Sometimes I have to pinch myself.
Sitting in the television kitchen of Maggie Beer, it's hard to believe she's standing right before more, doing a cooking demonstration and preparing lunch for myself and an assembly of assorted food media.
It was with great surprise that Billy and I received invitations to attend Tasting Australia, the food and wine festival held in Adelaide every two years. On day three of our famil, Billy and I were hosted on different regional tours - he headed to the Limestone Coast, I joined journalists and chefs on the Barossa Food Tour.
It's a one-hour drive from Adelaide to the Barossa Valley, and after touring a vineyard in the morning, we adjourn to Maggie Beer's Farm Shop in Nuriootpa for lunch. The Farm Shop is a small building filled with everything Maggie Beer, from ice creams to preserves to her cookbooks and her non-alcoholic sparkling ruby cabernet.
We make our way into the demonstration kitchen, instantly recognisable from the ABC series The Cook and the Chef.
Olives cooked in red wine
Maggie Beer is just as jolly in real life as she is on television. Her signature laugh, her crinkling eyes, the way she claps her hands with joy and tips her head backwards as she recounts memories about food or stories from her childhood... it's all here, and her happiness is even more infectious.
We start with olives roasted with red wine and rosemary, a recipe she says she is testing for the first time. The olives are local and the flesh is firm, with a caramelised sweetness from the glaze of red wine.
Haloumi is dusted with flour and then lightly pan-fried. I'm used to having haloumi cooked to quite a chewy squeakiness which I enjoy, but Maggie's version is much more elegant, the haloumi sliced quite thickly so whilst the surface is golden, inside the cheese is gooey and runny.
Maggie confesses she was nervous about this dish when she heard that one of the guests wasn't a fan of haloumi. The good news? She's converted.
Maggie Beer and Rosemary Shrager
Yes, Rosemary Shrager is on our tour as well. A chef and current TV host of Rosemary Shrager's School for Cooks, she is probably best known for her role as the vice principal and cookery teacher in the UK reality show Ladette to Lady.
Rosemary is equally passionate about her food, and, upon tasting Maggie's haloumi, says she has been converted. "It's de-LISH-ious!" she pronounces, in a sing-song English accent. She emphasises some words with such fervour you can almost see the capital letters floating above her head. "I LOVE it", she trills.
Maggie and a giant octopus
Next comes octopus. The giant octopus leg is an impressive sight. Maggie recommends removing the black skin to enhance its tenderness. The tentacles are cut into large pieces and marinated in a ziplock bag with lemon juice and herbs.
Skinning the octopus
Maggie puts the bags of octopus into a 60C oven until they are barely cooked. They're then finished off in a frypan, sliced into thinner pieces and dressed with olive oil and fresh herbs. The octopus is incredibly soft and tender, buoyed by the slippery slick of extra virgin olive oil and the zing of parsley.
Maggie preparing the chicken
"If you're going to have a chook, make sure it's a good chook," says Maggie.
We're having roast chicken for lunch, and Maggie emphasies the importance of using chickens that have been reared with care, not just for ethics but for flavour as well. She squeezes lemon juice inside the cavity of the chicken, stuffs in some rosemary, and then rubs the skin with lemon juice, verjuice and salt. The chicken is placed into a 220C oven for 20 minutes, then the temperature is reduced to 120C.
Rosemary Shrager, Colin Beer and Rosemary Beer
The biggest mistakes people make with salad, Maggie says, is not drying the leaves and adding too much dressing. The vinaigrette should only be added at the very last minute so the leaves don't go soggy, and there should only be a small amount that pools at the bottom of the bowl.
Carving the roast chicken
Adding gravy to the chicken
Everyone digs in for lunch
Lunch of roast chicken, roast pumpkin and salad
The simplicity of lunch shows that ingredients don't have to be fancy in order to be delicious. The chicken is succulent, the pumpkin is sweet, and whole garlic cloves have been roasted until caramelised. Radiccio, rocket and witlof have just the barest splash of dressing.
We eat on the back porch, seated at rustic wooden tables with a view of the pond and a forest of trees.
Maggie catching up with Rosemary
Plum tarts cooling in Maggie's kitchen
Roasted plums on handmade rough puff pastry
Plum tart with vanilla and elderflower ice cream
Dessert is either roasted plums or quinces on handmade rough puff pastry. The pastry is thick but airy - the flaky pastry and tarts best devoured with spoonfuls of melting vanilla and elderflower ice cream.
A simple lunch made with love, and eaten in stellar company.
Rosemary Shrager and Maggie Beer
Grab Your Fork attended Tasting Australia as a guest of South Australia Tourism and PEPR Publicity.
>> Read the next South Australia 2010 post
(Stephanie Alexander at The Manse Restaurant)
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Maggie Beer's Farm Shop
Pheasant Farm Rd (off Samuel Rd)
Nuriootpa, South Australia
Tel: +61 (08) 8562 4477
Open 7 days 10.30am-5pm
Picnic menu available all day
Closed Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day
A cooking demonstration takes place at 2pm daily
(run by staff, not Maggie Beer, to maintain consistency)
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
South Australia - Adelaide Central Market
South Australia - Enoteca Restaurant, Adelaide with Antonio Carluccio
South Australia - The Manse Restaurant, North Adelaide
And after flying back from Adelaide, I'm out again for a three week trip to Malaysia and Thailand with fellow food bloggers Billy, Minh and Simon. It's my first trip to Malaysia so I'm looking forward to street food, hawker markets and a feast of durian! Posts will continue to be published so please do continue to leave your comments. I will respond as soon as I can :)
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5/06/2010 12:38:00 a.m.