Monday, April 20, 2015

Autumn salads and other seasonal delights

Autumn is such a lovely time of the year in Tamworth and surrounds. The days are often sunny, the nights snuggly, which means it's still warm enough for salads but you don't need to think twice about turning on the oven.

Last week I was fortunate to speak with Kelly Fuller and Anna Moulder from ABC New England North West about autumn eating and just a few of the lovely things in season right now.

You can catch the conversation on SoundCloud.

Or read on for a few of our ideas.

Rocket, pear & Parmesan salad

Photo: Courtesy of

This is a classic and well known combination for using pears, but there's one rule of thumb to ensure you get it right: use the best extra virgin olive oil and Parmesan that you can afford (and find).

Ensure your rocket leaves are washed and dry, then toss in just enough EVOO to make then glisten. Thinly slice a just-ripe pear - you want it to be firm enough to hold its shape - add to the rocket and top with shavings of Parmesan. I find a vegetable peeler is the best way to shave from the block.

If you're a texture freak, you can also sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.

A word on extra virgin olive oil

Don't save that expensive bottle or gift for a special occasion. EVOO is not like wine. Its flavour intensity will decrease with age, so fresh is best. Look for oil that tells you on the bottle what year the olives were harvested. Depending on the region, harvest is usually completed from April to June.

Nutty salads

Not many of us are familiar with using chestnuts, myself included, but they are in season. Not just for roasting over the fire in an idyllic nod to the northern hemisphere, they can also be chargrilled and added to a salad of leaves, pancetta and croutons.

Walnuts are also in season and when it comes to salad that can mean one thing for many people: Waldorf Salad. No longer a slimy mix of walnuts, celery, grapes and apple glooped in mayonnaise, add radicchio, witloaf and celery leaves for an updated classic.

Check out Gourmet Traveller for these and other autumn salad ideas.


Wild mushrooms are also in season right now. If you can find someone who knows what they're looking for you might be able to convince them to accompany you on a foraging exercise. Otherwise, keep your eye out at markets for pine mushrooms, which are large, with a bright orange underside. Super fleshy, simple slice and sauté in butter. Don't be alarmed, they will "bleed" orange as you slice.

Also look for porcini powder, available all year round, maybe even in supermarkets now. Sprinkle into mushroom risotto or pasta for extra richness, or coat lamb fillets before grilling.

We also covered pomegranates, Jerusalem artichoke (also known as fartichokes) and chickpea salads. Here's the super simple chickpea salad I mentioned (hint: I used olive oil instead of ghee, I also skipped the spring onions as I had none).

Monday, February 9, 2015

Mourning breakfast

There's a lot of things I miss about my pre-twin life. And my mum friends assure me that it's ok to miss stuff and no, it's not a cause for mummy guilt.

I miss the usuals, like going out for a coffee on a whim, but it's the little things that have surprised me the most. Like breakfast. I didn't think my daily breakfast routine was extravagant. Weetbix with fruit, a piece of Vegemite toast on bakers delight sliced wholemeal (jam if I was feeling extravagant), a good cup of tea and a digital newspaper at the breakfast bar with my husband.

Seasoned mothers will laugh at my naivety, but this is rarely possible now. Instead I scoff down cereal on the loungeroom floor during "playtime" and only manage a cup of tea if someone turns up later in the day and makes it*. I didn't think this was a part of my life that would be impacted on. Just another one of the little sacrifices we're thrilled, genuinely thrilled, to make.

*to be fair, Sam does offer. It's just that the drinking is as time consuming as the making.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Chocolate cake

Following on from last week's post about my burning desire to cook now I have NO time, I am convinced the internet is deliberately playing on this and my insatiable appetite for the sweet and calorific.

I've just started reading blogs for the first time since the demise of Google reader. On day one of setting up Feedly this chocoholic delight popped into my feed. Sour cream chocolate cake via The Kitchn. My ambitions peaked when I remembered there was sour cream in my fridge, but the miniature humans were too busy feeding for such folly.

And then, the very next day I saw this on Instagram, courtesy of Vee who posts the most amazing photos of her Welsh Terrier, Bear, at veeandbear. Surely the similarities in appearance are no coincidence. The universe wants me to bake ridiculously decadent chocolate cake. Or, at the very least, eat it.

Leela Cyd, creator of the sour cream chocolate cake puts forward a very good cause for baking your own birthday cake, and relishing the experience. It's a lovely read.

When it comes to celebrations, Stephanie Alexander's whiskey and raisin chocolate cake has been a favourite of m
ine in the past, winning me over with its richness and its ability to feed a crowd.

Do you have a go-to chocolate cake recipe for celebrations?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Not just a humble muffin

What would you cook if you had all the time in the world?

For so many people, life gets busy and we stop making time for the hobbies we enjoy, squeezing them out with work, home and social commitments. It's not until life takes a dramatic turn that you realise how much time we used to have. Sam and I frequently reflect on this, asking "why did we take all our spare time for granted at uni", or "remember how little we HAD to do on the weekends before we bought a house".

So here I am, 6 weeks after the birth of our beautiful twins with a feeling of déjà vu. I am itching to cook elaborate dishes now that I have no time, and wishing that I'd tried all those new recipes before the munchkins came along.

Instead, I settled for baking some very basic banana muffins. Pouncing on an overripe banana and a rare quiet twenty minutes. They might not be elaborate but there's certainly something soothing about cooking basic wholesome food using ingredients you have at home.

They're not bad with a cup of tea, either.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Springtime is Asparagus time

We have a friend in Victoria who works for a large asparagus grower. From August through to December, for the last three years that we lived down there, he'd call us on his way home from work and swing past with a shopping bag bursting with spears. They were all at least 30 cm long, as thick as sausages and still covered in the dirt from which they'd come, just hours before.
 In September 2011, one month before I moved to Tamworth, I was lucky enough to visit the farm, at Koo Wee Rup - head south east from Melbourne and you'll find yourself in the largest asparagus growing area in Australia.

Located 65 km from Melbourne, the Koo Wee Rup and Dalmore area produces a whopping 93% of Australia's asparagus – and a fair chunk of export asparagus, too. I was thrilled to see how black Koo Wee Rup's peat soils are, perfect for the yummy spears.
Asparagus grows from crowns which enthusiastic home gardeners can buy form the nursery. However commercially, growers plant the crown from seed, and it takes four years to get the first saleable crop.

Even on commercial scale asparagus is harvested by hand to protect the fragile spears. 'Cutters' walk along the rows and use a long handled knife to cut just below the soil surface. The spears are then placed on the ground in groups and collected using self-steering pick up machines. These machines are unique to the asparagus industry and allow the operator to bend down and carefully pick up the bunches without damaging the asparagus.

Asparagus spears are highly perishable once harvested so growers move quickly to get the harvest sorted and packed. The farm we visited passes full crates through a cool-water pre-wash to remove any debris, cool the asparagus and provide some moisture to keep spears in tip top condition.

Many commercial growers then sort their asparagus using an impressive computerised grading system. Spears run along the grader belt where they are graded according to length, and much of the white base is sliced off.

They're then bundled and packed by hand, ready to reach our shelves or the export market. The Asian market is a key export destination for the grower I visited. They are able to harvest, pack and airfreight the product all within the same day, with spears arriving at their destination the next morning. Now that's fresh.
Asparagus spears literally grow overnight when conditions are warm and humid – any home gardener with their own patch will know I'm not lying. So paddocks are harvested every day during this time, which means super fresh asparagus for us. Don't forget to check where your asparagus is from - it's not uncommon to find foreign spears from Peru on our shelves. It's definitely worth waiting for the Australian season to kick in (August - December) for Aussie-grown goodness.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Organic milling for daily bread

Artisan bread has been growing in popularity over the last decade and today a good loaf is more than just bread and butter. It’s not unusual to queue at Sydney’s top bakeries for a Saturday morning sourdough and ingredients are as diverse as spelt flour, rye flour, quinoa, herbs and even potato.

Ask any artisan producer, chef or passionate home cook what’s important and many cite quality ingredients. It's no surprise that this also applies to baking. However, what is a surprise to most is that the flour used by many top bakeries on the eastern seaboard is milled right here in the New England North West region - Gunnedah’s Wholegrain Milling Company produces quality stoneground organic flours for wholesalers and artisan bakers including Sydney’s Sonoma and Melbourne's Dench. They also produce smaller packaged products for retail customers under their Demeter Farm Mill label.

Wendy and Harry Neale started the company in 1984 and the business is now managed by their son, Craig. With over fifty silos, seven stone mills and a state-of-the-art roller mill, it’s clear that quality organic grain is big business. Wheat, spelt, oats, rye, buckwheat and more is all processed on site. For Wendy, however, organics was initially about health.

After suffering from food allergies, Wendy looked for remedies beyond standard medicine and began making her own stoneground flour. “I was milling organic grain in our kitchen and I decided there would be others that could benefit,” she said.

Nowadays, a diet free from artificial chemicals, colourings and flavourings is not unusual, however Craig believes Wendy was well ahead of her time.

“When the business started, organics was interpreted as having flowers on the side of your combi van,” laughs Craig. “Organics were not readily accepted. We started with one customer on the first day and grew to seven in the first ten years.” Since then there’s been a surge in demand and the company is experiencing exceptional growth.

For Craig, the business is not just about organics, but also about the unique flours they produce. A shearer by trade, Craig built the specialised stone mills with Harry, using imported European millstones. He lifts a handful of flour to demonstrate the speckled colour, a signature of wholegrain milling.

“We put the wholegrain in and get the flour at the end,” he explains. “We then sift out the bran to get the desired consistency.”

The result is a nutty taste and texture that is revered by artisan bakers. More commercial roller mills will separate the bran and germ from the endosperm. The endosperm is then ground to create white flour and other components are added back in as needed.

Stone milling is clearly the company’s passion; however, 18 months ago, after years of planning, Craig added the roller mill to the business, in order to service a broader range of customers.

“Stoneground flour is for those who are passionate about what they’re doing and the ingredients they’re using. However, there’s also a growing market of people who are aware of chemicals and the associated health effects and they buy organics simply to minimise those effects,” Craig explains.

To maintain their organic certification Wholegrain Milling Company purchases only certified organic grain, sourced from all over the eastern states, and they must ensure no chemical contamination occurs throughout milling and delivery. Weevils and rodents can be a problem and, unlike conventional counterparts, organic mills cannot chemically treat the grain to prevent infestation. Instead, the temperature in silos is strictly regulated, grain is moved using sophisticated pneumatic conveying, packaged flour is kept below six degrees at all times and the company manages its own logistics to ensure products are safely delivered.

Ironically, it’s an incredibly complex process to replicate something humans have been doing since 6000 BC – crushing whole grains to produce flour that’s chemical-free. It’s nice to know technology has come full circle.

Organic stoneground flour is available to the retail customer under Wholegrain Milling Company’s Demeter Farm Mill label. Stockists include: Monks Health Emporium, Armidale; Northern Nuts and Treats, Tamworth; Le Pruneau, Tamworth; From the Soil Up, Inverell; Northeys Nature’s Best, Gunnedah. Contact Wholegrain Milling Company for more.

Image courtesy of Sonoma Artisan Sourdough Bakers

This article first appeared in New England Country Living

Copyright Alison Treloar

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Food and wine at Murrurundi

Provedore Simon Johnson, writer and food media veteran Sue Fairlie-Cuninghame and Willow Tree Inn's Graze chef Colin Selwood are set for a day of delicious food and wine at Murrurundi next month.

Author and art dealer, Michael Reid will host the day at his gallery and gardens on Mayne Street and the trio will discuss food, wine, style, of course.
Fairlie-Cuninghame will begin the day discussing food and wine trends with Reid. A talented recipe writer, cook and stylist, Sue Fairlie-Cuninghame became well-known as executive editor at Vogue Entertaining in the early 90s. She has worked as food director InsideOut magazine and as art director and stylist with chef Neil Perry, and her work can often be seen in Gourmet Traveller.
Guests will then hear the philosophy and practice of good food, regardless of whether you're cooking for one or one hundred, from Colin Selwood, before enjoying lunch.
Finally, Johnson will review the importance of quality. As provider of some of Australia's finest imported and home grown quality food, Johnson knows a thing or two about quality, having taken the leap from chef to purveyor of quality foods in the early 90s.
10am, Friday 5th April, 2013
Michael Reid at Murrurundi
Boyd St, Murrurundi
Ph. 02 6546 6767
$120 pp, including morning tea, lunch & wine
Tickets available here.