Wednesday, 18 February 2009

A Reflection

Yesterday I attended the funeral of my friend’s mother. An elderly lady, she had been ill for some time and as my friend said, it was time for her to go. The sound of the cantor’s singing was moving and reassuring even though I had no idea of what the words meant. Funerals are a time of reflection, a time to re-evaluate what is really important in life. Although we deny it, we will all die, and no matter when it happens we will leave words unsaid, tasks unfinished and dreams unfulfilled. So, yet again, I resolved to live in the present, hold loved ones close and pursue my dreams - all I have is this life.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Victorian Bushfires

I talked to my mother on Friday evening it was Saturday morning in Melbourne. She said the day was going to be hot again but nothing worse than the week of over 40C weather they'd just endured. Well, last Saturday turned into one of the most horrific days in the history of the state, as bush fires wiped out towns, destroyed property and killed people in their homes or cars as they tried to escape. To get some idea of the devastation take a look at the photos and short videos on The Age site. I have been constantly listening to the ABC (Australia’s national radio) to keep up with the news. These are the worst bush fires in history and over 166 people have died with more expected to succumb to their burns. The extreme heat and high winds combined to create a terrifying firestorm and fires that traveled at breakneck speed across tinder dry countryside. The devastation is unbelievable with some towns completely wiped off the map.
While most of the news is grim, there are moments of joy when people believed dead are discovered alive. Also encouraging is the outpouring of help from Australians all over the country, donating everything from food, clothing and money to blood. It is important to remember that those fighting the fires with the CFA (Country Fire Authority) are all volunteers who risk their lives to do their job. Aussie humour surfaces even at these most tragic moments as a man interviewed said, "yesterday I was worrying about how to pay my mortgage, well I don't have to worry about that today". His words make you realize just how important it is to appreciate life and loved ones and to forget those petty daily trifles that all too often consume us.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Suet - Don't waste it on the birds

There seems to be a lot of confusion about suet. That's because most people no longer use it in their kitchen having relegated it to the bird feeder. This post is to explain suet and tempt you to bring it back into your kitchen. It is a wonderful fat to cook with.
Suet is the fat from around an animal's kidneys, and although all animals have it in varying amounts, I was just given some venison suet, in recipes it means beef or veal suet. Pork suet is known as leaf lard. As it is from deep inside the body it is a very firm fat with a high melting point. It is white and usually comes in lumps, covered in a papery membrane. Sometimes even butchers are confused and think suet is any type of beef fat. It isn't it must be the fat fat encases the kidneys. Anybody familiar with my book, Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipeswill know how much I love suet. As I have been encouraging people to try it, I want to make sure they buy the right fat. My friend, fellow Aussie and butcher, Stephen Alexander, owner of Cumbrae's Meats, has promised me he is going to stock it, already grated, in his store freezer starting next week. This is good news for people living in the Toronto area but for the rest of you I am going to show you how to handle suet with an illustrated simple step-by step.

The first photo is a piece of suet.

The first step is to pull off the papery membrane and cut away any remaining traces of kidney. Now cut the suet into pieces that will fit down the feed tube of your food processor. Place them and the grating blade from the processor in the freezer and put the processor bowl in the refrigerator.

The suet is easier to grate when it is very cold, remember its fat. Dust the grating blade with flour, and then grate the suet. You will have to stop now and again to remove the pieces that smear together rather than grate. Take this opportunity to clean the blade and dust it with flour again. You can see the pieces of suet that didn't grate sitting on the blade. You can either rechill these pieces or chop them by hand. There is no denying this is a messy business, which is why I always do a large batch at once.

The next photo shows you how finely the suet is grated. It must be finely grated so it can simply be stirred into the flour when you use it. The grated suet can now be stored in the freezer for several months. I put mine into freezer bags and use it straight from the freezer.
Of course you can simply chop suet and render it and then use it to cook some of the tastiest French fries you'll ever eat.

Now here is what I suggest you make first with your suet, unless you want to get a head start on mincemeat for this Christmas, which is a good idea. These are suet scones or tea biscuits depending where you live. They were a revelation to me. I made scones with every sort of animal fat when I was working on my book. I still love scones made with butter but these suet ones are light and rich, all at once.

If you have a copy of FAT the recipe is on page 213, it is the topping for the Fruit Cobbler. For those of you still saving up to buy the book here the recipe -

2 cups / 8 3/4 ounces / 250 g flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups / 4 ounces / 115 g finely grated suet
1 egg
1/2 cup / 125 ml whole milk
1 tablespoon whipping (35 percent fat) cream
1 1/2 tablespoons Demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 425°F / 220°C.

Sift the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and stir in the suet. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and milk and add to the flour mixture. Stir with a fork to make a soft dough. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead gently, just
until the dough comes together.
Pat the dough out to a thickness of 1/2 inch / 1 cm and, using a biscuit cutter, cut out rounds of dough. Press any leftover dough together and cut again. Arrange the rounds on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush the tops of the biscuits with the cream and sprinkle the Demerara sugar on top. Bake for about 12 minutes or until dark golden. Note, they cook quicker when they are not on top of the fruit. You can make them any size you want - I prefer 3 inch/7.5 cm.

Suet is a very English fat and not always appreciated by other cultures. Read this amusing post by David Lebovitz. It is interesting that an American pastry chef had so little experience of suet.
I hope he tries my scones.