Friday, December 31, 2010

Link Round-Up: What I'm Reading

Okay, maybe a new section for the blowwwwg. It's a bit of a collection of online things (sometimes good enough to be called 'articles') I've been reading in the past few days that I've reacted to (as opposed to the deadface that normal life inspires). Enjoy.

The Physiology of Foie: Why Foie Gras is Not Unethical [SERIOUS EATS]

The foie gras debate is one that has carried on for a long time. We don't see a lot of it in Australia, but I saw it most restaurants in the parts of Europe and the US that I visited this year.

This piece follows the writer's trip to a foie gras "farm" to see exactly how the force feeding required (in most cases) to produce foie gras is performed and what conditions the animals live with. Not surprisingly, there are producers out there that care for their animals.

Umami Australia and UMAMI Information Center

Umami is something that I (like most people) don't know a whole heap about. The two websites above contain some fascinating information on Umami, "the fifth taste". Check out the presentation by Barbara Santich (author of the spectacular 'Looking for Flavour' and an academic I have a huge amount of time for) in the Event section.

Foodie Fatigue [CHICAGO TRIBUNE]

While I do have a food blog and do talk about food constantly, I find the whole "foodie" "movement" tremendously tiring (as you no doubt find my use of inverted commas). Why do people need to take low-qual, camera phone picture of every single thing they eat? Would people give two shits about macarons if Masterchef hadn't talked them up? And do half of these people obsessed with food even know what they're talking about?

If you've asked similar questions then you, like the article, will be wondering when the "foodie" bubble is going to pop.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

RECIPE: Chorizo and Bean Stew

Here's a simple recipe that I like to knock up a big batch of every now and again when I don't have the energy to make anything elaborate. It requires almost no skill to make, tastes spectacular and most of the ingredients can sit in your pantry for ages.

Ingredients (makes around 6 large portions):
- 4 chorizos, diced (the rougher you dice the better)
- 4 tins of various beans, drained and rinsed (I use a mix of butter beans, kidney beans, black beans and cannellini beans. But whatever you can find will work)
- 1 tin of diced tomatoes (the ones that have herbs already in them are great in this recipe)
- 1 teaspoon of tomato paste (optional)
- 3 shallots, diced finely
- 3 cloves of garlic, diced finely
- Approx 2.5 litres of vegetable stock (I use stock powder and it tastes fine)
- Pinch of black pepper
- Pinch of smoked paprika
- Pinch of dried chilli flakes
- A splash of neutral oil (canola, grapeseed, etc)

How It's Done:
- Put a large pot over a medium heat. Heat the oil and cook the shallots and garlic for a couple of minutes. You just want to soften them, not get any colour. If you feel that it's cooking too fast, reduce the heat.
- Add the pepper, paprika and chilli. Stir often to prevent anything sticking to the bottom.
- Add the chorizos and mix well. Cook for approx 5 minutes, stirring often.
- Add all of the beans, the tomatoes and the tomato paste. Stir to mix, but be gentle to avoid the beans breaking up.
- Add enough stock so that the contents of the pot are just covered. Stir again, still being careful not to be rough and damage the beans.
- Bring the contents to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and leave it (uncovered) for at least 45 minutes (no more than 3 hours), stirring every now and then.

I like to serve it with some crusty bread, but it's also great over burghul or fregola. Or even just on it's own.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Double Cheese BaconKiloBurger

600g of bacon
Wrapped around 2 bun halves
2 x 200g wagyu beef patties
3 x slices of 18-month-aged gouda cheese
Sliced gherkin
Green tomato relish
Tomato sauce

Sunday, December 05, 2010

ARTICLE: Celebrity Chef Endorsements; Selling Out or Selling In?

I’m watching TV and on comes a Coles ad with superstar celebrity chef Curtis Stone. This time he’s flogging prawns, but it really isn’t important. It could have easily been the ad where he gets a family to cook up some spag bol for $10, or the one where Guy Grossi talks up the Woolworths ham. Or the one where Margaret Fulton talks about cherries in Woolworths. Or the Coles ad with George Calombaris. It’s all just another piece of supermarket advertising ephemera added to the mix.

Stone, cold pimp(in' questionable products)

People have criticised Stone for appearing in the ads, claiming that his $10 meals can’t actually be cooked for $10. Just like they criticised Calombaris—a multi-hatted chef—for appearing in the ads and spruiking the “great” produce to be found in Coles (that he wouldnt be caught dead serving in his restaurant).

I initially sided with many other people and thought that these celebrity chefs were just selling out to the corporate machine for a few bucks. We knew that the produce at the big-name supermarkets was average at best, so where was their integrity? If not for money, then why endorse something that they clearly don't use themselves? For the money... Oh... wait...

But I think I’ve completely missed the point. This isn’t about convincing “foodies” to shop at Coles or Woolworths to take advantage of the plethora of great, reasonably-priced produce. It’s about convincing people that don’t know better to choose Coles over Woolworths, or vice versa.

And it’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing because it will get people into cooking. It doesn’t matter that the “fresh” produce has been kept in cold storage for a year, or that it’s been treated with chemicals to make it last longer. Or even that it's been handled by people that don't give two shits about selling a great leek.

That’s all a battle for another person, for another time. The average person at home doesn’t spend the weekend looking for organic, free-range, environmentally sustainable heirloom carrots. They’ll be happy with a carrot. Just a carrot. If it’s orange and pointy, they’re happy. It doesn't even have to taste like a carrot. Because if it doesn't then they have a great story to tell at the next barbeque they go to with all of their friends. Because, remember how carrots USE to taste?

I fail to see how it can be a bad thing if someone is inspired to cook by Curtis Stone smiling away in a cotton shirt, even if it is based a little on deception (or a lot). Once they start cooking seriously then they can start caring about how their carrot tastes and where it comes from. And they can cynically look at the television and deride the celebrity chef of the moment, selling a product that they don’t completely believe in. But right now, they need a catalyst that will put them in the kitchen and have them frantically stirring a pan filled with a kilo of mince while they scan the recipe card in the hope of finding the answer to the age old question of "how much pepper do I put in?" because the recipe card just says to add pepper.

So who loses here? I can't think of anyone. The supermarkets win because they drum up business (from the other supermarkets). The person mislead into the kitchen has won because they've started cooking. The celebrity chef has maybe lost some integrity in the eyes of the food-conscious viewer. But, really, are you going to avoid the Press Club because George was in a Coles ad? Regardless, they've got the cash from the endorsement to hold them at night.

Some people may make the argument that producers that make good food and shops that sell decent produce have lost out. But, really, were they ever expecting to sell to the average punter at home that doesn't know why there are so many colours of onion? I'd bet anything that the people that are going to Coles to get Stone's recipe card wouldn't be the type to normally buy their produce from a reputable grocer, or at a farmers' market. And if you tried to market to them it would fall on deaf ears.

Recently, I gave a recipe to a kitchen-newbie friend of mine. It's a recipe I only cook when the ingredients are in season because the recipe requires it. I also make sure that I get the best looking and tasting ingredients possible. And I'll give you a hint where I get them from: Not Coles or Woolworths. But my friend went to Coles to get the produce (not in season), made the recipe, loved it. He was stoked that he'd cooked something and to him it tasted great.

If I had have told him to look around for a grocer carrying the best produce, and to only cook it in season then I would again bet anything that he would have felt intimidated or daunted by the very idea of it.

If he keeps cooking and starts wanting to learn more about food then he'll undoubtedly end up buying great produce from great producers. But right now, shouldn't we be happy that the first step has been taken?

In an ideal world, everyone would know why good produce matters and why we should bloody well give a damn. Because it bloody well does matter. But we're nowhere near that now, so can we just accept that a very small step has been taken in getting people more interested in food by (maybe) getting them in the kitchen? And if it took a celebrity chef to do that, then good on them. A white lie never hurt anyone.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

RESTAURANT: Chef's Gallery

For a couple of months, Chef's Gallery, with it's bright lights and vast, clear windows has called to me. So bright. It's rare that a restaurant makes me feel like a moth.

Finally, I went there.

And the food is good enough. We ordered around 10 dishes, and everything we had was solidly good, without there being a real stand-out. It's also a nice, bright dining room with plenty of staff roaming the floor and ample beverages to wash down the goodness.

But it just didn't get me hard.

And, trust me, if there's one thing you want at a Chinese restaurant, it's to be hard.

It struck me that the problem was that it was trying to add a bit of refinement to normal Chinese fair (albeit with some modernish twists in there). And "a bit" of refinement just confused me. When the handmade noodles with pork, dried bean curb and soya bean sauce arrived, I took a look at them, then a bite of them, and realised that I would have preferred to be eating this at a cheap dive of a place nearby in Chinatown.

So they cooked it in a clean wok and there wasn't any cockroaches in the kitchen? Who cares. I kind of want some old lady to slam the plate (that may not be entirely clean) down on the table then walk off. Not these young things roaming the floor.

I've been conditioned to prefer imperfection when it comes to this sort of food. I don't want thin, perfect noodles. I want thick, wildly made noodles with a bit of bite to them. I want huge, random chunks of vegetable and meat in my fried rice, not uniformly-cut pieces of ham.

And even if they are well made, seeing a plate with just four dumplings on it just seems disappointing next to the standard dozen that they throw together elsewhere.

If they refined it to the levels of somewhere like Spice Temple (or in that ballpark) then maybe it would be a different story, but I left with the feeling that my heart will always point me towards the gems of Chinatown instead of Chef's Gallery. Even if the food is good, the prices reasonable, the service efficient and the restaurant comfortable.

RATING: Okay, may go back [?]

Chefs Gallery on Urbanspoon