Monday, June 13, 2011
Food For Thought
After parenting and blogging, the other love in my life is food. I love cooking, and baking, and planning meals, and shopping for food, and I especially love eating. I wrote about how important food is to me in a post last year, Love and Lasagna, and my battles to find good quality produce here in Hong Kong here. Today I'm hooked on Masterchef and seriously considering a foray into professional cooking - if only I could study something other than Chinese cuisine while I'm here. I could write a dozen different posts about food at the moment but since this isn't a food blog, I thought I'd give you a quick summary of what's happening in my kitchen and what's inspiring me lately:
Delicious Magazine - I love this magazine! A subscription is the only thing I ask for when Mother's Day is coming up, and if the postal system here wasn't so random I would be waiting by the mailbox on delivery day. I make a point to cook something from every issue and I have them all organised in chronological order next to my cookbooks. Yes, I am a food nerd.
DIY - Fed up with trying to find decent bread, we invested in a bread maker when we first arrived in HK. It spent a lot of time gathering dust in the cupboard until we realised that bread was one of the few things J will eat. We now make our own on a weekly basis; no nasties, no fuss. Our $500 HKD, second-hand Princess bread maker just bit the dust, so we're upgrading to the Kenwood BM450, a bread maker that's bigger than our oven - that's how serious we are about our bread.
We've also started making our own yoghurt. It can be messy and getting a good batch requires patience and exact measurements and mixing, but it's worth the effort, especially when you see how much added sugar goes into some of the more common commercial yoghurt brands. It's the kind of cooking once reserved for hippies, but everyone's doing it these days. DIY yoghurt is cool, people.
GIY (grow it yourself) - Our rooftop kitchen garden has taken off with the heat and humidity of the last few weeks. It's resembling a jungle more than a garden at the moment but we're loving it. So far we've only managed to harvest herbs, zucchini flowers and some rock-star quality beans, but we'll soon have a bumper crop of tomatoes and the pumpkins won't be far behind. I'm excited about food in a way that I haven't been in a long time, and there's nothing more rewarding than sitting down to a meal with ingredients that you've grown from scratch on a hot rooftop (where, by rights, nothing should grow).
Going Vege - We've been talking for a long time about eating less meat. All the meat we can buy here is imported from somewhere, and it's hard to know what's ok to eat and what's full of hormones, antibiotics, and animal cruelty. I also have to wonder how long it's been sitting at the airport or on a truck, between leaving its country of origin and arriving on my supermarket shelf... When we buy Australian beef I think about the good quality beef I used to buy at Coles, and I know they use the crap stuff for export. When we buy beef from South America I think about the swathes of Amazon rainforest that have been cut down for farming, and I can't stomach the thought of anything other than free-range, organic, corn-fed chicken. I spent 10 minutes in the egg section of the supermarket last week, trying to decide whether the 'free-range' eggs were better than the 'vegetarian' eggs. Were the corn-fed chickens kept in cages? And what were they feeding the free-range chooks that made them not-vegetarian...? Not to mention how expensive imported food is in general. I grew up in the country where we would see the sheep in the paddock one day and be served a roast lamb the next. I've always made an effort to know where my food comes from, but the process involved in getting it from the paddock to my plate has always made me squeamish, and more than a little uncomfortable. My husband bought a vegetarian cookbook recently and we've been enjoying coming up with new ways to eat our favourite dishes without meat. Until now I haven't quite been able to completely make the break from steak, but over the weekend I caught some of the footage of Aussie cows being slaughtered rather inhumanely in Indonesia, and finally decided my meat-eating days were behind me. I feel better for it, physically and morally, but I'd probably be laughed out of any professional kitchen if I rocked up for an apprenticeship and told them I was a vegetarian, "sigh".
Finding Familiar Favourites - When you're an expat you find that the things you once took for granted are the things you miss the most. Every month one of the local supermarket chains has an international food week, and this month happened to be Australian Food Week. Yay! So I was thrilled to find Arnott's Shapes, Scotch Fingers and Assorted Creams, Brookfarm muesli, Caramello Koalas and Vita Brits on the shelves, and they're now in my cupboard at home. I also discovered a range of gourmet cordials that I'd never heard of, which are great mixed with soda water on these hot summer nights. I've tried a lot of great, new products from all over the world since living here, but nothing beats having a tin of biscuits in the cupboard that are exactly the same as the ones you used to sneak from the tin at Nanna's house.
Family Dining - Our J bird is a fussy eater sometimes. He has his favourites, but like most toddlers, he's not all that keen on vegetables. I've had to get creative to get him to eat well, and most of the time that involves hiding vegetables and meat in things like baked beans. I've also made sure that everything that's available to him (with the exception of Scotch Fingers) is relatively healthy; whole grain bread, organic baked beans, natural yoghurt etc. I've also brought in a new regime this week, with the three of us eating dinner together at the table, with the TV off. He's more inclined to eat something if he sees us eating it as well, so it's a no-brainer really. I haven't forced him to adopt vegetarianism, because that would be irresponsible I think, so dinner last night was vegetable bolognaise with spaghetti, and a few meatballs thrown in for the blokes of the house. After some subtle persuasion, and much ignoring of his protests about the TV being off, dinner went down a treat. J does love his fruit and having so much of it in the house means that we're eating more of it too. I still sat down, after J was in bed, and tucked into a packet of Pepperidge Farm Cookies, but I'd had at least 2 pieces of fruit during the day and a salad for lunch, so I felt like I'd earned a treat. And because food should be fun.
Being Inspired - There are a lot of foodie websites out there, and some great recipes online. If there's something specific I want to cook and my Delicious collection doesn't have the answers, I hit the web.
Here are some of my favourite food sites (in no particular order):
http://smittenkitchen.com/ - she's a foodie and a mum, I love this website!
http://allthingsnice.typepad.com/tastebuddies/ - loved her zucchini flower recipe recently
The Cook and The Chef - a great show, and Maggie Beer is one of my food idols
http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/ - a huge catalogue of recipes from some of Britain's best chefs
http://www.taste.com.au/ - should be on everyone's bookmarked list
and for the parents:
Have a great week everyone, and please check back in tomorrow for a brand new regular feature - Top Tip Tuesday.
* Photo courtesy of Suat Eman, FreeDigitalPhotos.net