vegan coconut caramel and dark chocolate slice

compolikeIf you’re an Australian child of the 90’s, you may remember the Cadbury Caramello Koala advert featuring a bastardized version of Donovan’s ‘Mellow Yellow‘ (you can watch the video here). I both loved and hated that song. It got stuck in my head for days, torturing me with a caramel-filled earworm that’s remained attached to my brain stem some sixteen years later.

But despite the lyrical annoyance, I still eat the darn things. Why? Well, they’re delicious little koala-shaped Dairy Milk chocolates filled with smooth, sticky golden caramel. They’re blissful enough to overcome the strongest of psychological aversions, particularly as chocolate-covered caramel is one of my all-time favourite vices.

cocktailmakingOver the past few years, I’ve probably eaten at least one Caramello Koala a week; definitely more at my last workplace, where Cadbury fundraising boxes were a permanent charitable fixture in the lunch room.

However, as of this week, I’ll no longer be reliant on Caramellos for my chocolate-covered caramel fix. I have a new favourite: Coconut Caramel and Dark Chocolate Slice, the delicious brainchild of my gorgeous friend Krystel (aka Zendarenn) who visited last Sunday for a cooking catch-up, complete with elderflower Mojitos, board games and a tasting panel of hungry men.

cocktail2Caramel slice is a popular treat in my homeland of Australia. It’s known as ‘Millionaire’s shortbread’ in Great Britain, possibly due to its obscene richness when made with lashings of butter and refined sugar. In terms of deliciousness, it’s got the trifecta: crisp, buttery shortbread topped with smooth, rich caramel and a layer of thick, melted dark chocolate. It’s like a Twix bar on steroids, and in my sweet-toothed brain, that’s definitely a good thing.

We ate these caramel slices in the cool of the evening after feasting on a pulled lamb shoulder, young courgettes with preserved lemon, goats cheese and olives, herbed roasted Royal Blue potatoes and homemade lemon aioli. After the first bite, six self-proclaimed ‘gluten-free and vegan intolerant’ carnivores were reduced to quiet murmurs of chocolate-coated caramel bliss. They swiftly went back for seconds, and for some, thirds. Complete success.

caramel2potatoes2In terms of food intolerances, Krystel’s recipe is an absolute dream-come-true. It’s gluten-free, dairy-free and wheat-free, and whilst it does contain refined sugar, it’s in significantly lower amounts to many other caramel slice recipes in the blogosphere. As the caramel is made with coconut milk, there’s also an additional rich, fragrant hint of coconut goodness in every bite.

If you’re allergic to nuts, you can easily substitute the nut meal in this recipe for oat flour or rice flour. I’d probably increase the melted fat (Nuttelex or Earth Balance) by 25g to compensate for the additional dryness, or until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

This is the perfect recipe for a portable lunch box treat, coffee accompaniment or dessert. However, despite the ‘healthier’ ingredients, it’s still rather rich. I’d recommend you start with a small piece and come back for seconds.

omglsVegan Coconut Caramel and Dark Chocolate Slice

Begin this recipe one day ahead. Makes about 20 small pieces

Biscuit Base:

  • 125g Nuttelex, Earth Balance or other vegan spread, melted
  • 1/2 cup (65g) almond meal, hazelnut meal or a mixture of the two
  • 1/2 cup (65g) rice flour
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut

Coconut Caramel:

  • 2 x 400g cans full-fat coconut milk (do not substitute coconut cream*)
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 30g Nuttelex
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup

Chocolate Layer:

  • 170g vegan dark chocolate (dairy-free, 70% cocoa solids or greater)
  • 2 tsp vegetable or canola oil

For the coconut caramel: Combine coconut milk and caster sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, then lower the temperature to a slow simmer.

coconutmilkmontCook, stirring occasionally, for around two hours or until thickened and halved in volume. Carefully stir in the Nuttelex and golden syrup (be aware: the mixture may splatter at this point).

syruprunContinue to cook the mixture over medium heat until it becomes golden brown, thick and glossy (about one hour). Set aside whilst you prepare your biscuit base.

For the biscuit base: Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 20cm x 30cm slice pan. In a medium bowl, mix together the rice flour, nut meal, coconut and melted Nuttelex until just moistened (the mixture should resemble coarse breadcrumbs). Tip the mixture into your prepared pan, then press down firmly in an even layer.

basemontBake for 15-20 minutes, or until slightly browned. Pour over your caramel filling and spread it into a smooth layer.

caramelpour2Bake for around 10 minutes or until the caramel is darkened and bubbling (it may resemble a moonscape at this point but don’t be overly concerned; the surface will smooth a little as it cools). Allow to cool, then refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before adding your chocolate layer.

For the chocolate: Using a double boiler or microwave, melt the dark chocolate and oil together.

chocomontMix well, ensuring that the oil is fully emulsified, then pour over the cold slice. Smooth gently with a knife to create an even surface.

caramelchocRefrigerate for at least two hours or preferably overnight before eating in small pieces with a hot cup of coffee. So, so good.

caramel3 caramelcuNotes:

  • The initial condensing of the coconut milk can be done the day before. Just store your thickened condensed milk in an airtight container or jar until ready to use.
  •  If you can resist temptation, make these bars one day ahead of serving to give the flavours some time to soften and meld together (all of us agreed that they were even better – with a crunchier base and tastier filling – the next day)
  • *Don’t be tempted to use coconut cream in place of the coconut milk. Though the cream thickens well during the condensing process, it tends to split into a layer of coconut solids and coconut oil (the latter of which rises to the top in an oily film during the baking process). If you do use cream, you may need to blot off a layer of coconut oil on the caramel after baking before adding the chocolate layer.
  • This slice gets ridiculously hard in the refrigerator so leave it out for 15-20 minutes prior to serving. Krystel and I would also recommend using a hot knife (dip your knife into boiled water, dry it then cut whilst still hot) to prevent the chocolate from cracking and splintering.
  • This slice can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks

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flourless orange and cacao cake with spiced orange syrup. with hippy vic

clseupIt’s just passed three o’clock on Sunday afternoon. I’ve been up for approximately four hours, mostly spent in a sleepy daze whilst sitting in the dappled sun from our balcony window. Ice cubes clink in my water glass, dancing merrily in transparent liquid. Cheerios crunch against my teeth. I’m still a little dazed from the fullness of the Saturday-that-was.

‘Fullness’ is a good descriptive actually, in every sense of the word. We spent twelve hours of our Saturday between three beautiful houses, eating, drinking, laughing and cooking with wonderful friends. Yes. Twelve hours. That’s three meals with a little exercise and driving in-between (emphasis on ‘a little’ as to be honest; we mostly just ate).

beeThis massive day of food was the brainchild of my gorgeous friend Hippy Vic, who was first introduced to you in my Curing Olives post two months ago. Vic has spent the past month organizing a progressive, roving menu between her home and two mutual friends’ houses, all of whom live about 20 minutes north east of the Perth city centre.

wineRegrettably, Aaron and I spent most of the day eating and not taking photographs. However, I can provide the full day’s menu, as follows:

Breakfast by Floss and Simon: Soft-poached eggs with crispy bacon, herbed tomatoes, marinated mushrooms, hash browns and sourdough toast / tea and coffee / fresh orange juice

Lunch by Alex and Merryl: Hot Turkish bread with artichoke dip, extra virgin oil and dukkah / grilled chicken, vegetable and crisp-fried haloumi stacks with lemony crème fraîche foam / homemade vanilla bean ice cream, salted caramel apples, Cointreau, fresh strawberries and sweet hazelnut dukkah / fresh apple, triple sec and Hendrick’s gin cocktail / coffee

Dinner by Vicky and Laura: Slow-roasted lamb shoulder / mint pesto / lemon pistachio tabbouleh /  baba ghannouj with lemon oil / cucumber and cumin yoghurt with smoked sea salt / marinated eggplant with chilli and garlic / pomegranate salad with micro-greens, avocado, pistachio and soft-curd feta / Persian flatbread / flourless orange and cacao cake with spiced orange syrup (recipe to follow) / Grant Burge Cameron Vale Cabernet Sauvignon (2009)

Twelve hours of absolute food indulgence. Both Aaron and I left Vicky and Mark’s house in a state of slightly sleepy, full-bellied bliss.

candlechocNow, without further ado, let me introduce you to Hippy Vic‘s recipe for Flourless Orange and Cacao Cake.

Vicky and I made the cake at around 6:00pm last night. She states that the original recipe was transcribed from her friend Melissa’s recipe book (Mel originally found it in a recipe guide for the Thermomix appliance) but ingredients and quantities have been swapped around in reckless abandon, eventually creating an entirely different version of the original cake.

In flurry of nut meal and cacao, I snapped urgent photos of the cooking process as the last of the afternoon sunlight faded into blackness.

choccinnamonThe cake was eventually served at around 8:30pm, with the last minute addition of a fragrant spiced orange syrup (due to concerns about dreaded cake ‘dryness’ from Vicky… though she needn’t have worried).

I sliced up some home-grown Valencia oranges and threw them into a saucepan with a cinnamon quill, star anise, some raw sugar and fresh orange juice. After the simmering liquid reduced to a syrup consistency, it was poured over the rustic, warm cake and topped with spiced slices of chewy orange rind. It was perfect addition to the dense, dark cake… the rind contrasted beautifully against the chewy, chocolatey crumb.

*I must apologise for some of the poor quality, 60’s-magazine style photographs in this post. The finished cake was shot entirely in artificial light and has a resultant yellowish tinge (oh, it hurts).

straightoutovenFlourless Orange and Cacao Cake

  • 200g finely ground nut meal (we used 160g almond meal, 40g hazelnut meal)
  • 2 whole, unwaxed oranges
  • 2 cinnamon quills
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 6 large, free-range eggs
  • 200g raw caster sugar
  • 40g organic cacao powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100g good-quality dark eating chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), coarsely chopped
  • Optional: 2 tbsp Cointreau or other good-quality Triple Sec

Half-fill a large saucepan with water, then add your oranges. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 60-90 minutes or until a knife easily pierces through each fruit (if your water boils down too much, add more as required). Drain fruit and discard cinnamon quills. Leave for 10-15 minutes or until cool enough to handle.

blendmontWhen adequately cooled, slice each orange into pieces and add them into the bowl of a food processor.

Process the fruit until smooth, then tip the blended oranges into a large mixing bowl. Add the ground cinnamon, cacao powder, nut meal, caster sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate, chopped dark chocolate and Cointreau (if using). Mix well.

eggchocPreheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 22cm round springform cake tin (or just shove baking paper in and force it to conform, if you’re Vic!), then set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat your (happy) eggs to soft peaks. Gently fold them into your orange mixture, then pour the lot into the lined cake tin.

stircacaoBake for 30-45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake emerges with only a few moist crumbs attached. Serve as it is, with cream and/or ice cream, or topped with the spiced orange syrup (to follow).

cakesideSpiced Orange Syrup

Makes about 1/4 cup syrup

  • 2 (small) whole, unwaxed oranges
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup raw caster sugar (to taste, we only used about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 1 star anise

Slice your whole oranges into 0.3cm slices, then place into a medium saucepan with the other ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce temperature to a gentle simmer. Simmer for around 20 minutes, or until the orange peels have softened and the liquid has reduced to a syrupy consistency.

orangesRemove your orange slices from the syrup, then set aside. Discard star anise and cinnamon quill. Whilst still in the tin, pierce holes all over the top of your cake with a thin skewer, then pour over the spiced orange syrup. Allow to soak for about 5-10 minutes before removing from the tin and transferring to a serving platter.

Top your cake with the orange slices in a circular pattern. Dust with icing sugar to serve, if desired.

cakechocmontNote: If you’d like a good read, the beautiful Hippy Vic has a couple more posts up on her own site, including her latest post which includes a recipe for Mauritian Goat Curry (from fellow bloggers Alex and Priya, aka Boy Meets Girl Meets Food. Also worth visiting for fantastic recipes and travel posts)

the mess guide to: margaret river

bottleThe regular readers among you would be aware that it’s been a very, very long time since my last Mess Guide was published (the Mess Guide to: Melbourne). Nine months ago, to be exact. Nine months. That’s the gestation period for a human.

So, why the long hiatus between travel posts? Well, to be honest, we haven’t really traveled anywhere. Other than work, school, the library, the organic food market… that kind of thing. Despite its awesomeness, I figured a whole Mess Guide post on Perth City Farm would be slightly pushing the ‘travel category’, so… I waited. Holidays were discussed. Nothing was booked.

It’s now three-quarters-of-a-year later and we’ve finally taken another holiday, albeit in our home state. Three weeks ago, Aaron and I enjoyed a blissful long weekend ‘down south’ with family in Western Australia’s south west wine and food region, Margaret River.

mapglassFor the uninitiated, Margaret River is a Western Australian town around 277km south of Perth, the state capital. Set among majestic forests, pristine beaches and horticultural plantations, it’s become a favourite winter holiday destination for many sandgroper foodies who want to escape to the country for the weekend.

Winters in the south west are indescribably beautiful. Lush green landscapes give way to roaring wood fires, locally produced mead (more information below) and hot bread from wood fire ovens. As the seasons change, fields become speckled with fledgling shrubs, newborn lambs, bow-legged calves and wildflowers. It’s beautiful. Art in its most organic, breathtaking state.

sheep

albest2In summer, Margaret River moves into its second phase of sunshine, salt spray and wetsuits. Surfer’s Point starts heaving with amateurs and pros alike, eagerly chasing some of the 12-foot main breaks along the coastline. Hot chips, beer and picnic blankets float with abandon around the local park areas before sunset cues the lighting of barbecues, charring of meat and consumption of boutique local wine.

Aaron and I have spent many days in Margaret River since we were small; as children, single young adults, a dating couple then husband and wife. In fact, our first official ‘road trip’ together as a couple was to a beach shack in the tiny town of Walpole in the state’s south west. Walpole lies about 250km south of Margaret River, so one sunny morning, we packed a bag and drove three hours to buy a memorable bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from a boutique vineyard. We drank it slowly, savoring each drop as the sun dipped below the horizon. That was the beginning of our combined love affair with local Western Australian wine.

rainy3Our most recent trip was at the end of a cold, wet and blustery July. The sky spattered a little during our trip down the coast, but we enjoyed blissfully good weather for the remainder of our stay: cool but sunny days followed by light rains and frosty nights by the fire. The majority of our days were spent driving from attraction to vineyard, providore to boutique producer, all the while yelling ‘Hey Cow!‘ out of the window (there are lots of cows in the south west. And sheep. But mostly lots of cows).

cowsI intended to take comprehensive food and wine tasting notes during our trip down south, but instead… well, I just had a holiday. As a result, this post is a bit of a mish-mash of notes from this trip and previous south west experiences (at all times of the year). So, settle down and have a read… then book a trip to my part of the world. You’ll be glad you did.

arlewoodmontWine:

Margaret River is the the largest wine region in the south west of Western Australia, with over 5,000 hectares under vine and around 140 established wineries. If you’re interested in a south west wine tour, I’d encourage you to start at the Margaret River Regional Wine Centre located at 9 Bussell Highway, Cowaramup WA 6284.

The Centre holds samples from every winery in the south west region (for both sale and tasting) so if you’re in a hurry, you can swill, spit and buy all of the region’s wines in one convenient location. If you’d prefer a drive, the Centre’s friendly staff can also provide maps and tips on some of the region’s best cellar doors.

wineprobMargaret River tends to enjoy a very Mediterranean climate in terms of temperature variance, humidity and rainfall. Overall, the climate is similar to that of Bordeaux (France) during a dry vintage. Although the region produces just three percent of total Australian grape production, it produces over 20 percent of Australia’s premium wine market. The principal grape varieties are fairly evenly split between red and white, with vineyards producing single origin and blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz (Syrah), Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Chenin Blanc and Verdelho.

Over the years, we’ve been to a fair few vineyards in Margaret River and surrounds. Here are a few of our favourites, in no particular order:

Coward & Black Vineyards: Childhood friends Patrick Coward and Martin Black began establishing their namesake vineyard in 1998, but took over five years to slowly coax their dry-grown vines into a state fit for wine production. As a boutique vineyard, Coward & Black now produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc for sale. Their first vintage won five medals at the Perth Royal Show before going on to earn national recognition. The Coward & Black cellar door is integrated with another of their businesses, the Margaret River Providore (see below) so it’s easy to stop in for a taste whilst also sampling the finest of Margaret River’s produce.

leafbarrelMcLeod Creek Wines: McLeod Creek is a family owned and run vineyard overseen by Erminio (Mario) Iannarelli, one of the most down-to-earth, generous winemakers you’ll ever meet. On the day we visited, he was out tending to his vines and vegetable patches in the midday sun. After sounding our car horn (as requested on the winery’s signage!) he emerged from the garden sporting a huge smile and a blue fisherman’s cap. Mario ushered us inside, then we drank and chatted like old friends before Aaron and I left with a dozen 2009 Cabernet Merlot cleanskins. We also bought a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon after sharing a glass before Mario left for lunch (good man, Mario. We’ll be back).

Arlewood Estate: This single origin boutique vineyard was established in 2009 by an Italian migrant named Garry Gosatti. It’s predominantly run by Stuart Pym, a seasoned winemaker, alongside Russell Oates (who oversees the vineyard) and Terry Chellappah (who works in operations and marketing). On the day we visited Arlewood, the cellar door was being overseen by Natalie, a warm and knowledgeable host who was happy to tell us all about the winery, its wines, the resident horse (Al, photo below) and the owner’s new range of farm-pressed olive oil. A beautiful experience. We left with three bottles of Arlewood red.

albestFiretail Wines: This beautiful winery is nestled amongst the lush vines of Rosa Glen. On the day of our visit, Silkie hens scuttled across the footpaths, fluffy plumage waving in the wind as they pecked seeds from the grass. Once in the cellar door, our host was Jessica, one half of the winery’s ownership. Despite a rather busy afternoon, Jessica’s enthusiasm, passion and love for her product was obvious throughout the entire tasting. This winery makes rather delicious ‘Cane Cut’ Semillion and a fruit driven oak-matured 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sandalford Wines: I’ve mentioned Sandalford a few times on this blog before (such as in this post) with consistently positive praise. To reiterate, I’m a big fan of this Western Australian vineyard, which was established in the Margaret River in 1970 as a close runner up to Vasse Felix (1967). Sandalford is now owned and run by the Prendiville family, who make some of the most beautiful examples of south west Cabernet Sauvignon you can buy. Try their Prendiville Reserve series, Estate Reserve series (2009 in particular), the fresh, fruit-driven Element series and the delicious fortifieds. Fantastic value for some of the region’s best.

Wise Wines: Wise vineyard is a 60 hectare property situated near the picturesque coastline of Eagle Bay. Under the tutelage of Larry Cherubino, winemaker Jeremy Hodgson has created a wonderful catalogue of distinctive, fresh and vibrant wines such as the Sea Urchin series (bargain fresh, fruity whites), Eagle Bay varieties and one of my favourite value-for-money drops, Lot 80 Cabernet Sauvignon (2010 is currently on sale and will cellar well for the next 5-7 years). Definitely worth visiting.

leeuwintasting leeuwinmontLeeuwin Estate: Leeuwin Estate is a beautiful vineyard. It was established as one of the first wineries in Margaret River during the early 1970’s (third runner up to Vasse Felix and Sandalford). It’s now one of the most recognizable Australian producers of ‘Bordeaux blend’ Cabernet (moderately astringent during youth, with notes of blackcurrant, blackberry and plum. It mellows well with cellaring but can challenge the palate, for those more used to Californian or South Australian Cabernet). Both the cellar door and restaurant are jam-packed full of wine enthusiasts for most days of the year. For an introduction to Leeuwin wines, try the Art Series 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (my absolute favourite Leeuwin wine) and the Siblings Shiraz (a fresher, early drinking type of Shiraz that is fantastic value for money).

leeuwincorkBrown Hill Estate: This family owned and run vineyard is situated about 12km from Margaret River town centre, in the picturesque village of Rosa Brook. Winemaker Nathan Bailey creates mellow, fruit-driven reds and fresh, vibrant whites in partnership with his father, Jim Bailey, who runs the cellar door. Brown Hill Estate ‘dry harvest’ their crop. This basically means that the vineyard isn’t irrigated, resulting in smaller, intensely flavoured fruit. Try their mellow, softly oaked 2008/2009 Bill Bailey Shiraz Cabernet and the 2009 Fimiston Reserve Shiraz. Aaron and I also liked the 2008 Perseverance Cabernet Merlot; partly due to Jim Bailey’s tasting comment: “What does a great marriage need after five years? Perseverance. This wine is a tribute to that”. Ah, I love winemakers.

brownhillVasse Felix: The beautiful Vasse Felix vineyard has the honour of being the first established in the Margaret River region, planted by Dr Tom Cullity and his team in 1967. The vineyard is now owned by the Holmes à Court family, most notably Janet Holmes à Court, who manages a notable art gallery on site. The winery restaurant is headed by Executive Chef Aaron Carr and has received rave reviews for its innovative seasonal menus. Winemaking is led by chief winemaker Virginia Willcock, and some of my favourites include the 2010 Heytesbury (a Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot blend) and the dry harvested 2010 Shiraz. Deliciously fruit driven and spicy, with hints of oak.

The Berry Farm: It was a pleasant surprise to discover that The Berry Farm produces sticky fortifieds, small batch ports and fruit driven sparkling wines. Everything we sampled at the friendly cellar door was delicious, in particular the (ridiculously good) syrupy Muscat, the No.1 Dark Plum Port, No.6 Apple Vanilla Port and the Strawberry Sparkling. As expected, most of the fortified wines from The Berry Farm are rather sweet, however the oak barrel maturation process has delivered a beautiful, full flavoured complexity that surpasses many other sticky fortified wines. We left with a bottle of No.6 and some sticky hazelnut (noisette) liqueur… the latter of which knocks Frangelico for six.

carriagesmontBlackwood Meadery: This unique establishment is based in Karridale, around 40 minutes from the Margaret River town centre. As a family run business, Horst and Alex Bernhagen (apiarists and meadmakers) combine the latest wine making techniques with historical recipes to create unique mead, or wine made from fermented honey rather than fruit. Horst’s wife Martha runs the cellar door in a warm and friendly manner, conveying an honest passion for her family’s products. We sampled Honey Mead Wine 2002 (dry, medium and sweet), the Traditional Honey Mead Liqueur 2003, the syrupy Blackberry Nip and a Honey Boysenberry Liqueur. All of the Meadery’s products are beautifully unique, but rather on the sweet side (if you love syrupy caramel and fruit flavours you’d be in heaven). The Meadery also produces a beer-style Honey Mead Brew that tastes intriguingly similar to sweet bubbly champagne. Blackwood’s products have recently been uploaded for online sales via Margaret River 1st (also check out their facebook page for cellar door information). Worth the trip.

*Note: As you’re probably aware by now, both Aaron and I are both red wine, port and liqueur drinkers; in particular, spicy, woody Shiraz, aged port and mellow, fruit-driven Cabernet Sauvignon. Consequently, these tasting notes are definitely written for red wine drinkers. For a more objective overview of Australian wines including summer whites and blends, I’d recommend that you visit the wonderful James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion. He knows his stuff. 

coffeegood

mecoffeeCoffee:

Aaron and I are very, very selective when it comes to coffee. In fact, I’d rather abstain altogether than drink a bad, bitter cup (Aaron is a little more tolerant but drinks with a grimace). Bear this information in mind when I say that the beanie-clad baristas at the Margaret River Bakery are pretty darn amazing. The house-ground, medium bodied, soft and aromatic coffee was consistent throughout the weekend… we drank about six huge mugs over three days and none required sugar (perfect, right down to the antique collectable spoons).

The Bakery food is also fresh and generous in terms of both quality and flavour. This is their vegetarian breakfast, piled high with balsamic field mushrooms, plenty of spinach and soft scrambled eggs atop organic seeded toast.

mushybrekkyAmazing, as was their home baked organic fruit bread: dense, chewy and flavoursome, encrusted with crunchy sesame seeds and speckled with plump vine fruit. Slathered with butter and The Berry Farm jam, it was my version of fruit toast heaven.

fruittoast

seatsEats:

Aaron and I often eat at ‘home’ during cottage holidays, and this trip wasn’t much different. We ate local bread, tender Angus beef steaks, Margaret River Dairy cheese and salad for two nights in (with some local boutique wines, of course) before splashing out on a single night at the Muster Bar & Grill (the sister restaurant to Must Wine Bar in the metropolitan suburb of Highgate, Western Australia).

Both Must and Muster are owned by Russell Blaikie, a Margaret River raised, award-winning chef who has worked under London-based Anton Mosimann and at the two-Michelin-starred Terrace Restaurant at the Dorchester Hotel. Muster has a fantastic wine list and a hearty, satisfying menu of revamped grill favourites such as pork ribs, steaks and hamburgers.

I happily grazed on sticky pork ribs with hand-cut potatoes, sour cream and a fresh rocket salad. Aaron had an Arkady lamb shank, fall-off-the-bone tender, with Moroccan pearl cous cous, preserved lemon and fresh greens. So, so good. Definitely recommended (they even have vegan options, which is rare in an Australian grill restaurant).

Back to the Bakery. Everything at this quirky little cafe is fresh, homemade and beautiful. My first breakfast at this establishment included home-baked granola packed with macadamia nuts, seeds and oats, topped off with thick organic yoghurt and a raspberry compote.

bakerymontStrangely, Aaron the carnivore actually went for a vegetarian breakfast on both of our visits to the Bakery. On the second occasion, he chose a fresh tomato salsa with free-range fried eggs, chunks of salty herbed feta, fresh avocado and sourdough bread. It was delicious (yes, I stole some); ripe, soft tomatoes dressed in red wine vinegar with sea salt, herbs, Spanish onion and a slick of extra virgin olive oil. Simple, honest goodness atop the Bakery’s divine sourdough bread.

tomsalsaeggWhilst visiting caves along the spine of the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge, we also stopped at the Lake Cave Tea Rooms, 20 minutes drive from Margaret River town centre. This place was promising in its location and external facade, but the internal ambience was sadly empty, characterless and awkward.

As for the food, it was expensive, limited and average. Think hot dogs with manufactured red frankfurts, toasted cheese sandwiches, fried fish and chips and packet potato wedges. Now, don’t get me wrong… I enjoy hot chips and tomato sauce on occasion. However, in consideration of price ($8 for a frankfurt in a bun) and time (25+ minutes to arrive, with only five hungry people in the cafe) I was more than a little dissatisfied.

I’m awarding extra points for the friendly, warm and genuine service. But despite the lovely people, this cafe gets a thumbs down from me.

lakecavetuckerNow for the fun part: let’s move on to the amazing array of farm cafes, organic food stores, providores and markets in the Margaret River region. With homemade pickles, chutneys, jams, wood fired organic bread, cheeses, chocolates, organic meats and olive oils on hand, it’s a food lover’s paradise (particularly if you’re into locally grown, sustainable, pesticide-free organic produce. Locavores unite!).

tasteShops and Markets:

Margaret River Gourmet Meats: This butcher shop is staffed by some of the friendliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting (I think there’s something in the country air; everyone seems nicer 200+km out of the city). Every time we’ve visited the south west, we’ve visited this shop to stock up on fresh, local hormone-free meat, organic free-range chicken, Arkady lamb and locally caught fish. The butchers have always been happy to cut steaks to our exact specifications, which is great if you’re traveling with a group of insatiable carnivores like I usually do. This place dispenses traditional quality with a smile.

Margaret River Bakery: Now, I think I’ve said enough about this little bakery already but if you’re in the mood for baked delights, this is your one-stop shop. Just think pastries, cakes, muffins, croissants, macarons, organic seeded loaves… pretty much anything your stomach or heart could dream up. Eat in or take away, this place is baked and kneaded bliss.

The Berry Farm: Nestled in the beautiful Rosa Glen Valley, this wonderful farm is a treasure trove of locally made preserves, jams, dressings, vinegars, ciders, fruit wines, sparkling wines, liqueurs and fortifieds. One visit and I was in love with… well, everything. The preserves and sticky fortified wines in particular.  As abovestated, we squirreled home a bottle of smooth, luscious Apple and Vanilla Port (No.6), hazelnut liqueur and various chutneys. The Farm also has a fantastic cottage cafe on site, check out reviews here.

provmontMargaret River Providore: The Providore is hands-down my favourite food store in Margaret River. Incorporating Coward & Black vineyards, an organic olive grove, a fruit orchard and vegetable gardens, the dedicated team at Providore create a spectacular array of home made jams, preserves, olive oils sauces, dressings, spice mixes, wines, liqueurs and desserts on a daily basis. Those of you who admire Maggie Beer will be aware of the benefits of verjuice. The team at Margaret River make both verjuice and vino cotto on-site alongside tapenade and preserved mustard fruits. The team harvest and press their own estate grown olive oil and make fresh egg pasta, cheese condiments and aged vinegars. Complimentary tastings are offered on site. Heaven.

beetsauceMargaret River Dairy Company: Aaron and I have been big fans of this locally established, locally run (but sadly, no longer locally owned as Manassen Foods was acquired by a Chinese company in 2011) cheese company for many years. They make some of the most delicious, premium quality cheeses and yoghurts I’ve ever tasted. Honest. And I am a big consumer of cheese. From silky smooth soft cheeses such as Camembert and Brie to distinctive port-infused or smoked Cheddar, smooth style feta, baked ricotta and creamy pot set yoghurt, this company is a dairy-lover’s paradise.

mrcheeseThe Candy Cow: This wonderful candy store specialises in handmade gourmet fudge in what seems like a hundred different flavours, ranging from sweet lime to chilli chocolate, rum and raisin, coconut and (the most popular) bubblegum. If you take a look at the website, you’ll see a photo of the store’s owner… one of the loveliest, most generous men you’ll ever meet. Pop in and say hello.

Margaret River Chocolate Company: This south west chocolate company was established in 1999 and has since grown to incorporate two factories (in Margaret River and the Swan Valley) and a Perth city ‘concept store’. Alongside chocolate bars, chocolate coated delights (including dried plums and apricots), hand made truffles, novelty chocolates and chocolate sauces, each site also incorporates a ‘chocolate cafe’ (with cakes, sundaes, fondues and more) and the all-important free tasting.

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margsoftchocThe Farm House: David Hohnen has farmed Wiltshire sheep and Tamworth pigs in Margaret River since 2004. He opened The Farm House in 2010 as a business dedicated to traditional farming and butchery techniques. General Manager Matt Gilray has a background in both cooking and butchery. He’s readily contactable to ensure that chefs and cooks alike can purchase perfect Arkady lamb, natural grass-fed pork, smallgoods and free-range chicken, cut or smoked to specifications. The Farm House sells products cellar door at the premises of McHenry Hohnen Vitners, a wine producing business co-owned and run by David and his brother-in-law, Murray McHenry (review their online wine catalogue here) in partnership with winemaker Ryan Walsh.

Margaret River Farmers Market: If you don’t have time to drive around to many of Margaret River’s independent producers, just take a Saturday morning stroll around the Margaret River Farmers Market on the Old Hospital site (corner of Tunbridge and Farrelly streets, town centre). This fantastic market hosts vendors from all around the region, selling everything from Leeuwin grass fed beef to Merri Bee organic honey, Mika muesli, Tapalinga homestead, Bahen & Co chocolate, Forest Grove olive farm and many, many more. Take a look at the market website for a full list of vendors. Definitely worth a look when you’re in the region.

rearviewSo, that’s it. We’ve reached the end of my personal foodie tour of Western Australia’s beautiful Margaret River region.

I can’t speak highly enough of this beautiful town, both as a holiday destination and a weekend escape. Whatever time of year you visit, there will always be plenty to discover in terms of food, wine, entertainment, activities, nature and scenery.

This shortlist contains most of my favourite food and wine destinations in Margaret River, however I’m aware that it’s just the beginning of what’s available for visitors to experience in the south west area. If you’re a local Western Australian, please let me know if I’ve missed anything you recommend from the list above. I’d love this to be a collaborative, evolving post as time passes; both as a personal reference guide and as a resource for visitors heading to Western Australia’s south west coast. Thanks, as always, for reading.

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azniVideo Links:

Margaret River Gourmet Escape 2012

Surfaid Margaret River 2013

Leeuwin Estate, Margaret River

Bahen & Co, Margaret River

lemon quinoa salad with cherry tomatoes and persian feta

bowl2It’s just passed 02:00am. Instead of sleeping, I’m listening to the sound of rain beating on the bedroom window; steady, soft, dull and rhythmic. A lone bus drifts down the highway, groaning under the weight of tired passengers and reinforced steel. I feel equally heavy. Strained under the weight of contemplation, emotion and unreasonable alertness.

I fidget, shifting my weight from right to left. Cold fingers tap incessantly on black keys, futilely aiming to translate muddled thoughts.

Type. Erase. Type…. rephrase. Begin again.

Progress. Fail. Darn it.

tommontBy now, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing such a bleak introduction to a vibrant, colourful recipe post. I’m not really sure; my brain has many things to say, but my heart and hands aren’t adequate translators. Let me start with a small recollection of recent events.

Earlier this evening, Aaron and I visited two beautiful friends of ours, Brett and Kendall Stanford. I’m being completely honest in saying that Brett and Kendall are some of the best people you could ever meet: warm, gentle, kind, strong, ridiculously funny, faithful and wise. They’re both generous and loving in every sense of the word.

tomboxl

By day, Brett works as a physiotherapist in a private clinic. He donates his weekends and extra time to Perth-based basketball trick shot group How Ridiculous, which you may have heard of in relation to their Guinness World Record for highest basketball shot (66.89m / 219 ft 5 in). Since 2009, these four Perth guys have been making basketball trick shot videos as a source of both entertainment and sponsorship for the not-for-profit organization Compassion. They’ve been featured by media worldwide and have over 72K subscribers on YouTube. Everything they do radiates genuine passion for the alleviation of poverty, worldwide.

On the other hand, Kendall is one of the sweetest, kindest nurses that you could ever wish to meet. She has a generous heart for people and has been a loyal friend to Aaron and I for many years now. She sung at our wedding at short notice, standing in the boiling sun for sound checks with a bad sound system and persistent flies (nevertheless, she was wonderful, as was Chris, who sung and played with her). Aaron and I attended the Stanford wedding around one month later, hand-in-hand as husband and wife, with smiles from ear to ear. It was beautiful, memorable… uniquely Brett and Kendall.

avoLast Sunday, Aaron and I read a message from Brett that has since permanently burned into the back of our minds. Around four weeks ago, Kendall began experiencing increased fatigue, headaches and facial swelling. After many investigations, she was diagnosed with Primary Mediastinal B-Cell Lymphoma, a rare form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Yes, cancer. It’s scary. I’m angry, sad and frustrated all at the same time. Kendall’s diagnosis brings back memories of my beautiful mother suffering through breast cancer surgery, then months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy a few years ago. It’s a fate that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, particularly not a woman of 24 years.

Kendall has now commenced chemotherapy, and the rest of us have commenced a routine of prayer, more prayer and practical help as required. A few days ago, Kendall sent me a message to ask if I could bring them a bite of dinner on Thursday night. I jumped at the chance, ecstatic to be able to do something tangibly ‘helpful’. I brought over this salad (below) with warm bread, dips and slow-cooked lamb. I hoped that the food would be palatable, nourishing and satisfying, but I still felt a little bit… well, ineffective. Kendall jokingly remarked in a text, ‘…we may want to be on your blog too’. So, after some thought, that’s exactly what I did.

fetacloseAs Kendall tells her story much better than I can, I’d encourage you to read her beautifully honest words over at Kendall Stanford: As I Battle Lymphoma. She’s planning to write updates as she progresses through the next few months, both as a personal means of catharsis and for information sharing. As for me, I’ve signed up for the ‘food roster’ (actually, I requested that she create a food roster!) so you may see a few more Kendall updates on here as time passes, if it feels right to do so.

One last request: if you’re a Christian as we are, I’d like to humbly ask you to please pray alongside us, specifically for Kendall, Brett, their families and friends, the treating doctors involved in her care… and otherwise as you feel led. We’re praying for victory, healing and renewed strength. Thanks beautiful friends. I appreciate every one of you.

quinoasalad2

This salad is simple, nourishing and comforting, speckled with lemon zest and fresh garden herbs. If you don’t have quinoa, you can easily substitute it for brown rice, bulgur (burghul) or cous cous.

Lemon Quinoa Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Goats Cheese

Serves 2 as a light meal, 4 as a side dish

  • 1 cup dry organic white Royal Quinoa
  • 200g punnet mixed cherry tomatoes, washed
  • 1/2 red capsicum, stem and seeds removed
  • 1 avocado, seed and peel removed
  • 1 small Lebanese cucumber (substitute half a telegraph cucumber)
  • 1/2 small Spanish onion, outer peel removed
  • 1 handful washed Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 handful washed coriander leaves (retain stalk)
  • 1 large unwaxed lemon, zest and juice
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup organic Persian marinated feta
  • extra virgin olive oil

Place the quinoa into a fine mesh strainer, then rinse it thoroughly under fresh cold water. Swish the quinoa around with your hands, rubbing slightly to remove the bitter outer coating (called saponin, which can contribute a slightly bitter or soapy flavour).

Drain well, then place into a medium saucepan with two cups of fresh cold water. Replace the lid and bring the mixture to a rolling boil; immediately lower the heat to a gentle simmer, then cook with the lid on for 10-15 minutes.

lemonycookedWhen your quinoa is cooked, the liquid should be fully absorbed and the germ should slightly curl away from the quinoa seeds. Allow to stand for five minutes (covered) then add in a good splash of extra virgin olive oil, some salt and the fresh lemon zest. Mix well, then set aside to cool.

caponionChop your cherry tomatoes, capsicum, Spanish onion, cucumber and avocado into small (0.5 x 0.5cm) dice. Place into a medium bowl, then squeeze over the juice of half a lemon. Finely chop the herbs and add them to the rest of the raw ingredients with the lemony quinoa, crumbled Persian feta, a good drizzle of olive oil and the rest of the lemon juice. Mix well and season to taste with sea salt and black pepper.

finmontServe this salad on its own or topped with warm chickpeas, freshly grilled chicken, fish or a handful of toasted pepitas. It’s also great as part of a Summer barbecue spread with a selection of salads, meat and some cold beer.

quinoasaladNotes:

  • Quinoa (‘keen wah’) is one of the most nutrient rich grains around. It’s an excellent source of iron (needed to transport oxygen around the body), B vitamins for energy, calcium and magnesium (for healthy nervous system function) and vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant).
  • For more information on quinoa (including basic cooking ratios) see my previous post, Quinoa Salad with Preserved Lemon, Pomegranate and Mint.
  • The Australian website taste.com.au has a nice little collection of quinoa recipes here. Beautiful, versatile nutrition. Love it.
  • This salad can be easily veganised by omitting the Persian feta. I’d recommend additions of toasted pepitas, chickpeas or other nuts for added substance, texture and flavour.

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