniest and most insightful stuff out there.

And...ahem.. Hezbollah Tofu, for being fabulous, and regularily exposing the fuckwititude of Anthony Bourdain. This saves me endless time, as otherwise I would have to expose said fuckwititude myself. Plus, yum fancy-pants food that will impress everyone you know and often takes a long time to make, which can lead to excellent bouts of cooking-as-procrastination.

Also, Jillian and her bitchin' vegan kitchen. Jillian makes food by actually following the recipes. This is an inspiration to me, and I secretly use her as my recipe tester, even though she doesn't know it. Shhhhhhh!...

And finally.... Vegandwhatnot, a fellow Canuck ,whose blog is just starting out, but looks brilliant. Saskatchewan needs more vegans. And more pirates.

Now. A project: Ducky's Modern Medieval. Starting at some yet-to-be-decided date this fall, I shall embark on a one-month experiment, mostly to see how my tastes change if I move away from the dominant spices in my spice cupboard. Soooo...for a month, I'll let loose in my kitchen with medieval recipes. Yes. A month of vegan medieval. Just to be clear, I won't be following the recipes in the sense of trying to recreate medieval food. The question is: if a cook from a medieval vegan kitchen (say a monastery) found themselves with my vegbox in my (modern) kitchen every week, what would they do? For lack of a better term, I guess I'll be doing fusion cuisine, only across time instead of geography. So Modern Medieval, not "Ducky's Time Travel", okay? There seem to be a fair number of vegan recipes out there, mostly because meat, eggs and milk were off limits for so many religious communities for so much of the year. I'm vegan for slightly less godly reasons, but no matter. I shall move bravely forward (or backwards? which am I doing here?). Basically, this is going to be an experiment with different spice combinations and cooking techniques. I've been fascinated by medieval/renaissance cooking for a while now, partly because there isn't much of a distinction between the use of what we would now consider to be sweet and savoury spices and partly because there was some pretty interesting cooking (and scholarship) before plain boring-ass food took over because it was somehow less sinful (less decadent?) than yummy food. So, bring on the cloves, cinnamon and rosewater! If you have any specific recipes you'd like to me try out, send me a link, and providing it's not something totally unveganizable, I'll probably try it.