Saturday 5 July 2008

Sunday Times Food Show: the good, the bad, and the boring

My tongue was blistered and my cheeks were a-flamin' when I staggered out of the Sandton Convention Centre on Friday, after spending a happy morning tasting and sipping. No, I didn't do any wine-tasting - ten in the morning is a little early, even for moi, the World's Most Enthusiastic Wine Drinker - but I did taste a lot of chilli sauces, olives, tapenades, chutneys, relishes, pestos and olive oils. All were good and tasty, but if I have one criticism, it's that there is far, far too much bottled and pickled stuff on this show.

Look, I can understand that if you're a farmer or a food entrepreneur or running a little home industry, the obvious avenue is to bottle, pickle or preserve your produce. But there are just so many relishes and sauces that the market can take. Frankly, you've tasted one one tapenade or pesto or coulis, you've tasted 'em all (although I can recommend Willow Creek's Green Olive Tapenade with Thai spices).

If I have one suggestion for the organisers of next year's show, it's to try to attract a more diverse range of artisan food producers, especially growers of fresh leaves and herbs, berries and unusual veggies. I was also dismayed at how few local cheesemakers were represented (ie, not one): there are many people producing outstanding cheeses in this country. Could it be that it's just too expensive for them to take a stand, and that they spend all their money punting their wares at the South African Cheese Festival?

I was also disappointed to find not a single stall selling good South African charcuterie: no salami, no ham, no smoked game, no sausages. There were no makers of good breads, no smokers of fish, no growers of ducks or wild fowl, no small independent breweries showcasing interesting beers. There was very little, in fact, to indicate that this was a South African food show: no snoek, no mampoer, no mopani worms, no pap, no wors, no chakalaka, no waterblommetjies, no breyani and - for Pete's sake - no bunny chow.

And it's not as if people aren't producing this good food in South Africa - they are.

So what was good about the show? Well, there were four food stalls that really stood out. Curiously, all four stalls were placed one next to the other, in a row. This mystery was solved when I found out two days later that all four of these producers were the winners of the Sunday Times It’s My Business Competition 2008 (surprise - no link available). Hats off to the judges: an excellent choice of winners.

My number-one sensation of the day was the apple and pear juices produced by Oaklands Fruit Juices of Tradouw. I'm not a huge fruit-juice drinker, but I nearly fainted with pleasure when I tasted their icy cold natural apple juice, which is sold, for a paltry R14 a pop, in real glass bottles (it's bottled immediately after squeezing, and pasteurised in the bottle). Their pear juice is also just ambrosial. This is a product that puts Appletiser and all other competitors in the shade. (If you live on the Highveld, you might like to know that the juice is available from Fruit & Veg City branches).

My socks were knocked off by the preserves and pickles of Fresh Ideas, another winner in the competition. This family team, from Plettenberg Bay in the Cape, produces a range of unusual and truly lip-smacking food products. So much flavour is packed into each jar: I can recommend their chilli mayonnaise, their range of dreamy, bottle-cooked chicken parfaits (the black-pepper-flavoured one was a killer), the beetroot and mint relish and the red onion marmalade. I came away with five jars of their produce, all of which were flattened within two days. I envy you if you live in Plett: the Fresh Ideas shop (in the Lookout Centre, Main Street) offers a home-cooked, take-home dish of the day: braised beef in beer, chicken and mushroom pie, lamb , almond and yoghurt curry, and so on.

A third winner in the competion was the online retailer Yuppie Chef (read my earlier blogpost) and the final winner Aphrodisiac Shack, a smokehouse which produces a most unusual range of smoked products, including smoked extra-virgin olive oil and smoked farm butter.

Other taste sensations: the shittake mushroom relishes and condiments from Bella Vita Gourmet Mushrooms (a winner in last year's competition), and the gorgeous pear and plum preserves and coulis (what's the plural of coulis? Couli?) from a stall whose name I can't remember.

I had a look on the official Sunday Times Food Show website to try and find the name of the stall, but the site - hello? - doesn't list exhibitors. And the brochure isn't much better: it lists only the names and phone numbers of the stall-holders, but not their website addresses or descriptions of their wares.

A final moan? When I asked the makers where I could buy their scrumptious goodies on the Highveld, they sighed and gave me despondent shrugging looks. 'We're trying to get into Woolworths and Spar and Thrupps, but it's an ongoing battle,' said one of them. 'A few small delis stock our products, but we just can't get them in anywhere else.'
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Killer kitchen gadgetry for the yuppie chef

I was blown away by some of funky, clever designs at the Sunday Times. Yuppiechef (which sells only via the Net, and offers free - no jokes - delivery to anywhere in South Africa) definitely stole the show. This slick and good-looking site ('your one-stop killer kitchen gadget shoppe') is the work of Cape Town entrepreneurs Andrew Smith and Shane Dryden of Live Alchemy. Nice work, you guys.

There wasn't single item on their stall that I didn't want to own, immediately, and browsing their site now, I can add another two dozen gadgets to my wish list.

Top of the list? These beautiful glass water carafes, from Danish design company Eva Solo, which come with their own insulating zip-up neoprene wetsuits. At R740 each, they ain't cheap, but a girl can dream, right?

Another brilliant gadget: a set of flexible silicone 'poach pods' from FusionBrands (R90 for two). You float them in a pan of boiling water, break an egg into each one, and then turn them inside out to pop out the eggs. I also loved this witty rabbit pepper-grinder (see pic below) which has a pop-off tail for refilling purposes. Comes with a matching white salt grinder. I'm tempted to show you more of their gorgeous wares, but I don't want to spoil your fun - hop over to Yuppiechef and have your own little drool. And if you're into cool kitchen-tool spotting around the world, check out the Yuppiechef blog.

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Thursday 3 July 2008

Let's Puke Well: how Adelle Davis helped a rose bush grow

I mentioned in an earlier post that my parents, some time in the late Sixties, got their hands on a copy of Adelle Davis's Let's Get Well. This book was nothing short of revolutionary in those days, when healthy eating meant having a bit of grated carrot or bottled beetroot once a week, and health food, whole food and organic food hadn't yet been invented. The parents read the book from cover to cover, and were converted. The creamy, mashed-potato-topped fish pies vanished off the menu, and so did the bangers and mash, the bacon and eggs, the crumpets with whipped cream and syrup, and all the other heavenly home-cooked delights. Cornflakes were replaced by All Bran Flakes (Old Brown Flakes, I used to call them), and packets of linseeds and sunflower seeds appeared on the shelves of the pantry.

My mom started to bake her own wholewheat bread, using stone-ground flour. (It was delicious and cakey when hot out of the the oven, with lashings of farm butter, but by the next morning it had solidified to a solid brick. Undaunted, my mom hacked off slices, buttered and marmited them, and put them into our lunch boxes. Mom, sorry to tell you this, but we couldn't eat those sandwiches. We tried swopping them for the fluffy government-loaf peanut butter sandwiches that other girls brought to school, but there were no takers. We put them in the Poor Box - it was a convent school - and the Poor Box threw them back at us).

Very soon after that, my parents got their hands on another of Adelle Davis's books, Let's Have Healthy Children. My sisters and I were presented, at breakfast, with a glass of what my father christened 'Bull Juice'. This elixir, he promised, would make us strong, healthy, fit, hale, hearty and pink-cheeked. Downing a glass of it every morning was compulsory from now on.

I have no idea what this foul concoction (the forerunner of the smoothie) contained but, believe me, it was vile. Wheatgerm, I think, a banana or two, Brewer's Yeast, and possibly cod liver oil or the skin secretions of a sewer-dwelling rat. It was pale brown, thick, slightly foamy and - most yetchy of all - it was warm. It left a frothy moustache on your upper lip.

So we each took a few polite sips (while holding our noses and making ostentatious gagging noises), waited until the parents were out of the room, and tipped the Bull Juice out of the dining-room window, which overlooked three handsome rose bushes.

When spring came, the rose was the size of a sequoia tree. I gave a secret laugh when my mom said, with a wink, 'I just can't understand why this red rose bush is so much bigger than all the others, and why there are brown streaks all over the wall outside the dining room.'

I am interested to read that Adelle Davis was discredited and criticised in certain scientific and medical communities during her life, but that recent studies have vindicated her, and she is now considered a pioneer of the health food movement. (More here, from Wikipedia).

Whatever the case, I have had the most excellent health all my life (which I haven't deserved, considering my hedonistic ways), and I think it has something to do with the Bull Juice.

Does anyone remember this concoction? Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday 1 July 2008

Woolies frozen ginger - now there's a good idea

Woolworths have recently launched a lekker new product: a pack containing little frozen cubes of puréed fresh ginger, each one a little smaller than a dice (and I mean the sort of dice you play games with). When you're making a stir-fry or curry, you just pop out a few cubes, leave them to defrost (or chuck them in the microwave) and Bob's your uncle.

Purists may scoff at this (but, then again, purists scoff at everything, don't they? And, besides, most purists are restaurant reviewers who have no children to feed, and all day to stooge around the shops) but I love the convenience of not having to lacerate my knuckles trying to grate the wizened-and-sprouting piece of fresh ginger in the vegetable rack, and then plucking the hairy bits from my teeth.

It's strange how freezing things has gone out of fashion. In the early heydeys of the freezer, home cooks were encouraged to freeze everything bar the cat. In fact, the adjective 'frozen' is almost a dirty word when applied to food nowadays.

Look, I am the first to agree that most things lose a bit of flavour and texture when frozen, but - provided that you don't leave them in the freezer for too long - it's really only a little loss, and it's cancelled out by the convenience factor. (Take peas, for example. A pea frozen in its pinnacle of sweetness is so superior to a podded pea that's been sitting and getting starchy under a film of clingwrap).

Here are some things that I've found freeze extremely well (wrapped tightly in plastic)

freshly grated or puréed ginger
whole, peeled garlic cloves (but they must be very young and snappy when you freeze them)
pomegranate seeds
curry leaves, lime leaves and bay leaves
fresh lemon juice (freeze it, in ice-cube trays, within fifteen minutes of squeezing it)
home-made pesto
berries (except for strawberries)
lemon grass
blanched chopped spinach
herb and/or garlic butter
garlic bread
bacon bits
pork sausages
fresh vanilla beans

Here are a few things, that, in my experience, don't freeze well:

home-made chicken stock (it just never tastes the same as fresh stock)
soups (ditto)
chicken breasts
fresh parsley, basil and coriander
fresh green chillies
coffee beans
spices (except whole nutmeg) Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly