Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Going nuts over Australian macadamias

I've learnt a few new things recently:
a) it is indeed possible to misplace a big chunky DSLR camera;
b) it's quite fun out in rainy weather when you’re prepared for it;
c) raw sorrel has an amazing citrus flavour;
d) the macadamia nut is the only nut that is native to Australia; and
e) the new season of Australian macadamia nuts are currently being harvested and dried for our eating pleasure.

Australian macadamia nuts - in shell and kernels
(Image courtesy of Australian Macadamia Society)
Australian macadamia growers, predominantly in subtropical northern New South Wales and Queensland, are anticipating a yield of 39,000 tonnes of macadamia nut in-the-shell in this year’s harvest, which will translate to 11,500 tonnes of luxurious macadamia nut kernels, of which 35% remains in the domestic market.

Colin Fassnidge, Australian Macadamia Society's Lynne Ziehlke and Australian Macadamias
ambassador Eamon Sullivan at Sydney Seafood School, Sydney Fish Markets, Pyrmont
This nugget of agricultural information was imparted at a recent Sydney Seafood School experience, courtesy of the Australian Macadamia Society which represents growers and the broader industry.

Olympic swimmer, and Perth café and restaurant owner, Eamon Sullivan, is an ambassador for Australian Macadamias and was on hand with restaurant chef and owner, and My Kitchen Rules judge, Colin Fassnidge, for a bloggers "maca nut" cooking challenge.

Sullivan and Fassnidge demonstrating macadamia recipes
While I’ve enjoyed many a macadamia nut, mostly roasted and salted, I've never really cooked with the nuts – until now.

On the menu for the challenge were a winter-appropriate Jerusalem artichoke and macadamia soup by Fassnidge and a not-nearly-as-healthy-as-it-sounds macadamia granola by Sullivan.

Sullivan and Fassnidge
Sydney Seafood School is such an excellent venue for classes, starting with the demonstration kitchen where both Fassnidge and Sullivan cooked, entertained and educated the small class.

Fassnidge plating up his soup

Sullivan's macadamia nut granola out of the oven
While there was wine and banter on hand, one did need to pay some attention as we'd be recreating the dishes shortly after.

It didn't take long for the demo kitchen to fill with hearty smells of onion, Jerusalem artichoke and creaminess of Fassnidge's soup nor Sullivan's caramelly, sweet, nutty granola.

Australian Macadamias aprons
In the Sydney Seafood School kitchens, it was action at all stations from the word go. Fassnidge and Sullivan did the rounds, proffering helpful advice and tips that I wouldn't mind in my kitchen every time I cook.

Macadamia and Jerusalem artichoke soup
I found chef Fassnidge's general seasoning tip – salt, pepper and, intriguingly, lemon in everything – particularly interesting and one that I'll be trying in the home kitchen.

We garnished his creamy, white soup of blitzed macadamia nuts and Jerusalem artichokes with more macadamias, raw sorrel shreds and picked crab flesh; the latter presumably to suit the Sydney Seafood School charter.

It was by far the best soup I've had any hand in making with the unique flavour of the root vegetable enhanced by the presence of creamed, rich macadamia nuts. The sorrel was a crowning glory, lifting the soup with its fresh citrus flavour.

Macadamia nut granola mixture uncooked
Meanwhile, Sullivan's macadamia granola was admittedly not something the elite athlete would eat too often. His recipe incorporates 300g of sugar, a combined 300mls of honey and golden syrup and almost 300mls combined of oil and butter.

The rolled oats and dessicated coconut give the granola a definite 'Anzac biscuit' taste and feel. But given the oil and sugar content of the granola, I'd recommend it as a now-and-then dessert treat with yoghurt or ice cream rather than an everyday breakfast item.

Macadamia nut granola out of the oven
The speed in which my granola was caramelising – or let's be honest in my case, burning – in the oven had me a little thrown, so too it's seemingly not-solid state while cooking. It firmed up as it cooled on the tray out of the oven and was loudly crunchy when completely cooled.

Fassnidge and Sullivan tasting and judging dishes
With both soup and granola completed in under an hour in teams of two, I was pretty happy with my efforts and the end result of dinner and dessert (burnt granola bits aside), even if they weren't winners of the night's challenge.

Sydney Seafood School dining room light features
We dined on our efforts in the Sydney Seafood School's gorgeous dining room after a fun and educational kitchen session.

Following the class, inspired and equipped with a hamper of "maca nuts" and other macadamia products, thus far at home I've made a macadamia choc chunk cookie based on a mashing of a couple of recipes and will be trying out Sullivan's decadent macadamia chocolate brownie recipe soon.

My macadamia and salted chocolate chunk cookies
Buying and storage hints (from the Australian Macadamia Society):
When buying macadamias, look for ones that are plump, crunchy and light-coloured.

To help maintain their quality, correct storage is vital. Once opened, keep macadamias in an airtight container, refrigerate and use within two months, remembering to return nuts to room temperature before eating.

The Australian Macadamia Society was founded with the objectives of promoting and coordinating all aspects of the Australian macadamia industry, to encourage free exchange of ideas and information, and to foster goodwill among members. See their Facebook page for macadamia recipes and ideas.

Food, booze and shoes participated in the Australian Macadamias Food Blogger Challenge with thanks to the Australian Macadamia Society and Crossman Communications.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Melbourne eats: Belle's Diner

It had been too long since my last visit to Melbourne so when a long weekend opportunity came up, I grabbed my bags and headed south for a few days of eating, drinking and generally taking in Melbourne.

So much has changed in the space of a few years in the Melbourne drinking and dining scene that I found myself at a bit of a loss as to how to prioritise restaurants and bars to visit. In the end, it ended up being mostly an Urbanspoon and GPS-driven adventure with a few pre-organised targets thrown in.

Belle's Diner, Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne
Belle's Diner in Fitzroy was a social media find as I was easily enticed by the retro 1950s styled images and feel of the diner on funky Gertrude Street.

It was like moths to the bulb-lit 'diner' sign after a few drinks and bar hopping in the Melbourne CBD, and we ordered ambitiously with our not-entirely-sober eyes.

Salted caramel milkshake
I have pretty limited experience with salted caramel milkshakes so I can easily say that the one at Belle’s Diner was the best I've had to date.

A perfect balance of salt and caramel with just a hint of burnt toffee flavour, this glass of creamy, frothy milk was enough to keep me happy for the rest of the night.

Crispy Southern fried chicken with slaw
We ordered three mains between two of us (martinis make eating ambitions loftier, it seems) including, unsurprisingly, a fried chicken dish to deal with the earlier alcohol.

The Southern fried chicken comprised various cuts on the bone in a fresh, golden spiced batter, a bit dry in places but pretty darn awesome overall.

It was served with a house barbeque-ish sauce and red cabbage coleslaw that seemed unseasoned and undressed, somewhat detracting from the chicken and dish overall.

Corn fritters
I would have thought corn fritters to be more of a breakfast offering, but here they were at 10.30pm. The fritters themselves were completely forgettable with more floury dough than corn kernels, and a thick white sauce for the main flavouring.

Meanwhile the salad the fritters were served with came with extremely unripe, inedible cubes of avocado among the leaves, radishes and tomato.

Dinerr burger
The Dinerr burger was an epic, towering construction, spiked in place with a skewer. The burger's beef patty was certainly tasty with a good fat ratio, although it a little dry for being completely cooked through.

Playing stacks-on were melted cheese on the pattie, a fried egg, bacon, grilled pineapple ring, lettuce and sauce. On the whole, it was a tasty if not difficult to eat burger which would have been an ideal booze-soaker - had we not had two other mains on the table.

It might have been an off night but it seems there's a bit of retro style over substance at Belle's Diner - mostly forgiven with that salted caramel milkshake, though. More Melbourne eats posts to come.

Belle's Diner on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 14, 2013

Japanese beer at Biru Biru, then 'aisu kurimu' at Gelato Messina

Beer has a special place in my (drinking) heart, so I didn't need a whole lot of encouragement to visit the new Japanese craft beer bar Biru Biru in Darlinghurst.

Previously a Zushi outlet on Victoria Street, the same owners have transformed the very narrow space (right next door to Gelato Messina) into a dimly-lit Japanese izakaya with an impressive collection of Japanese craft beers alongside nibbles and skewers designed to soak up the alcohol.

Ocean Kujukuri Pilsner (left) and Yona Yona Ale tinnie (right)
at Biru Biru, Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
With Asahi pretty standard and popular across Sydney now, and even the microbrew Hitachino Nest range getting around town, it's exciting to discover new labels like the Ocean Kujukuri pilsner which is a refreshingly hop-py and bitter start, and the Yona Yona Ale which is a heavier and fruity American-style pale ale.

The Victorian-brewed Robot Ninja rice lager was a first for me; beer with an entirely new, softer flavour profile which I look forward to learning about and sampling more.

Fresh tuna salad, nashi pear, miso sesame dressing
Biru Biru seemed a little understaffed on the night we visited, although in the squishy space it's hard to see how they could fit in a third waitperson.

There was a bit of a wait for our first dish of raw tuna salad, topped with sticks of nashi pear that had me thinking of the Korean-style yukke raw beef dish.

The mild, creamy miso sesame dressing just coated the mixed leaves in this unusual but somewhat unconnected salad.

Seasonal vegie and prawn kushiyaki skewers
We went for a selection of kushiyaki grilled skewers which are great drinking buddies. The seasonal vegetable skewer was an unexciting foursome of cherry tomatoes, shallots, capsicum and zucchini while the prawn skewers of three coiled crustaceans per stick could have used some seasoning or garnish.

Pork belly and enoki kushiyaki skewers
Much more exciting were the petite pork belly skewers with enoki mushrooms rolled within. These were worlds away from the first skewers with fantastic seasoning and a char flavour, and great textures of the thinly sliced pork and delicate strands of mushroom.

Wagyu beef and red onionkushiyaki skewers
The skewers of wagyu beef were undoubtedly buttery in flavour with fat, although surprisingly tough even in their small cube form, but paired well with squares of Spanish onion.

Chicken and spring onion kushiyaki skewers
The traditional yakitori chicken skewers were great, meaty thigh renditions, grilled with a sweet, soy-based sauce and interspersed with softly cooked shallot segments.

Lotus root chips
I'm more accustomed to deep fried renkon lotus root chips as a starter but the slightly thicker cut of the ones at Biru Biru meant that they retained a vegetable crispness and moistness within the golden exterior. They almost felt healthy but were also great dipped into mayonnaise.

JPC - Japanese popcorn chicken, honey mayo
A clear winning dish of the night was the small pieces of popcorn chicken in a batter so crisp and crunchy that every bite was audible. The honey mayonnaise on the side was a well-rounded finishing touch.

Crisp fried school prawns
We continued on the deep fried route, as frankly a lot of the menu is deep fried and it goes well with a beer or three. The whole fried school prawns probably could have been a tad crisper but it's hard to get this dish (that's showing up all over Sydney) wrong.

Agedashi tofu
It was a generous serve of lightly battered tofu cubes in the agedashi tofu, which was less wet than most versions I've tried. Rather, the soft, squishy and just-crisp-on-the-outside tofu sat lightly in a shallow pool of the dashi broth-based sauce, soaking in flavour from the bottom.

Sticky pork ribs, chilli miso, kimchi
We finished with a meaty, fusion dish of thickly-sauced spicy pork ribs which were rather chewy, served atop kimchi fermented cabbage that seemed to have had just a light pickling.

Situated right next door to Sydney's original legendary gelateria, it's no surprise Biru Biru doesn't have a dessert menu.

We finished off our beers and hopped next door to Gelato Messina, into the queue for apple pie gelato and cherry sorbet.

Gelato from Gelato Messina, Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
Although you wouldn't think it, Japanese biru and aisu kurimu go together like a horse and carriage and make for great neighbours.

Biru Biru on Urbanspoon

Gelato Messina Darlinghurst on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

So long, Sydney Monorail Farewell Tour

Sydney’s 25-year-old monorail – which snakes through the CBD, Darling Harbour, Pyrmont and Chinatown – is making its final rounds of the city on Sunday, 30 June 2013.

Sydney Monorail (Image courtesy of MTS Holding Company)
I went on the monorail once as a kid, awed and excited at travelling up so high above the streets and people. I’ve used it a couple times in more recent years as a shortcut to Pyrmont and just for the pure novelty factor.

Now, as the State Government’s monorail removal project looms, there’s just over two weeks left to create your own Sydney monorail memories.

Sydney Monorail - last journey on 28 June 2013
If you’re after a monorail experience more The Amazing Race than The Simpsons, the Monorail Farewell Tour is just the thing: part urban exploration, part scavenger hunt and part food and drink tour.

Starting tomorrow night and organised by walking tour group Two Feet & a Heartbeat and Sydney Urban Adventures (the local city tour arm of Intrepid), the Monorail Farewell Tour is a great group or team event opportunity to ride the monorail a few last times while completing challenges and trivia around the key attractions along the monorail route.

Sydney Monorail day pass
Armed with a monorail day pass, game card and select drinks and discount vouchers, the Monorail Farewell Tour is designed as an adventure for teams of ideally 3-5 people.

Landmarks like Kimber Lane to be discovered
From a CBD starting place, points are earned by visiting Sydney attractions, restaurants and bars, and other landmarks; Instagramming team photos; answering trivia questions and more around the seven stops of the monorail route.

Find gems like Dixon Wine Bar on the tour!
The challenge should span about two-and-a-half hours with a secret finishing location which is only revealed during one of the attraction stops on the route (no guarantees Phil Keoghan will be there though).

There are prizes to be won and announced at the final location, where hash-tagged Instagrammed photos will also be judged.

There’s also self-guided option for the non-competitive sorts among us, where you can explore the monorail route and attractions in your own time.

So long, farewell Sydney Monorail (Image courtesy of MTS Holding Company)
Monorail Farewell Tours will run from 6-9pm every night from Wednesday, 12 June 2013 through to Thursday, 28 June 2013. Tour tickets range from $30-45. See the website for more information and booking.

Food, booze and shoes previewed the Monorail Farewell Tour as a guest, with thanks to DEC Public Relations.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Last days of Vivid Sydney & Citibank Pop-up Bar by The Meat & Wine Co

Vivid Sydney 2013, Sydney Opera House
This year’s Vivid Sydney Festival has been the biggest one yet: the fifth annual celebration of lights, music and ideas that gets Sydneysiders out into the wintry nights – no easy feat. And you've got five more nights to catch it.

Vivid has expanded into Darling Harbour this year with the Vivid Aquatique lights and water show, in addition to its original Circular Quay and The Rocks home.

Vivid Aquatique in Darling Harbour

Vivid Aquatique
As part of Vivid’s expanded geography, Citibank has led the charge in Darling Harbour with a pop-up bar in Cockle Bay, nearby Meat & Wine Co. – a Citibank Dining Program restaurant.

The Citibank Pop-Up Bar is positioned for prime viewing of the new Vivid Aquatique festival addition, with seating, and wine and Aquatique showing every hour – it’s a great winter’s night out on the town.

Citibank Pop-Up Bar in Darling Harbour
On launch night I was invited by Citibank’s Marcus Marchant to check out the pop-up bar which is mostly under cover from rain with the expressway arching above.

Open and free to the over-18 public, the Citibank Pop-Up Bar features snacks like mini beef, steak or vegetarian burgers and haloumi skewers, as well as premium Australian wines.

Citibank Pop-Up Bar
Citibank cardholders also enjoy priority entry and a free glass of wine on arrival, in addition to their usual perk of a free bottle of wine every time they dine at Citibank Dining Program’s participating restaurants.

The open kitchen at Meat & Wine Co., Darling Harbour, Sydney
For a more filling evening, venture over to the lavishly-renovated Meat & Wine Co. that’s gotten a classy, modern steakhouse feel since the last time I visited.

The kitchen pass
In the downstairs section there’s now an open kitchen with sandstone tops as well as a snazzy, long private dining room where we were dining.

300g Monte Select rump steak and chips (grain-fed 120 days)
Given the venue I couldn’t go past a bit of meat with a glass of First Creek Shiraz, with the kitchen’s beefy char smells proving irresistible.

My rump steak was probably a tad over my requested medium-rare, but with great flavour in the meat and basting compensating for the chewier bits.

We had a selection of sauces shared at the table with the creamy garlic being my unexpected favourite. Meanwhile, the chips were perfection; thick cut, crunchily golden on the outside and perfectly fluffy and potato-ey within.

Lamb ribs and chips
The table filled with finger bowls and relatively classy black bibs for those who ordered beef or lamb ribs: an undoubtedly hands-on affair.

The smaller racks of lamb ribs, basted in a marinade of lemon, mustard and herbs, were tender, delicate things, and as seems always the case with lamb ribs, a little on the fatty side.

Side salad
Side salads are completely necessary with steak and chips, with the sprout, leaf and capsicum combination being completely polished off across the table.

Vanilla crème brulee
Winter desserts are an easy win, especially if they crackle or ooze. The crème brulee had a perfectly burnished toffee top, hiding smooth, vanilla-scented custard that left one wanting more.

Chocolate and pistachio fondant
The warm white chocolate and pistachio nougatine-topped chocolate fondant was my pleasure, alongside vanilla bean ice cream quite literally perched on a shortbread biscuit - one sure way to stop the ice cream from sliding all over the plate.

Chocolate and pistachio fondant insides
With one strike of the spoon, molten chocolate lava came pouring out – at which point I could probably have ended the meal happily. Although a tad floury, the warm fondant paired with ice cream was the ultimate end to a Vivid winter night – well, before another stint at the Citibank Pop-Up Bar for Vivid Aquatique, that is.

See more photos of Vivid Sydney Aquatique and Light Walk on my Facebook page.

Food, booze and shoes dined at The Meat & Wine Co as a guest of Citibank Australia, with thanks to Liquid Ideas.

The Meat & Wine Co on Urbanspoon


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