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Local eating: start with your proteins

9 Jan

Beef au Jus: Entirely made from things harvested and grown within 20km

There are innumerable reasons to eat local – depending upon your appetite and tolerance for the facts.

If you’re an optimist, you might do it because you believe in supporting local farmers and businesses.   If you’re a pessimist, it might be due to the reoccurring nightmares caused by watching Food, Inc.  Or perhaps it’s just because it’s trendy. (I’m fairly confident that anyone who’s bought a pair of wellingtons in the last decade has a food foraging fantasy.  Mine’s collecting mushrooms and wild greens to make pizza over a campfire).

Whatever the reason, the impact of buying local is significant and the rewards are delicious.

aL’s top 5 reasons for buying local meat:

  • It’s good for the environment.  Eating local meat is an effective way to reduce your carbon footprint (besides doing something crazy, like becoming a vegan…)
  • It builds community.  Farmers are hard working, dedicated and generally pretty awesome people to know.
  • It’s high quality.  Small-scale producers can take the time to manage their operations organically.  This means every morning they open the paddocks to let their cattle feed on grass.
  • It’s good for your imagination.  Eating nose-to-tail forces creativity (there’s only so many porterhouse steaks cut from a cow…so you’re going to have to learn to do something with the rest of it).
  • It feels right.  I drove through Texas once and was deeply disturbed by the cattle feed lots nestled right beside the eight-lane interstate. That, coupled with a few food security fiasco’s like the 2012 XL Foods beef recall, made me consider my options.  I wholeheartedly believe that happy chickens are tastier.

I am fortunate to live in an area where dozens of dedicated farmers coax amazing food from the land.   One of my favourite farms is owned by the Ireland Family.  They raise the sirloin that sizzles on my barbecue, the pork chops in my smoker, the lamb braising in my oven and the chicken in my soup; and all just 15 km away from my kitchen.  There are several wonderful shops that sell their meat around town. However, I prefer to deal farmer-direct.  Over the last few years, it’s become a tradition I share with a few friends.  We get together to butcher and vacuum seal our chicken, make our own stocks, swap recipes, and save some cash. (On average, we save 25-40% off the market prices).

Now, many people will get hung up on the idea of only getting beef, pork and lamb once a year, but fear not!  Over the next month I’m going to dish out some tips to make this easy.  And hey, if you really need more rack of lamb, there’s always more at the store.

Top 10 food documentaries to watch on Netflix (via The Kitchn)
Article about Ireland Farms (via Red Barn Market)
XL Foods scandal; one year later (via McLeans)


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The Frankenstein bread project: creating starter dough

9 Sep

A few weeks ago I was inspired by a recipe for sourdough bread in Modernist Cuisine at Home.  It began with a starter mixture called a poolish which is a simple mixture of flour, water and a little sugar.  Then it’s left to sit uncovered in a warm place.  After several hours, the mixture will start to ferment and bubble.  At this stage a portion of the starter can be used to make bread, but – and here’s where it gets weird – you have to replace what you’ve removed by ‘feeding’ the mixture with more flour and water.  Basically your creating a dough monster that lives in your cupboard.

Starters are used in addition to, or in place of yeast.  (Fact: most artesianal bakeries don’t need to add yeast because there’s enough of it the air!)   The results are supposed to yield an airy, light, and flavourful end product.

I was familiar with this concept, but thought it was a bit weird; what if I forgot to feed it?  Creepiness aside, it was a $0.20 experiment.  So I began my starter and waited to see if it was really worth the effort.


Biga mixture of flour and water

I followed the poolish recipe in Modernist Cuisine at Home.  (FYI for what I think are obvious reasons, I prefer to call my starter a ‘biga’). I diligently feed and divided the bubbly concoction every other day.  Along the way I used the biga on a variety of projects.  The flavour being developed was delicious, however I wasn’t thrilled with the crumb. C asked me why homemade bread is always so dense.  And I mumbling something about having preservatives.  Truth was, I didn’t really know and I wasn’t very happy about it.

Then I discovered Ruhlman’s app: Bread Baking Basics. It has loads of great information for just $1.99.   (See my full review here).

Scale & Biga

Weight versus volume

The app lets you select the type of flour, form, quantity and mode of baking.  It provides solid insight into bread making techniques that I had previously glossed over.  A major one being the importance of weighing the ingredients.  I have always been a fan of recipes that use weight rather than volume to measure ingredients.  And here is where I found my answer to C’s question.  The reason home made bread is so dense is probably due to the fact it’s got too much flour.  The weight/volume ratio can be off up to 50% in either direction depending on the type of flour.


Challah bread was a BIG(a) success

Armed now with this information, I kneaded up a loaf of challah using the starter, app and the scale.  The result was amazing!  Let the home made bread baking revolution begin.


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App review: Bread Baking Basics by Michael Ruhlman

6 Aug

Four years ago Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPad.  Initially I was skeptical of the practicality (and the name) of this device.  I had an iPhone and a MacBook…why did I need more technology?   Despite my reluctance, I did see a good application for them at work.  The office bought two first generations and I used one from time to time for surveys, presentations and note taking.  It was useful, but it was also a $699 novelty I didn’t think was worth my personal investment.  Lucky for me, in 2012 I randomly entered a contest from ING Direct and won a 2nd generation iPad.  Now that the Kool-Aid was free, I decided it was mighty tasty!

One of the first apps I bought was Bread Baking Basics from Michael Ruhlman.  It provides a great step-by-step method on making a variety of home made breads.  The best feature of this app is that the ingredients can be scaled.  Need to make three baguettes?  Or only have 600grams of bread flour?   Simply dial in your figures and the app calculates the ingredients.  It can be adjusted to a variety of measurements, and is based upon Ruhlamn’s overall ratio methodology.


This is just one example of the usefulness I’ve found for the iPad in the kitchen.  What’re your favorite kitchen apps?


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