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What is so mesmerizing about melting cheese?

Have you ever noticed how your Facebook friends keep posting recipes on their news feed, all of them containing cheese? There is always a slow-motion video with a forkful of food and a string of melting cheese or an oozing blob of cheese onto a plate…

I love cheese but those videos are truly over the top. I feel like the next thing on my feed will be a promotion on defibrillators.

Comfort food often involves rich ingredients, and it never seems to be served in small portions. Is that a first world necessity – do we need to show that we can afford to have more on the plate than is advisable, much less required? Where did the idea “more is better” come from?

Okay, bear with me: I looked it up and “more is better” relates to economic theory and indifference curves.  I won’t bore you with the details or the math but suffice it to say that when thinking of things you prefer, your first reaction is usually that more of that preferred thing is better. (I know, the only part that stuck in your head is the idea that somehow economics relates to melting cheese. You’re thinking, “why didn’t my first year Economics prof say THAT?!”)

The problem is, once you reflect on this principle you also realize that at a certain point you are working harder to get something that is giving you less at the end of the day. That’s called “diminishing returns”. With melted cheese, diminishing returns occur when your waistline grows faster than your ability to appreciate a new recipe. (If you want to know the best cheese to use for melting, this link is a quick study. )

The simple truth is, not many people get excited about salad videos. I have worked with kids on the topic of “edible education” and the best competing concept I can offer is to eat a rainbow.   It’s fun to make skewers of fruit or veggies in all colours, and talk about all the different nutrients and tastes they offer. But the kids only really go crazy for cookies or ice cream. (Cheese becomes a fixation when you’re older, apparently.)

I’m not espousing a dairy-free diet. I for one am not giving up cheese anytime soon. I do hope that we can all live healthy enough lives to enjoy more cheese over time. Mostly, I just wanted to share a few random thoughts. Does anyone else wonder about this stuff?

Maybe we should just work to make food more artful. Can you imagine mid-week dinners looking like this?

food art funny

 

 

 

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Simple Pasta – or is it?

Pasta is one of the great simple dinners. I’m not saying it can’t be a great meal but the part I love about pasta dishes is that their true beauty is sublime. Often the most spectacular plates are made from only a few ingredients.

Living with a chef in the house I often have sauces leftover, and pasta makes a great vehicle to carry sauce in a new way. Our latest favourite is to use a mixture of goat cheese with herbs that is made for filling mushroom caps. Stirred in at the last minute with sautéed veggies, it makes a tangy and filling dinner that is reasonably healthy and is done in less than 20 minutes. What’s not to like about that?

They say that Marco Polo was the one that brought pasta to Italy from his travels in Asia, but history shows that various places in Italy already had pasta as a common food in the 13th century when Marco Polo was travelling. (Whoever “they” are, they’re wrong.) Many other countries have similar foods that offer a hearty meal from a sort of boiled dough; spaetzle and orzo,as well as various dumplings like perogies use the same ingredients – flour and water, sometimes with eggs. This is a food of the people, a staple for the working class.

Maybe that’s why so many people love pasta – it’s not intimidating. You can drill down to the details and cook it just right, add just-picked herbs and quality oils, grate masterfully aged Parmigiano Reggiano. But you can also open the box and stir in that glow-in-the-dark powder and still have dinner.

Nello, in New York City, serves white truffle pasta in season. It’s not on the menu, so be prepared to pay the going price.

I wasn’t surprised when I saw an article today on a restaurant in New York serving the most expensive pasta in the U.S. Americans do love superlatives, and there are expensive and rare ingredients that work wonderfully well on a simple canvas like pasta. White truffles, which are in season at the moment, sell for hundreds of dollars an ounce, so when you shave one over pasta sautéed in butter, it can cost a lot. (The current price is apparently $275. If you visit the restaurant in the fall when black truffles are in season, it’s a bargain at about half the price.)

Any way you want to serve it up, pasta is a great way to start the week. I feel better having had some. It could be one of the world’s oldest comfort foods.

Here’s to a great rest of the week.

Food Tastes Better with Friends

Yesterday I spoke of comfort food, and how the company that shares the food sometimes has a lot to do with the comfort we get. I am often singing the praises of sharing a meal to bring people together. But what about the times when we eat alone?

You stand out as a solo diner.

I don’t want to say that eating alone can’t be enjoyable; sometimes people want to have quiet time to themselves. What I am referring to are the times when we yearn for company but don’t have any. Then food can taste bland and one can feel much less than nourished after the meal.

Having been a person that didn’t fit in to a group most of my life, I can relate to the loneliness of not being popular as a kid and I remember feeling afraid that I wouldn’t make any friends at school. I was lucky, and found some great companions. I never ate lunch alone.

Sometimes it is the food that heals, and other times it is the company who helps us move forward. In a world of reality TV that promotes singling people out, where the pressure to fit in is even stronger than in generations past, we need to have friends with whom we can feel nourished. Who says that can’t start by “paying it forward” and making a new friend?

Perhaps my teenage memories are why I was so struck by a piece I saw on CBS Sunday Morning today. This show of mostly heartwarming news is always inspiring, and I especially love the stories from Steve Hartman. Mr. Hartman took over for the delightful Bill Geist in delivering tales of everyday heroes that offer hope and inspiration, and today’s entry was no different. #WeDineTogether is a wonderful group of young people… see for yourself:

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/starved-for-company/

I’d like to think this idea can spread, just like peanut butter and jelly in a sandwich. As Steve Hartman says, maybe the grown ups can learn just as the kids do. Perhaps we could extend the camaraderie from around the table to a philosophy of life. It’s just an idea.

 

 

The Blue Plate Special

Comfort food often harkens back to one’s childhood. There are cozy memories of having eaten such foods and getting that warm fuzzy feeling. Sometimes they helped us get over a stressful situation or past a fear. One of my favourite foods as a kid was fried bologna. A piece of fried bologna on toast was something my dad used to make in an old frying pan I now have in my kitchen. It was not only a tasty memory that symbolized the simplicity of childhood.  Here was a food that I shared with the guy who cheered me on whenever I needed it most. My warm fuzzy feeling wasn’t just for the taste of the bologna, it was for the taste of confidence.

When I was at a local butcher this week I found the deli case calling my name. Sure enough, a big chunk of bologna soon found its way into my grocery tote, along with a package of locally made frozen sauerkraut and bacon perogies. Tonight my hubbie made me a “Blue Plate Special” dinner, complete with carrots sautéed in the pan with the bologna. Pan-fried onion rings, along with sour cream and a bit of Dijon were perfect accompaniments.

I did want to be making the meal, but unfortunately I was on the injured list tonight (I had a mishap with some pruning shears in the garden, but I’ll be back in the kitchen tomorrow.) Feeling a bit less than one hundred percent, I really soaked in the comfort aspect of our dinner. It was almost like having a hug from my dad. Thanks to the gift of a deliciously refreshing homemade lager from a friend we were able to toast to the perfect end of a less-than-perfect day.

What’s the comfort food that makes you feel like things are okay after all and you’ll make it into tomorrow?

Stuck in the snog

I know March is supposed to come in like a lion, but really?! Here in the Okanagan we are used to a real evolution of spring, with temperatures warming and sunny days multiplying along with blossoms appearing all over. This dreary combination of snow and fog that a friend recently christened as “snog” – this is not springy at all. It’s charming in December, but not now. 

So I’m going to the cellar to get a big bottle of red. It’s too late to be cookingup a storm for dinner so we might even order in. If this keeps up though, I will work on a Pot au feu (a stew, literally from the French “pot in the fire”). Comfort food is definitely in order. 

I hope you are warm where you are. Hopefully you have a four-legged friend or a lover with whom you can snuggle; if not, pull on those cozy slippers and grab a blanket. Tonight is a night for being warm. 

Oh, and by the way, did you know the British call a snuggle a snog? Perhaps that is not a coincidence. 

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