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Being Pregnant

In a “recent” post I wrote about feeling nauseous. It was a veiled reference to morning sickness. In what was both completely unexpected (and terrifying) and somehow something I completely knew was happening I found out I was pregnant.

The day after I found out I developed morning sickness (bok choy was unfortunately the innocent bystander, and  months after, it still doesn’t go down well). I don’t think it was a severe case. I only threw up a few times. Mostly I just felt sick and extremely tired most of the time. I was able to eat, but cooking was beyond me and thinking about food was just simply not something I could do with any enjoyment. Cravings would come crashing in at unusual times, but they moved quickly. I missed food, not so much the eating of food, which was still occasionally enjoyable (hot buttered rolls will never taste bad to me), but thinking and reading about food. I realize I spend a lot of time thinking and reading about food.

Pregnancy hasn’t really changed that,  if anything it’s given me a healthier relationship with food. Food now seems more like a necessity than an indulgence, and the guilt that sometimes comes along with eating has pretty much vanished regardless of whether I’m eating a bowl of organic fruit or an ice cream sandwich. Both feel equally necessary somehow. There are some new concerns. The warnings against eating raw milk anything, raw meat, raw fish, cured meats or drinking alcohol abound. I try not to be a panicky kind of person. I figure people have eaten these things for centuries; I have never gotten sick from eating any of these things, and some, like raw meat (steak tartare style) are seen in some cultures as beneficial for pregnant women. Very moderate drinking (a 1/4 glass of wine  now and then, a sip of beer) seems reasonable and extremely unlikely to cause problems. So I’ve stolen a sip of beer here and there, toasted with a sip of wine once or twice, nibbled at cheese I knew was raw milk (raw milk is healthy damn it – you can taste the meadows in it!), eaten a tiny bite of Kebe Nayeh at the urging of a friend’s mother (her husband is an obstetrician, I figured she knew what she was talking about!) and gazed longingly at a slice of Serrano ham. Each of these choices was based on my fundamental feeling that food is healthy and good and that fear is not.

But it’s funny how this pregnancy thing works. I don’t quite know how I feel about what’s developing inside me, but I’m terrified of harming it. So often hours or even days after a well thought out, risk assessed eating decision I’ll find myself overcome with panic, feeling somehow like I’ve done something terrible. This is by far the worst thing about being pregnant.

On the up side I don’t have to clean the kitty litter!

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So last night I decided to make dinner like it was spring. I bought asparagus and a piece of sole (which Julia Child says is really some sort of haddock or flounder when it’s found in North America (can’t remember which kind she said and have no idea if this is still true – I suspect it is) and some of that frankencorn from Loblaws that’s like the strawberries and tastes sweeter than is naturally possible for corn at this time of year to taste. I also determined to make Julia Child’s hollandaise sauce which I’ve been craving since reading As Always, Julia. I broke out The Art of French Cooking and considered the part where Julia told me that I needed to master the stove top recipe before trying the much easier blender version. She tells me I need to understand the nature of egg yolks and I suspect she’s right. I really had every intention of following through with the stove top version in all of its ridiculous buttery glory…but then, just to check amounts in a modern recipe book I peeked into Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and he told me that doing anything other than making it in the blender was silly and so I caved. Not only did I make the blender version but I used Bittman’s recipe instead of Julia’s.

I can’t say I feel like a bad person. I’m not sure I totally understand the congealing properties of egg yolk whipped with fat, but I do know that in my food processor the same process makes a ton of really nice mayonnaise. What does make me feel like  a bad person is the discovery that corn slathered with hollandaise sauce is really, really yummy. I ate two and a half pieces of corn like that. The hollandaise was also very nice on the asparagus and the “sole”.

So thank you Julia for inspiring me to make the sauce and thank you to mark Bittman for making it really, really easy.

 Lately have been suffering from a bout of food aversion. For once in my life, not only have I not felt like eating, I haven’t even wanted to think about food. This has made me a little sad. The not wanting to eat hasn’t been so bad really, but I realize that I do actually spend a fair amount of time entertained by thinking or reading about food and I’ve missed it.

Luckily however, it seems that this is passing and one of the factors in precipitating this change has been the book  As Always, Julia, a collection of letters between Julia Child and her close friend, Avis DeVoto. The book is a collection of the two women’s correspondence, beginning with the admiring letter to Avis DeVoto’s husband Julia Child sent, along with a French cooking knife, after he wrote an article complaining about the state of the knives in the United States in the 1950’s. The book spans the period during which Julia, championed by Avis, worked on her classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Though I credit the book for creating a craving for asparagus with hollandaise sauce which I still haven’t been able to take care of (no eggs in the house), it’s really not a book about food. What it is, is a fascinating source of information on the social history of the United States in the 1950’s. The letters start in 1952 and continue until 1961. The letters often focus on food and the recipes that Julia has sent to Avis. There are interesting discussions of the increased dependence on “convenience” food in the United States as well as discussions on the difference in the taste of produce in France vs the United States (The US was starting to increasingly produce hardier produce that would last in the supermarket, but that didn’t always have the delicacy of flavour of French produce). There’s a particularly fascinating passage in one of Avis’s letters about MSG and how packets of it were sold in packages of spinach to help with flavour. While most people are likely to pick up the book because of an interest in food, and there’s lots in here about food and more specifically the incredible work that goes into creating a cookbook, some of the most interesting parts of the book have to do with the insight it gives into the politics of the 1950’s, and even more interestingly, the status of women in the US at that time in history.

DeVoto and her husband were fairly influential Democrats and Paul and Julia Child were of the same political leanings. Both women were of the upper middle class, well-educated, intelligent and very well-connected with the academic and intellectual class of the period. Much of the book covers the two women’s despair and anger over the actions of  Senator McCarthy. I think often, in the current political climate in the US, we tend to think things have become more vitriolic and extreme than they ever have been, but these letters reminded me very much that the more things change the more things stay the same. The political corruption that is alluded to in the book, and the inability for people from different political parties to see eye to eye seemed very familiar. Avis and Julia’s frustration over the democratic party’s inability to combat the egregious actions of Senator McCarthy will seem oddly familiar I think to a contemporary audience.

While politically the situation of the ’50’s seems very reminiscent of today’s politics, what was very different was the position of these two women in society and in their families. Avis DeVoto worked tirelessly as her husband’s secretary and as a society fundraiser for various political candidates, but despite obviously being an extremely capable and intelligent woman, doesn’t see herself much outside the sphere of her husband’s career. Both women have a devotion to their husbands that feels very different from the sort of relationships that exist today. It’s not that these women are downtrodden or restricted in any obvious sense, but it’s clear that they view their position as wives as a vocation.

Julia Child’s husband encouraged her in her “cook bookery’ as she called it, and after he retired worked to support her (by which I mean he did such things as washing dishes behind the scenes when she did cooking demonstrations etc., rather than that he contributed money) in her efforts to promote the book and French cooking throughout the United States. We see both Julia and Avis come into their own as the years progress and it’s hard to tell if this is a shift in attitudes towards women’s roles in society or more a function of circumstance (Avis’ husband died suddenly creating a need for her to work outside the home and Julia’s husband retired right at the point that her cookbook was published and she became a runaway success). Neither woman is what we might think of as a typical 1950’s housewife and it’s hard to imagine that their lives would have taken a similar path if they had been born a few decades later. Still, it is interesting to note that in a relationship such as the one shared between Julia and Paul Child, the division of labour and the assigned roles that were so common in marriages of the past takes on a kind of sweetness and strength that somehow makes sense, despite the whiff of romantic nostalgia that view brings with it.

The strongest bond in the book is of course between the two women who wrote these letters and who were so completely supportive of each other over the years and it was a pleasure to feel the genuine warmth of their exchanges with each other.

The book has me enthusiastic about food again and I’ve pulled Mastering the Art of French Cooking off the shelf again and will be getting to work on that hollandaise just as soon as I can find some decent asparagus.

I read this piece on cheap tequila  hoping it would reveal what I should do with the crappy tequila I bought to do some weird fruit preserving thing, but never used. It appears to just be advocating merely drinking the crappy stuff to get rid of it which isn’t helpful to me as the stuff I have gives me instant, stabbing pain in my stomach, but it’s an entertaining piece of writing none the less.

So to all my friends as well as my father who all turn green at the smell of tequila…also mutton? really?

Am working my way up to getting back on here soon. Today am excited about some golden beets I picked up at the Marche. The greens taste amazing.

In the meantime here’s a link to an article on places to go for tastings in Montreal and a picture of some beets. http://www.montrealmirror.com/2010/061010/hsg3.html

Hello (hic) Kitty

I know this isn’t a real post, but I had to comment on this. Mostly to ask “where can I get my paws on a case of this stuff!” Not so much to drink, but to bring to parties. I wonder a little who this wine is marketed to, but I guess it’s marketed to people like me who have always wanted a wine with a kitty in pink pyjamas on the label.

catwine1.jpg

http://blogs.laweekly.com/squidink/wine/will-you-see-hello-kitty/

Planning

It’s possible that everyone is like this, but I’ve often felt like my personality is defined in opposites. For example: I’m shy by nature and pathologically incapable of keeping my mouth shut (meetings, classes, while other people are talking); I’m borderline dyslexic, but read faster than most people I know; I’m afraid of all sorts of things (including the dark) but the sports I like best are the ones that include a rush of speed and adrenaline (dinghy sailing in high winds, downhill skiing in fast conditions). You get the idea. The last few years I’ve been struggling with another contradiction, one that sometimes feels like it might involve the key to my own happiness and other days makes me feel like I’m letting my life drown in a sea of minutiae (melodramatic, did I mention I’m melodramatic?).  The issue is planning versus spontaneity. Namely: weekly planning of meals.

I know, total let down. On and off for the past year or so the DC and I have sporadically planned our meals. This involves deciding who is going to make what for supper and when in the upcoming week. This then leads to only buying the groceries we need for the week. It saves time, assures a bit more equality in the kitchen, avoids waste (from all the times those lovely fruits and vegetables rot in the fridge because I bought them without a plan) and means that I’m more likely to delve into my various cookbooks for inspiration instead of just making the easiest, fastest thing I can think of because I’m tired and hungry and out of time. I know people who swear by this system.

My problem is I can only maintain it for short bursts of time. Then a week comes up where I decide to not come home for supper a couple of times, maybe I don’t feel like cooking what or when I planned or I never get around to buying the ingredients I need. “No big deal” the planners out there say to me. “Just start again the following week.”

The thing is, I am a wagon faller offer. Whether it’s flossing as regularly and rigorously as my dentist assures me I need to or keeping track of (and limiting) my food intake or keeping my receipts in some sort of organized manner so I can track my spending habits, once I stop, even for a day or so, I’m finished for a good long time.

Somehow once I get away from my routine there’s a large part of me which is thrilled by the freedom and the possibilities that lie before me. “I don’t need a plan” I think to myself. “I am a creative, fly by the seat of my pants kind of person. Routine is my enemy. Spontaneity and chance are my friends.” And all of these things are true.

Sometimes…

Increasingly I’m having to face the fact that to be spontaneous I need to have some room to breath and if I don’t plan, if I don’t organize, my time is eaten up in a muddle of aimless activity. More and more I’m having to call on my latent, organized, list making self, just so I can have some room to be spontaneous.

There’s pressure to adopt this distressingly mature realization. This semester I have a weird schedule at work and four out five days I don’t get home until after 6:30. It’s important, if I don’t want to eat at an ungodly hour every night, that I plan ahead. I’ve been attempting to embrace the slow cooker as a solution (mixed results have ensued – more on that later) and I have ideas about some sort of casserole plan that entails me arranging the ingredients ahead of time so I can just pop said casserole (or whatever) into the oven  when I get home. Last week this didn’t pan out, but this week I’m crawling back up on the wagon. 

And I had a good moment when in search of an onion quiche recipe for Monday night I found Nigella Lawson’s “Supper Onion Pie” (a version of the recipe can be found here)in Domestic Goddess which isn’t a quiche at all but more of an onion upside down pie. I was excited because I haven’t cooked this recipe before and rarely get around to Nigella’s savory dishes.

As of this moment I have now cooked the onions, grated the cheese and mixed the dry ingredients, so tomorrow night I’ll hopefully come home, crack an egg, mix in some milk and mustard and have dinner in half an hour or so. Tres exciting! It feels spontaneous! It feels planned! Mostly, quite honestly, I feel a little tired.

Speaking of spontenaity: since I was in the kitchen anyway, and feeling a little down for reasons unrelated to food or menu planning,  I decided to mix up a batch of Monkey Bread from Smitten Kitchen and while this does indicate a falling off the wagon in the whole “watching what I eat” portion of my life, it was unplanned.

More Chicken

  I still haven’t gotten around to roasting that Julia Child Chicken, but my thoughts have been running to all things poultry lately. I blame my blog reader which managed to tear me away from my current obsession with sewing blogs back to my original love, food blogs with thoughts on chicken. Really the theme was established over the weekend when I watched Martin Picard disco ball cook a bunch of woodcocks, but then when poultry started showing up on the blogs…well that just got me thinking…and hungry.

 Maybe it was because I was hungry (more on why that is at a later date) but yesterday’s Serious Eats piece on Harold’s Chicken Shack had me ready to jump in the car to go to Chicago to get some fried chicken. Oh Papa Khan’s how I still mourn your loss. Does anyone have tips on where to go in Montreal for good fried chicken?

 Then my blog reader offered up chicken on the other end of the trashy/virtuous continuum of food: Heirloom chicken! I truly believe that factory farming is one of the great evils of our world so I paused to read (rather than scrolling past) Sara Elton’s article “Heirloom Poultry, the Un-Perdue” on going to a heritage chicken tasting (and it was in Toronto, which is, at least peripherally part of my universe, and so therefore not some fantasy food event that I could never go to). Read the article. It’s really interesting to hear how, much like heirloom tomatoes, heritage breeds taste different and better. Also, a chicken tasting!?

 I think my love of the idea of heritage food is seated in the idea that food tasted better when I was a kid. I know this has something to do with an aging palate, but I suspect it also has something to do with the food actually being more varied and complex back when I was a kid. Heritage breeds and heirloom varieties offer the hope of finding layers of flavour that seem to have gone missing from today’s factory farm produced/picked green/genetically odd food. I can’t actually say this is true of chicken, which I didn’t eat when I was a child (vegetarian), but I am still on the track of strawberries that taste like strawberries (not just smell like them) and tomatoes with the deep musky richness of the ones we grew when I was growing up.

 Now I need to ask my purveyors of chicken what breed of chicken they sell and if they’ve ever thought of supplying heritage breeds (they sell pigeon -weird kinds of chicken wouldn’t be a big stretch).

 As for Martin Picard’s wood cock episode (best use of the word “cock’ on the food network), as is often the case, I didn’t feel so inclined to eat the game, prepared head on, tied to tiny disco balls and roasted on Italian statuary, but when he traveled to the Jean Talon market and stocked up on produce at Frank Baldaserre’s stand he made a breakfast of polenta and eggs cooked in tomato sauce that looked amazing.  So along with driving to Chicago for fried chicken, and asking my butcher to start stocking heritage breeds of chicken, I also need to have people over for brunch!

Born RoundI recently picked up the book Born Round:The Secret History of a Full Time Eater by  Frank Bruni . I’ve previously enjoyed memoirs written by food writers and restaurant reviewers and Frank Bruni’s book is both a memoir and a description of his life as the food critic at The New York Times.    

Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must Have Been Something I Ate are responsible for getting me hooked on food writing and memoirs in general. I have read all of Ruth Reichl’s memoirs, and am still lamenting the end of Gourmet magazine, in part because it means no more lovely musings on food from her every month (though her twitter feed is kind of wonderful too). I adored Heat by Bill Buford`(what’s not to love about a story of obsession with Mario Batali and then with Italian food in general) and appreciated Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential (though I prefer his show No Reservations).   

So with those authors’ voices in my head (and trying not to think about Bruni as a bit of a bandwagon jumper) I picked up Born Round. I didn’t love it as much as some of my favorite food books, but I did read the book in less than two days and I thought there was a lot to appreciate. Not only was the story of his life and his problematic love affair with food interesting enough to pull me through the book, there was a lot to think about concerning the relationship between food and culture, food and weight, and for me anyway, the relationship between weight and gender and sexuality.   

My favorite parts of the book involved Bruni describing his first generation Italian-American grandmother and his non-Italian, but may as well have been, mother. The chapter where he describes, in the 2nd person, his mother’s thought process throughout the planning, execution and serving of an epic family Thanksgiving dinner was hilarious. When his mother muses to herself that the fact that there were only three sweet potatoes left in the bowl means someone might not have taken one because there weren’t enough left, and that next time she should prepare more (keeping in mind she has prepared more food than could possibly be eaten by anyone), I felt a ring of both truth and familiarity. I live in a house where one can of chickpeas in the pantry means we are “out” and a lack of leftovers means we didn’t make enough. He also describes his family’s propensity for having two kitchens (one upstairs for show and one in the basement where all the cooking really happens), and while I’ve never witnessed this phenomenon personally, I’ve been told by people close to me that it is actually fairly common.   

It’s little wonder, given his family’s obsession with food, that Bruni developes, early in  life, a tendency towards being round, and that given their concern with appearances that he is also obsessively concerned with his own weight. The first two-thirds of the book largely chronicle his journey from stocky teenager, to overweight adult. Towards the end of the book, but with plenty of time to still talk about his experiences as a restaurant critic,  Bruni manages to find some sort of balance. He loses massive amounts of weight through exercise, and while working in Rome, begins to realize that food can be as much about quality as it is about quantity. It’s clear that there’s still a struggle there, but he seems to have developed a healthy attitude towards food.   

The end of the book which chronicles Bruni’s tenure as restaurant critic is in fact the least interesting part of the book, though there is something fascinating about seeing how the whole process of reviewing works for Bruni.   

For me the fascinating part of the book was looking at the link between one’s  family’s experience and one’s own psychology. Bruni’s grandmother’s journey from Italy and her subsequent need to be accepted in her new homeland led, in part, to her emphasis on food and cooking. This emphasis is carried through a generation and Bruni links the attention he got through his early enthusiasm for food to his later struggles with self-control and his own weight. It’s not exactly the link I see in my own family, but inextricably linked to my love of food is a cooking grandmother who equated food with love and just as inextricably linked to my own issues with body image and weight is the clash of two cultures meeting in my own genetic code.   

It was also interesting to crawl inside a man’s head to look at the whole weight/food relationship. There are lots of books out there chronicling women’s struggles with their weight and their relationship with food ( I recommend Jen Lancaster’s Such a Pretty Fat which makes you laugh and I recommend not reading Valerie Bertinelli’s Losing It which doesn’t). His is not the straight male perspective, but it is different enough to keep the book from falling into what is both in print, and frustratingly often in real life, the cliché of womens’ dissatisfaction with their bodies.   

My holiday reading companions

Vampires and Chicken

A few days ago a close friend came over to watch a couple episodes of True Blood. She gave me the first season as a birthday present, but we’ve had a hard time finding the time to get together to watch it together. I thought I might sweeten the deal by linking supper to the show thematically. She lives in a vegetarian household, but is not herself a vegetarian. The show involves a lot of biting of living things and discussions of dead things, so I thought I’d offer meat so we could get into the feeling of the show. (Sensitive vegetarians might want to skip to the recipe for a salad dressing/marinade toward the end).       

I kind of pictured rare steaks and tearing the meat off of ribs (more werewolf than vampire I suppose) but as it turns out our first attempt at this wasn’t particularly bloody. I picked up a small chicken at Fernando, my favorite poultry place and decided to try going all Julia Child on it (the roast chicken coming out of the oven in Julie & Julia is one of my clearest memories of the film). As it happens, I was a little recipe following challenged and completely messed up the technique which involves lashings of  butter and frequent turning of the chicken. I salted too early, forgot to flip the bird onto its back and had the initial temperature all wrong. Luckily, roast chicken is a pretty easy thing to do, and thanks to the butter and the quality of the bird, it turned out golden and wildly tender. It wasn’t quite the crackley, golden wonder from the movie, but that one was likely created with a blowtorch. We consumed it off brightly coloured TV dinner styled plates with mashed potatoes, crappy iceberg lettuce and store-bought dressing salad and a simple gravy (Julia’s chicken gravy involves skimming the fat and then whisking in more butter. I wasn’t sure about the whole – taking the fat out, to then add more in thing, so just skimmed the fat and then mashed the carrots and onions into the juices to thicken it).       

It was tasty and satisfying, but I’ll have to have a go at the Julia style chicken on a day where I can follow directions. Since I can’t really reliably give you any feedback on the Julia chicken, besides to say that rubbing butter all over the chicken before roasting doesn’t do any harm, I’ll provide you with a recipe for my favorite way to make roast chicken. The one drawback is you can’t make old style gravy (with flour in the pan) because the juices are too salty, but the chicken itself tastes amazing.       

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Roast Chicken  

As I may have mentioned before, I was raised in a vegetarian household and so cooking entire animals has been a skill I’ve acquired later in my cooking life. It turns out that roast chicken is super easy and since people don’t do it much anymore, usually impressive for those in attendance (until you start carving that is).       

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees*       

Marinade**       

1/8 cup olive oil       

1/2 clove of garlic crushed and chopped       

Juice from 1/2 lemon       

1 tbs soy sauce or tamari       

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together until the different ingredients combine. Taste for salt and lemon adjust to your own taste. The salty/sourness of the marinade should be balanced.   1.5 Kg Chicken (the quality of the bird totally makes a difference. Most grocery store chicken does not, in my opinion, cook well, or sit well on the conscience)       

Wash the chicken in cold water inside and out and then pat dry. Remove anything that’s been left inside the chicken (I felt I’d kind  of come of age, meat wise, the first time I did that) and remove the neck  if it’s still attached(I use kitchen scissors, but a truly sharp knife will likely work too). Sprinkle the inside cavity with a little salt and put the other half of the lemon you just squeezed into the cavity ( I have never noticed this to have any discernable effect, but I like doing it anyway. If you have random fresh herbs like parsley or thyme or sage kicking around put those in too).       

a dish almost exactly like this one was the only thing that survived a house fire my mother and I were in when I was four.

 

If you are preparing the chicken well in advance of when you will be roasting it you can marinate the chicken. If like me, you don’t generally plan ahead that much, find a small oven proof pan to put the chicken in. Most roasting pans I’ve seen are far too big for a small chicken, so I just use a square corningware dish I have. Rough chop an onion and a carrot and put that in the pan (OK I stole this from Julia; it was nice). Put the chicken in the pan breast side (the puffy side) down and pour a good amount of the marinade over the chicken. Rub it in a bit. Put the chicken in the oven and after 20 minutes or so take it out and flip the chicken breast side up. Baste the chicken with the marinade and the pan juices. Cook for another 7 or 8 minutes until the breast starts to brown. Baste one more time and turn the oven down to 325.       

The chicken is done when the juices (which will come out if you pierce the skin) run clear. If that’s too vague a sign for you, then poke the chicken in a couple of places with a meat thermometer. When it reads 160 degrees to 165 degrees the chicken is probably done (30-45 minutes).       

Move the chicken to a large plate and let it rest for 5-10 minutes (you can tent it with foil or paper if you have a drafty kitchen). As I mentioned earlier, the marinade makes a traditional flour gravy kind of weird, so instead, push the vegetables to the side of the pan and tip the juices so the fat rises to the top. Skim  as much of the chicken fat as you can off of the surface. Take a potato masher and mash the carrot and the onion into the gravy. If there’s lots of browned bits in the pan, you can heat the pan up over  a burner and deglaze with a bit of lemon.  Adjust lemon and salt to taste.       

Once you’ve carved the chicken up (sorry no tips for you here, I’m terrible at this) pour a little of the gravy over it. I happen to like it on potatoes too, but that might just be me.       

* The roasting technique here comes from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. The down side is that the extreme heat at the beginning of the cooking can sometimes create a bit of a smoking issue in your oven (and a fire alarm problem when you open the oven to baste and flip the bird). I have a suspicion that the vegetables in the pan might mitigate this a bit. Also, Bittman suggests cooking the chicken on a v-rack. I have not ever found a small enough v-rack, for this to make sense, but if you have one, it keeps the skin on the bottom of the chicken from getting soggy. If all the flipping and basting seems like too much work, then just do what Nigella does and toss it in the oven at 450 for about an hour and fifteen minutes breast side up and then let it rest for 10-15 minutes.       

** If any vegetarians have made it this far, the marinade/salad dressing is great on baked potatoes and tossed with baked tofu or just about anything really. It’s salty, sour and savoury all at the same time.