Like a fruit bat hunting for a mango tree, my super senses spotted the home made torte sitting on the bar of the restaurant.

‘It’s homemade Pinolate’, the waitress said. Pinolate is a light Siena cake with pine nuts and a ribbon of custard cream through the middle. Not overly sweet, the cake has now shot to the top of my perfect dessert list.

To find, visit Osteria sella Chiacchera, Siena


Bologna Cooking School

The cuisine of Bologna is vey specific and revolves around cooking a few dishes very well and with the best ingredients. The specialities of the region is tagliatelle with ragu (the ubiquitous bolognese sauce), tortollini either in broth or with butter and sage and lasagne. A day at the Bologna Cooking School will get you up to scratch with a couple of these dishes.

The lesson starts with a visit to the markets. Carlo picks you up from the hotels and then plunging down the side streets takes you on a market tour. The group of five shop for the ingredients for the cooking class. We are only to buy the best of the best. To non-Bolognese eyes it is difficult to pick out from all the hanging hams which is the best proscuitto or how to find the right parmigiana. To improve our palette we tasted proscuitto aged for 24 months. It was smooth and silky and not too salty.

From the fruit market we picked up some small, purple artichokes, which don’t need to be cooked, some fresh peas and a rockmelon. The most care was taken wih the selection of the beef for the Bolognese ragu. The cut of beef is from the diaphragm and we watched while it was cut and minced.

The cooking lesson takes place at Carlo’s apartment. Luciana takes the pasta lesson and we undertake the long process of making, resting and rolling out the fresh pasta. It is by difficult to roll out the large, fresh sheets by hand and to reach the uniform thickness as required by Luciana. From the fresh pasta we made garganelle, little round pasta tubes, spinach and ricotta tortellini and tagliatelle cut to the perfect size.

At the same time the bolognese ragu was put on. Unlike our usual sauce, the meat dominates the sauce and only very little tomato is added. After an hour of simmering, a cup of milk is added at the end.


After about fours hours of marketing and cooking, it was time to eat the lunch, accompanied by lots of prosecco and chianti. The antipasti included the quality produce picked up from the market, followed by the artichoke simply sliced and dressed with lemon. Next was the tortellini filled with spinach and ricotta and finished off with the sage and butter sauce. Next the garganelle with some ragu and the fresh peas. Finally the tagliatelle with the bolognese ragu. There is no rest at the Bolognese table so straight on to strawberries soaked in prosecco and then a tiramisu semi freddo cake made by one of our fellow students who had just finished a week at the Gelato University. By this stage, Carlo produced his home made limoncello and for those still conscious a quick espresso to finish.


I can now cook tagliatelle ragu and tortellini and have the certificate from the Bologna Cooking School to prove it.











Five Days in Vernazza

Vernazza, one of the five villages in the Cinque Terra, is an impossibly perfect slice of Italian life. During the day, waves of sightseers wash down from the train station into the square and then onto the ferry to the next town. Later in the afternoon, guided walking groups stagger down steep stairs still gasping from their hike over the mountains, high five, and then head off up the opposite stairs for more feats of endurance. In the morning and the evening, except for a few strays like us, Verrnazza returns to the locals.

We are staying in an apartment owned by Alessandro. He offered to meet us at the station which I thought was a kindness until we started heading up the steep steps to the apartment. He hauled both bags up in a Herculean effort which still brings a sweat to the brow thinking about it. Alessandro must have taken a while to recover because for the next few days he seemed to spend all his time sitting in the sun at Ananasso Bar in the morning and then working his way around to the Enoteca for late afternoon drinks which continued into the evening. No wonder Alessandro is ‘very ‘appy’ living in Vernazza. Whenever we spotted him in the square, we gave him a cherry wave to embarrass him in front of his cool friends. The mystery of Alessandro’s leisured life in the Piazza remains unresolved. Is he a professional footballer, or an artist (the bookshelf in the apartment is full of art books), or a village entrepreneur with many little income earning apartments scattered around Vernazza?

Walking in the Cinque Terra is tough. After the big flood of 2011, many of the paths are still closed and there iis continual confusion about what is open. The paths they tell you are definitely closed, are open, though often in poor condition and those that are definitely closed and fenced off, are never mentioned until you come across the gate. It is all worked out by word of mouth by stopping the walkers coming the other way and asking ‘did you get through? Is the path open?’.

But of course the walking is only the prelude to justify the eating of three large meals a day. The food in the village is based around seafood and is fresh and delicious. Sardines dressed simply in lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper, followed by a whole baked bream with crispy potatoes. One night, for a change, I had veal cooked in wine which was the sweetest and ‘vealiest’ veal I had tasted for some time. All of the meals come with salads made with astringent radicchio and peppery rocket. The local Cinque Terra white wine is dry and delicious and perfectly matches the seafood. Each meal is pronounced the ‘best ever’ until the next day’s eating starts.

The charms of Vernazza are many. There is a small beach with easy access to swimming, lovely views of the surrounding hills and vineyards and a central piazza full of great food at extremely reasonable prices. As well as the pleasures of sitting in the sun with your morning coffee at Ananasso Bar waiting for the day to unfold.








Dinner at Belforte

Sandra enjoying her dinner at the Belforte
Sandra enjoying her dinner at the Belforte
Mains at Belforte
Mains at Belforte
Sample from the seafood platter
Sample from the seafood platter
Restaurant at Belforte
Restaurant at Belforte

The old fort is perched on the edge of the Harbour at Vernazza. Hanging off the side is a small veranda with six tables, perfectly situated to watch the Mediterrenean sunset. The best time is from 7.30pm to catch the sun dropping over the Hills behind Monterossa.
The menu, as expected, is based around fresh, local seafood. We started with a shared platter of Hot Vernazza Seafood. The generous serve included scampi, incredibly tender octopus, small, sweet mussels and prawns. the local Cinque Terra whites are light and dry and perfect with the seafood.
For the main, I had the Seabream with baked vegetables. Andrea (yes, we are on first name terms by now) brings the whole fish to the table and expertly fillets it and plates it up. The Seabream is perfectly cooked, with the white flesh falling apart. Sandra ordered the platter of grilled local seafood with scampi, gamberoni and fillets of local fish. We finished off with an empty bottle of Cinque Terra Sassarini and an emply bowl of Tiramisù.
By the end of the meal everyone on the little veranda was swapping stories on where to go and what to do and Andrea was singing a la Dean Martin.
We carefully walked down the 50 stairs from the fort down to the square and climbed one more time the 70 steps back to the apartment.

Top Times at the Top Hotel

Gristle and gravy
Gristle and gravy
Chicken and braised cabbage
Chicken and braised cabbage
Bedroom at the Top Hotel
Bedroom at the Top Hotel

The Top Hotel on the edge of Prague is 800 rooms of unreconstructed Soviet gulag. It was the venue for this year’s public management conference and it offers the kind of experience which lingers in the subconscious in different nightmarish guises for some time. As Rod Rhodes said when he picked up his lifetime achievement award at the conference dinner “little did I realise that when I started my career in Bradford in 1956, I’d finish up here in Prague in 1956” (Rhodes 2013).

So what happens in the Top Hotel? Smoking is compulsory. They hand out packets of Marlborough Reds when you check in. Customer service is non-negotiable. Nothing is too hard for them not to do. Many things are withheld from guests so not to spoil their discomfort. For example, neither the fridge or hairdryer work. the most used phrase at the Top Hotel is “not pozzible”.

As would be expected, the food is very special, when it is available. Despite the booking of about 700 conference goers, none of the restaurants open for lunch.




We stayed in and ordered the Czech specials one night. I had the roast chicken with braised red cabbage and potato dumplings. The chicken and dumplings were fine, but the potato dumplings turned out to be potatoless stodge.
Tracey was not so lucky and ended up with gristle in gravy with a splodge of whipped cream.

The Top Hotel is very far removed from the usual tourist haunts in the old city of Prague but it has a way of creating memories that will far outlast cobbled street and beautiful buildings.

10 Food Questions – Sue Horton





Sue Horton

  1. Food for you is what?   Food is about pleasure, generosity and celebration.  I never understand those people for whom food is solely about fuel. Food provides an easy way of being generous with yourself and others.  It evokes memories of good times…what would the Ekka be without strawberry icecreams???  Veal saltimbocca evokes the Milano Restaurant in the 1970s;  laksa always brings back memories of  my first encounter with The Malaya in Sydney in the 1980s;  chilled soups immediately recall those dinner parties designed by Greta Anna; seafood always tastes better from Stradbroke and never has steak been more succulent than at Medium Rare!
  2. What was your favourite food/meal as a child?  Not a birthday cake!  Every year my mother would make me a Bombe Alaska for my birthday.  It was so exciting: the lights would go off and the brandy would be lit….crisp on the outside it was filled with ice cream and strawberries.  It was fabulous.
  3. What did you have for dinner last night? Roast chicken and  red cabbage coleslaw; grilled figs and yoghurt.
  4. Favourite restaurant?  Spirit House for special occasions. Either The Continental Café  or Simpatico for more regular feasting, and  my local café Bellesis for breakfast or occasions where there are diverse tastes, incomes or finicky children.
  5. Do you grow food, and if so, what?  I do not grow food but I have an open invitation to raid the garden of my next door neighbours who have a great selection of herbs.
  6. Local hidden gem?  The Fruit Barn at Dunwich…great coffee, cakes, salads and vegetarian snacks with an unexpectedly wide range of fruit and vegetables and up market delicacies.
  7. Your favourite food shop?  Allsop and England at Coorparoo – organic butcher, great service…always happy to cooperate with my attempts to cook new recipes.
  8. What do you hope never to eat again?  Mass Produced Mud Cake ubiquitous at work morning teas….or white chocolate.
  9. How often do you cook?  I cook every day.
  10. Most used cookbook?  Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion.


Libyan Lamb Soup

Enough of salad. With the hint of a light, cool breeze coming off the river at night, it is time to pull out the soup bowls. And to put in the bowl? At the moment, I can’t go past Libyan lamb soup.

There are many variations of this traditional Libyan soup and they all have that warming, unctuous quality of a great cooler weather dish. The soup has the spice palate of the Middle East with coriander, cumin and mint mixed with little nuggets of lamb. The majority of recipes add in chick peas, and though normally a fan, I prefer to use pearl barley in this recipe. It is one of those soups you can make your own. I also like to add in some vegetables such as pumpkin to make it a more balanced dinner. As well, you can experiment with the spices. I have included the basics below but sometimes add in ras el hanout,  a small piece of cinnamon or crank up the chilli.

Pearl barley
Pearl barley

Libyan Lamb Soup

500 g lamb

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 large clove of garlic

1 tspn ground coriander

1 tspn ground cumin

1 tspn ground allspice

1 tspn of chilli powder (or one fresh chilli)

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups water

3/4 cup pearl barley

1 tin of tomatoes

50g cous cous

Handful of chopped fresh mint and parsley

Lemon wedges to serve

First of all chop the lamb very finely, until it is the size of small pebbles, and put aside.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onion until slightly golden and soft. Add the chopped garlic and fry another couple of minutes. Then add in the coriander, cumin, allspice and chilli and stir for a couple of minutes. Transfer this mixture to a bowl and put aside. Add some more oil to the pan and increase the heat. Add the lamb to brown and keep it moving around the saucepan.

Turn down the heat and add back in the onion and spice mixture.  Also add in the chopped, tinned tomatoes, the water and the stock. Give it a good mix and add the pearl barley (or chickpeas). Stir again, put the lid on and set  it on a low simmer for an hour.

After an hour, add in the cous cous, parsley and mint and take the saucepan off the stove and let it stand for three minutes. Serve in big bowls, because you will want a lot, and serve with a quarter of lemon.

Serves four.

Libyan Lamb Soup
Libyan Lamb Soup

10 Food Questions – Jacinta Arnold

Jacinta Arnold - gourmet traveller
Jacinta Arnold – gourmet traveller
  1. Food for you is what?  Pleasure and adventure
  2. What was your favourite food/meal as a child? Lamb chops cooked in the vertical grill, very buttery and smooth mashed potato, and beans.
  3. What did you have for dinner last night? Beef with capsicum and banana chilies, rice pilaf with spinach, ratatouille made with home grown eggplant.
  4. Favourite restaurant? Sakura, Highgate Hill.
  5. Do you grow food, and if so, what?  Herbs, eggplant, tomatoes, capsicum,  fennel, spring onion, leek, chilies  lemongrass, potatoes.
  6. Local hidden gem? Raku Japanese Cafe, Boundary Street, West End.
  7. Your favourite food shop? Gabba Fruit Market, Annerley Road, Woolloongabba.
  8. What do you hope never to eat again? Food that I am allergic to.
  9. How often do you cook? Most nights. even when I go out I have to cook for the family, but hey it’s my day job.
  10. Most used cookbook?  At the moment … any of Mr Ottolenghi’s three cookbooks.


Magazines and the Art of Food Writing

New magazines
New magazines

A new generation of food magazines are blurring the distinction between art and food. These highly curated publications  seek to explore new ways of thinking, writing and presenting food. In contrast to the glossy temptations of Gourmet Traveller, the aesthetic of the new food magazines is decidedly matte, both in paper and intention. Food is seen as a metaphor for a range of human activities and this frees it to be explored through many approaches, some of which have only a marginal relationship with food. Below is a snapshot of some recent food inspired magazines.

Cereal: In Pursuit of Food and Travel


Cereal is a new magazine with the first edition published late 2012. It is a substantial publication and structured like a book and includes six chapters with headings such as Copenhagen and Carrots. The aim of the editors, based in Bath in the UK, is to explore subjects in-depth, and allied with beautiful imagery and design to create a magazine which can be read and re-read. The format works with a combination of historic overview of selected foods, recipes,  personal stories and interviews. For example, the chapter on matcha, a powdered Japanese green tea, has detailed article on the history and ritual of making matcha, a story about a tearoom in Bristol that specialises in matcha and a recipe for a matcha cake with ginger and lemon.

The photography is beautiful and the layout clean and it looks damn fine lying on the coffee table.

Cereal – available from Scrumptious Reads, $20.00.

Gather Journal

Gather Journal
Gather Journal

Gather is another substantial publication designed to sit on your shelf for some time. Printed in the US, it is seasonal and recipe based, with the first edition coming out in the Northern summer 2012. The journal follows the courses of a meal with chapters from Amuse Bouche and Cocktails through Starters, Mains and Desserts. The final chapter is on Salt and covers the many types and uses of salt as well as recipes for salty treats such as peanut brittle.

The recipes are accessible and show influences from Asian through to Middle Eastern and includes starters such as oysters with a summer vinaigrette and  shaved asparagus salad with poached egg. For mains the stand-outs were grilled pomegranate chicken and steak and caponata. Gather is a great addition to any recipe library, but for  Australian cooks,  we will always be a season behind (or ahead) when the issues are released.

Gather – available from Scrumptious Reads $25.00.



meatpaper has been going for five years and is the most established of the new food journals, though it often has only an elliptical relationship with food. Unsurprisingly, the focus of the magazine is on meat, and to reinforce the love, many photos of  meat. There is much to find out about meat with Issue 18 including articles on making bollito misto which is a medley of boiled, fatty meats from Northern Italy,  Hungarian sausages, and for the adventurous, a recipe for a Turkish custard dessert made with chicken breast. To counter balance the meatiness, there is four page spread on the national dishes of the world. Australia’s, was predictably, the meat pie though our near neighbours in Papua New Guinea are much better off with mumu, a dish pork, sweet potatoes, rice and greens cooked in an earthen oven. The Canadians have to make do with poutine, described as french fries covered in cheese curds and brown gravy.

meatpaper  is both ironic and serious at the same time. It is published in San Francisco and its focus is more domestic than some of the other magazines but this is redeemed by arty graphics and a curious take on all issues meat.

meatpaper: Journal of Meat Culture – available from Scrumptious Reads. $15.



Condiment:Adventures in Food and Form, the most self-consciously arty of the magazines. Published  out of Melbourne,   the focus is relentlessly global with articles from Germany, Japan and the United States. The magazine is highly graphic with collages, photography and selected works by particular artists. The writing has a  manifesto feel about it as the writers explore the far reaches of what is gastronomy. For example, Cameron Allan McKean, in his piece on walking towards an expanded gastronomy and ponders that ‘chemical and molecular science did not free food through molecular gastronomy, it tethered it to technology and abused it: a fearful overwrought approach to food.’ Like the other magazines, there is a desire to stretch the notion of what is food writing and to do this through exploring the links between food and art.

Condiment – available from the Queensland Art Gallery. $15.




Justin Livingston – 10 Food Questions

Justin Livingston - elegant retiree and international traveller
Justin Livingston – elegant retiree and international traveller
  1. Food for you is what?  For me is a major part of the enjoyment of life and people. Whether it is eating in with company (my favourite) or dining out in a  restaurant or even dining in  alone – less keen on dining out alone. It is the sharing of one of life’s best experiences, not just taking in the (frequently more than) necessary calories….
  2. What was your favourite food/meal as a child?  My favourite meal was the few times in the year when our mother would roast one of our own truly free-range chickens – a luxury in the 50’s. I have never tasted as good since.
  3. What did you have for dinner last night?  Last night I ate in alone – prior to watching the Serena Williams in action at the Brisbane International.  Sauteed chicken breasts with some rosemary underneath slices of bacon,  accompanied by potatoes and onions roasted together, asparagus and baby marrows – it was pretty OK. Leftovers in the freezer.
  4. Favourite restaurant?  In Brisbane my favourite restaurant would have to be Montrachet. Truly professional with good French food and great personal service. Second would be Anise.
  5. Do you grow food, and if so, what? I don’t grow food on my small balcony here in Brisbane. In my flat in London I grow basil and rosemary in pots.
  6. Local hidden gem? Brot Patisserie on Waterworks Road, Ashgrove. Very good baked on site German bread and wonderful cakes and pastries.
  7. Your favourite food shop? Sammie’s Girl for fish and James Street Butchers for the best sausages.
  8. What do you hope never to eat again?  Brains. Something about the texture and the richness. Otherwise I am pretty much an omnivore. Than you Dad – for a father of the 40’s he had a very broad palate.
  9. How often do you cook?  I cook every day. Evening is my main meal, alone or with company, no difference. Less wine on my own, but no abstinence.
  10. Most used cookbook?  In the past my most used books were Elizabeth David’s. Now I’m spoilt for choice. On my own, I would rarely use a book, but since retirement, I am more likely to use one to try something new. I like Jamie Oliver’s relaxed style of Italianesque cooking, Nigel Slater’s old fashioned English stuff, Nigella Lawson’s desserts – I am lazy about desserts though.