Thursday, April 26, 2012

Polenta with Rapini, Portobello Mushrooms and Avocado

I have been eating a lot of simple meals lately. As spring approaches I am trending toward fresh vegetables and lots of greens. While this recipe still has comfort food written all over it, usually saved for the winter months, it comes in handy for rainy days like this week is bringing. I have had a large bag of course cornmeal for a while and have been meaning to make some polenta. This post on Seasonal Ontario Food inspired this oven baked variety. It is a very hands off way of making polenta which I am sure will become my standard method for making polenta now. I find that polenta goes really well with salty and garlicy foods. It also goes well with hardy greens. This hardly classifies as a recipe, but is a great starting point for using polenta if you haven't made it before. Try it and then make it yours!

Polenta with Rapini, Portobello Mushrooms, and Avocado

Serves 3

1 cup course cornmeal
4 cups water
1/2 large bunch of rapini, chopped (or other hearty greens like kale)
3 portobello mushrooms, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 avocado, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Mix water and cornmeal in baking dish and bake for 1 hour.
3. Give the polenta a stir to ensure doneness, and bake for another 10 minutes if needed.
4. While finishing the polenta off, add mushrooms to a pan and heat over medium heat.
5. Once mushrooms begin to soften and release water, add greens and garlic. Sauté until greens are wilted and mushrooms are cooked.
6. Top polenta with greens and some chopped avocado.
7. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Why I Don't Eat Meat

Something I tend not to talk about too much on this blog is vegetarianism. Back in May 2011, I mentioned that I was no longer going to be eating meat "for the time being". During my trip to Italy in August 2011, I had meat/seafood, but other than that animal flesh has not knowingly crossed my lips. Animal flesh. It sounds weird to write it like that, but that is what it is. Some people cannot stand the thought that the protein on their plate used to be a living and breathing animal. This is how disconnected we have become from our food.

I haven't written about my reasons for becoming vegetarian on this blog as I am always afraid of offending people. But I have decided to share my reasons today, as I am not afraid anymore. Every month of my vegetarian 'journey' has come with some more insight and development of my opinion on the issue. Some of this results from reading the news, watching a TED talk, reading a new book, or simply thinking things through. One book I recently read, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer really got to me. Most of the facts and figures in the book were not new to me, but the way the book was written instilled me with a little bit of empowerment. It made me want to spread the word, share the facts with those around me, start a revolution, and start a protest. Now, the urge to protest and start a revolution died off quickly, but the urge to spread the word has not. I used to be afraid of offending people around me by sharing my opinions, but I realized I cannot go on this way. So here it journey through a changing relationship with eating animals.

My estrangement with meat began about 6 years ago when I moved out of residence and started cooking on my own. Looking back I would hardly consider it cooking but I did make my own meals. I loved salads and simple meals. Meat was rarely in the picture. It was expensive and took some serious skills to cook. Skills I didn't have at the time. I also never felt very comfortable handling raw meat. My chicken was usually grilled to oblivion and then tossed in a salad to get the job done. A couple years later this aversion got worse. I became aware of the bacteria present on meat and issues of food safety after one of my coop work terms. Handling meat became a bigger aversion to me. I would only eat meat after thorough inspection for doneness and I would never order meat at a restaurant. After all, "I don't know what goes on back there". As I got older and started getting more into cooking, I tried to overcome this 'fear' of raw meat. I did this by purchasing a whole chicken. I wanted to deconstruct and use every piece of that damn bird. I did use every piece of that bird, including the bones to make a homemade chicken stock, and then I disinfected every surface that chicken may have touched. I still had a problem.

That same year I started watching movies about food. Food Inc. in particular struck a cord with me, exposing the harsh realities of the factory farm industry. I had never seen these images before. The use of antibiotics and steroids, the close quarters of the animals, the rate of disease in the animals slaughtered for food, and the struggles of the family farm because of the influence of the food industry in policy making. While this affected me greatly, I still wasn't ready to make the jump to vegetarianism. I rarely ate meat, but I didn't want to give a title to my diet, experience the social awkwardness, or the separation. Although, rarely ordering meat at a restaurant already caused some social awkwardness with my group of carnivorous male friends. The next year I started reading books. The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defence of FoodLocavore, Food and Fuel, and Food Inc. All of these movies and books opened my eyes to what the state of the food industry was. I didn't like it, not one bit.

After watching the movie Fresh I finally decided to become a 'vegetarian'. It was a big step for me to make that classification. A classification I never wanted to make. "One day I would eat meat, but not right now, not with the way it is done," I said to myself. But I kept this to myself for the most part. Very few people asked questions, or noticed for that matter. And that was the way I liked it. I took comfort in the fact that I was making a difference. I was one more person not consuming factory farmed meat, one less person handing over money to that industry, reducing the demand for meat just that little bit.

Now, I am not an animal rights activist. I don't think it is wrong to kill an animal for food, but the way we are doing it is wrong. Not just the killing, but the raising, the feeding, and the breeding is wrong. It is morally wrong, wrong for our health, and wrong for our environment. Here are some simple facts to show my point:

1. Agriculture accounted for 24% of the methane emissions in 2009, a 20% increase from 1990, mostly due to beef cattle and swine. (National Inventory Report 1990-2009: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada - Executive Summary)
2. The inappropriate use of antibiotics in agriculture is a driving factor in the presence of antimicrobial resistant bacteria in humans. (WHO) This has some big and scary consequences for our future.
3. Animal husbandry uses up 30% of the land on earth, including the land required to produce their feed. 40% of the world grain is used to feed animals which are not even supposed to eat grain. Imagine we used that land to feed people? (Archive of Internal Medicine)
4. Animals are kept in such close indoor quarters they can hardly move. Chickens are given less than 1 square foot of space (if they aren't in a cage). Not that they can stand anyway. The average broiler reaches maturity at 6 weeks with a body weight their frail sick bones can't keep up.
5. Industrial agriculture contributes to almost 50% of the waterway pollution in the United States (Sustainable Table).

Agriculture is literally destroying our world. 

Forgive my inner hippie for saying this but eating is one of the most intimate interactions we have with the world. We take the food produced by the earth and we put it inside our mouths. It moves through our body as it gets broken down, fermented, transformed and absorbed, literally contributing to the building blocks of our body, or taking part in metabolic activity. If there is one thing we should care about in this world (beyond those that we love) it should be what we eat. 

Happy chickens whose eggs tasted amazing, like no egg I've ever tasted before.

For me, that means not eating meat and very little animal products. This will inevitably shift again one day, maybe even introducing meat back into my life when I have the means to buy healthy meat directly from a farmer for special occasions(I'll have to stop being a student first). But only time will tell. 

One thing is for sure, saving our planet will require a large shift in the way our current food system works. There are so many people out there making changes and fighting for sustainability and a brighter future. It is really inspiring and I hope to one day be able to make a difference. For now I will continue to eat vegetarian and I will publish this post. If this post inspires just one person to eliminate meat from just one of their meals it will have been worth it.

Thanks for reading! For being so patient, I promise to post a yummy vegetarian recipe this week. :)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Black Bean and Tomatillo Twice Baked Potato

As I went to write this post I realized it has been about a month since my last. At first it worried me when I started posting less frequently in 2012 but I have gotten over with. I use this blog to share my recipes (and recipe finds) with my friends and family and only posting when I am really feeling a recipe keeps this place real. Speaking of keeping it real, I have been working on a post for the past little while that I have yet to publish. There is no recipe, there are no pictures of food but I feel like it belongs here. When I feel it is ready I will share it and I hope you accept my recipe-less words when the time comes. Now, onto the recipe that broke the Food for Fuel silence!

It was the result of picking up some potatoes at the farmer's market, not really having a plan for them. I have made these potatoes twice for a difference audience and all have approved. This recipe is easy, ready under an hour, and packed with flavour (and fibre).

Black Bean and Tomatillo Twice Baked Potato
Serves 4-6

6 potatoes (I used red skinned ones but you could use your fav)
1 can black beans, thoroughly rinsed
1 avocado, chopped
~1/3 cup salsa verde (to taste, I don't know how much I added)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees C.
2. Poke potatoes with a fork and wrap in foil, bake for ~45 minutes (depending on the size of your taters).
3. Once the potatoes are cooked and cooled enough to handle, carefully peel off the skin on the top to discard. Scoop out the insides of the potatoes and add to a bowl with black beans, and avocado.
4. Mash the potato with the beans and avocado until mixed. Add the salsa verde and mix into the mash, tasting along the way to ensure the desired amount of flavour.
5. Scoop stuffing into the potatoes pressing down to pack down the filling. Fill the potatoes well exceeding their limit. You will still have filling left over.
6. Bake potatoes for 10-15 minutes until tops begin to brown.

Don't mind the blur...

The salsa is the star of the show here. The potatoes will only taste as good as your salsa. Use a good quality flavourful salsa, or make your own! I used the President's Choice Black Tomatillo Salsa. It is very good. I would also recommend the original variety. The avocado is also necessary, it adds creaminess that would normally be accomplished by dairy (cream or sour cream). Feel free to add other veggies as well. I tried adding a bit of corn which worked well. I also foresee bell peppers or green onions working well.

As the weather warms up and BBQ season begins, I really hope you give these a try!