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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Monday, November 18, 2013

Homemade Gluten Free Cereal

Hands up those of you who struggle to find a good gluten free cereal? If you’ve had experiences like us, you will know that store bought cereals are either ridiculously expensive, full of sugar, or just plain disgusting – unless you like the taste of cardboard that is.

I’ve also found that a majority of packaged gluten free cereals contain sultanas. I often find myself thinking, why? Why is this even necessary?! For those of you that don’t know me I will fill you in. I can handle dried fruit – dates, apricots, or cranberries are fine – but I cannot handle the sight and taste of sultanas and raisins! So when they pop up everywhere in my gluten free food I get really cranky.

So for this reason I thought why not make my own special mix? This way I can add all my favourite things into one yummy bowl of gluten free cereal!

Below is a recipe for a super easy no bake gluten free cereal mix.

{Gluten Free Recipe} Homemade GF Cereal Mix

2 cups puffed rice
2 cups caramelised buckwheat
1 cup coconut flakes (or shredded coconut)
1/2 cup pepitas
1/2 cup cranberries
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup chia seeds

Combine all ingredients thoroughly together into one bowl.

Serve with milk or yoghurt and fruit or honey to taste. For dairy free options try using soy, rice, almond, or any other dairy free milk desired. I’ve been enjoying Coyo Coconut dairy free yoghurt with this Gluten Free cereal mix lately. A very yummy option!

This gluten free recipe is easily variable. Mix and match ingredients to your taste. You may even prefer to include sultanas if you wish :)

Makes approximately 700g. Store in an airtight container.

*All ingredients available from most health food stores. Make sure to check ingredients are specifically gluten free, as some will be processed on machinery that also processes products containing gluten.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sabu, Contemporary Japanese & Saké Bar

A couple of weeks ago my lovely husband spoilt me on my birthday and took me out for dinner to Sabu in Parramatta. Sabu is a modern Japanese restaurant that only opened a few months ago and has lots of gluten free options. 

Walking into the restaurant you are greeted by the friendly staff and the very posh décor, which definitely stands out from all the other restaurants in Parramatta. 

The menu is gluten free friendly and is clearly marked up with GF symbols throughout. It’s designed for sharing, which is a great way to taste a bit of everything (although I wanted it all to myself!). It was a tough choice because there were so many gluten free options and I just didn’t know what to choose! 

Before our meal, we were presented with some novelty hand towels. They looked like two mints, but when the waitress poured water onto them, they became hand towels! 

We started our dinner with the Edamame with Sabu Seasoning, which had a lovely kick of chili to them, and the Salmon Sashimi, which was so melt in your mouth delicate and fresh it was to die for! There was even a cute little carved beetroot butterfly as decoration. 

Next I had the Tempura Rice Maguro Hana, which was crispy fried rice at the bottom, topped with raw tuna and a spicy mayonnaise. And yes, it was all gluten free! Wow, is all I can say. I just wanted more and more! 

The hubby doesn’t really like sashimi, so he went for the braised pork belly instead, which was slowly cooked pork belly placed on top of carrot purée, with a cumin crumble and ginger glaze. I couldn’t try any, but took his word for it on how delicious it was! 

We were both full by the end, so there was no room for dessert. However, there was a gluten free option of sorbet, which I must try next time I go. They also have an extensive cocktail menu, which I must remember for my next girls night out ;)

Sabu is a restaurant I would definitely recommend trying for a special night out. The service was fantastic, the food fresh and delicious and most importantly there were loads of gluten free options. I can’t wait to go back! 

Sabu, Contemporary Japanese & Saké Bar 
321 Church St Parramatta 
02 9635 1088

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Monday, November 04, 2013

Easy, No Bake, Gluten Free Chocolate Coconut Cups

I made these gluten free chocolate coconut cups for a work fundraiser a couple of weeks ago. My inspiration came from the humble Bounty Bar, which I used to LOVE as a child (pre coeliac days). Having said that I used to love, and still do love anything coconut flavoured. I was truly sad when I found out that I could no longer eat a bounty bar in my life. So I thought, why not replicate them?!

After a bit of experimentation I developed the perfect recipe for gluten free, dairy free, vegan chocolate coconut cups! And the best bit is they are so simple to make – no baking or cooking required!

I’ve added a small quantity of raspberry jam to this, so it could be a cross between a Bounty Bar and a Cherry Ripe really. You could add any flavour of jam or completely omit this instead. The recipe is quite versatile.

These gluten free Chocolate Coconut Cups are great for parties and can be made well ahead of time. And to be honest they aren’t that bad for you at all. You may be surprised when you taste the delicious goodness of raspberry coconut with a hit of chocolate – but the filling is made up of all things coconut, which in actual fact are all good fats. Just make sure you use a good quality dark chocolate and you’re covered!

Raw, Vegan, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free

Makes approximately 28 mini cups

2 cups desiccated coconut
1 tablespoon coconut syrup (agave syrup or honey will also do)
1/4 cup coconut oil*
1 tablespoon raspberry jam
2-3 drops red gluten free food colouring
250g gluten free dark chocolate

1. Prepare the mini patty pan cases in mini muffin pans or alternatively on a baking tray.

2. Combine the desiccated coconut, coconut syrup, coconut oil and raspberry jam in a bowl with a spatula, until combined well. The mixture may seem dry at first, but don’t be discouraged, keep mixing and it will all come together. Add a few drops of food colouring as desired.

3. Place a couple of teaspoons of mixture into each patty pan case and press firmly in place with the back of the spoon.

4. Place the tray in the freezer for about 10 minutes for mixture to set.

5. In the meantime melt chocolate using the double boiler method. Boil a small amount of water in a saucepan. Then place a bowl or second saucepan on top, making sure not to touch the water. Add the chocolate to the bowl and wait for the chocolate to melt.

6. Remove coconut cups from the freezer and pour about 1 teaspoon of melted chocolate into each cup (pour in more chocolate if desired).

7. Place the tray back into the freezer for another 10 minutes for the chocolate to set. If not serving immediately store in the refrigerator. Best served cold.

*Did you know that coconut oil can also be used as a body moisturiser? Once you have finished with the coconut mixture in the bowl run your hands through the remainder and rub the oil into your skin for silky smooth, hydrated skin. Two in one – beauty treatment and a sweet treat :)

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