vegan Barbie-doll pink

This summer I decided I wanted to experiment a little with chilled soups. I love soup in the winter (one pot meal + filling + healthy = good), but the only summer soup I made was gazpacho, and as wonderful as gazpacho can be, it does get boring after a while.

Since I also love beets, I decided to try this chilled beetroot soup. It's dead easy, and goes something like this:
  • Steam 3 medium-sized beets until just cooked.
  • Gently cook chopped potatos and onions (to match the volume of beets) in butter or vegan margarine, taking care nothing browns.
  • Peel and chop the beets and add to the potato-onion mixture.
  • Add 1 litre water or stock to the vegetables. Let everything cook through for about 15 minutes.
  • Purée it all (I use a stick blender right in the pot) and let chill, or eat warm if you prefer.
Basic enough, right? Here's the best part: this tasty, vegan-friendly (if you use the margarine instead of butter), relatively healthy soup made with very basic ingredients comes out looking, all on its own, like this:

That's an all-natural colour that has not been 'Shopped, folks.

Bonus fun: bring it to work and have colleagues ask you if it's your dessert.

reverse engineering baked goods

I seem to be on a kick involving making home-made versions of traditional prefab British food products. Previously, it was baked beans. At least those make a sort of sense, because they really are better than the tinned baked beans domestic to Canada, but the British Heinz ones, although available here, are too expensive (for me) to justify spending on, you know, baked beans.

Then I read the recent Guardian article about Soreen. I'd never heard of the stuff before, but anything packaged that's been around since 1938 and that people love so much is worth checking out, I figure. Besides, it supposedly has malt in it, and Malties/Shreddies were my favourite breakfast cereal when I was a kid.

This time, the local British candy/grocery store (90% candy, 10% imported groceries) failed me. No Soreen. Luckily, some of the commenters on the Guardian story had mentioned that their mums or grandmums had made home-baked versions, so I was able to dig up a recipe to try.

The results were crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside. It tastes nice, so long as you like a dark sugar flavour, but somehow isn't super-sweet (probably because I am always stingy about sugar). It does taste good with butter on it — it needs it, because the only fat in it is from milk. I can't imagine throwing a slice of this version in the toaster like people do with actual Soreen though. It would probably do a milder version of the Strawberry Pop-Tart Blow Torches (a classic web page if there ever was one, dating from August 1994!).

I think the next time I try this recipe I'm going to experiment with adding slightly (but only slightly) more milk. And maybe whole milk instead of the 1% I happened to have on hand. Prefab stuff this simple can be delicate.

reverse engineering food

Once upon a time, when the World Wide Web was but a glimmer in Tim Berner-Lee's eye, the Toronto Star used to run a regular column where readers could write in and request the recipes for dishes they'd had in restaurants. A Star staffer would get the recipe from the chef in question, and then write it up along with an interview with the chef, a description of where the restaurant was and what else they had to offer on the menu, and a quote from the request letter, typically gushing about how great the dish in question was. For the price of one recipe (usually one of the more basic ones, at that — dishes that required an actual professional kitchen tended to be avoided), the chef and the restaurant got some very nice publicity.

These days, we do have the internet, and apparently there's a sizable army of people out there willing to research, reverse engineer, and otherwise discover the secrets of popular restaurant and prepared-food recipes. Once they do find out, they post the results on blogs, foodie sites, and anywhere else that seems appropriate, even in e-mail chain letters.

Once, the recipe-hunters may have been motivated by questions such as, "How do I make this at home so I don't have to trek all the way to Restaurant X?" or "How can I save some money by buying the ingredients myself?" Now, one is just as likely to find recipes motivated by sentiments like, "I love this, but I want to control the portion size/make it less fattening" or "I want to make this without the scary-sounding chemicals included."

Recently I've been reading about how the lining material used in food cans in North America can chemicaly react with certain foods, causing chemicals in the lining material to leach into the food. Baked beans are supposedly one of the worst culprits for this, which dismayed me, because I eat baked beans throughout autumn, winter, and spring. Around the same time that I started hearing about this, I decided to get some cans of Heinz baked beans from the local British grocery. They cost twice as much as domestic cans of beans, but all my British friends insist they taste better, and the article on scary chemicals from tinned foods said that the EU had different, safer standards on canned food linings.

From eating my way through the four-pack of Heinz beans, I learned two things:
  1. My British friends were completely right.
  2. Given (1) above, I was going to have to learn to approximate this recipe.
It took three batches of slow-cooked beans, but I finally have a decent version. They're not the same as Heinz, but they're a lot closer to, and no tin cans are involved.

3 cups of cooked navy beans
about 3/4 c Heinz ketchup (Heinz ketchup = Heinz-ish beans)
about 1 tbl Dijon mustard
a few drops of Worcestershire sauce

Place beans in slow cooker. Add all of the other ingredients to a measuring cup, then add enough hot water to make up about 1 3/4 c total. Stir until combined. Pour over beans and cook on Low setting for 4-6 hours.

This makes a version that has the right flavour, but a strong vinegar smell. Next time I may reduce the ketchup a little and up the water a little (the consistency of the sauce is also a bit thicker than the authentic Heinz British beans, so this makes sense to me).

Did you notice there is absolutely no added sugar in this version? No brown sugar, no maple syrup, no molasses. No wonder I like it so much.

What's your favourite way to do beans?

DIY for everything!

Sometimes I swear I'd be happier on a commune somewhere in a forest or a desert, with just an excellent internet connection and decent mail service to keep us in touch with the outside world.

Either that, or I'm just too picky for a world where we're encouraged to make the mass market, one-size-fits-all choice.

I recently checked out this Nivea eye cream, more for the part about hiding shadows (which I always have, no matter how much sleep I get) than for the spokesmodel dancing around in her PJs during the TV ad. It's lovely stuff, but I keep thinking, "This little 14g jar cost as much to buy as it does to make 750g of day cream at home." Before this venture back into commercial preparations, I'd been using the home-made day cream under my eyes for over a year, and that part of my face isn't any more wrinkly than when I started.

So, I've been thinking. What if I took my Froosh day cream recipe and added some reflective agents? If it doesn't work, I'll be out $10 of ingredients (with the reflective agents, maybe $12-$15) and 45 minutes. That's not any worse than walking out on a bad movie.

The only really bad part is that 250g of cream used on my entire face lasts over a year, so 750g... eh well, I have great friends who are happy to get free day cream.