Friday, 21 December 2012

CHRISTMAS AT THE LAST MINUTE OR HOW TO PANIC ELEGANTLY

Every time I hear the Christmas countdown I shudder a little inside. As the children open one more window on their Advent calendars and chant "Seven sleeps till Christmas!" "Six sleeps till Christmas!" I freak out a little more (We are now down to four sleeps till Christmas, by the way. You're welcome.)



Because I haven't done anything. Barely anything. For those of us who are lucky enough to work at this lovely Market, this is the Big One. The busiest time of year. And when you're trying to ensure everyone else will have their stock of turkey and cherries and crayfish, it is entirely possible that you will let your own needs slip. A little. Hypothetically speaking, that is of course.




So, let's face the cold hard facts. Christmas is coming. You've done diddly. The thought of a major shopping centre is, frankly, unspeakable. What to do, what to do?  You can run around in a flap for a bit (circles are always good, I find). Then sit down, take a few deep breaths and concentrate.

Now, first go look here. This charming post points out all the things you could've should've would've done far, far in advance, if you had been that way inclined. You are NOT that way inclined and hence are reading this. But there are some good tips to be had here still. Figure out your numbers, write out a brief menu. This is NOT beyond salvaging at this point.

The bottom line is to get our good traders to do as much of it for you as possible and finish up the rest yourself. So, let's start.

Nibbles

Duck into our Deli Arcade and pick up some lovely nibbles. A little something for guests to enjoy with a glass of sparking wine or pomegranate punch from Sweet Greek. This array came from Chasos's Deli - the marinated mushrooms are a knockout! Tip the contents into little bowls, slice up a sourdough baguette from Noisette and BANG. Done. That will keep everyone happy while you cruise on to the next course.


Seafoood

Prawns. Prawns prawns prawns. The great Australian Christmas tradition. Get a generous amount of cooked king prawns (note that Claringbold's don't take orders, so you stand the same chance as everyone else on Christmas Eve!), scatter some peashoots on a platter and plonk the prawns on top. Open a jar of good quality tartare sauce - the Gluten Free Providore stock Doodles Creek - or mix Kewpie mayonnaise from Lee's Asian Grocery with Tabasco or ketchup for a quick sauce. Let everyone sit down and get to work with their hands on this crustacean treat - don't forget the napkins!




Ham

Organised people have had their leg of ham labelled, numbered and booked since September. They probably drive out to the country each Sunday to inspect their pig running around in a paddock. You are Not That Person and You Never Will Be and that's okay.

All our butchers use free-range pork for their hams. You might not have had the slightly obsessive pleasure of naming your pig, but you know what? It'll still taste good. Serve up cold or skin, score and bake in the oven for a hearty meal. Chef Walter Trupp has a recipe on our website for Honey Baked Ham and it only takes an hour. Seriously, anyone can manage that.

Throw together one of Louise Harper's summer salads or scrub some vegetables and toss them in the oven. You are Almost Done.

Neil's Meats will glaze and bake ham for you -24 hours notice


Ice Cream Pudding

The plum pudding gelato at Fritz Gelato is justifiably famous - they've won gold medals for it.  Pick up a take home tub and pop it into the freezer. On the big day, simply remove from the freezer 20 minutes before serving and invert onto a cake stand. Top with red currants or cherries from one of our fruiterers.



Coffee and Biscuits

You could always do instant (then again you could also put on lederhosen and yodel Christmas carols). Jasper Coffee and Market Lane are happy to grind freshly-roasted coffee beans for you. Just pop it in the plunger and bring out a selection of biscuits and chocolates. Sink into an armchair and open your presents.
 


That wasn't difficult at all, was it? I can hardly wait until next year .... (only 369 sleeps people!)


MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM EVERYONE AT THE PRAHRAN MARKET


Friday, 14 December 2012

White Christmas Australian Style

I'm Dreaming Of A White Christmas .... and I'm going to have it. Yes, really. Right here, in sunny Melbourne. Under clear blue skies you too can choose the best of the lightest and brightest summer treats our fair city has to offer. Celebrate with a bit of sparkle this Yule!

Crayfish Rolls

One of the iconic dishes Andrew McConnell has introduced to Melbourne is his twist on the lobster roll. More of a delicious brioche-y bite than a roll, over 35,000 of these have trotted out of the Golden Fields kitchen since it opened. A platter of these will look beautiful on any Christmas table, the perfect little snack to knock back with a glass of champagne while people mingle and excited children run riot.


A basket full of brioche rolls from Noisette (essential to order), a cooked crayfish from Claringbolds, some Kewpie mayonnaise from Lee's Asian Grocery, some sliced shallots and watercress. Cut the rolls in half, fry gently in butter and assemble. Easily done and simply spectacular. Not many of your guests will had the chance to indulge in such a luscious mouthful, so pile them high.

Goat Curd

One of the loveliest cheeses to arrive at the Market this time of year is fresh goat curd. Angelo from the Cheese Shop Deli says that goat milk is at its best in the summer and he brings it in from the Meredith Dairy in Western Victoria. Tip it onto a plate, drizzle some lemon oil over, stick some crackers round. Or toss a light dressing over peashoots, then scatter slivered almonds and spoonfuls of this curd. This is summer in a bowl. Truly.



Ice Cream Pudding

It is sometimes Just Too Hot to get into the whole heavy plum pud thing here. Face it. But it is a rare person who will say no to a scoop of ice cream pudding, that particularly Australian inclination. Take home a tub of Fritz Gelato's vanilla gelato and some glacé fruit from the Sweet and Nut Shop or Pete n Rosie's Deli. Dice the fruit (add plenty of cherries) mix with brandy through softened gelato. Pop into a pudding mould and turn out for the big day. Delicious and delightful.



Pavlova

The quintessential Aussie summer dessert, this is also perfect to make ahead of time. The pavlova needs to cool slowly in the oven so this can done the day before. On Christmas Day, all you need to do is top with whipped vanilla cream and sliced white peaches and raspberries. A little bit of Billington's Golden Icing Sugar from Delicatess and you're done and dusted.




And there are plenty of other Australian offerings around the Market. This Desert Road from Pete n Rosie's Deli is an ironic twist on rocky road. Cut it up and pop on  a platter with some fruit and nuts. The perfect nibble for just when you think you can't eat one thing more. May your days be merry and bright and may all your Christmases be white ...




Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas: Planning or Panicking?




It's coming. And there's nothing you can do about it. Inevitably, those little Advent calendar windows open one after one and before you know it, it'll be Christmas Eve.
There are the planners and then there are the panickers. There are also those who are firmly confident in both their traditions and their capabilities that they fall into neither category. They will calmly stroll through the Market on December 24, picking up a goose here, a box of cherries there, sublimely content in the knowledge that it will All Be Fine.

Most people are not like that though. The first step is to figure out which one category you fall into and take it from there. (Am not writing for the Firmly Confident, they know what they're doing .... ).

The Planning Type

Numbers. Menu. Sort out who's coming and who's bringing each dish. Unless you are a culinary martyr, do not take on the entire job yourself. Christmas is about sharing and what better way than to sweetly ask Dear Cousin Lucy to bring her beloved braised sprouts?

It's also a time of tradition. There's something enchanting about the familiarity of certain dishes appearing on the table year after year. I remember fondly the uproar that occurred when my mother decided to take her icecream pudding recipe and "mix it up a bit". Her children were as wounded and distraught adults as could ever be imagined.  Trust me, she will never, ever do that again.

So if someone has a particularly deft touch with a salad or side dish, ask them to bring it along. People love it when their speciality is noted and remembered. And one or two dishes is not much for anyone to put together for The Big Day.


Ordering

If you want to be specific about the turkey or the ham you are ordering, free-range, rare-breed, from a particular farm, called Julian, you need to get in early. For many of these small producers, Christmas is their largest delivery however, they do have a limited stock. And you can wail and throw yourself on the tiles of Bracher Arcade all you like, Royce Hagen is not going to be able to magic up an organic turkey for you at 4pm on December 24. And nor will the folks at Kevin's Poultry, John Cesters, Arthur's Poultry or D & J Poultry.

Talk to your traders.  Michael Mow has been anticipating that the King Island garlic (the best in his opinion) will be in just prior to Christmas. Certain varieties of cherries and raspberries often only appear a few days before. Find out what's arriving and place your order. People who plan ahead Get Dibs.

Mud Bakers from The Essential Ingredient

Take Stock
 
The Night Before Christmas is not the time to discover that you are 3 chairs short or make a dash to the milk bar for paper plates. Map out your seating plan and take stock of tables, chairs, glasses, cutlery and crockery. Serving dishes are often left behind at home - many people pack food in storage containers for car travel and on arrival find their host has run out of platters.  One option is to buy everyone one of these stunning Mud dishes for Christmas so that you can fossick under the tree for servingware if necessary. A simpler, and less expensive option is to pick up a sturdy plastic platter from Donnallys Party Supplies. This costs a couple of dollars, can be jazzed up with laser-cut paper or whole fresh herbs and left behind at the host house without a care.

Table

Many people leave setting the table to the last minute but not you planners. You will have looked through Christmas boards on Pinterest, ripped pages from interiors magazines and stocked up on table decorations at last year's Boxing Day sales.  One suggestion that does lead to calm on Christmas Day is to clear the table and set it for the main meal after breakfast. This means that even if guests arrive as you are cursing the bread sauce, the house is welcoming. The table (and the music you have cued up) set the scene. Pull some sparkling wine from the fridge and take a moment to enjoy before you saunter back into the kitchen.


Australian Sparkling Wine from Swords Select Wines


Start saving the tubes from paper towel rolls now. These, with cracker snaps and a bit of leftover wrapping paper make wonderful homemade Christmas crackers and there is nothing more special than being handed one with your own name on it, a handful of small goodies inside, chosen exactly for you. There are plenty of little treats, particularly from our delicatessens and Ripe the Organic Grocer, that will slide inside a beautiful handmade bonbon.

Weather

This is Melbourne. About all I can suggest is - pray.

Even if you are hoping for an al fresco festive dinner, make backup plans that include an indoor space. (Possibly also oil heaters, cardigans, sandbags and sunscreen. One never knows.)


So there we have it planners. Of course, you already know all this. You no doubt have a Christmas Folder with dog-eared recipes, seating plans and a laminated running sheet for 25 December 2012.  But we can all learn something from your type. If only one of the panickers takes something from this, it will have been worthwhile.

But don't worry last-minute Lukes. There'll be a guide to a No Hassles Last Minute Christmas on here soon. Of course, it'll probably only be posted on Christmas Eve ....




Thursday, 29 November 2012

Cuts Like A (Really Really Good) Knife


  

Whenever I'm asked what are the basic essentials for any cook's kitchen, it really comes down to a handful of things: a couple of saucepans, sauté pan, chopping board. And knives.

Let's face it, you're not going very far, culinarily speaking, without one.  When you think of how often you hold your favourite knife in your hand, to slice strips off a fillet, cut calyx off strawberries, dice up a mango, it's worth making the experience a joy.

Christmas time and the push into the summer entertaining season means that many cooks will seize the opportunity to trade up in the steel department. And even the food-obssessive who has everything would never, ever say no to another knife (we always need another knife).


The knife selection wall at The Essential Ingredient

But it needs to be the right knife. What handles beautifully for one cook will not suit another and it is imperative that you get into store (we naturally suggest The Essential Ingredient) and road-test a few. Hold the knife in your hand, feel the weight, make the motions you will use over and over again.  Good knives will last you a lifetime, so for goodness' sake, find something you truly love. And that loves you back. Don't simply give in to the appeal of the trendy - when Anthony Bourdain raved about them and  Global Knives became the latest cult toy, a friend ran out and got one. But while the Global is a beautiful piece of acute-edged engineering, her grip on the handle brought her hand into constant contact with the heel of the knife. Constantly, bloodily so. That knife now sits in a dusty drawer, with single chopsticks and abandoned candy thermometers.

Many people will get by just fine with a chef's knife and a paring knife. Then they start to add a utility knife, a bread knife, an occasional dalliance with a filleting one.  Look at a knife set seriously and consider whether it meets your actual cooking needs. And that maybe you'd be better off with a small Sabatier, a Wüsthof workhorse and a shiny Shun than a set of knives stamped in the same stable.

Michel Bras knives, made in collaboration with Shun. Hand-assembled, with an individual serial number

There is little I adore more than the sight of a beautiful high-carbon soft-steel knife from Japan. Am I going to wipe it down with oil before and after every use? No, no I am not. So I gaze at them admiringly and move on.  For some chefs, a genuine single forged knife is key. Others will trade the sharpness of the edge for the hardiness of the steel.  As with food, it is down to you and your preferences.

A knife enthusiast I know says "People only cut themselves on blunt knives". And this is true, you've bought something with an exquisite edge, so hone it regularly and when needed, bring it in for a professional sharpening at The Essential Ingredient. (Or if you are confident, you can sharpen your knives at home on an oilstone or waterstone.)

There's the old saying "a poor workman blames his tools". Well with one of these lovely knives from The Essential Ingredient you've got no one left to blame but yourself. Cut wisely, cut once ...


The Essential Ingredient is conducting knife sharpening services every week during November and December. Leave your knives by 4pm on Tuesday for Wednesday noon collection. Service from $8.50


Monday, 19 November 2012

Making It Pretty - Edible Flowers


You may have noticed that pretty little flowers are making it big on restaurant plates - whether you're eating chive flowers at Attica or Nicolas Poelaert's scattering white lilac and sheep sorrel blossom across your food at Brooks.

But the lovely truth is that you can add these to your dishes at home - it takes practically no effort (apart from the shopping) and the touch is truly spectacular, offering both visual and taste appeal.

Now, the best way to use edible flowers is to grow and pick them yourselves but very few do so. Also, most flowers are not for eating and some are DEADLY. Like deadly deadly. Do not, repeat, DO NOT EAT POISONOUS FLOWERS. Put yourself in the hands of an expert and pop down to the Market.

Damian Pike has a lovely range of cornflowers and borage flowers at the moment. The cornflowers are simply stunning. Stunning. Damian recommends using them with a crème brûlée or other custard based dessert. Other flowers, such as carnations, have an almost peppery taste and are more suitable to offset a savoury course.



Another flower you'd be used to seeing is the zucchini flower. Arriving into the Market in abundance now, these little pieces of Spring are a delight to stuff with goat curd or ricotta, herbed with a little bit of chive or mixed with chicken mince. They are delicate, both in structure and flavour, so you don't want to overwhelm them.

The male flowers are significantly cheaper (they come without the baby zucchini) but if you remove the stem they can still be stuffed or wilted and mixed through risotto or pasta. Pick some of these lovelies up at F & J Fruiterers or Reliable Fruit and Vegies.  And save a couple to garnish the top of the dish. 



Some would argue that flowers on food is simply trendy. And we would say that it's simply beautiful. And delicious. So there.


Friday, 9 November 2012

Local Garlic - We Love It, We Love It!




Here in the Market, you could assume that we love most food. And we do, pretty much, all of the good stuff. But there is a very special place in our hearts for garlic, and particularly local Australian garlic. 

If there is one product we would go down on our knees and implore you to buy locally, it's garlic. No question. For some of the year, the only way to have it is preserved or imported from China, Spain or Mexico. But many of these have been bleached and have been irridated with methyl bromide before arriving in Australia.

Australian garlic is the Real Deal. And when the lovely local bulbs arrive, do your hearts not sing? At the sight of the purple heads, enclosing white cloves bursting out of their papery skins? This, fresh-from-the-harvest garlic is milder than dried and perfect for embracing the delights of spring - asparagus, new butter, spring lamb and vine ripened tomatoes.


 


On Saturday 17 November 2012 we are celebrating our love of Australian garlic. Come and follow the Garlic Trail, taste a range of Australian garlic varities raw and rubbed on toast and vote for your favourite. Delicatessens are offering tastings of garlic products - Naheda's famous garlic and 3 olive dip, aioli, Boursin, you name it.  Our butchers will be barbecuing some delicious garlicky Chorizo sausage and Souvlaki lamb.

And have you ever wondered what garlic icecream tastes like? Garlic chocolate? You have, haven't you? We'll be dishing out free garlic icecream at Fritz Gelato and free garlic chocolate at Cioccolato Lombardo until supplies are exhausted.

Come. Show how much you love garlic. And Australia. And US.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Spring's Big Three


Spring's Big Three are: Broadbeans; Asparagus; and Strawberries. No debate entered into people. These are the ones, the ones you have been dreaming about as the artic wind swept up Commercial Road and you wondered if the sun would ever shine again

And now Spring is here, we've all thawed out a little in the glorious weather (34 degrees? Why, thank you) and are thinking how to make the most of it. Parks, picnics, white wine in the backyard and the Big Three of course.

Broad beans are the most fleeting, blink and you'll miss them. The other two will stick around into summer, but by then we'll all be swanning around with stonefruit and sweetcorn, so enjoy them now.

BROAD BEANS

The controversy here is of course to pod or double pod. Look at your beans and check how young and small they are for the answer (also have deep think about how lazy you are).  Broad beans are a brief pleasure, put some effort in and reap the tender rewards.

The delicacy of the broad bean lends itself to equally light pairings, some fresh goat curd, ricotta, soft lettuces. Don't overwhelm this flavour with a bang, go gently and Respect The Bean.




ASPARAGUS

Asparagus is here and all over the Market in purple, white and green. The very youngest asparagus could be eaten whole without snapping the woody ends but those days are drawing to an end. There are plenty of recipes in our cooking section  for delicious ways to use asparagus, but the simplest are often the best. Soft boil a couple of beautiful free range eggs and dip some lightly steamed stalks in as soldiers. Brush with oil and grill on a cast iron griddle, then sprinkle with salt and lemon zest. Or simmer lightly in a pan for a couple of minutes, then drain and drizzle with newly-pressed olive oil and a squeeze of mandarin juice.

Our vegetable recipes are here.


STRAWBERRIES

 Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula strawberries are coming into the Market now. If you are able to restrain yourself from eating an entire punnet as you unpack, take the berries out of the punnet and store in the fridge on a plate on top of a kitchen towel.  Their flavour is best at room temperature, so take them out an hour or so before eating and leave the green stem in until the last minute (if you feel the need to remove).

Again, these are wonderful served simply - when super-sweet, add a little creme fraiche on the side. If a little sour, drizzle with balsamic or dust with Billington's Natural Golden Icing Sugar from Delicatess or the Essential Ingredient.

If you disagree on our Big Three or have great ways to prepare them, that's what the comments section is for, people. Go to it.


Fabulous spring fruit and veggies available from our beloved greengrocers

Cheong Fruit and Vegetables
Damian Pike Wild Mushroom Specialist
F & J Fruiterers
Garden State Fruit Supply
Paddlewheel 
Patty's Fruit & Vegies
Pino's Fine Produce
Reliable Fruit & Vegies
Ripe the Organic Grocer
Russo's Fruit Supply


Monday, 22 October 2012

Damian Pike, Mushroom Man Extraordinaire




Damian doesn't like it when you say that sort of thing about him. Damian still seems somewhat taken aback at the recognition he's received, from the food community, from Melbourne and 2 years ago from the Australian government in the form of an Order of Australia for services to the fruit and vegetable industry.  As Damian puts it, "It was the first time it had been given to a 'Joe Bloggs' like me. I'm not anyone special, I'm just me. I enjoy what I do and if I didn't, I certainly wouldn't be here."

Growing up in Queensland, he used to eat Kraft cheese "I think it came in a blue packet" between white bread. When he had celery for the first time in Queensland, no one had heard of it. Damian moved to New Zealand later on and found his way in a hotel chain "I just enjoyed the industry and was fortunate to get involved here in the mid-60s and mid-70s. I was lucky enough to be involved as the food industry took off."

Damain then worked all around the world on offshore oil rigs as a chief steward in catering. "I was employing people from everywhere. And it was another eye opener to see produce that I'd never seen before, that I couldn't even spell.  Then I returned to Australia and worked in the desert for a while, doing catering for a mate's company. That folded and this opportunity at the Prahran Market came about and I thought we'll give it a go. It's been just great for me. I just wanted to enjoy what I had and have always had as my motto "I am here to make friends, not money. And now I''ve got a lot of very good friends. I've been very fortunate to work in an industry that's brought me up to respect the people and the product."

Damian says that he was helped by some wonderful people along the way. "In mid-1986 Jill Dupleix came and asked me what I wanted to do with my stall and she wrote a 2 page spread about it in The Age and Terry Durack brought people round and opened doors for me. They were both great shoppers at the market."

He was then introduced to mushroom brokers and importers.  "Terence said he could get me anything I wanted so I asked for 20 cases.  No one was doing those kind of quantities of chanterelles, mousserons and cepes as a retailer. I was lucky to have the support of customers in the market who were willing to have a go, people who had been overseas and eaten the produce and away it went."



He started sourcing mushrooms from all around the world, including South East Asia and began expanding into the exotic side of mushrooms. Damian was offered mushrooms from Sydney for the first time and then Ron, a local man in Melbourne approached him. "Ron was growing shitakes and asked if I wanted to sell a local one and that industry boomed. It was a great success."

Elizabeth Chong was also a great supporter of the Market and they did a few gigs together on different programs for culinary and medicinal use of mushrooms with the Asian community. Then people began enquiring about truffles in 1988. "I've always been game to try new products. Thank god it's been rewarding ever since."

Damian's worked solidly for years. "Never had a break from the market until four years ago, we started to pinch a day here and there and then I had a week off after Christmas 3 years ago and that's the first time I've ever had a holiday. 23 years we worked straight, on the Market days. I got used to that, didn't really matter.  Now it's good to look at the calendar and plan a break."

And any recommendations?

"I don't buy things I don't eat. Very proud of that.What I eat's what's in my shop."

Come and visit Damian at Stall 116       Damian Pike at the Prahran Market 

Welcome To Our Blog!

Welcome, welcome to the Prahran Market blog!

A little piece of the internet for tales of our market floor, where you can get to truly know our traders and their produce.  Find the best recipes and ways to cook local food in season.

There will be NO SCURRILOUS GOSSIP (okay, maybe a little bit) but good food, tall tales and people who are the salt of the earth.

Sit back (are you sitting comfortably?), get a cup of what you fancy and enjoy ...