Friday, 2 October 2015

Spicy tomato and roasted capsicum relish

After a relish to top your steak? Or to dip crackers into? I went on a quest to replicate a delicious store-bought relish earlier this year, and this was the result. A spicy, slightly acidic, slightly sweet, savoury tomato and capsicum relish. Certainly a healthier alternative to drowning your meat in tomato sauce (which I must admit I did as a kid, and well into teenage hood), and a much more natural, chunky, adult-tasting version.

I used some of the same techniques from my arrabbiata sauce recipe, blanching fresh tomatoes and roasting my own red capsicum. You certainly could make a few shortcuts and used canned chopped tomatoes and store-bought roasted capsicum if you were a little time-poor (and let's face it- who isn't?). But I think the real joy of this is being able to make the entire thing from scratch. Who knows, your homemade relish could become a nice little Christmas present for loved ones?

Spicy tomato and roasted capsicum relish

4 medium tomatoes
1 small-medium red capsicum
½ red onion, diced
1 small red chilli, finely chopped (or more if using larger, milder chillies)
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp red or white wine vinegar
1.5 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp mixed herbs
Pinch of salt and pepper
  1. Roast capsicum: Place capsicum pieces skin side up on a baking tray lined with foil. Bake at 200°C for ~15 minutes, or until skin starts to darken. Gather up foil to enclose capsicum and steam in oven for a further 10 minutes. Remove capsicum from oven, place into a bowl of ice cold water for a couple of minutes. Remove from water and peel off skin. Discard skin and set aside.
  2. Blanch tomatoes: Prick the skin of the tomatoes a couple of times each and place in a medium-sized saucepan of water. Cover and bring to the boil for ~10 minutes or until cracks appear in the skin of the tomatoes. Drain and place in a bowl of ice cold water for a couple of minutes. Remove from water and peel off skin. Discard skin and set aside.
  3. Roughly chop capsicum and tomatoes, reserving only half the juices.
  4. Saute onion in olive oil in a medium saucepan until translucent. Add garlic and chilli and stir for 2 minutes.
  5. Add capsicum, tomatoes and juices, vinegar, brown sugar, herbs, salt and pepper to the saucepan. Simmer for at least 45 minutes, until relish has reduced and thickened.
  6. Place in a sterilized glass jar until and store until needed. Refrigerate after opening.

Makes ~300mL (just over 1 cup).

Note: to sterilize a jar, wash in hot soapy water, rinse and dry well. Place in the oven at 120°C for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately fill with sauce.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Vitamin-D deficient? This food might be the answer…

Move over sunlight- just one serve of this vegetable provides you with all of your vitamin D… Can you guess the vegetable? It's mushrooms! That's right, just 100g of sunbaked mushies (equivalent to 3 button mushrooms) provides 100% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of vitamin D.

Now, before we get to the sunbaked part, you might be surprised to learn that in a warm, sunny country like ours, surrounded by beautiful beaches,  60% of women and 40% of men are vitamin D deficient. Right now, at the end of winter, our vitamin D levels are at their lowest, and if you're an office worker, older person, have naturally dark skin or just tend not to spend much time outdoors, you could certainly be at risk of deficiency.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient, most commonly gained through sunlight exposure (though also in small quantities in some foods, like oily fish and eggs), which helps the body better absorb calcium which we know is vital for strong teeth and bones and helping to prevent conditions like osteoporosis. 

Sunbaked mushrooms to the rescue!

Now it might sounds funny that a fungi which grows in dark places could be high in vitamin D, but that's where the sun baking comes into play. Mushrooms naturally contain the precursor to vitamin D (called ergosterol), and when exposed to UV light, this is converted to vitamin D as we know it.
How do you reap the benefits? Simply sit your regular mushrooms out in the sun for an hour and cook as you normally would. For something even easier, many supermarkets (including the large chains) now sell 'vitamin D mushrooms' which have already been exposed to short bursts of UV light. Look for them next time you're stocking up on veg.


Add a few mushrooms to your next meal…

  • Slicing some raw mushrooms into a salad
  • Adding some to your next stir fry 
  • Making mushroom burgers with the large field or portabella varieties or stuff with ricotta and chives
  • Experiment with the earthy flavours of gourmet mushrooms like shiitake in a risotto with white wine
  • Replace half the mince in your bolognaise, burger pattie or san choy bow with finely chopped mushrooms (like in the photo above)- you can't even tell!

Credit: Photos photographed by me but styled by Janelle Bloom and Annette Forest at the Power of Mushrooms event in Sydney last weekend. For more info and recipe inspiration check out

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Surprising ways with 5 things you have sitting in your pantry right now

Wraps/ tortillas
  1. Brush or spray with olive oil, sprinkle with paprika, chilli flakes, oregano or rub with garlic, cut into 'chips' and bake until golden and crunchy.
  2. Fold in half, fill with baked beans, tomatoes, corn, cheese and mexican chilli powder and cook in a sandwich press. Top quesadillas with some guacamole and leafy greens to serve!
  3. Cut into quarters, press each quarter into the hole of a muffin tin and fill with spring onion, ham, tomato and an egg. Bake until tortilla is crispy and egg is cooked.
Tinned chickpeas
  1. Blend along with some garlic, tahini and olive oil for quick hummus dip.
  2. Throw a tin in the food processor along with some onion, garlic, cumin, lemon juice and parsley. Add some breadcrumbs if needed and shape into falafels. Pan fry or oven bake until golden.
  3. Spread onto a baking tray, spray with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika, cumin and a little salt. Bake until crispy for a healthy snack.

Thai curry paste
  1. Use to marinate prawns, thread onto skewers and grill
  2. Add to fish cakes for a hit of flavour
  3. Put a dollop in your stir-fried greens and toss through rice noodles for a quick veggie dish

  1. Spread onto bread to add instant flavour to any sandwich (try filling with chicken, roasted capsicum, rocket and fetta) or simply onto a piece of toast to accompany a soup or salad.
  2. Stir through zucchini 'zoodles' (if you haven't yet heard of these, google it!) and top with some halved cherry tomatoes and pine nuts for a yummy salad.
  3. Spread over white fish or chicken, sprinkle with chopped cashews and bake in the oven.

  1. Press onto lamb cutlets before grilling for extra flavour.
  2. Roll soft boiled eggs in dukkah and use to top toast with roasted veg, a quick salad or some toast
  3. Spread toast with avocado, sprinkle with dukkah and squeeze over some lemon juice for a satisfying snack.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Dark chocolate mousse cake

It was my birthday last week. Yep, I turned the ripe old age of 24! (I can hear some of you scoffing from here). I find myself having to do all sorts of adult things like organising my tax return, freaking out about never being able to afford a house in Sydney and watching my school mates get engaged and have babies! But am I too old for cake? Never! This year I couldn't decide what type I wanted so I extended my birthday out to two weeks (the mature decision) and had lemon meringue pie one week and this dark chocolate mousse cake the next. Mmm 

This recipe was adapted from an Eating Well recipe for chocolate decadence cake, and decadent it certainly is! Yet it's light enough that it doesn't feel heaving and rich enough that a small piece satisfies- winner! Certainly still a sometimes cake which I reserve for celebrations, but a healthier version nonetheless.

Dark chocolate mousse cake

1 1/3C good quality 70% dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used 200g Lindt 70%)
1/3 C cocoa powder plus 1 Tbsp extra
2 Tbsp plain flour
¼ C plus ¼ C castor sugar, separated
1 C skim milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, separated, plus 1 extra egg white

  1.  Preheat oven to 180°C and line the bottom and sides of a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.
  2. Place chocolate and cocoa powder in a large bowl.
  3. Combine flour and ¼ C sugar in a small saucepan. Whisk in just enough milk to form a smooth paste. Mix in remaining milk.
  4. Cook milk and flour mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning until the mixture begins to bubble. Boil gently for 2-2.5 minutes until the mixture gets very thick and then thins just slightly as the starch cooks.
  5. Stir the hot milk and flour mixture into the chocolate and cocoa until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is smooth, thick batter.
  6. Stir in the 2 egg yolks and vanilla.
  7. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining ¼ C of sugar, beating until peaks become stiff.
  8. Gently fold a quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Gradually add remaining egg whites, gently folding until no white streaks remain but batter is still light and airy.
  9. Pour batter into the cake tin and place tin in a larger, deep baking tray. Pour boiling water into the tray until water comes a third to halfway up the side of the cake tin.
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cake springs back when gently pressed.
  11. Remove from oven, and cool completely in tin on a wire rack. Cover with glad wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  12. Remove cake from tin and cut into 12 slices using a large knife, dipped into a glass of hot water between cuts (as cake will stick). Dust with extra tablespoon of cocoa powder and serve with strawberries if desired. Keep refrigerated.

Makes 12 slices

Monday, 6 July 2015

Is #raw food really all it's hyped up to be?

I don’t know about yours, but my Instagram feed has been flooded with pics of ‘raw’ cakes, cookies, slices and bars. And they certainly look amazing. But do they live up to the hype?

The idea behind a ‘raw’ diet is to avoid cooked and processed foods, eating a diet comprising mostly of fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds (and sometimes raw fish or meat, unpasteurised dairy and grains). It essentially means leaving behind the oven, stovetop and microwave and pre-packaged foods and eating a lot more fruit and veg.  Think salads, smoothies, snacks of nuts and seeds and plenty of fruit. Many raw food mavens also seem to be getting quite experimental with making raw versions of treat foods (hence the reason for my current Instagram feed).  The purpose of this ‘lifestyle’ is to improve overall health and slow aging by eating foods that haven’t been heated and hence retain all of their nutrients.

There are many 'applaud-able' features of this way of eating. For example:

  • A higher intake of veg and fruit, lacking in many Aussie’s diets.
  • Less reliance on highly processed and pre-packaged meals and meal elements which often have a lot more added salt, sugar, fat and other additives than you would think.
  • Encouragement of greater ‘cooking’ (I use that term loosely as no actual cooking is taking place) skills, experimenting with flavours and new ways of creating meals.

But there are also some major flaws:

  • It often involves an avoidance of major food groups like meat, dairy, grains and legumes.
  • There are food safety concerns of eating raw milk, yoghurt and meats, especially if not handled correctly.
  • Can be very restrictive and impact on social life (i.e. no more going out for dinner, or enjoying cake on someone’s birthday) and requiring a lot more planning.
  • Saying that all foods become devoid of nutrients when heated is just wrong. Yes some nutrients slightly diminish in content on cooking (think techniques like boiling where some nutrients can leach out of veg and into the water), but the nutrient content of some foods is actually greatly enhanced through cooking and processing. Tomatoes are a great example as cooked tomatoes (such as in tomato paste) contain much more lycopene than raw tomatoes.

Beware the raw dessert

Then there’s the elephant in the room which I haven’t yet brought up: the fact that most of these ‘raw’ desserts look a hell of a lot better than they actually taste (with the exception of my ‘raw’ choc hazelnut cups ;)). But even the ones that taste good, still are nothing like their creators claim them to be (chocolate brownie, caramel slice, cookie dough balls, cheesecakes- I mean, please!), so they can be a far cry from satisfying that craving.

Many do contain healthy ingredients like dates, cocoa/cacao powder, nuts and seeds, but they’re so rich thanks to the nut fats and coconut oil and maple syrup or agave syrup (or whatever other ‘sugar’ is the current flavour of the month), that they can contain more kilojoules and saturated fat than a Tim-Tam! Don’t be fooled, these are certainly still ‘sometimes foods’.

Oh, and another thing? Processing and heating aren’t all bad! They've brought us a lot of things that make a healthy diet in a busy lifestyle possible and I don’t know about you, but I think it’s way too cold at the moment to survive on salads and smoothies and phony Snicker’s Bars!

Saturday, 13 June 2015

'Raw' choc hazelnut cups

Raw, gluten free, dairy free, sugar free treats are blowing up on Instagram and all sorts of social media at the moment. And while I don't agree that these types of restrictions are a necessary part of a healthy (or any) diet, these certainly do taste good! And sometimes you need a sweet, pick-me-up treat that makes you feel as good as it tastes when you eat it. I experimented with a bliss ball recipe and some mini muffin trays to make these, and the only real requirement is strong hands for pressing the mixture into shape!

'Raw' choc hazelnut cups

2 C almond meal
3 heaped Tbsp cocoa
1 ½ C dried pitted dates
¾ C desiccated coconut
1 tsp vanilla essence
Approx. ¼ C Mayver’s Almond, Coconut & Cacao Spread (or equivalent nut cocoa spread with no added sugar, fat or salt)
Hazelnuts to top

  1. Combine almond meal, cocoa, dates, coconut and vanilla in a food processor and blend to a fine crumb that holds its shape when squeezed together (at least 5 minutes, to allow the natural oils to be released from the almond meal).
  2. Line a mini muffin tin tray with glad wrap. Spoon 1 heaped Tbsp of mixture into each hole and press down firmly with the back of a teaspoon. Use this to also make a small hollow in the centre of each cup. Refrigerate for at least 5 minutes and repeat with mini muffin trays until all the mixture has been used up. Note: you can remove cups from the first mini muffin pan to use again for remaining mixture if you only have the one tray.
  3. Remove cups from their mini muffin trays simply by lifting up the glad wrap. Fill the hollow of each chocolate cup with ½ a teaspoon of cocoa nut spread and top with a whole hazelnut.
  4. These cups can be refrigerated in an air-tight container, or stored in the pantry if the weather is not too hot.

Makes ~32 ‘cups’.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Banana Muffins

Banana muffins are one of those baked goods I think we all have a recipe for, hidden somewhere amongst the recipe books. They're a great way to use up over-ripe bananas, make a delicious lunch box snack or mid-afternoon treat, and the smell that fills your kitchen while they're baking is like nothing else!

I thought I'd share with you my favourite healthy banana muffin recipe, adapted from the millions that are out there, to form the only one you'll ever need…

Banana Muffins

½ C rolled oats
1 ¾ C wholemeal SR flour
½ tsp bicarb soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 ripe bananas, mashed
½ C plain yoghurt
¼ C macadamia oil
¼ C honey
2 eggs
To top:
12 extra banana slices
1 Tbsp brown sugar (optional)
  1.  Preheat oven to 180C fan forced.
  2. Whisk eggs, oil, yoghurt, honey and vanilla in a medium bowl. Stir in banana.
  3. In a separate bowl combine flour, oats, bicarb soda and cinnamon.
  4. Add dry mix to wet mix and stir until just combined.
  5. Pour into muffin tin lines with 12 muffin cases. Top each with 1 slice banana and a sprinkle of brown sugar (if using).
  6. Bake for ~20 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. 

Makes 12