Spirit House, Yandina QLD – Thai BBQ Lamb Salad

BBQ Lamb SaladI love spring. My garden is popping with colour, my house is infused with the scent of jasmine and gardenias and some of my favourite foods are in season.

I also love Christmas and am not averse to a little extended anticipation. What’s not to look forward to? It’s a time to celebrate everything that’s right with the world – family, fun, peace and of course, food. It’s also a time to the share the things you love most with those nearest and dearest. So there’s no better time to share some of my favourite spring, summer and festive food with you.

As you might know from a previous blog, I have spent many happy hours at Spirit House – the restaurant and and the cooking school. I have also spent many delightful hours in the pages of their recipe books, cooking their sensational creations and sharing them with family and friends.

Spirit House Thai Cooking BookMy favourite from my almost complete Spirit House collection (and of everything else I have), is Spirit House’s first publication – Thai Cooking. It’s entirely navigable for novices, challenging enough for more experienced cooks and spans the spectrum from canapes, salads, stir-fries and curries to desserts. It’s great all year round and I turn to it almost weekly for curries in winter, stir-fries in spring and salads in summer.

My favourite spring dish celebrates not only its Asian origin, but the gorgeous produce of Australia and the season – Thai BBQ lamb salad. The good news is, because they are such nice people, the authors have given me special permission to share it with you.


They have also given me a little heads-up that a best of Spirit House cook book will be available before Christmas, featuring a compilation of their favourites as well as 20 new recipes.

In the meantime, have fun with this one and if you want to venture out for an appetiser, something really special or a little of something you won’t (unfortunately) find in any of their books yet, scroll down for a little “taste” of what’s on offer at the restaurant right now.

Salmon SoupIf you have eaten at Spirit House, cooked any of their recipes or try this one, then you’ll know that their food is balance epitomised. Authentic Thai food, celebrating local produce, using traditional but also embracing some contemporary techniques and always perfect.

Point in case their coconut soup with salmon, lemongrass and chilli oil. Delicate, moist fish is a perfect match for the hint of chilli which just cuts through the coconut milk and with finessed restraint does not overpower the subtlety of the lemongrass and kaffir lime.

I could tell you about the pork belly, but I’ll (almost) let this picture speak for itself. It looks sweet and it is sweet, but it’s also satisfyingly fiery with all the crisp on the skin you want.Pork Belly

Too often I’m enticed by scallops and am left more than a little disappointed by the obligatory vogue accompaniments.  Spirit House’s Thai version with puffed roti and fried green peppercorns is inspired. IScallops wish I could tell you more about it but I completely and utterly lost myself in the moment and other than telling you it is one of the best things I have eaten – ever – I’m afraid you’ll just have to try it for yourself.

New on the menu, so something we felt compelled to try, is the pulled wagyu with pickled shitakes. This dish best demonstrates the old with the new. WagyuMore savoury, but with the chilli hit you’d expect, generous shavings of wagyu work well (if not very substantially) with thick, gnocchi-like noodles, basil and wafer-thin garlic crisps.

If there is one thing that makes Spirit House work (apart from the exceptional food, service and good energy), it’s the consistency of the place and its people. I have never been there and not seen co-owner Helen Brierty close at hand and it’s telling.  In all the years I have been dining there, the gardens have always been beautifully tended, the menu true to its roots, the food and service faultless and everything weaved through with a delicate efficiency.

Spirit House


Home Made – Lamb Pilaf

I love cooking in winter. It’s the perfect time of the year for comfort food, spicy curries and one-pot wonders. Everybody knows that curries are better left in the freezer for a bit and it’s a great opportunity to bulk cook and give yourself the odd night off. Being as I’ve just started a Masters in Gastronomic Tourism, those nights could become rather more frequent, so you’ll see a few more one-pot wonders and quick easies over what could well be the next 5 years.

130714 Lamb Pilaf

First up is my favourite Middle-Eastern dish. The aromatic spices are gorgeous with the tart sweetness of the cranberries, and the harissa gives it the heat you want on a cold night. Mind you don’t overdo it though – start with a little less until you’re familiar with the heat level.


Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil

250 grams lamb fillet, chopped

½ red onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 cinnamon quill

1 teaspoon harissa paste or other chilli paste

1/2 cup medium grain rice

1 ½ cups unsalted chicken stock

1 tomato, seeds removed, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped coriander, plus sprigs to serve

1 tablespoon craisins or cranberries

1 tablespoon roasted pine nuts

Thick greek yoghurt and pomegranate seeds, to serve.

Heat half of the olive oil in a frying pan over high heat and cook the lamb in batches until browned. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add remaining oil to frypan and cook the onion, stirring for 5 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic, cumin, allspice, cinnamon and harissa and stir to combine. Stir in the rice, stock and tomato. Return the meat to the pan and season. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes or until the meat is cooked through.

Stir in coriander, craisins or cranberries and pine nuts. Serve topped with yoghurt, coriander sprigs and pomegranate seeds.

Christmas Classics

Having grown up in cooler climes and despite the heat in Brisbane I can’t help yenning for a little tradition at Christmas. So every now and again I test the nether limits of our air conditioner and yield to a little yuletide indulgence.

Beef FilletThis year it was Manu’s roast beef with red wine reduction (from Manu’s French Kitchen) that had me hanging out for some of those perfect little puffy pillows of heaven – aka Yorkshire puddings. By Manu’s own admission, the French stole their roast beef from the English, so the two work stunningly together and despite being ridiculously easy, it’s a perfect Christmas dinner-party pleaser.

Be warned though – it’s all about the timing. Trust Manu when he says DO NOT cook your beef past medium-rare. And absolutely DO plate your beef before slicing (general rule is to plate for half the time it took too cook). I served mine with simple roasted pumpkin and baby peas soaked in boiling water (I never actually cook them).

IMG_0861So if you’re in for a little post-Christmas last gasp (or if it’s your turn next year), here’s my bullet-proof, easy as Yorkie recipe …

Ingredients (makes 12):

vegetable oil

285 ml milk

115 g plain flour

a pinch of salt

3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 230°C and mix the batter ingredients together.

Preheat a Yorkshire pudding (or muffin) tray with 1 cm of oil in each section.  After 10 minutes, remove from the oven and divide the batter into the tray. Don’t be alarmed if it looks like it’s curdling – this is dead right.  Cook for about 30 minutes until crisp. Do not open the oven door before then or they will not rise. If you want to save yourself the trouble (and don’t have a pyrolitic oven), a handy tip is put wax paper on your full-sized roasting tray and place your muffin tray on top of it so it catches any oil spillover.

Manu's French KitchenYou’ll find Manu’s roast beef recipe on page 117 of Manu’s French Kitchen. This is one of my favourite recipe books, albeit French cooking is generally loaded with love (aka butter), every now and again there’s nothing like it. You can get Manu’s books  here. His latest (Manu’s French Bistro) is number one on my wish list and if you haven’t seen any of the Boy’s Weekend series, they’re great fun to watch.

Day 1 Margaret River

Fermoy EstateLiterally down the road from our resort is the estate that produces one of my favourite summer drops – Fermoy Estate’s Sauvignon Blanc. Their Cab Sav has scored well but it was the Sav Blanc I discovered first so I’m partial. That said, the 2012 lacks a little of the edge of the 2009 vintage, but it still sits close to some of my favourites.

From here it’s a short skip across the road to Evans and Tate. I’ve always enjoyed their everyday range (their classic and Gnangara labels) but was blown away by their Artisan range.  Their 2012 Sav Blanc is beautifully balanced with a dash of Semillon and old French oak barrelling gives it the complexity, texture and length that I adore. For now this is only available at the cellar door and online.

Around the corner on Caves Road is Lenton Brae. This is a special smaller family winery and their wines  are exceptional. You’ll likely find Jeanette (the winemakers’ mother) at the cellar door and the family dog keen for a scratch out front. A must-try here is the award-winning Wilyabrup Chardonnay & the Cab Sav. Neither of these award-winners are cheap but they are worth every cent and be warned – if you start here you’ll be setting off from a high bar. Thankfully they also offer a delightful,  more affordable Brightside Chardonnay – not as complex but just as delicately crafted.

Venison ShopFrom here it’s off to the Venison farm/shop. Here you can taste (and of course buy) anything from venison chorizo, liverwurst and kransky to full venison racks and steaks. It’s places like this that make me glad I so often go for self-catering. I highly recommend trying the rack (and the chorizo, and the kransky, and … well as much as you have time for). I marinated the rack in a mixture of lemon zest, olive oil and finely chopped rosemary and roasted it for about 25 minutes on 180˚C. I served this with a gorgeous Shiraz sauce (also from the Venison shop). On another night I sliced up some chorizo which I mixed in with tagliatelle and a simple sage butter.

XanaduI digress … from the Venison shop we headed to Xanadu for another wine tasting and some lunch.  This was undoubtedly my favourite food experience in Margaret River. The restaurant is perfect for a cozy winter lunch. Stone interior, blazing fireplace, timber floors and the food is exquisite.

Xanadu Oxtail CanneloniWe shared the oxtail cannelloni as a starter (and immediately regretted not getting one each). All the  flavour you’d expect from a properly slow-cooked oxtail but with hardly any residual fat and off the bone in a silky smooth cannelloni tube with mushroom broth and manjimup truffle.

Xanadu Pork Belly Terrine RilletteFor a main I combined two entrees. Great idea and so glad I didn’t miss either of these masterpieces. Pork three ways – hock terrine, confit belly and smoky rillettes with pickled veg and treacle bread; and the perfection of the scallops with feather-lightness ofXanadu Scallops goats curd delicately encased in a maple pumpkin tube nearly brought me to my knees.
Xanadu SteakMy husband’s beef fillet with mushroom ketchup and potato boulangere was buttery perfection and substantial enough to keep him happy.

We both loved the Chardonnay, the Cab Sav was outstanding and we had a couple of surprises here too. Roger was really taken with the Viognier – unusual for him as he’s not normally partial to too much wood. I wasn’t expecting to find a Graciano, nor such a good one. Not surprising is that Xanadu’s chief winemaker, Glenn Goodall, is up for winemaker of the year.

With tummies well-lined it’s off to Stella Bella in anticipation of their Tempranillo. What a lovely cellar door – and I’m talking as much about the ambience and delightful duo of ladies in attendance. Very knowledgeable, very relaxed and happy for a chat. Just as well too – as they have many wines worth tasting and taking your time over. The Tempranillo was honest, but I especially loved the Chardonnay and their Sangiovese Cab deserves a nod too.

Coffee time. By now a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, but worth it regardless. Look no further than Yahava coffee works. All organic, freshly ground and the first coffee I’ve tasted that stands up to Brunetti’s in Melbourne. They do coffee tastings too. I strongly suggest trying their iced coffee. First sniff is syrupy sweet and close to off-putting, but do try it with a little milk. We tried this on our tour the following day (coming next) – nearly all of us had the same initial reaction – and nearly all of us bought a bottle to take home.

Mushroom Risotto

130609 Risotto

This is my favourite risotto. I’ve made it a thousand times and every now and again I’ll add something a little different. Last night I added some Seven Hills goat chorizo (produce awards 2012 medallist) and mushrooms.

The greatest tip I can give you is DO NOT LEAVE YOUR RISOTTO. Pour yourself a glass of wine, put on some music and be prepared to spend 15 minutes nursing – think of it as massaging – your rice. Honestly, the more love you give it the better.

This recipe serves 2.

500 ml chicken stock
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 finely chopped shallots
3 sticks celery, finely chopped sea salt
black pepper
1 clove garli,c finely choppped
120 g arborio rice
50 ml dry vermouth (martini) or dry white wine
35 g butter
40 g Parmesan cheese, finely grated

200 g swiss brown mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 handful thyme leaves
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
salt & cracked black pepper
1 handful italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 pinch chilli powder
squeeze lemon juice

Put the stock into a saucepan, bring to the boil and reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer.

Chop 1 clove garlic. Slice mushrooms and fry 2 minutes on high heat with thyme. Add garlic and fry another minute. Add a pinch of salt, the parsley, a small pinch of chilli powder and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Chop celery, shallots and garlic. Heat oil in a pan and add celery and shallots. Sweat them for a few minutes. Add garlic and after another 2 minutes add the rice. Turn up the heat and keep stirring the rice until it becomes translucent (about another 4 minutes). Reduce the heat if necessary to avoid browning the rice. Add the vermouth (or wine) and keep stirring. Once the vermouth has cooked into the rice, turn the heat down to a good simmer and add a ladle of the stock and half the mushrooms and keep stirring. When the stock has absorbed add another ladle of stock. Keep stirring and adding stock until the rice is el dente (this should take about 15 minutes). Add the butter, the remaining mushrooms, a handful of parmesan (and sliced, cooked chorizo if using). Spoon into bowls and top with remaining parmesan and parsley.

P.S. If anyone knows the secret to protecting their Parsley from our beloved possums, I’d love you to share it 🙂 I woke up yesterday morning, threw open the curtains and saw this. Cost me $2.40 to buy my parsley for this risotto. Expensive little buggers.
130609 Parsley

Noosa International Food and Wine Show



This is my favourite food event of the year. This year 200 of some of the world’s best chefs in one of the most beautiful places in Queensland. 100 of Australia’s best producers. Some of the best wines I’ve had the pleasure of discovering in my 7 years in this remarkable country. Seriously – if you’re a foodie this has to be on your bucket list.

How I do it: I stay in Noosaville (it’s far less crowded, heading home in the evening for sunset on the river with friends is pure gold and it’s cheaper). Get to the show (take a cab) early in the morning – that way you get to taste the top 100 producer’s offerings without getting mowed down. Plan to stay all day!!! Do NOT eat breakfast – you will want to taste everything on offer – including the awesome cheeses, tapenades, breads, butters, yoghurts, clams, mussels, sorbets, ice-creams, olive oils, proscuitto, pancetta, chorizo, sausage, beef – never mind the food critics’ pop-ups on Saturday or some of the fantastic local restaurants’ plates on Sunday.

If you’re a real food addict you will not want to miss one of the “fringe” food trails on the preceding Thursday or Friday. For info go to noosafoodandwine.com.au


How I got it right first time … tips and tricks

Make sure your eggs are at room temperature.

Add a little lemon juice or cream of tartar – this will help stiffen your egg whites and get them to peak properly.

Do NOT over mix your egg white into your mixture. Gently fold in and only until it’s just combined.

Use the bottom rack of your oven to bake.


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No frills no fuss
Heels, flats
And grumbling guts

Tools of the trade … travel essentials … and foodie musts.

I travel. For work. A lot. Alone.

I’m young (sort of). I’m a journalist (a real one), a muso and a foodie, but I work in corporate sales.

I love my job. I get to travel all over Australia, eat at some of the best (and worst) restaurants and now that my clever girlfriends have talked me into it – I get to write about it.

So here are my tips and tricks, reviews, short cuts and long roads …