Motto: Always be Roasting.


Seeing as it is both pi day (the mathematical equivalent of Christmas, in my opinion) AND registered dietitians day (who knew) I just had to do a post. It has been a long time since I have done one, and seeing as I have a whole lot of half finished drafts sitting on my computer, all it took was a little special occasion ambiance to kick it into gear.

One of the main reasons I have not been posting, is the commonly known, experienced, and discussed student burn out that just seems to accumulate throughout the year, and turn into a fiery descent into exhaustion that usually occurs between round one and round two of midterms. It is moments like this that call into question, as I have discussed before, my legitimacy in claiming my status as an adult. Because during this time period you find yourself thinking “Surely my parents and teachers and all the responsible citizens walking around don’t live like this”. By “this” I mean having TV marathons of Arrested Development because you have a headache from killing yourself studying, but which lead to staying up late and making said headache much worse in the long run. I mean doing laundry on a Sunday, and not putting it away until the Sunday afterwards. I mean forgetting that towels need to be washed, and instead wondering why they feel so rough and awful after showering. I mean fashioning a standing desk out of an old book shelf because you have convinced yourself that sitting and studying 12 hours a day is surely compressing your spine, and you will probably start shrinking in the next year or so. I mean googling at what point a human being will undergo “water toxicity” because you upped your tea intake to seven mega-cups a day, and you are not sure if you are damaging yourself. I mean going three days of eating eggs and rice for dinner, then suddenly deciding to make shallow-fried almond-flour-breaded cuttle fish with a homemade garlic, lemon, mayo sauce for Saturday breakfast. I mean arguing with strangers on the internet about electric potential when you are just trying to find the answer to a question worth less than 1% that you want to get right based on principle. I mean making the decision between staying up until 3am, then getting up at 6am, or going to bed at 1am, then getting up at 4am. When I daydreamed of being an adult, I don’t remember the part where you take a pair of your mom’s slippers home with you because the stuff on the floor gets stuck on your feet when you only sweep once a week and keep rodents for pets. I don’t recall a vision of scrap paper littering the floor and mad mathematical scrawling all over the sliding glass door, windows, and white board. The future of cheap-wine headaches and attempts of ambidexterity to curb writing cramps, was not really what I dreamed about.

In the midst of this relative disaster of calculus, physics, and sleeplessness, there are a few key cooking techniques that I grab a hold of to keep us well fed. One method is the “stovetop meal” which usually involved a steamer and a frying pan going at one time- steamer for the veggies, frying pan for sauteing whatever is going with the veggies. My favourite method, however, is the “put it in the oven and come back in a while” method. I use this for almost everything- cuts of meat, roasted root vegetables, baked squash, lightly baked fish, roasted broccoli, and most other foods. At the beginning of the week, it is particularly good to get all the roasting and baking of veggies and root veggies, because surprise surprise, it is much easier to snack on vegetables throughout the day, throw them in a breakfast scramble, and quickly reheat them for dinner. If you seem to spend as much time at your desk as I do, this is also fantastic because you put them on and can go right back to work without having to run over and check to see what could possibly be boiling over- you just leave it, come back in a bit, very easy.

To give you an idea of how much roasting and baking can add vegetables to your diet, I recorded how much veg Sebastien and I consume in one week. It’s a little ridiculous on paper, but it doesn’t even seem like we eat all the much. Okay, here it goes, 7 days for 2 people: 1 bag of carrots, 1/2 a bag of turnips, 1-2 sweet potatoes, 2 heads of broccoli, 1 head of cauliflower, 2 bundles of kale, 1 package of green beans, 1 butternut squash, 1 spaghetti squash, 1 bunch of lettuce, 2 zucchini, 2 bell peppers, 3 avocados, 1 bunch of spinach, and 1 package of mushrooms. So, if you ever have wanted to make a kind of crazy list and feel impressed by your ability to eat such an apparent volume of vegetables, apparently roasting is the way to get there.

Instead of giving out an exact recipe this time, I thought it would be useful to provide vegetable pairings. Things that go well with a certain kind of vegetable. This gives a little flexibility, plus the technique is pretty much the same in every case. Combine, place in dish, bake at 300F-400F until tender and delicious. If something has a lot of sugar in it, like fruit juice or honey, add close to the end of cooking to avoid burning. Otherwise, enjoy this lazy-(wo)man’s version of a recipe, and maybe it will give you a little inspiration for your next vegetable you want to throw in the oven!

Carrots:
fresh ginger OR cumin OR dill OR maple syrup, orange juice.
cilantro, lime.
tarragon, mustard.

Turnips:
thyme, butter.
potatoes, cream, roasted garlic.

Rutabagas:
green apples, maple syrup.
cheese, green apples, thyme.
lemon, garlic, thyme.

Sweet Potatoes/Yams
butter, nutmeg, brown sugar.
allspice, cinnamon, ginger.
apples and sage.
bacon, onions, rosemary.
kale, bacon.
chiles, lemon.

Onions
beer, cheese, nutmeg.
garlic, thyme.
balsamic vinegar, garlic.
bacon.

Leeks
bacon, cream.
mustard, chives.
white wine, garlic.

Fennel
honey, lemon, toasted almonds.
green apple, cheese.
lemon OR orange, mint.
lemon zest, chicken stock.


Beets

goat cheese, balsamic vinegar, walnuts.
mint, plain greek yogurt.
Orange, tarragon.
dill, sour cream.


Happy studies!

Lush Liquids

As New Years resolutions swirl in and out of existence, food blogs are a-buzz with “cleanses”, juicing, and liquid fasts. While I am not a fan of cleanses or juice fasts (probably an understatement), I am a fan of liquids. Like, a big fan. To illustrate, I will describe the liquids I consume in a typical day:

-1 cup of earl grey while I’m getting ready
-1 smoothie for breakfast
-1 to-go mug of green tea
-1 to-go mug of coffee
-1 pureed coconut-milk or chicken stock based soup for lunch
-1 cup of earl grey pre-workout around 4
-1 cup of water with dinner
-2 cups of herbal tea before bed

On top of all that, by the end of the day my beloved orange water bottle is usually empty. For me, hot liquids keep me sane during the winter. In the morning, our windows have a charming frost on them-the problem is, it’s on the inside of the window that lies just above our head, which apparently hits sub-zero temperatures while we snooze. Needless to say, I can do with a little warming up. After the brisk-enough-to-have-troubles-breathing walk to the bus stop, I snuggle against the aluminum siding of a bus, the ambient temperature of which hovers somewhere around 5 degrees first thing in the morning. To help me stay awake, I sip hot beverages throughout all my classes, except for when I switch it out for my freezing cold smoothie- the massive temperature difference is a shock-awake when you are struggling through a particularly muddle-some calculus lecture. The dry climate, which has allowed me the experience of truly frizzy hair for the first time in my life, also demands a constant stream of hydration.

One of the miracle-elixirs that I drink and spoon up by the bucketful during these cold months, is broth. Proper, stand-up-on-the-spoon, ultra-savory, homemade bone broth. I really can’t use the word “savory” enough when I describe homemade broth-it puts the two “mm”‘s in umami. Not only is bone broth really nutritious and flavourful, it is also very cheap and easy to make. It is a great “student food” because it is way cheaper than buying mineral supplements, makes a great base for a thermos lunch, and allows you to stretch out meager amounts of meat and veggie into a full meal. I also don’t salt my broth right when I make it, so you can use the broth to cook veggies, grains, or stir miso into. I find it easier to leave the broth unsalted, then salt according to the use- this makes it a highly versatile asset to every kitchen.

Broth you buy from the store is not even in the same food category as the homemade kind. The bouillon cubes and powder are basically a savory-flavoured salt, which is fine for stirring into dishes for flavour boosting, but it isn’t a nutritious or adequately flavoured base for a soup. The boxed stock is no where near as nutritious as homemade stock- for shortcuts, many use MSG to create a “meatier” flavour, and emulsifiers to thicken.

Homemade stock is a powerhouse of minerals and nutrients. If you are lactose intolerant or do not consume very much dairy, bone broth is an excellent way to supplement calcium in your diet, as it is very bioavailable in broth (in comparison to vegetables, where calcium generally has a low bio-availability). Magnesium, phosphorous, silicon, and other trace minerals are also in bone broth- it is like a flavourful mineral supplement. Gelatin is the component of homemade broth that makes it so thick and jelly-like. Gelatin has been used since the 1600’s in France to aid in digestion, which makes sense: gelatin “attracts” and holds liquids, including digestive juices, so it could potentially aid in the break down of other foods consumed around the same time period (for the science-ers, it’s a hydrophilic colloid). It sounds odd, but I actually like to drink a hot cup of broth on mornings when I don’t feel like eating and my stomach is upset- it makes a soothing substitute breakfast, and usually helps calm down my stomach. Also, bone broth contains collagen, which is what keeps your skin smooth (wrinkles and cellulite result from a lack of collagen). While there is not a verified mechanism that consumption of collagen could equal smoothed skin, here’s to trying!

Although I include recipe that is vaguely specific, making stock is more of a method than a precise science. Basically, you want to put bones in water and heat that water enough to extract the minerals, gelatin, and collagen to form a thick, savory, flavourful stock. For the bones themselves, I recommend starting a “bone bag” in your freezer-anytime you eat anything with bones, whether it be a whole chicken, a couple of drumsticks, turkey, or a leg of lamb, you can just throw the bones into the freezer. This way, especially if your household is only one or two people, you can build up a stockpile (get it?) until you have enough scraps. If you are really crazy, if you eat something with bones in a restaurant, you can ask them to wrap it up instead of throwing it away- this is probably exclusively a struggling university student practice I figure. I usually save up two chicken carcasses before bothering to make stock, but I have a large slow cooker, so if you have a smaller one you could put your stock on right after your roast chicken dinner. Alternatively, you can buy bones and carcasses from some stores and butchers, that are usually very reasonably priced. One of my favourite boney bits to buy from the store is chicken feet- while chicken feet are really odd to actually eat because there really isn’t anything on there but bones and skin, they have loads of gelatin in them. You can buy a large pack and freeze all of them, pulling out only 1 or 2 at a time for stock, and it’ll really help thicken and “rich-en” your stock. The famous “Jewish Penicillin” chicken broth was considered inferior if it wasn’t made with at least 2 chicken feet, so I’m not the only one who has found them useful!

While this recipe is written for chicken, you can use this word-for-word on turkey, duck, lamb, and rabbit bones. If you want to make a fish broth, the cooking time is much, much shorter- I would recommend using the stovetop method, but only cook the stock for 2 hours. You can use fish bones saved over time in your “bone bag”, or you can ask for fish heads from a seafood store-they are usually pretty reasonably priced and make an excellent broth. For a beef broth, because I don’t really buy cuts that have large bones in them, I usually buy beef marrow bones specifically for this (if you have an odd beef or pork bone from a T-bone steak or pork chop, I just throw those in with the chicken batch instead of waiting to save them up). Because you don’t previously cook beef marrow bones, I usually throw them in a hot oven (400 degrees F) in a shallow pan with onions and carrots, for about 45 minutes. This will help caramelize the bones and add a lot of richness to your stock. Another compliment to beef stock is a handful of dried mushrooms-this will really add flavour and “meatiness” to the stock! Having beef stock is a fabulous treat, because you can also reduce it to create a demi-glaze, which is delicious on everything from pot roast to brussel sprouts.

For storing the broth, you can keep the broth in the fridge for up to one week. To freeze the stock, I find that it is easier to use the stock if it is frozen in smaller portions. I use a silicon muffin tin to freeze my stock in 1/2 c portions- you have to be very careful putting it in the freezer (use a cookie tray or 2 pairs of hands to transfer it without spilling), but it is so easy to pop them out when they are frozen. If you have a traditional metal muffin tin, that also will do the trick. When it comes to getting the stock out after it is frozen, just allow the tray to sit at room temperature for a little bit until you can pop the frozen stock out. If you are in a rush, you can run the bottom of the muffin tin in cold water to slightly defrost the edges so they come loose. To freeze the stock in even smaller portions, if you like to put just a couple of spoonfuls of stock in for roasting vegetables or something, I use a silicon ice cube tray and freeze a few 1 Tbsp portions. Again, you could use a standard ice cube tray and be able to pop them out just like regular ice cubes.

Chicken Stock

Chicken bones and scraps (carcasses, necks, leg bones, wings, gizzards, feet etc.)
2 stalks of celery (or the ends + bases of celery that you would normally discard), washed thoroughly and roughly chopped
2 carrots (don’t bother peeling), washed thoroughly and roughly chopped
1 onion, cut in half and layers peeled apart
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves (optional)
1 Tbsp of spices (I use: star anise, cumin, and coriander) (optional)
1 lemon, washed and sliced (optional)
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (optional)
Water

1) Line the bottom of your slow cooker, or a large heavy-bottomed pot, with the onion layers. Add the lemon slices and spices if using. Place the carrots, celery, and garlic on top of the aromatic bottom. Nestle the chicken bones on top. If the bones aren’t fitting nicely, use kitchen shears or your hands to break the carcasses up, or pull apart other bones so they fit in with greater ease.
2) Fill the slow cooker or pot with enough water to submerge the bones. Try and have them covered by at least one inch- if there are odd bits sticking out, don’t worry too much, as the stock cooks the volume will reduce and it will be easier to push all the bones down as the connective tissue softens.

SLOW COOKER METHOD:
Put your slow cooker to the “low”, or just the lowest setting depending on what your slow cooker calls it (could be “1”). If there is a time option on your slow cooker, initially set it to 12 hours. At 12 hours you can taste your stock- it should be smooth (no grit) and very savory. If it is savory, but thin, I usually continue to cook my stock to 24 hours on the “warm” serving setting. If you wish to stop at 12 hours though, it will still be a delicious stock! You want to cook it long enough so that it is rich, but not so long that the bones start to dissolve, as it creates an unpleasant texture**. Skim off any “scum” that forms on the top.

STOVETOP/OVEN METHOD:
This method has a bit of flexibility. If you have a big, heavy bottomed pot you can place it on the stovetop at the lowest setting and leave it on for up to a maximum of 12 hours. Keep the lid on, and check every once in a while to make sure there is enough water. If you don’t have a heavy duty pot, just something on the light side, you will keep the heat more consistent if you make the stock in the oven at a low setting. 200-250 degrees F should do it- if you know your oven tends to “the hot side” or “the cold side” (many older models will be either hotter or cooler than what the temperature gauge says) ere on the upper or lower end of my suggestions- if you have a newer model, go for 225 degrees F. Place the pot in and cook for up to a maximum of 12 hours, checking occasionally to make sure there is enough water. Skim off any “scum” that forms on the top.

3) Skim off any unpleasant bits from the top. You can also try and spoon off any fat, but it is easier to remove the fat after refrigeration. Strain the stock by placing a colander above a large bowl (you can line with cheese clothe if you want to guarantee a smooth texture. Place in the fridge and store up to once week- freeze the leftovers.

4) Optional, but recommended: Pick over the bones and carcasses for meat. You can usually get a fair amount of meat off of the bones, and even if you are not planning to make a chicken soup or use it immediately, you can throw it into the freezer for a later date.
5) Discard the bones and vegetable bits. Enjoy your savory, delicious, nutrient packed stock! You can add salt to taste right after making the stock, or you can leave it unsalted for more versatility. Simply salt it as you put your broth to it’s many possible uses!

**If you cooked the stock really long and the temperature setting was too high, you might have a gritty texture. Do not despair! Try straining your stock through double-layered cheesecloth. Just line a sieve or colander with cheese cloth and pour the stock through (make sure it is well positioned over a bowl so you don’t splash). This should sort out the texture, and you’ll know for next time!

Happy New Years

Epiphanies can happen at any life stage. Sure, there’s the highly publicized and humorously presented mid-life crisis. The college dorm aha! moments that resulted in everything from a change in a major to a year long trip around the world. There are the ones that leave the lips after someone had the bright idea to throw a martini party. Some of the most heart warming and memorable moments, however, come from the wide eyes of children. Not only a goldmine for embarrassing photos of mullets and bowl cuts, childhood gives us some sticky lessons and first glimpses of reality.

One of my food epiphanies came to me in kindergarten. I was wearing a white sweater with a cat face on it and purple tights. We were sitting at our desks in those little-people plastic chairs with the little silver screws that always caught your hair when you went to get up. It was hot lunch day, which was a day no one remembered, seeing as kindergarteners keep attention like ice cubes keep heat. That was half the fun though- a seemingly random day where some parents would appear, out of the blue, with hot dogs! Weeks ago, you took the slip home to your parents, and they signed it and selected either 1 or 2 hot dogs. By the time you hit grade 6, pretty much everyone got 2 hot dogs, but in kindergarten that was a far-off dream.

That day, I was sitting beside a boy, who we will call Tom. He and I were musing about how when we get to grade 6, we will be able to order 2 hot dogs on hot lunch day. How awesome would that be? It’s double the hot dog goodness! Then, I realized something that made me almost drop my mustard-swathed hot dog in my purple lap. When you became an adult, you could eat ALL the hot dogs you wanted! You could literally choose to eat hot dogs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I quickly filled Tom in on this realization, and we spent the rest of the lunch hour gleefully working our way up to ordering 100 hot dogs on hot lunch day.

While the fondness for hot dogs wore off (especially when it came to my attention that the reason the hot dogs at home didn’t taste like the ones at school was because I had been unknowingly eating tofu dogs the whole time), the concept that one day I would be able to eat whatever I wanted, stuck with me throughout childhood. It boggled the mind that at some point in my life I would be able to eat whenever and whatever I liked. I couldn’t believe that my parents still ate all their vegetables on their plate, that they had cereal for breakfast instead of bacon and eggs, or that they didn’t eat pizza on days other than Friday. I would fantasize about living in my own apartment (which looked exactly like my room, but appeared to be carpeted entirely with stuffed animals) and eating a full turkey dinner for breakfast, followed by pizza for lunch, 2 butter tarts for snack, and then a massive bowl of seaweed salad for dinner (I went through a seaweed salad phase, I even asked for it for my birthday present).

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in fantasizing about the freedom I would have when I would finally be able to eat as an adult. Kids everywhere, at this moment, are dreaming of the day when they will finally be allowed to paint their bedroom walls with chocolate, or at the very least have pizza on a Tuesday and a Friday in the same week. When you are at the grocery store, pulling out your hair trying to fill your shopping cart with the new years resolutions you already announced to the family, think about the joy and the freedom that food provides. The luck that you have, growing up in a place where you can eat sweet, organic carrots, creamy greek yogurt, spicy thai curries, slow cooked pork, roasted fennel, and grass-fed beef. Eat food that makes you feel good, and enjoy the process of picking it out, smelling it, peeling it, cooking it, and finally eating it. If you “mess up” and pick food outside of your resolutions, you might as well enjoy it. Don’t beat yourself up about it- think about the smile on that 6 year old you’s face if they knew what they would one day be allowed to do.

This new years tribute really has nothing to do with hot dogs. I can’t remember the last time I ate a hot dog, and I won’t be upset if I don’t see a hot dog for some time. It’s not a commentary on the state of school hot lunch days, and there are no politics wrapped up in the bun I ate years ago. I hope that amongst the gym trips, journal entries, and organized chaos, you are able to find joy in the food that you eat. All the best for the new year.

-Jenny