As I continue to get more intuitive with making food and food planning, I found making a plan weekly helpful for a couple of reasons. The first is it takes away any anxiety, especially if you are trying to follow some rules, dietary restrictions, or something along those lines. Secondly, it creates a safety net for when life happens, you will no longer need to respond by driving to your favourite fast-food joint because you didn’t anticipate (fill in your situation here). Next, it creates accountability. Also, a food plan helps with making a grocery list too, I call that a double win. Lastly, it becomes easier week after week.
So as you likely already know, I took a wonderful month long trip to Africa. While there I was on a tour group, and had the most amazing time of my life. I came back a changed person, hopefully for the better. However, what I learned about Africa is how much they live off of bread (and bread like products).
From a tour perspective, I probably was eating 4 – 6 slices of heavy bread a day. It’s cheap and easily available, so I am not surprised they fed us lots of bread. Interestingly enough, it didn’t make me feel sick compared to the bread here in North America. I started to think maybe I mentally made myself feel sick at home, and while on vacation I just ‘went with it.’ So I gave myself a small test. When I came back, I ate a piece of bread, and guess what, sick again. When I say sick, I mean bloated, crampy, gassy, and generally uncomfortable. Yet, when I was in Africa, I did feel a bit bloated, but nothing compared to my test.
My conclusion: buy bread in Africa. Okay, just kidding, but there is something to be said around how many ingredients and processes are used to make bread in North America so it a) looks nice, b) smells nice and c) lasts long enough for someone to pick it up in the store and then eat it over some time. Bread in Africa, you buy it today; you better eat it by tomorrow.
Then while I was visiting villages and local homes, I realized that they always had bread or “dough” type food made from either cassava (pictured above) or maize, both of which they grow in their farms in the village. Its very cheap to cultivate, and relatively easy process to make into a flour consistency to be made into “bread.” Here are a couple of my observations around this.
Firstly, these bread food products are clearly a staple and usually more than 50% of a plate’s portion. Furthermore, also usually eaten daily at nearly every meal! Secondly, none, and I mean NONE of the people I came across were obese, none. There are many reasons for that, which I will not get into, but even if I personally ate more than 50% of my diet on bread like products and worked out daily, I would still be significantly overweight.
Truthfully, I don’t have any conclusions about these observations. But it really did put a couple of holes in some of my personal assumptions about bread, and also the quality and purity of ingredients. And, realistically, it makes me want to become a farmer or something.
Picture: local woman peeling cassava which will be then fermented and turned into flour.
Picture: The cassava in the fermenting process, it smells like cheese, and as you can see its just out in the open.
I always laugh at myself when I am “winging” it in the kitchen because I have no idea what I am doing when it comes to spices. All my friends are always saying “oh just add some this and that, and its a staple.” Okay, first of all, I don’t even no how to pronounce CUMIN. It it Que-min or Koo-min.
Spices are hard for me. I have a couple things that I use all the time, which are:
- Pepper (my favourite being the ‘smoked pepper‘ from Williams Sonoma)
- Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
But anything beyond this, I don’t
know. For example, I have paprika
and hot chilli powder, which happen to look the same. I cannot taste the difference between them. I use what is called for in recipes (which is why I have both), but never really know what else I can use them for.
Oregano, which I also pronounce as OR-a-Gan-oh, which makes everyone chuckle a little, is weird to me too. How does that compare to dried basil and dill. They are green and leafy. I always wonder which is better on beef, chicken or poultry.
Curry. Curries. All the curry in the world. I happen to be married to a beautiful Indo-Canadian who does zero cooking, but he once explained curries as the lighter the milder which has stuck with me. I find the same works for thai curries. But again, why are there two regional curries in the freaking first place.
To my husbands displeasure, I buy most of my spices through William Sonoma. I like them because you can open them in the store, smell them, and ask a bazillion questions. Also, they are cute and easy to stack. I find that I can smell, touch, etc, has helped me buy new stuff, but I’m still a little scared. Additionally, another brand I like are the organic Whole Foods ones called Organic 365. These are my back up for two reasons; first William Sonoma doesn’t carry all spices and second they are up the street from me.
On a similar note, I had one small spice win, I was able to re-create Cactus Club’s blackened chicken (and steak) spice rub. I made it a few times and tastes exactly the same (I just avoided adding the sugar & it was still perfect). Thank you to the genius who put this on the internet. #gratitude
I honestly don’t have a solution here for myself or anyone. But if anyone can please explain CUMIN for me, that will be enough for me to feel like I have moved one step further to understanding spices.
When I started #Whole30 (but really #whole60) back on July 1st 2015, the first word of advice I got was that if I made all of the sauces in the world, I would be okay. I totally took that to heart and decided to make 3 sauces: mayonnaise, caesar dressing, and a lemoney-chive sauce. I got all of the recipe info from this page of Whole30, and I am pretty certain I will be making my own mayo for the rest of my life!
Here is the thing; I assumed making mayo would be hard and messy. The first few times it was a little messy, but now I can whip up a batch during a TV commercial break! It stays good for about 2 – 3 weeks, depending on fresh your eggs are. The mayo expires when your eggs expire; which is usually more than the 3 weeks. You will notice at some point that the mayo starts to separate, and will have an almost buttery texture with oil on top. This is different from what you are probably familiar with with store bought mayo, fluffy fat.
I recommend watching this video to get started. You only need 4 ingredients, though I still like playing around with it every now and then. I’ve listed my notes on what I found best below. This receipt is for one batch – but I usually make a double batch every time (just double!). One batch yields about 1 1/2 cups of mayo.
If you use organic eggs, the really yellow yolks will make your mayo appear less white. I use an organic, free range egg that has a bit lighter yolk colour and it works out fine.
This is really important! I used a crappy mustard powder first, and it was ok. But then I switched to a premium one, and the taste got significantly better and more delicious!
Nothing special here – just use salt.
Light Olive Oil
This is the MAIN determinant of taste. Do not use extra virgin oil or you will die. Not literally of course, but your mayo turns out super gross. Of course if you like gross, go ahead. I use Bertolli Light Olive Oil and I effin love it. Get it!
Follow the directions perfectly. You can use a blender, but because I liked doing double batches I used my food processor; which is also easier to clean!
From there – you can go forth and make ALL the sauces in the world!
Hahaha, I had to have a few people tell me how to pronounce that last word a few times, in fact, don’t ask me ever again. I got a braiser (I was totally pining for it for a while, and then it was on sale, thanks @WilliamSonoma) and I just went ahead and made the purchase. Long story short, my husband wasn’t thrilled. But I was (insert evil grin here)!
So I knew I wanted to try doing something with said braiser and I had an opportunity to cook for my sister-in-law and mother-in-law who were eating quite healthy as I was at the time (I still am I guess). So I decided to go through the Whole 30 recipe book (image below) and found a great looking recipe on page 334 – 335. Side bar, it has capers in it. I love capers. I eat capers everyday. Capers….. Okay, I’m back, so here is what I learned about braisers and this recipe.
Braiser – primarily used for “braising, browning and poaching” and man did it brown my skin-covered chicken breast. I guess in many ways it similar to the dutch oven, except that is round and low side walls. I found it easy to flip the chicken in it. I suspect I would have likely burnt my wrist (again).
The recipe – Firstly, it was stupid good, which means it was exceptional. Like so good, I wish I had more. I ate like a mad woman when I finally tasted it! I paired this with cauliflower rice (same book, page 366 – 367), which complimented the flavors well. The recipe was quite full, as you can see here in the picture.
Recipe difficulty (Agata scale) 9 out of 10
Recipe taste (Agata scale) 9.5 out of 10
Short and sweet here. I never had trouble dropping money on le creuset pots and pans. But for some reason, a knife just seemed like unreal cost in proportion to the size, weight, and honestly the color.
I had quickly bought into the cast iron method of pots and pans for a couple reasons: my mom had them; they were pretty; and they were high-end. The only other cookware I have is circa 2001 Canadian Tire. They don’t even look red anymore.
But knives, I bought cheaper knives all the time. Costco has these funky colored ones (yes, colored) and I bought two sets. Whenever I was at a grocery store and found a knife in another color (yes color) I would get that too. In reality, I had spent a lot on low-end knives, I just had a hard time swallowing the pill when it came to the high-end kind.
I also didn’t know much about them. I googled, asked around, and ultimately, I wanted the good quality knives. I just still didn’t want to put the cash down it would require. So I put them on my Christmas list and prayed that my husband paid attention to my not-so-passive-aggressive comments on Facebook. With a small nudge, I got them for Christmas! (That picture is me holding 1 right beside the tree).
Now that I have been using them, I would definitely spend the money myself because cooking is INSANELY better with good knives. If you’re wondering, I got Wusthof ones, and been very happy. I will likely just add two more knives to my collection and be done.
First of all, for FOREVER I didn’t know what a stockpot was. Actually, I just recently figured it out. Long story short, I really struggled with this for the last few months. I was always using my le creuset dutch oven as my stockpot. It wasn’t an issue until I needed to make 10lbs of potatoes, and there was no way in hell those suckers were going to fit in my dutch oven (which I love dearly).
My wonderful friend and I stumbled across a huge sale. I bought a couple of things, and she bought a beautiful le creuset palm stockpot. She got a hell of a deal. I regret not getting one then, and I have since purchased mine in flame (picture shown).
I love the stock pot for many reasons:
- Fits 10 lbs of potatoes
- Faster at boiling liquids
- Good for steaming stuff (I just put my strainer at the top and it’s perfect)
- Never have overflow liquids
- Lighter than my dutch oven
When I still use my dutch oven:
- Making soup with a recipe makes 2 – 4 servings
- Soups that have a long cook time and that I will be eating later, it keeps the heat longer
Ultimately, I think it’s a staple pot to have in your kitchen. What’s your stock pot of choice? What do you use your stock pot for that I can try?
It’s been a really long time since I blogged, and I keep having the guilty feeling, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. I was thinking maybe I should just close agata.ca, but then my pride would get the best of me.
Then something struck me today. Someone asked me how the holidays were for me, and I was like yeah, I cooked dinner for like 18 people and it was a blast. Their response was “oh right, you had that cooking transformation last year”. I didn’t laugh or disagree. It was true.
I never learned how to cook when I was young. It wasn’t that my mother was a bad cook, in fact, she was fabulous. But my interest lied elsewhere from an early age. I liked being outside, drawing, painting, reading, helping my dad. Essentially anything but cooking.
Now in my 30’s (yup, no shame here). I realized that this step I missed was hurting me. I was the heaviest I had EVER been, and I didn’t want to turn to pills or fad diets, so I decided to take control of what I put in my body. I also decided not to do some weird drink only juice and eat 1 chicken breast kinda diet. I wanted nutritious food because one day (fingers crossed) I would be a parent and I would need to not only survive, but also help this little person thrive. Quite honestly on June 30th 2015, I was sure that I wouldn’t be able to do that.
From July 1st and almost for 6 months straight (went to Morocco / 1 wedding / holidays) I was eating and cooking primarily #Whole30. I bought pots and pans (only the best), and for Christmas my husband bought me a few good knifes. I was so excited!
Okay, getting off topic, so I realized after this comment that I essentially don’t have much to say about “Agata’s Journey” which was what this site was called before now. BUT I have a whole lot to say about exploring recipes, cooking styles, ingredients, etc.
So today I relaunch http://www.agata.ca as my ode to my journey in the kitchen, all things food (by a novice cook & foodie)