Everytime we go away, I make sure there is enough food in the house for the kids to eat. Mostly I cook meals in advance for them to reheat, but I also leave them ingredients to prepare for themselves, should they have the urge. Items like eggs, milk, rice and fruits are staples in our house and generally disappear very quickly.
Such was the case when we came back from our last trip away, apart from some Bosc pears that sat there looking pretty on the kitchen bench. Apparently, I was told, the whole setting looked like a still life and nobody wanted to disturb the scene, in case I planned to take a photograph. Of course, it prompted me to grab the camera and capture the perfectly shaped fruits before deciding to eat them.
I didn’t wanted to have them plain however, so ended up roasting them in honey and saffron and served with autumn spiced yoghurt after coming across a recipe found in a recent issue of Gourmet Traveller magazine. It was originally meant as a simple dessert to be eaten warm, but in our house it was a perfect breakfast served cold. Don’t worry about the amount of honey used in this recipe, any leftover pan juice makes a great syrup to drizzle on pancakes or plain yoghurt ( or both!)
Honey and Saffron roasted pears with spiced yoghurt
Courtesy of Gourmet Traveller
Serves 4 as breakfast or dessert
Thinly peeled rind and juice of 1 lemon
3 cinnamon quills
A pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 1 tbsp of warm water
3 beurre Bosc Pears, quartered and cored
Roughly chopped roasted walnuts
300g greek style yoghurt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
A pinch of ground cardamon
A pinch of ground cloves
- Pre-heat the oven to 220C. In a large bowl, mix the honey, lemon rind and juice, cinnamon quills, and saffron water. Add the pears and toss to coat with the honey mixture. Transfer the lot to a roasting pan large enough to fit the pears. Roast, basting occasionally until the fruits are tender and a golden colour ( approx 20 minutes )
- In the meantime, make the spiced yoghurt by combining the yoghurt, ground cinnamon, cardamon and cloves in a small bowl.
- Serve the pears either warm or cold with the spiced yoghurt, sprinkled with walnuts and a drizzle of honey pan juices.
Mr T and I were looking for a flying destination for a few days, not too far from home, preferably in the countryside as we’ve travelled along the coast a fair bit already. We drew a circle around Sydney encompassing towns no further than 300km radius and threw a dart ( actually it was a push pin but you get the idea ) and Mudgee was the closest choice.
Now, when you mention Mudgee to people, you can expect two reactions. “ What’s there? “ by the people who have not been. “ That’s a great place you’ll have a wonderful time “ by the ones who have been. A little research revealed that the region hosts an annual Wine and Food festival in September, and with long standing family wineries, fertile farmland growing local produce available at cafes and restaurants, I couldn’t resist the lure of “swirling and sipping” our way across cellar doors, long lunches and pottering around heritage towns.
Located 268km northwest of Sydney, Mudgee is a 3.5 hours drive or a 45 minutes flight from Bankstown. The plan was to land before noon as I wanted to make most of the day having lunch and driving around the country side. So we dropped Anne off to school, picked up the plane, flew over the Blue Mountains and just like clockwork, arrived at Mudgee regional airport where our rental car awaited.
Our accomodation chosen by Mr T is called the Hangar House and is conveniently located at the end of the airport tarmac, so it is just a matter of taxiing to the hangar and park the plane. Except that this is no ordinary hangar. While from the outside it looks like our plane would not fit, the opened roller doors reveal this pristine and massive space with special cutouts designed to accomodate the high tail and wingspan. There is nothing utilitarian about this hangar, which forms part of the house and when not occupied by planes or cars, is used to host various gatherings and parties, furnished with soft lounges, table tennis, bar stools, book laden shelves and equiped with a film projector, designer chandeliers and ( wait for this! ) its own disco ball !!! And this is only the hangar, the rest of the house will have to wait as we have a lunch reservation at 1pm in Rylstone, a village 60 km away.
A yum cha and tea house is not what you would usually expect to find in a heritage town, but 29 Nine 99 is exactly that, housed in the heritage listed Bridge View Inn. Owned by artist Na Lan who grew up in China, this quaint eatery has become a local institution famous for serving homemade yum cha dumplings in the most unusual country setting. As we walk thru the front door we are greeted by a colourful display of stylish knick knacks which Na Lan brings back from China each year. These are available for sale but I barely have time to stop and look because Mr T is gently nudging me forward past the tiny kitchen, the outdoor patio and to our outside table next to the community garden. It is a lovely spot, overlooking the sandstone building under the shade of red Chinese umbrellas, and conveniently located far away from the shop area…
Service is swift and friendly, the menu features a comprehensive list of dumplings and soups, but we are told that on weekdays they offer a 8, 10 or 12 dumplings menu options which include a surprise selection of the steamed and mixed dumplings of the day and a limitless pot of chinese tea. We opt for the 10 dumplings ( each ) menu, our waitress enquires about any food allergies and tea preference, then returns a few minutes later with a pot of Jasmine Downy Pearls tea for me and a beer for Mr T. While we wait for our food, I watch a few people come and go and a couple of families join us outside. The place isn’t overly busy, but we are told that’s the way they like it because weekends are crazy busy with customers coming from far and wide.
I overhear one lady commenting how lovely the drive from Sydney was but worrying about the drive home after lunch, whereas the other table sounds full of locals who are raving about how good the dumplings are here and really you should order 12 ( maybe we will ask for extra? ).
It is not long before our first plate of 8 comes ( 4 dumplings each ): there are pork and prawn, chicken, beef and water chestnut and prawn and spinach. 4 sauces are offered for accompaniment: a sweet pickled vegetable, sweet chili, a soy and ginger, and a hot chili with crushed peanuts sauce. The latter has a nice kick to it, and I actually like to mix it with the soy sauce for extra flavour.
The second plate comes with more steamed goodies including mushroom and crab, scallops, garlic chives and prawns, as well as beef meatballs. It is all delicious and we ask the waitress to hold off the last 2 choices as we are getting a bit full ( or maybe we ate too quick, since our last meal was breakfast at 7am !)
In the meantime we hear the family at the next table ask for extra dumplings to have with their next bottle of wine, somehow I don’t think they will drive very far after this lunch! Our last plate comes with steamed vegetables dumplings and bbq duck in rice flour dumpling, probably my favourite.
But wait, there is more! We had forgotten that besides dumplings the menu comes with a choice of bun for dessert, Mr T asked for the custard bun and I chose the black sticky rice with coconut. While he found his a little dry and doughy, I loved the crunchy texture of mine especially after so many steamed dumplings. Not that I will ever complain about too many dumplings, I don’t believe there is such a thing.
I am the designated driver for the rest of the afternoon, which is shaping up to be very quiet. Touring Rylstone’s main street doesn’t take very long and as we show up at the local winery and the local aerodrome, we start to wonder where the 650 residents are. Neither places are open this Tuesday, indeed one’s sign shows the cellar door closes Tuesday and Wednesday, the other opens by appointment only.
So we slowly make our way back to Mudgee, the road is winding thru surprisingly green hills and pastures, where hundreds of lamb and cows seem to thrive.
We take our chances along the way at Moothi Estate, who happens to be one of the few cellar doors open everyday.
Locally owned and run, this family winery is famous for its location high up on the hills and its gorgeous view over the entire Mudgee valley. With only 30 minutes to spare before closing time we are too late to enjoy the famed platters they offer on their sun drenched deck but we still manage to taste some of their estate grown wines and chat with Jason, the cellar door and sales manager, who is inviting us to come back on the forthcoming long weekend, for a night of “sunset sippings” on this very deck with wine, canapes and live entertainement. I wish we could! We stock up on a few bottles of Riesling and Shiraz, a tub of safran spiced nuts ( which it turns out comes from Rylstone ) and reluctantly leave, but not before being told by Jason where to find the local cheese maker and hurry up before he closes.
As luck will have it ( or not ), we are too late for the cheese maker ( 4pm seems to be the go home time today) and when I ask Mr T to choose between an early dinner at one of the local pubs ( the only options available this Tuesday night ) or sunset drinks and nibbles at the Hangar House, the response comes fast. Hangar House. So we stop by the local supermarket for provisions. My search for local produce proves unsuccessful, however we find plenty of good cheeses, pates and bread to make up a platter. I have better luck at the adjoining bottle shop, which stocks a good selection of local wines and pick up a bottle of Bunnamagoo Sparkling wine, as recommended to us by our host, Alexey.
Back to the house, Alexey shows us around the property which was originally built for himself and his partner as their own. Both aviation lovers and with a flying background, they intended to turn it into a flying school, with onsite accomodation. Life however had other plans for them, the flying school never happened, the building instead turned into a luxury guest house with 6 bedrooms and suites, each self contained and overlooking the tarmac and the surrounding vineyards.
Common areas on the ground floor include the large designer kitchen, a dining table sitting up to 12 people and 3 separate lounge areas where you can enjoy either a cosy conversation by the fireplace, an informal gathering watching the big screen TV or a quiet time in a sunlit corner.
The whole house is exquisitely furnished with bespoke pieces no doubt collected thru many years of travels as well as aviation related memorabilia. In fact, each room is named after a type of aircraft, and the walls are adorned with plane photographs mostly taken by Alexey himself. The attention to detail is impressive and it feels like you are a guest in someone’s very luxurious house which indeed you are as our hosts, Alexey and Heath, reside on the premises.
Though we have the house to ourselves we don’t really use the shared space, preferring to enjoy the quiet and comfort of our suite. It is named Constellation, otherwise nicknamed the Honeymoon Suite by Alexey, as it includes a king size bed, a large double spa and a small kitchenette.
We do step downstairs to check that the plane is safely kept in a space just as grand as ours, enjoy sunset drinks over the tarmac and the hills, then finally retreat for our indoor picnic.
As we finally tuck into bed and turn the lights off, a gorgeous moonrise casts a soft blue light thru our window. I can’t go to sleep, staring at the passing clouds shrouding the moon in a spooky yet beautiful veil. It is quite a romantic moment I think and when I mention it to a dozing Mr T, he suggests that is the effect of the Mudgee wine. That’s romance for you!!
Last week was Mr T’s birthday. He wanted it to be a low key affair, as he doesn’t like to fuss over getting another year older, but I managed to convince him otherwise and have a house party instead. “Ok” he said “ but only a few people because I want to be able to talk to everyone “. That’s easier said than done, the close family alone adds up to 16 ( with kids, partners and grand kids! ), so when it came to invite friends as well we kept it intimate and asked his oldest mates over. By oldest, I mean people Mr T has known since childhood and kept in touch with his whole life. This is something that amazes me as I lost contact with nearly all my school friends in France, and have Facebook to thank for reconnecting with a few of them in the past 10 years.
So we had Ian, Bill and Phyllis, Ross and Carol, Alan and Sandra whose friendship with Mr T dates back to primary school, and have endured thru surfing days, motorbikes days, overseas postings, children and now grand-children…
Mr T was always a daredevil at heart and has tried his hand at various mechanical endeavours: from bikes to cars, speed boats, planes, yachts, he is a man consistently on the move and with a competitive inner streak pushing him to be the best at whatever he does. It makes living with him an exciting challenge, a mix of adventure and self-discovery, where one’s comfort zone ( especially mine ) is very often expanded…I managed to resurrect old photos and newspaper clips of his exploits past and presents, displayed them all on a timber pallet ( officiating as a frame ) as well as a tracking his journey ( so far ) on a cork world map.
This turned out to be a fantastic trip down memory lane for the older folks and a fascinating discovery for the younger ones who had no idea Mr T was like a cat with nine lives.
We made the party an open-ended one, where people could come and go as they pleased. Some showed up at noon and left at 5pm, others joined us at 4pm and stayed till late…Knowing that up to 25 guests would pass thru my front door as they would thru a revolving one, I settled on a menu that included not only Mr T’s favourite dishes, but also food that could easily be served cold or kept warm for a while. Usually I would ask guests to bring a dish ( well, they always ask what to bring beside their drinks, it’s an australian thing ) but this time around I thought I would call on some of our local food providores to save time and effort.
Dozens of Coffin Bay oysters and a side of smoked salmon were ordered from Mrs Fish at the Sutherland markets. The french cheeses were supplied by Stephs Gourmet Foods, also from the markets. As for the main dishes, I called on Shire Foods catering who make a mean potato bake, delicious salads and supplied us with ready to cook chicken wings, lamb and chicken skewers.
I enlisted Mr T’s daughters for curry puffs, as they are his absolute favourite snacks ( actually I have not met anyone who doesn’t like these spicy morsels ) and the girls are experts at making them. They also volunteered to make chocolate cupcakes in lieu of a big birthday cake, an offer I gratefully accepted. This left me plenty of time to set up at a leisurely pace, prepare platters, and make an alternate dessert of individual lemon coconut creme brulees, as I was worried we would not have enough food.
The cold appetisers came out first:
plump and briny oysters served natural with lemon slices,
smoked salmon with chive cream cheese and taramasalata to spread on fresh bread slices,
Cheese platter and crackers,
summer fruit platter of grapes, rockmelon, blood orange, strawberries, pineapple and passion fruit,
followed by the Curry puffs with their dipping sauces
At that stage it was late afternoon and our first lot of guests elected to go home, not realising there was more food to come. Indeed we had lamb and chicken skewers in the BBQ as well as arancini and potato bake reheating in the oven, which our late comers enthusiastically dug in along with the pumpkin and spinach salad and chinese cabbage salad.
There was much adult banter around the table while the kids split in groups of boys and girls, the former playing rough on the trampoline and the latter practicing their dance routine in our driveway.
It was well and truly dark before desserts were brought out and Mr T was made to blow the candles strategically placed on the cupcakes. These were particularly popular with the kids and anyone with a very sweet tooth, while the creme brulees seem to appeal to the more healthy conscious. Not that it made a great deal of difference, once a big dollop of cream was added on top! And considering the enormous amount of food and drinks consumed beforehand, one could hardly argue it was a healthy eating day anyway. But it was such a fun one!
Lemon Coconut Creme Brulee
This recipe came about when I wanted a french-style dessert with some exotic flavour. It is lighter than a traditional creme brulee, as the mixture is not as custardy. As a matter of fact, it is more like a flan really, which happen to have hard caramel on top!
Serves 4-6 for dessert
4 large eggs
1 cup coconut milk, well stirred so that the cream is mixed with the liquid
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon zest
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup soft brown sugar
- Preheat the oven to 165C
- Beat the eggs, coconut milk, vanilla, lemon zest, milk and sugar in a blender until well mixed. Strain the mixture into a jug
- Pour the flan mixture into individual ramekins. Place into a large baking tray and half fill the tray with water.
- Bake for 45 minutes or until firm. A little wobbly is ok, it will firm up as it cools.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. Once cool, refrigerate until required.
- Once ready to serve, remove the flans from the fridge, sprinkle brown sugar evenly across the top of each to cover and broil under a very hot grill until the sugar is melted. Chill in the fridge for a few minutes before serving.
Note: Watch the grill to ensure the sugar does not burn, a few of my flans did but luckily my guests didn’t mind the strong caramel flavour ( how polite !) Alternatively, you can use a blow torch to harden and caramelise the top of each flans
A couple of weeks ago I found these gorgeous looking pears at our local market and brought them home, anticipating to have them as part of a cheese and fruit platter. Then our dinner plans changed, and the poor things sat pretty in the fruit bowl, completely neglected by all members of the family. I must say that my lot loves fruits, as long as they are cut and prepped for them ready to eat, like in a fruit salad or freshly juiced. Except for bananas and apples, which I regularly put into lunchboxes for the very reason that they take minimum effort to peel and are not as messy to eat ( read dripping juice all over your school uniform ).
Anyway, back to the pears, they had grown that pale green ripe look begging for action.
The fruits were too juicy to have with cheese but still firm enough to hold their shape in a cake. The pear cake I had in mind is one of our favourite recipe I came across over 25 years ago. It is from France The Beautiful Cookbook, by the Scotto sisters who take you through the regions of France describing the link between their landscape, history and of course gastronomy. This is one of the first cookbook I owned and as a novice cook and one away from home, I cannot tell you how many watches were spent on the boat pouring over recipes of Sole Meuniere, Duck with Olives or Potato Gratin. Some of the ingredients were sometimes a challenge to find while cruising ( foie gras in the Solomon Islands, artichokes in South America? ) but somehow I managed to cook a few meals from it, as evidenced by the well worn cover and a few dog-ear marked pages.
One of them is page 233, Poirier D’Anjou or Pear Cake.
I have made this cake a few times, both on and off the boat, it is quite homely ( ahhhh the aroma while baking !!) but good looking enough to pass as a classy dessert ( as it did once, when I donated one to my daughter’s school fete, labelling it French Pear Cake and packaged it in a pretty box . Someone paid $20 for it !!)
I have altered the original recipe “to bring it into the 21st century” as a friend of mine would say, using very ripe fruits thus allowing me to skip the syrup making stage and using less sugar, substituting wholemeal spelt flour for some of the plain flour ( for a bit of goodness without tasting too healthy ) and omitting the cointreau in the glaze because I was planning to feed young children with it ( feel free to add it for an adult version! ). And while the recipe makes enough for a large cake, I split it into 3 smaller baking moulds so that we could eat one cake and give away the other two. Why do such a thing? I hear you ask. Because, we are supposed to eat healthy, and since I don’t like the idea of dieting and depriving ourselves, I still bake cakes. Except that instead of a large one that the four of us can’t really finish, now I bake several small ones to share.
Sharing is caring, right?
French Pear Cake
Adapted from France The Beautiful Cookbook
2/3 cup caster sugar
1 kg ripe but still firm pears ( about 3 pears )
1 cup plain flour
2/3 wholemeal spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tbsp black currant jelly
1 tbs water
3 tbsp cointreau or grand marnier ( optional )
- Preheat oven to 200C. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and let cool slightly. Line 3 11x17cm cake pans with baking paper.
- Combine the flours and baking powder in a food processor. Add the eggs, the sugar, the butter, vanilla essence and milk. Blend to form a smooth batter. Pour equally into the cake pans.
- Half, peel, and core the pears. Cut each half vertically into thick slices and arrange on top of the batter in rows. Bake for 35 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Meanwhile, heat the jelly and the water until the mixture boils. Mix well, add cointreau if using and remove from the heat. Coat the cake with the syrupy jelly and bake for another 5 minutes.
- Let it cool for a while before unmolding. Serve with vanilla ice cream or fresh cream.