Thursday, May 29, 2014

Raw Coconut, Lemon & Honey Bites

Continuing on my 'all things raw' journey, I got the idea for these whilst I was at home sick with a cold. Now, being sick and stuck at home is not conducive to epic kitchen battles so I wanted something super easy and quick and something that could give me that much needed pick-me-up. 

For many, having a cold as a child meant sipping on a cup of fresh warmed lemon juice and honey so with that in mind, I created these. 

I was happy with the result and I literally made these in a matter of minutes. For something different, try substituting the lemon for orange juice.

Raw Honey & Lemon Balls

1 1/2 cups moist shredded (or desiccated coconut will also work)
plus 1/2 cup for coating
1 cup almond meal
zest of two lemons
juice of one lemon
3 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
2 tbsp plain honey
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
a pinch of sea salt

In a bowl or food processor, combine all ingredients and mix until well combined and the mix starts to form a dough.

Using your hands, simply roll dessert spoon sized pieces into small balls. 

Sprinkle the extra coconut onto a plate and roll the balls in the coconut until well coated. Place on a plate lined with greaseproof paper and place in the fridge for about an hour to set.

Makes around 20.  

Best enjoyed within 3-4 days ( if they last that long!).

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Taste of Reality Cooking

Check out my article for @theFestival for The Sydney Writer's Festival's Curiosity Lecture Series with Dr Rebecca Huntley - The Ethos of Eating. If you are looking for something interesting to do tomorrow you should head down and check it out. It's also a free event. 
Details: The Ethos of Eating - Saturday 24 May @  12pm, Pier 2/3 Bloomberg Stage, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, Sydney. 
Article below originally published here

We could look to popular food television heavyweights like MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules for our food knowledge and inspiration. And many do. But speak to Rebecca Huntley and she will tell you why she no longer watches such shows and why she doesn’t believe in recipe books.
A leading figure in the field of social research, Dr Huntley is an author, social commentator, mother, and director of Australia’s longest running qualitative social trends study, The Ipsos Mind & Mood Report. As such, she is paid to delve into the thoughts and feelings of everyday people.
In her Curiosity talk at the Festival, On the Ethos of Eating, she looks at why food and cooking have always been so important to her and what she has learned listening to thousands of Australians talk about their approach to buying and cooking food.
Dr Huntley has strong opinions and presents them in a way that is both captivating and purposeful. Backed by her PhD in gender studies, she is passionate about the inequality surrounding the way we eat and she touches on such issues in her book, Eating Between the Lines: Food & Equality in Australia. Particularly, in how the task of cooking still falls largely on the shoulders of women: “A deterioration in cooking skills has been blamed on women who are too busy working.”
While there is a broad assumption that families eat takeaway because “Mum can’t be bothered cooking as she’s too tired”, Dr Huntley believes this is unfair, and needs to change.
The dynamic between what we observe and what we actually do with food is intriguing, and Dr Huntley insists that the two do not equate. For this reason, food media is fundamentally flawed, and fails to present sustainable solutions to how we deal with food.
“When we approach food and nutrition from a calorie perspective, and whether a food is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it just doesn’t work,” she says. “This is not an effective long-term strategy. Nor is one where we are expected to take into account 70 new and different ingredients.”
She has a lot to say about food. The question of where we source our food sparks surprising passion: “I have a real issue with people who say that we should only buy our food from farmers’ markets and local growers, and the idea that we should never set a foot in the supermarket. This is kind of pathetic. Kudos to you if you can shop that way but, really, you are unique. It’s just not mainstream. The simple fact is that the majority of people source their food from the supermarket.”
Instead, she believes it’s important to take an interest in where our food comes from and support initiatives through supermarkets.
One of Dr Huntley’s most controversial perspectives is that food knowledge and skill should not be limited to food media nor what lies on the pages of cookbooks. This may be difficult for some TV audiences to come to terms with. She says food-related shows do not promote the notion of eating at home. “They want people to eat out at cafes and restaurants and all the chefs involved have restaurants.”
Added to this is Dr Huntley’s belief that the more we eat out, the less we question the source and quality of the food and the less practice we get at preparing it. This is why she is on a mission to help change the way we approach food: “If I have an hour, I would rather be cooking than watching others cook.”
Dr Huntley says while watching the first series of one cooking show, her husband claimed they actually ate more takeaway during that period than home-cooked meals. With such programs scheduled at times when people would normally be preparing and cooking dinner, “anything that takes you away from that won’t get you where you need to be”.
And as for recipe books, she says being able to improvise with food is an essential skill. “To be able to open your fridge and say, ‘right, I have half a leftover baked chicken and some vegetables’ and then pull something together from that; recipe books don’t do that,” she says. Instead, the Internet can and does fill that void, and now “people use the internet to find out how to cook a new protein source”.
While Dr Huntley admires people like healthy food advocate Jamie Oliver, she believes that trying to get everyone passionate about food is never going to work. In reality, only a small percentage of people absolutely love it. “People have other interests [they are passionate about], whether that be reading, knitting or cooking.”
Instead, she suggests taking a modest approach, and that it is more important for everyone to engage at a certain level. “We need to look at different ways to teach people about how to prepare a meal, whether that be a seven-year-old child or a 70-year-old widower.” Research indicates people can usually master eight to 10 core recipes, then to build on this it’s simply a matter of teaching people to make small, sustainable, changes.
“Perhaps it’s a matter of adding more vegetables, incorporating some fish or becoming proficient in the use of one new ingredient or cut of meat. It’s about getting people to a place where they can confidently prepare a simple, not overly complex meal, not to the point where they’re a contestant on MasterChef.”
Dr Huntley also suggests families take a more pragmatic approach, “where everyone shares the responsibility and has input into creating a family meal. That may be shopping for the ingredients, doing the preparation or cooking the meal itself, a shared experience where the role is no longer entirely focused on the woman”. She believes the pressures and time constraints that women face when preparing food will only change when opportunities are found to involve men and children in the kitchen. “There is no reason why children as young as six or seven can’t get involved in basic cooking, rather than just making cupcakes.”
Rebecca Huntley has a new book, Does Cooking Matter? due for release later this year.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Argentinian Street Food - A Review

Argentinian Street Food unpacks the secrets of authentic Argentine empanadas and helados (ice cream) to be prepared at home in the traditional manner of the Argentine chef.    

Enrique Zanoni and chef Gaston Stivelmaher established the Clasico Argentino concept in Paris in 2011. They run three restaurants in Paris and a food truck cruising the Parisian streets selling authentic Argentinian street food.  

After a brief history of the empanada Zanoni and Stivelmaher outline the basics for preparing the two types of dough for empanadas; Classic and Puffed dough for either baked or fried empanadas. 

Step by step instructions and pictures explain how to fold your empanadas. The guide to the ‘repulgue’ (decorative edging) and its purpose, aside from its aesthetics, will get you seriously thinking about creating your very own signature design once you have mastered the basics of preparing the dough and perfecting the folds. You can experiment here and create your very own design specific to your own ‘casa de empanada’. 

Readers are presented with a variety of sweet and savoury fillings to choose from ranging from meats, vegetables, cheese, seafood and sweet fillings.

Whilst the main focus of this cookbook are the empanadas, Zanoni and Stivelmaher also include Pica Pica (little dishes) to accompany the empanadas, and a good range of recipes for Los Helados (ice cream), and  Los Dulces (confectionary) including the legendary Dulce de Leche. 

Explained with step by step precision these recipes look easy and interesting to prepare using delicious fresh food true to the Argentine style.  

There are several standouts here and for me and these include the Portenita empanadas with mozzarella, bacon and prunes, the Gala, where a traditional French delicacy is refashioned into a delicious Argentinian classic street food with duck confit and foie gras, and the Choriempa which is a re-worked version of the traditional sausage sandwich, Choripan, using dough and oven baked and served with traditional Chimichurri. 

If sweets are your thing then you won't be disappointed with traditional dulce de leche, coconut alfajores and a variety of ice cream and sorbets to choose from.

As readers of The Food Mentalist, you can make your very own mini empanadas dulce de leche using the following recipes from the cookbook. From the dough, to the dulce de leche and the empanadas themselves. These are a real treat.

There are two types of dough, depending on whether the empanada is baked or fried. Each recipe will make 20 rounds of dough, 14 cm (5 1⁄2 inches) across. Allow about 30 minutes preparation time and 2 hours resting time.

Classic Dough (for baking)
1. Cut 325 g (111⁄2 oz) of unsalted butter into small cubes. Sift 1 kg (2 lb 4 oz/62⁄3 cups) of plain (all-purpose) flour into a large bowl. Add 25 g (1 oz) of salt and the cubes of butter.
2. Rub the butter into the flour and salt with your hands until you have a sandy texture with no lumps.
3. Add 350 ml (12 fl oz) of water and combine with the flour mixture using your hands. Add a little more water if necessary. Knead the dough on a lightly floured work surface for 10–15 minutes.
4. Form into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. 

Puffed dough (for frying)
1. Combine 1 kg (2 lb 4 oz/62⁄3 cups) of plain (all-purpose) flour with 25 g (1 oz) of salt in a bowl.
2. Add 160 ml (51/4 fl oz) of sunflower oil and 350 ml (12 fl oz) of water, then mix with a wooden spoon.
3. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10–15 minutes until smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Traditional dulce de leche
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 2.5–3 hours
makes about 1.5 kg (3 LB 5 oz)

3 litres (105 fl oz/12 cups) milk
750 g (1 lb 10 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

In a 5 litre (175 fl oz/20 cups) cast-iron casserole or saucepan, bring the milk to a boil with the sugar and scraped vanilla bean and seeds, stirring to dissolve the sugar. add the bicarbonate of soda and reduce heat to low. Continue cooking for 2.5 –3 hours, stirring with a wooden spoon from time to time. It will darken and thicken.

Use the cold plate test to check whether the dulce de leche is ready, put a spoonful on a cold plate and tilt it. If the mixture holds its shape, remove it from the heat; if it runs a little, cook until it reaches this stage.

store in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

mini empanadas dulce de leche
Preparation Time: 20 mins
Cooking Time: 12-15 min
Makes 30 empanadas

1 quantity of classic dough (see above)
450 g (1 lb) dulce de leche (see above)
3 egg yolks, beaten
to serve
300 ml (101⁄2 fl oz) thin (pouring) cream 100 g (31⁄2 oz) icing
(confectioners’) sugar

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F/Gas 5). Sprinkle a little flour on the work surface. Roll out the dough to a thickness of 3 mm (1⁄8 inch), and cut out circles with an 8 cm (31/4 inch) cutter.Top each round of dough with 2 teaspoons (15 g/1⁄2 oz) of dulce de leche. Lightly moisten the edge of the dough with a little water and fold over into a half-moon shape. Seal the edges and decorate them with an edging of your choice (see page 26). Set aside in the refrigerator if not cooking immediately.

Arrange the empanadas on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Brush with egg yolk and bake for 12–15 minutes, or until golden and cooked. Allow them to cool for a few minutes before serving. Whip the cream and icing sugar until thick to serve with the empanadas.


Authors: Enrique Zanoni & Gaston Stivelmaher

Murdoch Books RRP $29.99
Photo source: Argentinian Street Food
To purchase this book click here

The Food Mentalist reviewed Argentinian Street Food compliments of Murdoch Books.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Flashback Friday - Holiday

This week's Kidspot Flashback Friday theme is Holiday. 

When I asked Mum for an old holiday snap she gave me this one. It was taken next to the river at Evans Head in Northern New South Wales. 

Evans Head is located on the north coast of New South Wales not far from Ballina and Byron Bay.

We would holiday there every year as my grandparents have a holiday place there at the Silver Sands Caravan Park. 

Fond memories include the holiday kids club, the milk truck whose horn sounded like a cow, eating ice cream, swimming at the river and beach and of course the occasional pink hat.

Fun times!

Hope you are all having a fantastic Friday.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Cider Sunday - Old Mout Cranberry & Cider

For those of you reading this today I hope you are having a happy Mother's Day. It's a beautiful sunny day here in Sydney with hardly a cloud in the sky.

In celebration of Mother's Day, I thought it would be nice to review Old Mout's Cranberry & Cider. It has a lovely pinkish rosé colour and it is rather sweet.

This one is described by Old Mout as " a rather tasty tipple that occurred when our crisp apple cider met its match with a lovely cranberry wine that's just a little bit tart. it might be love"

I love the idea that they have added a flavoured wine to this cider. Whilst it is definitely not a cider in the traditional sense, it does have its place.

Old Mout is made in Nelson on New Zealand's South Island, famous for it's vibrant arts scene, boutique shops, fresh seafood and produce. The company has been making cider for over 60 years and they claim that they are always keen to find new ways to do it better. It's nice to see this as part of a company's ethos.

Now, this cider is crisp and refreshing, it is not overly fizzy which I like and the cranberry wine does add a nice dimension to it. It is definitely on the sweeter side but it has enough acidity to balance it out. 

Those who enjoy sweeter alcoholic beverages that are looking for something fun and refreshing will enjoy this. It reminds me of a moscato with a cranberry kick.I probably would not recommended this one to die hard cider enthusiasts though.

At a whopping 8% alcohol, a 500ml bottle will provide you with 3.2 standard drinks.

Enjoy cold with or without ice. Will pair well with most fresh light foods and could probably be enjoyed in place of a dessert wine for something a little different.

Available at most bottle shops particularly the bigger ones like Dan Murphy's.

The Food Mentalist purchased this cider at Dan Murphy's.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Queen of Nuts - The Australian Macadamia

Check out my article on macadamia nuts which featured in the Autumn edition of Sprout Magazine


Originally referred to as the ‘Kindal Kindal’ tree by Australian Aborigines, the macadamia tree evolved over 60 million years ago to become Australia’s only native commercial food crop and the only Australian native food to be widely traded internationally.

Photo Source: Penny Buckland
There are at least ten species of Macadamia, but only two of those produce edible nuts—the Tetraphylla and the Integrifolia. An evergreen tree with shiny dark foliage, macadamia trees grow to heights of 12 to 15 metres and can take up to 15 years to mature. Preferring a subtropical climate, the majority of Australia’s macadamia crop is centred in northern New South Wales—which produces around 60 percent of Australia’s crop—and south-east Queensland, where rich soil and high annual rainfall provide the perfect conditions. The season starts around April each year and runs until late September, early October.

Photo Source: Penny Buckland, Valla Nuts
With over 70 per cent of the annual macadamia crop exported, the Australian macadamia industry is reported to be valued at over $200 million a year. Although macadamias were first commercialised in Hawaii, Australia is a leader in the production, research, marketing and development of macadamias and, according to the Australian Nut Industry council, Australia holds the only natural germplasm—or genetic material—resources for macadamias.

Considered more of an indulgent treat rather than an everyday food due to their high price, macadamia nuts have a delicious buttery flavour that combines well with tropical fruits, such as coconut, mango and papaya. Chopped macadamia nuts also make an excellent addition to many savoury dishes and are popular with chefs and foodies.

Photo Source - Australian Macadamia Society
Macadamia grower Penny Buckland of Valla Nuts in Northern New South Wales says that macadamia nuts are expensive to grow and this is often reflected in store prices. ‘Farmingmacadamia nuts is expensive, requires a lot of equipment and is very labour intensive, from the orchard set up to mass plantings, spraying and harvesting.’Nut prices are set at the beginning of each season by theprocessing companies and depend on a variety of factors that include nut quality, pest damage and moisture content. Farmers get about 10 per cent of the cost of the final product,says Buckland.

Macadamia nuts are an excellent source of manganese and thiamine, as well as a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, fibre, selenium and copper. And their oil, once considered a by-product, has very high levels of oleic acid which has shown to reduce inflammation, lower bad cholesterol, reduce the symptoms of asthma, boost memory and increases the absorption rate of nutrients and fat soluble vitamins. Pamela Brook of Brookfarm Macadamias near Byron Bay in New South Wales has helped pioneer the use of macadamia oil in Australia. ‘When we started it was seen as a by-product but we decided to use only the finest quality nuts for pressing.You get great olive oil from using the best olives, the same with macadamia oil,’ she says. 

Two of the biggest issues facing macadamia growers are nut prices and the weather. ‘The last few years have been tough with large volumes of rain that affected production,’ says Penny Buckland. Valla Nuts currently has 1,660 macadamia trees that are harvested and de-husked on site. The nuts are then transported by truck to a macadamia processing centre co-op near Lismore where they are usually processed within 24 hours. The majority of Valla Nuts are exported says Buckland—and their consistent quality means they are sold at premium prices. The clean and green reputation of Australia’s nut industry has been challenged in recent years with industry losses in the tens of millions as a result of La Nina weather patterns according to the Australian Nut Industry Association. In addition, growers say there two major pests affect macadamia trees: the lace bug and the fruit spotting bug, which have resulted in the use of pesticides. 

Photo Source: Penny Buckland, Valla Nuts
Greg Bennett, who runs a certified organic macadamia farm near Nimbin in New South Wales, says that in the last year his yield has been ‘hammered’ by pests, resulting in a 90 per cent loss.Whilst Bennett sites personal choice and lifestyle as a reason for not choosing to use pesticides on his farm he says he understands why the majority of macadamia farmers use them. ‘I chose to farm organically because I live in the middle of my orchard and I don’t want pesticides in my drinking water. But I’m not anti conventional, I understand why farmers use sprays—for commercial crops there are no other options available’.

Currently, there are eight registered chemicals permitted for use in macadamia farming in Australia. An insecticide named Chlorpyrifos is one such chemical. In 2010 the National Toxics Network (NTN) and WWF Australia listed Chlorpyrifos as one of Australia’s most dangerous pesticides. According to NTN, an interim report published by the APVMA in 2000, indicated that the insecticide Chlorpyrifos had been under review by the industry regulator, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) since 1996 because of its toxicity to humans, acute toxicity to birds, water pollution and other factors. At present, Chlorpyrifos is permitted for minor use by the APVMA for the control of Australian plague locust in tree nut orchards. The permit remains in force until 2017.

Producers are keen for a better solution to their pest problem, however, there are no effective bio-control agents commercially available to control these pests. ‘Even though the shell of the macadamia is sprayed and not the actual nut, people don’t want to be eating food that has been sprayed,’ says Buckland. However, it appears at present, the impact of natural pest management is somewhat limited. ‘As an industry we need better ways to treat pests, the current sprays are broad spectrum, they drop harsh residues and kill other insects as well. But commercial farmers don’t have any other choice – we are well overdue and need a biological solution,’ he says. In addition, pest management can be costly: ‘You pay per hectare and trees can be up to 20 metres apart’.Natural pest management solutions also come at a cost, many farmers remove trees: ‘The orchard canopy can greatly affect the management of pests. We removed 550 trees last year to
increase air and light around the crop due to an increase in insect pressure’, says Buckland.

The Lace Bug - Image Source: Australian Biosecurity

Similarly, Bennett has also reduced his crop by 25 per cent to help reduce the impact of lace bug. Both Buckland and Bennett agree that more research and development is needed by the industry to develop biological control solutions to pest management. ‘More biological control would help make the market more appealing to new growers. It would also help reduce the cost of pest management for farmers,’ says Buckland.

Photo source: MPC
Where to buy organic macadamia products 

Bushnut Traders – Nimbin, New South Wales
Organic and pesticide-free macadamia nuts

Hand ‘N’ Hoe Organic Macadamias
Available at numerous farmers markets
in New South Wales including Eveleigh

Macadamia caramel slice
From Penny Buckland, Valla Nuts

½ cup sugar
125g butter
1 egg yolk
1 cup plain flour
¼ cup self-raising flour
2 tablespoons custard powder
pinch of salt

½ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
90g butter
125g macadamia nuts, chopped

For the base, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg yolk and mix well. Sift flours, salt and custard powder then add to the butter mixture. Mix to a firm dough. Press into a greased 18cm x 28cm lamington tin. Bake in moderate oven (180–190C) for 15 minutes or until golden brown and remove from the oven.

For the topping, place sugar, golden syrup and butter into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has completely dissolved—do not burn. Simmer for 5 minutes without stirring or burning. Stir in the chopped macadamias. Quickly spread onto the biscuit base. 

Cool in the tin then cut into squares.
Can be stored in the fridge.

Photos vary slightly from original article.

Friday, May 9, 2014

#flashbackfriday with Kidspot - Birthdays

Last week I participated in my first Flashback Friday with Kidspot - a great way to connect with new bloggers and have some fun. Each week we are given a new theme and the challenge is to find an old photo that relates to the topic. If you follow me on Instagram you would have seen last week's theme was homemade haircuts. This week we are looking at Birthday's. 

I really love this pic of me celebrating my second birthday. I'm not too sure about my Mother's fashion choices though. Hehe

One thing hasn't changed since this photo was taken, I still get this excited about cake!

Follow others and their Flashback Friday photos by searching for #flashbackfriday and #voicesof2014

Have a great weekend everyone x

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Chocolate Chia Pudding

I must admit that I have become quite obsessed with the new raw food movement flooding popular media. This fascination includes raw, vegan, paleo, superfoods, activated nuts and all that. 

It really intrigues me.

There are chefs and celebrities promoting new paleo style cookbooks and recipes, various blogs dedicated to it, Instagrammers with cult like followers and even cafes who promote exclusive like menus.

Now, I know for many this form of eating has been a lifestyle choice for some time now, but for the majority of us, it feels as if it has slowly crept out from under that kale leaf and is now becoming more mainstream. 

For several months now Pete has been concocting these green breakfast smoothies every day and at first I was opposed to them - I'd mutter something about preferring to eat my calories rather than drink them and then proceed to load up on carbs to get me going each morning. Slowly but surely I was converted. So much so that when Pete was absent during a recent business trip I actually missed my morning boost of green.

One of Pete's Green Smoothies
I still hold some reservations. The ingredients are quite expensive to buy and I do think that various combinations can contain more calories than their evil processed equivalent. However, their health benefits are well documented and are definitely something I am going to investigate further.

Chia Seeds
One such recipe that is proving popular at the moment is the chia pudding. I love a good pudding, who doesn't?. Whilst I go crazy for a tapioca (sago) pudding, it doesn't present much in terms of nutrition. Chia seeds on the other hand are well regarded for their incredible health benefits. The Wellness Warrior aka Jess Ainscough lists 13 reasons to eat more chia here. But basically it's a superfood full of fibre,iron, calcium, protein and Omega 3 and other goodies.  

So eat some. Do it now.

This pudding is crazy super easy. You simply combine all the ingredients and plop it into the fridge and wait for it to set.

Oh and don't forget raw cacao is also full of fantastic health benefits but most importantly it is a mood booster. So once you eat this pudding you should feel great and your insides will thank you. One other interesting fact about raw cacao is that mixing it with dairy actually inhibits the absorption of its antioxidants. So before you go blending some up with a big glass of milk - swap the regular milk for a non-dairy variety like almond, coconut, oat or soy.

400ml unsweetened non-dairy milk ( I used 1 x 400g tin coconut milk)
1/4 cup chia seeds
2 tablespoons raw cacao powder*
a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt
2 tbs maple syrup, agave or honey
dark chocolate, nuts, shredded coconut or fresh berries for serving.

Simply add all the ingredients together and whisk together until combined. Pour into serving dishes and place in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight. 

Top with your choice of topping.


* You can purchase raw cacao powder from health food shops and many supermarkets are now starting to stock it. Look for it in the health food section. You can also use a good quality cocoa powder for this if you prefer.