Rice Pudding!

You know what’s a good word? Transubstantiation. Sure, there’s a religious connotation to the word, but have you thought about it in regards to cooking? The definition of transubstantiation is (according to the Oxford English Dictionary), “the changing of one substance into another”. The process of cooking gets pretty darn close to the definition of transubstantiation, even if cooking is a process that combines different individual parts to produce a finished final product (which exists as the sum of its parts).

But when it comes to making your favourite, most simple dishes, I think transubstantiation could be an excellent word to apply to the process. Take for instance, one of my favourite (and simple!) desserts: the humble rice pudding. It’s essentially three main ingredients, heavy cream, long grain rice, and a good kick of sugar. Simple ingredients that through the process of cooking ‘low and slow’ on the stovetop will transubstantiate into one of the most comforting treats someone can indulge in on cold wintry evenings. There’s almost a magical and mystical element to making such a comforting food from scratch in your own kitchen from such simple and unassuming ingredients. (Especially after thinking about such a rhetorically loaded and heady word as transubstantiation.) But it’s also the same kind of feeling that also harkens back to our collective experiences and shared human history of being a species that cooks—the only animal on the planet that takes simple ingredients and transforming them into something entirely different, and delicious, and nutritious via cooking.

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Creamy, sweet, and fragrant, rice pudding is one of my favourite comforting treats on a cold winter afternoon.

And rice pudding is a dessert that definitely has roots that reach far into our collective past as a food-preparing species. According to Solomon H. Katz, the editor in chief for the Scribner’s Encyclopedia of Food and Culture (2003), and Alan Davidson, author of the Oxford Companion to Food (1999), rice puddings wouldn’t have been unfamiliar to the ancient Romans. Davidson even suggests that the ancient Romans who were wealthy enough to afford the imported grain necessary to make the dish likely ate it as a remedy for upset stomachs. (Which is interesting since rice pudding is still considered an easy-to-digest and stomach-settling, comforting treat for people these days, too.)

According to Davidson, in the 17th century, recorded recipes for baked rice puddings began to appear in cookbooks and recipe collections. (I’ve never made a baked rice pudding—my mother always made it in a sturdy pot on the stovetop, and that’s how I made it this past weekend, too.) Often these 17th century recipes called for an egg to be added to the ingredients, which is now uncommon, but the addition of spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are a holdover from these earlier recipes and which still persists in rice pudding’s modern incarnations.

Rice pudding is a type of food that is not at all exclusive to the Western world. It has shown up in different cultures around the world, in various forms. It’s generally believed that rice originally started as a cultivated grain in China, India, and Southeast Asia. Author Kenneth F. Kipple of A Moveable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization (2007), asserts that as a domesticated crop, rice’s cultivation process began in these regions as early as 10,000 years ago. Subsequently, there are rice pudding dishes from a number of different cultures that are from these regions—each with their own specific differences, yet persistent similarities which can be used to connect these dishes as being varieties of a general rice pudding category. Davidson describes kheer (the Indian name for sweet milk puddings made with rice or very fine noodles) and sheer birinj (a Persian variety of kheer) as similar dishes that are related to rice pudding. These dishes can have added ingredients for flavouring like cardamom, cinnamon, almonds and pistachios, all of which would work well in a typical, modern Western-style rice pudding, too. Western-style rice puddings often feature flavourings such as raisins, currants, vanilla or almond extracts, and cinnamon and nutmeg which possess comparable flavour profiles when added to sweetened rice porridges and desserts.

The recipe my family uses when we make rice pudding is not from the 17th century, but it is very likely quite close to the recipes found in Europe at the time. (Or at least, it’s fairly evident that the recipe we use was generally derived from these recipes.) The actual recipe itself consists of notes hastily scrawled on a notecard that is beginning to show its age with curling corners, creases from accidental folding, and even a bit of vanilla extract smudged on one of its edges. Mum’s had this recipe card for seemingly forever—or at least from before I was born, and the ingredient measurements make for a large pot of rice pudding. The number of servings that can come from this recipe is fairly nebulous, and entirely dependent on how much you and your dinner guests enjoy old-fashioned rice pudding.

As has been described, a rice pudding recipe can be altered to suit your tastes. You can add currants, raisins, and other dried fruits if you like (personally, I don’t like raisins in my rice pudding), and you can reduce or increase the amount of spices added to the pot as you see fit (or even add different spices to the mix, and turn your rice pudding into something more savoury than sweet). It is entirely up to you how you want to prepare and personalise your rice pudding, but I think as long as you follow a basic recipe that primarily consists of rich cream, long grain rice, and a bit of sugar for sweetness, you’re on the right track to a delicious treat. The trick to a good stovetop rice pudding (of nearly any variant and variety) is to cook it for a long time on a low heat, stirring regularly to keep the pudding from adhering to the bottom of your pot. It’s that ‘low and slow’ cooking process that turns (or transubstantiates) simple ingredients into something comforting and delicious.

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Sure, it might not be the most visually exciting dessert, but rice pudding is a delicious treat that stands the test of time as a homey favourite.

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‘On the Mend’ Chicken Soup!

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There’s nothing as comforting as a bowl of chicken soup when you’re feeling under the weather.

This past week I got sick with one of the worst colds I’ve had in a couple of years. I wasn’t feeling great at the start of the week, and began feeling worse and worse as the week progressed, but it wasn’t until the weekend when my cold got really bad. I spent both this Saturday and Sunday on the chesterfield, alternating between napping and watching daytime television programming. I think at some point I was watching something about ice road truckers or tow-truck drivers in British Columbia, and then there were a couple solid hours of No Reservations (that travel show with Anthony Bourdain) on one of the travel channels, and admittedly, that wasn’t half bad.

It’s pretty lousy being taken out of things with a bad head cold. I spent most of the weekend in a weird half-awake state, with migraines and sinus pressure, sneezing and coughing and just feeling awful. What was especially bad was that weird, zero-energy and fuzzy-headed feeling that goes along with a really bad cold. (If you’ve ever had a nasty cold, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.) Complex thoughts were beyond me, and quietly vegetating on the couch was exactly my speed this weekend. I mostly lived off cups of tea (with honey and lemon) to soothe my throat, although I think I remember having some soup on Friday evening.

Today was the first day when I started to feel a little more like myself. (I’m still too unwell to venture out of the house and rejoin my classes at the college, but I’m sure I’ll be there for Tuesday, and if not feeling ‘right as rain’, then at least ‘no worse for wear’.) And since my appetite and clear-headed thinking has returned, I thought making a small pot of soup would be a good step to feeling well and back to normal.

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Using leftover roast chicken helps reduce cook time for this soup, making for a quickly made, comforting soup.

To be honest, I never used to like soup when I was younger. I always associated it with feeling under the weather, since that’s usually when I’d eat it. But it’s true that there’s something almost inherently soothing and comforting about a pot of homemade chicken soup that can make a person feel like they’re on the mend and recovering well. I didn’t really use any specific recipe when making this soup (mostly I fell back on general cooking experience) and cobbled together a quick pot of chicken noodle soup from what was available in the pantry, spice rack, and fridge. Leftover roast chicken breast, diced carrots, onion, and celery, and a bit of lemon juice and aromatic herbs turned the soup into a quick, satisfying, and comforting supper for someone getting over a bad cold.

Next time you’re feeling under the weather, take time to rest and recover, and when you’re feeling well enough, try making yourself a small pot of chicken soup. The hot broth will soothe your sore throat, its steamy goodness can help with congestion, and getting protein and fresh vegetables into your system will do wonders for your energy levels. It’s just the right thing to kick start your system into recovery mode.

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Baking Powder Biscuits and Tea!

This Sunday morning I was awake long before the rest of my family. Usually I take full advantage of the weekend and sleep in late, but for whatever reason I couldn’t sleep past seven o’clock. I was just kind of knocking around the house for a while on my own, working on homework, and running a load of laundry before anyone else got up. I thought about shoveling the snow from the walkway, and while the weather’s been a lot milder than it has been earlier in the month, I still chickened out from venturing out into the snow, and stayed inside where it was warm and dry.

Lately the city’s caught something of a break from frigid temperatures that were hanging down around -40 (with the ever-present wind chill taken into consideration, of course). And to be honest, aversion to snow-shoveling chores or not, since about midweek last week, the weather’s been downright bearable outside. Watching the birds visiting the feeder just outside the kitchen window, I thought I’d make something special for Sunday’s breakfast. Maybe I could use the ‘but I made breakfast!’ as an excuse to shirk shoveling the walk. To better my odds, I decided that I would make one of my family’s favourite things to have on snowy winter mornings: baking powder biscuits.

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A cup of hot tea and flaky, soft biscuits with butter and raspberry jam is as good a start to a Sunday as anything!

The recipe my family uses to make these biscuits is pretty basic, and can be doctored in all sorts of ways. You can add in a bit of sugar, dried currants, and swap the skim milk for rich cream and make the biscuits closer to the sort served during elegant afternoon teas. Or the biscuits could be turned into a more savoury variety with diced chives and grated sharp cheddar cheese incorporated into the dough and baked to be served alongside a hearty soup or stew full of tender beef, caramelized onions, and thick rounds of sliced carrots and parsnips.

Still, I think my favourite way to make them is without any fancying up. Simple and plain baking powder biscuits served hot with a cup of tea, and with a small pat of butter and raspberry jam dabbed in the middle of each biscuit is my favourite. You can set your kettle to boil and steep any kind of tea you like to have with your biscuits, but I like a nice black tea like Irish Breakfast with my biscuits and jam. Tempered with milk and sugar, the bitterness of the black tea is lessened, but it still has strong flavour and suits the biscuits nicely.

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You know you haven’t overworked the dough if the biscuits pull apart nicely into halves.

Under the ‘read more’ cut is the recipe that my family uses when we make baking powder biscuits. I’m not sure where this recipe originally came from my mums collection of handwritten recipes we keep in the kitchen. Possibly it’s an adaptation from another recipe, or maybe it’s a recipe Mum copied down while talking to one of her sisters on the phone. Either way, I hope that you’ll try making them this weekend—it’s pretty difficult to botch them up (even if your oven has a tendency to bake things unevenly like ours). Breaking each biscuit open with your hands and watching a curl of steam escape from the flaky, soft, snowy dough is a pretty lovely and comforting thing—and especially when you’ve made the biscuits yourself.

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Found Cake!

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What do you mean, ‘Cake has nothing to do with dark fantasy entertainment media’?

On November 18, Dragon Age: Inquisition will be released in North America, and I am incredibly excited. I’ve been a fan of Edmonton-based (and now Electronic Arts-owned) game developer BioWare for a while now, and Inquisition is the latest installment to their action-adventure RPG Dragon Age video game series. Glowing reviews of the game are already hitting major game commentary websites and online publications, but for the most part, I’ve been pretty selective about which ones I’ll read. (I’m trying to avoid as many spoilers as possible, you know.) Still, finding out that the game is scoring so well among critics makes for a serious vote of confidence about how good this game is going to be.

Critics by-and-large have a lot of good things to say about the game so far in terms of its mechanics, player experience, and narrative value and scope. And that’s good to hear, considering that I’ve been looking forward to this game for over a year, and have had my copy pre-ordered since about the middle of last summer. It’s also good to hear that BioWare is improving their track record with Inquisition, as a lot of people (including myself) were pretty disappointed with the game’s predecessor in the series, Dragon Age II. A lot of the reviewers are calling Inquisition the spiritual (if not direct) sequel to Dragon Age: Origins, the game that started the series off. A lot of the polished gameplay, rich narrative intricacies, and elements of player experience that people loved about Origins were noticeably absent in Dragon Age II, and it’s heartening to hear that they’ve apparently been re-instated (in spades!) for Inquisition.

And that’s the sort of thing that’s got me thinking about the beginning of the Dragon Age series again, and revisiting some of my favourite story-related moments, including the silly throw-away gags that suffused and influenced the entire series’ feel. Even though Dragon Age’s installments are essentially based in the dark fantasy genre of story, there are still plenty of light-hearted moments in each game that are usually tongue-in-cheek, good-natured ribbing from the game writers and designers about the tropes characteristic to the genre of fantasy media—from its novels, to movies and video games.

In Dragon Age: Origins, one of these moments includes a specific party member, a Mabari hound (a type of very clever and boisterous war dog native to Origin’s setting and culture of Ferelden). Unlike other party member characters, the Mabari hound has the specific ability to bring unseen/off-screen items to the player character if asked. If the player were to bring the hound character with them while adventuring away from the safe zone of the party’s camp, the hound can be selected and asked if it can find anything interesting in the player’s immediate surroundings. The hound’s searches won’t always yield results, but there are a number of scripted outcomes to carrying out this action. Often the hound will return to the player with different item drops of either equipment, weapons, first-aid components, story-related objects, or ridiculous jokey items for the player to mull over (and wonder exactly how little sleep and how much coffee the story writers were running on when they wrote this particular interaction).

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BioWare makes a point of putting its players in tough situations, and making them face terrible choices. You might be asked to save the world from unholy, otherwordly monsters erupting from deep within the earth, or save the world from unholy, otherworldly monsters spilling out of a day-glo green hole in the sky (and then you might even slay a few dragons while taking a break from saving the world from unholy, otherworldly underground- and sky-monsters), but what kind of person turns down an entire cake your trusty war dog has dragged out from god-only-knows-where? Not my kind of hero, that’s who!

Eventually, after the player has asked the Mabari hound to have a look around, the dog will cheerfully return with a slightly soggy piece of cake that it found apparently just lying around and waiting to be discovered in some undisclosed location nearby. The hound will present the cake to the player with all the remarkably well computer-imaged and -animated mimicry of a dog’s natural enthusiasm, and then it’s up the player whether the slightly chewed (and slightly dog-slobbery) gift of cake will be accepted or not. (Personally, I always pick the dialogue option that shows the player is blatantly grossed out by the concept of “found cake” delivered via canine, but which still tells the dog he is a good boy, yes he is!)

And since I’ve pretty well got a one-track mind fixated on everything Dragon Age related until the release date of Inquisition, I thought that for this week’s wrap up of this blog, I would end with a recipe for a treat that’s rather specifically related to the game franchise: the Mabari hound’s found cake. (But don’t worry, the doggy delivery service and unknown circumstances of the cake’s existence and arrival is not at all included, so it’s totally safe to make, eat, and enjoy.)

A quick internet search for a recipe related to “found cake”, led me to Gourmet Gaming’s website and 2012 entry about preparing a Dragon Age: Origins inspired and styled cake. I made a few adjustments to Gourmet Gaming’s base recipe—essentially by adding a teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of cayenne to the cake batter for a more intricate chocolate flavour profile, and by frosting the cake with entirely too much whipped cream. As a general note about this cake: due to the sheer amount of dairy layered on it, I don’t think the cake would keep for very long (even in the fridge), so it’s probably best that you and your family and friends (or favourite adventuring party members) polish the thing off within a day or two of putting it together.

However, I bet the resulting sugar rush is sure to help you speed through the last few remaining days until Dragon Age: Inquisition comes out!

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Okay, alright! I uh… I may have overdone it a little with the whipped cream here. (But at least there’s no dog slobber.)

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Bon Appétit’s Roasted Chicken Breast with Chickpeas, Tomatoes, and Paprika!

Bon Appétit’s recipe for Roast Chicken Breast with Garbanzo Beans, Tomatoes, and Paprika is one of the first recipes I tried out when I was first making weeknight suppers for my family. It isn’t a very complicated recipe (which was a good thing, since back then, I had even less experience in the kitchen than I have now), and it shares some similar attributes with my family’s usual way of preparing chicken for supper.

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The roasted tomatoes and cilantro give the meal its sharp acidity, the yogurt mixture balances it, and the meaty chicken breast and chickpeas carry and complement the flavours of cumin and paprika nicely.

Whenever my mum roasts chicken pieces for supper (usually chicken legs or thighs, she prepared whole roast chickens differently), she always makes a point of seasoning the chicken pieces with paprika. It’s a nicely fragrant and earthy spice, with a subdued flavour profile, and adds a rich colour to whatever meats you season with it. When I went looking for a recipe that I could try out, I immediately tried to find a chicken recipe that featured paprika. (Because my family was already familiar with it, and I knew we were sure to have it on hand in our spice rack!) A quick internet search containing the keywords “chicken” and “paprika” led me to Bon Appétit’s website, its catalogue of recipes, and this recipe which immediately appealed to me, of course!

Chickpeas (another name for garbanzo beans) are one of my favourite legumes, and this recipe features roasted tomatoes too, which I love. Cooking tomatoes intensifies their flavour, and can turn a bunch of humdrum hothouse tomatoes from the supermarket into a wonderful part of your meal (especially if you were to roast them with entire cloves of peeled and trimmed garlic—the buttery, nutty flavour of the cooked garlic tempers and offsets the tomatoes’ acidity nicely). Therefore, this recipe has become one of my go-to recipes when it comes to putting together a hot meal for my family (although I usually have to make a pot of rice as well since my dad doesn’t like chickpeas very much).

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You know it’s done when the chicken is cooked through, and the tomatoes have burst and softened.

Paprika is essentially dried sweet red peppers which have been ground to a fine powder. It’s a popular component in Hungarian cooking, and generally Hungarian paprika is thought to be the finest paprika available in terms of quality and most flavour. (It’s probably safe to say that Hungarian paprika has the most cultural caché and value when it comes to the subject of paprika produced by region.) Hungarian paprika is divided into six sub-classes ranging from delicate in flavour and spiciness to powerfully flavourful and spicy. For the recipe today, I used a smoked paprika. Its colour is a brilliant red, its texture is soft and crumbling, and it has the most wonderful earthy and smoky aroma.

A lot of food companies and chefs use paprika specifically for its deep red colour (as paprika loses some of its flavour when it is heated), and often it is mixed with a bit of heated oil (or oil that will be heated) in order to disperse its colour through other ingredients. In this dish, it is mixed with extra virgin olive oil and mixed into an uncooked yogurt mixture as well as spread throughout ingredients that are set to be roasted at a high temperature for about twenty minutes or so. If the flavour of the paprika is reduced or overwhelmed by the flavour of the other ingredients in the roasting dish, it is still in full flavour effect in the cool and tangy yogurt mixture!

If I were to alter the recipe, I would perhaps add another half-tablespoon of paprika into the mix, and cut the oil measurement down a bit. I generally find that during the roasting process, a lot of water is released from the tomatoes and that provides sufficient liquid to keep the chicken from drying out (and even better, that liquid helps to ensure there’s never really an issue with ingredients sticking to the bottom of the pan, or scorching while they roast!). If you’d prefer to use skinless, and boneless chicken breasts for this dish, you absolutely can (that’s all I had on hand this time, and they worked out fine) although the bone-in sort may offer a bit more flavour to the meat as the bones themselves heat throughout the cooking process. I’ve never prepared the meal using skin-on, and bone-in chicken breasts, though I’m sure that using them would result in serving a fairly similar, delicious supper. Try this recipe the next time you’re looking for a quick, brightly coloured, and flavourful chicken supper! It would go great with a salad of dark, leafy greens tossed in a balsamic dressing, and with a hunk of soft, freshly-baked bread on the side.

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Mm, leftovers! (This is just as good the next day as it is the day it’s made.)

Thug Kitchen, Obscenity, Hoppin’ John, and Sweet Potato Loaf!

Despite being a full time student at college with plenty of reading assignments filling up my evenings, I still try my best to find some time throughout the week for leisure reading. I’m currently working my way through Melissa Mohr’s book, Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, and I’m absolutely loving it. Mohr’s book is about the interconnected cultural and social history of obscenity in the English language, and it directly connects to my interest in popular history writing, and communication and media studies. There’s also plenty of accessible information to feed my curiosity about linguistics and the ways that language develops. Goodreads tells me that I’m currently only 32% of the way through this 316 page book, but I am enjoying it immensely, and have learned a few things already about why we use swear words and obscene language the way we do in English. Mohr writes with wit and provides clear and considerate explanations of where our notions of obscene language originate, and how contributing factors have effected it, and influenced our communication practices throughout various periods of history.

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Look at all the colours on that plate! Who doesn’t love a colourful, flavourful supper?

I remember learning in university that languages are constantly evolving and changing, and that they shift to reflect changing culture, beliefs and values, and systems of communication. Swearing then, as a component of the English language, and as a tool used to impart emotional emphasis in speech and writing, reflects these cultural and communication changes as well. Mohr explains that words which are deemed inappropriate, vulgar, or obscene are deemed so in reflection of a communication community’s idea of propriety and morality. Mohr also reminds us that where cultural and behavioural norms are established and accepted as commonplace behaviour, there is also the opportunity and potential to alter these rules and confines in order to suit different purposes. There’s the potential for interaction and subversion of these rules, thus changing systems of power and convention on multiple social and cultural levels.

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Thug Kitchen is right–when this Sweet Potato Loaf is in the oven, its aroma beats the hell out of burning a fall-themed, baking-scented candle hands down.

This sounds a bit wordy and ostentatious, sure, but it directly connects to one of my favourite food blogs running right now: the very cheeky, popular, and potty-mouthed Thug Kitchen. The vegan-oriented (though not exclusively so!) website released a cook book this month, and just like the website from which it originates, the cookbook filled with the same straight-up foul language that made its parent website so striking, entertaining, and interesting to visit. Thug Kitchen wields vulgarity to fantastic effect—effect that Mohr would agree harks back to what the term ‘vulgar’ originally meant.

Early on in her book, Mohr explains there is a connection between vulgar language and class distinction, and that there persists the (increasingly out-of-date) idea that “it is that spoken by ordinary, uneducated folk. It has become a synonym for swearing because “the common people” have through the centuries been thought to be more likely than others to employ profane or obscene language” (11).

Mohr immediately goes on to explain to her readers that this assumption about the education level of the ordinary, swear-happy general public throughout different time periods is rather untrue—that the upper classes (those who were supposedly educated enough to eschew vulgar language) swore like all get out throughout history. (She also describes how swearing and the use of vulgar language doesn’t necessarily disappear as the general level of education within a community increases, either.) On page 55 of her book, Mohr explains that in ancient Rome there were basically two different types of Latin language being used, essentially split along levels of discourse—Latin for the exclusive class of the educated, literary elite (which remained largely unchanged over centuries), and a “vulgar” (common) language that the lower classes (made up of multiple intermingling cultures) used in their daily activities, and which would eventually evolve into the Romance vernaculars.

And indeed Thug Kitchen maintains that its intentional use of obscenity and vulgarity (as common language) isn’t meant to offend or turn people off of their website or its content, but rather it’s meant to find common ground with average blog readers who are looking for recipes and food writing that’s not foodie-elitist or “dull or pretentious as hell” (as Thug Kitchen’s cookbook’s item description on Amazon.ca describes). Thug Kitchen understands that there’s a relatively standardized mode of writing for food blogs (and cookbooks), one that it views as too exclusionary to the common person who’s simply looking to make a healthy, budget-friendly meal. Thug Kitchen labels this certain kind of polite language style that these blogs often use as “dull or pretentious as hell” and implies that it reads as insincere in its enthusiasm, or worse, is elitist in its writing style and content (ex: super expensive, super trendy food styles that are usually only accessible to a privileged, or wealthy portion of the public).

Thug Kitchen wants to avoid that kind of distinctly cultivated and maintained elitist authorial ethos. It wants its blog, writing, recipes, and practical food sensibilities to reflect and connect with the average visitor. We could assume that Thug Kitchen believes this person to be someone who is hungry, is on a budget, and doesn’t know what healthy meal to make for supper tonight. Thug Kitchen also knows that to stand out in stark contrast to the elitist foodie personas and in the blogosphere, they need to consider carefully how they are going to operate within the general conventions of food blogging and food writing, and how they are going to subvert its norms at the same time. Their idea is that in order to reach the average person, they need to use the kind of communication practices and common vernacular that everyone likely uses. Thug Kitchen knows they need to use the same words and familiar kind of language that people generally use in our day-to-day living. And that includes routinely and liberally using all the four-letter salty talk they can cram into their sentences.

There’s been a couple of dishes that I’ve wanted to make from Thug Kitchen’s backlog of recipes for some time. One of them is their vegetarian take on a traditional New Year’s dish from the Southern United States, Hoppin’ John. According to the information I was able to scrounge up from a quick Google search, the dish is supposed to welcome a new year full of prosperity (financially and otherwise) for those that partake in the meal at the start of a new year. The black-eyed peas (or field beans, as they’re sometimes called) represent coinage, while the cooked greens (collard greens, Swiss chard, kale, or other cooking greens) are supposed to represent bank notes. Sometimes Hoppin’ John is made with a coin added to the pot as it simmers, and other times is served with a coin set beneath each diner’s plate (a much more sanitary choice, I would think).

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I know November 2 isn’t New Year’s Day, but it was daylight savings today! And that’s got to count for something, right? I mean, it’s kind of like starting a new section of the year, isn’t it? Anyway, I wonder if making and eating Hoppin’ John means my luck will improve for the remainder of the year…

Whether or not you believe in luck-bringing superstitions isn’t too important, since this bean-and-rice meal is flavourful and budget-friendly (definite criteria for its inclusion in Thug Kitchen’s recipes!) and that’s its main selling feature. When I was putting it together for supper tonight, I tailored the amount of spiciness to my family’s tastes, and added in extra peppers in adobo to the mix. The result was perfectly spicy, and no post-dishing up addition of Tabasco sauce was necessary. I served the beans with simple minute rice, and with a single bunch of Swiss chard that I washed and trimmed then sautéed in a bit of olive oil with garlic, and the juice and peel of an orange. The citrus brightened the greens’ appearance and flavour, and added a clean acidity that cut through the worst of the heat from the beans and rice.

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Sugary on the top and nutty on the inside! I even made a double-sized recipe so I could make two loaves–one to eat, and one to give away to our neighbour!

The other recipe I tried out today is a more recent addition to Thug Kitchen’s collection. At the beginning of this month, Thug Kitchen published a recipe online for Sweet Potato Loaf—citing it as something somewhere between pumpkin pie and carrot cake. Studded with a generous portion of chopped walnuts, and fragrantly spiced with ground ginger and cinnamon, this loaf made me briefly reconsider my hard line “no thank you” stance on carrot cake. (I say briefly, because while I understand the similarities between it and carrot cake, I still think I’d prefer dense and moist sweet potato loaf with its lightly sweetened, nutty, spiced flavour to that terrible cream-cheese frosted, boringest-of-the-boring-root-vegetables, majorly-over-sugared-in-order-to-make-you-forget-there-are-super-boring-carrots-in-it monstrosity of a dessert.) As for the Sweet Potato Loaf’s pumpkin pie similarities—you know, I wasn’t really feeling it. Beyond the similar spices used in both dishes, and the wonderful aroma and flavours of each, I still feel like the two desserts are pretty distinctly separate from one another. Both make for fantastic fall season baking though!

I think all in all, I’d recommend Thug Kitchen as an engaging and relatably foul-mouthed food blog, its recipes for Hoppin’ John and Sweet Potato Loaf, and Melissa Mohr’s fascinating book on English’s obscene language, too.

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Kidney Bean Curry!

I am so glad that I learned to make this curry. I think originally I had copied a recipe I had found in one of my family’s various cookbooks, but that was already several years ago… and I never wrote it down or made a note to myself about which book the recipe had come from. But luckily for me, the basics of a good kidney bean curry are easy to generally remember. So whenever I have a craving for the stuff, I pretty much make it from scratch to the best of my memory of how the original recipe went.

Needless to say, every time I make this curry, it shifts a little bit to reflect what ingredients I have on hand (and according to how much of the different spices I feel like adding each time). But I have a feeling that this ever-slightly-changing curry recipe is going to continue to serve me quite well in the days and weeks and months to come while I’m studying at college. Attending classes full time, and managing my homework workload doesn’t leave me too much time in the evenings to dedicate to making complicated suppers for myself.

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With a pinch of salt to bring out the flavours of the fragrant spices, spicy hot peppers, and fresh ginger, this kidney bean curry really satisfies as a tasty and flavourful supper!

I’ve got a veritable laundry list of good things I could say about this kidney bean curry. Firstly, it is super easy to prepare. There’s minimal chopping involved, so extensive, fancy knife work isn’t necessary, and because it’s a one-pot kind of supper, there’s not a whole lot of clean-up to be done afterwards.

So its preparation doesn’t take too much time out of your day, and neither does its cooking time. Ten to fifteen minutes to prepare the ingredients is all you’ll need—enough time to peel and chop the ginger, peel and chop the onion, and wash and dice your tomatoes and spicy peppers. Other than that, all you need is a can opener to open the tins of kidney beans and crushed tomatoes, and you’re ready to start cooking! Add on another twenty minutes of a gentle simmer, and your curry is ready to serve.

And I haven’t even mentioned that those easily-prepped curry ingredients are pretty wallet-friendly too (and that’s always a plus if you’re working with a student’s budget like me!). You could probably even pinch a few more pennies and buy dried kidney beans in bulk instead of in tins from the grocery store. (Although, that will come at a cost for preparation time, as those beans will need a few hours to soak in water before they’re ready to use.) But hey, you’ll probably cut out a bit of sodium as well by swapping canned beans for the dried variety.

Which brings us to the next lovely quality of this curry: this is a supper you can feel good about putting together, serving to your loved ones, or even eating up all on your own as a week’s worth of leftover lunches. And that’s because while this curry is supremely flavourful and delicious, it’s pretty healthy for you too—what with all that fibre from the beans, and vitamin C from the tomatoes (not to mention: It’s low-fat!). Plus, if you serve it with basmati rice, long grain brown rice, or simple, white minute-rice, you’ll have a full protein on your plate—with no meat required. (And that means this curry should be a definite contender for your next Meatless Monday supper!)

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