Saturday, October 08, 2005

Market Challenge #1: Lunch for four

Whether it be a growers, farmers or organic, markets are springing up everywhere in Sydney. In the inner-west alone I have a choice of the farmers market at Fox Studios, organic in Rozelle and Marrickville, and growers in Pyrmont and Ashfield, and that’s just off the top of my head!

Rather than doing the typical review of Sydney’s bountiful market offerings I’d thought I’d put a bit of fun into it and set myself a challenge for each market I visit.

To get the ball rolling I set myself a budget of $75 for a lunch for four people. My destination, the Good Living Growers Market held on the first Saturday of each month in Pyrmont.

Market Challenge: October 1, 2005
I arrived at the markets at 9.30am and they were bustling. Despite not finishing until 11am some people had already sold out of produce, which market regulars were attributing to a mild case of Good Food Month mania. But with the sun shining and so much great food on offer, who could blame Sydney-siders for going a little food crazy!

The staples

I knew from my recce in September that I wanted the Bullus Bros salmon pie ($17) for my main course. This was my first stop at the markets, partly because the coffee queue was so long, and also because my mouth had been watering ever since the alarm went off at the thought of breakfast - a barbequed salmon sausage served with rocket and aoli in a roll. Unfortunately, possibly due to the aforementioned foodie mania, Bullus Bros were sold out of salmon sausages, but to my relief there were still a few pies on offer (and a stand selling egg and bacon rolls!).

Seasonal produce being the whole point of this blog I decided on a medley of green asparagus and fresh peas as a side dish for the pie. The mere mention of fresh peas from the pod seemed to peak the interest of my infamously fussy market buddy so I knew I was on to a good thing. Vegie King had them for $10/kg and they were juicy and sweet and quite a novelty on the lunch table. Green asparagus also made it into my basket as did a bag of mesculin lettuce I scored for the bargain price of $1.50 as the market drew to a close.

The extravagances

I normally give goats cheese a miss, due in large part to the strong gag-inducing flavour and aroma, but Willowbrae Chevre Cheeses are amazing. Smooth and creamy with the texture of a firm ricotta and only a hint of that strong flavour, I bought a 300gm tub marinated in canola and olive oils, garlic and a bay leaf ($14). Cheesemaker Karen Borg told me the cheese was made fresh that week and it certainly tasted like it.

I’m a total chutney and pickle fanatic, especially when serving any type of cheese. I was going to use one I already had open until I came across Smoking Dans smoked pear and date chutney ($8). Sweet and spicy with a hint of smokiness, I knew it was an unnecessary indulgence, but I had to have it. Another extravagance was the dill and lime mayonnaise ($8) from the Southern Highlands Doodles Creek. It went perfectly with the salmon pie and I know it will come in handy over summer.

The emergency purchases

With appetiser and main course sorted it was time to go on the hunt for something sweet. Unfortunately by 10:30am it was slim pickings on the dessert front and I was literally running from one end of the market to the other trying to locate the few stalls selling cakes and puddings. Manna From Heaven saved the day and I bought their last five little cakes- two hazelnut praline and three orange jaffa. They went perfectly with tea and coffee, and my guests didn’t mind cutting them in half and sharing.

Total Spend

Willowbrae Goats Cheeses: Jar of cheese - $14
Darling Mills Farm Produce: Olives and Cornichons - $5.50
Darling Mills Farm Produce: Roast Tomatoes - $5
Smoking Dans: Pear chutney - $8
Unknown: Bag of mesculin lettuce - $1.50
Bullus Bros: Salmon Pie - $17
Doodles Creek: Dill and Lime Mayo - $8
Vegie King: Fresh peas - $5
Manna from Heaven: Lovosh Crispbread & little cakes - $23
The shop down the road: Asparagus - $1.50

Learning Points
I have to admit upfront I embarked on this challenge with little preparation so it is no surprise I blew the budget. But my $75 lunch for four soon turned into lunch for six once the word spread, so I’d say the blow out was justified! I’m just thankful the budget didn’t include wine, otherwise I’d have been in serious trouble!

My total spend was $13.50 over budget but all in all the lunch was a success. Every plate was scraped clean and my guests were full of praise for the market goodies, especially the goats cheese and salmon pie.

Lessons for my next market challenge – plan the menu more carefully (while still leaving room for improvisation) and get there early!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Snippets from the inner-West

Ashfield Gourmet Food and Wine Market
Judith Kennedy is one step closer in her quest to move her food and wine market in Ashfield from twice-monthly to weekly. Over the next fortnight, Ashfield Council will be undertaking community consultation, testing the waters before making a decision on the frequency change. All going well, Judith is hoping the markets will run every Saturday from November.

Il Piave on the move?
Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Living supplement reported that Rozelle restaurant Il Piave was contemplating a premise change to the waterfront in Drummoyne. I spoke with co-owner and chef Vanessa Martin who denied a move was on the cards.

Newtown bistro reconnaissance
The owners of a well-known King Street bistro were seen checking out the menu at Oscillate Wildly last Sunday. Somehow I doubt the visit was because they were contemplating dining there!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Spring has sprung, so what's on the menu?

The weather is warming up, soups are being replaced with salads and greengrocers are stocked with the first pickings of early spring produce. With asparagus and artichokes now adorning the shelves, I spoke with chef Guillermo Viscarra about what he likes to cook with in spring.

Guillermo is the chef at Newtown bistro Oscillate Wildly, known for its great value $45 three course special and fortnightly changing menu. When we spoke I found it wasn’t beetroot or broad beans that got him excited, but spring lamb.

"Spring is great for lamb," Guillermo Viscarra said.

"The loin is always good and the racks. With the loin you can flatten it out and roll it up."

As well as the traditional flavour of rosemary, Guillermo likes to compliment lamb with juniper berries or smoked paprika.

"Sometimes I cook it until it falls off the bone, about four to five hours, and serve it with smoked red peppers and smoked paprika. Or with a watercress salad you would use smoked green pepper."

On the vegetable front, baby asparagus gets a tick of approval.

"Baby asparagus is really nice and good served on its own," he said.

In late spring zucchini flowers are a highlight. Guillermo said these featured on Oscillate Wildly’s menu last year, but rather than the traditional goats cheese stuffing, he used enoki mushrooms and haloumi.

"The best way to use them is to deep-fry them. They don’t really have a strong flavour," he said.

Guillermo’s open attitude and willingness to be inspired by what he finds at the market leads to some unique combinations. His words of advice to intrepid home cooks:

"You can use any produce that you might not think works well with others, it all depends on how much of it you use," he said.

Oscillate Wildly, 275 Australia St, Newtown. Ph: 9517 4700.