Saturday, 19 January 2019

Blockchain in the Food Industry


It’s a term most often associated with bitcoin, but what exactly is it?

On a basic level, it is a non-centralised system used to store information, and it is based on authorisation and trust. Let’s break that down a little further…

The non-centralised part means there is no one single database holding the data, instead the entire database is stored as copies on a wide number of servers across the internet. Each of these copies stays in sync, and the moment a dodgy record tries to be inserted, it is rejected by the others, so it isn’t allowed to be inputted. Also these databases cannot be tampered with, and no entries can ever be deleted. To reverse an entry, a new entry is made.

Authorisation means that only approved persons can be granted permission to make entries into the system. Trust is a computing term revolving around cryptography, which means that complex mathematical algorithms are used to encrypt and decrypt data when it is in transit from the authorised person to the database, and to those authorised to read the database. This is to ensure the data is secure at all times, and makes it hard for others to “eavesdrop” when data is moving within the system.

So how can this system be applied to the food industry, and what are the benefits?

First and foremost is traceability.

People want to know where their food comes from, and how it has been grown, farmed, manufactured, and produced. With so much emphasis on ethical food production, this point is super critical for both peace of mind, and for sustainability. Our planet is a finite resource, and due to unsustainable farming practices, arable land loss, and loss of animal species is both irreversible and disheartening.

Imaging knowing with certainty that the eggs you purchase at the supermarket have 100% been raised free range? I know that the term ‘free range’ has been applied a little loosely in the egg producing industry as it has not been nationally defined in legislation, so maybe that’s not the best choice. OK, how about knowing if the pork meat you purchase, or consume in a restaurant, has been raised free of using sow stalls? Or for a real life example, that Matt Moran knows with certainty exactly where the Patagonian toothfish he just served in his Aria restaurant this week came from. Food labelling could then be a point of certainty, rather than a minefield of questionable and unsubstantiated terms.

Having a blockchain system in place could also fast-track food safety recalls. Knowing where a particular product has been grown / shipped / stored and purchased would aid in speedy identification, and quicker notification to the public and all involved in that supply chain. For example, an outbreak of salmonella in peanuts grown on a farm in the US could be easily and quickly traced to not only where the whole nuts were shipped and sold, but also what other foods were made using milled versions of those nuts.

Such a system is only dependable if only trustworthy entities are involved from the onset, and in producing the tags, stickers and labels applied when the products are first harvested, caught, or butchered. Independent observers are crucial to the process too, and regular audits required to ensure any attempts to circumvent the system are prevented.

Does the idea of blockchain technology in the food industry make you more confident in your food purchases? Leave me a comment below. 

Monday, 12 November 2018

National Recycling Week - OzHarvest Fight Food Waste Event

As part of National Recycling Week 2018 (12-18 November), the ACT NoWaste Education team is running a series of events to show the behind-the-scenes of recycling and resource recovery in the ACT, and to raise awareness of the various services offered in the ACT. The series of events and open days can be found on their website, and are listed here:

  • 12 November – Fight Food Waste
  • 14 November – Residential Recycling for Strata Managers
  • 14 November – ABC Canberra radio's Lish Fejer is broadcasting from Recycling Discovery Hub, 1.45pm – 4.00pm. Tune in to 666AM to listen. 
  • 14 November – Corkhill’s Green Waste Recycling centre open day
  • 15 November – Fighting Fast Fashion
  • 15 November – Soft Landing Mattress Recycling
  • 16 November – Container Deposit Scheme’s Return-It Depot in Fyshwick open day
  • 12-18 November – Green Shed Mitchell

OzHarvest's Fight Food Waste "wasty" recipe cards

Today (12 Nov) I attended the Fight Food Waste event, where Dave Burnet, ACT Territory Manager for OzHarvest, gave an eye opening, and sometimes hard-to-fathom-statistics talk when detailing the work that OzHarvest has done over the last ten years.

Dave started by providing a number of mind-boggling statistics relating to food waste, and the growth of OzHarvest in Canberra:

- OzHarvest opened their first office in Sydney, and their second office was in Canberra which opened in 2008. Back then, they collected 1,500 kilos of food per week in Canberra. Fast forward ten years to 2018, and in just the month of October 2018, they collected 50 tons (yes, 50 TONS) of food in the ACT alone. 68% of this was fresh food and vegetables.

- OzHarvest Canberra supports over 70 charities, with currently 12 more on the waiting list.

- OzHarvest currently has 3 vans, and soon a truck will be joining the fleet.

- 1 in 5 groceries bags of food purchased is thrown away due to waste. This amounts to nearly $4000 per year, per household.

- Globally, one third of all food produced is going to waste.

OzHarvest Canberra collect from every single Woolworths supermarket, most Aldi stores, Costco, some IGA stores, Qantas and Virgin catering, and the Farmer’s Markets. They also accept ad-hoc and once-off donations from local food producers. They don’t pick up from Coles supermarkets, as Coles partners with food rescue provider Second Bite. Nor do they pick up from restaurants as chef’s manage their food supplies very well, using up excess where they can. They also don’t pick up a lot of bread, as they would be swamped with bread from local bakeries. They have to say ‘no’ to buffets and the like that have excess food, as that has been exposed to the public and is not packaged. They only accept in-date food, and food that is clear of any visible deterioration.

Dave Burnet

A couple of the really interesting food rescue stories Dave told us were:

Local Gunning based egg producer, Bumnuts Australia, contacted OzHarvest and said they had a few spare eggs. Turns out the ‘few spare eggs’ were 17,100 eggs due to fluctuations in their suppliers orders at the time!  As Dave said, you can’t turn off a chicken, so they kept on laying! I’m sure all those eggs founds wonderful homes through the charities.

Another story involved a truck driver, delivering oranges from the Riverina. He had to brake hard in his journey when a car cut in front of him, and as a result all his load shifted forward slightly. Not so much as to damage the fruit, but it did cause a tear in each of the large bags that the oranges were in. Just enough to compromise the load, and reject it by the customer at its final destination. OzHarvest to the rescue! They managed with their 3 vans to secure almost half a truck load of the oranges. As Dave said, no one in Canberra got scurvy that week!

As a final thought… food for thought as they say… Food is precious. Dave made the analogy of “you wouldn’t throw away a diamond or an emerald… so why do we throw food away, as its just as precious”.  It really makes you think that we consider so many resources dug up from the ground (think iron ore, uranium, copper etc) as valuable commodities, but don’t put the same emphasis on saving food grown from the ground.

OzHarvest cotton grocery bags

Head to OzHarvest’s Fight Food Waste website to learn more strategies to reduce food waste at home, at work, and at school. Especially good are the Look, Buy, Store, and Cook guides. There are also a ton of resources like meal planning guides, and "wasty" recipes to help repurpose leftovers to reduce food waste.

Leave me a comment with your go-to ideas for reducing your own food waste.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Regular Connoisseur - Preserved Lemons

Do you have a collection of gourmet food products hanging around in your pantry? Or maybe they are lurking in the back of the fridge? These are the items that you might have been gifted in an artisan food hamper, or purchased on a whim from a farmers market, or from an enticing providore when travelling around the country. Things like gourmet flavoured olive oils, balsamic vinegars, truffled salts, preserved lemons, or exotic fruity jams. Have you ever wondered what to do with them? How to cook with them? What other foods do they go with?

Well hopefully in a series of Regular Connoisseur titled blog posts, I can help shed some light on these epicurean delights, and give you some recipe ideas and tips on how to enjoy them.

Welcome to my first post in the series, this one highlighting Preserved Lemons.

Jar of Kingfisher Citrus Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are regular fresh lemons that have been cut open to expose their flesh and rind, rubbed over with lots of sea salt, and packed into jars with lemon juice and more salt. They are usually stored for up to a month at room temperature to allow the briny mixture to soften the rind, and intensify their lemony flavour. Other ingredients can be added to the jar like peppercorns, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks or bay leaves, or they can be left plain. Both the flesh and the rind of the lemons can be eaten. Now I know that seems strange to eat citrus rind, but just think that is what is in marmalade!

Salt has been used for centuries to preserve the likes of fish (think salted cod), meats (like bacon), vegetables (ie sauerkraut) or fruits, as in the case with lemons. Here are some easy recipes to follow to make your own jars of preserved lemons (hello, handy Christmas presents!):

Preserved lemons are a staple in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cooking, and are most commonly added to tagines, casseroles and curries. They can really be used wherever lemon is called for in a recipe, especially in savoury dishes, to impart a really intense lemon flavour.

Some ideas for their use include:

Add to couscous, along with chopped dates, almonds, sliced spring onion, and a glug of extra virgin olive oil.

Mix chopped lemon with softened butter and oregano, and smear between the skin and flesh of a chicken, then roast for a deep flavoured oven baked chicken.

Chopped finely, and added to a casserole with olives, chicken thighs, garlic, ginger and saffron, and slow cooked. 

Brighten up a roast carrot salad with a lemon/yoghurt dressing.

Preserved lemons also pair really well with lamb. I found a cracking recipe for Moroccan lamb meatballs, on The Girl Who Loves to Eat website, that was right up my alley. All I needed to buy was some lamb mince, and garam marsala. Garam masala is a heady fragrant spice mix, usually consisting of cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, caraway seeds, cinnamon and fennel seeds.

Moroccan Lamb Meatballs, couscous and yoghurt sauce

I tweaked the recipe with the inclusion of finely diced preserved lemons into the lamb meatballs themselves, which gave them a subtle lemony flavour. I amped up the flavour stakes even more by adding in some of the juice in the preserved lemon jar to the yoghurt sauce, and added just a few strips onto a couscous side dish. The couscous recipe I used was a simple ‘throw it together’ one, which was:

2/3 cup couscous,
8 chopped (pitted) dates,
2 sliced spring onions
Handful of slivered almonds
2/3 cup boiling water
Glug of extra virgin olive oil
Thinly sliced preserved lemons

To make the couscous, put the couscous into a glass bowl, then add in the dates, onions, and almonds. Stir to evenly distribute the ingredients, especially the dates because they are quite sticky. Add in the boiling water, and immediately cover the bowl in plastic cling wrap. This will lock in the steam and help plump up the couscous grains. After about 5 minutes, or when you can see the water has been absorbed, remove the plastic cling wrap and flake the grains with a fork to loosen them up. Then stir through the olive oil and serve the couscous with a few preserved lemons strips on top. 

Couscous prior to adding in the water

Tell me reader, are there gourmet food products that you have always wondered 'what do I do with that?'. Let me know, and they might appear in an upcoming post! 

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Getting Jammy on ABC Canberra Radio

The weather was a perfect September spring day, the scones were freshly baked, the cream whipped, and the jars of homemade jam were lined up like numbered soldiers awaiting their fate to be judged, then devoured by the masses. Behold, this event was the Strawberry “Jam-Off”, the brainchild of Lish Fejer, an ABC Canberra producer, all-round foodie and lover of puns, and was held outdoors behind the ABC Canberra radio studio on Wakefield Avenue.

Being a foodie and food blogger who has been a guest on ABC Canberra radio before I was asked to be a guest on today’s show, along with Philida, a CWA steward at the Queanbeyan show where she judges the jam entries, and Cheryl who is a maker of jams and has submitted entries into the Canberra Show. The three of us formed the judging panel and had to quickly taste our way through all 13 jams.

Let the Strawberry Jam-Off commence!

Nearly all of the jams submitted were strawberry jam, in keeping with the theme of the show, but there were two very rebellious inclusions. One being a raspberry jam (which was a very good raspberry jam), that was nearly scratched as a non-conforming entrant, and the other was clearly a marmalade although it was labelled “Strawberry Jam Surprise”.  

One of the jams was submitted by Jamie Travers, Producer of the DRIVE show at ABC Canberra radio, and it was his first ever attempt at jam making. Unbeknownst to him, he broke three of the cardinal jam making rules;

Firstly, he did not skim off the scum that floats on the top when boiling the fruit in the pot,

Secondly, he over-cooked the jam, leaving it both a very dark colour, and having a semi-burnt flavour, and

Thirdly, he veered wildly from the recipe, and stirred through chia seeds just before bottling.

You could see his soul being slowly crushed as the judges commented on all of these aspects, so much so that Jamie declared that he would never ever attempt making jam in the future, nor would he ever eat jam again. I must admit that when tasting his jam straight out of the jar it was not very appealing, but it's molasses like flavour married very well with a mouthful of scone and cream.

Now to the judging. My background from being on the Urban Providore Australia Tasting Panel kicked in almost instinctively, and I firstly looked at the colour of each of the jams. Most had a beautiful crimson colour, with some being glossier than others. Next was aroma, of which some were more vibrant in strawberry aroma than others. Certainly not the marmalade made with Seville oranges, however that did give off excellent fruity notes and spice filled scents. Alas, Jamie’s jam gave off neither a pleasant aroma, nor had an appealing colour.

The range of jams submitted

Next element to assess was the ‘jamminess’ of each, that is how set were each of the jams. Some were quite set, and passed the ‘turn-the-jar-over-your-head’ criteria without falling out, whereas some had a thick soup like consistency and were more loose in structure. The polarising topic of using Jamsetta in jam making was raised by Lish, that is, to use Jamsetta, or to use natural pectin from lemons and other fruits. About half of the entrants used Jamsetta when making their jams (including Lish’s own entry), most used lemons, and Jamie used limes. For the uninitiated, Jamsetta is a commercially sold product containing sugar, pectin and food acid, and it is used to add much needed pectin (especially in the case of strawberries) to help the jam set, and aids in cutting down the cooking time.

Now to the tasting. We each expected that a good jam is not overly sweet, not salty, not bitter, but full of strong strawberry flavour. Most of the jams tasted excellent, but there was one that was clearly a standout…

…Number 10.

My fellow judges and I were unanimous in our decision that this was the best jam. Number 10 was a lovely strawberry jam, that hit all the right notes in terms of flavour, colour and aroma. The prize for the winning jam maker was a cake of their choice, to be baked by Lish, who firmly encouraged the winner to choose a chocolate cake, but preferably one that did not involve many complicated steps. The maker of the winning jam was a girl named Audrey who was only 11 years old! Audrey was not present at the event, but congratulations to her, and I hope that she placed a very complicated cake order with Lish.

The crowd enjoying the jams

The large crowd were then invited to share in the jams, Lish’s freshly baked scones, the large bowl of cream, and my homemade strawberry scones. Several people agreed with our winning jam selection, but they also liked several of the others. Many were game enough to try Jamie’s first ever jam attempt, and one young child rated it a 4 out of 10!! Oh poor Jamie, he just about dropped his microphone on hearing that. At least he gave it a red hot go.

My Strawberry scones

The recording of today’s Afternoons radio show can be found online on the ABC website  and the Strawberry “Jam-Off” segment commences at 1 hour, 28 minutes, and 30 seconds.

Tell me reader, have you ever made jam before?
What are your hints and tips on making a good jam? 

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Semolina Citrus and Cardamom Cake

The continuing month long journey using my Red Belly Citrus blood oranges took a cakey turn, when a post for a beautiful cardamom and citrus cake turned up in my Facebook feed, thanks to CSR Sugar. I follow CSR Sugar on Facebook and see all manner of delicious creations from them, however this cake peaked my interest mainly from the use of cardamom (yum!) and semolina. I’ve eaten cakes with semolina, just not made one. Here is the recipe as found on the CSR website, with my little tweaks noted.

For the cake:
220g butter, softened
200g CSR Raw Caster Sugar
1 lemon and 1 orange, finely grated rind and juice of each
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
200g find semolina
150g almond meal
2 tsp baking powder
1 pinch fine salt
125ml natural full-fat yoghurt
3 tsps ground cardamom

For the crunch lemon syrup topping:
2 tbsps CSR Raw Caster Sugar (I added in a little cardamom pistachio sugar as well)
3 tbsps CSR Demerara Sugar plus extra to scatter

To decorate: (optional)
1 lemon, very finely sliced (I only used blood oranges candied slices, having made them the day before)
1 orange, very finely sliced
4 tbsps CSR Caster Sugar
¼ cup water

To serve:
300g mascarpone
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used my homemade vanilla extract, of vanilla pods and their scraped seeds  steeped in vodka)

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees C

2. Butter and line a 22cm fixed bottom cake pan (I actually used a spring-form pan).

3. Using an electric mixer, beat the softened butter, sugar, lemon and orange rind together until smooth, lightly coloured and fluffy.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time beating well between each addition to ensure they are fully combined. Scrape down the bowl.

5. Add the baking powder, semolina, almond meal, salt, yoghurt, half the lemon and orange juice and continue beating until just combined to form a smooth light and fluffy batter. Scrape down the bowl to make sure everything is mixed through.

6. Transfer to the cake pan and bake for 25-40 minutes or until golden and set in the centre when tested with a skewer. Remove from the oven.

7. Stir the remaining lemon and orange juice (I used only blood orange juice, which gave it a wonderful crimson colour), together with 2 tablespoons of raw caster sugar and 3 tablespoons of Demerara sugar. While the cake is still warm, pierce the cake all over with a skewer and slowly pour the syrup with undissolved Demerara sugar crystals all over the cake. This will form a textural crunchy citrus layer on top of the cake as it cools.

8. If you’re using the lemon and orange slices (I used only blood orange slices) to decorate the cake, add the caster sugar and water to a small pan. Bring it to the boil, and working in batches, add the sliced fruit. Boil each batch for about 2 minutes and transfer to a baking paper lined baking tray and allow to cool.

9. When ready to serve, mix the mascarpone and vanilla together. Spoon on top of the cake and decorate with sugared citrus slices, if you’re using them, then scatter with Demerara sugar for extra crunch. (I served the mascarpone separate, and used some candied slices I made the previous day, some of which were half dipped in dark chocolate).

This recipe made for a very lovely and moist cake, and the flavour of cardamom worked in very well with the citrus. The mascarpone and vanilla was delicious, and made every mouthful of cake just that little bit more decadent.

My husband took the majority of the cake to work the next day to share with his colleagues, who agreed it was a very delicious cake. They’d definitely look forward to it again!! hint hint! 

Read about my recent adventures with blood oranges: