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I’m taking orders for fruit hats – delivery next summer.

March 28, 2010

The passionfruit vine is finally starting to earn its keep.  It has started to flower, and it has also set its first fruit:

Around September, I intend to string a few lines on the Northern side of my house, and I will plant some passionfruit vines and train them up – the idea being to shade the house during the summer.  This, with the insulation recently installed in the roof, should cool the house down nicely.

I’ve also obtained some ladyfinger banana shoots from my brother, and have planted these.  Hopefully the chickens do not destroy (though they’re already circling):

Greenhouse, Perth

March 17, 2010

I’m in Perth for a work trip.  As I’m in a hotel room instead of an apartment, I need to eat out for every meal, so finding something decent whilst maintaining variety is a struggle. 

I did find Greenhouse though, which is located on the ground floor of the office over here.  I saw something about this on the way over, but I can’t for the life of me remember where (perhaps in the Australian or Courier Mail on the plane).  Anyway, it’s an interesting little cafe/tapas/wine bar/bar that does a pretty fair dinner.

For dinner last night I had:

  • Pig head and trotter terrine.  This was served with sourdough bread and apple sauce.  Tasted a little gamey due to the bits of the pig used, but it was quite tasty.
  • Manchego croquettes with a capsicum sauce – it’s cheese, it’s battered, it’s then fried. Say no more.
  • I had these with a 2006 Yerring Station Cab Sav, which was outstanding.
  • Dessert:  Wood roasted plum and an Almond Milk parfait – very good.  The plum was tasty and sweet.
  • Sticky:  I asked for a sherry, as it actually came from Jerez in Spain.  I was thinking a nip, but they poured me a whole bloody glass – took some drinking.

For breakfast this morning I had poached eggs on toast and a flat white, which apart from having no parsely is as close to a home cooked breakfast I think I’ll find while I’m here.  The coffee was pretty good too.

Dinner was $50 for 3 courses and 2 wines, and breakfast was $15, which is much cheaper than the hotel.

Might try to get down to Margaret River this weekend, but seeing as it’s quite a drive (I’ve been quoted from 3 to 5 hours to get there), I might leave it until the next trip.

An Argentine Feast – Part 3

March 1, 2010

For dessert, we deviated from the theme somewhat and had Poached Pears with Lemon Marscapone, which is not at all Argentine, but rather was one of Maggie Beer’s contributions to the March issue of Gardening Australia.  I chose this because I had read the mag, and then noticed we were accumulating some nice looking pears from our Food Connect box, so it was only really a matter of time.

The pears are poached in butter, sugar, lemon juice and rind, and a vanilla pod:

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You cook this slowly for about 30 mins to an hour, and the butter goes a rich nut brown, and the sugar caramelises slowly, and the vanilla infuses into the mix… before I drool again on the keyboard, let’s assume that it was pretty good.

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This was served with a lemon marscapone, which is just an amount of the cheese with the juice and rind of one lemon folded through.  Marscapone is a very rich, creamy cheese, so this alone is going to be no good to you – on each spoonful you need a good amount of pear and caramel sauce to balance it all out (don’t make the mistake I did and go for big spoonfuls of the cheese).

An upside to this recipe is when you’re finished with it, you still have a nice toffee/caramel liquid which you can pop in the fridge and reuse a few times.  We’ve had one extra dessert already, and will have another tonight.

To go with all of this, our guests brought a pair of nice wines.  First was a Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Rose, which was a nice easy going drinker.  It wasn’t sweet, wasn’t dry, wasn’t really anything unusual – just an inoffensive bubbly to get things going.  After this, we had a Yalumba ‘Y Series’ 2009 South Australia Pinot Grigio.  This was quite a well put together wine, one of the better Pinot Grigios I have tasted.  Not sure on the prices as they were brought by our guests, but I would imagine they are fairly widely available at most bottle shops.

An Argentine Feast – Part 2

March 1, 2010

After the Chorizo, we had the lamb:

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We ate this with the onion and radish salad.  To get to the point shown above, you take some mushrooms, onions, vinegar, garlic, rosemary, parsley, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper, and blend it up to make a paste.  Mine ended up being a bit wet, possibly as a result of using fresh mushrooms instead of dried, but more likely because of the onions.  Seeing as we’re roasting this, I’d recommend draining off most of the excess liquid, otherwise it will just stew in the oven.  The paste, before:

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and after:

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Looks appetising, no?  You then lay out the bacon, put the lamb on top, spread out the paste and roll the whole thing up.  The roll before going in the oven:

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This gets roasted for an amount of time, which will vary depending on your preference for rare, medium or well done, and the size of your cut of lamb – instead of loins, we used a boneless lamb shoulder from the butchers.  This was a lot bigger than the original recipe asked for, so the cooking times were well off.  Another suggestion on this recipe is to let the paste sit on the lamb for a while before roasting, to let it marinate slightly.

I found this quite easy to make, because the paste itself can be prepared earlier, and kept until needed.  Or, you could even pre-prepare the whole dish and leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to put it in the oven – this would also allow the lamb to baste in the paste for a while before cooking.

Stay tuned for more…

An Argentine feast – Part 1

March 1, 2010

I had a friend from work and his wife over for dinner.  With their being from Argentina and all, I figured it was a fairly good excuse to whip out a few recipes that I’ve been wanting to try since watching the Hairy Bikers go through the region a few years back.  Links to their website are here: Part 1, Part 2.  Quite possibly the funniest and scariest moment of my interest in food was when they decided to demonstrate the different cuts of beef:

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We made the following:

The onion and radish salad was pretty straight forward – check out the recipe and you’ll see what I mean.  Tell you what though, the dressing that this salad uses smells pretty good, so I think I’ll be adopting it for other salads as well.  In short, it’s olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, chilli powder, sugar, salt and pepper.

The fish dish was a bit more challenging.  The recipe calls for a fillet of firm, white fish, so we just went to the fish mongers (Samie’s Girl at Hamilton) and asked them what they had that fit the description.  We ended up with a pair of snapper fillets.

The crust was fun to make, and one of those moments where it’s hard to not to eat the whole lot before it ends up in the finished product.  Hopefully you understand what I mean – just look at all of that delicious orange fat that has soaked into the bread:

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You blend this up with the other ingredients to make a bready paste, then cake this over the fish, which you then bake for a bit.  If you’re trying to plan ahead, this crust is easily made beforehand.  I did mine at lunch and kept it in the fridge until I was ready to cook.  When my guests arrived, I pulled the fish out and doused it in lime juice, and let that stand for 30 mins.  I also took the crust out and let it come back to room temperature.  After this, I packed the crust on:

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You then cover in foil and bung it in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until done.

I really have to hand it to me – it was pretty damned tasty.  In fact, it was one of the tastiest meals I’d ever had.  The crust is really the star in this dish, so if the quality of the fish is somewhat lacking, you won’t really notice it.  You should however try and get yourself a good chorizo – ours was nice and spicy, with plenty of flavour, and that really made the dish for me.

One thing I might suggest is partially toasting the bread before putting the chorizo on it, as it will give you a bit more texture in the crust.  Also, I’d cook the fish uncovered for the last few minutes so that the crust actually gets crusty.  Either that, or use a blow torch.

More to follow…

How to have a wine holiday, and a few boring stats

February 23, 2010

Some statistics:

  • 3 weeks
  • 6,800km
  • 11 different wine regions
  • 32 wineries (See here for a full list region by region)
  • Tasted (and spat) every wine at every winery – assuming we had an average of 8 to 10 wines per winery, this makes from 250 to 320 wines tasted
  • $500 in fuel
  • zero hook turns performed in Melbourne

Lessons Learnt:

Break up your trip

You need to have driving days, wine days, and non-wine days, and you need to mix these up.

For us, the most we did on a wine day was 5 wineries, and this was pushing it.  3 or 4 is probably a more sensible amount.  Try to break it up with food related or other activities as well.

On driving days, if you have more than one adult, it’s amazing how far you can get.  We did a few days with around 10 to 12 hours of daylight driving covering up to 1000km, and this wasn’t a problem, especially with the sun setting so late down south.  It’s also interesting just how long you’ll drive when you know there is a bed (instead of a tent) at the end of your journey.

On non-wine days, try to find some other activities to do.  Food is good.  Swimming in ice cold water is also good when it’s hot, but probably not advisable when it’s not.

LEARN TO SPIT

This is a must.  Notwithstanding the lesson about mixing driving days and wine days, if you learn to spit your wine you can combine a partial wine day with other activities.  For instance, we drove from Sydney to Toowoomba in a day, stopping for lunch and 2 cellar doors in the Hunter.  This way, you don’t have to be on a wine holiday to make a few visits to some cellar doors if you happen to be going through an area.  Even if you don’t have to drive very far afterwards, spitting stops you from getting too drunk, and lets you do 5 wineries in a day tasting the full range.

DRINK WATER

We got some massive wine-tasting headaches.  Though we were spitting all of our wine, I think our bodies were fooled into thinking we had been swallowing all of that alcohol.  Our bladders reacted to this, so we were frequently losing moisture this way.  The only way to fix it is to drink water.  Lots of water.  Drink water between each wine.  Drink water whilst you’re driving.  Drink whenever you can.

Notes

To have any chance of remembering what you liked and what you didn’t, you need to take really good notes.  You also need a folder or book to file these into.  It took us nearly half of the trip to figure this one out, so we had a passenger seat foot well that was full of notes, receipts, brochures, wine lists, etc.  Luckily we hadn’t lost anything by this point, so we have a pretty good record of where we went, what we drank and what we ate.

In terms of the specifics of note taking, I have no idea.  Jill and I came up with a system where 1 tick was a decent, drinkable wine that was worth buying.  2 ticks was an excellent wine, and 3 ticks was outstanding.  3 was supposed to be the limit, but there were a few wines that we gave 4 ticks to, but I guess this was one of those ‘exceptions that prove the rule’ sort of situations.

Included in our judgement of a wine was its value for money.  Even if a wine was good enough to be given a single tick, if it was much more than $20 or $25, we didn’t mark it down.  The 2 and 3 ticks were less worried about the money as these tended to be cellaring wines or very special releases/vintages, but again value was somewhat included in the marking.  Say in the Mornington, where we might have had 2 pinots that were the wineries’ top of the line range, and one was $90 and one was $55, and both were equally good, then the $55 got 3 ticks and the $90 might have only gotten 2, or none at all (with the opinion being that it was just plainly overpriced).

Research, and be discerning

You really need to buy yourself a good wine book like James Halliday or the Penguin Wine Guide, and consult the lists inside telling you which wineries are the highlights of each region.  If you’re going to as many places as we did, you can’t afford to be going to every single winery you see.  Not that this should be blindly followed of course, but the Halliday book is good in that it give you a blurb about each winery, so you can make some judgements on the size, the reputation, whether it is family or corporately owned, etc.

Other good sources of information are people who work with wine (bottle shop guys, sommeliers, waiters, etc), or any wine snob friends you know (like us) and ask them what’s worth visiting.

Also, if you stumble onto a good winery in one area, ask them for recommendations on where else to go – if you like their stuff, chances are you will like what they recommend.  Same goes for restaurants, cafes, delis, etc.  We did this several times, and were hugely rewarded each time.

Be wary of magazines’ recommendations

Magazines can be a good source of information, but it has to be tempered with the knowledge that the articles are probably paid for by the destinations in question, and hence are likely to be flattering.  We found this with a few destinations.

Time your visits to wineries

Go when it suits you, but do a bit of research – you don’t want to find out that you’ve just missed an awesome festival, or that it starts just as you leave.  Also look into the timings of things like local farmers’ markets and such, if that’s your thing.  We rearranged our plans slightly to visit the Barossa Farmers’ Market, as we were told it would be ‘criminal’ not to go if we were in the area.  And yes, it was worth the visit.

We found that weekdays are definitely better than weekends – the crowds are usually less, so it’s more likely to be a sedate and personal experience, which is what we were after (we were on holidays after all!).  The time of year is also important – from about now through to April or May, the wineries are busy harvesting and making wine.  This means you won’t see many wine makers around, but on the other hand Harvest Festivals will be taking place and if there are winery tours you will probably see a lot of activity going on.

In Summer, the vines are covered in leaves and grapes.  In late summer, they are ripening so there’ll be heaps of bunches on the vines and they will be all sorts of interesting colours.  In winter, the vines will be bleak and bare.  Both are beautiful in their own way, but be aware of what to expect.  Also, some wineries are only open seasonally, usually over the summer months.

Don’t feel bad about not buying something on the day

Some wineries might give you a bit of a look if you don’t buy something then and there, and some might even charge for tastings unless a purchase is made (this happened at a few places in the Mornington).  However, don’t feel bad about this.  Most wineries understand that if you’re on the road, there’s only so much you can carry with you.  And, if it’s hot out, taking wine with you will just ruin it as it will bake in the car.  We only purchased the occasional bottle along the way for immediate consumption.

We did make a point though of telling people that we were on the road, so that’s why we couldn’t take anything with us, and we did pick up an order form from each place which we took notes on.  The plan is to slowly but surely work our way through most of the wineries and order our favourites, generally the wines listed in the individual posts.  We’ll only skip the few that gave us a snide look for not buying something on the day.

Don’t go to as many places as we did

Or if you do, stretch it out over a bit longer.  I guess we were slightly ambitious with the number of regions we went to.  We were on the road for three weeks, visited 11 different areas, and 32 wineries along the way.  This wasn’t so much a problem of having to drive too much in between locations, but after a while some wines start to blend into others, so you need to take really good notes to remember what’s what.  A weekend length trip is probably as much time as you want to spend seriously getting into wine on consecutive days, so if you have the option I would spread out your winery visits over the year.

The full winery list

February 21, 2010
    The list of wineries we visited on our road trip in January 2010 (in order):

    Granite Belt

  1. Pyramids Road
  2. Ballandean
  3. Bungawarra
  4. Summit Estate
  5. Kominos
  6. Robert Channon

    Hilltops

  7. Freemans

    Rutherglen

  8. Campbell’s
  9. Pfeiffer’s

    Swan Hill

  10. Buller

    Mildura

  11. Trentham Estate

    Barossa

  12. Turkey Flat
  13. Rockford
  14. St Hallett
  15. Henschke
  16. Smallfry

    McLaren Vale

  17. Paxtons
  18. Olivers of Taranga
  19. Gemtree
  20. Coriole
  21. Alpha Box and Dice

    Coonawarra

  22. Wynn’s
  23. Zema

    Geelong Hinterland

  24. Longboard/Bellbrae Estate
  25. Pettavel
  26. Brown Magpie

    Mornington Peninsula

  27. 10 minutes by tractor
  28. Montalto
  29. Paringa Estate
  30. Moorooduc

    Hunter Valley

  31. Tamburlaine
  32. Piggs Peake