Sunday, 5 June 2011

Real Food, Real Talk, Real Change

Let's talk about food. Real food.

This is something I talk (one could even say rant) about a lot. I'm a huge proponent of eating food the way I think it was meant to be: in its purest form, without being enriched, without having anything much added to it, or - most importantly - without having anything taken away. Yep, that includes fat. 

I don't have a degree in nutrition, I have no culinary training, but after doing a bit of reading on my own, eating real food just makes a lot of sense to me and it's a food philosophy that I fully subscribe to. So, wherever and whenever possible (it's difficult to do ALL of the time), I try to eat food that has ingredients I can identify, doesn't have too many ingredients, and isn't overly pre-packaged and preserved. From what I learned over the past few years, in books like In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan, among other books and films, is that many of the foods we find in boxes at our local supermarkets can't even be classified as real food, but as a food product. When you take things out of food and add things back into them (taking out the fat and adding chemical agents to make it taste better, for example) the food becomes a shadow of its former self and not nearly as nutritious. (Or delicious.)

I'm not talking about junk food here. We all know that's bad for us. I mean taking natural fats out of things like milk, butter, and yogurt and replacing them with artificial flavours to try and make them taste better. Not only does this take out the best part of these foods, they also taste awful. 

In my opinion, of course. (Let's agree to disagree?)

Ultimately, and in every part of my life, I want to have a really healthy relationships with all things I consider good. I celebrate food and consider it to be one of the best parts of my life, so I don't ever want to feel negatively about it (fad dieting, guilt trips, etc.). The same goes for exercise: If I'm not feeling particularly social and don't want to go to yoga class, I'm not going to beat myself up about it, but I will try to make a point of practising from the comfort of home. That way I don't build up any negative, psychological associations with overwhelmingly positive things. It's extremely counterproductive for me. Anyone else?

This brings me to my next point: In order to fulfill my food philosophy - because no matter what way I look at it, it involves eating extra fat and consuming extra calories - I have to strike a balance and create good fitness habits. I've been pretty good about this in the past, but I'm currently trying to re-establish a regular routine. When I went for my initial consultation at my new gym yesterday and was asked what my number one fitness goal was, I said: Balance. I very much want to be able to eat what I want, guilt-free, and make up for it in exercise. 

Again, to be clear, I don't mean sitting in front of the TV and stuffing six bags of chips and a freezer cake in me three nights a week. I mean eating proportionally, but not ever refusing to eat dessert at a beautiful restaurant. I mean not being afraid of cooking with real butter and drinking tasty, fresh, whole milk: All in healthy proportions and all supplemented by physical activity.


End rant.

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About a week ago, Colleen's boyfriend's mother, Jennie, generously offered me a big bag of Annapolis Valley rhubarb. Having been away for the past number of years, when my love of cooking really took off (and for most of which I never owned an oven), there are so many common ingredients I've never actually cooked with. Rhubarb is one of them. I was excited by Jennie's gift, but I was unsure of what to do with so much of it. She then sent me a great recipe for Rhubarb Chutney, which I finally got around to making last night. Jennie got this recipe out of a book called New Maritimes Seasonal Cooking, but for my personal records I'm going to go ahead and call it:

Jennie's Rhubarb Chutney
3 cups chopped rhubarb, fresh or frozen
2 large onions, diced
2 cups lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Into large, heavy saucepan, measure all ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and boil gently for 1 hour, until mixture is the consistency of marmalade. Store in refrigerator for 1 month; in freezer 1 year. 


Piece of cake. I ended up putting a generous teaspoon of cayenne in, because I really like a lot of kick. I also didn't have enough brown sugar, so I topped it up with white (about 3/4 cup). This recipe got me three, neat little jars of delicious chutney and a gorgeous-smelling house. I'm looking forward to trying this the next time lamb, pork, or fish is on the menu!

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If you've made it this far: Thank you.

Now I need advice

On Friday night, I cooked up some scallops and pasta. Something I'm proud of is my ability to combine (sometimes) random things in my fridge, guess at measurements, and produce tasty and nice-looking meals. Something I'm not proud of is my inability to record exact measurements for these inventions. As a result, whenever I try to replicate them, it turns out differently every time. Must work on this.

 
I started by frying the scallops in some white wine, cream, garlic, pepper, butter, and orange juice. In what measurements? I have no idea. Dashes here, double-dashes there. Dallops elsewhere. I later added some sugar peas and tossed it with spaghettini. But when I make cream-based sauces, sometimes this happens, and sometimes this doesn't, and it's an endless source of frustration and mystery for me:


My cream curdled! I can't seem to work out the right order of things. Sometimes I add the cream at the beginning, as the pan is heating up. Sometimes it curdles then, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes, I wait and add it when the pan is hot. Sometimes it curdles then, and sometimes it doesn't! Does anyone have any advice? What's the magic formula? I stir it constantly, regardless of when I add it, so I'm never sure what goes wrong and when. Either way, this finished product tasted wonderful, and looked ok, but I'd really like to work out how to stop this from happening altogether.



Last but not least, yesterday's indulgent lunch was wholly inspired by this article on the Taste of Nova Scotia website: Gourmandises Decadence at the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market. My mouth was watering so badly after reading it, that I couldn't get it off my mind while circling the market on Saturday morning with my cousin Melissa. So I went round to some of my favourite stalls and got a bun of brioche from Julien's and some brie from Fox Hill Cheese House. Then, the icing on the cake: I fetched some Cremeux Des Salins (a salted, caramel spread) made by Gourmandises Avenue. Wonderful, sinful stuff.

Glorious.

Today is Sunday and it started out at the gym. I'm writing it here to keep me accountable to my own philosophy. Wish me luck in keeping up this healthy balance: I really need it!

10 comments:

  1. That last photo is glorious indeed, yum. Like I tweeted you, your orange juice (the acid in it) is probably curdling your cream. If you want a cream based sauce with orange flavor, grate some zest over the dished dish/sauce. You can also make a butter based sauce with a roux and orange juice, no cream, that why it won't curdle. Loved the rant :) I need to do a similar one this week!

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  2. This is so helpful, Marnely; thanks again! Because I'm a novice in the kitchen with a head full of ideas (sometimes sound, sometimes not!), I often just throw those ideas in a pan and hope for the best ;) Must spend more time researching.

    Look forward to reading your rant! Birds of a feather and all that!

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  3. Mmmm cream curdling... what kind of cream are you using? Cream is really difficult to curdle, usually milk does. So try to use double cream for your sauces or add a little bit of cornstarch to it, not enough to thicken the sauce though. This should help :)
    Good luck!

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  4. consulted w nerdy foodie (my hubby) and he said the same- it's probably the orange juice. less is best when it comes to acid and cream. :)

    looks yummy despite that!

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  5. Your answer was right in your own writing: use full fat cream, at least 35%, and you should be in the clear!

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  6. I agree, most definitely the orange juice. As well, I try not to let anything with cream in it boil. Not sure how accurate this is, but it works for me. Your finished products look great so keep up the good work.

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  7. Thanks everyone! I really appreciate the feedback.

    So, next time: warm and fattier cream (yes, please), less acid, and/or replace with zest. Lesson learned. Look forward to making and eating a better sauce!

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  8. I love my cameo appearances in your blog, and I'm sure Jennie will be thrilled about your shout out to her, too! (Isn't the chutney delish?) You'll have to ask her if she tried the lemon-infused olive oil from Liquid Gold (she bought it specifically with cooking scallops in mind)

    Also, FINALLY a chance to mention this fat-free, sugar-free, aspartame-injected yogurt situation that drives me mad - There's this growing obsession with yogurt that's been stripped of its natural goodness, when at around 5g per serving, regular yogurt is already a relatively low-fat choice. I feel like I can actually TASTE the aspartame in the so-called "healthier" versions now. Gross!

    Love love love reading your blog :)

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  9. Mimi, I am in love with this blog <3
    Your pics and descriptions literally make my mouth water....can't wait to keep following!!

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  10. Les seours Warnell: I'm in love with you both! Thanks for such lovely comments (and the anti-low-fat-yogurt solidarity... ha). The feedback is wonderful, lemme tell you.

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