Friday, December 31, 2010

National Left Over Day

Published Sunday 26th December 2010

Boxing Day; National Left Over Day. When the tumult and the shopping dies the day after Christmas we are all left with a fridge overflowing with turkey, ham bones, cranberry sauces and puddings, and all those special sweets that laden the table for the festive season.

So just how many ham and turkey sandwiches can you eat in this week? It’s worth noting that turkey should be eaten within two or three days, ham will last four or five days and roast beef or pork should also be used within three to four days. Freezing is the best way to keep them safe and delicious.

The best tip is to portion the meats into sizes chunks that will last you 3 days and wrap separately in plastic and then place in plastic freezer bag. Now you can have that ham or turkey sandwich when you want it. Freeze the meats as soon as possible to maintain the best quality for up to four months in the freezer.

Leftover ham and turkey make great salads and soups and a good addition to quiche, pasta, pies, pizza and casseroles, whilst cooked beef and pork work well with Asian salads, stir fries and curries. Don’t leave the cranberry sauce in the fridge until next year; it can be used in several sweets dishes.

Mix crumbled Christmas pudding into ricotta cream with a bit of butter and sugar and wrap in filo or puff pastry to bake for a strudel. Or mix the pudding with some cream into vanilla ice-cream and refreeze for an ice-cream variation. You can also add brandy to both of these ingredients for more flavour.

So enjoy the festive season and keep your food safe and without waste.

Christmas Gifts

Published Saturday 18 December 2010

I finally got my hands on the finished cookbook ‘Tropical Cuisine – Cooking in Clare’s Kitchen’ when it was launched recently, and what an achievement it is. Clare Richards has done an amazing job of compiling 250 luscious recipes using the most common and the most obscure foods of this region in a 300 page cookbook with stunning images and a great reference A-Z of tropical product. This is a cookbook that every discerning chef in Queensland …and Australia should have on their reference shelf. What a great gift for Christmas.

On the subject of Christmas, you can’t go wrong with a gift of food and wine. It’s something that appeals to everyone and perfect for that person who has everything. To indulge in the decadence of beautiful chocolates, premium sweets, rich fruitcake, sauces and other luxurious foods that you may not normally buy yourself, is a delight when received as a present. Giving a hamper of foods that are specifically from this region adds to the experience.

I recently attended the Club Relish evening at The Edge Food Store, where a wonderful range of beautifully packaged Christmas foods were on show. There is a great selection of local and Australian food gift ideas in all price ranges to choose from and you can buy a ready-made hamper or select your own items and they will gift wrap it.

Mangoes and other tropical fruits are well known to us but to family and friends in southern states, receiving a box at Christmas time has a real Wow Factor. (But check for quarantine regulations first).

Whether you consider a book, a box of mangoes, a beautifully wrapped hamper or a number of food items and make up your own gift or stuff into a stocking, you can be sure you will please the lucky person who receives it.

Soils ain’t Soils

Published Saturday 11th December 2010

Last week over 140 local people turned out on a Sunday evening to listen to a public talk by Joel Salatin of PolyFace Farms in Virginia, USA. His introduction was by the hilarious, very passionate, and hirsute Costa of Costa's Gardening Odyssey who always enjoys coming to this region to learn more about gardening and regenerative agriculture.

Joel’s Poly Face Farm is a small property with an array of animals and food crops that symbiotically produce a richness of food products in a diversified system that is profitable. He calls himself a ‘beyond’ organic farmer as he is not ‘certified’ organic but uses a holistic farming methodology that enriches the soil with compost, natural manure and earthworms and without chemicals or pesticides. Using portable electric fences the animals are moved around the property is succession in what Joel calls a ‘salad bar’ of rich pasture that offers landscape healing and greater nutritional food.

Joel works on the transparency theory; he doesn’t have to have a certificate to tell people about his farming methods, you can visit anytime to see what and how he does it. He sells produce to only people within a radius of his community and doesn’t need the ‘big guys’. His product sells through ‘word of mouth’ and he doesn’t have a marketing plan or an advertising budget for his product…and if sales are down, he can’t blame his budget, he looks within!

He talked about how the price of food has escalated due to the many regulations and control and was amused at the governments concern for safety in not allowing a more nutritional raw milk, yet its okay to feed your kids on multinational brand burgers, sweet chocolate breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks.

Joel is a world-leading example of how a small family farm can become an extremely diverse and profitable Local Food producer, and how the benefits of Local Food Systems can create resilience, stability and abundance for both local farmers and the wider community.

Joel’s parting words were ‘The food we eat is as good as the soil it is grown in or the pasture it is fed on and as good as the farmer who is the custodian of the land’. Eat well!

Save our Honey

Published Saturday 4th December, 2010

Since ‘on the go’ breakfast products have bypassed the breakfast table, the art of smearing honey across a slice of crunchy toast or swirling it on your cereal has shown a bit of a slump. Honey is now also competing with other new highly marketed sugary spreads available. Yet there are great health benefits in bringing honey back to the breakfast table, such as its low Glycaemic Index or GI. (The lower a food’s GI rating, the slower you absorb and digest it, which means a more gradual and healthier infusion of sugars into their bloodstream and helps keep ‘hunger pains’ away for longer).

New Zealand’s Manuka (the NZ name for tea tree) honey is famous for its anti-bacterial power and Tetsuya raves about the Leatherwood honey from Tasmania and South Western Australia where many of the trees don’t blossom till more than 70 years old.

Here in Tropical North Queensland there are a number of apiarist manufacturing honey with very distinct tropical flavours. If bees have access to where a particular blossom predominates, they produce honey with a flavour and colour typical of that plant. Our tropical honey tends to be dark amber in colour with wonderful flavours of red mahogany, Molloy box, grey box, rainforest, macadamia, mango, guava and a number of other exotic blossoms that are unique to this region.

Where larger honey manufacturers blend honey from many apiarists, local honey is often pure honey from one hive. The honey is also most likely to have had less process treatment of preservatives or heat searing so the nutrition and flavour is in its purest form.

However we have one threat to our honey industry that first appeared inside a mast of a yacht here in Cairns in 2007 and that is the Asian honeybee. These aggressive little bees compete with our European honeybees for local flora. They rob honey from hives, which may cause hives to die, but most importantly Asian honeybees are a natural host for mites and other unwanted bee pests and diseases, a major threat to Australia's honeybee industry.

The Asian honeybee has been found nesting in tree hollows, under the eaves of houses, in the recess under the floor of houses, in letterboxes, in a cable reel, and in various other urban locations. It is smaller than European honeybee at approx. 10 mm long, flies fast and erratically, is less hairy than the European honeybee and has distinct yellow and black stripes on the abdomen. So look out for this little blighter and call Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 to help save our local honey.

A Future for our Agri-Food Industry

Published 27th November 2010

Imaging in 10 years time where our agri-food industry will be? With our rich soils, plenty of sun and an abundance of rainfall, will it be the nation’s food bowl? Will we have a food manufacturing industry to support the diverse range of food products available? Will our regional food brand Taste Paradise be as renowned as Food Barossa? …and will our region be internationally recognised as a food tourism destination similar to Provence, Tuscany or San Sebastian? It is said that nothing significant happens that isn’t planned!

Last week I attended an Agri-food tourism field day and Food Industry forum held in the Cassowary and Tablelands areas. These four well attended workshops proved that farmers are interested in the future of the industry.

The field day looked at opportunities to diversify their farming product in a number of ways that included linkages into tourism. Whether it’s selling food at local farmers markets, processing their product, finding a supply chain to local retail & food services, or opening their property for visitation, these farmers were positively encouraged to take the next step; a series of workshops of mentoring their way through a maze of related business development skills.

The forums were about bringing the industry together; development of a local food supply chain that brings regional produce into the Cairns area, to retailers and restaurants, and developing an accreditation framework that links to the new regional food brand; Taste Paradise. The sessions lead by Rose Wright from the Southern Cross University provided a great discussion. This lady knows her stuff when working along the supply chain from farmers to the consumer but she also works on a political level of compliance support and regulatory reform to address the impediments placed on agribusiness entrepreneurs. At the end of the forum it was exciting to see a very positive response from farmers, and it goes without saying the more who embrace this framework, the better chance of success.

Rose is finalising a Regional Food Strategy 2010-2020 in consultation with industry and will facilitate the elements in the region over the next six months.