Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm

Well hasn't it been a long time since I've written! My apologies! But I have actually made life far more difficult for myself. I'm sure you know what it's like, the more you put things off, the further behind you get. A quick re-cap of my last month has been truly relaxing, holidaying in Fiji with 5 wonderful girlfriends, drinking and eating far too much... but we'll save that story for another day.

But before we ventured off on that holiday- I had a weekend away spent in Burnie- the North West of Tasmania. Two years of my life were spent living and working there from 2004-2006 and I was eager to see how much or how little had changed. But that wasn't the purpose of the trip- the purpose was to run the Burnie 10 with my good friend Nat. With the looming weather forecast not looking great I had to keep reminding myself why I had decided to drive 4 hours just to run 10km!  

But it all made sense during the drive up the coast. A Tasmanian foodies haven for those who havn't been. There are so many stops along the way to brighten any long road trip. There is cheese, chocolate, raspberries, whiskey and more cheese. And at that moment the decision was made that if we survived the 10km, we would stop at Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm on our return to Hobart. Two years living on the North West, and I never once visited this popular and renowned eatery. So I was excited to say the least.


And guess what?! We survived! Both doing personal bests! So Christmas Hills here we come. Situated 45 minutes North West from Launceston, you won't miss the enticing 'turn off' sign on Christmas Hill Road. 

I must admit I was a little apprehensive as there is the propensity for eateries in the North West to be... how do I put it... somewhat daggy? A bit behind the times? And although it wasn't anything elaborate or even anything close to a fine dining experience, I was blown away with how warm and welcoming this cafe was! As soon as you walk in you are greeted by a large beautiful room which was bustling with people- I can't lie, it was a full house and we were lucky to get a seat!

There was an open fire place which I was totally drawn to- and actually ended up nabbing a seat next to it. Quite perfect was the fact that the specials board was located above it. Bangers and mash it read. But it wasn't an ordinary banger- they were beef and raspberry sausages with sweet potato mash and a raspberry chutney. Sold.

Nat, the sweet tooth of us both opted straight away for the raspberry crepes. And why wouldn't you? It is a raspberry farm after all! And boy did it look good when it came out. Ah who am I kidding, it tasted fantastic too! A simple dish, but done so well, with fantastic produce. The fruit was plentiful and it was a meal in itself!

Having finished my bangers (which were delicious) I was tempted by the countless desserts being carried out of the busy kitchen. Boy did the chefs in there earn their money that day. But what was so incredible, was that no-one was waiting any more than 15 minutes for their meals. Their organisation and obvious runnings in the kitchen were impeccable. 

So... I ordered again. Hey- remember I've just ran 10km and the golden syrup dumplings served with fresh raspberries were calling my name. That and the home made scones which were absolutely gigantic. I couldn't believe how big they were. So the decision was made there and then that we would need to return again. There were so many things on their menu that I need to eat. 

Along with their wonderful menu, service and gorgeous location, Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm offer wonderful gifts for family friends or a treat for yourself. Ranging from their famous raspberry jam (yumo) and their popular raspberry dust (check out the latte at the top of my post) to raspberry hand lotion and lip gloss. I was very impressed and we certainly left with satisfied tummies and a just few choc-coated raspberries packed in our bags for the long drive home...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Asparagus and Gruyere spring tart

The irony. It's a gorgeous spring day in Hobart. Not a cloud in the sky, the sun is beaming UV, and yes the birds are actually singing. It just doesn't seem right then that I'm sitting inside curled up with a runny nose, dizzy head and constantly sneezing.

But that hasn't stopped me- because just last night, inspired by the weather forecast, I set myself the task to create a gorgeous spring tart. I should mention that I was also inspired to do this because of a looming cooking demonstration that I will be teaching at Bottega Rotolo this Saturday, 22nd October. The theme- Elegant Outdoor Dining. Perfect!

For me spring and summer alike are all about getting friends together and sharing good food. Whether its fish and chips wrapped in paper enjoyed by the beach or an Aussie BBQ in the backyard with the dogs, it's truly Australian to embrace gorgeous weather- especially in Hobart when we don't always know when the next gorgeous day will come.

This recipe embraces simplicity and can be prepared in advance so you have more time to be sipping cold drinks, enjoying the sun and catching up on gossip.

Asparagus are in season right now- and can be found everywhere. It's so important to buy seasonally, because not only are you saving dollars ($1.50 a bunch!), but you know the quality is fantastic. Out of season they tend to be limp and scraggly, and sit on the shelf until they are marked down. 

Reap the health benefits too- asparagus are full of vitamin E which help prevent against wrinkles keeping our skin looking young and folic acid which is said to protect arteries that supply blood to our heart and brain. And the fact that in this recipe I've kept it raw, there is no loss of any vitamins in the cooking process. 

There are still a few spots available for the cooking demonstration at Bottega Rotolo but be quick! Includes a 4 course meal and wines. Contact Veronica on 62349978.

Get This
2 sheets short crust pastry
1 large leek
50g butter
6 free range eggs
250ml thickened cream
50g Grana Padano cheese (aged parmesan)
100g Gruyere cheese
6 thick asparagus spears
1/4 bulb fennel
1 tablespoon good quality olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 lemon
Salt and Pepper

Cook Now
Line a rectangular flan tin with pastry. Trim and line with baking paper and baking beads. Blind bake in a 180 degree oven for 10 minutes or until slightly coloured. Remove from oven and cool.

Meanwhile finely slice leeks and cook in a small pan with butter. Remove when translucent and set aside.  In a bowl, whisk eggs and add the cream. Grate the Grana and mix through the egg mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Prepare your tart by adding the leek in the pastry base, and top with the egg mixture. Grate the Gruyere and evenly disperse over the top of the tart. Place into the oven and cook for about 20 minutes or until risen and firm to touch. Remove the tart from the oven. You will notice the filling with drop- but this is ok. 

To prepare the asparagus, use a peeler to shave thin ribbons. Thinly slice the fennel with a sharp knife. Mix the asparagus and fennel and dress with a good glug of olive oil, vinegar and a squeeze of lemon juice and toss. 

Place tart on a serving platter. Assemble asparagus on top of the tart, drizzle with extra olive oil and serve.
Serves 6

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Nonnas Gnocchi

I must confess, I really have been limiting my carbohydrate intake lately and getting on the band wagon of banning wheat, fructose and other nasties from my diet- but lets be honest, I come from an Italian family, and carbohydrates are part of living!

Gnocchi is one of those quintessential Italian staples. It's a simple meal and a cheap meal to prepare consisting of only three basic ingredients- potato, flour and egg. I've been told you can even make them with just flour and eggs. 


Having never attempted making them before, I enlisted the help of my nonna of course! As we were rolling the 'dough' she began telling me how as a child she would do this with her mother every week. She told me how it was normal for the women to come together and cook in every household. It would always be hands on and it wasn't optional. She began cooking at a very young age, whether she wanted to or not. It really got me thinking of how much things have changed over the years- and also made me realise why Italian women are such great cooks. They had no other option!


Nonna got straight in there and began boiling, peeling and milling potatoes, adding flour and egg, rolling the dough and cutting them into shape. Meanwhile I'm chasing her around the kitchen trying to get quick shots and write down what she was doing. Trust me it was no easy task. She was a woman on a mission- it was like she was born to make gnocchi- she just came alive. Food will do that to you though. I should know.

All credit to her though. She was very patient with me, especially whilst I was taste testing constantly... 

The final result were these gorgeous soft gnocchi, which my little nephew calls 'pillows'. How sweet- and probably the best description of the end result. They weren't tough or rubbery like those you buy from the supermarket. 

Nonnas 4 top tips for the perfect gnocchi

1. Boil potatoes with their skins on on else they will absorb too much water
2. Mill/mash the potatoes when they are warm as this will ensure a smoother result
3. Don't insist on following a recipe. If the potatoes are holding more water than usual, you will need to add more flour, and vice versa. Always add ingredients by feel
4. Don't overwork the dough. If you do they will be tough when cooked (similar theory to scones)

So, as you may too have realised, even though they may appear to be a very simple staple, there are certainly tricks of the trade to ensure unforgettable gnocchi! Lucky for me, I have a nonna to drop in on. 

For now anyways, carbs are on the menu- and the healthier eating can continue again tomorrow.

Get This
1.2kg potatoes, skin on
600-800g plain flour
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook Now
Wash and scrub the potatoes well. Add to a pot of salted water and bring to the boil. Cook over medium heat for about 30minutes or until cooked through. While warm peel the potatoes and use a vegetable miller to mill them (or a potato ricer or masher).

Add flour, salt and pepper to the potato and work it all together with your hands. Add the egg and continue to work the flour in. The dough should be a little sticky to touch, but not so that it sticks to your hands constantly. Set dough aside in a bowl.

Sprinkle flour over your working area. Cut a small ball of dough and roll out into a long even log shape with your fingers. With a knife cut the dough into segments on a diagonal angle. Dust gnocchi with extra flour to prevent them sticking and transport to a tea towel to allow to dry. Allow at least 30 minutes.

To cook- bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add gnocchi in about 4 separate batches. When they float to the top you know they are cooked. Remove with a slotted spoon.

Simply toss the cooked 'pillows' through a tomato sugo, or a burro e salvia (butter and sage) sauce. Heaven. 
Serves 4 as a main

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Ban Live Export & RSPCA Vanilla and Pink Frosting Cupcakes

Today was the day- Australians final chance to be the voice for our animals. I was there, amongst the hundreds of others who turned out to the National 'Ban Live Export Rally' on Parliament Lawns in Hobart today. I was most moved buy the number of people, and also by the number of children. It's uplifting to know that children are being raised aware of animal welfare. They were holding the cutest signs which said 'Treat animals kindly'. So simple really isn't it.

I could go on and on about my views on this topic- but I don't want my blog to be a preaching page. If you are interested however- head along to the Animals Australia web page for all the facts or feel free to contact me or leave a comment. 

Cast your vote against live exports at BanLiveExport.com

The RSPCA have been a huge supporter of The Ban to Live Export also, having helped launch the large advertising campaign with the release of the above advertisement. I'm always asking myself what can I do to help? Well it turns out that tomorrow, Monday 15th August is RSPCA Cupcake Day! 

So in honour of that I headed straight home after the rally to make cupcakes! I was excited at the thought of it, and also a little nervous, as sweets aren't my strong point, but I gave it a good shot- and I must say they turned out to be quite yummy. 

I used a basic vanilla cupcake mixture which I sourced from the classic and never fail Australian Women's Weekly Cook Book. I then  went to one of my favourite blogs, Cannelle et Vanille for ideas on gorgeous presentation. I used her recipe for a wonderful vanilla butter cream frosting. Unfortunately mine don't look anywhere near as elegant, but for a first attempt I was happy.

I will be taking these little numbers into the office tomorrow and selling them, with all monies going directly to the RSPCA. The RSPCA continue to inspire me and I am so glad we have these organisations in Australia looking out for the welfare of our animals. 

A final big thank you to the woman who has inspired me beyond disbelief- Lynn White. She opened our eyes to the horrible practices of slaughter houses in Indonesia where our animals are being sent. It takes such a strong woman to have done what she did. Words alone really can not express how amazing she is. Another huge thank you to Andrew Wilkie, Hobart's Independant Federal Member. He will be the animals voice on Thursday in Canberra when a decision is made on Live Animal Export. Head along to his website the read his recent speeches on the topic.

Get This
Cake Batter-
125g unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean
2/3 cup caster sugar
3 free range eggs
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
1/4 cup milk

Pink frosting-
150g egg whites (about 4 eggs)
300g caster sugar
450g unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean
Pink food colouring

Cook Now
First make the cake batter by beating together the eggs, sugar and butter. Add flour, milk and continue to beat until smooth. Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds, add to the batter and mix well. 
Place cupcake patty cups into a muffin tray. Fill each with a tablespoon of the batter. Cook in a 180 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool. 

For the frosting, add sugar and egg whites in a heatproof bowl. Sit over a water bath until the sugar is disolved. Beat with an electric beater until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the butter, a tablespoon at a time. Add the seeds from the vanilla bean and a few drops of colouring. 
Transfer frosting to a piping bag and pipe onto the cooled cupcakes. Place in refrigerator until ready to eat. 
Makes 15

Monday, 1 August 2011

Pasta with Broccoli

It's safe to say the reason I am so passionate about food is due to my family and my upbringing. My father was born in Trento Italy, and his parents raised him there until they migrated to Australia in 1959. Dad was 9 years old at the time.
He tells me stories of his childhood which are so reminiscent of the movie The Wog Boy that it's not funny. His lunchbox would be full of salami and other meats, olives, pasta and essentially anything that had been cooked in the home the night prior by my Nonna. Unlike the movie however, all the kids would be envious and he told me how he would sell his lunch to the other kids and make a quick buck. Typical.

Well, I had the exact same childhood. I never went to school with a packed sandwich. I never had muesli bars. Actually I never had anything that was pre-packaged like we see too much of these days.  I would have containers full of left overs, and boy did I love it.

On the flip side my mum came from a very true blue Australian family. They only ever cooked pasta to eat it with milk and sugar over the top. Um.. what? Yes I still don't understand it today. My nan (her mother) was an amazing cook and I cherish photos of the extravagant dinner parties she used to hold. She would be cooking for days prior just so everything was perfect.

When my mum met my dad, it was instilled in her to try Italian cooking. She would go to my Nonna's for dinner and would ask for cooking tips. She learnt in the same way I have by watching and writing down the ingredients and method as Nonna cooked away. When  mum would cook a meal for them, they would sit to eat and criticism was always given. Whilst constructive I'm not sure it would have been pleasant- anyone who knows a true Italian knows what I'm saying here. But this essentially ensured that she learnt quicker and became the fantastic cook she is today. 

All this said and done however, there are some dishes that neither my mum, nor I can perfect quite like Nonna! I don't know why. Maybe she adds something when we aren't looking?

This recipe I post today is one of my all time favourite Nonna meals. I have so many memories associated to eating this pasta. It is just so unbelievably good, and so simple. That is the biggest thing you can learn about Italian food. Its simplicity. Good flavours that aren't complicated. 

The key is to cook it slowly, and don't let the pan get too hot or it will burn. It may seem like a lot of oil, but remember this essentially is the sauce for the dish. You will notice the appearance will change drastically as the broccoli cooks down. Don't skimp on the Parmesan, and make sure you get a good one. I'd also say the same for the pasta. I bought this fantastic Italian made pasta from Bottega and Rotollo, a new Italian deli in Bathurst Street Hobart. It was delicious and ensures a nice quick and easy meal!

One last thing. Broccoli is the wonder vegetable. It is low in calories and carbohydrates, yet full of vitamin C, B-vitamins, calcium and fibre. So don't waste any of it. I see so many people cutting off and throwing away the stems. Don't! This is the best bit and tastes so great when cooked in this way. Also if you are unable to get organic produce be sure to wash it thoroughly as broccoli is sprayed heavily with pesticides. 

It wasn't quite as good as Nonna's, but gee it came close! 

Get This
1 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic
2 shallots
3 broccoli bunches
2 teaspoons Vegeta
500g packet Farfalle pasta
Salt and Pepper
Parmesan cheese to serve
Cook Now
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. I use about 2 tablespoons of table salt to 4 litres of water.
Wash the broccoli well and cut the stem into small logs. Cut the main head into its individual florets. 
Meanwhile crush the garlic and finely chop the shallots and add them along with the olive oil to a large non-stick saucepan. Heat over a medium heat until the garlic turns golden. Add the broccoli and Vegeta and stir to coat in the oil. Cook for approximately 25-30 minutes, constantly stirring and checking. If it seems to be getting a little dry, add some water.
Add pasta to your boiling water and cook for 12 minutes. Strain and toss broccoli and oil through the pasta ensuring it coats the pasta evenly. 
Season and serve with Parmesan cheese.
Serves 4-6

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Brunch at Pigeon Hole

Everyone has been raving about Pigeon Hole and yet I had only been in there for quick take-away coffees with the guys from work, so I thought it was about time I made time for a long breakfast myself. The owners have a long background in the industry, so I was feeling confident that the reviews were all correct.

I planned my date with Pigeon Hole quite well. I was famished. Plus I had the whole day completely free to do as I wished. Well, up until 6pm when I started work at least.  Either way we weren't pushed for time and were free to eat as much as we could fit in. I don't do breakfast or brunch very often, so I was excited. 

We had to wait about 30 minutes until a table for two was free. A great sign, but at the time I may have got just a little grumpy as I felt my stomach growling. (It was 11am after all and I hadn't eaten yet!)

We started with the apple and pecan porridge which I just couldn't fault. So many cafes are getting this wrong, and I felt Pigeon Hole totally delivered. It was so wonderfully creamy, and quite rich too- best I not know how much sugar and full fat milk went into it. Yet it wasn't heavy, and believe me when I say it was full of fruit and nuts. Absolutely delicious!

We also tried the eggs en cocotte (a French dish referred to as oeufs en cocotte in French)- cooked in a dish with proscuitto, onion, spinach and the winning element, Grana Padano cheese! 

Next round was just as good- if not better. Their house made beans were fantastic. (I will always order beans, its my thing). They had a real smokey flavour through them which I loved. And yet again- the perfect addition of cheese! Something I haven't seen on beans before, yet now I can't even understand why I haven't seen it before, because is this just not the perfect dish?

But probably the star of our brunch was this dish. A washed rind cheese that had been baked with thyme and hazelnuts. It was too pretty to break into, but no looking back once we did. Oh my. Yum.

This was just the most clever dish for a small breakfast/lunch cafe. It had that element of difference and it veered away from all your typical brunch menu items. Like tradesmen eating dim sims before 9am, I can easily eat cheese before midday, and I'm sure I'm not alone on that one.

Aside from the food- I think I just fell in love with this tiny cafe, because it is just so well put together. Their attention to detail was enlightening. The gorgeous old cutlery, the vintage cake stands, the mismatched light fittings, the old bathroom sink- it all worked together so well, and as someone who has a love for great interior design, I was very impressed.

Pigeon Hole exceeded my expectations, and I will be sure to go back. In fact I tried just this week, but was so disappointed to have found they are shut on Mondays. Next week!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Brown rice and cashews

Are you one of those people who refuses to eat brown rice? I confess that I have been for a long time. Of course I know how  good brown rice is for me- you read about it and see it in books all the time- but it just hasn't ever done it for me. I find it tastes bland, dull, stodgy and just not appetising.

You've probably heard the term 'wholegrains' mentioned a lot recently- all the advertising campaigns are onto it, telling us how good they are for us. Brown rice is one of those wholegrains. Why? Simply because it is an unrefined grain. The fact is that white rice looks just the same as brown rice before it has been refined and processed which essentially means the hull and bran is removed from the grain. This in turn makes it cleaner looking, better tasting and a huge plus for Western society- it becomes quicker to cook.

So what's so important about the hull and the bran? Well they of course contain all the good bits we need- including fibre, protein, magnessium, calcium and potassium. Fibre is a super agent for our digestive system, and protein will keep us fuller for longer. There are just simply too many reasons why we should try include more wholegrains- including brown rice- into our diets.

But I find that pretty tough to do when I actually cringe at a  certain food I don't enjoy. So you can imagine my excitement when I got to try this dish. Because it is delicious! A great friend of mine brought it to a summer BBQ- and I couldn't get enough of it- along with everyone else. And I couldn't believe it was brown rice! I had to have the recipe- and I was fortunate enough to snavel it by the end of the week after somewhat begging...

Personally (bringing up my pet hate for brown rice again) I think this is so great because the flavours of the brown rice are hidden under the gorgeous dressing. Winner. It's good for you- it look's appetising- and it's a hit at any table. 

Although I was introduced to it at a summer BBQ- I've found it to be a real charm during the colder weather. I like to eat it straight after its cooked, so it's still warm. Eat on its own, or serve with a gorgeous piece of grilled chicken and a wedge of lemon. Yum. 

Do you dislike brown rice too? Or may be you're one of those people who love it? Let me know and please share any winner brown rice recipes with me. The more I have the better- as this is usually my one and only brown rice intake.

Get This
3 cups brown rice
1 red onion (or 4 spring onions)
1 green or red capsicum
1 cup corn kernels
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large clove purple garlic
1 lemon
1/4 cup soy sauce
Salt and pepper
Handful of roasted cashews

Cook Now
First cook the rice. I use a 1 to 1.5 rice/water ratio for brown rice. So for 3 cups brown rice, cook it in 4.5 cups water. Be careful however, the last thing you want in this recipe is overcooked gluggy rice- so watch it.

Meanwhile chop the onions finely and the capsicum into 1cm pieces. Add to a bowl with the corn and set aside. Make the dressing by adding the wet ingredients, the juice from the lemon and the crushed garlic clove and set aside.

When the rice is cooked, add the dressing immediately. By adding the dressing whilst the rice is warm, it will absorb the flavours fantastically. Stir through the vegetables and then the parsley. Season to taste. Lastly sprinkle with the cashews. So good for you- get in there!
Serves 6-8