30 June 2008

Blighty Ethical

According to Foodweek
ethical food purchases are now considered mainstream, with the British said to be leading the trend for ethical food shopping in Europe.

New research from international food and grocery expert IGD revealed that tens of millions of shoppers across Europe regularly consider factors such as organic, Fair Trade or local sourcing when making food purchasing decisions. Furthermore, British shoppers are significantly more likely to purchase ethically, IGD’s Ethical Shopping in Europe report shows.

“Until recently, ethical food shoppers were seen as niche,” said chief executive Joanne Denney-Finch. “Now as many as seven out of 10 Europeans we surveyed buy ethically at least some of the time, and a quarter are dedicated shoppers who consider two or more ethical factors when shopping.

“Priorities vary across Europe: the French are most interested in environmental issues; the Dutch are concerned about animal welfare; local sourcing is a priority for Poles whereas British shoppers are interested in a wide range of ethical issues. But there is immense growth potential for brands that can develop and emphasise ethical credentials, and tailor them to local markets at the appropriate time,” she added.

The report unveils strikingly different behaviours and priorities around Europe.

Britain is at the forefront of the ethical shopping market, with 41% incorporating more than one ethical issue into their buying decisions. British shoppers are most likely to follow through their interest in ethical products into actual purchases and in particular, more likely to buy free range or Fair Trade products.

One in three (34%) German or Dutch shoppers are dedicated ethical shoppers, while 31% of French shoppers are dedicated ethical shoppers. However, France has an additional 37% of shoppers who only sporadically buy ethical products. Fewer than one in seven Spaniards (12%) or Poles (14%) are dedicated ethical shoppers.

Price (54%) and availability (36%) are seen as key barriers to the further growth of ethical shopping across Europe.

“The current combination of rising commodity prices and the global credit crunch could slow the rise of ethical shopping but is unlikely to reverse it. Ethical shopping is based on deep-seated beliefs and people will not backtrack on these lightly,” said Denney-Finch.

“Increasingly, shoppers want products that combine ethical advantages, rather than a single issue. The challenge is for companies to communicate and label clearly to help shoppers navigate through this wide range of issues.”
Denney-Finch said that the European food and grocery industry is embracing ethical and sustainable practices, but there are clear opportunities for those who go further.

“The winning companies of tomorrow will combine value with sustainability and develop new products and services at a competitive price for increasingly eco-conscious and socially-conscious consumers.”

Foodweek online.

27 June 2008

Rendang Daging

...in a cookery book about Indonesia’s regional foods published in 1967 by the then agriculture ministry titled Mustikarasa, rendang is a method of preparation in which the ingredients are cooked without any oil. So when the young man gets homesick he would eat some rendang and offer it to his new friends, popularizing the dish among non-West Sumatran people...

I was recently asked
"Which spice paste should I buy to make Beef Rendang?".

I scoured the filing cabinet of culinaria lodged in the dark recesses of my brain's pantry. A drawer popped out and the file slid open to Ayam Brand and Asian Home Gourmet. But my conscience swaggered in and patronisingly said "Why use a packet when it is so easy to cook?". For a heartbeat I paused, then pushed my conscience behind a pile of eco-bags, bit my tongue and suggested Ayam brand.

The next day while looking at an immaculately marbled tray of beef ribs from Mt Bellevue, my conscience sang in full cry: "Rahn-dung, ramma-lama-rendang!". But this time I did not demur. Obligingly I fished out my mortar and pestle, fresh Asian aromatics and dispatched Mr Stickyfingers to procure a Kaffir lime leaf from the garden. Out too came the pressure cooker, because I didn't have the luxury of time.

The rempah - spice paste - came together quickly in the stone mortar and pestle and the smell was so heavenly that I carried it over to Mr S for a sniff. The beef ribs were cleaved into bite sized chunks and browned in the new Scanpan. I was still gloating over the fact that I had saved $230 on that purchase and everything was now being cooked in it from Char Kway Teow to Pine Forest Mushrooms.

The browned meat went into the pressure cooker and after heating the rempah, that too went in along with coconut milk. Then I left the pressure cooker to do its magic.
In twenty minutes it was ready, a moist, melt in the mouth consistency and all the sauce was almost dry and coating the meat. Fabulous.

In went a cup of dessicated coconut, which soaked up the oil from the meat and thickened any viscous dregs of curry.
I plated it up beside roti and sambal kangkung. We ate. The rendang was succulent and so aromatic, with a sure fire kick of heat from the chilli. Better than any packet sauce, the flavours were clear and intense, with significantly less oil in the mix. The leftovers were even better a couple of days later.

My inner voice was right. I can understand why West Sumatrans ate it when homesick. Like a stirring memory of a beloved, it tickles the conscience and fills your senses with such utter delight that you just have to share it.

Rendang, although common in Malaysia and popular in Singapore, is an Indonesian dish from Padang in West Sumatra. It was originally brought to Malaysia by the Minankabau who migrated there to build a new life.

A matriarchal people numbering about four million, they are said to be the largest ethnic group in Indonesia. Eschewing male dominance and competition, their ethic promotes cooperation. One of their many maxims goes thus:

'One must nurture growth in humans, animals, and plants so that society will be strong.'

Here-here! What better than to nurture with spicy rendang?

Beef Rendang

(Chicken and goat meat work equally well in this dish)

5mm Turmeric root - grated
2cm Lemongrass stalk - chiffonade

2cm Ginger root - grated

2cm Galangal root - grated

2 medium sized cloves garlic

2 nasty little
fiery hot chillies
2 medium sized shallots

1 Kaffir Lime leaf - chiffonade
1 large pinch of salt flakes
Juice of 1 lime and pulp

500g beef - cut into bite sized chunks (topside/chuck/ribs/gravy beef
250ml coconut cream

1 cup of toasted dessicated coconut

Grind all aromatics in a mortar and pestle or blender with the salt until a paste is made. If using a blender you may need to add a splash of coconut milk to assist the forming of the paste. Heat paste in frypan until fragrant and place in a pressure cooker.

Brown meat the a frypan and drain off any fat. Place in pressure cooker with the rempah. Over low heat mix the two and add coconut milk, stirring until thoroughly incorporated. Seal pot and cook under pressure for about 20minutes.

Release pressure and check the meat. It should be falling off the bone and the sauce should be reasonably dry. If necessary add a splash more coconut milk or water to loosen the mixture. Stir in toasted dessicated coconut and serve with roti or coconut rice.

It's in the bag

To be thirsty and to drink water is the perfection of
sensuality rarely achieved. Sometimes you drink water;
other times you are thirsty.

Jose Bergamin

The old white washed colonial wet market appeared to shimmer, coming into focus and then fading through the haze of the early afternoon heat. The locals had all but scuttled away into the shade and to the protection of thick old stone walled houses.

A few of the market's food hawkers, hidden behind tarpaulins - attached to the market wall like enormous blue and green gills - hunkered on low stools, chatting amongst themselves. A bicycle rolled slowly by.

Two foreigners approached. Tourists. Had to be, yes. Two large people, crazy enough to be walking the streets in 40 degree heat and high humidity. One limped. Her right foot had swollen to three times the normal size and yet she was foolhardy enough to be exploring the heritage area of Penang at a time when no one in their right mind would be walking the streets.

The other one loped along, obviously taxed by the elements, but not admitting to it. By their pallor it was obvious that a drink was
needed. A hawker stirred and rose nimbly to her feet to stand by her shiny cart with a puzzled look. She peered, frowning out of a deeply lined brown face until they reached her.

The rustle of the plastic bag, the deft squeezing of small limes into it with a splash of sugar syrup, then soda is added. A slurry of ice. The wrist twists with a flourish, a flash of rafia, insert a straw there and the drink is ready. Pure genius.

Oh the magic of Limau - or lime juice and soda. It has quenched my thirst like this in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. It's great for the digestion - especially if you're feeling the side effects of a spice overload - and for rehydration in the heat of the day. And I love it served in a plastic bag with a straw.

A drink in a vessel that can be hung from a hook, swung from your wrist, or in this instance,
also used as an ice pack on an excruciatingly painful, swollen and infected foot.

Simple, efficient and restorative. Other than a course of antibiotics and a good lie down, what more could I have wanted?

What's your vessel of choice?

25 June 2008

WTF? Prick with a fork!

Pricking sausages with a fork has been said to have been necessary in post-war Britain, when meat was scarce and the sausages were bulked up with cereal. The extra water involved in using fillers would cause the sausage casings to rupture when subjected to heat. And sometimes it is said to have given off a bang in the process, hence the term 'bangers'. Pricking the sausages was said to relieve the pressure and to prevent the snags from exploding.

Me? I never prick.
My kitchen's a prick free zone.

I parboil, in fact my technique is similar to cooking a Gyoza or Pot Sticker. I warm some oil in a fypan, toss my in snags to brown quickly then add a little water and cook down until evaporated.

The story goes that the sausages pictured above were on sale in Ireland for two weeks before being withdrawn from sale. I really love dodgy packaging, but this particular snap was actually a fake.

It started with a wisecrack by Barry Cryer about Anthony Worral Thompson in 2005, but the person who created the picture above decided to extend the joke and adapted it to an existing pack of Ainsley's Bangers, then posting it in an online forum.
The image has now been circulating by email for a couple of years, and it always brings a smile to the face when it lands in my inbox.

Just a small prick in the conscience to remind me not to take life too seriously.

22 June 2008

Tugging my cap

The earth is the earth
as a peasant sees it,
the world is the world as a duchess sees it,
and anyway a duchess would be nothing
if the earth was not there as the peasant sees it.

Gertrude Stein

There is a sharp chill
in the air that makes my nose feel brittle. I feel ice in the small of my back and my breath draws a kaleidoscope of steamy patterns before me. I picture my fluffy orange Australian alpaca blanket and look forward to its embrace as the darkness quickly creeps in to draw to the end, the shortest day. It is Yuletide in Australia.

Though some habitually say that things get better from herein, I look deep into the tunnel that represents two more months of winter and uncover my repertoire of heart warming meals for my beloved - who still exercises outdoors in the frosty elements. In my tiny kitchen this is often a juggling act between rib sticking rich braises, rustic stodge and Asian chilli dishes. My pressure cooker is rarely in the cupboard and my claypot is unearthed.

So in the midst of piling on more layers of clothes, I eagerly embrace the mushroom season. At the start of winter I look forward to the appearance in the markets of the Pine Forest Mushroom or Saffron Milk Cap, a type of fungi said to have been imported into Australia from Latvia. They grow as the name suggests under Pine trees and in season when driving around the country roads in the Daylesford area, I have spotted people jumping out of their cars to go and forage for them. And they're stunning, don't you think? I even find the green blemishes and bruises beautiful.

These ones pictured above will be devoured simply with some fresh herbs on creamy polenta. We usually partner them with blanched nettles, but this weekend I left my run a little late to get some. Instead there will be one of Winnie & Mal's Black Welsh beef Jack Horner sausages each and some watercress. My definition of Winter heaven.

Which dish personifies winter to you?

21 June 2008

WTF? Pink Fir Apple

Common Name:
Salad potato
Genus: Solanum Species: tuberosum
Cultivar: 'Pink Fir Apple'

Skill Level: Beginner
Exposure: Full sun Hardiness: Hardy
Soil type: Well-drained/light, Clay/heavy, Moist, Sandy
Height: 75cm Spread: 75cm

Salad potato varieties can be first or second earlies, or maincrops as with 'Pink Fir Apple'. They all share qualities of fine flavour and waxy texture whether eaten hot or cold. They tend to be smaller and lower yielding than other kinds, and respond to heavy dressings of compost or rotted manure before planting, which will improve yields considerably.

'Pink Fir Apple' is one of the oldest varieties, with a creamy flesh that is particularly tasty when cold. It is the last to mature, and is lifted and stored in the same way as other maincrops.

Not an apple but certainly a 'pomme de terre' (apple from the ground), a Pink Fir Apple potato. Purchased today at Gasworks Park Farmers Market from farmer Gordon Jones who grows
Asparagus, certified Seed Potatoes and raises Beef Cattle. He is also a producer and tireless marketer of a particularly fine pickled asparagus, under the name Sweet Tips Gippsland Gourmet - think crisp, sweet and sour gherkin with asparagus flavour.

I only ever buy Gordon's spuds. Others don't seem to have the depth of flavour and most definitely don't keep as well as his do. Today I bought the PFA's and Royal Blues, as he had just run out of the lovely Knox potatoes that he introduced me to earlier in the season. But it's OK, I have enough starch to last until I see him next. I've also bought produce from Gordon and his family at the Collingwood Children's Farm Market on the second Saturday of the month.

There's nothing like a spot of rude food for a giggle. Thanks Gordon...

...and here's a sample of what the English are saying about spuds this week in The Guardian:

Comment No. 1170845
June 19 16:03

I was going to say something really rude.

Get some potatoes.

Cook them.


Then, eat the potatoes.

Ummm... that's it.

Gasworks Farmers Market, third saturday of the month
Gasworks Park, Pickles Street, Port Melbourne

GR & LR Jones
RMB 2280 Bullswamp Road, Warragul, Victoria, Australia

19 June 2008

OMG! Chef's Hat Fire Sale

April 2007:

Fire has gutted a South Melbourne cooking equipment supplies shop, causing an estimated $250,000 damage.

Firefighters were called to the Chef's Hat store in Coventry Street about 3.30 this morning.

At the height of the fire, a rear wall of the building collapsed, blocking access to the seat of the blaze, in a storage area at the rear of the business.

Metropolitan Fire Brigade communications controller Laurie Crowther said crews called in extra resources and aggressively battled the fire from the front of the shop, confining the blaze to the storage area and "significantly" reducing the damage bill.

It took 25 firefighters 90 minutes to bring the blaze under control.

No one was injured.


In April last year the Chef's Hat Store in South Melbourne - specialising in hotelware and catering equipment - had a fire. Since then, I have been lurking there regularly, waiting for the fire damaged stock to come on sale. Well, finally, it has happened. I suppose the investigation has been concluded in so far as insurance etc and in front of the counter now are pallets of fire damaged stock.

I looked in and walked out with a perfect - though ash covered - Scanpan at a third of the retail price and some fabulous stemware priced at
50cents each. On sale there is all manner of items, some charred, covered in ash, dented or damaged, some in perfect condition and although mostly suited to the hospitality industry there are finds for the home cook too.

Terms of the sale are no refund, no exchange, no guarantee and no account payment. Had I a bigger kitchen I would have bought more paraphernalia and there was even a lamp I was eyeing off. I watched more stuff coming out of storage as the stock moved and there were only a modest number of shoppers milling about digging through cartons.

More good news - a new stall has opened next to the famous South Melbourne Market Dim Sim shop. Named Linx it is a Chinese roast meat store which ironically also sells dim sum, including Sui Mai - the dumplings that Aussie Dim Sims were modeled on. The window is sexily filled with glistening examples of Cantonese style roast meats that make my mouth water.

Both dine in and take away is offered, with outdoor seating and also a few tables indoors. The kitchen is on display and a Chinese Sui Mei Master and Dim Sum chef are hard at work, supported by a number of ladies who speak in reverential Cantonese to them.

I have eaten at Linx twice and taken away both Cantonese Roast duck and Char Sui. Both were as good as my father's. I give the dim sum the thumbs up too, including PG's favourite fried footballs, Ham Sui Gok. Also available are Chinese Red Roast sausage, soy sauce chicken and roasted crisp belly pork, which can be eaten on the spot served on rice. The menu has a selection of Malaysian noodles and the bain marie contains the
customary western oriented items like lemon chicken, generic stir fries etc.

Luckily for me it is open six days a week (Tues-Sunday) so I no longer have to go to Victoria Street, Richmond for a fix.

Chef's Hat, 131 Cecil Street, South Melbourne, Victoria

Linx Chinese Food - BBQ & Dim Sum

Stall 92-93 South Melbourne Market, Cecil Street South Melbourne
Tue-Thurs 11am-9pm, Wed-Sun 9.30am - 9pm
ph. 9696 1628

Both venues offer trade and retail sales

Parking for both venues

18 June 2008

Tastespotting update. Liqurious

The delicious outrage of the loss of Tastespotting continues, bringing thousands of readers to my blog to read the old post about the stalker, in search of possible reasons for their sudden loss and hoping to find a replacement. Copy cats have sprung up, you can see the comments section of my last Tastespotting post for that.

And now, young web entrepreneur Jean Aw of NotCot has spoken again by updating the Tastespotting website and by revealing her latest enterprise, Liqurious - a Tastespotting for cocktails. Bring it on! www.liqurious.com

Tastespotting.com UPDATE 19 June 2008:

In trying to resolve this situation, TasteSpotting.com is in the process of having a new owner. She would like you to know that "we're just marinating a bit longer, but tastespotting will be back shortly...

Eating the national emblem

Poor old Skippy - what an utter nightmare.

One minute, he's bouncing happily through the outback, ears flapping, tail flopping, with not a care in the world.

The next, he's heralded as the latest superfood - delicious, nutritious and fabulously low fat - the natural solution to global warming, and 20.4 million Australians are being urged to "throw a few kanga bangers on the barbie".

JANE FRYER Mail Online

On the subject of one half of our national emblem, six species of kangaroo have died out and seven have become endangered since the arrival of Europeans in Australia. It's shocking. But the good news is, the remaining thirty-five species of kangaroo have proliferated, protected from their predators by the fences put up by farmers and pasturalists in order to feed the nation with traditional agrarian crops and beasts.

The populations of those 35 species have exploded thanks to better access to water, via dams and cattle watering points and from agricultural clearing creating increased grassland areas. Consequently there are now annual culls of kangaroos, as they have become a threat to the balance of rural life and are considered agricultural pests.

The number of each species that can be taken is set annually by state wildlife authorities after management plans have been approved by the federal government. This figure is around 15-20% of the total population, and is adjusted according to seasonal conditions.

Five species only of kangaroo are commercially harvested. Licensed practitioners, who have undertaken training in animal welfare, hygiene, and firearm competency are used. Harvesting is undertaken humanely by professional shooters. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) indicate that the kangaroo industry is indeed operating in a humane manner. Kangaroo culling is according to them, considered one of the most humane forms of animal slaughter, "An animal killed instantly within its own environment is under less stress than domestic stock that have been herded, penned, transported".

Each kangaroo that is taken must be identified by a numbered, plastic, lockable tag issued by the state regulatory authority, and only tagged animals can be processed. In order to ensure there is no overexploitation of any species in any given area detailed reports are then made and evaluated on a seasonal basis.

Now, a report commissioned by Greenpeace claims that Aussies can dramatically reduce their carbon footprint by eating less beef and more ‘Roo’. In its favour, Kangaroos have no impact on the environment nor on carbon emissions. They need less food than sheep or cattle, are better adapted to drought and are far less damaging to the fragile topsoil than their sharply-hooved bovine counterparts.

While whole ecosystems are lost when forests are cleared to plant crops and toxic pesticides for maintaining crops also cause animal deaths, the kangaroo meat industry is sustainable and does not threaten the survival of the kangaroo or other native animal populations.

Unlike cattle and clearing land to grow grains and vegetables Kangaroos thrive in bushland. They do not need wheat in their diets and will not contribute to the global grain crisis caused by our growing demand for grain, beef, sheep and poultry. They also do not create greenhouse gases in the form of methane as cattle do.

As a food source, roo is not only delicious and healthful - being very lean, high in protein, iron and high in polyunsaturated fat - it is unfettered by the diseases associated with cattle and carries lower risks of food poisoning. And you know what? It tastes bloody good.

The Aborigines have been eating it for 40 000years and now it’s our turn to embrace it. In principal, treat it like venison, seared quickly then allowed a generous resting time for succulent meat. It has its own particular flavour which like prime beef needs only the slightest enhancement, but also stands up well to strong seasonings, whether you take an anglo - juniper, bay leaf and peppercorn - route or even a spicy curried approach.

For more information and recipes visit Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia


Lemongrass Kangaroo

Serves 2 for a main course, or more if sharing dishes

Deal breaker: Without a mortar and pestle and either fresh or frozen Lemongrass (Citronella) and Vietnamese Fish Sauce (Thai is way too pungent) this recipe will lack the necessary subtlety of flavour.

300g Kangaroo fillet

4cm of Lemongrass stalk

5 thin slices Galangal

5 thin slices Ginger

½ a small disc of light palm sugar

1tbs of Vietnamese Fish Sauce (not Thai)

½ tsp Kecap Manis

1tsp Cambodian Onion Paste

1tsp un-toasted sesame oil

3 tsp canola/peanut oil

1 small clove of garlic

4 Snake/Long beans

2tbs water

1tbs Xiao Xing wine

¼ red onion

1 small tomato

Salt & pepper

5 Mustard Green leaves (Gai Choy)

Lay some freezer film or plastic wrap over the kangaroo fillets and spread, flattening them out with the blunt edge of a cleaver as you would when making a schnitzel. Slice into bite sized strips and place in a plastic bag.

In a mortar and pestle pound slices of lemongrass, then add the galangal and then ginger. Bruise the spices, releasing the juices and break down the fibres.

Do. Not. Use. A blender.

Add Palm sugar. When assimilated into the mix add the fish sauce and Kecap Manis. Finally add the Onion Paste and un-toasted Sesame Oil and then tip into the bag with the meat. Massage marinade into the meat and chill for 90minutes.

Cut the snake beans on the diagonal into 2.5cm pieces and finely mince garlic by flattening under the blade of a cleaver. If you pull the cleaver across the board as you smash down on the clove with your fist, you will be left with a pulp, which you can easily chop finely.

Heat wok or skillet with 1tsp oil. When the oil is at smoking point throw in the beans and garlic, moving them quickly around the pan. Add a tablespoon of water to the pan and cook down until the water has evaporated. Remove from pan.

Do not clean wok. Heat 2tsp oil in the pan and when at smoking point add in the kangaroo fillets and marinade. Do not toss fillets, brown them. Kangaroo needs to be cooked very quickly because is very lean - like venison - and then rested. Over cooking will make it tough. When both sides begin to look charred, stir through the Xiao Xing wine and when the meat mixture has darkened remove from the pan to rest. Do not clean wok/pan.

Dice the tomato and finely slice onion, add both to the pan over medium heat to cook down. When the onion is cooked, place the beans and garlic back in the pan with a tablespoon of water. When they have warmed through mix in the kangaroo and season with salt and white pepper. Do not use black pepper - the galangal has sufficient bite (like horseradish) for the dish so black pepper would be overkill.

Slice Mustard Greens horizontally into 1.5cm strips. Place kangaroo mix from the wok onto the bed of greens and garnish with coriander and Thai basil if you have them. Serve with anything - rice or quinoa or mashed potatoes - whatever suits your mood.

16 June 2008

Malay Kitchen anthropology

Every contrivance of man, every tool, every instrument, every utensil, every article designed for use, of each and every kind, evolved from a very simple beginnings.
Robert Collier

Spotted recently in Penang, a collector's treasure trove of antique Malaysian kitchen paraphenalia.

13 June 2008

Tastespotting is dead. RIP

thats it. the last year of my life living tastespotting. i read it from the time i send my kids off to school until i tuck them in at night. what am i supposed to do? this has ruined my life. i dont know what to do with myself now. someone needs to pick up the ashes. maybe i should. would anyone want to help? this HAS TO HAPPEN so many people relied on this for inspiration. this is... i dont even have words to describe how i feel right now.

I noticed that the Tastespotting food porn image aggregator had stopped updating in the last couple of days and had presumed that their server was struggling. Someone even joked to me that it was a Friday the thirteenth prank.

Then this evening when I checked my StatCounter results, I found that I had been inundated - with views by the hundreds via Google and forum posts. They were all reading my post on the Tastespotting Stalker.

On closer inspection it seems that the Tastespotting site was dead and thousands of fans appear to be pouring out their sorrow online. Two had even linked back to my Stalker post - about online harassment by a sick individual with multiple personality disorder who ritually posted inflammatory remarks on blogs appearing on Tastespotting - as a possible cause of the meltdown.

The most obvious conclusion people have been drawing is that NotCot have been threatened by litigation and shut down the Tastespotting site as a consequence.

By soliciting content, Tastespotting encouraged people browsing the web to steal appealing images to post on the Tastespotting site. Thereby attracting a huge audience and hence cashing in on sponsorship and advertising, leaving the door wide open for litigation.

What impact then does that have on NotCot's other sites, that do the same on topics of Design and Fashion? Are they to be spared? Or could it be that someone has become embroiled in the case of the Tastespotting Stalker - Charles Treuter - and has involved NotCot in their litigation? Perhaps none of these?

Could it be that resources were stretched or that like Scrabulous they have been threatened by a large corporation? Speculation I expect will be rife over the next fews days.

What is amazing however is the legions of fans who integrated the site into their daily routine.
Google search 'Tastespotting Gone' to see how it is reverberating around the Blogasphere. Like a strangulated gasp the lament is global from Estonia to Guam and Helsinki to Nicaragua. With the number of posts being made, I feel like hosting a Pot Luck wake on my blog for Tastespotting.

A quick Google search turns up discussions on forums including MetaFilter, The Nest and ChowHound, which then lead back to me. Perhaps they should now peruse Flickr where there are plenty of sumptuous spots.

I expect on a smaller scale this sense of loss also occurred when Food Porn Watch wound down. I know the number of hits on my blog dropped significantly when they packed up recently. No doubt sites that relied on Tastespotting to supply traffic will suffer in the same way.

As Bloggers become more the focus of Marketers and Advertisers via approaches with lashings of flattery to promote products for free, they are becoming more savvy to the economic opportunities opening up to them online. Sure, the scraping of your intellectual property will bring traffic to your blog, but why would you line the pockets of another person's website with advertising revenue, when you should be getting a cut? Is this where the seeds of litigation lie?

What will spring up in it's place? There is quite clearly a demand for this kind of thing. Google was successful in winning the legal right to display thumbnails from other sites on Google Image Search, so what is the correct way to go about delivering a food image aggregator?

Recipes2share has stated at Serious Eats that
they'll be working on building their own version...here
(I'll update the comments section with any others that spring up)

What are your thoughts?

11 June 2008

Satay. A splinter in my heart

Kaj and Gerda were looking at a picture book of birds and beasts one day, and it was then-just as the clock in the church tower was striking five-that Kaj cried:
"Oh! something hurt my heart. And now I've got something in my eye."

The little girl put her arm around his neck, and he blinked his eye. No, she couldn't see anything in it.

"I think it's gone," he said. But it was not gone. It was one of those splinters of glass from the magic mirror. You remember that goblin's mirror-the one which made everything great and good that was reflected in it appear small and ugly, but which magnified all evil things until each blemish loomed large. Poor Kaj!

A fragment had pierced his heart as well, and soon it would turn into a lump of ice. The pain had stopped, but the glass was still there.

The Snow Queen, Hans Christian Andersen

There was a time in my childhood that a friend once aptly coined ‘The Cupboard Under The Stairs Years’. In this time I acquired a number of culinary skills from the families I lived with, as a way of trying to find some social connection with my foster mothers in the face of a deep sense of abandonment.

I am the child of two very bright individuals. But with the gift of great intellect sadly often comes erroneous social deficit, so the burden of having a child meant that I was often in the care of others. Shy and struggling with childhood relationships while feeling unconnected to other children, I gravitated towards the company of adults and to the kitchen.

Modern psychologists would now assess that I experienced a form of childhood attachment disorder and that food then became my link to love. I was consequently given culinary tasks to occupy my time. As I related to Ed, I recall vigorously cleaning and peeling squid and octopus, and of finding satisfaction in peeling poached ox tongues, happy to contribute by doing small undesirable tasks for others. And this is also how satay came into my life.

It was the mid nineteen seventies. I was in primary school at the time and staying with old family friends - a blended Hong Kong and Singaporean Chinese family. The couple came to Australia originally to go to university, but stayed, married, had children and now spoke with broad Aussie accents. They were more integrated into the local culture than my parents and seamlessly blended the Chinese Culture with being Aussies.

My foster parents had not only generously taken me in, but had been volunteering their time at a migrant hostel where Vietnamese refugees were being temporarily housed. Many of the refugees were either Southern Vietnamese or Ethnic Chinese so although they did not speak English, we shared Cantonese in common. I had no knowledge at the time that I too had family in Vietnam. My Foster parents selflessly helped a great many of these people to resettle in Melbourne and introduced them to the Australian Asian lifestyle.

One weekend my foster family and their friends - including my parents – hired a large tour bus to bring some people from the hostel to their beach house in Mount Martha for a day trip. All ‘The Aunties’ were bringing food, and my Singaporean Foster Mother and I made satay. I recall spending two days preparing the satay and from that point on, if she was having satay at a dinner party it became my task to prepare it.

I loved silently immersing myself in the process. Preparing marinade, cutting strips of meat, shelling and de-veining prawns and carefully threading them onto water soaked bamboo satay sticks. My foster mother always made the satay sauce as I was kept well away from the stove.

I've been refining the recipe ever since - always working by taste and by sight. Now I have Mr Stickyfingers' palate, care and attention to add to the process and to protect me from my anxieties. He is a Godsend.

Back in Malaysia recently, Mr Stickyfingers and I consumed mountains of satay. The best in our opinion - that we tasted on this latest jaunt - was in Chinatown’s Petaling Street Market from Zainal Satay (pictured).

As we came through the steamy throng of vendors of pirated handbags, sports shoes, jewellery, t.shirts, DVDs and souvenirs, the distinct smell of satay over a charcoal brazier wafted our way. Then with a brilliant flash of fire in the nightscape, we spotted the Satay hawker. This man obviously had a fan club and a couple of newspaper clippings describing his satay festooned the cart from which orders were taken and the satay was dispatched.

Hunkered on low plastic stools at folding tables we watched as people bought large amounts of takeaways. Sixty eight year old Zainal Ismail bent over his long Hibachi brazier sweeping a marinade of sugar and oil over the sticks, and ignited them with roaring fire, ever so slightly blackening the edges, before turning them as he has done for 28 years. Each stick was fragrant and moist and came to the table with cucumber pieces and raw red onion, alongside a sublime peanut sauce. We ordered more, and then came back for another session a day later.

A heady combination of lemongrass and ground rhizomes flavoured the peanut sauce. It was so good I wanted to lick the plate. His recipe originates from Jakarta and he prepares 1,000 sticks of satay a night. In Penang we were told that the Chinese in Malaysia use sweet potato as their sauce base, while the Muslims like Mr Ismail use peanuts. As I recall, in Vietnam their satay sauce is a blend of Chilli oil, palm sugar and peanut powder, with intensely flavoured, pungent seasonings. I find all versions are delicious, perhaps because its flavour hearkens an umbilical connection to the shadows of my childhood.

Satay - chicken & pork or beef
Makes 78 Satays and a vat of sauce
Start preparations the day before serving, in order to marinade meat. The sauce will also develop more flavour over the first 24hours

4 skinless chicken thigh fillets
2 small pork loin fillets
350g lean beef such as chuck

3 tablespoons ground Coriander seeds
3 tablespoons ground Cumin
3 tablespoons ground Fennel seeds
1 cup bruised and julienned Lemongrass
1 cup julienned young Ginger
1 cup julienned Galangal
150g julienned Turmeric root
1 very large clove of garlic
3 shallots or an equal quantity of onion
2 small fiery chillies
3 tablespoons tamarind paste
3 tablespoons Kecap Manis
6 tablespoons fish sauce
2 cups finely ground (powdered) peanuts
300ml Canola/Peanut Oil
1 tablespoon Belanchan
2 large disks of light palm sugar
250ml coconut milk
100ml Chilli Oil
Juice of 2 limes
cup of coarsely ground peanuts

Dry roast coriander and cumin in a wok until the aromas are released. Set aside.
Pound julienned lemongrass, ginger and galangal in a mortar and pestle until a paste is formed and the fibres have been broken down in the rhizomes. You can do them separately or mix them, depending on the size of your equipment. Transfer to a blender with the fresh turmeric.
If you skip the mortar and pestle you will weaken the flavour and your marinade and sauce will be full of unpleasant fibres. To get around this you can blend the ingredients and then place them in a muslin bag and squeeze out the juice, then discard the fibres, but it still won't taste as good.
Pound garlic, chillies and shallots in the mortar and pestle until you have a paste and add to blender with the rhizomes. Add 100 ml of oil and blend into a smooth paste. Add half of the dry roasted spices and incorporate into the paste with 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 1tbs of Kecap Manis and 1 tbs of tamarind paste. Blend until combined. Take half of the paste out to be your marinade. The rest will be your sauce base.


Thinly slice your meat and place chicken and pork into separate plastic bags with the marinade. Massage the marinade through the meat and leave refrigerated for 24 hours.
Soak bamboo skewers for 1hour in warm water. Before serving skewer satay flatly onto sticks. Don't be tempted to make it big and chunky, satay should be grilled quickly over hot coals and brushed with a mixture of cooked oil and palm sugar. It's a mouthful of meat rather than being a Shashlic.

For the sauce, dry roast the ground peanut powder. Remove from pan. Open all your windows and doors to fry the pungent Belanchan in a wok with some oil over high heat – otherwise your home will stink for days to come. Add one spoon of fish sauce and the remaining dry spices, continue to fry.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add in the rest of the paste from the blender and combine.
Add the rest of the Kecap Manis with melted palm sugar and then add the roasted peanut powder. The mixture will be firm by this stage so thin with coconut milk and water at your discretion until you have the desired consistency.
On low heat, season to taste with fish sauce, lime juice and chilli oil, working quickly to stop the the flavours of the rhizomes from dissapating. Finish with coarsely ground peanuts and if you want a more pungent flavour toss in some powdered Ikan Bilis.

Serve sauce at room temperature on flat dishes for dipping the meat into, alongside cucumber, onion and Nasi Impit - rice parcels. Left over sauce can be frozen or placed in a jar, with the surface covered by a thin layer of oil and kept in the fridge.

06 June 2008

Marketers Vs Food Bloggers

As I sit at the computer
nursing Mr Stickyfinger's dying Siamese cat, I wonder how long she can hang on as she drifts in and out of consciousness. In this tiny old skeletal creature, the organs are gradually shutting down. I know not her pain, I have no idea what is going on in her mind, I just know that her time is coming.

A sad as I am,
I realise that this is also an appropriate analogy to describe the average Marketer's perspective of Food Bloggers. Marketers generally don't understand what motivates us but they appear to like us - as one might well like a friend's pet.

When talking to Marketing clients and advertising people, I find the word 'Blogger' results either in eyes glazing over or the wistful expression of looking at a friend's racehorse and thinking 'I could make some money if I got my hands on that beast'. Those in the latter group know our time is coming and seek to capitalise on harnessing Bloggers web content while most Bloggers are still innocent enough to give it away for free.

The online advertising dollar in the UK & USA is gradually cannibalising the once holy grail of advertising, Television commercials. Companies are getting more savvy about how to flog their merchandise by advertising online and by using clever cost saving techniques that are cheaper than - and give them better results than - epic mega-buck TV ads.

Should they also build a site around a product,
what becomes expensive is paying Professional Writers like myself to provide the large volume of content required to fuel a corporate website. Out of this comes the search for free content and the first idea that pops into the Digital Marketing head is to create an online community around a branded website where users are bombarded with product advertising - subtle or otherwise.

It's fair enough, after all search engines' highest sought items, after porn, are recipes. But not content to gradually develop a relationship with core customers and recipe hunters to fuel their site with forum chit-chat and recipe exchange, some companies seek to scrape blog content, sometimes by issuing flattering emails to Bloggers, while others ask for contribution in exchange for promotional products or the chance to win a competition.

Today, I received the following email from Kraft Foods and wondered whether Google - who own Blogger and Blogspot - had provided a list of their Australian Food Blogs and email addresses to the mega corporation.

Hi Stickyfingers,

Vegie Pourover Buzz
is an Ambassador website aimed at promoting balanced nutrition. It’s all about providing practical solutions to the challenges people face getting kids to eat Vegies. We came across your blog and thought you might be interested in what we're doing. We'd like to invite you to participate as an Ambassador in the program.

Kraft is about to launch a new product in Australia called ‘Vegie Pourover’ and Ambassadors will receive all four flavours to trial (absolutely free). Participants are not required to provide feedback or engage in surveys, most importantly we hope that a real-life community and resource evolves to support people faced with kids nutrition challenges. Plus there’s lots of great incentives for being involved.

We hope Vegie Pourover Buzz will encourage Ambassadors to experiment with the product and to share these experiences with other Ambassadors and friends.

Inside, there's lots of really useful information, including expert nutrition advice and great meal ideas. To register, visit http://www.vegiepouroverbuzz.com.au.

Thanks, we hope to see you in the Program!

In this instance, they not only want your thoughts for free to fuel their site, but they also want you to espouse their soon to be launched product, after playing with their processed pantry item in your kitchen. In return you will be recognised as an 'Ambassador'. Hopefully you'll even feature their products in some of the creations you post on your blog too.

The site is thinly disguised as promoting healthy eating by encouraging the consumption of vegetables. But this entails using a packet of sauce, which no doubt is full of unnecessary garbage. If you register with them you might even win a subscription to an Australian food magazine. Obviously they have no idea that many Food Bloggers eschew Food mags in favour of reading other food blogs.

My suggestion is don't give great chunks of your time, your thoughts and words for free to a corporation - that like Kraft - has a gross annual revenue in the area of US$3.48Billion. If you're advertising their goods, you should be paid for it, and don't be fooled or flattered into believing otherwise.

Have you been approached to provide content on a big brand advertiser's website or to promote a retail product on your blog?
Share your story.