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…

Try:
  • 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 http://www.powerofmushrooms.com.au.

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

Pesto
  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.

Dukkah
  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

Saturday, 30 May 2015

It's not all about the kilojoules!


I love cooking. And I love nutrition. So naturally I tend to adapt the recipes I cook to make them more nutritious. But let me let you in on a little secret: it's not all about the kilojoules! Whilst many of my typical adaptations (e.g. adding more veg) tend to reduce the overall kilojoule (or calorie) content of the meal, this is more of a by-product than the aim.

I think there has been a shift in the nutrition world recently toward adding more healthy fats, protein and fibre into 'healthy' meals, rather than taking things away (like carbs or fat). And this is often something I focused on when I worked in private practice- telling people what they could eat more of, not what they should eat less of. Because when you add those good things in there's less room for the other stuff (like stodgy carbs, fried meats and salty sauces).

I hope the days of kilojoule (or calorie) counting are long gone, because, while I agree that it's important to have an understanding of how some foods provide you with more energy than others on a basic level, I think it can often turn into an obsession which completely misses the point. The point being that food is there to provide nourishment, to fuel your body but also provide satisfaction and enjoyment. 


I know I certainly wouldn't enjoy a low-cal meal such as plain lettuce and grilled chicken! I'd need to add more veg for flavour, marinate the chicken or rub it with garlic or spices, add a grain like brown rice or quinoa and dress it with an extra virgin olive oil based dressing and maybe some avocado or roasted nuts. Yes, it wouldn't exactly be low-cal anymore, but it would be tasty, filling and provide me with a large range of vitamins and minerals that comes from having a varied diet. Plus, I don't know about you, but if I restricted myself to plain lettuce and chicken for dinner I'd be raiding the cupboards for something else and it would likely end up blowing that one (unenjoyable) low-cal meal right out anyway!

So, be aware of what kilojoules are, but don't get bogged down in the numbers. Instead, focus on providing your body with the nutrients it needs. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Healthy fried rice


Ahh fried rice. The dish everyone gets Chinese takeaway for, right? Well, despite the 'fried' in the title, it doesn't have to be unhealthy and can certainly make for a balanced mid-week meal. How you ask? Well, by a few simple swaps:
  • White rice for brown rice (using the microwave version makes it even faster)
  • Bacon for lean ham
  • Regular soy sauce for reduced salt soy sauce
  • Excess vegetable oil for a smaller amount of olive oil
  • Extra veg!

Quick and healthy fried rice

2 C cooked brown rice
4 eggs, lightly beaten
8 thin slices lean ham, diced
2 Tbsp reduced salt soy sauce
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
1 brown onion, finely diced (or 1/2 bunch spring onions, white parts sautéed at start and green parts added to garnish at the end)
4 C finely chopped vegetables (I used beans, carrots and mushrooms, but you could also add peas, broccoli, zucchini, capsicum, etc)

  1. Pour beaten egg into a large frypan sprayed with a little olive oil and spread out to form a thin omelette. Cook over a medium heat until cooked through, flipping once. Remove from pan and cover with foil to keep warm.
  2. Saute onion in the same pan with another spray of olive oil until translucent. Add garlic, ginger and ham and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add vegetables and cook over medium heat until just soft.
  3. Add cooked rice and soy sauce to pan, stirring until mixed well. Divide among 4 bowls. 
  4. Meanwhile, roll omelette and slice into 1cm thick scrolls. Place 1/4 of the egg scrolls onto each bowl of fried rice.
Serves 4


Monday, 4 May 2015

How 3 popular protein bars stack up


Protein bars. The food alternative to protein shakes designed to help you gain muscle post resistance exercise. They aren't new, but they have cemented themselves into the health food aisle of supermarkets and chemists, not to mention gyms and health food stores. I decided it was high time I reviewed them, considering the ongoing popularity of my post 'lifting the lid on protein powder' last year.

Here I've picked three popular protein bars and compared them based on taste and nutrition.

What's actually in protein bars?

Protein bars come in many flavours but it's usually based around chocolate. The first ingredient in all three bars I looked at is protein blend at 30-40%. This is basically the protein 'powder' you can buy to turn into shakes. This is then followed by a long list of ingredients, many of which are long and difficult to pronounce (like polyglycerol esters of interesterified ricinoleic acid- um, what?). Chiefly, it's a mix of sugar (in it's many forms), chocolate, vegetable oil and additives like emulsifiers and flavours.


Unfortunately they are quite low in carbohydrates, which are needed in combination with protein to help provide energy before a workout and repair and rebuild muscles after a workout. You can read more on this here.

Protein comparison

Aussie Bodies Protein FX Lo Carb Mini Protein Bar (Choc Honeycomb)
9g protein/30g serve or 29.9g/100g

Swisse Low Carb Protein Bar (Choc/Caramel Flavour)
9.5g protein/25g serve or 37.9g/100g

Horleys Carb Less Deluxe (Chocolate Peanut Flavour)
10.1g protein/35g serve or 28.9g/100g

So, despite the Swisse bar coming out on top for protein per 100g, they are all roughly the same per serve. The bar sizes do vary, but lets face it: you're going to eat the amount that's in the packet, not leave a bite.

How do protein bars stack up against other protein containing foods?

  • 1 chicken breast= 53.4g protein or 31g/100g
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs= 11g protein or 12.4g/100g
  • 250mL glass reduced fat milk= 10g protein or 4g/100mL
  • 30g (small handful) mixed dry roasted nuts= 5.2g or 17.3g/100g
That means you could get the same amount of protein from a glass on milk, 2 hard-boiled eggs or 2 small handfuls of nuts. And meat is just off the scale…

Taste comparison

Aussie Bodies Protein FX Lo Carb Mini Protein Bar (Choc Honeycomb)
A nice sweet flavour and very chewy. But still quite dry and with a powdery aftertaste.

Swisse Low Carb Protein Bar (Choc/Caramel Flavour)
Hard, dry and powdery plus a lack of flavour. Choc caramel: who knew? Definitely the worst.

Horleys Carb Less Deluxe (Chocolate Peanut Flavour)
A chewy centre, made softer by a layer of caramel. Nice flavour without the powdery texture of the other three. Could be mistaken for a chocolate bar but the clear winner in taste.

The verdict

Protein bars can be a convenient snack post work out, but they're also highly processed and expensive. With many everyday foods providing the same (if not more) protein per serve, like milk, eggs and nuts, I think there are much more nutritious options than these chocolate bars marketed under the guise of health. If you do choose a protein bar, I'd recommend combining it with a carbohydrate containing snack for the right muscle-building fuel. And choose well as some certainly taste better than others!


Saturday, 25 April 2015

Baked apples with an oaty crumble stuffing


It's getting to that time of year again where I crave warming wholesome desserts. And while traditional apple crumble may be a little heavy handed on the sugar and butter and a little lacking on the apples, these baked apple crumbles are anything but. Individual half apples, baked, with an oat and almond crumble filling piled high and served with my low sugar creamy vanilla custard (see my profiterole post for the recipe), these are full of fibre and protein and are 1/2 a serve of fruit each. 

Note: you can prepare the crumble filling ahead of time, but once baked, these are best eaten straight out of the oven!


Baked apples with an oaty crumble stuffing

3 green or red apples, halved horizontally with the core scooped out
Juice of 2 lemons
¾ C rolled oats
½ C almond meal
¼ C plain wholemeal flour
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp linseeds
1 heaped Tbsp chopped almonds
1 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp butter/margarine 
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Drizzle cut apple surfaces with lemon juice to prevent them turning brown. Place into a baking dish with 2cm of water and set aside.
  3. Combine oats, almond meal, wholemeal flour, brown sugar, linseeds, chopped almonds and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Add butter/margarine and rub with your fingertips to form a crumble.
  4. Divide crumble mixture amongst apple halves, spooning into hole and piling up on top. You may have to press the mixture down so it all fits and doesn’t just fall off.
  5. Bake apples for 30 minutes or until apples are soft and crumble is golden brown.
  6. Serve with custard or ice-cream.
      Serves 6.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Product Review: Oats + Chia Apple Spice


We're heading into the cooler months, when porridge sales increase 10-fold (I'm just making that up, but surely it's a lot right?). And when you decide it's time to make the warming switch, there'll be one extra brand to choose from. The Chia Co are now making oats! Plus chia of course

I decided to put it to the test on a recent overnight work trip, and there were 3 main things I was looking for: convenience, nutrition and (most importantly) taste! So how did it fare?

Convenience

Oats + Chia come in a small foil-lined sachet with instructions to either add cold water and microwave or add boiling water and let sit for a minute (literally one). Being that I was in a hotel room with no microwave and only a kettle, I went for the second option. And it worked really well! I poured the Oats + Chia into a mug, added the boiling water, waited and stirred. Super quick and simple and perfect for travel times like these (or early morning dashes out the door!).

One drawback? The price. A pack of five will set you back $7.30 compared to a 12-pack of Uncle Toby's quick oat sachets for just $4.00. A lot of this will be due to expensive ingredients though, including the chia and coconut oil. 


Nutrition

Chia + Oats contain maple sugar, dried apple, virgin coconut oil and spices along with the main stars oats and chia seeds. Now, while I can applaud the short (and identifiable) ingredients list, I'm not sure why you'd need coconut oil (or any type of fat for that matter) in a porridge? It doesn't have a manufacturing purpose that I'm aware of, and I certainly couldn't taste it, but it does significantly add to the saturated fat content.

On the plus side, this new porridge is a great source of fibre (6.1g or 25% of your RDI per serve), has a reasonable sugar content (given it is 10% apple) and some omega-3 ALA (from the chia). But I'd probably want to have it with some yoghurt or milk for a bit of calcium and extra protein to balance it out for brekky.


Taste

I sampled the apple spice flavour, which certainly lived up to its name. There was plenty of nice large apple pieces and lots of spice! While a combination of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, the main standout flavour was the ginger. A bit different to the standard apple cinnamon flavours you normally see, but I couldn't help but feel like I was eating a ginger nut biscuit in porridge form!

The final word?

Not a bad option when it comes to quick and satisfying winter breakfasts and certainly flavoursome, but I'd probably save the sachets for work trips and stick to my own home made version of oats and chia porridge on a day-to-day basis to save some dough and cut the oil.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Ginger-lime chicken lettuce wraps with coconut rice noodles


When I was in Hawaii earlier this year I had this great meal. So fresh, so light, and so flavoursome! It was like a version of tacos (just as messy too!) but using Asian inspired flavours: ginger, lime, chilli and coconut. And of course I had to recreate it. 

Rice noodles are great because they cook quickly, but they also take on whatever flavour you cook them in, which is why cooking them in coconut milk really gave them a life of their own. I served these with the chicken and rice noodles hot, which is a good contrast to the cold bean sprouts, carrot and of course lettuce! The dipping sauce adds some spice and is based on a Donna Hay dipping sauce recipe (but with a lot less sugar!). Enjoy sharing this one for your next family meal...


Ginger-lime chicken lettuce wraps with coconut rice noodles

1 cos lettuce, leaves rinsed and separated
125g rice noodles
375g tin coconut milk or coconut flavoured evaporated milk
1 C water
2 chicken breasts, cut in half horizontally
2 tsp minced ginger
2 tsp minced garlic
Juice of 1 lime
2 large handfuls bean sprouts
2 medium carrots, grated or finely sliced

Chilli and ginger dipping sauce:
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and shredded
1 long red chilli, deseeded and shredded
1 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp castor sugar
1/3 C water

  1.  Combine minced ginger, garlic and lime juice in a large non-metallic bowl. Add chicken breasts and toss to coat. Cover with cling film and put in the fridge to marinate for 2-3 hours.
  2.  Make dipping sauce: add all ingredients into a small saucepan and place over medium heat, stirring, for 3-5 minutes, until sugar is dissolved and the flavour of the chilli and ginger permeates through the sauce. Refrigerate until needed.
  3.  Cook chicken in a large frypan over medium-high heat until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from pan and slice into thin strips.
  4.  Meanwhile, heat coconut milk and water in a medium saucepan until just boiled, add rice noodles and reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes or until noodles are cooked. Drain.
  5.  Serve lettuce leaves with grated carrot, bean sprouts, coconut rice noodles and marinated chicken, to roll into wraps and dip into dipping sauce.

Serves 4 (3-4 'wraps' each).

Friday, 27 March 2015

Sugar: the missing (label) link


I have this pet peeve about sugar and it's drawn attention to every time I look at the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) on the back of a food label (which is relatively often considering I'm a Dietitian and like knowing what's in my food). And it's not what's there that bothers me, but rather what ISN'T there: a row under total sugars labelled 'added sugar'.

Why does this bother me so much? Maybe because there's a big difference between sugars naturally occurring in the food to those added by man to sweeten a product. And yes, this problem could be solved by simply avoiding all packaged and processed foods, which is certainly a good aim to have, but isn't all that realistic for the average person.


Consider the amount of sugar in a bowl of natural muesli (21%) versus a chocolate chip muesli bar (also 21%). While they may have the same amount of sugars (total) they certainly aren't comparable nutritionally. And that's because the sweetness in the muesli is coming from sugars naturally occurring in the dried fruit, while the muesli bar contains added sugar in both the choc chips and the bar itself

Similarly, plain Greek yoghurt (with no added sugar) still has 4.8% sugars and that's because dairy products contain lactose, a naturally occurring sugar. Whereas, a low fat strawberry flavoured yoghurt which has 12.6% sugars contains a mix of natural and added sugars (but mostly sugar added for sweetness).


So be mindful when looking at labels that you make a mental note to differentiate between natural and added sugars by looking at the ingredients list. If the product contains a large proportion of fruit, milk or yoghurt then those products may have a higher content of sugars due to those naturally occurring in the fruit or dairy. But if sugar (or brown rice or malt syrup, honey, agave, molasses, dextran, glucose or invert sugar, or any other of sugars aliases) is listed on the label, particularly in the first few ingredients as they are listed in order of amount, then it's safe to say that product contains too much (added) sugar.

To find out more about reading labels, check out my post Nutrition Information Panels: Decoded.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Chickpea Blondies with White Choc Chips & Macadamias



I recently discovered the wonders of chickpeas in baking. They're an unlikely substitute for flour but somehow they just work! And the benefits? Well they instantly increase the fibre and protein content of any recipe, not to mention adding in some sneaky vegetable serves! This recipe isn't new, you will find variations floating all over the internet, mostly using normal choc chips and nothing else. But I wanted to go more down the traditional route: blondies are meant to contain white chocolate. And macadamias and white chocolate are just a match made in heaven. 

These blondies are crispy and crumbly on the outside and soft and moist on the inside. The recipe is flour less, full of healthy fats (thanks to the nut and seed butter) and can be made gluten free by choosing gluten free baking powder. And they passed my boyfriend's taste test (who is usually anti-healthifying recipes)! Which, trust me, says it all. So go ahead and try these, I will certainly be making them again (and doing some more experimenting with legumes in baking)!


Chickpea blondies with white choc chips and macadamias

400g can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry with paper towel
1/2 C nut butter (I used Mayver's Original Super Spread but your favourite nut &/or seed spread will work fine)
1/4 C brown sugar (can be substituted for honey)
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarb soda
1/2 C white choc chips
1/3 C macadamias, chopped
Splash of water (~3 Tbsp)

1. Preheat oven to 175°C and line a loaf tin with baking paper.
2. Blend all ingredients, except the white choc chips and macadamias, in a food processor until smooth. It should make a thick hummus-like consistency.
3. Stir in the choc chips and 3/4 of the macadamias and pour into the loaf tin. Smooth top with the back of a spoon and sprinkle with remaining macadamias.
4. Bake for ~50mins or until a skewer comes out clean and the edges begin to brown. Cool in tin for 5 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into squares and enjoy!


Thursday, 5 March 2015

Cafe review: Mint Organics


So I've got this list  of restaurants and cafes I want to try (on my phone of course, so I can add to it wherever). All my friends know about it. It's becoming quite large and now spans both Sydney and Melbourne (after a recent trip and many recommendations from a local Melbournian) so I figured it was time to start spreading the love and reviewing some of these places on my blog. Anyway, so last weekend I dragged and a girl friend of mine to one of the latest: Mint Organics. It's a small cafe in Cronulla (a beach-side suburb in Sydney, for those of you not familiar with the area) that prides itself on healthy organic whole foods (you can read my thoughts on organic food here). 

We went for lunch on a Saturday which I expected to be really busy as they don't take bookings, but despite being quite a small cafe we were able to easily find a table. Mint Organics are open 7 days a week from 7am-3pm so are definitely a breakfast/brunch/lunch/afternoon tea kind of place.


Location- 5/5

Close to Cronulla train station, it was tucked away from the rest of Cronulla's cafe scene, a lone shop opposite the beautiful Gunnamatta Bay. This had a two-fold effect of being quiet (and possibly unknown by many) and having many more parking options than the main streets! The cafe was small but cosy, with plenty of wood, metal and greenery.

Service- 2/5

Sadly, the service left a lot to be desired. While the waiters/waitresses were friendly, we waited too long for our table to be cleared (from the people who left just before us) and to be given menus. In fact, we got sick of waiting for the menus so grabbed them from the counter ourselves.

Menu Variety- 4/5

There was a good variety of choices- from mueslis with various alternative milks to bacon and egg rolls, wraps and salads to brown rice sushi. There were certainly a lot of vegetarian options, and opportunities for add-on's and alterations and the cabinet was lined with raw, vegan, sugar-free and paleo treats like raw (bliss) balls, brownies, muffins and cakes. So this really is more of a health-conscious person's mecca (i.e. don't bring your Dad, or the blokes from the footy team- unless they're into that kind of thing!). 

Taste- 5/5

I chose the seeded sourdough topped with avocado, fetta, basil pesto, rocket, toasted pepitas and a poached egg which was delicious and the perfect size! My friend and I also shared a coffee cacao raw ball which was tasty and my takeaway vegan chocolate brownie was yummy too (but I'm afraid there was no hiding the fact that it was still very much a treat).

Price- 4/5

Organic food doesn't come cheap. And this was evident in some of the prices (such as $10 for a smoothie) but other food items were quite reasonable and comparable to other cafes ($5.50 for sushi, $10 for muesli or $13.50 for a panini).

OVERALL- 20/25

The walls were adorned with interesting 'health' foods, like veggie chips, raw bars and organic grains which seemed in contrast to the highly processed protein powders, but Mint Organics did provide an array of basic, tasty and healthy options. I'd go there again!

Check out their website here for more details.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Ricotta Gnocchi


I've said before on this blog how much I love Italian food and this recipe is no different. I had only ever known of potato gnocchi (which didn't overly excite me), but after some particularly good ricotta gnocchi in a restaurant, I knew I had to recreate this type! Based on a Margaret Fulton recipe, these gnocchi are so easy to make. They take less than 15 minutes to mix and roll and only 5 minutes to cook! Talk about speedy cooking. You can also make up a bigger batch and freeze some for later.

I served mine with my homemade arrabbiata sauce and a large garden salad, but you can certainly experiment with that. These gnocchi can be served 'as is' after being boiled or they can then be pan-fried in a little olive oil until golden- both ways are delicious.

Ricotta Gnocchi

250g reduced fat fresh ricotta
1/3 C grated parmesan
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½-¾ C plain flour
 
  1. Combine the ricotta, parmesan and egg in a medium sized bowl. 
  2. Add the flour and mix lightly until just combined. Add only as much flour as you need to make a workable dough.
  3. Divide the dough in three and roll each piece into a 2-3cm thick log (depending on how small or large you like your gnocchi). Cut 2-3cm slices and place on a lightly floured baking sheet. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
  4. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook gnocchi by dropping them into the saucepan and removing then when they float to the surface (after ~5mins) as this means they’re cooked.
  5. Optional: Pat gnocchi dry with paper towel and add to a frypan over medium heat with a little olive oil. Toss until lightly golden on each side. Remove and serve.
          Serves 3.