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10 posts from October 2007

28 October 2007

Americans driving quality kosher?

My article in the JC is already paying dividends for me.

A friend in the US, sent me an article from the Washington Post detailing the growing eco-kosher movement. I have to admit, the noun 'eco-kosher' sends a chill down my spine, but on reading the article I realised there was some depth to it.

Interestingly, this is an east-coast led movement, not kooky California. Also, it is being driven by Conservative communities. Conservative communities are not traditionalists or the most observant, despite their name - and yes, that is a loaded and very subjective statement. An example of this is referenced in the article, which notes that they are trying to develop a new hecscher that is not based on widely regarded fundamentals of kashrut, such as the separation of milk and meat, but instead are focused on the ethical rearing of animals. For those that have read my article, you will know that is something I wholeheartedly support, but as someone who is relatively observant, I find it depressing that observance and well bred food appear mutually exclusive, at the moment at least.

The same article also introduced me to The Jew and the Carrot, a blog that is pushing forward this movement of decent, healthy kosher food. One to watch.

26 October 2007

I demand healthier

I have been known to rant a bit about the state of kosher food in the UK.  Until now, you dear reader and the long-suffering Silverbrowess are the only ones who have been subjected to my moaning and wailing.  Until now.  Because now, I have vented my fury, my wrath and my despair on the pages of that organ of British Jewry, The Jewish Chronicle.

It is my first published article and I'm rather excited.  Many thanks to the paper's editor, David Rowan and Simon Round, editor of the food page, for publishing it.

I hope it will stir things up and start a debate, although given my track-record I'm not holding my breath.

Feel free to comment here, or you can write to the JC's letter page by emailing letters@thejc.com.

You can read the article on the JC's website or for those too lazy to click a link, read on.  What follows is the article in full, as it appears in the paper.

The Food Standards Agency, the UK’s food regulator, recently published a report linking some food additives to hyperactivity in children. The Times and the JC both reported that these additives have a habit of turning up in kosher processed foods. Ingredients such as sodium benozate, ponceau 4R and tartrazine are rather less evocative than cholent, adafina and kreplach.

The laws of kashrut are determined in the Torah, and kosher can be translated as “fit to eat”. According to Nachmanides, a 12th-century Kabbalist, “the birds and many of the mammals forbidden by the Torah are predators… we are instructed not to eat those animals, so that we should not absorb these qualities into ourselves”. So, if we are what we eat, religiously speaking kosher food must not be unhealthy.

Yet as the FSA demonstrated, there is a gaping void between what we expect of our kosher food and what we get.

I have yet to find a kosher butcher in London who can assure me that his chickens are free range, or even tell me the exact ingredients of his sausages.

Similarly, if you ask a kosher grocer for their fresh-food section, your browsing will be brief. Kosher food shops are heaving with processed, packaged and often frozen items. Even seemingly fresh kosher deli products have a shopping list worth of additives.

This is not just a problem for the home cook. There is not a kosher restaurant in the UK that makes a virtue out of where it sources its produce. This is not because kosher restaurateurs are bashful, but because they have got nothing to shout about.

The upshot is that the consumer is not fully informed. Bizarrely, this is occurring at a time when there is an evangelical approach to provenance among producers not targeting the kosher market.

Any half-decent restaurant will name-check the farmer who reared the ribeye, or the river the salmon last spawned in. TV programmes are dedicated to identifying heroic food producers. Visits to farmers’ markets are de rigueur for any self-respecting yummy-mummy. In the non-kosher world, traceability is a growing obsession.

So why the gap between kosher and non-kosher food? There are three inter-connected factors which ensure a race to the bottom: limited demand, the cost of regulation, and complacency.

There are no definitive statistics on how many people keep kosher in the UK, but the number is small. There are under 300,000 Jews in the UK; even conservatively, the most who keep kosher are 150,000, a number that anecdotally seems to be falling. Those who keep “kosher” encompass a broad spectrum of observance of the laws, from those that insist on everything having a hechsher to those who simply abstain from pork and shellfish.

So, as a business proposition, kosher is not attractive. The market is small and comprises a broad demographic. Demand is relatively limited, but, thanks to the rules imposed by the kashrut authorities, so is supply, because only certain foods are deemed kosher. Prices are therefore higher than comparable non-kosher items.

The inflated cost is not helped by the levy kashrut authorities insist on imposing on producers before their products will be certified kosher. As a producer faced with these issues — limited supply, diverse demand, high fixed costs — you will look to maximise your profits by appealing to as many people as possible. You will also try to keep your prices low because things are expensive enough already. Very quickly, it is difficult to remember whether you are a widget manufacturer or food producer.

Underpinning these economic issues is complacency. There is an assumption that because kosher food fits its religious requirements it is healthy. As the FSA has demonstrated, that is frequently not the case. Producers race for the bottom to maximise their returns. Shoppers buy what is on the shelves as they are blinded by the kosher stamp of authority or have no other choice.

Observant or not, it is time those of us who keep kosher returned to the core of our beliefs and insisted on eating food that is fit to eat.

23 October 2007

The Goose

Restaurant reviews can veer off on tangents and often it seems that the food is not all that important.  Such is the preponderance of reviewers to waffle on (moi?), Restaurant magazine has a monthly rating of reviewers, ranking them by who wrote the least about the restaurants they were reviewing.

I do my best to stick to the topic at hand, but I know that I can become a little too obsessed with the cleanliness of toilets (a crucial yardstick to the cleanliness of the kitchen), the excellent staff or the ugly room.  What I have never done until today, is focus solely on one dish and really one part of one dish.  But, before I go there, I should be absolutely clear, I love The Goose.

I had been recommended to The Goose by the ever-reliable denizens of the Opinionated About food forum (registration req'd) as a Sunday lunch stop on the way back from a dirty weekend away with Silverbrowess.

We were early for our booking and were the only people there.  The room was nice enough reminding me a bit of the Fat Duck - soft colours, low ceiling, wood beams etc - and the staff were attentive.

The menu read well enough but I was particularly interested in the mushroom and madeira consomme with gnocchi.  I assumed it was made with a beef stock, otherwise Escoffier would scoff, but following a bit of confusion from our waitress, it turned out it was entirely vegetarian. I couldn't have been happier but I was cynical.  I hadn't tried a consomme in years and was convinced this would be a rather insipid dish, brown, watery and tasteless.

I was wrong. I can still taste it and I have to be honest, this review is a tad late in coming.

It arrived as perfectly clear chocolate-brown liquid, with some herbed gnocchi bobbing around.  The first flavour was a sweetness from the madeira, but it was light, not cloying, if anything it had a slight sharpness to it.  Very quickly this subsided and the mushrooms showed their strength with an earthy kick to the taste buds.  The gnocchi added some depth, with their herbs working well with the musty mushrooms and sweet madeira, but frankly I would have enjoyed a trough of the consomme by itself.

I was impressed by this dish on a number of levels.  At the most base was that it tasted fantastic.  But it only tasted so good because it had been well made and almost more importantly, well conceived.  It is rare that such care is put into a veggie dish and is indicative of the quality of the rest of the food we ate.  It also shows chef Matthew Tomkinson regards all food and every customer is sacred.

Tomkinson has not come out of nowehere, he was a Roux Scholar in 2005 and has trained with Michel Guerard at les Prés d’Eugenie.  He has clearly learnt from some of the best and for me, this soup is evidence enough that he's going to give them a run for their money.  If you listen to the rumour mongers, he's slated for his first Michelin star when the new rankings come out next year, as by then he will have been open for about a year and a half and should have been able to prove himself.  It will be well deserved.

Google Maps
Google Earth (download)

The Goose, Britwell Salome, Oxfordshire, OX49 5LG
Tel: +44 (0)1491 612304

What others think

The Oxford Times - ingredients sourced from the best British suppliers dominate the menu.
Tribble Tasting by Arrangement - an excellent meal from a restaurant on its way up.

22 October 2007

Cometh the deli - the 2nd Avenue Deli

A great article on the history and rebirth of the 2nd Avenue Deli. I no longer need an excuse to go to NY.

A reminder on how to read my posts

I apologise if I am teaching grandma to suck eggs, but I get the feeling that not all my readers know all the wonderful ways they can read Silverbrow on Food, so this is a quick refresher.

The first and most obvious method is by typing the address into your web-browser. The address I usually give people is www.silverbrowonfood.com. However, because this site is hosted by Typepad, I have a Typepad address as well silverbrowonfood.typepad.com. Don't worry, there is no difference between the two. If you do go to the Typepad one, you are automatically redirected to www.silverbrowonfood.com.

Another way to reach me is to type 'silverbrow' into Google or another search engine. I'm surprised how many of my regular readers still do this, but if that is how you like to do things, who am I to complain. If you do go the Google route, there are any number of derivations to get to my site but 'silverbrow' should be sufficient. For the time being - and some time past - you will be lead directly here, into my waiting arms.

I read a lot of blogs, especially food blogs, but also a fair few political and techie/geeky ones as well. I can't remember all the addresses and half the time I stumble upon blogs through links on other blogs meaning I rapidly forget their names. So to make sure I read everything I want to read, I'm a disciple of RSS. The letters stand for Really Simple Syndication, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that it's a genius way to ensure you end up reading everything you want to read, and you do it by the touch of an orange button.

Many sites, including mine, have RSS feeds and they are generally identifiable by a generic RSS icon. If you look to the right of your screen, you will see an orange square with a couple of white 'Rs' in it. It looks like this . If you click that button you on the way to RSS joy.

Depending on the internet browser you are using, when you click that button a number of different things may happen, but fundamentally you will be given the option to subscribe to my RSS feed. If you use Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox 2 they have RSS aggregators built into the software. The browsers actually alert readers to a website that has an RSS feed, by either highlighting the RSS icon in the toolbar (Explorer) or in the address bar (Firefox).

For my money, I'm not keen on the built-in RSS aggregators because you can only read the feeds you have subscribed to when accessing the aggregator on the particular computer you have saved it on to. I much prefer my RSS reader to be accessible over the internet, so I can read it wherever I am. I use Bloglines because it is the most reliable over the years.

The big advantage of RSS from a reader's point of view, is that as soon as I publish a post, it is pinged to your RSS aggregator and you can read what I've said. You don't need to remember to keep returning to my site. The big advantage from my point of view, is that I know you're reading my stuff.

RSS feeds are available on everything from Google searches to the BBC News. Try clicking that orange RSS sign here or on any of the other sites where it appears and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Apologies for this techie interlude, but I think/hope that quite a few of you might find it helpful. If you do any queries about this, or anything else I'm always happy to answer queries in the comments below or by email.

15 October 2007

A few more books for the collection

I have added to the collection yet again.  I seem to be erring towards cookbooks that teach me new techniques or interesting flavour combinations and food writing that can transport me, rather than simply new recipes.

The latest batch included Nigel Slater's latest Eating for England: The Delights and Eccentricities of the British at Table. I'm not the only one who thinks he is a great writer.

A kosher home is not going to get very far with Trotter Gear, but that doesn't put all of St John's delectables out of my reach. The bread and baked goods from St John are fantastic and unfortunately overshadowed by the meat.  I was delighted to see that the focus of Beyond Nose to Tail was focused on the bakery and made its purchase a no-brainer.

Finally, Pierre Gagnaire is an all time great.  I very much bought Reinventing French Cuisine because of its cover, or rather because of the name of the chef on its cover.  It's unlikely ever to be used in anger, but its structure - recipes given by year, from 1966 through to 2006 - shows the fascinating progression of what influences a great chef over the course of his career.  This is proof that great chefs keep evolving and never stop learning about ingredients.

08 October 2007

Verze Sofegate or Suffocated Cabbage

I sometimes suggest to Silverbrowess that she could afford to be a little more adventurous in the kitchen.  It's not that she's not a good cook, she is, her roast potatoes and banana cake - N.B. not eaten together - are talking points in the finest salons of North London.  But, she has no confidence to move beyond her comfort zones or rely on our over-flowing shelves of cookbooks.  Or at least that was what I thought until earlier this week when I lifted the lid on a saute-pan and smelled something fantastic.  Turned out it was verze sofegate, or less romantically, suffocated cabbage.

She had been mulling over what to do with the head of cabbage in the fridge and all those cookbooks provided inspiration, in particular, Joyce Goldstein's Cucina Ebraica, a history of Jewish food in Italy.  One method for cooking vegetables was by suffocating, read slow cooking, them in goose fat.  Although we didn't have any goose fat on hand, we did have some recently rendered duck fat and I was flabergasted to learn that Silverbrowess used that, she normally recoils from it in horror.

This should be served as a remarkably light but strongly flavoured side-dish with gutsy meats.

Serves 4-6

  • 1 head cabbage
  • 3 or 5 tbp goose/duck/chicken fat
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 or 2 tbp chopped fresh rosemary
  • Dash of wine vinegar
  • Pinch of sugar

Cut the cabbage into narrow strips, removing the core.

Warm the fat in a saute pan over a low heat.  Add the onion, garlic and rosemary and saute until it is tender.  Don't let it brown, you want the onions to be translucent - remember this is all over a low heat.

Add the cabbage, vinegar, sugar and salt and pepper.  Cover the pan.  Cook until the cabbage is very tender.  In her recipe, Joyce Goldstein recommends about 30 minutes, but she also notes that the traditional method was to really slow cook this, sauteing for up to 3 hrs.  Silverbrowess, used the shorter time period.  I imagine if you go for tradition you need to make sure your heat is way down and you might need to add a bit of water as well to make sure it doesn't all burn.  Just keep a close eye on it.