Sunday, December 08, 2013

Get the gluten free cookies out… because Santa Claus is coming to town!

He's making a list, and checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who's naughty and nice. Santa Claus is coming to town!

Can you believe we are only weeks away from Christmas?! This year we have decided to do a round up of our favourite gluten free kids Christmas ideas, to help you keep the little ones entertained and happy which can sometimes be challenging around this busy time of year!

Start their day off with these super cute gluten free breakfast pancakes by Kitchen Fun With My Three Sons. Choose from either Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer Pancakes

We love the idea of sprinkling out Reindeer food the night before Christmas. Make these Reindeer Bags from Craft Buds. Alternatively use these bags to fill with gluten free Christmas treats as a sweet DIY Christmas gift.

With all the running around Santa does on Christmas Eve he will be hungry by the time he gets to your house, so prepare these yummy Gluten Free Christmas Cookies by Saveur with the kids a couple of days in advance.

We love these decorated Snowman Milk Bottles by Live Laugh Rowe! Perfect for Santa or for the kids on Christmas Day.

This cute gluten fre Reindeer Sandwich by Little Nummies will surely keep the little ones happy. For a savoury version we would use gluten free bread, bocconcini cheese and olives for the eyes, and a cherry tomato for the nose.

For a great nibbles plate try this Christmas Tree Relish Tray by Coupon Clipping Cook. Great fun for kids and it will surely be a hit with the adults too!

The kids will love this super easy gluten free Rice Reindeer Bowl by Cute Food For Kids. Just use gluten free sausages available in supermarkets and most butchers.

Or why not tempt them with this gluten free Christmas Pizza for lunch by Delia Creates? You could even use pesto, and basil or rocket to add green to your gluten free pizza.

If you prefer a healthy snack option try this Healthy Christmas Tree by Little Nummies.

For some novelty fun decorate the ice bucket as the North Pole Ice, as seen on Jacolyn Murphy.

This Non-Alcoholic Christmas Egg Nog by Jennies Kitchen can be drunk hot or cold.

How cute are these gluten free Edible Marshmallow Snowmen from Curbly?

If you are strapped for time you can make these Marshmallow Snowmen from Cute Food For Kids with store bought gluten free marshmallows. The kids will love to get involved in making these as well.

For a super cool icy treat give these gluten free Christmas Tree Cherry Ice-Creams by Yahoo Lifestyle a whirl!

If you want a healthier treat for the kids, these fruity Banana And Strawberry Candy Canes by Nourishing Minimalism will surely be a hit.

We absolutely LOVE the idea of these Novelty Christmas Photo Props by Paper And Cake! Fun for kids and adults of all ages!

And lastly but not least while you’re in the creative mood why not try these DIY Snow Globes from The Sweetest Occasion with the kids.

… He knows when you've been bad or good, So be good for goodness sake! So have you been good this Christmas?!

We hope these ideas have helped spread the Christmas cheer to you and your little ones!

If you enjoyed this you might also be interested in last years Christmas round up too. Click here to read.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Jingle Bells and a Gluten Free Italian Christmas Cake

When I think of Christmas as a child, there is one distinct memory that comes to mind – my mum in the kitchen baking traditional Italian Christmas biscuits. She would prepare these for days, first making the filling and then making the little pastry cases to wrap around the fruit mince and sprinkling them with bright and colourful hundreds and thousands. The house would be filled with beautiful Christmas aromas… cinnamon, cloves and orange. And we would know mum was starting her Christmas baking. These Italian Christmas biscuits, traditional to mums hometown of Calabria, known as ‘San Martini’ are made with figs, almonds and walnuts. Sultanas are also used but I preferred when mum made them without.

With Christmas definitely in the air, I too wanted to get started on my gluten free Christmas baking. But I didn’t want to just make a gluten free version of these Italian biscuits. I wanted to encapsulate the aromas of Christmas and my childhood memories into one gluten free cake!

So I started to pick mums brain and ask her how her biscuits were made. All of mum’s traditional recipes are handwritten in Italian and are usually missing measurements. You know, add a pinch of this and a pinch of that. Add liquid ingredients until the mixture feels right. What is right?? This kind of measuring drives me mad, as I like to follow a recipe that I know is going to work. But back in mums day nobody had measuring spoons or cups so baking was done all by eye. I guess I have to give them credit for that!

Once I sorted out the basic idea of these Italian Christmas biscuits, I investigated possible solutions of putting them into some sort of cake or loaf. With Michael Buble’s Christmas carols playing in the background I began testing and experimenting. The result was this extremely fragrant gluten free and dairy free Italian Christmas Loaf. I even managed to impress both mum and dad, as they said it had the same flavours as the original biscuits!

{Gluten Free Recipe} Italian Christmas Loaf 
Gluten Free, Dairy Free
200g figs, chopped
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1 tablespoon cocoa
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup boiling water
Zest of 1 orange (approx 1 tablespoon)
Juice of 1/2 orange (approx 2 tablespoons)
100g almonds, roughly chopped
100g walnuts, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
150g gluten free flour, sifted
50g buckwheat flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg, whisked

1. Mix coffee, cocoa and 1/4 cup sugar (the rest will be used later) in a bowl and add boiling water. Stir until dissolved.


2. Place chopped figs in a medium bowl and pour coffee mixture over the top. Add orange zest and juice and stir well making sure figs are completely covered with liquid.

3. Soak figs for 1-2 hours

4. Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees and grease a 25cm loaf tin.

5. In the meantime mix together almonds, walnuts, ground cinnamon, ground cloves and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Add both flours and baking powder and mix well.

6. Once figs have soaked add beaten egg and mix.

7. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add wet ingredients. Mix thoroughly and evenly to remove all white flour patches. Mixture will be thick and sticky.

8. Pour mixture into greased loaf tin. Place in the middle rack of your oven for 1hr or until a skewer comes out clean.

9. Allow to sit before turning out onto a wire cooling rack. Dust with gluten free icing sugar to decorate if desired.

This loaf will last fresh 2-3 days covered tightly with cling wrap. Store in fridge and remove about 20 minutes before serving.

After a few days if the loaf becomes dry, slice and heat under the grill for a couple of minutes on each side. This will bring it back to life and be as delicious and moist as it was when first baked. Be careful when turning or removing from the grill. As this does not have bread like texture it will become too soft to remove with your hands and you may burn yourself. Use a flat spatula instead.

This gluten free Italian Christmas Cake can also be served with a spread of butter when hot (for an extra naughty treat)!

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Restaurant Botanica, Hunter Valley – an amazing gluten free dining experience!

On our last night in the Hunter Valley we wanted to indulge in some of the five star quality food that the region is known for. Not only famous for it’s wine, the Hunter Valley also boasts local, fresh produce and to top it off picturesque scenery.

We had heard about Restaurant Botanica by a friend who lives in the area, so called up to make a booking and enquired about the gluten free options. We were told that there were lots of gluten free meals to choose from on the menu and that it wouldn’t be a problem, but that they would include it in our reservation anyway. Tick! I was excited about our upcoming dinner already!

Restaurant Botanica is the on-site restaurant of the Award-Winning Spicers Vineyard Estate. We arrived at the restaurant for dinner before the sun had set, so got to take in the gorgeous scenery. Restaurant Botanica is nestled in a gorgeous cottage like room complete with a glass wall of windows overlooking the vineyards. We were shown to our table, and luckily got to sit by the window to take in the views.

After we were seated, the lovely waiter asked us if we had been to Restaurat Botanica before. As this was our first time he explained to us about the freshness of the produce and the use of the vegetable and herb garden located on-site. Produce is picked daily and provides inspiration for the seasonal changing menu. Our waiter then asked who at the table was gluten free? Bonus points! He explained to me that most of the menu could be created gluten free minus the gnocchi.

The menu is set up into either a 2 course experience ($63 per person) or a 3 course experience ($75 per person). We chose to go with the 3 course option as I just can’t go past dessert and I wasn’t in the mood for sharing hehe

We were served some delicious gluten free bread with olive oil as we waited for our meal to be brought out. I was feeling extremely excited about our meal and happy with my choice of food (lets just say it was a hard decision with all the yummy gluten free options!) 

As we sipped on our wine, talking about how great our weekend had already been, the waiter brought us out an amuse-bouche of creamy asparagus soup to start off the meal. Traditionally an amuse-bouche is a complimentary small starter to the meal to show case the chefs skills and show a glimpse into the chef's approach to the art of cuisine. I was assured that it was gluten free and it was absolutely delicious and light. A great start to what we had in store for the rest of the night. Even my partner who doesn’t usually like asparagus enjoyed it.

For entrée I ordered the gluten free Crispy Skinned Ocean Trout served with lime, pickled green paw paw, pork belly, spice roasted peanuts, coriander, and mint. The trout was fresh and juicy, and the flavours were absolutely delicious and bursting in my mouth!

As I looked over to my partners’ plate of Seared Scallops, with celeriac cream, garden peas and shaved fennel, I felt like I needed to try this also. So I asked the waiter if this dish was also gluten free? And as a matter of fact the chef had created both the dishes gluten free in-case I too wanted to try some. How lovely and considerate of him! The scallops were also fresh and delicious.

For main I ordered the gluten free White River Veal served with Botanica's pancetta (yes they farm their own pigs located on the property…you can’t get much fresher than that), orange and fennel, and pistachio gremolata. This dish was also bursting with flavour and all the elements worked so well together. The veal was cooked to perfection, the orange and fennel salad light and refreshing, and the pistachio gremolata was just out of this world! Yum! Yum! Yum!

My partner ordered the house Pork Belly served with quince paste, goats curd, and garden greens. This was also delicious. All the elements worked lovely and the crackling was top-notch crunchy…exactly what you want from a good quality pork crackling!

To top off a sensational meal we ordered the gluten free Vacherin Splice. We both ordered the same so neither of us would have dessert envy ;) The best way to describe this dessert heaven is layered meringue, lemon sorbet, ice-cream and pineapple sorbet. Thin layers of meringue in-between each layer just gave it enough sweetness in-between the tartness of the sorbet. Yummy!!!

And just when we thought we had eaten enough for the night, we were served two complimentary gluten free Chocolate Truffles from the chef!

I would highly recommend Restaurant Botanica for anybody visiting the Hunter Valley. The food was sensational and the service was professional and superb. The most important thing to me was the chefs’ knowledge of gluten free food and making sure that I was catered for every step of the meal. And I love that the produce was freshly picked from the garden! All in all a wonderful night to end our Hunter Valley weekend.

Restaurant Botanica at Spicers Vineyards Estate
555 Hermitage Rd, Pokolbin NSW
1300 192 868

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Gluten Free Weekend In The Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley, also known as Wine Country, is a foodies dream of delectable food, scrumptious cheese, and of course vineyard after vineyard of good wine! Just two hours north of Sydney, it is a perfect weekend getaway. We were lucky enough to have a very special reason to visit the Hunter Valley this time – for our dear friends wedding!

The wedding ceremony located in the Margan Estate garden.

The wedding was held at Margan Estate located in Broke, about a 30 minute drive from Pokolbin. It was the perfect location for a wedding – the ceremony was outside in the garden overlooking the picturesque vineyards and then the reception was moved indoors to the barrel room. The guests (including the bridal party) sat at two very long tables surrounded by wine barrels on either side of the room. The decorations were vintage and the details were immaculate.

The reception held in the barrel room.

As I sat down I was welcomed with a serving of gluten free bread. This was a nice surprise, as I do not usually expect this from wedding venues. The staff was well educated in gluten free dining and majority of the food was naturally gluten free anyway. For entrée I had the lightly cured ocean trout & spanner crab, served with native lime and avocado. 

Gluten free ocean trout & spanner crab.

For main I was served the seared yellow fin tuna with capers and preserved lemon. As both the mains were gluten free I was also able to have a taste of my partners meal of the braised beef cheek, which was amazingly soft and melt in your mouth.

Gluten free seared yellow fin tuna.

The food and service was fantastic. Margan estate wine flowed throughout the night, speeches were made and the dance floor was full as the salsa band played their tunes. We danced until our feet were sore (with many heels being thrown off) and the pick up buses summoned us to an end. All in all it was a beautiful wedding. Congratulations Steve and Steph…Cheers to a lifetime of happiness together!

During our stay at the Hunter Valley our home was the Crowne Plaza. There are two main restaurants at the hotel, and both are very helpful with gluten free dining.

Gluten free pizza from Grapvine at the Crowne Plaza.

Grapevine offers gluten free pizza bases at no extra charge! Now that’s a first! We also indulged in a beautiful gluten free cheese platter, served with a selection of cheeses from the local “smelly cheese shop” – triple cream brie, vintage cheddar and a very smelly blue, served with gluten free crackers and a fruit chutney.

A selection of cheeses from the Smelly Cheese Shop.

The second restaurant at the Crowne Plaza is Redsalt – open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The lunch and dinner menu is marked up with gluten free (GF) symbols and all grill items can be made gluten free – just ask the staff.

View of the pool from breakfast at Redsalt, Crowne Plaza

The buffet breakfast is also served at Redsalt and the staff was fantastic at showing me around and letting me know all the gluten free options available. My favourite part of the breakfast was the gluten free bread with a SEPARATE toaster to avoid cross contamination! 

The buffet offers an egg bar where you can order your eggs anyway. But be sure to inform the chef of your allergies as some egg mixes may contain gluten. 

There was also your standard hot buffet selection of bacon, mushroom, tomatoes, etc and a cold selection of fruit, yoghurt and cheeses. Separate packaged gluten free muesli is also available. And for those of you with a sweet tooth there are gluten free friands to end the meal – of course I couldn’t resist!

Not far from where we were staying were the Hunter Valley Gardens, where we found a great eatery (with a big cow at the front!) called Taste Of The Country. 

Cute signage on the wall at Taste Of The Country.
There are lots of gluten free options and the menu is marked up with GF symbols. I ordered the BLT on gluten free bread.

Gluten free BLT at Taste Of The Country

Hungry after yet another wine tasting we checked out the Blue Tongue Brewery Café. I couldn’t go past the gluten free pizza with white anchovies, olives and Parmesan cheese on a Napolitana base.

Delicious gluten free white anchovy pizza.
On our last night in the Hunter Valley we decided to really enjoy the quality food of the region and check out Restaurant Botanica voted 2011 / 2012 Winner 'Best Restaurant in a Guesthouse' - Hunter Region Restaurant & Catering. All I can say was this was an amazing gluten free dining experience. I would like to dedicate a standalone post to this one so keep an eye out for our next one! (Or sign up to our feeds on the right to make sure it comes direct to your inbox).

Before our drive home we snuck in one last yummy meal at the Royal Oak Hotel, 221 Restaurant. Although the exterior of the hotel may not look like it, the food was fine dining quality. For starters we shared oysters made three ways. For main I ordered the blackened spice yellow fin tuna with toasted sesame seeds, served with wasabi mayonnaise and organic soy (guaranteed gluten free by the chef) and garnished with ruby grapefruit and micro coriander.

To end off the meal I couldn’t go past the gluten free salted milk chocolate caramel served with peanut butter ice-cream, raspberry jelly and bittersweet chocolate. Absolutely divine!

What a wonderful, relaxing and uplifting weekend full of delicious food, great wine, fantastic company and lots of happy memories. I hope you enjoyed reading about my gluten free dining experience in the Hunter Valley and it has enticed you to book a weekend away!

Fantastic wine at Piggs Peake vineyard!
Here’s a list of the gluten free friendly places that I visited on my weekend away:

Margan Estate
1238 Milbrodale Road, Broke, Hunter Valley
02 6579 1372

Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley
430 Wine Country Dr, Lovedale
Redsalt: 02 4991 0944
Grapevine Café-Bar: Bookings not essential

Taste Of The Country
Shop 11, Hunter Valley Gardens Village, Broke Road, Pokolbin
02 4998 6605

Blue Tongue Brewery Café
Cnr Hermitage Road & Mistletoe Lane, Pokolbin
02 4998 7777

Restaurant Botanica at Spicers Vineyards Estate
555 Hermitage Rd, Pokolbin NSW
1300 192 868

Royal Oak Hotel, 221 Restaurant
221 Vincent Street, Cessnock
02 4991 3700

Herbal tea after a very relaxing massage and body treatment at the Crowne Plaza

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