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Monday, January 10, 2011

NCC gets it wrong - the ethics of foie gras vs. the ethics of industrial food

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I have a rant. It's been a long time brewing.

Food consumption and preparation are my passion. I freaking looooooooooove food. I love variety, I love exoticism, I love localism....basically, I derive large amounts of pleasure from food.

But in the back of my mind, I am acutely aware that the polished facade of my grocery store is really just a fresh hide over the rancid underbelly of industrial food production. Modern, factory-scale food production, frankly, sucks. It sucks for the animals involved. It sucks for the people involved. It sucks for the land and environment involved. It's an energy-sucking behemoth rife with suffering and horror.

Yes, I'm being dramatic, but I don't know that it's possible to over-dramatize this. When you eat factory-farmed meat, you are eating pain and suffering. The cheaper the meat, the more likely the unfortunate animal involved led a short, pain-filled, manure-covered life. I realize this may bother some people, but it's the truth. And people need to know that.

I talked about this in 2007, and I'll talk about it again in 2011....the only way you can be assured that your meat led a relatively content, well-treated life is if you buy it from a farmer yourself. I.e., if you bought it at Costco, a grocery store or pretty much any chain food outlet (fast food or not), your meat was probably factory farmed.

SO...this brings me to the current target off my ire....the National Capital Commission in Ottawa. Every year in Ottawa, we make the best of our freezing winters and the city throws a huge party called Winterlude. It's awesome. Skating on the world's longest skating rink, beautiful crisp clear winter days, ice sculptures, warm comforting food, etc. It's a great time.

The short story is that the NCC invited renowned chef Martin Picard (of Au Pied de Cochon and Food Network Canada fame) to put on a gala dinner for 400-some people in Gatineau's spectacular Museum of Civilization. Tickets sold out in a matter of hours. That's how excited people were to try some of this chef's famous dishes (which often feature foie gras). Ottawa Citizen food editor Ron Eade cites that Martin Picard's Montreal restaurant is the number one consumer of foie gras in North America.

Essentially, this guy is known for foie gras and people want to eat it up. In fact, they clamoured to eat it up (me, I was not interested as a) I do not personally like the taste of foie gras, and b) I can't imagine that eating mass-prepared banquet food could possibly compare to actually eating chef-prepared food). Anyway, people were clearly excited. The demand was absolutely there.

A few days later, the NCC officially launched Winterlude on a snowy December day...I was lucky enough to be at the launch for a non-food-related work thing. In front of the Chateau Laurier (where the launch was held), were a few snowy protesters with big signs. Whatever. There are ALWAYS foie gras protestors in Ottawa. I encountered them about 18 months ago when I visited Canvas for my birthday. For the most part, they are respectful, but get their point across.'d think that the overwhelming excitement of 400 near-instant sell-out tickets would drown out the weak mewls of these protestors. Right?

WRONG. The NCC asked Martin Picard to omit foie gras from his menu. All seemed well.

Except it wasn't. Behind the scenes, Picard, like any chef/artist with a shred of credibility and character, bowed out. If Ottawa wasn't interested in his food, the way he wanted to make it, essentially, Picard wasn't really interested in Ottawa.

I don't blame the man.

But I do blame the NCC. It is RIDICULOUS that they let a few protestors alter the focus of Winterlude's marquee event. ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS.

And now I'm going to get back to the point of my rant.....this article on Serious Eats about the physiology of ducks does a great job of explaining why gavage, the practice of tube-feeding ducks and geese to fatten up their livers, is not, in fact, the worst thing that can happen to an animal. The physiology of ducks is such that they can (and do) swallow enormous things. It would make me gag. It would make you gag. Really, it would make anyone but an accomplished porn star gag. But it doesn't make a duck gag and it doesn't make a goose gag...because they are not people. Ignoring a duck's unique physiology is nothing short of anthropomorphism.

I'm not saying all foie gras ducks and geese across the entirety of the globe are well-treated. I'm absolutely sure they are not. Especially in Europe, where there is more demand, and foie gras is less of an artisanal niche product, and more of a mass-consumed product.

But here in North America? Not so much. 90 per cent of our population does not even know what foie gras IS (okay, I made the stat up....but I'll stand by it!). We are not producing foie gras on an industrial scale. To bring things back to the example at hand, according to this article, Picard takes no small amount of care when selecting the source of his foie gras.

Bottom line, these foie gras protestors are barking up the wrong tree. If they are that serious about protecting the rights of mistreated animals, why not protest Pizza Pizza or Subway as major sponsors? With the caveat that I have not personally researched these food outlets, I'd be willing to bet money that there's a whole lot more cruelty in the pepperoni on your pizza, or the turkey breast on your sub than there is in the foie gras on the select plates of those who choose to consume it.

I just don't understand the focus on a small (mostly) artisanal product when the real problem is of a MASSIVE scale. As consumers, we absolutely should be asking more questions about the origins and treatment of our food. If a merchant cannot tell us, we should take our purchasing power elsewhere.

Current regulations in Canada require that all meat be processed in a federally-inspected facility. This sounds great....unless you're a small farmer who only has a small amount of livestock. And you don't live near a slaughterhouse. So now you have to transport your formerly content livestock to a far-away abattoir. And if you try to sell (or even give away) something you slaughtered yourself. Well, you just might find yourself arrested. And no, I'm not joking.

So this is a bit of a rambly rant. But my point is that I'm ticked off that the NCC caved because of a few protesters. Foie gras is not the problem. Industrial food production is the problem.

Some reading for ya:
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Some watching for ya:
The Meatrix (short, free, online)

And that's it for me tonight. Time to go to bed, but now that I've got this off my chest, I'll sleep well, especially knowing that I'll have some Bearbrook Farm buffalo braising in my crockpot for dinner tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

virtuous (almost) vegetarian food

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The last couple of days have totally served to remind me of WHY I've hardly blogged at all since I went back to work....holy crap....I get home at 6:30/7. Scramble to throw something on the table by 7:30/8. Then eat, tidy a bit. It's 9. Then I need to work the time I'm done, it's usually 10:30, and I need a shower and I need to go to bed. Not a whole lot of time for loafing, photoshopping, photo-uploading and blogging. But dammit, I'm going to blog this year.

So it's 10:45, and I really should be showering and going to bed (damn you Chalean Extreme for kicking my butt everyday). But instead, I've parked myself in front of the computer, because I figure that probably at least half of my readers have perhaps made a resolution to eat healthier, and I've got a couple of recipes that could potentially be useful. And I took pictures of them.

And I promised I would share.

I've waxed poetic about cauliflower soup before, so when I encountered this recipe, while perusing my new Clean Start cookbook (a gift from family...not from a company), I was very intrigued. The combination of roasted cauliflower and roasted garlic seemed pretty much unassailable, so I figured I would give it a try. I served the soup with a chef salad and a yogurt-based green goddess dressing (recipe follows). The combo was great, and was also equally great at lunch today. This is a delicious simple recipe - easily kept vegan (though I used chicken stock, as that's what I had in the an aside, I do have a fantastic new method for vegetable stock that I hope to share shortly!).

My only beef with the Clean Start cookbook, which is full of gluten-free, vegan recipes (without being preachy, which is also awesome), is that there are no calorie calculations or nutrition information. While the book is not specifically a 'diet/weight loss' book, the recipes definitely form part of a healthy that could lend itself well to weight loss. So that's the one thing I would change about this book....sure, I can easily plug a recipe into (and it's free!) and THEN plug the calorie information into (also free!), but I'm lazy. So I wish it were in the book.

Roasted Cauliflower and (Roasted) Garlic Soup
stolen and lightly modified from Clean Start


2 heads cauliflower (about 10 cups chopped)
3 T extra-virgin olive oil, plus a bit extra
1 garlic bulb/head (the whole thing)
1 cup diced sweet onion (I used vidalia)
2 T mirin (very very sweet rice wine check asian section of supermarket or sub half honey/syrup, half sherry/red wine)
(2 t sea salt) - I omitted this
4 cups stock or water (I used chicken stock - I would add the salt if you use water)
2 T fresh thyme leaves (I subbed about 1 t dried thyme)

1. Preheat oven to 450F (original recipe calls for 350F and 1 hour of roasting time...I was hungry and impatient).

2. Toss cauliflower with 1 T olive oil and spread out on a cookie sheet (I line with parchment paper to avoid sticking and scrubbing). Cut top off garlic, drizzle with olive oil and wrap loosely (but seal tightly) with foil. Place both cauliflower and garlic in oven and roast for about 30 minutes or so (stir the cauliflower every 10 minutes to prevent burning...if it starts to burn, turn the oven down a bit). Alternatively, if you have more time, use the lower temperature (350F) and roast for longer. Your choice. :)


3. Remove from oven and set aside. When garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze out roasted cloves, discard skin, and set aside.


4. In a large pot, saute onion in 1 T olive oil until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add roasted cauliflower and garlic, mirin, salt and stock/water (also add thyme at this point, if using dried). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes (or until cauliflower is REALLY soft).


5. Remove from heat and puree (either with immersion blender, normal blender or food processor...your choice. I prefer immersion blender.

6. If using fresh thyme, add it, and some fresh pepper. Feel free to garnish with thyme. Or be lazy like me, and just grind a little pepper over it.

Voila. You are done. The original recipe says to simmer for another 20 minutes, but I was really hungry and this turned out just fine. You could simmer for longer though. I think my cauliflower heads might have been a little on the large side, so I added a bit of water after pureeing to thin the texture a bit.

Yogurt Green-Goddess Dressing


1 cup (not chopped or packed) of mixed fresh herbs. I used equal parts dill, basil and cilantro. It was epic.
1 cup plain yogourt (greek/fat free/not so fat free/whatever)
1 T maple syrup
juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2-3T?)
1-2 T olive oil
1 T dijon mustard
1 small minced clove of garlic
(salt) - I didn't add any as I'm trying to cut back

Combine ingredients, puree with kitchen gadget of choice. Mine was on the runny side (my herbs were still pretty wet from being washed), but the dressing was so flavourful, it didn't really bother me. I served this on spring mix, chopped veggies, 8 croutons (yes I counted....that's a serving...ugh) and 1/2 oz grated aged cheddar. It was a delicious salad.


I don't know the exact calorie count of this meal, but it was satisfying and tasty. I thought the garlic and cauliflower went really well together, and the salad gave some nice crunch and texture, and the little crouton and cheese bits gave me just enough sodium and unctuous deliciousness to make up for the relative vegginess of this meal. Two thumbs up. Hubs agrees.

Monday, January 03, 2011

a couple of food book reviews....

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Every once in a while, I get a goodie in the mail from Random House Canada....a new cooking/food book for me to review. I'm saying this up front, because I did not pay for these two books - they were sent to me, in hopes I might say something nice about them.

So one author is going to be happy, and the other authors...probably not so much. One of these books has been out for a few months (took a while for me to get through it), and the other just came out.....

The first book, one that I whole heartedly recommend to anyone who wants to learn a little bit more about how recipes work, and why certain recipes are more successful than others, is called "Keys to Good Cooking - A Guide to making the best of foods and recipes" by Harold McGee. I'm totally behind the 8-ball here - there are TONS of great reviews of this book already (check them out for yourself here: ) . This book is comprehensive and really informative. For example, I learned that I should NEVER let my braises boil, because as soon as meat's temperature goes over 80C, it's no good. Rather, I should cook my braises at a much lower temperature (55-60C) for a longer time to ensure a tender, delicious, melt-in-your mouth result. I find that useful.

This book is at a perfect level for the curious home cook - it explains things without being over the top and I actually really enjoyed reading it. I'm going to probably read it again a couple of times, and I'll likely be referring to it for the rest of my culinary life.

So I'd give this book a buy, particularly given that its steep sticker price ($42) has now been knocked down to $26 at This book is absolutely worth the shelf space in your kitchen.

And now for the other book......the premise is similar - "Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why they work" (by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot), but the execution could not be more different. The reviews on the back are from some pretty impressive names - Grant Achatz (of Alinea fame), Michael Anthony (Gramercy Tavern) and Chris Cosentino. However, this is actually your first clue that this book is not for the average home cook.

I found this book GRUELING and frustrating to read. First, the book really does insist on the necessity of a circulating water bath, vacuum sealer, a pressure cooker and second, it advocates (though does not insist on) the use of a number of gelling additives that I prefer not to use at home (xanthan gum, carageenan, etc.). I don't know about you, but I consider myself pretty into food...I like cooking and I love to experiment. This book made me feel totally inadequate because I don't have $500 to lay down for a sous vide circulator ( ), $150 for a vacuum sealer ( ) or the money for a home smoker, etc.

Even if I did have the $$, I'm not sure I'd want to sacrifice the space! Anyway, the book does use a fairly high level of language, and it's interesting, but frankly, most of what the book suggests (and most of the book's recipes) can't really be done in my own kitchen, as it stands now. And I thought I had a pretty well-equipped kitchen.

I will admit to a bit of bias while reading the book....I started reading it just prior to New Year's, when my resolutions were ringing strongly in my head (more natural food, less fat, less saturated fat, etc.) and so all of these additives and high fat/low fibre food were just not what I wanted to be reading about.

That said, the authors do have a blog, Ideas in Food, and there, you can go check out some of their creations for yourself. They are cool, if not entirely reproduce-able by the average kitchen...

Anyway, if you (or someone you know) is a crazy-ass foodie who likes to live at the edge of the culinary wave, this would be a cool gift. Or if someone you know is a chef and wants to incorporate new techniques into their repertoire, this would be quite useful. But for the rest of us....I'd put my money on Harold McGee's book, because it's really useful and informative and didn't make me feel inadequate. ;)

So that's my two cents for today. I still have one book I need to read for review - Meat: A Kitchen Education by James Peterson. Haven't even cracked it open yet, so no comments good or bad. Premise sounds intriguing....

Ciao for now....

Sunday, January 02, 2011

'tis the season to resolve to not break resolutions

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It's day two of 2011 and so far I'm doing pretty well.

Not that my resolutions are anything special or different, or, really, even distinguishable from years past (eat less, exercise more, be less lazy, etc.).

But I'm going to try. And most importantly to you (or at least, I'm guessing this is likely to be the resolution with the most significant impact on YOUR life...given that you're reading this...) is that I'm going to make a concerted effort to blog more.

You wouldn't believe the pile of photos I have in archives, or the number of times I've set out to write something, only to be distracted and not finish it.

So here it is, 11:53 pm on January 2nd, and I'm going to post something this year, dammit. ;)

It will be no shock to any of you that the January recipes I post are likely to be healthy and full of veggies and all those good things. I'm going to start tonight with a couple of recipes I've made in the last few days. Sorry, no photos this time, but if you can hold on until next time....there will be photos. I swear. I'm working on a work/life balance issue that I hope to have rectified in the next few weeks, and at that point, I expect that two things will happen..... 1) I will spend 67% less time in transit (or, two fewer hours per day) and 2) I will spend significantly MORE time with my family, cooking, blogging...and maybe even housework...

Okay, maybe not that last one.

But whatever. You're here for the food, so here it is.

Steamed Mussels in White Wine Lemon Sauce

This is a great recipe. Mussels are pretty much just awesome. I love them. Not only are they absolutely yummy, but they are good for you, and compared to most seafood, they are pretty affordable (less than $3/lb here).

A few tips for preparing mussels, if you've never done it before (they are totally foolproof!!!): First, when you bring them home, they are alive. They NEED to be alive. When you rinse them off (not necessary, but a good opportunity for picking through), take out all of the mussels with broken shells, or the mussels that don't close when you run them under cold water (QUICK TIP: If the mussel doesn't close immediately after running it under water, set it on the counter for a minute or two while you continue to check the other mussels....if it STILL doesn't close, toss it). When in doubt, throw it out. Second, if you have purchased wild mussels (unlikely), they will have what's known as a "beard" - it is a mass of gross looking brown fibres. The mussels uses these to cling and attach itself to rocks. Pull it out - just give it a good yank, or clench it with a tea towel and pull if you are squeamish.

I think that of my 5 lb of mussels, maybe 3 individuals sported beards.

Last, after you have cooked the mussels, DO NOT eat any that have not opened. Again, when in doubt throw it out. They are cheap.

WIth all that aside, the prep of mussels is as easy as can be....

5 lb mussels
1 T olive oil
3 chopped shallots
2 cloves garlic, minced/pressed
1.5 cups white wine (give or take)
juice of 1 lemon (about 2-3T)
black pepper
chopped fresh parsley

1. In a 6 L pot (basically, a pasta pot) set on medium heat, heat the olive oil, and saute the shallots and garlic together until translucent.

2. Add the wine and lemon juice and bring it to a boil.

3. Toss in the mussels. Throw on a lid. Wait 5-6 minutes and open. If the mussels are all open, then you're done. If they're not, pop the lid back on and wait another couple of minutes.

4. Dump the mussels in a pretty serving bowl, sprinkle with parsley and make sure you put another big bowl on the table for shells. Enjoy!

YIELD: a bit difficult to quantify. I served this to 8 people as part of a meal. I would say this would serve 4 as a main or as a large appetizer. You can eat a LOT of mussels. This recipe is very very easily scaled up or down. The cooking time for the mussels will be about the same, just add less wine, lemon, garlic and shallot. Or don't... ;)
I served this with seared scallops (added a vanilla pod to my white wine pan sauce to keep things interesting) and a big tray of fresh dipping veggies.

If you love mussels and are interested in something a little more refined, try out this fennel mussel bisque from epicurious. I made it last month and for the seafood lover, it is AMAZING.

A couple of other recipes you need to try (I'm not going to repost them as I have no photos to add):

1) Garlicky Doused Shrimp - this is like a shrimp salad recipe, served as an appetizer. The shrimp is amazingly flavourful. This ended up being the highlight of my packed New Year's Eve buffet. Just make sure you don't overcook them before you make the salad. To make a meal, you could probably just put the shrimp salad over some nice greens, as the marinade would make a delicious vinaigrette.

2) Braised pork with fennel and orange - divine recipe that I made in the crockpot. Very unusual flavours, but they work amazingly with each other. YUM. You should make it.

Dinner tomorrow night is going to be relatively simple - Mark Bittman's homemade marinara sauce (with added tomato paste and white wine) served over olivieri nutri-wise tortelloni. I don't think that's really blog-worthy (although everyone should try throwing together a simple marinara sauce) no post tomorrow.

BUT, on Tuesday, I plan to make a roasted cauliflower and garlic soup, and if that turns out, I should be back here to share it.....

Thanks for reading - best wishes for 2011!!!!!!

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