Category Archives: cookordie

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Getting the hang of community-supported agriculture

I’m starting to get the hang of working with our community-supported agriculture box: a weekly assortment of fruits and vegetables from farms in Ontario. I finished last week’s lettuce today, supplementing it with lettuce from our cut-and-come-again planter (which is actually working as planned!) and topping it with two eggs from last week’s share.

Today we picked up baby greens, two kinds of lettuce, broccoli sprouts, two tomatoes, kale, basil, green onions, and a dozen eggs.

I like processing the vegetables as soon as possible so that I can lock in their freshness and avoid waste. I chopped the green onions and added them to last week’s freezer bag; they’ll see us through many recipes. I made lentil soup with the leftover asparagus stock, the green onion ends, and some carrots we had in the fridge. I ground the Genovese basil into pesto and popped it into the freezer. I baked half of the bunch of kale as chips, making sure to go easy on the oil and salt. The results:

 

The kale chips came out just right.

Kale chips: Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Wash, dry, and tear a bunch of kale into bite-sized pieces, removing the stems. Toss with a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Spread kale on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or however long it takes for the kale to become crispy but not burnt. Munch away guiltlessly.

Summer is short enough as it is. I might as well eat like it. =)

Cook Or Die Season II: Community-Supported Agriculture

My “Cook or Die” project started when I moved into an apartment-style dormitory shortly after university. My room was equipped with a small kitchen – really, just a hot plate, a microwave, and a toaster oven. Instead of always eating at the nearby KFC, I resolved to prepare at least one of my meals each day. Hence: Cook or Die. (Well, Cook or Starve.)

I’ve come a long way since I discovered that pita pockets were called pita pockets for a reason. I hardly ever eat out now. I’d much rather eat at home, where meals are frugal, tasty, and just the right size for me. The kitchen is well-stocked. The garden’s full of herbs. I’ve got a decent collection of favourite recipes, and I’m always learning more about cooking.

We’re heading into our second month of community-supported agriculture. W- has signed up for a weekly summer half-share from Plan B Organic Farms. Every Thursday, we pick up a box containing an assortment of vegetables, some of which I’ve never tried before. The box arrives every week, a relentless parade of perishables. (You can postpone for vacations and get a credit, but I think that would be cheating on our experiment.) I’m getting pretty creative about how to get through all of this plus the groceries we buy. The nooks of our freezer are filled with pesto in small Nalgene containers and chopped green onions in Ziploc bags.

I’m also discovering new recipes. I’d never made green garlic pesto before, but the Internet thinks it’s good, so I gave it a try. Today I baked kale chips, although I oversalted my first batch; and yes, they do taste oddly like potato chips. We’ll see if I can get W- and J- to try them. We all like seaweed, and the texture’s not far off.

I turned our ripening avocados into guacamole, mixing in my chopped-up frozen green onions from the vegetable box. I still had lots of guacamole after making myself an omelette. Turns out you can freeze guacamole, but I figured it was more useful to just share it with our neighbours, as they were having a small party. So I rubbed the tortillas with olive oil, cut them into eighths, and baked them for about 8 minutes at about 400′F until they were crisp and light brown. After testing a few, I assembled the chips and the guacamole on a plate and carried it over. Win!

Now we just have to finish the parsnip and the lettuce, and we’ll be ready for Thursday’s box. Cook or Die? More like Cook or Get Overwhelmed By Vegetables…

2011-06-14 Tue 19:27

Recipes: Coconut cocktail bun recipe

As it turns out, ingredient lists are uncopyrightable, so I’ll try to post more of them when I write about our cooking adventures. (I’ve come quite a long way from the beginnings of Cook or Die!) Recipe steps might be copyrighted, particularly those that are creatively expressed, but that should be no problem – I’ll just write my own instructions.

So here are the buns that have just come out of our oven. (Yes, another set of buns. The ones I made just two days ago have vanished. There must be a bun-monster somewhere in the basement…)

After the success of this weekend’s coconut cocktail buns (gai mei bao), W- and J- suggested hotdog bao, Nutella bao, and some more coconut bao to use up the extra filling we had. Result:

Assorted buns

You will need a kitchen scale. This is actually good, because volume measurements of flour and other things can vary widely.

Gai Mei Bao – Chinese Cocktail Buns and flexible bun dough recipe
Adapted from David Ko’s Yung Sing Dim Sum Recipes (A Chinese Snackbook):

Bun Dough

David Ko uses this recipe for practically all the buns in his book. It’s a white, slightly sweet bread.

  • 12g active dry yeast
  • 495ml warm water
    • Dissolve yeast in water.
  • 340g sifted all-purpose flour
    • In a large mixing bowl, pour yeast solution into flour. The original recipe says to knead the result for 5 minutes, but this paste results in more of a liquid mix, so just mix it until it’s smooth.
    • Leave in a warm place for 2 hours. Or if you’re like us and baking season (winter) doesn’t leave you with an abundance of warm spots in the house, set the oven to 150′F for thirty seconds, then turn the oven off. Put the yeast mix into the oven and wait until it doubles in volume (around one hour).
  • 60ml warm water
  • 1 egg
  • 225g cake and pastry flour (sifted)
  • 560g all-purpose flour (sifted)
  • 110g sugar
  • 18g salt
  • 125ml milk
  • 3g lard
  • 3g butter
    • Mix all of the above with the yeast mix in a large mixing bowl. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding flour as necessary. Cover with a damp cloth (or cling wrap and a damp cloth; keeps your tea towels cleaner) and leave in a warm place for 2 hours, or until doubled in volume. You can use the oven trick here, too.

Coconut filling

  • 175g coconut flakes
  • 168g sugar
  • 56g melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 30ml (2 tbsp) milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (fun to make at home!)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • a few drops of coconut essence (optional; we didn’t have it in our pantry)
    • Mix well and put in the fridge.

We skipped the toppings because the regular coconut filling is awesome enough.

Assembly

  • Divide the dough into 24 portions. I tend to do this by cutting the dough in half three times, then cutting the resulting eight pieces into three pieces each.
  • Roll each portion of dough into a round ball. Arrange on a baking sheet, then cover and put in a warm place for 15 minutes.
  • Flatten the dough balls. I like using a rolling pin here for a nice, even look, although it does take more time than squishing the dough manually.
  • Spoon your filling into each flat piece of dough, wrap it up, and roll it into the shape you like. Try to make sure the buns are pinched closed, as the filling might leak out during baking.
  • Set buns aside in a warm place to rise further, covering the buns with a damp cloth or cling wrap. Preheat oven to 375F.
  • Do an egg wash or another wash if you want. Brushing the buns with a beaten egg (egg wash) gives them a beautiful golden colour, and also makes it easier for sprinkled things (seeds, etc.) to stick.
  • Bake buns in a 375F oven for 15 minutes, or until the buns are golden brown.
  • You can brush the freshly-baked buns with melted butter, if you want, but we skipped that step.

Other fillings we’ve tried:

Hotdog
Wrap the flattened dough around a hotdog. Brush dough with beaten egg and sprinkle sesame seeds on top. You can push the sesame seeds into the dough slightly to help them stick.
Nutella
Spoon Nutella hazelnut spread into the middle of the flattened dough and roll it up. Brush dough with beaten egg and sprinkle almond slices on top.

2011-03-14 Mon 23:14

CookOrDie: Passing it on with lemon-rosemary chicken

After I graduated from university, I moved into an apartment-style dormitory with a small kitchen: a toaster oven, a microwave, a hotplate, and a rice cooker. I had never cooked before, but I resolved to make at least one of my meals each day. After lots of strange experiments, I figured out how to make my favourites, and I even had a regular schedule of friends dropping by to visit me for dinner.

This confidence in cooking was one of the reasons why I felt comfortable with staying at the apartment-style Graduate House student residence when I took my master’s at the U of T. I didn’t bother with the safety net of a meal plan. I made pasta and simple meals, and eventually got back into the swing of hosting friends. (CookOrDie in Canada)

When Maira moved from Brazil to Canada and we connected after the flurry of landing died down, I “adopted” her, remembering how hard it was to find your way and make friends in a strange new country. Last Wednesday, she sent me a text message confessing that she bought chicken and she didn’t know what to do with it. She hadn’t cooked a lot in Brazil. I volunteered to help her figure things out.

We took stock of what she had at her sublet apartment: a frozen pack of chicken breasts, frozen vegetables, a nonstick pan, and a small pot that was unusable. Then we picked up supplies from the Sobey’s on the corner. There was a lot of chicken, so we planned for two kinds of main dishes that she could enjoy as leftovers throughout the week. Lemon-rosemary would be a gentle introduction into the world of marinades, and pineapple chicken into the world of diced/sliced chicken.

The chicken needed time to defrost, so we nibbled some salad and I taught Maira how to sautee mushrooms. Then we started cutting the chicken, but the knife turned out to be too dull, so we used kitchen scissors instead. The can opener was too rusty, so we stored the pineapples and cooked the sliced chicken in olive oil. Despite the snags, it came together pretty easily.

Lemon-rosemary chicken: Put the chicken breasts into  a shallow dish or Ziploc bag. Add the juice of one lemon and sprinkle with rosemary (dried or fresh). Marinate for 15 minutes or more. Saute. We did it incorrectly last Thursday – the chicken breasts were too thick, so I’m going to try this again until I get the hang of it too. (This is what I get for always cooking chicken legs and thighs because they’re cheaper… ;) ) Although the chicken breasts came out a little dry, the flavour came through.

Any other friends or future friends in Toronto working on learning how to cook? I’ve got a lot of favourite recipes and W- is an awesome cook. I’d love an excuse to help friends, get better at the basics, try out new recipes, and learn more. =D

Bread of salt and taste of home

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Pandesal. Brown paper bags of crunchy-yet-soft buns at breakfast and merienda, often accompanied by hot chocolate—or chocolate porridge, if I was really lucky.

If there is a type of bread in my heart, it is this. Not white bread or whole wheat or rye or flax. Not the focaccia we dipped into balsamic vinegar and olive oil at the Italian restaurant my family often went to. Not the banana breads or cornbreads W- and I have made.

Pan de sal. Bread of salt. 

Perhaps Laura Esquivel was on to something in Like Water for Chocolate. Food really is a language powerful beyond words.

I made pandesal for the first time. Fresh from the oven, they tasted of home.

I offered W- a piece. He had pandesal during our trips to the Philippines. I was glad he could relate to my memories.

There are places that sell pandesal in Toronto. I’ve never been to them. It’s different. Going out of my way to buy Filipino food? That’s something I might do if I get really homesick. Learning how to make the food of my memories? That fits. That helps me grow.

Now I can have pandesal any time I want. =) When we finish the 14 rolls I stashed in the freezer, I’m going to try this other recipe.

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Picture by W-

Experiments in awesome

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The long weekend gave us plenty of opportunities to pursue projects. W- set up his new negative scanner and hired J- to scan her baby pictures. He also roasted the turkey we’d stashed in the freezer last Christmas, and I helped prepare other meals for this week. I sewed a shopping bag using floral canvas and blue bias tape, made chicken pot pie from scratch (including the pie crust!), and experimented with making these delightful mini apple pies using honey crisp apples. The pie crusts I made using the food processor turned out nice and flaky. By golly, I think I’m getting the hang of it.

Sometimes I wonder if I should spend my unstructured time building something that scalably creates value instead of developing skills that focus on our immediate, local experience. There’s always more to write, more to code, more to explore. Why spend time, money, and energy learning how to make things that can be easily and cheaply bought?

But I enjoy making things, and I love experimenting with making things that suit our lives. I’m working on the hobbies I’d like to enjoy in ten years.