Monday, September 27, 2010

Slice of heaven

My family's first stop at the Royal Melbourne Show is always at the Country Women's Association stand for Devonshire tea. Textbook perfect scones, baked fresh that morning by one of the CWA's army of talented bakers, accompanied by a small pot of thick cream and some strawberry jam, is one of life's wonderful little indulgences.

This year, I explored the sale stall at the back of the room, with knitted tea cosies, printed tea towels and recipe books all jumbled together. When I picked up The A to Z of Cooked and Uncooked Slices, I knew this was one purchase I had to make. It was impossible to resist seventy pages of good old-fashioned slices, most made with plain ingredients found in any self-respecting country larder, and designed to feed hungry mouths in search of a sweet treat, whether hard-working farmers or children after school.

Chocolate, caramel, apricots, cherries, ginger, walnuts, coconut, coffee, dates, hazelnuts, lemon and passionfruit are just some of the stars of this book. The beauty of slices, particularly old-fashioned ones, is that they turn simple ingredients into something special with a minimum of fuss and effort.

It was difficult to choose which slice to bake first but I narrowed down my list to those with ingredients I already had in my larder: cherry nut slice and coffee streusel slice. I love the short no-nonsense tone of the recipes, which assumes a large degree of knowledge by the cook (but one that was perfectly in tune with the times - any self-respecting home cook would have known this information). These slices are suitable for a morning tea at home or they can be dressed up and taken out for company - in my case, these slices went perfectly with coffee during half-time at a friend's AFL Grand Final party.

Cherry nut slice
Recipe from Isobel Green, Member of Honour, CWA Victoria branch

1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup icing sugar
125g butter

Rub butter into flour and sugar and knead well. Press into 18cm x 28cm greased tin.

Combine 2 eggs and 1/2 cup sugar into a bowl and beat well. Add 1 cup coconut, 30g chopped walnuts or pecan nuts and 30g chopped glace cherries. Add 1/2 cup sifted self-raising flour and mix well. Pour over prepared base and bake in a moderate oven (160 to 180 degrees, not fan-forced) for 25-30 minutes. Ice with pale pink icing (made with 2 cups icing sugar mixed with enough boiling water to be spreadable) and sprinkle with chopped walnuts,

Monday, September 20, 2010

Spring bounty

The weather has been wintry but our gardens know that spring is here, with buds and blossom shooting out from trees and spring vegetables appearing in the markets.

On a visit to the Victoria Market, I was rugged up in a winter coat and scarf to keep the icy wind at bay, but my trolley was full of spring freshness: sweet corn, asparagus, leeks, baby potatoes, peas, pineapple, strawberries and melons. Normally I rush around the market, my mind racing with ideas, and buy far too much produce that I won't have the time to prepare, or the crowds to devour.

But this time I was restrained and concentrated just on dinner, which had all the freshness of spring, even if the gale outside my kitchen window was suggesting a thick soup or stew would be more appropriate. From the meat hall, I found a perfect little spring lamb roast, with a macadamia and sun-dried tomato stuffing, for $12. It roasted in the oven while I steamed baby potatoes and tossed them with some Warrnambool butter and home-grown parsley. The final touch was some lightly steamed asparagus and dinner was served - minimum effort and maximum flavour.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Morning sun blazes at night at Nosh's third wine dinner

A boutique Mornington Peninsula vineyard, Morning Sun, was the star of Nosh @ Newport's third wine dinner. The award-winning cool climate wines are produced from two vineyards, located 1km apart, at Main Ridge. The vines are planted on elevated slopes facing the morning sun, which creates a long and even ripening period each day with no direct exposure to harsh afternoon sunlight. The main varieties produced are pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot grigio.

At the age of 70, Mario Toniolo fulfilled a childhood fantasy when he began the winery in 1995 and he can still be found pottering around the vineyard most days.

The wine dinner began with a wild mushroom soup shot with sherry and goat's cheese croute, paired with a 2009 semillon. The intensely flavoured soup, full of wild forest fungal notes, was nicely balanced by the crisp floral and citrus bouquet of the wine.

It was followed by another dish packed full of flavours: crab with celeriac and asparagus remoulade on potato spring onion pancake with hazelnut oil. The 2008 chardonnay matched to this dish was robust enough to stand up to these strong flavours and not be overwhelmed by them.

The next dish was a blend of sweet and savoury: a confit duck leg with red quinoa salad, cranberry, brazil nuts and onion jam. The salad was light and fresh but packed full of flavour, aided by fresh parsley and coriander, with the nuts adding a delightful crunch. The matched wine was, naturally, a pinot noir; a classic pairing.

Palates were given a break with a sharp and cleansing green tea, vodka and lime granita, before moving onto another main course: beef cheek bourguignon with cauliflower puree and celery watercress salad. The beef cheeks were so tender they flaked at the touch of a fork. A rich, robust shiraz, made with grapes sourced from Heathcote, was a match made in heaven.

A farmhouse clothbound cheddar from West Country England was paired with the same shiraz, which worked equally well.

The final dish was an unusual, and not entirely successful, dessert of caramel pumpkin pannacotta with ginger and chilli. It paired well with a botrytis from Plunkett but the strong ginger and chilli notes meant this dish would work better as a finale to an Asian-inspired meal.

Morning Sun is one of the lesser-known Mornington Peninsula vineyards but it is well worth seeking out to try some of its impressive wines.

For more information about Nosh's wine dinners, contact Nosh on 9391 6404.