I’ve been hanging around food markets for more years than I care to think about. Wherever I travel, I make it a point to check out the local fresh food markets and I do food tours wherever possible as I believe they are the quickest way to get to know any local food scene.
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Well, we are back on planet normal after our indulgent week in Vietnam, most of which we spent lolling around a fabulous resort which I’ll share with you later. Back here in real life the absence of a vast and sumptuous breakfast buffet was immediately noted and sullenly commented on by The Bloke.
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I’m not going to beat about the bush with this review of “Backyard Bees – A Guide for the Beginner Beekeeper” by Doug Purdie (Murdoch Books, 2014) – I absolutely love this gorgeous, comprehensive and timely book about backyard beekeeping.
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I think I could get used to living in the Whitsundays. My first taste of the area – a visit to Airlie Beach and then some time spent on Daydream Island – had been a little hasty, but by the time I reached Hamilton Island I could feel myself unwinding and beginning to synch in with island time. It’s easy to relax on Hamilton; everyone is smiling and the staff are low-key enough to encourage a belief that no-one does any work at all here – although the high standards in housekeeping and guest comfort attest to their efficiency and competence. If it wasn’t for the unfortunate effect humidity has on my unruly, curly hair I think I could see myself spending the rest of my life on (or not too far from) the hammock in the image above. (Oh – of course, there is my family, responsibilities, the farm and all that stuff too. I did say I had slipped into island time!)
Hamilton Island is the largest resort island in the Whitsundays and has maintained more than 70 percent of the island as natural bushland which is home to an array of beautiful flora and fauna including Gumtrees, Paperbarks, Palms, Pines and ancient Cycads. The resort takes very seriously it’s responsibility to the natural resources on the island and to the internationally important reef and the sea life that surround it. Hamilton Island Enterprises participates in on-going marine park research and, because of a lack of any local recycling services in the region, the island has a cutting edge self-managed recycling programme and facilities. They manage their own waste glass, sell waste cardboard, plastic, paper, aluminium cans and steel cans to a recycling depot in Brisbane, collect litter as it is washed up on the beaches and treat their own effluent, recycling over 90% of the treated water for irrigating the parks and gardens.
On arrival I was ferried to my secluded and lushly landscaped accommodation, one of the newly refurbished Palm Bungalows, where I dropped my bags, admired the bed, the view and the kitchenette before giving the hammock a test run. You’ll all be pleased to note that it fit me perfectly and performed to my complete satisfaction – all I needed was a glass of gin and tonic to complete the experience.
I didn’t have long to wait for a refreshing beverage though, as it was getting late and there was a very special event to be celebrated at a place called One Tree Hill. The event is the sunset and is celebrated every day on the island. A pop-up cocktail bar appears at One Tree Hill at about five-ish and the guests gather to enjoy an amazing light show every evening. While the drink is welcomed, it is not really necessary, as the sunset itself is utterly intoxicating. Below are just a couple of the many images I took and, besides a little cropping, they are totally unedited.
After being completely dazzled by the stunning sunset it was (of course) time to eat! There’s no shortage of places to select from when it comes to dining on Hamilton, with a variety of cafes, restaurants, taverns and bars, but I was looking forward to Chef Adam Woodfield’s South East Asian food at Coca Chu. With almost 20 years of experience including working at a Michellin-starred restaurant and a New York restaurant of his own under his belt, Adam’s familiarity with the food of Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia brings a skilled sparkle to the hawker-inspired menu at Coca Chu. Adams food is fresh, exciting and a feast for the eyes as well as the belly.
I’m sure you all wish you were there – either with me, or someone more interesting – but I can offer you a tiny taste of my amazing stay as the lovely Adam has shared one of his delicious recipes. The Spiced Siamese Cashews, pictured above, were devilishly more-ish and well worth the small effort to make them. Serve as a side or as a snack. Put the heater on high, add a gin and tonic, close your eyes and just imagine yourself on Hamilton Island for a few days.
Spiced Siamese Cashews
- 1 cup cashews
- 60 ml Indonesian sweet soy sauce
- 1 tsp water
- 10 gm dried shrimp paste pre-roasted, mashed or crumbled
- Pinch salt
- to taste - dried chilli flakes
- to taste - fennel seeds
- scallion rings green and white parts
- 1 or 2 slender lime wedges
- In a small bowl, combine the sweet soy sauce, water, shrimp paste, and salt. Taste to make sure that there’s a balanced salty sweetness. The dried shrimp funk should barely be noticeable. Set this seasoning sauce aside near the stove.
- In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, cook the oil, cashews, chilli flakes and fennel for about 3 minutes, until gently sizzling and lightly fragrant.
- Lower the heat to medium low, give the seasoning sauce a stir, then pour into the skillet.
- Constantly stir for 15 to 30 seconds, until most of the liquid has clung to the cashews.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the green onion, then transfer to a small bowl.
- Serve with lime wedge for guests to add a tart brightness.
- Use a spoon to eat the Cashews as they can be messy - or not.
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It’s been another scorcher all over the wide brown land this week. My garden is wilting, the dogs (an Irish Wolfhound and a Border Collie – neither really suited to this weather) are languidly panting piles of slightly funky fur and the fruit in the bowl is looking very dodgy. One of my lovely readers dropped me an email last week with some of her thoughts on what to do with produce that is heat affected. She’s inspired a very quick post on using up the bounty of the season. It is easy to let food go to waste in the heat, but it is also pretty simple to come up with a few quick ideas to use it up – so a big thank you to Kathy Inverarity. Those of you in the northern hemisphere will just have to file it away for future reference, but for the rest of us this is very pertinent as the mercury continues to climb – and we haven’t even hit the peak period for summer heat yet!
Kathy had bought herself a bag of nectarines which she expected to be too soft and had plans to cook them up to have with yoghurt – an nice idea for any over-ripe stone fruit. Just into the pot with a little water, a split vanilla pod and/or some star anise or a cinnamon stick and a little sugar to taste and you have beautiful fruit compote. Too-soft fruit can also make a delicious dessert. Thaw out a sheet of puff pastry, cut into a circle (or not- depends how lazy you feel) and cook until just golden. Push the centre of the cooked pastry down and pile with sliced nectarines, peaches, apricots, plums – whatever – sprinkle with some cinnamon and sugar and pop under a hot grill for a few moments. Voila – beautifully burnished rustic fruit tart!
As it turned out, Kathy’s nectarines were rock hard and still firmly wedded to their stones so she decided to poach them whole. In her own words –
“I prepared them by washing and slitting them quarter-ways but leaving them whole and not attempting to remove stones.
Poached them very gently for 45 mins in a generous amount of sugar syrup – 1/2 cup sugar to 2 cups water- and added crushed cardamom pods and – oops! – a healthy pinch of sichuan peppercorns. (That was a mistake when I reached for the wrong spice – must put a label on all of my spice jars!) A delicious result for very little effort.”
Don’t we all love those happy accidents!
Kathy and her husband grow a lot of their own vegetables, including potatoes. I’d never given this any thought, but of course potatoes in the ground are going to end up almost cooked in their skins during extended periods of intense heat. Even those in the quiet darkness of the potato bin suffer and end up a little softer than we’d like after a heat wave. Kathy suggested combining them with sweet potato and some fish to make fish cakes. The addition of a tablespoon of threaded or flaked coconut gives a delicious Indian touch that is complemented by some mango chutney, or alternatively add some Vietnamese basil and serve with a Vietnamese dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, castor sugar & water – 1 tbspn of each, and a chopped red chilli. I’m a potato girl from way back and never met one I didn’t like – I’d be pretty happy with them however they come. 😉
We waste about 3 million tonnes of food each year here in Australia, yet all it requires is a little thought to reduce that in each of our homes. I’m off to use up some windfall plums and bake a cake – how do you use up fresh food that has seen better days?
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Have I mentioned how much I enjoy writing a food blog? I get to utterly indulge my personal interests, appetite and the nosey part of my nature, I’ve been the guest of some remarkable food and wine producing businesses, groups and organisations and I’ve had the opportunity to met more talented, passionate and inspiring people than I’d have ever imagined possible. A couple of weeks ago I added another notch in my belt when I was able to spend some time with much-loved author Tessa Kiros.
Tessa is the author of seven bestselling titles (at least 5 of which are on my shelves) and was in Australia for her first ever promotional trip here, headlining the Crave Sydney International Food Festival before touring nationally to share her newest book, Limoncello and Linenwater (Murdock Books). Although Adelaide was her last stop on the gruelling two week tour, with no days off in that time, Tessa still found the grace to be charming, engaging, interesting and interested. I’d had a tricky afternoon before I was due to meet her and arrived slightly discombobulated, but she has a happy knack of setting people at their ease and within minutes I was relaxed and completely smitten with her as she agreeably answered my questions.
With food which is informed by many different cultures – Finnish, Greek, Italian, South African – I couldn’t help but wonder who are the people who Tessa looks up to and respects? While she credits the current craze for food-based television shows with the growth in interest in seasonal and sustainable eating, Tessa doesn’t watch them. Her food clearly has it’s feet firmly planted in her family, her background and her travel, but her first influencers outside of that, and those she still counts as among the most important, date from her early working days – first as a waitress in a restaurant with Angela Dwyer as head chef, next working under restauranteur and chef Corrine Young and thirdly Ketty Koufonicola-Touros, the Greek mother of her childhood friend (and long-time food stylist). Given that her new book is a tribute to her Italian mother-in-law – and all the women in her (and our) lives – I was beginning to sense a strong matriarchal theme.
Tessa’s books are – without exception – beautiful. They are lavishly photographed with images of the food and it’s inspirations, but they all also have a very strong personal touch and the latest is no exception with it’s photographs of Italian women and their household tips and hints, reminding me of a treasured family album. This is no accident and Tessa always has a very firm visual concept in mind for each of her books which is consistently carried through each publication and always with the help of her stylist whom she has known since birth and her photographer who is a long-time friend.
During our chat we each talked of our children, with me lamenting the fact I am now paying the price for my control issues in the kitchen with children who are reluctant to cook (with the exception of my cupcake-baking eldest who was herself inspired by Tessa’s book Apples for Jam). Tessa’s children are 12 and 14 years old respectively and while she encourages them, they are not yet overly keen. They are just beginning to show some interest and she is determined to get them to competency with 15 basic recipes before they fly the nest, giving them a fundamental repertoire on which to build.
I was keen to find find out what foods Tessa herself is interested in eating when she goes out or what she loves to prepare at home. She lives in Tuscany – a glorious part of the world, but one that can be a little homogenous when it comes to food so when she is away from home she loves to take the opportunity to indulge in a fondness for Vietnamese or Indian food. I was thrilled to discover that her favourite cuisine to prepare herself is, in fact, mine too – Middle Eastern. Finally, I had to know what she considers to be her absolutely sure-fire, drop-dead gorgeous, never-fail-to-impress dishes and she has three – her Shrimp with lemon, peri peri, garlic and feta, Gravalax with dill cucumbers and Finish mustard and her Cinnamon and Cardamom buns – all from her book Falling Cloudberries, and all soon to feature on my table!
I’ve chosen a delicious but dead simple recipe from her new book, Limoncello and Linenwater, to share with you today. It’s a cake and it’s chocolate and knocks up very quickly – and will impress at any table on which you choose to share it.
- 40 gms skinned hazelnuts
- 100 gms butter
- 120 gms dark chocolate chopped
- 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
- 3 eggs separated
- 100 gms sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
- 20 gms plain flour
- Icing sugar for dusting
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Butter and flour 28cm spring form pan.
- Carefully toast nuts in a dry frypan over moderate heat, then roughly chop.
- Melt butter in a small saucepan, add chocolate and cocoa. Stir until smooth, remove from heat and cool.
- Using electric beaters, whip egg whites to snowy peaks & set aside.
- Use beaters to whip egg yolks, sugar and vanilla in a wide bowl until creamy.
- Stir in flour, nuts and a pinch of salt.
- Very gently fold in egg whites with a metal spoon.
- Scrape into tin, bake for about 20-30 minutes until top is dry, but middle is still moist and soft.
- Dust with icing sugar to serve.