Monday, May 25, 2015

Parwan Valley Mushrooms Farm Tour

Disclosure: I was invited to visit the mushroom farm by the Australian Mushroom Growers Association

Usually when one refers to a farm, one might get images of beautiful rolling hills and cut green grass, with sunshine, dew and a cloud of breath in the fresh morning air. 

And I’m sure that there are certainly farms like this, with this beautiful romantic vision behind them. However, it was most fascinating to be invited on a mushroom farm tour along with a group of nutrition and dietary science students from Monash and see what farming on a high scale commercial level looked like for this particular industry.

Let’s be honest, it’s not sexy from the outside. We pulled up to Parwan Valley Mushrooms, which is a great big white box, but we’re warmly greeted by Tim, CEO of the farm, who started it in 2012. Tim and all his staff are immensely passionate about their mushrooms, full of fun facts, laughs and stories from when they first started. You can’t fake this stuff people.

So, how do you set up a commercial mushroom farm that churns out 25,000 tonnes of mushrooms a week? I know. Crazy right? 

The factory is made up of 12 huge rooms, which work on 6 week cycles. Every week, 2 rooms are filled with compost (80 tonnes of it) and peat moss which sits underneath the compost and then the rooms are carefully regulated to ensure the optimum growing conditions.

For the first 6-7 days, the newly laid out compost, which has mycelium (which mushroom grows from) are kept cool and dry, so that the mycelium has the optimum amount of time to vegetate before going into the reproductive stage. So not much to see here.

The next week, after this vegetative stage, the room is amped up, and goes into tropical country with the heat and humidity. This encourages the mycelium to start reproducing, growing denser and denser. It starts looking like a spider web wrapping around the compost, and starts to gather and push through the compost layer into the atmosphere. 

Shortly after, the humidity is reduced again… and you start getting what the guys called ‘pins’. The first signs of mushrooms. And gosh darn, they are so cute. Just look at them! I was amazed at how white and clean they come out, despite being surrounded by all of the compost. Tim commented that the mushrooms are so clean and hygienic (and reinforced the fact we shouldn’t be washing our mushrooms before we use them to cook), that he often just eats them off the bed if he’s forgotten his lunch. Pretty convenient!

By day 14, the beds of compost start looking a bit like this, strewn with mushrooms and ready for picking. And man, the pickers make fast work. Each and every mushroom is hand picked, with some of the pickers averaging 1000 mushrooms an hour! That’s 16 to 17 a minute, and it’s not as simple as just yanking them out. A picker has to carefully twist the mushrooms out with their finger tips, ensuring of course first, that they are the right size, and cutting the stem off to the desired length by their clientele, usually doing one sweep of the room for a particular bigger size of mushroom, before doubling back for another round of smaller ones.

And mushrooms grow so fast, they often have to make several passes through the day to keep up! Mushrooms double in size every 24 hours, so they get to be pretty big buggers pretty quickly! 

After the mushrooms are picked clean, they actually get to have another two crops from the compost, although the gains aren’t as big. The first crop will wield around 13,000 tonnes, second crop 8 tonnes, and the third crop, 4 tonnes. Mushrooms that also don’t quite meet the standards of the supermarkets are utilised in other products, such as pre-cut mushrooms, so aren’t wasted. 

The mushrooms are shipped out within 10 hours of harvest, so that they get to the supermarkets as fresh as possible and ready for us to eat!

I loved the system the mushroom factory had going, and the fact that you could really see each stage of the mushrooms growing (something that otherwise might be a bit hard to witness)! 

I find it hard to believe that I hated mushrooms as a kid (but then I think it’s a pre-requisite as a kid to hate vegetables in general), but I’ve definitely grown to simply adore them, and it was lovely to go home with a bag of freshly picked harvest. Mum and I noted how sweet they were when we cooked them that night, with an absolutely lovely and light texture. Certainly makes a difference to get them as fresh as possible!

One other fun fact I learnt on my visit, although I already knew that mushrooms were awesome for you, I was surprised to learn that they can actually be very dense sources of vitamin D. You simply let you mushrooms sun bake for an hour when you bring them home, then while stored away, they actually continue to generate and grow the levels of vitamin D in them. Fascinating little things aren’t they? 

Find out more at the Power of Mushrooms

Friday, May 22, 2015

General Assembly Talk: The Business of Food Blogging

Got some pretty exciting news! I was recently asked to participate in General Assembly's event: The Business of Food Blogging on the 18th of June, where we'll have a little panel discussing what food blogging's looking like in Melbourne's climate, some of the difficulties we face, and what we see what we're doing going forward into the future. 

It'll be a fun little evening, and considering it's free, and just a couple of hours, it's pretty good value if you ask me! 

So if you're interested in attending, just visit the General Assembly website, make account and book in your spot, looking forward to seeing you there!

If you have anything you would like me to talk about in particular as well, I'm totally taking suggestions as I'm starting to put my presentation together! 

The Business of Food Blogging: with top food bloggers & industry insiders
June 18th
Level 17, 31 Queen Street
Melbourne 3000
Cost: Free!
Book your spot here

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Pg. 2

My brother is a special character. There are many science-y and psychology type words that are generally used to describe him, but there are also many other beautiful words, such as hardworking, loyal to a fault, committed to the cause of good, selfless, tenacious, and outgoing. 

And earlier this month, he turned 25. 

To celebrate, since Chai had recently hurt himself, rather than going out for a full family meal, mum stayed home to dog sit and Brad and I took Tim out for brunch. He used to hate going out for meals, as it would ruin his schedule, or whatever it was in his head that he had planned to do. These days though, with enough notice, he’s now keen as chops to get out the door for a meal, and loves spending time with us. 

So we ended up at Pg. 2 in Richmond, a very cosy little cafe on Swan Street, that makes you beam from ear to ear and wriggle your toes in joy, at the warmth the staff and the space exudes. Who wouldn’t want to just lounge around in the blue armchairs at the front of the cafe, or the red ones in the back all day? There are even a box of blankets out back if you choose to sit outside on a slightly chilly day. Reminds me very much of Germany!

The menu and food were honest, but beautifully executed. My brother was thrilled to get gluten free bread with his thyme infused  Swiss brown mushrooms, with poached eggs and gleefully rich homemade hollandaise, which he inhaled 7/8ths of in a moment, before taking his time with the last couple of bites. 

Brad also enjoyed his big breakfast, with free range bacon, mushrooms, croquettes, spinach, tomato, avocado, chorizo and poached eggs done just right. 

Whilst my zucchini, carrot, corn and haloumi fritters, served with smoked salmon and poached egg…well they’re just pretty as a picture aren’t they? Not to mention delicious, well seasoned, not too doughy and hearty. 

We loved our meals, and our morning together, but the Pg. 2 team outdid themselves, and when they learnt that it was my brother’s birthday? Treated him to a wee cupcake (or not so little) from the display. My brother is a simple creature (which I think is a blessing), and the happiness this brought him was just beautiful. He couldn’t stop talking about what a lucky boy he was once he got home to we devoured all of the macarons we picked up from Luxbite (sort of) on the way home.

207 Swan Street
Richmond 3121

Pg.2 on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 18, 2015

Nieuw Amsterdam - Fall Menu Tasting

Disclosure: I was invited as a guest of the restaurant 

There are a couple of restaurants on my list, that are always guaranteed to be failsafe recommendations, and are always floating around somewhere in my consciousness, reminding me that I always really ought to revisit.

Nieuw Amsterdam is one of those places. But not only for the food, but for the fascinating things they’re doing with cocktails as well.

So when I was invited to taste the new fall menu (one of my favourite seasons), how am I to say no?

Nieuw Amsterdam has recently welcomed a new head chef, Jeff Trotter, ex sous chef of the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld and also with some previous experience in Michelin starred restaurants, bringing his own elegant take on ‘New American’, featuring some New York classics. 

Before we could eat anything though, bar manager Sean McGuire ensured we had our liquid appetisers first! The first of four matching cocktails was the ‘Poor Al’, standard whiskey, dry vermouth with lopsang tea syrup and lemon topped with soda. It’s Nieuw Amsterdam’s take on a winter Tom Collins…and it’s dangerously fresh, like a breath of fresh air, and easy to drink. I’m not usually a whisky cocktail kind of person, but would faithfully return to this with no problem!

Smoked mackerel croquettes came out golden and utterly perfect. I love mackerel personally as it is, but smoked? And deep fried? I might’ve been in heaven. The golden crust was perfectly crunchy, and the smoked mackerel inside was just molten and saucy. Fantastic.

Pop Scallops made me smile, I love this fascination with popcorn at the moment, as you would never have expected it in anything remotely fine dining or fancy…yet there it is, in all it’s popped glory. Popcorn, utterly perfectly cooked scallop, nice little kick of chilli, watercress and celeriac, adding a cool and refreshing note, I found the dish well balanced and a whole lot of fun as well. 

The Mac n’ Cheese souffle is exactly what you might ask for, sure, a little denser and heavier than a traditional souffle…but what did you really expect when mac n’ cheese are added into the mix? Cheesy, and creamy, the addition of a green pea puree and a hint of chorizo oil helped cut through the richness and brighten up the flavours. 

The basil daiquiri is one of the most delicious things I’ve drunk recently, with white rum, green chartreuse, basil, cracked pepper and lime. It’s refreshing, but savoury, just strong enough for you to know you’re getting your hit, but so complex and delicious that by the time you’ve realised how many ‘little’ sips you were planning to take to make it last…you might’ve finished it already. 

It was on to meatier items next, the barbecue lamb ribs with tomato and chipotle an absolutely meaty delight, just slipping off the bone. The kick in the chipotle gave me a surprise, but was completely welcome. Shrimp n’ Grits with okra, corn and gumbo sauce is a delight poured at the table and the smokey beef brisket is amazingly tender and hearty.

We share a plate of yam gnocchi as well, with goats curd, maple pecans, thyme and parmesan, but I could easily clear a plate on my own (if I didn’t have so much to eat already). The gnocchi are like light and fluffy pillows, nicely paired with the velvety and creamy goats curd and rich and only just lightly melted parmesan. The yam and sweet potato crisps add a nice bit of texture to it as well. 

For meat dishes, a meat themed cocktail seems appropriate, and we’re presented with ‘Elmer had a Little Lamb’ which is made of lamb fat washed buffalo trace bourbon, mint, sugar and crushed ice. It’s rich and savoury, delightfully aromatic, especially with the sprig of rosemary and slightly perplexing, but in a delicious way. 

To finish, we were treated to a bevy of desserts, all with familiar, classic and comforting flavours, but presented beautifully. 

Pumpkin doughnuts with Jack Daniel’s cream were a table favourite, the doughnuts lushly dusted in sugar, with a touch of crust, but overall light and fluffy. Not so much pumpkin flavour in the doughnuts, but that Jack Daniel’s cream, heaped up in a big mass was everything.

Nieuw cheesecake with black cherry, thyme, black pepper and milk, was elegant, and lighter on the flavours, whilst the fried apple pie was a piping hot pocket, with maple and raisins and a cream cheese sorbet which was a lovely balance to all the sweetness.

My favourite though, and yes, partially because I’m just a sucker for chocolate, was the chocolate mallow, served with a raspberry marshmallow and snowed under by caramelised white chocolate and toasted coconut. Wow. Creamy, and filing in the mouth, yet oddly light at the same time. I loved the toasted coconut that added some texture and crunch. 

It had been a while since my last visit at Nieuw, but as always, they put on a delicious show, and have made me feel a bit guilty that my visits are always so far apart. Next time an out of town guest is around…

106-112 Hardware Street
Melbourne VIC 3000

Nieuw Amsterdam on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Little Temper

Sometimes a lot of little things all together make a place just right. 

It took me a while to get around to visiting Little Temper in Hawthorn, as I hadn’t heard much about it, and hadn’t known of anyone who visited. 

But once I arrived, I wish I had visited much sooner! The cosy little space fits a nice scoopful of people, and although small, there’s plenty of colour and personality in the space, from the multi-coloured coffee cups to the striped counters and the blue counter next to the window that looks stunning in photos. 

We popped ourselves at the counter, and watched the rain bash down, as two dapperly dressed men sipped on their espressos and smoked their cigarettes on the outside tables. 

Lately, I feel like Prana Chai can be very hit and miss, with some cafes just not giving it the love it needs to really get the fullest flavour out of it. At Little Temper, they just worked magic with it, warm and creamy and stunningly rich in flavour, nice and spicy. I loved the mug they served it in too, so cute and huggable, just right for a rainy day. 

Brad’s baked eggs came piping hot in a skillet, and were just the kind of baked eggs he liked. Still a little runny, but not overly so, and delightfully hearty. There are times were I could wax lyrical about how good a dish was, and sometimes, I simply cannot describe the simple comfort a dish brings. 

Although I was tempted by gluten free ricotta and almond hotcakes (definitely returning for these!) I absolutely loved my house spiced granola with raspberry compote, berries, organic honey and yoghurt. I feel like my granola/porridge picks lately have been a bit hit and miss…however, I cleaned this plate up. This was just what I liked.

Crunchy, lightly toasted granola with spices that were lovely and aromatic. The addition of the raspberry compote was perfect for me, adding a gentle sweetness and the apple batons added another crispy texture. All swirled up together, I simply could not get enough. Delish.

Although it’s fun to run around town and check out all that’s new, I do need to take more chances on little neighbourhood gems like Little Temper, which often give me so much more than I need. Brad and I got into one of our more intellectual conversations, and although we always bond over brunching, there are some places where it’s certainly easier to do it at than others. Like Little Temper! 

Little Temper
63 Burwood Road
Hawthorn 3122

Little Temper on Urbanspoon