Feb 21- 29th- It’s MKR Season and a Cookbook gets Banished!

Sunday- Gozleme of lamb, mint, feta and spinach with lemonPete Evans’ My Table – I picked this dish because it’s MKR season.

MKR, also known as My Kitchen Rules, is an Australian TV show that’s somewhere between Come Dine with Me and Masterchef.  The premise is that 5 couples eat three course meals at each other’s houses and then score them accordingly.  There are also two celebrity guest chefs (well, four actually now but that’s a longer story) who are forced to eat and rank the meals as well.   The contestants have varying levels of both cooking skills and likability making the show both weird and watchable.  Continue reading

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Oh Vienna, This Means Nothing to Me….Our Austrian Adventure Part 2

aka When I sing Ultravox for two days straight….

So we packed up from Zell Am See and headed East past Salzburg (where we had been the day before) towards Vienna.  And I swear, I cannot even hear the word Vienna without thinking of this…

The 1981 hit by Ultravox.  To be honest, it’s not a great song.  I don’t think it ever came out in the States and I had never heard it before we danced to it in my pole dancing class a couple of years ago.  It’s not a song that I would have ever put on purposely EXCEPT that we were on our way to Vienna.  And so I couldn’t get it out of my head.  Which meant that I couldn’t stop singing bits of it.

It was about a 5 hour drive (I know it doesn’t look that far on a map) from Zell Am See to Vienna, and I probably sang “Oh, Vienna….this means nothing to me” about 25 times.  And of course, as soon as we actually made it to  Vienna’s city limits, I played it.  At full blast.  And sang along.  Loudly, badly, with emotion and arm movements.  With my eyes closed.  I really got into it.  Somewhere in Munich there is a camera floating around with a video of me belting out the song as we drive into Vienna….wait….I think The Runner may have cut the cord of my camera strap so that he would never have to endure seeing that video.  Possibly not, but I am sort of surprised he didn’t put me out of the car.

Anyway,  we didn’t really stop much along the way but we did make one stop in Melk, about an hour outside of Vienna.  Melk is famous for its baroque style abbey.  We got off the highway with full intention of visiting the abbey- but we got sidetracked.  Well, I did after lunch at least.  We stopped into a wine shop specialising in local Wachau Valley wines… and well… at least I learned a new word…. Federspiel.   Federspiel is a classification for Wachau Valley wines of around 11.5-12.5%.    We picked up two bottles as souvenirs (which didn’t actually make it out of Vienna) and got back on the road.

On first arrival, Vienna seemed quite well, blah.  I wasn’t impressed.  But….as we kept driving I got more and more excited.

Vienna has an amazing combination of architectural styles- from beautiful, old buildings from the late 1700s to gorgeous art deco buildings built in the early 1900s to hideous, drab post World War II buildings built in a rush to house those left homeless after more than 87,000 houses in the city were bombed.  Once I heard that on our tour, I looked at the city differently and thought about the city a bit differently too.  Vienna was bombed over 52 times by Allied forces, there were over 3000 bomb craters that were left.  It sort of explains why there are blocks with 3 or 4 plain, drab 1950s building sandwiched between two beautiful art deco ones.  It was also interesting to think about what it must have looked like and how a city would have behaved at wartime.  On the plane over, I had watched The Woman in Gold, a recent movie about art restitution after World War II which takes place in Vienna.  I really enjoyed seeing the movie in person, but it was quite jarring to think about all the horrible things that would have happened there during the war.

We were also watching the refugee crisis start to unfold during this trip.  It was when Hungary had shut down the trains and weren’t letting any refugees pass through.  We saw it first hand when we arrived at our hotel in Munich.  We were staying opposite the main train station and it looked as though we had arrived in war zone- there were police and video cameras everywhere.  Our hotel had a security guard out front.  Hungary still hadn’t let the refugees pass by the time we left Munich, but everyone was on alert for when they did.  I did see a refugee family approach our hotel and get turned away by the security guard.  I don’t know what they asked or where they went after that.  But it was quite sad, and it really brought the crisis to the forefront of my mind.

Hopefully in 60 years, people will be visiting Syria in the same way that we were visiting Vienna and Munich, two cities that were devastated by bombs only 60 years ago.

Anyway, Vienna was a fantastic city- we were staying in a fantast hotel- Hotel Rathaus Wein & Design.  A boutique hotel themed around Wine.  Yep, a Wine Hotel.  Hallelujah, I had found my home.  Each room had a different Austrian winemaker featured, they did wine tasting in the evening and there were loads of cute little wine and grape themed touches.  And their breakfast was delish!  So good, I made myself sick eating it.  I highly recommend the hotel.

Our wine themed hotel
Our wine themed hotel

We did a hop on hop off bus tour of Vienna and saw loads of highlights including Schonbrunn Palace.  A must do if you’re in Vienna.  BEAUTIFUL.  One of the highlights was the patisserie, where The Runner had Apple Streudel and I had Kaiserschmarrn- a fluffy shredded pancake which was delish! And while we’re on the subject of desserts….

The Viennese do not mess around when it comes to dessert!
The Viennese do not mess around when it comes to dessert!

That night we went to the Hotel Sacher, home of the famous Sacher Torte.  I think it I win the lottery and return to Vienna, I would visit my Wein Hotel but splurge on a night or two  at the Hotel Sacher.  Rooms start at €525, for a superior room- about $1000 AUD at the moment.  Of course, if I won the lottery, I’d upgrade to at least a Top Deluxe Room or a Suite.  On this trip, we only saw the lounge area and we only had dessert and a couple of drinks.  Wow.  It is a beautiful hotel, probably one of the most beautiful lounge areas of a hotel I’d ever been to.      Sadly, I don’t have any photos, but  their website does.

We spent a lot of time just walking around the inner city and the old city of Vienna.  We only really had time for one museum- the Belvedere Museum.  And why that Museum you might ask?  Because it has my favorite painting in the whole wide world.  Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss.  Klimt painted in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century.  He had been a favorite artist of mine since college nearly and the Belvedere has quite a few of his paintings and drawings.    I wish we had had time for more museums, but I’m thrilled that we got to see The Kiss.  It’s stunning in real life.  Just beautiful and huge.  It’s displayed against a black wall which only makes the colours and the gold in the painting stand out more.  I loved it even more seeing it person (unlike the Mona Lisa, which was a lot smaller than I thought it would be).

We had a lovely afternoon in Grinzing, a lovely suburb of Vienna with lots of Heurigen- traditional cafes that serve their own house wine on site.  And by house wine, I mean wine that they actually make themselves.  It’s such a beautiful area and we had a lovely lunch in a sunny wine garden with really friendly staff.

I could write so much about Vienna, but I’d like to go back one day and spend more time there.  There’s so much we didn’t see and so much we didn’t do.   In fact, there’s probably a list of things we didn’t see longer than what we did see.  There’s so much history there as well that we didn’t get to delve into- the garage where we parked our car dated back to 1925!

After two days in Vienna, we headed to Munich.  We didn’t get to see nearly enough of Munich so I’m plotting our return back maybe in a year or two….and this time I’ll keep hold of my camera.

You can see the pictures I do have on Flickr!

A Night With Tintilla…

It’s no secret that The Runner and I love wine and LOVE the Hunter Valley.  So when one of our favorite Hunter wineries comes to Sydney to do a wine dinner at one hat Sydney restaurant, Ume, in Surry Hills, it’s no surprise that we jumped at the chance to go.

Tintilla Estate Winery has been a favorite of ours for at least 6 years- if not longer.  Tintilla is an award winning, family run winery on Hermitage Rd in the heart of the Hunter with olives and grapes grown on the 25 hectare Estate.   The Lusby family owns and runs the winery with the father and son as the winemakers.  Keeping with the family feel, many of their wines are named after family members and some of the sparkling wines were created for family weddings and other occasions.  Visiting the cellar door is like visiting a home- Cellar Door/Wine Club Manager, Winn, always makes us feel welcome, and the family dogs, Stella and Tilly, normally around to greet visitors.

The Runner and I love their Saphira Sangiovese (they were the first winery in the Hunter to plant it), their Four Marys Pinot Noir and their Tarantella blend.  We also like their Angus Semillon and their amazing Sticky Dessert Wines.  In fact, in the winter, they do a lovely Sticky and Port tasting by the fire at the winery—it’s fantastic!  They also do a Spring Long Italian Lunch which is well worth a trip to the Hunter for!

Luckily, we didn’t have to leave the city this time around to have their wines.  They came to us in the form of a wine dinner at Ume in Surry Hills.   It was a combination of a date night and a goodbye dinner with The Runner flying to Europe the next morning at 6am….and when ,I say he was flying at 6am, that is the time his flight actually took off!  He had to be at the airport for 4am, which means he was up at some un-godly hour…. Which meant that a wine dinner the night before may not have been the best idea….

But I’m glad we went!

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It had been a tough day so The Runner started with a Japanese beer, part of his ongoing mission to try LOTS of different beers this year.

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Once everyone arrived we had a few works from Winemaker James Lusby, and started with the Amuse Bouche- a hearty, yummy, truffly mushroom dumpling which was wintry and hearty.  It was paired with a blush sparkling wine named after one of the family’s daughters in law, Rosalind, created for her wedding.  The Runner was sceptical at first at how the mushroomy dumpling would go with the wine, but it was delicious!

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The second course was a kingfish sashimi paired with a 2014 Hunter Angus Semillon.  Hunter Semillon and seafood are like best friends- they go together really well and this was no exception!  It was absolutely gorgeous—and one of The Runner’s favorite dishes of the night!

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The third course was a salad- a Shiki no Salad paired with the 2014 Pebbles Brief Chardonnay.  This was the course I was least excited about– I am the first person to say it, “I hate Chardonnay- yuck.”  I was thinking boring vegetables and chardonnay…….

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However, this wine and this salad made me eat my words!  It was a  really beautiful wine paired with an even more gorgeous and interesting salad.   The salad has so many different textures- orange and purple carrots, fried Brussel sprouts, lovely buttery cauliflower, and delicious buckwheat custard.  It was a party in my mouth!  The wine was a great match and a fantastic wine.  Chardonnay is the most planted and produce grape variety in the world—it’s one of the varietals used in Champagne!  Chardonnay is interesting because it is so heavily influenced by the region and the winemaker themselves.  Different chardonnay regions around the world give different characteristics to the wine and the winemaker can further influence this by the amount of oak they use.  The secret to Tintilla’s lovely chardonnay is that they use bigger barrels to balance out the fruit and oak.

The next course was miso braise pork belly with the Saphira Sangiovese.  YUM!    Pork belly is one of my favorites and it went really well with the Sangiovese.  The last savoury course was Lamb Shoulder, it was delish- the wasabi and pea puree was a great combination- and the nori was fantastic!  It was paired with the 2013 Reserve Shiraz, which was really lovely.  It wasn’t one of the ones that we normally order—at $40 a bottle it’s not our normal drop!

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For dessert it was a Japanese Pumpkin and Rice Pudding- it was an interesting dessert with a hot bottom and cold top… it was paired with the Spritzanti Lizzie- a sparkling Semillon.  If I’m honest, I would have probably preferred one of their lovely sticky ports to finish.  The sparkling Semillon was nice and the dessert was interesting.  We weren’t quite sure what to make of it when it arrived…but it was pretty good in the end!

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All in all, we loved the wines and loved the food.  I’d definitely go back to Ume- and it goes without saying that we’re going to keep buying Tintilla wine!  We were home relatively early which was good—and luckily The Runner made his flight just fine the next morning!

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A weekend to the Hunter…. But first a bottle of wine.

I have to make a confession.  I love bottle shops, well I love shops in general but I especially love Australian Bottle Shops and really, only the wine section. 

Yes, I love the actual wine.  But more than that, I love that it’s like walking down memory lane.   Wine labels bring back memories.  Meals eaten, trips taken, holidays and adventures with friends.  It all comes flooding back when I wander the aisles of Vintage Cellars and look at the bottles.

I went to go pick up a bottle of wine to drink once we get to the Hunter Valley this evening (I know, it’s like bringing sand to the beach) but it’s a long drive in Friday afternoon traffic, and we’ll be thirsty when we get there.

As I looked at the bottles on the shelves, I felt like I was looking at a window to the past.  There was the bottle of Wirra Wirra Church Block which reminded me of a trip to South Australia with a group of friends.  It was a fantastic trip and a load of fun, but also when my friend’s (now) husband spilled the beans and told me that he was planning to propose.  I saw a bottle from Martinborough Vineyard in New Zealand, which reminded me of a trip nearly 10 years ago when my mom and I hired a car and drove from Wellington to Auckland.  It was before I drove all the time on the “wrong” side of the road, and I remember the car had a big sticker on the dashboard reminding me to “keep left”.  There was a bottle of Voyager Estate “Girt By Sea” that reminded me of Margaret River- and The Runner’s first Ironman race and a bottle of Vasse Felix that reminded me of the lunch we had after.  I could go on and on.

 The best thing about wine, is that it’s usually shared with friends…..usually!  And sharing with friends creates memories.  This weekend, we’re off to the Hunter (again) with 3 other friends and we can’t wait!  

Spoonbread- The DC Edition

SO being at home with The Mom, who really deserves a better nickname than The Mom, is fantastic.  Really, it’s like holding up a mirror into the future because she and I are a lot alike.  It’s quite funny.  I’ve actually been spending the day looking at photos in the basement and there are quite a few photos where I’m under 2 and already starting to mimic my mother’s gestures and actions.  It’s funny, people who knew my Dad, used to tell me that I reminded them of him, people who know my Mom, tend to think I’m her clone.  The weird thing is, I see it too.

Anyway, aside from our love of entertaining- and The Runner will attest that I like cooking but I LOVE entertaining- my Mom and I share a love of kitchen utensils.  Seriously, neither of us have ever met a kitchen gadget that we wouldn’t buy- cherry pitter- she has one, butter cutter- yep one of those too, milk frother- got it, vacuum wine sealer- check, melon baller- don’t make me laugh- of course she has one!  So if you can imagine being a small child growing up in the land of 1,000 kitchen accessories, it does shape your outlook on life- in a great way.  The Mom is literally the only person I know with more kitchen stuff than I do.  I’m a total girl- I like shoes and handbags and make up and jewellery, but I salivate- sal-i-vate over Williams-Sonoma……Mmmmmmmm.  It’s not normal, I know, but I’ve come by it honestly.  So I’m really excited to do a He Runs, I Cook from The Mom’s House—although I feel like I should do a 12 course, butter cutting, melon balling extravaganza while I’m here—and I probably would have if Thanksgiving weren’t last week.  Instead, I’ll be cooking from THE MOST EXPENSIVE COOKBOOK I’VE EVER COOKED FROM….(not that I’ve gotten my grubby mitts on lots of expensive cookbooks), “Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine.”

I wrote a little about it in my previous post, but I actually sat down last night and read it—that’s right read it from start to finish.  The book itself isn’t just a book of recipes, it actually tells the story of each family member from grandparents to parents to aunts and uncles, and possibly even a few others.  It’s written by two sisters who were living in New York and seriously, what a gem!   I started off looking for a recipe but by the end, I was enthralled by the family history.  It’s seriously, such a great idea and I can’t think of another cookbook that I own that does the same.  It’s small enough to read as a novel, yet the recipes are simple and sound tasty enough to use as a cookbook.  I’m sold!  Not quite sold enough to cough up $350 for a new one on Amazon.com, but I am bidding on one on Ebay at the moment so fingers crossed.  It’s only new, and the opening bid was $5… I’m not overly optimistic!

Anyway, this book is fantastic- and not just because the first chapter based on the Grandfather is all about making homemade wine……yessssssssssssss!  Unfortunately, I don’t have the facilities or the patience to make wine, and thanks to our lovely friends in the Hunter Valley, The Runner and I have a seemingly endless supply of fantastic wine.  If we didn’t, the idea of testing out a recipe for strawberry wine is vaguely appealing, but I am extremely thankful that we live in the 21st century where liquor stores are ubiquitous and you can order wine over the internet.  The book also has recipes for canning, jamming, and making marmalades.  None of which do I have any interest in.  What’s the point of buying 3 pounds of tomatoes and spending hours coring, blanching, peeling and boiling them when you can buy Canned tomatoes in the store for 99 cents.  Anyway, wine making and tomato canning are things I’ll do One Day….as in One Day/Some day/Never! 

The book also has some delicious ice cream recipes—and if there’s one thing that The Mom and I have in common—ice cream is our favourite food.  Legend has it that The Mom had ice cream sundaes every single day that she was pregnant with me, and I don’t doubt it’s true—I LOVE Ice Cream.  No, really.  I LOVE it.  Seriously, I’m like Cookie Monster’s long lost human twin, Ice Cream Monster.  Love it, love it, love it, love it.  Always have, always will.  In high school, I used to have a bowl of ice cream every day after school- mint chocolate chip or cookies and cream.  It’s actually a miracle that I’m not morbidly obese…. (and yes, Ben and Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie is pretty much the best thing ever).  Anyway, another vote for Spoonbread being awesome, it has awesome ice cream recipes.

So to recap, the book has recipes for two of my three favourite things- Ice cream and wine.  I think I might increase my Ebay bid.  I understand why it caused a phenomena in the 70s.  It’s causing a slight moral dilemma for me, I really want to quietly and secretly slip the book back to Sydney so I can delight in its yummy-ness on a longer term basis.  I know it’s wrong because The Mom loves The Book, but would she miss it?  Yes.  And she reads the blog…..hmmmm, let’s increase the Ebay bid.

Anyway, aside from all this, it does have some really amazing recipes-  Peach gingerbread upside down cake, made with fresh, homemade gingerbread, baked steaks, white potato and cheese casserole, like 8 different ways to make sweet potatoes, southern fried corn, pineapple upside down cupcakes, eggnog pie.  The list goes on…. Of course, there are some low points like scrambled brains- and yes, they mean actual brains not eggs, and of course squirrel, rabbit, opossum and other road kill delights- but that’s only one part of one chapter.  The hardest thing is that I don’t know what to make for dinner tonight- and I made a list of possibilities.  Do I make The Mom’s favourite macaroni and cheese or crab meatloaf or a classic fried chicken?  Do I go out on a limb with Ginger Ale Salad or Chicken in the Pot or Tipsy Cake?  Is it more of a Stuffed Eggplant occasion?  Whatever it is, the recipes all seem to be really simple with pretty simple ingredients and they sound pretty tasty…..  Overall, this cookbook is a winner.  No, I don’t know first hand, but The Mom and her friends can’t possibly be wrong!