The Flour Market

At 7:30am this morning I was awake and out of bed. On a Saturday. There could only be one reason for this very uncharacteristic behaviour: the pursuit of pastry!

This morning I went to the Flour Market, a pop up bakery market in Fitzroy. There was one held late last year which I missed, so I was determined to get in early and go into a cake-induced coma at this one. There were about 12-15 stalls at the indoor market, which was hosted by The Baron Said in Fitzroy, just near the corners of Johnston and Brunswick Streets. All the stallholders were artisan bakers of some description, plus there was a coffee stand and milkshake stand to help wash it all down.

I arrived about 8:40am to a line maybe 80 people deep. The crowd was mostly young locals, foodies, plus quite a few parents with (surprisingly well behaved) kids. Doors opened at 9am, except for people with early bird entry tickets. Given how crowded and crazy the place got, next time I’ll definitely be trying to get my hands on an early entry ticket. I think one issue was that there was no crowd control, so when the doors opened at 9am, everyone poured in rather than say letting 50 people in at a time. The crowd was great though, everyone was polite and really happy to be there. We formed relatively orderly queues at our chosen stands, accidentally elbowed each other and greedily eyed each other’s choice of treats. Traffic flow and direction was a bit of an issue though, with half the crowd going left upon entry and half going right and everyone smooshing together at the central stands!

Anyway, enough about crowd control, on to the important stuff, like salted caramel donuts. So there were so beautiful looking goods at the stalls, I didn’t really know where to start. There were gorgeous solid looking savoury pies by Pure Pie, big stacks of waffles at Waffle Jolie, fresh artisanal breads, vegan cheesecake, homemade donuts of several shapes, sizes and flavours, glossy bagels, homemade oreos at Bakewell & Co, pecan pies and lemon tarts.

flour carry bags

crumpets

I started off by perusing all the stalls and buying a couple of bags of Dr Marty’s Crumpets, as I’d heard of them before but had never tried them. They are currently sitting in my fridge, ready to be toasted and covered in honey and butter, as they conveniently last a couple of days in the fridge. Then I joined the bagel line for 5 & Dime, which was epic! I think it must be the current obsession with American diner style food in Melbourne at the moment, but everyone wanted a bagel. I grabbed myself a plain and a sesame seed bagel. I was tempted by the more unusual sounding white chocolate raspberry bagel, but resisted as there were a lot of sweet options on offer at the Flour Market that I needed to get through. I’ve just had one of the bagels for lunch with a big smear of cream cheese and spinach dip from the Queen Vic markets. Oh baby. There was a reason for the line. Melbournians know their food. 5 & Dime don’t have a store sadly, but do sell at farmer’s markets. They also supply to some very cool cafes across Melbourne, include Pope Joan and Bowery to Williamsburg (which I recently visited, a CBD brunch gem!). The bagels are super soft and just a little yeasty on the inside and have a chewiness on the outside which comes from the traditional boil then bake method. My only criticism was an aesthetic one – the bagels are so generous and puffy that they basically have no hole in the middle, so when you cut them in half, they don’t really look like a bagel to me.

bagels 01

bagel stand

Then it was on to the sweet stuff, starting with a milkshake at MilkBar. I went with the ‘Choc Haze’ milkshake, essentially a nutella flavoured milkshake. The ingredients were delicious but the texture wasn’t brilliant, it lacked bubbles and volume because they were using dinky little blenders with hardly any power. But I do love a good milkshake and expect a lot from them, so perhaps I’m being too tough.

I think the highlight of the morning was the salted caramel donut from Cobb Lane Bakery. It was just unreasonably soft and delicious. So light and doughy and then the salted caramel filling was very salty, very sweet and very smooth. It wasn’t the easiest thing to eat out of a paper bag, but hey, it was worth getting powdered sugar on my nose for! Cobb Lane Bakery is based out in Yarraville, but Twenty & Six Espresso on Queensberry Street stock their donuts, so they could become a regular and extremely dangerous habit of mine.

We left around 10am and things were already starting to sell out, including Cobb Lane’s donuts. I noticed La Belle Miette’s macaroons weren’t selling as quickly though, suggesting to me that the Melbourne love affair with macaroons is well and truly over. They are still very beautiful though, and great if you’re wanting gluten free. If you haven’t been, their shop in Hardware Lane is super cute and their pastel coloured gift boxes elevate their macaroons into a very stylish little gift I think!

pecan pie from Bakewell & Co

pecan pie from Bakewell & Co

It was great to be reminded of what a wonderful foodie city Melbourne is with such passionate producers and purveyors. And the best part? I was back on my couch, bagel at the ready and air conditioning on by 12 o’clock today, the time when I’m normally just emerging from the doona covers!

Cobb Lane on Urbanspoon

La Belle Miette on Urbanspoon

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Eco baking?

My parents are ex-hippies. I consider myself a fairly environmentally friendly kind of girl, for someone living in a first world country like Australia. I turn off lights and taps, I don’t own a car (primarily because I don’t drive…), I buy environmentally friendly cleaning products and I care about the whales. But as I was walking home yesterday, sweltering in the ridiculous summer heat and pondering climate change, it occurred to me, how eco friendly is baking? Is my passion having a positive, negative or neutral impact on the environment and is there anything I can (or will) do to change this?

So first, the positives. While I haven’t got studies to prove it, it seems like common sense that cooking a meal at home is going to be more environmentally friendly than eating at a restaurant or buying takeaway. You reuse dishes rather than having to produce and then throw away takeaway containers. Home cooking is likely to be more simple and use less resources than a restaurant meal – no tablecloths to wash, you drink tap water not bottled and fewer ingredients in meals means less food miles, less water and fertiliser and land used. Also, eating at home means you don’t use your car or other transport to go out. And it’s not that I’m against eating out, I absolutely love it, but I’m trying to get an overall picture of the good, bad and the ugly of my baking and cooking habits.

Also in the positives is that I shop locally and buy a lot of Victorian produce at the Queen Vic Markets. This reduces my ‘food miles’, the carbon emissions needed to transport food from the farm to me. I do think about seasonal availability when planning meals. Just yesterday I made a cheesecake, choosing to make it a strawberry one since those berries are at their best (and cheapest) in summer. In addition, being vegetarian and cooking only veggie meals and baked goods does reduce your carbon footprint quite significantly, since meat production is resource heavy and animals like cows and sheep produce large amounts of methane. Methane is many many times more powerful than carbon dioxide when we’re talking about global warming. In fact, it’s so significant that there’s actually a National Livestock Methane Program in Australia aimed at reducing methane emissions on farms!

One of my eco friendly vegan salads using home-grown basil and market produce

One of my eco friendly vegan salads using home-grown basil and market produce

On to the negatives now. I might not be eating meat but my baking does use a hell of a lot of butter, cream, milk and eggs – all produced by lovely yet methane emitting animals. Plus most of the baking ingredients I buy come in packaging, much of which is not recyclable. Then there’s my love of kitchen appliances. Chief among these is of course my Mixmaster, but there’s also a blender, juicer, rice cooker, sandwich press, toaster, kettle, ice-cream maker and vegetable dicer thingie. The ABS has actually done studies showing the trend for household appliance ownership is steeply upwards as we become more affluent and appliances become more affordable (apparently!). All those appliances I have use energy. On the other hand, they only use it for short periods of time, unlike, for example, a second television, my Mixmaster isn’t plugged in at all times. However, I would never plug them in if I didn’t own them because I didn’t do any cooking or baking.

My (climate busting?)baking: caramel popcorn and marshmallow brownies

My (climate busting?) baking: caramel popcorn and marshmallow brownies

Sigh! Pondering this is now starting to give me a headache. Maybe it’s a sugar cravings headache from lack of baked goods…I certainly don’t have the answers and I’m not about to stop baking and become a raw food fruitarian. But there are sites where you can buy eco baking supplies (think unbleached baking parchment and mixing bowls made from recycled plastic or bamboo), so it’s clear others have pondered this issue too, even made successful businesses out of it. There’s also plenty of blogs out there with enviro-friendly tips for the kitchen. I’m a big believer in there always being room for improvement, so it’s something I’m going to look into. It’s definitely worth contemplating…while enjoying a slice of my strawberry cheesecake!

Christmas, golden retrievers and stuffed olives

This morning on Errol street I noticed that Christmas banners had been put up all along the street. Myer’s Christmas windows open this weekend. Chadstone shopping centre is already well and truly baubled. It is November 10 people! I know I sound like the Grinch, but I do actually love Christmas. There will be many Christmas related posts forthcoming on this blog. There will be instagrams of my beloved Christmas tree and pics with #plumpudding and #tofurkey all over Facebook (not that I actually eat tofurkey – very weird concept I think). Importantly, however, these will appear IN DECEMBER. I will put up my tree on December 1st and no sooner. I will not be induced into Christmas shopping /cooking/cleaning/packing/wrapping hysteria any sooner than necessary.

This, I have realised, is a sign I am getting old. Or, at the very least, I’ve somehow strayed into that ‘being and adult’ territory where the phrase ‘Christmas is coming’ is kind of like ‘Winter is coming’ in the Game of Thrones. It’s not just your attitude towards singing Santas and aggressive television commercials with dodgy looking elves that changes with age. Your tastebuds and food preferences change with age too. You can, and do, learn to like foods over time. My first solid food was pureed bananas. Then it was mashed potato. Then, oddly enough, I think it was small boxes of sultanas. I’ve come rather a long way from there and my tastebuds are still developing. About ten years ago I came round to pumpkin and beetroot. Up until maybe five years ago I completely avoided goats’ cheese, now I think I eat about a kilo of Milawa chevre a week. Mushrooms are also a relatively new found love, and a handy one, since I’m a vegetarian.

Lately I’ve become aware that my tastebuds are becoming seriously grown up. Like, my tastebuds have a mortgage and a golden retriever and three kids. I think some of them are even dyeing their greys and considering buying a beach house in Rye.

For example, you know your tastebuds are getting older when you opt for dark chocolate over milk. This has started happening to me. I still love Lindt milk squares, caramello koalas and Cadbury hazelnut chocolate. But my favourite chocolate is getting darker by the years. I’m now really into dark milk chocolate (around the 60% mark) and can happily eat several dark chocolate Koko Black truffles in one go. My mum, who is…well, let’s just say she’s a fair bit older than me, all she eats is dark chocolate, 75% or above, the darker and more bitter the better.

I’ve also started enjoying olives, something which I’d meticulously pick off pizza when I was young. Now I love sampling olives with different stuffings or oils and those sexy little Ligurian ones at the Queen Vic’s delis. Blue cheese is another very ‘adult’ taste. I did recently try blue cheese ice-cream (see my blog on N2 here) and didn’t mind it, whereas normally, when I taste blue cheese, I feel like I’ve eaten an overgrown petri dish mixed with boys’ gym socks. Finally, I’ve started agreeing with those crazy celebrity chef statements about brussel sprouts or broad beans actually being delicious if cooked well with loads of butter.

Besides growing up, apparently your hormones can also affect your taste preferences. I mean, I get massive chocolate cravings each month (to be honest it’s really all month…) but you can also crave certain foods based on deficiencies you have and your hormonal cycle. Also, did you know that you not only have tastebuds on your tongue, apparently there are buds on the roof of your mouth and your throat? Freaky!

Anyway, because this is a food and lifestyle blog and not a science one I’ll get back to food and away from anatomy and hormonal cycles. Below is a photo of a meal that me and my somewhat aging tastebuds enjoyed a week or two ago – super soft pan fried gnocchi with zucchini, buffalo mozzarella and peas. Nom nom nom.

Gnocchi at The European on Spring Street

Gnocchi at The European on Spring Street

(H)anna(h) Pavlova

First, apologies for the delay in posts. As some of you may know, my partner and I have just moved apartments. Don’t worry, while we officially live in West Melbourne rather than North Melbourne now, in reality we are literally three minutes’ walk from Errol Street. Di Bella is now in a direct line between me and my work, meaning I’m in there so often that several of the staff greet me by name. This is rather nice, but occasionally embarrassing.

My mango passionfruit pavlova ( a cheeky slice the day after...)

My mango passionfruit pavlova ( a cheeky slice the day after…)

Anyway, back to far more important things, namely pavlova. Pavlova is a crowd pleasing dessert. It’s nostalgic. It’s colourful and eye catching (depending on what it’s topped with). The flavours are familiar and popular. It involves copious amounts of whipped cream. It is named after a beautiful and talented Russian ballerina (Anna Pavlova). It’s even gluten free and vegetarian. Plus it seem light, meaning everyone feels able to fit in at least a little slither after dinner. To top it all off, I get to use my beloved Mixmaster to make it. My grandma makes a cracker of a pavlova, as do many other grannies nation-wide.

A few of you may have read one of my past blogs which mentioned my ‘pav-gate’ pavlova baking fail. The resulting light brown soggy mess was frankly devastating, particularly since I had previously considered pavlova a basic that was pretty foolproof. It took me a little while to regain my pav confidence. I convinced myself it had been the early morning bake time, but doubt still crept into my mind…

Happily, I can now say that I’m 100% back to my former levels of pav snobbishness. I can once again blithely whip these babies up for dinner party desserts and bring-a-plate BBQs. This weekend mangoes were down to $2 each at the Queen Vic Markets, so I snaffled up a couple and made a very nice little passionfruit and mango pavlova, even mixing a some passionfruit pulp into the whipped cream and decorating with a few well placed mint leaves. All the important elements for a super pav were there – crispy shell, marshmallow-like goodness in the middle, white glossy appearance, height, robust enough to hold lots of freshly whipped cream and topped with sexy looking seasonal fruit.

Below is my pav recipe. I certainly don’t think it’s the only good one out there, I highly doubt it’s the best one, but it’s simple, it works and it always wins me requests for seconds. It’s based on a combination of Donna Hay’s recipe, my grandma’s recipe and my own tinkering. Enjoy (preferably several slices)!

Ingredients
4 large eggwhites
250g pure icing sugar (or castor sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 normal/dessert spoons cornflour
2 teaspoons white vinegar

Equipment
Large flat oven tray
Baking parchment or greaseproof paper
Mixmaster or electric hand beater

Method
– Beat the eggwhites until they start to look white rather than clear (soft peaks starting).
Add in vanilla essence. Don’t freak out if the mixture goes slightly brown, as you keep beating it will return to white.
– Beat in icing sugar until eggwhites look very white, thick and glossy and hold their shape. I’d recommend turning off the Mixmaster to tip in the sugar, otherwise the powdered sugar flies everywhere!
Beat in the vinegar and cornflour. Note that I often use white wine vinegar if I have no normal white vinegar, it doesn’t seem to matter.
– Place a sheet of baking paper on an oven tray. If you have baking parchment, this is probably fine as is, if you have normal greaseproof paper, best to oil it slightly with a flavourless oil (e.g. vegetable or canola).
– Tip the thick eggwhite mixture onto the paper and, using a spatula or knife, shape the mixture into a circle. You could draw a circle on the paper if you wanted, but personally, I’m happy with an approximate circle.
– Shape the mixture so that rather than having a flat top there is a very slight depression in the middle of it (meaning extra room for cream and fruit!).
– Place in the oven for between an hour and an hour and 30 minutes. This will depend a bit on how thick/high you formed your pav and a bit on the oven, humidity etc. Just check it regularly after an hour. You’re looking for a shiny appearance without it turning brown. If you tap the side of it, it should feel hard and crispy and sound kind of hollow.
– Once cooked, turn off the oven and leave in the oven to cool, preferably for several hours.
– Whip thick cream with a little sugar and (optional) vanilla essence. Top the pav with cream.
– Then top with fruit of your choice. For summer I like mango and passionfruit or a mix of berries. For a more classic pav, go with kiwifruit, strawberries and passionfruit.

Beautiful ingredients

I think there is only one secret to delicious cooking. It’s not, as the French might have you believe, butter. It’s beautiful ingredients. That sounds obvious, but I think a lot of cooking shows and cookbooks are missing that important step in making a fantastic meal.

You do not need an ice-cream maker or a sous-vide water bath to create something spectacular. You need fresh, vibrant vegetables, decent olive oil and perhaps some quality cheese or protein. Don’t get me wrong, I love kitchen gadgets and I also love eating at fancy restaurants full of foam, gel and freeze-dried-who-knows-what. But it just occurred to me the other day how little attention we give to selecting and appreciating the basic ingredients.

So today is ‘ingredients appreciation day’ on my blog. Here’s a picture I took of rhubarb. Just rhubarb. Isn’t it beautiful? Those gorgeous pink stems on my bright green plastic chopping board. It’s sexy! It’s inspiring. (And no, I’m not high, just take a second and look…)

rhubarb pic

A place where you can really appreciate the beauty of ingredients is farmers markets. Regular readers will know that I LOVE markets. I’m also lucky enough to live fairly close to the Queen Victoria Markets. I adore going and looking at (and buying) the displays at markets. Everything is a little imperfect, plentiful and displayed in a happy-organic sort of way. You can pick things up, see them in natural light rather than under fluorescents and, of course, smell them! Markets also give you an appreciation of what’s in season. You know it’s mango season when they’re going for under $10 a box. You know mushrooms are at their best when the mushroom man has eleven types on display. And you know it’s summer when berries’ prices halve. I personally don’t haggle at food markets, but that is also a fun element to shopping at markets if you’re into that kind of thing.

At the Queen Vic markets, it is easy to get overwhelmed, since the markets themselves are huge and, especially on weekends, completely packed. You could spend ( and I have spent) a fair amount of time wading through cheap handbags and dodgy looking kids’ toys before you find the fresh produce and even then, quality varies between stalls. I’ve been hitting up the markets for fresh produce since 2007 and have spent way too many hours dawdling round the stalls, sniffing oranges and squeezing avocados. Below are a few of my recommendations for beautiful produce at the Queen Vic:

Curds and Whey
This is a great cheese and dairy shop in the deli section. I particularly like it for its extensive and well labelled range of vegetarian cheese, including an organic Italian parmesan. They also sell butter (salted or unsalted) from huge blocks on their counter, quark, yoghurt, vanilla beans, saffron and other little gourmet delights. Most importantly, they’re always happy to offer you a taste before you commit to that wedge of cheddar or block of gruyere.

The Queen Vic Deli
I love this place for one reason: hummus. Their homemade hummus is the best I’ve ever had. I think they mix in a fair bit of tahini, making it really creamy and yet still tangy and tasty. The selection of olives at this deli is also worth a stop, though I think some of the other offerings are a bit overpriced.

Garden Organics and VicMarket Organics
These are my two favourite fruit and veg stalls. Both stock almost entirely organic produce. They also indicate if the produce is locally grown, which is helpful if you’re considering food miles. The staff are friendly (if not a bit cool) and really care about their produce. Plus Garden Organics has precious tiny little perfect pink lady apples (when in season) which I’m kind of obsessed with…

Also worth a mention not so much for gorgeous ingredients but for great snacks and prepared food, are the Borek shop in the deli section (and their sister shop further down on Elizabeth Street which has THE BEST gozleme), the Traditional Pasta Shop for fresh pasta and really good bake at home garlic bread and market juice for yummy (but super sweet) smoothies and my favourite Evia brand of yoghurt.