Entries Tagged 'Not Safe for Vegans' ↓

Emica is celebrating Slava

I have the good fortune to have married into a Balkan family – Montenegrin and Serbian, to be precise. One of the many great things about getting to know another culture intimately is the extra excuses for excessive eating. It was my in-laws’ Slava today, which, traditionally speaking, now makes it my Slava too. Slava is part of the Orthodox tradition and is a family’s saint day. Every family has a different saint day, although there are more families than saints so there’s a fair bit of cross over. Back in the day, Slava was a serious religious occasion, celebrated with a visit to church and the priest calling on the family and giving them a blessing. Traditionally, a bread decorated with the sign of the cross and other religious symbols was served along with “koljivo”, which is boiled wheat with nuts and spices.

Celebrating Slava was not generally encouraged in socialist Yugoslavia, although many people did still observe it. These days Slava seems to be celebrated as an occasion to get the family together and eat pork. I am very enthusiastic about both family get togethers and roast pig, so today I did sticky pork ribs with rum glaze (thanks Nigella) and homemade coleslaw, plus smashed potatoes (thanks Jill Dupleix) and rye bread – minus the family bit, seeing as we’re on the other side of the world. I have to admit, it was a bit off piste with the rum glaze – a whole pig on a spit would probably have been more authentic – but it was in keeping with the two Balkan mainstays of pork and cabbage. And, anyway, the other thing I’ve learnt about Balkan culture is that they really know how to have a good time and these ribs were really, really finger licking good.

slava

Saltbush City Limits

I haven’t been blogging, but of course I have been eating. Rather well, actually. And although twitter often provides a distraction from actually writing something on the blog, occasionally it fuels it too.

A couple of weeks ago, I won a twitter competition held by Tim Elwin of posh wholesale delivery firm Urban Food Market (he’s @urbanfoodmarket). If the words “twitter competition” make you think of winning a lollipop or nice warm feeling, think again – I scored a $150 box of Bultarra saltbush lamb.

Bultarra lamb

I’ve only had saltbush lamb once before, and was disappointed. I bought it from a person at the Farmer’s Markets in Canberra who was an agent, not the producer, and there was nothing about it to justify the extra cost. I’ve since found out from friend-of-a-friend Graham Strong who runs Arcadia Saltbush Lamb that many producers don’t graze their flocks on Old Man Saltbush for the extended period that’s necessary to really ramp up the flavour. As always, it pays to investigate your food, particularly if you’re buying a premium product.

Still, I was eager to try it because I’d read very high praise for Bultarra lamb from Neil of At My Table, whose blog has happily come back to life. It’s free range, naturally grazed, doesn’t have any nasty shit in it and the lambs aren’t mulesed. And, according to Neil, “the salt bush confers a concentrated lamb taste, not gamey in any way, just full on, robust, flavour; it was almost like eating lamb for the first time“.

When Tim announced he’d be giving some away, I sat glued to the computer. I whizzed in superfast with the answer to his question (about his site) and did a little happy dance when I found out I was in luck, because I am always greedy keen to try new artisanal Australian produce.

Urban Food Market is a Sydney-based business, but Tim arranged delivery to the in-laws when we were passing through town for family visits and packed it in an esky to bring home. As it lasts well refrigerated for a couple of weeks in its packaging we decided to not freeze any and have a lamb-fest instead.

The pack included a couple of rib racks. I’ve only encountered lamb ribs once before, and it wasn’t a happy experience. We’d bought a whole beast from my sister in law’s farm, Coolumbooka, in Southern NSW. It’d been butchered down there, and they’d bagged up the ribs in some vile sweet gunk that was no doubt purchased in an industrial drum.

With meat this good, I wanted to keep it fairly simple and focus on its inherent flavour. Serendipitously, the November Gourmet Traveller has a recipe for lamb ribs that looked perfect. You make a paste of lemon zest, dried oregano and mint, a tiny bit of chilli and EVOO. Fortunately oregano and mint are the only dried herbs I believe in, and it all was on hand to marinate overnight.

lamb

I copped the 34 degree heat today to bake them at 150 degrees. You need to use a rack in a baking dish to drain the fattiness, and cover the trays with foil to keep them moist. Then a rest until dinner time.

lamb 2

You finish the racks over a hot chargrill, which leaches out any last too-fatty bits, and crisps and colours them. I decided against the GT salad, but made one with watercress, cos and fennel from the garden. I had some fresh borlotti beans, and some broad beans from my friend Lyn’s garden, so used the GT’s thyme and mustard dressing on them. I also made a tiny bowl of cherry tomatoes with chilli and lemon juice and some fritters of corn and our own asparagus, adapting a recipe from Michael Ruhlman’s brilliant cookbook Ratio.

eating lamb

Owy started eating first (I was still pouring the wine) and he made some very odd noises. I asked him if it was OK, but he kept chewing and didn’t say anything. He finally answered in two words, the second of which was “Yeah!” and first one of which was rude. Very rude, in fact. Then he said “Spectacular”.

The meat had the depth of flavour and rich intensity that I was hoping for, but the real blowout was the incredible melting texture. I finally get why people rave about Saltbush lamb – and I’m very excited about the other cuts still waiting. A big fat thank you to Tim and Urban Food Market. Any suggestions or recommendations for particularly delicious ways of cooking the other cuts (a beautiful rack, shanks and an easy-carve leg roast) are welcome.

15 November – updated to add: we’ve just had the second meal of the lamb, this time a rack seared quickly and finished in the oven on top served with a saute of dutch cream potatoes, asparagus and broad bean and a rocket salad. It is now officially Best Lamb Eva.

Two ways with my half a goat*

A little while ago I got an email from my friend and neighbour Jem which said “Want half a goat? This message has been sent from my blackberry.” I checked whether the goat had free ranged, and when I found out it was pasture-raised by his colleague’s relatives in the country, I was all in. A few days later he popped around with a bag containing half a very fresh young kid.

I knew there was no huge rush to cook it, as the meat hadn’t been aged for long. It was firm, with barely any smell, so I bagged it up and set about investigating what to do with it. With meat so fresh, and a beast so young, you can really cook it like a Spring lamb, but I wanted something goatier. The kid was small, so I figured I could make one dish from the leg, and one from the shoulder.

Indian is an obvious choice as most Indian “mutton” recipes actually refer to goat meat (or so I read). However I ruled that out as we’d just finished the leftovers of a delicious Raan, an Indian spiced leg of lamb. The recipe, from the Foods of the World India book, involved briefly marinating the leg in a paste of ginger, garlic, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, salt and lemon juice rubbed into slashes in the leg. It then got a prolonged – two day – marinade in a puree of almonds, cashews (substituting for the original pistachios), raisins, honey and yoghurt. Then a saffron bath before a slow roast. It was, as you would hope after all that time and sixteen additional ingredients, utterly sumptuous, but I fancied something other than a curry.

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Pamela’s Eating Tails

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Installments one , two, three, four and five.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I ran into Camel Man’s Wife and begged for a fillet of camel to play with in the kitchen but to date they have yet to deliver. The camp dogs have done better, with the Camel Man’s Boys dropping off enormous sections of back bone at various places around the community for them to chew on. We had one little dog drag a stinking piece of hump fat at least twice his weight into the arts centre last week in an effort to keep it for his own exclusive pleasure. He was most indignant when promptly chased back out.

I have nevertheless managed to get my paws on a little bit of dromedary on the sly. A friendly sparky called Richard had been staying with the Camel People while working on various jobs around the community, including fixing our hot water system (we had endured over two weeks of luke warm showers). Over coffee one morning before the sun had much of a chance to warm the day he offered me some freshly dried camel jerky. Marinated in sweet chilli sauce and coriander seeds, it was among the most tender, tasty jerky I’ve eaten – and having lived in Namibia for a couple of years where biltong from all kinds of bush meat is a fav snack, I’ve tasted quite a bit. Nice work, Camel Man. I almost forgive you for being so tight about providing meat for the rest of us.

windpipe

Ever wondered what a camel’s oesophagus looks like?

Despite the lack of camel there have been some other unusual menu items to get excited about. Roo tails are a favourite camping meat out here and can be purchased frozen at both the community store or road house for $7 a pop. Surprisingly there is considerable variety in the quality of tails – I am reliably informed by a long time connoisseur that the black ones sold at the road house are a little tough.
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Pamela’s eating Creamed Corn and Charcoaled Lizards

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Instalments one , two, three and four.

I’m in lovely Warakurna community at the moment, located at the base of the Rawlinson Ranges in Western Australia. The remote Giles weather station, located just up the road, was built in 1956 and was the first permanent colonial occupation of the area for hundreds of kilometres in any direction. Many older people living at Warakurna now were children at the time, their families living independent existences centred around the myriad of rock holes and hunting grounds scattered throughout the ranges.

By virtue of its tenure as a piece of Western Australian Aboriginal reserve excised by the Commonwealth government fifty years ago, the weather station is the only place in the entire Ngaanyatjarra Lands where alcohol can legally be consumed, and officially only by the station’s six employees. Have I considered dropping into the weather station to say hi and flashing my big blue eyes in the hope of a cold one? Not for a moment. My research permit is far too valuable. Luckily for us, Coopers make a convincing birell (brewed without alcohol) that tastes great straight out of the freezer. While barbecuing steaks over our fire pit on Saturday night, for a brief moment I almost forgot it wasn’t the real thing.

With some time on my hands over Easter, some of the ladies organised to go out hunting for tirnka (little goannas). Armed with crowbars as digging sticks and billy cans as shovels, 8 women and 2 dogs packed into a troopie and made our way to tirnka country.

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Tirnka country

We wandered through the bush for a couple of hours, stopping to dig at holes where there was evidence of recent action. It was a very successful hunt in the end, with eleven (!) tirnka bagged. We made a fire, sat down with a cup of tea and proceeded to cook up the catch. The preparation process involves removing gut then burning off the skin in the open flame for a couple of minutes. The lizards are then buried in coals and left to cook for about twenty minutes. The cooked flesh is delicious – pale white, smooth and tasty –hints of chicken (!) and fish and just a little bit smoky. No salt required. We got back to town on dusk, the ladies subsequently missing the Easter Sunday prayer meeting and making me three hours late for a sausage sizzle being hosted by the neighbours. Not good manners, but at the end of the day I think we were all where we really wanted to be.

tirnka 

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A better kind of lemon chicken

One of the joys of Canberra is the four distinct seasons, and of all of them Autumn is my favourite. Although this summer wasn’t as bakingly hot as it has been for the last couple of years, it was still hot enough that I’m enjoying the beginnings of briskness in the mornings and snuggling in a warm bed at night.

If you try to eat seasonally, particularly if you grow some of your own food, Autumn is the best time of year. I live in a cul-de-sac of eleven houses, four of which have veggie gardens, and it’s quite common to see someone or other ambling across the road with a handful (or a box) of excess produce. It was our turn last week, when our neighbour Kev dropped in with two lovely early butternut pumpkins from his patch. I’m hoping for some figs, as our tree is tiny. It’s one of three in this street and the next grown from a cutting from No. 8′s magnificent tree.

One of the best arrivals with the cooler weather is lemons. Meyer lemons seem to be the most commonly grown variety locally because they tolerate cold fairly well, but I spotted the first fresh thin-skinned Eurekas of the year at Choku Bai Jo last week. While they’re very common and often cold-stored to sell over the summer, freshness really brings out their appetising sharpness. I love their colour too which is more “lemony” than intensely yellow.

 
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Kirsty Presents: Oz Mex

Cross-posted from Galaxy at Zoe’s request (the comments about Melbourne only make sense in the context of this incompleted series of posts)

While I was in Melbourne I went to a bookshop I had only previously read about: Books for Cooks. Ever since I first read about this shop on Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, I have known that I could while away an entire day there, perhaps a week if I had nothing else to do. I didn’t spend quite that long there, but I did fulfill the other expectations I had for my behaviour: I ran from bookshelf to bookshelf, picking up one book, followed by another, and another, before finally having to sit down, wipe the drool from my chin, and have a deep think about the merits of the books I wanted relative to my budget.

I’ll talk about the whole heady experience in more depth when I finally get around to completing the promised Melbourne posts, but for now let me tell you what I’m cooking for dinner tonight. Seasoned Chopped Beef (Picadillo) is a recipe from one of the books I bought at Books for Cooks, The New Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz. It’s the filling for Minced Beef Tacos (Taco de Picadillo) I’ll be eating.

Ortiz instructs you to use half of the following recipe for Picadillo:

Brown 900g of minced lean beef in a large frying pan. I used that other red meat, kangaroo, because I can’t really bring myself to buy beef at the supermarket anymore. I’ll eat beef when I’m out, but between what I have access to and what I can afford, kangaroo is a more ethical, environmental, and cost-effective choice for me. Add 2 finely chopped onions and 1 clove of garlic, also chopped. When these are cooked add the following: 2 green cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped; 450g tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped–I made half the recipe and just added a drained tin of tomatoes here; 3 tinned or fresh jalapeno chillies, seeded and chopped–again I went for the tinned; 1/2 cup of seedless raisins; 12 pimiento-stuffed olives, halved–I only had jalapeno stuffed olives, but I figured they weren’t out of place in this recipe; 1/4 tsp each of ground cinnamon and cloves–I just threw in a whole clove that I accidentally crunched on later; and finally, salt and pepper to taste.


Simmer over a low heat for 20mins. When this is done you can sprinkle it with 1/4 cup of slivered almonds that you’ve fried in a bit of oil–I missed this touch since I didn’t have any slivered almonds and didn’t feel like the trouble of blanching, chopping and frying regular almonds. I’d bother if someone other than me was eating this.

So that’s the filling for the tacos.

The Tacos de Picadillo are just a matter of assembly. I used some small, soft tortillas and filled them with the Picadillo, added some Salsa Verde Mexicana Picante, and some shredded ice-berg lettuce that came in this week’s organic fruit and vege box. Ortiz recommends guacamole as well, but as I didn’t have any avocado, I substituted with some Greek yoghurt–I didn’t have any sour cream either.


I should mention that while the recipe book has recipes for both tortillas and the salsa verde I went for the pre-made and tinned varieties. I don’t think I’ll be too hard on myself for not making tortillas from scratch. As for the salsa verde, it’s a case of lack of availability of the key ingredient, tomatillo, the green tomatoes that seem to be used extensively in Mexican cooking. The closest I could find to this ingredient in my, admittedly, rather short search was an enormous tin of them, as big as those Golden Circle juice tins. On that shopping expedition, I went for the much smaller tin of ready made salsa. It seems to be quite simple, consisting of the tomatilloes, serrano chillies, onions, and coriander, to comprise a rather refreshing sauce.

Overall, I found this to be a really tasty meal. I hope I haven’t come across as too flaky in my lack of purity about all the substitutions. I used to be really up tight about such things, but ever since the woman at the Indian Grocers advised me that ‘you cook with what you have’, I’ve felt a whole lot freer about making substitutions. Maybe what’s worrying me is that I used tinned things instead of fresh, but again, needs must.

When I first flicked through the book in Books for Cooks, I thought that the ingredients would be a bit more accessible than they’ve proved to be so far. Much of my decision to get the book was based upon the use of pineapple and banana and other sub-tropical ingredients readily available in South East Queensland. I was intrigued by the use of fruit throughout–and perhaps it’s no surprise that I’ve since learnt that the used of fruit derives from the Spanish influence on Mexican cuisine via the Moorish influence on Spanish cuisine. Here I like to think that my use of kangaroo adds an Australian influence to Mexican cuisine.

Another reason I bought the book was because there’s a fellow post-graduate at uni who is Mexican, and on the subject of Mexican food in Brisbane, Australia even, she is dismissive. ‘Tex-Mex’ she sniffs when people ask her about Mexican food in restaurants. Her response has long piqued my curiosity because it made me aware that of course all I know of Mexican food is Tex-Mex, exemplified by the ‘Mexican’ section in the supermarket that consists entirely of Old El Paso products.

I guess at the moment I’m sort of stuck between wanting to know more about Mexican food and being faced with the trouble of getting the ingredients. I don’t think I’m ready to give up just yet, because clearly there’s a whole lot more to know–about all the varieties of chilli alone. First, I’ll be a bit more concerted in my efforts to find suppliers in Brisbane.

Citizen food journalism – how to get a moist pork

The food and wine section of The Canberra Times had an ad last week which piqued my curiosity:

It reads:

Red Hill Butcher Shop

If you are after something special from your local butcher shop, make sure you visit Red Hill. The owners smoke their own hams on the premises, have Certified Angus Beef and moisture-infused pork and sell a variety of home-made meals and treats.

They even have a selection of wines from Mount Majura and Lerida Estate Wineries to perfectly complement that medium-rare steak.

Moisture infused pork, hey? In the olden days, when pigs were fat, they didn’t need any moisture infusions. And wasn’t there a moisture infused ham scandal a while ago? So I called the butcher to find out what they meant. For those outside Canberra, Red Hill is one of the oldest and fancy-pantsest suburbs in town, full of large homes on large blocks and lots of very long established money residents.

Tony the Butcher was at pains to point out that they were advertising the “moisture infusion” not just because they had to for legal reasons, but because they wanted to establish it as a defined product and that Australian Pork Limited, the industry body, was eager to see it marketed as such. He said that the meat had two additives, Potassium lactate (326, acidity regulator, humectant, bulking agent) and Sodium acetates ( 262, acidity regulator). (Those descriptions are from the Food Standards Australia New Zealand list of food additives and their properties.) I found him very helpful and happy to answer questions and volunteer information. Full points there.

He said that he’d been selling this pork for 12 months, and his pork sales had quadrupled in that time. He sells mainly cutlets and loin steaks, ie lean cuts that need fairly quick cooking.

Tony said that the meat is marketed as “Murray Valley Pork”, which a quick google shows is “the premium retail fresh brand of QAF Meat Industries, which is Australia’s leading producer of pork for the domestic and export markets.”

They’re certainly pushing the premium angle, appearing at the Sydney Good Food Affare (shame about that name) where they’re described like this:

Murray Valley Pork, Corowa, NSW
Succulent and absolutely delicious Murray Valley Pork from the Riverina and Murray Valley region is a premium range developed in 2005 exclusively for quality retail butchers. Moisture infusing ensures that Murray Valley Pork is always juicy and tender and its neutral flavoured brine has been specially developed to provide customers with a consistently high quality eating experience.

No mention of QAF Meat Industries and their rather unpremium business name there. But checking
QAF’s site will tell you they “now supply 20 per cent of pork to the domestic market and account for 30 to 40 per cent of all farmed pork exports from Australia. We employ more than 850 people at 10 sites across Australia, with our largest site and head office for the group located at Corowa in the Murray River basin.”

I only eat premium pork, because what I found out about industrial pig farming was so horrible I couldn’t face supermarket meat anymore. (A hat tip to Noodlebowl for sending me off on that journey – thank you.)

It must be very difficult for the real premium producers, like the wonderful Mountain Creek Farm that we buy our meat from, when industrial giants prey on the ignorance of consumers who don’t know how to cook a particular cut of meat, and are afraid of a bit of fat. You don’t have to eat the fat, you know, but it really helps your cooking. And a little bit is good for you.

I found Mountain Creek Farm by emailing the Free Range Pork Farmers’ Association and asking. If you want a moist pork, I suggest you do the same.

(PS – Michael Croft of Mountain Creek Farm keeps a terrific blog (unfortunately no RSS) where he describes the farming life, the principles behind the farm, his recent trip to the Terra Madre artisanal producers’ conference in Turin and how a man who was a vegetarian for seven years became a beef and pork producer. I have since met an ex-vegan couple who are now his enthusiastic customers – that’s how good the meat is. The farm will be featured in the 10 December issue of The Canberra Times’ Food & Wine section. Sales details are on the website. And I have no connection with them, beyond being a really happy customer.)


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