Friday, June 07, 2013

Good Food and Wine Show 2013 - FIJI Water Blogging Team

This year, I was really excited about the Good Food and Wine Show for two reasons. Firstly, I got to meet Maggie Beer about the show and was knew that she would be there. I was secretly hoping I'd bump into her and get to chat with her some more. Secondly, I was invited to join the FIJI Water blogging team to cover the show as their roaming reporter. Ok, I made the roaming reporter part up as I've always wanted to be one of those roaming reporters at events who stick their noses into everything and survey the mood of the crowd. Anyway, I stuck my nose everywhere and tried to gauge how people were feeling. Most people looked to be enjoying themselves, or enjoyed themselves a bit too much already after trying out all the wines at the numerous stands.

This year's Good Food and Wine Show was even bigger than previous years, if that was possible. I have attended previous years, 2012, 2011 and 2009, missing out on 2010 when I was overseas on holidays. This year's show follows a similar format to previous years, with some additions to improve it. One addition that people have loved is Cheese Alley, and it's even bigger and better this year. The other new addition that I'm sure is going to be a big hit is the Fisher and Paykel YUM Kitchen, where people got hands on experience to cook some dishes. The kitchen looked amazing and the people taking the classes looked to be really enjoying themselves.

As usual, the show was full of so many things to see. The Celebrity Theatre was as usual really popular, with lots of people sitting in on various sessions to listen to their favourite food celebrities talk about different food topics, such as the Maggie Beer session I witnessed. Everyone absolutely loved her and she had the crowd in the palm of her hands with her charm. This year though, a new addition is Michelle Bridges, of The Biggest Loser fame, to discuss healthier aspects about food. I love Michelle as she is not only extremely fit, she also seems like a really determined person and I admire people like that. I guess with everything, you need a balance. So you can eat some of Maggie Beer's butter and verjuice roast chicken sometimes, but you should also eat some roast Winter vegetables on quinoa as that can be really tasty too when done right. As our nation is getting fatter and more and more people are becoming obsess with our sedentary lifestyle, we need to be more conscious about what we eat and drink as having a balanced diet is the key to staying healthy. There is no way you can exercise enough to negate the effects of eating 6 pieces of KFC with a tub of ice cream afterwards.

With the introduction of Michelle Bridges to the line up, the Good Food and Wine Show are acknowledging that the health aspect is very important too and they are now catering for that. There were a number of stalls that were focused on healthy food options, amongst them FIJI Water. As we all know water is essential to our survival and well being. I'm hardcore about drinking lots of water everyday and even though I know there's no definitive scientific evidence to say we need 2 litres of water a day, I use it as a guide to keep myself hydrated as I feel much better when I do drink more water. Whenever I drink less than about a litre of water a day, I feel really awful. Whether it's physiological or psychological, I don't know, but I do know I can prevent that terrible feeling by just drinking lots of water. I drink a mix of tap water and bottled water, depending on what's available and what I want at the time. I like the taste of bottled water actually and it feels really refreshing. I drink FIJI water sometimes and the water itself tastes good and I really like the unique design of the bottle. As the name suggests, the water is from FIJI, in a place called the Yaqara Vaelly of Viti Levu. An underground acquifier houses the water that's used for the FIJI bottle water.

As part of the FIJI blogging team, I sniffed my way around all the stalls and below is a few of my favourite photos from the show. There was a mixture of healthy food, and some a bit less healthy. But you know, life is about balance, and you can have some unhealthy things in moderation. I also got to visit the VIP lounge, which was really pretty and I enjoyed a glass of wine in there and some canapes.

If you're going to the show this year, here are some tips for you.
1. Get in line early for the free Celebrity Theatre sessions.
2. The Nespresso class is free and worth doing.
3. The Barilla pasta class says it was $15 but today I just walked in. Do it anyway if it does cost $15.
4. Cheese alley is a must.
5. Get the $3 wine glass to taste all the wines. Don't get smashed, as it's a really bad look.
6. Violet chocolate from ChocoMe, get onto it. Violet is so underrated.
7. Salami Shack, hello cured meats.
8. Passionfruit curd from Unforgettable Products, mmmmm.
9. Samples, samples, samples.

Overall, as usual there was so much to see at the show. There's something there for everyone. There were many interesting things and I really loved Cheese Alley as I'm developing a taste for all sorts of cheeses now. My highlight of Friday's session was seeing Maggie at the Celebrity Theatre. I was waving at her like mad, but so were 500 other people so she didn't see me unfortunately. My secret wish that she would spot me in the audience didn't come true, but her class was still excellent. Normally, if I wasn't going away on holidays, I'd come back on the Sunday afternoon session. A good tip for you, come on the last day to pick up some awesome bargains as the stalls try to sell off everything. I picked up these amazing caneles one year for 50 cents each when they're normally $3.50. I love delicious food, and it's even better when it's a bargain. Till next year's show, eat up.

This is a sponsored post from FIJI Water and I attended courtesy of FIJI Water.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Lavazza A Modo Mio at Melbourne International Coffee Expo

There are a number of things that I like the smell of, but don’t want to taste. Firecrackers, roasting woodchips, Krispy Kreme donuts and coffee. All these things smell so intoxicating, and until recently, I wouldn’t want to taste any of them. However, I can now strike coffee off that list. I’m a tea drinker, but for the past year, I’ve slowly been getting into coffee. Previously I used to drink coffee very rarely, maybe after a dinner or at breakfast in a cafĂ©. Now, I’ve become a 3-4 cups a week drinker of coffee. Whereas I used to find the taste of coffee very bitter and unpleasant, I now find coffee to be smooth and full of flavour. This was the same with chocolate. Once upon a time I was a Cadbury’s milk chocolate eater. There’s nothing wrong with milk chocolate but nowadays I find it rather awful and won’t touch it. My taste buds have migrated to dark chocolates, with their smooth, buttery texture and wonderful flavour profiles. I’m currently sitting at about 70% cocoa solid chocolates and still find the 80-90% chocolate too bitter for my liking but I’m experimenting. With my coffee intake, I still favour single shots with milk in it, no sugar, so I still get the flavour but in a weaker hit. Having been deciding whether to buy a coffee machine (a Nespresso), it was fortunate that I was invited to the Lavazza A Modo Mio class at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo, as I got to learn about how to use the machine properly, and take one home to use. How lucky is that.

At the Lavazza A Modo Mio class, I learnt that A Modo Mio means “My Way”, which instantly made me think of Frank Sinatra of course. Or if you’re a youngster, you might think of Usher. However, in this case, the “My Way” refers to how you want your coffee. The Lavazza capsule coffee machines are called A Modo Mio because of the flexibility of how you can enjoy your coffee. The machines come in many forms, but their basic premise is they take a coffee capsule and do the rest of the work to give you a perfect cup of coffee every time. There are 8 coffee blends, made using Arabica and Robusta beans in different combinations and roasting methods. I cannot remember any of the names as they’re rather long and complicated. Instead I just use the colours as a guide. I like the light brown one, which is a medium flavoured blend, and the purple one, which is really smooth.

To use the machine, it’s as simple as putting a capsule into the machine and pressing a button. You then wait 30 seconds or so and out comes this rich, fragrant espresso coffee. I was pleasantly surprised how nice the coffee is. Of course it won’t taste like something that comes out of a $50,000 machine made by a barista, but for something so convenient and relatively inexpensive, it’s a good result that I’m very happy with. The machine I got also has this automatic milk frother. You just put the milk into the jug and it does the steaming and stirring all for you. Then, you pour the milk for either a latte or cappuccino into your espresso or espresso lungo (a more diluted espresso). The maintenance of the machine is really simple. You need to occasionally clean out the water jug, and if the coffee dispensing or milk frother tips get clogged, just clean them out with hot water. Every few days when the drip tray fills up, you just tip it all out into the sink.

Price wise, I believe the machines are about $200-$300 and the capsules work out to be between 50 cents to 80 cents depending on the flavour. I was informed that there’s 7.5 grams of coffee in each capsule, which according to Google is 0.5 grams more than the European Standards for defining a cup of coffee. The capsules themselves contain a quadruple layer of foil so aren’t that easy to accidentally rip. When you put it into the machine, it punctures 16 holes in the capsule, which allows the water to flow through. These capsules are unique to the machine and you can’t use another brand.

Here’s a video showing how you make a cup of coffee. It really is this easy as I have timed myself and in under 5 minutes I have a cup of cappuccino ready while my soft boiled eggs are cooking in my Aldi egg cooker.

Overall, I really love the Lavazza A Modo Mio machine. It’s really easy to use and produces a quality of coffee that I’m happy with. I think if you’re a hardcore coffee drinker, this is not for you. You probably won’t be considering this anyway. Otherwise if you’re a general coffee lover or new to coffee like me, this machine is perfect. Obviously, there will be obvious comparisons to the Nespresso machines. As I’ve never used a Nespresso before, I can’t do a direct comparison, but I’m sure they’re just as easy to use and also produce a good result. It’s just down to you trying them out and seeing which one you like more. While the Lavazza machine may not be the original, it doesn’t mean that it will be inferior. In fact, the engineers have probably seen some of the issues and corrected them. Look how Apple were the innovators, but nowadays Samsung has possibly superseded them in the smart phone stakes. As long as your product makes the experience easier for the user, that is what matters. So while Nespresso has George Clooney, Lavazza does have 110 years of coffee experience behind them. It makes for more choice for the consumer, which is a good thing. I’ll drink to that…my A Modo Mio cappuccino.

I attended the Lavazza coffee class and received a Lavazza A Modo Mio machine courtesy of Lavazza.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Barmah Park Vineyard and Cafe

I've started to have an addiction, an addiction to op shopping. It's the disease where you feel a rush going through other people's junk that they've donated. The quest is to find some piece of "treasure" at a great price. For me, the treasures are all food related, in the form of plates, cutlery and various props that I can use for my food photography. Luckily my addiction is shared by my fellow food bloggers Az, Maz and Haz. So, we go on these road trips where the goal is to find lots of treasures at many op shops. Obviously, there's always heaps of food involved on the trip too and we try to find new places to eat at. Our current favourite destination is Mornington Peninsula as there are lots of nice op shops and vintage shops to pick up our treasures. On the most recent trip, in between our op shopping and llama spotting, we were invited to try out Barmah Park Vineyard and Cafe for lunch.

Barmah Park Vineyard and Cafe is a cute little place, where they sell their wines and have a cafe for food and to drink their wines. We started our meal with some wine tasting, trying out the various Barmah Park wines, including Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. We settled on our drinks and while the girls got red wines, I went with a nice refreshing Pinot Gris.

For lunch, of course we all agreed to share the food so we could try everything. We started with a meze plate to share. The plate consisted of salmon on a savoury scone, grilled vegetables, chorizo, a vegetable tart, crumbed calamari, cured meats, salad and some bread. Most items were quite nice. I wouldn't say anything stood out as being amazing but one item did stand out as being very strange. The crumbed calamari was actually tender, but the crumb matched with the sauce was really not nice. It was super salty and then the sauce was really sweet. I didn't find the combination pleasant at all.

Next up, the Roast Pork Belly with Scallops was really delicious. Crispy pieces of fatty pork belly crunched and oozed in my mouth. I love pork belly and this one was done well. The scallops were also fresh and went well with the pork. The obligatory apple slaw accompanied the dish and gave it some lightness.

As mussels are my current obsession, I convinced the others to eat it despite the usual "we can order mussels anywhere", to which my constant reply is "but I want mussels now". The flavour of the dish was quite nice, but the mussels themselves weren't super amazing like I've had elsewhere in the Mornington Peninsula. They just didn't have the super sweet sea flavour that some mussels possess. I forgot what variety these were but maybe all the different varieties taste different.

We tried three other dishes that were hit and miss. As we didn't know the meze contained the calamari, we ordered it again. Obviously it was the same dish and I didn't like it again. The wedges were much better. Crispy and soft inside with sour cream and sweet chili dip. Lastly, a pumpkin gnocchi in a tomato based sauce was delicious. The gnocchi was soft and had great flavour and I loved it.

Despite being full, I was tempted by the sound of the apple strudel, so convinced everyone to have dessert. I didn't need to do too much convincing when Michele suggested we also try a sticky date pudding. The apple strudel in custard was beautiful. The pastry was flaky and the filling perfectly spiced and soft. The custard just finished the dish perfectly. I thought this would be the highlight but once I tried the sticky date pudding, I was speechless. I never order sticky date puddings because they're always crazy sweet and rather ordinary. But I can't recommend this sticky date pudding enough. It was so amazing, with a perfect texture and the most amazing butterscotch sauce.

The meal overall was quite good. Some items were very nice and some weren't. I'd recommend to skip the meze platter as that was quite generic stuff and to order various dishes instead so you can taste the food style of the chef. The desserts were super amazing so don't forget to order that. If that sticky date pudding is on the menu, get it.

I dined courtesy of Michele and Barmah Park.

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