We’re back.

For the first time in 12 months The Hungry One was able to escape. We shut down our computers. We celebrated Christmas properly (in multiple ways and on multiple days). We got in the car and drove down to Berry for some green grass and blue sky R and R.

We’re now gearing up for what is promising to be a spectacular year, but before I get stuck into the kitchen in a big way, here’s a quick meander down memory lane of some of the best things I ate over the break.

1) Spit Roast Pig with Apple Rhubarb Sauce

Let it be said; my sister knows how to throw a party. New Year’s Eve was combined with the 40th of one of our nearest and dearest. There were scallops and prawns on the barbecue, bold salads of heirloom tomatoes and basil, others with potato and egg and a novelty birthday cake of three layers of flourless chocolate coconut cake, sandwiching chocolate cheesecake frosting, with a great big grin festooned on top.

But the centre piece was the pig. Sourced locally from the Berry Butcher it slowly twirled for nine hours on the spit over ghostly coals, being basted at regular intervals with a glaze we muddled together of reduced ginger beer, honey, a few cloves, apple cider vinegar and a splash of soy for dark saltiness. For cut through I blitzed together a sauce of roasted granny smith apples and rhubarb stems that were plucked straight from my sister’s garden. To give a savoury accent (lest it taste too much like crumble)  I added some rosemary, olive oil, a pinch of salt and some thyme. It came out zippily sunset pink and was a perfect foil for the rich and sticky meat (and I hear worked just as well on sandwiches the next day).

2) Green Pikelets with Poached Egg and Persian Feta at Bent Fork

Closer to home, Bent Fork is one of the delightfully hipster cafes that have taken up residence in our local ‘hood of Freshwater Beach. There are vitamix smoothies with bee pollen, Campos Coffee, kombucha jars for sale at the counter and raw vegan snacks to sustain you on the sandy walk home. If you’re after a slightly more sedentary and civilised start to the day, sit down and order the green pikelets. Crisp and brittle on the outside the interior is a pliant tangle of peas and grated courgette, made even more verdant with the addition of spirulina powder. Add a perfectly poached egg, some soft Persian feta, some cherry tomatoes and a bouffant of rocket and it’s a breakfast that means you’ll be more than happy to work through lunch.

https://www.facebook.com/bentforkfreshwater?rf=1410174099250716

3) Barbecued Ocean Trout with Fennel Almond Cream, Salsa Verde and Pomegranates (at home)

Sometimes the best meals are the ones you make yourself. This was one of them, cooked at home to celebrate having two of our favourite folks from London here to stay. The end result was a simple quadrant, both in company and construction. The hero on the plate is the barbecued ocean trout, slightly deeper in flavour and fattier than salmon, it holds up well on the grill (though you could easily substitute salmon fillets). The base is a fennel almond cream, which has become my go-to sauce/squishy carbohydrate substitute this summer. It easily melds together the Ajo Blanco and Fennel puree from Cut the Carbs. It’s a happy marriage; the fennel provides a silkiness and the almond sauce plumps up the body. It’s lovely with pork, lamb or chicken, but with pink fish it becomes something stellar. The salsa verde was a simple slurry of fennel tops, parsley, coriander, capers, a few sneaky anchovies for depth, garlic, olive oil and a dash of apple cider vinegar. And the pops of pomegranate contribute colour and sweetness. We ate this in our backyard, while kookaburras swooped through the gums and we drank a bottle of Bollinger. It was the most perfect of evenings.

4) Pacific Oysters with Apple Mignonette at Papi Chulo

Looking out over Manly ferry wharf, Papi Chulo may be best known for its taken on Southern US flavours. You can smell the smoulder of the fire long before you step foot into the soothing blonde wood interior. If you go, you shouldn’t miss the beef brisket or Vietnamese slaw (which with its zippy twist of mint and coriander completely reinvents a once sad and soggy salad for me). But pure perfection on the day we visited came in the form of half a dozen briney Pacific oysters, topped with a cheeky green apple mignonette. Add a sea breeze and it’s the very taste of a Sydney summer.

http://merivale.com.au/papichulo

5) Flourless Tropical Trifle

Our Christmas eve dinner crescendoed to this trifle. In my mind after one showing it’s already cemented itself as a family tradition (which happily justified the purchase of a new trifle bowl). It took two days to carefully build it, starting with coconut jelly, then rising to blackberries set in strawberry jelly, a layer of coconut flour sponge soaked in triple sec and mango puree, gilded with passionfruit curd, mango slivers, whipped cream, toasted coconut shards and pomegranate seeds. I kept the sugar content low, and leaned heavily on the natural stickiness of summer fruits. The textures were a highlight, with just enough bounce in the jellies and give in the sponge. I may toy with the flavours in future years, but the striped presentation made me as giddy as a little girl who has just bought her first tootsie roll. (I’ll test it one more time and then post the full recipe here in a couple of weeks).

Hoping you had a terrific break. This year I made minimal resolutions. I’m hoping for 12 months of consolidation; of health, family, new projects and old friends. I’m aiming to get out on a surf board and make it to yoga at least twice a week. I want to read more books. I want to make time to play my piano. I want to cook great food.

It’s good to be back.