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.


Monday, 7 December 2009

Marlon’s Carrot Pasta

Cooking staff lunch at Petersham Nurseries Cafe was often left to the regular few, who knew how to do it cheaply and quickly. This, of course, didn’t mean there was no pride to be taken in creating pleasure for hungry waiters and cooks. I loved the kitchen when someone started cooking staff lunch.

Preparing food for people you know is potently different from cooking for strangers. There’s no particular person in mind when cooking for restaurant service. Sure, as Skye would always say to us as we assembled piles of perfect ingredients into salads: ‘imagine that each moment of your plating is a mouthful for someone’. This would remind us that each moment, as it organised itself onto the plate before us, needed to be a perfect combination of flavours. And so it was. Learning how to plate with lightness and sparkle was the most precious technique I took with me from that kitchen.

But cooking for people you know involves more than just perfect construction. When done well, that lightness of touch turns on the cook, and fills her (or his) heart with love. When I’d catch a glance at Marlon making staff lunch, (having finished his morning prep always half an hour before any of us), I would see his quiet concentration release a little. Then, he’d start grating carrots. The result was always so simple, but so celebrated. I don’t know where it comes from: his Brazil, or his mother, or just his cheeky smile. But whenever Marlon started grating carrots I knew we’d be eating a little bit of his heart for lunch.

The problem is, I never watched him do it!! Marlon, if you’re out their honey, can you send me your secret? xx

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Roasting Chicken, the Zuni Cafe (Judy Rodgers) Way

The Zuni Cafe way results in a roasted chicken that will BLOW YOUR MIND. It is more succulent, more flavourful, than any other method I’ve tried. And it’s actually very simple. There are a few tricks though, and I’ll go through them below, with a few of my own elaborations:
  1. Use very small chickens. That way, you can keep the cooking time fast and at a very high temperature, which means a more succulent end result. Best size is 1.4kg to 1.7kg. If you have larger chickens, consider braising them. The chicken will still taste good, but it’s much more difficult to maintain succulence, the longer the chicken takes to cook.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Pre-salting Meat

After so many years of thinking that salting meat any earlier than the very last moment was an act of destruction causing unspeakable degrees of dehydration and toughness, I discovered pre-salting in Judy Rodger’s wonderful tomb, The Zuni Café Cookbook. It bordered on a religious awakening. I and my fellow Rose Bakery chef, the wonderful Avon Lyons, made the discovery together (during those many evenings sitting at the window of our Paris flat, flipping through cookbooks for the next day’s inspiration). Now, we’re both born again and (speaking for myself) converting others whenever opportunity arises.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Pasteurisation, a Sour Story

The word ‘pasteurization’ conjures a picture of two related periods in history. The first is that breakthrough moment when pasteurization entered the scene of an industrially created health calamity: cows fed off the sludge byproduct of distilleries produced sick milk, resulting in outbreaks of diphtheria, tuberculosis, and thousands of deaths. The second is right now, when the Australian government is deciding on a raw milk standard that could make illegal all unpasteurized dairy products: locally produced or from overseas; made into cheeses or cultured creams; accessed through arrangements individuals make direct with farmers or via other creative means. All access could be stamped out. So, let’s take a moment to look directly at this process called pasteurization and see it for what it is:

Gratin Potatoes, a curdled tale

I just spent the last hour making a potato gratin, and as it bakes, it's curdling.

With guests arriving in less than ten minutes, I'm trying to believe this isn't a bad thing. I want to celebrate the curd. I want to love that what I'm bending over right now is steaming layers of satiny potato, crunchy crisp on top, held together by a tenuous curd and hiding a shallow bath of... whey.

But I so wanted some creaminess tonight.

Monday, 23 November 2009

The perfect mashed potatoes, Part I

I've been inspired to write about mashed potatoes after reading about this rather gorgeous version in Simply Recipes. It's sings with balance I think: the tang and sweet creaminess of blue cheese, the slightly pungent nose of the sage, the nutty earth in the brown butter...

you know it's funny, I've just realised I misread their recipe... I thought Garett and Elise used blue cheese, but they didn't. They used a fresh goat's cheese: more subtle, lovely. Still, I'm going to run with my version for now and add a little reminder to myself here that we need to talk about cheeses soon- not all cheese is 'good' cheese.

But even with these flavours, mash can still manage to disappoint. When I was at Ballymaloe Cookery School, we learnt to 'beat' our mash, but this, in my view, was a disaster. I'm sure there's some science behind why and that either Harold McGee or Jeffrey Steingarten have pointed me in its direction before (I'd tell you for sure, but both books are in a seamail parcel about 2 months shy of my bookshelf). I  think it's got something to do with how many of the starchy potato cells either disintegrate in the cooking or are smashed open in the whipping. Too little cooking and the little blighters don't cream up at all. Too much (ie, too high an internal potato temperature) and they turn to glue.

But don't stress out about the science. There's some pretty simple ways to ensure the potatoes will turn out mashable:

Shaggy Parasols & Chestnut Boletes

I hunted for mushrooms for the first time ever yesterday. We drove with our avid mushroom hunting friends, Dougal, Deirdre and their dog Doom, to Sackrow, where they know some special spots for Ceps and other boletes. It's a little late for Ceps, but Deirdre thinks Chestnut (or Bay, oder 'Maronen', auf Deutsch) Boletes taste even better. John Wright in his book, Mushrooms, says Chestnut Boletes break the mycophagist rule of thumb about the relationship between 'blue' and 'poison'. These mottley guys immediately stain bluish green when their flesh tears, which definitely disturbed my appetite, but apparently the blue is completely benign. Most of the Chestnut Boletes we found were a little soggy (they soak up water like sponges) and slug nibbled, making them better dried than cooked fresh. So as yet, I haven't dispelled my slight blue discontent.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Best Roasted Tomatoes start with two Skye Gyngell tricks*

Trick 1. Roasting tomatoes require roominess

Trick 2. Roast tomatoes dry (that is, without any oil)

*Caveat for all diligent recipe followers: not all advice from cooks should be followed to the letter. When I first started working in Skye’s kitchen (and being way too eager to please) I took her on her word when she said ‘green vegetables should be boiled in water as salty as the sea’- advice she also writes in her first cookbook. It was probably my second day in her kitchen and man, did I wish I could backspace on time when she tasted a mouthful of my perfectly-tender-and-so-salty-you-can’t-even-swallow chard! With five minutes until the start of service, I wasn’t being celebrated for my editorial input. Even my fellow cooks weren’t laughing at me. This little incident did, however, give me the opportunity to learn yet another Skye trick: if you’ve accidently oversalted something, try a squeeze of lemon, it may just tame your overzealousness.

Not this time.

My First Cooking Class at Goldhahn & Sampson

The Magic of Stocks
Samstag, 6. Februar, 2010, um 18 Uhr
Goldhahn & Sampson

Infusing water with the flavours of meats, vegetables, herbs and spices is one of the kitchen’s most basic transformations, and yet like most of cooking’s simple magic, it requires a bit of ‘skilling up’ to perfect. In this class, we’ll step through stock making from raw ingredients to clarification. We’ll make different stocks to suit various flavours from around the world, and we’ll experiment with the depth of flavour homemade stocks can bring to Vietnamese ph, Milanese risotto and Nonya laksa.

Recommended reading:
Christine Manfield’s Spice (Viking, 1999).
Judy Rodger’s The Zuni Café Cookbook: A compendium of recipes and cooking lessons from San Francisco’s beloved restaurant (Norton, 2002).

Thursday, 12 November 2009