Ranty Opinions About Social Media, Bacon, and a Recipe for an Excellent Lentil and Cabbage Soup

Lentil squash and cabbage soup

Yesterday I was re-reading and thinking about the manifesto I had written years ago for this blog, not so much as a mission statement, but rather as an aggressive statement of my position on food and all things associated with it.  To summarize, I believe that for the most part, food shouldn’t be a matter of guilt and moral decisions (some ethical views may apply), and that there is no one true right way to do food, because as the old saying goes, there’s no accounting for taste.  (There are obvioulsy wrong ways, but those are exactly that – obvious.)

Being the obnoxious person that I am, I do, in fact, have loads of opinions about the right way to do food, but those apply to one thing and one thing only – food that is going into my mouth.  What you end up eating, and why is your own business.  It isn’t mine, but what is more important, it shouldn’t be that of trendy media personalities (we aren’t going to go chasing names here, there’s just too many) that will sell you apps or organic products via affiliate links and tell you to beware chemicals (ring a bell yet?), without regard to whether you need the app (you don’t), whether organic produce has less pesticides (it doesn’t, just different ones), and entirely disregarding the fact that everything is made of chemicals, including you and the rest of the universe.

So what I am trying to say is that, while you could certainly do worse than listening to me, a good bet would be to develop some critical thinking skills of your own, and apply those to everything you hear.  And considering the amount of food-related woo and misinformation and paranoia abounding on the internet, as well as the persuasiveness of the media outlets yammering it out, developing critical thinking regarding what you eat is a good place to start to save your health, your sanity and the contents of your wallet.

How does any of this relate to a recipe for lentil soup?  In a couple of ways, actually.  First of all, the reason I set out to make a lentil soup is that I like lentil soup.  Don’t like it?  Don’t force yourself to make and eat it, no matter what media personality says about how you simply must.  Because I like lentil soup, and I felt like changing things up a little bit today, I’ve looked around my Pinterest board for inspiration (I use it for bookmarking things I like, not a source of inadequacy-induced psychosis), and decided to improvise in a direction I was sure I could manage, considering the contents of my pantry and spice cabinet.  Which brings me to the second way in which the soup today is relevant – cooking from what you have and stock rotation.  I knew I had lentils, I knew I had some vegetables that could be used up, I knew I had spices that weren’t getting any younger.  The sum of that total would be soup, and it’d clean up fridge and pantry corners and let me get rid of that quarter-of-bag of lentils that hadn’t fit into the jar that holds the rest of them.

Frugality is not a dirty word, and one of the best ways to be frugal is to shop and cook your own pantry, and ignore advertising for the latest-and-trendiest superfood (a word that has no legal definition and is frowned upon as a marketing term because of that).  Lentils are healthy and contain lots of fiber, vegetables are healthy, and really, as I’ve mentioned before, the best healthy eating advice I’ve ever come across came from The Onion, paraphrased: “just eat a goodamned vegetable once in a while”.

One last and important component that seems relevant to today’s rant and soup is the little bit (I don’t know, maybe 30g total) of sadly drying sliced cured chorizo that was slowly aging in the bottom of my fridge.  I reached for it just as the social media has erupted in renewed “cured meats cause cancer by 18% and should be illegal because autisms!” gabble based on a well-known, and (again) misrepresented and misinterpreted statistic.  In case you are curious, yes, eating a giant hunk of bacon daily (we are talking 50g/day intake) does slightly increase a chance of certain cancers (from just under 2% to about 2.3% lifetime, which is an increase of 18%).  The articles were screaming that eating processed meat will give you cancer, and how it’s as bad as cigarettes, and gods know what other bullshit.  I decided that it was enough social media for the day and turned it off, then went straight to the fridge and pulled out my cured meat for the soup.

Why?  Because I love the flavor of chorizo, and because the reason people in general love to eat cured meat is that it’s a flavor powerhouse.  And because I am not just going to munch on it (not today, anyway), but add a small amount of it to the soup, making the healthy soup that much more enticing.  The key here, however, is to not overdo it, like with just about anything else.  I don’t advocate sitting down and consuming a chunk of bacon daily.  Occasionally it’s fine, but not every damn day.  You probably also shouldn’t drink alcohol, eat ice cream or cake or steak every day, either.  Variety is the spice of life, and it also what allows you to have your cake and eat reasonably well, too.  The dose makes the poison.

So, armed with a little bit of chorizo, a large amount of lentils and a lot of anger at sensationalist media, I went into the kitchen, and quite by accident made what I consider the best lentil soup I have ever made.  Seriously.  I’m a lentil soup connoisseur, and I still think this is probably hands-down the best one I’d ever made or had anywhere else – which is why I am sharing the recipe.  But in the spirit of the above rant, feel free to modify it as you see fit, because it’s going down your gullet, and thus your opinion is what matters.

Here’s what went into The Awesome Lentil and Cabbage Soup today (makes a 3L pot):

  • Enough oil to saute vegetables as follows: (I used a nonstick pan and sunflower oil because that’s what I had on hand – usually it’s rapeseed aka Canola).
  • 2 large onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 ‘solo’ head of garlic (equivalent of 4-8 cloves), peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
  • Fist-sized chunk of white cabbage (could use more, it’s what I had), sliced finely
  • 2 teaspoons hot chili flakes (adjust this to your heat tolerance)
  • 2 heaping teaspoons of garlic powder (yes I use garlic and garlic powder here, got a garlic problem with it?)
  • 1 very heaping teaspoon of each: ground coriander seed, cumin, and ras-al-hanout (wikipedia link) mix
  • 2 tbsp calf fond (it’s the one I happened to have on hand – occasionally I keep their game, beef, or other varieties around – because while I maintain that buillion cubes are vile, this stuff is not).
  • ~2dl winter squash, chopped into 1cm pieces (I pulled one of the bags of the squash I’d frozen when it was left over after making the Hokkaido Squash Soup)
  • ~100g frozen chopped spinach (You can use fresh.  I am lazy.)
  • 2 tbsp frozen chopped coriander leaves (I freeze chopped fresh herbs in tiny tupperware boxes before they go sad and slimy in my fridge)
  • 3dl red lentils
  • 2-3dl brown or green lentils
  • 30-50g of cured chorizo sausage, cut into very small pieces
  • Salt to taste

What to do with it all:

  • Put a soup pot and a nonstick pan on the stove and heat a bit of oil in both of those on medium heat.
  • Toss onions into the frying pan and add a miniscule pinch of salt.  Add your shredded carrots to the pot and salt those too.  Salt helps them saute nicer.  Keep an eye on those and stir them until they turn golden.
  • Once carrots are golden, add garlic to the pot and fry for a few seconds to a minute until fragrant but not really coloring.  Add about a liter of water to stop the saute.   Once onions are soft and turning golden at edges, add chili flakes and cabbage and saute the cabbage gently, mixing with the onions, until it is soft and beginning to turn translucent.  Sprinkle garlic powder over the vegetables and allow it to heat for a few seconds (this prevents the garlic powder from clumping when added to liquid).
  • Add the onions and cabbage to the pot, rinse the frying pan with water and put that into the pot as well.  Add the cubed squash, remaining spices, fond, chorizo, all the lentils and water up to 5cm of the edge of the pot.  Stir thoroughly.
  • Bring soup to a boil then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until squash is entirely tender and all lentils are cooked (red ones will disintegrate while brown/green ones will keep their shape a bit better).
  • Add frozen or fresh chopped spinach and frozen or fresh coriander, turn heat up to medium and stir until greens are dispersed (if frozen) or just cooked through.
  • Taste and season if necessary.  That’s it.

Slap a generous pat of butter onto some good bread (I used the spelt and wheat bread I’d baked a few days ago), pour yourself a generous bowl of soup, drizzle some olive oil on it, grind a touch of black pepper and enjoy.  Trust me, the tiny amount of chorizo in a 3 liter pot of that vegetable and legume goodness is not going to kill you – and you eating the delicious soup full of dietary fiber (which reduces the risk of the same cancer that cured meat is supposed to increase), is one hell of a lot better than worrying about it and then binge-eating a cake or something else that may not be bacon, but may well make you sick anyway.  Or not eating, because eating disorders kill pretty reliably, too.

That’s it.  Rant over.  And on that note, I’m going to go and have another bowl of soup.

Cold Ferment Bread with Hokkaido Squash Soup

Cold-Fermented Wheat and Spelt Bread aka “Bread in Five Minutes a Day” and a Really Really Great Squash Soup Recipe

Last two days’ and nights’ wind (I hesitate to call it a storm, it was just a really windy night) tore most of the remaining leaves off the trees around town, and the municipal street cleaners and maintenance have been scrambling to try to pick the piles of soggy wet leaves off the lawns, playgrounds and streets.  The weather has turned from sunny, dry, and cold to cold and wet, which tends to inspire me to bake.  And since it’s conveniently still cold as opposed to deep-frozen (that comes later in the year hereabouts), it has occurred to me that I can use my balcony as a refrigerator annex to house a large (5-liter) bucket of cold-fermented dough.

What is cold-fermented dough?  If you have been reading foodie blogs over the past few years, you may have heard of “artisan bread in five minutes a day“.  The website and the book are both very good resources, although the authors have not (nor do they claim to, that I know of) invented the method – it has been used by pizza and other bread makers for a good long while to handle very wet dough, and the results are generally remarkably good.  I suspect that the reason this method hadn’t been popularized sooner is that few people have enough space in their fridges to permanently house 5L buckets of dough, and also because, while the effort really isn’t much more than five minutes a day, this isn’t an instant-gratification method of baking bread.  For best results with this method, you need to think at least 24 hours ahead.  However, if you do have that much foresight (and balcony, cellar or fridge that can take a large plastic box or bucket), this method is entirely worth trying.  It is very forgiving, it’s hard to mess it up, and it requires very little equipment (no stand mixer – or any mixer, actually).

The basic idea behind this bread is very slightly more advanced than the basic no-knead bread.  This one is no-knead, too, but it does work better for two reasons.  Reason one – unless you are baking with actual sourdough starter, a few more days of fermentation using regular yeast really improve the flavor of bread, so refrigerating the dough after a short rise and letting it ferment slowly works great.  Reason two – dough this wet (we are talking 75% hydration here, which is to say – 75g water to 100g flour ratio) is really hard to handle at room temperature.  However, refrigeration stiffens it significantly, resulting in a dough that has all the advantages of wet dough (open structure, good crust), but handles like a dough with much lower hydration, i.e. far easier.

The procedure for this is simple – you mix all the ingredients (recipe follows) in a large bucket or bowl with a wooden spoon or whatever.  You let the dough rise for 2 hours at room temperature, then snap the lid of the bucket or cover the bowl, leaving just a tiny (pinprick is enough) space for gases to escape, and you refrigerate the dough for 1-6 days.  At any point after the first day of refrigeration, dough can be taken out of the bucket (all or part, depending on how large a batch you made), shaped into a loaf (or flatbread or whatever), allowed to rest, and baked.  No kneading, no judging size doubling, nothing like that.  Yes, it’s easy.

My own recipe for this type of bread varies, but recently the one I’ve been using is this:

  • 1kg total flour, out of which 100-200g wholemeal spelt flour and the rest white bread flour.  You can use a whole kilogram of bread flour of your choice – I just think spelt adds a lovely nuttiness to the flavor.
  • 750ml of water.  This can be cold or lukewarm.
  • 2tbsp (~30g) salt
  • 1tbsp (~10-15g) dry yeast

You can also halve the entire recipe (this makes two good-sized loaves), or double it if you have the space.  Mix the flour, salt and yeast, add water, and mix until all flour is incorporated.  Dough will be shaggy.  Let rise 2 hours, refrigerate overnight  When you go to grab some dough, sprinkle some flour on the surface of the dough, and grab and stretch the amount you like.  The dough will stretch in long gluten strands.  I tend to snip as much as I want with scissors.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface, and give it several folds with 5 minute rests in-between those.  Flour a banetton or prepare a sheet of baking parchment.  I use a banetton because I have one and it makes the bread prettier, but either is fine.

Cold Ferment Proofing

Pick the dough up with well-floured hands, fold it again and shape into a rough ball.  Place in banetton or on the baking parchment.  Add some flour on top, and let rest for a while.  General concensus is that 40 minutes is enough, I tend to let mine rest up to 80-90 minutes, but anything in-between will work.  The dough will expand very slighly while it rests – it will not rise significantly during that period.

Cold Ferment Slashed

About 30 minutes before you intend to bake, preheat your oven to about 230C, with your pizza stone, dutch oven, or whatever baking implement you are using in it.

Once oven is preheated, if you are using a banetton, you’ll need to turn the bread out onto baking parchment.  I do this by covering the top with parchment and a board and quickly flipping it.  If your bread is already sitting on parchment, well, there it is.  With a sharp serrated knife, slash your bread as you prefer.  My slashing today was haphazard because I was angry (not at the bread), but it can be made as neat and pretty as you like.

Cold Ferment Baking sm

Carefully slide your bread onto or place it into your baking vessel and cover if able.  Bake for 25 minutes covered, then remove the cover and bake for additional 25-35 minutes until rich nut-brown in color (in the photo above I have just removed the steel bowl under which I started the bake).  Cool on rack.  Try to not burn your mouth and squash your hot bread by attempting to eat it right away.  It’s easily 100C inside, you know.

Cold Ferment Bread

Instead, while your bread is crackling as it cools and the aroma is driving all your neighbors up the wall, you can make the happily-nearly-fluorescent-orange winter squash soup.

The soup turns out best if you can get your hands on a Hokkaido (Red Kuri), buttercup (not same as butternut!) or kabocha squash.  Why?  I think it has to do with their texture, which is somewhat drier than that of butternut, but butternut is still a perfectly good substitute.  As is Acorn squash (but this one is a pain in the things to peel).  You’ll need a goblet or immersion blender for this.  Or if you are really hardcore hands-on, I suppose it can also be done with a metal sieve and a spoon, or one of those ancient food mills that I don’t own, but you might.

Here’s what you are going to need:

  • Enough winter squash (washed, deseeded, peeled and chopped into 2-3cm pieces) to fill your desired soup pot to within 5-10 cm of the top.
  • 2-4 potatoes (I use 2-3 for a 3L soup pot), peeled, chopped and added in with the squash.
  • 1 large onion, peeled, chopped, sauteed in some oil or butter, added to the same soup pot.
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic and/or a small chunk (2cm) of ginger, chopped and sauteed and added to pot. (entirely optional but nice)
  • Enough cold water to just-nearly cover the vegetables in the pot.
  • 1-2dl heavy cream (optional)
  • Some olive oil to drizzle, and fried bacon or onion bits for garnish.  Or some sambal oelek or other chili paste.
  • 1-2 tsp curry powder, or cumin powder, and/or hot chili powder and/or smoked paprika powder – whatever you feel like at the moment.
  • Salt to taste.  For a 3L pot of soup, I use a scant tablespoon, but I like salt.

What you do:

  • Put everything except cream in the pot and turn the burner on high to bring it all to boil.
  • Reduce heat and simmer until squash and potatoes are entirely tender, 10-30 minutes depending on how small you chopped them.
  • Take off heat, and puree using your chosen method.  Return to pot.
  • Add cream.  Thin the soup out with a bit of water or more cream if you think it’s too thick.  Reheat.
  • The soup can be left covered on lowest heat setting to be kept warm for several hours or served immediately.

Cold Ferment Bread with Soup

By the time you are done with soup, your bread should be cool enough to cut, or nearly so.  Serve all of this to your hungry and rained-upon guests (they braved this @£$€@! to come see you!), or just eat it all on your own.  Either way, it’s a glorious antidote to the cold, wet and dark.  Happy October!

Submitted to Yeastspotting.

Quick and Easy Kimchi, Fermentation (and stink) Optional


Lately I’ve been on what T has elegantly termed “one of your detours into regional cuisines” – more specifically, I’ve been trying to learn some about Korean food.  It all started with a desire for bibimbap – a dish I’d only ever eaten in restaurants, and guess what?  Jyväskylä doesn’t have a Korean restaurant that I know of.  There are, after all, some drawbacks to living on the edge of the Outer Dark in the middle of the forests of Middle Earth.  The upsides are glorious auroras, amazing forests and lakes, and the downsides are – this isn’t really a city.  It’s a large university town, and for its size and location, it is very cosmopolitan – which means that one can get some of the more exotic food ingredients here, with effort, but there isn’t a restaurant for every major world cuisine.

So, no Korean food to be had for dining out.  Obviously I had to make some, and after a first so-so try, I did succeed at recreating the awesome bibimbap that I’d remembered (I promise to post about it later), but today’s post isn’t about that – or, specificlaly, it’s about one of the ingredients I used in it, which is probably the best-known Korean food item outside of Korea:  kimchi.

In case you are unfamiliar with it, at its most basic, typical kimchi is a lacto-fermented cabbage (or one of a number of other vegetables) with generous amounts of chili, a bit of garlic and ginger and some umami flavor derived from seafood (dried shrimp, fish sauce, etc.) added in.  The dish has a long and distinguished history in Korea, and I by no means make claims as to authenticity of my recipe, nor attempt to do it justice as the locals may be able to.  However, as a non-Korean, I can still enjoy the flavor, and want to have some on hand, since I like pickles and I like chili, and I love the combination.

What I, and many other non-Korean people I’ve spoken to (I don’t actually personally know any Koreans, or I’d have asked their views as well!), don’t love is the frequently overly pungent scent that lacto-fermentation gives to the dish.  It may be argued that it is an integral part of what makes it kimchi and I am a heathen for even suggesting that it isn’t divine, but there it is – I don’t like the stink of rotten cabbage.  Interestingly, I do enjoy sauerkraut, which is also lacto-fermented, but there is something about fermented kimchi that turns me off.  It is possible that I’d had non-ideally prepared kimchi, but there it is.

Thankfully, there is a solution – one that isn’t mine, but collected over a variety of sources including friends who can cook (thanks, Berin!), and blogs by actual Koreans, or which refer to actual Korean people’s recommendations for making what they call in English ‘quick kimchi’.  The quick part is awesome for two reasons here – one, you can have kimchi overnight, and two – it has all the flavor and heat and umami of kimchi, but without the special smell!  Simply put, it’s salted and seasoned cabbage which doesn’t get fermented – and trust me, after consuming the entire first batch within about two weeks of making it, and promptly making a second batch, it turns out amazing, if I do say so myself (friends who tried it agreed, so there’s that)!

Kimchi will develop a fuller flavor after a few days in the refrigerator, even if you forego the room-temperature fermentation.  I think I liked it best after about a week, but it was delicious right away (the next evening).

So, how do you make it?  It’s actually really simple.

What you are going to need:

  • Jar or jars with tight-fitting screw lids, cleaned and sterilized (washed in a dishwasher at 70C works).  I prefer using larger jars with an opening I can get my hand through – they make stuffing of kimchi into them and squeezing air out easier.  (Note:  one small cabbage, which is what I have used, will easily fit into a 1L jar after processing, leaving a bit of headspace.  The jar in the photo is a Quattro Stagioni 1L jar.)
  • Large nonreactive mixing bowl (I used a large stainless-steel one).
  • Colander.
  • A pair of non-powdered rubber gloves (I use single-use ones) and eye protection (optional but you’ll be happy you did).
  • A small or medium white cabbage.  I used a whole cabbage and it wasn’t tiny, but I sadly didn’t keep the tag to see the weight.  It was small going on medium as cabbages go, less than 20cm in diameter.
  • 5-10 large hot chili peppers (I bought a variety pack with a green, a yellow and a few red ones).
  • 1-2 tbsp Korean (or any other sort of) crushed hot chilies (optional).
  • 2-5 cloves of garlic (now normally I am one of those people who use a head of garlic when the recipe states a clove, but based on what I have read, too much garlic or ginger can make kimchi turn out badly so I restrain myself).
  • a 4-6cm piece of ginger, peeled.
  • A generous amount of table salt (I use the iodized kind because it supports thyroid function and the flavor and texture of salt doesn’t matter in this dish).  One source suggests an estimated 2.5dl of salt for 4.5kg cabbage, but I just went by feel.
  • 2-3 tbsp fish sauce (can be bought in the Asian Food section at most supermarkets these days)

What you do with it all:

  • Clean and chop your cabbage into bite-size pieces.  Yes I know ‘real kimchi’ is made of whole leaves and only cut up for serving, but as I’ve read on a Korean blog, if you aren’t going to keep it for a year, might as well make it easy on yourself.
  • Toss the cabbage in a bowl with lots of salt.  What’s lots?  Enough to make it sort of gritty was the explanation I’ve seen.  Rub the salt into the leaves until they all separate into single layers and don’t remain stuck together.
  • Leave the bowl with cabbage to salt for 2-4 hours.  Visit the bowl occasionally during that time, flip the cabbage and rub the salt in.  Separate any leaves that you find still layered together.
  • After a couple of hours, the cabbage will take on a wilted look and there will be juice collected at the bottom of the bowl.  Drain the juice out and wash the cabbage in water a few times to remove excess salt, then drain it in a colander.  Wash and dry the bowl with a towel and set aside.
  • While the cabbage drains, put garlic, ginger and chilies into a food processor (you can also use a mortar and pestle but that’s not for the faint of heart) and chop finely.  Add the fish sauce and puree a bit longer.  You will need to use a rubber spatula or a spoon to push the mass down the sides of the food processor bowl a few times.  The mass won’t become a paste, but it’ll start to stick together and the pieces will be no larger than small chili flakes.
  • If you like your food really hot, feel free to add 1-2 tbsp crushed hot chilies (Korean if you can find them, or any hot chilies will do).
  • Here’s where I break out the gloves and eye protection.  If you’ve ever gotten a chili burn under your fingernail and didn’t enjoy it, you’ll want to use the gloves, too.  I figure the eye protection is pretty self-explanatory.
  • Having put on gloves and goggles, transfer the cabbage from the colander back into the dry and clean bowl by handfuls, squeezing excess liquid out as you go.
  • Scrape the chili-fish sauce paste into the same bowl with a spatula, and using your hands, rub it into the cabbage, mixing it thoroughly until every leaf is coated.
  • Using your hands, stuff handfuls of cabbage into jars, compacting it as you go to remove as much air as possible.  Wipe the edge and screw threads with a damp cloth or sponge, and put on the lid.
  • Now, at this point this can go one of two ways.  You can be like me, wash the outside of the jar with water and soap (because it will get coated in chili paste, trust me), towel it off, screw the lid on tightly, and stuff it into the fridge.  It’ll be ready to eat the next day and it’ll have all that lovely flavor and heat of kimchi sans the ahem, pungent scent.
  • If you are more hardcore and prefer said scent, then after washing and toweling the jar, unscrew the lid just enough to let air out (still closed, but not screwed tight), and leave the jar of kimchi on the counter out of direct sunlight for up to a week before screwing the lid shut and sticking it in the fridge.  (Note, I haven’t done this myself so I cannot pinkie-swear to it, but those I’ve asked about this recipe, have done so with good results.)

That’s it.  Enjoy your kimchi in whichever way you like – as a side to Asian food, in fried rice, in bibimbap, in kimchi pancakes or stew.  Just a warning – this is easy, this is cheap and it’s addictive.  You may be picking up another cabbage at the store in no time at all!

The non-fermented kimchi will keep in the refrigerator for at least two weeks without any deterioration while being used.  Use a clean fork to get as much as you like at a time out of the jar.

Khachapuri – the Pie You’ll Want to Eat the Whole of After Hiking up and down the Entire Caucasus (And Some Awesome News!)

In all of my travels, I have never actually been to Georgia.

Ajarian Landscape. Source: Wikimedia Commons

And yet, I think of it fondly and often where it comes to its food and wine, for the Russians who have controlled this amazing part of the Caucasus on and off throughout its turbulent history, have done it at least this one favor – they have popularized its amazing cuisine and wine culture far and away from its point of origin.  Which I haven’t ever had a chance to visit.  Politics and peace in the region permitting, one day I still hope to go.

But, there’s no need to wait on that in order to experience Georgian cuisine.  Its wines can generally be ordered via good wine traders (or even state liquor monopolies if you live in the Nordic countries), and its food, with a few specific exceptions, does not require exotic ingredients – yet at the same time, it is quite distinct in its flavors, and very, very worth trying.  If you are so lucky as to have a restaurant – either specifically Georgian, or more generically regional to Caucasus, or even a Russian one that includes a few of the dishes of the region, then by all means, go.  But if you don’t, and are interested in the sorts of foods that the healthy long-lived mountaineers for which the region has long been famous, eat after hiking up one mountainslope and down the next a few times to visit their neighbours, then this recipe is very easy to make at home, doesn’t require difficult advance preparation, and is a lovely, wonderful thing to eat as the weather cools.  Or if you are chilled from the mountain wind you encountered while climbing whatever it is you may have been climbing.


According to the Georgian tourism blog, khachapuri are the national dish most familiar to those outside Georgia.  I view it as an ambassador dish, sort of like pizza is for Italy – when people think of Italian food, that’s where their thinking goes.  It is the Georgian variation of the existing-anywhere bread-based food unit that has existed since the beginnings of agriculture and the invention of grinding grains into flour, fermenting that with water, and baking it into a portable food that would keep for a few days.  Add cheese, and some fresh greens on the side, and it’s a meal as worthy of a 21st century table as it was of the 12th and the 2nd, and going thousands of years back.

Every province in Georgia obviously has its own regional recipe.  The one I offer today is adapted very slightly from the recipe for Adjarian khachapuri that is listed on the food section of the Georgia About tourism blog, for two primary reasons – one, because I have had Caucasian breads before and they always taste a bit undersalted to me (because often the recipe does not include any salt), and two, because it is difficult to get a hold of authentic Georgian cheeses in Western Europe, so substitutions had to be made.  A third minor reason for recipe alteration has to do with the fact that those of us who haven’t, in fact, just hiked up and down the entirety of Caucasus, probably cannot eat a single pie of the size indicated in the original recipes.  So I’ve adjusted sizes to about half the original size.  No, please don’t think these will turn out little.  They… really weren’t.


Yes, that’s a full-sized oven pan they are stretching diagonally on.  In fact, although we aren’t at all dainty eaters, and these were made for a late lunch without a prior breakfast, we still had trouble finishing ours, and the title of today’s post comes from T’s answer to my question regarding how in the world would anyone manage to eat one of the (original-sized) ones if we are barely managing our half-sized khachapuri.  He proposed that that’s what and how much food you’d eat after you hiked on foot from one village to another, or maybe three provinces over to visit your cousin-three-times-removed across the Caucasus mountains.  So, maybe.  I’m still not sure I’d eat twice as much as we did today in one sitting.  Dinner is going to be a light salad affair or a delicate soup, I think.

But back to khachapuri.  I do recommend that (barring the recent hiking across the Caucasus) you make them in my half-sized proportion first.  Those will mostly-fill a large dinner plate.  If you then feel their magnitude insufficient, by all means, double the size next time around and gorge yourself.  They are certainly delicious enough.

Ingredients (makes 4 half-sized huge khachapuri):


  • 600g AP or bread flour
  • 300ml lukewarm water or milk
  • 7g dry yeast  (you can use equivalent amount of fresh yeast, but it’ll need to be dissolved in the water/milk rather than added to flour)
  • 1-2 tsp salt (I use 2 tsp myself)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp neutral vegetable oil (not-extra-virgin olive, refined rapeseed (canola), peanut, or whatever you have on hand)


  • 2x 125g packages of mozzarella (or 250g Imeretian cheese if you can get it), drained and shredded – I used a box grater and persevered.  Good mozzarella doesn’t like to shred neatly, but it’s doable.  Neatness is unimportant here.
  • 300g salzlakenkäse or feta or any similar crumbly cheese (or Sulgini cheese if you can get it), shredded
  • 40g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • I’ve sprinkled my khachapuri with a pinch of dried ramps (wild garlic leaves).  A bit of terragon would work wonderfully either, but neither is necessary.


  • 1 egg per person/pie* (optional, 4 eggs total)
  • Salted butter

Khachapuri - unbaked


  • Mix flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Add water/milk, oil and egg, and stir to combine.
  • Knead until dough is smooth and elastic.  I use a handheld mixer with dough hooks that makes very short work of this.   Since flour humidity varies, add a small handful of flour if the dough is too wet and sticky to handle (it should become well-behaved and more interested in sticking to itself than anything else, and clean up the mixing bowl).
  • Oil the bowl, place the dough ball in it, and cover with cling film (plastic wrap).  Set in a warm place for 1-2 hours until it doubles in size.
  • In the meantime, make the filling.  Mix the shredded cheeses with the softened butter and the egg.  If you are short on eggs, you can skip the egg here – I realized when I began making this today that I had 1 egg total out of the 5 that I needed in theory, so I used it in the dough, and didn’t add any to filling, and it turned out fine.
  • Preheat oven to 225-250C (original recipe just states ‘high temperature’).  My oven went to 250C so that’s how high I preheated it.
  • Line two baking sheets with pieces of baking parchment.
  • Cut your dough into 4 pieces, make those into balls and let them rest 10 minutes.
  • Stretch the balls into oval shapes, place 1/4 of filling into the center of each, and spread, leaving about 3-4 cm border of dough around it (the original recipe site has more pictures).
  • Fold the sides in, first one then the other, over the edge of the filling, and pinch ends to make a boat shape.  Place on the parchment (one baking sheet will fit about two khachapuri), and cover with a towel.
  • Allow khachapuri to rise 15-30 minutes.  If you wish, sprinkle the cheese filling with a bit of dried or fresh herb of your choice.
  • Bake in hot oven for 12 minutes (or 15 minutes if you aren’t topping with more eggs) until bread is puffed and golden, and the cheese filling is bubbling and beginning to brown.
  • If you wish to top khachapuri with more eggs, break a raw* egg into the top of each khachapuri, and place in the oven for an additional 3 minutes.
  • Remove from oven, and serve hot, topped with a slice of butter.

Khachapuri is eaten with knife and fork, by cutting pieces of bread part off, and dipping them in the mixed cheese, egg and butter topping.

I imagine a bottle of good Georgian or other red wine would round this off as an amazing dinner.  Since it was a midweek lunch for us, we had strong coffee and a green salad.  And it was awesome, but now I need to arrange to order a few bottles of a Georgian red, and repeat the experience.  In the cold dark of winter, my friends certainly won’t complain.

The good news, which I have almost forgotten about, is this – it would appear that T, who has a deadly nut allergy and up until now had a less-serious egg white allergy, has finally outgrown the latter.  Cautious introduction of whole eggs into his diet has caused no reaction in the past months, which would explain to any of my longer-time readers why I am suddenly writing about dishes involving loads of whole eggs.  To me, this is a dessert, cake, hallelujah!!! sort of news, which means that there will be more cakes and other such things on this blog.  And while I will still suggest egg-white-free solutions for such dishes, I am, myself, now free to cook with the glorious thing that is whole eggs.  And there is much rejoycing!

* A very important note on raw eggs that I need to add:  I live in Finland, where, like in Sweden and Norway, all eggs are required to be, by law, salmonella-free and available to eat raw.  I know that in other countries raw eggs are variously dangerous to one’s health, so my advice is that unless you have your own chickens or access to good-quality eggs from a farm you trust not to infect you with salmonella, skip the raw egg topping.  The khachapuri will be delicious without it.  If you decide to go ahead with it, please note that you are eating it at your own risk.

How To Saganaki (Cheese)

Cheese Saganaki

Everyone – or almost everyone – who has been to Greece or even a good Greek restaurant, has seen the ubiquotous “Cheese Saganaki” on a menu.  And those of us who have tried it are usually immediately and forever enslaved to the cult of the Fried Cheese (which is what ‘saganaki cheese’ means), and seek to repeat the divine eating experience over and over again like true addicts.  I am no different from all of the others followers of the Holy Cheese on Fire.  After having tried it in a Greek restaurant, and later again in Greece, I knew I needed to get my hands on a ready supply of this, for it is truly amazing:  the crust is slightly crunchy and feels almost battered, and the inside is melted and soft and slightly gooey, at least until it cools.  Among other cooked cheese dishes, this one truly belongs on the throne of cheese royalty.

The bad news about this is that the appropriate cheese is generally difficult to come by.  In Scandinavia, good gourmet supermarkets and cheesemongers will have it, but most supermarkets (that do stock halloumi and feta on a regular basis) do not.  And no, despite what wikipedia claims, halloumi doesn’t actually make for a good substitute here – frying halloumi gets you fried halloumi, which is lovely and delicious and nothing at all like the thing we are talking about here.

The good news is that if you get your hands on a suitable cheese – typically kasseri aka kassieri, although it’s often marketed in countries other than Greece as ‘Saganaki’ (after the dish), it’s incredibly easy and rewarding.  Not only is it oh-my-god-what-is-this-give-me-more! good, it’s also a very easy and quick meal to prepare for those of us avoiding a heavy carbohydrate load.  It takes no more than 15 minutes from arrival in the kitchen (provided that you don’t need to spend an hour cleaning it first), and most of the time does double duty.  That’s for the cheese with a side of salad (100g of cheese makes a remarkably substantial lunch or dinner when paired with a bunch of fresh greenery and vegetables).  If you should decide you want the asparagus with that, add in another five minutes to grill it – or whatever other vegetable you’d prefer hot rather than chopped and doused in olive oil.  If you are making it as a special dinner entreé for a very special dinner, you could go as far as adding a splash of Metaxa liqueur into the mix.   That obviously takes Metaxa, but it doesn’t really take time.

Similarly to many other Greek and Balkan cheeses, kassieri is pretty salty.  I find that serving it with an otherwise-unsalted or very lightly salted salad balances the meal and (for those concerned with it) reduces the total sodium intake.  However, I cannot in good faith recommend this dish as a staple for people who are on a very low-sodium diet for medical reasons (a little piece to taste certainly won’t hurt, of course – moderation is key).

Provided that you got your greedy paws on some of my the cheese (mine!  It is ALL MINE!!! *cough*), what do you need to make the most of it?

You will need:

  • A cast iron pan.  (Sorry, people – nonstick just doesn’t compare.  I imagine a good heavy stainless steel pan might work ok, but it has a higher chance of the cheese sticking than a well-seasoned cast iron.)  If you are lucky enough to own single-serve cast-iron sizzle plates, the cheese should be prepared and eaten on those, if possible, to keep it warm for eating.
  • A block of cheese (it usually is sold in 100-200g blocks, the latter of which you can cut in two for smaller portions).
  • A lemon.
  • A couple of tablespoons of Metaxa (optional but awesome).
  • Whatever salad floats your cheese, enough for however many people are eating the cheese, drizzled with some good olive oil.
  • A few spears of asparagus, washed and trimmed.
  • A handful of basil and lemon balm leaves if you have them and like them.  Any other salad herbs will do, though I’d stay away from really strong ones like celery greens or green (salad) onions.

What you do:

Cheese Saganaki

  • Preheat dry, clean, unoiled cast iron pan on medium-high heat (closer to medium, we aren’t aiming to scorch anything here).  Don’t worry, the cheese will let out enough of its own butter to oil the pan underneath it.  I use setting 6/9 on my glass-ceramic IR stove.
  • While pan is heaing, arrange salad on plates and cut lemon into wedges.
  • Place dry asparagus spears on the pan and roast, flipping with tongs, until bright green and tender-crisp.  Add to salad plates.
  • Set a timer to count upwards and put your cheese directly onto the cast-iron pan.  Do not fear, it won’t stick.  Start timer.
  • When timer hits about 1:30 (one minute thirty seconds), slide a thin spatula under the cheese, which should detach easily, and flip it.
  • Cook for another 1:30 – 2:30 until both sides are golden and the inside of the cheese looks lusciously melted.  If your blocks are thicker than mine, you may have to do 2×1:30 for each side of cheese (flipping it three times) for a total of about 6-7 minutes until the cheese is cooked through.  Watch the entire time and do not allow the cheese to scorch – it isn’t prone to it, but this isn’t a walk-away-from sort of cooking method.
  • If using Metaxa (make sure you are under open sky or with exhaust fully on), take the pan off stove and quickly toss the liqueur onto the cheese.  It’ll hiss and create steam.  This can be ignited for flambe fireball effect, and put out by squeezing the lemon wedge over it once the flames die down. (Note:  Only do this if you are outdoor or have the facilities and know-how to do this safely!  I take no responsibility for anyone setting anything in their kitchen on fire!)
  • Transfer cheese to plates.  Squeeze lemon over the cheese (if omitting previous step), and serve immediately – the cheese will begin to harden as it cools, and should be eaten while still warm, or preferably steaming hot.

Saganaki Cheese


Things Food Bloggers Eat – 5: Roasted Cauliflower with Leftovers and Opinions

Cauliflower and Chorizo

It’s a Sunday morning, and poor T has to work a full day because of the sudden stuff that needs to be done before such-and-such-day piling up onto him as it does occasionally.  For me, that means being deprived of his wonderful company, and also making a quick ‘workday’ lunch that he can poke his nose out of the office for and eat quickly, then go back to work, rather than an hours-long brunch affair.

All of which is by way of explanation why today’s post is yet another one of those not-exactly-recipe posts demonstrating how I typically put together a quick meal in my “things food bloggers eat” series – and showcasing one of my favorite go-to vegetables for making random leftovers into a meal: cauliflower.

I don’t need to sing long praises to cauliflower – it’s low in carbohydrates, it’s high in fiber and minerals and vitamins (like all of its cousins in the Brassicaceae family).  In my opinion, it’s also one of the most easily palatable of them (yes, turnips, I am looking at you – now go away!), and one of the more versatile.  The internet abounds with recipes for making fake cauliflower rice and other such things, but I tend to dislike foods being made into pretend-other-foods (meat substitutes, dairy substitutes, rice substitutes) because they are never as good as the real thing, no matter what Pinterest descriptions exclaim, and because they do a disservice to the food that is being mangled into being something else (mushrooms, beans and cauliflower to name a few), when these foods can and, in my entirely biased and prejudiced opinion, should shine in their own right.

When I eat vegan or vegetarian dishes (and for all I am a self-proclaimed carnivore, I do that on a regular basis), I want them to be vegan or vegetarian because they need no meat, rather than because I abused some poor beans into a semblance of a burger.  Leaving aside all the morally ambiguous thinking that goes with that, I’d rather have beans cooked the way beans are best cooked – and if I want a burger, I’ll buy some nice and preferably well-treated-while-it-lived meat and eat a damn burger.

But I digress – back to cauliflower.  The reason I love it and always try to keep a head or two in my fridge (and, like many other Brassicas, it keeps for weeks, especially if store shrink-wrapped with no water trapped inside it) has nothing to do with fake gluten-free carb-free pizza crusts or rices it can be made into, and everything to do with the fact that you can make a whole lot of really really delicious things where it can be the star, not the stand-in for something an orthorexiac is afraid of on any given day.  Heck, you can just cut it into florets and mix some Turkish or Greek yogurt with a bit of pressed garlic and a drop of olive oil and go at it raw with the classic Middle-Eastern dip at its most basic (provided your date for that evening is garlic-friendly and willing to indulge as well).  You can lightly roast it and then blend it with some cream or stock for an awesome soup, you can throw it into a salad – raw or lightly sauteed, or you can make a head of cauliflower and random leftovers into a meal like the one in the picture.

All you do in order to create this awesome, warm and crunchy salad is – preheat oven to 180C.  Grab your cauliflower, and chop it into florets.  Dump into a large mixing bowl.  Look into fridge and take out random greenery, and some other random vegetables (tomatoes, bell peppers, anything that can be eaten lightly roasted or raw), and any say, bacon or sausage that’s laying around in it.  Or some cheese, cheese works too.  In my case, upon excavation of the colder part of the fridge, I unearthed a couple of part-cured chorizo sausages, a large bunch of flat-leaf parsley (another keep-around favorite which works as either parsley-the-herb or parsley-the-salad greens and stays fresh way longer than baby leaf salad), and a box of some fried aubergine slices left over from Friday’s dinner.

Drizzle a bit of oil of your choice on your cauliflower in the bowl, add whatever spices float your boat or might go with whatever else you have found (I sprinkled a generous amount of hot smoked Spanish paprika there), a bit of salt, and toss the cauliflower to coat.  Dump into a (foil-covered if you hate to wash them) oven dish.  Chop your sausage into large pieces or cut the bacon, and nestle that in-between the florets.  Stick into the oven for 25 minutes (set the timer).  If you have cheese instead of the sausage, grate the cheese.  When timer goes off, add any other leftovers (such as aubergines), the cheese, or vegetables you want roasted lightly (baby tomatoes, slices of bell pepper) to the pan and return it to the oven for 10-ish minutes.  You can turn fan on and heat up to about 200C here.  When timer goes off again, take it out, divide between plates, and toss the greenery you found on top.  Poke it into attractive shape with a fork if you are going to take a photo – or don’t, and just shovel it all into your mouth.  If you want carbohydrates* with it, a nice piece of bread with a dab of butter alongside this would be lovely.

Time spent – about 35 minutes, out of which the part that required effort is maybe 5 minutes at most.

So there you go – cauliflower with leftovers and opinions.  Take or leave the opinions – they are mine, obviously, not yours – but make the cauliflower!

Cauliflower and Chorizo

* I am not against eating carbohydrates, especially for the people who need more of them (people’s carbohydrate needs vary hugely with metabolism), but since I am sensitive to them, I tend to go heavily on the vegetables and proteins while avoiding excessive amounts of refined sugars and starch.  So when I prepare food that is low on carbohydrate content, I let the fast-metabolism-gifted T have bread with whatever else I made.  And since in Finland it’s easy to get gorgeous 100% wholegrain sourdough rye rolls at any supermarket, I don’t shy away from it that much, either.

Things Food Bloggers Eat – 4: Halloumi and Grape Salad, and the Best Way to Store Your Greens

Grape Halloumi Salad

The baby greens in the picture are a week old and they are pristine. The only yellow is from the olive oil drizzle.

Today’s post is yet another easy-meal suggestion continuing the “things food bloggers eat when they don’t plan to write a recipe” theme (previous posts are here and here and here) from a few months back.  Essentially, these are the things that take the bare minimum of effort to prepare and are what I eat when I don’t feel like cooking.  In addition, I am sharing my possibly-best kitchen tip ever and it has to do with how I store my precioussss *cough* I mean my baby salad greens without them wilting or going slimy.

Yesterday, having braved the elements due to a pressing need for fresh milk, we have visited a supermarket.  While there, I restocked on a bunch of salad vegetables (including the not-pictured fresh batch of greens – the ones in the photo are the last of last week’s greenery!), and picked up a box of pretty red grapes.  I don’t often buy grapes because they are lovely and delicious and sugary as all hell, especially for fruit, but when I see a box of particularly pretty ones I don’t try to resist.  Or, well, I do try to resist by not eating the entire box as soon as I get home, but that’s about as far as my moderation goes.  Today, the morning dawned grey and uninspiring, and the swich to daylight non-savings time (gods how I hate this useless practice!) stole an hour out of my day, and by necessity, lunch was a let’s-see-what-fridge-has-to-offer affair.

The above pictured salad takes only as long as it takes you to slice and fry the halloumi.  I fry mine in a non-stick skillet on medium heat in a small amount of rapeseed oil, with some chili flakes thrown in, only until the slices are golden on both sides.  In meantime, I put handfuls of whatever greenery was left in my salad-storage box* (last week it was mache aka lamb’s lettuce and arugula) on plates, sliced some grapes to go on that, drizzled it with good olive oil, and sprinkled with a bit more chili and oregano.  I do not salt the salad since halloumi, even rinsed, tends to be rather salty on its own.  While the halloumi was frying, I also had time to call a friend for a short conversation about a creepy dude who’d been messaging me on Facebook (don’t worry, dude is reported and blocked), hung up, and my lunch was ready.

* I digress here because I must tell you of my salad-storage box and its awesome purpose.  You see, I am a firm believer that those expensive boxes of lovely baby salad leaves are the best green thing ever.  Arugula, beet greens, watercress, mache, whatever you call them – I love them all, preferably mixed, tossed with a good homemade dressing or just drizzled with olive oil.  There’s only a couple of problems – I don’t shop daily, the supermarket doesn’t restock them daily, and they go bad literally in about 24 hours if left in the thing they are packed in (usually a pillow-pack or a plastic box wrapped in some cellophane).  And when they go bad, they turn yellow and black and slimy and smell revolting.  Sounds familiar?  I thought so.

Baby-salad rot used to be my kitchen nemesis until I discovered the one and only awesome way to store it for at least a week without any detrimental effects.  Enter the salad-storage box, which is neither anything you need to buy, nor a brand.  It’s just a large roomy tupperware box (I actually use a discarded-by-supermarket food-safe plastic box with a snap-on lid that the store gave out for free after emptying it of candy into their by-weight candy isle).  Mine measures 18x18x11cm which gives it a volume of ~3.5L.  Any large tupperware box will do.  When I buy a pack of greens, I lay a sheet of paper towel in the bottom of my (dry and clean) box, shake the greens out onto it, loosening them gently if they’d been compacted in the package, lay another paper towel on top of them, and snap the lid shut.  That’s it.  The box can now go into the fridge and it will keep your greens fresh for a week, like magic.  This can obviously also be done with a large bowl, paper towels and a sheet of plastic wrap, but that takes a lot more inconvenient space in the fridge (not being rectangular), and you can’t stack things on top of it unless your bowl has a lid.  Plastic food storage boxes are rectangular, slot easiy into fridge, are easy to clean, aren’t breakable and the best part is now that you know this, you probably already own your very own magic salad storage box.  You are welcome.  :)

So there.  A meal you can put together in about ten minutes (if that) out of greens, grapes (or other fruit!), and halloumi – three ingredients not counting a pinch of chili flakes and a drizzle of oil.  Short of grazing on a bed of lettuce, it doesn’t get much simpler than this – and this?  It’s not just simple, it’s good!  The mild and bitter greens mix goes great with sweet-tart juicy grapes and the salty chewiness of halloumi, and to be honest, if I had had some kassieri (saganaki) cheese, that would have worked equally excellent here as well.  And this makes a pretty perfect antidote to grey day blahs, if I do say so myself.

As a bonus, I’ve used up the block of halloumi that, while not part of the freezer stash, has been hanging around the fridge for a while.  Those things keep forever in the refrigerator if they are sealed (half a year easily), but in the spirit of using things up out of the freezer, fridge and pantry, I’m happy to have it out of there – and eaten.

Of Unplanned Pina Colada Sorbet, and Pomegranate and Milk Soap

Pineapple Coconut Sorbet

In the usual order of things around here, instead of the planned pantry or refrigerator inventory and writing a meal plan, yesterday I had insomnia, and made soap and sorbet.

Soap is something I have been making for several years now, and haven’t really gotten around to writing about because… I am not actually sure why, but I have a vague feeling it has to do with to do with my huge aversion towards ‘crunchy’ people and their diy-everything blogs, and not wanting to come off as one of them.  And for the record, in case the angry rant a few days ago didn’t make it clear, I am pro-vaccine and anti-bullshit.  And that bullshit happens to include people who publish recipes for ‘essential oils cure anything‘, ‘you totally don’t need any preservative!‘ (you do), and ‘you can really diy a deodorant that will work and not irritate your skin (just buy our essential oils)!’

So, due to my more-than-mild aversion to the very thought of being associated with those people, I haven’t actually mentioned the fact that I make most of the cosmetics used in this household – soap, hair soap, stain remover laundry soap, face creams, lip and hand balms and body butters/lotions.  But I do, and I obvioiusly do it with science and without woo.

The reasons why I mention this now is that I have resolved to talk about it on the blog at some point, and the sooner I get it out here, the better.  Which brings me back to the making of soap with a friend of mine, it taking up the time of day during which I wasn’t too tired, and then me being too tired (because I hadn’t had enough sleep) to do the inventories.  So those will get done later, and instead you can have a pretty photo of the gloriously sweet-scented soap, which smells like summer in the Mediterranean because of what we put in (and on) it.

Hot-process soap with pomegranate seed oil, milk and lavender buds.

Hot-process soap with pomegranate seed oil, milk and lavender buds.

While the lavender is quite obvious, what you can’t see too clearly in the photo is the major contributor to the scent – pomegranate seed oil (you can see it a little bit – it’s those light orange-yellow streaks in the soap mass, actually).  If you have never smelled cold-pressed pomegranate seed oil, you are in for a surprise, to the point where you might wonder if you were handed a vial of artificial pomegranate flavor.  I am not kidding – it’s thick, sweet, cloying and really overpowering.  It’s the sort of scent that manages to dwarf the generally strong lavender into an accent note.  It smells of sugar and candy.  And it’s awesome – it is amazing on dry and fragile skin, I love using it directly on my face, and unlike rosehip seed oil, pomegranate seed oil does not trigger acne, so I am really looking forward to trying it as a soap enrichment.  It usually is a bright yellow-to-orange color, which is what makes it visible despite being pretty mixed into the soap – we added the oil blended with powdered milk in after the hot-process cooking of the soap (when the lye is mostly neutralized), so that the precious pomegranate oil and milk protein wouldn’t get hit by the lye.

And yes, I will write about how to make soap at home.  While the internet abounds with tutorials, and while some of them are very very good, many of the others are unsafe and full of bullshit bad advice, and I feel it’d be easier to have my own explanations to point friends to when they want questions answered.  So that’s coming soon™.

In the meantime, I haven’t abandoned the freezer eating-out project.  I got a couple of suggestions about what to do with some of the meats (interestingly both involving lamb), which are both going onto the meal plan I am currently writing.  In the meantime, I’ve made a headstart on the freezer situation by taking out a frozen vac-packed cold-smoked mackerel out of the freezer on the day of inventory – which became a very Scandinavian dinner along with some good cultured butter, grainy mustard, rye bread and pickled cucumber.  The mackerel obviously wasn’t on the inventory list since by that point it wasn’t in the freezer anymore.

The unplanned tropical dessert (that sort of thing happens to me) happened because I was thinking about a comment regarding grilling pineapple (which wouldn’t work with pre-frozen though it’s amazing otherwise), and remembering a glorious pina colada ice cream we ate at Figaro for my brithday just a week prior, when inspiration struck me – if pretentious vegans can blend frozen banana in a food processor and call it ‘ice cream’, then surely my food processor could handle the pineapple and I could make something with it!  And suddenly I had to go to the kitchen and make it right there and then.

I got the box of pineapple open, took out the block of it (it’s was all ice-welded together of course), and hammered on it with a meat hammer till it went into large-ish chunks (if violence doesn’t solve your problem, you haven’t used enough).  Then I chiseled those apart into smaller chunks with a knife and stuck most of it into my food processor.  Changed the entry for 1 box of frozen pineapple in freezer inventory to a half-bag.  Then I dug out a tetrapack of coconut cream, took a box of milk out of the fridge, and added the entire package of coconut cream and a few good splashes of milk to the food processor, pulsing it gently and prodding chunks of pineapple apart as I went to avoid burning the appliance out.  I also tossed in 4 sweetener pills (but I am sure 2-3 tablespoons of honey would work well too), and eventually as it started to come together, I processed it all till it was nearly smooth – then dumped a couple of shots of Malibu Coconut Rum Liqueur in there as an afterthought (I had it left over from last summer’s drunken ‘it’s too hot for anything‘ party which involved said bottle, a bag of ice, a pineapple and a blender).

A bit more blending and the mix turned brighter and nearly white, and smoothed out, at which point I dumped it into a tupperware tub and placed it in the freezer for a few hours, taking it out once to poke it with a butter knife and try to break up the ice crystals.  And eat some of it right there and then because let me tell you – it’s like that Pina Colada you had once in a nice Caribbean-cocktail bar and wanted to have again.  It’s fresh, it’s delicious, it’s pineappley-coconutey and not at all heavy.  In short, it turned out into one of those near-perfect summer desserts that I will have to make again and again – possibly to improve on the recipe, but the idea – it is more than worth repeating.

Regarding the rest of the freezer – I have taken out the 3x lamb shanks that I had unearthed from it, and since they refused to defrost fast enough on the counter, stuck them on a plate into the fridge.  The shanks can thaw overnight and become a Friday evening stew tomorrow.  This morning I took one of my packets of sliced frozen porcini mushrooms from last fall’s mushroom hunt and made a Russian-style mushroom and wheat berry soup (it’s supposed to be mushroom and barley but I was out of barley).  I’ve hung the inventory sheets up on the fridge door with a magnet, and as I take things out as part of the stash-busting program, I get to cross them off the list off the list for extra satisfaction points.

So with that in mind, I am going to sit down, grab my notebook and write that meal plan I’ve been talking about.

Eating out the Freezer – the Busting of the Stash

I was going to write a blog post about superfoods and how they don’t exist (sorry about that spoiler!), and even began to draft it yesterday, but as it often happens, life interfered.  This afternoon the outdoor temperature plummeted below freezing, and it occurred to me – this may be the last time this spring that it does that.  I mean, I live in Central Finland (aka Keski-Suomi which, charmingly, directly translates to ‘Middle Earth’), and it may well not be the last time, either – last year it snowed here on Midsummer.  But then again – it might.  And, like any deadline once I’ve remembered about it – oh shit! – it spurred me into action: I realized that I need to defrost and inventory my freezer before I won’t have the option of freezer-on-the-balcony to relocate the food to, while I defrost and clean.

So I grabbed a washtub, a small vegetable cart (emptied of vegetables), and a couple of buckets and emptied the freezer out onto the balcony.  I turned it off, stuck a couple of pots of boiled water in there, along with a turned-on hairdryer balanced on a pulled-out freezer shelf (that being important so that meltwater wouldn’t drip on it), tucked towels into the bottom of the freezer and around it, and within two hours I had a defrosted, clean and dry freezer.  (Note: I turned the hairdryer on and off a few times to allow its motor to cool to avoid burning it out, and also obviously made many trips back to the freezer to wring the soggy towels sitting in its bottom.)  Next, I grabbed a kitchen towel (to towel any frost accumulated on the frozen items that sat out on the balcoy before replacing them), and a notepad, and began to inventory things as I replaced them in the freezer.  When I was done, I was, frankly, in shock.  See for yourself (but please excuse the handwriting – I wasn’t actually planning to show this to anyone when I started!):

Freezer Inventory

Yes, it is utterly ridiculous. And drool-inducing. That, too. (Circles designate packages, half-circles – half-used packages, and large ovals a quantity sufficient to feed more than two.)

Obviously, I had known that I had a lot of food in there.  I mean, duh, it’s the freezer and I buy and store things in it for the time and day when I want them and don’t want to/am sick/weather is too bad to go out to shop, or because I bought a whole side of salmon on sale and cut it up, or that time I ordered meat from a farmer (10kg box) – but I had NO idea just how ridiculously much (really good) food I had accumulated in there!

It is perhaps also important to note, that my freezer is cranked up to maintain a temperature of -28C or below, so I can keep vacuum-sealed meats in it for a pretty damned long time.  None of this huge list is a loss – I am happy to report that nothing ended up scraped out of the bottom of the freezer and tossed.  That would have made me sad.  Very sad.  What it is, however, is an untapped gold mine – of things that can seriously save me money on the food budget in the upcoming month.  Or three.

What I need now, is a meal plan to use some (or a lot!) of this.  I am not saying that I will entirely cease buying things until I have cleared any specific amount of space out (that would be silly and against my own thoughts on the subject) – I am not into severe and punishing self-restriction (that tends to act as reverse psychology on me, and makes me do more of whatever I am not supposed to, perversely).  Instead, what I will do is aim for, is using up 2-3 protein items out of the freezer per week, and to only refill it with awesome-and-on-sale things (such as more of that duck or goose breast I’ve nabbed in Lidl, or if someone is selling an entire side of Norwegian salmon again for a reasonable price).

In addition, I think a refrigerator and pantry inventories are in order, and I will attempt to get to those this week, which will help with putting together of plans to eat those two out right along with my freezer (they’ll work well in combination, I feel!).

And so it would appear that I have yet another topic to write about alongside the food myths and misconceptions – leet’s call this one ‘the freezer chronicles’.  Perhaps if I make both, my meal plans and my results public, it’ll remind me to keep it up and keep me honest.  If you have thought, ideas and suggestions about what to do with any of the items on that list – please do tell me.  All will be appreciated!

And with that in mind, I am off to write that selfsame meal plan.  A cold-smoked mackerel currently defrosting in my refrigerator deserves one, and far be it from me to offend the gods and Little Green Apples by letting it go bad.

I’ll keep you posted.

Food Science is a Thing. That Exists.

Warning: rant with mature language follows.

In the recent year, I have severely pissed off a few people, both in person and over the internet, even to the point of getting myself kicked out of a couple of Facebook groups of real-life significance (meaning: not just people I knew over the internet).  And you know what?  I am entirely ok with that.

Why am I ok with something like that?  Simply put, because I can’t abide woo and pseudoscience, and I strongly disagree with the as-of-recently prevalent idea that someone’s ignorance is as good as my knowledge (paraphrasing Asimov here, obviously).  I’ve had it stated to my face that “there isn’t any really any science out there in regards to healthy eating” and that “it’s all an opinion and I know what I believe”.  So, essentially, all my education and work experience don’t matter.  Some asshat who’s read something on the internet obviously knows better, even if their degree is in music or mathematics (both excellent empirical research based disciplines that deal extensively with nutrition, as is well-known /sarcasm).

Image credit - James Kennedy (click on image for link)

About those chemicals. Image credit – James Kennedy (click on image for link)

Well excuse the flying fuck out of me.  Food science and nutritional science are things.  That exist.  And I am beyond fucking tired of people assuming that knowing how to use a chopping board entitles them to tell me to my face that my profession and the body of scientific knowledge it deals with do not exist or matter, based on a thing they read on the internet about some dude in India has cured his testicle cancer and survived to be 158 years old on pure juice of roots he dug out in a sacred Himalayan forest using nothing but his teeth.

This sort of garbage is what has given the world anti-vaxxers who bring back near-extinct diseases, people who torture their autistic children with bleach enemas, and ignorant peasants who destroy test fields of Golden Rice intended to help their kids not go blind or die.  It’s the sort of bullshit that makes people like FraudBroad and Dr. Oz and Mercola rich at the expense of people who don’t know any better.  It’s the kind of ideas that perpetuate websites dispensing diet advice to people which may well cause health problems (excessive use of juice instead of consuming whole fruit and vegetables may cause or exacebrate NAFLD, for example). It’s the sort of thing which vilifies people who cannot afford ‘organic’ (quotation marks intended) foods because they ‘do harm to their children’, and the sort of advice that turns cancer patients to coffee enemas and away from actual medical intervention (with nearly-universally fatal results). In short, it’s entitled ignorance and I have had enough.

Which is why, instead of happily writing about delicious and not-necessarily-good-for-you-but-awesome-to-eat food, today I write about bullshit, unhappily.  For the record, the thing that got me kicked out of ostensibly ‘foodies” groups, was me standing up against pseudoscientific crap and defending things like refined oil for cooking (no it’s not rancid, and no it’s not the devil), GMOs (sugar from GMO sugar beets is chemically identical to sugar from non-GMO sugar beets, and if you think otherwise you’ve failed basic chemistry), mentioning that actually, everything you eat (and everything around you, really) is made of chemicals, many of which have names you can’t easily pronounce (but I may be able to), and speaking up against a whole host of garbage ideas – in my case it was not agreeing with Weston-Price Foundation *cough*cult*cough* on (a lot of) scientific points regarding biology, chemistry and nutrition.  And yes, in case you wonder, I do own that cookbook and I have read it (it’s occasionally useful for looking up old-timey recipes and techniques).  And in case you are curious, it involved one of the adherents to their way of life getting some buddy of hers in Russia to send me hatemail all the way from Moscow.  I was flattered, really, that some Russian dude thought to lecture me in English (I can read Russian, bozo) about how I probably don’t know how to get along with Scandinavians and how I am too loud and ‘likely recently moved there’.  (“Behold the field in which I grow my fucks”  and also, fact-checking is a thing, asshole.)

Anyway, all of this brings me to another point of my rant, and this blog.  I make no secret of the fact that due to my own sensitivity to sugar and predisposition towards diabetes II, I try to eat somewhat low-carbohydrate diet and avoid too much sugar*.  Which is to say that some recipes on this blog will be low in carbohydrates, and some are cheesecake and fudge.  Why is that?  Because while I try to eat a lot of greenery and vegetables and fresh meats and dairy, and I don’t hit the by-the-kilogram candy shops, I do have dessert on occasion, and when I do I want it to be real dessert so by Little Green Apples and all that is holy, if I am eating dessert, it won’t be some fat-free sugar-free abomination.  I may not eat a bucketful of it (and in fact I usually don’t), but when I do eat it, it will be awesome.  And it’ll have sugar.  It might be maple sugar, coconut sugar, honey or simply fucking white sugar, and it’ll be there for the sake of my health.  Mental health.  I’m no psychologist but most of them will tell you that it’s not healthy to have hangups about food, because that way lie eating disorders, among other things.  And this blog (and my life) isn’t about promoting any one diet (because metabolisms differ, and frankly what is great for one person may well leave another one exhausted and miserable), and it’s certainly not about pushing anyone towards an eating disorder – or diabetes.  And while we are on the subject of diabetes…

*…it is important to note that I don’t say that I avoid ‘refined sugar’.  Repeat after this food scientist: sugar is fucking sugar.  The nutritional difference between your ‘non-GMO organic unrefined cane juice gathered by native barefoot women in handspun textiles’ and my box of local beet white caster sugar is about 0.3% of its weight.  Sensory difference would be a pretty color and probably a nice aroma.  Marketing difference would be fancy-ass (and not necessarily good for environment) packaging and a huge price markup.  But the important thing to make clear here is that just because the sugar is made of coconut nectar, ground-up dates, sap of a maple tree, or it’s raw honey or whatever doesn’t make it any less, you know, sugar.  That your body responds to by producing insulin.  Sugar that is not so awesome for (the average) you, and pretty bad for (some of the other you and) me.  So for the love of everything, stop thinking that ‘natural sweeteners’ that aren’t white sugar are going to save anyone from obesity and that your ‘no refined sugar’ cookies aren’t anything but a dessert.  And honestly, if you are going to make cookies, make good cookies.  Otherwise, make a bowl of oatmeal with a pinch of salt and a dab of butter, and call it healthy food.  At least then it’ll be true.

The point of this rant is mostly to get this off my chest, and also to make it clear that on this blog, I will neither sell you any ‘organic’ (read: grown with different set of pesticides!) food ideas, nor peddle any woo if I can help it.  If you come here looking for The Truth (‘they’ don’t want you to know about!) about how to cure your vaginal itch/toenail fungus/tooth cavities, this is not the blog and these are not the posts you are looking for.

I will write the truth about food science and food to the best of my knowledge, and reference it if I should make any claims (not that I tend to).  This blog isn’t a ‘vegan blog’, a ‘Paleo blog’, an ‘Atkins blog’ or ‘low-fat/light cooking’ blog.  It’s not a ‘green juicing’ or ‘clean eating’ blog.  It’s a blog by a food scientist about food, and making it easier, more accessible, healthier and more delicious.  It’s also about me showing off pretty photos of things I cooked (and anyone who knows me knows that I am lazy) in hopes of inspiring people to cook for themselves, and to try things – and, while we are at it, this blog is not about making things sound more complicated than they are.  Because food, even healthy food, isn’t difficult.  It can be, but it doesn’t actually have to be.

Now, access to fresh produce is something you and I might take for granted, but to many urban poor it’s not a reality, and that is a morass of sociopolitical problems I am not fully qualified to address.  What I mean is – I am not a political scientist.  I know how to put a good meal together out of simple ingredients, not how to ensure everyone has access to them.  (This is how one admits that there are things outside one’s expertise in a graceful manner.)  I might, at some point, ask someone more qualified in that field to write a guest post about that other problem.  But I DO know that one phenomenon that prevents/slows down getting that access to fresh food for more people is the entitled never-gone-hungry population who screams that GMOs are evil and ‘Big Ag’ is killing their unvaccinated children with cookies, because this sort of behavior and resulting media and marketing hype drive up the price of fresh produce unnecessarily.  And all I can say to these people without descending into (more) profanity in four languages is – you have access to fucking tomatoes.  Be happy about that, and for the love of the urban-wasteland or starving rural poor, shut the fuck up.  You might think that your degree from Google-U entitles you to your opinions, but guess what?  This food scientist has no time for any of your pseudoscientific shit.  Nor is that likely to change short of actual scientific evidence to the contrary.

I could go on and rant far longer, but I would just be repeating myself without any structure and that makes for unproductive writing and boring reading.  Instead, I think I will have to write a series of blog posts speaking about various such topics separately and in detail (by all means, leave me a comment and let me know if there’s something you want me to talk about – I will be happy to write about what people want to hear!).

In the meantime, I will leave you with that one quote from The Onion – “just eat a goddamn vegetable once in a while“.