Humble and homemade

There’s a video going around of professor of journalism at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism Michael Pollan giving a talk about a number of things: the relationship between cooking and health, the changing cultural perceptions and role of cooking over time, the rise of processed foods, our heavy reliance upon food corporations, and McDonald’s french fries.

I don’t find what he argues particularly profound or groundbreaking but I do agree with some of what he says. He argues, among other things, that cooking is the simplest and easiest way to improve health. This is something I’ve come to realise very quickly upon starting on my own cooking adventure because I came to see how much butter actually goes into that chocolate cake and how much salt I end up using to season my food.

Sometimes it’s scary how much fat, salt or sugar I use – and if you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ll notice I’ll always try and lessen the amount of sugar or fat used, especially in desserts – but this makes not being able to see for myself what’s going into my food when I buy takeaways or fast food even scarier.

Pollan points out that corporations cook very differently to individuals. Of course they do. Mass produced food is laden with salt, fat, sugar, additives, preservatives – how else are they going to make it taste good, withstand a long shelf-life and most importantly, make money?

The increased reliance upon processed foods means people are eating stuff that’s not great for them more often. Pollan uses the example of fries. Instead of having to wash, peel, cut and bake/fry potatoes to make fries, you can just buy a frozen bag full of yummy potato and pop it straight into the oven or deep fryer. Less work, less mess to clean up.

I’m absolutely guilty of this, especially with regards to fries. I remember having frozen fries at home from when I was at primary school and only in recent years have I stopped turning to them regularly as a snack or make-do meal when there’s nothing else to eat.

As an aside, some of you may wonder why my parents let me eat those things in the first place and well, I guess they just didn’t think they were that bad. Potato doesn’t feature all that much in Chinese cuisine and I think they figured they didn’t look or taste all that harmful. They were easy to rustle up and I loved them.

Once I discovered how delicious hand-cut, oven-baked potato fries and wedges could be though, I found it harder and harder to pull out that greasy bag of McCain chunky cut chips from the freezer.

Admittedly, it does take more work and more cleaning up but it’s infinitely more satisfactory. Peel ’em or don’t, cut ’em anyway you want, fry ’em or bake ’em, season with your own herbs and spices, serve with a main meal or have ’em on their own.

They’re yours for the taking.

Photo: Tao Lin

Potato wedges and kumara (sweet potato) tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, baked at 200C non-fan bake for around 40 to 50 minutes, until soft. Photo: Tao Lin

 

A bit of a sour week

There’s a little lemon tree that grows in my backyard and it produces fruit just about every season. This year, it really went all out producing lemons, so much so that we didn’t know what to do with all of it. We hate letting stuff go to waste so we picked every last one off the tree, squeezed out the juice and froze it into mouth-puckering lemon juice ice cubes. I think we came towards the end of summer with about 5 large peanut butter jars full of them.

Since then we’ve been steadily getting through the lemon juice (lots of hot lemon and honey drinks!), sometimes at a struggle because we’re conscious of using it up before next season’s fruit, hopefully, grows. It’s actually not a bad idea to do the whole freeze em up thing because it’s so easy to just melt the juice for a recipe and boy, did I melt a lot of lemon juice last week.

Last Thursday I made lemon and herb roasted chicken breasts. I followed this recipe – it says Armenian herb marinade but it’s essentially a lemon and herb recipe, isn’t it. Instead of grilling the chicken like in the recipe, I pan fried it first and then baked it in the oven.

All the prep and stuff was fine until I got to the amount of lemon juice needed. I’m not the most accurate with quantities of ingredients when I cook because I like to go by taste. It usually works out quite well but I have to say, this time the lemon got me. It was deceptively light and I couldn’t taste it when I made the marinade.

About 7 cubes (one cube is equal to the juice of 1.5 to 2 small lemons) and 24 hours later, I had the chicken in the oven, some potato fries seasoned with salt and paprika in the oven too and was reducing the marinade to make a sauce. I taste the sauce and WOW, sour much?!

I served the meal with the sauce anyway, hoping that it would somehow not seem as sour when eaten together with some chicken and potato…Turned out that’s not quite how it works and I should have just gone without it.

The boyfriend started off saying it tasted good but I soon saw that it’s because he started eating where there was no sauce on the meat. Once he hit the sauce:

“I see what you mean about the sauce now.”

After the meal, I asked what he thought:

“The fries were good…”

Ouch? Not really because I knew it was true. The chicken was cooked nicely  and the herb flavours were really good but I guess I kind of ruined it by the sauce. Oh well, you win some and you lose some.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Lemon and herb chicken, potato fries seasoned with salt and paprika. Photo: Tao Lin

Lemon and herb chicken, potato fries seasoned with salt and paprika. Photo: Tao Lin

Carrying on with the theme of tangy-ness, I made up some sesame soy sauce for some steaks on Saturday and was a bit heavy-handed with the rice wine vinegar (there’s tahini, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, sugar and vinegar), so the vinegar overpowered everything else. Oops, guess I just hadn’t had enough sourness for the week??

The other thing I made that day was a parsley, garlic, lemon and olive oil dressing for some basa fish fillets. Basically just whipped up chopped parsley, garlic, lemon juice and oil in the food processor. This turned out alright but I wouldn’t make it again. Basa is such a delightfully delicate tasting fish and I want to find something that really compliments it – this dressing really didn’t.

Also, I found this for some garlic and parsley roast potatoes (can you tell I really need to use up some parsley? :P) and I quite enjoyed not having to wait ages for the spuds to cook properly in the oven (for some reason they always seem to take forever and I’m forced to serve everything but the potatoes because everything else would go cold otherwise).

So, all in all an okay week for food but maybe a little sweetness next time?

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Steak seasoned with salt, pepper and too-tangy sesame soy dressing. Photo: Tao Lin

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Doesn’t look too bad, does it? Photo: Tao Lin