Taste of Australia

In March of this year, my parents celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary. It was also my family’s 14 year anniversary of moving to Australia. And so, to mark both occasions for my parents, I had grand plans of putting on a beautiful Australian themed romantic dinner for them.

Unfortunately business travel and social commitments interfered with the timing of my planned dinner for two. So one evening a few weeks later when my parents had dinner plans with friends, I sabotaged their evening, and instead of them going out to a restaurant, I cooked a three course meal for the four of them in my parents’ home. Luckily it was a beautiful evening and they were all happy to oblige my craziness.

My inspiration for this Australian themed meal came from a trip to Byron Bay. I was there with Daddy R, Little B and my parents (I’m eternally grateful for their generous babysitting offers), and we had some beautiful meals with interesting native botanical ingredients… lemon myrtle, wattleseed, lavender infused local honey in a savoury breakfast, locally grown macadamias, and lots of hipster style smashed avo varieties.

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Avo with poached eggs and popped buckwheat
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Dukkah poached eggs with lavender honey at Bayleaf Cafe

I wanted the guests to feel relaxed yet a little glamorous – just how you feel in Byron Bay. Native plants, flavours and sounds in a twilight setting looking out over the treetops, with soft glowing light. This was how I wanted to immerse their senses and stir emotions.

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Farm fresh herbs and botanicals at The Farm, Byron Bay

Sight: walking out onto the balcony where the table was set, the guests were greeted with a twinkling branch hanging on the glass balustrade – a hint at rustic glamour. Glass vases of various shapes and sizes were clustered on the table and filled with gorgeous native blooms in shades of deep red, green and white. Tea light holders in their metallic holders shimmered silver, gold and bronze. A simple native blossom resting on the plate greeted the guests at their place setting.

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Tablescape with native blooms and metallic hues
The table itself is black which was perfect for my black, grey and gold/metal colour scheme. I used felt grey and gold placemats with antique gold cutlery and matte black and porcelain grey plates. The colours of the food were showcased on the neutral coloured plates.

Smell: Sitting at the table adorned with natives flowers, there was a subtle aroma of being out in the Australian bush. This was all I was after and so only unscented candles were used. The fresh scent of lemon myrtle wafting from the food also enhanced native ambiance.

Sound: An intimate dinner party allows for good flowing conversation amongst friends and so the music I selected was purely for background ambience. I chose the “Australian Artists” playlist on Spotify and with musicians like Pete Murray, The Temper Trap and Boy & Bear, an authentically laid back Aussie vibe was established.

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Place setting with grey felt, black slate and gold metal with a blossom for added visual interest and texture

Touch: Rustic elegance came through again in the sense of touch. The smooth cool touch of the gold cutlery and matte serving ware against the roughness of the felt placemats was a tactile stimulant. I had planned on using my grey linen serviettes, but in all the hustle, half way through the entree, I realised I had left them at home, and so, my mum’s cotton ones came to the table. Not ideal aesthetically or from a tactile perspective, but at least something to wipe hands on… I guess you live and learn.

Taste:
Entree: “smashed avo” – grilled avo with Meredith goat cheese, fresh tomato and herb salad drizzled with lavender honey.
This dish was not only inspired by the beautiful avo I had in Byron Bay, but also the hype around the smashed avo that has taken cafe menus by storm (following the much-hyped #avogate media frenzy just before our Byron trip). If you have never tried grilled avo, I highly recommend this recipe – not difficult to make and the texture and temperature combinations make the flavours really sing.
Smashed Avo

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Avo’s on the grill

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Grilled avo with goat cheese, tomato and fresh herbs
Main: Macadamia and lemon myrtle crusted salmon with green slaw and creamy celeriac and polenta mash.

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Main course ready to go
This recipe has become a favourite in my home. The richness of the salmon and macadamia nuts are cut through by the zingy freshness of lemon myrtle. The golden crust locks in the moisture of the salmon, giving a beautiful contrast in texture. The fresh green slaw of cucumber, fennel and broccolini with an apple cider vinaigrette adds another element of freshness and tangy flavour. Celeriac and polenta mash is something new that I experimented with. It’s creamy texture but slightly bitter taste was the perfect accompaniment to the fish.

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Gorgeous celeriac ready for chopping and roasting
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Macadamia and Lemon Myrtle Crumb
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Perfectly golden crumbed salmon
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Green slaw ready to be assembled

Macadamia and Lemon Myrtle crusted salmon
Green Slaw with Apple Cider Vinaigrette

My mum’s friends generously brought a bottle of Hunter Valley Semillon, specifically Australian, which complemented the meal beautifully – thank you!

Dessert: Vanilla wattleseed ice cream with grilled peaches and lamington drizzle.
Roasted wattleseed has a rich warm flavour, sort of somewhere between dark chocolate and coffee. When ground and added to vanilla ice cream, it is heavenly, and addictive! I used fresh orange peaches which were in season, which added the right amount of tartness to this decadent dessert. Melted dark chocolate sprinkled with shredded coconut was the “lamington drizzle”. The chocolate turns hard when poured on top of the cold ice cream, which again creates a beautiful play with texture.

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Vanilla wattleseed ice cream with grilled peach and lamington drizzle

Vanilla Wattleseed Ice Cream with Grilled Peaches and Lamington Drizzle

Not only was the sense of taste and sight addressed in all three courses, but also, the sense of “touch” with contrasting temperatures and textures within each dish. The surprisingly warm and creamy avo, the hot salmon with a crunchy coating, cool freshness of the slaw and creamy mash, and the warm peach, cool, velvety ice cream and crisp chocolate coconut topping. Paying attention to all senses plays a vital role in enhancing the guests’ whole dining experience.

Honest Outcome
Good:
The guests absolutely loved the relaxed and personal dining experience. They were much happier in the home with someone cooking a carefully crafted meal for them than being out for dinner in a busy restaurant. Even the non “foodies” in the group appreciated the flavours of Australia and the peaceful, but elegant setting.

Not so good: I think I rushed through the courses a little – I will know for next time to allow more time for conversation and digestion which will also make my kitchen experience a little less stressful. I have also learned that when catering outside of my own home, I need a carefully planned checklist – I would have loved to have used my own serviettes!

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Nothing goes to waste!

I have become quite conscious of trying to use up whatever ingredients I have left in the fridge to avoid throwing out perfectly good produce! I usually get a little overly enthusiastic when I do my weekly Sunday evening grocery shop and plan to make all these amazing different things. The truth is, that life happens and I don’t always get home in time to prepare what I had intended. Or I realise I don’t have a key ingredient and so the planned dish gets a review or put on hold for another day. And so as the week goes on, my veggies which had so much promise, start to look like their short lives are soon to be over

Last night was a great example. A week ago, I made a haloumi and crispy quinoa salad, which was amazing, but I had half a block of haloumi cheese to spare (I love haloumi!). I had also bought a punnet of fresh juicy figs at the beginning of the week which I wasn’t getting through. I had a variety of greens in my fridge and some lavender honey which I am obsessed with, which was calling out to me. So I decided to put this altogether into a deliciously light salad.

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I am also trying to perfect a salmon dish before my next “Australian flavours” dinner in a few weeks time. I had what I needed in my pantry so it was the perfect opportunity to give it another go.

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For this full nutritious meal, all I needed to buy was some baby rocket and fresh Tasmanian salmon.

So its 6.20pm. I had the puppy barking excitedly while trying to get all his food out of his “Kong” and then needing to be taken outside… oh the joys of puppy toilet training! I had Little B, needing a nappy change (again?) and waiting with diminishing patience for his dinner, and a tired husband who had just walked in the door to the chaos of me trying to produce a “gourmet meal” before rushing out in half an hours time! To his credit, he took over puppy duty and got Little B cleaned up too.

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It was definitely an opportunity to practice my multi-tasking skills but in the end, Little B got his dinner early enough and played beautifully by himself while Daddy R and I sat down to our more adult version of the meal.

I knew my mad rush attempt at a gourmet “use what we have” dinner was worth it when Daddy R said “this is the best meal I’ve had a ages”, and my fridge was emptier with nothing going to waste!

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Moral of the story… its not hard to make something delicious with what you’ve already got lying in your fridge in pantry.

Here is the recipe for the salad
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A trip down Tuscan memory lane

2006. A European heatwave. Three girls braving the backpacker route, and by “braving it” I mean staying in gorgeous old converted monasteries and doing gourmet cooking classes in the heart of country Tuscany…think an Under The Tuscan Sun style love affair with food.

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Gelato in San Gimignano, Tuscany
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Our love affair with red wine started in Guiseppina’s kitchen, 2006

After 10 years, a few uni degrees, overseas life experience, sharing in each others weddings, three toddlers and a couple more on the way, the three girls, who have swapped backpacks for nappy bags, and their awesome husbands, finally got back together in the kitchen and cooked up a true Italian feast, courtesy of Guiseppina’s cooking school,  in Tuscany. I could not have pulled it off without the help of my two beautiful friends.

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All grown up, sipping Prosecco

My Bondi kitchen  was never going to replicate the very traditional Italian kitchen, and so I decided to give my meal a more modern twist, but with elements representative of our memories in Tuscany. I wanted the evening to feel organic and natural, as all Guiseppina’s produce was fresh from her garden, and nothing was too complicated or fancy.

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Tablescape – muted tones and organic shapes, with fragrant lavender and sunflowers
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Sunflower fields in Tuscany

Sight: Linen tableware, in muted tones of blue and stone, dressed the table. Small stone plates in similar tonal colours set the rustic scene, while long, curved platters on which the entrees were served, further created the relaxed feeling. Clustered around the table were vintage blue and green bottles, filled with bright yellow sunflowers and fragrant lavender. The girls immediately noticed this detail which reminded them of walking through the stunning stretches of sunflower fields and the lavender bushes growing in every quaint garden, including that of our hostel. The blue and green  bottles were also a nod to the similar glass vases which were part of our hostel’s decor.
The food was presented on simple white and glass dishes, maintaining the uncomplicated atmosphere. Being able to see the food through the glass dishes creates excitement and the neutral colours showcase the vibrant colours of the fresh produce which are so vital in Guiseppina’s cooking.

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Lavender blooming in Tuscany
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The green and blue bottles at our hostel

Smell: I didn’t have to do much to create the authentic Italian aroma – the fresh basil and juicy ripe tomatoes, together with the fragrant garlic and lemon set the stage pretty well! The yeasty warmth of freshly baked bread sticks further reminded us of being in the Italian mamma’s home. I lit a blood orange candle, which added freshness to the rich aromas.

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Fresh ingredients from Guiseppina’s home – Tuscany, 2006
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My key Italian ingredients in Australia, 2016

Sound: I love Spotify! I selected the playlist Café Europa, which wasn’t too cheesy, but the romantic music with foreign accents and classical nostalgic sounds definitely made us all feel like we were back in the heart of Europe! Of course, the conversation turned to reminiscing about our time spent there. There were many laughs and, when I brought out the old photographs, a few “OMG do you remember that!” exclamations, as well as comments from the occasional shocked sounding husband.

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Friends having lunch – Salute!

Touch: The organic feel of linen on your fingers provided the physical sensation of being in the countryside – understated luxury, a little rough but so romantic.
The different textures of the food, as always, play a vital role in how your “touch” sense is stimulated. It begins with the nibbles eaten with your hands – warm, soft bread sticks contrasted against the sharpness of hard pecorino cheese, which was also complemented by the gooey sweetness of onion jam. Entrees of arancini and fried zucchini flowers both had a crispy coating, the former with a melt-in-your-mouth inside but the latter, firm. These warm dishes were contrasted further by the cool, fresh deconstructed Caprese salad. This principle of hot vs cold, soft vs hard etc, continued throughout the meal, really stimulating your sense of touch.

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Wild mushroom arancini with garlic aioli
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Crispy fried zucchini flowers

Taste: Most of the menu was directly from Guiseppina’s Cooking School, however I substituted a few things to suit dietary requirements and increase diversity. I think the most important ingredient was LOTS of good quality extra virgin olive oil, adding a rich fruity flavour to the dishes.
Each couple brought an Italian drink, to complement one of the courses. I also served ice cold San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa as the non-alcoholic option.

Nibbles: Homemade breadsticks fresh from the oven, (which my Little B so enjoyed helping to make), with a gourmet olive selection, sharp pecorino cheese and the piece de resistance, delicious onion jam which had the perfect balance of sweet and tangy flavour. Harris Farm Markets make their own, which, luckily, was so similar to Guiseppina’s homemade speciality. It made my week when I found it!
Italian Prosecco perfectly balanced out these rich flavours.

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Little B – my kitchen helper
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Home made grissini fresh from the oven
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Nibbles – grissini, pecorino cheese, onion jam and gourmet olives

Entrees: Wild mushroom arancini and crispy fried zucchini flowers served with a garlic aioli and a tomato dipping sauce. I used dried porcini mushrooms, which gave the most gorgeous depth of flavour. Guiseppina’s original menu included bruschetta. I didn’t want more bread as I had added in the breadsticks earlier, so I decided to re-work the bruschetta ingredients into a deconstructed Caprese salad. I used big balls of rich, creamy burrata, my absolute favourite cheese, and decadent buffalo mozzarella. Served amongst a medley of roughly chopped heirloom tomatoes, with fresh, fragrant basil and a good slug of evoo (extra virgin olive oil), caramelised balsamic vinegar and of course freshly ground himalayan pink salt and black pepper…so so yum! We also opened a bottle of beautiful chianti from Tuscany, a perfect accompaniment.
wild-mushroom-arancini

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Wild mushroom arancini, crispy zucchini flowers with garlic aioli & roast tomato dipping sauce
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Deconstructed Caprese salad with buratta and buffalo mozzarella

Mains: One of the most memorable pasta dishes I have ever eaten was the creamy pasta, made without any cream, in Guiseppina’s home. Fresh spaghetti with vibrant cherry tomatoes, basil and lots of garlic and parmesan cheese, combined with walnuts, both crushed and chopped, give this dish the most amazing texture and creamy taste. Ground walnuts and the oil they release mixed through pasta is definitely something worth trying! The combined effort and advice from the other girls (who have made this dish countless times) while cooking was so helpful, and not to mention fun.
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Chopped walnuts going into the pan
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Walnut oil becoming creamy
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Guiseppina’s special spaghetti

For a bit of protein to complement all the carbs, I decided on a simple white fish (ling), cooked with good quality olive oil, fresh lemon juice and lots of seasoning, on a bed of thinly sliced red onion and topped with wholesome baby asparagus, all steamed in a foil parcel in the oven. The clean flavours were great together with the rich pasta.
The chianti continued to flow into the main course, balancing out all the beautiful flavours of Italy .

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Oven steamed ling with chilli, red onion and fresh asparagus

Dessert: Another dish that we still talk about, 10 years later, is Guiseppina’s tiramisu. This easy recipe delivers every time, its decadence and deliciousness even convinced the girls who are on a pregnancy “no raw egg” diet, to have a spoonful (or two!). One lesson that I learned that day in Tuscany which I will never forget, is that REAL Italian tiramisu doesn’t contain any alcohol, and I think its even better this way!
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To contrast the rich creamy dessert, I added to the menu a sour cherry granita. The secret ingredient…balsamic vinegar! Both desserts were served in glass bowls, showing off the gorgeous layers of the tiramisu, and the stunning cerise pink colour of the granita. I picked a flower from my garden in the same shade of pink to garnish the chocolate dusted tiramisu – it looked pretty enticing.

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Tiramisu
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Sour cherry granita
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Through the looking glass

I brought out my favourite glasses which I reserve for dessert wine and liqueurs (by now I think I have 16 different types of glasses in my house!), and we salute‘d to lasting friendship and delicious food over chilled limoncello (itself, in an amazing bottle, which will definitely be up-cycled soon).

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Chilled Limoncello is served
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Mum’s almond biscotti

Homemade (by my generous mum) almond biscotti were served to end the meal with fresh peppermint tea…always room for more it seems!

Honest Outcome:
Good:
we laughed and reminisced and had a lot of fun cooking together, just as we had done on our travels 10 years ago – this was the main goal of the evening, so I would say it was a pretty successful night. My girlfriends were of the same sentiment, while the boys were very complimentary of the food and the Italian experience in general. The small touches definitely didn’t go unnoticed. … so I was happy.

Not So Good: I hadn’t anticipated how long everyone would chat for over the nibbles, or how quickly the entrees would take to fry, so by the time we sat down at the table, they were a little cold, but still delicious. Timing is everything!

Last minute lunch for 50: tips, tools and tastes

Once a year, my mum puts on a lunch for over 50 people to celebrate Jewish New Year. This is no ordinary lunch… it’s a banquet, meticulously styled and planned down to the last basil leaf and elevated ceramic platter. I usually sit down with her weeks in advance to discuss the menu and the way in which we’ll do something special. It’s a process we both absolutely love and look forward to each year. Unfortunately this year, my grandmother became quite unwell and my mum cancelled her soirée two weeks prior. However,my gran’s condition stabilised and the lunch was reinstated, just 48 hours prior to the guests arrival. This obviously meant that the many hours of baking, shopping, chopping and setting up were drastically reduced and we had to come up with a new plan. But if you know my mum, that was never going to mean lowering her standards.

I was so inspired by how she managed to pull it all together at the last minute – here are some of the lessons that can be learned.

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view from the top: salad bar with grains, garnishes and extras *

A salad bar was always the plan for the lunch, and this is mostly last minute work anyway. so the menu at large didn’t change much.  But one thing I have learned, is to get help! Peeling, chopping and roasting is very time consuming, so where possible:

Prep tip #1buy ready cut veggies (worth the extra cost when you are so short on time). also, specialised kitchen tools are very handy. My mum recently picked up this Chef’n® Stalkchop Cauliflower Tool in New York – its incredible and how much time and trimming it saves 🙂

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Prep tip #2: get someone (or 2 people) to be your kitchen hands.

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Salmon sashimi with wasabi peas

Style tip #1: food en masse looks great. My mum’s huge selection of large bowls and platters always look amazing filled with her gorgeous cooking and baked goods.

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roasted tomatoes with fresh basil, roasted corn with chilli, lime and coriander

My mum artfully presented all the elements of the salad piled up on a long wooden board, with certain ingredients such as the feta cheese in herb oil and the grains, served on the board in bowls of different colours and textures, creating beautiful height and a bright array of colour, making the whole board look so appealing. This also helps to engage all your senses. Nothing was too preciously laid out and so people weren’t afraid to tuck in and help themselves.

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deluxe make your own salad bar
Menu tip #1: make sure all dietary requirements are catered for. Quinoa and freeka, both gluten free, were the grains for the salad, alongside soft white bread for dipping and zesty za’atar bread (deliciously not gluten-free) soak up all the goodness. Dairy was kept separate and some salad without glazed salmon on top was kept aside for a vegan guest.

Menu tip #2: serve a selection of hot and cold food to really engage the senses. Combining temperatures in one meal enhances the flavour experience. A gorgeous kale, spinach and feta pie was served fresh from the oven to contrast the cold salad bar.

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Mediterranean flavours: roasted baby tomatoes, whole salmon with date syrup glaze on chickpea and date salad,  smokey babaganoush and hummus with soft bread

Prep tip # 2: accept help from your guests. My mum and I usually do the majority of everything ourselves. Baked goods and ice creams are usually frozen a couple of weeks in advance saving a lot of stress in the days leading up to the lunch. However, this year was different. My mum is lucky to be surrounded by beautifully caring, very generous friends, many of whom brought a dessert. It also helps that said friends are talented bakers, assemblers and ice cream makers!

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chocolate crunch ice cream, choc chiffon cake, peppermint crisp pudding and baked cheesecake *

On the menu was a creamy baked cheese cake, chocolate crunch ice cream, chocolate chiffon cake, caramelised mango and creamy yoghurt, peppermint crisp pudding (golden layers of caramel condensed milk, coconut biscuits and crumbled choc mint candy), double chocolate rocky road,  two huge fruit salads – one “red” filled with fresh berries, watermelon ruby red grapes and pomegranate jewels, and another tropical “yellow” one of pineapple, paw paw, papaya, mango with a ginger, honey and mint syrup. There was also an array of mini chocolates and nougat, a variety of indulgent biscuits and biscotti and a huge tray brimming with a sugar rush of brightly coloured lollies. Lets just say I didn’t have much in the way of a savoury dinner that night with all this delectable dessert left over!

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double chocolate rocky road, caramelised yogurt with mango pudding, cheese cake with caramel crunch topping *

On another note, while decor and presentation is vitally important to creating the right atmosphere, there is nothing wrong with simple.

Style tip #2: grocery store flowers are usually good enough quality and reasonably priced. Instead of the annual early morning  trip to the flower markets, a stop in the floral section at Woolies while picking up fruit and veg the day before was perfect for this last minute lunch. My mums stunning collection of vases and serving-ware ensured that style was not forgotten, ensuring that the visual sense was definitely well catered for in this multi-sensory experience.

At the end of the day, despite the aching feet and a lot of cleaning up to do, my mum was thrilled with her decision to host her lunch as usual. The most important thing at the end of the day is that all our friends and family were together, celebrating the new year in as we always do, and of course that no one was left hungry (for days to come!) and there was certainly enough sugar involved to send everyone off with blessing of a “sweet new year”. Well done mum, I’m always so proud of, and inspired by you!

*photos by Ingrid Shakenovsky, with thanks

 

 

Breakfast Tel Aviv style

If you want a full on sensory experience, head to Tel Aviv! I was there with Little B and my amazing mum visiting my sister a few months ago. This is not the first time I’ve been to Israel and so I knew what a treat I was in for, and my taste buds and my soul couldn’t wait.

If I could use two words to describe my time there, it would be NOURISHING CHAOS. Nourishing for my body and soul.

My soul was replenished by spending quality time with my sister and seeing her and Little B bond so beautifully. Also, just being in Israel uplifts me – there is something magical about the energy and the authenticity of that place and its people.

My body was of course nourished (more literally) by all the delicious food, the sun on my shoulders and Mediterranean salty air. However, travelling with an almost 2 year old, who has the will of a stubborn teenager, in a city that doesn’t know the meaning of the word “quiet”…. it was not what you would call relaxing.

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Dinner at the “authentic” The Old Man and the Sea in Jaffa

One of the quintessential meals of Israel is the huge buffet breakfast. It apparently originated when the farmers on the kibbutzim (collective communities established in the 1930’s)  would all come back after a morning of work in the fields and enjoy a communal feast of all the produce of the kibbutz. Meat wasn’t traditionally farmed and so dairy and eggs became the main form of protein which were eaten along with all the fresh fruit and vegetables. We also have this to thank for the creation of the delicious spicy breakfast feast – shakshuka! Everyone sits around a big table and digs in, often using bread as their main utensil for moping up all the deliciousness.

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My brother-in-law’s shakshuka with feta and herbs (the best in the world!)

It was this amazing breakfast tradition that I wanted to recreate at home with my friends and the kids. The chaos of Tel Aviv: the noise, the hustle and bustle and never standing still for a minute was the precise energy that I wanted to bring to my breakfast. And lets just say that with 8 chatty adults and 5 busy kids under 2.5, this was definitely achieved!

Smell: When my guests walked into the house, they were greeted with the unmistakable rich smokey aroma of middle eastern cooking – cumin, coriander, paprika and za’atar spices, eggplant roasting over an open flame and freshly chopped mint and parsley. I also lit a fragrant “High Tea” Glasshouse candle, whose exotic perfumes of cardamom and black tea added depth to the aroma of the room.

One of my girlfriends walked in and said that she could smell Israel from outside our front gate – the first mark of a successful breakfast 🙂

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fresh herbs and vibrant radishes ready for chopping

 

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eggplants roasting for babganoush

Sound: I deliberately didn’t have any music playing because I knew it would be drowned out with all the chatter, demanding toddlers and their noisy toys. The sound of people laughing and talking loudly with the occasional child’s cry was the exact backdrop that I wanted for my Tel Aviv breakfast.

Sight: A table full of fresh bread, soft creamy cheeses, and colourful dips, alongside roughly chopped salad, seasonal fruit and cooked eggs – this is what an Israeli breakfast looks like.

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three cheeses and dips
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Spiced chickpea & fresh vegetable salad (Jerusalem, Ottolenghi)
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Mud Australia bowls

The decor and servingware was a mixture of colours and styles, selected to reflect the disorder of life in Israel – nothing is too perfect but it somehow just works. I used different textures – wood, ceramic, glass and metals, as well as lots of bright colours to achieve this. The main colour scheme was that of the Mediterranean – aqua, green and turquoise MUD plates and coloured glasses, with some gorgeous brights thrown in too, as I was so inspired by the colour of the alleys and boulevards of Tel Aviv.

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Touch: How something feels always influences how it tastes – maybe that’s why the soft, warm bread used to scoop up the shakshuka and homemade dips tasted so good. The combination of textures was amazing, with the creamy cheeses and hummus, the slightly grainy roast beetroot dip and and the chunky babaganoush, together with the crunchy bread crust and doughy insides. I explored another aspect of “touch” by combining different temperatures – warm eggs, bread and pastries juxtaposed the cool dips, and fresh salad and fruit.

I can’t end without mentioning the halva cake – I think my favourite dish of the day! Moist buttery cake, layered with slightly chalky but melt-in-your-mouth halva, contrasted by rich crunchy cinnamon walnuts – a texture party in your mouth.

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Walnut and halva cake (Plenty More, Ottolenghi)
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Autumn red fruits

Taste:
On arrival: 

Tahini, date and cinnamon smoothie – gulped up by both adults and kids!

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(The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook, Salma Hage)

Cold:
Homemade dips: hummus, babaganoush, roasted beetroot, cumin and goats curd dip and tuna dip (again store bought – cant beat Pasta Pantry), and fresh homemade zhoug, a fragrant green, firery sauce, with a pesto-like texture
Cheese: homemade Labne, goats cheese, marinated feta
Spiced chickpeas and fresh vegetable salad
Boiled eggs
Spiced maple, pecan and walnut granola served with plain yoghurt and silan (Israeli date honey)
Fresh red fruit salad – Daddy Rich did an amazing job of cutting this up, he even knew to add the garnish of mint!)
Walnut and Halva Cake – after getting somewhat overlooked during the main meal, I brought this onto the dining table when tea was served and it was devoured!

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Spiced maple, pecan and walnut granola (adapted from Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook, Salma Hage)

Hot:
Breads: rosemary and sea salt focaccia, parmesan and garlic focaccia and seeded , all from BakeBar (no, I’m not superwoman who makes my own bread on a day like this, but I did warm them in the oven)
Labne and za’atar mini pastries garnished with rose petals – even fussy Little B loved these
Shakshuka – I made two to accommodate those that love chilli, and those unfortunate people who don’t!

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Shakshuka (Falafel for Breakfast, Kepos Street Kitchen) 

To end:
Nana tea (Fresh mint tea) – we debated whether the drink is served with the teabag in or out. True to Tel Aviv tradition, it was served on the side!

Honest Outcome:
Good: everyone commented on how authentic the meal was – this is the best compliment I could have received!
They also suggested I go into business making and selling my dips and condiments – while I may not be quite ready for this, it felt really good to know their taste buds and tummies were happy 🙂

Not so good: I didn’t get the timing quite right so by the time the guests arrived, and we actually sat down to eat, the shakshuka was slightly overcooked! Lesson learned: prepare everything before but only put the pan on the heat once the guests have arrived

Please let me know (leave a comment) any other recipes that you would love to try xx

 

 

 

 

Hentley Farm: A True 5 Senses Experience

Four years of marriage – seems like such a short portion of our lives and yet so much has happened! Rich and I celebrated our anniversary with a weekend in South Australia’s Barossa Valley and we wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. And what we found did not disappoint! Hentley Farm is a very special place – a small winery in Seppeltsfield with the most incredible on site restaurant. You can choose from a 4 course or 7 course meal, with or without matching wines (or the half pour option for people like us on antibiotics, cold and flu meds and having to drive home afterwards!).

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personalised menu

I can’t exactly call it a set menu – I gave them our detailed dietary requirements and they adjusted the menu to suit, not leaving either of us feeling let down because of our restrictions.

When we were initially seated, Rich commented that he felt like something was lacking in the decor/set up – we were seated in a small square shaped room with glass walls, seemingly perched on top of a hill, and surrounded by the greenery of the property. With very few tables in the room, nothing on them except our glasses, knives and forks (resting on a thick wooden branch), there was a lot of empty space – both visual and actual.

My response was that this was not only intentional, but very special.

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awesome cutlery on raw wood

SIGHT: This part of the experience was simple – glass walls enabling us to see outside, and feel like we were sitting amongst the natural beauty of our surroundings. The one solid stone wall and the wood tables, further gave us the feeling of being out in nature. The uncluttered table worked to highlight the artistic skills of the chef – each dish was a magnificent work of art. The simple, organic looking plates provided an uncomplicated backdrop to each dish, allowing the colours and textures of the different elements of each dish to pop. Another component of the visual experience was the vivid colours – both in the produce as well as the wine. The rosé was the most gorgeous raspberry colour and the sparkling Blanc de Noir, like watermelon.

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kingfish, asparagus, verjuice and puffed wild rice, with roasted almonds and the 2016 Rose

SMELL: The wine not only looked like the colour of gemstones, but the perfume of each one was more beautiful and complex than the next. The 2016 Rose in particular took me back to my childhood smelling just like raspberry cordial! The ingredients of each dish are sourced locally, and are completely seasonal so the freshness of the herbs allowed for the pungent aromas to really come through and enhance each bite. The most amazing smell of all was the rosemary smoke billowing out of the oyster entree. I learnt a very cool technique for creating smoke as the dish was brought to life at the table when the waitress poured hot water over the bed of fresh rosemary and dry ice.

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oyster with fresh passionfruit in rosemary smoke, quinoa cracker, quail eggs with curry spice and lemon, potato crisp with tuna and peppers

SOUND: The atmosphere was very sophisticated yet relaxed. There wasn’t any music playing but what we could hear were people chatting and laughing, as well as gasps of wonderment as each dish came out. Even though I can see where they were coming from with this minimalist approach to sound, I couldn’t help but feel that some quiet modern instrumental or classical music could have warmed the atmosphere.

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kangaroo, wild fennel, swede and broccoli

TOUCH: For me, what really made the experience stand out was the use of texture in the food. How the food feels in your mouth is equally, if not more important than how everything feels in your hands. The combinations of hot and cold, creamy and crunchy, rough and smooth were perfectly curated. From the bed of crunchy fresh asparagus under the delicate kingfish, to the earthy poppy seeds juxtaposing the silky passionfruit sour cream, and the warm gooey marshmallow on a stick to finish, it was a full on texture adventure.

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‘egg’ sour cream, passionfruit and poppy seeds
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wine roasted marshmallow

TASTE: Not only were the texture combinations sublime, but so was the taste of every single dish. The matched wines were beautiful and really enhanced the flavour of each dish – well worth the additional cost. We got a good taste of what Barossa food is all about with the local produce and wild native flora.

I have to mention one dish in particular that blew me away with its unique flavour combination – the dessert of frozen yoghurt, sesame crisp and liquorice cream, drizzled with dill oil. Yes, dill oil. Seriously, who knew that liquorice and dill were such a match made in heaven.

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yoghurt, sesame and liquorice with dill oil

Our experience was completed by a visit to the cellar door, in an old stone house, glowing with crystal light fittings, where we sat in luxurious traditional leather chairs in front of a warm open fire. We left with full tummies, a few bottles of Hentley Farm wine and some magnificent memories.

Click to visit Hentley Farm

Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Hentley Farm, I just had a really good 5 senses dining experience and wanted to tell you about it!

Follow me to the land of milk and honey

After some long and pretty uncomfortable flights, a whirlwind 48 hours in Johannesburg, and VERY little sleep, Little B, my gorgeous mum and I, have arrived in the vibrant land of milk and honey – I’m in Israel! We’re here to spend time with my beautiful sister and her husband, and to have a real holiday – eight days of sun, family lovin and a whole lot of sensory stimulation.

I can’t wait for the authentic Israeli culinary delights, from the best falafel in the world, soft, doughy breads and delectable pastries, to all the amazing dairy. Then there’s the sounds of organised chaos, the smells of the ocean, the food and everything in between, the sights of the melting pot of cultures and religions, and the tactile experiences that are so a part of everyday living. Full on sensory overload and I love it!

So for the next 8 days, I’ll be consumed with everything that is Tel Aviv and getting heaps of inspiration for a future meal at home. Follow me on Instagram @sense_of_entertaining to see my daily snaps of what inspires me and uplifts my soul.

 

Recipes!

I have shepherd’s pie in the oven, a clean kitchen (after cleaning up for the second time today and the 5th time in the last 48 hours!), a sleeping hubby and toddler and I’m sitting down doing something for myself (and for any of you who are interested in reading this). I’m only mentioning this as it is such a rare occasion and it’s pretty awesome, and I’ve been trying to be more grateful for the small things in my every day life.

Ok, back on track – I have been asked by a few people for some of the recipes from my recent blog posts.
I certainly can’t take credit for coming up with most of the recipes, but I’m very happy to share some of my favourites with you and give you my tips and any modifications that I used to better suit my needs and available ingredients.

The Donna Hay Feb/March 2016 issue became my best friend when planning my Winery by the Sea menu. Most of the main course and the delectable dessert were from there.

Honey wood smoked salmon with quick pickled tomato 
Honey_wood_smoked_salmon_with_quick_pickled_tomato
As I mentioned in the last blog post, Daddy Rich was in charge of this one and he did an exceptional job of following the recipe exactly. After two trips to the hardware store, he eventually settled on the Samba seafood smoking chips, which is a bIMG_7918lend of mesquite and alder wood. I used two individual pieces of salmon instead of a whole salmon, as there were only two of us.
click for link to recipe

 

IMG_7919Roasted peach and blueberry ice-cream sandwich 
I replaced the vanilla ice cream with vanilla bean frozen yoghurt which gave the dish a tartness that contrasted the sweet roasted fruit beautifully. I didn’t beat the yoghurt to soften it – instead, I just left it to melt slightly, then gave it a good stir with a wooden spoon before adding the fruit to it. That worked well – just be careful to not over mix it, otherwise you lose the crisp white colour of the ice cream and it becomes purple and the gorgeous combination of colours disappears.
click for recipe

Grilled Avo with Seared Tuna “Salsa” IMG_7681
I took inspiration from a few different recipes for this one. I combined and changed them to suit my menu. It was an experiment, but I was very happy with the result. The quantities in the recipe are based on my personal preference, so please taste and adjust as you go – there is no right or wrong.
click for recipe

I hope these recipes give you as much pleasure as I got from cooking and devouring the products. Please let me know how you go if you do make anything and also if there are any others recipes that you would like.

Happy cooking!

 

Winery by the sea

Update 24 April 2016: I now have a few of these recipes up on my latest post – enjoy!

mealtime playlist
January 2016 was filled with lots of “simchas” (celebrations) and a whole lot of love!
It was also filled with many, MANY hours of travelling. I found myself going from one wine region by the water to another to celebrate the love of two very special couples.

It started with the whole family travelling to New Zealand to surprise my baby sister on her engagement to her Kiwi boyfriend. Daddy Rich, Little B and myself took a short break in Auckland where we spent a day on the magnificent Waiheke Island (94 square kilometers of beaches and wineries), before meeting the rest of the clan in The Bay Of Islands where my future brother-in-law’s family has their bach, a very special place for their family and my sister as well. We visited different wineries, mostly dictated by which ones had space for Little B to run and play (how times have changed!). We ate and drank as much as being parents could allow and we even splurged on a beautiful bottle of pinot, only to get it confiscated at the airport days later (lesson learnt: never EVER forget wine in your carry on luggage!!!) We bonded with our family-to-be and mostly just had good old fashioned fun spending quality time together and celebrating the love of two incredibly special souls.

After this five day whirlwind of love, laughter and LOTS of delicious wine and food, Rich and I travelled to Perth, where we braved the bush fires and petrol shortages and drove 6.5 hours south to Margaret River. We were literally there for 36 hours, for the wedding of two very good friends, before doing the 6.5 hour drive and 4 hour flight back to Sydney. It was a lot of hours on the road and inland Western Australia was not what you would call scenic (unless you count the unseasonably busy McDonalds in Collie), but the wedding, fit for royalty, set in a forest just a few kilometers from the ocean was not something to miss!

It was on the way home from our Winery By The Sea trip, that I was inspired to start this blog. I couldn’t wait to try replicate just a little of how special and romantic our little holiday had been.

It took a while for me to get my dinner underway and in the end it was pretty last minute –  but we were happy to use the opportunity for a special romantic experience for just myself and Daddy Rich.

Sight:

The table decor was simple and inspired by nature – the twisted branches, greenery of the vines and magnificent roses that were part of the wedding decor as well as in the wineries we visited. I used unassuming backdrops of natural materials with neutral colours such as the woven table mat, linen cloth and serviettes with hessian accents, which allowed for the simple beauty of the peachy-cream roses and colourful food to really pop. The soft tones continued with the dusty miller foliage laid carefully along the centre of the table, perfectly nestled the crystal vases of roses and glowing candles.
I used sea shell scented candles which reminded us of collecting shells with Little B on Devonport Beach in NZ and they created a perfectly soft, romantic glow.
The colours of the glassware and plates, sea green and turquoise, were suggestive of the ocean and rolling vineyards. IMG_7644
A similar colour scheme was used for the serving ware with gorgeous Mud and David Edmonds pieces taking centre stage.
The bottle of Voyager Estate chardonnay, siting elegantly next to the citrus and mint flavoured water, instantly reminded us of our morning outing to the Cape Dutch Style vineyard in Margaret River where we sampled and purchased the bottle.

Smell:
The salted caramel candles had the most delicious sweet yet slightly salty smell, so reminiscent of the delicious treats and fresh salty air of Margaret River and little islands of NZ.
The honey-smoked salmon was smoked by Daddy Rich himself, and so our open plan kitchen/dining room had the wonderful smoky scent of a bush barbeque, which we is how we ate in the Bay of Isles.

Sound:
ocean sounds instrumental
The playlist I chose for entrees seemed a little cheesy, but it worked! It was just instrumental relaxing music with some sounds of the ocean. It definitely set the mood and brought our energy down a notch, after the last minute rush of putting Little B to bed, last minute food prep and getting ourselves dressed and ready for our (date) night in.
I then changed the music to the more upbeat Jack Johnson/John Mayer, which is the tyDSCN1468pe of music we listen to on holiday while relaxing by the water. Bliss 🙂
Another reason for selecting acoustic style guitar music was to try recreate the very special atmosphere at the bach where my sister’s soon to be brother-in-law strummed love songs for us over dinner.
Jack Johnson

Touch:
The slightly rough textures of the linen tablecloth and serviettes helped to create the sense that we were in a luxurious yet natural environment. The textured blue wine glasses also added to the tactile experience.

Taste:
Entrees: grilled avocado with seared tuna, pine nut and coriander in sesame and soy dressing
IMG_7643The fact that this dish turned out to be so yummy was a very pleasant surprise – it was my first time trying the warm avo and it was amazing! Being an ocean themed meal, I wanted to serve fish for entrees and mains. The flavour and texture combination of the creamy pine nuts, fresh coriander and tangy sesame oil, soy and chilli dressing was just right paired with the seared tuna.

Mains: Honey wood smoked salmon with quick pickled tomatoes, watercress and walnut pesto pasta, and grape and pomegranate salad with spiced nuts

My second fish dish was also an experiment, and as I said earlier, Daddy Rich did an amazing job! I’m lucky to have a great sous chef who loves smoked food!IMG_7852IMG_7836
I wanted to do the pasta as the green pesto and leaves were obviously reminiscent of the greenery everywhere we went. With the addition of the yummy pecorino cheese, and the Vintage Merlot Salt from spice specialists Gewürzhaus that I seasoned it with, it was a great accompaniment to the fish.
The salad came from a recipe from a wellness magazine that I picked up at the airport in Perth. I loved it as it had grapes, sultanas and verjuice, which symbolised the vineyards and the spiced nuts for exotic crunch. With clean plates at the end, we were positively stuffed, but very happy!

Dessert: roasted peach and blueberry vanilla frozen yogurt sandwiches
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This was a seriously wonderful way to end the meal. The inspiration for this dessert was a little market stall somewhere between the Bay of Isles and Russell airport where they were selling the most incredible blueberries. We had fresh blueberry frozen yoghurt and blueberry smoothies as our last culinary treat in NZ. I substituted vanilla frozen yoghurt for the vanilla ice cream that the recipe called for. And I’m glad I did! The tartness of the yoghurt complimented the sweet citrusy filo pastry and caramelised fruit perfectly. And the artist in me had so much fun making it!

Despite our intentions of opening the dessert wine, we were just too stuffed! But Daddy Rich had a coffee and I just watched and pretty much licked my plate clean!

Honest Outcome:
Good:
Everything actually turned out better than expected and I don’t think I would change much next time. Smoking the fish was easier than expected and definitely going to become a more regular occurrence.
Not so good: Because of the last minute nature of the dinner, I didn’t have time to let the bottom layer of the filo sandwich freeze before adding the filling, and so it was a little soggy… lucky the flavour was still good! I also didn’t have much time to source decor so I made do with what I had at home (I used left over curtain material for the table cloth!)

Shabbat like my grannies used to do it

A few weeks ago, it was my turn to host the family for Shabbat. Daddy Rich asked for mock crayfish, and of course, I had to oblige! For those who are scratching their heads because they have no idea what mock crayfish is – it is a traditional South African dish often served at Jewish functions. It doesn’t sound amazing – pieces of white fish in a basic thousand island dressing – but it is! This was the spark for my inspiration for the traditional Shabbat dinner, just like my Granny Sally and Granny Sylvia used to make it, throughout my childhood and teenage years in South Africa.

Shabbat is one of the key practices in the Jewish religion. Even if you “don’t do much” in the way of keeping all the laws, I would say that having Shabbat dinner on a Friday night, in whatever form it takes, is one thing that most traditional Jewish families observe.
For me, Shabbat is synonymous with four things, which I would call the symbols of Shabbat: 1) Shabbat candles 2) wine 3) challah (special sweet brioche-like braided bread) and lastly, and for me, most importantly, 4) family.
From these four elements we get the full sensory experience that is Shabbat.

Sight:

Shabbat is a very important part of the week for my family and me and therefore, I wanted to give it the respect it deserves. I did this by styling the dinner in a formal way, with the table properly set, and the silver polished. On walking into the dining room, I wanted my guests to know that it was not just a regular dinner on any night of the week. The immediate sense of tradition is felt on seeing the distinctive Shabbat table with a white, more formal, tablecloth, laden with the challah board, wine and wine glasses and a simple arrangement of flowers. On the sideboard are the glowing candles in their beautiful traditional silver candlesticks, which I got as a gift for my Batmitzvah, 19 years ago.

Sound:
The sound of Shabbat is of voices – singing, laughing, talking and discussing all kinds of topics, usually a few simultaneously! Beyond this, there is silence. We cannot listen to music or watch TV and so the sweet sound of family is what characterises Shabbat.

Smell:
The sweet smell of challah warming in the oven just cannot be beaten! I waited until the meal was almost ready to be served before putting the challah into the oven, so that the irresistible smell wafting from the oven would whet the appetites and draw everyone to their seats. And if your mouth isn’t already watering, the juicy smell of the rich garlic and tomato sauce in which the meat was roasting, will definitely do it!

Touch:
The white silk tablecloth, soft to the touch, signifies the special meal of Shabbat.
But in my family, the soft, doughy challah that you eat with your hands is definitely quintessentially SHABBAT. Rolling and squashing the “inside” into a ball may not be the greatest table etiquette but it’s the best tradition in our family!

Taste:
While a Shabbat meal can really be anything, from take outs to gourmet, the menu this week will take us back 15+ years ago to the welcoming homes of both my grannies, Granny Sally and Granny Sylvia where we were surrounded by family every single Friday night.

This is my version of “the traditional shabbat”

Starters:

  • Avo halves filled with mock crayfish and topped with a sprinkle of paprika (just for Rich – although I think this is everyone’s favourite part of the meal!)
  • Chopped herring, carefully decorated with boiled egg and cucumber  (pickled vs. fresh is the perennial debate) with kichel, a sweet biscuit cracker, usually served with savoury dishes. Even Little B, my 20 month old can’t get enough!
  • And the warm, doughy, and deliciously sweet challah sprinkled with sea salt

When I told my sister living overseas the theme of my dinner, she said “but are you making avo with mock crayfish?”. I replied “G, that’s literally why I’m doing this dinner!” Enough said! And we couldn’t have a (South African) Jewish meal without herring and kichel. As a kid I was always Granny Sally’s herring decorator, and I had so much fun doing it again now in my own home.

Main:

  • Roast Beef with Monkey Gland sauce, onion soup roast potatoes and broad bean and pea smash with mint and lemon, served with a traditional French salad, complete with sliced radishes!

I chose to do a traditional meat and potatoes meal. There was much debate at the table about the origins of Monkey Gland sauce – is it a marketing trick to get people to think that us Africans eat monkey’s glands? Gross! It’s really just an amazingly delicious home made chunky barbeque gravy sauce, but slightly spicy and so, so much better.

My mum always made roast potatoes with onion soup powder sprinkled on top, they went all crispy and delish, and even me, the non potato loving person that I am, could never resist those. I forgot to buy onion soup mix so onion powder just had to suffice at the last minute… it wasn’t at all the same unfortunately, but good enough.
At both my grannie’s houses, there were always peas. I love peas! But I felt like giving them a bit of a makeover so I added broad beans and an extra kick of flavour. The freshness of the mint with a zing of the lemon was the perfect slightly gourmet side, and it still reminded us of the good old days.

My mum brought the salad, with slice radishes just like her mum used to make…the perfect accompaniment.

Dessert:

  • mango and coconut ice cream with manuka honey and lime, sprinkled with roasted coconut chips, and a huge bowl of fresh litchis (South African for Lychees)

Mango ice-cream was a staple, and again, I felt like giving it an Aussie summer twist. The litchis/lychees were a throwback to the litchis that usually featured in my Granny Sylvia’s meals, either in her Litchi Fish, or Litchi Ice-cream, and of course the sugary Ceres Litchi fruit juice that was always a treat!

Honest outcome:

GOOD: there was a really special energy the whole night. My family absolutely loved reminiscing about old times. And mission accomplished, it felt as though Granny Sally, Oupi Ivan, Granny Sylvia and Grandpa Harry we were at my Shabbat table in some way, despite them being too unwell or too far across the ocean to be there in person.
NOT SO GOOD: the meat wasn’t cooked to perfection and the potatoes without the onion soup mix weren’t quite right.
Note to self: make sure you have all your ingredients before cooking and watch the oven carefully!