Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cider Sunday - Stassen Excellence Prestige Cuvee Cider

Belgium brand Stassen has been making cider since 1895 and Excellence was created in 1995 to celebrate the company's 100th anniversary. 

Made using tannic apple varieties grown in Stassen's own orchards, this cider is perfect for those looking to celebrate. The blended apple varieties and a longer fermentation process have resulted in a medium dry sparkling golden cider. 

It has a nice apple aroma with just a hint of pear coming through. A fine champagne type bubble carries the fruity apple flavours around the palate nicely and there are definite wood and yeasty characters present. 

Overall, a nice cuvee style cider with balanced sweetness. Those who enjoy sparkling wine and or champagne will enjoy this drop. Serve in a champagne flute with a good cheese platter for a sophisticated cider experience.

Bronze Medal Winner and Best in Category ( Super Premium Cider) at the International Cider Challenge in 2010.

At 7% a 750ml bottle will provide you with 4.15 standard drinks.

The Food Mentalist sampled Stassen Excellence compliments of Kollaras Company and Stassen Cider.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Christmas Pudding

Plum Puddings are believed to have begun in roman times and to have contained meat and vegetables, fruit, spices, and wine. They were one way of preserving meat  before we had refrigeration. Another ancestor to our plum pudding was a porridge-like mixture of meat, currants, raisins and alcohol called Frumenty, around the time of the 14th Century. 

Gold Vintage Christmas Pudding
Around the 17th century this evolved into the plum pudding we know today. Eggs, breadcrumbs, and dried fruits were added and the pudding evolved from a main dish to a dessert, with the omission of meat which was replaced by suet. 

In the late 1600’s the Puritans outlawed the pudding as evil. Known as the Pudding King, King George I, is credited with re-establishing the popularity of the pudding in the 18th century, as part of the Royal Dinner to celebrate his first Christmas in England.

Plum pudding was traditionally boiled or steamed in a cloth and hung up to dry and mature. Some purists still follow the traditional method of using a pudding cloth today. Plum pudding keeps a long while due to the alcohol it contains.  

Stir up Sunday was the name given to the time of year when most households would make their pudding, several weeks before Christmas, giving it time to mature before the traditional Christmas feast. This was about five weeks out before Christmas day, the last Sunday before Advent. Tradition has it that in earlier times the pudding was prepared with 13 ingredients representing Christ with his 12 Apostles and the pudding was stirred clockwise to symbolise the journey of the Magi. Every member of the family was encouraged to have a stir of the pudding and to make a wish. 

In earlier times, small trinkets and coins were hidden in the pudding. The various trinkets each held a meaning for the finder. A small wishbone meant good luck; a silver thimble, thrift; a small coin represented health wealth and happiness for the year ahead. By Victorian times only the coins remained in use. 

The tradition of flaming the pudding with brandy adds a piece of theatre to the ritual of serving the pudding at the end of the meal.  Some of the traditional toppings are custard, ice cream, brandy custard, thick cream; icing sugar or any combination of toppings. 

Keeping the tradition of the Christmas pudding alive seems to be the one tangible tradition that can survive the warm weather of the southern hemisphere to recreate a tradition of the northern winter world. The pudding can be served cold in hot weather and hot in the cold weather. For most of us here in Australia, the traditional toppings are ice cream or custard or a combination of both. More than any other meal, the Christmas dinner links together the Christian world, and the pudding more than any other food item is the symbol of that connectedness at the time of our Christmas festival. 

“In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered –flushed, but smiling proudly – with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck in the top". – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.  

A huge pudding fan, I recently had the pleasure of sampling two different puddings from the Woolworth's Gold range - Hidden Cherry Christmas Pudding & Vintage Christmas Pudding. Matured for 6 months each, both puddings are made in Derbyshire, England by the world's oldest pudding maker. 

Woolworths Gold Hidden Cherry Christmas Pudding
Serves 9
The Hidden Cherry Christmas Pudding is filled with a hidden centre of brandy soaked glace cherries and sweet cherry sauce. A nice twist on the traditional Christmas pudding.

I served mine with warm vanilla custard and it was delicious. The pudding also contained walnuts and almonds which was a nice addition. The cherries provide a lovely sweetness to this pudding so you won't need a huge slice to get your pudding hit. I also love that this pudding does not contain any artificial colours or flavours. 

Woolworth's Gold Vintage Christmas Pudding - Serves 2
The Vintage Christmas Pudding won me over. Incredibly moist, the pudding has a great texture and combination of fruit including sultanas, raisins,cranberries and apricots, along with nuts, French cognac, sherry and port. I love anything with orange and mixed peel at Christmas time and so I was happy to see this pudding had a huge slice of glace orange on top. It also contains macadamias which again,added a lovely difference to the pudding. 

Both puddings are available for purchase at Woolworth's Stores nationally and will make a lovely addition to any Christmas lunch.

Tell me, what do you like to serve your Christmas pudding with?

A big thanks to Mac's History Corner for assisting with the history of the pudding.

The Food Mentalist sampled the puddings compliments of Woolworth's.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Cake Truffles

Here's a great way to modernise the traditional Christmas cake or use up any leftovers after Christmas day. These little gems are really delicious and super easy to whip up. I bet you can't stop at just one.

Christmas Cake Truffles
Makes approximately 24


800g fruitcake, coarsely chopped ( I used a whole Baker's Delight Christmas Cake)
100g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tbs brandy
200g white chocolate, coarsely chopped
mini m&ms or glace cherries, to decorate
Desiccated coconut (optional)*

Line a baking tray (that will fit in the fridge) with baking paper and set it to one side while you make the truffles.

Melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave according to the instructions on the packet.

Crumble the Christmas cake into a bowl, add the  brandy and stir well until well combined. 

Pour in the melted dark chocolate and stir again: this will help to bring the mixture together.

Roll small teaspoons of mixture into balls about the size of a chocolate truffle and place on lined tray.

Cover with cling film and place in fridge to firm up. 

To decorate, melt the white chocolate, then let it cool slightly for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile chop the green M&M's in half or if using cherries - cut the red cherries into small pieces to represent small berries, and snip the green cherries into miniature lengths, to represent leaves.

Using a teaspoon, drip a little of the melted white chocolate on each truffle, then arrange the cherry or M&M pieces on top.

* Alternatively, drizzle balls in white chocolate and roll in coconut. 


For gifts, place in boxes lined with tissue paper.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy 2014.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Four Friends - Crows Nest, Sydney

A recent visit to Cafe and chocolate shop Four Friends in Sydney's Crows Nest provided the first real outing for us as a family since William was born. 

A relaxed upstairs space perfect for catching up with friends
The name Four Friends comes from a Buddhist story about interdependence, where four creatures - a bird, a rabbit, a monkey and an elephant work harmoniously together towards the benefit of all. The story reveals the idea that everyone should show love and respect to one another despite their differences.

Four Friends prides itself on creating bespoke treats that are good for us and better for the planet. I love the fact that their chocolate and macaroons are made free from any preservatives or artificial sweeteners. Using the finest organic and fair trade cacao from Belgium, and other organic ingredients, owner Katze Ting hopes to help educate consumers about the real taste of natural organic ingredients. 

Delicious chocolate flavours include chilli chocolate, earl grey, peanut butter, salted caramel, popping candy, hot cross bun, bubble gum vanilla,green tea, marzipan, caramel and almond praline.

In addition to the delicious chocolates, Four Friends also offers guests a sustainable menu which includes savoury pancakes, waffles, frittatas, croissants and cakes, all made using local and organic ingredients. 

The Ultimate Hot Chocolate
Coffee is good and tea enthusiasts will be impressed with over 40 organic teas from around the world to choose from. I can highly recommend the berry fairy blend which was creamy on the palate and bursting with fresh berry flavours - presented in a gorgeous tea pot and saucer.

A wide selection of teas to choose from
Delicious Macarons and Tea
Gift boxed chocolates = The Perfect Gift

Four Friends
Open Monday to Friday 7am-5pm
Saturday 9am-5pm.
5/29 Holtermann Street, Crows Nest, Sydney

Four Friends on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cider Sunday - Kirin Cider - Fuji Apple

After witnessing a recent active social media marketing campaign for Kirin cider I was keen to get my hands on some. As part of their campaign, Kirin also engaged typographer Gemma O’Brien to hand paint bespoke advertising displays for a targeted ATL Outdoor campaign featuring numerous locations in urban areas around Australia, from Fitzroy, VIC to Redfern, NSW. 

Despite its Japanese themed branding and flavour profiles you may be surprised to know that this cider is not an import but a home grown cider brewed by the Lion, the makers of Tooheys 5 Seeds in Sydney. 

Made under licence for Kirin Brewery in Japan, the range was developed in association with Kirin Japan’s renowned Master Blender, Hideaki Kito. The range features four ciders infused with Japanese inspired flavours - Fuji, Fuji & Ginger, Fuji & Umi and Fuji & Mikan.

I decided to start with the plain Fuji apple which according to the label on the bottle consists of "Premium Cider infused with a hint of refreshingly crisp Fuji Apple".  I am rather intrigued as to what type of apple makes up the majority of this cider. 

A pale straw coloured cider that pours quite heady but settles fairly quickly. The first thing I notice on trying this cider is that it is has a fair amount of carbonation, is quite yeasty and acidic. I do like the fact that its not super sweet and I don't mind the zing and crisp finish it provides.

This cider would be best paired with spicy food, a good curry or stir fry would work really well. Alternatively, you could try it with your next sushi platter perhaps?

At $8.00 per 500ml bottle - the price point for this cider really intrigues me. I can't help but think the price would be more suited to a genuine imported cider rather than something made locally.

On the lighter side in terms of strength (4% alcohol), a 500ml bottle will provide you with 1.6 standard drinks.

The Food Mentalist purchased Kirin Apple Cider at Vintage Cellars for $8.00

Friday, December 6, 2013

Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies

This recipe resulted from a request by Pete to make a cookie with a little bit of 'health' in it. Something with oats he said. Sounded simple enough, so here it is.

After trawling over a few different versions on the net I decided to combine a few elements from what I thought to be the best ones. Luckily the recipe worked out. These cookies are more of a softer cookie, a little chewier than say my Crunchy Cornflake Cookies which I absolutely love. However, if you prefer more crunch, simply leave these ones in the oven for a few extra minutes.

Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies
Makes about 20 medium sized cookies
An original recipe by The Food Mentalist

150g unsalted butter
3/4 cup soft brown sugar
2 tbs caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup plain (all purpose) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
2 cups rolled oats
1 (175g) cup dark choc chips

Line two large baking mats/trays with baking paper and preheat oven to 180 degrees. 
Cream the butter and sugars together until fluffy and smooth.  Add the beaten egg and vanilla extract and beat until smooth.  Next, add sifted flour,baking powder and salt into the bowl and mix lightly.  Stir in oats and choc chips until combined.

Roll dessertspoons of mixture into balls and place on the baking trays. Lightly flatten each ball with the back of a fork that has been dipped in flour. Place in oven and bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until pale golden in colour. Leave them in for a few more minutes if you prefer a firmer crunchier consistency.
Remove from the oven and cool on trays for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Enjoy with your favourite hot drink or an icy milkshake.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Glorious Garlic - Sprout Magazine

"Published at the beginning of each season, Sprout is a celebration of local food, producers and cuisine. It is about living sustainably through promoting fresh, seasonal produce and encouraging people to make a difference by growing their own food and making sustainable food choices.

Sprout Magazine has regular features on growing your own food, and a seasonal food table and delicious recipes to cook up a feast with your fresh produce. We will feature passionate experts, food lovers, committed producers, community organisations, government agencies, industry groups, and people who make food their business to focus on one of the best and essential things in life—food" (Sprout Magazine)

Please check out my latest feature article in Sprout Magazine's Spring edition - Flavours & Spices below. 


Glorious Garlic 

A resurgence in the local garlic industry has seen a rise in boutique garlic growing and the popularity of this piquant bulb.

Photo Source: Sprout Magazine
Australians eat 3,500 tonnes of garlic every year—and their love of this pungent bulb is growing, but most of this garlic comes from China as well as Africa, Taiwan, New Zealand and the USA.

A modest local industry produces around 500 tonnes—the introduction of cheap, bleached imported garlic in the mid 1990s saw a massive decline in local production says the Australian Garlic Industry Association (AGIA).

Today China is the world’s leading producer and exporter of garlic—in 2012 they produced 59 million metric tonnes. Much of this is bound for Australia with 95 per cent of garlic sold in Australia from China. 

The AGIA, however, says the Chinese product lacks freshness and quality assurance.

‘There is no way of regulating the pesticides or processes used in the production of garlic in China, says Henry Bell, secretary of the AGIA. ‘I don’t believe the Australian quarantine regulations are strict enough in terms of bacteria testing on imported produce’.

The pristine white imported garlic is often bleached for aesthetic purposes. The AGIA also says that Chinese garlic is gamma irradiated and sprayed with Maleic Hydrazide (MH) to extend its shelf life and retard sprouting. While many scientific studies report that MH has a low acute toxicity, the United States Environmental Protection Agency says that hydrazide is a contaminant linked to tumour induction. 

In addition, garlic from China and is fumigated to meet Australian quarantine import regulations and protect Australia against the many pests and diseases found in China. Methyl bromide, a colourless gas is used—a highly toxic sterility agent often used as an insecticide, herbicide and fungicide. 

The AGIA also believes imported garlic also raises concerns over the freshness, health benefits and flavour as there is a chance it has been in storage for long periods before it is presented in supermarkets and shops. You may in fact be buying last year’s crop.

The upside for consumers is that here has been a resurgence of interest in Australian garlic in the last few years. NSW Department of Primary Industries reports that the introduction of improved varieties of garlic and a greater appreciation by shoppers of the fresh product has improved the market prospects for locally grown garlic.

Over the last 15 years AGIA’s membership base has shifted and now includes a larger proportion of boutique growers who sell their product at farmers’ markets and at the farm gate. ‘We understand the broader communities dislike for imported garlic—they keep telling us at our famers market stall, says AGIA chairman Leon Trembath who is passionate about educating consumers.

Jocelyn Colleran is someone who is also passionate about educating consumers about garlic. She is a boutique garlic producer in the Upper Myall Valley near Gloucester.

Jocelyn runs garlic-growing workshops and is passionate about cooking with garlic. She has organised themed dinners where garlic features as the main ingredient in all courses—including dessert. In 2012, chef Will Lute created a vanilla bean pannacotta with burnt orange garlic caramel sauce, garlic toffee and honeycomb crumble. Jocelyn says it was simply stunning. 

Jocelyn says the best way to ensure you are buying quality Australian garlic is to buy from trusted sources: ‘Get to know your local greengrocer or the supplier at your local farmers market; there are also many Australian growers who now sell their garlic online.’

It’s also useful to know that the garlic season in Australia begins in September with garlic harvested in the warmer areas of Queensland. The harvest then travels south with NSW garlic harvested early to mid-November, Victoria and South Australia in early December and January and December in Tasmania with the Australian garlic season ending in February.

Garlic stores well and will keep for months in a cool, dry, ventilated place.

One of the aims of AGIA is to develop a web of growers to supply garlic to the market year-round.

Understanding the different varieties of garlic is also paramount to ensuring that Australian garlic is available all year round. Jocelyn also wants to encourage people to use different parts of garlic at different times of the year. Spring garlic, for example, is garlic harvested before it has fully matured. You use it as you would a leek and store it in the fridge,’ she says. She shares more garlic cooking tips below.

The chemistry of cooking with garlic

Photo: Jocelyn Colleran
A fresh healthy and well-dried bulb of garlic should not have any smell and therefore garlic should not be selected for purchase on this basis says Jocelyn. Once a garlic clove is crushed or cut, the cell wall is pierced and a reaction takes place as the enzymes mix with volatile sulphur containing compounds. This results in a pungent garlic aroma. 

The flavour and aroma intensity can be altered by the way in which it is prepared advises Jocelyn.

· Finely diced or crushed garlic is garlic at its most intense. Before using it in your cooking, Jocelyn suggests leaving it for a few moments to allow the full flavour profile to develop before it is added to food or subjected to a heat source.

· Sliced garlic provides a less intense flavour profile.

· Whole cloves in casseroles, soups or in roasts provides a more subtle, often sweeter garlic element to the dish. 

Grow your own garlic

Garlic is relatively easy to grow, Jocelyn says, however you must have patience: the average crop takes 6 to 8 months to grow. Here are her 10 steps to growing your own garlic.

Photo: Jocelyn Colleran
Photo: Jocelyn Colleran

1. Select an open sunny, well-drained plot with well-balanced soil.

2. By March, obtain the best and most local garlic bulbs ready to split into single cloves for planting.

3. During April plant cloves pointy end up and cover with about 2cm of soil.

4. Immediately cover with about 25cm of loose mulch.

5. Watch with amazement as the new garlic shoots grow up through the mulch.

6. Keep weed free.

7. From mid-October onwards watch your garlic to see when about half the leaves have turned brown.

8. Gently (fresh garlic bruises) loosen soil under the bulb and remove, keeping leaves and roots intact and shake off excess soil.

9. Hang to dry immediately in a very airy dry place out of direct sunlight for 2–6 weeks until the outer wrappers are quite dry. (Enjoy the stunning colour and taste of a few (they won’t keep more than a few weeks) of the freshly harvested garlic bulbs. Cook like leeks or spring onions and use the green stems as well.

10. Keep in the kitchen in bunches or braids or as trimmed single bulbs to use when needed. Make sure to store them out of direct sunlight and where there is good air circulation but never in the refrigerator.

Photo: Jocelyn Colleran

Photo: Jocelyn Colleran

Black garlic

Black garlic is described as sweet meets savoury. It is garlic that has been allowed to ferment in a chemically free environment where humidity and temperature is strictly controlled. The garlic retains its form while the outer wrappers of the bulb turn a caramel colour and the cloves turn black. 

Black garlic is particularly sought for its medicinal properties. Jocelyn says that while some nutritional and medicinal properties are lost in the fermentation process, others are enhanced. Calcium, protein, and anti-oxidant qualities are said to be significantly higher in black garlic. 

‘It has a liquorice-like texture and an almost molasses type sweetness,’ Jocelyn says. It doesn’t require cooking and can be used it in a variety of ways. ‘I’ve tossed it through cooked red rice with lemon zest and fresh parsley, sautéed it with mushrooms, tossed it through fresh pasta with olive oil, stirred it through scrambled eggs and added it to gremolata with fresh oregano, lemon zest, and olive oil.’

Colleran will be hosting garlic workshops as part of the Dungog Food Affair on Saturday 2 November 2013. For more information, visit

The third annual garlic dinner will be held at Roadies Café, Gloucester in mid-January 2014. For details call 6558 2772 or email Jocelyn at

Buy local

You can purchase quality Australian garlic direct from Australian growers. Some of these are listed below.

Jocelyn Colleran Garlic

As demand has been high, this year Jocelyn has also arranged to sell selected garlic from other Australian growers as well as her own. For further information, email Jocelyn at

Barrington River Organic Farm

Gourmet Garlic Company

Hunter Valley Garlic

Mirboo Farm

Mystery Creek Farm

Patrice Newell Garlic

Please note: Photos above differ slightly to those published in the original article.

The online version of this feature can be viewed here

Sprout Magazine

PO Box 734
Newtown NSW 2042
Sydney, Australia

T: (02) 9550 3330

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Cider Sunday - The Barossa Cider Co - Squashed Apple Cider

Welcome back to Cider Sunday. It's been quite a while between drinks as they say. Being pregnant with William meant I had to put my cider reviews on hold for a while. However, I'm extremely happy to report the return of Cider Sunday.

Our William - Erin Elizabeth Photography
Having a break over the last few months has meant that there is no shortage of new ciders to sample as new labels continue to flood the Australian market.

This week's cider is produced by The Barossa Cider Co. in Adelaide using a blend of South Australian apples which are fermented in a tank.

A light golden crisp and refreshing cider with a fine carbonation, and rounded sweetness. It is rather soft and creamy on the palate and has a balanced acidic structure. Traditional cider enthusiasts may find this one a little on the sweeter side, however, this cider will hold great appeal to many.

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

Promoted as best enjoyed icy cold on a hot day, I found the flavour profile developed somewhat as it got closer to room temperature. I enjoyed this with a selection of French cheeses - something I have also greatly missed.

The Food Mentalist purchased The Barossa Cider Co's Squashed Apple Cider at Dan Murphy's for $3.99 per 330ml bottle.