Thursday, 28 June 2012

Exciting Private Cocktail Tasting - Limes Hotel/Alfred and Constance

A few weeks ago, we had the great pleasure of being invited to a private cocktail tasting at the Limes Hotel, showcasing incredible-sounding drinks that they had developed to be served at the upcoming Alfred and Constance bar.

Free cocktails, on a sunny, breezy Sunday afternoon, on a rooftop bar on the outskirts of the city and valley.... I think you can tell what our RSVP was - a resounding YES! Alcohol, And canapes, hors d'oeuvres, whatever you want to call finger food - I'm happy to do the tasting. Thanks to the delightful manager Lucy for being such a lovely host, and for procuring vegan goods for us.

The Limes Hotel is a trendy little bar that can be a little tricky to find.. anyone walking past might just think it's another office building, or even an exclusive real-estate, but it's not! It's a Boutique Hotel and Bar, for the more discerning (and private) individual. They have a nice, relaxed, vibe - where you feel like you're part of the city and valley, but still away from the drunks and the 7/11s, and the cabs, and all of that nasty jazz you left behind when you were 20.

The reason for the tasting is that the owners of the Limes Hotel are opening a new venue called "Alfred and Constance", funnily enough - on the corner of Alfred and Constance streets, Fortitude Valley. It's going to be a funky little place - in a heritage listed house/es, with the focus being on a wood-fired oven. Sadly, a lot of those wood-fired goods aren't going to be things I'll be partaking in, but I do look forward to seeing their innovative ideas of vegan foods that can be showcased in the woodfired oven. I suggested pizza, but then again - I always suggest pizza (and who wouldn't? good wood-fired pizza, whilst few and far between, is an amazing thing to behold).

I've had so many bad cocktails in Brisbane. Terr-rr-rr-ible cocktails, even. At venues *known* for their cocktails.  I'm not even joking - at one very famous Brisbane cocktail venue, I was served a cocktail that tasted like reheated chicken. How is that even possible? So it was with much trepidation that I looked at our multi-cocktail tasting list.

The cocktails we tasted were *incredible*. The knowledge and skill of the lovely bartender who made the drinks in front of us and described them, as we tasted ours, was so fascinating, and really helped us to understand what went into the cocktails. But they spoke for themselves. And they really were stunning. Seriously alcoholic, but seriously fun, and tasty.

The drinks expertly crafted for us were a Pina-colada, a Kava Bowl, a 1934 Zombie Punch, a Grapefruit and Agave Margarita, and a Sloe Gin Fizz. The Kava Bowl was the absolute best. Unfortunately, the Mayflower isn't suitable for vegans as it contains Aperol (which always tasted disgusting to me), and egg-white.

The fabulous Gastronomy Gal and friend, and The Academic, enjoying a Kava Bowl.

Of particular note were: the pina colada made on fresh, in-house, coconut cream, served in half a pineapple? Uh huh. And the "kava bowl", to be shared between 4, with a ridiculous amount of various rums that tastes like deliciousness, beaches, and toasted cinnamon? Oh, I do think so. I'll even grab the one sitting at the next-door table (just to make sure)...
Pina Colada. Always makes me think of "Copa Cabana".

Basically - Alfred and Constance is looking to create a "Tiki Culture" vibe. The way it was described to us is that Tiki was all about post-wartime enjoyment - the rations have been lifted, and it's all about going somewhere you can have fun, eat, drink, garnish to the max, relax, and drink up. It's all about fun. And I have to say - even at the tasting, I definitely was feeling the ambiance!

I look forward to the opening of Alfred and Constance with great delight - and do hope that it manages to be the classy, relaxing, non-snobbish oasis that it sets out to be. If it does - I'll be a regular! I look forward to delicious rum in its many forms. In the meantime, I'll keep hitting up the Limes Hotel for fantastic drinks and city/valley views.

Limes Hotel & Rooftop Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Kale & Chickpea Salad with Spicy Avocado Dressing

I buy kale compulsively: whenever we go to any sort of fruit market, I catch even a glimpse of those curly emerald leaves and I'm on them like nobody's business.

I wish I could say it's because I love the taste, but unfortunately... well, before too long, those gorgeous emerald leaves are looking a little yellow and I either panic and make kale chips or just give in to the inevitable and chuck them out.

So, yes, unfortunately I buy kale because it's ridiculously good for you, not because I like the taste. Weirdly, I always seem to forget that with a little bit more work, it's tasty and good for you. So, today, I opened up the fridge, saw a bit of kale left over from... well, it can't have been that long ago (...) and decided to make myself a salad.

This is a bit of a fusion between the chickpea and avocado salad I take to uni and a massage kale salad. And it's ridiculously easy AND good for you!

Kale & Chickpea Salad with Spicy Avocado Dressing
What You Need
Medium to large bunch of kale
Good quality olive oil
Dash of lemon / lime juice
2 large or 4 small avocados
Harissa, or your favourite hot spice mix
1 small capsicum
Can of chickpeas

2 bowls (one for serving the salad, one for mixing up the avocado)
Knife & chopping board

Now That You're Ready
1. Strip the kale from the stem: the easiest way to do this is to hold the stem with your left hand, wrap the thumb and index finger of your right hand around the stem where the leaves start, and pull down. Cut into strips (place on the chopping board, bunch up, and cut across every centimetre or so) and place in the serving bowl.
2. Drizzle enough olive oil in the bowl that the kale will be coated (around 1-3 tablespoons, depending on how much you're using). Add salt (I did around 6 twists of the salt grinder: using a grinder is good because the more coarse grains of salt will really help with the next step),a twist or two of pepper, and the lemon/lime juice (a little more if you'd like the flavour to come through a bit more).
3. Get your hands in there and start massaging it! Rub the oil, juice, salt, and pepper into the kale leaves and almost knead them together. This will make the leaves softer (and thus easier to chew) and will also help get rid of some of the kale "taste". Continue for about 2 or 3 minutes (or longer or shorter depending on how you like your kale), then set aside.
4. In the other bowl, add the avocado flesh and mash with the fork. Add a pinch of salt (again, add a little more to taste if you'd prefer) and about half a teaspoon of the spice. Mix until combined, then add a little more salt and/or spice until you're happy with it. Set aside.

Is it basil and tomato???! No, it's kale and capsicum! Oh, I bet you're excited now.
5. Drain the chickpeas (I'd also recommend rinsing them briefly to get rid of the can taste). Dice the capsicum (as big or as small as you want it!). Add them both to the kale and mix through.
6. And finally, add the avocado dressing into the bowl with the kale and mix through. You're done!

If you recycle dishes like we do (ha), wash out and dry the bowl that previously contained the avocado, and serve up the salad in that. Or just use a clean bowl like normal people. Or just eat it out of the serving bowl like I do. Garnish with a sprinkle of salt flakes and a twist of pepper.


Thursday, 14 June 2012

Chef in Training! (That's where I've been!)

Ahhhh..! What a busy time of year.

You may have noticed we haven't been posting on our usual weekly basis. Things have been pretty crazy exciting around here. But fun. Always fun. Recently, I was given a brilliant, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

A little bit of background: I left home at a young age, started working, and moved to the big city. Just like everyone else, I suppose! The problem is, since then - I haven't stopped working! Ever! I've been at my current job for a good few years, but prior to that - even when I changed jobs, I would just get my holidays paid out and start another job. That's what you do, once you're on the "debt" ladder - you have to keep working to keep paying your way. It's been fun, though.

It's so easy to get trapped in your cycle of get up, go to work, and to make excuses to not enjoy life, to not take the time to stop and smell the roses, or even take a holiday. Change is scary! New things are scary! We're all like rats on a wheel, running, running, running to keep things as they are, no matter how they are.

As a result of that, I had a certain (double-digit!!) number of weeks of holidays banked at work, and had never quite made a good enough reason to take them. There's always an excuse: no one to look after the cat, work is too busy, The Academic has to be at University, etc, etc. Whatever. If you want something enough, you make it happen, I know -but sometimes you need a little wake up call!

Anyway.. Along comes a brilliant (and terrifying) opportunity. I was offered a scholarship for a cooking qualification - which is the beginning and sets the groundwork for a great adventure that leaves you with the opportunity to continue on to eventually become a qualified chef. A qualified chef! I love to cook! And to eat, and share wonderful food. This has always been my (not-so) secret passion.

So after years of not being able to afford to take holidays and do further training, along comes an opportunity to get an expensive qualification, do something I love, while on holidays from the 9-5 daily grind, and have an awesome time. All expenses paid - tuition, scholarship, textbooks, uniforms, insurance for work-experience - everything!

On my first day - can you tell I'm terrified, exhausted and excited?
So that's what I've been doing. I've left the office to take 7 weeks leave, and I'm roaming free. We actually get to see the sun! Sometimes, when we're doing theory, we sit outside. I've even awakened long-forgotten skills, like -how to learn, and how to use a pen! (there's almost no need for that in an office). I haven't turned a computer on or answered a landline phone this entire time! AND I LOVE IT!!! IT'S BLISS! I spend *hours* standing up! Even just little things - like the fact I now spend 40 minutes in a car a day, so I can spend time listening to new music on my awesome speakers!

I'm learning to cook the classical way. No more of me just relying on taste, and making everything once. No more even just following recipes word for word. This is a world where presentation, and knife skills matter. Where you julienne, macedoine, paysanne, jardiniere and brunoise your way to the top of the culinary ladder. Where you repeat things over and over again until you make the *perfectly*. Where you have to think with your tastebuds, adjust, and taste constantly.

I'm not going to say it's been easy - I only ever really started cooking as a vegan, so it's been quite a learning curve, to say the least. But gosh, has it been fabulous. I want to go through the hard yards to understand and learn the classic french techniques, to get my skills upgraded and a good foundation built. With my eyes firmly fixed on the horizon - to inform and improve my vegan cooking skills, so that I can know more, and share what I've learned.

And for the first time in my life, I've figured out what I'm born to do. What my passion is. And I'm ever so grateful to everyone I've ever met, who has influenced my direction, and kept me alive and happy enough to get to where I am today.

Thanks for being part of my life, and always, for reading our blog - hearing what inspires us, and bouncing things back to us. I'm so grateful for everyone who shares and inspires me.