Thursday, January 28, 2010

Is the Australian penchant for lamb all down to Sam?

Australia day seems to have, once again, sparked debate about what constitutes an 'Australian' dish. Lamb seems to be right up there, but is this all the result of clever marketing campaigns?

I thought I would post this piece that was written(by a friend) for 'Wag the Dog' on ABC Radio. It's food for thought. Is the Australian penchant for lamb all down to Sam? And does it extend beyond that? To Angus steak?? What are your thoughts on the matter?

Do you have any other 'frightening' examples of how marketing has subliminally influenced your food choices?

"Forget eye shadow and lip piercings if you’re going for the anti-establishment look, just walk into your local on Australia day and order a ‘reef and beef’. It seems lamb has well and truly conquered Australia Day and one can’t help but pin it on a very successful ‘we love lamb’ campaign of which the recent champion Sam Kekovich. Whilst there are plenty of other items one can burn on the bbq on Australia day, the hype is all around lamb.

As the article says, lamb is flying off the shelves. I picked up a regional paper on the weekend and lamb was everywhere. A pub was spruiking its Australia day culinary line up as ‘traditional Australian lamb roast and lamb sausages’. A butcher had an ad on the same page advertising his specials – there were ten items on special and every one of them was a cut of lamb.

But it seems that if you were un-Australian enough to opt for beef on Australia day, it had better have been Angus. Like lamb, Angus Beef seems to have become the ‘in thing’. MacDonald’s jumped on it with their ‘Grand Angus’ and ‘Mighty Angus’ burger range billed as being ‘a little bit fancy’. Not to be outdone, Hungry Jacks followed closely with their ‘Angry Angus’ burger.

And its not only the fast food giants either. If a restaurant or a butcher shop is spruiking some beef, chances are it will be Angus that they are making a fuss about. So why does everyone want a piece of Angus.? Is the beef really that much better? Or perhaps the answer lies in the name itself. A Brahman sounds slightly perverted, a Shorthorn sounds like an embarrassing deficiency, a Hereford sounds like you’re going to be coughing up hair balls and Charolais sound... just too French. Then there’s Angus. Angus is the bloke who lives across the road, Angus is the lead guitarist in your favourite rock band and now he’s your favourite steak too."

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Stuffed Olive, Courthouse Hotel Gunnedah

You may have all read about my issues with lunches. This can be blamed on my Dad. Lunch is always a big deal at our house- we have long weekend lunches and sandwiches rarely feature- which is probably why I don't really like sandwiches. I never had them in my lunchbox and even now, I don't really want a sanwich for lunch unless it is filled with pork and gravy and apple sauce! So it is hard (and a lot more effort) to find something that fits the bill that doesn't come in between two bits of bread.

Lunch is always a big deal, and whenever I am at home for any period of time (i.e as I was for two weeks over Christmas) we go out to lunch nearly every day, or someone (usually me when Dad is at work) spends time making an elaborate feast on which the whole family can munch, sometimes accompanied by wine, often with lots of friends added, but always with lots of great food and laughter. For the times we are sick of cooking- we venture out!

Gunnedah isn't known for the range of places to eat out, but there are a couple of diamonds in the rough. A current family favourite is "The Stuffed Olive" which is based at The Courthouse Hotel. The food is pub food, but it is pretty damn good pub food- always really fresh and tasty, and they really have a great menu for the crowd.

We are regulars and I have tried most things on the menu. Fy favourite is, without a doubt, the crumbed lamb cutlets. They are absolutely everything I wish for in a lamb cutlet. Huge, crumbed with a nice hint of fat on the bone. I don't even really like crumbed lamb cutlets but someone these leave me wanting more even though I am physically not able to consume another morsel. I really never eat absolutely everything on my plate, but this is an exception. The crumbing is the perfect texture without being oily, the red wine gravy is rich, the mash is creamy and cloudlike and the vegetables are al dente. My perfect winter comfort food/ hearty meal that I sometimes also eat in summer when I can't resist. Pretty decent for about $14 which includes three HUGE cutlets.

My second favourite is the mexican wrap ($9ish) which is basically like a burrito but I am also quite fond of the steak. Dad usually has a steak $15-20ish) with mustard, no chips (because his three daughters like to remind him frequently of the dangers of fried food!) and salad. In this instance, the steak was cooked/ barely cooked, but done the way Dad likes. The salad is pretty standard side salad.

On this occasion, I was kicking myself because I didn't order the cutlets, when my barramundi ($17 i think) arrived. It was moist and tender, and well cooked too. A great dish for when you feel like something light and summery but doesn't compare to the kaboom of a dish that the lamb cutlets are.

There are plenty of other options on the menu including Thai beef salad (make sure you ask them to go easy on the dressing), salt and pepper calamari, a variety of wraps and many standard issue pub fare items like lasagne. One of the specialties is the dipping bread with garlic and herbs which is one little bowl filled with potent garlicky, buttery goodness.

Stuffed Olive do have a special night, and you can order ribs and steaks for cheap, but if you want to try out the full menu make sure you don't turn up on the Wednesday night.

If you are ever driving through, or going to Porchetta Day, or coming to visit Gunnedah, or even if you feel like a good hearty pub meal and want to drive 9 hours to get it, I would say it's definitely worth popping into the Stuffed Olive.

The Stuffed Olive
Courthouse Hotel
Conadilly Street

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My little sis turns 18!

So as you all may know, I am not the best baker in the world. Baking seems have a way of stumping me. My cakes always crack, my meringues always flop, my icing melts and nothing tastes quite like it should. I'm not sure how this happened. My Granny was a fabulous cook and spent hours in the kitchen always baking up treats for our birthday parties. She spent hours teaching my how to 'bake' but somehow, cooking meals was more natural to me.

Since my Gran died, there have been a real lack of homemade treats around our house, so I decided to get over my fear and start re-teaching myself to bake. Luckily, Granny had thousands of hand-written recipes scrawled on all sorts of odds and ends, and in the bag of papers, I discovered recipes from her Grandmother so I have many to sort through and am very excited to do so.

Gran used to ALWAYS make birthday cakes, and I was so inspired going through her recipes that I decided to make a birthday cake for my darling little sister's 18th birthday.

R just loves mudcake. Gran didn't have any recipes for mud cake so I used a rich chocolate mudcake recipe that I found on The recipe is originally from Woolworths Good Taste Magazine.

I was also looking on and found a beautiful tiffany cake and decided to make something similar as A (my other sister) and I, gave R a tiffany bracelet for her birthday.

If you are interested you can find the recipe for the mud cake here, but I would recommend adding extra chocolate and baking for less time. My cake wasn't as moist as I would have liked, but it was dense. I'm still on the hunt for the perfect recipe, so if you have one- please let me have it!!

Now for the icing- ok ok, so I was running majorly short of time and used bought fondant icing. SHOCK HORROR. Nobody tell me how bad it is please, because I already know- and next time I will make the icing from scratch but this time I didn't.

My tips for the icing include make sure you have HEAPS of icing sugar to dust the surface, make sure you have enough icing to role out for the whole cake, and make sure you only use small bits of food colouring and keep adding to that. It's much easier to add more colour than to try and bring it back the other way. There are heaps of useful fondant icing videos on youtube which helped me get an idea of where to start.

Ok- so this post isn't really that helpful for bakers but I'm going to show you a photo of the cake anyway because I'm quite proud of the result! For a first go using fondant icing- it wasn't too bad. R loved it and my Gran would have been proud that I made a birthday cake!

I added some pink spots for colour and there was a bit of cracking, but overall it looked sort of coolish. Not cool, but coolish!

One main point- DON'T PUT THE ICED CAKE IN THE FRIDGE because when you take it out, the icing will sweat.

Do you guys have any baking stories? How did you learn to bake and do you prefer baking or cooking?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Disagreeing with Delicious and Matt Preston, Do I dare?

Do I dare to disagree with uber popular, man of the moment, Matt Preston? I went to Mooshka, Sunshine Beach to do a review and then days later read this month's Delicious magazine which also reviewed Mooshka. It seems they are two very different stories. I guess my experience did leave me questioning myself. Is it me that was wrong in my judgement? I guess the business of reviewing food, or being a food blogger is so subjective. The opinions on this blog are my own, and sometimes those of my PIE's (partners in eating) and I guess that you have to back your own opinion. I get that, but when you disagree with someone who has a lot of kudos and far more experience and training than myself, I do sometimes question myself.

Obviously restaurants can have off days. Things can go wrong and you could have a fantastic dish one day, and a mediocre one the next. But this was more than than. I love reading Matt Preston's colourful reviews and in many cases I find myself nodding in agreement and able to identify with the beautiful descriptions and taste experiences he is going through. In this instance my experience must have been dramatically different to Matt's. That being said, I have revisited my notes and re-affirmed with my pies and I do stand by my judgement. I have to put it down to a difference of opinion that is based on different experiences. Maybe the chef's rustled up something fabulous for Matt and gave me the standardised fare? Whatever the reason, I'm not sure, but my experience was thoroughly disappointing, even more disappointing when I found Matt's review.

I don't like going to places and getting something bad- in fact, Mooshka is right near where I stay when I am at the coast so it conveniently could have become a regular haunt, but no, instead, I now walk by wondering where it all went wrong.

Walking into Mooshka, it was clear that they were not the run of the mill, clean cut coastal eatery. The place is decked out with odds and ends, with a very retro feel. Nothing is the same i.e glasses and cutlery are all odd, and settling into the back corner, facing a green velour arm chair, almost made me feel like I was at an Londoner townouse in the 70's. I'm not sure if the set-up was cool or naff but at this point, there were no complaints from me because they had done something unique, and created their own atmosphere.

Until my entree arrived- The disaster dish of the night. Tempura Zucchini flowers with pomegranate molasses for $18 sounds impressive and looked pretty good. Until I took the first bite. The batter was not light and tempurish at all and the heavy batter made me wonder if they had borrowed the oil from the fish shop up the road. The molasses didn't really have a distinct pomegranate flavour and the leaves were bitter and horrible and overall the salad lacked finesse. Strike one. I didn't even finish eating my zucchini flowers- which I usually love so much I could eat them endlessly. (apologies again for the photos... they are terrible and the red lighting didn't help my already horrible photography skills)

For my main, I ordered another entree, the crispy calamari with nam jim for $16. Again the crumbing/batter lacked flavour and was quite oily- but the calamari was not tough which was a (the only) redeeming feature. The nam jim again lacked flavour and to be honest, I could have been eating calamari from a packet.

C ordered a pizza that looked delicious and different on the menu - Pepperoni, chicken, mushrooms, olives, chilli and pecorrino - $18. The menu did have a good range of pizzas, ranging from a reasonable $16-$18. Unfortunately, the pizza just didn't stand up to it. The base was soggy, the toppings were tasteless and the chilli was barely noticable.

My other PIE, L, ordered the sweet potato polenta, with field mushrooms, rocket, capers, olives, pesto and dressing @ $20, which once again, sounded promising. Unbelievably or believably at this point, the polenta was awful and dry and had no flavour and with the main attraction being so boring, the rest of the meal was rather uninspiring. L also left his plate unfinished, which is basically unheard of.

I can't believe that all four dishes were lacklustre. There was really not much to excite me at Mooska, and there was no way I was willing to order dessert after the disappointing entree and mains.

Whilst the meals were bad, the service was good. The staff were attentive and polite, kept the water coming, and did their best to accomodate any requests.

Mooshka, I'm so sad. You have your own vibe going, the menu looks good, you are in a great position, the staff were good, the prices are reasonable, the drinks list was unique -but the food was just terrible. I so badly wanted you to be good, but you were so good at being bad. Please, please, please- I do want to come back and try again, mainly because of your location, but if you strike out as badly as you did last time, then I won't even feel bad about this review.

So tell me, have you had a terrible experience when someone else seems to have had a fantastic time? Do other bloggers feel as bad as I do when writing a bad review?

Back to School (I wish....) Back to Work

I have to admit, after a fabulous Christmas and holiday period I was feeling less than enthusiastic about going back to work, simply because I'd rather be cooking, eating, drinking, hanging out and beaching it. How Generation Y of me.

Anyway, Back to Work was looming and the Sunday Afternoon blues made a resurgence early- on Thursday- and so I was left searching for ways to make back to work a little bit easier.

A little stop in Coles ( I'm usually a Woolies girl) turned out to be just what I was looking for. The answer to my problems?? A NEW LUNCHBOX! But not just any old lunchbox- a smash Nude Food Movers Lunchbox. It has many different compartments and is WAY more EXCITING than any other lunchbox I have seen. Ever. Back to School seems such a long time ago, but I can vividly remember the excitement of going to buy new lunch boxes, bags, pens and pencils and to be honest, this time around, the amount of excitement I had about this lunchbox probably surpassed all the back to school excitement combined.

I know you are probably thinking - is this blog SERIOUSLY about a lunch box? And let me tell you, I would probably be asking the same thing if I were to discover a blog about a lunchbox.... but that's because you haven't seen the Nude Food Movers Lunchbox - that is also available with different skins (wetskin type covers to keep the food cool.) If someone from Smash happens to see this blog, could you please employ me as your spokesperson?? I am happy to accept payment in the form of skins or other lunchboxes. Ok so here it is......

I know Nude Food Movers sounds like some kinky cult, but alas, the ethos behind the lunchbox is to have less packaging required for your lunch i.e. nude food. I am seriously in love with my lunchbox and C and my family have unfortunately been hearing about it for the last 5 days.

I guess the lunchbox became a symbol for possibility and hope, which is what the start of a new school year used to bring. A new start, new classmates, new stuff, new subjects, new teachers and new possibilities. In the real world, the start is less dramatic. Less holidays, less new things, more work etc etc but I had made some idealistic new year's reso's, which is where the lunchbox comes in.

I'd already made a resolution, as I see many other bloggers have done too, to eat more healthily and save more money. Part of this was to take my lunch to work 9 days out of 10. For me, this is a big deal because packed lunches are the bain of my existence. Seriously, I don't think you understand - I just do not know what to take. I have tried many different options but truthfully, I'm not a sandwich girl because bread makes me feel tired and I don't like having cold meat that is more than two days old so it makes it hard to get something to put on the sandwich and tinned Tuna is one of the very few things I don't like to eat - the list goes on and on. I get really REALLY hungry too, so that is something to keep in consideration.

When I first saw the lunchbox, I fell in love. It instantly seemed to give me more options. Suddenly I had a couple of lunch ideas. Yay! (But would be happy for any of you to give me some more options- please!) I like the fact that you can create bigger subsections by removing pieces and I especially like the orange and fluro yellow (no they aren't an apple and an orange) tubs to put yoghurt or dip or whatever into.

Today I put tzatziki in the yellow tub (bought from Chocolate Providore at Noosa Farmer's Markets), Passionfruit greek yoghurt in the orange tub, dutch carrots in the clear side container, raspberries and blueberries on the other side of the clear container, some crackers on sandwich level 1, and a rye turkey, tomato, lettuce and wholegrain mustard sandwich on sandwich level 2.
I did spend about an hour stuffing about packing my lunch, but as the days go by, I guess it will be quicker. Tomorrow I will switch the sandwich, even rye bread doesn't work for me, and come up with something new. I'm glad that I found the nude food movers range. I have my symbol of hope, my lunchbox, to fill to the brim with lots of tasty and healthy goodies, and hopefully keep me on track for the rest of my new year's resolutions.

Do you find it difficult to pack lunch or is it your favourite meal of the day? Got any lunchbox suggestions for me?! I'm aiming to go a whole year packing lunches with only one day off every fortnight! I will keep you updated on my progress (oh no, suddenly I'm accountable to someone other than myself!) but keep your ideas coming!

P.S. I also got another lunchbox (Nude food movers) which has an in-built dressing container! No more soggy salads!

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