Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Monday Morning Cooking Club

More than seven years ago, six Sydney-based Jewish women sat down together to gather recipes that tell the story of their community.They formed a sisterhood – the ‘Monday Morning Cooking Club’ (MMCC).

Photo Source: MMCC
With 17 children between them, some of the group are stay at home mums, some work part-time and others run their own business.

Lisa Goldberg works full-time running the project, having just released their second cookbook The Feast Goes On in the U.S and U.K.

The MMCC is a not-for-profit group with all sales of merchandise and profits from books going directly to the charities they support.

Merelyn Frank Chalmers (left) Natanya Eskin (center) and Lisa Goldberg (right). Photo: Janie Barrett - SMH
I recently interviewed Lisa Goldberg and Merelyn Chalmers from the group. This is what they had to say.

How did you all meet?
Lisa:The six of us got together in 2006 with a seed of an idea to write a cookbook and raise money for charity. We wanted to create a book that could sit in any bookstore in the world, alongside any of the best cookbooks in the world. We all knew each other to some extent through Sydney’s (not so large!) Jewish community. We come from diverse family backgrounds, reflecting the Jewish community’s melting pot: Hungary, Poland, Russia via China, South Africa, England.

Natanya and I, both passionate cooks, were the founding members of the Club, along with Jacqui and her great organisation skills. Soon after, Lauren joined us with her interest in raising money for charity. Merelyn heard about us on the grapevine and knocked on our door with a tray of the best toasted sandwiches we’d ever eaten, as well as some PR skills, so she was welcomed with open arms. Paula then joined the group for with some much-needed business acumen. We met every Monday morning, thus the name, and the project slowly evolved into what it is today - a platform for collecting, preserving and sharing the treasured recipes of our food obsessed community. Raising money for charity is the icing on the cake!

From your experience, how does food unite people from different backgrounds and what can people learn from your success?
Lisa: I feel quite proud that we are sharing the food and related heritage of our community with the world. There are many people who know very little about our culture and traditions and it is really wonderful to be able to educate through cooking and eating. We also celebrate diversity and feel that we - the sisterhood, as well as all the cooks in our books (who come from over 35 different countries), reflect the cultural diversity that is Australia. Our stories attached to each of the cooks add another dimension and a great insight into these diverse lives. Sharing recipes, stories and food - and of course sitting around the table together - is the best way to cross cultural divides!

Merelyn: There is lovely rivalry between people over who makes the best hummus. If we could all meet around a table, and share each other’s hummus - appreciate the hummus for all its differences and enjoy it nonetheless - the world would be a better place.

What is the most important thing/s you have learnt from each other along the way?
Lisa : We have learnt to work together as a well oiled machine in the kitchen. When you think about six women in the confines of one kitchen week after week, ducking and weaving with whisks, knives, rolls of gladwrap and rolling pins. At the same time we are measuring flour, butter, sugar and spices, separating eggs, melting chocolate as well as chopping onions, searing meat, pureeing soups and shredding vegetables. And then at the end of it all we sit together and eat. We really taste the food and talk about each element and each dish and then have a good debate about whether that dish is a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. We have learnt to listen to each other and to reconsider our decisions again and again just to be certain we get it right.

Do you have a favourite recipe amongst the group? One that holds some sort of significance or story?
Merelyn: My mother gave her Custard Chiffon Cake recipe to us to use in the first book. It had been her secret recipe for almost 50 years and was well-known at cake stalls and charity fetes around Perth. I was thrilled when she decided to share her recipe with us, and it has proved to be her legacy now that she is no longer with me. We hear from people all over the world about how much they love her cake. It truly is one of the best cakes in the world!

Chiffon Cake - MMCC

You look like you have a lot of fun together. Is there a funny story you could share?
Lisa: I am known as the bossy one of the group. When we were doing the photo shoot for the first book, we had to slice oranges perfectly for the blood orange compote. One of the girls, (I won’t say which) is left-handed and she got the job of the oranges. She was at it for about an hour when I walked over and had a look at her, shall we say, ragged looking slices. I knew they weren’t perfect enough for the shoot, but how could I tell her after all the time she has been standing there slicing orange after orange? I had no choice and I had to break the news to her. We still laugh about it to this day and guess who always gets the orange slicing job nowadays? Me!

You work with a lot of charities - Is there one that you are particularly passionate about? If so, can you tell me a bit about how it is special to you all?
Lisa:The original charity we raised money for was WIZO, an organisation which provides non-denominational care for women and children in need in Israel. What we particularly love about this organisation is that its members are comprised of 250,000 women in over 52 countries across the world. These women get together in their respective cities and countries, month after month, year after year, arranging morning teas and raffles, social occasions and speakers, movies and dinners to raise money, thereby forming wonderful friendships that last for decades within their own groups as well as their own amazing worldwide sisterhood.

We now donate to or enable different charities to raise funds. If we have a connection through someone we know, if we come across that charity somehow on our journey or if a charity approaches us with a particular request and we support the values they embrace then we are happy to become involved. For example, we recently met a lovely lady at a cooking class we did. She approached us at the end of the class and told us that she had lost someone close to her to a terrible disease and wanted to raise funds for an organisation trying to cure that disease. We are now putting on a special Monday Morning Cooking Club fundraising dinner in November where we will help them raise funds and raise awareness about the cause.

The Monday Morning Cooking Club have published two cookbooks with all profits directed to charity. Photo Source: MMCC

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Healthy Chocolate Crackles (Balls)

This is my version of chocolate crackles, albeit in ball form. I recently caught up with a good friend and we ended up at the Marrickville markets which are held every Sunday. 

As we were leaving the markets we decided to pick up a healthy little treat for our walk home. We each had a raw almond and ginger ball for $3.00 each. Whilst delicious, they were rather pricey which inspired me to whip these little beauties up when I got home. 

These are great because they satisfy any sweet craving and most importantly they are good for you - think healthy fats, fibre, protein, magnesium and other great nutrients. 

I wasn't sure they would work and when I tried the mixture it was quite cacao-y but placing them into the fridge to set allowed the flavours to meld and the caramel flavour from the dates to shine through. The combo and texture instantly reminded me of the chocolate crackles we all know and love. 

Pete has since finished them off so I find myself ready to make another batch. I might try the almond and ginger variety this time. Stay tuned.

Healthy Chocolate Crackles (Balls)

10 fresh dates ( pitted)
2 tbs cacao powder
2 tbs sesame seeds
1 tbs chia seeds
2 tbs cacao nibs
1/2 cup raw cashews 
1/2 cup walnuts
1 tbs coconut oil, melted
1 tbs maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla or 1/2 vanilla pod ( seeds only)

In a food processor, whiz together cashews and walnuts until they resemble a fine crumb. Then break up the dates, removing the seed if you haven't already done so and add them to the nut crumbs along with the remaining ingredients and whiz together until combined.

Roll mixture into small bite size balls using a heaped teaspoon for each one. Store them in the fridge in an airtight container for up to two weeks ( if they last that long - which they won't!).

Do you enjoy raw food treats when you are out? What are your favourite flavour combinations?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Parma di Prosciutto & Parmigiano Reggiano - The Real Deal

One of the many great aspects of living in a multicultural Australia is having access to an array of delicious cuisine and quality ingredients.

In Australia, however, the idea that a food can be protected and limited by a law according to where it originates, is a fairly unusual concept.

Unusual yet intriguing.

Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) schemes, common throughout the European Union, are enforced to protect the reputation of the regional foods, eliminate unfair competition, promote rural and agricultural activity, help producers obtain a premium price for their authentic products, and prevent consumers being misled by non-genuine products.

Two such products available in Australia are Prosciutto di Parma ( or Parma Ham) and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Both products are steeped in tradition and use centuries-old natural production methods without the use of chemical preservatives or additives.

But many Aussies are being misled and are paying a premium for inauthentic products.

In late 2006, the first pallets of Parma ham landed in Australia. Back then “ Every man and his dog had a permit, but the majority were merchants, importing on price not quality. We saw a big variation in prosciutto and a lot of people were disappointed” small goods supplier Clayton Wright told the Sydney Morning Herald.

At a recent lunch hosted at Stefano Manfredi's Sydney restaurant Balla, award-winning Italian chef Luca Ciano told guests that a crowded marketplace of cured meats and lack of education on how to pick the best, has led to Australian’s missing out on the authentic product.


“ The strictest of guidelines are adhered to when producing Prosciutto di Parma to ensure consistently high quality ham. For example, the pig must be a specific breed from one of the northern Italian regions and must be fed a diet of grain, cereal and whey from Parmigiano Reggiano cheese ( authentic Parmesan) before it is even considered to become prosciutto di Parma” says Ciano.

The pale, sweet & creamy prosciutto is made of just four ingredients - pork, sea salt, air and time. Aged for 15 months ( Pictured) 

Today, there are approximately 15 producers authorised to import their product into Australia.

Mozzarella, Prosciutto di Parma & rocket @ Balla

“ Once you’ve tried Prosciutto di Parma you’ll know the difference as it will melt in your mouth” says Ciano.

The most amazing calamari & asparagus salad w/ crispy prosciutto di Parma @ Balla


Quality Inspection - Photo Source:Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese Consortium
Referred to as the ‘King of Cheeses’ , Parmigiano Reggiano is 100 per cent natural and every wheel is aged for a minimum of 12 months which is unlike other cheeses says Ciano. “ There are many other types of inauthentic Parmesan cheese on the market here in Australia - some are blends with other Italian cheeses and others use chemicals to mature and preserve the cheese”.

Parmesan production is confined to the area highlighted in pink. Production of Parma ham is restricted to Parma itself also seen on the map. 

 18 Month ( front) 24 Month Parmigiano Reggiano ( back)
“One thing most people don't realise about authentic Parmesan is just how versatile it is. It can be eaten as a food in small chunks, as a condiment grated on dishes or as an ingredient used in recipes” says Ciano.

Veal wrapped in Prosciutto di Parma @ Balla
Gabriele Taddeucci telling us about the dishes he created using the two prized ingredients

Ciano says that Australian’s are spoilt for choice when it comes to imported and local food products for sale at local delis, but there is a definite difference when it comes to premium products like Parma Ham and Parmigiano Reggiano. “ If consumers want a genuine product they have to ask for it and make sure they are getting it” he says.

Parmigiano Reggiano Risotto w/ 'Il Caratello' Balsamic @ Balla Restaurant, Sydney.
Photo Source: C. Chattaway
According to a recent IbisWorld report, Australian delicatessens have struggled over the last five years. However, a new shift in consumer demand for premium products has seen delicatessens at the high-end of the market perform well.

Olive oil mousse, marinated strawberries & Parmesan crisp @ Balla

Prosciutto di Parma - The quality of Prosciutto di Parma is guaranteed only when it has been fire-branded with the five point ducal crown, a stamp of authenticity.

Authentic Parma Ham. Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Parmigiano Reggiano carries a pin dot stamp on the rind, and where appropriate, the Parmigiano Reggiano logo on the packet. 

Photo: Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium

The Food Mentalist dined at Balla as a guest for this event.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Vino Paradiso Hits Sydney

Late last week, Vino Paradiso - Sydney’s newest International food and wine festival celebrated its upcoming launch at an intimate dinner at Salt Meats Cheese in Alexandria.

Guests were treated to a sneak peek of what to expect during the three-day event set to be held at Australian Technology Park from October 31.

The festival will be headed by a team of Tastemakers who will hold a series of masterclasses throughout the festival.  Some of the Tastemakers in attendance at last night’s event were Darren Robertson, one of Australia’s hottest chef’s of Three Blue Ducks fame and co-host of Network Ten’s Recipe to Riches; Oscar McMahon from craft brewery Young Henry’s; Grant Collins who is one of the world’s most recognised mixologists; Ian Rayner from Western Australia’s biodynamic cidery - Custard & Co.; Sarah Limacher sommelier from The Keystone Group and winemaker Tom Egan from Jed Wines and wine importer for Sydney’s Porteño restaurant.

Directors of the Vino Paradiso & Chef Darren Robertson
Directors of the festival, Keiran Tanner and Matt Williams wanted to “shake things up a little” and have spent the last few years traveling overseas researching hundreds of food, wine, music and lifestyle festivals in order to re-image what Australian’s are used to.

The evening began with a live cooking experience by Darren who whipped up a seasonal Kingfish, pear and white radish salad.

“ Vino Paradiso is new and on the front foot in regards to delivering engaging activity from progressive leaders who are crazy about wine, food, craft beer, cider and spirits and want to share their knowledge with other Sydney wine and food enthusiasts. I’m really looking forward to being part of the festival this Spring” said Darren.
As part of his role, Darren will host a series of interactive cooking demonstrations on how to prepare fresh seafood and seasonal produce.

Originally from New Zealand, sommelier Sarah Limacher greeted guests and spoke enthusiastically about her love of wine and food.

(From Left) Sarah Limacher, Ian Rayner, Oscar McMahon & Matt Williams
Together, Ian Rayner and Oscar McMahon spoke of their love of craft brewing and how they are both passionate about encouraging Australian’s to support and enjoy local craft beer and cider.

A great Aussie Cider by Custard & Co. in WA
Tom Egan spoke of Jed Wines and Porteño and his Argentinian wine making travels.

Cocktail Tastemaker, Grant Collins wrapped up the evening impressing guests with a cocktail demonstration that resulted in an impressive Affogato Martini served with rum and vanilla ice-cream and a side of edible soil.

The exclusive three-course dinner set the scene for the upcoming three-day festival that will provide a new experience, allowing Australian’s to get involved and engage with Australia’s best food, wine, spirit, craft beer and cider producers.

Promising to be different to festivals that have come before, Vino Paradiso will offer ticket holders a variety of fun and interactive activities that include pop-up bars and stalls, grape crushing, a live art installation, music, competitions and an Instagram photo booth.

WHEN: 31 October - 2 November 2014

WHERE: Australian Technology Park

HOW MUCH: Tickets are on sale now from $25

For more information head to

The Food Mentalist attended this event as a guest of Vino Paradiso.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Good without gluten - A review & recipe

Well known chefs Frederique Jules, Jennifer Lepoutre and Mitsuru Yanase have a reputation for creating delicious, gluten-free food at their Parisian restaurant and grocery store No Glu in Paris.  This cookbook showcases some of their creations using a range of flours and cereals to create gorgeous gluten free (and many dairy free) recipes.

The cookbook is divided into Entrees, Mains, Desserts, Basics, Breakfast, Tea and Nibbles & Breads and is the perfect cookbook for those following a gluten-free lifestyle. 

From a paleo perspective, the cookbook has only a handful of recipes that suit strict paleo eating but I find that there is much to learn from the way they combine non gluten flour with other ingredients to make delicious and moist breads, pastry and other treats. Most recipes can also be tweaked to make them paleo friendly and I now have new found excitement for experimenting with chestnut and other nut flours.

I love the focus given at the start of the book to the gluten free pantry with clear explanations, uses and benefits for each type of flour and ingredient used throughout the cookbook.

Favourites include the Pumpkin Soup w/ Chestnuts, Pineapple-Mango Crumble, Banana-Blueberry Rice (Almond) Milk Smoothie, Club Sandwich w/ Turkey & Blue Cheese and the NoGlu's Lasagne Bolognese.  

Please enjoy this recipe for No Glu's Pumpkin Soup w/ Chestnuts. I have adapted it slightly to fit a paleo lifestyle by omitting soy milk and using grass fed butter.

Pumpkin soup with chestnuts
Serves 6-8

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes

2–3 tablespoons olive oil

200g French shallots, chopped

1 kg pumpkin, peeled and chopped into chunks

310 ml chicken stock

310 ml water

500 ml organic nut milk

50 g organic grass fed butter

100 g cooked and peeled chestnuts (sold in a jar or vacuum-packed), chopped

Chives and fresh herbs of choice, to garnish

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the shallots and cook for 4–5 minutes or until caramelised, then add the pumpkin and let it sweat for a few minutes.
Add the chicken stock and water and simmer for 20 minutes or until the chunks of pumpkin are tender. Remove from the heat and add the milk, butter and chestnuts. Purée until smooth. Return to the heat to warm through.

Tip: Set aside a few caramelised shallots and a few pieces of chestnut for a garnish. Serve with homemade gluten free bread.


This is definitely a cookbook which should feature prominently in the kitchens of those following a gluten free lifestyle or those who simply wish to cut back on grains and/or gluten and are looking for some inspiration in the kitchen.

Published by Murdoch Books 9781743363126 
RRP $29.99 

The Food Mentalist reviewed this cookbook compliments of Murdoch Books

Monday, September 8, 2014

Lucky Paleo Banana Bread

Hope you all had a lovely weekend. We had a bit of a hectic few days here. Firstly, Pete woke up early Saturday morning with food poisoning but the weird thing is we ate exactly the same foods the day before, yet I managed to escape unscathed. 

Anywho, Saturday was basically a complete wipe-out but I did manage to whip up a batch of this lucky paleo banana bread. 

I call this banana bread lucky because to be honest, I wasn't sure it would turn out. It was a complete fluke that it did. After recently purchasing some commercially prepared paleo banana bread (which was delicious by the way) I decided to try and make some myself as it cost us a whopping $12 a loaf and only yielded about 5 slices. 

This version is incredibly moist and delicious and the cacao nibs give it a nice subtle chocolate hit (not to mention added magnesium and antioxidants). I find toasting this one tends to dry it out a little too much but it keeps really well in the fridge or in an airtight container on the bench.  The egg content boosts the protein levels here making it the perfect breakfast or snack on the go. 

I served mine with The Paleo Kitchen's ahhmazing Maple Cinnamon Pecan Butter which I have also included below.

Lucky Paleo Banana Bread
Gluten, Grain, Dairy & Refined Sugar Free

1 1/2 cups almond meal/flour
3/4 cup coconut flour
2 tbs tapioca flour
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
1/2 tsp GF baking powder
1/4 cup cacao nibs ( optional)
1/4 cup chopped pecans or other nuts of your choice
1/4 cup coconut sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
5 eggs
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 bananas (mashed)
2 tbs maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla essence
pepitas to decorate ( optional)

Preheat oven to 160C. Line a loaf pan with baking paper and allow it to come up the sides a little. Next, combine dry ingredients, cacao nibs and nuts in a bowl and set aside. 

In a separate bowl whisk eggs and apple cider vinegar together with a fork. 

Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients along with the mashed banana, maple syrup and vanilla and fold through until combined.

Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and decorate with pepitas ( or extra nuts) if desired. 

Place into the oven for approximately 35 minutes or until golden brown and an inserted cake skewer comes out clean. 

Remove from oven an allow to cool.

Store in an airtight container for 3-4 days. You can also freeze slices of this if you choose.

Spread with grass-fed butter or this delicious Maple Cinnamon Pecan Butter.

Maple Cinnamon Pecan Butter
Recipe adapted from The Paleo Kitchen

2 cups pecans ( raw)
2 tbs pure maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of sea salt

Simply place all the ingredients in a food processor or good high speed blender and whiz until smooth. Store in fridge in an airtight container for up to 7 days.

If you like it to be a little more runny just add about 1/4 cup of almond, walnut or macadamia oil before you whiz it up.

Spread it on my Lucky Paleo Banana Bread and enjoy x