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
haloumi-and-honey-grilled-fig-salad-with-fresh-greens

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!

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 
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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!)