Monday, June 29, 2009

The great Aussie Road-Trip

When you're packing up for a road trip, there's one thing I always ask myself- what are we going to nibble along the way? That's right, it's all about the snacks and portable food and this time we set ourselves a challenge... we were to stop for nothing along the way apart from coffee if necessary (and yes, coffee is always necessary).

The challenge: Two days of driving, all the way from Melbourne to Coffs Harbour for a friends wedding. The only stops were to be for the toilet, petrol and a coffee along the way... no snack food was to be purchased- what we ate was to come from an eski on the back seat.

The food: Nuts, fruit, cordial, olive bread, cheese, mini quiches, home made oven dried potato chips, home made sausage rolls with BBQ sauce... nothing else. 
No chocolate, no sugar filled fizzy drinks, no Maccas, no chips and certainly NO Red Bull.

The verdict: Bloody great idea. We made it and the selected food was ideal. No mess. No crumbs. No sugar high and then crash. No preservative headaches. No nausea. NO grumbling tummies- bliss for a road trip.

The sad little side note: I forgot to bring a knife for the cheese and bread- thank god that we enjoy chunks and hunks of the good stuff, and who doesn't like tearing things apart with their bare hands I ask?

The lack of a little gem: I firmly believe in not writing a place off just because it doesn't look the part. Particulalry when in unknown territory. I mean, what if you miss that perfect little gem of a place just because it didn't look like the shit? Think of all the missed opportunities and brilliant flavours that could simply pass you by... but then again, this theory has lead to some disasterous dinners... and our road trip coffee was no exception. 
We pulled up at a service centre (KFC, Hungry Jacks... the lot) looking for a coffee. There was -surprisingly- an organic outlet for all things snack bar and burger-ised. The AllPress coffee looked hopeful- and it's gotta beat fast food coffee right? 
Too hot to hold through the takeaway cup (bad sign), burnt coffee as well as rotten soy (what was that organic brand again)... we ended up tossing it- not something I'm inclined to do... but I live in hope and I'll find that little gem yet. 
Note to self: trust Patience's gut instinct on this, he has a nose for good coffee. 

Monday, June 22, 2009

Get'cha Goat on with Friday night pizza at the Mountain Goat Brewery

It's a Friday night- and for me that means good company, good food and hopefully a bevy or two to kick off the weekend. 

That's where Mountain Goat Brewery comes in handy; with it's speak-easy location in the back streets of Melbourne's 'shades of industrial' Richmond, its mystery door with hardly a sign or a symbol, -aside from the slightly satanic looking goat's head on the roller door- and a relaxed attitude that says 'bring on the weekend'. This is not really the sort of place you happen to stumble upon when you're out bar hopping, so you better get the address before you go, and then keep an eye out for the bouncers by a non-descript side door...
Once you're inside it's a cross between a factory floor (which it is), a high-school basketball court (which it isn't) and a share house (thanks to the mismatched chairs and couches).
The great thing about Mountain Goat is its simplicity. There's just no beating about the bush, you come here for beer and a warehouse environment. The menu is small, with only 7 or so pizza options (S/L), but more than half of that is vego friendly and considering the tiny operation that puts the pizza's together, they arrive at your table (or bar stool) with surprising speed. I'm amazed by this, because for all the pizza orders being yelled across the bar, there's only two guys working on a tiny roll through oven, throwing ingredients onto pre-made bases as they go. It's cute, quaint and very down to earth. There ain't no cutlery here- it's finger food or nothing my friend, and that pizza and beer is a damn fine combination. 
The red and white wine offerings are few and only available by the glass ($7), but when your in a brewery, it'd be rude not to try their beer right? 
Mountain Goat has their 4 usual beer suspects on offer from pale ale to stout, as well as some one off batches and experiments available on the night for fun and variety. If you're not sure, your best bet is to order a $10 goat paddle with a selection of tasters on it and work out which one you'd like to continue the night with.
But the best thing about ordering a beer here, is looking across the crowded floor to the actual workings of the brewery itself. On full display are the huge silver tanks and vats, as well as cool rooms that are the makings of the beer in your hand- and it's nice to know that what you're holding, really was brewed 'just over there'. It gives 'the local' a whole new meaning. Occasionally the work-floor just continues to tick over and you can watch the Goat guys go about their business on the floodlit floor.      
Being in an actual factory, it can be quite noisy near the bar- but it's a big space and if you manage to grab a group of armchairs in a corner, with a little table full of tea lights near one of the big gas heaters, you'll be set for the evening and the noise of people unwinding on a Friday just becomes great atmosphere. 
So go on, grab your mates after work... and get your goat on!

Address: Corner North & Clark Streets, Richmond VIC
Phone: 03 9428 1180
Open: Friday only from 5pm till late
Note: Wed night sees the brewery open for tours, tastings & talks with the Goat guys.

Friday, June 19, 2009

One more for the road: Hospitality, Alcohol & the Workplace

One more for the road:

"Anybody who has worked in hospitality has longed for a knock-off drink after a busy night on the floor, but what are the knock-on effects of the industry's penchant for excessive drinking?"

Article featured on my favorite website

When researching this article I was extremely surprised to find how many people were unwilling to talk about the prevalence of alcohol misuse in the hospitality industry- it seems the general attitude is very much 'if you can't stand the heat...'

And as one source put it; "We join this industry for a reason and we know that we'll be surrounded by alcohol [and other substances], if you're not up to it, then you've joined the wrong industry."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Saintly St. Ali

I don't usually gush.
But sometimes there's good reason too. You've been warned.
I first fell in love with St. Ali about 2 years ago. I was new to Melbourne and as a Sydney-sider I wondered what all the coffee-crusaders were on about, touting Melbourne as having the best coffee around. I soon found out that they were right and now firmly stand myself in the Melbourne coffee camp.  
Not only does this city take it's black gold very seriously... it has a great time doing it and turns out places like St. Ali in the process. The trick with St. Ali is to make the most of the specailised knowledge on the floor. Staff really know their stuff when it comes to the beans on offer each day, and if you ask them, they can suggest the best bean for your style, from latte to short black.
Since those first wide-eyed days, I've become a regular at this roasting-warehouse come cafe, thinking it nothing to cross the city for a morning brew and a tasty breakky treat. I bring visitors from out of town and send gifts of St. Ali roasted beans to friends far and wide.
It's even survived a change of hands and still comes up with the goods.
Last week I took my mum there for a light lunch and a much needed coffee boost before we hit the South Melbourne Markets, warning her that the menu was full of treats. Still, we were both totally floored by the grilled sardines. 
Rocket, black olive paste, artichokes and pepper spiced mandarin, joined the little fishies on sourdough. At under $20, it's a breakfast/lunch that hits you with a salty-sweet combination that had us fighting over the last crumbs of sourdough to mop up the spicy mandarine sauce.

 Today I stopped by for breakfast- and was taken out by the pancakes. Previous trips have proved that the breakfast platter is a great way to start the day with Middle Eastern flair- think fruit toast, spiced labne, honey and nutty dukkah. Any dish involving their homemade baked beans is also a winner. But today, the pancakes were a new revelation. It's the first time ever that I've been unable to finish a $10 breakfast, and not because I didn't like it. Three thick and puffy pancakes came swathed in citrus scented syrup, with a glop of coffee mascarpone and a topping of stewed oranges. It's a dish to be reckoned with- rich and full of smokey coffee-citrus tones. Every treacly mouthful reminded me why breakfast can still be special without poached eggs and bacon. Washed down with a coffee-of-the-day latte, I was full, happy and buzzing. 
The space itself is also a drawcard. Now I know some people are over the 'converted warehouse space', but I'm not one of them. I love the open roofed, partitioned off, exposed brick, roller door feel of the place. And when the sun comes flooding in through factory style windows on a winter day, I couldn't be happier. 
I was happy to note that there are plenty of vegetarian options on the menu (above and beyond the mushroom offerings that seem to be the usual vegetarian fate) and that a small selection of beer and wines are also available should brunch roll-on into lunch...
And keep an eye out for the St. Ali degustation- I'm told once every three months they hold an evening class with coffee and wine matched to food. The next one is on August 7th, with room for about 100 people. 

Open- Contact: (03) 9686 2990
Mon-Sat; 7:30am-5:00pm
Sunday; 8:30am-4pm

Note: Check the board to see what coffee is on offer for the coffee siphon each day and don't forget to ask your waiter which bean they recommend for the style of coffee you like to drink.  

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Run rabbit, run!

Finally turned my hand to cooking a whole rabbit last night- and was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. 
It never ceases to amaze me how many people fail to ask their butcher for advice when they pick up a new cut of meat. These guys deal with meat for their living- you gotta think that maybe, just maybe this will translate into knowing a hellava lot about the stuff. 
When I bought my little rabbit from the South Melbourne Markets I just had to ask for some tips- and here's what I got. Rabbits have very little fat on them (why are we not eating more of them I ask myself), so your best bet is to add a little. Wrap them in bacon for instance and then stew with vegies and stock. So that's just what I did.
After consulting my Cook's Companion for further tips (thanks Stephanie), I came up with the following- easy, cheap and just a little bit different for a cold winters night. This has to be one of the easiest hearty meals I've put together for a while- so easy in fact that I'll put it on standby for unexpected dinner guests next. You just need to know where to get the rabbit, and to my surprise, the local IGA stocks it. Jane 1/Rabbits 0!

Rabbit Stew:
  • 1 whole rabbit, jointed into 8 pieces (legs, ribs, hind quarters etc)
  • Bacon rashers (cheap fatty cuts are best for this)
  • 5 potatoes
  • 4 tomaotos
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic- smashed
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 leek, white part only
  • 4 large field mushrooms (reserve some for garnish)
  • Juice of half a lemon and some rind for garnish
  • parsely
  • 1 cup of red wine
  • 1L stock (chicken, vegie or anything you like)
  • olive oil
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • salt/pepper to season
It's a no brainer this one- heat the olive oil in a large fry-pan, dice one rasher of bacon and brown it. Then put it to one side. Sear the rabbit pieces in the hot pan until they are a little browned. Remove fro
m the pan and wrap in the remaining bacon rashers.
Chop all your vegies to a nice hearty consistency. In a large casserole dish make a bed of the chopped vegetables, then place the rabbit/bacon pieces on top. Pour in the stock, red wine, tinned toms and any seasoning you wish to add.

Cover and cook in a 200degC oven for a little over an hour, or until the rabbit is done and the broth is a thick soup.
Serve in large bowls with plenty of the broth. Garnish with mushroom, parsley and lemon rind. Add a splash of lemon juice to each dish just before serving.  Crusty sourdough bread is a must to soak up the juices.

Note: I am aware that the top picture has some chestnuts in it- but we decided against using them at the last minute, so please ignore this. But they do look pretty with the other ingredients. 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Less than perfect: Banana's 'tickled by nature'

I read today in the daily food news roundup FoodWeek, that Banana growers have been able to market their slightly-less-than-perfect banana stock to supermarkets under the catchy tag of 'tickled by nature'.
The idea is that often supermarkets will reject produce that is not visually perfect despite the food being perfect in every other way. One would assume that this would only lead to food wastage of products that can not be sold, as well as a profit-loss for producers and farmers already tied to the strict shelf and transport requirements of large retail outlets. The 'tickled banana's' will be available at a lower cost to consumers due to their 'imperfect' visual nature, but will be clearly identified as fruit that have only been effected on the outside. 

What excites me about this development is threefold: 
  1. Producers will benefit by being able to sell product that would otherwise potentially have gone to waste. 
  2. Consumers have a chance to access perfectly good fruit at a lower cost. A great thing in the currant economic climate.
  3. But most importantly, I fervently hope that such a move will help shift consumer and retailer attitudes to the slightly imperfect food that often ends up discarded by both retailers and consumers. It's certainly time that we were lead more by ethical, social and environmental issues in food selection, rather than 'perfect looks' and often less than perfect surrounding issues. 
This could be the beginning of a supermarket change for the better, even if it's only in how food looks. But a start is a start and it can only get better from here.