Monday, March 29, 2010

Squash Soup - Nutritional Values, Before and After

Below is a comparison of the soup recipes’ basic nutritional value before and after I altered the ingredients.
I found a great website for calculating nutritional value of recipes and generating labels for them. As it's the recognized method of reading nutritional info, and as I'm comparing the before/after stats of the soup and discussing my method and reasoning, I thought it appropriate to graphically represent my findings this way.

Original                                            Revised

Squash Soup - Local, Seasonal Sourcing (unedited)

The original squash soup recipe was created at Treadwell, a Farm-to-Table restaurant – not a new type of cuisine, but rather a revisiting of an old one.  Though it began out of necessity – country folk eating only what they could produce themselves, barter for, or buy at the local market – it was recaptured in the last few decades by a generation of Europeans (and more recently, Westerners) seeking to reconnect with the land and rebel against internationalism.  Bolstered by recent publications, such as the Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation, and promoted by organizations – Slow Food and CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) networks, for example – there is an emerging mandate to know and appreciate where foods come from. 
Farm-to-Table chefs commercialize that desire.  By relying on local artisans and fresh seasonal produce to determine the menu, and by preparing and plating the foods simply to preserve the sensual impact of each ingredient, chefs showcases the best their region has to offer.  Treadwell maple-roasted squash soup does just that.
A reoccurring daily soup special from September to December – prime squash season in Niagara – maple-roasted squash soup celebrates the vegetable’s best qualities.  The roasting helps convert much of its starch into sugar, reduces water content, and thus heightens and concentrates its flavour.  Its natural sweetness is further augmented by the maple syrup that caramelizes in the oven, the apples – another seasonal ingredient – and by the salt used to enhance via contrast.  The creamy texture of the soup helps it coat the inner surfaces of the mouth and throat and allows the eater to fully experience the soup by stimulating more taste buds and by having better access to the olfactory receptors.
My maple-roasted squash soup recipe gained international recognition when I served it in the North House, on the National Mall in Washington D.C..  The dinner party was one of the events at the 2009 Solar Decathlon, a semi-annual solar-powered house competition.  The meal was to be cooked and hosted in the house, according to the rules, and was to be consistent with the (self-imposed) North House objective to represent a healthy, environmentally sensitive, Canadian lifestyle.  The revised soup recipe was a perfect fit: it was nutritionally balanced yet tasted of indulgence, used ingredients locally sourced and seasonal in both southern Ontario (where North House was designed and built) and Washington D.C., and featured maple syrup, a trademark Canadian product.

Squash Soup - Methodology (unedited)

To improve the original soup recipe and to make healthier, I first identified its key attributes – sweet, creamy, and smooth – and areas for improvement – high fat and sugar content, timely preparation.  I then analyzed the flavour and texture, used knowledge gained in previous experiences to judge what quantity of fat and sugar were necessary to maintain those attributes, and proposed potential substitutions to attain the same effect while adding nutritional value to the soup. 
To reduce fat, I reduced the amount of grapeseed oil used to roast the veggies and, to prevent burning, used a slightly deeper roasting pan and reduced oven temperature.  This allowed the natural juices of the squash and apples to prevent them from sticking to the pan.  I also replaced the heavy whipping cream (37% milk fat) with a blend of half and half (10%) cream and skim milk (the two types of milk I had on hand at the time) to achieve approximately 3% milk fat – the minimum percentage before the soup becomes watery.  
To maintain the creaminess of the original recipe – mostly from the heavy whipping cream – I added creaminess by, instead, using a higher speed on the blender, and blending in smaller batches.  This infused the soup with tiny air pockets that act like fat molecules to cushion and smooth out the suspended squash bits. 
To reduce the sugar, I reduced the amount of maple syrup used for roasting, and supplemented the sweetness by adding a roasted sweet red pepper – a bonus 30% of daily Vitamin C.  I eliminated the swirl of maple syrup used at Treadwell to garnish the soup, and replaced it with a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper, as the contrasting spice accentuates sweet.
The preparation time was most difficult to reduce without compromising quality; by spending more time blending the soup, I eliminated the need to strain the soup afterwards, which balanced out the total time required.  In the end, I opted for a mass-manufacturing type of efficiency.  I cut down on total set-up, roasting, and cleaning by making double or triple batches, and freeze whatever isn’t going to be consumed in the following few days.  The soup maintains flavour and textural integrity extremely well in the freezer, and is convenient for meals or dinner parties at short notice.

Squash Soup - First Encounter

It was a cool day in late September and I’d been working at Treadwell for almost five months.  Treadwell is a “Farm-to-Table” restaurant in Port Dalhousie that specializes in local, seasonal fare.  In my search for inspiration and new insights into culinary design, I’d taken a job as a hostess there – frustratingly removed from the inner workings of the kitchen, but in a prime position to sample all aspects of the business.
The daily soup featured maple roasted butternut squash.  It was a famous favourite of the employees who, nearly every time it was made, ordered a bowl for themselves.  As the chef had the day off, his assistant had prepared the soup and was doling out free samples to staff.  A single white, asymmetrical bowl sat on the table just inside the door leading to front of house.  Yolk-coloured squash soup half-filled the bowl, crowned with a glistening swirl of maple syrup.  A handful of spoons lay beside the bowl on the table – an invitation for indulgence that was readily accepted. 
As my upper lip cleaned off the spoon and my mouth became coated in the silky, it became clear that the sweet substance was more confection than first course.  The seamlessly smooth texture of the pureed squash and the lingering aftertaste of maple and cream made the soup irresistible – and I went for a second spoonful.
Later that day, one of the serving staff emerged from the kitchen with a piece of white paper in hand – the recipe; the assistant chef was sharing secrets.  Before tucking the paper into her purse, she made a stop at the photocopier – opting to share her good fortune with others, including myself.

Squash Soup - Consideration of the Canada Food Guide and the Soup’s Nutritional Value

The Canada Food Guide is published by the Health Canada to promote “nutrient standards and the prevention of chronic disease.”  It is an evolving document that expands and shifts in response to new scientific discoveries and changing patterns in food consumption.
The newest version, published in 2007, is a marked change from its 1992 predecessor.  In addition to making general recommendations on daily intake of the four food groups – the standard content since first published in 1942 – a supplementary guide has been issued for First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis, to better reflect their cultural history and resources.  It has also been adapted to reflect preference for different ethnic foods, and is currently available in 12 languages – English, French, Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil and Urdu – to address shifting demographics due to the increasing immigrant population.  *
Health Canada has included a new online “My Food Guide” tool aimed at helping Canadians create personalized food plans. Though I commend the intent to address technological changes and the Internet generation, I found it too simplistic.  After entering my age, gender, and examples of foods I like from each food group, I expected a meal plan, perhaps a way of evaluating meals or recipes, or at the very least, a few examples of what a healthy day could look like for me.  My efforts, however, yielded nothing more than a customized PDF of the guide showing my food and activity selections.  “My Food Guide” should be more comprehensive to be of any real benefit – comparing current diet with the idealized diet, weighing caloric requirements against calories burned through the types of physical activities chosen, suggesting daily meal plans to accommodate personal nutritional needs and ways to eliminate what is unnecessary.
The revised Food Guide, however, already focuses more on foods to avoid and limiting the quantity of food consumed.  These changes were made in response to a 2001 Canadian Community Health Survey that found a 24% increase in the number of obese 20-64 year old Canadians (almost 2.8 million) in the previous 6 years.
A person aged 19-30 now has a daily recommended intake of no more than 2-3 Tbs (30-45mL) of non-saturated oils and, depending on activity level, 1900-2350 calories (for women) and 2500-3000 calories (for men) ages 19-30. *  A single serving of the squash soup recipe I obtained from Treadwells contains an astounding 33 grams of fat and 600 calories – necessitating some ingredient substitutions and adjustments to lessen its unhealthiness and thus increase my psychological enjoyment. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

recipes and narrative outline

Maple Roasted Squash Soup
· Inspiration: The story of my first taste at Treadwell and how I appropriated the original recipe.
· Nutrition: How I made the original recipe healthier. A comparison of before/after and relation to daily nutritional requirements.
· Local Sourcing: Maximizes and enhancing seasonal fall foods in Canada/ trademark Canadian products. Used this recipe in Washington D.C. at Solar Decathlon dinner competition.

Peach, Basil and Comfort Cream Pizza
· Composition: Proportion of toppings to crust, balanced flavours, unique combinations of flavours
· Presentation: Balanced colours and textures of toppings, timing to ensure
· Local Sourcing: Variations on the 3 ingredients to suit seasons and personal tastes – show a progression, changing one ingredient at a time…

Tilapia with Cilantro Lime Sauce
· Nutrition: Low fat, Salt-free, Sugar-free protein
· Cost: Best value for fresh boneless, mild, “meaty” fish. Sauce costs next to nothing.
· Preparation: Poaching, light flaking for better sauce absorption
· Composition: sweet and sour flavour combination

Banana Blueberry Bran (Triple B) Muffins
· Nutrition: Sugar-free, fat-free, high fibre, anti-oxidant rich
· Preparation: Pre-prep of wet and dry, moistening, key to muffin preparation is what not to do (do not over-stir)
· Ingredient Properties: Regionally sensitive, highly concentrated nutrients of wild blueberries

Seasonal Salad with Honey Mustard Tarragon Vinaigrette
· Presentation: Aesthetically pleasing colours/textures layered/balanced on plate.
· Composition: Balanced sweet/sour flavours, flavour pairings
· Local Sourcing: Seasonal Ontario adapted for Washington D.C. – find similarities between available fresh produce and highlighting them.
· Ingredient Properties: Rich colours/textures of salad greens

Mulled Pears
· Inspiration: Mulled wine from Epicurean (cafe in Niagara), Grandma’s canning
· Ingredient Properties: Niagara Wine, fruit and canning Industries
· Local Sourcing: relationship with fruit vendor/grower at side of road.
· Presentation: served whole, simple, perhaps with ice cream.

Curried Chicken and Spinach Strudel
· Inspiration: Curried chickpea salad from Melville’s, greek pastry, ingredients available at home.
· External Parameters: pre-made, homemade, quickly prepared, warm finger food.
· Preparation: Thawing of filo, layering of filo, sealing of strudels - dealing with moisture, "adhesives", leakage, etc.

Snowman Soup

I remember, as a child, reading this poem on a tag attached to a Christmas gift of hot chocolate mix. Though I’ve since forgotten who gave me the gift, I still remember how the mug “Snowman Soup,” once prepared, not only warmed my fingers after a day playing in the snow, and warmed my body from the inside out, but how the warm sweet liquid also comforted me as it arose from someone caring about my well-being, someone wanting to put a smile on a little girl’s face. My positive feelings around the beverage were only amplified by the fact that hot chocolate is primarily composed of sugar and an invigorating rush would soon course through my veins as my body absorbed the shock of simple carbohydrates; for that reason, it was considered a treat when I was a child, and was subsequently something to savour.
This poem is over-sentimentalized, yet it reveals a popular belief that foods and beverages have the ability to influence physical and emotional well-being – if not by providing nutritional sustenance, than by making a special occasion out of breaking dietary rules, by unearthing positive mental associations, and by recalling fond memories of the past.

"Was told you've been real good this year
Always glad to hear it
With freezing weather drawing near
You'll need to warm the spirit
So here's a little Snowman Soup
Complete with stirring stick
Just add hot water, sip it slow
It's sure to do the trick!"
(author unknown)

Hot Chocolate Mix
Mini Marshmallows
Hershey Kisses
Candy Cane
- Put all ingredients into a sealable bag and give to someone you care about.

Let them eat cake?

The original French phrase 'Qu'ils mangent de la brioche' was most reliably referred to by French Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), a key figure in the Enlightenment in France, in Book 6 of his 12-volume autobiographical work Confessions: “At length I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, "Then let them eat pastry!" Though the phrase is frequently attributed to Marie Antoinette, the “great princess” Rousseau speaks of is more likely Marie Therese (wife of Louis XIV) – a better fit considering supposed time frame and context.

Apparently stated in response to news that famine had robbed French peasants of even their bread, the statement poignantly shows the pampered ignorance of the French monarchy at the time – if the people have no money or supplies for basic sustenance, surely replacing it with butter-laden dessert bread would be both impossible and ridiculous. Also implied, however, is the realistic ranking of delicacies and culinary non-essentials in the search for survival and happiness; the delight that comes from the sweet, rich treat (that which the monarchy was accustomed to and took for granted) pales in comparison to the greatest pleasure of all – the relief from hunger. Severe hunger doesn’t discriminate between nuances and qualities of food, but focuses, instead, on obtaining quantities of it.


“The gastronomic must no longer serve as mere metaphor for the arts, but must take its place among the muses.”

Weiss, Allen S. “Culinary Manifestations of the Genius Loci.” Eating Architecture. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2004, pp. 25.

Isidore of Seville, in his seventh century work Isidori Hispalensis Episcopi Etymologiarum sive Originum, reminds us of the relationship between cuisine and reason: he etymologizes the word sapiens (wise, rational) and proposes sapor (taste) as its source, explaining that “just as the sense of taste is able to discern the flavours of different foods, so too is the wise man able to discern objects and their causes since he recognizes each one as distinct and is able to judge them with an instinct for truth.” Taste, defined as such, is the interdisciplinary means for assessing and appreciating all that exists – and thus the instigator of creativity and change.

The acquisition and development of taste can also cross between disciplines. Though I have no formal culinary training, I am keen, curious, and can cook with infinite artistic freedom as often as I like; conversely, I am educated in architecture, but have limited opportunity to practice what I’ve learned. As both architecture and the culinary arts stem from judgment and invention – and as even architecture students need to stop working to eat – cooking has naturally become my daily outlet for expression and experimentation.

In the kitchen I can be the designer, the craftsman and the client, all at once. As the designer, I consider the tools and ingredients available, and find creative ways to accommodate both personal taste and nutrition. I interact with suppliers in my search for sustainable resources, and determine their proportion and composition to maximize performance and aesthetics. As the craftsman, I draw on self-taught skills to create the proposed dishes. More importantly, however, I first investigate what potentials are embedded in each ingredient – for, in the words of Richard Sennet in his book The Craftsman, all of my “efforts to do good quality work depend on curiosity about the material at hand.” As the client, I set parameters at the beginning and evaluate the results at the end.

The dishes that come out of my kitchen vary according to my resources, requirements and appetite. They are expressions of my personal taste and yet reflections of my world. My recipes are dissections of methodology – a self-integrated design process – and illustrate how and when I incorporate nutrition, community responsibility and delight. Ultimately, this “recipe book” is the story of how architecture has enriched my cooking, and how cooking will make me a better architect.