Most Romantic Dinner Ideas

Romantic dinner
A romantic dinner is a chance to dress up, a chance to be together without interruption where you get to relax, eat, chat and flirt. This means that when Valentine’s Day comes around on 14th February, a romantic dinner is a perfect Valentine gift for men, where the two of you can focus on each other. Here are some tips to create the perfect dinner to celebrate the day.


We all lead busy lives, and it is easy to get caught up in talking about work, the children and other challenges of daily living as you eat. Make this meal different with food that makes you interact, with both the food and each other. Suggestions include a fondue or fajitas where you create your food as you go and do more than just lift a fork to your mouth. As well as being fun, it means you spend longer dining, giving you more time for conversation.


Christchurch Food Show has been postponed

Christchurch-food-showThe Food Show, due to be held in Christchurch from April 8 to 10, 2011, has been postponed until later in the year due to the tragic events of the February 22, earthquake.

The Food Show venue, CBS Canterbury Arena, has incurred only minor damage but has ceased operations until March 15. Organisers of The Food Show, North Port Events, will talk with the venue after that time to confirm new 2011 dates.
“We all feel deeply for the people and businesses of Christchurch as they struggle through this terrible disaster,” says North Port Events CEO Dona White. “While we completely understand that holding the show in April is not possible for so many reasons, we believe that staging it later in the year could offer the people of Christchurch a much-needed pick-me-up once the situation has stabilised”.

Take your Apple to the kitchen

Epicurious-ipadCongratulations on that iPad purchase. Now that you’ve finished playing Angry Birds, it’s time to take that thing into the kitchen and let it do something useful for you.

Here are three indispensable apps that turn your iPad into a supreme source of culinary knowledge:

How to Cook Everything

Maybe it’s insane to talk about something being cheap if you have already paid $500 or more for an iPad, but New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman’s iPad version of “How To Cook Everything” is an obscene value at $US9.99 ($A9.90). Featuring more than 2000 recipes from his acclaimed cookbook, which carries a list price of $35, the app takes the same simple-is-better approach.

Just like the printed version, it contains large, concisely written sections on techniques, equipment and ingredients. Want to know what four pans are essential for the oven? The three knives that are most essential? How long you can store a persimmon? All of these are covered with an intuitive design that lets users navigate quickly between sections.

But all of this is in print. What makes it a great app?

For starters, the recipes can instantly export to a shopping list for you. Thinking about cooking a meal but can’t decide? You can flip through the recipes and build a favourites’ list that is always accessible and editable at the bottom of the page. It has built-in social networking functionality for Twitter and Facebook if you want to share what you’re cooking with friends.

Perhaps the most useful feature, however, is the on-screen timer that can be set during cooking. A button moves the iPad into a “constant on” mode that prevents the screen from dimming, something particularly handy when your hands are covered in food. If you only buy one kitchen app, this is the one.

Bread Baking Basics

This app is derived from Michael Ruhlman’s excellent book “Ratio,” in which he lays out a case for learning the underlying fundamentals of cooking rather than being chained to a specific recipe.

“The fact is, there are hundreds of thousands of recipes out there, but few of them help you to be a better cook in any substantial way,” he writes. “In fact, they may hurt you as a cook by keeping you chained to recipes. Getting your hands on a ratio is like being given a key to unlock those chains. Ratios free you.”

And in this way, Bread Baking Basics ($US1.99) is 180 degrees different than almost every other cooking app. It provides users with an outline for making different types of bread without going into the infinite ways it can be customised. That’s for you to decide.

After a well-done reference section discussing the basic techniques and ingredients, Ruhlman gives users a three-step process for selecting a type of bread (white, whole wheat, sourdough, etc) a style (boule, loaf, baguette, pizza dough, and so on) and type of cooking device such as a sheet pan or Dutch oven. All of the units are customisable, so ingredients can be measured in ounces, pounds, cups, grams or kilos.

A step-by-step pictorial walks users through the process from measuring to finished loaf. The app is, essentially, a giant, illustrated calculator.

The genius is in how it demystifies bread-making and practically dares users to make their own bread on a regular basis.


It probably would be enough for this app to just provide access to the back catalogue of Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazine recipes and not do much more. But toss in an excellent user interface and the fact that it’s free, and it should be an automatic download for food lovers.

Like other cooking apps, it lets you build shopping lists, organise ingredients and share via email, Twitter, Facebook and more. It also lets you mark favourites or, for a $US1.99 upgrade, build a complete recipe box.

One of its best features is a set of curated lists by theme that acts as a great idea generator for cooks. Stumped for a dinner idea? Flip through the “Winter Dinners” and there are recipes for ribollita, potato gratin and salmon salad with fennel, orange and mint. But where Epicurious is a superior source is that it offers a base of more than 30,000 recipes and then layers in a review system that gives users an idea of how well they’ve worked.

For example, if you search for “chocolate cake,” you’ll not only find 539 recipes, but you’ll also find that 120 people have given feedback on a chocolate crunch layer cake. Begin flipping through those reviews and you’ll see that someone tweaked it with a little mint while another offered suggestions on which types of pans work best.

The app takes advantage of years of feedback on to give users both breadth and depth. It’s an unmatched catalogue of recipes augmented by a virtual test kitchen of thousands of cooks.

Slim up on Australia’s Healthy Weight Week

checking-waistWith more than 13 million adults and one in four children overweight in Australia, the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) is encouraging Aussies to jump, skip, hop and munch their way into the new year with the fourth annual Australia’s Healthy Weight Week,January 23 to 30, 2011.

Under the theme ‘Live your Life: Weight Matters’ Australians will be encouraged to embrace a healthier lifestyle to avoid obesity-related lifestyle diseases.

The week aims to raise awareness of how to achieve and maintain a healthier weight, through nutritious food and regular exercise. And the campaign will focus on practical tips for eating well, highlighting how this can help delay or prevent conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

DAA has Accredited Practising Dietitians available for interviews to discuss the initiative and its importance for Australians.

Mark January 23 to 30, 2011, in your diary now. And for more news and information on Australia’s Healthy Weight Week, visit:

Oreo tries to break Guinness record

 Oreo-milk-splashOreo, the cream centred sandwich cookie, is asking fans around the world to join in its attempt to set the Guinness World Records mark for the “Most ‘likes’ on a Facebook post in 24 hours.”

The record attempt will begin on Wednesday, February 16 at 1am EST, when the Oreo Facebook community of 16 million fans from around the world will have 24-hours to “like” a post from the cookie brand. Per Guinness World Records rules established for this category, Oreo fans will have to rally a minimum of 45,000 “likes” to earn the title and become the World’s “Most Liked” Cookie. If successful, Oreo will become the first brand to hold a Facebook Guinness World Records title.OREO-SPLASH-large

Oreo currently has the third largest Facebook community of any brand in the world. Three per cent (120,928) of the entire population of Sydney belong to the cookie’s Facebook page with 387,906 Australians across the country belonging to Oreo’s Facebook page.

To participate in the Guinness World Records attempt or for more information on Oreo, visit

The meaty truth

Kirkpatrick-Meats-Sean-lambsChoice Magazine recently released an article unveiling the unsettling realities about some supermarket practices in Australia.

Leaving aside the fruit and vegetable issues, it revealed the main tricks supermarkets use to keep meat for longer than they’d like you to believe. For example:

• Chilling beef mince extends the storage life to 44 days and cuts of lamb to 112 days.

• Vacuum-packing with carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Carbon dioxide inhibits growth of micro-organisms and nitrogen is an inert filler.

• Carbon monoxide is introduced to react with the myoglobin in the meat to produce a healthy-looking red colour (especially when it is no longer fresh).

It is important to note that longer shelf life is linked with the increased likelihood and danger posed by some bacteria.

When it comes to meats, there are advantages to shopping local. Butchers at your local municipal market, including those from Prahran, Queen Victoria and South Melbourne markets, still prepare and sell meat as you would expect to receive it – fresh, chemical free and natural in colour. Some even employ practices inherited from generations before them.

For example, Sean from Kirkpatrick’s Meats at South Melbourne Market (pictured), works from whole carcasses and grows the lambs they sell at his farm near Echuca. Therefore it is as little as a few days between when the meat is slaughtered and when it is available at his market stall.

Celebrate the ‘happy nut’

World-Pistachio-Day-logoWorld Pistachio Day is almost upon us, so this February 26 why not take a moment to reflect on this amazing little nut? Pistachios contain just three calories per nut, as well as more than 30 different vitamins and minerals? There is also evidence that humans were tucking into delicious pistachios as early as 7000 BC.

Today the whole world is nuts about pistachios and nearly half of California’s 400 million pound annual crop of pistachios is exported. Israelis are the biggest fans of the nut with seven million snackers consuming nine million pounds of pistachios, making it the leader per capita for pistachio consumption.

In many cultures the pistachio also has great symbolic significance. In China, it is known as the “Happy Nut” because it looks like it is smiling and pistachios are also given as a gift for good fortune at Chinese New Year. Whilst Russian legend also notes that anyone who hears the crackle of an opening pistachio nut will soon find success.

Bangkok delivers a $30k dinner

Mezzaluna-bangkokIn February 2007, 40 people sat down to dinner 65 floors above a steamy and frenzied Bangkok. They enjoyed a 12-course meal prepared by six three-Michelin-starred chefs.

And they paid THB1,000,000 (around $A30,000) each for the privilege.

Certainly, they were well fed. There was a creme brulee of French foie gras, Beluga caviar, oysters from the French Belon river, a tarte fine of scallops and black truffles, Brittany lobster, pigeon en croute, even Dom Perignon sorbet – each course coming with its own wine.

And for dessert the group tucked into imperial gingerbread pyramid with caramel and salted butter ice-cream.

The guests were made up of valued clients; the money, of course, went to charity. It was all about the show. Mezzaluna, a modern European restaurant spectacularly perched on top of Lebua’s State Tower hotel, was out to prove that Bangkok – like Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore before it – had at last joined the Asian foodie renaissance.

Exactly four years on and Mezzaluna is being relaunched under head chefs Thomas and Mathias Suhring, twins from Berlin who have both worked across Europe under Michelin-starred chefs.

Mezzaluna is now Thailand’s most expensive restaurant, but compared to the 2007 gala dinner, prices are thankfully more affordable: a three-course dinner will set you back around $A130; a six-course tasting menu around $A160, with both menus changing daily.

Our dinner is a luscious tour of fine global produce. We enjoy king crab with Osetra caviar (a buttery caviar from the Caspian Sea widely considered to be the world’s best); mackerel from Japan in a beautiful tomato broth with bright vegetables; then lobster from Nova Scotia.

Then it’s the meat courses: duck from the famous Ernest Soulard duck farm in the French region of Vendee – presented under a thick layer of black winter truffle and wood hedgehog (the mushroom, not the animal), followed by an incredibly succulent piece of Rhone lamb.

For dessert, we lust over cake made from aruagani chocolate (which is 72 per cent cacao), raspberry coulis and a delightful dollop of creamy goats’ cheese.

But before dessert, comes a little surprise: a pre-desert of yoghurt and plum with tarragon cream. The pre-dessert is one of the ideas Lebua’s executive chef, the charming and excitable Frank Yannick Ziegler from Alsace, hopes will help earn Mezzaluna Thailand’s first Michelin star.

“The pre-dessert will work with the saltiness to the sweetness, which is pretty cool,” says Ziegler, who worked in the three-starred Ledoyen in Paris before arriving at Lebua just over a year ago.

“It’s working with tarragon, it’s working with saffron, it’s working with fennel, it’s working with many flavours like this for desert, which is not common. And these flavours match together very, very well.”

Mezzaluna is one of a number of high-end restaurants in the Thai capital gaining worldwide recognition.

Australian-born David Thompson opened authentic Thai restaurant Nahm in Bangkok last year, to rave reviews. And following the success of one-starred Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen, Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin has opened in Bangkok’s Siam Kempinski Hotel serving modern Thai fare.

There are also Lebua’s other acclaimed restaurants: Breeze, which offers a menu of contemporary Asian cuisine on the 51st and 52nd floors of the hotel, and Sirocco on the 63rd floor – the world’s highest al fresco restaurant, which literally fans out into the air 200m above street level, a design that earned the Mediterranean restaurant a place in design magazines across the world when it first opened in 2003.

But expensive international cuisine is still a novelty in Bangkok.

Sam Leong, one of Singapore’s most famous Chinese chefs who is a consultant for Breeze, worked for five years in Bangkok 20 years ago. The Thai capital was a very different place back then, he says.

“You could only find local ingredients so it was challenging for foreign chefs coming to Bangkok. But now you can bring in so many good ingredients. If you compare to Paris, New York and Tokyo, Bangkok is catching up.”

Ziegler hopes the changes are enough to earn Thailand its own Michelin Guide one day soon.

“Coming to Asia and already having worked in Hong Kong and Macau [where there are Michelin Guides], now I’m in Bangkok and they don’t have it and I’m a little bit sad because I know the quality of the food we’re serving,” he says.

“What I like about Bangkok is people are passionate about food, they have a lot of skill and they are very kind, very polite … It would be great for the people of Thailand and Bangkok to be better known as a food destination too.”

Of course, Bangkok has been serving up good food for decades. Anyone who has visited the city will remember bare-bones grills along the roadside serving up dishes such as marinated squid and barbecued pork belly, and Thai woman chopping up green papaya with gusto to mix with peanuts, chilies and lime.

The variety of street food on offer is vast – from curries to stir-fries, salads to soups – and most of it is made from fantastic local produce and prepared by very fine cooks. It’s possible to spend a weekend in Bangkok and not visit a single restaurant.

In fact, Thailand is a nation that eats on the streets. Many Thais have no cooking skills at all.

This is why Mezzaluna has to offer something new, says Deepak Ohri, CEO of Lebua hotels and resorts. “When Thais go out to dine (at a restaurant), they don’t go out to have Thai food.”

Ziegler says Mezzaluna, which sources its food from 15 countries, has no qualms about bringing in the most expensive ingredient from the other side of the world if it’s the best.

“Here we bring octopus once a week from the Mediterranean – it’s the very best. And there is a huge difference between wild and farm-raised,” he says. “Here we have wild caviar – there’s a huge difference in the eggs and flavour.

“We also use wild salmon, I will bring wild white Scottish salmon next week – nobody has it in town, it’s very expensive. For me it’s boring to just have Norwegian salmon.”

As I dine at Mezzaluna, I try not to think about the number of air miles that have been racked up to provide me this dinner. It would be obscene.

Interestingly, Lebua is on the verge of opening a restaurant in central Sydney (once it finds the right location) that will take the exact opposite approach: all the produce served – including the wine – must come from a five-kilometre radius.

“Sydney is very competitive; it has better food to offer than Hong Kong and Tokyo,” says Ohri. “Sydney will be our international platform and from there we will move to Europe and the US.”

But for now, it’s all about excellence and exuberance in Bangkok.

Sky high chocolate

Earnest-Hilliers-choc-santaHillier’s Chocolates fans prepare for takeoff, The Qantas network have teamed up with Australia’s Oldest Chocolatier, to produce chocolates for Christmas holiday travelers this year.

Hillier’s will be bringing festive treats to an airplane near you this Christmas with their milk chocolate Santas on all domestic, international and some codeshare flights in the week leading up to and including Christmas.

AnnaMaria Lapetina, GM of Hillier’s says, “We’re really excited to be partnering up with fellow Aussie stalemate Qantas. This year we celebrated our 96th birthday making Hillier’s an older sibling to Qantas who celebrates its 90th birthday this month (November).”

“For us, it’s a perfect partnership. Qantas is a great ambassador for Australia and we are pleased to be on board with such a well regarded company. When Australian companies come together it can only mean good things for the Australian market. Hillier’s are extremely proud to be Australian owned and Australian made.”

Hillier’s chocolates will be available on all domestic and international Qantas flights between December 24 and 26 and on JAL flights on December 24 and 25.

The art of eggs

Farmer-Browns-eggsKen and Kylie White were keen to diversify on their rural property just outside the small town of Dunedoo 325kms north-west of Sydney but it’s quite probable none of their family or friends thought they would become passionate about hens.

The couple (pictured with their son Charlie) were, and still are, Hereford breeders on their 900ha property “Tanah Merah” but they realised that producing eggs would be less impacted by drought than their other agricultural activities.

“We were wholly and solely a cattle operation but we wanted to diversify without any great capital expenditure. When we had the opportunity to acquire an existing egg production business, we grabbed it,” says Ken.

He and Kylie purchased Farmer Brown’s Pastured Eggs from founders Tony and Margot Wentworth Brown of Snake Gully Dunedoo last August.

The Farmer Brown’s Eggs were selling like the proverbial hot cakes through Sydney epicurean landmark store, Accoutrement.

“The couple that started the business were selling the eggs through Accoutrement as well as in several outlets in the Blue Mountains and in Mudgee. It was a thriving business but we’ve expanded distribution slightly, selling through several more outlets in Sydney, including Feather & Bone and a couple of bistros,” Ken told OnFood.

Kylie and Ken have about a thousand laying hens currently. The breed is Isa Brown – “most of the chooks the big egg producers have are hybrid varieties that are voracious layers,” Ken says.

He describes the business as exceptionally labour intensive.

“We spend a couple of hours every afternoon collecting the eggs and processing them which means cleaning them and packing them into the coolroom.

“The reason these pastured eggs are expensive on the shelf is because the work can only be done manually. For example, you can’t wet the eggs so they are ‘dry cleaned.’ If the eggs are visibly clean, we don’t need to clean them further so a lot just need to be checked for cracks and then packaged,” he explains.

He says the constant nature of the work is the major difference for he and Kylie in terms of lifestyle – “you have to be there every day to feed and water the hens and collect the eggs.”

The hens are watched over by three Italian Maremma guard dogs. These dogs were traditionally bred to guard sheep but will bond with any creature they are introduced to at an early enough age.

Kylie told OnFood the new venture had proved to be reasonably plain sailing thus far. “We raise our chickens from one day old and that has proved to be a little bit of a challenge because of our climate – it’s very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer,” she says.

She says an American farmer, lecturer and author, Joel Salatin, had pioneered the raising of chickens in mobile sheds which is what she and Ken are doing on Tanah Merah.

“He raises livestock using holistic methods of animal husbandry on his farm in Virginia. He’s all for producing food locally and consuming it locally so he’s a bit of a guru,” she told OnFood.

There is a huge demand for the eggs in Sydney. “We’ve got a waiting list of outlets wanting the pastured eggs but we can’t increase distribution right at the moment,” Kylie says.

Ken says that when he took on the business, they both thought it would be quite an original venture.

“But we have found quite a number of people doing the same thing – running about 300 to 1000 chooks, usually husband and wife teams, and the reason is there’s very strong demand for pastured eggs.

“While the eggs are considerably different, there’s a strong animal welfare issue as well. The hens are completely free. They are never locked up, day or night, and people like that idea,” Ken says.

“We don’t market our eggs as free range and that’s where the waters become a bit murky. We can’t feed the world with this sort of egg production – there aren’t enough people to do it – so there will always be some sort of factory farming. The bigger retailers can use the term free range but free range can mean 50,000 hens running on one hectare and it would be so unpleasant because one hectare becomes a mud bath. At the moment, the law says I think that 20,000 hens can run on a hectare and that’s outrageous.

“The people doing what we’re doing have cottoned onto the Joel Salatin term, pastured. About 50 per cent of the pastured hen’s diet would be grass and bugs and they have a supplement of grain. And the nutrients are eight times higher than a cage egg so the health benefits are terrific,” Ken says.