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Saturday, February 15, 2014

HP Sauce is bottled angel tears

I'm not a picky eater, but when I like something, I like the shit out of it to a point some people would refer to as manic or obsessive. I prefer to think of it as a romantic devotion that lasts a lifetime.

I have truly never got sick of a food that I can think of, to the point that I won't eat it again, or even avoid it slightly. HP Sauce is an excellent example of this. When I was about 6 or 7 years old my Grandpa Cliff took two pieces of white bread, toasted them, and instead of putting butter or jam on them, he spread both slices thickly with HP sauce, cold from the fridge, and handed one to me. That was it, I was hooked.

For the uninitiated, HP Sauce is a brown English condiment that is perfect on anything, but especially steak, potatoes, vegetables, shepard's pie, anything that needs a little potent flavour shot comprised of malt vinegar, tomato, dates, tamarind extract, sweetener and spices. It was invented and developed by a British grocer named Frederick Gibson Garton in 1895, and so named because he had heard that an exclusive restaurant in the Houses of Parliment served it. Hence, HP.

Hello, lover:

The truth is probably half rumour and half good marketing: there is a picture of the House of Commons on the bottle, which gives it a classy touch. Consumers took the bait, and bit, hard. Today it is the most popular brown sauce in all of the UK, a place that loves it some brown sauce. It's especially great in cold weather and a little mixed into a Caesar will kick it up a notch. Dipping crispy bacon into it is like touching the face of God.

If you ask an American about HP they might not understand what you're saying, they have ketchup on the table where HP would be in the UK. And as we are caught in the crosshairs of two cultures here in Canada, we oftentimes have both. Another reason it's great to be a Canadian.

An odd bit of trivia: HP and Heinz Ketchup are siblings, made by the same company. I feel like HP is definitely the dark horse of these two sisters, who studied really hard and got a scholarship while Ketchup was dating the captain of the football team. I'm sure family reunions and Christmases are tense in the Heinz house.

Anyway, get some if you don't know what I'm talking about. It's fantastic. You're welcome. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Crass Cuisine's prediction for the It Food of 2014

Hello friends, sorry for my obscenely long absence, I got a little distracted writing for other folks, and forgetting my roots like the spoiled asshole that I am. Also, I have legit had a lot of shit to do. Things have been good and bad and quite eventful and not at all what I expected. And through this all I have forgotten that I have a place in which to write my ramblings, edit free, and with the use of "fuck" as many times as I want. I won't forget it again.

So, food.

We had the whole kale thing in 2013 when we put kale in everything and ate it raw because articles told us to and got super bad gas but did it again the next day anyway. Whenever we went out to eat we got kale in place of other greens and learned to love it. Like quinoa (and you know how I feel about quinoa) we got on the trend bus and honked the horn and decided that a life without kale was no life at all and started coming up with new ways to consume it. Such the wheel of trend goes on.

Thus, we're sick of it now. Ditto for sundried tomatoes, edamame, yam fries, and those two poached stems of asparagus that we draped over a piece of salmon on an oversize white plate from 1993-1996. Too much of a good thing will do that to a person. So the question really isn't what will be the new It food, but what food will we be entirely sick of in 2015? It's a tricky question.

Many people who are much better cooks than me have predicted that 2014 is the year of the cauliflower. I beg to differ. I think we will see lots of fried cauliflower "steaks" and some such offerings for sure, but I think this will pale in comparison to the green tide that will be seaweed.

Oh yes, seaweed. It's gonna be the It Thang. And it won't just end with the year, it'll start with a slow burn and come into full-blown insanity by 2015. You're gonna start to see seaweed mayo, kelp sprinklings on potatoes, nori shavings on meat, and glossy strands in salads. You're gonna hear the words "umami", "saline" and "brine" a lot in food writing. And you yourself might try your hand at seaweed hot sauce.

I think what catapults a major food trend, particularly on the West Coast where I live, is it's healthful properties. If it's somewhat palatable and will prolong your life, we're gonna eat it. How else can you explain the rise of quinoa and kale? These are not delicious. These feel good to eat, and are palatable, but their consumption is more utilitarian than delightful. We like things that have multi-purpose; cure cancer, taste great and be trendy at the same time? I'll take it. It's unfashionable to say you aren't trying to live as long and be as thin as possible.This is why fat consumption without a diet purpose will never be trendy (bacon consumption is a-okay by paleo standards, which is why it's popular). We're never gonna see the headline "2014: the year of fois gras". Because the rule of "everything in moderation" is the toughest rule to follow, and the one we fight the hardest against. Myself absolutely, ridiculously included.

All dietary bitterness aside, watch for seaweed. It is very good for you, iron, vit b and d and a few more in there for good measure. It is delicious and it gives good face:

Seriously a plate of wilted kale looks like what you scrape off your fish tank compared to this. And hey, if you don't like it you can wrap your face in it and look younger for work tomorrow. Win!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Winnie-Approved Apple Pie

My Great Grandma Winnifred and I were very close. She was an amazing cook of foods people just don't make any more: scalloped potatoes with heavy cream and cheese; jellied salad with grapes and shredded cabbage; chicken soup with huge knobs of butter and tablespoons of salt, and apple pie.

Winnie married an American from Iowa in 1929, my Great Grandpa Everett. Everett and I didn't understand each other, and I'm not sure if he really appreciated me being around their house so much, as Winnie took care of me most days after school while my mother worked. I grew up on the foods she had raised 3 generations on, but was too young when she passed to learn all I would have liked to at her stoveside. Winnie died in 1998, at age 90. She was tall and bossy. She had an enormous diamond wedding ring, clackity shoes, and beautiful long snow-white hair she had done once a week into a high french twist. She had a twitch in her hand that made her spontanously grab things, and a cackling laugh. I miss her every day.

When I first read Michael Pollan's Food Rules I was drawn most to the rule "if your great-grandparents wouldn't recognize it, don't eat it". I can see so clearly in my mind's eye the look on Grandma Winnie's face if she were to come across GoGurt tubes or Bud Light Lime Mojito. "Don't eat that", she would say. And we wouldn't. In our family, you usually did what Winnie said.

Winnie's apple pie was legend, but I don't have the recipe. She had told us all that her recipes would go to the grave with her, and most of them did. My aunt does an amazing job of her scalloped potatoes, but I wanted to approach that pie, since no one else in my family of great cooks really tackles pastry, and I feel like it's a dying art that needs more attention. Winnie used chicken fat, which is another amazing thing that has gone by the wayside: keeping different fats readily available for cooking rather than throwing them away. Winnie's kitchen had a pot of chicken fat on the counter alongside beef tallow and lard. Fattening? Yes. Chemical-free and organic? That too.

She put chicken fat in her apple pie pastry, which just proves that fat makes everything taste better. It's not like the pie tasted chickeny, but there was a certain seasoning there you could taste. I don't personally put it in mine, but I do use mostly shortening or lard, and adhere mostly to the Canadian Living version, since it's the closest to the simple version Winnie made and only needs a few personalized touches to make it perfect:

Apple Pie


 cup (175 mL) shortening or lard
 tbsp (45 mL) butter, softened
 cups (550 mL) all-purpose flour
 tsp (4 mL) salt
 cup (125 mL) Ice water


 cups (2 L) thinly sliced peeled tart apples, (2-1/4 lb/ 1. 12 kg)
 tbsp (30 mL) lemon juice
 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
 tbsp (45 mL) all-purpose flour
 tsp (2 mL) cinnamon
1/4 fresh grated nutmeg


 egg yolk
 tsp (10 mL) granulated sugar

In bowl, beat shortening with butter until smooth; stir in flour and salt until coarse and ragged looking. Pour in water all at once; stir until loose dough forms. With floured hands, gather into 2 balls. On well-floured surface, gently knead each into 3/4-inch (2 cm) thick disc. Handle as little as possible. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until chilled.

On well-floured pastry cloth or work surface (I personally have had much better luck using my formica dining table as opposed to the wooden chopping block in my kitchen, possibly because it retains the cold of the pastry longer) and rolling pin, roll out 1 piece of dough from centre, turning to maintain even thickness. Loosely roll dough around rolling pin; unroll into 9-inch pie plate.

In large bowl, toss apples with lemon juice. Stir together sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg; sprinkle over apples and toss until coated. Scrape into pie shell. Brush pastry rim with water.

Roll out remaining dough to same-size circle. Using rolling pin, drape over apples, without stretching dough. Trim both edges together with scissors, leaving 3/4-inch overhang. Press top layer of dough into bottom layer with index finger, as in photo:

Cut vents in the top of pie in a decorative pattern.

Whisk yolk with 1 tbsp (15 mL) water; brush over crust. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake in bottom third of 425 oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350; bake for 40 minutes or until golden, filling is bubbly and apples are soft when pierced with knife through vent. Let cool on rack.

I hope that wherever she is, she's proud that I'm trying in my own way to carry on her legacy. I can never let apple pie cool completely before I dig in, which is the way I think Winnie would prefer it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

This sounds like it would be awful. Let's make it

One of my New Year's resolutions is to stop making so many assumptions. Usually I assume, and usually I assume the worst. I realized not only was I usually wrong, I put myself through a lot of shitty feelings just to be proven that life was not as bad as I thought. No more! Life is short and assumptions are stupid.

I saw this recipe in the latest issue of Bon Appetit, and I thought, ew. Fishy greens with a soggy breadcrumb topping? No. But because I am turning a new leaf here, I thought what the hell. Besides I had a bunch of kale in the fridge that was getting so old it was resembling a pot scrubber.

Orecchiette with Kale and Breadcrumbs

1-2 bunches (depending on how green you want your pasta) kale
black pepper
5 tbsp olive oil
1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp unsalted butter
4-8 anchovy fillets, chopped
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 box orecchiette pasta
3/4 cup grated Parmesan

Cook kale in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 4 minutes. Using tongs, remove from the water and let cool on a cookie sheet. Set aside pot with water. When cool, squeeze out excess liquid from kale, chop leaves and finely chop stems, set aside.

Heat 3 tbsp oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, about 4 minutes (if you use cast iron make it medium high heat). Add one third of the chopped garlic and cook, stirring often until breadcrumbs are golden, about 3 additional minutes. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a plate, set aside.

Heat butter and remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large heavy pot or saucepan over medium heat. Add anchovies, red pepper flakes, and remaining two thirds of the garlic, cook, mashing anchovies with a spoon until a paste forms, about 2 minutes. Add reserved kale and 1/2 water. Cook, stirring often, until kale is warmed through, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile bring reserved kale cooking liquid to a boil, add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Add pasta and 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid to kale mixture and stir to coat. Increase heat slightly and continue stirring, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta. Mix in Parmesan and 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, toss to combine. Divide pasta among bowls, drizzle with oil, and top with remaining breadcrumbs.

Oh word:

Why do chefs like to use pasta water in pasta sauce? It turns out the starch and the salt in the pre-heated water helps a sauce to emulsify. It also works to give the dish a full-bodied, well-seasoned flavour. Huh.

See I told you my assumption was wrong. The key here is toasting the breadcrumbs, and toasting them well. This adds a textural dimension to the pasta that I assumed would be soggy and gross. The flavours are well-blended, thanks to the use of pasta water, and oddly, kale and anchovies go well together. If you're not a fishy flavour fan, use no more than 4 anchovies, and you should be good.

Eat Hearty!

(as usual with Bon Appetit and all other magazine recipes, I have altered the ingredients, instructions and recommendations based on my personal experience preparing the dish)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

So, I was on the CBC

Folks, I know it's been awhile. I'm sorry. I've had a helluva year, and I've also started writing for BC Living, so I've been neglecting y'all and devoting my energy to them like the publicity whore I am. Sorry.

Speaking of publicity, I wrote an article for the Vancouver Observer awhile back called "5 reasons to hate quinoa" and got a lot of backlash. Someone at the CBC read it and thought it was funny and asked me to appear on Radio One. At first when they contacted me I thought it was a practical joke, but it turned out to be true, and I was on On The Coast on Dec 28. It was a blast. Here's the interview if you are interested. Please note this was entirely improvisation, I was shaking like a leaf and sweating like a pig:

Also if you wanna see some of my work on BC Living, here is my latest story:

I have written a long and rambling post that will shortly be up outlining in not-too-painful detail about why this year was so shitty, but also all the great things that are coming as well. 2013 will be rad. Trust me.

Talk soon,


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What to eat when you're fat

I don't typically use this space to complain about my life specifically, just life in general ;). But because I feel that food is so connected to life and our daily experience of eating and living is intriguing to me, I feel the need to discuss something here that is on my mind almost constantly. 

I don't post pictures of myself on this blog for two reasons: 1) I want the experience of reading it to feel like you are cooking the food/present at my stove, and 2) I'm about a size 14 and I don't want people to leave hurtful comments about my size. People do that when you post pics of yourself on the internet. Thick skin required. My writing has been criticized many times on various publications I've written for in the past, one that sticks out is a comment from a person who claimed they would rather read a book by Sarah Palin than anything I wrote. That one stung, but hey. To each there own. I rationalized it by saying to myself that although writing is one of the most important things to me, it's not all of me, and not everything I do is going to please everyone. I'm trying to get that attitude about my appearance as well.

I have gained and lost over 300lbs in my lifetime. I'm 33. Not only is this extremely unhealthy, it's extremely frustrating. It's caused periods of isolation and paranoia that have made me feel very lonely and bitter. I grew up with a father who was obsessed with my appearance, and who made it very clear to me that my first duty as a woman (before I was, you know, a person) was to look good. Everything else was secondary. He applauded me when I was the right weight, wore the clothes he selected for me, and wore my hair and makeup the way he liked. When I did these things, I was rewarded with money and praise. When I did not adhere to his specifications, I was punished via neglect and shame. Once, when I didn't want to wear my hair in the style he preferred to Christmas dinner (a double braid wound around my head in traditional Ukrainian style) he threatened to return all my Christmas presents. I have lots of stories like that, and I'm sure other people do too. Men as well as women to be sure, but let's be honest, women are far more likely to be judged for their appearance than men. 

This kind of thinking wormed its way into my brain until it was hard to get it out. I assumed my friends who were awkward and unattractive in high school would go on to do nothing with their lives, because I had come to believe that attractiveness = success. It didn't matter that these were kind people or people much smarter than me, because they would never be accepted into a club of which I was a member. All doors would be open to me, forever.

Then I got fat.

Through depression and anxiety disorder, I gained a lot of weight really quickly, and found myself to be the embodiment of horror to my family. My father most of all, but also his father (my grandfather) and some of my shallower friends. My father begged and begged me to lose weight, claiming that everything in my life would come up roses if I could just get a grip on it. I was 16, and it was a turning point, the first time in which I felt I was a living, breathing, embarrassment to the human race. I felt so much shame that I lost the weight. Well, partly from the shame. My father also promised to pay me $500 if I did.

I stayed thin for quite a few years after that. Then I got fat again. Then thin. Then fat again. A little thinner, then fatter than ever. That is where I am now. At 33, I am 5'7 and 3/4" and 205lbs. The heaviest I have ever been.

I'm not happy with the way I look, but if I'm really honest with myself, I never have been. No matter what, I will find something to be unhappy about. I'm much more accepting of others' physicality than I am of my own. I don't know why.

As a culture, we are fat phobic. We hate fat and hate fat people and live in constant fear that we are going to be fat, and if we're fat already, that we will never lose weight. Some people argue that the phobia is a good motivator, if you feel bad about yourself, you will do something about it. I find it to be the opposite. When I feel bad, I have to work against that deficit to feel good about myself, and rarely does it motivate me to improve my weight. It motivates me to hide under the covers, fearing that I will never measure up. When I nurture a healthier attitude towards my body, praise it for what it can do, and appreciate it for what it is, I find myself motivated. Acceptance and self-love are the key, but those are often the most difficult things to achieve when you feel you don't deserve them. And that's what fat hatred does: it sends the message that your physical body has made you unloveable and unacceptable. Instead of just being labelled as unattractive, which it often times is, it's become much more than that. Fat is equated with worthlessness.

I want to change myself and my body. I want to feel better, more in control. Most of all I don't want to hate my body, the only body I will ever have. Because only then will the disapproval I feel from others matter less. And if you really want something, as we learned in kindergarten, you have to give it away. So:

I love you, fat people. I love you for your insatiable appetites and hatred of exercise and self-loathing, if you have it. I totally get it. I love it for your shitty food choices and breve lattes and potato chips eaten in the middle of the night. I accept you as you are. You are not worthless. You are a person with a heart and a soul and things to give the world. You are loved, you are loved, you are loved.

I have started an exercise regime with a good friend who is a personal trainer. I have started a "mood and food" journal to pinpoint choices that will work for me, and those that won't. I have decided to give a shit about myself enough that I will accept my body as it is, because I want it to look better, and for me this is the only way. I have decided to love and respect myself, my WHOLE self, as it comes. I have decided to love my weaknesses in order to change what I can and accept what I can't. I have decided that I am loved.

(PS what to eat is something you like that makes your body feel good, whatever that might look like to you. Me? I'm having almonds and a green tea)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Look at my scallops, look

I encourage you all to get your hands on some fresh seafood ASAP, before the season is officially over. I recently had a craving for scallops, and had a vision in my head of the big, juicy jumbo ones that you get from Granville Island. So I took myself down there and discovered that about 4 of those fat beauties will set you back $20 before tax. Ouch.

Of course, a whole world of affordable seafood opens itself up to you if you are willing to consider frozen. Now, of course we know fresh tastes better. But unless you are a fisherman yourself it's going to be hard to maintain that kind of diet. So you may want to do what I do, which is treat fresh as an absolute treat and have frozen the rest of the time. And well frozen (on the boat as caught, never previously thawed then frozen again) fish and seafood can be delicious. So I settled for a considerable smaller scallop and about 80 of his brothers and sisters from Qualicum Bay in a frozen, vacuum-sealed bag.

Here's something I learned from the writings of a five star chef from South Carolina: nuts bring out the flavour of many seafoods like prawns, scallops and oysters. I was pretty skeptical but thought I would try his almond vinaigrette to dress my butter-grilled Bay beauties in our last seafood days:

Seared Scallops with Almond Vinaigrette

1/4 cup roasted, unsalted almonds
5 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp champagne vinegar
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
8 large sea scallops or 1/2 bag of small ones
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 sprigs thyme
2 tbsp fresh peaches, mashed in a mortar and pestle, or peach preserves
fresh microgreens

Finely chop almonds into small pieces but not into a powder. Mix almonds and 4 tbsps oil in a medium bowl. Whisk in 1 tbsp vinegar and chives, season with salt, pepper and more vinegar if desired. Set vinaigrette aside.

Heat the leftover oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Season scallops with salt and pepper. Add to skillet. Cook about 2-3 minutes. Turn scallops, add butter and thyme. Cook, frequently tilting skillet and spooning butter over, until scallops are just cooked through, 2-3 minutes longer.

For plating, place peach preserves or mixture (I added pomegranate seeds) in the centre of the plate, and surround with grilled scallops. Drizzle vinaigrette over top of scallops, top with microgreens. Serve immediately.

There is an extraordinary flavour that is added by creamy almonds to the tender, delicate scallops, but the full experience is not just about the flavour, it's also about the texture. The crunch made tart by the vinegar sets off the well-seasoned scallops. Easy to prepare and cheap, I recommend you cook these for yourself and enjoy with a glass of chilled white wine to say a proper goodbye to summer.

(recipe with my variations from Bon Appetit)