Friday, November 16, 2012

Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket - Ep 3

In this final episode Jimmy takes on making a chicken kiev to compete with Tesco's current product. His solution is to use meat from free range hens that are past their laying time. This meat is usually sold overseas and not within Britain. Again I won't be a spoiler and ask you to look at the episode for yourself.

He also goes back into bat for his rose veal from the first episode and while the program ends before the outcome of his discussions, it ends on a promising note.

What's fantastic about this series is that is takes on the arguments the big companies like the Tesco's of the world put against using free range meats in their products and confounds them all. The dedication Jimmy Doherty brings to pursuing options to achieve this is inspiring.

And to be fair, Tescos ought to be congratulated for taking on his challenge and working with him within their commercial framework with what comes across as genuine willingness. Their enthusiasm for what Jimmy achieves is of course because of the profitability of what he brings to their table but I am not going to bag them for that.

The other fascinating aspect of the program is how clearly it shows that when given a choice that does not affect their pocket consumers will buy free range, and if that is the only message from the program (and it is not as each episode looks at wider economic and animal welfare issues) then it is worth showing this to meat product producers here in Australia, too. It certainly makes me want to head off to Woolworths and Coles and check out what's happening on their meat shelves and ask questions about what I find.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Caveat Emptor

Here's a conversation I had with an outlet for one of the celebrity artisan bakeries in Sydney:

Me: What do you have that’s vegan friendly?

Staff: Nothing. Oh, we have a sandwich but it’s not here yet. (This was at 9.30 on a weekday morning)

Me (sighting a slice of pizza that had tomato and pesto on it): What about pizza?

Staff: No, it’s got milk in the pastry. What about some toast and jam?

Me (as I leave, quite flummoxed and without purchasing anything): Thanks.

Now, several things about this disturbed me:
(a) What on earth is milk doing in pizza dough.
(b) Why is the only vegan friendly food on offer a sandwich - this is a shop that has all manner of pastries, sweet and savoury, as well as the curious pizza and sandwiches.
(c) What on earth makes a person think that toast and jam is an adequate offer of food for a vegan?

Okay, so I am not vegan but my niece is. I've been able to put food on the table for her involving doughs and pastries both sweet and savoury for the three years she has lived with me. All I was looking for was something for our morning tea that she could share in. 

Anyway I sent off an email to the bakery and this was their response:

The only product we sell that is truly vegan is our sourdough bread. It is made with organic flour, a natural starter, water and salt. We make our own jam, this also is free of animal product. Our olive oil loaves and the pizza bases contain milk as this results in a finer crumb and softer crust.  Both of our pizzas both have cheese as part of the topping. All of our pastry products contain butter as we find this gives the best taste and mouth feel possible.

Our sandwiches are in all the bakeries by 10.30am every day. The bread comes out of the oven early in the morning and by the time it has been cooled, the sandwich fillings put together and then packaged this is the earliest that we can get them in store.

As bakery purists, we like to work with classic recipes that we tweak for the best possible quality and taste. Frequently this means that we choose to use dairy products in our recipes. We are looking into vegan products to see if there is a way we can offer this choice without compromising our product.

The response raises issues of customer care for me. There is no sign in the bakery indicating that it uses milk in its olive loaves or pizza base; I can only hope that someone with a severe lactose intolerance doesn't get extremely sick from eating these products for lack of knowledge about the presence of milk in them. My niece, needless to say, was horrified to know that the olive bread she has delighted in eating had milk in it. The descriptions of the two pizzas on offer day nothing about cheese toppings let alone that milk is used in the dough.

Where does the responsibility lie here. Should the lactose intolerant and the vegan have to ask questions about the presence or absence of milk or should the bakery put up helpful signage? My view is the latter. Food packaging these days and menus in many cafes and restaurants these days do provide information about the presence of nuts, for example. Some cafes and restaurants are courteous and customer caring enough to identify which of their offerings are vegan and vegetarian friendly. It's not 'nannystatism', it's a reasonable response that's not hard to do and saves frustration on both sides.

And as for the last sentence in the bakery's response - 'We are looking into vegan products to see if there is a way we can offer this choice without compromising our product' - I will have more to say about the lameness of this excuse in a further blog.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Jimmy and The Giant Supermarket

Episode 2 of this program lives up to ep 1. This time Jimmy goes head to head with a free range pig sausage of his made from heart, cheek, tongue and some pork belly and Tesco's own brand which uses no offal. I won't tell you the outcome except to say watch right to the end to see how people off-put by offal respond to seeing pigs raised in different situations from free range to sows in breeding traps and how it can influence the choices people make. Watch it also to see how anxious Tesco's is about Jimmy filming inside a sausage factory and get an appreciation for what using the term to describe schooling implies.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Magnificent Michael Mobbs

Michael is an Australian living legend in sustainability who gets out there and does things about the issues he uncovers about food production in Australia developing options for personal actions that are not hard. This is one of his characteristically inspiring talks about what he has done, a terrific willingness to talk about his childhood and early adult life, reflections of the role of governments in sustainability and waste, touches on food security and heaps of other discursions (I like that better than digressions which always carries that sense of irrelevance or wastefulness whereas Michael's wanderings are anything but).

I've been to his house on several occasions, one of over 19,000 internationally who have.Thankfully I went as a friend and not an eco-tourist, not that there is anything necessarily wrong about that). He is very clear about the limits of what a person can do, but also suggests how what you do when you start talking to neighbours, passers-by and your community.

It was he who inspired me to get the Council not to plant turf on the footpath outside our house when they lifted the concrete, but rather to let us plant flowering and food plants, the latter I admit limited to parsley that now self seeds majestically for salads and tabbouleh, a lemon balm that self seeded after escaping over my backyard fence where its original is, a lemon tree that hopefully will give me its first fruit this year, a passionfruit that for the past two years has just given and given and given, an incipient avocado tree, chickweed and dandelions (I still can't quite come at eating the milk-thistles) which I love adding to salads or vegetable pies, marigolds from which I can pick the flowers, marjoram that's having a nice time spreading.

Michael talks a lot about water wastage and how to cut down on it. I treasure the moat that our architect Misho built for us as part of our renos that has only ever been dry once in its 8 or more years history, being filled by the smallest shower onto the vast expanse of corrugated tin roof on the kitchen/dining space, which also now sports a significant bank of solar panels  - which Misho rightly says are not pretty, but do look somewhat interestingly scientifico-architectural  in our case as they have to be raised and angled and there are so many of them. The moat is the prime source of watering for the whole of the back garden. The plants on the footpath and in the front garden, which include olive, mango, guava tree and something that I had always thought was a NZ plant but someone the other day reckoned was a feijoa and to tell the truth the fruit look like it but I have not put mouth to them as yet - may well do this season while holding the mobile set to 000).

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Passion for Pork

My love affair with pork began with my first Sri Lankan pork curry - the unctuousness of the pork fat, the sweetness of the meat, the gelatinous skin, the sharpness of  vinegar, or even better that of goroka (aka gamboge), combined with a mix of roasted ground cumin, fennel seed, coriander, dried red chillies, fresh curry leaves, chopped ginger and garlic, shredded (sera) lemon grass, a fold of rampa (pandanus) a stick of cinnamon, all cooked up in coconut milk.

It's a classic Burgher dish that rarely appears on the menus of Sri Lankan restaurants in Australia, or if it does it is so dumbed down that it could be any meat swimming  in a brown gravy. Can't risk having putting in goroka, looking for all the world like black slugs sitting among the meat and tasting like crap should you chew it. It's actually the dried segments of the fruit Garcinia gummi-gutta and you are not supposed to eat them . They are there to give their characteristic highly sour flavour that cuts through the sweetness of the pork brilliantly. Can't have chunks of fatty pork for fear of scaring the health conscious. Ditto coconut milk which gets such a bad rap these days. And when I ate it in Sri Lanka you would occasionally still find the stub of a hair sticking blackly out of the skin.  Prepared as it should be it is an unashamedly jungly dish.

Pickled pork was another early favourite. My dad made it a couple of times, and I have also. It's based on the meat from the head of a pig boiled and then bottled up with mustard seed, dry red chillies, ginger, garlic, green chillies, turmeric, salt and vinegar. It's ready 24 hours after bottling. You can then eat it straight out of the bottle say as a side dish with other curries, or you can fry it up with a little of its pickling liquid in some ghee or vegetable oil and again have it as a side dish. Makes a great sandwich, too.

Sticking with the Burgher ways with pork, you can also make it as a smoore, a whole piece slow pot roasted  in coconut milk and roasted spices sharpened in this case with lime pickle, the piece taken out and browned in ghee or oil, and served sliced soused with the gravy.

I don't recall having pork roast in Sri Lanka. We didn't have an oven and any roasting or baking  had to be done at my uncles house across the road, and I don't recall eating it when I went visiting at all. So it must have been early days of mum dipping into the Women's Weekly that put the first leg of pork with crackling onto the table. Trotters I think I had curried in Sri Lanka, and then met again as cold vinegared collagen full Chinese yum cha favourites. It was courtesy of a bowl of congee lunching in Chinatown that I first delighted in rousong aka pork floss, dried shredded pork meat sprinkled on top of said congee. And of course I could happily spend my life eating nothing but char siu/siew, a bowl of rice, and some wilted Chinese greens, the marinade so rich in the flavours of regional.national combinations of soy, Chinese wines, maltose, five spice, hoi sin and, from the range of recipes you can Google, pretty much anything that will serve to give that characteristic sweet roasted stickiness.

This post was stimulated by three encounters during this week with pork in three forms. The first was frankly disappointing. It was touted as pork with lentils and greens and certainly those elements were there, but the pork was absurdly tough, the skin difficult to cut let alone chew, the lentils in too much broth. All of this at a dinner during Crave Sydney International Food Festival.

The second was an altogether more satisfying experience, an excellent pork, pickled cabbage and apple sauce roll from Runcible Spoon, a small cafe in Camperdown. The pork was if not pulled certainly pullable ('pulled' pork being everywhere in Sydney at the moment, taking over from belly pork of a few months ago), the cabbage firm and lightly vinegary in generous ribbons the apple sauce not overly sweet, and the roll airy and just toasted. Here is a picture of the roll. (I fear I shall have to go correct the logo of the cafe however as per this delightful discussions of what exactly is a runcible spoon).

My third encounter was today, courtesy of a birthday lunch for son Raj, which we had at the Concordia Club, Tempe, host to the Oktoberfest (happily over by the time of our lunch) and renowned for its pork knuckle which was massive, no other word for it, perfectly tender, with a lightly crisp crackling with a nice layer of fat under it still soft,  and simply served with mashed potato, a green bean salad, and sauerkraut. Again here is the meal.

Love the serving touch of the knife stuck in the knuckle. It was the serrated edge knife that was ideal for parting the flesh. The beer was a schooner of Spaten. Now, I don't usually drink beer but I certainly think it was the perfect go with here, cutting the grease and that yeastiness again working against the sweetness of the pork. The setting added much to the enjoyment of this meal. The building is a renovated bowling club (the lawns are still but croquet is now the game of choice) and we sat in the vast carpeted dining hall, all long tables fully occupied with middle and eastern European groups chowing down on the knuckle and/or schnitzel. There was a band playing hits from no later than the 60's, some generic Latin American (sambas, bossa novas) and the occasional polka, but strictly intended and enjoyed as a dance band for a floorful of couples of a certain age having a fabulous time waltzing (yes they played a Strauss or two), quick-stepping, jiving, cha-cha-ing and doing those ball room dance steps with supreme nonchalance. There was a cake counter with what looked like the entire repertoire of German/Austrian cakes, and in a side room a mini supermarket of all things middle European.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Greek Milk Bars in Australia

A lovely short piece about the restoration of the Roxy Theatre and Cafe in Bingara, Northern NSW. There's a story waiting to be written about the Greek cafes and their place in Australia culinary history, as there is about the Chinese restaurants, two institutions that provided alternatives to the pub as a social space in country towns in Australia.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket

Just had a look at the first ep of Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket – Jimmy Doherty, a free range pig farmer in UK trying to develop ‘high welfare’ alternatives for three of the biggest selling meat products of Tesco’s.

Terrific for exploring the decision making process of Tesco’s about getting a product onto the market and how hard it is to bring a high welfare product within the affordability Tesco’s wants to meet (oops!) for its market.

But for me its even more interesting for where the program goes in identifying a practice that wastes meat and how Doherty then passionately works to address the waste and create a 'high welfare' alternative practice. It's not giving too much away to say it's about the Tesco shoppers' aversion to eating veal because of concerns for what they understand as the way calves are raised for veal  and what happens to male jersey calves that are surplus to dairy farmers' needs. 

I almost want to go on line and see whether what he comes up with worked or not, but I will buy into the suspense narrative and hope for a big pay-off.

Warning - not for the faint hearted; there is a scene around 20 minutes into the ep that is confronting.