Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Flinders Island- living a past era

This summer just gone I was set on ensuring that a 'summer road trip' was had. Summers seem to come and go so quickly these days, and for some reason just aren't as 'summery' as they used to be. I'm sure the long hours spent in the work office has something to do with this... as opposed to the once two month long holiday we'd get.

Everyone was in. The plan was, to officially make a plan for a trip away- even if it was for just a long weekend. What a great plan!

Alas- it never happened.

So when reading an article a few weeks back in Hobart's local newspaper about a 'long lunch' to be held on Flinders Island- I knew there and then that I would be sitting at that long table. Could it be more perfect? I'd get my summer holiday (although delayed) and I'd get a 10 course degustation lunch on pristine Flinders Island!

The first hurdle was of course the tiny plane. Yup- there is just one airline who fly to Flinders Island, and just one tiny plane. But to my surprise, Flinders Island situated to the North East of Tasmania, takes just 30 minutes to reach from Launceston airport. I could cope with that.

I arrived on the Friday morning and already had a list of things I wanted to do in the coming days. Meet the locals, buy some Flinders produce, try some Flinders produce, meet a farmer, meet a cow, go for a walk- without getting lost, find the local abattoir, get to the north of the island, check out the pub, and of course do a wine tasting.

I soon learnt that everyone on the island waves to each other when they pass you on the road. I initially thought everyone simply knew each other- but apparently even though only having a population of 800-1000, this is not so. It's customary to wave and if someone doesn't, then they are presumed to be a tourist. So away I went, and as silly as I felt, I waved at the first car I passed. But they didn't wave back. I think my jaw dropped, possibly I blushed a little, and then I just laughed. Typical! From then on, every other driver waved at me, and I soon felt like a local.

Another thing on Flinders, no-one locks their car. In fact they leave their keys in the ignition. Does that not take you back to an ideal of the 1930's where girls only wear dresses, and men ask you to dance?! I just got a grin on my face when I heard this- it took me back to an era I've never experienced.

I stayed in Whitemark- the main town on the island. It consists of a few streets, two which are lined with shops- newsagent, grocery store, gift shop, bakery, cafe, butcher and pub. It's impossible to get lost. I headed straight to Freckles cafe. Of course. One wallaby burger straight up. Flinders Island Wallaby meat is very popular I would soon learn. It was delicious!

I then headed to the bakery for some fresh baked hot cross buns- how did they know I was coming? From there I walked another few meters to the local butcher. The meat all looked amazing! So fresh, and well, it was. All local meat- but no chicken or pork. Neither are farmed on the island. The thing that stood out there was again the wallaby. It was bright red- it looked enticing. The butcher told me all the wallaby is from the island. They marinate it in red wine and garlic. I had to get some!

That afternoon I took a drive to the South of the island. There you will find a town called Cape Barron. This town is really beautiful and set on the water. A few houses had white picket fences to set the scene. There is a local tavern here- and from what I've been told they do great meals. I got to try their sticky date pudding and it passed the test.

Also down this end of the island is Mount Strzelecki. You can't miss it! If you get time go for a hike. The sign states it's a 5 hour return. I would've loved to head up it- but time just wasn't on my side.

That night I headed to the Whitemark pub. Wow. 1930's eat your heart out. It's everything you want an island pub to be- although I'm sure in the 1930's there never used to be Tas Keno. The hallways were painted antique green, there were high skirting boards, ornate ceilings and light fittings. It even had that 'smell'. You know the smell your nan's house normally has. The bar however just smelt like a bar.

The place was packed to the limits. It felt like everyone on the island was there. After all it was a Friday night. I ordered a few drinks and Tasmania being Tasmania, I ran into someone I knew and managed to squeeze on their table for dinner- which was lucky as the restaurant was fully booked!

Wallaby again made an appearance on the menu, and although tempted, I opted for the chicken parmigiana. I don't normally let myself eat such deep fried food- but when you're on holidays you're allowed to kick your heels up! So I did!

Whilst waiting for our meals I couldn't believe how many were being pumped out of the kitchen. The lady serving them must've been the owner, but I can't be sure. She had the most wonderful red lipstick on, and I instantly admired her. She was run off her feet all night, but upheld that femininity and poise. When our meals came out, I wasn't disappointed and can recommend the parma to anyone who visits!

After a good sleep I got up early and headed off to Emita beach, about 20 minutes drive North of Whitemark. From here there's a 7km return walk to Castle Rock- a huge rock on the coast.

The walk takes you along the beaches and through some scrub areas. It seemed short enough, which was manageable for the time I had before the lunch. There was a guide post with an orange triangle which led the way- so off I set, camera in hand.

15 minutes into the walk I found myself on the edge of a cliff. Suddenly I began thinking this was something my mum wouldn't manage- yet I was sure the walk description was 'level 2'. I must be lost. That'd be right. A bit of friendly bush bashing and cliff climbing and I found myself on a beach. Let me just say this was the start of many more wrong turns to come! I ended up having words with Flinders tourism- this track needs a re-do!

Castle rock was pretty amazing when I finally got to lay eyes on it- and the weather couldn't have been better! The beach was so pristine and there was no sign of any man made thing. This was the summer getaway I wanted- a few degrees warmer and I would've been in!

The afternoon was most definitely my highlight! It was time for lunch- albeit I was already running behind time! The lunch was at Partridge Farm and held by 'A Common Ground' a group founded by three Hobart foodies- the guys from the Gourmet Farmer. The day was so perfectly organised and the principles behind it were fantastic. Only food sourced from the island was able to be used for lunch. I sat with and met the islands wine maker, the farmers, and the guys from the abattoir. It was just an amazing long afternoon. I do plan to post a separate entry about the food enjoyed at this event, so watch this space.

My last day on Flinders was spent in the North. I made the trip up to Killiecrankie after meeting the owners of the local cafe JJ's on the Bay. Their location is prime realty! The cafe overlooks the bay and the mountain looming above. If you're lucky, grab a stool on the deck and sit gazing out at it all while you enjoy your lunch. Sitting here you will totally forget that you'll be back in the office the next day...

As soon as I walked in I felt welcomed by the owners who were both working behind the counter. My attention then went straight to the menu- which you guessed it, featured wallaby again. And yup, I was ready to give it a go again. I am really quite fond of eating wallaby for many reasons. Wallaby along with kangaroo is a really great red meat alternative for both your health and the environment. Wallaby and roo are extremely high in protein and very low in fat. Gym junkies love the stuff. Wallaby also produces far less methane than cattle.

Looking at the menu I couldn't decide between two items- so I ordered them both. One was the wallaby terrine. Wow. I'd never ever heard of such a thing. Wrapped in bacon and filled with pistachios, it looked like any other terrine, and it tasted fantastic! Secondly I ordered the lasagna- but no ordinary lasagna, it was, yup you guessed it, a wallaby lasagna. Equally as delicious, and just what I needed for my wine inflicted headache! Both were served with a garden salad- and even though I forgot to ask them, I could swear the vegetables came out of a local garden. The tomatoes and cucumbers were so sweet and so delicious!

Back on the road, I had the 45 minute journey back to Whitemark. Wave to the drivers passed, pack my bags, wash the car and leave it at the airport with the keys in it of course. Somehow successfully smuggled on excess baggage- all local produce of course- Flinders Island beef, honey and figs off a local old tree I found.

I slept the whole way back to Launceston. The small plane didn't seem to phase me second time around. What a fully loaded weekend. I successfully ticked off all the things on my list and the weekend exceeded all my expectations! 

Although I found myself in the 1930's most of this trip, the local people were far from it. I found many have chosen to make the 'sea change' to Flinders for health and happiness, escaping the city life. I can see why. Flinders Island is a MUST visit for everyone!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The simplest and best strawberry syrup ever!

I found myself at Salamanca market a few Saturdays ago, as I do most Saturdays. It's a place that I can just get lost in. There is a buzz of people, locals and tourists, old and young, conventional and somewhat not. There's an enormity of shopping, antiques, books, jewellery and crafts. But the thing that keeps bringing me back is the food! It is a foodies heaven. Wonderful Tasmanian produce and producers at every turn!

I never go to Salamanca with a shopping list, I just get inspired by what I find. And this week I was excited to see these strawberries! Two punnets for $3. What? Did I read that right? These punnets are twice the size of the supermarket, and they want to give me two of them for just $3? Sold! There's always a catch however- and I knew what it was. These babies must be nearing the end of their season and although they look amazing, they were close to their expiration date and had to be eaten in the coming days. How would I get through them all?

Easy! This is a recipe my dad taught me- I actually don't even know if you can call it a recipe, it's that simple! Dad would always do the same thing and buy in bulk when the prices were right. Our fridge shelves would be full of this syrup, and it would be a treat for the weeks ahead! I used to think he was magic! How could he create something so good with little to no effort at all? Lucky I'm here to now fill you in on the secret.

I must say this recipe does involve a lot of sugar, but the health benefits must surely outweigh that right? Well lets see- Did you know strawberries are full of age-defying nutrients? They are packed full of Vitamin C which is essential for the manufacture of collagen which helps maintain the structure of our skin. And lets be frank- everyone wants to look younger for longer!

As soon as I got home from the market, and before taking off to work, I prepared these strawberries- it must've taken me all of 20 minutes to clean and cut them up. Then you just cover them with sugar and let the fridge do the rest of the work as you put your feet up (or in my case, go to work).

Now don't touch! Don't you dare do any more work for this dish! In a few days your strawberry syrup will be complete.

It's a great idea for dinner parties with no fuss. The syrup will keep for up to a week and the strawberries will shrink up and become so concentrated with flavour it's not funny! Simply served with ice cream it's a treat everyone will love! The trick... serve in elegant glassware to impress.

Get This
2 punnets of strawberries (standard punnet size is fine)
3/4 cup white sugar

Cook now
Clean, wash and remove the leaves from all your strawberries. Cut them into a mix of quarters and halves.
Place strawberries into two tall glasses, only filling halfway up. Top with a half the sugar. Fill with remaining strawberries and top with remaining sugar.
Places glasses in the fridge and forget about them for at least 2-3days.
Remove from fridge and serve equal amounts of strawberries and syrup over your dessert- I suggest two scoops of vanilla bean ice cream.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Lunch at Meadowbank Estate

Meadowbank Estate is a winery come restaurant situated in the Coal Valley of Tasmania. Its about a 20 minute drive from Hobart CBD and a 10 minute drive from a gorgeous old town called Richmond. There are a heap of vineyards in this region and it is a popular spot for tourists- and a select few who have realised how great the food is here!

I must confess I have been a casual employee at Meadowbank for some years now. It all started one day when I wandered through their cellar door on a wine tasting, and saw the most beautiful decked out restaurant clearly set for a wedding. The stunning white lilies on each table, the crisp white table cloths and silver settings. I knew there and then that I wanted to be a part of that. What a dream job! I showed my interest- a week later I was hired.

Since that day I progressed from function work to being a waitress in their a la carte restaurant. A few changes occurred whilst I was there- the most recent being the welcoming of the new head chef, Wayne Smith. This came with a few adjustments, but all for the better. The food going out to the diners looked amazing and I was hanging out for the day I got to try it!

My day has finally come, and last Sunday I went to Meadowbank for lunch with Ali. Boy were we spoilt! Service was amazing (ofcourse). Ian Wilson the restaurant manager was his usual self, buzzing around the dining room making sure he was acquainted with all the guests and ensuring everyone was happy, which obviously meant making sure a glass was never empty!

The menu was placed in front of us and I was excited, very excited. There were a few new dishes on the menu that I wasn't familiar with, which always excites me. The entrees ranged from an individual duck pie with shitake mushrooms to freshly shucked tassie oysters. I however opted for the ocean trout tartare with capers and citrus.

YUM! Words can not explain how delicious this dish was! The fish was so fresh, and the flavours so vibrant. The quenelle of creme fraiche on top was divine and the crunchy cucumber added wonderful texture! This was a perfect start!

Ali ordered the potato and goats cheese tortellini with pine nuts and currants. Again a delicious dish. It is so elegant on the plate you nearly didn't want to disturb it.

For mains there were 6 options including King fish, duck, rabbit, lamb, venison and pork belly. Anyone who knows me well, would know that I would normally go straight for the pork belly! But not today, I wasn't feeling like something heavy. And although tempted by the duck I went for the rabbit in the end. This was a roasted saddle of rabbit with a stuffing of herbs and Serrano ham. I was intrigued! (plus it's not Easter yet!).

I definitely made the right decision. Seriously how fantastic does this dish look! And it didn't just look great- it tasted beautiful! The ham was actually wrapped around the rabbit which gave such a strong flavour to the dish. Ali thought it was a bit too strong for her liking, but I was happy because that meant more for me!

Ali went with the King fish, served with prawns, Spring bay mussels and a warm tomato champagne dressing. As all thus far, this dish was no exception with presentation. Simple food served elegantly. The fish was cooked perfectly with a wonderful crispy skin. The bowl was nearly licked clean!

Ah desserts! For all you sweet tooth's out there, seriously go to Meadowbank! I don't normally order desserts, Id actually rather order another entree most times. But on this occasion there were three that I wanted! We were able to get two. I went with a gratin of green figs with pistachio ice cream. Pistachio ice cream is a real soft spot of mine- I love the stuff! And figs.. well who doesn't love figs. These were actually my first figs of the season so far, (hopefully many more to come).

This was a clever dish- I liked the idea of a 'sweet' gratin. Instead of the cheesy creamy potato gratin, the figs were covered in a custard type sabayon. Delicious! Right up my alley of a top dessert!

Ali went with Ian's recommendation of the breton sable with confit strawberries, lemon curd and rhubarb ice cream. Sounds like a lot going on, but when it got to the table, it was definitely the dish that caught every ones eye! Beautiful!

A breton sable for those who don't know (I didn't) is a French crisp cookie with vanilla, egg yolks and almonds. This was then layered with the strawberries, curd and ice cream. Mmmm mmm!

There are ofcourse fantastic wines to match each of the meals, but on this occasion it was quite simply a food frenzy for us! We really couldn't have asked for anything more- even the Tassie rain outside didn't put a dampener on the wonderful lunch we had. Thanks Meadowbank for a fantastic day!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Pink-eye potato salad with capers and olives

I have a confession to make. Is it too soon? Who knows. But I want you all to know that I LOVE carbs! And not just the ordinary carbs that are found in most foods- the carbs that are just solely carbohydrates! Rice, bread, pasta and potatoes, ofcourse! I love them all! I could eat them in their simplest form most of the time. I blame my dad for this. I have memories of getting home after school and just tucking into a wonderful crusty bread loaf. We'd have the whole loaf eaten (just between the two of us) before mum had even served dinner- she wasn't surprised and soon learnt to buy more bread!

So why is this a problem? Well we all know an overload of carbs isn't healthy for us with an over-intake resulting in weight gain. It's one of those things we have to eat in moderation. It's definitely however my weak spot. I could go without chocolate for days- but don't ban the carbs!

So this got me thinking. I want to be able to share the great health benefits found in all types of foods- not just the negative that we hear so often. Maybe this is just a way I can justify my eating of carbs? Either way I've decided in the posts on my blog I'm going to give you a Healthy Fact which will hopefully encourage you to try my recipes or better yet, eat more healthy foods. We all tend to know the health benefits of so many common foods such as salmon being rich in omega 3's, spinach being rich in iron and milk being a great source of calcium- but I'm sure many don't know the health benefits of many other foods. When we know whats good for us and why, I think we'll find we will put it into our diets more than we previously may have.

So lets talk potatoes! Healthy Fact- Did you know that the potato is full of vitamins including Vitamin C and Vitamin B- complex. These are vital for a strong immune system, wound healing and also healthy skin! The potato also has more potassium in it than any other fresh vegetable or fruit. Potassium plays an essential role in body growth and also looks after you heart and blood pressure.

On the weekend I celebrated with my new found facts and made a delicious potato salad inspired by Ben O'Donoghue. This boy knows good food- and he used the pink eye potato. A perfect choice!

The pink eye is found commonly here in Tasmania. It is by far my favourite potato! I only recently learnt that most people across other states in Australia aren't familiar with the pink eye. On a recent trip to a supermarket in Sydney they looked at me quite strange when I requested 'any pink eyes today?'. How bizarre. I thought they could be found everywhere! Pink eyes get their name because they have knots and dimples as I call them which are pink in colour. They are very distinctive. Pink eyes are great because they are full of flavour, but best of all they hold together really well when cooked- so are the perfect spud for a potato salad! If you can't get pink eyes at your local- then opt for kipflers instead. They are also a waxy yellow potato and are a good substitute.

In this salad I changed a few things to what Ben did with his. But the simplicity of this dish is what makes it fantastic. The flavours of the capers and the olives are so bold- that you really don't need to do much else to it. The big difference that I've employed is to keep the potato skins on. There are so many nutrients found in the skins themselves, that its such a waste to bin them. Plus they are so yummy and add that bit of texture.

It is essential to coat the potatoes in the olive oil whilst they are warm. And make sure not to overcook the spuds! I tend to take them out of the boiling water just before I think they are actually ready. This salad can be made the day before you want to serve it, and it is also great to pack for lunches- but take my advice and make sure that after refrigerating, you let the potatoes and olive oil dressing come to room temperature before serving. No-one likes cold set olive oil! Now go, enjoy, and eat those potatoes knowing how good they are for you!

(Oh- one more tip- buy more than the required amount of olives, because if you are anything like me, the salad will be lacking by the time you've eaten a few during the prep!)

Get This
1kg pink-eye potatoes
1 garlic clove crushed
Handful parsley chopped
100g baby capers
200g pitted green olives sliced
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper

Cook Now
Start by washing and scrubbing the potatoes well. Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with salted water and bring to the boil. Boil for approximately 20 minutes. Remove and drain and rinse with cold water a few times to stop the potatoes from over cooking. Cut potatoes into quarters.
Now mix the olive oil, vinegar and juice from the lemon. Drizzle over potatoes and mix with your hands to coat all the potatoes in the oil.
In a mortar smash the garlic, half the parsley, half the olives and half the capers to a rough paste.
Add to the potatoes the olive paste, remaining olives, capers, parsley and lemon rind. Mix with your hands being careful not to break the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Serves 6 as a side

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Mussels, garlic, herbs, beer butter sauce

I've constantly got so many thoughts going around in my head- that when I pondered the thought of starting a food blog- I was like, sure I can totally do that. So I've just sat down to my computer now to begin typing my first EVER blog and I just froze for a few moments. Why is it so hard to put our thoughts in writing? If there was a way to transfer my thoughts without having to sit and type- I'd be laughing- and so would probably everyone else. My thoughts are complex- seriously!

I've pondered for days what my first blog would be about- would I write more about myself? Tell you what I want to achieve? Give up my best ever recipe? It's been tough. But the time has come-
I've been planning this in my head for a while now- and it's suddenly D day!

So... my decision, all be it a quick one, was to tell you about a recipe I devised just last week. It was for the Launceston Beer Festival. The challenge was to cook with beer. I've never even considered such a thing! To be totally honest, I don't even overly enjoy beer- unless ofcourse it's a gorgeous Aussie day and it's dam hot outside. So, to cook with it was somewhat of a challenge!

I got an idea from Ali (my best friend and partner in crime) to cook with mussels- gorgeous Tasmanian Spring Bay mussels. One has me thinking she liked this idea as Curtis Stone also has a version. So I googled for a bit, got a few further ideas, and away I went. I trialed a few different cooking methods (including adding orange juice for some sweetness- it didn't work), used a few different beers (pale ale, draught- they didn't work) and the end results were all... well... pretty horrible! What a disaster!

Thanks to the guys from James Squire I eventually got the mix just right! They suggested their light tasting Sundown Lager. And I must say... YUM! The mussels in beer were a big hit and probably lined our stomachs just in time for a big night!

These mussels are super quick, super affordable and super yummy! Even the most basic home cook can manage this! A great idea for a casual dinner with friends or a tapas night.

My only tip- make a trip to your local baker to get a good quality loaf of crusty bread to soak up all the juices!

Get this
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions diced
6 cloves purple garlic finely sliced
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
2 kg black mussels- cleaned
150ml JS Sundown lager (or any light beer)
2 large lemons juiced
140g butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped parsley and crusty bread to serve

Cook now
Start by heating the oil in a large pot (I used a stock pot). Add the onions and garlic and sweat down until translucent. Add the bay leaves and thyme and stir until the aromas are around you. 
Add the cleaned mussels and stir, ensuring you coat each of them with the onion mixture.  Add the beer and lemon juice and put a lid on the pot. Leave for about 3 minutes.
When the mussels have opened, strain the juices into a smaller pot or fry pan. Its best to strain the juices through a sieve in case there were any yucky bits from the mussels. Keep the lid on the mussels to keep warm and set aside.
Place your juices on a medium-high heat and let some of the alcohol evaporate. After about a minute begin to gradually add cubes of butter. Constantly whisk until all the butter is used. Season with a good pinch of sea salt and cracked pepper. Taste.

To serve place even amounts of mussels into your bowls. Pour over the beer butter sauce, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with a piece of crusty bread.

Buon appetito!
Serves 6 as a tapas or 4 as a main