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11 posts from January 2006

25 January 2006

Kosher food is good for you, honest guv

Few things rile me as much as the concept that kosher food is by definition good quality food.  Kosher food can be good quality food, but it should not be taken as a given.  Unless, it would seem, you are in marketing for a large food production company or supermarket, as demonstrated in this article from The Seattle Times.

The unfortunate truth is, all too often kosher food is not good quality, if by good quality you mean natural and fresh and of the highest calibre.  It is relevant that the companies in this article, that are seeking to promote their kosher status, are mass producers.  These are just the sort of companies who are finding life difficult as more consumers move away from heavily processed foods towards more natural products.  These companies ignore the fact that what would be really healthy is for consumers to stop buying any processed food, and instead eat natural products, kosher or otherwise.  They need to find new markets to tap into and clearly believe the more they say that kosher food is healthy (or in the bizarre neologism of this article, healthful), the more the consumer can be duped into believing this is true. 

I accept that up to a point, you know what you're getting with kosher meat.  Although, I believe the article is incorrect when it says that for animals to be kosher they can't be given any antibiotics.  I think they can.  What they can't be given are hormones or fed animal by-product. What I think is irrelevant, because as the article shows, 55% of the people who buy kosher products believed the food was better for them, according to research by Mintel.  (The Seattle Times article fails to mention which piece of research they gleaned this from, but this is the latest report written by Mintel on the kosher industry.)  I appreciate there are a whole host of problems with this statistic, such as no mention is made of how many people questioned keep kosher because of their religious beliefs, or where they were questioned.  But, we have to take it as it is presented, at face value.  So let us take the modest chicken, a staple in all kosher kitchens.  Can we be sure that just because it is kosher it is healthy?  Absolutely not.  The vast majority of kosher chickens are intensively farmed.  In the same way that if you go to your butcher or supermarket and fail to ask for a free range bird, you'll be cooking a fatty, flaccid fowl, rather than a well cared for chicken, with muscle definition, not too much fat and tonnes of flavour.

Interestingly, the Mintel research, as quoted in the article, makes no reference to whether the belief of the superiority of kosher food is correct and it actually is better for them.

I get so pissed off about this because those who assume that kosher food is better, should be right.  I should be able to buy well-hung, marbled beef, getting hold of foie gras lobes should not entail a global search, kosher parmigiano reggiano should not cost £10 for a 250g slice.  I've written previously about why kosher food is in such a bad way, especially in the UK.  There are tentative signs of improvement, for example I spotted a new deli that is shipping veal and foie gras (pâté not lobes) from France.  But it is still very expensive and hard to get hold of.  Additionally, those bodies that authorise what is and is not organic in the UK continue to hold their position that all animals need to be stunned prior to slaughter.  Both the shechita and halal methods of ritual slaughter forbid this, meaning you can't get certified organic meat (see the article entitled Organic Kosher Chickens? on pg 3, in this October 2005 newsletter from Organic Farmers & Growers).

Frankly, I'm not too fussed whether the food I eat is organic or not.  I appreciate that for farmers, meeting all the regulations to receive organic certification is a headache.  All I want is to know where my food has come from, that the animals have had a decent life, that it has been prepared with care and that it is going to taste delicious. This should not be too much to ask, but with Big Food jumping on the bandwagon, it will only become harder to achieve.

16 January 2006

Happiness is...


...a warm bagel, butter and Marmite.

11 January 2006

Islington Farmers Market Shocker

Shocking news from Nick Cohen:

To live the North London cliché, to penetrate to the very heart of La Islington Profonde, I go every week to the farmers’ market.
The scent of righteousness fills my nose as I sniff the organic vegetables. A glow of moral rectitude brightens my cheeks as I pay rather a lot for the free-range sausages.
Until this week, that is, when visibly desperate managers all but ordered shoppers to sign letters pleading with Islington Council to allow the market to stay open. Somewhat embarrassingly, it appears to have been trading without planning permission.
I’m not sure if Islingtonians can cope with the ignominy. There are dodgy geezers buying fake Rolexes in Kilburn car-boot sales who are more legit than we are.

I would have thought a trading licence is more important than planning permission for a market, but what do I know?

Anyway, I'm sure this problem will soon be addressed and those North London, pot-smoking, anti-war, right-on, Labour voting pansies will be able to buy their soon-to-be-rotten apples with the peace of mind that they're not breaking the law.  If it isn't sorted, they can always order an organic box or visit gourmet central, Marylebone.

06 January 2006

The end of the 2nd Ave Deli?

One of the dictums I try to live by, is to make the most of opportunities as they present themselves, in particular with regard to food and doubly so with regard to good kosher food.  I am thus gutted to discover the 2nd Avenue Deli has shut it's doors.  Possibly only temporarily (please let it be so) but potentially, for good.

I was standing outside the restaurant last October at about 3pm, it was drizzling.  I'd only just eaten my lunch of rather good pizza and really wasn't hungry, especially for one of their enormous sandwiches.  I turned on my heels, crossed the road and sat in a trendy cafe drinking an espresso and watching the world go by.  I couldn't escape the niggling feeling I had made a bad mistake and that I was being foolish missing out on this opportunity to sample some fine food.  It would seem that I was.

There has been a lot of musing on what the end of this institution means, but I feel we have to turn to Jackie Mason, another institution, for real, entirely un-politically correct, analysis of this latest blow to the New York culinary scene.

"It's almost like wiping out Carnegie Hall...A sandwich to a Jew is just as important as a country to a Gentile."

05 January 2006

Chanukah party

The New Year period is one that tends to be full of food.  Not wanting to be a killjoy, I decided I should do my bit.  With fortuitous timing, Chanukah and Christmas fell at more or less the same time, meaning we could neatly combine the two traditions of eating food and drinking alcohol and none of our friends would have to go to work the next day.


With the day off work, I was able to focus on the food, whilst Silverbrowess saved the world from evil in the office.  I remember from school reports my teachers regularly made comments along the lines of "Silverbrow must try harder..." or "...he has a tendency to show off...".  With these barbs in mind I decided to show off a lot, but try harder doing so.

I'm a big fan of simple food done well, so I'm a big fan of properly cooked potato skins, or crudites and great dips.  I also needed something fried, it was Chanukah afterall.  Apart from these stand-bys I knew I needed some top notch dips, something fried and one or two largish and filling dishes that could be easily eaten standing up, or falling down, with a drink in hand.  With these parameters in mind I started browsing through three of my favourite cook books:  The Kitchen Diaries, The Cook's Book and Elizabeth David's unequalled French Provincial Cooking.

Our menu consisted of


Smoked paprika mayonnaise

Crème fraîche with dill

Potato skins

Stilton, onion and potato pie (recipe here)

Kipper patties (recipe here)

Tapenade (recipe here)

Tomato chilli jam (recipe here)

Homemade Baileys ice cream

Homemade chocolate ice cream

Krispy Kremes

Not a bad fress-up if I say so myself.


So what with all the stodge I had on our menu, I needed something a bit lighter for our guests.  And what better than some tapenade.  I started off by using Peter Gordon's recipe in The Cook's Book.  Luckily, before starting my prep I decided to check what the inestimable French Provincial Cooking had to say on the matter.  In her recipe for ouefs dur en tapénade she recommends adding lemon juice, a drop of sherry and a bit of mustard to the basic ingredients of black olives, anchovies, capers, garlic and olive oil.  By bastardising both recipes, I ended with an ingredients list that looked like this

  • Black olives, pitted - 180g
  • Salted anchovy fillet, rinsed - 2
  • Salted capers, rinsed - 2tsp
  • Garlic clove - 1
  • Olive oil - 80ml
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Dijon mustard - 1tsp

Basically, combine all the ingredients, except the oil, mustard and lemon juice, together in either a mortar, or in a food processor.  I was lazy and mortar wasn't big enough so I went for the food processor option.  Then slowly drizzle in the olive oil until you have a thick paste. Then stir in the mustard and lemon juice.  And there we have it, tapenade.  One suggestion try it before adding in the mustard and lemon and then afterwards, the improvements these two flavours add is fantastic.  I didn't have any sherry, so didn't add any.  I served this on slices of baguette.  Makes 300g.

Tomato chilli jam

I once again used Peter Gordon's Flavourings chapter in The Cook's Book to make a Tomato Chilli Jam, that I served with a sliver of goats cheese on baguette as well as a dip for some potato skins.

  • Ripe tomatoes - 500g
  • Fresh ginger, roughly chopped - 2 thumbs
  • Nam pla (fish sauce) - 3tbsp
  • Red chillies (serrano), finely sliced - 4
  • Garlic cloves, finely sliced - 4
  • Caster sugar - 300g
  • Red wine / cider vinegar - 100ml

Put half the tomatoes, the ginger and the fish sauce in the blender and whizz until smooth.  Don't be tempted to remove the tomato seeds, they provide the pectin to make the jam set.  Following Peter's recommendation in the book, I didn't bother to peel the tomatoes either.  Chop the remaining tomatoes into a fine dice.

Combine all the ingredients (purée, chopped tomatoes, garlic, sugar and vinegar) in a pot and bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer.  Skim off any foam that rises to the top and simmer for about 30-40 minutes or until the mixture gets glossy and thick.  Don't forget to regularly stir the pot to ensure nothing gets stuck to the bottom and the jam is evenly cooked.  That's it, all done.  My only criticism of Peter's recipe was that I think there is too much fish sauce.  It's great for that little kick, but for me, the flavour was too strong.  Anyway, you can experiment for yourself.