Rupert Murdoch takes to twitter-sphere to spruik pay TV bargain

He may be worth billions but ”Citizen” Rupert Murdoch has not lost his common touch.
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He performed the public service on Monday of tweeting the great value to be found in the services of his pay TV/cable businesses for budget-conscious consumers.

”$90 for 100& 24/7 tv channels expensive? Try family outing two-hour movie and compare,” says Rupert, who has obviously graced the cineplexes recently with family in tow.

Last week Murdoch was tweeting about other thrifty deals such as the subscription offer from News Corp paper The Times, which was offering Spotify free to its digital subscribers.

”Fabulous tone quality. I link spotify to my Jambox,” he tweeted of the music download service.

Jambox, for the digitally unhip, is a portable Bluetooth speaker.

Don’t expect Bing Crosby on Rupert’s Jambox. Black Eyed Peas front man will.i.am is one of only 78 people Rupert follows on Twitter.RBA in the market

Is the RBA making a call on the housing market by putting a ”for sale” sign on its Kirribilli mansion?

The sales blurb describes it as a ”grand federation manor in an exclusive peninsula enclave” with six bedrooms, five with ensuite, 3.5-metre ornate ceilings and parking for four cars.

The home, which is next door to an RBA training facility, has been owned by the bank since 1986 but it has been rented as two separate properties to external parties for years.

In fact, this appears to have caused some issues for the bank when it came time to turf the tenants last year, with the spat making its way to the office of Glenn ”the Guv” Stevens.

In documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, an RBA internal email from June 6 reads: ”The letter from the [name expunged] is somewhat emotive and contemplates actions beyond the nature of the contractual relationship. We are looking for a polite, un-emotive response that clearly articulates our rights as landlord to terminate the lease.”

It adds: ”Noting this letter has been sent directly to the Governor of the RBA we are requesting a timely response.”

By June 14 a letter was making its way to the tenant on behalf of ”the Guv” and expiry of the lease was not the only issue addressed.

”I note your request to negotiate off market for the acquisition of the property, if the Bank decided to sell it. If the Bank were to sell any of its properties, for reasons of probity and in the taxpayers’ interests, it would approach the market transparently and at arm’s length.”

For the record, the RBA will be approaching the market ”at arm’s length” on March 22. No word on whether ”the Guv” is open to offers.Pot luck for Joyce

Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford added $1000 to the charity pot of his chief executive, Alan Joyce, just ahead of Monday night’s Qantas-sponsored CEO CookOff.

The only question is whether Clifford was in a charitable mood, or, was he rewarding his CEO’s successful appeal to government philanthropy last week?

Joyce also received $5000 from the Dick and Pip Smith Foundation, and $500 from Lachlan Murdoch.

It starts a social week for Joyce. He welcomes the cast and crew of hit US TV series Modern Family on Thursday as official sponsor.

Coincidentally, Modern Family is produced by the Murdoch family’s 21st Century Fox and is broadcast locally on the Lachlan-chaired Ten.A Williams worry

CBD is wondering if Kim Williams’ new role as an AFL commissioner might be causing a little indigestion for his former employer, pay TV broadcaster Foxtel, and in the free-to-air broadcast industry.

The AFL is already gearing up for the next round of negotiations over broadcast rights for its code.

Williams, in his former role as Foxtel boss, was at the core of negotiations on the last rights deal that Foxtel stitched up with Seven.

The deal didn’t go down well with Lachlan Murdoch in his role at Ten and is said to have helped ensure Kim’s departure from News Corp.

Got a tip? [email protected]爱上海同城论坛m.au

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UQ student gets taste of laidback Google approach

Google intern Rachael Morgan in her personal creative space. Photo: Edwina PicklesThere’s a certain stereotype about Google internships that it’s all beanbags, ping-pong matches and computer games.
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University of Queensland PhD student Rachael Morgan, in Sydney for a three-month internship with the tech giant, says that stereotype is well-deserved.

But, in between the frivolity, there’s some work as well.

“I have to tell you, it’s really fun,” she said.

“We have amazing perks like a pool, ping-pong, we’ve got scooters around the office, beanbags if you need a nap – it’s just amazing.”

Ms Morgan said the laid-back approach taken at Google actually helped productivity levels rise.

“It really does help. You probably have it in your job that you just feel really fatigued and sometimes, in other companies, you feel under pressure that you have to sit at your desk and just meander through the day when really what you need is a 20-minute power nap,” she said.

“Here, if you need that power nap, you just take it. It’s really encouraged and it helps a lot with your productivity and it’s a great way to meet people around the office.

“If you want a game of ping-pong, you go up there, no-one else is playing then you see some people come in – it’s great.”

Ms Morgan completed a Bachelor of Engineering at UQ in 2010 and forged her interest in programming at St Mary’s Catholic College in Cairns.

During her three-month stint in Sydney, Google is providing Ms Morgan with inner-city accommodation, three meals a day and a modest income.

In return, Ms Morgan is working on a secret project involving Google Drive, which she hoped to be able to launch.

“As an intern, we’re given a big project to work on and big projects are chosen by your host,” she said.

“They’re actual real-world problems that your mentor would do if they had the time. You work closely with the team, which is really good.”

Google Australia public affairs manager Johnny Luu said competition for internships was fierce.

“We had 5000 applications for the internship positions,” he said.

“It’s the largest intake we’ve ever had and in fact I think we’ve doubled the number of interns we’ve taken over the past two years.

“We hire as many as we can, but a lot of the interns might be in their first year of university or go on to do their masters or a PhD, but we always try to hire as many as we can once they’re ready to join the workforce.”

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A corker debate

Numbers game: Whether a 20-point or a 100-point scale, rating wine is a complicated business. Photo: Graham TidyThe late Sir Kingsley Amis called it boozemanship: ”the art of coming out ahead when any question of drinking expertise or experience arises.” In a world awash with wine controversies, a crack team is about to wade into some of wine’s most hotly contested topics.
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A session on March 2 at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival promises outspoken debating and debunking of everything from vintage variation to closures, natural winemaking and scoring systems. What do those terms actually mean?Varying vintages

Wine grapes are a once-a-year crop, and the weather in any year – hot, cold, dry, wet – at any given location affects how the grapes and resulting wines taste. This is ”vintage variation”. Conventional wisdom has it that this variation is most evident in Old World regions such as Burgundy and Bordeaux; indeed, old-school, Old-Dart commentators have been known to contend it does not exist in sunny Or-Stralia.

Although most obvious in marginal, cooler climates, it occurs everywhere to some degree.

Is it desirable? Producers with trusted mass-market labels aim to deliver a consistent product and will minimise annual differences, often by blending grapes grown in different regions and conditions.

Premium winemakers aiming to express the character of a particular patch of land in an individual year are more likely to embrace these variations – up to a point, as they want their wines to be recognisable from year to year.We need closure

Wine-speak for the thing that keeps the wine in the bottle, a ”closure” is – in most of the world – a cylinder of bark taken from a cork tree in southern Europe. Since the 1980s there has been increasing concern about cork’s propensity to harbour and impart a chemical compound that makes otherwise good wine smell and taste like mouldy carpet – aka ”corked”. The cork industry has spent several zillion euros trying to counter this problem: through research; by changing industrial practices; and with international public relations campaigns. Cork remains the closure of choice in most countries, but most Australian producers regard corks with a vampire’s enthusiasm for garlic. Here, we prefer metal screwcaps. What’s not to like about screwcaps? Those who take the long view say we do not yet have a clear picture of how wines made to age for the long term will fare under screwcap. A criticism is that some wine sealed this way can be ”reductive”, a polite way of saying it smells like an egg sandwich in a warm lunchbox.Natural vs unnatural

Sound the klaxon and reach for your radiation suit – nothing generates explosive debate like the N-word. Natural practitioners advocate minimal intervention in the winemaking process and are often organic or biodynamic growers. They generally eschew additions (such as packet yeasts) used in conventional winemaking. The adventurous leave wines unfiltered; others use vessels such as clay amphorae or concrete ”eggs” for maturation; a few make ”orange” wines from white grapes fermented with the grape skins.

Supporters argue these wines are more exciting and a truer expression of the fruit than conventional, industrially produced wines. Detractors call it lazy, cowboy winemaking that results in unbalanced wines incapable of ageing well. In the demilitarised zone are those who applaud minimal intervention but believe it requires more skill and judgment than simply letting nature do her thing – and mutter that the word ”natural” is smug, divisive and undefined. This group includes makers who have worked for decades according to sustainable, minimal-intervention principles and methods, but neither use nor like the label ”natural”.

Some self-proclaimed natural wines show great character and finesse; some are proudly weird and – to their fans – wonderful; some simply seem off. Those without at least a little sulphur dioxide added at bottling can go from good to nasty quickly.Pssst, wanna score?

Wine is sunlight held together by water; bottled poetry; proof God wants us to be happy. So said Galileo, Robert Louis Stevenson and Benjamin Franklin. Can something so elusive be expressed in a number? To many wine buyers, an ostensibly objective score is easier to understand than a description.

So what’s the problem? Objectivity has its limits. One critic’s 90-point wine is not necessarily another’s.

Australia’s wine shows have traditionally used a 20-point scoring system, but the 100-point scale favoured by many critics is increasingly being adopted. Can you just multiply a 20-point score by five to get an equivalent 100-point score? Certainly not, say the critics. Although the 100-point scale appears more precise, it is generally applied in a narrower band between 80 and 100.

Acqua Panna Global Wine Experience – Storm in a Wine Glass, Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, March 2, with Tim Atkin MW, Sophie Otton, Steve Webber and Tim White, moderated by Mike Bennie.

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Two-thirds of voters believe there should be an inquiry into allegations the Navy deliberately burnt the hands of asylum seekers, a Fairfax-Nielsen poll finds

The hand of an asylum seeker, whom the Australian Navy allegedly abused. Photo: Amilia RosaTwo-thirds of voters, including more than half of all Coalition supporters, believe claims that the hands of asylum seekers were deliberately burned by border protection authorities should be investigated.
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The Abbott government refuses to launch an investigation into the claims, and has criticised media organisations such as the ABC as ”malicious” for reporting them. The result comes from the latest Fairfax-Nielsen poll conducted among 1400 voters across the country from Thursday to Saturday last week.

The ABC has also been strongly supported in the survey. Just three in 10 voters viewed the publicly funded national broadcaster as politically biased, and 59 per cent said it was not.

Asked if they thought allegations that the navy had deliberately burned the hands of asylum seekers warranted an investigation, two-thirds of respondents, or 66 per cent, answered yes.

Even among Liberal and Nationals voters, the proportion in favour of an investigation was safely in a majority at 55 per cent. Those satisfied with the claims being dismissed as hearsay was 31 per cent.

Among ALP supporters the ratio in favour of investigation was 75 per cent – a figure which jumped to 88 per cent among Greens voters.

The government launched an unprecedented attack on the ABC earlier this month for reporting that Indonesian police were investigating allegations that Australian navy personnel forced asylum seekers to hold on to burning hot engine pipes aboard their boat as a form of punishment.

The initial story showed graphic photographs of burnt hands along with the suggestion that the injuries appeared to support the torture claims. The ABC subsequently acknowledged that its report may have lent too much weight to veracity of the torture allegations, but stood by the story from Jakarta correspondent George Roberts.

However, its reportage became a focal point for conservative-led attacks alleging the ABC was left-leaning and culturally biased against the Coalition.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott complained the ABC too often took ”everyone’s side but Australia’s”.

Defence Minister David Johnston attacked ABC management for using ”weasel words” to justify its reporting.

While the Abbott government has railed against the ABC, 67 per cent of respondents said they believed it provided a more balanced presentation of news than commercial television news services. Just 15 per cent trusted commercial television news more.

Even among conservative voters, 53 per cent said the ABC was the more balanced television provider. Among the 31 per cent who felt the ABC was biased, a third called it ”pro-ALP”, 15 per cent said it was ”left-wing”, and another 7 per cent described it as ”anti-Coalition”.

Just 1 per cent branded it ”un-Australian” or ”anti-Australian”.

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Additive-free wine: a topical drop

Topical: The Rootstock wine festival in Sydney was popular with the public and a bit political with winemakers. Photo: James BrickwoodPut about 70 wine producers together in a room, add a pinch of yeast and a soupcon of zeal and what have you got? The second Rootstock Sydney sustainable and artisan wine festival.
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The February 8-9 festival attracted 13,500 people, a big step up from last year’s one-day event, with a much larger space (Carriageworks, the old Eveleigh railway yards in Newtown), more exhibitors and sideline activities including food, coffee, cider, beer, sake, an orange wine bar and music.

Rootstock is unsponsored and non-profit-making, with a legion of green-shirted volunteers ushering, manning the doors, fetching and carrying and doing the odd jobs. Many of these people are sommeliers, retailers and other members of the trade who so believe in the ideals of Rootstock that they just want to pitch in and help.

Almost 70 wine producers were represented, all of them employing organic, biodynamic or other sustainable forms of viticulture with minimal or zero additions and manipulations in their winemaking, an approach described as ”natural” winemaking, for want of a better word.

”Natural” winemaking has proved impossible to define, though, as these winemakers differ widely in their approaches. Some insist that absolutely nothing can be added to the juice or wine. That includes yeast, acid, tannin, enzymes and yeast nutrients, and – most controversially – sulphur dioxide. Others say that a minimal sulphur addition is essential at bottling time to ensure the wine doesn’t oxidise or succumb to taints, such as mousiness and Brettanomyces.

In truth, the winemakers present at Rootstock spanned a broad range. At one extreme you had the arch-fundamentalists who practise strict biodynamics and whose winemaking neither adds nor subtracts anything from the raw grapes. On the other, you had people who espouse some of the principles of organic or BD (but aren’t necessarily certified) and make their wines with minimal manipulation, but insist on sulphur at bottling. Consequently, the wines being poured for the public covered the gamut, from dirty infected wines to pristine modern wines.

The public is increasingly interested in these kinds of wines. For many, this kind of wine (and beer and cider) is a logical extension of choosing organic produce at the greengrocer or butcher. People are also more aware of pollution and are prepared to go out of their way, and even pay more, for produce that has been grown or raised in a sustainable way.

Many of the established Australian biodynamic and organic wineries were there, such as Cullen, Castagna, Jasper Hill, Gemtree, Lowe and Lark Hill, as well as the new wave, represented by Bobar, Harkham, Ngeringa, Ochota Barrels and Smallfry. Cloudburst, whose 2010 cabernet sauvignon was almost unknown when it won three trophies at the 2013 Margaret River Wine Show, caused some excitement, while Pheasant’s Tears, from the former USSR state of Georgia, which makes extraordinary wines from a plethora of indigenous Georgian grape varieties, including kisi, saperavi and rkatsiteli, turned many heads.

Leading New Zealand wineries Millton and Rippon were there, along with a strong representation of newer Kiwi ”sustainables”, including Churton, Muddy Water, Hans Herzog, Pyramid Valley and Mount Edward. There were also four Austrian wineries, including leading producers Pittnauer and Hiedler, pouring their indigenous varietals blaufrankisch, gruner veltliner, St Laurent and zweigelt.

The atmosphere was more friendly, relaxed and less businesslike than most wine fairs I’ve attended. It was as though attendees were united by a common ideal. The workshops I attended were more intense: there was some evidence of the intolerance of the fundamentalist here and there. Anton von Klopper, whom I admire for many reasons and whose Lucy Margaux wines I’ve greatly enjoyed, gave his audience a couple of long-winded diatribes. He was dismissive of those who like ”fruit” and ”freshness” in wine, and ridiculed the use of the word ”texture”. Perhaps he was just being a stirrer.

In another workshop, fellow scribes Max Allen and Alice Feiring claimed not to be critics and to reject the whole idea of wine criticism.

Allen said writers should stop pretending we can be objective about wine and stop scoring it; we should loosen up and allow ourselves to fall in love with it. Yet both admitted they use their critical faculties when deciding who and what to write about.

In another discussion, Jauma winemaker James Erskine wanted a new language of wine, dismissing the old one as alienating and boring, but it wasn’t clear what he was proposing as a substitute.

In summary, some of the philosophy seemed not to have been well thought out, and some presentations lacked preparation.

Overwhelmingly, though, Rootstock was a great event and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t continue to grow and flourish. Even if, as one Italian winemaker told an audience, the problem with ”natural” wine today is that it’s becoming fashionable.

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Myer, DJs merger warning

Myer was keen to maintain the two brands while cutting back-office costs in any merger. Photo: Jim RiceWith Myer believed to be preparing to dust off its $3 billion merger proposal for David Jones, new research suggests the combined group could lose millions of loyal customers unless they successfully differentiate their brands.
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Analysts say David Jones risks losing about 26 per cent of its customers – those who only shop at the upmarket department store rather than its mid-market rival – if the ”merger of equals” is mishandled.

According to Roy Morgan data, about 74 per cent of the 3.4 million customers who shopped at David Jones last year also shopped at Myer, which served around 5.8 million customers.

Under the merger proposal put to the David Jones board in October, Myer planned to maintain the Myer and David Jones brands and develop more differentiated offers to better target their respective customers and protect their combined sales.

Myer planned to maintain two independent merchandise and store operations teams, but the head office would probably move to Melbourne and functions such as supply chain, IT, human resources and treasury would be merged to try to extract synergy benefits estimated to be around $85 million a year.

Analysts said the merged companies could struggle to retain their most loyal customers if cost cutting, sourcing and sharing of services went too far and each chain lost its identity.

”Anything that blurs the boundaries between the department stores could create more problems and this data backs that up,” one analyst said. ”About 26 per cent of David Jones shoppers are loyal to David Jones and don’t shop at Myer – the challenge is trying to retain them when you merge the two,” he said.

”The biggest risk is the customers who don’t shop at both – they should be able to retain those customers who shop at both [Myer and David Jones]. They might not be as loyal to David Jones if it is no longer as differentiated from Myer because it is owned by Myer,” he said.

If the merged group maintained two head office structures and two supply chains in a bid to preserve their identities the cost synergies would be significantly less than $85 million a year.

This would reduce the value created by the merger, which Myer and its advisers believe could be as high as $900 million within three years.

Myer is considering a new approach to the David Jones board as soon as the retailer has appointed a new chairman and two non-executive directors. David Jones chairman Peter Mason and directors Steve Vamos and Leigh Clapham agreed to step down last week after pressure from shareholders angry about inappropriate share trading and poor corporate governance.

David Jones is also waiting to learn whether chief executive Paul Zahra changes his departure plans and stays on deck to complete the next stage of his turnaround plan.

Mr Mason has said the board would never consider a nil-premium merger, but would reconsider a merger proposal if the terms significantly improved.

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Magwatch: When politics and gossip mags collide with Obama ‘affair’

Regular Magwatch readers will know there are generally only four stories that can possibly be reported – who’s bust up; who’s hooked up; who’s porked up; and who’s lightened up. However, both New Idea and Famous break new ground this week with a thoughtful treatise on US politics.
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Leaving aside trivia such as healthcare reform and the US Fed’s quantitative easing policy, they go straight for the big one: Is Barack bonking Beyonce?

New Idea speculates furiously about furious speculation in some French newspapers that Obama is, as it is known in the business, “doing a Monica”.

Of course everyone involved has denied the rumours – presumably because they are, as it is also known in the business, “untrue”. Regardless, New Idea insists “the damage has been done” – while failing to add that it’s been done, at least in part, by New Idea and Famous.

On more familiar ground, Famous and New Weekly feature breathless reports on one Vito Schnabel, 27, an admirable young bloke who goes out of his way to help the elderly. So dedicated is he to his worthy project that he has recently been spotted squiring Heidi Klum, 40. Before that he was doing his bit with 51-year-old Demi Moore and has also been “linked” with Elle Macpherson and Liv Tyler.

Meanwhile, New Idea also looks at some of the issues facing mature women with its spread on the World’s Most Wanted Grannies.

This line-up includes Brazilian Heloisa Goncalves Duque Ribeiro, 63, who has so far knocked off four ex-partners, and Elizabeth Duke, 73, wanted for a robbery that killed a security guard and two police.

Perhaps big-hearted, cougar-chasing Vito could offer his services to detectives to tempt these wrinkly reprobates out into the open?

Finally, in yet more news relating to older women, Famous has a shot of actress Tara Reid leaving a Los Angeles breast screening clinic. But the mag must have missed the campaigns encouraging women over 40 to get regular mammograms, because rather than a measured heading saying “Sensible Tara gets health check” it somehow ended up with “Terrified Tara’s Health Scare”.

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Karen Martini’s creme fraiche recipes

Fried morcilla sausage with figs, pickled eschalots and creme fraiche. Photo: Marcel Aucar Karen Martini creme fraiche recipes.
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Karen Martini creme fraiche recipes.

Though creme fraiche and the less glamorously titled sour cream have different fat contents and are made a little differently, they both bring much to savoury cooking, with a lightly tart profile that balances the creamy richness.Fried morcilla sausage with figs, pickled eschalots and creme fraiche

This is quite a sophisticated and intense dish, with the rich, spicy blood sausage complemented so well by the luscious fig and tangy creme fraiche – perfect as a small appetiser or a tapa.

30g pearl barley

salt flakes

pinch sugar

2 purple eschalots, in 3mm slices

extra-virgin olive oil

2 morcilla sausages, sliced about 2cm thick on an angle

4 tbsp creme fraiche

2 large ripe figs, sliced thickly

2 handfuls baby kale (or use baby spinach or baby rocket)

sherry vinegar

1. Heat three centimetres of oil in a small pot until about 200C. Fry the barley in batches until it puffs up (a few seconds). Remove, drain on paper towels and season.

2. Add a pinch of salt and sugar to the sliced eschalots, toss through and set aside for five minutes to soften.

3. Heat a splash of oil in a frying pan and cook the morcilla until crisp, about one minute each side.

4. Dollop one tablespoon of creme fraiche on to each plate, top with the hot morcilla and fig slices and scatter over the eschalots and kale. Dress with a little vinegar and oil, sprinkle over the puffed barley and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Drink Try a Spanish white such as godello or a light, unoaked tempranillo.

Vinaigrette potatoes with cornichons, caperberries and fried egg

This is a delicious breakfast or brunch dish. You could easily add cured or smoked fish or even diced, warm corned beef.

10 chat potatoes, unpeeled

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

extra-virgin olive oil

salt flakes

freshly ground black pepper

4 free-range eggs

2 handfuls parsley leaves, torn

1 handful fresh dill

10 tiny cornichons, split lengthways

2 spring onions, very finely sliced

2 green chillies, finely sliced

4 tbsp creme fraiche

8 caperberries (from delicatessen)

1. Boil the potatoes whole until tender. Drain well, slice in half and add to a bowl with the vinegar and two tablespoons of oil. Season with salt and pepper, toss through gently and set aside for five to 10 minutes to take up the flavour and cool a little.

2. In a non-stick frying pan heat a little oil, crack in the eggs, season and fry sunny side up, leaving the yolk runny.

3. While the eggs cook, gently toss the potatoes with the parsley, dill, cornichons, spring onion and chilli.

4. Dollop the creme fraiche on to each plate, pile on the potatoes, top with the egg and caperberries and serve.

Serves 4

Drink: For a late brunch, a glass of gruner veltliner would be perfect.

Onion, gruyere, speck and sour cream tart with smoked mussels

This is my take on the German classic, zwiebelkuchen, which basically translates as onion cake. My version is a bit richer with the addition of gruyere and also has a twist with the smoked mussels – though it’s delicious without them as well.

Sour cream pastry

250g plain flour

150g butter, chilled and diced

1 tsp salt flakes

1 egg

2 tbsp sour cream

Filling

100g smoked speck, finely diced

30g unsalted butter

4 cloves garlic, finely sliced

4 white onions, finely sliced (about 350g)

2 eggs

350g sour cream

1 tbsp plain flour

350g gruyere

coarsely grated salt flakes

freshly ground black pepper

2 tsp smoked paprika

To serve

18-20 smoked chilli mussels (you can buy these vacuum-packed)

1/2 bunch dill, picked and chopped

1 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 165C fan-forced or 185C conventional.

2. In a saute pan over medium heat, cook the speck until it starts to brown. Add the butter, garlic and onion and gently cook for 15-20 minutes or until soft and translucent but not browning. Set aside to cool.

3. While the onions cook, whiz the flour, butter and salt in a food processor to a sandy crumb. Add the egg and sour cream and process until it starts to form a ball. Form into a round between two sheets of baking paper and chill for half an hour.

4. When you are ready to bake the tart, in a large bowl whisk together the eggs, sour cream and flour, add the gruyere and the garlic and onion mix, season lightly with salt and pepper and mix through.

5. Roll chilled pastry into a rough rectangle and place on a baking tray on baking paper. Pour mix on to the pastry (mix will be stiffish and malleable), leaving a border around the edge of three to four centimetres. Fold edges up, crimping corners together to make a free-form tart. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake 30-40 minutes or until golden. Cool to room temperature.

6. To serve, toss the mussels through the dill with a squeeze of lemon. Cut the tart into portions, top with the mussels, serve.

Serves 8-10

Drink a good weissbier

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Record coal exports to China boost Aurizon’s forecast

Aurizon has hauled a record amount of coal. Photo: Darren PatemanAurizon chief executive Lance Hockridge signalled cost cutting by mining customers was paying off as the rail operator hauled record amounts of coal in the first half of the year and raised 2014 forecasts.
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The weakening Australian dollar and extensive cost cutting by key customers like the BHP Mitsubishi Alliance had improved local miners’ competitiveness as they sold coal to China, Mr Hockridge said.

”Our Australian customers are very focused on retaining, indeed improving, their market share of the available demand, and that’s all about a cost and efficiency game,” he said.

Aurizon has benefited from the higher exports, with the group’s coal haulage volumes rising 13 per cent to 109.7 million tonnes in the six months to December.

Underlying earnings before interest and taxation (EBIT) in its coal division rose 32 per cent to $187 million and Aurizon lifted its full-year haulage guidance to 207-212 million tonnes from 200-205 million tonnes.

The rail operator has been cutting costs and improving productivity to meet the mining companies’ demands for more efficient and flexible services, Mr Hockridge said. ”We’re able to give our clients the confidence they can sell against the available market.”

But despite stronger coal volumes, Aurizon’s half-year net profit fell 39 per cent as it took a $197 million asset impairment charge (previously announced in December) related to the shrinking of its locomotive and wagon fleet and job cuts.

Aurizon shed 262 jobs through a voluntary redundancy program in the first half and expects further redundancies as other parts of its business, such as its rail corridor between Townsville and Mount Isa in Queensland, are restructured.

Underlying earnings before interest and taxation, which exclude impairments and job cuts, rose 19 per cent to $423 million.

Aurizon is ”likely ahead of target” on its goal to reduce its operating ratio (which measures operating expenses as a percentage of revenue) to 75 per cent by fiscal 2015 from 94 per cent three years ago, Citigroup analyst Anthony Moulder said.

Mr Hockridge warned Aurizon could face industrial action from more than 100 train drivers in NSW’s Hunter Valley as it renegotiates long-standing employee agreements but said the group was committed to change.

”We will continue to reform the business no matter what the outcomes,” he said.

Aurizon has also made progress in discussions with Indian coal miner GVK Hancock over a joint rail and port venture in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, and hopes to sign a formal agreement in the first half of 2014, Mr Hockridge said.

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Forge axes CEO David Simpson after loss of Horizon Power contract

Forge chief executive David Simpson is believed to have been made redundant from the failed mining services company, joining thousands of rank-and-file workers who have lost their jobs in the wake of its slide into administration.
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Mr Simpson’s exit in recent days came as Forge lost one of its two remaining contracts over the weekend; the $125 million deal with Horizon Power to build a new power station at South Hedland in Western Australia.

That leaves Forge holding just one contract – to build the Diamantina power station in Queensland – and there was speculation last night that it could be gone within days, too.

The loss of Horizon has seen a further 70 Forge workers lose their jobs, adding to the estimated 1400 to have already been let go.

Last week Forge employees who were working on power stations and mining projects in Western Australia and Queensland were retrenched after the principals of the construction jobs exercised contractual rights they claimed on the projects.

Their retrenchment followed Forge’s financiers withdrawing support for the company earlier last week, with KordaMentha Restructuring appointed receiver and manager, after Forge appointed Ferrier Hodgson as the voluntary administrators.

Still, it is hoped that many of the retrenched employees will find work quickly, and it appears that about 50 former Forge employees working on Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill project will be rehired within days.

Forge and Spanish company Duro Felguera won a $1.47 billion contract to build a processing plant at Roy Hill in December, but Forge’s slide into administration last week has cast doubt over the future of that work, and the jobs of the Forge employees.

Skilled Group spokeswoman Delphine Cassidy said on Monday the company would take on more than 50 of the former Forge employees that were working on Roy Hill, as part of efforts to ensure the contract was not compromised.

The hiring is expected to be an interim measure until a reworking of the contract – which is Duro Felguera’s first in Australia – is completed.

Roy Hill spokesman Darryl Hockey said the Forge failure would not have a major impact on the scheduled completion date of the $US10 billion mine, port and rail project.

”Continuity of construction is important to the Roy Hill project. The key contractors are moving to get things back on track very quickly,” he said.

”We are confident our long-term interests have not been unduly impacted.”

Roy Hill is a joint venture between Ms Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting, Korean steelmaker Posco, China Steel Corporation and Japanese company Marubeni.

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