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!

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

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

 

 

 

 

hello

I want to introduce myself.
I’m new to this whole blogging world, and in fact, I don’t read that many blogs myself (although I’m not sure I should be admitting that here, but I am in the process of rectifying it!).
This blog is not a blog for blogging sake. It’s an outlet for me to express myself and to have an excuse to make “special” meals for my family and friends. And best of all, it gives me an excuse to obsess about how to put together an awesome dining experience and actually bring it to life! You see, I LOVE FOOD! I love eating it, looking at it, working out what’s in it and experiencing it in a way that truly engages my whole being – through my 5 senses.

I am a mum to a gorgeous and highly energetic 21 month old little man, who unfortunately, does not appreciate food as much as I do (unless its plain cheese, grapes or vegemite toast!). Since the arrival of Little B, my darling husband, Daddy Rich, has more often than not, been the recipient of my frustration in the kitchen and therefore the meals that I have prepared (read: bought ready made) have not exactly been evident of my usual standard of food prep!

Before Little B came into our lives, I had started dabbling in the creative world of event planning, and I was loving it! But having a new born/toddler is just not conducive to a career change away from physio and into events. This has left my creative side slightly frustrated and so, “the time has come, the time is now, for me to GO GO GO, I don’t care how!” into the unknown world of food blogs!

For me, food is definitely not just about eating, and filling your belly. It’s about having an experience that transports you to another place – somewhere that inspires mindful eating and creates or conjures up beautiful memories. This is why I believe that any “special” dining experience should involve all 5 senses, to truly give you the best chance of being entertained.

My intention is to cook for my family and friends and transport them to some place or moment in time that I want to share with them. This blog is a space for me to explain how, using all 5 senses, I entertain the people I love sharing my life with.

I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I love doing it, and I hope that I can inspire you to understand the true Sense Of Entertaining!

Lara