It’s August, it must be Show Time

I am looking forward to attending the Royal Queensland Show tomorrow on opening day and visiting the preserves section in the Agricultural Hall to see who the winners are. Judging took place last Saturday and there was no hint of who was competing, only a number on each jar. My fellow judge Julia Matusik and I tasted our way through 206 entries finishing late in the afternoon.  We also have the assistance of a few very experienced stewards who keep the pace moving throughout the day.

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There was an increase in the entries in the Lemon and Passionfruit Butter categories which is hardly surprising given the popularity of these curds as they are more commonly called. Many of the jars were very good and choosing a winner was not easy.

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P1170138P1170133 We noticed less salt being used in some of the pickles and chutneys which often resulted in a poor balance of flavor. I think it is better to make a well flavoured chutney and if necessary use less of it rather than compromise the overall flavor.

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Whilst we were busy with the Preserves, judges were tasting fruit cakes and puddings and others were judging the large number of iced cakes. I have no ability in this area and greatly admire the skill acquired to create delicate flowers, amusing creatures, exquisite wedding cakes and more. The aroma in the whole cookery section was of sweet Christmas fruit and alcohol – great working atmosphere!  The teapot cake reminded me of Clarice Cliff designs.

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There is a new area at the Royal Queensland Show this year. The Flower and Garden & Quilts Exhibition will be in side and in the grounds of the Old Museum on Gregory Street. A special Royal Queensland Rose has been bred and will be planted in the garden on Friday morning and the Flower and Garden Platform Stage will have a full program of speakers for the ten days of the EKKA.

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Some of the sessions on the stage tomorrow will be well known florist Phoebe Stephens working wonders with flowers, Caroline Jones, chef/owner of Three Girls Skipping Café in Graceville creating dessert with strawberries and I will be talking with Renee Holbrook, horticulturalist at Brookfield Garden Centre at 10.30am on Saturday about growing your own tomatoes and strawberries and using them in the kitchen. There will also be plenty of activities for children and more details can be seen at https://www.ekka.com.au/entertainment/the-old-museum-precinct and download the brochure for the full program.

 

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Oz Harvest CEO Cook Off

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When ten of Brisbane’s busiest chefs give up a Monday night you know it will probably be for a good cause.

Last night chefs and CEO’s from leading Brisbane businesses worked together to feed 300 less fortunate people in our community. Oz Harvest has been running this event in Sydney for some years but this was the first time in Brisbane and the Royal International Convention Centre on the RNA grounds accommodated everyone in one large space.

P1140743The chefs were asked to prepare the same entrée with provided ingredients but could then choose their own main course. For dessert the chefs were provided with a soft individual meringue and could serve that however they liked. Working with each chef was three CEO’s who had the experience of preparing the dinner and serving it to the diners. Chefs had to prepare thirty portions for each course.

Ronni Kahn came up with the inspired idea of rescuing food that would otherwise go into land fill and putting it to good use in meals for the needy. The Brisbane office of Oz Harvest collects food from the southeast corner and delivers it to charity kitchens the same day – food that would otherwise be wasted. Since Oz Harvest began it has delivered in excess of 45 million meals to over 800 charities in Australia.

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Oz Harvest CEO Cook Off is a fund raiser for the organization and each CEO is asked to raise money through their participation. Caroline Jones, owner/chef from Three Girls Skipping in Graceville and head chef Ann Gard headed up a team that also included Mark Woolf, CEO Tattersall’s Club, Simon Hancox, Grant Thornton Australia Limited and Geoff Batkin from Wesley Mission. Woolworths generously donated many of the ingredients for the dinner.

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The barbecues were fired up and bread was grilled, mushrooms roasted and prime rib fillet steaks were cooked to perfection. The first could was Bruschetta with tomato and basil and another with mushrooms and feta. Caroline’s main course was a hearty steak and vegetables – rib fillet with béarnaise sauce, crusted kipfler potatoes with wilted spinach, chargrilled mushrooms and crisp buttermilk onion rings. As with all of Caroline’s food, the plates were very generous and the diners polished them with relish.

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One lovely man brought his beautiful ginger cat to dinner – well behaved and just loved being patted during the evening.  Caroline gave a box of biscuits to each of her group of diners to take away and also generously gave a cake to her CEO helpers on the night to share with their staff today.

Dessert had to include a meringue and the Three Girls Skipping version had crushed raspberry cream and fresh raspberries and finished with white chocolate and raspberry bark and rose petals.

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State Manager for Oz Harvest in Queensland, Cameron Hickey and his team are to be congratulated for organizing last night. It raised much need funds for the cause and hopefully will encourage more CEO’s to sign up for next year.

 

 

New Chef on the Granite Belt

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One of the highlights for me each year is judging the salami for the Stanthorpe Show. I can’t believe how lucky I am to do this and the entries again last week were very good. The Show Society included an olive competition for the first time and 17 entries of black, green and dried olives were also lined up for judging by another group of judges. The traditions of salumi and passata making and olive curing are still strong particularly amongst the descendants of the Italian immigrants into the region. Look out for news later in the year of a tour on the Granite Belt which will include some hands-on cooking.

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Michael Dalton of Fino Foods in Brisbane and I were joined by local John Finocchiaro to judge the salami class. John normally enters the competition but did not have any salami left so he made up for it by lending his talented opinion to the judging panel. Almost all entries used natural skins and we looked for good even filling without any air pockets and a good distribution of fat. Some of the samples had fat that was tough and chewy and did not cut cleanly whilst the best of them had soft back fat that just melted when tasted and left a clean aftertaste. Many of the entries were equal or better than what is available in delicatessens.

I couldn’t attend the judging without staying on a few more days to make some preserves with the bounty of produce available at present. A visit to Sam Giacca at Sam’s Farm Fresh Fruit and Veg at Cottonvale was a must and I left with two boxes of ripe Roma tomatoes which have now been dried and will be used later in the year. I will write more about the seasonal fruit in another post.

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A new chef has arrived in Ballandean to take over the Barrelroom and Larder at Ballandean Estate. A friend and I dined there last week and the restaurant has had a makeover with new tables and chairs (made by the chef’s brother) and a more modern look to match with the style of food now being served. Travis Crane has written a menu that sources produce from within a few hours’ drive of the restaurant and is presenting a style of food not seen in the region before. From the house made bread and cultured butter to my well-made piccolo, the meal was pure pleasure. Travis, who is operating the restaurant with his partner Arabella Chambers, has worked in Brisbane restaurants as well as doing a stint at In de Wulf in Belgium with Kobe Desramaults and his contemporary food does justice to the carefully sourced ingredients. Change your plans and make a booking at the Barrelroom and Larder as soon as you can. I can’t wait to make a return visit in a couple of weeks.

 

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www.barrelroom.com.au

07 4684 1326

 

 

Asparagus

The first time I tasted fresh asparagus was in England in 1975. Until then I had only known it as a vegetable in a tin. A favourite sandwich for me was a toasted cheese and asparagus and a macaroni cheese was made more special with the addition of a tin of asparagus.  After that first tasting of fresh asparagus the tinned product was never good enough. I look forward to the Australian season in spring and summer each year. There is some small asparagus production in Queensland at Mundubbera but the majority of the crop is grown around Kooweerup in the Gippsland region of Victoria.

In general the more commonly available a product the less exotic it becomes but asparagus still seems to hold that “special ingredient” tag.  I have been lucky enough to visit a number of asparagus farms and there is a special pleasure in plucking a spear out of the earth and eating it immediately – it tastes of the sweetest baby peas which might explain why asparagus and peas go together so well.

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There are patches of wild asparagus in the Ballandean area of the Granite Belt which have spread from a locally grown crop many years ago but you have to be up early to find it before the locals get to it. There is a famous muscat patch where the asparagus grows wild underfoot and this crop is picked daily and sometimes makes it on to the menu at The Barrel Room at Ballandean Estate.

One lonely spear

One lonely spear

My hunger for asparagus led me to plant out fifteen crowns last year and I am anxiously waiting to pick my first spears but ….. the downside is that no spears can be picked for the first two years to allow the crowns to build up strength so they can be long term producers. Now that’s very unfair! My first lonely spear has now grown into more than thirty long feathery stems but I have yet another year before I get the pleasure of harvest. The asparagus is growing in an old cut down tank so is stopped from taking off and spreading all over the vegetable garden.

Wild Asparagus and Goat's Cheese Tart

Wild Asparagus and Goat’s Cheese Tart

In the meantime I will be purchasing delicious Australian asparagus and enjoying every but of it.

Cooking Class

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Lentils and pulses have long been the butt of many jokes but thank goodness they have become very popular with chefs and home cooks in recent times. There wouldn’t be a café in Brisbane that does not have at least one item on the menu that does not include lentils or chick peas or some other type of bean. Used in salads, soups, slow braises and many other dishes, they add so much interest.

Caroline Jones, owner/chef of Three Girls Skipping Café in Graceville have been holding monthly cooking class during this year and the next class this coming Wednesday is on Lentils and Pulses. We are getting in ahead of the game as 2016 has been designated by the United Nations as the Year of Pulses.

If you have been to Three Girls Skipping you will know the great range of salads they make which change daily and Caroline will share many of these with those attending the class. Long before baked beans were put in a tin they were cooked slowly with smoked meat, spices and treacle and this will also be on the menu along with a few other recipes.

The class will be at Executive Chef in South Brisbane and the cost is $80.00 per person. We serve light refreshments before class starts and you will also have tastings through the class. Come and join us for a fun and instructive evening.

If you would like to be on the mailing list for classes please contact Executive Chef and ask to be on their newsletter email list.

Class Details:

Wednesday 26 August 2015

5.30pm for 6.00pm start

Executive Chef, 132 Merivale Street, South Brisbane

Cost: $80.00 per person

Bookings: 3844 4413

Preserves Judging

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I spent yesterday judging preserves for the Royal Queensland Show with my fellow judge Julia Matusik of Julia’s Pantry in Kenmore.  We arrived to well organized tables holding over 250 bottles of jams, jellies, marmalades and fruit butters in the sweet section and savoury preserves consisting of chutney, relish, pickles, sauces and more. In addition there is an opportunity for people making and selling preserves to enter their products.

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Taste is the most important factor but appearance is also noted. In a jam or marmalade is the fruit evenly distributed throughout the jar, are there any lumps of solid egg white in the lemon butter, is there any sign of burning in the taste and smell of a product? Many of the preserves lacked salt and/or sugar and this led to an unbalanced flavor.

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The general message about using less salt or sugar in our diets cannot generally be transferred to the making of preserves without impairing the end result. It is better to make a good preserve and then use it sparingly if sugar and salt are a dietary problem.

Some of the chilli sauces proved to be a challenge to judge due to the type of chillies used. Looking for a balance of flavor in a sauce that might be used on a hamburger, it is hard to taste much more than the heat when habanero chillies are used. Maybe cayenne chillies would be a better choice.

It would seem that not many people make jellies but the small class had some excellent examples. Marmalade was also a good class and the winner had me wanting to find a piece of toast to enjoy it more. A good marmalade shows skill in the cutting of the rind, a lovely jelly that bind the rind and flesh and a good rich flavor and this one had it all.

All entries are labelled with a number so there is no way of knowing who entered the competition. There are classes for novices as well as seasoned preserves cooks and I would encourage everyone to have a go for 2016. Winners will be declared when the show opens on Friday 7 August and I will be keen to see the names of those who took the trouble to enter and hoped for a ribbon.

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The Preserves competition is part of the Cookery section in the Fine Arts Competition for the Royal Queensland Show under the leadership of Councillor Mrs Susan Hennessey. Chief Steward Cheryl Thiel has her finger on the pulse in the cookery section which includes the much anticipated decorated cakes as well as all the other cakes, biscuits, confectionery and many more classes. When I look at an entry I think of someone in their home kitchen putting their best effort into making a cake or preserve having no idea how much competition they will be up against. Some of the preserves are made many months in advance when the particular fruit or vegetable is in season and then carefully stored until delivery time to the RNA grounds.

 

When you visit the Ekka in the next week give a thought to the hope that went into every cooked entry – it might just have won the cook a blue ribbon.

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Bundaberg and a Cooking Class

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I travelled to Bundaberg recently for the Winterfeast Weekend which comprised two events – the Kendall Flats Farmers Markets and the Sunday Soiree. The Sunday Soiree is a wonderful lunch set on Bourbong Street in the centre of the city put together by Larry and Amanda Hinds who own Indulge Café. What a talented pair they are! The use of local produce is paramount to the operation of the café and there is a steady stream of farmers dropping off boxes throughout each week. Just to call in for coffee and cake is a great experience with Larry in charge of the coffee machine and also the cake maker. A constant on the menu is an Almandine Tart with seasonal fruit that is always hard to pass up until I see what else is in the cabinet and then the choice is nigh on impossible. The Sunday Soiree began in 2014 and this year’s event was a relaxed afternoon of an amazing range of dishes served on shared platters which showed off Amanda’s skills and the local produce superbly.

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P1130501The Farmers Markets are a new event and I couldn’t help thinking I had to travel to Bundaberg to find a genuine market that featured only the produce of the region sold by the people who grow and make it. There were no resellers with produce from far away, no one selling imported produce – just a wide range of winter produce grown around Bundaberg and the North Burnett.

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I met up again with ginger grower Anthony Rehbein who has value added his fresh crop with the best dried ground ginger I have ever tasted and also some excellent pickled ginger. By the time ground ginger arrives on our shores it is often old and lacking in flavor. Anthony is marketing his products under the label “Bunda Ginga” and since returning home I have made ginger cakes, crumbles, biscuits and all of them have a lovely ginger bite. I am yet to do anything with the pickled ginger except open the jar and eat it off the spoon.

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Well known pastry chef and owner of Three Girls Skipping Café in Graceville Caroline Jones and I will be conducting a cooking class on Wednesday evening this week (29th July) at Executive Chef and Bunda Ginga will feature in some of the recipes. The class is titled “Warming Winter Desserts” and Anthony Rehbein will be joining us for the class and will have his ground ginger for sale. This will be the only opportunity to buy the product in Brisbane in the near future although I hope that as the word gets out he will be able to supply retail outlets.

 

The cooking class costs $80 per person with recipes and plenty of tastings and bookings can be made at Executive Chef 3844 4413.

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