Thursday, April 17, 2014

Happy Easter Bun

I am all about festivities and family tradition. I'm the one who gets excited just after Christmas when the Easter hot cross buns and chocolate eggs start popping up on supermarket shelves. 

I often listen to people complaining about how it's too soon 'We only just had Christmas' they say. Not for me. I couldn't be more excited. 

For me, Easter represents a lovely time of the year where we get together as a family, usually at my Nan's place. It involves laughs, great food, love and of course a little chocolate.

This year is extra special as it will be William's first Easter and whilst he is a little too young at the moment to get excited about what it all means and the childish excitement that comes from believing in the Easter Bunny, it's still going to be a fun day.

One thing that I really enjoy eating over the Easter period are hot cross buns. Traditionally served hot or toasted on Good Friday, these delicious delights are now available throughout most of the year. Over the years, several variations have become increasingly popular.

Whilst I am a stickler for tradition and love the old fashioned traditional spiced ones studded with fruit, I have become quite fond of the chocolate version. Incredibly indulgent, it combines two of my favourite Easter foods - chocolate and hot cross buns.

This year Baker's Delight has four delicious hot cross bun flavours on offer - Traditional, Fruitless, Mocha and Chocolate Chip. 

Well HELLO there Chocolate Chip!

Served hot, slightly toasted and smothered in butter is the best way to enjoy these beauties. 

Tell me, how do you enjoy your hot cross buns?

Wishing you all a wonderful and safe Easter. 

The Food Mentalist sampled the above mentioned hot cross buns compliments of Bakers Delight.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cider Sunday - Cider Anzac Slice

ANZAC Day is fast approaching and for those of you not in Australia, ANZAC Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand held on the 25th April each year, that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders "who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations" and "the contribution and suffering of all those who have served." 

This slice is a twist on the traditional Anzac Biscuit I have previously featured on here.

What I really love about this slice is that it has a lovely chewy caramel texture and it's super easy.This one is perfect if you are looking for that sweet baked treat to enjoy with your cider. It's also a great way to use up that odd bottle of cider you may have floating around in your fridge. For this recipe I used Stassen Apple Cider. 

Cider ANZAC Slice
An Original recipe by The Food Mentalist

165g rolled oats
220g SR flour
100g moist shredded coconut
170g brown sugar
50 ml apple cider
185g unsalted butter
1 tbs golden syrup

Preheat oven to 170C. Line a 20x30cm lamington dish or pan with baking paper.

Combine oats, flour, coconut and sugar in a bowl and mix. Meanwhile, melt butter and golden syrup over a low heat. Once melted, add cider and stir through. 

Pour butter & cider mixture into a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and fold through until the mixture is combined.

Spoon mixture into lamington pan and press down with the back of a fork.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Wait until the slice has cooled before cutting it into squares.

Serve with a nice cuppa.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sunday Lunch @ Alpha Restaurant - Sydney

It has been a while since I ventured down the southern end of Castlereagh Street in Sydney's CBD. So you can imagine my surprise when I stumbled across Alpha Restaurant with its impressive historical Victorian frontage. Part of the new vision for Sydney's iconic Hellenic Club, Alpha celebrates the generosity of both modern and traditional Greek cuisine. 

Understated glamour fills the space. An impressive modern interior is bright and relaxed with clean lines, earthy accents and fishing net inspired light fittings. There's even an impressive Greek inspired stone feature wall along the northern end of the restaurant. 

Having recently added Sunday lunch to their service, today we are sampling a selection of menu items including those offered on the Yia Yia Menu.

Alpha Bar
Yia Yia ( pronounced Yay yah) means Grandma in Greek. This banquet style menu ($55pp) is available for both lunch and dinner service and is the perfect choice if you want to sample many of the fine dishes on offer at Alpha.

To start we try the pita bread with two types of dip - The ever so popular taramosalata, a white cod roe dip, and the melitzanosalata, a silky smoked eggplant dip. Both are delicious, and go perfectly with the warmed pita bread which is slightly crisp on one side and soft and spongey on the other.

Taramosalata & Melitzanosalata
Baked Kalamata Olives
The baked Kalamata olives are deliciously hot and meaty and surprisingly not overly salty which I really like.

Next, the felafel's arrive. Crispy shells encase fluffy pillows of chickpea goodness and come served a bed of coriander yogurt. 

Sesame Leaf Dolmades - Feature on the main menu
The sesame leaf dolmades are soft and filled with a fragrant and moist almond rice.  They come served in a soupy preserved lemon avgolemolo - A rich eggy lemon broth. 

I call this next dish Haloumi Heaven, but its actually Haloumi Saganaki - cooked with ouzo, lemon and oregano. The haloumi is rich and buttery and the lemon and grape tomatoes provide a lovely freshness to the dish. I hold back, but could easily demolish this all myself. It's that good.

Next, several piping hot spanakopitas arrive at the table. Spanakopita is a Greek style pie filled with spinach, leek, feta and dill. Our waitress kindly offers to portion it for us. We happily accept, and are rewarded with a crisp buttery outer pastry filled with the subtle flavours of the spinach, herbs and cheese. 

Twice cooked octopus - Features on the main menu
Twice cooked octopus comes served on a bed of spinach and white beans with a buttery red wine vinaigrette. Incredibly tender the squid tentacles are meaty and are complimented by the buttery spinach and white beans. The red wine vinaigrette provides a nice balance to the dish. 

This next dish features on Alpha's menu as a 'vintage' dish. Chef Peter Conistis first debuted this dish in 1993 and at the request of many loyal customers, Alpha has added it to their menu.  A modern take on the classic moussaka - seared scallops on a bed of taramosalata is topped with shredded sweet capsicum and sandwiched between two chunky pieces of eggplant. Fresh chopped tomatoes, herbs and some olive oil and roe finish off the dish. Being the eggplant fiend that I am, I absolutely love this dish.

Just as we start to adjust our belt buckles, the lamb arrives and it smells divine. And it is. Amazingly so. It just falls off the bone, is melt-in-the mouth super tender and well seasoned with fragrant oregano and other Greek spices. The lamb is served with lemon roasted potatoes and a creamy garlicky tzatziki. I would honestly come back just for this one dish. 

And, I intend to. 

It's really nice to see a traditional Greek salad arrive. Simple and fresh (as it should be), lightly dressed and topped with a gorgeous chunk of feta cheese. This salad is the perfect accompaniment to the lamb.

Dessert arrives in the form of loukoumades, a Greek style doughnut. Served dripping with spiced honey syrup and topped with candied walnut icecream, this dish brings something magical to the table. Having grown up surrounded by Greek cuisine, I am really excited by this dish. Loukoumades are an all-time favourite of mine.

A quick tour of Alpha's Foodstore before we depart reveals a gorgeous selection of artisan Greek products including honey, pastas, olive oils and various drinks and sweets. The Foodstore is open Monday to Friday and serves traditional Greek style coffee as well as Will & Co Espresso. They also serve a variety of greek pies and pastries to take away. 

Alpha Restaurant
238 Castlereagh Street 
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9098 1111

Breakfast Service - Monday to Friday 7:30am-10:30am (no reservations)
Lunch Service - Monday to Sunday 12pm-3pm
Dinner Service - Monday to Saturday 6pm-10pm, Sunday 5pm-9pm

Tell me, what's your favourite Greek dish?

Alpha Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Cider Sunday - Batlow CiderFest

Happy Cider Sunday Everyone. I hope you are enjoying some great ciders this weekend. 

I really can't believe how quickly the month of May is approaching.So, I want to tell you all about an exciting cider event coming up next month in Batlow, NSW - The Batlow CiderFest. A former work colleague of mine in Canberra attends this event every year and I always look forward to hearing about her 'weekend of cider'. 

Unfortunately, this year Pete and I I wont be able to make it , but hopefully we can include it in next year's travel plans.  

The Batlow CiderFest is a two day event which starts with a Cider Industry Conference on Friday 16th May,followed by the CiderFest Street Festival on Saturday 17th May, 2014. 

The Street Festival includes cider tasting, sales, local food stalls and entertainment. 

CiderFest Batlow is a not-for-profit community organisation run by a committee of volunteers. Their aim is to develop and manage the event, which supports the apple industry, the Batlow community and a rapidly evolving Australia Cider business.

To attend the 2014 Cider Industry Conference register ASAP.

Conference cost is $50p.p. (payable at the door with prior RSVP) and includes access to all presentations, morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea.

To RSVP or find out more phone or email the conference convener Kevin Dodds,NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Phone: (02) 6941 1405

Mobile: 0427 918 315


Have you discovered a new cider that you think I might be interested in? If so please leave a comment below and I'll be sure to check it out.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cooking with Tasmanian Huon Salmon

During a recent trip to Tasmania where we attended a friend's wedding, Pete and I got chatting to a fellow wedding attendee about the high quality of Tasmanian produce. We thought it a great idea to get some local knowledge on the subject and during our chat he told us about the Huon Salmon brand and how in his opinion it was the best around. 

Fast forward a month and I find myself enjoying it here in Sydney after placing an order via their online store. 

The Huon Aquaculture Company started out as a small family business founded by Frances and Peter Bender whose passion for quality produce has seen the company grow to what it is today - with a turnover of approximately 3 million salmon per year.

Photo source: Huon Aquaculture Group

They have adopted what they refer to as The Huon Method which encompasses their  innovative farming philosophy:

✓ Stress Free – Raised to mirror the natural life of salmon in the wild.
✓ Well Nourished – The highest quality feed dispensed by their ingenious feeding system.
✓ Kept Clean and Healthy – Nurtured in the most spacious enclosures in the world.
✓ Raised with Sustainable Practices – In the crystal clear open waters of Tasmania.


 Salmon, Potato & Goats Cheese Tart
An Original Recipe by The Food Mentalist

300g ready-made shortcrust pastry
350g new potatoes, peeled and sliced into thin rounds ( about 1/2 cm thick)
280ml pouring cream
2 eggs
3 tbsp chopped dill or parsley (optional)
zest 1 lime
70g goats cheese
200g pack Huon Reserve Smoked Salmon, torn into strips

Heat oven to 170'C (fan forced) or 190'C ( reg). 

Roll out the pastry and line a shallow 28cm flan or pie tin. Trim off the edges, then line with baking paper and pie weights, rice or dried beans of some sort. Put on a baking tray and bake for 10 mins. Remove the paper and beans, then bake for 5 mins more.

Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 6-8 mins until tender, then drain. Beat together the cream, eggs,herbs, lime zest, salt and pepper. Scatter half the potatoes over the bottom of the pastry case, then put half the salmon strips in the gaps and break up half the goats cheese and scatter over the salmon. 

Pour over half the egg mix and repeat another layer of ingredients finishing with the egg mixture.  

Bake for 25 mins until the top is lightly coloured and firm to the touch. Cool for 10 mins before removing from the tin, then serve warm or at room temperature. 

An Easy Breakfast

As a delicious treat one weekend why not try this Huon Hot Smoked Salmon inspired breakfast idea - Mix some low fat ricotta with fresh mint and cooked peas. Then, simply heat a piece of Huon Honey Cured Hot Smoked Salmon in a frypan and top with your choice of poached or fried egg. Viola!

Simple. Delicious. Healthy. Yum.

If you are on Twitter, check out more recipes and ways to use Tasmanian Huon Salmon by searching for the hashtag #huonsalmon.

To find out more about the Huon Aquaculture Group click here

The Food Mentalist received Huon Salmon products compliments of the Huon Salmon Aquaculture Group.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Donny's Bar - Manly

Fancy a taste of Manhattan without the hefty price tag involved in getting there? If so, then Donny's Bar in Sydney's suburb of Manly is the place to visit. 

Opened by Ex-Merivale operations manager Matt Clifton, this small space is tucked neatly into Manly's Market Lane. 

Recently described by Vogue Living as a space that reflects Clifton's 'international adventures and defines what he calls home',this loft style bar is pretty cool.

Clifton has used decommissioned railway sleepers from his parents' farm in Tullamore, NSW to build the actual bar, adding a great sense of heritage and charm. Wooden plank tables, exposed bricks, a scattering of stools, and some funky light fittings, give a unique industrial feel to the place. 

It's edgy and has a great vibe. 

Today, Pete and I have arrived to try some of the food on offer at Donny's by Head Chef Richie Dia, who prides himself on creating dishes that are both visually appealing and tasty.

While we wait for the first of Richie's creations to arrive , I try the Mandarin Ginger Sidecar described on the cocktail menu as 'Sugar, spice and all things nice'. A lovely refreshing spiced cocktail with Hennessy VS, Mandarine Napoléon liqueur and ginger shaken w/ lemon.

Pete tries the Dad & Dave's Pale Ale #1 - a local drop founded in Balgowlah. Whilst refreshing and crisp, Pete says it's a little light for his taste. 

A tasting plate arrives, offering a selection of the tapas from the menu. The BBQ pork buns are soft, fluffy, and filled with a delicious sweet and sticky pork. 

Next, we try the organic vegetable dumplings which are very delicate in flavour and have been cooked perfectly. 

We also try the grilled chorizo and chilli garlic prawns, halloumi, scallops with roasted beetroot purée and the marinated Persian feta wrapped in prosciutto w/ toasted hazelnut and red wine vinaigrette - which are my favourite.

Next, Richie brings us a plate of four soup dumplings which currently feature on the specials menu but will soon be available on the main menu. The dumpling skin is light and delicate and encases a warm broth and well seasoned pork mince. 

Richie's signature dish follows - Barramundi & Salmon Wellington. Twice baked Tasmanian salmon & ocean barramundi stuffed w/ baby capers, roast capsicum, sun dried tomato, garlic prawns, asparagus layered on a basil & lime puree.

There's a lot going on with this dish ( perhaps too much) and whilst we really enjoy the salmon element, the barramundi is slightly undercooked for our liking. The accompanying asparagus is al dente and well seasoned and the basil and lime purée helps cut through the richness of the fish.

More salmon arrives and it's delicious. A crispy skinned salmon fillet cooked perfectly. It flakes and is well seasoned. The accompanying leeks have been caramelised and the baby carrots and asparagus retain a lovely crunch. A side of sesame and prosciutto crumb provides a lovely finish to the dish.

Donny's green tea sticky rice mochi are next and they are served with fresh raspberries and a cinnamon pear syrup. I absolutely love any mochi and could seriously eat them all day long. 

The mini fresh fruit tart is well balanced, filled with a sweet custard and topped with fresh seasonal fruit. 

We finish the afternoon with a swan profiterole filled with fresh cream and coated in chocolate. 

The Food Mentalist & Pete dined as guests of Donny's Bar.

Donny's Bar & Restaurant
7 Market Lane
Manly, NSW 2095
Tel: (02) 9977-1887

Donny's Bar on Urbanspoon