Sunday, August 29, 2010

Taste Melbourne wrap-up

I've just arrived home from a day out in Carlton, exhausted and full to bursting, but satisfied and happy.  The wonderful people at Hothouse Media & Events were kind enough to not only provide three double passes for me to give away to some lucky readers for Friday's long lunch; but also gave me a double pass for me to enjoy.  At $30 a pop on the door - and considering you need to purchase all food and classes (excluding free tastings) in addition - it's pricy, so I really appreciated not having to pay the entry fee. 

Okay, so let's be honest about the negatives:  it's a heavily commercialised event where you essentially have to pay to have a bunch of companies market their stuff to you at every turn.  It's packed with people, in-your-face and noisy.  Events like this tend to turn us into animals; the chocolate stands in particular attracted hoardes of jostling piglets, hogging spaces in front of the free samples, grabbing multiple handfuls as soon as the plates of 70% cocoa were replenished.  I'd like to say I wasn't one of them but I'd be lying. 

That aside, I still think the festival is well worth a visit.  Especially if - like me - you're a passionate foodie with a list a mile long of fabulous restaurants you want to visit, but the budget won't allow it more than once every couple of months.  Where else can you sample some of Melbourne's best signature dishes from our top restaurants, for around ten bucks a plate, all on the same day?  The highlight for me was the King Island Dairy and James Squire's cheese and beer tasting session.  $12 bucks got us generous chunks of several different cheeses, matches with various accompanyments and different kinds of beer, plus a comprehensive commentary from two very bubbly hosts.

Other highlights included dishes from Embrasse (crispy pork belly with purple potato, hazelnuts and chocolate parfait & meringue in the shape of a mushroom on a 'forest floor' of chocolate 'soil'), The European (duck tortelloni with truffle oil), The Palace (wagyu burger), and Stokehouse (bombe - strawberry sorbet, white chocolate parfait and toasted meringue).  The exhibitor stalls were ok (some better than others) and the marketing people at Smeg would be pleased to know their new range of bright, pretty, retro fridges took my breath away - although for a 270 litre at over $3200, I think I can get something that holds more food.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A simple vanilla Creme Brulee

I'm going through a stage of searching for good old fashioned and simple comfort food recipes.  The classic winter staples - student pasta, slow cooked casseroles, apple pie.

It happens to be a perfect time for me to reflect on this because I've succumbed to one of those nasty colds every other person seems to be walking around with at the moment.  And while I'm hardly in the mood to get up from the couch - let alone cook - I did feel motivated on the weekend to try making one of my all time favourite desserts:  creme brulee.

Creme brulee is one of those things I tend to order at any given opportunity simply because I'd never made it myself and because it seemed like a difficult thing to do.  There are literally dozens of variations on making the custard, on flavouring, and on how to achieve the perfect "crack" texture on top, further adding to my creme-brulee-reluctance.

After some experimentation, I managed to work out a super simple way of making the perfect, classic, vanilla creme brulee. 

Basic vanilla creme brulee.

Pre-heat oven to 120c.  Put 600ml cream and a split vanilla pod (or 1/2 tsp vanilla essence) into a saucepan and heat to scalding point - take it off the heat just before it boils.  In a bowl, beat together (with electric hand mixer) 6 egg yolks and 1/2 cup caster sugar until pale and creamy.  Pour over the hot cream mixture (take out the pod first) and keep beating for a minute.  With a large metal spoon, skim off the froth from the top of the mixture and discard, then pour mix into four small/medium size ramekins.  Put the ramekins into a deep sided baking dish, and pour in boiling water until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Place into oven for 40 minutes until just set - a slight wobble in the middle of the custards is good.  Cool before chilling them in the fridge for a few hours.  When ready to serve, evenly sprinkle 1/2 tsp caster sugar over each custard.  Place under a hot grill, or use a domestic blowtorch to heat the tops until browned.  It should "crack" with the back of a teaspoon when you hit it, and the custard underneath should be semi-set.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Taste of Melbourne 2010 - Long lunch tickets giveaway

Calling all foodies - it's so ridiculously easy to WIN a FREE DOUBLE PASS to Friday's long lunch at this year's Taste of Melbourne festival, you'd be mad not to enter!

The festival runs over four days, providing a golden opportunity to catch up with chefs, see live cooking demonstrations, and enjoy gourmet produce.  The best thing about the festival is the "choose your own adventure" style of eating.  You purchase your ticket depending on a preferred session time (lunch or dinner), and use the festival currency, - known as 'crowns' - to peruse and buy whatever takes your fancy from some of Melbourne's best restaurants.

Some of this year's fabulous food establishments include big names like Longrain, maze, Stokehouse, and Embrasse, plus many others sure to tempt the tastebuds.  In addition, there's a produce market with dozens of stalls, and speciality areas where you can check out demonstrations, wine tasting, Yarra Valley farmer's market and cocktail making.  This has surely got to be foodie heaven.

The festival runs over four days from August 26-29.  Tickets for standard entry come with a free Gourmet Traveller magazine and cost $27.50 if pre-purchased online.  However, I'm running a little competition for blog readers to win one of THREE, free double passes.  All you have to do is write me a quick comment below on your favourite restaurant or producer featuring in this year's festival along with your email address, (and join my blog, if you aren't already a faithful member) by midday this Friday 13th August. 

The three winners will be drawn randomly and will be notified via email.  Good luck!