As you know, I have started posting daily facts about food on The Food Blog’s facebook page. I encourage you to like us on Facebook (click here) so you could get these cool little facts delivered daily straight to your facebook stream.
The English wanted to eat beef, so most of Ireland’s good countryside soil was transformed into grazing land. Pushed to farm less productive soils, the Irish turned to the hardy potato, but a disease known as potato blight ravaged throughout Europe. The loss of the potato crop was felt the hardest by the Irish, where one third of the population depended entirely on potato for food. And so, between 1845 and 1852, Ireland experienced the Great Famine, during which 1 million people died and a million more emigrated.
If we needed any proof that a monoculture, the large scale growing of a singular crop, is a bad idea, the Irish potato famine is sufficient evidence. Today, the world’s agriculture is dominated by corn and soybean, the two largest monocultures history has ever witnessed. It’s easy to see trouble on the horizon. A key to the survival of our environment and species is a movement back to biodiverse farming, letting go of monolithic crops and going for a large variety of edible species.
The carrot hasn’t always been orange – in its native Afghanistan and Central Asia, the carrot’s colour could be anywhere between a dirty white and a pinkish purple. The domestication of the carrot took place in both eastern and western regions of Central Asia. Before the first reports of orange carrots, purple root colour was apparently more popular in eastern regions, yellow more popular in the west.
Many people believe that orange carrots were bred by the Dutch to honor William of Orange (William III of England) though we find accounts of orange carrots that predate his reign. The Dutch story, with almost complete certainty, is not true.
You can still find purple carrots today. In Sydney, they’re now in season, and I have some at home. They’re beautiful little things, gnarled and twisted, with none of the uniformity of commercial carrots though the flavour is quite similar.
I recently read that UK producers of orange marmalade are trying to promote their product as orange jam. It seems the British feel the word marmalade is a bit old fashioned, and that perhaps only those from the Queen’s generation would buy something that sounded as yesteryear as marmalade. Jam is a much cooler word, no?
But what’s the difference between jam and marmalade, and what about jelly?
Glad you asked! The answer is quite simple really, and it’s a good bit of trivia to know. Marmalade is a conserve made from citrus fruits or ginger, whereas jam is from non-citrus fruit like strawberries. Jelly on the other hand is the conserve made purely from the juice of a fruit, rather than its pulp. Now wasn’t that interesting?
Find my easy recipe for wild blackberry and lemon zest jam here: http://thefoodblog.com.au/2009/09/wild-blackberry-and-lemon-zest-jam.html
The following is an excerpt of Jonah Lehrer’s piece: The Subjectivity of Wine. Have a read and let me know what you think. To what extent is wine critiquing objective? Do you go to critics for opinion?
In 2001, Frederic Brochet, of the University of Bordeaux, conducted two separate and very mischievous experiments. In the first test, Brochet invited 57 wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn’t stop the experts from describing the “red” wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its “jamminess,” while another enjoyed its “crushed red fruit.” Not a single one noticed it was actually a white wine.
The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning. He took a middling Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle was a fancy grand-cru. The other bottle was an ordinary vin du table. Despite the fact that they were actually being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the differently labeled bottles nearly opposite ratings. The grand cru was “agreeable, woody, complex, balanced and rounded,” while the vin du table was “weak, short, light, flat and faulty”. Forty experts said the wine with the fancy label was worth drinking, while only 12 said the cheap wine was.
Find the original article here: http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2007/11/the_subjectivity_of_wine.php
Saffron is the world’s only truly precious spice. Where the cultivation and production of all other spices has become quite a simple matter, it still takes 140 handpicked saffron flowers to yield 1 gram of dried saffron stigmas, which are the part of the flower we use for cooking.
Worth more than its weight in gold, literally, saffron needs a cook who understands it and knows how to maximise the extraction of its flavours. Take a lesson from the Iranians, growers of the world’s finest saffron: gently pan-roast the threads of saffron until aromatic and then grind them with a mortar and pestle with a pinch of sugar. The sugar’s abrasiveness helps break down the saffron threads into a powder, so salt can also be used. Mix the lot with a tablespoon or two of boiling water and saffron is ready to be used in marinades, rice dishes or whatever else the recipe calls for. The extracted flavour is much stronger than what you’d get by simply soaking the threads in hot water.
Next week, I will be part of a group of 8 food bloggers whose recipes will be cooked at the two-hatted Assiette restaurant in Surry Hills. My participation in this event has raised an important question for me, and I review it below.
Eating meat is a matter of life and death, there’s no denying it, but an obvious disassociation is involved – we never seem to stop to consider that life that has been taken in order for us to enjoy our food. Since we became removed from the process of killing for own food, most of us regard meat as a lifeless hunk of protein, regardless of its quality or origin. The fact that a steak was only recently part of a living creature is something our brain is very good at ignoring.
A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to take part of an interesting event. I and 7 other food bloggers were invited by Meat and Livestock Australia to each develop a beef recipe for a degustation dinner cooked by Warren Turnbull at his two hatted restaurant Assiette in Surry Hills. A moral dilemma presented itself to me. For the dinner, Turnbull has hand selected a “stunning Angus steer from southern NSW” to be butchered by Anthony Puharich of Vic’s Meat and Victor Churchill. I was staring the death of an animal in the face, and my participation in the event meant that I would take on the karmic load of that animal losing its life. This fact was direct and obvious to me, in contrast to that disassociation created by walking into a butcher’s shop and buying steak.
I thought the whole thing over. I, after all, am a meat eater. To refuse participating in the event based on a moral objection to the animal losing its life would be hypocrisy – an animal dies for all meat that is consumed. I decided to use the experience to reinforce to myself the importance of meat, and to reconnect with its source. After confirming that the beef was grass and not grain fed, and that it has had no genetically modified feed, I accepted to take part of the event. I was allocated my own cut, a scotch fillet, for which I developed a recipe with the assistance of chef Turnbull. I admit that as the animal’s life became at the forefront of my thinking, my approach to developing this recipe came with a bigger burden and a higher degree of reverence to get it right. I feel that if we are to eat meat, we need to respect it, and that means no waste and mishandling. Next week I’ll be attending the dinner at Assiette. I’ll keep you updated with how the evening goes, and will share my recipe with you.
What do you think about meat? Do you eat it, and if you do, do you think about the animal that has died? Leave a comment below and let me know.
I have started posting daily facts about food on The Food Blog’s facebook page. I encourage you to like us on Facebook (click here) so you could get these cool little facts delivered straight to your facebook stream. Each Sunday, however, I will be posting all these facts on the blog. This week is our first week, so there’s only 2 food facts, which are very much worth reading.
Making hummus white and creamy as opposed to yellow and chunky is one of the biggest issues facing the world today. Though, truth be told, if you follow a few rules, you will be able to guarantee yourself consistent and delicious hummus. Here’s how you do it:
Plant usable nitrogen (fertilizer), until we learned how to manufacture it, was exclusively produced by bacteria on roots of legumes and by lightning that would occasionally free up the nitrogen to fall down with the rain (fertility rain). That’s why farmers used to rotate crops, so that the nitrogen using crop (corn for example) was alternated by a nitrogen producing crop (legumes). Today’s technology frees up the atmosphere’s nitrogen through an unsustainable process that burns fossil fuels. We feed our plants with fossil fuel derived nitrogen. Fossil fuel gives us nitrogen that gives us corn that gives us factory farmed cows that we eat. We are no longer dependant on the sun for our food, which, as a medium to long term strategy, is unsustainable. Ask for grass fed beef and chemical free fruit and veg.
Well, it took me a few years, right? The Food Blog now has a Facebook fan page. I will be posting some cool facts, links and thoughts on food that otherwise would not make it to the blog, You can also use the Facebook page to ask me questions or inquire about recipes. If you love the stuff I dish out and want to stay in touch on Facebook, use that left click mouse button and LIKE! While you’re at it, subscribe to our RSS feed and follow us on Twitter.
Yoghurt is a relatively new ingredient to the western world, despite being a staple in the Middle East for centuries, which is probably why most yoghurt you find on the shelves of Australian supermarkets isn’t really yoghurt, but a mixture of skim milk powder, gelatine, cream, xanthan gum (for texture), yoghurt bacteria, sugar, salt, additives and flavourings. The West seems to favour yoghurt as a creamy, indulgent dessert style food, and it’s mostly eaten cold and sweet. One of the differentiating aspects of Middle-Eastern cuisine is how yoghurt is used for cooking: we make yoghurt soup and boil meats and vegetables in it. I won’t elaborate, as I’ve discussed this before in my labna post here, which is well worth reading, so go read it.
Little Sara is now 8.5 months old. She’s eating a huge variety of food already: apples, pears, custard apples, apricots, plums, blueberries, blackberries, nectarines, watermelon, rockmelon, bread, chicken, beef, lamb, zucchini, pumpkin, silverbeet, hummus, sweet potatoes, cucumber and a whole lot of other wonderful things. It’s now time to see how she handles dairy products, and yoghurt is a good first choice. Obviously, additive laden yoghurt isn’t what I have in mind. Lebanese brands of yoghurt are fine, but I want a bit more quality control in Sara’s first yoghurt, so I made a batch for her. She might have some for lunch today. I’m draining some of the whey to give her creamier yoghurt. This is a deciding moment. Is she Lebanese and, like me, love the stuff, or will her mother’s English genes dominate?
To make yoghurt, bring 2 liters of milk to 83 degrees and cool it to 46 degrees. Add 3 tbsp yoghurt from that tub you have in the fridge (provided that it’s real yoghurt). Mix it in properly. Cover the pot and keep in a warm place for 24 hours. Voila.
Kibbeh can be approached in over 20 different ways. The sheer variety of kibbeh in Lebanese cuisine is what makes most people consider it Lebanon’s national dish. There is raw goat kibbeh, kibbeh meat balls, chickpea kibbeh, potato kibbeh, pumpkin kibbeh, lentil kibbeh, sweet potato kibbeh, rice kibbeh, and the cooking methods include boiling, baking grilling and frying. So in essence, kibbeh is not a singular dish, rather a family of dishes that share a commonality. The basic approach is the mixing of a binding agent (be it meat or a mealy grain or vegetable) with burghul and spices. At its most basic form, raw kibbeh is a fine paste of (traditionally) goat’s meat with burghul, salt and allspice.
I’ve written before about pumpkin kibbeh, which to me is the queen of kibbeh. I moved away from the traditional approach for this recipe. Instead of boiling the pumpkin, I roasted it at 200c with olive oil and salt. The roasting concentrated the sweetness and added the complexity of caramelisation. To complement the sweetness, I caramelised 3 large onions with star anise until they became beautifully dark. Star anise has an affinity with caramelised onions and takes them to a whole different level. This dish proves two things. First, it proves that my design skills are terrible – I can’t draw for shit. Second, it shows that vegetarian dishes can, if done correctly, outshine meat any day. Seriously, this dish is a must try. Give it a go.
Slice the pumpkin, toss in olive oil and salt and bake at 200c until soft and slightly blistered. In the meantime, slice the onions and fry in olive oil with the star anise and a touch of salt on low heat, stirring occasionally until caramelised. Roast the walnuts for 5 minutes in the oven. When the pumpkin is cooked, cool it down and remove the flesh from the skin. Discard the skin. Mash the flesh into a pulp and squeeze through a clean pillow case or something similar, removing as much liquid as possible. Mix the cinnamon and pepper with the pumpkin flesh and add the burghul. Leave for 15 minutes to allow the burghul to soften. Add enough flour to to the pumpkin and burghul to bind it. Oil a cake tin and put half the pumpkin mixture on the bottom, flattening it evenly. Mix the walnuts and the onions, adding them on top of the pumpkin, discarding the star anise. Use the remaining pumpkin and create a layer above the walnuts and onions. Make a pretty design, brush with olive oil and bake on 200c for around 30 minutes, until the surface is slightly golden. Remove from the oven and cool it down. This pumpkin kibbeh pie is best eaten at room temperature.
You have them too, right? In case I lost you there, I’m talking about obsessions. Mine are many, spread wide and varied. From pottery to Miyazaki films, passing through Japanese knives, fishing, bonsai trees, Joanna Newsom and of course food. I guess I can safely say I’m not afflicted with tunnel vision. At school, I was never interested in learning anything, but now, I can’t let a day go by without trying to improve. Maybe that relentless urge for self-improvement is in itself an obsession, or maybe it’s the weather or something like that, but the urge doesn’t stop. My latest? Bread.
I’ve been making bread for a while now, as you would know. Last week I turned this hobby into an obsession through the simple act of buying a 5kg bag of organic wholewheat flour from the organic coop in Katoomba. I am now nurturing a young sourdough starter, purely wholemeal, fed by the juice of organic oranges. This starter is what we, humans, used to use in days of yore, before the isolation of baker’s yeast. The natural micro-organisms in my starter are those who arrived on the mother ship, the wheat grain itself, and possibly some are from the orange juice. These guys are alive and kicking, and in a month or even less, I will not need any commercial yeast to give my bread the push it needs. At day 5, my sourdough starter is dark and handsome and has a bubbly personality. Two more days and a semi-leavened loaf might be my first reward.
This is my first ever book review. My intention is to introduce you, dear reader, to books that inspire me to cook, ones that teach me new things, or ones that contain extremely valuable information. It so happens that this first book, Mouneh, does these things all at once.
To call the task of putting together a book like Mouneh daunting would be a gross understatement. Mouneh is the Lebanese word for the larder, the supplies and provisions that saw village people through the rough Lebanese winters. Weighing in at 592 pages, Mouneh is a comprehensive work, encompassing recipes for pretty much all Lebanese pantry items, from the well-known to the obscure. Author Barbara Abdeni Massaad is an American born of Lebanese parents and she is more than passionate about preserving both pantry items and Lebanese traditions. It takes individuals like Barbara who feel a connection to a country but see it through an outsider’s perspective to fully appreciate the value and need to document its fragile traditions. This work is the result of years of research and experimentation to produce accurate, authentic recipes categorised by month to give the reader an idea of what can be preserved at that time of year. Many of the recipes contained in Mouneh have never been previously documented or made this easily available.
In the style of her first book Man’oushé, which is dedicated in its entirety to manakish, the Levantine pizza, Barbara has written Mouneh in a personal tone. The recipes, it becomes obvious, are not her own, but belong to the farmers and artisan producers she introduces us to. She relays her stories and encounters with heart, and shares the recipes she has gathered from numerous people living all over Lebanon.
In addition to doing all the writing, Barbara has also done most of the photography. Her portrayal of wonderful and often exotic ingredients largely contributes to the pleasure of reading Mouneh. The book explodes with colour and the images of farmers in their fields or producers preparing their recipes speak a thousand words.
I aim to provide honest, balanced reviews, so here’s some dwelling on the negatives. In my opinion, the book could have used an editor to give it the once over as sometimes, the sentences could be better structured and there are some minor, infrequent spelling mistakes. My second criticism is common to most books I’ve seen come out of Lebanon, though it is observed less with Mouneh. Here, the layout and the typography could be better handled. A more suitable font could have been selected, the images are sometimes placed in awkward positions on the page, and in some cases the text clashes with its background and becomes difficult to read.
All in all, these are minor issues that would not stand in the way of Mouneh becoming a true classic. To me, Mouneh has become my first reference for Lebanese preserves. No other book has gone to such lengths to describe these recipes in such a serious, well-researched manner. Non-Lebanese readers will truly enter a new and colourful world of Lebanese food, one that is very distinct from any other Lebanese cook book, as it relates to a completely different facet of our cuisine. You won’t find a recipe for hummus here, but instead, you will learn how to make orange blossom petal jam, pickled green almonds, candied pumpkin and a plethora of other Lebanese classics that until now have been known mostly to a handful of the Lebanese. Barbara has done the Lebanese people a great service in producing Mouneh, and I, for one, am very grateful.
You can buy the book here: http://www.buylebanese.com/browse.asp?pr=596&x=2&y=4