Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fat Guy Chronicles #1: an Ode to the Banquet Burger

Hi all, Rich here.

Let's assume for a minute that 'Fat Guy Chronicles' is a light hearted look at typically unhealthy food.  Should you eat like this all the time?  No, but if you're looking to indulge in something delicious and high in things that should be low (fat, sodium, cholesterol, bacon, etc.), consider this a bit of a guidebook.

While driving past a favourite greasy spoon the other day - Breezy Corners - it occurred to me that there has been a cultural shift away from the 'Banquet Burger'.  What's your point, you're saying right now.

Well, it's a nostalgia factor.  I grew up in rural Ontario, and most trips to 'town' (doesn't matter which one, but let's say there were maybe 5 options depending on the scarcity and relatively value of whatever necessitated a trip to 'town') involved a stop at a restaurant with my family.  The star of the burger menu at any restaurant / diner / cafe was not a asiago-ranch-swiss burger, or a California burger, or a southwest Tex-Mex Explosion burger, it was always the Banquet Burger.  Having fact-checked this idea on the internet, it turns out it's just a burger with cheese and bacon, but it's the idea of it all, I suppose.

The basics: from bottom to top: bun / burger / cheese / bacon / ketchup / mustard / relish / onion / tomato / lettuce / mayonnaise (sometimes) / dill pickle / bun.  Nothing fancy, not too much of any one topping, just a good, solid burger featuring bacon and cheese.

Any restaurant serving an all-day breakfast and catering to hordes of schoolchildren ordering fries and only fries for lunch has to have a Banquet Burger at the top of the menu.

This lives on in greasy spoons across the country, I'm sure; but the proliferation of 'gourmet' burgers and the overall growth in fast-food markets has certainly cut into the reputation of the banquet burger.

My point - they're delicious.  I don't eat one every day, neither should you, but once in a while, a greasy spoon serving a good Banquet Burger will remind me of trips to 'town' with my family and prove once again that simple can really hit the spot.

Next time you're ordering, skip the white truffle, avocado & dry-cured pork belly burger and venture back in time to the Banquet Burger.


Places I know to have served a really, really good Banquet Burger in the past 20 years (may not be open anymore)

Tam's Diner, Pefferlaw, ON
River Valley Restaurant, Uxbridge, ON
Durham Cafe, Lindsay, ON - still open, still amazing - Durham Cafe
Woodville Sale Barn - trust me... -

There are others, but if you're from Uxbridge, and remember the River Valley, you will know what I'm talking about.  If you're not, I probably lost you about 35 words ago, making this totally self-serving and irrelevant.

Carry on with whatever it is that you do.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Everyday Granola

Hi all, Sara here, the plant based perspective of this trio. For my first post I'm going to share one of my favourite recipes that is sure to appeal to both veg and non-veg readers alike. This recipe is endlessly  adaptable based on your needs, tastes or simply what you have in the cupboard. I have found that the majority of granola in super markets and even in health food stores is overly sweetened and contains additional oils that I find unnecessary to make a delicious and healthful granola. To begin, assemble your ingredients...

As I said, this recipe is adaptable to suit your unique needs and tastes. I find that each time I make this recipe it's just a leeeetle bit different than the last time largely in part to what ingredients I have on hand. Today I used almonds and sunflower seeds as my mix-ins to the oats. Any mix of seeds and nuts will do. Pecans, walnuts, pepitas, chia, cashew and sesame have all featured in past granolas. Unsweetened coconut is also a nice addition. Make sure that you use regular oats (not the quick cook kind) in this recipe. I have also used steel cut oats in the past which resulted in a crunchier granola but has a longer cook time.

In addition to your oats and nut/seed mixture you will also need cinnamon, vanilla, peanut butter (I prefer to use all natural unsweetened chunky - either PC brand or organic from my local health food store), maple syrup, sea salt and oil. Today I experimented with coconut oil for the first time in this recipe as I've been reading more about its health benefits but really you can use whatever oil you prefer. I have used both olive oil and canola in the past and out of the three I prefer the canola. The coconut oil lends a distinct, although pleasant, flavour to the mix however seems to have a quicker cook time so if you are using coconut oil make sure you keep an eye on the oven. Additionally, coconut oil requires melting prior to mixing with the other ingredients. 

To begin, melt your coconut oil (if using) and then add in the maple syrup, peanut butter, cinnamon, sea salt and vanilla. Mix until well incorporated. 

Add in your oats and nut/seed mixture and stir until mixture is well coated. 

Split the mixture evenly onto two baking sheets - lining your baking sheets with parchment paper will prevent it from sticking to the pan and is helpful with clean up too. The use of parchment paper in this recipe is nice but not a requirement by any means. 

You can either cook both pans at once - rotating halfway through or cook in two separate batches. Cook times may vary depending on your oven and oil used. Regardless, it is nice to stir once or twice during cooking as the edges tend to brown sooner. You may also drizzle with additional maple syrup if you prefer a sweeter/stickier granola. 

Once evenly browned your granola is ready to enjoy. You can either allow your granola to cool and enjoy it that way or if you are like me you'll enjoy some straight out of the pan while it's still warm. 

This granola can be enjoyed multiple ways and is a filling and energy providing treat any time of the day. I often have this as either a pre or post workout snack. Lately I've been adding raisins and eating it like a trail mix - the raisins make it taste just like an oatmeal raisin cookie. One of my favourite ways to eat this granola is to mash up a ripe banana and mix that with the granola in addition to high protein, low fat greek yogurt. Since eliminating dairy from my diet several months ago I haven't been eating as much granola and was really missing the yogurt/banana combo. Soy yogurt just doesn't measure up. I recently discovered this yogurt and it has made my life! This granola is also delicious as a breakfast cereal with fresh fruit and milk of choice. I'm telling you're going to be hooked. It also makes a nice gift...

I made these for family and coworkers as Christmas gifts and with Valentines Day coming up you might consider doing this. Ok here's the recipe - feel free to mix it up as you see really can't go wrong :)

6 cups oats - The old fashioned kind, not quick cook - can purchase gluten free oats too 
2 cups nuts/seeds - any combo will do
1/3 cup oil - again whatever floats your boat here
1/3 cup maple syrup - I would imagine that you could use any liquid sweetener here - honey, agave - I haven't experimented preferring to use local/vegan ingredients if possible
1 T cinnamon
1 (heaping) T all natural chunky peanut butter
1 T good quality vanilla
1 t sea salt

Mix all ingredients together except oats/nuts/seeds and stir until well combined. Add nut/seed/oats and stir until evenly coated. Spread evenly onto two cookie sheets and bake at 325 F for 25 minutes or so stirring once or twice until lightly browned. Enjoy!

Friday, January 27, 2012

What’s in the fridge…?

I find myself coming home from work these days with no plan of what I am going to make for dinner. This situation invariably leads to me playing a little game we’ll call “What’s in the Fridge?” Premise of the game is easy: open up the fridge/cupboard, see what you have, come up with something on the spot. To be honest, I prefer cooking this way; I’m forced to come up with something drawing inspiration from that recipe I read, that meal someone told me about, that style I saw on TV… you get the picture.

Now, with a full fridge the game can take you a lot of different places. Today wasn’t one of those days.

Fridge contents:
- 2 chicken breasts
- a couple of bell peppers
- a couple of jalapeƱos
- 1 slice of monterrey jack cheese

That’s it. Ok, let’s check the cupboard. Cupboard contents:
- brown rice

Again, that’s it. It’s the end of the grocery week; I haven’t had time to replenish. So now my mind springs to action, what am I going to do? Stir fry? No. Too easy, not enough vegetables, had it two days ago. Well what if… bingo. Roasted red pepper stuffed chicken breasts over brown rice. The process goes as follows:

1. Put together a quick marinade (chicken and marinade just go together… more on this another time). Marinade ingredients:

· ½ cup of lemon juice (freshly squeezed is best, bottled had to suffice this time)
· ¼ cup of cider vinegar
· a couple splashes of hot sauce (ok, it was more than that)
· ½ tbsp. each of red pepper flakes, paprika, cumin, kosher salt
· splash of olive oil
· 1 jalapeno roughly chopped

2. While the chicken is marinating and the BBQ is heating up roast 1 red bell pepper. Roasting peppers is as easy as it sounds: rub a thin layer of olive oil all over the pepper, put it on the grill, burn. Yes, burn it. When the skin is black all over put the pepper in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put the bowl in the freezer. In 5 minutes the flesh of the pepper will have pulled back from the burnt skin making it easy to separate. Remove the burnt skin and seeds in the pepper. Roasting the pepper adds a whole new dimension of flavour to the pepper.

3. After about 20 minutes soaking remove the chicken from the marinade and butterfly. Place a thick slice (or 2) of the roasted pepper in the chicken breast along with half a slice (full slice if you have the supply) of cheese. Fold the breast back over. You now have a stuffed chicken breast.

4. Toss on a preheated grill around 450-500° F. Flip every 3-4 minutes for your grill marks. The breasts should take around 12 minutes to finish at this temperature, depending on thickness. (The chicken should have no pink left in it. If you’re uncomfortable going by time, use a meat thermometer – 165° F is done for a boneless, skinless chicken breast. Ensure you are measuring the temperature of the meat, not the cheese stuffed in it.)

5. Serve over a bed of prepared rice. Enjoy!

Try opening your fridge and playing the game sometime (hopefully with more options than I was faced with); you’ll be surprised how quickly no plan can turn into gourmet with a little imagination.



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

About BBQ Sauce (From BBQRich)

Recently, I have been experimenting with making my own pulled pork on the Broil King Keg.  It's a trial and error process to get it just right.  (See Pulled Pork: A tale of failure and redemption)  With pulled pork, it's important to have the right amounts of smoke and seasoning, but if that doesn't quite work out, you can mask nearly anything with enough barbecue sauce.  (Not that you want to... but you can)

To a Canadian child of the 80's, barbecue sauce was (and to a degree, is) sugary, ketchup based glop that you slather on hamburgers on the grill.  Explain this to someone in the Carolinas, Alabama, Texas, Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis, or any other barbecue mecca, and you will soon be talking about pistols at dawn.  There are many regional variations (something I will explore in more detail later), but in brief, Texas barbecue is beef, with hearty dry-rub seasonings, and minimal sauce.  Kansas City and St. Louis offer unadulterated versions of the aforementioned ketchup based sauce, but a good North Carolina style sauce has become my weapon of choice for any pulled pork at the moment.  Heavily vinegar based, these sauces are much lighter than the viscous syrups you might find at the grocery store.

An example, adapted from Peace, Love, & Barbecue, a fantastic starter for southern BBQ by Mike and Amy Mills - Mike is known in barbecue circles as "The Legend" - if you have to ask why, you're not cut out for the BBQ scene my friend.

1 cup white vinegar (or cider, or rice vinegar, or a combination)
1/2 cup ketchup (I'm a Heinz guy, but hey, don't discriminate)
1 to 2 tbsp BBQ rub (Being shameless, I used a batch of Magic Dust, also from Peace, Love, & Barbecue - Link)

Shake this together in a sealed jar or bottle.  A plastic sauce bottle works beautifully for loading up a sandwich with some great vinegar sauce.  You can vary the flavour with more or less rub, add some honey to sweeten and thicken the sauce a bit.  The sky's the limit here.

Why does the vinegar sauce really work? Pulled pork can be heavy, and all the fat and connective tissue that breaks down during the cooking process is mixed in with the meat, making it tender, flavourful, and delicious; but, that can make it heavy and greasy too.  The vinegar cuts through any heavy, greasy flavours that you might encounter, and provides a tangy, fresh counterpoint.

Try it, you won't be disappointed!


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Big Beats Salad

I've spent a lot of time over the past few months trying to live well, eat well and generally build the best me. The more time I spend on it the more I realize that this is just the tip of the iceberg; but as with all research projects, if you never get the chance to present your findings, what was the point in doing the research in the first place.

The Good Stuff. 
Try adding the following items into your diet, they're jam packed with good stuff and make much better ingredients/snacks than the usual bag-o chips or chocolate bar.

Chia Seed: 
I love chia for a lot of reasons, it's a very versatile ingredient, has relatively no distinct taste and is loaded with things that are good for you. I add it to both fruit smoothies and salads, it's in my granola and pretty much anything else I can add it to. Here's the down and dirty on chia.

I know I've gone on about quinoa in the past but it truly is one of the best alternatives to pasta and rice; quinoa doesn't come with all of the starchy regret and is loaded with protein. The recipe I've presented below includes many of my favorites in one place and is yet another quinoa recipe on this site.

Sure beets aren't new or unique but they're good for you and very easy to prepare. They're sweet, delicious, great hot or cold and can be purchased at any grocery store.

Not only do pecans taste delicious, they're also very good for you. Read up here (Pecan Nutrition).

Try putting all of the above, and more, together here.

Big Beats Salad: 

4 large beets
1 cup of quinoa, red, black, whatever... it doesn't matter.
3 green onions
1/4 cup chopped pecans
3 tablespoons chia seed
1/4 cup small swiss cheese cubes
1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup apple cider / white wine vinegar, either works
good splash of white wine
1 tablespoon ground pepper

Boil your beets until they are thoroughly cooked through, cook times vary depending on size, if you can spear them on a fork and they EASILY slide off then they're done. I usually take the beets and cut them down into quarters to help them boil faster. No need to remove the skin before boiling, it's actually easier to do after they're cooked and after they've cooled. Skin your cooked beets, cut into small cubes.

Mix 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups water, cook until the quinoa starts to become translucent, remove from heat once cooked, leave the lid on and let cool.

Let rest, refrigerate the warm beets and quinoa, if you add in the other ingredients when these two are hot your cheese will melt and string, dried fruits will plump, world as we know it will end. If that's what you want then giv'er, it's not always fun to follow the directions...

Chop up your onions, pecans, cube the cheese. Mix everything in a large bowl then add your wet dressing ingredients, if it needs more bitter add more vinegar, if it's to dry more olive oil and of course more pepper means more peppery spice. Super simple, super good for you, super easy.