A unnecessarily tortured Graduate Student's guide to eating on a stipend

1. Let me first say that I believe that most of us North Americans are incredibly unhappy because of the way our society demands time. Eating well and cheaply requires time to not only prepare whole foods, but often to grow them. I consider myself fairly time affluent as I do not have children, or a full time job. However, I still wonder if I will ever find the time to grow a tomato plant, or make homemade cheese.

2. I am struck with a moral/ethical quandary. I believe that buying local and seasonal food is a positive action for myself, my community and the environment. However - these items (because of the disgusting and perverted way of our world) are often MORE expensive then those that are raised millions of miles away. Clearly, I am concerned by this and yet regularly cave to the low and convenient prices of 18 cent Raman. Please know that I do not do so lightly, and indeed lose sleep over it.

3. In the grand scheme of the world, I am not poor. I get to travel, I have 20 pairs of shoes and a dish washer. I think we often feel poor because of the consumption that surrounds us - so I try to take every opportunity to remind myself that although I eat 25 cent boxes of Macaroni and Cheese, I am by no means, poor.

Now that I have laid out the parameters, here are a few suggestions that I am enacting to feed two on a budget of $200 (or less) a month.

It used to be that if someone was offering free food, I would only eat it if I really wanted it. No more folks. The boss wants to through a pizza party? I'll take three pieces please. No matter what it is, or what I've already eaten that day - I will eat what is offered to me. Most often these are fatty calorific fantastics (which we will soon determine is what you eat when you don't make much money). This may be doing a number on my heart. We'll have to revisit this one in a few years. I do take the precaution of exercising (most of the time).

Making a loaf of sandwich bread costs around 50 cents, at most. Buying a loaf of sandwich bread costs around $3.00. Making bread is one of the most frustrating, and rewarding endeavors one can under take. The best way to improve is practice. And practice and practice. I have found luck in doing like the Finn's do and keeping a starter (a bit of bread dough stored from batch to batch to use as a starting point).
I would love to tell you that I always make whole wheat or really fiberific healthy breads - but I don't. I can't afford expensive flour. If I am lucky we will have some whole wheat flour, corn meal or oats that can be incorporated. Regardless, I believe the bread that I make, even when it turns out to be a brick, to be better for me and less costly then what I could buy in the store.

There are certain things Matt and I won't make concessions about: lunch meat, juice and honey. We buy deli lunch meat, usually beef (because it is cheapest in lunch meat form and I am anemic, yo). We cannot bring ourselves to buy the nasty super processed lunch meat, thus we are willing to spend a bit more. Juice that is made with water and corn syrup is not juice in my opinion, thus we shell out for 100% juice, and honey, well, we're just picky. We want a local honey, and so we pay for it, and it is one place where the price differentials are not so great as to make that desire ridiculous. It is important to be honest with yourself about what things you can and cannot live without. Then you can count on those expenses, be appeased in them, and plan accordingly.

We have also discovered the finest in off-brand peanut butter and ice cream. There are moderate levels of junk/gum lengthener/etc. in these items - but no high fructose corn syrup, which I consider to be truly evil and deadly to just about all that is good in the world (yes, I am dramatic, how nice of you to notice).

Thanks to the local German, socialist inspired grocery, Aldi, Matt and I regularly have bacon in our diet. A package of thick cut smoked bacon at aldi is $4.oo, everywhere else, it is closer to $6.00. I am sure the reasons for this are terrifying, but at this juncture in my life, I am choosing not to explore them.

Truly, Aldi makes a difference in our food purchasing. We save quite a bit shopping there and that allows us to indulge in real lunch meat, juice, etc. elsewhere.

For truly amusing forays into the world of discount groceries read W. Hooding Carters' Extreme Frugality blog for Gourmet.

The following are the staples of our diet because they are a) affordable and b) versatile.

I don't think this requires much explanation. 1 package of bacon lasts us a month. I chop it up and freeze it in chunks. Then I will pull out a chunk for a quick pasta dish, or to go along biscuits, or into a sandwich. We eat bacon A LOT, and I have absolutely no shame in that; it is a one time investment that stretches out, and it always satisfies.

We do not eat natural peanut butter, even though I would like to. It simply requires to much coin. However, Peanut Butter is an absolute necessity because, like bacon, it is excellent for any meal and in a variety of forms. Matt eats a Peanut Butter and Jelly tortilla about three times a week. I eat it with a spoon almost every day. (Don't judge, it's a great protein/sugar hit for the late in the day blues).

One of our favorite dishes has been a Peanut Butter pasta (Thank you Mark Bittman). We buy rice noodles for 79 cents a pack, and then I whip up a quick peanut butter suace, which is really just peanut butter, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce and red pepper flakes thinned out with a little hot water. This is likely the cheapest, fastest, dinner we make and it is delicious. I even think it is a little gourmet. (No we do not add bacon to this one, although sometimes, we do add chicken).

I am a notorious snacker, and thus we have had to find snacks that don't break the bank (can you BELIEVE how expensive Goldfish are? BIG BUMMER). Snacks of choice are Oyster Crackers (which go nicely with beans for a quick din din) and popcorn. Popcorn costs less than $2.00 a bag, and always last at least a month. I've taken to upping the ante and adding a few tablespoons of sugar after I've dropped the popcorn into the pan. This creates a nice kettle corn, which not only satisfies the snacking crave, but the sweet tooth too.

Yes, I get anxious about our food, and look forward to a day when I don't feel guilty about paying a dollar extra for whole wheat pasta, but creativity has and does allow us some excellent dinners. We must practice restraint, but that doesn't mean our eating is joyless, it's just a little green-less and fiber-less, but hey friends, we make do.

Signing off,


The things I'll do for food....

It's pouring rain out; which I love because it reminds me of home. And it's so warm here when it rains! Unlike the West Coast I can wear sandals and shorts with my raincoat, my upper body doesn't get wet and I truck along with a huge grin on my face. Back home rain equals cold skin, stuttering lips and glum sighs. When it rains in Montreal, I just go about my business and thank the heavens it's not 35 degrees C and humid as the devil's mouth.

Since Alix has gone to Mexico, someone has to take care of her herbs (thyme, oregano and rosemary). I have already transferred them from her balcony to mine, but they needed to be transplanted into a bigger pot. Today I walked back to Alix's (about 15 min) and retrieved a large pot and a bag of soil, which were sitting on her balcony. But since she lives near Jean Talon Market, I couldn't go over there without paying a little visit to my favourite place.

Going there on Mondays is not as fun as the weekend. There's less produce and less people and less festivity in the air. But there are still the same vendors who now have more time to help you hum and haw over what ground chili powder to buy. (I settled on the Aleppo pepper which smells like hot spicy roasted tomatoes.) And then I just wandered around, buying dried sausage, new carrots, broccoli, strawberries, potatoes, eggs, balsamic vinegar; you know, a lovely little assortment of things. I now limit myself to a certain amount of cash and when it's gone, too bad Jude! (Except of course when I'm investing in things like chili powder and different oils....oh my elitism....)

It would have been easier to bring back the very LARGE pot and very LARGE quantity of soil without all of my market loot, but I decided to do it anyways. It's really quite a work-out trying to haul things around for many city blocks. But the other night when I sprinkled some chopped fresh rosemary and oregano over broiled tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and dusted with grated pecorino romano cheese, despite the lack of enthusiasm from a tardy mathematician who came for dinner (he will not be invited back), I almost lept from my chair and shouted a glory hallelujah! However, I wasn't interested in creating an even MORE awkward situation, so I kept my peace. The point is that I want these little herbs to be as happy as can be. Plus, as long as I have The New Pornographers blaring in my ears nothing can deter me. I get all excited and skip along marvelling at the poignant beauty of life, therefore motivating myself to go to whatever necessary great lengths to complete the challenge before me. I've listened to their album Electric Version probably 10 times in the last two days.

When I got home I dripped water all over the floor carrying in the dirty pot and soil and my bags of groceries. I immediately transplanted the little guys into their new roomy home, stared in dismay at the catastrophic mess I'd made on the balcony, thought Arianne (my roommate) will kill me, knocked over the cat's water dish (again!) and went to wash my hands, eager to chomp into the tomato and cheese sandwich I was about to have.

But despite the rain, the water was off and I quickly discovered holding my hands out in the pouring rain wasn't going to work, so I used some of the water I had in my water bottle to rinse off my hands, ate my vegetables with whatever horrible horrible chemicals and germs they had on them, (not willingly, but I had no choice).

For the rest of the day? I dunno. Day off's rule when you're not in school! Maybe I'll go running in the rain, maybe I'll sing, maybe I'll eat a piece of my chocolate cake that I still have! Maybe I'll convince a friend to make pork-butt tacos with me. Really, anything could happen.


Salmon with Strawberry Balsamic Reduction Sauce

A dear friend by the name of Ali came for dinner the other night. I rarely get to see her because she now lives in Victoria on the west coast and it was with great pleasure that I prepared a rather special meal for her. I have to give my dad credit for the idea, as I certainly didn't think it up myself, and it is also because of him that I have the basic knowledge necessary to realize this easy and delicious little recipe.

I can't think of any other way I want to spend my time these days besides cooking for other people. Eating what I cook is fun, and when people ask me what kinds of things I like to cook I reply by saying, well, it's whatever I feel like eating. So as a result I am often trying new things and furiously reading various recipes to find the best way to make something. But I get the most pleasure out of sharing what I cook with other people. (Bonus for future or unborn family members!) The only catch to the following recipe is incorporating the butter, but it's not as tricky as it is delicious!

Strawberry Balsamic Reduction Butter Sauce

This makes about 1 C of sauce.

I cooked a 450 g fillet of King salmon at 400 degrees until it was just that bright translucent pink at the thickest part, about 15 minutes. This cooking time will vary depending on the temperature of the fish. I took mine directly out of the fridge so it was cold and therefore took longer. It also depends on the thickness of your fillet. So make sure you check after the first 10 minutes, then the next five and then the next 1 or 2. Don't forget that your fish will continue to cook once you take it out of the oven, so take it out just before it's done. (This takes a bit of practice.)

This is essentially what they call a Beurre Blanc because the butter is incorporated slowly with a reduction of wine or vinegar and acts primarily as an emulsifier. The amount of butter or other ingredients depends largely on personal preference.

1 Large shallot chopped
1 TBS Balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 TBS Lime juice
3/4 C Chopped strawberries
3 TBS Butter

1 - Cut butter into small 1/4 inch pieces and put on a plate in the freezer.

2 - Chop up fine and fry the shallot.

3 - Add vinegar, lime juice and strawberries. Cook this until it becomes thick and bubbles. When you streak the spoon through the sauce the streaks should stay. This is the only tricky part: you want to reduce it just enough, but not so much that too much water evaporates and the sauce is bitter, or not enough and the sauce is too watery.

4 - Add the frozen butter, stirring vigorously until the butter is half melted. Transfer the sauce into a bowl or an insulated mug and continue stirring until the butter is completely incorporated into the sauce. The butter must be frozen so that the water molecules already present in the sauce can slowly surround the fat molecules in the butter. If this happens too fast, or the sauce heats up too much, the sauce will separate as the fat droplets break apart from the water molecules. This is also why the sauce is transferred into a bowl or mug before the butter finishes melting.

Then serve with some summer vegetables such as yellow squash and kale sauteed with a little olive oil, and salt and pepper. And rice is always nice!

Oh yeah, and this chocolate cake, if it moves you.

- murph

The Splendid Table : how to inundate yourself 24/7 with foodie information

It never stops. I think about it all the time. Food that is. And since I discovered The Splendid Table podcast, now I can listen (!) to a food related and inspired program while I walk around and do my grocery shopping, like I did today. How terrific!

The Splendid Table is a Saturday morning program on American Public Media, one of the largest producers of radio broadcasting in the United States. Tune in to listen to Lynne Rossetto Kasper's smooth voice talk with Michael and Bonnie Stern, food-writers for Gourmet magazine about their "Where we eat" column, a road-trip guide to the best eats in the US. Then there are the varying featured cookbooks and their authors, wine experts and the gastrosexual competition, the weekly trivia question, and the warmly welcomed callers with their ideas, questions and cultural inspiration. Featured as well on the website are recipes for those discussed on the program, links to music played on the show and a recipe bank called Splendid Cheap Eats. You can subscribe to the podcast through itunes or listen to it live on-line. It's certainly become the new best-friend of this solitary foodie (sob).

I finished my grocery shopping and went home, the program not quite finished, so I continued to listen to it while I spread fresh ground peanut butter and my sister's peach jam onto fresh spelt bread.

I munched on a few strawberries and had a salad with cherry tomatoes, ricotta cheese with a bit of lime and olive oil drizzled on top.

Fairly delicious I'd say.

Lynne Rosseto Kasper, you rule! I'm so glad to know you exist. And I hope some of you, dear readers, can tune in and hear what she has to say.

Lobster, Pie and Alix says goodbye....

I had the pleasure of cooking for Alix on Wednesday night. She's now long gone to Mexico, but I think I sent her (and Oscar!) off in the good-ole Judy fashioned way: I made lobster sandwiches and strawberry pie. Then Alix picked some of her lettuce that she's been growing on her balcony, and we had ourselves a mighty fine feast.

Growing up on the west coast we never ate lobster; it's kind of an eastern thing I guess. Of course, you can buy it out west, but it's rather expensive. Anyways, so are Dungeness crabs, but that's what I grew up eating whenever I was lucky enough to convince Dad that crab cakes were a must! Or when I went to Max's cabin on Sonora Island with a few other charming folk, and he came bursting in the door with buckets (yes, really buckets!) full of crabs. Then we drank tequila and shelled them all and made aioli and ate until there was nothing left. But now I live way out here in Montreal, and alas, lobster it is! And in season!

(My Lobster inspiration is thanks [again!] to Matthew Amster-Burton's book Hungry Monkey, and his delightful family. I have yet to meet them, but I'm quite certain they're 1st class individuals.)

Strawberries also happen to be in season, or they're just starting, and I bought a half crate; enough for the pie, my freezer and me. It also happened to be the perfect occasion to make Lee's pastry. Lee is Max's mother and last summer I was fortunate enough to be there when the event of Max's birthday called for a pie (blueberry apricot I believe it was). Luckily, in their very well-stocked cottage kitchen I found a copy of the Joy of Cooking and was able to put together some sort of filling while Lee started the pastry. I watched her work her magic, using white spelt flour, soft butter, egg, baking soda and apple cider vinegar to create an incredibly tender, flaky crust. Then I promptly quizzed her on the how-to and wrote it all down on the paper I use today. We then baked the pie in the wood-stove and burned the top a bit (the temperature is a bit tricky to control) but it was super delicious, and I was in love with this no fuss pastry crust.

Lee's Pastry

Enough for two deep-dish pies (you can freeze what you don't use or make half the recipe)

1 lb soft butter *
4 C white spelt flour**
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (with salted butter)

* Be careful how soft you let the butter get before you begin your recipe. If it's too soft the flour will take all the butter and you won't be able to incorporate the liquid. Then all you'll have is a big ball of butter that's impossible to roll out. You want it to be just spreadable, but not so soft it looks greasy.
** You can use all-purpose flour, or white pastry flour here to substitute for the spelt. I am avoiding wheat these days because I suspect that I have some sort of allergy, and the original recipe calls for spelt flour, so you can only imagine my enthusiasm. (Hit the health food store to find the spelt flour, yes it needs to be white, unless you want a whole-wheat crust, obviously.)
  • In a bowl mix together the dry ingredients
  • Cut in the butter using your fingers, two knives or a pastry blender. You want the butter to be in pea shaped pieces.
In a two cup measure mix well:

1-2 eggs
2 TBS brown sugar
1 TBS apple cider vinegar
  • Fill up to the 1 C level with cold water.
  • Drizzle the liquid over the flour and butter and use a fork to gently flick it together until blobs start to form. When most of the flour has taken to a blob and comes together when you gently squeeze it in you hand, it's ready.
  • Judging how much liquid you need will take a couple tries. You want to use as little as possible, but just enough so that the dough holds together.
  • Try to handle the pastry as little as possible.
  • Transfer into a container in the fridge and let it sit for at least two hours so the butter can get really hard. (But you might also need to let it sit out on the counter for 10-15 minutes before you roll it out if it's too hard.)

- When you roll out the dough, flour your surface very well, and make sure you don't roll out the dough too thin, you want there to be a good pastry to fruit ratio.

- The beauty of this dough is that if you make a mistake when you roll it out, like it tears, or you didn't start with enough dough, you can ball it up and start again. Lee used to make this for young children to cook with because it gives a sturdy dough and will stand up to some extra handling.

- To get the rolled out dough onto the pie-pan, gently roll it around the rolling pin and lay it gently over the pan. Then, gently again, ease it down so that it molds to the shape of the pan. Leave a good inch of dough hanging over the edge so you can make a nice crust. Put this pan into the freezer while you roll out the top.

- Lee showed me how to do a lattice crust, but if you don't have Lee around, you can find out how in the Joy of Cooking. Or you could just lay it over top of your fruit, crimp the edges, and cut a couple slits in the top in the design of your choice (this is what I did this time).


Adapted from the Joy of Cooking

For a nine-inch double crust pie

4 C fresh berries
2/3 - 1 C sugar (depending on the sweetness of your fruit)
1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 1/2 TBS lemon juice or 1/2 tsp cinnamon

*if the fruit is really juicy, add 2 tsp instant tapioca

- mix together and put into pie and cover with the top.

Cook at 400 degrees F for an hour, or until the top is brown, things smell way too good in the kitchen, and you can see the fruit bubbling through the slits, lattice, maple leaves or whatever you cut into the top.

Never been one to contain enthusiasm....

Cut and serve with ice cream

The crust crumbled under my fork, melted in my mouth, the strawberries weren't too sweet and the ice cream rounded everything off in it's smooth, creamy, succulent way. Oh summer here you come!

Just a note about the lobster sandwiches:

I bought 4 cooked lobsters, because they were 4 for $24, and I skipped the hassle and time it takes to boil them (although this is really not very difficult - the Joy of Cooking will tell you all about it and give you even more lobster inspired recipes!) Then I added 2 heaping TBS of Best Foods mayonnaise, 2 chopped green onions, and some salt and pepper to the shredded lobster meat. Serve the lobster on a warm white roll with lettuce that hopefully someone as stellar as Alix grew sur la terrace!

The apron belongs to Alix

Have a great trip Miss!

And Max I hope to see you soon!

And Lee, thanks for enriching my cooking repertoire! I look forward to the next time.

Learning about Pad Thai

My friend Alix lives just down the street from me in Victoria and she was in my french class when I was in Grade 12. But it wasn't until we were reunited at the University of Victoria a couple years later (also in a french class), that we really became good friends. Now we've both wandered out to Montreal, on our own accords, and we live quite close to each other (but she has the Jean Talon Market for her backyard, and I, living a bit further away, need to ride my bike). She also happens to adore cooking and I rejoice over this aspect of our friendship; we talk on the phone daily, just to check in, and the subject matter is usually either french or food (or of course the habitual crisis). We make a good team.

She lives in an enormous apartment with three other people, in huge sunny rooms and a wicked awesome kitchen. It's the center of their house and all the best moments of her parties happen in this room (wild dancing for example). I love going over there for tea or breakfast, muffins in hand, and slumping down into one of the clunky round-legged wooden chairs at the warped table while Alix puts the kettle on.

She's in the middle of writing papers for school, and I of course first suggested we cook something time-consuming like lobster, but then realized that making pad Thai would be an excellently easy project. I am by no means a pad Thai connoisseur, but I'm starting to try different recipes. Other than the sauce, which I think that once you've found a good one there's no need to change it, pad Thai is extremely versatile and really fun to make with friends because there is lots of chopping and sauteing to do, which are two basic kitchen tricks that most people are familiar with.

I recently bought Matthew Amster-Burton's book Hungry Monkey and this is where my most recent wave of inspiration came from. He advertises pad Thai as being a perfectly acceptable meal to share between you, your spouse and your baby, and I say, why not! I've also made the recipe from the author's of The New Best Recipe that is those who write Cooks Illustrated magazine. Matthew's recipe is simpler (because there are less ingredients) and more economical, so that will be the one I give you here. But Cooks Illustrated (America's Test Kitchen!) is known for their in-depth testing of recipes and their version is phenomenal.

Pad Thai Sauce

Mr. Amster Burton says the sauce will keep refrigerated up to a week or frozen up to a month. This recipe makes about three times as much as you need for one meal for two. And note that it is worth it to buy the tamarind paste, absolutely, but! if you can't find it (or don't want to) Cooks Illustrated leaves us with this excellent tip: 1/3 C lime juice + 1/3 C water - but you might need more to substitute for the quantities of tamarind in the following recipe.

Tamarind is, by the way, "made from the fruit of a tropical bean tree" and sold in 1-pound blocks in Asian markets. It has a "tart woody flavor, essential for pad Thai".

4 ounces tamarind paste
1 1/2 C boiling water
1/4 peanut oil (I used canola)
6 TBS fish sauce
1 TBS rice vinegar
1/4 C sugar

- Pour boiling water over the tamarind in a bowl. Let it sit for five minutes and kind of break up the sticky brown pieces with a spoon. Let it sit for a bit longer and then stir it around some more. You don't want any large chunks of paste left. Then strain through a sieve into a bowl, pressing and scraping the paste so you push as much flavour through as you can. Discard seeds and skin left in sieve.
-Add the rest of the ingredients to tamarind in a bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

The Sautée

for two adults

4 ounces rice noodles, soaked in hot tap water for 20 minutes
2 tsp oil (peanut or canola)
1 large egg
1/4 C pad Thai sauce
lime wedges, cilantro and chopped, roasted peanuts for serving

*Add anything else you want like tofu, shrimp, bok choy, peas, sweet potato. Traditionally I believe there are scallions, you could also add shallots and garlic if you please. We wanted to add a bit of heat to the dish, so Alix chopped up some chilies. You could also just add hot pepper flakes, which is what I've done in the past. However, make sure you prepare all your ingredients before you heat up your pan or wok, and saute them before you cook the eggs and noodles so everything is cooked through and warmed up.

*Alix has an electric wok! WOW. So, that's what we used. I've also used a plain old sauce pan with sides, however, not the best but it works.

-Heat oil over medium-high
-Add egg and scramble
-Add noodles and sauce and cook until the noodles are tender (might take a couple minutes) and the sauce and egg are evenly distributed
-Add any other additional toppings at this time, toss well, and serve
-Top with lime, cilantro and peanuts. (Also, chili garlic sauce is your best friend at this moment if you like this hot hot hot.)

Then eat strawberries and whipped cream for dessert!

There were some really great suggestions for potato salad dressings, i.e. sour cream, or a combination of sour cream and yogurt. I'd love to hear what you guys have to say about the versions of pad Thai you've tried, or your favourite. Notably, where are your favourite places to go and eat pad Thai?

*Photos are courtesy of Alix and her Nikon D60



Chinese Food for Breakfast

Chinese food carries with it a loaded cultural understanding. It is considered cheap, ubiquitous and by many, best right out of the carton. And while I agree with most of this, there are clear delineations between good and bad Chinese takeout.

First, I think it only fair to point out that what we know to be Chinese food is in fact, NOT what you would find in China. (A point made very clear to me by one Mr. Steven Margitan, world traveler extraordinar and recent China ex-patriot). However, having grown up in the great Northwest, I believe that I was exposed to the finest of American Chinese Take-Out, and thus settle for little less then excellence when it comes to this Styrofoam packaged cuisine.

There is little question that the best Chinese take-out in Seattle is Black Pearl, and I would guess that our family ordered pork fried rice, garlic green beans, and sesame chicken at least once a month. When we moved out of their delivery zone, we quite literally, mourned.

I was unimpressed by the Chinese take-out options in Texas, and often settled for Chains such as Panda Express (wholly dissatisfying), and thus upon moving, was determined to find the best Chinese food in Mankato. And while Matt and I sampled a few of the Chinese buffets here in town (which featured Texas style Chinese complete with fried Chicken), I quickly realized that in order to find this Mecca of inexpensive cuisine I would need to ask a local. Kelli, my trusty co-worker responded without hesitation, "Yu's."

Yu's Chinese is located on Monk's avenue and offers a Lunch time buffet for an incredible $8 and evening take-out seven days a week. Their menu is printed in black and white on a simple 8 1/2 by a 11 sheet of paper. They always give you a free container of rice. And sometimes I can't understand them on the phone. To me, these are signs of Chinese take-out excellence.

And while everything we've ordered is good, the fried rice rivals Heaven. I've never had better. And although I worry about what it is that makes it so delectable, it remains something I crave. After we've ordered for dinner, I get giddy, knowing the leftovers will make a fine breakfast the next day. A little egg, veg, and rice? Superb. Yes, I eat them cold. Don't judge.

While Mankato is lacking in many food arenas, thanks to Yu's, Chinese take-out is not one of them.

P.S. Don't tell Steve. He will judge.

- Makifish

Featuring: potato salad!

I made potato salad again.


But when you live alone and you are trying to actually use up the ingredients you have, instead of buying all sorts of fancy new ones, you have to make potato salad a couple times in order to use up the potatoes you bought at the market last week. There are of course a million other things you could choose to make with potatoes, Vichyssoise for one (chilled potato and leek soup), but that'll be next weekend perhaps.

And when it's a rainy Montreal day, which means it's warm and windy, and pouring, there's nothing better than potato salad for one. Or is there?

Smoked paprika potato salad with bacon, shallots, mustard seed and hard boiled eggs

for two eaters (I know I said for one, but you'll need leftovers)

3 Yukon gold-like potatoes (medium size)

6 Strips of bacon
2 Shallots

2 Eggs (or more for extras)

2 TBS Crème fraîche (I know, not something we all have lying around, I did and still do, so do your best and use mayonnaise? That would be quite fine, or yogurt was, I believe, the last suggestion)
1 TBS Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp Smoked sweet paprika (if you do anything, spend the extra bucks here)
1 TBS Mustard seed
Salt and pepper

Handful of cilantro leaves
Handful of chopped chives

1 - Cut up your potatoes into cubes (you pick the size - smallish though)
2 - Steam them until soft
3 - While you do this, chop up the bacon and shallots (I left the shallot morsels on the larger side). Then fry together on medium heat
4 - Put eggs onto boil. There are many ways to do this, but I put them in water, let it reach a roiling boil, then I turn the pot off and let them sit there for approx. 10 minutes. Then I transfer them into a pot of cold water and let them cool
5 - While all that cooks, steams, roils and boils, chop up the chives and wash the cilantro, picking off leaves (set them aside)
6 - Mix up the dressing (creme fraiche, paprika etc,.) (you might have to make adjustments after you put the dressing on the potatoes)
7 - When potatoes are done, you can rinse them off with cold water to cool them down a bit, or let them sit for a while, or just toss them in right away. Add them to a bowl with the bacon and the chives and cilantro. Then pour the dressing over top and stir around. Taste. Adjust seasoning.
8 - Peel your eggs, cut into quarters, or chop them up, whatever you prefer, and toss them on top of your delicious little salad.


Then, because eating only potato salad for dinner (unless you consume a very large quantity) can leave you wanting a little more, I recommend you put on Paul McCartney's album Ram, grab a banana, scoop a spoon into some peanut butter and dance around the kitchen alternating bites between the two, giggling and guffawing about living the high life and another opportunity to eat, well. (Yes this is possible alone.)

I have to say that I was starving when I got home from my translation class around 9 pm, so I had more salad and then made these cookies and ate quite a bit of the dough, plus three when they were done. As you will see however, when you read the recipe, they're extremely healthy, and very small. And I'm quite pleased that I finally made them; I think I've been wanting to do so for about a month, thinking about them constantly, imagining them, grinning about them, slowly procuring the ingredients one grocery store outing at a time....it was high, high time.

Overall, things are fine, and my hair is getting longer, as you can see, which is always quite a thrill, unless of course you don't want to go through that awkward phase, but I don't mind it at the moment.

Black Bean Brownies

They are first of all, delicious. Rich and thick with puréed black beans and ground espresso; a healthy energetic kick with no refined sugar and no flour.

Ideally, I'd try the recipe again and then write another post because I have a few suggestions. But since I'm too impatient to share my experience with you, dear reader, I will reveal the suggestions without trying them in hopes that you can use your own good judgement.

1 - Since I don't have a food processor, I couldn't purée the beans as well as I wanted. So this would be a good idea. I used a potato masher which worked fine....

2 - If you halve the recipe, which is what I did, you need an 8 X 8 inch square pan, not a 9 X 13 which is what I had to use because my square pan was in the freezer full of rhubarb crisp! The original recipe on www.101cookbooks.com calls for an 11 X 18 inch jelly roll pan, which would be amazing, if you were making the entire recipe, that is enough to last you until 2084.

3 - The recipe calls for espresso powder or instant coffee. If you're going to use ground coffee, use very very finely ground beans. I used a medium grind and, well, I was kind of crunching on the grains. This wasn't so bad, and the flavour was amazing, but improvements could be made.

4 - If you substitute the agave nectar with honey, the taste will be too strong. I'd use sugar instead, brown, or maybe even molasses? Mmmm, better stick with sugar.

5 - Last, oh go ahead, do it, put a dollop of peanut butter on top and eat it with a spoon!

For obvious reasons I do not need to copy and paste the recipe onto this page; plus, Heidi Swanson has kind of changed my life, so going and checking out her website, plus her cookbook, would be a fantastic idea. Also, while you're reading the brownie recipe (which she in fact got from someone else as well!) scroll down to the bottom of the page and check out the chocolate cake recipe made with coconut milk, maple syrup and whole wheat flour. Wow. I'm in awe of her creativity and inspiration to use alternative ingredients for the every day white flour, white sugar we always turn to. No it's not always cheap to buy these substitutes, but I find that if you buy one and then see what else you can do with it, use it up, and then try another one, you're no worse off than you were when you bought it.

By the way, my fellow outdoor clothing sellers loved them.

Thought Hash #3

Here she is, the lovely city I live in, seen from the top of Mount Royal.

Summer's here. It's still morning and I'm not sure what to do today. Maybe I'll put on the dress my sister made me, the v-necked brown one with deep turquoise pockets and straps that cross at the back, and go have a coffee....

I sleepily ate a bowl of steel-cut oats topped with left-over rhubarb crisp and yogurt, sipped green tea, and read a few of the new food blogs I've just discovered. Check out an endless banquet for foodie info in Montreal, The traveler's lunchbox for great photos, great writing, great recipes and a food guide to our planet, My madeline for an amazing story about losing smell, regaining it and still loving food through it all, and Mattbites for laughs, pizzaz, and general hysteria over the joy of eating.

I don't usually encourage the spilling of emotional states on blogs, I find it tedious, but I have to just say that sometimes it overwhelms me, all of this. I'm in awe of the food network on the internet, of the opportunities there are to write and be read, of the possible friendships.... Having a way to reconnect with Kelsey is such a gift and takes the sad bite out of not being able to run over on a whim to her house for something delicious. And I wonder how far will I take this? There is no way to know or to decide right now at this very instant. All I know is that I have to continue fueling the food-obsessed fire; all I want to do is devour any bit of information I can get my hands on and write about it. Without even realizing it, I've become a writer, there is nothing I do that doesn't involve writing or creating. What a gift. What a life!

So today will be contemplative.....coffee yes, and some translation work, and then....black bean brownies...........and then, I will sing, and then, I will go sell expensive outdoor clothing.


Crumbs 3

FIRST, I love spring. And salad greens.
Jealous? I thought so. This green lovely came from the Pietch's Farm, and was also pureed up with some shallots, garlic, butter, oil and salt for a hearty spinach pesto, which is sustaining the freezer quite nicely. We've used it on sandwiches, in quinoa, and on pasta. I plan on making some more before the season is out in an effort to stretch out our affordable, sustainable, vegetable eating.

NEXT, the best greasy spoon in Mankato is the Wagon Wheel. Honestly, the food is average - but the atmosphere is unbeatable. I spent an hour there this morning listening to the locals harass the waitresses and appreciating the straight forwardness of a small town. Incredibly pleasant and down home. The walls are plastered with sports memorabilia, and their short order cook has a rat tail. And you can get a full breakfast for under $4. If that's not a perfect a morning I don't know what is.

LASTLY, we are headed to Texas for a week, which I am extremely pleased about. I look forward to beef, Monument Chocolate Pie, warm nights, and Southern company.

Steak and Potatoes

An amazing thing has happened: I have begun to cook without recipes and with an amazing amount of confidence. So here, I bring to you my market fresh meal, inspired by the collected knowledge of judy murphy.

Steak with caramelized shallots and garlic

for two light eaters

This is a recipe I learned from the butcher I went to in Brussels, Belgium. He intensely told me how to cook a steak while handing me my brown paper wrapped package, emphasizing the importance of butter and shallots, they had to be shallots, and to cook them until they were soft. I went home and gave it my best shot. It wasn't great, but still pretty good. But tonight, I remembered, yes I did, and oooh boy! it was scrumptious.

1 steak
1-2 TBS butter
1-2 shallots, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
salt and pepper

Choose a delicious little morsel of beef at the market, grocer or butcher, and let it sit out until it reaches room temperature.

Heat your favourite pan up on medium so you don't burn the shallots. [They'll burn anyways and the garlic too, but delaying this process is a good idea.] Add the nugget of butter to the pan, when it's melted, add the shallots and fry them until they start to look soft and juicy. Then add the garlic. Then nestle the steak among the frying shallots and garlic.

Here's the million dollar question, how long should you cook this baby for? It's up to you. And I learned how to cook steak to the right temperature by feel. It might take a few tries, but I encourage you to poke it and cut it open throughout the cooking process to see how it's doing. A very rare steak will have a springy plump feel; a very done steak will be hard and the flesh will have very little give. I like mine just above rare and the best way I found to achieve this doneness is by cutting it open after 2 minutes on each side. If it's not done enough, throw 'er back on and wait one or two more minutes. I would say that I cooked it, roughly, about 3-4 minutes on each side, but I have to admit that I wasn't keeping track of the time cause I was so excited.

Once you've turned the steak a couple times so that it's browned on both sides, spoon the shallots and garlic on top so that they stops cooking. I assume they'll be quite done by now, and you don't want it to be all charred, only just a little.

Warm potato salad with spinach, asparagus, creme fraîche and cilantro

The main point here is that you don't really need a recipe, just ideas. If you want a creamy potato salad, use cream fraîche like I did, but it's possible you won't have that just kicking around, so use yogurt or feta cheese (on that note nuts would be a good addition!) You could have a cold salad by running cold water over the potatoes until they were cool (but when they're warm they wilt the spinach which results in over-the-top deliciousness). You could use another herb than cilantro, or another vegetable than asparagus. You could add chopped shallots and or chives. You could use oil and vinegar. The possibilities are endless. So here's what I created; play with it, alter it, change it.

For two medium eaters

3 medium sized potatoes, cut into cubes and steamed
1/4 C chopped cilantro
1/2 lemon squeezed
two handfuls of spinach
2 TBS creme fraîche
chopped up roasted asparagus
salt and pepper

Steam the potatoes (takes around 15 minutes)
In a bowl mix, cilantro, lemon juice, spinach, creme fraiche, and asparagus.
Add potatoes and mix around.


- murph