Sunday, September 13, 2009

Williamstown Farmers' Market

Today was the first day of the new Williamstown Farmers' Market, held at Commonwealth Reserve in Nelson Place. It's a delightful spot for a market, with the pretty buildings of Nelson Place a backdrop on one side, and stunning views across the bay to the CBD skyline.

The old market ceased operating a few years ago but the popularity of farmers' markets around Melbourne continues to grow and so it was exciting to see what produce was on offer. Despite the arrival of spring on the calendar, it was a cool morning, with a few spots of rain. Early risers (the market opens at 8am) found plenty to fill their baskets with.

First stop was the Matisse sourdough bread stall. The range includes a fruit loaf, rye and sunflower seeds, fig and fennel, olive rolls, baguettes and ciabattas, as well as several varieties of home-made dips. A large loaf, generously studded with plump fruit, was the first purchase.

Past the muffin stall, generously stocked with large and mini muffins, the Arctic Fox beer tent and the Robinvale olive oil stand, we came to a stall selling sweet, juicy Pink Ladies, my favourite apple. After tasting a sliver, which was one of the most delicious apples I've ever had, we had to buy a bag. Then to counteract this healthy fruit, we came across a tart stand, with delicious combinations such as gin and lime, double chocolate and lemon curd.

Fresh vegetables, cakes and pastries, curry sauces, free-range eggs and fresh milk from Warrnambool, smallgoods, Boosey Creek cheeses, and pates and terrines were some of the other goodies on offer.

The range of produce was excellent for the inaugural market and I, for one, love to support Victoria's small producers. Many of the stall-holders had travelled long distances from rural Victoria to be at the market and I think we should do all we can to support them. The taste of a fresh apple from a small orchard cannot be compared with the supermarket specimens that spend far too much time in a coolroom.

Williamstown Farmers' Market, Nelson Place, Williamstown (Melway 56 D9).
Second Sunday of each month, 8am to 1pm.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Review: Donna Hay chocolate cookies

Packet mixes of cakes and biscuits are not often a feature in my trolley. I prefer home-made treats where possible, mostly for taste reasons but also because I know exactly what's going into the final product and there's no hidden preservatives or chemicals.

But I admit to a twinge of curiosity when Donna Hay recently launched her own brand of cupcake and cookie mixes. I'm a huge Donna fan and have all her cookbooks. I couldn't imagine her putting her name and brand to any product that wasn't of the highest quality.

Last week, when visiting Andrew's Choice in Yarraville, which is so much more than a butcher's shop and stocks a great range of deli items, my son Daniel found a box of Donna Hay chocolate chunk cookie mix, conveniently placed at exactly his eye level. He was entranced by the enticing picture on the front of the box and no doubt thought he could open the box and find the biscuits inside, waiting to be devoured by a hungry toddler.

So, in the interests of research, the cookie mix came home with us and we baked the biscuits. Making biscuits is not a hugely time-consuming exercise at the best of times, but mixing up the biscuits was so fast that the 12-minute cooking time felt like an eternity. We provided 80g of soft butter and a melted egg, and the box provided the cookie mix and a generous bag of dark chocolate buttons.

The raw dough tasted as good as anything else I've made and the final product was delicious - one of the best chocolate chip cookies I've eaten. In fact, it tasted exactly like the Donna Hay chocolate cookies that I make from her cookbooks. Checking the ingredients list, I discovered that the mix contains wheat flour, brown sugar, natural vanilla flavour and raising agents 450 and 500. There are no added artificial colours or preservatives.

The verdict? This product gets a huge thumbs-up. Most people would not be able to pick that the biscuits originate from a box and it certainly does save time in the kitchen. The only slight downside is the price: on the Donna Hay website, they are listed at $14.95 (although currently on special at a more reasonable $8.95). I know choc bits and other baking goods have recently increased in price but $15 seems quite steep for a box of biscuits - I don't think it would cost that much to make a batch from scratch.

But that is a minor quibble - chocolate chip cookies are a treat, rather than an everyday indulgence anyway. As Donna says on the box, these biscuits is "as good as baking from scratch, only foolproof." I'll definitely use this product again.