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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Recipe - Easy Mushroom Risotto, Ricotta Stuffed Mushrooms, Mushroom Ragu

 
I really think I'm fortunate to live in Canberra. There are so many fantastic producers within a stone's throw, all with such high quality produce that it just makes sense to buy locally whenever possible.
 
Who knew the Capital Region had quite thriving Mushroom-growing? Normally, I'm not the biggest fan of mushrooms. To me, it really depends on how well they're cooked and how they feature in a dish. Limp, soggy and lifeless mushrooms hanging around in a casserole or with my scrambled eggs - definitely not. Surprisingly, when cooked by themselves, or as the star of a dish, that's when I enjoy them the most.
 
With mushrooms, I always tend to think Italian - so, here are three italian-inspired recipes that I think make the most of these beauties.
 
Easy Mushroom Risotto
 
 
Apologies to any purists, this recipe was invented one night where I got home late and 'had nothing' in the fridge, freezer or pantry. This rarely happens - I like to meal plan and then shop accordingly- but I am very glad it did that night.
 
Serves 2
Ingredients:
150g (or about 5 large mushrooms)
1 cup white whine
1 clove garlic minced
1/2 onion finely diced
A few sprigs of thyme
1 packet microwave brown rice
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Start by sweating the onion in a little olive oil. Try not to get too much colour on it, but some caramelisation will add to the depth of flavour. Add the garlic and thyme and continue to sweat until soft.

In a different pan (or the same one with all of the onion and garlic removed), Cook your mushrooms in batches. (Every time I do this I think of the movie Julie and Julia - don't crowd the mushrooms! Otherwise, they'll stew in their juices rather than brown nicely).

Add your onion mix to your cooked mushrooms and pour over the glass of white wine. Cook down until reduced by half.

While that is simmering away, cook your rice as per the packet instructions. When the sauce is thick, combine the two in the pan. Now, this isn't fried rice so keep it moist. If it looks a little dry, add a little more wine and cook down again in the pan, being careful not to over cook the rice.

Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan.

Ricotta Stuffed Mushrooms
 
 
Another happy accident, this recipe came about after a request for a vegetarian meal from the husband. I gave him three medium-sized mushrooms with a side of steamed veg and he was a very happy recipient indeed.
 
Ingredients
4-6 medium sized mushrooms (depends on size and how hungry you are - sometimes I just use one large field mushroom)
150g low fat ricotta
1 tbsp pesto
Grated Parmesan
1/2 zucchini finely grated
1/2 clove garlic minced

Remove stalk from mushrooms. Place in a warm pan topside down with a little oil and cook until little drops of water can be seen on the underside. This means the mushroom is cooked through.

Combine all other ingredients together in a bowl and then place inside the 'cup' of the cooked mushrooms. Optional - sprinkle with some more Parmesan.

Place under a hot grill (I just left them in the pan they were cooked in) until the top is golden.

Mushroom ragu with soft polenta

 

I have been obsessed with this dish since I watched the first episode of River Cottage Veg. Hugh and his team catered a wedding where the bride was vegetarian - so they made the whole menu vego! Beetroot tarte tatin is also something I'm dying to try...
 
If you are looking for slow-cooked flavour but don't have 8 hours, this is the recipe. It is rich but light at the same time, plus dead easy.
 
Ingredients
500g mushrooms (the larger the better)
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
500ml white wine
1 sachet (30g) tomato paste
A few sprigs of thyme
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Parsley (to garnish)

Fry off the onions, thyme and garlic and give them a bit of colour. Add the wine and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the mushrooms in a separate pan, being careful to brown them.

Combine the mushrooms and onion mix and add the tomato paste. Cook down until the sauce thickens (approximately 5 minutes).

Serve on a bed of soft polenta with parsley sprinkled over the top.
 
This recipe was inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's.
 
Majestic Mushrooms, as part of the Australian Mushroom Growers Association Campaign, provided me with a box of mushrooms for the purposes of writing this post. All views are honest and are my own.

See http://www.powerofmushrooms.com.au for Mushroom tips, info and recipes.
Canberra-grown mushrooms can be sourced at many outlets in Canberra including Trugold's, Farm Fresh, Wiffens and Ziggy's at Fyshwick markets, Choku Bai Jo at North Lyneham and Curtin, and Ziggy's at Belconnen. They are also stocked at Supabarn stores.
 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Travel: Mudgee

Mudgee had been on my foodie road trip to do list for a long time. I'd always heard about how great it was, but never quite got around to it. It seemed an opportune time, when heading back to Canberra from Coffs Harbour (via Newcastle). 

Arriving in Mudgee at 10am after an early start, coffee at The Butcher Shop cafe was the first stop. 
The cafe, aptly named in honour of its former occupants, was right in the centre of town and had some great coffee. Too late for breakfast and too early for lunch, we headed off to explore a little.



The old railway station houses (of all things) an Indian restaurant, but we were there to explore the gallery of local art and handmade products. 


The history in a town like Mudgee is always amazing, especially living in a young city like Canberra. 



A quick trip out to Robert Oarley vineyard and then it was time for lunch.  



High Valley Wine and Cheese co was the perfect stop for lunch. We opted to sit outside and, when in Rome, ordered a cheese platter to share.


The ash blue, Brie and accompaniments hit the spot and came in at under $25. It was plenty to keep us going until dinner.

We decided to head a little bit out of town, to the new Pipeclay Pumphouse restaurant at Robert Stein Vineyard, about 10 minutes from Mudgee. 

The menu is full of options, including a full 7 course degustation for $85 ($120 for matching wines), but we decided to opt for a little more flexibility and go with the a la carte. Stipulating a minimum of 2 courses ($55), the menu does have a lot of options. It wasn't really difficult narrowing them down though, I tend to always order the same thing at restaurants.


After a relatively lengthy wait, we placed our order and quickly received a warm tomato consommé to start the evening. Sharp tomato flavour was balanced by a few drops of oil; the herbs were a bit superfluous but did offer some greenery.

Unfortunately, the overwhelmed waitstaff meant the meal wasn't as smooth as it could have been. The waiting time seemed to increase after the consommé came out, and I'd almost finished my entree before my wine order was filled. I would like to see how the restaurant fares in the next little while, as the food, atmosphere and venue were all big ticks.

 Entree: pan seared Canadian scallops with prosciutto, fig and chives 

The scallops were gorgeous. I had never tried fig and seafood before but this is a combination I am keen to replicate. The crispness of the prosciutto added textural interest, and the tart beurre blanc tied everything together. This was my favourite dish of the night.

Entree: quail sausage with walnut and porcini mousse, pickled mushroom and chive jus 

The flavours of this dish were earthy and well-balanced. I have to say I preferred the scallops (but that's because I ordered them!)

Main: pan roasted beef fillet with truffled braised beef and bordelaise sauce.

I wasn't really sure what 'truffled braised beef' meant but it turned out to be a gorgeous pulled beef nestled underneath the beef fillet. I really wanted to love this dish, but the wait time of over an hour between entree and main, and the tough beef fillet, meant it was just a bit disappointing. 

Main: seared duck breast with prosciutto-wrapped duck sausage, onion subise and glazed shallot.

Unfortunately this was the only shot I got of this dish - but it was a very close second to the scallops so I had to write about it. Gorgeous duck, caramelised onions, sausage - it was a delight. I was a little confused as to why such a 'wet' dish was put on a chopping board though...

At the end of all this, we'd given up waiting so headed back to our hotel not quite satisfied. I really wanted to love it, as it was definitely my kind of restaurant, but small things let the experience down. I would really love to head back again in a few months to see if those teething issues have been fixed.


The last stop before heading home to Canberra was Logan Wines. I am familiar with the brand, they stock at Plonk at Fyshwick markets, and I had read about their cellar door in Gourmet Traveller. I do agree that it is one of the most spectacular wineries I have ever seen, and definitely the best one I've visited. 

The sun drenched expanse, magnified by the floor to ceiling windows, felt incredibly intimate, even though we were the only people there (I think it was about 9:30am by this stage). Not really in the mood for wine tasting at that time of the morning, I opted for a coffee so I could stay a bit longer and drink in the magnificent views. 


All good things must come to an end and that was the end of a perfect autumn trip. 

Mudgee is approximately 5 hours from Canberra or 3.5 hours from Sydney. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Travel: Coffs Harbour

I can't hide my surprise - Coffs Harbour had a lot to do for this nature-loving foodie.

Escaping the Canberra descent into winter, the weather at this time of year is glorious. Mild, not hot. Warm nights, no humidity, coolish ocean temperatures. We spent most days fully clad in summer attire, only donning warmer clothes up in the mountains. 

Over our 5 day stay, we visited many of the beaches and sights of Coffs, Sawtell, Bellingen and Dorrigo. It was the perfect Easter getaway and, while busy, the crowds weren't as oppressive as they may be in summer. We stayed in a serviced apartment so, whilst much eating was done, the eating out was limited.

Eat

A quick trip to Sawtell for the day led us to Split Espresso, a heaving cafe which served excellent eats. This prawn sandwich could have had more aioli but that is nitpicking.


The pick was a beef burger and fries, the latter so crisp and delicious I stole quite a few.

The single breakfast we had out was at OP81 in Park Beach. 


My creamed corn special was interesting and full of flavour. It was nice to see something a little different on the menu but, with hot smoked trout, a poached egg, asparagus AND the house-made creamed corn, there was a lot going on. It has spurred me on to make creamed corn myself, though.


Not strictly an edible commodity, but not needing it's own category, the best coffe in Coffs has to be Artisti Espresso - hands down. The added entertainment of a scrabble board at your table meant we stayed much longer than we intended to, as I'm sure it is designed. If you're a coffee nut, this place roasts their own beans in the shop and has a variety of blends and single origin to choose from. The very knowledgeable barista helped us decide on a bean for aero press, while I enjoyed my house blend flat whites. The milk coffees are served slightly cooler than many people prefer but this is the perfect way to enjoy the flavour of the coffee. I was actually surprised to have this experience - but it was one I enjoyed immensely. 


Bellingen gelato was a foodie pick - perfect homemade gelato with a big problem. I wanted all the flavours! 

Do

Most days we did something active. We took our bikes and also did quite a bit of hiking. 

For mountain bikers, Jack's Ridge at Nambucca is a great 10km trail through rainforest with a few bits of interest, like the fallen tree turned into an elevated trail. At about 1.5m off the ground, it was not for the faint hearted. 
See http://www.trailmate.com.au/home/nsw/jacksridge for more info.

Further inland, Dorrigo National Park promises some excellent walking in pristine, World Heritage listed rainforest. Around an hour from Central Coffs, the walks at Dorrigo made a great half-day trip, capped by a picnic lunch at the Rainforest Centre. 




My favourite walk was the Casuarina Falls Circuit, a 6km round trip accessed from the Never Never picnic area, which is 10km from the Rainforest Centre. This walk takes you to the most spectacular falls (that double as a lookout over the valley) but there is some incredibly steep terrain here. We didn't see another soul on this route.





We also did the Crystal Shower Falls walk, which was much more popular. This leaves from the Rainforest Centre and is paved all the way. An undulating walk, there are some steep sections as you descend into the valley, but it is totally worth it! 





See
http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/parks?keyword=Dorrigo%20National%20Park for more info.

If walking along the beach is more your thing, there is a great walk along the break wall and out to Muttonbird Island, right next to the main marina and jetty. A word of warning: the first section once you reach Muttonbird island is incredibly steep! 











Back down to sea level and the Coffs Creek Walk is a great loop which features a shared path and goes along the beach, through mangroves and (of course) along the creek. An easy ride/walk/run, we opted for this most days.





Over at Sawtell, Boambee Creek is a gorgeous place to do some kayaking. I can safely say I am much more skilled at bike riding than kayaking but it was incredibly fun. 



Obligatory on a trip to somewhere like Coffs is time spent on the beach - which I did a lot of in between all of the walking/hiking/kayaking/eating.



Certainly a trip I won't forget for a while! 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Recipe: Asparagus and ricotta gratin

A side dish with a difference. This gratin hails from Donna Hay's latest book, Fresh and Light, except she makes it with Brussels sprouts. Just the thing to elevate the humble sprout from bland to standout.

Seeing as there are absolutely no sprouts in the shops (they're out of season, of course) and because I had some asparagus languishing in the fridge, I felt a little inspired. 


Ingredients 
2 bunches asparagus, trimmed and halved lengthways
200g ricotta
1 egg
Half a cup Parmesan
Salt and pepper
Half a bunch lemon thyme 

In a bowl, combine ricotta, egg and Parmesan and then season. I tend to overdo the pepper, but go easy on the salt in this recipe (as the Parmesan is rather salty).
Layer the asparagus in a baking dish, the pour over the ricotta mix.
Sprinkle with the thyme sprigs.
Bake in a 180 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until ricotta is set and slightly golden. 

Serve with something equally awesome - this version was played up alongside a rather rich chicken cacciatore. I have since made a kale version (served with steak) and a zucchini version (served with an assortment of other roasted vegetables). I can almost guarantee any green vegetable would work, and this is a foolproof autumn dish. 



Recipe: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies



This past weekend has been rather wet. I don't know what it is about rainy weather, but I spent a lot of time in the kitchen.

Wanting to make something sweet and a little bit indulgent, I had a rummage around the pantry and found I had the makings of some cookies. Add some peanut butter from the fridge, and there was a plan made.


Normally I use Choc chips, but this time I decided to shave some dark chocolate straight off the block. The result was chunks of varying sizes and a sprinkling of chocolate dust through every morsel of cookie. A decent result, I would say.




Ingredients
125g butter
2 tbsp peanut butter 
2 1/4 cups self raising flour 
3/4 cup of Choc shards/chips
3 tbsp maple syrup 
1 cup caster sugar
1 egg

Preheat oven to 160 degrees and line two cookie sheets with baking paper.

Melt the butter and then beat butter together with sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, ensuring it is fully incorporated. Add maple syrup and peanut butter at this stage.

Sift flour and then add half of the flour to the wet ingredients. Take care not to over beat. Add chocolate shards, then incorporate the rest of the flour.

Using a spoon, take golfball sized balls of dough and place around 5cm apart on your baking tray.  Take a fork and flatten the balls as much as possible.

Place in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden. Halfway through, flatten the cookies again with your fork. This recipe makes cookies that spread a long way so don't overcrowd the tray!

Obligatory is a cup of tea but rainy afternoon is optional! 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

In My Kitchen - February

I have been thinking about writing an 'In My Kitchen' post for a while now. The monthly linkup hosted by Celia over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial is always fun to read.

This month, I thought it high time I join in.

In my kitchen... Tasmanian honey




We picked up this tub of Leatherwood honey in Stanley, Tasmania for a mere $10. The producer, Rodney Smith, took advantage of a local viewing area and had set up an honesty box full of honey. It was a bit of a scrounge to make up the $10 but well worth the effort - full-flavoured with the silkiest texture, for this honey-sceptic, it really won me over.

In my kitchen... Tasmanian preserves

Did you know I went to Tasmania over the Christmas/New Year period? If it isn't obvious from my singular topic of conversation since arriving home, one peek inside the wine cellar or preserve cupboard and there is absolutely no doubt.

I collect preserves like some people collect tea towels or tea spoons - they are the best souvenir as they inevitably invoke fond memories whenever I see them in pantry. Kate's Berry Farm, in Swansea, was home to my favourite ice cream of the trip, and her mingledberry jam is just spectacular on scones.

In my kitchen... Cadbury chocolate

I went a little overboard when we visited the Cadbury factory in Hobart. All of the cooking chocolate wad around $2 per pack, and other blocks were between $2-3 - a significant saving on retail prices. This, along with half a packet of dark choc chips in the fridge, is what we have left from that haul. When it gets cooler, I plan on spending a few hours in the kitchen baking something decadent to use these up.

In my kitchen.... SBS Feast Magazine


I actually rarely buy magazines but, after declaring February the month I master bread-baking, I had to pick up this issue of SBS Feast Magazine. A great feature on bread, and fabulous summer recipes, means I have now flicked through the mag dozens of times and has so many dog-eared pages it seems I've had it for years not just a few days.

In my kitchen... Produce from the garden




Unfortunately, our garden has been absolutely fried this summer. There are several things going strong, though, and we've had a steady stream of tomatoes and herbs, zucchini and potatoes. The chillis, beans, cucumbers and eggplant have not fared as well.

Well that wraps up my very first In My Kitchen post. Head over to Celia's blog to see the rest of this month's posts.




Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Taste of Tasmania, Hobart

The foodie highlight of our Tasmanian trip had to be The Taste festival, a once-a-year extravaganza which is held in Salamanca, central Hobart. During our few days in Hobart, we managed to visit four times which I thought was a pretty good effort. The first was almost immediately on arrival in Hobart, we went looking for a late lunch option after driving across from Tarraleah. Lunch actually turned into dessert from Big Bessie - the cutest ice cream truck in the world, run by Sweet Envy, a local Hobart ice cream company. They take their ice cream business seriously, delicious and creamy soft serve is made daily and combined with some amazing (and slightly interesting) ingredients to make sundaes that make the humble sundae look boring in comparison. I had the "Amy Winehouse' which had chocolate brownie pieces, salted peanuts, chocolate fudge sauce and sherbet mixed with the ice cream. Indulgent, definitely; certainly worth skipping the savoury for.
Josef Chromy (Launceston) sharing a stall with Bruny Island Cheese

When I heard that The Taste was open for New Year's Eve celebrations, there was no doubt in my mind as to what we'd do. Normally, entry to The Taste is free but on NYE entry costs from $60 to $90, depending on whether you book a table or not. Given the perfect view of the Hobart fireworks, and the range of food options, it was the perfect way to ring in 2014 (where has that first month gone? I can't believe it is February already!)

Fish Frenzy (Hobart and Burnie) next door to Smolt (Hobart)

After two visits, I still hadn't had enough so when my friend suggested we meet up for lunch, I immediately told her I'd see her outside the gates at 12pm the next day. Unfortunately, that day was extremely windy and we were lucky to hold onto our lunches. The wind had delayed opening of the gates and so we only just got inside with the rest of the hordes.


The crowds

Smolt's salmon with white bean puree


Smolt is a very popular cafe in Salamanca Place and their food at The Taste (and coffee when we visited the cafe later) was fresh and delicious. A couple of elements (such as the whitebean puree above) could have been rethought, but overall the food they produced showed off the produce and proved as popular at the festival as at the cafe - every time I walked past Smolt's stall had the longest line.

The slow cooked lamb (from Smolt) was my pick of the festival

Smolt's ceviche

Tempura mushrooms







I have written before about how I'm not the biggest fan of mushrooms BUT these tempura mushrooms were pretty delicious. They were perfectly steamed inside their light batter coating and had an amazing amount of flavour that the humble supermarket mushie just doesn't have.



Asian-style scallops
These were scallops encrusted and then deep fried, and served with Japanese mayonnaise. I was a little bit sceptical but the scallops were perfectly cooked and the crunch and creaminess complimented their subtle flavour perfectly.
The slightly mangled raspberry cheesecake from Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm

We were lucky to make it to Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm (between Launceston and Burnie) later in our trip as I didn't get to have any of this piece of cheesecake. This photo is lucky enough to exist! I hear that it was tart from the berries but had the perfect silken texture.



Sweet Envy's caramel crunch cone

Sweet Envy's Amy Winehouse
If I could make one criticism it would be that all of the food offerings at The Taste are much more than just a taste of Tassie's best produce. A letter in the Hobart Mercury a few days after The Taste finished made this same point - it is very difficult to sample a lot of the produce because of the vast amount of food per serve. We were lucky that a lot of Hobart's eateries were closed and so we did visit The Taste so many times, but if you just had one visit it would be hard to get to too many stalls. Slightly smaller plates, more of an entree size, would be better.
In terms of the quality, prices and atmosphere - The Taste hit the mark on all of those counts. Particularly on New Year's eve, revellers were happy to enjoy the food and the collective feeling was a celebratory one. All producers we spoke to were extremely passionate about their products and Tasmania; chatting to growers was one of the highlights. We were also able to visit a lot of the places we ate from during our three weeks in Tassie - a true Taste of Tasmania.