Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Vanilla Chia Pudding w/ Maca Caramel & Macadamia Crumbs

This pudding is one of my favourites and is perfect for entertaining. I just love chia seeds and this was the first time I had used the delicious maca powder.

Maca powder is made from the maca root which grows in the Andes Mountains of Peru. Referred to as a superfood, it is revered for its wide-ranging benefits to the hormonal system and its aphrodisiac qualities.  If you want to know more about the wonderful benefits of Maca Powder, the team at I Quit Sugar have put together a bluffer's guide to Maca.

Vanilla Chia Pudding w/ Maca Caramel & Macadamia Crumbs
Makes approx 6 individual servings or one large pudding


Vanilla Chia Pudding
1/2 cup of chia seeds
2 cups of coconut milk (or any other non-dairy milk of your choice)
3 tablespoons of maple syrup (or any other liquid sweetener of your choice)
2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract or 1 pod scraped
1 pinch of Himalayan crystal salt or sea salt
Maca Caramel
1 cup dates
2 tablespoons maca powder
Himalayan pink crystal salt, to taste

3/4 cup water, more or less as needed 

Macadamia Crumbs
1 cup raw macadamia nuts

For the chia pudding:
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, stir well and let rest for a few minutes.
After a few minutes whisk together with a fork or metal whisk and place in the fridge to set for 3-4 hours or overnight.
For the Maca Caramel:
To make the caramel: blend all the ingredients until smooth and thick. Put this in the fridge for about 2 hours. 
For the Macadamia Crumbs:

Lightly toast the nuts in a hot pan then set aside to cool. Using a food processor pulse the macadamia nuts until they resemble a fine crumb unless of course you prefer a few chunky pieces.

To serve:

Spoon the chia pudding mix into individual serving dishes or ramekins, spoon a little maca caramel on top and sprinkle with macadamia crumbs. 

This tastes incredible and is you can enjoy it for dessert without any guilt. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cubanía Coffee Jelly Cubes

I love a good strong coffee ( who doesn't!?) and when Nespresso sent me their new Cubanía pods to try I knew I had to turn them into these wonderful cubes of coffee jelly goodness.

With an intensity of 13, Cubanía is a bold blend of Arabicas which has been specially steam treated to obtain a dense texture and powerful bouquet with complex aromatics and strength, but without an overwhelming bitterness.

Sarah Wilson (from I Quit Sugar) loves gelatin and discusses it's amazing health benefits in her article my latest gut health obsession.

Some of these include:

  • It is high in anti-inflammatory amino acids;
  • Boosts metabolism;
  • Keeps your skin looking good and your hair and nails strong and healthy;
  • Aids digestion;
  • Fills you up and keeps cravings in check;
  • Helps to balance hormones;
  • Has a healing effect on joints;
  • Aids in liver detox; and
  • Assists with insomnia

Now before you rush out and buy a packet of gelatin from your local supermarket be warned - Not all gelatin is created equal. 

To get access to all the amazing health benefits you must purchase a good quality grass fed gelatin like this Great Lakes version which I buy from iherb. You might be able to purchase it from a good health food store but you will probably pay a premium.

The best and easiest way to introduce this type of gelatin into your diet is by adding it to smoothies, stews, sauces and to these jelly cubes which are perfect to snack on 
in-between meals.

Cubanía Coffee Jelly Cubes

1 cup of strong brewed coffee ( I used Nespresso Cubanía)
3 tbs grass fed gelatin
2 cups coconut milk ( warmed)
2 tablespoons of maple syrup ( add/subtract depending on your preferred sweetness)
1 tsp vanilla essence
coconut oil or spray for greasing

Stir together the coffee and gelatin in a bowl.
Heat the coconut milk on the stove until warm and then stir in the maple syrup ( or other non-refined sweetener) and vanilla. Then, add it to the coffee mixture. Stir until combined. 

Pour the mixture into a lamington style tray or dish that you have greased with coconut oil. 

Place in the fridge to set for 3-4 hours. 

Once set, remove from the fridge and slice into cubes.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge and consume within 2-3 days.


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.