Sunday, May 30, 2010

All that was left of lunch

Yesterday Bruce and I had friends over for lunch to view the premiere screening of our wedding video taken by our friend Fiona. While I was the only coeliac at the lunch, everything was gluten-free. It was a bit of a Thai affair with the main course a red chicken curry and pumpkin, basil and chilli stir-fry with rice. This was followed by Jody Vassallo's Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut cake (see recipe in What I am cooking on this blog) with strawberries, blueberries and ice cream (Cadbury gluten-free ice cream). Everything was washed down with a few glasses of champagne and wine and at the end of the day all that was left was a tiny portion of cake.

The red chicken curry recipe came from a 1991 Australian Women's Weekly Easy Thai-style cook book that I resurrected from a box of books waiting for us to have a garage sale or take to Vinnies. It's a pretty simple dish with the main time taken in making the curry paste, which in my case took a bit longer as I couldn't get my very cheap blender to work. Anyway with a bit of intervention from Bruce the mechanic, it eventually ground and chopped up the Spanish onion, garlic, coriander roots, dried chilli flakes, galangal powder, grated lime rind, shrimp paste, paprika, turmeric, cumin seeds and oil – into a fragrant paste. The other ingredients are green shallots, chicken thigh fillets, fish sauce and coconut milk. The other dish came from a more recent Thai cookbook called Beginners Thai, Step-by-step to Perfect Results also in The Australian Women's Weekly cookbook series. Bruce was the master of this dish, which was very delicious despite my overcooking of the pumpkin, which made it turn into mash.The only gluten-free substitute that was needed was Tamari soy sauce instead of a wheat-containing brand.

Traditionally Thai food does not contain a lot of gluten but in recent years I have found that more and more restaurants are using mass produced curry pastes and sauces that include gluten. At the same time a number of Thai restaurants are specifying dishes that are gluten-free on their menus, which makes eating out a lot easier for coeliacs. One Thai restaurant that I know offers a gluten-free menu is Thai Potong at Newtown in Sydney's inner west.

On checking on The Australian Women's Weekly cookbook website, which seems to be managed in the UK, I found that they produce two coeliac-friendly cookbooks called Gluten-free Eating and Gluten-free Cooking.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gourmet gluten-free on Hamilton Island

If you are thinking of travelling to Hamilton Island in Queensland's Whitsundays then you'll have no trouble eating gluten-free. Bruce and I recently spent our honeymoon there and I was very well looked after on the gluten-free front. The food is more expensive than on the mainland so bring your money with you.

While not every restaurant on the island offers gluten-free food there is more than enough to ensure you definitely don't go hungry. Down at the wharf area where most of the restaurants and cafes are situated both the Manta Ray Cafe and Romanos (Italian restaurant) offer gluten-free pizza bases and pasta. Romanos is the more expensive of the two, but I found the seafood pasta tastier at the Manta Ray Cafe. While we didn't eat at the Reef Hotel just before we left I saw the hotel's Pool Terrace Restaurant menu which offered many gluten-free options all highlighted on the menu with (gf).

There are many fine dining experiences to be had on the island. One of our best meals was at the seafood restaurant Mariners on the wharf. While gluten-free options are not listed on the menu the staff are very knowledgable and were happy to adjust any dishes to suit my needs. In the end the meal we both chose was gluten-free.  The fresh barramundi fillet with white bean puree, spinach, asparagus and cherry tomato jam was delicious. We also ordered side dishes of steamed green beans tossed with pancetta, garlic and parsley and roasted potatoes with rosemary and garlic, which we really didn't need but were also gluten-free.

At the Beach Club, where we stayed for the seven nights, the staff were also knowledgeable about my food requirements. When we booked the trip I had asked the travel agent to let them know I needed a gluten-free diet. While I think this information did get through, I seemed to be better served after having welcome drinks with the general manager of the resort, who said she would check that this information was on my file.

As part of our package we received a complimentary breakfast each day. Much more than a bowl of cornies or a piece of toast (gluten-free of course) this meal would keep us going for most of the day. While I couldn't eat the pastries and cereals I was more than adequately catered for with fresh fruit, natural yoghurt, a variety of egg dishes from omelettes to scrambled eggs and gluten-free French toast. The wait staff would also ensure that my gluten-free bread was toasted separately from the general toaster in the dining area.

One of the culinary highlights of the week was a  lovely degustation dinner on the beach in front of the resort's infinity pool.  Called the Watersedge experience, the chef made a few adjustments for me at this romantic candlelight meal. Our meal included tomato consomme with green asparagus, prawns, a Moreton Bay bug and basil followed by pork belly and scallop, sauerkraut, porcine jusrette. Our main dish was poached flathead with smoked fish cake (mashed potato for me) and wilted spinach. This was followed up by a desert tasting plate. As I was unable to eat a number of the sweet options, Bruce had this all to himself. I wasn't left out with the chef providing my own gluten-free desert tasting plate. Suffice to say we were rather full at the end of this gourmet experience and had to go for a walk before calling it a night.

On our last evening we ventured over to the very flash Qualia resort, which is nestled in the trees at the northern point of the island. Just like the Beach Club, I didn't have to go without the pre-dinner roll with lightly toasted gluten-free bread supplied with my own plate of oil and balsamic. While Bruce was very happy with his selections my meal wasn't especially flavoursome. It looked like a work of art but was a bit bland.

So as you can see I definitely didn't go hungry on Hamilton Island. After seven nights it was time to return to Sydney and eat a bit less.