Archive for the ‘ethics’ Category

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Pot, stock (& two smoking barrels)

August 16, 2009

roastvegstockOne of the (let’s be honest, rather many) obstacles to me becoming a vegetarian – as opposed to a passionate lover of all kinds of veg – would be what do to about stock.

I often toy, more than idly, with the idea of abandoning meat for all the good ethical & environmental reasons – but also love the richly layered flavours, velvety texture and million uses for a good chicken stock.

In the past, whenever I have made veg-only stocks, they’ve always been watery and bland affairs. But recently, prompted by dinners for total vego guests, I have begun making a kickarse vegetable stock, given a huge lift in flavour, texture and colour by first roasting all the veg until seriously caramelised.

It’s so simple – chuck whatever veg you have in the fridge into a pan, slather with heaps of olive oil, turn up the heat and blast it in the oven. My latest batch, pictured here midway through the roasting, included pumpkin with skin on, carrots, shallots, red onion, garlic, lots of celery, a bunch of spinach stems and a tomato. Once they’re lovely and roasted almost as dark as you can get them without burning, remove from the oven and toss into a big pot of water with the usual peppercorns, bay leaves, and salt.

I simmered it for a good few hours, reducing by a third and then topping up and reducing again, then straining it. The result is a gorgeously dark golden stock full of flavour and a very light sheen of olive oil.

This stock was perfect for Friday night’s vego dinner for eleven.

The starter, smoking barrel number 1 (stay with me, I’m clutching at headline straws here!)  was a mighty good caprese-style salad with burrata, that decadent mozzarella ball filled with cream, that you break into luscious pieces and plonk down with slices of ripe tomato, torn basil and some salad leaves; I dressed it with the usual balsamic & good oil. SB # 2, dessert, was a high-fat free-for-all known as Karen Martini’s baked lemon cheesecake with pistachio & biscuit base… we’re talking ricotta, cream cheese, goat’s curd – hmm, must add that to the festival of cheesecake from last week.

Returning Now to the point –  stock came in with this pumpkin risotto courtesy of the River Cafe (first cooked for me very recently, like so many good things, by the Empress…). It is delicious and easy. So moreish, in fact, that a guest who “doesn’t eat pumpkin” (and who was somehow swindled by his wife, I believe, into thinking this was sweet potato – a whole other post coming up on food aversions!)  happily hoed into a second helping. The stock, I reckon, certainly helped give it some oomph and silkiness.

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Becoming broad-minded…

July 9, 2009

driedbroadbeansHaving got my dried bean anxieties off my chest, I am happy to report that I am now running my fingers through those slippery little beauties at every opportunity (thankyou Steph for the advice to get over myself …)

Once I remember to do the soaking – pretty easy, you must admit – the course is set, and it forces me to actually make the thing I had planned. And everything I’ve done – okay, two things (a repeat of the cassoulet, but with dried beans, and this one) – are tres simple and delicious (even without a pressure-cooker, Empress…)

A couple of years ago we stayed a fortnight in a rented house in Puglia, in the south of Italy, with some educated friends who knew that although Puglia was in the daggy, bogan bit of Italia, it also had the most spectacular coastline, beautiful towns and THE most incredible food. Anything we bought at the supermarket was astoundingly good quality, from chooks to calamari, and if we bought at an actual market market, even better.

Anyway, there are two things I remember very clearly from the menu of one restaurant we went to in the elegant town of Lecce (earlier researched by Italophile Jane, who speaks the language beautifully and knows her food): a rich, tender dark casserole of horse meat, which was meltingly delicious* and a smooth, delicate but complex broad bean puree for dipping stuff into – ditto.

So I was very pleased recently to see this recipe for Pugliese broad bean puree with chicory in Gourmet Traveller’s Italian edition, and made it today. It is the simplest thing in the world (and note to the confused, i.e. me, broad beans are fava beans, apparently) but creamy and delicately layered in flavour and silky in the mouth. I haven’t yet done the chicory and garlic oil bit, but plan to in the next day or two.

Go ahead, make it – basically it’s a broad bean version of hoummus. Lemon juice, garlic, oil, salt, whizzed up with the beans which are earlier cooked in chicken stock. Really good. And aren’t dried broad beans so beautiful to look at, apart from anything else?

*Before anyone freaks out about eating horse, I see no problem with it if, like me, you also eat pork, lamb, etc etc. Morally it’s entirely equivalent – which, I admit, means it is deeply complicated and basically indefensible. But the separating of some animals from others for purely cultural culinary reasons is ridiculous. Same with dogs, crickets, rat, whatever.  If you eat a clever, sensitive animal like a pig, you can’t judge anyone for eating a dog or a horse. And if you feel fine about eating animals of lower ‘intelligence’, why is that? Okay, lecture finished…. sigh. Enjoy the beans.


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Reducing your waste line

June 21, 2009

foodwasteAustralians, I am told, throw away three million tonnes of food each year, averaging 145kg of discarded food for every man, woman and child.

And Sydneysiders are apparently the worst offenders – half of our weekly domestic garbage is food. While so many people in the world have no food at all, we throw half of ours away. Obscene. And not just because of the sheer wastefulness of it, but the environmental impact – disastrous levels of methane, a damaging greenhouse gas, arise from all this organic matter going into landfill.

I must admit I’ve been less watchful of this than I should be, and have used the fact that we have a worm farm rather too nonchalantly when it comes to disposal of unused food.

Senor, on the other hand, has always been a vigilante in this area, using my regular Monday evening absence from home to act as a kind of weekly fridge bottom-feeder, eating leftovers and concocting some often rather unusual dinners for one (corn cobs and curry sauce with a mayonnaise & raspberry coulis chaser? Mmm-mm! Just another instance of the usefulness of his iron-clad stomach).

But I hereby declare a personal war on food waste. Last night, having spied a very weary eggplant in the bottom of the crisper, I rang the Empress for a tip or two, then made baba ganoush for the first time ever.  It was easy, pretty quick, and extremely good. And a perfectly usable whole eggplant was saved from the worms.

For other fridge scraps, I invoke the memory of my Aunty Pat, who stayed with me for a month or so many years ago. I worked near home, and would pop home for lunch. Every day there was some incredibly delicious soup she’d made from what I had seen as highly dubious scraps and nubs of past-it veg in the crisper. Occasionally it didn’t do to think of what some of that veg had looked like, but the soup was always amazing.

So, how do you reduce food waste?

There are a few websites devoted to this issue, containing lots of tips and tricks for preventing waste, but I have to say that anyone with half a brain could figure out a good proportion of them (‘freeze leftovers and reheat later’ and ‘keep vegetables in bags to keep fresh longer’ – ingenious!) And the Australian one is rather depressingly skewed towards the use of Tupperware, its major sponsor (no mention of the greenhouse gases produced by manufacture of plastic, of course). And lots of reader tips involve that apparently very popular practice of popping leftovers of all kinds into ice cube trays [“too much bouillabaisse? just pop excess into an ice cube tray for use as needed“], which I have always found amusing. How many ice cube trays does a person have??

The main advice, of course, is not to buy too much perishable food in the first place – sounds crazy, but apparently it works! And secondly, don’t cook too much food.

At the very least, get yourself a worm farm, if not a proper compost bin, so that unusable food scraps don’t go into landfill. We have a spanking new worm farm with two thousand head of worm, ready to chomp. We had to set our old worms free when the building work began, so are hoping our new batch are as ravenous as the old ones. All the advice is that worms won’t eat onions & garlic, but our old lot chowed down on them with relish, so fingers crossed that the newbies are similarly omnivorous.

Anyhoo, check out these sites; some of the readers’ tips are not bad, and quite a few are good for a laugh. However, I reckon we could get a much more interesting list going here.

1. Using up carrots: My first contribution will be ol’ Guillaume’s carrot puree, used to thicken his BB – I made too much, but have used it twice since, in thickening a chicken cacciatore and a lamb and pea mixture for a pie. Wherever a recipe calls for thickening with flour, chuck in your puree. You could even pop it into an ice cube tray to create easy-to-use individual portions!

2. Grow your own herbs: which means only using what you need. I’m forever throwing out half-bunches of parsley or thyme (I know, I should be freezing them into damn ice-cubes – but growing them is more pleasurable and aesthetically pleasing to boot).

Okay, now your turn. What do you do to reduce food waste?


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Raising the steaks

April 18, 2009

steakWas discussing with a similarly red-blooded friend yesterday how we could each happily go vegetarian if it weren’t for the love of a bloody good steak. Or a good bloody steak, more to the point.

Even so, it behoves us to continue to consider the ecological and moral impact of eating meat, I think.

So I read this Salon article with interest, an interview with Jeffrey Masson, the author of “The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food“.

He’s rather more emphatic than the omnivore-friendly Michael Pollan, and certainly more in-your-face than David Foster Wallace (whose essay on the lobster I love precisely because of the way he canvasses his own uncertainty about these matters).

Rather, Masson takes the Peter Singer approach of total veganism as the only moral way to live.  I’ve only read this one interview with Masson, and already find his voice deeply irritating (elsewhere I see that he is the kind of person who says things like “When I was teaching Sanskrit at the University of Toronoto in the 1970s …”of course he was teaching Sanskrit…)

But sad to say, I can’t find much fault with his logic. It seems pretty basic – and like Foster Wallace, he’s convincing about carnivores’ denial being the only thing that allows us to keep chowing down on cow:

… so many more people now want to eat organic and local and fresh, and that’s all to the good. However, I notice, and what I find wonderful is in these organic farmers markets sprouting up all over the country, you rarely see animals.

I think part of the reason for that is people don’t want to see it. It’s not like a market in France where you can go and choose a chicken, and they kill it for you right there. We do not like to be reminded of where our meat comes from.

Later, he elaborates on this denial:

What is the difference between a pig and a dog in terms of cognitive abilities, ability to be clean and affectionate? Pigs would sleep at the foot of your bed if you allowed them. They’re very clean. They love to be stroked. They’re affectionate. The difference between a pig and a dog in terms of their emotion, not at all. In terms of their willingness to accept us as a kind of co-species, also nothing. In fact, they’re closer to us in a way than cats. You can call the pig, and the pig will come.

The only difference is that we have decided, in our great wisdom, that we are going to eat them, and we’re not going to treat them as pets. We’re not going to name them. They’re going to grow on farms. They’re a commodity for us. They’re not a living, sentient being. We don’t see them, we don’t look into the eye of a pig and see another being there.

Where do you think that this denial comes from?

I think that every society has always had a certain amount of guilt when it comes to killing an animal. Look at indigenous Americans. They used to do ceremonies. They took it very seriously. It was not something that they engaged in lightly. And I think that the explanation for that is not a religious explanation. It’s because they felt bad about killing them.

Anybody with any kind of feelings, with any kinds of sentiment, goes out and if they have to kill an animal, they feel bad about it.

For most of us, the experience of eating meat is pretty sanitized. We don’t have to kill the animal, and as you say we don’t have to call it what it is when we eat it.

We change the name. We call it “hamburger.” What kind or resonance does the word “hamburger” have for you? None. They don’t say: “Give me the cow.” They don’t say: “Pass the pig.” They say: “Give me bacon.” “Veal,” even.

This last bit reminds me of a friend’s shamefaced guilt a few years ago in allowing her small daughter to go on believing that ham “comes from” pigs in the way that eggs come from chickens, or milk from cows. Not that Mr Masson lets us get away with thinking milk or eggs are okay, either, damn it all.  

Oh lord. What’s there to say, if you don’t want to join the ranks of hippie-hating Shooters Party types but still want to eat steak? Think I’ll go running back to Michael Pollan …

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Having a gander at foie gras & hypocrisy

March 24, 2009

goose1

Hmm. This book review from Salon.com proposes that foie gras production (that I mentioned in the post on David Foster Wallace’s lobster) is not inhumane, and that anyone who whines about it and yet eats other animal products is a hypocrite. No argument from me there. The argument runs thus:

Face facts: If you oppose foie gras, even if the only thing you’ve ever done about it is to make a dinner companion feel guilty, and you still eat conventionally raised meat, you’re a raging hypocrite and a silly one at that. The eggs you ate for breakfast, the cheese that came on top, and the bacon on the side, all of it is produced using methods more torturous than the ones employed on a good foie gras farm. Animals on a typical farm these days are confined in spaces so small they can’t turn around, much less do any of the things they’d normally do in nature. And in order to keep them at least somewhat healthy and functional despite those conditions, which tend to make them stressed and unhappy, their bodies are altered to keep them from harming themselves and their fellow animals — chickens have their beaks trimmed, pigs and cows get their tails docked. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Considering David Foster Wallace’s lobster

March 17, 2009

consider-the-lobsterI’ve been reading a bit about the late writer David Foster Wallace lately. I haven’t yet read his novels but have been moved and challenged by various remarks he has made  about fiction and essay-writing before he committed suicide last year, finally unable to endure his deep depression any longer. (The following stuff is doubly interesting when one learns that mental suffering – and the question of how to live a moral life – were so burdensome for Foster Wallace for so many years. )

Among his essays is this excellent piece he wrote for American Gourmet magazine on attending the Maine Lobster Festival in 2004. Consider the Lobster also became the title piece in a later collection of essays, which is now on my must-buy list.

The Gourmet essay is essential reading for omnivores like me who love all kinds of food – including animals – and yet like to pride themselves on their awareness of the complexity of food and its cultural meanings and echoes beyond the act of stuffing fuel in the gob and digesting it. Because if one has an ounce of honest integrity, eating animals must be problematic. Consider the Lobster is Foster Wallace’s very readable exploration of the issue of cooking a live lobster and whether the creature feels pain.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Recipe burglars, ‘copyrighted’ food & artistic theft

March 5, 2009

burglarThe other day a friend asked – well no, commanded – that I put here the Neil Perry recipe for a very delicious vegetable bakey number that I once cooked for her.  The recipe is from his book Good Food, which is one of my all-time favourite cookbooks.

This presents a problem though, doesn’t it? What are the ethics – or even simply the etiquette – of reproducing someone else’s recipe in a public forum?  I searched the net and found blog etiquette seems to dictate that so long as sources are properly acknowledged, everything is fair game for reproduction.

Still felt a little uncomfy though (not discomforted enough to refuse to put the Sydney Seafood School red curry recipe here though, obviously – I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite), so I looked up the copyright rules about recipes. My understanding there is that if I were to write down the recipe in my own words, I’d be off scot-free, basically.

But I still felt weird about it; I was on the cusp of emailing to ask Mr Perry’s permission to reproduce it, with all due credits and links etc (fully expecting a polite ‘no way, get ..’ in response) when I decided to simply Google the name of the recipe as it appears in the book. Voila. Google Books has already “plagiarised” the recipe before me, thereby providing me with a convenient liberation from today’s moral dilemma. Perhaps. Or perhaps this is more akin to repeating the crime of libel by reporting the substance of someone else’s …. sigh. Wearying.

Anyhoo – my first suggestion is buy the book – it is a beauty and every recipe I’ve cooked from it is spectacular. Otherwise, join the Googlethrong, check out the recipe for Baked zucchini with goat’s cheese ‘lasagne’  here.  And think about whether you should also buy the book. ‘Cos Neil Perry’s pretty hard up.

There’s a very good article here, from Food & Wine in 2006, about the dilemma of recipe ‘theft’ and reproduction, and the bizarre movement in the US towards copyrighting dishes and formally patenting recipes in restaurants.

I’ve been thinking about this issue of borrowing a lot lately – because it doesn’t just apply to recipes, obviously. All art is born of the art that’s gone before – but where does influence stop and injury begin?

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Updike on food

March 2, 2009

This New Yorker blog recalls the late novelist John Updike’s love of food, and of writing about its relationship “to fear and comfort”. In this little piece he is quoted thus:

“I’m somewhat shy about the brutal facts of being a carnivore,” Mr. Updike said. “I don’t like meat to look like animals. I prefer it in the form of sausages, hamburgers and meat loaf, far removed from the living thing. I used to make meat loaf. You can have ideas about meat loaf—leaving something out, putting something in, trimming it to a precise shape.”

I know how he feels about turning one’s head from the brutal facts of carnivorousness. What’s to be done, except eat less meat, perhaps?