Thursday, April 29, 2010

come with me to australia

The next morning, the “coach” let us off at the Willunga Farmers Market right in front of Fino, the restaurant where we'd eaten the night before. And who do you think the first person was that we saw? Sharon, our new best friend , who owned the restaurant. She poked her head out of the Fino window to greet us as she steamed milk and made cappuccino and café latte for the locals. By now, we were locals!

I tried to rally the troops to walk together around the market but off they went on their own. This always seems to happen at every market no matter where we are, - Strada in Chianti or Isles sur la Sorgue. Within minutes, they were back by my side. They’d “done” the market and were ready for another wine tasting (can you believe it?) and lunch.

Coriole is not to be missed. This charming, quaint, little hillside vineyard was bustling. My Ozzie friend, Warren, met us at the door and took us to a big, long table he'd set looking out at the vineyards. “Sit down,” he said! We spent the afternoon tasting their Woodside cheeses, pungent, peppery olive oil and lightly oaked wines, and sharing big platters of food including smoked kangaroo. Was this the closest we were going to get to kangaroo they all wondered as they pushed it around on their plates?

Then back to The Retreat, which meant a rest for some of us and a walk for others. Keith, Louise, Rebecca, Craig and I walked up on the very top of the hill in the vineyards. And suddenly out from behind a vine hopped a huge kangaroo. There were lots of screeches and camera's snapping. There you have it… Our first real kangaroo sighting, at last! And then a little later, we saw a mother kangaroo and a baby joey in the vineyards just a few yards away. Yup, we’re in Australia!

I guess you could say I took the night off as Rebecca Stubbs taught a hands-on cooking class at The Retreat. 'Calm' is probably not a word often associated with chefs at work in a hot, busy kitchen, but this is how I would describe Rebecca. It was a very fun night and the food was really good! I think the best part was watching all the men in class who joined together as a team to master panna cotta and Florentine cookies.

The next day was a rainy Sunday. We packed the “coach” and said our goodbyes to Chapel Hill Gourmet Retreat in McLaren Vale and headed 2 hours north to the Barossa Valley. One rule I always seem to forget when I’m taking groups around is to make sure I know where the next bathroom stop is. Everyone was antsy so when we finally reached our destination, everyone made a mad dash in search of a bathroom. John Angus, our host for the afternoon, pointed in the direction of an outhouse. Startled is the word I’d use! Men ran for the nearest tree as the women stood in line and did what looked like the cha-cha as they waited in line for their turn. They were relieved (lol) when they finally got inside the outhouse to see that there was actually a flush toilet.

I hadn’t told them a thing about Hutton Vale except that John and Jan Angus were our hosts for the day and that we’d have lunch and a wine tasting with them.

I can’t remember who, maybe Craig, walked up to me and said, “What are we doing here? I don't get this place.”

I could see his point. We were standing in the midst of a paddock surrounded by a thousand sheep looking at an old mid-19th century barn about to fall.

“Are you sure we’re in the right spot?” he asked.

“Go inside! Trust me!” I said.

It was just as rustic on the inside as it was on the outside but with flair and refinement. The aroma of the bread baked in clay and the flatbread was intoxicating as they were being taken from the wood-fired oven. An old wooden chopping block dominated the center of the kitchen and a whole side of Tasmanian smoked salmon and house made pâté played centerpiece. We washed everything down with John’s fresh, crisp Riesling. And that was just the beginning. A little later, we sat down to a typical Ozzie Sunday lunch of their own Hutton Vale roast baby lamb and some fabulous lush and jammy Shiraz. We finished with a tasting of some of John and Jan's older vintages from their cellar and lots of stories and laughs.

With a good buzz and full bellies, we headed out late that afternoon towards The Louise, a Small Luxury Hotel of the World, and our home for the remainder of the trip. Everyone conferred; Hutton Vale was the unanimous favorite!

In the lap of luxury at The Louise, I gave everyone, including myself, the “night off” to get some rest and be ready for our last full day together.

See you in the morning!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

chocolate cake redux

It all started very simply on my 6th birthday...
A cake I love,
A recipe of my mother's.

Fast forward many, many years
AARP asks a now "matured" 6 year old for her mother's chocolate cake recipe.

Recipe is published and creates quite a "stir..."

"Hey, let's have a little contest and ask for photos of the cake," I said.

The rest is history!

I got many chocolate cake photos and lots of reinforcement that yes, the recipe is foolproof. I'm happy you like the cake!

Thanks to all of you for your photos and participation.

To see the winners of the Chicago Metallic cake pans, go to my Facebook Fan Page

Thursday, April 22, 2010

another lovely day in australia

That night, Tori Moreton and David Arbon, owners of The Producers, invited us to their interactive winery. "Wear old clothes!" they said. Thanks God we did. We had fun "punching down," a fancy way of saying breaking up the cap of crushed grapes and pushing them back down into the wine so that the cap stays moist during fermentation. Craig and Keith tried their hand crushing Shiraz grapes using the basket press while Jean, Lynn and I tested the sugar levels on the new harvest. Later we sat down for a delicious dinner.

"Will we see a kangaroo this week?" somebody asked as though that alone would justify the cost of the trip. "We could," I said, "they come out at dawn and dusk looking for water!" For the rest of the meal as the sun was setting, everyone's eyes were glued to the windows. We finished with a delicious fresh fig and frangipane tart but no kangaroo to be seen, or so we thought.

As we were driving home late at night, the bus driver suddenly swerved and jerked on the brakes. Everyone was thrown forward a few inches. We missed a kangaroo by inches. The only thing we saw was his tail as he hopped back into the woods. For the rest of the ride, everyone's eyes were peeled.

A good night's sleep and a delicious breakfast at The Retreat is all we needed to be ready for day #2! Off again for a wine and olive oil tasting at Primo Estate. Nothing like getting right back into the swing of a little vino. The first taste was a dark, opulent Sparkling Red, a great way to start the day. Joseph Grilli, along with a family friend, Daniel Zuzolo, tag team making the wine. Daniel hardly looks old enough to drink wine , let alone make it. Parker says his wines are innovative, singular and flavorful. I say they are clean and complex.
I didn't see anybody use the spit bucket at the tasting. I guess Corey swallowed. See below! We know who will be sleeping on the bus ride to our next destination,- lunch.

Whenever I'm in South Australia and get within 50 kilometers of Star of Greece, I never miss the opportunity to eat at this bohemian seaside "shack" overlooking the turquoise waters of the Gulf of St. Vincent.

We saw fish and chips go to another table and they looked and smelled so good, we all ordered them. A little walk on the beach after perhaps? Maybe another nap on the bus?

Get ready because tonight we're eating at Fino Restaurant, named Restaurant of the Year in the 2009 Adelaide Food Awards.

Have you ever met a front-of-house person in a restaurant and felt like you've known that person your whole life? That's Sharon Romeo and she begins the friendship as you walk in the door. I love this girl. She makes everyone feel special and that's a gift.

Chef David Swain doesn't do too badly himself. He pays homage to the seasons with freshly picked, flavorsome and true to the original state vegetables and fruits. He makes you think you've eaten this vegetable or fruit for the very first time. Take Chez Panisse, Zuni and Delfina, roll them into one bundle and you have Fino. Platter after family-style platter of aromatic food come from the kitchen. I can still taste the Woodside goat curd with fava beans, peas and preserved lemon drizzled with Diana Novello First Pressed Olive Oil. Set in the little village of Willunga, way out in the bush, we all toasted, looking into each others eyes and promised we'd be back one day.

"Bye Sharon!" "Bye David!" we said.

"No," they said, "we'll see you tomorrow!"

"Tomorrow???" we all said.

If goat curd is unavailable, substitute soft fresh goat cheese.

10 ounces drained Woodside goat's curd
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 preserved lemon, cut into very thin strips
1 cup fresh blanched broad beans (fava beans)
1 cup fresh shelled English peas

Heat oven to 350 F. Place the cheese, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper in an ovenproof earthenware dish. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. In a frying pan, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the shallots and cook until soft, 7 minutes. Remove the shallots from the pan and add the lemon slices.

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a bowl. Add the broad beans (favas) and peas and simmer 30 seconds. Add to the shallots and preserved lemon and stir together.

To serve, dollop cheese, distributing evenly between four plates. Spoon the beans, peas and lemon mixture over cheese and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

my favorite pie

If you’re looking for the best pizza in town, don't miss TONY'S PIZZA NAPOLETANA at 1570 Stockton St, near Washington Square in North Beach. Late this afternoon, Lauraine Jacobs, a fellow food writer from New Zealand, and I stopped for a late lunch of pizza margherita and a half-bottle of Umani Ronchi Lacrima di Morro d'Alba 2008.

Tony was away in Naples defending his title as top pizza maker in the world, but his chef produced this amazing pie with a chewy yet soft and delicate yeasty thin crust, and ever so slightly charred on the edges to give it great smoky flavor. It was topped with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella and sweet, sweet basil. I could have eaten two pizzas they were so good. I closed my eyes and for a minute I was eating pizza at L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele in Naples.

And as we left Marni, the wine buyer and manager, handed me a big bag of '00' flour that had just arrived from Italy. So maybe homemade pizzas are on the menu in my kitchen tonight... As you know I pray that my last meal on earth will be a big pizza pie.

Friday, April 9, 2010

my love affair

I don’t know if my love affair will ever end. No, you silly thing, I’m not talking about my love affair with Joe, that's solid, I’m talking about Australia!

It all started very innocently. I love to travel. But this time, it was a special trip, I was invited to teach in Australia. When they asked me, I acted really cool and calm and said, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” Yet inside, I was screaming “OMG AUSTRALIA, I CAN’T BELIEVE IT! OMG PINCH ME, IS THIS FOR REAL?”

The year was 1990. That first year I taught 24 classes and did 4 guest chef dinners in a month. The second year I went for two months and did almost twice as many events. I traveled to Australia every year for next 10 years until I got really busy with television in the US. The rest is history!

In my work I do a lot of different things but do you know what my absolute favorite is? I love doing my weeklong culinary journeys in Andalucia, Spain, sipping amontillado sherry watching flamenco dancers… I love my classes in Provence, going from outdoor market to outdoor market, buying everything from striped espadrilles to lavender and salt cod. Or then there's cooking with my students at Il Leccio villa in the heart of Tuscany? And what’s not to love about taking my students to the Veneto where we ride the water taxi up the Grand Canal and eat small plates of Venetian food called cicchetti in dark little bars called bacari. I love these weeks that I put together along the Mediterranean but this time I was planning something different. I knew I was taking a chance. Would they get it?

I was asking people to sit on a plane for 15 or more hours and travel 10,000 miles to see kangaroos and koalas. I really didn’t know if I could convince them that Australian food was more than throwing shrimp on the “barbie.”

I decided to go for it… I put together a fantastic itinerary and sent out an email to 20 friends asking who would be interested in a weeklong culinary journey around McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley, two of the most gorgeous wine regions of South Australia. And to my surprise, 12 people got back to me immediately and said, “Where do I send a check?”

I worked on organizing the trip for a year and then just two weeks ago on March 24, we all met in downtown Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. We got on the ”coach,” as the Ozzies say, and headed out of town towards McLaren Vale, the land where the vines meet the sea. Here we all were at last, riding along through rolling hills and never-ending vineyards, through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. I heard John say, "Hey, this looks like Tuscany!" I couldn't have agreed more. An hour and a half later, we landed at Chapel Hill Gourmet Retreat, our home for the next half week.

Imagine, we got off the bus, hot and sweaty, and were greeted with a cool glass of Chapel Hill Unoaked Chardonnay 2009. White linen-clad tables were set outside under huge white umbrellas and a lunch of roasted Tasmanian salmon with a crunchy spiced dukkah crust was served. All the while, views over the Onkaparinga National Park and in the far distance, the Gulf of St Vincent, were before us.

I looked around and the stress from work and tension from flying were gone. Everyone’s shoulders weren’t up around their ears anymore. I noticed that people stopped texting and cell phones weren't glued to their ears. People were sitting back in their chairs relaxing, talking and laughing. “This is the life!” I heard Lynn say as another cork was popped. It was then that yes, they got it. I saw it in their eyes, they too had fallen head over heels in love with the land I love so much.

And that was only day #1!
Stay tuned!