February 14th, 2012

Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

This Week's Column - The Frugal Foodie

Published in the City Hub and City News.

Is it just me, or have groceries skyrocketed? Even with the same generous household kitty, some weeks we struggle to keep ourselves in the products we’ve come to enjoy. Our ethical meat is now purchased in bulk; we cook large batches then freeze, to bring down the price per serve. I’m loath to inform my Mother, but I’ve even begun taking my lunch to work!

Now with lunch, rest assured we’re not talking the tinned salmon sandwiches I used to refuse for school! These days lunch packs consist of dishes from all around the world, with garnishes and sides all neatly separated into zip lock sandwich bags for fast construction that retains textural pleasure. This week’s surprises include Beef Shawarma courtesy of an standout spice blend from Sami’s Kitchen. It’s amazingly fragrant, and works well at home to add a taste of the Middle East no matter how competent a cook you are. For a work lunch, try it on Lebanese bread with hummus and tabouli. I also have their Shish Tawook Blend [RRP $6.95] on my shelf waiting for me to buy some chicken or fish. Who said cooking at home had to be boring?

In the bottle shop, I’ve also changed my spending habits. Instead of my husband and I buying a bottle each (our tastes tend to diverge on wine), we’re looking for guaranteed value and bang for buck on a shared bottle. After an evening with Scott Burton from McGuigan Wines, I tasted a range of wines and was mighty impressed by the price. Scott explained that the McGuigan winemakers have been told to make each category of wine deliver beyond the price point. Drinking their 2009 The Shortlist Cabernet Sauvignon [RRP $28.99], I enjoyed both the black cherry notes of the smooth, affable wine; as well as the gentle earthiness underneath them. It was light enough not to put me off (I like to taste my food) but big enough to not elicit ‘insipid’ from my husband. This makes it the perfect bottle shop argument settler, and true to the McGuigan promise, it drinks like a $35 wine.

My other startling discovery was their Sparkling Pinot Grigio [RRP $18.99] – who knew? Expect an easy drinking bubbles with a distinctively different flavour. It’s not too sweet; invitingly pink (from the wine being left on the skins); but avoids excess acidity - just the ticket to ensure you can enjoy a second bottle (if budget permits).

Our home-cooked breakfast last weekend was golden fried mushrooms on Brasserie Bread sourdough. We’ve been approaching café-standard breakfasts at home for a while now, and no longer look mournful about dining in. Normally I look to France to provide my sourdough toast with an adequately tasty companion, however since finding Pepe Saya, my butter will now be coming from a small factory in Tempe (and that’s got to be better for the planet)! I’m not the only one making the switch; restaurants including Sepia and Black by Ezard are all serving or cooking with Pepe Saya Australian Cultured Butter [RRP 225g/$9.95] too. According to owner Pierre Issa, “what we stock in stores around Australia is exactly what we supply to Neil Perry or Stefano Manfredi.

If your ethics also point you toward supporting grass-fed rather than grain-fed farming, you’ll also be pleased to know this butter is made on single-origin cream sourced direct from NSW and Victorian farms running only grass-fed herds. Even the sea salt used in their salted butter range (yep, salted is still my preference) is Murray River Pink Salt Flakes, making it a truly local product of Australia. Get yours at Harris Farm or Eveleigh Markets.

Despite all this cooking at home, as I write this I am heading out the door all the way to the other side of the bridge for a midweek meal at The Burlington Bar & Dining. They’ve recently appointed up-and-coming chef Vio Pramono to spearhead their kitchen team. Working alongside co-owner Jacqui Gowan, I’m told his focus will be satisfying, home style dishes. Vio, who has worked with Matt Moran for over seven years, elaborates: “I think seasonality is one of the most important factors in achieving fresh, quality, well balanced dishes.” Keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming review.