Thursday, May 26, 2011

Chicken Cacciatore (Poacher's Chicken)

This dish requires very little preparation, apart from minor shopping and chopping, but will win you brownlow votes, like an out of contract former prodigy and club champion*. If it all goes pear shaped you can always do a runner..

u need

1 medium brown onion, diced finely
about 1kg chicken pieces, thighs and drumsticks are best. tip: trim the fat from the thighs
1 clove garlic minced
handful basil
handful parsley
handful of black olives
3 or 4 anchovies soaked in milk and drained (little flavour bombs, soak them to draw out the salt)
olive oil
sea salt/freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
400g tin of good italian tomatoes peeled
1 cup chicken stock, preferably home made or good store packaged
1 - 2 tsp sugar
if u can get your hands on it: an italian baking dish

1. season then brown the chicken pieces in olive oil in a heavy pan
2. set aside and keep warm, by preheating the oven to 180deg C and sticking the chicken in a dish and into the warming oven
3. fry the onion and garlic over medium heat in the oil and juices for 5 minutes
4. add the vinegar and stock, or vinegar and a little white wine and stock, reduce on high heat for a couple of minutes
5. add tomatoes, herbs, salt - pepper, and sugar to taste. Be careful of the salt, some packaged stocks can be quite salty
6. simmer the sauce for 10 minutes while u pour a glass or oversee a try/goal
7. pour sauce over the chicken in the baking dish, mix thru and cook covered for 1 hour
8. to finish off, set aside the chicken on a warm serving plate and simmer the sauce to reduce it, add the olives, drained anchovies, a few more herbies and return it to the reserved chicken. Or for a quick snap at goal, add your olives and anchovies and just serve it all up in the dish.

* Ben Cousins West Coast c 2005?

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Spanish Inquisition

The Spanish are arriving down here in the Riverina. Not in an Armada mind you, but in an A380 with a wad full of cash, first class if you don't mind.

They are after our rice - rice that has been grown here for many years.  Ebro Foods, a large multinational company of Spanish origin are offering a large sum, $610 million in fact, to buy out Australian rice marketer Sunrice whollus bollus, everything from the marketing to the rice mills and storage sheds. About the only aspect they won't own is the ground the rice is grown in; but who knows, maybe in time they will.

For you see, the rice industry has just seen off 10 years of drought. Sunrice is heavily in debt, to the tune of around $300Million, and how they have managed to keep going for the last 10 years is beyond me - I would probably have walked away well before now.  But those who have stuck with the industry - the growers, the board and the A and B class shareholders have landed a potential windfall.
But is this offer good news for rice growers, the rice industry and the Riverina?  The state of NSW and by extension, the nation?   Judging by all the comments I have heard and read, nobody really knows.

The Cash Offer

On face value, an offer of $50,000 for those growers with  A-class shares and $5.025 for B class shares appears to be good coin, but dig a little deeper and you know what, it might not be.  Basically this offer allows Ebro to take control of the Australian rice industry, lock, stock and smoking barrel until at least 2016.   In drought times a white knight such as this can be the saviour, but in good times and in the long term?  What if Ebro invokes the everpresent get out clause, and decides not to purchase Australian rice?

The Industry

The rice industry in Australia is controlled by SunRice or RiceGrowers Ltd to be more correct.  Formerly a cooperative founded in the 1950's it is now a grower-shareholder owned company that purchases, mills, and markets Australian grown rice and valued added rice products to the world.  But they are in debt, not just a small debt, but a big debt.

Don't forget that rice is a hugely valued global commodity, it feeds most of Asia, the Middle East and large parts of Africa.  In western countries it is becoming more widely consumed, it is in fact quite a versatile little grain.

Single Desk Policy

Sunrice has control of Australian rice exports through the single desk policy instituted by the Rice Marketing Board under the NSW Marketing of Primary Products Act 1983.  If Ebro takes over Sunrice, it will then have control of the export of Australian rice: a sticky situation if another player wishes to enter the export market.  Do I see a time that the single desk policy might hinder the Australian Industry: yes, in about 5 years I reckon, just when another drought starts to take hold, water availability is down and Ebro doesn't want or need a small tonnage of Australian rice.  There goes what's left of the industry.

The Farmer

Opinion seems to be divided down here, some farmers are supporting the sell-off of the rice assets, some are dead against it, and some are just not sure, and perhaps won't make their mind up until voting time.  Other people are suggesting a kind of capital raising for Sunrice by forgoing $25 per tonne.  A downside of this is that not all growers are in favour of handing over more money to Sunrice.

I sure as hell wouldn't blame the farmer that has done it tough during the drought cutting their losses and accepting the offer - I certainly would strongly consider the offer if I was in their position.

What are the experts saying

There has been a report prepared by Australian valuation experts Lonergan Edwards into the value of Sunrice, and they have recommended shareholders take the offer.

The board of Sunrice are recommending the sale, in the absence of a better offer. Reading between the lines, it seems as though they are at a bit of a loss at what to do next if the sale fails - raise more capital from somewhere, retire debt, all the usual ideas.  In fact they have tried capital raising before, and it fell flat.  Again I don't blame them for recommending the sale.

What if the sale goes through

Ebro have given undertakings to continue the operation of Sunrice in largely the same form as it is now, with R&D, marketing and exports, at least in the short-term. The price for rice will be tied to the Californian market, which perhaps is fair enough as rice is a global commodity.  I really can't comment on this aspect any further as rice pricing is way out of my league.

But long term, are Ebro going to keep the R&D and marketing here in regional Australia?  Or will that slowly drift off-shore, like a large Antartic iceberg?  Only to melt away into the big global sea of rice..

Do farmers have choices?

They certainly do: they can choose to go with the Ebro offer or decline it.  If the sale goes through, they can still grow rice as they have done. It will still be Australian rice.  Farmers can choose to sell their rice on the Australian market, although this may be difficult as all the mills and storage sheds will be owned by Ebro..

Trying to predict the outcome of the sale is like trying to pick the winner of the Melbourne Cup, in some years you might take home the bacon, but in other years you have done your dough.  Trying to predict the future of the Australian rice industry, with or without Ebro is like trying to predict climate change: you know it will have an effect, but you can't quite put a finger on it. 

In fact, the future of the rice industry in these parts is indeed tied closely to climate change which nobody, Sunrice or Ebro included has any control over.  A few good years and the industry is back on it's feet. If the drought recommences, well we all know about that - no water, and no crop.

But growers and shareholders, if you take the money now and the industry does collapse, should you then be expecting government hand outs over and above entitlements under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan?  If you take the money now, should you be asking for more later?  Many people, myself included will take a dim view of that.

The rice industry is indeed in a pickle.

The bigger picture

The Riverina needs active farming communities, and the associated research and development agencies, agricultural bodies and the like.  If we lose the rice industry once and for all, in time we face losing these intrinsically valuable organisations in our community.  It is more then just jobs: it is a diversity of people, of experience, of knowledge that will be lost to our community.

So to sell or to keep?

Patriotism, grower pride and a desire to keep control in Australian hands and fear of the unknown might provide the answer, or a large well funded foreign company with cash, access to and some would say control of foreign markets might be the punters bet.  But one thing is for sure, the rice industry will no longer be the same.  Think clearly growers and shareholders, and consider what is best for the industry long term.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

2009 De Bortoli Vat 1 Durif

Durif is the red variety for warm climes, it literally thrives in the heat and dusty red-brown soils of the riverina.  Supplied with a little irrigation, it will produce a substantial crop.

The wines are generally full bodied, and full throttled in style with masses of tannin, alcohol, dark intense flavour and the ability to eat oak like there is no tomorrow.

This wine is no exception. It is a youthful, brooding wine, immensely deep purple, with plenty of flavour.  Skilled winemaking has kept the alcohol at bay but in the present form it is just a bit too young. Wait a couple of years and you have a serious red wine that will surprise many with its palate; on the nose it will still remain oak driven, but the mouthfeel of those grippy tannins will have you in for repeat business.

Food suggestion: steer away from the hard cheeses, the grippy tannins will ensure reaching for the water; try instead matching a wet dish with plenty of flavour; braised lamb and black olives cooked with a little of the wine would be a starting point.

Drink from 2012-2019 13.5% alc, RRP $9.99

its a bit messy down here..

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bistro @ Home

Here are a few ideas for creating your very own bistro style meal that isn't expensive, and with the addition of a bottle of wine, u could happily serve it for a dinner party.

My preference would be to serve it up on a platter in the middle of the table, but u could dish it up on individual plates too.

bunch of fresh beetroots, cleaned well
coupla brown onions
head of garlic
2 medium potatoes, diced into small cubes
100ml water or vegie stock
good supermarket or butcher shop snags, such as bratwursts, or other spicy snagsies
fresh or dried herbs such as thyme
drizzle of olive oil
sea salt/cracked black pepper
side salad
crusty bread

in a roasting pan, bake the beetroots, onions, garlic and potatoes for 25 minutes in olive oil, salt/pepper and herbs, with foil covering the pan, or use a lid. set the oven to 180-200deg C. put a bit of water or stock in to help steaming
after 25minutes, chuck the sausages in and bake for a further 10 minutes, covered
take the lid off the pan and crank the oven up to brown everything for 10 minutes
serve on a platter

Zucchini slice
2 or 3 zucchinis
6 eggs
1/2 cup self raising flour
salt pepper
1/2 tsp baking powder
sift flour and baking powder into a bowl
whisk eggs together with salt and pepper
grate the zucchinis and add to the flour
add eggs and mix together
bake in a moderate oven, 180 deg C for 20 minutes or until browned

simple zucchini slice, side dish

baked meat and veg leftovers, pan juices were mopped up with the bread