Friday, 17 December 2010

Thursday, 21 January 2010

A Simple Chicken Stock (or Soup)

Here is the first, and simplest way I'm going to show you to make a good chicken stock. There are richer stocks, but this one is perfect for a simple chicken soup. In fact, it is a simple chicken soup.

Laotian Chicken Soup with Onions, Shallots & Coriander

This Laotian recipe is taken, with a little adaption, from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet (page 59). It’s a variation on the sort of simple chicken soup I write about here. To Alford and Duguid’s version I’ve added rice noodles (to make the broth into a heartier meal), and my own technique for making chicken broth.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Morning Sickness

There's a reason I haven't written anything on this blog for nearly two weeks. It's called morning sickness, or more appropriately in German, Schwangerschaftsübelkeit, which assigns no particular time of day to the sickness that, in my days, has been all consuming.

I can't think about food, let alone write about it. Writing requires me to conjure flavours, scents and textures in the mind of my mouth and nose, and I just can't, not without feeling like I've been spun me around 10 times and left in a puddle of torrid nausea. 

I'm resigned to eating whatever my mind can settle on without spinning. I wake up hungry and nauseous and wait, until out of my mind's mud the image of the miracle food emerges, always one that can stand up to my nausea without a wobble.

Although there are some foods that can master this stillness for more than a week (like dry ryvitas), most begin to shiver after one or two days. Last week, fruit yoghurt passed every stability test, but this week it's producing a lack lustre performance. Two weeks ago, I thought a clear, nutritious chicken stock could see me through all of this, but now I can't even write the word chicken without opening the window and deep breathing. 

There are various reasonings assigned to this pointed nausea in the early stages of pregnancy. Most are to do with a pregnant woman's need to be incredibly attuned, sensually, to possible environmental toxins. Everything smells more clearly of what it is, and this immediately evokes either a sensual revulsion, or appetite. Worst offenders this week: bad breath, stale air, cigarette smoke and that once seductive jamón

Hopefully, I've only got four weeks left on this nausea merry-go-round. And although I don't like pessimism, I also want to forewarn of what I expect to be four mostly silent weeks from me. I will be back, I promise, brimming with appetite, enthusiasm and maybe even a whole new website!

Just one last thing, a thank you, to my wonderful Mathew, who has, without complaint, finished off all the miracle foods I embrace and then abandon to the refrigerator. Only four more jars of fruit yoghurt to go my love...

Sunday, 27 December 2009

A couple of mighty good food jobs

If anyone's interested, Shelagh Ryan's advertising two chef jobs for her fabulous London cafe, Lantana (just voted Time Out's Best New Cafe of 2009). The contact details are on gum tree.

And here's a link to Shelagh's blog, about Lantana and other foodie adventures and ponderings.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Changes to Australian Raw Milk Legislation

Australia's Department of Food Standards has released their Draft Proposal for changes to the Raw Milk Legislation.

Some progress has been made. If it goes ahead, we'll be able to purchase some Australian raw milk products made in Australia: those that are matured for over 90 days; those that can be proven to use production processes that eliminate pathogens; and those that can be proven to have undetectable levels of pathogens.

All this sounds pretty good and reasonable, as long as the assessment techniques are fair, but on closer examination it's pretty clear that the Food Safety Authorities aren't going to be examining each dairy product for their individual production processes, but rather, will see if they tick the following boxes:
  1. it starts with a high standard of raw milk (ie. no pathogens, which is fair enough)
  2. it uses particular starter cultures that will immediately drop the ph of the dairy product
  3. it has a continued ph or salt content that makes pathogenic growth impossible
  4. it has been matured for a period of time (nominally 90 days at the moment) or is kept at a temperature that makes pathogenic growth impossible.

These indicators will naturally exclude all fresh cultured products, such as yoghurt and sour cream, and many fresh and soft cheeses such as chevre and camembert.

On the even darker side, it will be illegal to purchase fresh raw milk products, such as milk, butter and cream and it will become illegal to purchase raw goat's milk. How this will be enforced, and whether the authorities will manage to put an end to such 'black market' enterprises as herd share schemes is unclear. But the draft proposal makes it perfectly clear that this 'black market' consumption is deemed an unacceptable risk to community health.

The statistics? Supposedly OzFoodNet's Outbreak Register identified 8 outbreaks of raw milk related illness in Australia over a 6 year period (1998-2003), accounting for 101 sick people. Out of this, 4 people were hospitalised, and no one died.

Two questions:

First, why is there no information collected in these statistics on where this raw milk comes from? According to research collected by raw milk experts such as Dr Ron Schmid, often these outbreaks occur in people who've been drinking raw milk from industrial milk sources, either because they live on the farm that produced it, or are related to the farm in some way.

There is absolutely no comparison to be made between the safety of industrially produced milk and the safety of small-scale organically produced milk. (Have a look at my earlier blog on pasteurisation if you'd like to read more.) So why do statisticians keep lumping them together so we can't tell the difference?

Second, are 101 illnesses over 6 years really grounds for the outlaw of all fresh raw milk sales? And if it is, why isn't the goverment outlawing all bain marie service in restaurants and the selling of fresh seafood?

If anyone is interested in making a submission, visit here to see how. Or if you would like to add your input to a submission I'll be making, please comment on this post, or email me.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Dried Mushroom Stock

Just because dried mushroom stock is easy doesn't mean it's unimpressive. And the character of the stock varies dramatically with the character of the mushrooms you use. I'll use the shaggy parasols (pictured above) we collected with Dougal and Deidre to make a stock for a mushroom soup. Sure, you don't have to use a stock for mushroom soup, but if you do, its flavours will be more layered and complex.

You can use dried porcini to make very rich stocks for soups and risottos, and dried shitake mushrooms to make stocks for japanese style broths. Porcini and shitake are the most common mushrooms used for stocks, probably because they're both very flavourful. But I'm sure there are others you could try, once you get adventurous.

I'm starting a Stock Renaissance

I don't know why more people don't make stock. The word 'stock' floats in an aura of difficulty that makes people turn and run for the stock cubes. But if this difficulty perception puts people off stock making, then it must make brothy soups and risottos a triply contentious possibility, as both of these, along with many stews and braises, rely on good stock.

The thing about stock cubes is this: yes, they add a 'tastiness' to food; they change water into flavour. But they also make everything taste a little bit the same. I worked in a very popular restaurant for a while (which I won't name), whose head chef was hooked on stock cubes. No matter what we made, she would add a little bit of Massel to the mix. I think her taste buds were quite reliant on that zingy stock cube flavour, because it was quite clear to the other cooks that the soup (it was often added to these) tasted great without it, and in fact the Massel would mask all the subtle flavour interplays already going on.

So let's start a renaissance in stock making. If you haven't made stock even once in your whole life, this is a challenge for you as much as for those of you out there who've forgotten how good and simple stocks are. What I'm going to do is start at the very easiest stocks and work my way up.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Impossible Coconut Pie, Take I

I found this recipe on a blog called A Southern Grace. Grace calls it the 'impossible pie' because rather than the baker making a pastry crust, the pie forms its own crust. I was immediately intrigued, not so much because of this logic defying feat (it seems to me to work along the lines of the crust that forms on cannelés), but because the recipe reminds me of a recipe I've been trying to get my hands on for a long time.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Whole Oats Porridge & Macrobiotics

I had a visit from my friend, Constantin, a couple of weeks ago, and his love of macrobiotics reminded me that I know very little about it. And well, I still don't. I know that macrobiotic diets work to balance yin and yang elements in food, for our health. I know that eating extremes of yin and yang (balancing of flavours to enliven the palette) is what most restaurant food thrives on.

It seems that what makes so many South East Asian cuisines desirable: that sour, sweet, salty, spicy, bitter battle for your taste's affections, is what makes us too focussed on eating and not enough on health.  Macrobiotics, Co tells me, isn't about inspiring interest in food. It's about being bored, taking the focus away, making eating less an attempt to stimulate and more an act of nourishment.