Category Archives: Foodie Goodie

Java Jive

It’s of course the time of year when retailers are going mad pimping their wares, and the fine folks at TASSIMO are no exception.

I’m no longer the prolific blogger I once was, but thanks to a give-two-get-one promo, I ended up with a TASSIMO of my very own, courtesy of the fine Miss Colleen Coplick.

So what do I think of the machine itself? I’ve got a bit of a love-hate thing going on with it.

Love

The ease. You really can’t beat sticking a pod into the top, putting a cup underneath and hitting “go.” The reservoir holds water for plenty of drinks (the water filter is a nice addition) so there’s no need to even add water before making a drink. When the brew’s done, toss the pod and go. I’m certain I will appreciate this both when Neil’s out of town on business, when I can’t be bothered to make a pot of coffee just for myself in our regular drip machine, and definitely when my hands and time are occupied with a squirming creature in a few months.

The variety of drinks available. The whole barcode-reading to optimally brew each drink is pretty swish. TASSIMO sent the brewer with a couple sets of drink pods – some Starbucks regular coffee and some NABOB cappucinos (a 2-step drink with an espresso pod and a milk pod). Since I’ve cut down on the caffeine lately I also picked up a pack of English Breakfast tea pods and some Maxwell House decaf. I’ve tried them all and they’re all quite good. Probably not good enough for an ultra coffee snob, but I pulled enough late-nights in university that I have an extremely high tolerance for extremely bad coffee (and dodgy leftover pizza). I’m also excited to eventually try the hot chocolate.

Making one-off drinks. If Neil wants a hit of the high-test stuff, he can easily make a cup of regular joe for himself, and do a cup of decaf for me. It’s now super easy to make either one or two cups of decaf or one or two cups of regular, depending on the preferences of the group. Of course, if you’re doing more than 3 or 4 cups, it’s still faster to just brew a pot the conventional way.

Hate

The waste. This kills me, and is the primary reason I will use the TASSIMO as the exception rather than the rule. Each pack of drink pods comes in a cardboard box. That box is wrapped in non-recyclable plastic. Each pod is made of non-recyclable plastic. Every time I make a drink (especially the cappuccino, which takes 2 pods) I think of the pods ending up floating here. If there were some magical way to create recyclable (good) compostable (better) or reuseable (best) pods I’d feel a whole lot better about it. (UPDATE: read the comments, turns out they are recyclable.)

The cost. Making drinks with the TASSIMO falls somewhere between buying them at a coffee shop and making them on your own. The TASSIMO plain coffee and tea work out to be about $0.75 each (depending on where you buy and if they’re on sale) while the specialty drinks (lattes and cappucinos) are about $1.30. If you’re really cost-conscious and only want single-cup servings, you’re far better off buying loose tea and ground coffee, and making a cup at a time with boiling water and a single-cup pour-over filter. If you think this will save you money by using it to reduce your fancy coffee shop budget, don’t forget you’re buying a not-inexpensive machine first. Spending a bunch of money to save money is rarely a good solution.

The chemicals. Of course I threw out the wrapping around the cappuccino package, but the ingredients for the “concentrated milk product” are far more than just milk. I’m certainly no stranger to chemical-laden franken-foods, but I do try to limit them. Since I’m not even that much of a cappuccino or latte afficionado, I’ll probably use these up, then not bother to replace them.

Overall the TASSIMO is a pretty cool piece of technology, with the single-serve coffee making and the barcode-reading drink customization. It’ll certainly get its fair share of use making single-cups of regular or decaf coffee, and was a pretty awesome treat of a thing I wouldn’t have ever bought myself.

What would make it the go-to coffee maker in my house? If TASSIMO changes the pods to be more environmentally friendly, and introduces a more natural milk product (concentrated UHT milk would be kindof awesome). Or, you know, if we discover the world actually is ending in 2012 and suddenly tossing out plastics and ingesting chemicals don’t matter so much anymore.

Eating NOLA

When Jen mentioned she and Brandon were making a temporary move to Louisiana in the new year, I left a comment pledging my undying love for New Orleans, and implored her to visit if they’d be near the city.

So of course, she asked for any recommendations of places to go and things to see. And I realized I didn’t ever actually share much of anything from our trip on here. Except Freddie.

As has become typical with any trip Neil and I take, most of our itinerary and planning revolved around food. And with its unique regional cuisine, fresh ingredients and access to amazing seafood, New Orleans ranks among the top foodie cities in America.

The Starting Place

In the past few years we’ve clued in to the fact that taking a cooking class wherever you end up traveling is an excellent way to sample some regional delicacies and learn about the history of an area. So much of a region’s development is shaped by the foods they have and the things they can grow, hunt and gather. Cajun cuisine (along with the rest of the culture) is a fascinating pastiche of French, Spanish, Ethiopian, Caribbean and Native American cooking and customs. Tinted by the spirit of a fiercely independent state full of people who were used to doing things their own way and are still (at least deep-down) a bit annoyed by the Louisiana purchase.

Miss Pat at the New Orleans School of Cooking

We spent an afternoon with Miss Pat at the New Orleans School of cooking, where we were introduced to New Orleans through its food, and sampled a number of dishes in this demonstration cooking class. It helped set the stage for understanding a lot more about the city as we wandered and ate.

The Seafood

Being incredibly close to the gulf coast as well as right on the Mississippi river, a huge amount of New Orleans food revolves around both fresh- and salt-water seafood. Two key stops included Deanie’s for their incredible, ridiculous, incredibly ridiculous seafood platter. It’s exactly what it looks like – a giant plate of deep-fried sea creatures for your enjoyment (Shrimp, Catfish, Crayfish Hushpuppies, Oysters, topped with a Soft Shell crab) . And this was the half-platter. There’s one twice as large.

1/2 Seafood Platter @ Deanie's

We also hit up the legendary Acme Oyster house for some fresh-shucked gulf-coast oysters. These babies are HUGE. I was intimidated. I don’t normally like Oysters that much. I mean, I don’t mind them, but I’ve never gone wild for the oysters I’ve had here in BC. These oysters are different. They were delicious. Big, buttery, smooth, with a bit of that saltwater tang. Love. Sit at the bar and chat with the shuckers.

ACME Oyster Bar

We also ate a number of Creole soups & stews (Jambalaya, Etouffe, turtle soup) with various seafoods as well as learning how to properly eat a Crayfish during Jazz Brunch, thanks to our server at the Court of Two Sisters (Twist off the heads-only suck them if you’re hardcore and/or brave-peel the tail. Devour).

The Sandwiches

You can’t go to New Orleans without trying some of their famous sandwiches: The Po’ Boy, the Muffaletta, the Lucky Dog. Okay, you can probably skip the Lucky Dog, but it is an excellent way to soak up all the booze you’ll be drinking (more on that later).

Neil and I were strongly divided on sandwich preference. I came away preferring the muffaletta, a hot italian sandwich of olive salad and cold cuts in a Sicilian sesame loaf. You would not believe how badly I have been craving one the past few months. Along with a pint of Abita Amber Ale. Made worse, of course, by the fact that cold cuts and beer are both on the naughty list for pregnant ladies. You’d better believe it’ll be one of the first things I make once the kidlet appears.

Neil was partial to the Po’Boy. Specifically the Fried Oyster Po’Boy. He likes more crunch and texture in his sandwich, and this one delivers. Lettuce, tomato, tons of condiments and a hefty helping of protein – the aforementioned fried oysters, catfish, shrimp, ham, roast beef, turkey… the list goes on. I had the Debris: a motley assortment of meat shrapnel in a sandwich. Easy to grab and economic to share for lunch, our favourite Po’Boys were at Mother’s Restaurant, which also happened to be around the corner from our hotel.

Po' Boy at Mother's

The Sweets

Beignets. Is there anything more to say than this? Ok, yes. With Cafe au Lait. Can you go wrong with deep-fried dough and sweet, hot, creamy coffee? I don’t think you can. Pro tip: scoop the extra icing sugar into your coffee. Buzz for a good 2-3 hours. Repeat as necessary.

Beignets & Cafe au Lait

The Sauce

If you’re seriously into spirits, New Orleans is an excellent place to visit. It’s the birthplace of the Hurricane, the Sazerac and the Vieux Carre among others. We didn’t really manage to get into the cocktails on this trip. We did have hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s piano bar, which led to this:

Pat O'Brien's Piano Bar

But that does not mean we didn’t have our fair share of drinks. New Orleans is home of the alcoholic “to go” cup. Walk into any bar or up to a hole in the wall, order a drink, pay and walk away. You could get a gigantic vat of bud-light for $5 if you hate yourself, but there is also a great local beer, Abita, and we drank great quantities of their Amber Ale while roaming around the French Quarter.

Also, that whole “wandering around the quarter on a hot evening, drinking a lot of beer” thing is where the Lucky Dog comes in handy.

Lucky Dog

The Splurge

The hands-down best meal we had while in New Orleans was at Emeril’s NOLA.

I’m not a big fan of the wacky “BAM” infomercial turned food network guy, but damn, it’s clear he knows and loves his food. Everything was cooked with the care and precision needed to make its flavours really shine. And he’s a big proponent of the “farm to fork” movement to highlight local eating. I now know what my last meal on earth would be, if I had to make that call: Emeril’s fried chicken. It’s that good.

The Summary

We also did a few other touristy things in the city that were fun and delightful: Took the streetcar around town and through the garden district, the ferry over to the charming village of Algiers, a carriage ride through the french quarter, a bus tour of the city and an after-dark voodoo walking tour. I’d recommend any of them. But we had the most fun, by far, roaming around eating and drinking our way through as much food & beverage as we could stuff into ourselves. The French Quarter is actually really small and where we spent most of our time. But it’s just a tiny part of the city, and there was so much more food, culture, art and shopping than the limited bit we managed to consume in the four days we were there.

Regardless, even from that limited time, New Orleans stole a piece of my heart. It’s one of the few American cities I’ve visited that I would happily move to. Everyone we met was incredibly friendly, and the city just had such a warmth to it. It was confident and sophisticated, but not afraid to just be silly, have fun and let its hair down. The “bon temps” really do “roule” there. I can’t wait until we go back.

Project “Lamb of God”

Now that we’re not going anywhere, we’ve picked right back up on our micro-farming project.

You may remember posts from last summer and this past spring on our construction efforts on building the pig shelter and fencing in the yard. Well, they’re finally being put to use!

Except, we’ve gone from pigs to sheep!

Between Neil and I thinking we were moving, then my in-laws’ phone going down for a week or so (hazards of living at the edge of the grid), the pig thing fell through. Our original source sold all their piglets, and you’d be surprised at how hard it is to find piglets for sale!

Neil and I eventually went to the Fraser Valley Auctions to see if we could find any pigs that suppliers were unloading, but goats seemed to be the order of the day, along with a good assortment of sheep!

Agnes in the Car at the ferry line-up

We left with a lovely lamb who lamented her way down the highway in the back of our car. And lamented in the ferry line. And lamented during the ferry ride. And lamented up the island highway (while she wasn’t busy nibbling on the poor dog’s tail). And lamented all the way into her pen, and all night, and most of the next morning until we put her with the neighbour’s sheep while my inlaws found her some friends.

The lamenting inspired her name: Agnes – short for Agnus Dei, the lamb of god. Also a movement in Mozart’s Requiem.

A few days later, Agnes was joined by two other lambs, Gloria and Miserere (have mercy), who were also known by their voices, raised to the heavens.

Gloria and Miserere at the gate

Thankfully (for my inlaws anyhow, I obviously can’t hear them from here), they have apparently quieted down and are now lovely little lawnmowers.

Agnes, Gloria & Miserere Outside

And come September (because we need to get them slaughtered before hunting season gets underway and any potential fall floods happen), we’ll have our own Requiem for a Lamb, and end up with a bunch of fleece and a freezer full of tasty sheep meat.

Besides, if you’re doing bio-dynamic farming anyhow, you really want to start off with ruminants, then follow with chickens, and finally end up with pigs. I think it might be a harder sell to convince my in-laws to go for the chickens, but we’ve got a year or so to work on them….

Meat-head

Blog posts I started to write and (thankfully) didn’t publish today:

• Why I think you might be an idiot
• Here, let me beat you down with logic
• I don’t care that humans are inherently illogical, I WILL DROWN YOU IN REASON ANYHOW

What can I say, I have a wickedly sore shoulder and a hearty case of didn’t sleep well last night.

But! What I also have is an incredibly tasty lunch. Let me share the recipe with you!

This is my new favorite burger recipe. It sounds like it will please no one, since it has too little meat for the carnivores and too much meat for the vegetarians, but I’m pleasantly surprised with how much I love it every time I make it. Perhaps you will be too.

Meat-and-Grain loaf, burgers, balls
adapted from Mark Bittman’s Food Matters

• 1 lb lean ground beef
• 1 lb raw spinach leaves (blanched, drained, water squeezed out and roughly chopped – feel free to skip this by just buying a packet of frozen spinach and thawing)
• 1 onion chopped fine
• 2-3 cloves garlic pressed, grated or chopped fine
• 2 cups cooked grains (I like it with Millet best, but barley or brown rice also work well)
• Cumin (to taste)
• Cayenne (to taste)
• Salt (to taste)
• Pepper (to taste)
• 1 egg

Put everything in a bowl. Squish about gently with fingers until evenly mixed.

Form into a loaf (in a loaf pan), burger patties (I make 8 large patties with this recipe) or balls of any size.

Bake at 400 F until done (about 30 minutes for burgers)

I love this, because it’s got some extra veggies in it, but still tastes really meaty. The grains soak up the meat-juice as it bakes, so the patties stay moist and the flavour permeates everything.

Try it out! And tell me if you like it. I will probably be much less grumpy by then.

Jen Eats Something Strange – Episode 1

I got some email today from YouTube, stating that a couple old videos of mine (Eating Live Octopus in Korea) are popular enough qualify for their affiliate program (they put ads on my video, I collect a few pennies a year).

Comments on the videos (mostly “ewww!”) come through every now and again, but I hadn’t thought much about them. Until the emails. So I checked them out. Apparently eating strange things is intensely popular on YouTube, since my videos are at a little over 33,000 views each! Certainly not because of anything I did (other than eating the octopus & posting video).

Clearly we should’ve taken video of eating a smoked sheep’s head and snails right out of their shells in Morocco.

And I’ll be sure to take a camera that shoots video to Thailand in February, in case there are any delicacies that make the average North American go “Hmmm” (or “ewww!”) that we stumble across.

In the meantime, some video from the watercooler archives:

Project Pigpen

As Neil and I get more and more into sourcing alternate avenues for food that distance us from the industrial agricultural machine, opportunities keep cropping up that we’d never have thought of.

The latest: our very own hog!

We’ve been looking around for some sources for purchasing an ethically-raised pig, but the local suppliers we’ve found so far have been somewhat reluctant to sell us a whole hog, wholesale. It’s understandable, since most of the local, ethically-raised pork product around here is in high demand, and what isn’t already claimed by restaurants can be sold at a much higher premium by the piece & pound than by the pig.

We were a bit stuck, until one visit from my mother-in-law. She casually mentioned that with all the food-waste from the lodge they run, their compost pile was getting out of hand and wouldn’t it be nice to have a pig or two around to eat it, and then have some lovely pork afterward?

JACKPOT!

She was concerned with the work it would take to make the pen, so we instantly volunteered to take care of it next time we visited, on the condition that we’d get a pig of our own out of the deal. She was sold, so the plans began.

(Backstory: the in-laws used to live on a farm. Neil’s a 4-H Champion Hogsman. Rearing livestock is not a foreign endeavor to them as it is to a city-dweller like myself.)

Wait until Spring

We also lucked out since they happened to have a whole bunch of spare wood around the lodge from some renos, so we were able to make the pigpen with $100 in new wood/concrete and the rest out of scraps. Had we been more ambitious with our salvaging, we might’ve been able to reduce that by another $10-$20 and building the walls entirely out of 1×6 rather than OSB.

You can view the entire set of pen-pics on Flickr. It looks a bit like a bus-shelter on a patch of grass right now, but come Spring when we fence in the yard and add some hay, a trough and the piglets, hopefully it’ll look less forlorn and more farm-y.

And if all goes well (and the bears don’t do them in first) we should have an amazing porky feast in September 2010!

Restaurant Review – Vij’s

Last night, in honour of my 29th year, we finally FINALLY went to Vij’s. I can’t say “I don’t know why we waited so long” because I know precisely why I’d never been there – the actual matter of “waiting so long.”

Vij’s doesn’t take reservations. They open promptly at 5:30pm and it’s first come-first served. They do make the wait very pleasant, serving chai and Indian equivalents of amuse bouche (bouches? how does the plural work?) while people are waiting – but I am not the type who waits for things. I am impatient and usually busy and squish as much into my calendar as possible. Waiting an indeterminate amount of time to get into a restaurant to eat is not my bag.

And frankly, if that’s who you are, you do not deserve to dine at Vij’s. I certainly didn’t. Until I put away my manic, control-freak nature, went with the flow, and let the experience unfold.

We did show up at about 5:10, and were the 2nd people to be waiting outside the door. We wanted to show up extra early, since we had a large group. By the time the restaurant opened, there were enough people waiting to fill the dining room, and then some. Other than that, don’t worry too much about showing up a bit later. It looked like they’re pretty adept at turning tables, so if you’re not starving or on a deadline, chill out in the lounge and enjoy some chai.

The extra-awesome part about dining at Vij’s with a large group was sharing the food. I’m a big fan of Family Style dining, and can’t think of a better way to enjoy Indian food anywhere – let alone a place where everything on the menu looks so good, it’s hard to decide what to order!

We ultimately left the dining decision in the hands of the staff, asking them to bring six appetizers and six entrees for our table of nine. It was more than enough food for all of us!

Starters were:

Garam Masala sauteed portobello mushrooms in porcini cream curry (2 orders)
Mutton Kebobs with Bengali-style curry
Jackfruit in black cardamom and cumin masala (2 orders)
Curried Organic Chicken Liver Pate

Mains were:

Saag paneer with Lentil Curry and Chapati
Rajasthani-style goat curry with lightly-spiced bell peppers and cabbage
Wine-marinated Lamb Popsicles in fenugreek cream curry on turmeric spinach potatoes (2 orders)
Beef Shortribs in cinnamon and red wine curry with warm greens (2 orders)

And this came with plates of naan and bowls of rice to soak up all the amazing sauces.

Vij’s focus is on fresh, local food served Indian-style, and the freshness makes all the difference in the world. From roasting their own spices and making their own paneer & breads every day, to picking fresh and seasonal meats and produce, every dish at Vij’s highlights the quality of the ingredients.

I was also surprised, considering the classification of “fine dining” at the prices. After dinner, drinks (one for most people, two for some), tax and tip, nine of us managed to dine for a little under $50 each. It’s easy to spend that at yet another disappointing ‘fast casual’ chain, so this was phenomenal value. When Vij’s says they are running a restaurant that is truly for everyone, they really aren’t kidding!

The food is unexpectedly life-changing, and the lineup is worth changing your life & expectations for.

I will return. Often.

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