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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bon voyage to me!

So, off to Europe we do go.

I'll try and find internet cafes to blog from but promise that I'll try lots of exciting things and tell you about them. So for now, take care and keep cooking/eating!

Five Things to Eat Before You Die (Pre-Europe trip!)

OK so Mellie tagged me for this fantastic topic that Traveler's Lunchbox started. Can I cheat and call this my five things pre-2006 trip to Europe? I may discover more things as I'm visiting new places! :-)

So right *now*:

1. Peking duck from Quanjude, Beijing, China
The best duck I'd had until going to Quanjude in Beijing was from Flower Drum (before it changed hands and still had the Restaurant of the Year tag) so this *real* Peking duck must have been something special. Oh yes, it was!

So moist, so unexpectedly not fatty (a friend who went on exchange said the locals like their duck really fatty!) and the pancake just right - texture wise and not dry!

2. Fresh bread,
pâté and good cheese
Like this!
I try to be healthy and not eat white bread but give me a crusty baguette or roll with a soft, fluffy centre. Yum! Add creamy pâté and cheese, I can polish off the lot!

3. Balti from Birmingham, England
When I was in Birmingham about 7 or 8 years ago I had some magnificent balti. The meal was delicious, I was in the company of old and new friends... the meal was so good that we pretended not to see the rat that ran along the skirting boards at the end of the meal. An authentic touch!

4. Fresh sashimi and sushi in a Tokyo sushi bar
I had some Japanese colleagues take us to a sushi bar in Tokyo - after being utterly surprised that Australia has lots of Japanese restaurants and we really did want to eat raw food! It was amazing, the chef had fresh, long bellies of fish that he'd slice from as we decided what we wanted. There were things you wouldn't expect, just had to hold your nose and swallow if you found something you didn't like but it's the experience you go for!

5. Family meals
My grandfather was a chef and loves to cook for the family. He is slowing down and moving with less ease but put him in the kitchen and every sense comes alive. It's as if he's programmed to chop and season, boil and fry. He loves to gather the family around and spend the whole afternoon preparing a meal with the grandchildren's favourites. I love his salads at a barbecue, every bowl comes with a vegetable decoration because he can't help himself!

I'm lucky that my Mum gave me a love of cooking. My chef grandfather is actually my Dad's Dad so maybe I was lucky and got a double hit of "food appreciation" genes. Similar to grandpa, Mum will put in a ton of effort to make friends and family feel welcome and well fed. She doesn't measure, she just knows and it always comes out right.
These meals made with love, you can't beat them!

Monday, September 18, 2006


I had Ramune once and recently saw it in a shop. The bottle is really fun with a marble that's sort of suspended until you open the bottle. I wondered what the history was and found the Wikipedia link... so that's how marble games started! And no, I don't think I've really mastered drinking from this bottle!

Saturday, September 16, 2006


I can't believe we're almost in Europe... not much time for cooking between work and getting ready to go! This was from a couple of weeks ago; I saw some beautiful looking silverbeet/swiss chard and bought it without really thinking about what I wanted to do with it! Known as silverbeet here, my cook books from the US had swiss chard so I thought I'd see what the history was behind this.Had to have laugh at "mangold" as an alternative name! There's plenty to read but I still don't know why there are so many names - it's not even a Swiss vegetable! :-D
The leaves are described as close to spinach and the stems, asparagus. I went to my orange food bible (Cook's Companion) and found a simple gratin recipe. Now what else to make? Well I was at the gym and one of the channels had a Delia Smith segment on so I tuned in. She had a Italian and Spanish inspired day and pork saltimbocca was on offer.

Her recipe can actually be found online. I know, Delia is so my mother's generation but her recipes obviously work! So simple - I didn't write down the recipe and didn't think of searching the web but this wasn't hard to remember. Flatten the pork, season, lay a slice of parma ham/prosciutto on top, add a sage leaf, secure and fry on each side, sage side first. You'll see that marsala is used to deglaze, unfortunately I didn't have any on hand but that would certainly add another layer to this simple but effective dish. Looks how beautiful the red and green looks!

Stephanie's Gratin of Silverbeet Stems
1 Bunch silver beet
1 Cup cream
100g Soft blue cheese
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp Softened butter
1/2 cup Fresh white breadcrumbs

1) Preheat oven to 180C
2) Cut silverbeet leaves away from stems and cut stems into 1cm wide lengths. Specifies 8cm lengths but I just freeformed.
3) Blanch stems in salted, boiling water and drain, running under cold water. Drain on some paper towel.
4) Bring cream to a boil and add in the cheese to melt over al ower heat.
5) When melted, season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add in the stems and mix well.
6) Grease your gratin dish with the butter and spoon in the stem mixture. *Scatter breadcrumbs over top and bake until bubbling and golden. (Approx 25mins for a large dish.)

1) Before the breadcrumbs*, Stephanie suggests adding leaves to the mix. To prepare, roll and slice 1-2 leaves per person and blanch for 2 minutes before draining and stewing in a little butter. Forget 1-2 leaves per person I used the lot because I didn't have another dish in mind!
2) Milawa blue was a suggested cheese... damn, finished ours! In fact I didn't use blue cheese, just some cheddar we had but it was still good.
3) Depending on how you like to cook, you don't have to be too strict with exact cream and cheese measurements, the consistency is quite easy to judge.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Farmers Market and Slow Food Festival

Well the Slow Food Festival was on yesterday and I'm sure there's plenty of blogging being done about it! This was being held at the Abbotsford Convent next to the Collingwood Children's Farm and entry to the Farmers Market was included. As we haven't had a chance to go to the market, Niki and I thought it was a must do. As you can see, it's all very relaxed with resting spots and a great variety of produce.Before we could start we had to fuel up. Being a busy day Farm Cafe was kept busy and although we didn't want to wait 20 minutes for coffees, we were going to wait for their breakfast bagel. The tomatoes were sweet and the combination of the bitter rocket and their relish was lovely. The staff were friendly and apologetic about delays... and about the moth in my bagel! I'd cut the bagel in half and nestled in some rocket were these tiny legs poking out - I got a juice to make up for it but I'm still not really buying that the moth must have flown in on the way from the kitchen to the table.
There were organic veggie stores, berries, jams, honey, beef, salmon and trout and other wonderful finds. Red Hill Cheese was there and their names caught my eye... I've never described cheese as "misty" and "buttery" but it sounded enticing! :-) I bought some Merricks Mist which was absolutely delicious and Niki bought some goat cheese. In the background of the photo are duck eggs from the next store and yes, to our delight they are tinged blue!
This store sold buffalo. I thought it was just cheese until I saw the sausages sizzling and the sign said "buffalo sausage". I was tempted to ask if they have buffalo wings, haha. I've never tasted buffalo and if we hadn't had breakfast I might have tried a sausage.
I also bought some delicious berry sauce called "lolly topping", I've got to figure out what to try it with (chocolate, ice-cream, biscuits, chocolate cake....) but I'll let you know how it goes. The same stand had yummy lemon butter and jams so I'll be back.

Slow Food Festival
So what is slow food? The opposite of fast food, ecoregions to preserve cultural cuisine, morally acceptable food - in a nutshell. Of course, a snail is the logo here. Very cute until it comes "ploughing" towards you unexpectedly!
These wandering musicians are great, I heard someone say that they're from Spicks and Specks.
Here's a compost recipe if you need one: raw = straw!. Straw, food scraps, cow manure, compost, garden scraps, wet sack.
And then there is food celebrity spotting! Here is Stephanie Alexander of the previously mentioned "orange food bible". She was there to let people know about her School Kitchen Garden Project. We were also on the lookout for Fergus Henderson of Nose to Tail Eating and Niki thought she'd spotted him. Did anyone attend his events?
And there was more eating! We shared a scrumptious Tasmanian tasting platter with:
  • "get shucked" pacfic ocean oyster with Thorpe farm wasabi mignonette
  • scallop ceviche with a saffron rouille
  • stripey trumpter soused with cider on seaweed
  • Bruny Island Cheese Co.'s O.D.O.
  • John Bignall's sheep's milk blue on rye with Julian Wolfhagen leatherwood honey
A good oyster is a good oyster! The trumpeter fillet and scallop were both in the ceviche style; the fish was lovely and we could really taste the cider but there's just something about the texture of uncooked scallop. Technically not "raw" but it just felt weird. Now the cheese was yummy. (Hmm, there has been a lot of cheese eating!) I tried to look up Bruny Island Cheese to see what this "ODO" is, their site is still being developed but ODO is One Day Old! The texture was amazingly smooth like creme brulee but quite solid almost like Philly cheese. We did need something to eat it with and I thought of dark rye as the cheese is quite salty. The sheep's milk blue was amazing against the leatherwood honey. The leatherwood tree is found mainly in Tasmania so you have to expect some honey as part of a Tassie platter! Niki has described leatherwood before so imagine 2 very strong tastes working for and against each other. I think some of this Julian Wolfhagen honey would be superb in honey snaps!
And of course there is always chocolate! Colliers Chocolate was at the festival with Swiss couveture products. In the back are the Cowboy chocolates for our friend who loves Cowboys - the drink... and the men too! - the pink striped chocolates are pickled ginger and wasabi! You could really taste the pickled ginger but I didn't get a hit of wasabi at all. The "chocolate man" did say that they were very cautious and only put in a tiny dab. Looking at the ingredients, they use horseradish powder so it may have been a milder horseradish. Niki did think that there was a bit of heat so it may just have been my palate, although we both are definitely fans. They're based in Sutton Grange which is near Bendigo so next time I'm in that region, I've got to go to this shop!
If you're reading this in Melbourne on Sunday morning, quickly get yourself out to Abbotsford Convent before the festival is over!

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Thursday, September 07, 2006


Parties are fun and when P & T invited us to their German party, we knew it would be a fantastic night. Check out the drinks menu - sorry it's a bit blurred, and drinking hadn't started! How awesome are these hosts?
Of course there were bretzels! I meant to find out where the bretzels came from... will let you know.
Unfortunately because of work I couldn't drink much so this made my night. Thank you, T for slaving over the grill making wurst after wurst for us. Complete with sauerkraut and mustard... yum, yum!

This is a viking wurst...

It's a frat party!

Thank you, P & T!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Gapsted and Milawa

Of course no visit to the region is complete without visiting wineries and the Milawa Cheese Factory! As we'd had a lazy morning and lunch in Beechworth, we didn't have all that much time for tastings before starting the 3 hour drive home. Armed with the regional map - very handy, get one from the vistor information centre - we selected a few places and headed off.

Gapsted Wines
Driving from Beechworth to Gapsted, we reached Gapsted Wines. Unfortunately we were full from lunch; Gapsted offered a very tempting package of platters matched to wines for tasting. We loved their tasting notes and food recommendations for each wine. Not "meat dishes" or "seafood" but "
seared venison fillets with roasted capsicum, on grilled polenta with a spicy cherry relish" or "spring asparagus with shaved parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon". All the more reason we should have tried their platters?

The wines are excellent and as tempting as it was to stock up, we only walked away with a few bottles of their 2005 Tobacco Road Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. Very reasonably priced at under $15, the passionfruit aromas are wonderfully intense and we could imagine lazy summer evenings with a chilled glass or two of this very crisp white. One of the wine makers is Michael Cope-Williams and remembering the surname, a quick search indicates that he is connected to Cope-Willams in Romsey. Must bookmark for a visit when we're next heading torwards Mount Macedon.

Milawa Cheese Company
About 20 minutes' drive away is Milawa and the Milawa Cheese Company. Turn onto Snow Road and continue until you see the signs indicating Milawa Cheese and Brown Brothers. I love this story from their website:
"Both schoolteachers by trade, David and Anne Brown established Milawa Cheese Company with Richard Thomas in 1988. Richard sold his share of the company to them in 1990. The Milawa site was chosen because it had good water, was between Sydney and Melbourne and close to Brown Brothers Winery. David and Anne cemented their cheese and good food obsession whilst backpacking around Europe in the eighties. Known to give up a hotel room for "a good feed", David and Anne spent many a night in their tent pitched in a field or churchyard in France and England, warmed by the regional food and wine in their bellies."

With an "obsession" like that, the cheese has to be good... and it is!
This wonderfully patient and smiling staff member was at the tasting counter serving crowd after crowd of visitors. (There is a tasting counter with a big sign saying "Tastings", don't be like the lady that shoved her way through the sales queue demanding to try from the wedges for sale only to be told that yes, she really had to line up at the other counter.)
We sat outside and had a little picnic with a selection including the Gold (stinky and makes your mouth quiver in such a good way), the Aged Blue (yes we like our cheese strong) and a 2 year old cheddar, and fresh apples without the wax you get on those supermarket apples. We also one of the goat's milk cheese range, I think it was the goat camembert that Niki bought. The only thing that I would have loved more was a table in the sun as it was a beautiful day, but in the afternoon the eating area is in full shade so there wasn't much we could do. Still, we weren't complaining!
We also took home some goat cheese curd and marinated goat's cheese. The former can be spread on anything and I even experimented and put some into some zucchini fritters I made, and the latter was delicious in a pasta with spinach, capsicum and peas. In Melbourne, Milawa Cheese has opened up their Australian Cheese Shop which is fantastic for avoiding the 2.5 hours to drive for this cheese!

Brown Brothers
Brown Brothers is not far and you'll be glad you came here. I'm always amazed at the huge range of wines they produce and there are plenty of cellar door only purchases to be made. I'll highlight the fruity and fizzy Moscato as there's always someone in the family who likes very sweet wines with meals, and the choice may be this lighter dessert wines. It's probably very wrong and I'm sure someone will turn their nose at the concept of having something so sweet with mains, but I joined in and it sure beats a soft drink at a barbecue! :-)

Orange Muscat and Flora has to be tried. Smooth honey flavours, orange aromas... hmm, where's our bottle gone to? Damn, we polished it off quickly!

Safe Driving
The cellar doors at most wineries seem to close at 5pm which is a good time to start the journey back to Melbourne.I've singled out the white wines here but the reds are definitely just as drinkable. If we had more time, we would have gone further to Rutherglen (amazing Durifs and fortifieds!) where I spent a weekend about 4 years ago. If you plan to tour this region, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to cover everything, it's well worth it! I was fortunate that we had a designated driver but always remember to take it easy and drink sensibly.

Gapsted Wines
Great Alpine Road,

Milawa Cheese Company
Factory Road,
Victoria 3678

The Australian Cheese Shop
655 Nicholson St,
North Carlton

Brown Brothers
Bobinawarrah Road,

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