30 June 2014

eat the cup 2014, part seven :: everything's cool

the first thrashings of summer heat have landed on our backs here in montreal. i fight this for as long as i can where the world cup is concerned, but there are days when i have to admit it: it's simply not possible for me to cook.

that's why the gods invented ceviche.

well, i don't know if any actual gods were involved, or if it was just a group of central americans who had a wonderful haul of fresh fish and no desire to do anything that would make them hotter. ceviche is for people who are either put off by sushi or who simply aren't confident enough to try it for themselves [like me]. it seems strange, the idea of being intimidated by preparing something you don't cook, but it really isn't as simple as carving up a few filets and throwing them on rice.

ceviche is common throughout central and south america and although there are regional variations. the basics are the same: you take fresh fish and marinate it in citrus juices, along with herbs and spices. as the fish marinates, the citric acid reacts with the flesh and "cooks" it. the fish will become opaque, just as it does when heated, but you don't have to turn on a single heat source. when the temperature gets into the 90s and higher [it's forecast to be as high as 41 celsius tomorrow, which is over 100 fahrenheit], this preparation trick seems somewhat miraculous.

while snooping around the internet, i found references to the costa rican method of producing ceviche, which involves using soda of some type- ginger ale or soda water, usually- in the marinade. i put my own completely inauthentic twist on this by using fresca, my personal favourite soft drink [although honestly i rarely drink them] and one that has an exceptionally zesty citrus flavour. i also added a bit of fresh ginger, since ginger makes almost anything better.

ceviche works with almost anything from the ocean. for some reason, i'm leery of using shellfish, because there's a fine line between riddled with bacteria and tough as a shoe, but lots of other people do this, especially with shrimp and i imagine that smaller scallops would be wonderful. in this particular instance, i used a combination of white fishes: cod, haddock and tilapia. tilapia is extremely common in central and south american cuisine, so it's the most authentic one and also a fish that takes exceptionally well to this manner of cooking. i suspect that pink-fleshed fish like salmon and trout won't work because their coveted oily flavour will compete with the citrus rather than complement it. [i do think that tuna would be a nice addition, however.] very delicate fish like sole, or anything that's frozen rather than fresh, will not work, because the "cooking" process will reduce them to mush.

gets the dom[tm] seal of approval
here's the list of what i used:
about 1.5 pounds fresh white-fleshed fish, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup fresca [or ginger ale]
1 small onion, chopped
1 small bunch of cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup lime juice
1/3 cup lemon juice
1-2 hot peppers, seeded and chopped or 2 tsps hot pepper sauce [to taste]
2 tbsp capers*

*these are completely optional and something that i decided to throw in to offer a salty counterpoint to the sweetness of the soda. if you don't like them, don't use them. if you don't use them, though, i'd recommend splitting the amount of soda in half and using a half cup plain soda water.

the instructions for preparation are simple: mix all the ingredients except the fish in a large bowl. leave for about 5 minutes to give the flavours time to blend. add the fish and make sure that it's completely submerged. put it in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours; the firmer the fish, the longer you should leave it, although if you want things to move faster, cut the fish in smaller pieces. the fish will look opaque and break apart easily when it's done.

i specifically wanted to do something to honour costa rica, since i just barely touched on their flavours and because, frankly, they deserve their own spotlight. a few short weeks ago, everyone in the world who knew anything about the world cup knew that costa rica was a team destined to dust the basement stairs of a terribly difficult group. instead, they came out at the top of the class, whereas england and italy, probably the two countries most associated with the sport, got sent home with failing grades.

a school metaphor is apt here because much of the team's success has come from a player who's barely out of high school himself, 21 year old joel campbell. the youngest player to score at a tournament that's seen several young players do well, he celebrates his goals thusly:

because we didn't feel pervy enough already
when he's actually playing, though, he's all business. it was unnerving watching how calmly he took a penalty shot that helped send his team through to the quarter-finals, because he possesses a maturity far beyond his years. he has the combination of self-awareness and confidence that one finds only in professional athletes and serial killers. three million costa ricans [and probably several would-be victims] are really happy that he went with the former.

costa rica can basically do whatever they want now, because they've already gone so much farther than anyone imagined they could go. they'll face the netherlands in their next game, which is a tough, tough draw. but even if they do bow out, they're already the tournament's greatest overachievers. on the other hand, they haven't exactly done what was expected of them at any point until now, so who knows what they'll be able to pull off?

and speaking of pulling things [like clothes] off... here's your

man candy of the match

today saw a surprisingly sluggish german side see off the tournament's other great overachievers, algeria. while i've been impressed with the german play thus far [although they are showing a tendency to roll over a little too easily], i can't help but feel saddened that an injury sidelined one of the team's best strikers and one of the game's truly great examples of man candy. so, in absentia, i give you: mario gomez.

it would feel hot in here even if it weren't hot in here
why yes, i would love to roll around on the grass with you
gomez is another statuesque figure with chiseled features, penetrating blue eyes and a sideline as a male model [not uncommon in this sport] for prestige brands who seem to have cottoned on to the fact that when people dream of a thrilling trip to europe, what they're dreaming of is meeting someone who looks like mario gomez to sweep them off their feet, not a package tour and some photos of the leaning tower of pisa.

best. vacation. ever.
i find that gomez bears a certain resemblance to earlier man candy feature olivier giroud. both are tall drinks of water, as they say. both have mesmerizing bright eyes. both have that effortless-but-totally-stylish hairstyle. both have spoken up in support of gay rights. and most importantly, both seem to share the same allergy to clothing.

reject the tyranny of shirts.
they're trying to figure out who gets to tell him the game hasn't started yet.
aw man, now my pants are chafing...
what is most tragic for those of us admiring the beauties of the beautiful game is that france and germany are set to face off against each other in the quarter finals. that means that gomez' injury has robbed us all of a chance to see two of the world's most attractive specimens romping around the pitch, trying to compete with each other to see who can get down to their undies first, or possibly giving each-other a good natured embrace as they exchange shirts that neither of them can ever wear due to their mutual affliction.

the world cup is a cruel thing. cruel to mario. cruel to those of us who don't get to see him. get better soon, schatzi. wir vermissen dich!

we miss you!!

27 June 2014

eat the cup 2014, part six :: all-geria

i'm soooo excited!!!!!! as much as i try to insert variety into "eat the cup", i can't deny that there is a certain sameness to some of what i end up with. northeastern europe, sub-saharan africa and large parts of south america have commonalities that means that the things can start to get a little repetitive when you have a lot of representation from those three areas. 

but today [actually last night], i got to do an eat the cup like never before, because algeria qualified to move onto the knockout round of the world cup. i have never cooked north african cuisine for eat the cup and let me tell you... i freaking love food from north africa. so much so that i just went for it and didn't even think to combine it with anything else. the complexity of the flavours involved, the variety of ingredients, the heartiness, the subtle french influence... north african food is a like a fantasy.

taken in brief, algeria's history does read like a kind of fantasy: it was home to the ancient city of carthage and a major part of the phoenician empire. later, it became part of the ottoman empire and a haven for corsairs- termed barbary pirates after the name of the berber people who inhabited much of northern africa- who struck fear into the hearts of europeans [they were known to conduct raids on european towns, capturing thousands to be sold into slavery].

the modern history of algeria is considerably less romantic and more tragic. colonisation by france led to power and wealth being concentrated in the hands of a minority and eventually to a popular revolution. since finally gaining independence, the country has faced autocracy, terrorism and even a civil war. their periodic elections have often been criticised as biased, even after opposition parties were allowed to participate fully. on the optimistic side, an almost overlooked part of the so-called "arab spring" of 2011 was that the algerian government lifted a state of emergency that had been in place for nineteen years.

so the current algerian national team arrived in brazil carrying the hopes of a nation that was once a pillar of the ancient and medieval world, a feared adversary and a wounded culture emerging from decades of painful struggle. the odds against them winning were about 1500-1 originally and have only improved to 300-1 now that they've survived the group stage.

but so far, algeria have been amazing. seriously. at the outset of the campaign, the only thing anyone was wondering was if they'd beat the record for total minutes of world cup soccer played without scoring a goal, something they could have done within the first half of their first game. instead, they struck first against heavily favoured belgium, before finally falling to a 2-1 loss. then they crushed south korea 4-2, scoring more goals in one game than most people believed they would get in the entire tournament. they stuck to their guns against a determined russian side to get the tie they needed to finish second in their group and become one of only two african nations to make it into the final sixteen. no team has looked more thrilled at their success. no group of fans has looked more awestruck and thankful for their team's accomplishment.

so this is my tribute to algerian cuisine:

first up, a tajine of beef with peas, pears and mint. well, i used beef. it would probably be more authentic to use lamb. more important is that you want the meat you use to have some fat. if you want to prepare a vegetarian option, you can use a meat substitute, but you'll want to add more oil, or some butter.

here's what you'll need:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion or 2-3 shallots
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp ground fennel seeds
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp harissa paste
salt and pepper to taste [i like using white pepper]
roughly a pound of meat [without bones]
2-3 pears, cored and chopped
2 cups peas [i use frozen ones, so if you use fresh, you'll want to add them later in the cooking process]
small bunch of mint leaves, chopped
1 generous cup of water
crumbled goat cheese

that's a long list, but it's really not very difficult to make this work. "tajine" is basically stew, it's about patience and layering.

LET ME EXPLAIN AFTER THE BREAK...

making faces :: better late than never?

regret: don't play that game
now that it's officially summer, i'm too late to review any spring collection items, right?

but it's really hard for me to let some of them pass me by, because as i think about the things i've passed up, i start to wonder  if i'm missing out on something i would really love. something limited edition. that's how they get you.

so i belatedly caved in to my fascination with guerlain's spring rouge automatique lipsticks and picked up "attrape coeur". this has nothing to do with the eyeshadow palette of the same name that was part of last year's spring collection, although now that i think about it, the two would look nice together.

"attrape coeur" the lipstick is a bright, juicy coral with a strong pink undertone. i have to beware of corals, because ones that are too orange make me look like hot death. this one, however, has now joined the ranks of my very favourite coral tones, ones that i can wear without fear. i find that the cooler tone of my lips brings out more of the pink [you can see the difference between the swatch on my arm, which is warmer, and the close up on my lips.] it's bright, but not tremendously so, especially given that it's quite glossy, a finish which reflects light, and not matte, which absorbs light.
attrape coeur
attrape coeur
given that my window of corals is rather narrow, it's not surprising that "attrape coeur" is somewhat similar to my other two favourite pink-toned corals. dior "montmartre" is deeper and redder. lancôme "corset" is deeper and more orange. ["corset" is as orange as i can go without running into problems.] since both of those have satin/ matte finishes, they appear even deeper than they are. i didn't do a side-by-side comparison, but guerlain "reflex" is pinker, brighter and has more white in its base.

l to r :: dior montmartre, attrape coeur, lancome corset

i really like the rouge automatique formula, but i've found that the last few limited releases haven't been quite as good as the shades from the permanent collection. "attrape coeur" doesn't emphasise my lip lines, unlike the automatiques from the holiday collection [as pretty as they are], but i did find the wear time to be a little less than what i'd experienced with the original automatique formula. i would say that the colour can last up to four hours, but during that time, there's significant fading. although you won't get the dreaded "ring of shame" around the outside of the lips, the wear can get a little patchy, especially if your lips are dry. from more of a distance, though, it looks like quite a pretty stain, so how much you like it worn over time is going to depend on how important these details are to you. the formula isn't drying, but i would recommend treating your lips with a bit of balm before applying, since it will help the colour wear more evenly.

it's an absolutely wonderful shade for summer- bright and cheery but not neon, which can be intimidating for some people. here's an example of what i mean:




products used

the base ::
hourglass mineral veil primer
mac paint pot "painterly"
ysl teint touche éclat foundation "beige 10"
nars radiant creamy concealer "vanilla"
mac prep and prime finishing powder

the eyes ::
armani neo-black palette e/s #1 [sparkling dirty champagne]*
armani e/s palette "medusa" [soft grass green, medium olive]
inglot e/s "351" [matte ivory]
ysl effet faux cils mascara "noir radical"

the cheeks ::
armani neo-black palette blush [deep beige]*
nars blush "boys don't cry" [bright coral red]*
hourglass ambient lighting powder "diffused light" [beight yellowed white]

the lips ::
guerlain rouge automatique l/s "attrape coeur" [juicy pink melon]

suggested alternates :: armani neo-black #1 = armani "beige nudo" [warmer]; armani neo-black blush = nars douceur; nars boys don't cry = mac salsarose [deeper, pinker] or dior "new red" [considerably softer/ lighter, but since this look features a light application, it might be better for the purposes of recreating what you see here]

although attrape coeur is limited, it's still available at many guerlain counters and online.

the photo at the top of this page is taken from an hilarious and thought-provoking series of photographs called "in extremis: bodies without regret" by sandro giordano. see more here.

23 June 2014

eat the cup 2014, part five :: i wanna eat like common people

i have a very complicated relationship with uruguayan striker luis suarez. he doesn't know anything about it, of course, but there have been years of conflicted emotion, frustrated thumping of furniture, raised voices and trust issues between us. it goes back to the 2010 world cup, when suarez got himself red-carded and ruined the best game in the entire tournament in order to prevent ghana from scoring, thus ensuring his team won. it was a terrible, unsportsmanlike thing to do, all the worse because it worked.

then, of course, there was his time in the premier league, when he exhibited a diva-like attitude towards his liverpool teammates while consistently failing to live up to his much-discussed potential. to top that off, he was suspended for spewing racist taunts at another player and, when he returned and faced the same team again, refused to shake the outstretched hand of the man he'd abused at the beginning of the match. i hated luis suarez.

then a friend of mine tweeted this ad that he appeared in :



i was at a bus stop when i saw this and probably scared the people around me when i cracked up laughing out of nowhere. there is something very winning about a man with a big ego who can still laugh at himself.

then, all of a sudden, he seemed to calm himself down. maybe it was his steely-eyed new manager, brendan rogers. maybe it was the realities of life as a father. maybe it was that he was getting sick of being suspended all the time. he marched himself onto the field and showed that he absolutely deserved his hype. but besides that, he also became much more of a team guy. he passed the ball. he set up other people for shots. he was deferential to his team captain. he even joined in an online campaign to stop racism. although he still didn't admit to his own wrongdoing in that regard, it's reassuring to know that the man realises that such behaviour is unacceptable.

with all that, it was really difficult not to like luis suarez.

so when i heard that suarez had recovered from knee surgery sufficiently to play against england in the second match of the world cup this year, i was uneasy. was it going to be the new suarez, or the one from the last world cup who was not above some really dirty tricks?

as it turned out, suarez didn't need any dirty tricks. england didn't play badly, but he still managed to defeat them more or less single-handedly, outwitting several people from his own team, who know his game better than anyone and proving that he is, without a doubt, the real deal. to top it off, he became emotional to the point of tears after his second goal, which was touching. then he went over and hugged his premier league team captain steven gerrard, because even though it was possibly the greatest day of his life, he didn't want his friends to feel badly.

so for this latest instalment of "eat the cup", i wanted to show my appreciation for uruguay and their star player, because despite his rocky road to this point, i couldn't hate him even as he eliminated my team from the tournament. [note :: i'm still bitter against a certain portuguese player for eliminating england back in 2006.]

as a different sort of approach, since the victory was such a one-man effort, i thought of preparing a meal of luis suarez' favourite foods.

or maybe not
cooking uruguayan food, i discovered, is more difficult than you might think. well, the actual preparation of it isn't difficult at all, it's just that uruguay is influenced so much by other cultures- european and south american- that it's difficult to pinpoint something that makes it distinct. in fact, many of the most popular dishes are typically italian- pastas and pizza. argentinian-style barbeque and yerba maté are common as well, but it's hard to put your finger on what's particular to uruguay.

the problem may be deeper than we thought
then i found out that one thing that is apparently common in uruguay is the eating of gnocchi towards the end of the month, when the lower classes would typically find themselves short on cash. gnocchi have always been cheap and, of course, hearty, which makes them a wise choice for a family looking to stretch its budget.

but in keeping with the theme of eat the cup thus far, i didn't just want to have a dish from one country. and besides, the tournament has seen one big winner who i've thus far failed to honour.

le hint, le hint
i don't know how, but i swear that every tournament, france manages to do something to make me love them a little. i never start off cheering for them, but then i see them in action and there is just something that wins me over. i can even be against them and by the end of the same match, i'm cheering them along, with no idea how i got from a to b. they're putting thoughts in my brain, i believe.

along the theme of foods for the poor, i thought of one of the items most associated with french cuisine: escargots. yes, snails are basically garden slugs with shells. yes, they feel kind of gushy and horrifying when you touch them. but they're so tasty that you are able to put those thoughts out of your mind. no wonder the monied classes co-opted these succulent little buggers.

escargots don't have a tonne of flavour on their own. they're kind of like bland organ meat in both taste and texture, which is why they are typically prepared with other ingredients, notably butter and garlic. that's another way in which they are undeniably french: they're a food that can stand up to the amount of garlic generally used in french cuisine. and there is nothing at all wrong with that.

dom even wore a shirt in suarez' honour
so for my "common people" dish, i used:

about 400g fresh gnocchi
2 tins of escargots [get the french ones if possible, without any added salt. you can add salt yourself]
2-3 tbsps butter
1 shot of brandy [you can substitute another strong brown liquor if you'd like]
1 cup heavy cream [if you'd like to do a lighter version, combine half a cup of regular milk with half a cup of low-fat yogurt]
2 shallots
4-5 cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste
medium sized bunch of italian flat-leaf parsley

boil water in a large pot and cook the gnocchi. check on it periodically to make sure it isn't becoming too soft. if it seems done before the sauce, turn off the heat, drain it rinse it lightly with cold water [make sure to strain all the water out!!!!!!!] and return it to the pot.

in a deep, wide pan [i used a frying pan. there are no rules.], melt the butter over low-medium heat. add the shallots and garlic and cook until the shallots are very soft. keep the heat on the low side or else the garlic will burn, which is gross. if the garlic burns accidentally, start over. this isn't a dish where the garlic flavour is going to be masked by anything else.

add the snails and continue to cook a few minutes longer. then add the brandy. let it cook until reduced by about half, always keeping an eye out to make sure the garlic isn't burning. once again, err on the side of low heat. add the cream [or milk and yogurt] and stir to incorporate. if the cream starts to separate, remove the pan from the heat temporarily, keep stirring and return to the burner at a lower heat. allow everything to reduce by a third to half. don't worry if the sauce doesn't look thick enough. we're about to take care of that.

if you haven't had to drain and rinse the gnocchi thus far, do so. then add the sauce to the gnocchi. you can do this over low heat, or over a burner that's just been turned off. stir everything together for a few minutes. the gnocchi will start to absorb some of the liquid and the extra starch will thicken what isn't absorbed.

during this process, you can chop about half the parsley and mix it in. reserve the remainder to use as a garnish.

when the sauce and pasta are well mixed, you're ready to serve. top with parsley and freshly ground pepper.

this is an exceptionally hearty meal, so you don't need servings as large as you would from regular pasta, or else you won't have room for...

man candy of the match

ok, this one is wicked obvious, but sometimes a person is so obviously beautiful that you just can't ignore them. let's all take a moment to appreciate the beauty of french striker olivier giroud:

here he is being stylish and french-y
here he is showing off his famously floppy haircut
here he is being goofy, which is always sexy
here he is being mostly naked, which is also sexy
here he is saying that he sees no difference between hetero- and homosexuals, so EQUAL OPPORTUNITY OGLING!!
here he is hoisting diminutive teammate mathieu valbuena on his back, which most people agree has been the most adorable moment of the world cup so far
and here he is looking all come-hither in bed...
only the unmentionable portuguese captain has graced as many lists of "hottest players at the world cup", but come on... chiseled features, big blue eyes, the combination of french stylishness with a propensity for taking his clothes off [something which got him in a spot of trouble with the media and his wife earlier in the year], his sweet habit of pulling funny faces and boyishly carousing with his team... these are the essentials of man candy-ness. allez, les bleus indeed. but afterward, venez chez moi.

22 June 2014

making faces :: a flattering flush

a woman cannot live on food and footie alone! [actually, anyone can live on food, that's why we consume it. -ed.] i have a backlog forming of posts on other things, so i figured i should slide this one in, since it's already long overdue.

i've already posted about the new hourglass ambient lighting blush line, a combination of each of their ambient lighting powders with a complementary blush shade. having tested the waters with light, cool pink "ethereal glow", i've now added to my collection "luminous flush".

it's described by hourglass as a "champagne rose" mixed with their "luminous light" powder, a shade meant to mimic a candlelight under any conditions. it's one of the more shimmery ambient lighting powders and, as expected, "luminous flush" is one of the more shimmery blushes. if you take a few moments with a brush to buff the colour into your skin, the shimmer is less obvious, which makes it easier to pull off during the daytime. at night, i say let it ride. it's never overwhelming or glittery and does, in fact, impart something like a candlelit glow to the skin.

whereas my "ethereal glow" had large sections of the blush colour alongside smaller sections of the highlight powder, my "luminous flush" is well-marbled throughout, with the ambient lighting powder overlapping the blush throughout. each will be different, such is the nature of the product. both of mine thus far have been heavier on the blush and, hence, heavier on pigmentation. i was a little surprised at how intense the colour of "luminous flush" was both swatched and in use.

20 June 2014

eat the cup 2014, part four :: cheering the overdog

a strange thing happened to me the other day, something which has never happened before in any international sporting event that i can remember. i got won over by an american team. normally, i dismiss the americans at the world cup as that group who always get included, but who really don't belong. seeing them play has never convinced me otherwise, but on monday, i have to say, i was impressed.

usually, when i don't feel strongly about either of the teams playing, my natural inclination is to root for the underdog, just to keep things exciting. i also have a tendency to root for teams from africa, who are long overdue for a serious title run. and according to fifa's [admittedly questionable] official ranking, the united states comes in 13th in the world, whereas ghana are far below at 37th. that would make the u.s. serious favourites to win their match, no questions asked.

except that a lot of people thought that the u.s. were fated to get pounded to the bottom of what is arguably the toughest group in the entire tournament. ghana were surprisingly resilient in 2010, making it all the way to the quarter finals [and perhaps deserving to go farther], in a run that included knocking the states out of the tournament. in 2006, ghana secured their advancement to the round of sixteen by defeating the americans and relegating them to the bottom of what was, again, an extremely difficult group. so saying that the americans could be confident in their ability to defeat the black stars is just silly. if anything, the odds looked to tilt the other way.

but win they did and it was a fine performance to watch. it is really difficult to dislike a team when you see one of their star players- clint dempsey, who came close to breaking a world cup record by scoring about thirty seconds into the game- break his nose and keep going.



and john brooks' reaction to scoring what turned out to be the winning goal was a surprisingly touching.maybe not the most beautiful game that's ever been played, but not everything can be fluid and elegant, particularly not when someone has their nasal bridge pushed into their brain stem.

so in honour of the gritty american accomplishment and in honour of the fact that i really did get to like them over the course of our 90+ minutes together, i decided that the fourth instalment of eat the cup would be reflective of american culinary traditions.

you can call this cheating if you want.

haute cuisine?
those, my friends, are chicken fingers. yes, there are all sorts of things that you could qualify as american cooking which are far superior, but let me make my argument:


  • no country in the world has contributed more to the development of convenience food than the united states and, for better or worse, it is their most influential culinary legacy. 
  • said fingers come from janes, who are a canadian company, but whose story is the very heart of the american dream.
  • these fingers were purchased at costco, who are one of the few large corporations to take the idea of corporate citizenship- crucial to the ideal of the american capitalist economy- as a serious part of their business. 


but ok, i wasn't going to stop with a plate of chicken fingers.

those of you who follow me on instagram likely saw this disturbing photo i posted and wondered what i was concocting:

if this makes you hungry, your hunger bits are broken
that's actually just a pot of water, but buried in its depths are dumplings, my friends. within a few minutes of that photo being taken, those wonderful little balls of comfort bobbed their heads above the simmering surface to let me know that they were ready for consumption.

but i didn't just prepare any old dumplings. no, those are bavarian style dumplings, made with bread [stale is fine] dampened with milk, with an egg, stir fried shallots, chives and parmesan cheese mixed into them. this is only the second time in my life i've attempted dumplings, but it's such a simple process that it really doesn't require a lot of practice. you mix the ingredients so that they are wet but not so soft that they can't hold their shape. then you form them into little round balls. if your dough feels to wet, you can add more bread or bread crumbs. if it's too dry, add more milk. i find it easiest to form the dumplings if i rinse my hands in cold water after each one, because it keeps the dough from sticking to me.

you pop them in a pot of simmering- not boiling- water and you wait until they come up to meet you. the final consistency is doughy but solid and the combination of the dumplings with the lightly breaded chicken deserves to be in a cooking encyclopedia as the definition of comfort food.

but why bavarian dumplings? well because i would be remiss in not celebrating the annihilation defeat of my football nemesis portugal by the german national team. i can't have been alone in suspecting that the germans were going to thunder right through to the final stages of the competition [i had them making it to the semi-finals] , but i hadn't anticipated they would announce their arrival with such authority. now is the moment when i struggle to find a way to describe their win without using a military metaphor... thinking... thinking... and moving on...

i specifically sought out a recipe from the southern part of the country, because that is the birthplace of young thomas müller, who at twenty-four has already won a golden boot for scoring the most goals at the 2010 world cup and, with three of germany's four goals to his name already in 2014, looks like he might be lining up for another. [there are others who have scored three goals thus far, but only thomas did it in one game.] he has already scored as many world cup goals as argentinian superstar diego maradona did in his entire career. and once again he's twenty-friggin-four. so it is in honour of this skinny phenom that i prepared my dumplings.

to top everything off, i went back to a winner i'd [sort of] featured before, but heck, as i'm writing this they've already won a second game, booking their ticket through to the knockout round. the sauce is called hagao and it is popular over much of colombia- a country that otherwise has a diversity of regional cuisines. it's made with tomatoes, round and green onions, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper and the ingredients are heated as their blended together. now you know as much about it as i do. i don't think that there are a lot of hard and fast rules about making this. just use your best judgment and personal tastes when deciding how much of each ingredient to use. i leaned a little more heavily on the cumin, and went a little lighter on the onions, since there were already shallots and chives in the dumplings.

i stand by my dish
because neither the chicken nor the dumplings had much salt, the sauce served both to brighten the meal with its tanginess and warm it with saltiness. both of these are good things.

note :: this meal is very filling. dom accused me of trying to feed him to death. govern yourselves accordingly and remember that everything can be reheated.

but remember to save room for...

mancandy of the match

well, the americans might have won the day with their plucky [that's not a chicken joke] performance, but the award for being easy on the eyes, for me at least, went to iranian goalkeeper alireza haghighi.

no man should look this good at the end of a game
if we're dividing beauty up by nationality, i know a number of heterosexual men who have said that the beauty of iranian women is almost beyond compare. i say that there's no reason to limit that by gender. the same genetics is at work in both genders, giving a predisposition to high, aristocratic cheekbones, lush black hair and that combination of arched brows and molten eyes that make it feel like he or she is staring into your soul [and can tell all the nasty things you're thinking].

he heard that
stop that, you're making me squirmy
sir, this is entrapment 
alireza haghighi is blessed with all of these traits, rolled into a statuesque six-foot, four-inch frame. oh, and he's apparently single.

women write love letters to serial killers and this sleeps alone
here's hoping iran defy the odds and hang around a nice, long time in brazil...

17 June 2014

eat the cup 2014, part three

well as of today, all teams will have played once in the opening round of the world cup, so we've had a good chance to see what everyone is made of. thus far, i would say that everyone is made of extremely healthy muscle tissue and classical bone structure, but we'll get to that later. [on a side note, my computer has been telling me for a month and a half that my keyboard batteries are low. is it possible that my computer has an anxiety disorder? because it kind of seems like it's a little edgy.]

today's [actually last night's] meal celebrates the winners from day three of the competition, the cup's first four-game day and one of the greater culinary challenges i've faced. i had originally planned to skip day three and move right on to day four, but quite honestly, day four's [sunday's] games were so unforgivably boring that i don't really think they deserve a meal. day three, however, had some nice surprises and some interesting culinary possibilities.

my predictions for the day were more than a little off, although i do have some defense...

colombia vs greece
my prediction :: col 0, gre 0
actual result :: col 3, gre 0

what i had in mind with my prediction here was that greece has built their national strategy on having rock-solid defense for the last decade or so. they've never been strong on offense, but they qualified for the world cup conceding just four goals in the entire process. this was a meltdown of olympic proportions.

côte d'ivoire vs japan
my prediction :: civ 2, jpn 1
actual result :: civ 2, jpn 1

hey look, japan are awesomely fast and efficient [which is a compliment, but almost sounds racist when i write it], but côte d'ivoire are... well anyone will tell you that it takes a kind of je ne sais quoi to flourish at this level. côte d'ivoire have that.

uruguay vs costa rica
my prediction :: uru 2, crc 0
actual result :: crc 3, uru 1

i was not counting on luis suarez being unavailable. just leave the discussion there. suarez is what uruguay has. sure, there are others, but he's the catalyst. he's the magic. without him, they are nothing. costa rica, on the other hand, showed that they are really something, and possibly one of the more underrated teams.

england vs italy
my prediction :: eng 1, ita 1
actual result :: ita 2, eng 1

oh just shut up. i was being optimistic.

so for this day, i had to come up with something that incorporated elements of italian, costa rican, ivorian and colombian cuisine. yeah, sure. that's easy...

just look at how far you have to zoom out to fit them all in on google maps!

actually, as it happens, ivorian cuisine has many elements in common with [caribbean] coastal cuisines of costa rica and colombia. most prominently, the plantain and the peanut feature in all three culinary traditions.

while we may think of the plantain as a somewhat bland banana, it is actually considered a core starch, much like a potato, in a lot of southern hemisphere cookery. there is a north american weed [note :: i happen to find them visually appealing] that bears the name plantain, but it has no relation to the nourishing foodstuff we're dealing with here.

plantains taste about half way between a banana and a potato, which means that they don't have the sweetness of the fruit, but aren't quite as bland as the tuber. they can be consumed green or ripe, but not raw, when they taste really, really nasty. [trust me on this one.] i find that as they ripen, they move from closer to the potato to closer to the fruit, so if you want a more dessert-like element, let them become as ripe as you can without actually becoming rotten. for this recipe, i used green ones.

also common in caribbean cuisine, both in colombia and costa rica, are fresh tropical fruits, like the mango. from the very first time i tasted a mango, i realised why people refer to tropical islands as "paradise". it is truly one of the most beautiful foods available to humankind and left to my own devices, i'd probably eat it several times a week.

the odd man out in here seemed to be italian cuisine, which is odd because italians have spread their culture over a great deal of the new world and their culinary heritage with it. that said, italian cooking is tremendously adaptable, which is why i thought of using an italian base and incorporating elements from the other countries. and my base?

risotto.

i'd never heard of this before my mother bought me a vegetarian cookbook that had a whole section on it. but the first time i tried it, i realised that i had found my foodie home. seriously, risotto has everything going for it. it's hard to screw up. it can be made with almost anything. it's tremendously comforting. what's not to love? [if you're an england fan, like me, it might be difficult for you to admit right now that italian cuisine is tremendously loveable. just keep in mind that italy had greater than 92% pass accuracy, the highest in fifty years of world cup competitions, which speaks to a very tough, focused game.]

the thing about risotto is that it's more or less just rice, so you can combine it with anything you like. the magic is really in the preparation. mine went thusly:

2 large green plantains, skinned and sliced
1 shot of whiskey or rum
1 tsp olive oil [or peanut oil]
1 tsp butter
black pepper

heat the butter and olive oil together in a skillet until very hot. add the plantains and sautée for a few minutes. add the alcohol. sautée a few minutes more, until all the butter and oil is absorbed. remove the plantains from the heat and place them in a bowl. grind a few smatterings of black pepper over them and toss lightly. then leave them alone.

for the next part, here's what you'll need:

1 whole mango
about a half cup of vinegar

peel and chop the mango, then place in a bowl with the vinegar. toss to coat the mango and set aside.

and finally, the risotto:

2 tbsp olive oil [or peanut oil]
3-4 chopped green onions, white and green parts separated
3-4 cloves garlic
about a half cup of peanuts
1 cup arborio rice
2.5 cups broth [of any sort, although i'd avoid something fish-based, since it'll introduce a weird element]
half a cup white wine [optional]

heat the oil in a deep skillet, then add the garlic and the white parts of the onions. fry until the onions are limp, but not until the garlic starts to brown. add the rice and the peanuts. stir fry until all the rice starts to brown. [reduce heat if necessary to stop the garlic from burning.]

if you're using white wine, add that first and stir until absorbed. then start adding the broth, about a half cup at a time. stir constantly as you incorporate the broth, adding more when it is fully absorbed. when the rice starts to feel soft, but not fully cooked, add the green parts of the onion and the mango. add more liquid and allow everything to get to know each other. there are a lot of flavours here, so this may take a while.

keep adding liquid [if you run out of broth, use water] until the rice is semi-soft and sticky. that's what risotto is supposed to be like.

because both risotto and plantains qualify as starches, i'd recommend keeping the balance between the two roughly equal, or dinner will start to seem overly bulky [and so will everyone who eats it]. but for an after dinner treat, may i recommend...

man candy of the match

well, demi-god among men didier drogba is an obvious choice, but i really don't love him as much with the hipster beard he's sporting at the cup. if he's wanting to add some chin hairs to his look, he could take some styling tips from ivorian teammate wilfried bony. as a swansea fan, i figure i should get my eyes full of bony while i still can, because we all know he'll be departing the team for higher-rated pastures as soon as the cup tournament is over [if that long], but for the time being... damn that is some fine viewing... [note :: wilfried also has the most perfect legs of any human being living on earth, but i couldn't find an adequate pic of them.]

me? really?

i need oxygen...
you're cute, oh yes you are
and stylee. plus those amazing eyes...

i have to admit, i already know what i'm doing for the next "eat the cup"... at least i think i do... stay tuned.

micro mental health monday :: that's special

edit! now with improved link-ness!

in the midst of all this cup-watching and cup-eating, i didn't want to forget the rest of what goes on here at more like space.

while i didn't have time to do a full-blown mental health mondays piece, i did find this rather fascinating piece from the atlantic about some of the truly strange ways in which the brain can malfunction. 

i haven't really dealt with the subject of the injured brain here, mostly because there's more than enough material to keep me occupied just talking about the disordered brain. but these sorts of highly specific malfunctions point to how incredibly intricate and complex these systems really are. 

15 June 2014

eat the cup 2014, part two

as i mentioned yesterday, for quite possibly the first time ever, i managed to guess the result of the opening match spot on. as the tournament's worn on, however, my predicative ability has worn off. i'm still faring not so terribly badly, but pretty much anyone can guess moderately well just by choosing the favourite to win every match. sadly, that's a pretty safe strategy. except when it isn't.

for day two, here's how i lined up against the cold, hard truth:

mexico vs cameroon
i said :: mex 2, cmr 1
actual result :: mex 1, cmr 0

chile vs australia
i said :: chi 2, aus 0
actual result :: chl 3, aus 0

spain vs netherlands
i said :: esp 1, ned 0
actual result :: ned 5, esp 1

so i was doing fairly well, except for that one bit where i was completely, totally, hysterically wrong. i'm willing to bet robin van persie's mom had about the same numbers as i on her bracket, because no one saw that scoreline coming. not the biggest dutch fan in the world.

ok, maybe these guys did
i decided that i had to own up to my wrongness and feature holland in the second instalment of "eat the cup", but i also wanted to incorporate elements from the other winners. i had given myself an out clause that if i were absolutely desperate, i could do just two of the three, provided one of them was the netherlands.

my problem is that i actually ended up cooking a lot of treats from the dutch oven [sorry, i couldn't help myself] in 2010. so that meant that i was sort of stuck for something that i hadn't made before, which seemed like cheating this early on, and that was quintessentially dutch.

consulting google chef, i did come across something very dutch and very strangely not part of past eat the cup challenges: the stamppot. as it turns out, making a stamppot is just about as easy as saying it. it's just mashed up potatoes and greens, generally served with sausage. in fact, it sounded a little too simple, which is why i felt the need to think about it more. which led me to a few conclusions:

1. it needed cheese. dutch cheeses are wonderful and their recipes don't take full advantage of this. so i decided that gouda must be incorporated.

2. the mashed up potatoes and greens, along with cheese, would make an outstanding filling for burritos. see? it's not that difficult to mix cultures after all! so dinner would have dutch elements, wrapped in a mexican cloak.

3. the netherlands has a distinct lack of foods that are orange. honestly, most northern european foods generally fall into the brown/ beige camp, but in holland, that's a particular shame because of the country's identification with the colour orange. their football team wears it. the team is called "the oranje" for crying out loud. their fans wear it. although the colour is nowhere on their flag, there is perhaps no greater example of the identification of a country with a single colour than holland with orange [unless it's ireland and green].

the history of the dutch love of orange comes from their royal family, the house of oranje, whose founder, known as "william the silent", kick-started the creation of an independent dutch state by leading a successful rebellion against their spanish overlords. no, seriously. the orange of modern day netherlands' football uniforms is there specifically to commemorate the first dutch guy to stick it to the spanish "national team".

in the interests of being orange, then, i decided to swap out regular potatoes with sweet potatoes, which have no place in traditional dutch cuisine, but isn't the netherlands known for being a progressive, modern culture nowadays?

modernity, in potato form
after i'd come to those decisions, i realised that i had opened up a possibility to actually include all three winners, because one of the best known parts of chilean cuisine is pebre, a fresh sauce made with cilantro, onions, olive oil, garlic and peppers. i didn't have the correct ajì peppers, so instead i used hot sauce. i went a bit hotter than the recipe dictates, but it's one of those recipes that is likely to never be the same twice.

look at all the happy pebre colours!
so there you have it: a mashed sweet potato and greens [kale is most common, but my grocery store didn't have any, so i used arugula, which also isn't right, but isn't it the thought that counts?] burrito with gouda cheese and pebre sauce. a perfect trifecta of day two winners.

what's even better? well i don't mean to toot my own horn but... toot toot! dom gave the official call and i have to say i concur: this was the greatest creation in eat the cup history. the flavours mixed shockingly well, more so than i'd realised they would, because the sweet potatoes have enough flavour to stand up to the bright sauce and the cheese brings a homey sort of warmth that anchors everything. this is a super-easy thing to prepare and what you need is exactly what i mention above and virtually nothing else.

i mixed the sauce ingredients before preparing anything else, to give the flavours time to blend. per the instructions i found online, it's best to layer the ingredients in one at a time, blend each one thoroughly and then add the next, because it affects the final taste. who am i to argue? i went with a fair-sized bunch of cilantro, a couple of tomatoes, 2-3 green onions, one small white onion and did the oil, garlic, hot sauce and a little red wine vinegar to taste.

i boiled the sweet potatoes about twenty minutes and threw the arugula right in on top of the pot for the last five. then i quickly drained everything and mashed 'em together with a fork. i did add a little butter to smooth things over, but it's not strictly speaking necessary.

getting there...
then i moved to final assembly: add a couple of spoonfuls of potato mix to a burrito wrapper, put a bit of gouda on top [how much is your business], repeat until you have enough burritos, or until you run out of something. pop the burritos in the oven for about ten minutes at 325 degrees, remove, top with the pebre and serve!

tah-dah!!!!
i also thought that it was worth introducing a new feature to this, since i never post eat the cup desserts, and we all need a little something sweet. so, ladies and gents, i present:

mancandy of the match

the winner for day two, in this category, although he's probably not feeling like a winner at the moment, is spanish keeper iker casillas.





the swarthy complexion, the piercing eyes, that perpetually perfect scruff... i'm pretty sure that in the romantic fantasy of being swept away by pirates, casillas is pretty close to every girl's vision of the pirate king. [do men dream about being swept away by gay pirates? you totally should.]

unfortunately, this pirate was forced off the plank by a relentless dutch offense and could probably do with some cheering up right now...

the amount of leftovers i have dictates that i can't do eat the cup every day from now until the 13th of july unless i plan to feed a small army of dutch revolutionaries or spanish pirates, so i don't know when i'll next be able to get three countries for the price of one, but i promise i'll keep trying. and you should too! feel free to try your own recipes or make suggestions for me!
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