Best. Chili. Ever.

Food, Recipes No Comments

Yesterday I was flipping through some cookbooks and ended up reading about chilis. Yes, I do actually just sit and read cookbooks sometimes…it’s just something I do now. Anyhow, while reading about chilis I decided to make…chili.

Working off a recipe from the Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipe book, I cobbled together a shopping list (including stuff for breakfast), and wandered off into the snowy wilderness to gather supplies. The snowy wilderness in question happens to be The Glebe, and all the shops I needed to visit are within a 2 block walk of the condo. Not exactly an adventure, but nonetheless…

The local Loeb sufficed for the core ingredients — veggies and canned stuff — but the recent Mad Cow (BSE) scares have put me off normal ground beef for the time being, and they don’t seem to carry organic meats. A quick trip to the Glebe Meat Market secured 2 lbs of lean organic ground beef for the chili and a bracing bout of sticker shock for me. Organic ground beef is a good idea, yes, but goddamn it’s expensive. Might have to rethink this for the long term.

Popped into Kardish on the way home for small bags of kosher rock salt (for the grinder, finally), cayenne pepper, and red pepper flakes. Didn’t have cash, so had to pick up a jar of tahini to get over the $5 minimum for Interac. The happy result of this being that I now have all the necessary ingredients for hummus tomorrow.

Got home and procrastinated for a while then ducked back out to Nicastros to pick up a bottle of higher grade olive oil (for said hummus) and some pitas. Ended up picking up a First Cold Pressed bottle of La Pugliesina unfiltered extra virgin olive oil, imported from (as you might suspect) Italy. I’ve never tried unfiltered olive oil before, so I figured I might give it a shot, being only $18 for a largish bottle. Google isn’t helping me find any info on the ‘net about it, so I’ll just have to post a review of it here later.

On to the chili. My modified recipe is over on the FoodWiki now, posted for the ages. It’s the best chili I’ve made that I can remember, although not quite as spicy-hot as I normally do. Next time I’ll be adding more heat, but cooking the spices with the vegetables (rather than just tossing them in with the tomatoes and beans) really made a difference. It has a much deeper, rounded, and earthier sort of heat — the Cook’s Illustrated people really do know what they’re doing.

Topped the chili with some grated 3 year old cheddar, and served with fresh multigrain from the bakery on the corner, along with a bottle of Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz (one of our two standard table wines). The chili is a bit overpowering for that wine, but it was a decent enough balance. Best part is that there’s plenty left over for at least another dinner and a few lunches (chili that is, not wine…that’s just about gone now). Yum.

Tomorrow is bacon + eggs with hashbrowns for breakfast, and hummus for lunch/snack. Probably chili for dinner, but we’ll see.

FoodWiki

Food, Recipes No Comments

So I never actually got around to purchasing a copy of “A Cook’s Books”, because I wasn’t too thrilled with the current inability to export to a web-friendly format (HTML, XML, whatever). This was enough to put me off long enough that I started to think about alternative recipe management systems. I’ve been considering rolling my own web-based PHP/MySQL web-based system for a while, but…well…the effort required to put that together was daunting enough (after I’d done the outline for a design document) that I figured I’d end up never finishing it properly.

And then it struck me, “Hey, wikis are cool.”

I’d poked at the WikiMedia Foundation‘s MediaWiki software recently, and it seemed relatively simple to set up. So I downloaded it, moved it over to the server, read the README and INSTALL docs, and lo! The FoodWiki is born!

Yep, a FoodWiki. This isn’t exactly an original thought, but that’s OK by me. Right now I have the wiki set to be publicly accessible and editable, so long as you register for an account. This is potentially dangerous, of course (as all publicly editable web sites are), so I’m reserving the right to shut it down to private-access only whenever I so choose. For now, you’re welcome to contribute (encouraged, even), just try to keep links and formatting sensible.

As with all new projects, my intentions for the FoodWiki are good — I’ll keep poking at it and adding new content and such for the foreseeable future. I’ve got some Grand Designs, of course, but will be taking it in small, easily manageable chunks — a few recipes added here and there, some links occassionally, and so forth. First job is to get my personal cookbook in there, along with a collection of my (carefully rewritten to avoid copyright infringement issues) favourite recipes. Then…whatever. It’s an experiment for now.

I do really like the MediaWiki software a lot. Hopefully the look and feel is relatively easy to modify, but I’m not so concerned about that, either. I don’t mind the default look at all, and it has served the Wikipedia well.

Anyhow, there it is. The second major webbish project I’ve started recently (this weblog is the other). Enjoy.

Avocado Oil

Food No Comments

In the latest Food & Drink Magazine (published as a free quarterly by the LCBO), there’s a short article about Avocado Oil. I’d never heard of it before, nor have I ever seen it in shops, so I thought I’d Google for a bit more information.

Avocado oil is produced, apparently, in much the same way as olive oil, and is about as healthy for you. Here are some relevant tid-bits:

Avocado oil has a light, but unique flavor that makes it an excellent choice for salad dressings or for use as a condiment. It is usually produced from avocados that are damaged or not aesthetically pleasing. Refined avocado oil has the highest smoke point of any plant oil, so it is useful for high heat cooking. It is a good source of monounsaturated fat and vitamin E, which makes it nutritionally beneficial.

A superb salad dressing and cooking oil, avocado oil has shown potential benefits in helping to lower cholesterol levels, reduce heart disease and relieve certain problems associated with the prostate.

From a nutritional and culinary perspective avocado oil offers a number of advantages over olive oils. Avocado oil has a very high burn/smoke point of over 500 degrees Fahrenheit against 374 degrees Fahrenheit for olive oil, an important difference when searing or frying meat and vegetables in a stir fry.

Smooth, rich with a great taste, avocado oil does not overpower the taste of foods, instead it brings out and enhances those natural flavors – especially French or Asian style cooking or fish and chicken dishes that have delicate flavors that should not be disguised.

Nutritional Content:

* 13% saturated fats, 73% monounsaturated fats, 11% polyunsaturated fats
* 73% oleic acid (omega -9), a monounsaturated fatty acid.
* 9% linoleic (omega -6) and 1% linolenic (omega-3)
* 1% Beta sitosterol
* High in Vitamin E

I think I’ll start looking around for a bottle of this stuff to play with. I’ll post my results here or over on the FoodWiki.

The Health Council (not FKA The Style Council)

News No Comments

Canada has been going through a lot of handwaving and general low-grade panic about the state of our health care system. Health care is one of those things that tends to define us as Canadians (well, not really, but the joke is that “A Canadian is an American with Health Care and no Guns”), and we tend to take it very, very seriously.

And for good reason. We spend a lot of money on it and general consensus (including from me) is that we don’t get our money’s worth.

In an effort to come up with sane approaches to dealing with (or at least understanding) the problems involved, Canada created The Health Council in 2003. They released their first report yesterday. Not only am I surprised that a government committee managed to produce anything after only two years, I’m surprised by the things it apparently says. You can read the full Globe and Mail article over here, but here are some relevant bits that make it sound like that committee is actually competent.

…the Health Council report distinguishes itself in a couple of important ways. Nowhere in its 94 pages do you find the word “crisis.” There is no chest-beating call for massive increases in spending.

In fact, the report repeatedly says progress is being made in each of these areas, and offers up concrete examples of approaches that work. And the council members have the good sense — and the backbone — to wonder aloud if Canadians are actually getting value for money for the $130-billion that is spent annually on health-care delivery.

Hurry up and deal with the human-resources problem. Here, the council had a nuanced message. Not the typical cries of: “We have a doctor shortage” and “We have a nursing shortage,” but a call to start with a clean slate and determine how many and what kind of workers are needed to deliver health care in Canada, and create the multidisciplinary team that can do so in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Hurry up and create a national system of electronic health records. Accelerating the use of information technology will improve patient care and safety and lift a bureaucratic burden from health workers.[*]

the Health Council also breaks new ground, making an explicit call to recognize the role socioeconomic determinants play in health and acknowledging that many factors other than health-care delivery — income, housing, inequality — have an impact on the health of individuals and communities.

[*] This part, after the fiasco that is the multi-billion-dollar-failure Gun Registry, sort of scares me. I just hope they hire some competent programmers and managers to do this.

I might actually see if I can dig up a copy of the full report sometime. It sounds, from this article, that it might be sane.

Agh, salty

Food, Recipes No Comments

For those of you with the Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipe cookbook: skip the extra salt in the “Pasta with Quick Tomato Sauce” near the front of the Pasta section. The salt in the cooking water is plenty of salt for anyone, and the extra just killed it for me. Alas.

Food I love but have never made

Food No Comments

There’s some stuff that, in spite of working on my cooking over the past three years, I have never yet attempted to make, even though I love ordering it in restaurants. Here’s a quick example list, off the top of my head:

Eggs Benedict (and variants) — I love, love, love, love, love good soft yummy poached eggs. My preferred variant loses the ham (I don’t particularly care for ham and tend to avoid it), keeps the hollandaise, and adds steamed spinach (or asparagus) and a slice of swiss under the egg. I have never, as far as I can recall, poached an egg. My recent restaurant adventures with Eggs Benedict, however, have put me off ordering them out ever again. The last one had me down with mild food poisoning for an entire weekend, which is something only Burger King has managed before.

Fish and Shellfish — I have never purchased and/or prepared any sort of fish or shellfish, including shrimp. I think my problem here is twofold: 1) I know nothing about what to look for when purchasing seafood; 2) The thought of deveining a shrimp just makes me queasy. I can solve the first fairly easily, probably through a quick IRC chat with shaver, or by googling for it, or by purchasing a book of some sort. I’m sure there’s a Cook’s Illustrated book about seafood kicking around somewhere. The second problem is just me being a baby. I’ve never been a fan of eating things that are still recognizably the same shape they were when alive. A steak does not look like a cow. A shrimp, however, looks like a shrimp. Possibly the strangest food phobia ever.

Note: tentacled things are right out. I had plenty of exposure when I was forced (on threat of firing) to prepare calamari from frozen whole squid when I was a kitchen drudge at East Side Marios when I was a no-goodnik teenager. That’s pretty much the most revolting thing I’ve ever done for money.

Pizza — The key here is that I’ve never made my own pizza dough. At home. When working at East Side Marios I used to make pizza dough by the bucketload on a daily basis. Huge industrial batches of the stuff, according to the corporate recipe, in huge industrial machines, then portioning it by weight, coating with olive oil, and stashing it in plastic bags. I’ve never done this at home, however, although I intend to sometime…soonish. I recently purchased a $15 pizza stone, no less. I’m just a little afraid of the potential mess. Any time I so much as touch a bag of flour, it ends up all over the place.

Fresh pasta — This won’t be changing soon, and again is something I’ve just not done at home. Somehow, while working as a bartender at The Olive Garden, I got rooked into taking over the pasta prep spot for a few mindbendingly boring months. Pasta prep isn’t sequestered to the back of the house like all the other prep jobs at TOG — it’s front and centre, right there beside the front doors. I had to wear a dorky hat and everything. Again, I was making industrial quantities of the stuff, using nothing more than semolina flour, water, a zillion eggs, and an industrial pasta maker. This was back in the day before my back finally screwed me and I could stand for more than 2-3 hours at a time without ending up in screaming amounts of pain.

(Mental note: I should really get back to physio sometime.)

Pasta is, however, just one of those things that, for me, is way more trouble than it’s worth. I’ll stick with the dried and semi-fresh stuff I can get at the grocery store.

Soup stocks — Chicken, veal, beef, vegetable, whatever. This is something I would be more likely to attempt if I had a chest freezer to store the results in so I could make huge batches at a time. It’s simple, I know (well, relatively), but I just don’t know what I would do with a four gallon (or more) pot of stock once it was finished.

Bread — I have actually made my own bread before. When I was a starving student in Nova Scotia, working on finishing my thesis, I decided to try to make bread one day. It worked out well, so I made it a few more times, but then the fancy passed and I’ve never done it again. The one that worked was called a “herbed parmasan batter loaf”. I have no idea where I got the recipe. The one that didn’t work out so well was my attempt at egg bread. Given that I was living in a crappy one bedroom apartment in a crappy building with crappy appliances and an oven that probably hadn’t been properly cleaned since the early 50s, I’m surprised it worked out at all. Now, well, I live within a stone’s throw of at least two bakeries, and it just (again) seems like more effort than it’s worth, given that I can get a fresh loaf of almost any sort of bread for $3 in about 10 mins, should need arise.

There’s other stuff, of course, but that’s a fairly solid sampling of things I like eating but haven’t made at home. I recently happened across a recipe for pan-seared tuna steaks with sesame crust that looked awfully yummy and relatively simple, but I wouldn’t even know where to start looking for high-quality fresh tuna in this city. I bet shaver would know…

On Email, Advertising, and Annoyances

General 2 Comments

Between Jan 7th 2005 and Jan 24th 2005 roughly 1.5% of my incoming email has been non-spam, non-mailing list fodder. I suspect I’m actually doing pretty well, percentage wise, compared to many of my compatriots.

If it weren’t for the spam filter system in Thunderbird, this incredibly low signal-to-noise ratio would make email completely useless to me. No better than Usenet News, which I had to finally abandon as a total waste of my time in the mid-late ’90s.

My primary online communication now occurs using two technologies — one very old, and one relatively new — IRC, and Instant Messaging. Non-internet telecommunication is primarily via SMS or my cell phone. None of these are currently plagued by advertising. Our regular telephone line is also mostly spam these days — telemarketers and some asinine automated computer system that keeps autodialing our line and beeping annoyingly into our voicemail have made POTS essentially useless as well (not to mention Bell, who, for some reason, seems to be incapable of providing a baseline of reliable service any more).

Regular mail service also contains more than its fair share of noise, as junk mail, but at least it remains useful in that it’s the only way to get physical objects delivered from point A to point B. Given that it’s possible to get the majority of bills and invoices issued electronically, this is useful primarily as an enabler for online shopping, of which I am a growing fan.

Some day marketers and advertisers will…change. I’m not sure how, or when, or what form these changes will take, but eventually they’re going to have to realize that we (the big “we” being “the people they’re attempting to sell things to”) are no longer going to stand for their exploitation and destruction of our communications systems. There are, of course, new laws being proposed all over the world that are attempt to restrict the flood — anti spam laws, do-not-call lists, and so forth.

One would hope that out there, somewhere, there is a young, clever, whipper-snapper of an advertising/marketing executive who will realize these laws are a clear indication that their current strategies are becoming more annoying than they are effective. The amount of money and time and effort that is put in to these carpet-bomb style marketing strategies must be unbelievable, and while the return rate must obviously be high enough to justify the cost, I would like to think that there Has To Be A Better Way.

Marketing and advertising are in dire need of an evolutionary shift. No one wants spam. No one wants telemarketers calling at all hours of the day and night. No one wants junk mail. Continuing in this vein, no one wants television commercials or banner ads or newspapers and magazines that are mostly taken up by adspace. No one likes billboards or posters or bus-side banners or “street level” spamming of stickers and grafitti.

Isn’t there a way to selectively provide product information to people who need and/or want it? Is spamming your product logo at people all the time really the most effective way of gaining marketshare and product recognition?

Unfortunately, it probably is. If it weren’t, then there would be money to be made with a less obtrusive and annoying method.

For what it’s worth, I’m less a fan of the extremely narrow targeted-advertising strategies because of the consumer profiling involved with compiling those lists.

I think I just want the entire marketing and advertising industry to vanish. Imagine what would happen, what the world would be like if, all of a sudden, there was no more advertising. If, when you were interested in buying something, you had to specifically go out and find information about the various products available. We would all become much more thoughtful, informed, and less autonomic consumers. The “infosphere” would be so much less polluted. We’d probably spend less, consume less, pollute less, and waste a lot less time wading through the noise trying to find the signal. In general, we’d probably be calmer, less stressed, happier, more thoughtful, healthier, and better informed people.

Or so I would like to think. The problem, of course, is that advertising works. I just wish it didn’t.

Things I Cooked This Week

Food No Comments

It’s been a good week…

  • Last Saturday: Linguine w/ from-scratch meat, mushroom, tomato, basil sauce.
  • Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: Lasagna (this was huge and fed us for 3 days, using leftover pasta sauce).
  • Wednesday: Pho Soup.
  • Thursday: Chicken, Tomato, Chickpea, and Onion curry w/ steamed brown rice.
  • Friday: Sweet & Sour pork w/ steamed basmati rice.
  • Saturday Breakfast: Salmon cream cheese on poppyseed bagels w/ thin sliced onion, salted capers, and fresh ground pepper. (Next time, rinsing the capers first…too salty.)
  • Saturday: Pan Seared Ribeye Steaks w/ mashed potatos and sauted onions, mushrooms, and zucchini. (Set off the condo smoke alarm for the first time with this one.)
  • Sunday: Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches on fresh baguette (using leftover ribeye, will be today’s lunch).
  • Sunday: Linguine w/ from-scratch fresh tomato-basil sauce (will be tonight’s dinner).

Headline of the Day, Gold Star

News No Comments

“Bush sworn in, vows to end tyranny”

That is all, carry on.

They really are adorable…

Microsoft No Comments

1995: Hey, let’s compete in the browser world by giving away Internet Explorer for free, while Netscape keeps trying to charge for theirs!

2005: Hey, let’s compete in the email world by charging $60/a to subscribe to our mail client and web-based mail service while Thunderbird and Google offer theirs for free!

Microsoft launches Outlook Live!

Seriously, WTF?

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