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Full On

I have photos upon photos on my memory card just waiting to be download from my adventure to the last Wednesday night market of the summer and my much-awaited visit to the Spanish tapas place Movida. Getting back into school mode has proved more challenging that I had originally imagined. Any foreign national in this country knows that any dealings with DIMIA are never straight forward. I was only just finally enrolled in my course (4 weeks after the start date), which allowed me to apply for my visa renewal (1 week before its expiry).

In addition to all the school hubbub in my life, in the past 2 weeks 2 individuals have been let go from the kitchen staff team, consequently leading up the week when the head chef and pastry chef were to go on holiday for a week. So, life is full on the moment. No time for my partner, not time for fun cooking, no time for real food, no time for me!

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When I graduated from trade school and became a qualified cook last November, I bought myself a treat I’d had my eyes on for some time: a bright red Kitchenaid mixer. Most cooks know the value of these precious bits of a machinery and how big of a dent they can leave in your bank account. I decided to cut corners and have one sent to a US address and pick it up while I was travelling through the country over the holidays. I went online, placed the piece of machinery in my shopping cart and purchased it. Once we actually met in person, we found out she was too heavy to take as carry on baggage, so we took a trip to the post. I posted my little mixer and away it went to Australia arriving not more than 2 weeks later. Weeks and weeks past, as my little mixer sat in its original packaging, just wishing someone would whip up some pavalovas or make a gorgeous bread dough.

It didn’t occur to me that purchasing a voltage converter to support 325 watts of power here in Australia would set me back nearly $200! The purchase, plus shipping, plus the converter that arrived today via FEDEX still cost me half of what these little gems go for at David Jones, but not quite as cheap as I’d hoped.

Ms. Kitchenaid

Mission accomplished: I know have 500 watts of power to feed my little mixer and I’ve cleared off a space on my bench top just for her.

We, along with another couple, decided on sort of a whim that we’d take a day trip to Daylesford in country Victoria to escape the bustle of the city. The weather turned out to be perfect for strolling through the countryside and taking in loads of fresh air. The drive out there was unremarkable, the landscape was dotted with lots of nothing and pre-fabricated housing. I fell asleep and when I awoke, Daylesford was there waiting for me.

Daylesford is a quaint little town with a main drag, Vincent street, adorned with food shops, cafes, boutiques, restaurants, local watering holes and it was a shame that I couldn’t spend the entire day eating! Our first stop was Sweet Decadence at Locantro, a chic European-style chocolate shop serving coffees, hot chocolates made from their own chocolates, pastries and mouthwatering scones with local jam and double cream. We ordered a round of lattes for $3 each ($3.50 for soy), two serves of their special mineral water scones for $7.50 each and chocolates ($1.50-$2) to share — chili, fig, champagne truffle and mocca flavours. The scones themselves were worth the 1.5 hour drive out there. They possessed every characteristic one could ever wish for in a scone: once you break off a morsel and reveal their insides, your eyes are met with layers upon swirly layers of the lightest dough ever. With lashings of cream and blackberry jam, one simply can’t go wrong!

Chocolates at Sweet Decadence

We topped off the scones with chocolates and headed off to explore Vincent street, which took about 15 minutes to walk up and down both sides. We stood around for a few minutes wondering what to do next being that it wasn’t quite time for lunch. We declined the option of visiting one of the local galleries because it required shelling out cash when we had no intentions of purchasing anything. Next stop? Lavandula, a Swiss Italian lavender farm that looked so French you’d forget that your were only in country Victoria and not gallivanting across Provence with the love of your life.

Apples at Lavandula
This Old House at Lavandula
The grounds of this farm were gorgeous. The sun decided to make an appearance for the visit and cast a fantastic bright light on everything making for loads of photo opportunities. We saw lamas, a fat dog, donkeys and a pony name Pasquale who apparently liked to be brushed. The best feature of the farm were the organic gardens brimming with produce used at La Trattoria, the farm’s eatery. Still full from the scones and lattes, I did my part to support their food operation and bought 1 kilo of organic apples for $2.50, which will probably go into an apple tea cake later this week. I snacked on two of the apples and offered a few to our friends. It was amazing how concentrated the flavour was in such a tiny apple in comparison to any apple I’ve bought at the supermarket. No grainy texture, just pure flavour.
After about an hour of walking the grounds it was finally time to leave the farm in search of a proper meal and popped back into town and into Harest Cafe on Albert street. The menu was 95% organic and the back of the cafe was fitted with a health food shop chock full of bulk food items, organic this or that. The options were mostly vegetarian, which was fantastic, but don’t expect any surprises or endless options. We settled a large carrot juice ($5.50), a tofu burger ($9.95) and a TLT, a tempeh, lettuce and tomato open-faced sandwich ($11.95). The tempeh was the most delicious tempeh I’ve ever placed in my mouth: moist, beautifully caramelised and full of sweet-savoury flavours. The sourdough bread that accompanied the burger and the sandwich was clearly of artisan quality and made with love, but did nothing more for me than give me a choking sensation and encourage me guzzle down our carrot juice more quickly than planned. My TLT needed a moist buffer in between the toppings and the bread, so I left the browning lettuce and the dry bread behind and focused on savouring every last bit fo the tempeh.
The tofu burger special came neslted in between two thick slices of sourdough, heavily coated in butter with no visible caramelisation in sight. The burger itself looked gorgeous with the bits of vegetables mixed in with the tofu, but after taking a single bite, I was met with an overly moist texture and the unmistakable taste of bland tofu. I really wanted to like that tofu burger as I’m one of tofu’s biggest fans! We washed down our meals with another round of lattes. My soy latte was made with Bonsoy and, I must say, it’s the best soy latte I’ve had to date. I savoured every drop and looked forward getting back in the car for another snooze.
Harvest Tofu Burger
Harvest TLT
I’d go back to Daylesford any day, although I might skip Harvest Cafe and try my luck at some of the other posh eateries in town. Food is definitely putting this little country town on the map!

Get your Movida on

One of the benefits of being a student (again) is the predictable weekly timetable — you have work on certain days of the week and you have school on certain days of the week. I’ve just accepted a full offer to study Advanced Diploma in Hospitality Management, for which I have already enrolled, which commences this coming Wednesday. It’s been a really hectic month trying to get into this course at the last minute as the course started on February 4th and I applied two weeks prior to that date out of desperation to keep my resident status in this country a legal one.

The downside of having a career in the hospitality industry is having to work when everyone else is having fun, and, working on a rotating roster. Being back in school is changing all that and I’m making a run for it and joining my friends for an early dinner at Movida this coming Thursday at 6pm.

Movida has been dubbed the best tapas restaurant in the entire country. Having had a 3-year on-again-off-again affair with Spain, this place has been at the top of my “to do” list for ages.

Stay tuned for drool-worthy photos.

In a previous life, I worked at certain restaurant whose owner also happened to be that of The Panama Dining Room. For this reason, mainly, I’ve been trying to drag myself over there to investigate the new space. After having read numerous reviews about the place, inclusive of the one listed in The 2008 Good Food Guide (The Age), I finally popped in for a bite to eat with my partner last week to celebrate our Valentine’s Day (one day prior due to conflicting work schedules).

Once you make the trek up a few flights of stairs, the doorway opens up into this very chic warehouse space that you feel like you’re somewhere in New York. I lived in Panama for 4 (glorious) years and find the name to be quite suitable for the space, despite the fact that you won’t find any South American dishes on the menu. Front of house staff welcomed us to the place immediately, and while they were supposedly booked solid for the night (Valentine’s Day eve), they offered a rather nice seat at the long communal tables fitted with chairs that were high enough to make you feel a bit like royalty. We chose the seats at the end of table and started pouring over the wine menu and later the food menu. We settled on a $20-something bottle of Spanish tempranillo, which was decent, but decidedly not as tasty as other tempranillos we’ve sampled.

After a glass of wine, we settled on Chilled Yogurt and Cucumber Soup with cinnamon pastries ($12, vegetarian) and the Crumbed Pork Cutlet with a juniper berry dressed salad ($26, definitely not vegetarian). I’ve never had a yoghurt soup, but besides feeling like I was downing a bowl of tzatziki dressing, the sprinkling of paprika and bits of toasted, crushed pistachios made the soup taste well-rounded. It was sweet, smoky, tart and somewhat refreshing. The phyllo pastries were pleasant, especially when dipped into the soup. While I can’t comment much on the pork cutlet, I will say it was a safe dish, as you can’t really go wrong with fried pork. The side salad was peculiar with its juniper berry dressing; it tasted more like someone was drinking on the job and had a “happy accident”. I felt that the dressing needed something savoury to counteract the tartness of the juniper berries…such as pork jus or even miso. We both enjoyed our food, but weren’t blown away by it.

There is one vegetarian option for both entrees and mains. I decided against the vegetarian main because it was a pasta dish (ravioli) and in my book, vegetarian pasta dishes as main show a lack of imagination on the kitchen side — even if it’s made on the premises. The sides included two vegetarian salads, one of which was a quinoa salad; that’s a grain you don’t see much on menus these days. We opted not to get dessert only because the majority of them were chocolate-based and I don’t do chocolate, not even on Valentine’s Day.

1 bottle of wine, 1 entree and 1 main came to a grand total of $65. The food was OK, the wine menu was fairly vast, but the space was absolutely amazing. We both agreed we’d go back again, but sit at the bar and order from the bar menu, which features a lot of creative tapas, many of which are vego friendly.

Vegetarian friendliness: Average
Atmosphere: Exceptional
Value for money: Average, entrees average $12, main average $26
Staff behaviour: Very good

The Panama Dining Room
Level 3, 231 Smith Street Fitzroy

Chickpea Burgers with Tomato-Chilli Jam and Labne

Earlier this week I came home from work one night to discover that my partner had motivated himself to cook, which made me sort of happy, as there wasn’t anything prepared to eat in the house. I’d fallen behind on my trips to the market at that point. However, he immediately informed that he’d failed miserably. The end result took ages to achieve and consequently made him feel sick after taking a few bites of it. He vowed never to cook anything for himself that required more than heating something up or popping open a takeaway lid. Something made me love him even more than I already do. In the end, I’m back to cooking up weekly storms to keep the fridge stocked with tasty eats for him to choose from through out the week. Even though I spend all day cooking at work, spending a portion of one of my precious days off cooking some more, doesn’t bother me. At work I’m just an apprentice not permitted to have opinions due to my lack of professional experience, but on the home front, I’ve been a cook for years.
Feeling really motivated after a glass of a Four Sisters Semillon blend and determined to materialise a combination of recipes I had in my head, I created this fantastic dish I’d be happy to order in my favourite cafe around the corner: A lightly pan-fried chickpea cake topped with a fiery tomato-chili jam, a cooling dollop of labne and a delicate little crown of sprouts.

I bought Super Natural Foods by Heidi Swanson while I was in California and finally sat down to pour over the gorgeous photos inside. I settled on her Sprouted Chickpea Burger recipe as it it was reminiscent of the bun-less burger one of my Japanese friends told me are ever so popular in Japan — a burger that uses two patties of your choice, instead of bread, and the fillings of your choice in between. I must say that the recipe produced delicious results indeed. The finely chopped onions mixed throughout the patties give the dish a great crunch without overwhelming your mouth with a raw punch-in-the-face taste.
Without further delay, I present the recipe that turned my kitchen upside down. Note: make your labne the night before.

Chickpea Burgers adapted from Super Natural Foods (Heidi Swanson)

Makes 4 patties

1 can of organic chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 free-range egg
2 tbs coarsely chopped parsley
1/2 of one medium-sized onion, finely chopped
approximately 5 tbs bread crumbs, depending on how moist your prefer your mix to be
a dash of sumac
salt and pepper, to taste

  • Combine the chickpeas and eggs in a bowl and blitz them using a hand blender or a food processor until you’ve got a very thick and chunky hummus. Stir in the sumac, parsley and onion to combine. Add your breadcrumbs to achieve the thickness desired. You want the mix to be able to be shaped into patties without sticking to you hands. After adding the breadcrumbs, let the mixture sit for a bit to absorb the crumbs. If your mix ends up being too dry, add more egg or water, conversely, add more crumbs if you find it too dry. Once you have the mixture to your liking, season it with salt and pepper.
  • Shape into 4 patties and place in the fridge to firm up.
  • Heat a few tablespoons of pure olive oil in a fry pan over medium heat and gently pan fry the patties until each side is nicely caramelised and the patties are firm, about 6-7 minutes on each side. Enjoy these while they’re hot.
  • To make the tomato jam;
    • 1 tin of diced tomatoes
    • 1/2 of one medium sized onion, finely chopped
    • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
    • 2 tbs pure olive oil
    • 1/4 tsp chili flakes
    • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
    • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
      • Heat your oil over medium heat and cook the onions and garlic without colouring them (i.e. caramelising or burning) until the onions are transparent and the garlic is soft.
      • Add the remaining ingredients, stir and cook over a very low heat until the mixture has reduced to a consistency of a nice jam you’d spread on your toast. Season to taste with salt and pepper and finish with 1 tsp of extra virgin olive oil.
  • For the labne, which is essentially yoghurt that has had most of it’s moisture drained out;
    • I used organic no-fat plain yoghurt, but any plain yoghurt works well here
    • Take a sieve and line it with muslin or a clean tea towel. Place the lined sieve over a bowl and pour the yoghurt into sieve. The juices will then drain through the cloth or muslin into the bowl and leave behind a lovely, thick yoghurt with spreading and shaping abilities that can be flavoured with any savoury or sweet addition your heart desires.
    • Allow to drain over night. The labne will keep for up to two weeks if you use a clean spoon every time you take some.

Organic Rye Loaf

I recently moved house and am now the proud owner of a kitchen that is actually equipped with an oven large enough to fit food that will feed the mouths of more than 2 people. I can bake 2 (yes, 2) or more loaves of bread at one time, several trays of biscuits rather than half of one and can even roast several trays of vegetables in a matter of minutes. I’ve started baking bread again and am loving it.

After a recent visit to San Fransisco over the holidays, I now feel compelled (and somewhat obligated) to buy everything I can at the market rather than make the convenient trip to the supermarket and buy food that has several hundred “food miles” attached to it’s price tag. I’ve been buying my flours in bulk at Victoria Market for over a year now. The stall has an excellent selection of flours and grains, which are either bio-dynamic or organic. They are less expensive what you’d get at the supermarket because you’re not paying for packaging, marketing, etc. They were out of bakers flour and wholemeal flour, so I picked those up at Coles out of desperation and settled on an organic rye flour and organic white flour from the market stall.

I tend to bake my breads using 100% whole grains, however, because rye, spelt and buckwheat flours have even less gluten than plain wholemeal flour, I’ve been doing a 50/50 blend. Half white, half rye (or spelt or buckwheat). The results have been none other than absolutely pleasing. I usually bake 1kg loaves, either in 2 small loaves or one massive one…and we have no problem polishing it off before the week’s end.

The flours in this recipe can be switched up to suit your desires, however, I wouldn’t recommend using 100% rye, buckwheat or spelt if you are expecting to get a light bread with rise. Even wholemeal is on the heavy side, but it has a very comforting, dense, yet soft, luscious crumb. 100% wholemeal works fine here as well.

Organic Rye Loaf (make a 1kg loaf)
250 g organic plain, white flour
250 g organic rye flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp instant yeast (or 16 g fresh yeast)
1 tbs olive oil
warm water, approximately 300 ml; dependant on the freshness of the flour and air moisture

  • Combine all of your ingredients, except for the water in a large mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon, give everything a stir to create a uniform mix. Make a well in the centre of the flours and pour 1/3 of the water, plus the olive oil. Stir to combine.
  • Continue to add water until the flour has come together to form a stodgy mixture, but not too sticky. Sprinkle flour on your bench-top and turn out the dough. Begin to knead the dough until it’s dry enough so that it holds its shape when twisted, but not so moist that it sticks to your palms like cheap white bread on the roof of your mouth.
  • Wholegrain doughs will require about 10 minutes or so of kneading to create a nice, pliable dough.
  • Once you’ve got a flexible dough, you’ll want to form it into a ball. Grab a clean bowl, grease it with olive oil and place your dough inside. Cover the bowl loosely with cling wrap or a moist tea towel and leave to prove (rise) for about an hour.
  • Preheat your oven to 250ºC. When your dough has expanded to about double it’s size, press down on it to remove all of the air pockets that have formed by the gas produced by the yeast. Form the dough into a football-shaped oval and place in your oiled loaf tin to prove until the dough rises over the top of the tin.
  • Bake for 15 minutes and then lower temperature to 200º C. Bake for an additional 5-7 minutes or until the loaf sounds “hollow” when flicked with your fingers.
  • Allow to cool slightly on a cooling rack before scarfing it down.
  • I usually enjoy freshly baked bread with lashings a really nice cold-press extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt.