From the category archives:

Not completely domestically inept

Back in April, I had the brilliant idea for a series of blog posts on the theme of “ingredient of the week,” to explore new foods and share inspiration. I made it through Parmesan and kale. And now, after forgetting allowing the anticipation to build up for eight months, I’m back with another ingredient that is equal parts intimidating and delicious: POMEGRANATES.

Pomegranates

I love pomegranates. They’re just the right mix of sweet and tart, and they’re so good for you! The fact that they’re one of the few fruits that are only available in certain seasons makes then even more appealing. But seriously, is there a messier fruit? Apparently you can buy the arils (not seeds – the seeds are the crunch bits at the end of the arils, which are the red juicy kernels that you eat) bulk at Costco, but where’s the fun in that? Up until earlier this month, when I wanted to crack into a pomegranate I would cut one in quarters (spraying juice everywhere), invert the quarters one at a time over a bowl, and use my thumbs to liberate the arils. By the time I was done, the kitchen looked like a mass murder had been committed in the kitchen (which some who have eaten my cooking may intimate takes place on a regular basis. Ahem.) Convinced there had to be a better way, I turned to my friends on Facebook for tips.

Responses on how best to de-aril a pomegranate fall into two camps. You have those that swear by the spoon, and those that swear by the bowl of water. So vehement were the supporters of each method, I knew I had to try out each one. Oh the things I will do in the name of bloggy fodder. Welcome to my pomegranate test kitchen!

Both methods require the same beginning: start by scoring the pomegranate around its diameter so you’re cutting through the skin to where the arils are. Maybe half a centimeter deep?

Pomegranates

This part is a little tricky. You have to work your thumbs into the cut without spraying too much juice everywhere, and then pull the halves apart.

Pomegranates

Here’s where the methods diverge. The spoon method appealed to me because it involved whacking the living hell out of something. Sweet juicy fruit and therapy all rolled into one? Hells yes! It’s surprising how well this one works.

Take one of the halves and hold it arils-down loosely over your palm over a reasonably large bowl. Take a wooden spoon or other firm tool – Don from FoodiePrints says a pestle works well – and whack the skin side of the pomegranate. Avoid your fingers. (You might think that would go without saying. You’ve clearly never been in my kitchen.) The arils will drop into your palm and roll into the bowl. Keep whacking until all the arils fall out.

Pomegranates

You can see by the spatters on the inside of the bowl in the above photo that this was not a particularly tidy way to remove the arils. I wouldn’t say this method was much less messy that what I’d been doing before, especially since the skin split at one spot when I whacked too sharply, and thus sprayed pomegranate juice everywhere each time I hit it thereafter. Perhaps this is a practice thing. Regardless, I rate the wooden spoon method two stars out of five for neatness, three stars for ease of removal, and five stars for fun.

The other popular method is removing the arils in a bowl of water. As above, you score the skin and split the pomegranate in half. You then submerge half of the pomegranate in a bowl of water and use your thumbs to push the arils out. If you push down on the centre of the uncut skin, it’s super easy to pop the arils out and the arils conveniently sink to the bottom of the bowl while the skin floats to the top.

Pomegranates

I was surprised at how quickly this method worked. While it had taken me nearly 15 minutes to remove the arils with my thumbs but not underwater, using the bowl of water took maybe three minutes at most. I found it a bit of a pain to skim the bits of skin off the top of the water (I eventually dug out a mini-strainer for the task from my drawer of neglected kitchen tools) and it did the trick. The water method gets four stars for neatness (would have been five if not for the skimming issue), five for ease of removal, but only two stars for fun.

Pomegranates

So, now that you have a bowl full of juicy, delicious pomegranate arils and only a few flakes of white skin that you’re too lazy to bother picking out, now what? Well, you can just eat them out of the bowl. Oh so yummy! But here’s a great idea: kale salad with pomegranate, mandarins, pumpkin seeds and a honey-lemon dressing. (I continue to be astonished that I have actually learned how to cook.)

Here’s how: make your dressing with one part honey, two parts oil (I used olive) and one part lemon juice. Add just a tiny drop of mustard (or more if you like the flavour) to keep the liquids from separating after you whisk them. (I learned that one at the gym last week – thank you Food Network and Chef Michael Smith!)

Pour the dressing over the kale and rub it in to the leaves. I just learned about massaging kale, too – it helps cut the bitterness. Peel two mandarin oranges and throw them in with about half of the pomegranate seeds. Throw in a handful of pumpkin seeds or whatever you have on hand to add a little crunch – sunflower seeds, pecans, walnuts. Voila! A crazy-healthy salad that the kids and adults both love.

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Okay, now you! Any thoughts on the best method for getting the arils out of the pomegranate? Or better yet, any pomegranate recipes to share? Whatever you do, just promise me you’ll never be intimidated by these lovely fruit again, and don’t you even consider paying for one of those silly tools they sell in the grocery store!


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I am posting this here partly to share, but also because I want to remind myself how I did it so I can do it again!

I have been looking for a hearty beef stew recipe for ages, and I’ve tried a few flops over the last few years, but this is the first one where I feel like I got it right. I started with this recipe from Canadian Living, and followed the basic instructions here for browning the beef, adding the onions and the flour – I think this was the part that made it a thick, tasty stew instead of the more soupy stews I’ve made in the past.

I didn’t have any stock, so I used a bit of something called Better than Bouillon with three cups of water and one cup of red wine. (I started out in the grocery store looking for bouillon cubes, but have you ever read the ingredients in those things? Yikes! I was trying to find one with less sodium, but they’re all thick with MSG. This is the only one I could find without it. I may just substitute veggie stock next time, as it was still a tad too salty.)

So I put all that on the stove in a big pot around 1 pm and let it simmer. Around 3:30, I chopped up two turnips, a handful of fat mutant carrots from our Roots and Shoots share, most of a leek and two cloves of garlic (also from R&S) and dumped those in. About an hour after that, I chopped up four potatoes (also R&S – I love my CSA share!) and put those and another cup of water in. About an hour after that, I popped about 3/4 of a cup of frozen peas and let it simmer for about 10 more minutes. So good! I learned today that if you put the veg in too early, it gets mushy, but leaving the meat to simmer for hours tenderizes it.

I meant to take a photo before we ate it but it smelled too good and we were starving. See?

I’ve been working really hard lately on making dinners from whole foods sourced locally where possible. We did pretty good on this stew – most of the veggies were from Roots and Shoots (the farm is about 3 km from here) and the beef was from O’Brien Farms in Winchester via the Manotick Village Butcher. Best of all, four out of five of us loved it and the fifth one tolerated it, so I’ll take that as a win.

Time to swap out the BBQ for the soup pot. Got any good soup recipes to share this autumn?


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When I read Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto in 2008, it radically changed how I thought about food and eating. I took to heart then and still try hard to live by his simple prescriptive advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Every time I visit the grocery store, I think about his tests to ensure you are consuming actual food and not just foodlike substances: “would your great-grandmother recognize it as food” and “don’t eat it if it has ingredients you don’t recognize and/or can’t pronounce.”

Because I was so deeply moved by In Defense of Food, I knew I would like his latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. About two months ago, I read an interesting interview with Pollan in a blog on the NY Times. In that interview, he said:

“Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.”

When you cook, you choose the ingredients: “And you’re going to use higher-quality ingredients than whoever’s making your home-meal replacement would ever use. You’re not going to use additives. So the quality of the food will automatically be better.”

I believe that, wholeheartedly. I believe in just about everything Pollan in preaching, and so I was delighted last week to be stuck in the car for drive across the city long enough to catch all of Jian Ghomeshi’s interview of Michael Pollan on the radio program Q. Pollan discussed Big Food and how (pardon me as a paraphrase from my memory of something I heard a week ago) any industrialized food production will automatically choose the least expensive (and therefore lowest quality and least healthy) ingredients, because companies are all about making profits. But to cover up the fact that they are using marginal ingredients (think of the quality of cheese and flour, for example, used to make a frozen pizza) they add all sorts of other things that are salty or sugary or fatty because when our body detects those things it says YUM, and those salty/fatty/sugary additives mask the meh of the mediocre ingredients. And it’s those salty/fatty/sugary additives that are the problem, the huge problem, the biggest food problem of them all.

Jian Ghomeshi asked Pollan about adding things like butter, gobs of butter, to a home cooked meal to make it tastier and Pollan said that you basically can’t go wrong with home-cooked food, and no matter how much salt you shake out or butter you slather on, if you are cooking real food you are ingesting a mere fraction of what you get in pre-packaged Big Food foodlike products.

This makes so much sense to me. SO much. I totally buy this argument. Eating at home is a touchstone in our family. I’m also a rabid believer in the whole “family dinner” concept, and while we do takeout pizza about once a week, we mostly eat meals I cook at home.

387:1000 Cake baking

Before we had kids, cooking dinner meant taking a box from the freezer or fridge and making it warm. I’ve come a long way since then, I have to admit that much. But as I am listening to Michael cursed Pollan and nodding my head in agreement, I am beginning to think critically about what “cooking” means in our house. I think about how I make spaghetti and meatballs, for instance. Box of (whole wheat, natch) noodles, jar of sauce, frozen meatballs from M&M. Um, okay, so not exactly home cooked. But my veggie primavera with noodles and fresh zukes, peppers, snowpeas and mushrooms – I cook all that from scratch. Well, except for the noodles. And the jarred pesto. Hmm. Oh wait! Fajitas, my specialty, with guacamole from scratch and Farm Boy (but fresh, dammit!) salsa. Totally from scratch. Except the spice rub on the chicken. And the prepackaged tortillas.

Damn. There is almost nothing I cook that doesn’t come somehow from Big Food, that is not processed. Even hamburgers with meat I go out of my way to get from the local butcher (ethically and sustainably farmed!) goes on buns from a bag beside beans from a can.

I want to make the good choices, I honestly do. I have a local, organic CSA farm share, for god’s sake. I am trying.so.hard. But I stood in the grocery store the day after I listened to that interview and I was paralyzed. What can I buy? What can I make for dinner? How can I possibly conceptualize and home-cook from scratch seven dinners that all five people in my house will eat and not completely lose my ever-loving mind? And then do it all again the next week? And the next?

By the time I reached the check-out, I had completely capitulated. Not only were the usual suspects in my cart (cans of beans, jars of sauce, those amazing chicken dumplings from the freezer section) but also several signs of my utter resignation: sugary cereal, frozen waffles, a bag of chips so big it needed its own shopping bag.

Curse you, Michael Pollan. Curse you for opening my eyes, eyes which I thought were already wide open for the love of god, and making me think about eating all over again. I’m afraid to read your bloody damn book in case it makes me think even more because my head may just explode.

Deep breaths.

Now that we’ve eaten the can of beans and the pre-prepped macaroni salad, I’ve shaken off my ennui and vowed to try again. If I’ve made the leap from simply heating crap up to making large swaths of most of our meals, I can incrementally start to cook more and more from scratch, right? Maybe even start with the basics?

You think the family will mind if we have home-made from scratch spaghetti sauce on noodles from a box four times next week? Because the older I get, the harder it is for this dog to learn new tricks.


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Despite my best efforts so far, the family stubbornly refuses to ban me from the kitchen. One would think that more than a decade of mediocre cooking would at least leave them looking for an alternative, but they seem to show a remarkable tolerance for unremarkable food.

A few weeks ago I played what I thought was my best card by setting the oven on fire. Alas, I fell short once again of my goal. My family, in fact, barely raised a collective eyebrow, and certainly made no move to banish me from the room at the domestic heart of the house.

Realizing the need for more drastic measures, I have once again attempted to set the oven on fire, this time by strategically dumping a pan full of bacon and grease into the bottom of the oven. I have nefariously gambled that the combination of safety hazard and waste of a pound of perfectly good bacon will be enough to force the family into action. If nothing else, I have ensured that a residue of bacon grease will remain embedded into the sides of the oven drawer and its collection of baking sheets and muffin tins well into the next decade.

How much more of this torture can they withstand before they are forced to take action and remove me from the kitchen for their own good – and mine?

Edited to add: And I clearly did an excellent and thorough job scouring all traces of bacon drippings from the stove.

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This is the second post in a new semi-regular feature here on the blog. The idea is that I propose an ingredient and we swap ideas on what to do with it, and I’ll keep an archive of them here for easy reference. Last week it was Parmesan Reggiano. On that post, Karen specifically asked for ideas and inspiration around one of our new favourite veggies: kale!

I had never eaten kale before it appeared in our CSA box from Roots and Shoots Farm last summer. I had a vague idea that it was a green with a good rep and people who lived healthier lives than me used it in smoothies. I had an idea it would be bitter and not yummy. I was wrong on both counts.

CSA share in the fridge

Kale is, in a word, delicious. It has a more hearty texture than lettuce but a mild, distinctively green taste. We’ve found two favourite ways to eat it. The first is in place of or along side romaine in a Caesar salad. (Bonus point: you can sprinkle some Parmesan Reggiano on top – shall we make it a game to see who comes up with the meal that incorporates the most of the ingredients we’ll feature here??) And as an aside, you know what gives my Caesar salad a little extra zing? A generous squeeze of lemon juice. Yum!

The other way I love kale is in baked kale chips. I’ve seen something being marketed as kale chips in the store, which have all sorts of crap in them and sell for some ridiculous amount like $8 per bag. My kale chips have three ingredients: kale, salt and olive oil. Wash your kale and shake off as much water as you can. Tear the tender bits of the leaves away from the ribs and toss the tender bits in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and salt to taste. The big salt crystals like kosher salt or sea salt work best here. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake at 275F for 10 minutes, turn over and bake for 5 to 10 minutes more until they are crispy but not blackened. Then try not to eat them all standing in the kitchen because they are SO GOOD! They keep for a day or two in a closed container, but mine never last that long.

Okay, now you! I’m sure I have barely scratched the culinary surface of kale’s potential, but frankly as soon as I get it in the house it’s either a salad or kale chips within 24 hours and it’s gone. I can hardly wait for CSA box season to begin so I can get my weekly fix!


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This is not a food blog. You might have noticed that. (snort) I may be a good writer, a decent photographer, a loving mother and a loyal friend, but I am hopeless in the kitchen. I cook because we need to eat and since I’ve already got Beloved doing the rest of the menial chores around the house (god love him) until one of the boys is old enough to take over the task, keeping the family from starving will fall on my shoulders.

I’m not exactly an adventurous eater, let alone a creative chef. I have a dozen, maybe 20 meals I can cook, and we loop through the top 10 randomly. I believe in whole foods over processed and if I can grill something I will. Also, I am rarely interested in or able to spend more than 30 minutes on meal preparation.

CSA share in the fridge

So with that in mind, here’s my new idea, inspired by a conversation on Facebook. Yesterday, I posted this as my status update:

Thanks to grocery store samples, I have discovered and become obsessed with Parmesan Reggiano cheese. OMG so good. But aside from grating it over pasta and eating it until I give myself a stomach ache, what else can I do with it?

And to my mouth-watering astonishment, these are the replies I got (stripped of real names to protect the culinary able):

  • Use it to top off soup, chili, casseroles, in wraps, …
  • Who doesn’t love cheese?!
  • Also good in salads, bruschetta, dips and on steamed veggies
  • Cut up a head of cauliflower, toss it in some olive oil, then toss it in some grated parm and roast for about 40 mins at 425 (turning the pieces half way). Sooooo good!
  • over steamed broccoli. And where have you been?!!! lol
  • It’s very good shaved over arugula sprinkled with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice.
  • Jason likes it grated into a HOT pan, then removing and cooling. It’s used as a garnish, but he eats it like chips.
  • We grate it into our bread-crumb / butter mac and cheese topping.
  • Oooh, yes. We’re boring, that’s all we do with it too. But what about over grilled asparagus? Before or after it goes in the oven? I might have to try that myself…
  • (me:) Oh my god you guys. Forget ME cooking it, I’m coming over to all of YOUR houses for dinner. Who’s first??
  • It transforms brussel sprouts into something my kids will tolerate.
  • I have a recipe for baked pork chops that uses a lot of parm-reggiano in the breading. It is an excellent recipe. I’ll dig it up at home tonight and message you.
  • Ok, ok, what about sprinkling it on that kale you tricked me into buying?? Like, Kale Chips Reggiano????
  • Mix with crushed ritz crackers and sprinkle on fried zucchini (before removing from heat). Mix with mayo to coat chicken before coating with cornflakes and baking. Add to creamy risotto made with chicken broth.
  • (in reply to above) OMG, I thought that was all one recipe at first…
  • Defintely a must on top of ceasar salad!
  • I like to shave a few pieces onto grilled steak, or grilled portobello mushrooms and drizzle with a really good balsamic vinegar.
    Make pesto with it.
  • (me:) Okay seriously, I either need to learn to cook or have friends who are less creative in the kitchen, because this thread is making me feel woefully inadequate. I am going to make EVERY SINGLE ONE of these recipes. And I might not even ruin one or two of them in the process.
  • parmesan tuiles? … our wine blogger’s family recipe for carbonara calls for reggiano, not pecorino… there is very LITTLE cooking involved for carbonara!

That last one is from Don from foodiePrints. Seriously, I don’t even know what a “tuiles” is – clearly my culinary aptitude has been misrepresented in some way! ;)

So after reading all of that (and while drooling in a most unseemly fashion) I was inspired by a new bloggy creative flash! (See? Excellent blogger. Lousy cook.) What if we do this every week most weeks on random occasions here on the blog? I’ll post an ingredient and we can share food preparation ideas, and then I’ll leave them up for you to come back when you’re feeling uninspired and looking for something new?

What do you think? Fun idea? Now what ELSE can we do with parmesean reggianno? (I hope it’s still on sale at Farm Boy, it’s gonna take a LOT OF CHEESE to work my way through all these suggestions!!)


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Kale Caesar!

9 August 2012 Not completely domestically inept

Here’s an actual conversation that I would have never in a million years expected to hear around our dinner table. Beloved, gesturing at salad: “Is there kale in this?” Me: “No, we didn’t get any in the CSA this week.” Beloved: “Aw, that’s too bad.” Me: “I know, but it looks like we get some [...]

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Our first CSA share from Roots and Shoots Farm!

29 June 2012 Life, the Universe and Everything

Yesterday I picked up our first CSA (community shared agriculture) share from Roots and Shoots farm. I was supposed to pick it up Wednesday in Manotick, but apparently I can’t read simple directions and managed to miss the first pick-up entirely, but they were nice enough to let me come out to the farm for [...]

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Ask the audience: on soup and non-non-stick pans

25 October 2011 Not completely domestically inept

Hey bloggy peeps, I have two domestic questions for you today. Please save my family from my domestic obliviousness! First, I was surprised to read this summer that non-stick pans can release carcinogenic chemicals, apparently to such an extent that people with birds never use them for fear of killing the birds. That was enough [...]

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Green. Yellow. Red.

29 March 2011 Life, the Universe and Everything

No, not a stoplight. No, those are the colours of the three crayons that were in the pocket of his winter coat. When I washed it. And dried it. Along with his only pair of ski pants, and both of his brothers’ only winter coats. And ski pants. I can tell you now with the [...]

15 comments Read the full article →