Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pear Cider Muffins

Ahem! Excuse me, but where March go?!

On the eve of April, many of us on the East Coast are about to wave goodbye to daylight saving and lovingly welcome that extra hour we gain by winding back our clocks tonight. I love daylight saving and only wish we had it all year round. The end of March signals the start of darker, cooler and often wetter mornings and evenings. However, the excitement of Easter next week makes short work of any of that. Easter is such an exciting time of year, with chocolate eggs EVERYWHERE!, a long weekend, family lunches and dinners and many more Easter treats - I love it! I'm a real sucker for festivities and family shared holidays.

Now before I get ahead of myself, did you know that March is Australian Pear Month? A month celebrating everything we love about Australian pears. Many food bloggers across the country have been furiously preparing pear dishes to help launch a campaign that poses the question: What can you pair with a Pear? 

My answer: More pears of course! This time in the form of Australian Pear Cider. 

Check out these delicious, fluffy and pear-y muffins I whipped up today. I have been wanting to cook with cider for the longest time now and am hoping to include many more cider recipes in the months to come. 

Later next month, Pete and I will be heading interstate and learning how to make cider. I can't wait!

Pear Cider Muffins
an original recipe by The Food Mentalist
makes about 16 muffins

2 med-large pears - peeled, cored & coarsely grated
1 cup pear cider *
1 3/4 cups of plain flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 cup of brown sugar
1 cup of caster sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean pod ( seeds scraped out)
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tbs demerara sugar crystals

* The Food Mentalist used The Hills Cider Company Pear Cider from the Adelaide Hills in South Australia - To find out more about this cider tune in tomorrow for a Cider Sunday review.

preheat oven to 180'C and grease muffin tin or fill with liners if you choose.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter, brown sugar and caster sugar. Add eggs and whisk to combine. In a second bowl, combine flour, almond meal, salt, baking soda and cinnamon and set aside.Whisk pear cider, sour cream and vanilla together in a third bowl.

Next, fold in one third of the flour mixture and one third of the cider mixture into the sugar mixture and repeat until all combined.

Fold in the grated pear and then spoon mixture into your prepared muffin tin. Sprinkle with demerara sugar and bake in oven for approximately 20-25 minutes until cooked through. If you are unsure, insert a cake skewer into one of the muffins to make sure they are cooked through.

Cool in tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out to finish cooling.

Store in airtight containers for up to 3 days.

These muffins taste best the next day, particularly with a nice refreshing glass of cider.


Tell me, Do you enjoy this time of year? Do you have any exciting plans for the Easter holiday?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bay Tinh - Crows Nest

Have I ever mentioned how much I love Vietnamese food?

Growing up in Sydney's inner west meant that I didn't have to venture too far to get my fix in downtown Marrickville. Bay Tinh was, and still remains a family favourite of ours. The famous bonfire dish which cooks at your table, a firm favourite amongst my family & friends.

There was even the time years ago when my Aunt Kim tried to blow out the flame and accidentally set the table cloth on fire. It was quickly put out and no damage was done. We look back now in hysterics.

Bay Tinh is named after Mr Tinh Tran, the original founder. The word 'Bay' refers to the fact that Tihn was the sixth child in the family. In 2007, after 20 years of running Bay Tinh, Mr Tran retired, handing over to Harry Hoang.

Harry entered Australia as a Vietnamese refugee and after a successful career in IT and real estate decided his love of food was too great and he moved across into hospitality. Harry's mother comes from a family who have successfully operated a number of restaurants and hotels for over two generations. Since taking over, Harry has mastered the original recipes created by Mr Tran as well as added a new dimension to the menu.

Whilst Bay Tinh in Marrickville still remains, tonight we head to Harry's newest venture just over the bridge - Bay Tinh on Falcon Street in Crows Nest. We are particularly excited tonight as we are about to sample dishes from Bay Tinh's new Vapas menu - Sydney's first Vietnamese Tapas. We are really looking forward to the new experience.

We arrive for our 7pm reservation and the front of the restaurant is already full. We head to the back section of the restaurant which is reserved for larger groups and 'Vapas' diners. Pete orders a '333' Vietnamese beer and I choose my favourite fresh lemon juice and soda water ($4). Tangy lemon with just the right amount of sweetness and garnished with mint, sure to quench any thirst.

Goi Cuon - Fresh Prawn Rolls $6.00 
The Goi Cuon (prawn rolls) arrive first and they are fresh, fragrant and delicious. Filled with king prawns, herbs, pickles, lettuce & vermicelli noodles, they are served with Bay Tinh's special sauce - we taste hoisin, peanuts and a hint of chilli.

Banh Xeo - Crispy Pancake $12.90
Shortly after, our crispy pancake arrives and our waiter slices it up for us and serves us a piece. It is jammed packed with bean shoots and tender pieces of pork and prawn and is served with a light sweet sauce which we spoon over. Fresh and crunchy bean shoots appear to dominate this dish and perhaps it could have done with just a few less.

Heo Nuong - Grilled Pork Skewer (2 pieces) $7.50
When our pork skewers arrive we are both somewhat surprised. Served sans skewer, we are greeted with thin tender pieces of tasty pork on a bed of lettuce, rice vermicelli noodles and pickles. They are topped with fresh mint and nuts and served with a delicious peanut satay style sauce. The pork flavour is perfectly balanced by the addition of the other elements. These are incredibly moreish and we could easily eat several more.

Little Rice Cakes $5
This would have to be our favourite dish of the evening. Harry tells us that these delightful morsels are a secret family recipe that you don't often see on many Vietnamese restaurant menus because they are so labour intensive, each one taking 20-30 minutes to make. 

The outside is a crispy shell made with rice flour and it is filled with a coconut milk custard and prawn meat combination which just melts in your mouth. The velvety texture of these tasty treats is unique and we both really savour these.

Salt & Pepper Calamari $10
The menu claims that this salt & pepper calamari is arguably the best in Sydney. Incredibly light, tender and perfectly seasoned I have to agree that it is pretty good and if not the best, it would have to be close. It is served with a salty lemon pepper sauce on the side. Harry tells us they choose only the freshest and best quality calamari for this dish and they even do a gluten free version on request. 

Soft Shell Crab $12
The soft shell crab is lightly seasoned and crisp and is served with the same salty lemon pepper sauce served with the calamari. Die hard soft shell crab fans will love this, but given a choice between the squid or the crab I would have to choose the squid.

Bonfire Prawns & Beef $17-25
When our bonfire arrives we are careful not to blow the flame out, Aunt Kim style. This cute mini bonfire dish which cooks at our table is filled with king prawns, thinly sliced beef and onions and served with rice paper, fresh and pickled vegetables, herbs and a delicious anchovy sauce. We ask Harry about the sauce and whilst he confirms the inclusion of anchovy, he cheekily tells us it is a secret recipe and no more can be revealed. 

The bonfire is a Bay Tinh speciality dish and there are several to choose from on both the Vapas and main menus. 

Bringing a sense of fun to Vietnamese dining, this do-it-yourself dish is very popular with the large groups sitting around us. We watch as a steady procession of them make their way from the kitchen onto neighbouring tables. 

Harry is a wonderful host, we watch as he greets new diners and chats to many more. It is evident that many are regulars - a good sign!

Bo Luc Lac -Tender Beef Cubes $15
Our final dish consists of marinated cubes of grain fed beef which sit on top a light salad of bean shoots and lettuce. The beef is accompanied by fluffy garlic rice and a side of lemon pepper sauce. The beef is extremely tender and Harry tells us that the beef is prepared using 100% natural flavours and marinades. We really enjoy this dish and decide it is a future must have!

Rum Parfait $7.80
This photo doesn't do justice to this delicious rum espresso parfait adorned with caramelised walnuts. The sweet creamy coffee ice cream has just the right amount of sweetness and a hint of rum. It is the perfect finale to a satisfying feast. Yum!

Harry tells us he has big plans for his newest venture and is currently in the process of transforming the front of his Crows Nest restaurant into a cocktail bar and tapas style lounge where diners can enjoy Vietnamese tapas style share dishes with matching wine and Vietnamese inspired cocktails. Harry also informs us he has updated Bay Tinh's menu to include a greater French influence.

Bay Tinh, Crows Nest is licensed and we are very impressed with the selection of wines which included many French, Australian & New Zealand choices, all at very reasonable prices.

Bay Tinh ( Crows Nest)
16 Falcon Street
Crows Nest
Tel: (02) 9438-5118
Opening Hours
Lunch Fri-Sun
Dinner Tue-Sun

Tell me, do you enjoy Vietnamese cuisine? What do you think about the idea of Vapas?

The Food Mentalist & Pete dined as guests of Bay Tinh & Wasamedia.
Bay Tinh on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cider Sunday - Saxton Apple Cider

Happy Cider Sunday Readers!

Some of you may remember my review of Old Mout Cider from Nelson in New Zealand last November. Well this week's cider is also crafted in Nelson by McCashin's Brewery. Nelson, located on the Northern end of the South Island, is famous for its art scene which is interesting since the design of this cider's label is what led me to purchase it. I love it's simple and clean design which makes the delicious golden hue of the apple cider visible.

McCashin's Brewery produce a unique range of beverages and have been doing so for the past 30 years. What makes their products stand out above many others is that they use Palaeo water in all their beverages. Reported as the purest water in the world, it is said to be sourced from one of the oldest and purest water aquifers known to man - untouched for up to 260 centuries. 

In addition, Saxton apple cider has absolutely no additives or preservatives - something I absolutely love!

This cider has a very light carbonation, so slight you hardly even notice it. It's distinctive flavour reminds me of many traditional style ciders. It has a fairly strong alcoholic apple flavour, a well balanced sweetness and is refreshingly crisp.

This cider is perfect paired with stronger meat flavours and/or something spicy. 

At 5% alcohol, a 330ml bottle will provide you with 1.3 standard drinks. 

Saxton Apple Cider
RRP $ 3.49 per 330ml bottle
$11.99 per pack of 4
$52.99 per case of 24
Available exclusively through Dan Murphy's & Woolworth's Liquor Outlets

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Healthy Chocolate Cake

Chocolate cake often conjures up thoughts of indulgence & richness. And lets face it, richness often means calories. Something be enjoyed in moderation, a treat perhaps. Last year I posted the Best Chocolate Cake recipe, and it remains so.

This cake is different. It has no butter. It is not dripping in chocolate and it is packed full of fibre. But don't let this description put you off. The addition of prunes gives the cake a wonderful moist texture not dissimilar to a mud cake.

If you are anything like me and need your regular chocolate fix, this cake can help you have that without leaving you feeling that you must book that PT session or bust out the weights whilst watching TV. Instead, sit back have a nice cup of tea or coffee and enjoy a slice of this cake - completely guilt free.

Lately, I have been on a bit of a health kick, I had a small health scare which begun late last year, and saw me end up in the emergency department of Hobart hospital on New Years Eve. Luckily I was out in time to make it to an amazing dinner at Garagistes which we had pre-booked months before. Carry forward a few months, another trip to emergency, and many tests and I am happy to report I am fighting fit. I have even started my running program again which I had to put on hold late last year.

Now, weight loss is a tricky entity, often associated with bland food, portion control and going without. This cake fits in nicely with a healthy eating plan. Usually, if one puts weight loss and chocolate cake in the same sentence you are sure to hear gasps of disbelief, see eyes rolling and hands on hips. Well, I can attest that the week I made this cake I actually lost 1.1 kilograms. So forget that old adage. You can have your cake and enjoy every bite of it!

Healthy Chocolate Cake
( An original recipe by The Food Mentalist)

1 cup chopped pitted prunes ( I prefer to buy ones without preservatives)
180g brown sugar
50g Dutch cocoa powder
80g dark chocolate ( the best you can afford 70%)
1/2 vanilla bean pod scraped or 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
3 small eggs
150ml skim milk
50g plain flour ( substitute with almond meal for gluten free version)
2 tsp icing sugar ( for dusting)
1 tsp cocoa powder (extra)
Cooking spray or butter for greasing
Creme Fraiche ( to serve - optional)

first preheat oven to 180'C. Spray/grease a 20cm round cake tin and line the base with baking paper.
Place cocoa, prunes, vanilla, milk and half the brown sugar in a bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth.

Melt dark chocolate in a double boiler or in bowl over pot boiling hot water, set aside. Beat eggs and remaining brown sugar in a bowl until pale and creamy. Gently stir in prune mixture using a metal spoon. Next fold in sifted flour. Finally, stir in melted chocolate and transfer cake mixture to the prepared tin.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Cool in tin before turning out the cake and dusting it with icing sugar and cocoa powder.

I serve mine with a little creme fraiche. It adds something extra to the cake and helps to break down the sweetness.

What are your thoughts about eating healthy alternatives?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cider Sunday : Double Feature - Boots vs Pipsqeak

Happy Cider Sunday Everyone!

I hope you are all enjoying your Sunday. Pete and I just got back from our first ever visit to Costco. It was chaotic to say the least. Think appliances, giant apple tarts, Hershey's chocolate sauce, Calvin Klein underwear, Reece's Peanut butter cups, bagels, fresh seafood and more - all in bulk! We didn't go completely nuts, mainly stocking up on tinned tomatoes, passata and a few household items. Pete also managed to snare a mega sized bottle of his favourite hot sauce - Tabasco.

This week's Cider Sunday post features two ciders. Last week I was in Darwin and I introduced you all to Pipsqueak Best Cider by Little Creatures Brewery in Victoria, an off-shoot of the original in Fremantle, Perth.

Well, I have managed to try it this week and it's really good.

It is extremely refreshing and you can almost taste it's name. It has a medium body with very fine carbonation, not dissimilar to champagne. It has a nice sweetness which is not too overpowering and it's apple flavour is slightly tart which adds a nice zing and crispness to the cider. At 5.2% alcohol, a 330ml bottle of Pipsqueak will provide you with 1.4 standard drinks. Pipsqueak would be perfect on a hot day, enjoyed over a long lunch with friends.

If I had to compare it to Boots Cider I would say that Pipsqueak Best Cider is the female of the two with Boots lending itself to a more 'blokey' type cider.

Boots Cider is made by Kellermeister in the Barossa Valley in South Australia which was established in 1976. It is not hard to see why this cider was voted 'Best in Show' at the Adelaide Craft Beer & Cider Fest in 2011. It is delightful!  Although I'm not sure it's manly nature would appreciate being referred to as delightful! Perhaps, 'Awesome' would be more fitting?

This cider is much darker in colour than the Pipsqueak and it has a nice mild sweetness and apple flavour. A dry malty finish, helps promote this one to a cider with beer-like characteristics, although subtle - it works extremely well. This cider is marketed as being man made using traditional methods. Check out this comical YouTube clip of just how man made this one is actually is.

Boots is delicious. Drinking it I imagine mood lighting, comfy dark leather sofas, jazz music or cool beats and a nice cheese platter.

At  5% alcohol, a 330ml bottle of Boots will provide you with 1.3 standard drinks.

Boots Cider
Available @ Dan Murphy's or check out their website at Boots Cider
$3.99 per 330ml bottle
$21.99 per pack of 6
$72.99 per case of 24

Pipsqueak Cider
Available @ Dan Murphy's or check online at Little Creatures
$3.99 per 330ml bottle
$19.99 per pack of 6
$67.99 per case of 24

Well, I hope you have enjoyed this week's Cider Sunday, what did you get up to today?

Have you visited Costco? what did you think?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cider Sunday Teaser - Greetings From Darwin

This week's edition of Cider Sunday comes to you from Darwin. It's my fourth trip within the last 8 or so months and I'm now starting to feel like a local. Darwin has the perfect climate for cider drinking - it's hot and humid.

Pipsqueak Best Cider is made by the Little Creatures Brewing in Victoria, which is actually an off shoot of the original brewery located in Fremantle, Perth. Pete & I actually visited Little Creatures in Fremantle about 2 years ago. It's a funky old boat shed located on the water in what is affectionately called 'Freo'. It also has a restaurant & bar which serves up some great pub style meals including mussels and pizza.

Onto the Pipsqueak Cider - Well, this week is just a teaser because I had to travel up here at the last minute and didn't get a chance to actually taste Pipsqueak. However, I will review Pipsqueak in a double feature of next week's Cider Sunday post.

Instead, I wanted to share some of my food adventures from Darwin.

I sampled this delicious chicken laksa and paw paw salad on my last trip to Darwin at the Parap Markets held every weekend here in Darwin. There are many stalls with various wares, but the main attraction ( for me anyway) is the amazing food stalls. There are fresh fruit & vegetables featuring many exotic fruits, fruit shakes, snow ice, laksa and other nonya inspired food stalls.

This laksa was absolutely delicious, it had tender pieces of shredded chicken breast, chunks of fried tofu, lots of spice and a wonderful balance of flavours. Actually, it's one of the best I have ever had. I only wish Pete was here to see if he agreed, he likes to think of himself as a laksa and pho connoisseur. 

The paw paw salad was lovely and fresh with just the right amount of chilli. Yum!

Some of you may remember I went croc jumping on the Adelaide River the last time I visited up here. On the way back home we stopped at the Humpty Doo Hotel - A pub in the middle of nowhere on the road to Kakadu. I had this delicious barramundi burger & chips. The chips were super crunchy and the fish which was locally caught just melted in the mouth - it was a great all round burger. I think I enjoyed it so much as I had just survived croc jumping - an experience I was quite apprehensive about beforehand. 

If you ever visit the top end, make sure you venture out and book yourself a croc jumping tour. Oh, and make sure you stop at the Humpty Doo on the way home and sample of of their delicious burgers.

'Barra' Burger @ The Humpty Doo, Darwin
Darwin Sunset

Which cider are you enjoying this weekend?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

An Interview with Mama Ka'z

Banana Bread - OMG Yum!

If you have ever enjoyed a delicious piece of banana bread at a cafe, chances are you have sampled Mama Ka'z's banana bread. Or, perhaps you love your pear & raspberry bread - Yep that's a Mama Ka'z creation too!

Up until recently, Mama Ka'z products were only available at cafe's throughout Australia. Fortunately, for banana bread lovers like myself, we can now purchase Mama Ka'z products from the comfort of our lounge room by logging on to their website and having them delivered direct. 

What I love about these products are that they do not contain preservatives, use 100% fruit and they freeze really well. I cut up each loaf into individual slices, wrap and place them into the freezer. That way Pete and I can just whip out a piece when we need it and pop it into our toaster. It's also handy to serve with a nice coffee when guests come over. 

My favourite has always been the traditional banana bread loaf, toasted with a smear of butter, but after trying the banana bread & choc chip loaf - I'm in love. The chocolate chips melt through each slice when toasted, oooh... it's a delicious treat.

Recently, I caught up with Mama Ka'z, to discuss all things banana bread and to find out what the Mama Ka'z team are working on. 

Banana & Walnut Bread

Background Info - How Mama Ka'z got started
Mama Ka'z, the first Banana Bread company to enter the Australian market, was established in 1997 and began operation from the third floor of their apartment. Karen Hurvitz, or Mama Ka'z as she is formerly known in the industry, began experimenting with her grandmother's famous banana bread recipe and offering samples to cafĂ© owners across Sydney. The response was overwhelming and the Mama Ka'z brand was born, continually growing and evolving over the years. Today, Mama Ka'z has moved their operation to a factory in St Peters in the Inner West of Sydney.

The Mama Kaz business includes the famous banana bread, other banana bread flavours, fruit flavoured breads, iced loaves, mini breads, and a brand new range of muffins. All products are made locally and are 100% natural, with 100% real fruit and no preservatives.

Mama Ka'z, what is your personal favourite from the Mama Ka'z range?
Banana Choc Chip - when toasted the chocolate melts and oozes right through the bread.

Banana & Choc Chip Bread
How many bananas go into one of your standard size banana bread loaves?

With banana bread found in so many cafes - what makes Mama Ka'z's the best?
At Mama Ka'z we only use natural products for example, there are nine bananas per loaf and 100% fruit in all of our flavoured breads.

Banana Raspberry Bread

Did Australia's banana price crisis have a significant impact on production?
Very much so, in fact it almost put us out of business.

Plain or Toasted?
Our banana bread is best served toasted with butter

New Range - Muffins
What can we expect from Mama Ka'z in the future?
Mama Ka'z is constantly striving to improve our products. Frequent visits to food fairs around the world and other bakeries has allowed for new ideas to develop.  We have just launched a brand new online retail service which allows customers to order their favourite bread direct to their door!

Thanks Mama Ka'z!

To find out more about Mama Ka'z or to place an order check out their website here

Images courtesy of Mama Kaz & Polkadot PR.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cider Sunday - Sydney Cider

Happy Cider Sunday!

What a beautiful day it is today in Sydney, a stark contrast to yesterday and the last few weeks where we have seen nothing but rain and grey skies. It's been borderline doona weather.

This week's cider comes from my home town - the city of Sydney - It is brewed in the heart of the city at Sydney Brewery which is part of the Schwartz Brewery Hotel - otherwise know as 'The Mac' or Macquarie Hotel on the corner of Goulburn Street and Wentworth Avenue. It's an interesting pub which has been occupied since 1888.

To coincide with the wonderful name of this week's cider, I have included a few pics of this amazing city below. Of course, I am slightly biased.

Having frequented this hotel many times for drinks after work or the occasional lunch, I was pleasantly surprised to find they had their own cider on tap and that it was actually brewed in the basement of the hotel. For those who are interested, you can wander downstairs into the basement and check out the brewing process on your way to the amenities.

Sydney Tower
What I find interesting about this cider is that the apples used are fermented with champagne yeast. This results in a more complex cider with wine characteristics. The flavour of the apples is nice and it has a crisp clean finish. The sweetness of this cider is nicely balanced and not overly sweet.

Sydney Harbour Bridge - Botanical Gardens
The guys who brew this cider believe this cider provides a good accompaniment to seafood and spicy Asian food and I would have to agree. This cider is balanced and has a slight sophistication to it's structure - which is obviously a result of the champagne yeast.

Sydney's Luna Park
Interestingly, this cider is reported to provide 66mg of vitamin C per 330ml bottle. So there you go, it's somewhat of a health tonic.. ha ha.

Enjoy x
Sunrise over Bondi Beach

At 4.5% alcohol, a 330ml bottle of this cider will provide you with 1.2 standard drinks.

Available at The Oak Barrel & The Macquarie Hotel, Sydney.

$59.95 per carton of 24 (330ml)
$5+  per 330ml bottle (sold individually)
On tap @ The Mac

Tell me, have you visited the city of Sydney or 'The Mac'? What did you think?