What's broken

Are food brands believable? The case of an Australian grown choc chip

Picture this: Kids frolicking through sun-baked fields, the golden hue of the sun shining on their happy faces, tall wheat swaying gently in the wind, drops of crystal clear rain nourishing the earth. “Out here, fed by rain, nurtured by earth, kissed by the Australian sun, getting taller everyday…”, says the gentle young voice.

I feel warm and fuzzy inside. It taps into so much of my own personal psyche. As a kid, living in a small town surrounded by fields, I would spend hours kicking a ball about in the open air. They were the happiest days of my life. As a dad, I am fully aware that kids are our future. They need nurturing. And my kids deserve the best. They deserve wholesome, healthy, naturally grown, locally sourced food. Yep, you’ve got me hooked. I’m ready to buy. Just tell me what you are selling.

(Cut to Uncle Toby’s Choc Chip Muesli bar)

Er…are chocolate chips grown in Australia? Wouldn’t they melt in the sun? Can I take the kids chocolate chip picking at the weekend? The kids will be so excited.

I know, I know. Uncle Toby’s aren’t telling me chocolate chips are natural and locally grown. They are talking about the oats. But the intention is to give me the impression that these muesli bars are full of Australian sun-kissed wholesome goodiness. And that makes me angry, because they are not. They are full of sugar and preservatives and they are about as good for me as a can of coke. And at least the can of coke doesn’t pretend to be anything else. 

So, Uncle Toby, here’s a few reasons why I don’t believe you.

I am influenced, but by many things…

Food is a hot topic. The media are awash with information about food security, prices, fads, the sugar debate, food labelling, super-foods and the obesity epidemic. It’s very confusing. But consciously and subconsciously all this information is going into our brains to form an opinion. Little by little, we are becoming more educated about the ingredients in our food. So repackaging the same crap is still crap.

I don’t like being talked at

Twenty years ago I soaked up advertising and believed it all. But today is different. I am not a food expert, but I know there’s more to a muesli bar than oats, even if I can’t list the rest of the ingredients. So telling me it’s wholesome only makes me angry.

I believe my friends

It’s a well-known fact we trust our family and friends more than government or corporations or men in white coats. So if you are making claims about your product, remember that we gossip and today gossip spreads very quickly.

What you can do

It makes me angry that a food company can think that putting gorgeous images of kids frolicking through fields is good enough. It’s not. If this sort of advertising annoys you, get on to Uncle Toby’s Facebook page and let them know: facebook.com/uncletobys

In case you missed it:

 

 

Standard
European, Tasting

Split pea and smoked hock soup

This soup is the definition of simplicity. Apart from sautéing the carrots, celery and onion, you throw everything else in. And then all you do at the end is remove the ham hocks, blend the soup and throw the meat back in ‘sans’ bones.

It’s hearty, tasty and filling. It easily passes as a main course, especially when you serve it with some nice crusty bread. And it’s (relatively) healthy too. It will keep you regular, if you know what I mean.

It also passed the kid taste test (no screwed up faces and they finished it, with a bit of cajoling of course). Enjoy.

The ingredients (serves 4) – downloaded from taste.com.au

  • 290g (1 1/3 cups) green split peas
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled, chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, trimmed, chopped
  • 1 brown onion, halved, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 x ham hocks
  • 2L (8 cups) cold water
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Rinse split peas under cold running water until water runs clear. Drain.
  2. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add carrot, celery, onion and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the onion softens.
  3. Add split peas, ham hocks and water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 2 – 2 1/2 hours or until ham hocks are tender and the meat is falling away from the bones. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Remove ham hocks from pan. Remove the meat from bones. Coarsely chop meat and set aside.
  4. Place one-quarter of the pea mixture in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Repeat with remaining pea mixture. Return to pan with ham. Alternatively, hand blend the soup while it is still in the saucepan (as I did). Taste and season with salt and pepper. Stir over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until hot.
  5. Ladle soup into bowls.
Standard
European, Tasting

A winter BBQ for Braveheart and Time Lords

It’s still winter here in Sydney and the weather has been relatively mild (until today, which is bloomin’ ‘orrible). So, when the weather is unseasonably warm, what do poms (English people) living in Australia do? Have a bbq of course. In winter. Wearing short sleeves, eating outside.

I invited friends over from my cycle club.

My cycling club has a funny relationship with weather. When it is even hinting at rain, we pull out of an early morning ride at the drop of the hat. Even the sun temporarily hiding behind one solitary wispy cloud is enough for us to call the ride off. One Shoe will not brave below 12 degrees centigrade, full stop. So we don’t see him too often in the winter, or autumn, or spring for that matter.

A bbq, on the other hand, is a completely different matter. If free food is on offer, the normal fair weather riders turn into Braveheart, willing to huddle together, clan-like, eating cold food and beer in sleet, hail and 120km/h winds.

And team members, normally tardy, suddenly turn into time lords.

Mr Pants (who lives closest to the park where we meet for a cycle) is always late.

Yet at a bbq, he teleports out of nowhere with a half drank bottle of beer wedged between his lips before anyone has arrived. Before I’ve even been born. No words, just a slight nod of the head and a raise of eyebrows to acknowledge he’s here.

The menu included:

  • Grilled chicken marinated in lime, orange juice, garlic, chillies, sherry vinegar and coriander seeds served with Salbitxada sauce (tomato and almond salsa) – courtesy of Bill Granger
  • Butterflied leg of lamb marinated in garlic, rosemary, balsamic vinegar, chilli and a splash of Shaoxing wine

  • Roast potatoes with rosemary and garlic
  • Cabbage and fennel slaw, dressed with sour cream, parmesan and sherry vinegar

  • Rocket, mizuna, spinach and watercress salad (from the garden) with fresh soft boiled eggs (from our chucks) and parmesan (from the supermarket)

  • Fresh sourdough
  • Finished with Chocolate and blueberry cheesecake, courtesy of fellow blogger expat chef.

For this post, I’ll concentrate on the chicken and sauce. If you want to know any other recipes, let me know.

Ingredients

For the chicken

  • 1 X 1.5 kg chicken
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 125 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp orange juice

For the salbitxada sauce

  • 3 tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 1 roasted red pepper, peeled, diced
  • 30 g blanched almonds, , toasted, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 125 ml extra virgin olive oil

1. For the chicken: remove the backbone from the chicken by cutting either side of the bone. Flatten out with the palm of your hand, then slash the chicken breast in a few places on each side with a sharp knife. Place the chicken into a dish, cover and set aside in the fridge.

2. Pound the garlic, chilli, coriander seeds and salt to a paste together in a mortar. Transfer the paste to a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a pan until shimmering, then carefully pour the oil over the paste. Add the sherry vinegar, lime juice and orange juice and mix well to combine. Season with freshly ground black pepper, then pour half of the mixture over the chicken and leave to marinate in the fridge for one hour.

3. For the salbitxada sauce: place all the  ingredients, except for the olive oil, into a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a pan until shimmering, then carefully pour over the tomato mixture. Pulse to a chunky puree in a food processor.

4. Heat your barbecue to a high heat. Place the chicken cut-side down on the rack, close the lid and cook for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. (If not using a barbecue, preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7 and cook for 30 minutes, or until cooked through.)

5. To serve, carve the chicken into thick slices and divide between the plates, then serve the salbitxada sauce alongside.

Enjoy!

 

Standard
Seeing

Images from Surry Hills, Sydney

A couple of months back, a friend was visiting from Hong Kong. I hadn’t seen him in a number of years. We went for breakfast at the iconic Bill’s Cafe (my first time) in Surry Hills. Even though I hadn’t seen him in ages, we were giggling like little kids.

There are a lot of the cool creative agencies located in Surry Hills.  So as you can imagine, it is a hub of creativity. I love the area. It’s an old working class suburb that feels alive,  imaginative and slightly bohemian. There are great restaurants and bars, interior design studios, art galleries and cool coffee shops where the beautiful people hang out.

So we went wandering around, taking snaps of the area and stopping for the odd cup of coffee.

 

Standard
Asian, Tasting

Kaleem (Pakistani slow-cooked lamb and lentil dhal)

This, my fine fettled friends, is the best darned dhal recipe ever. Yes, I know, that is a big claim. But this is very tasty. Slow cooking with the lamb adds a tasty dimension. Some of the pulses hold their shape, unlike the many times I’ve made dhal, which normally ends up being 100% thick mush. Tasty mush you could build a house with.

Kaleem isn’t like that. It’s a thick sauce, yes. What dhal wouldn’t be like that? But it has distinguishable pulses dotted throughout and melt-your-mouth lamb. It’s not too heavy either, although I don’t think it’s a summer dish for you lot in the northern hemisphere.

I hope you give it a go.

Check out the recipe here.

Standard
Middle eastern, Tasting

A dish I’d turn vegetarian for…

Er, well, maybe not. That’s a big call. I don’t think I could go without a juicy steak and chips on a Saturday night, or a bacon and egg sarnie after my weekend cycle.

But there are some dishes that when I eat I say “Oooh, this is so good I could become a vegetarian”. One is Masala Dosa, a south Indian crispy pancake filled with a spiced potato curry and served with a number of condiments. It was recently featured on Bam’s Kitchen blog, so check it out. It is yum.

And this pumpkin and chickpea soup is another one of those dishes.

It’s hearty, filling and very tasty. It is the complex, yet subtle spice and textures that make this dish a real stunner. Turns a simple soup into something quite sophisticated.

And it can easily pass as a main meal. This is a Jamie Oliver recipe that was featured in a 2008 Delicious magazine.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

  • 1 butternut pumpkin, peeled, diced (about 2cm), seeds rinsed and reserved
  • 1 tbs cumin seeds
  • 1 dried red chilli
  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • A few sprigs of flat-leaf parsely, leaves chopped, stalks finely chopped
  • 2 small red onions, finely chopped (although I used white onions)
  • 1.5L chicken stock
  • 2x 400g can chickpeas, drained (I used 400g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight. But this was way too much, so I made hummus with the leftover. I reckon 200g would be more than enough).
  • 2 tsp each fennel seeds, sesame seeds and poppyseeds
  • 2/3 cup (50g) almond flakes
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • A few springs of fresh mint, leaves chopped
  • Harissa paste (either make your own or shop bought would be fine)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Method

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees C.

Spread pumpkin on a baking tray. Sprinkle cumin and dried chilli over the pumpkin. Drizzle with olive oil, mix together and roast for 45 minutes or until cooked through.

Heat a large saucepan over medium-low heat and pour in a splash of olive oil. Add the celery, garlic, parsley stalks and 2/3 of the onion. Cook gently with a lid on until softened. Drop in the pumpkin and sweat for a few minutes, then pour in the stock. If you are using dried chickpeas, add them now.

Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. If you are using tinned chickpeas, Add them now and simmer for 15 minutes more.

Meanwhile, dry roast the reserved pumpkin seeds, fennel seeds, sesame, poppy seeds and almonds until coloured all over and you can smell the release of the natural oils of the spices.

Season soup well with sea salt and pepper, then using a stick blender, whiz for a few seconds so it thickens, but there are still some chunky bits. Keep warm while you mix together the lemon zest, parsley and mint leaves. Chop the remaining onion finely, then mix it into the zesty herb mixture.

To serve, put 1/2 tsp harissa paste into each bowl, then ladle over the pumpkin and chickpea soup. Stir each bowl once, then sprinkle with the toasted nuts and seeds, followed by the zesty herb mixture. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Enjoy!

Standard