Product review: My Food Bag

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Growing up I remember Mamma Rosa frequently saying “what should I make for dinner tonight?”. I took it for granted that there was quite a lot of effort involved in putting together a dinner for six people seven nights a week; it was never just one course, and invariably delicious. Fast forward and I often find myself asking my husband and boys “what would you like me to make tonight?” (and sometimes quietly crossing my fingers that they won’t suggest something that is hugely time intensive, because once I’ve offered them the choice, I can’t really say no to what they ask for).

So along came My Food Bag, which takes all the angst out of deciding what to cook, opens your eyes to possibilities, saves you a lot of time, and is fun to boot. Launching in New Zealand in March 2013, where it has been hugely successful, it launched in Sydney in July 2014, Melbourne this month, and is soon to launch in other Australian cities. My Food Bag delivers to your home a selection of recipes, AND everything you need to make them (minus a few pantry staples). There are three different Food Bags on offer, delivered on a Sunday so you’re all set for the week ahead:

- The Family Bag, designed for a family with 2-3 young children ($169 for 5 people for 5 days)
The Classic Bag, designed for a family of 4 with two older children or 4 adults ($129 for 4 people for 5 days)
The Gourmet Bag, designed for two people ($149 for 2 people for 4 days)

They also have a great Christmas Bag available at the moment, which caters for a feast for 8-10 people, and have just launched some personalised cookbooks. Fruit bags are available too.

The website is full of information, telling you what kitchen equipment and pantry staples you’ll need – and the average home cook would pretty much have all they list. No sous-vide machines required here.

foodbag8I realise quickly that it’s a well run operation. On Friday I get an email telling me what recipes I’ll be cooking next week. They all look delicious and I can’t wait to get started. On Saturday they send me a text telling me the two hour window for my delivery. And on Sunday it arrives as promised. Its feels a bit like Christmas as my husband and I unpack all our beautiful goodies. My husband’s family owned a fruit and vegetable business for many years, so he is quite critical of quality, and declares everything to be “top notch”. The proteins look great – organic meat and free range chicken – and everything is meticulously labelled. The tinned tomatoes are Mutti which is a Mamma Rosa approved brand, and the cannelloni shells are Barilla which is approved by all 200 of my cousins in Italy.

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Your first delivery will also come with a little folder where you can store your recipe cards. It is all too easy. The seasonally based recipes are developed by their head Chef, Miguel Maestre (from Channel 10’s The Living Room), in consultation with the team in their test kitchen. You can give feedback on the recipes on the website or on their Facebook page; each week the team behind My Food Bag pour over the client comments to see what the response has been to that week’s dishes and putting them together.

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That week I cooked chorizo, kale and ricotta cannelloni, macadamia crusted snapper with asparagus, seared beef with pumpkin and beetroot salad, and prosciutto wrapped chicken with pistachio stuffing, corn salsa and watercress salad.  I can’t plate up like Miguel, but you get the drift!

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The recipes vary in time and complexity, some are all done in 25 minutes, but the cannelloni took closer to an hour. I would cast my eyes over the recipe for that night in the morning, and see if there was any prep that would be easy to do before work. So for the cannelloni I prepared my filling in the morning and put it in the fridge, ready to assemble that evening. But the fish dish was all done and on the table in 25 minutes, and with the potatoes, fish and asparagus being prepared in the oven, clean up was minimal which was an added bonus. They even tell you the calorie and fat count for dishes, as well as suggesting a wine paring.

Here are the things I really liked:

Little food waste. Food waste upsets me, and Australia, the Land of Plenty, is one of the world’s worst culprits. We throw away an estimated $8 billion of food each year (this is more that the entire GDP of several countries). Over the last few years I’ve made a very conscious effort to buy only what I’m fairly certain we will use or on an “as needed” basis (Mamma Rosa often looks very alarmed at the relatively bare state of my fridge and thinks I may be starving my children). My Food Bag, by giving you the exact ingredients that you need, really cuts down on waste.

It makes you more adventurous. There were some great salad combinations, and ingredients I don’t normally use like radish, or poppy seeds thrown in for texture. The team behind My Food Bag are committed to variety – in the first 15 months of operation, they never once repeated a recipe, and are only now doing the occasional recipe repeat based purely on customer demand

It teaches you that great food can be quick. Most meals probably take an average 35 minutes, and it’s really quite surprising what you can get on the table in that time when you don’t have to think about it, someone has thought of it for you.

The convenience factor. It really can’t get much easier than this.

Flexibility. You can have a standing “subscription” where it is delivered every week, suspend it during holidays, or just order it on an as desired basis

Quality – great stuff!

Good portion size. I found the portions to be generous, they were probably just right for my husband and a little too big for me.

My Food Bag
http://www.myfoodbag.com.au

Disclosure: Napoli Restaurant Alert was given a sample of My Food Bag’s Gourmet Bag. All opinions are my own and not influenced in any way.

Sydney Cove Oyster Bar, Circular Quay

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There’s never any argument that we have one of the world’s most stunning harbours, even on a grey day. And it’s even better to sit right beside it and enjoy a meal. But on many occasions there has been a food-view trade off – great view, not so good food (places like Ormeggio, Berowra Waters Inn and Pilu are an exception, with a great showing on both fronts). One day Mamma Rosa and The Sisters get the ferry into the Big Smoke, and I walk down from my office to Circular Quay to meet them. Our last get together was at Via Alta.

Today we are heading to Sydney Cove Oyster Bar, as Mamma Rosa is a big oyster fan, a taste I inherited from her. We are warmly welcomed and the staff that day were absolutely lovely – friendly, warm, helpful – nothing was too much trouble.

We start with sea scallops with pork belly and shemiji mushroom – fat scallops, well caramelised, and we enjoy it.

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We then go for the Ultimate Oyster Bar Indulgence Platter ($225) and it looks great on the table, accompanied by various (somewhat pedestrian) sauces. The oysters though sadly are disappointing, and just don’t have the beautiful freshness I’ve found elsewhere (for instance the previous week at Gardels the oysters seemed like they’d just been plucked from the sea) and the mussels we have to send back. The best parts for me are the crab and the lobster, fresh and sweet and we enjoy every bit of them. The battered seafood is good too. It’s a bit of a shame about the oysters given the location (and the name of the place!), but maybe we just caught them on an off day.

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oysterbar4Sydney Cove Oyster Bar, Circular Quay East, Sydney, Ph (02) 9427 2937
http://www.sydneycoveoysterbar.com

Sydney Cove Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Gardels Bar, Surry Hills

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One Saturday night, a group of Cool Chicks descended on a bar in Surry Hills. (For the purposes of this review, I will temporarily be classified as a Cool Chick). Nestled above Porteno and run by the same crew, Gardels Bar – named after tango king Carlos Gardel – is a grown up bar. Sophisticated, moody and dimly lit, it is about more than just the looks, being a bar that also serves some clever food, earning it Best Bar For Good Food in this year’s 2015 Good Food Guide Awards. There is some great house made charcuterie on offer, among other things.

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The Cool Chicks opt for one of the “bar banquet” menus, by the end of which we are totally stuffed. But of course we also want some drinks to go with it, and at 8.30pm on a Saturday night, they have “run out of glasses”. Say again? “ummm, yes, your drinks will be here as soon as we clean some glasses”. And, half of the (quite compact and not overly complicated) cocktail menu is “not available”. Well, they did win Best Bar for their food, not for their drinks. Oops. They were very apologetic though, and did send over some free champagne later in the evening (once glassware supplies were restored).

So what did we have? There certainly was some interesting food going on, and is a good one for those on the 5:2 diet where you can throw caution (and hopefully cholesterol) to the wind.

Oysters Sangrita – wonderfully fresh – and a Broccoli & Ricotta Empanada, a delicious little mouthful.
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Piquillo Pepper filled with Rice, Pine Nuts, Currants & Marinated Fetta; and house cured salmon (yum) on a little brioche toast
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Crumbed ricotta and spinach balls and stuffed zucchini flowers – both delicious
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Beef empanada – wasn’t keen, there was too much of a spice, was it cumin?
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Next, house made Mortadella & Fontina Cheese Sandwich (the Italians at the table like their mortadella cut paper thin, and this was a bit thick); and Chorizo Porteño with Romesco Sauce BBQ. It was a big chunk of chorizo, would have been good if it was grilled or rendered in some fashion.
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The Brussel sprouts with sweet lentils we weren’t keen on either, the sprouts were quite tough.
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But then came the lamb Ribs with Chimichurri; yes they were fatty, but oh, they were good.
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And then in probably the biggest surprise of the evening – a knock out desert! This is what they call their “pavlova cake” – there is a layer of biscuit, dulce du leche, poached strawberries, a meringue, a cream layer then honeycomb and pistachios on the top. Wow!
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Gardels Bar, 358 Cleveland St, Surry Hills, Ph (02) 8399 1440
http://www.gardelsbar.com

Gardel's Bar at Porteño on Urbanspoon

Burger Project, Sydney CBD

Burgers. Fries. Milkshakes. They aren’t part of my normal diet, maybe something I have two or three times a year. But a Neil Perry burger for under $10? I’m going to take part in that. Also, Google Maps kindly informs me that it is 1.6km from my office and I figure the 3.2km round trip will offset it, well partially anyway. It has only been open 5 days when I get there and a plethora of other food bloggers (we are cyberfriends, one day we really should meet in person!) have already been. Feedback has been mixed, and despite Neil’s very hands on best efforts, there have been a few teething issues. Today, for example, there were no wings, and that was one of the things I really wanted to try. I wondered how they could be sold out of wings already at 12.30pm, but apparently none at all had arrived that day. “No shipment” we were advised.

The queue was long, but not horrendous, and it moved reasonably quickly.

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Its a simple and efficient ordering process, take a buzzer and take a seat if you’re eating in. There’s a good amount of seating, indoors and out.

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We tried the cheese burger which contained grass fed beef, cheese, onion, pickles, tomato, lettuce and “secret sauce. For $8.90, I thought it was pretty good. My beef was well flavoured, the burger held together well, and unlike a lot of the brioche burger buns around these days, it didn’t taste like it was full of sugar.

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The pork burger had pork belly, salted chilli, pickles, pickled slaw, and lettuce. There wasn’t enough pork on this in my view and you didn’t get enough of a taste of it.

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The chips were crispy and easy to eat. The salted dulce de leche milkshake was disappointing though, it just tasted like watery milk with a hint of flavour, I had hoped it would be more pronounced being a big d.d.l fan.

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Versus other burgers I have tried in the last couple of years – it was certainly better than Parlour Burger, and I thought Chur was overhyped. I did recently have a good cheeseburger at Bowery Lane which comes with chips and is sit down table service for only a few dollars more.

So I think yes, there are a few teething issues but that it will come together in time. Mr Perry isn’t one to do things by halves and he will listen to feedback. And hey, this is a “project” right? It takes time to get them just right.

Burger Project, World Square Shopping Centre, Sydney
http://www.burgerproject.com

Burger Project on Urbanspoon

Antonio Carluccio’s Pasta Imbottita con Vegetali al Forno

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This is an extravagant, hearty, baked vegetable pasta dish, a bit of a labour of love, but worth it. You’ll need quite a deep baking dish for it.  Serves 8-10

Ingredients
600g large rigatoni
salt and pepper for seasoning
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed
500g melting cheese (you can use a mixture of mozzarella, fontina and taleggio) cut into 1cm cubes
200g Parmesan, freshly grated
1 quantity of spinach balls (recipe below)

Tomato sauce
2 large onions, peeled and finely diced
100ml olive oil
1.5kg tomato pulp or canned chopped tomatoes (I used 4 cans of peeled tomatoes)
10 basil leaves, shredded

Filling
2 eggplants, cut in 8mm thick slices lengthwise
3 medium zucchini, cut in 8mm thick slices lengthwise
plain flour, to dust
4 eggs
olive oil, for shallow-frying

1. Make the tomato sauce first by frying the onion in the olive oil until soft, about 5-6 minutes. Add the tomato and basil and cook gently for 20-30 minutes. Season with salt and set aside.

2.For the filling, dust the eggplant and zucchini slices with flour. Beat the eggs together, and dip the vegetable slices in this. Pour enough olive oil into a large pan to cover the base generously and heat gently. Shallow-fry the vegetable slices, a few at a time until golden, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Set both vegetables and oil aside. If you haven’t cooked them in advance, the spinach balls can also be cooked in this oil.

3.Meanwhile, boil the fennel bulbs in lightly salted water until al dente, about 6-7 minutes. Drain well, and cut into thin slices and set aside.

4. Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente, about 5-6 minutes. Drain and mix with little of the sauce. Preheat the oven to 200ºC

Spinach balls
500gspinach leaves, washed thoroughly, tough stalks removed
2 free-range eggs, beaten
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
110g breadcrumbs
50g grated parmesan
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Blanch the spinach leaves in a pan of salted, boiling water for 1-2 minutes, then drain well and refresh in cold water. Using your hands, squeeze out as much water from the blanched spinach leaves as possible, then finely chop the spinach. Transfer spinach to a bowl, then stir in the beaten eggs, nutmeg, breadcrumbs and parmesan. Season to taste. Mix well until the mixture binds together, adding more breadcrumbs or more water, as necessary, to bind the mixture. Roll the spinach mixture into walnut-sized balls and place onto a baking tray. Fry the balls in olive oil for a few minutes each side until golden brown all over and drain on paper towel. Set aside until assembly.

Assembly
In a baking tray or dish, now assemble all the ingredients. First put a layer of pasta on the bottom on which you distribute slices of zucchini and eggplant, slices of fennel and a few spinach balls, then some pasta. Sprinkle over some of the cheese chunks, some of the tomato sauce and some of the grated Parmesan, and repeat. Build a few layers according to the size of the baking tray, and finish on top with tomato sauce, a few chunks of cheese, a few spinach balls, and the remaining Parmesan. Bake for 30-40 minutes in the preheated oven. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving, cut in squares.

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Ricotta Gnocchi with Spring Vegetables

I saw this Neil Perry recipe in last week’s Good Weekend and thought it was perfect for this warm weather. The original recipe called for 350g of ricotta salata (salted ricotta) and 350g normal ricotta, but I didn’t have ricotta salata on hand so just used all normal ricotta, and drained it in a colander for a few hours in the fridge. It also used a burnt butter, but wanting to keep it fresh and light I went with a drizzle of top quality olive oil instead. Roll on summer!

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For ricotta gnocchi
700g fresh ricotta, well drained
2 eggs
2 yolks
260g type 00 flour, plus extra for kneading
1/3 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp sea salt

For spring vegetables
1 tbsp olive oil
2 small zucchini, sliced into rounds
8 asparagus spears, diagonally cut
1/2 cup fresh peas (or frozen, defrosted)
80g baby spinach leaves

Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
2tbsp finely chopped parsley
Grated parmesan to taste

Making it
1. To make the gnocchi, place ricotta, eggs and yolks in a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined, then sift in flour, nutmeg and salt. Gently combine then place the mixture on a generously floured benchtop. Using the back of your hands, push the mix until it just comes together. Divide the dough into four portions, roll each into a thin log. Using a knife, cut the logs into 2-centimetre pillows.

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2. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add a good handful of salt. Cook the gnocchi in batches for 2 minutes or until the gnocchi float to the surface, then scoop them out with a slotted spoon. Drain well and keep warm.

3. Heat the oil in a pan on a high heat and add the zucchini and asparagus. Sauté until they are golden-brown but still holding their shape. Add the gnocchi, peas and spinach and cook until the leaves have just wilted.

4. Divide the gnocchi and vegetable mixture between four plates. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle the parsley and parmesan on top

Today’s cake – Amalfi Pear and Ricotta cake

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Pear and ricotta cake is something you will find in many of the bakeries and pasticcerie along the gorgeous Amalfi Coast.  It was first made famous by Sal di Riso (his bakery is in Minori) and over the last few decades there have been various versions.  Some make it with more of a ‘biscuit’, others with a sponge.  This version is based on a recipe by Katie Caldesi.

For the sponge
100g     hazelnut meal
50g       plain flour
100g     caster sugar
75g       unsalted butter soften at room temperature
4            egg whites
Icing sugar, for dusting

For the filling
3            pears, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
75ml     water
1 tsp     vanilla bean paste
125g     golden caster sugar*
250g     ricotta, drained
100g     double cream
1 tbsp   pear brandy (optional)

*golden caster sugar is an unrefined sugar you’ll find in specialty food stores. I also used it recently in an orange & semolina cake

Making it
1. To make the pears, cook the pears in the water, together with the vanilla and 75 g of the sugar in a saucepan until soft, for 15–20 minutes (depending on the ripeness of the pears). This is best done with a circle of baking parchment pressed down on the pears to trap in the steam. When the pears are done, strain them through a sieve resting over a bowl to collect the juices and set aside and allow to cool.

2. Meanwhile, grease two 19 cm round tins with butter and line the bottoms with baking paper. Pre-heat oven to 180C fan forced. Place the hazelnut, flour, caster sugar and butter in a bowl and beat until a sandy consistency. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and then fold them into the nut mixture. Pour into the prepared tins and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto wire racks and removing baking paper

3. To make the filling, whisk together the remaining golden caster sugar, ricotta and cream in a bowl until smooth and thick. Add the pears and brandy and combine. Place one hazelnut sponge on a board and spoon the filling over. Lay the other sponge on top and push down so that the filling oozes out a little. Sift the icing sugar over the top and transfer to a serving dish or cake stand. Serve in slices with the syrup from the pears if desired

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