Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tuna = Elephants

I was very upset yesterday. Emotionally gutted. It was a tough day at work and the news I read in the morning meant every poke was a bit sharper.

Remember when I said I'd tell you why eating tuna was like eating elephants?

We're fishing and eating the tuna to extinction. Unless you've been living under a rock you've probably already heard that. But then we do hear that, don't we? Cod, shrimp, salmon. Seafood in general, right? We eat/fish/farm too much and it's bad and we should stop but this one piece of salmon fillet won't matter and isn't it delicious?

But the animals we are eating to extinction have never, to my knowledge, been so endangered that CITES has been mentioned and international bodies have stepped in to make fishing a species illegal. That's how bad it is.

So on Thursday 18 March when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Doha, Qatar voted overwhelmingly to reject the ban on trade in tuna (and polar bears, incidentally), I was upset.

As Barry Estabrook writes, soon tuna may no longer be endangered, they may be extinct.

So go enjoy your tuna fish sandwich, while you can. Please make sure it's served with a generous helping of shame and a sprinkling of doom, because we all know that one species affects another and that this is bad news for more than just tuna.

Oh, and you may want to include a side of elephant. Because the convention will also likely lift a ban on the sale of elephant ivory and then you can tell your children that you ate the last of two extinct animals.

Full disclosure: There are two tins of tuna in my cupboard. They are the last tins I will ever buy.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why I don't write about wine

Early morning wine on holiday in Venice

During my undergrad in Calgary I spotted a fancy new wine shop opening up just as the Winter semester was coming to a close. I liked the idea and didn't want to work full time at the hotel while doing one class over the summer and decided to apply.

This was the beginning, maybe the heyday, of speciality wine shops in Calgary and there were tons of young hip people with tons of wine knowledge and expertise buzzing round the city. I was not one of them. I believe I started my cover letter with "I know nothing about wine but I really want to learn." For whatever reason Sandra brought me in for an interview and gave me a job.

The store was gorgeous. In the cellar of the 100 year old sandstone Alberta Hotel Building (ancient by Western Canada standards), brick, old wood, we even had a ghost in the backroom. Because the store was new and in the downtown core after the business types went home the flow of people trickled down to almost nothing and so in the evenings whoever was in charge would pull us round the tasting bar and open a bottle and we would learn. We had access to a vast library of material and great brains full of knowledge - we learnt about the places and the history and why this glass and that grape. We held tastings which were carefully researched and themed. We ate a lot of cheese.  

We studied Le Nez du Vin daily, making up scent experiences like apple pie and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when we tired of gooseberry and barnyard. (At the time I didn't even know what a gooseberry was.) I got to meet local celebrity chefs who did events with us. Bernard Callebaut fed me truffles.

September came and I went back to school and down to one part time job (the better paying one) at the hotel.

For all the training that summer (and I kept up my education, let me tell you! There's a reason I have student loans!) I have never been able to describe a wine without feeling like a pretentious dick. I have an excellent palate for ingredients - I can usually dissect a dish and figure out what is in it - but not for wine. I am more likely to describe a wine with an emotion or memory than a flavour.

So I generally won't write about wine unless it's the story or context, or the emotion and memory of the bottle. Because at the end of the day unless you a wine professional or really into that type of analytical experience, you don't drink wine to dissect it. You drink it to savour it and melt into the moment. And it's those moments and that meaning that I want to remember.

Late Afternoon wine on holiday in Venice

Monday, March 15, 2010


We went to the Imperial War Museum's exhibit called Ministry of Food yesterday. It was great! You should go - it's open til January 2011 so you have plenty of time to plan your trip and come to visit us. (We even bought a new bit for the art line!) While we were there I was thinking about what we had in our fridge and how we shouldn't be wasteful and that we had an awful lot of random food in the fridge (market day was particular heavy on the cheese AND I visited the Ginger Pig) and that I didn't have any clear plan for dinner.

And then I remembered the silly number of carrots in the fridge and this recipe for Hot Carrot Salad and settled back to enjoy the rest of the day, comforted to know that dinner was taken care of.

The recipe suggests serving the carrot salad on crumpets. We didn't have any crumpets and while I made some for brunch last weekend I thought if I was going to go to the trouble of making them I could go to the trouble of making lahooh, which is what Yotam says the salad would tradtionally be served with. Yotam has never led me astray so I looked around on the magical internet for some details about lahooh. And I found a new site with a whole new world of cooking - Somalia. I am so excited to poke around and taste some new tastes!

Anyways. Lahooh. SO easy! It's basically a spongey crepe, similar to injera and a perfect foil for the (SPICY) aromatic carrot goodness.

Didn't get it perfect the first time but I will definitely try it again!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Kingsley Amis’s admonition about dieting: “The first, indeed the only, requirement of a diet is that it should lose you weight without reducing your alcoholic intake by the smallest degree.”

Parsnips FTW!

Last night I discovered the World's Best Way to Eat Parsnips. Well, I didn't discover them. Simon Hopkinson did and he wrote the recipe up in the March Olive magazine, though it actually comes from his book The Vegetarian Option which is on my (long) list of books to add to my collection.  

You must make these. These are so awesome. And we didn't manage to eat them all and then we heated them up in the oven this afternoon and they WERE STILL GOOD. And how come no one has ever mentioned romesco sauce? It's my new favourite.

Cheese-crusted fried parsnip strips with romesco sauce 

Romesco Sauce of Awesomeness

40g skinned almonds, gently fried until golden in 2T olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced
1 small dried chilli
60g sundried tomatoes, drained 
60g roasted red peppers from a jar, drained
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp hot water

Toss everything into the blender. Blend until numbly but not entirely smooth.

3 parsnips, peeled and cut into 6 inch strips
Blanched until just tender, drained and left to cool.

60g white breadcrumbs 
50g parmesan, freshly grated (Original recipe calls for much more but this was sufficient)
1/2t cayenne pepper
pinch of salt

Then coat the parsnips strips in flour, run through a beaten egg and tossed with breadcrumb mix to coat.

Fry the parsnip strips in batches in a deep pan with about two centimeters of oil at 170C for a few minutes each, until they're crisp and golden. 

Drain and eat!

No pics. Too delicious.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

How To Make An Octopus

Walking home from the Ginger Pig yesterday we poked our heads into the fishmonger's and I spotted octopus. I had never cooked an octopus before so we had a discussion with the lovely fishmonger and a 1.5lb octopus was purchased.

How To Cook an Octopus

How long is a piece of string? (C's note: This is a common British expression to express the inability to measure something abstract.)

Practical Suggestions from the internet and reference books:

1. Steam it in its own liquid
2. Braise it for hours
3. Pre-freeze it
4. Add a cork to the cooking liquid
5. Beat the octopus against a rock.

Hm. Ok.

I knew I wanted to do an octopus and potato salad, the way I'd eaten it in Italy but I also wasn't getting any super clear direction on how to do it so I took all the advice that made sense to me and made it my way. It worked. It was lovely. And so I will add my method to the internet's glut of how to cook an octopus. Without beating it.

How to Cook an Octopus like Leah did
(inspired by Mark Bittman, Jamie Oliver, Harold McGee, and the Silver Spoon – thanks guys!)

I decided to go with the slow braising method. I made a broth of lemon zest, chili, garlic and parsley stalks (and water, obviously). And lots of salt. Brought that to a boil and plunged the octopus in, then turned it down to a barely there simmer for 1.5 hours.

Just as the octopus hit the water it curled up on itself, so I pulled it out so C could see and take a photo - so cool.

I tested the octopus, to see if it was tender, after an hour and a bit - it was, so I added thick slices of potato for the last fifteen minutes or so to cook until tender.

Turned off the heat and gingerly removed the potatoes, adding them to a bowl with a bit of lemon juice. I let the octopus cool down in the water, as suggested (apparently it helps it relax after the cooking process). Finally I took it out, chopped it up, tossed it with the potatoes. Voila dinner.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Pizza in East London

Pizza seems to be in vogue here in London. It makes sense really: pizza is affordable, delicious and a sensible night out during times of economic hardship. I know that even Toronto's undergoing a pizza renaissance – some friends took me to Pizza Libretto on Ossington last summer and the place was packed to the gills, as if Torontonians had only just tasted proper pizza for the first time (sure Terroni's does a nice pizza, but it's not their focus).

So here's a look at the pizza scene here in East London.

The Stringray Globe Cafe
Sitting at the top of Columbia Road is the Stringray Globe, which is well known amongst East Londoners for its delicious, inexpensive pizzas. It's tough to get served though! Tables are usually in short supply and we've been refused take-out a couple of times just because the kitchen is so busy. Usual selection of wine and beer. Their Bosciola and Capricciosa (hold the egg) pizzas are favourites of ours.

The Lauriston
A bit of a hike for us, the Lauriston is actually a local pub just off Victoria Park that happens to have fantastic pizzas cooked in a proper Italian pizza oven. As its a pub, their selection of beer, ciders and wine is really quite decent as well. Throughout the week you'll find all kinds of Hackney hipsters lounging about, taking part in the Wednesday pub quiz, or even belting out tunes with Hot Breath Karaoke (don't worry, it's only held once a month). On the weekends, it's very family friendly with babies, toddlers and accompanying strollers everywhere. Apparently, they do a great breakfast and brunch as well.

Pizza East
The latest to the scene, Pizza East is definitely the current hip joint (the girl who checked our coats was wearing a sweater that may have formerly been an ostrich). Located over the main floor of the Tea Building in Shoreditch, it also has a nightclub, Concrete, in the basement, hence the dressed-to-impress crowd. Excellent pizza, a unique, fluffy soft crust and a wide range of delicious toppings. Do order the spicy sausage, mozarella, sprouting broccoli and garlic pizza – fantastic! Good selection of beer and wine as well; our Peroni and Moretti beers came ice-cold with chilled glasses. My only critique was the sparkling water (bottled in-house) was quite flat.

All three are quite different but equally delicious. The Globe probably gets most of our business, only because it's right around the corner from us. In addition to these ones, two more pizzerias have recently opened up – an Italian one in Broadway Market and a Sardinian place on Kingsland Road. More to sample soon enough...