Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Longest Summer

With harsh hailstorms hitting Melbourne recently Summertime certainly seemed over, but thankfully the beautiful blue skies and golden sun has other ideas this week; prolonging those happy, warm days and balmy, light evenings for a little while longer. The arrival of this Autumn heatwave is timed perfectly for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2010, with over 250 events happening across the city and all of Victoria.
I took this opportunity to show my UK visitor a bit of the countryside and sample some delicious food and wine of the region, so I booked us on a festival event called the 'World's Longest Lunch' in Ballarat. Set in the gorgeous, green Botanical gardens in the historical gold-mining town of Ballarat we were greeted with a glass of Captain's Creek Organic Sparkling to toast the fortunate weather. Before settling down to our seats along the Prime Minister's Walk we sampled the first course of the day supplied by the Golden City Hotel:

First Course - Canapes
- Fresh Oysters with Chardonnay dressing and Salmon Roe
- Asparagus and Roast Capsicum Frittata
- Steak Tartare

The Oysters were beautiful and plump, pairing perfectly with the dry, fruity wine and refreshing bursts of roe. The soft, herby Steak Tartare was fabulous against the crunchy, toasted crispbread.
As we settled into our seats we were poured three glasses of Chardonnay to accompany our second course, produced by Cafe Lekker:

Second Course

Ceviche of Salmon on a summer salad of watercress, avocado, peas, watermelon and angel-hair pasta with a mango salsa

For such a glorious hot day we couldn't have asked for a more perfect course than this. Each element of the light dish matched perfectly together, with the sweet flavours of the fruit and contrasting textures of soft fleshy fish and fruit and crunchy vegetables. My favourite wine was the 2006 Bended Knee Chardonnay with its elegant melon aromas.
Our Third course was supplied by the Phoenix Brewery and was accompanied by three Pinot Noir wines. The chunky meat terrine was again a superb choice with its simple salad and cornichons. I found the 2007 Myola Pinot Noir a superb accompaniment.

Third Course
Duck and Pork Terrine with Plum Compote

To finish off The Turret Cafe supplied an utterly scrumptious dessert which combined delicate spicy flavours from the rich syrup with the creamy Vanilla Pannacotta and the crunchy Tuille.

Fourth Course - Dessert

Locally grown fresh figs, caramelised and served on an oatmeal Tuille, drizzled with spiced syrup and accompanied by Vanilla Pannacotta

As we savoured each course and chatted to our companions we wanted this Longest Lunch to carry on longer. Good job the festival is lasting all week... and judging by the forecast so is the weather. Make the most of it and check out all the events happening for the festival:

Monday, 15 February 2010

Allergy Queen

Even if you get up early and have a strenuous day at the office you shouldn't be constantly yawning, have heavy eyes and snooze as soon as you hit the couch, right? Even more so, when you've had a nice long lie-in on Saturday and Sunday should it be necessary to have another few hours kip during the day? For my super grandad at the ripe age of 80 that is entirely warranted, but for my fighting fit 29 year old boyfriend? Hmm! ?

Now I don't claim to be an expert of such matters but I reckon Andre has an allergy to dairy! Don't worry, I haven't just plucked this theory out of thin air...he was diagnosed with lactose intolerance when he was younger when he continuously fell asleep after munching a Mars bar or breakfasted on Cornflakes & milk. Like most men he has chosen to live with his affliction, forgetting about his diagnosis and consuming whatever he fancies...which is generally Cadbury's chocolate based treats. But I have now persuaded him to reconsider his dietary habits and do a week-long dairy-free trial. Surprisingly he accepted!
This gut-feeling process was also how I came to discover my own food aversion - to wheat - actually, it was exactly my gut telling me stop with the toast! Anyway, we're now a pair of fussy eaters and I have been a culinary queen trying to adapt our much-loved recipes to fit with our dietary requirements. First challenge: - Pancake Day! Hurrah! We all love pancakes! But wheat-free, glutton free, dairy free ones? You bet!
I have adapted this recipe from a few sources such as Donna Hay and Delia and the results were fantastic. Light, fluffy hotcakes with hint of coconut and a sweet syrupy sauce.
Coconut pancakes with banana and blueberry syrup
Serves 2/3
1/2 cup soy flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1 heaped teaspoon gluten free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons agave sugar (1/4 cup caster sugar)
3 eggs separated
coconut oil for greasing (of vegetable oil)
1 large banana
1 cup blueberries and a teaspoon of agave sugar
1 tablespoon of desiccated coconut
Place flour, soda, baking powder, sugar, egg yolks and milk into a bowl and mix to combine. Leave in fridge for 30minutes to settle. Put blueberries in a pan with sugar and a tablespoon of water and heat until a syrupy consistency, set aside. Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold through the batter. Lightly grease a non-stick frying pan with oil and heat over a med/low temperature. Cook 1/4 cup of the batter at a time, in batches, for 3-4mins on each side or until puffed and golden. Stack several on a plate, top with banana, blueberry syrup, then sprinkle with coconut.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Move over cupid

Cupid was overshadowed by a Chinese Tiger this Valentines, and despite receiving an assorted box of scrumptious Haigh's chocolates the activities planned for this romantic occasion focused around the Lunar New Year and the Chinese celebrations around town!

All weekend the Crown Casino put on a schedule of Chinese New Year festivities with roving acts parading the Southbank and stalls of traditional Chinese goods lining the River. You could experience the flavours of Asia at the Hawker's Bazaar of tented restaurants, serving tempting Eastern treats such as barbecued meats and plump dumplings.

Long queues generally indicate quality worth waiting for, so we stood in line at 'Hong Kong Dim Sum' as a procession of energetic Dragon dancers roared passed us. Over the noisy drum beats I ordered a slice of Turnip cake which is a Cantonese dish common in dim sum and on New Year. Despite its name the cake is not made out of turnip and it is not sweet, but it is very tasty. Consisting of a Chinese radish called daikon which is mixed with water and rice flour, and sometimes extra flavours such as shrimp or shiitake, it is then steamed and generally panfried for a thin crunchy coating with a soft, spongey middle. With its relatively subtle flavour this yum cha item is best enjoyed with a generous splash of soy, Hoisin or chilli sauce.
Our next selections were slightly disappointing, the Pan fried shrimp and spring onion rice noodle had no sign of any seafood, and the Deep fried calamari had been deep frying for a little too long according to the rubbery sticks we chewed. The hero of the night however was definitely the succulent chicken satay swekers, with a smokey bbq flavour smothered in peanut sauce, extremely moreish! We consumed our take-away as the sun set and the lanterns lit up, watching the strangled-cat-karaoke and marvelling at the things people buy.

Romance was not entirely dead on Sunday though, and to avoid anymore MSG I rustled up my own Chinese-inspired meal at home of Sweet & Sour Chicken, Rice noodle cakes and Asian Vegetables. I blanched the rice noodles until soft then poured over a whisked egg and seasoned with salt, pepper and a generous handful of fresh herbs such as coriander and parsley. I arranged the noodles into a greased muffin tin and placed in a pre-heated (180 degrees) oven for about 15mins until crisp and brown on top. For the sweet and sour sauce I used a tomato base and added sliced garlic and ginger, a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, juice of half a small lemon and a tablespoon of agave sugar (caster sugar can be used) for a tangy yet fruity bite.
All we were missing were the prawn crackers! Mental note for next time: Lentils are not advisable for use with chopsticks! :) Also, I do realise that courgettes are not the most authentic 'Asian' veggie...but with a dosing of soy sauce Andre was non-the-wiser. Happy New Valentines!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Destination Daylesford

With so many Farmers Markets in Melbourne and the inner suburbs you can literally stuff yourself silly with wholesome regional produce each weekend at different locations. And if that doesn't fill you up, now that Summer is upon us, there are a variety of evenings soirees' offering the similar service of fresh food, crafty gifts and live entertainment, like this one. All a bit overwhelming? Well, if you find it hard enough to remember what day of the month it is let alone which market is on which weekend or evening then I have found a perfect website to list them all in chronological order for easy social planning. Hats off to the White Hat guy!

Fortunately, it doesn't even end there. There is a bountiful supply of farmers and their markets outside the city lights catering for the foodie aficionados, and one such place is the beautiful Spa town of Daylesford. Last Sunday we took a trip there, to the shire of Hepburn, famous for its natural mineral springs, acclaimed cuisine and superb wineries. As we drove in we passed multiple handmade signs selling fresh produce straight from the paddock, and those all important adverts promoting market day. We were heading to the gourmet heart of the area, a place with highly-rated restaurants, stunning scenery and enough geese, ducks and feathery friends to keep any 'twitcher' amused... The Lake House. Nestled in 2.5 hectares of garden this idyllic luxury hotel set over a pristine lake was hosting the Regional Producers Day where artisan businesses promoted their wares.
As an advocate of local, regional produce and reducing food miles The Lake House firmly supports the passionate small growers who take great care in their farming practices to ensure sustainability and biodiversity. Many of these suppliers were out in force showing off their delightful lovingly-grown produce, here were my some of my favourites:

Just 20km from Daylesford the Tuki Retreat has a trout farm of happy fishies swimming around the spring fed ponds. If you stay in one of the cottages you are welcome to fish with complimentary use of rods, and your guaranteed catch is cleaned and packaged for you.
Loddon Valley Cod
With the difficulty of dry land farming Tony Butler, the sixth generation farmer at Loddon Valley, has turned his hand to aquaculture. The fine Murray Cod, now protected in the wild, is frequently on the menu at The Lake House.

Daylesford Organics
Selling a range of colourful heirloom veggies including sweet onions, snow peas, sugar snap peas, coriander, zucchinis and rainbow radishes Daylesford Organics was showcasing their sensational seasonal stock.

This small-scale diversified family farm was promoting their new venture of Gourmet Garlic. Angelica are now growing the purple hued Red Rocambole variety of garlic, certified organic and it certainly packs a punch of gorgeous pungent flavour compared to the shabby supermarket version.

Big juicy berries were on the agenda for the Trewhella stall with plump blueberries to nibble and an assortment of berry-good jams and sauces. This farm is a Biodynamic property that grows a diverse range of berries, herbs and bushfoods.

Noted for its vegetarian and vegan offerings this lovely little cafe in the centre of Daylesford sells tradition-style breads, cakes and healthy food. I couldn't turn down their cute cupcakes made with Fair Trade chocolate and laden with hazelnuts, and un-beknowst to Andre, who promptly wolfed one down, it was glutton free and fabulously moreish.

Along side all these remarkable food retailers there was also a section dedicated to the liquor contingent from the nearby wine region. Although a little overshadowed by the touring destination of the Yarra Valley the Macedon Ranges is on the road-less-travelled, but it is certainly established and still only an hour away from the city. With the coldest grape-growing area in mainland Australia and optimum soil, the conditions are perfect for producing premium sparkling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. We tried a spicy white 'Gewurztraminer' wine from Birthday Villa Winery, with a grape originating from Austria. I was rather taken with the idea of Adopting a Vine, through the Gisbourne Peak Winery, which is a rather quirky present for any budding wine connoisseurs.

To come and sample what Daylesford delights are on offer why not try a farmers market a little further afield....
  • Daylesford Sunday Market - each Sunday at the Historic Railway Station
  • Daylesford Farmers Market -1st Saturday of the month
  • Kyneton Farmers Market - 2nd Saturday of the month
  • Woodend and Talbot Farmers Market -3rd Saturday of the month
  • Lancefield and District Farmers Market -4th Saturday of the month

Or if all this grub and grog has gone to your head why not come and take a Sunday snooze by the lake.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Breaking the Tradition

Early on Sunday mornings you will find us at South Melbourne market, selecting our weekly rations of fruit, vegetables, meat and cheap bargains. Such is the routine of our shopping errand we now know exactly where to go for what: I reckon the best looking broccoli is at Rod's Fruit & Vegetables on stalls 39-41. As with most busy lives our habitual market trip has turned into a strategic quick-as-you-can chore where we race round grabbing goods to not waste any more precious Sunday Snoozing time doing duties. Yet, every week as we pass alfresco diners tucking into a big brekky or groups of friends sharing a gossip over a slice of carrot cake we comment about how we should go to that cafe 'one day' or come early for a coffee 'next week' but never return with enough 'time'.

So, in an attempt to discover a little more about our lovely neighbouring suburb of South Melbourne, with its abundance of fabulous eateries, I broke tradition and encouraged Andre to join me on a relaxing Saturday saunter. My aim was to discover one of those illustrious little cafes, St.Ali, nestled in a spacious warehouse where only the well-informed locals would know where to look. Cherished by caffeine lovers this place is first and foremost a coffee mecca, with a mighty machine to create your perfect espresso from a choice of single origin beans. For a fast and healthy feed St.Ali also supplies Middle Eastern-influenced fare such as fattoush or pide, and last weekend it was hosting a barbecue event for the St.Ali Place Project with a fixie bike race and street art. As pumping tunes permeated through the little laneway and garage doors were being decorated with colour we went in search of the marinated meats. Much to our disappointment we were either too early or too late for the barby and decided we couldn't wait for the next round of kebabs. All was not lost though, the spray-can artists entertained us with their amazing creations as we sipped a superb St.Ali latte.

For a quick-fix lunch we popped over the road to another South Melbourne institution, Dim Sims, on the corner of Coventry and Cecil Street. Established in 1949 this foodie hot spot invariably attracts a queue of 'dimmie' devotees waiting for their Chinese-style dumplings of steamed or fried pork. Giving a new meaning to fast food there is no dawdling at this stall, where you must keep the line moving with a prompt order, payment, and a quick sauce dousing of thick, syrupy soy or fiery nose-blowing chilli. These steaming balls are presented in a tough little paper bag with your fingers as a fork, but watch out, those slippery suckers are hot so my tip is to hunt next door for a plastic utensil and napkin. Don't be discouraged by the messy looking meal, these size-able golf balls are packed with a super punch - seasoned meat, fragrant spices and soft cabbage encased in a delicious soft dumpling dough. All this for $1.60...You can afford to have three!
As we headed home I noted a few other establishments requiring exploration for our next Saturday Session....because as the sign on every street says: 'There is more to South Melbourne than Dim Sum'.

Friday, 22 January 2010

The New Friday

I like Wednesdays. With the dreaded Monday blues behind you and fabulous Fridays not far off, Wednesdays symbolise the half-way to happiness! :)

And now I have another reason to enjoy the middle of the week after discovering a happening little party on Elizabeth Street - the Suzuki Night Market! I had no idea such a vibrant, bustling, foodie haven was going on up the many people, so many stalls and so much fun!
Every Wednesday night from 5:30pm onwards Melburnians gather to be entertained by several live acts dancing, singing and playing instruments, while perusing stalls of panama hats, eco friendly clothes and fairy lights.

This weekly summer soiree is also home to some superb supper options for under $10. Check out Vegi Curry Man with his abundance of health in the Organic roti wrap or Kathmandu Kitchen with their soft-as-a-pillow momos stuffed with lightly spiced chicken.

Follow the hoarding crowds and you are bound to find the best delicacies this market has to offer... such as Honey Dumplings stuffed with options of cooling vanilla ice-cream, drizzled with crunchy nuts. Or Crepes and Shakes for a sweet treat of banana and chocolate or strawberries and maple syrup.
And if you're thirsty after all that frivolity head to the sangria bar for a pint of fruity, icy punch, or try a traditional Lemonade for a sweet, citrus refreshment.

As a departing gift to ourselves we purchased an adorable box of authentic rosewater Turkish Delight by Paddymelon. Gelatin and Gluten free these cubes of gooey goodness were gorgeous and decorated my black top with icing sugar rather nicely.

So next time you feel like Friday is far away... head down to Queen Vic Market on Wednesday evening and join in the celebrations!