Healthy Eating

We're championing fresh food that packs a flavour punch, from salads and vegetable-packed bowls to grains and light desserts.

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Aløft

There's nothing new about Nordic interiors - blond timbers, concrete surfaces, warm, mid-century charm without the twee - and thank heavens for that. It's a style that augments the beauty of everything around it, in this case, gorgeous Hobart harbour, which makes up one whole wall. What is new here, however, is the food - by veterans of Garagistes, which once dazzled diners down the road, Vue de Monde in Melbourne and Gordon Ramsay worldwide. There's a strong Asian bent, but with Tasmanian ingredients. In fact, the kitchen's love of the local verges on obsessive - coconut milk in an aromatic fish curry is replaced with Tasmanian-grown fig leaf simmered in cream to mimic the flavour. Other standouts include a gutsy red-braised lamb with gai lan and chewy cassia spaetzle, pigs' ears zingy with Sichuan pepper and a fresh, springy berry dessert. While the food is sourced locally, the generous wine list spans the planet. 

Brae

Prepare to enter a picture of the countryside framed by note-perfect Australiana but painted in bold, elegant and unsentimental strokes. Over 10 or more courses, Dan Hunter celebrates his region with dishes that are formally daring (Crunchy prawn heads! Creamy oyster soft-serve! Sea urchin and chicory bread pudding!), yet rich in flavour and substance. The menu could benefit from an edit, but the plates are tightly composed - and what could you cut? Certainly not the limpid broth bathing fronds of abalone and calamari, nor the clever arrangement of lobster played off against charred waxy fingerlings under a swatch of milk skin. The adventure is significantly the richer for the cool gloss of the dining room, some of the most engaging service in the nation and wine pairings that roam with an easy-going confidence. Maturing and relaxing without surrendering a drop of its ambition, Brae is more compelling than ever.

Farro recipes

Farro can be used in almost any dish, from a robust salad to accompany hearty beer-glazed beef short ribs to a new take on risotto with mushrooms, leek and parmesan. Here are 14 ways with this versatile grain.

A festival of cheese hits Sydney

Kick off winter with a week of cheese tasting.

Grilled apricot salad with jamon and Manchego

Here we've scorched apricots on the grill and served them with torn jamon, shaved Manchego and peppery rocket leaves. Think of it as a twist on the good old melon-prosciutto routine. The mixture would also be great served on charred sourdough.

Secret Tuscany

A far cry from Tuscany’s familiar gently rolling hills, Monte Argentario’s appealing mix of mountain, ocean, island and lagoon makes it one of Italy’s hidden treasures, writes Emiko Davies.

2017 Australian Hotel Awards: The Finalists

This year's finalists across 11 different categories include established and new hotels, all with particular areas of excellence. Stay tuned to find out which hotels will take the top spots when they're announced at a ceremony at QT Melbourne on Wednesday 24 May, and published in our 2017 Australian Hotel Guide, on sale Thursday 25 May.

Discovering Macedonia

Like its oft-disputed name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia defies simple definition but its rich diversity extends from the dinner table to the welcoming locals, writes Richard Cooke.

The acid test

Vinegar. It gets some bad press, particularly in association with the inglorious end of the wine spectrum. But its acidity is often a neglected component in cooking. In the right quantity, it can sharpen and highlight flavours, and refreshes the palate when you're eating earthy, fatty or rich food - an important part of creating balance in a meal is to complement fats with a contrast.

A salad, for example, with a light coating of vinaigrette can provide such a contrast. When well balanced, the olive oil, salt and vinegar become harmonious and dance in the mouth, whereas oil and salt by themselves would be relatively bland.

A touch of vinegar added to a rich dish adds a welcome piquancy. Eggplant braised in olive oil and spices, for instance, is lifted by a dash of vinegar added at the end of cooking. Flavours sharpen and come alive. It's worth keeping in mind when you think a dish is missing something: instead of reaching for the salt, add a few drops of vinegar to give another dimension.

Of course, the quality of the vinegar is critical. Industrial white vinegar adds nothing to a dish other than acid (I find it very good for cleaning my floor). It wasn't so long ago that a typical Australian household only knew white or malt (made from beer) vinegar. Today we have an amazing range of vinegars: Sherry, balsamic, apple cider, malt and Champagne, plus Asian versions such as coconut, sake and rice, just for starters.

Verjuice, made from the pressing of unripe grapes, is sour but not as acidic as vinegar. It makes a milder alternative in a salad dressing, and is good for deglazing the pan after cooking meat. Verjuice gives a lovely flavour and piquancy without being overpowering.

Vinegar is made from fermented alcohol, usually wine (the word, in fact, comes from the French "vin aigre", meaning sour wine), or other liquid containing sugars or starches such as fruit or rice. The liquid is exposed to oxygen, allowing the growth of aerobic bacteria, typically Acetobacter aceti. Often a live vinegar culture, or "mother", is used to start the process.

I know of a winemaker who makes his own vinegar. He simply adds wine to an oak barrel that originally had a vinegar mother added; now the natural bacteria present in the wood start the process. Once the wine has turned to vinegar, it is aged in bottles, which increases the complexity and softens and deepens the flavour.

Perhaps the most complex vinegar is balsamic, a traditional, artisan-made vinegar in its authentic form. True balsamic comes from the town of Modena and is made from the must of trebbiano and lambrusco grapes. The must is simmered until it reaches a certain concentration before being strained and aged in a series of barrels of decreasing size, usually for 12 to 25 years, though sometimes for many more decades. As it ages, the vinegar becomes dark, syrupy and intensely flavoured, with a delicate balance of sweetness and light acidity. Use it to marinate fresh strawberries or drizzle it over grilled meats. It also works used judiciously in salad dressings.

Pedro Ximénez vinegar has a distinctive sweetness from the Pedro Ximénez grapes, which are pressed when very ripe. This also works well drizzled over grilled meats.

When it comes to meat, vinegar goes particularly well with pork. Try ribs cooked slowly with malt or red wine vinegar, along with spices and tinned tomatoes.

I'm often asked if there's a correct proportion of oil and vinegar in a salad dressing. This depends on people's taste, of course, and the strength and flavour of the vinegar, but a good rule of thumb is around a quarter to a third of vinegar to olive oil.

It is important to note that wine and vinegar do not like each other. Any acid will clash with wine, which is something to consider when serving food that should complement wine. It's one instance when it's best to keep the level of vinegar to a minimum.

So while you may think of vinegar simply as a component to a salad dressing, it is in fact very versatile, enlivening many a dish. Tonight I'm cooking a lovely Abruzzese recipe of pork braised with fennel, chilli, wine and tomato where a touch of red wine vinegar at the end of the cooking time gives the whole dish a beautiful lift and sharpens the flavours. Give it a try. Enjoy.

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