Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Weekend Away - Canberra

Last weekend we headed off to the nation's capital for the weekend. I always really enjoy visiting Canberra, particularly at this time of the year, when the Autumn leaves are out in all their colourful glory, and the air has that wonderful crisp chill to it. Usually, when we visit, we head off to the National Gallery, Parliament House (yes, I'm a bit of a politics nerd) and the local markets - but this time the visit ended up being extremely food-centric!

We usually break up the 3 hour drive with a rest break at a trucker's roadhouse (which usually involves consumption of some dodgy servo food eaten on the run) but this time we decided to take our time and check out a place that we always drive past - but I've always wanted to try. The rather twee named Grandma's Little Bakery is located in Collector and sits up on the hill, overlooking the olive groves of Fedra Olive Farm. The cafe is part of the farm complex, and serves generous, rustic and really flavoursome food using local ingredients. It was a gorgeous day when we visited, and eating lunch whilst looking out over the sun drenched olive groves was a lovely way to break up the trip.

The view as we ate lunch 
at Grandma's Little Bakery, Collector.

Grandma's Little Bakery also has a small farm shop, which sells their wonderful olive oil and olive products - as well as a range of herbs, sweet treats and kitchen supplies. I was sure to bring home a bottle of their beautiful olive oil. I think we will be making a stop to the olive farm a regular part of future Canberra road trips. It made the drive so much more enjoyable.

Award winning local Fedra Olive Oil 
which I bought to take home.

Crossing the border into the Australian Capital Territory, you could see right away that Autumn has arrived. The colours of the leaves are just spectacular - shades of ochre, scarlet red, silver and everything in between. We were treated to really beautiful weather for the whole weekend, so we got to enjoy it all in the Autumn sunshine. Nature really is magnificent.

Canberra Autumn colour.

Our favourite accommodation option in Canberra is the historic Hyatt Hotel, located close to Parliament House. It was built in 1927 to house politicians when parliament was sitting, and is a gorgeous example of Art Deco architecture. I'm a huge fan of all things Deco, so it is always such a treat to stay at the Hyatt and revel in that pared down elegance.

The Foyer - Hyatt Hotel Canberra.

We have stayed in lots of hotels in our travels, but the things that make the Hyatt one of our favourite places to stay are those generous, elegant rooms - particularly the luxurious bathrooms, which all have beautiful deep baths and so much space that two people can happily get ready in the morning without getting under each other's feet.

Art Deco Bedroom - Hyatt Hotel Canberra

We have found the standard of service in the hotel really excellent on all of our visits - and I should mention that they also do a great martini in the Speaker's Corner Bar in the evening! The hotel is famous for it's high tea, which is served in The Tea Lounge every day.

Nothing like a luxurious bathroom to make you feel spoiled.

On the Friday evening, we headed into Civic to check out a restaurant I had heard good things about - Temporada. As chance would have it, the week before we went to Canberra it received a really glowing review in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food supplement - so I thought that our chances of getting a reservation would be zilch. Turns out we were lucky and managed to get in.

The food all had one thing in common - knock your socks off flavour. As a starter, we enjoyed gorgeous South Coast oysters cooked on a wood fire in their shells. Just beautiful - and it got me thinking about using this technique at home. Then we moved on to entrees - a beautifully prepared venison scotch egg (with a luscious runny yolked quail egg inside) and a beef short rib roll served with horseradish and fermented cucumber. Sadly I don't have any pictures to share - the place had lots of "atmospheric" lighting which made it impossible to get decent shots.

For mains, Andrew chose the Bangalow pork cutlet with caramelised  brussels sprouts, mustard and speck - and for me a beautiful crispy skinned trout with charred broccolini, almonds, capers and beurre noisette. Both dishes were delicious - served in a rustic, generous way. Perfect Autumn food. We shared a dessert - salted caramel donuts, served with house made banana ice cream and toasted marshmallow. Over the top - but delicious.

Dining Room - Temporada

On Saturday, we drove to Hall - about 30 minutes out of Canberra - to Poachers Pantry for lunch. Poachers Pantry is a farmhouse on the grazing property of Susan and Robert Bruce, farmers who decided to build their own smokehouse, so they could smoke and sell their own produce. The smokehouse idea grew, and now, a couple of decades on, there is a cafe, farm shop and cellar door, selling their cool climate "Wily Trout" wines. The beautiful farm setting makes a lovely place for a weekend lunch, and there is also the chance to pick up some great products from the farm shop while you are there. I bought some of the Bruce's locally made Prosciutto, as well as an excellent Bresaola (salted, air dried beef). They also sell all kinds of smoked red meats as well as chicken and fish. The shop also stocks locally produced olive oil, condiments, preserved goods - and their Wily Trout wine range. There is also wine tasting on site.

Down the road to Poachers Pantry

So, to lunch. I kicked off with one of my favourite food combos ever. Scallops and black pudding. They were served with a lovely fresh fennel and herb salad, and a delicious sweet pumpkin puree. So simple, but wonderful. I enjoyed a glass of Wily Trout Sauvingon Blanc which was perfect with this dish.

Scallops with Poachers Pantry Black Pudding

For the main course, I went for the braised pork cheek with kimchi and lotus root. The dish was served with a rich, full flavoured master stock. The hot, spicy kimchi was the perfect contrast to the rich, buttery pork cheek. Andrew chose smoked lamb cutlets with fondant potato and parmesan crisp - he was generous enough to share some with me, so I can confirm that the lamb dish was rich and delicious.

Braised Pork Cheek with Kimchi & Lotus Root.
In the background - Andrew's smoked lamb cutlets.

My dessert choice was a beautifully light layered green tea and white chocolate mousse, served with gingerbread crumb and yuzu curd. I was really taken with the contrast of textures as well as the beautiful flavours of this dish. The citrus tang of the yuzu curd against the rich mousse and the crunchy, fragrant gingerbread was so lovely.

Green Tea & White Chocolate Mousse
with Yuzu Curd and Gingerbread Crumb

As you can see, there are all kinds of delights to be had in Canberra and it's surrounds. These are just a few of them. We had a really fantastic weekend trying some new places and soaking up the gorgeousness that is Canberra in Autumn.

In other Gourmet Goddess news, we are heading back to our beloved Tasmania in late June. After deciding that we were going to be sensible and save money by not heading over this year (we are currently saving furiously to buy a house there that will be a holiday place first, then eventually our full time home) I ended up winning two return flights to Hobart in a competition. So guess what? We're going. I take this as a sign from the universe that we were meant to visit after all. Well that's my story and I'm sticking to it! Needless to say I will be writing all about it as I always do. Each time we visit we find great new places to eat and gorgeous new destinations and produce to share with you. Can you blame me for wanting to live there?


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Bookish Delights - Smoked Ocean Trout & Horseradish Tart

I am a member of a Bookclub made up of a group of literary minded mates who decided we would use our love of books and enjoyment of each other's company as an excuse to discover new things to read. It is also a great way to guarantee that we get together every couple of months. We also happen to be avid food lovers and good cooks, so Bookclub has also become a place to share great food. Even if the book turns out to be a dud, you know that the catering is going to be impeccable!

We found that often we were inspired by the books we were reading, cooking food related to the themes or settings. Sometimes, it is easy to come up with something relevant to the subject - other times, it is more of a challenge. Our latest book falls into the latter category. Our current Bookclub book is the magnificent Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent, telling the story of an accused murderess awaiting execution, set in harsh rural Iceland in 1830. The book actually talks quite a lot about the food that they ate back then - preserved whale blubber anyone?

There were also references to eating dried and preserved fish, which gave me the idea of what I would cook for today's Bookclub. Smoking fish is a very old preservation technique, and also happens to be delicious, so I made that the centrepiece of my dish. Even better was the fact that I happened to have some smoked ocean trout in the fridge (which I love having with poached eggs for a special weekend breakfast treat). I created this very simple to put together tart, with fresh herbs fro the garden, a silky cream cheese filling and the gorgeous bite of horseradish. You could use smoked salmon in place of the trout if you preferred.

I'm sure that folks in rural Iceland probably wouldn't be eating something so pretty and delicate looking - but the cheese, fish and herbs take some of the elements of what they would have eaten and make them fresh and modern. Enjoy!

Smoked Ocean Trout & Horseradish Tart

You will need: 1 sheet pre-rolled puff pastry, 100g smoked ocean trout cut into strips, 1 cup cream cheese, 1 tablespoon horseradish cream, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon chopped chives, 2 teaspoons washed and drained capers, 1/2 small red onion sliced very thinly, salt & pepper.

Method: Preheat the oven to 200C.

Cut the pastry sheet in half. Lay one half on a baking tray lined with baking paper. With the other half, cut a border about 2cm thick the whole way around. When you remove the pastry in the middle and you will be left with a rectangular frame shape. Lay the frame on top of the pastry on the tray, press down gently. Use a fork to prick the middle of the pastry only, not the "frame". I gently score the frame with a knife on the edges for presentation - you can do this if you like.

Bake the pastry in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until lightly golden. As it cooks, you will see the middle puff up - don't panic - you will press it down later when you add the topping of the tart. Once the tart is cooked, allow to cool completely before adding the filling.

Mix together the cream cheese, horseradish, half of the parsley, half of the chives and half of the capers. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Gently push down the pastry that has puffed up in the centre of the tart. If it is particularly puffy, you can also gently lift it out completely - it will still leave a layer of crispy pastry on the base.

Spread the cream cheese mixture over the tart base. Layer the finely sliced red onion and then arrange the strips of ocean trout on the top. Sprinkle over the remaining parsley, chives and capers. Add some cracked pepper and a little salt and serve.

Eat this tart cold or at room temperature.