Spiced pumpkin scones

My first job as a teenager was at the local bakery. For those that know me know that this was my paradise, as I adore baked goods. In fact, my last meal on earth would be a crusty baguette with lashings of salted butter. The end, no more thought needed.

At the bakery I fell in love with their scones, however having grown up in a European household they weren’t commonplace. As a result, scones are generally something I enjoy with tea in the country. Nevertheless my spiced pumpkin scones have changed all that. They are fluffy, light and utterly delicious. You can be flexible with what you add to the mixture but rest assured, these pumpkin scones will be beautiful on their own or served alongside a soup in the cooler months.

Dry ingredients

2 cups self-raising flour, sifted
1 tablespoon coconut oil/butter (still soft – not melted)
1 tablespoon coconut sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon fresh nutmeg
Pinch of salt

Wet ingredients

1 fresh red chilli chopped (optional)
30g grated strong cheddar cheese (optional)
4 green spring onions chopped (optional)
1 cup cooked pumpkin mashed with a fork
1 cup reduced fat milk
1 egg

  • Pre-heat oven to 220c
  • In a bowl rub the coconut butter into the flour and add all of the dry ingredients.
  • Add the fresh chilli, cheese, spring onion and the mashed pumpkin and mix gently.
  • To this, add a cup of milk mixed with one egg. Mix well.
  • Line a small baking dish with baking paper and dollop 2-3 tablespoons of the mixture into balls fairly closely together. Brush with some milk.
  • Bake for 15-17 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned.

* To re-heat scones pop them in the microwave for 20 seconds.

** You can vary this recipe by adding olives, sundried tomatoes, basil, fresh tomatoes, smoked salmon, browned mushrooms – just have fun experimenting with flavours.

*** These scones are fluffy but they are a little flatter than your conventional scone but trust me they taste just as great.

 

Silky cauliflower soup

Growing up in a Eastern European household, cauliflower was seen as another way to eat more cabbage. My mum used to fry up large chunks of cauliflower with breadcrumbs and lots of salt, it was delicious and taking my lead from her, I’ve created a healthier crumble topping for this creamy cauliflower soup.

To be completely honest with you this recipe came about when I must have had an early onset of Alzheimer’s and I bought three – THREE – cauliflowers within the week. So when life gives you lemons… I made soup. Wanting to create a rich and deep flavour, the roasted garlic adds something special. Add as many vegetables as you like but try to keep the colours light so you end up with a heavenly white soup punctuated by my crunchy golden topping.

Ingredients

1 medium brown onion chopped
1 large leek chopped (white part only)
3 large carrots chopped
4 potatoes chopped
1 large cauliflower, see recipe
1 large roasted garlic bulb (see notes below)
1-2 teaspoons dijon mustard or to taste
2-3 vegetable stock cubes
1-2 bay leaves
3-4 fresh thyme sprigs
1-2 cups milk
Fresh nutmeg to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Crumble topping

Extra cauliflower (small tips of the florets only)
Panko or fresh breadcrumbs
See notes for quantities

  • In a large pot add a dash of olive oil and sweat the onion, leek and carrots. This will take approximately 10 minutes on a low heat.
  • Chop the potatoes and the cauliflower into bite sized chunks and add this to your pot. Reserve 1/4 head of the cauliflower for the optional crumble topping.
  • Cover the vegetables with milk and cold water (approximately 1-2 litres of liquid combined, depending on the size of your pot. Make sure you don’t add too much liquid or your soup will be watery.
  • Add a teaspoon of dijon mustard, cracked pepper, bay leaf and some thyme springs.
  • Cover your pot and simmer on a low heat until the vegetables are soft, this will take approximately 1 hour depending on the size of your pot. Make sure you taste for seasoning.
  • Add the baked garlic cloves, see notes below, remove the bay leaf and add some fresh nutmeg and stir through.
  • Blend the soup until it’s nice and creamy and again, taste for seasoning.
  • Top with cauliflower crumbs, see notes below, or some creamy goats cheese or feta that when stirred through will add to the creaminess.

* To make the crumble topping add a dash of olive oil to a small fry pan and add the small crumbly cauliflower florets you’ve reserved and a generous sprinkle of Panko breadcrumbs. Salt lightly to taste and cook on a high heat until browned. The amount you make will depend on how many you are serving.

** To prepare the oven roasted garlic, pre-heat your oven to 170c-180c, cut the tip of the garlic head to expose the bulbs and wrap in some foil. Bake for 45-60 minutes. You want the garlic to be soft, sweet and not burnt black.

*** You can add as many vegetables to this soup as you like, parsnip works well, just amend your seasoning and quantity of water accordingly.

Cauliflower

I love my carbs, this isn’t new information, but cauliflower is what I deem a ‘healthy’ carb, it’s a vegetable after all! Low in calories and packed with antioxidants like manganese, Vitamin K and Vitamin C, cauliflower is also rich in potassium. Cauliflower has also been linked to having cancer-preventing qualities as well as anti-inflammatory properties that can help with arthritis. Use them in soups, salads, or mash or roast them, no matter which way cauliflower is yum.

Lettuce and pea soup

We recently had a big 30th birthday bash with a rotisserie of lamb that people ate with a selection of sides like shredded lettuce, red onion, tomato, warmed pita bread and of course garlic yoghurt sauce. Needless to say I over-catered and was left with a ridiculous amount of shredded lettuce and red onion. Feeling slightly worse for wear the following day I wanted to eat something light, comforting and nourishing and I definiately didn’t want to go shopping for extra ingredients!

My lettuce and pea soup is so easy and quick and you’d be surprised at how this soup can pack a flavour punch when made lovingly from leftover or wilting lettuce. I would say most people have these ingredients at home so when you want to create magic from staple ingredients, I’d suggest giving this soup a go.

Ingredients

1 large red onion diced
1 large lettuce roughly chopped
3 cups frozen peas
1 heaped tablespoon vegetable stock powder
5-6 cups cold water
small handful of fresh mint roughly chopped (to taste)
1-2 cups cold milk
salt and pepper to taste

  • On a low heat add a dash of olive oil to a soup pot and sweat the red onion.
  • Add the lettuce and peas and wilt slightly, approximately 5 minutes.
  • Add the vegetable stock powder and water and simmer covered on a low heat for 30 minutes or until the lettuce is soft.
  • Add in the mint and milk and cook for anther 5 minutes. Season to taste.
  • When slightly cooled blend the soup and aim for a thick and creamy consistency.

* Ideally you’d use a homemade vegetable stock but if you want to make this soup quick and healthy make sure you use a salt reduced powdered stock if that’s your alternative.

** If you wanted to make this soup extra creamy you could add some natural yoghurt to the soup and stir through before serving.

Lettuce

Lettuce aka ‘rabbit food’ is a common ingredient in most Australian sandwiches and I was surprised at how versatile and nutritious this staple ingredient really is. Super low in calories, lettuce is a source of protein, it has a high water content making it a great ‘slimming’ food, it’s also a source of fibre which aides in good digestion, it contains Vitamin C, it has a low glycemic-index helping keep your blood sugar levels steady and lettuce has even been known to help with insomnia! It’s not an expensive ingredient and it provides so much good-for-you yumminess so make sure you include lettuce in your weekly produce basket.

 

Squid ceviche

I’m a very lucky girl because the man in my life owns a boat and he’s usually successful when he goes fishing. I cherish fresh seafood and trust me you can’t get fresher than straight off a boat!

I came up with this simple ceviche dish when I tired of salt and pepper squid, (first world problem I know), as I feel this can mask the flavour of fresh seafood. Ceviche is so simple it’s crazy. Basically acid from the citrus juice ‘cooks’ the seafood. Easy. The key is to use the freshest seafood you can get your hands on. If you don’t have the luxury of a talented fisherman on hand, go to a fishmonger you trust. This recipe can also be used for raw prawns, scallops, octopus, snapper, salmon or tuna.

Ingredients

4 fresh whole squid
½ red onion finely chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4-5 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
1 large chilli finely chopped (optional and to taste)
Granulated sugar
Flat leaf parsley
Cherry tomatoes (optional)
Salt to taste

  •  Mix a small pinch of salt and granulated sugar with the finely chopped red onion and red wine vinegar and set aside for 20 minutes.
  •  Clean the squid and cut the bodies (including flaps, if attached) into small strips or squares.
  •  Combine the squid, chilli, red onion and the red wine vinegar with fresh lime or lemon juice. Mix well and ensure the squid is well coated in the marinade.
  •  Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
  •  Stir through some chopped flat leaf parsley, quartered cherry tomatoes (optional) and drizzle lightly with olive oil to serve.

* You could also use red capsicum (peppers) instead of cherry tomatoes if you’d prefer as this adds a lovely sweetness and burst of colour to the ceviche.

** If you feel uncomfortable cleaning your own squid from scratch just ask your fishmonger and they should be happy to help.

*** I like to serve ceviche in individual shot glasses when I’m being a show-off, but it’s also lovely when served on some toasted brown bread as the bread soaks up the tangy marinade.

Squid

Squid is high in selenium that can help reduce inflammation in the body. As with many types of fresh seafood, squid is a rich source of Omega 3 good fats that can also help keep your heart healthy and strong. It’s lower in saturated fat than red meat and yet it’s a great source of protein that provides energy and also keeps your muscles, nails, hair and skin healthy. But most of all, not only is squid delicious, it also contains magnesium, which is wonderful as it helps relax your nerves and muscles.

Creamy chicken and vegetable pot pies

I love creamy chicken pies, especially in winter, but that’s just it, they are creamy, which often equals butter, cream and cheese, which equates to a high fat content, which then means extra winter padding! I try to avoid unnecessary calories that can add up in some of our favourite winter meals, but flavour is crucially important to me so I experimented with this classic winter dish.

This recipe is a fantastic because you don’t need too much chicken and you can disguise as many vegetables as you like once you’ve conquered the simple base sauce. These little chicken pot pies look and taste so good and they will undoubtably warm through your chilled winter bones.

Base ingredients

1 large chicken breast or any cut of chicken (500 grams approx.), fat removed
1 large brown onion diced
2 stalks celery cut into small cubes
2 carrots cut into small cubes
1 medium sized potato cut into small cubes
2-heaped cups of mushrooms chopped roughly
3 cloves garlic chopped finely
1-2 sprigs rosemary and/or thyme finely chopped
1 cup frozen peas
2 very large handfuls fresh spinach leaves

Creamy sauce

5 tablespoons plain flour
2 cups warm chicken stock
1 ½ cups warm milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Topping

1-2 sheets reduced fat puff pastry cut into quarter squares
1 beaten egg

  •  Pre-heat your oven to 180c.
  •  Cut the chicken into small-medium bite-sized chunks.
  •  Add a dash of olive oil to a non-stick large fry pan and seal the chicken on a high heat for about 2-3 minutes or until very lightly browned. Set aside.
  •  On a medium heat in the same fry pan (you shouldn’t need additional oil), soften the onion, garlic, potato, mushrooms, celery, carrots, herbs, chopped mushrooms and add some salt and pepper. This should take 10 minutes or so.
  •  Once these ingredients have softened, add the flour and cook it through by stirring for 2 minutes.
  • Gradually add the warm chicken stock and milk, stirring constantly, and just bring to the boil so the sauce thickens.
  •  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the peas, spinach and browned chicken and season well with salt and pepper if you need to. Simmer for another 2 minutes.
  •  Let the mixture cool slightly when it’s ready.
  •  Transfer the mixture evenly between 4-6 ovenproof ramekins so they are generously full and top with a 1/4 square of thawed puff pastry.
  •  Cut a small slit in the centre of the pastry to allow steam to escape, brush the tops with beaten egg wash and firmly seal the pastry around the edges of each ramekin. I like to top my pastry with a sprinkle of sesame seeds or fresh herbs.
  •  Bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes or until the tops are golden.

* To cut a few extra calories you could top the base ingredients with mashed sweet potato instead of puff pastry.

** Once you’ve mastered the simple creamy sauce you can add any ingredients you like. The key is to add as many vegetables to the base mix as you can. You could even make this dish vegetarian by using vegetable stock and substituting ingredients as required.

*** To make this dish gluten free, use a mashed vegetable topping and substitute the plain flour for rice flour.

**** These chicken pot pies can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen. Reheat accordingly.

Chicken

Chicken is a great source of protein and amino acids that provide energy and assist in sustaining your health and wellbeing. Protein is a hugely vital element for the growth and repair and maintenance of your muscles, including your heart. It also helps maintain and build other structures in your body like bones and cells. Chicken breast is a great option as it contains less fat than other sources of protein or cuts of chicken. The problem with many protein-based dishes these days however, is that quantities are too large, whereas this dish is fantastic as it only uses one large chicken breast but easily serves 4-6 people.

Moroccan spiced freekah salad

If you haven’t tried freekah before, you should. It’s a ‘superfood’ that packs a punch of protein and it’s mighty delicious. You can find it at most Middle Eastern supermarkets or health food stores and it’s worth seeking out. If you can’t find freekah then brown rice, quinoa or even barley are a great alternative in this recipe.

This freekah salad can also be served as a warm side dish, but I like to refrigerate the freekah when prepared and add salad greens before serving. The toasted spices and the texture of the freekah itself, makes this a truly beautiful and hearty dish.

Ingredients

½ cup rinsed freekah
½ brown onion chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon cumin powder
1/3 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
¼ cup craisins or sultanas
Salt and pepper to taste

1/3 cup natural yoghurt
¼ bunch fresh mint or parsley finely chopped
½ lemon (optional)
¼ cup toasted nuts (like almonds, optional)

  • Lightly brown the onion and spices until the onion is soft.
  • Add the freekah and stir through. Toast everything for about 4 minutes.
  • Add 1/3 cup of water and bring to the boil, then turn down the heat to allow the freekah to simmer for about 15 minutes with the lid on.
  • When the water has absorbed, add the dried fruit, turn off the heat and with the lid on let the freekah rest for 10 minutes.
  • Give the freekah a good stir and serve with toasted nuts, a wedge of grilled lemon or  yoghurt that’s been combined with mint or parsley.

* I often stir through a chopped tomato or some shredded lettuce right before serving to bulk up my salad.

** This recipe is great when used as a side to a Moroccan tagine dish, or accompanied by meat, poultry or fish. Just experiment with your cooking to get a great balance of textures and flavours.

Freekah

Freekah has a terrifically nutty and buttery taste. Its texture has great bite which demonstrates how less processed this ancient Middle Eastern grain is. A staple in Arabic cultures, freekah has a high fibre and protein content as it’s harvested young – still green in colour, then roasted. It’s simply fantastic!

Salad dressings

Salad dressings can make or break a salad. There are a few simple rules I live by, like: taste, taste and taste as you go – especially when adding chilli, vinegars or seasonings to your dressing bases. Also, add your dressing right before serving so that your salad doesn’t go soggy. It’s a no-brainer but so many people forget.

I have a salad pretty much every weekday at work so I like to mix and match my dressings. The easiest thing to do is to add all your ingredients into a jar so you can shake them up and store in the fridge for a few days, ready to go. Happy shaking!

Easy creamy dressing

2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Fresh chilli, chilli flakes or chilli sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Asian dressing

1 small fresh chilli minced
1 clove of garlic minced
1-2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar (or white vinegar)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger minced
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Creamy mustard dressing

1 tablespoon tahini
3 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
1 tablespoon dijon or wholegrain mustard
1 clove of garlic minced
Fresh mint finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Balsamic vinaigrette

1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup red wine or apple cider vinegar
1 clove of garlic minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Fruit salad dressing

5 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
Dash of pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon brown rice malt syrup or honey
Fresh mint finely chopped

Balsamic orange dressing

1 orange, juice only
1/3 cup balsamic vinger
1 teaspoon honey
Salt and pepper to taste
*This dressing can also be heated up slightly to intensify the taste

Vibrant zucchini salad

I am so excited to have my first ever attempt at growing my own zucchinis from seeds actually work! The plants themselves are gorgeous. Lush green leaves are punctuated by delicate orange flowers and hidden beneath are the most perfect dark green zucchinis. Hoorah! To celebrate my green-thumbed success, I created a beautiful salad that celebrates what fresh produce is all about. This salad would be perfect with some crusty bread for lunch or as a stunning side dish with fresh fish or meat during the months that zucchinis are at their best.

Salad

1-2 medium sized fresh zucchinis
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
1 generous handful of fresh green beans
½ bunch fresh mint, flat leaf parsley or basil (whichever you prefer)

Dressing

1 lemon
1 clove garlic finely crushed
1 red chilli finely chopped
Good quality olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

  •  In a pot of boiling water add the peas and cook for 2 minutes.
  •  To the same boiling water, add the fresh green beans and cook for a further 1 minute (you want them to stay firm).
  •  Strain the beans and peas and let them sit in some cold water. This will further enhance their natural green vibrancy.
  •  With a carrot peeler, peel the length of the zucchinis into strips. Use the whole zucchini, but throw out the small white centre core.
  •  In a big pretty bowl, add the peas, green beans and shaved zucchini.
  •  Finely grate the zest of one lemon over the top of the salad.
  •  In a small jar add the finely crushed garlic, red chilli (choose your chilli according to your own scale of hot), a good slug of olive oil and the juice of one lemon. Shake the jar so everything comes together and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  •  Tear or roughly chop your basil/parsley or mint and sprinkle generously over the salad.
  •  Give the dressing one last shake and stir through the salad.

* You can have fun with this salad by using a range of seasonal greens that you like or have on hand. Blanched fresh broad beans or asparagus also work well, as would a sprinkling of feta, goats cheese or toasted almonds.

Zucchini

Low in calories and a great source of Vitamins A and C, zucchinis are a wonderful ingredient to utilise when in season. They aide in digestion, prevent constipation and also help prevent overeating by maintaining low blood sugar levels. Furthermore, zucchinis are packed with antioxidants that have also been linked to cancer prevention. When selecting a zucchini, choose one that it not too big, but medium sized and firm with a glossy green skin.

Stewed rhubarb

I love stewed fruit: apples, peaches and of course rhubarb. Stewed fruits don’t need to be seen as a winter only dessert and they can work beautifully when chilled and even enjoyed at breakfast time. My recipe for stewed rhubarb is delicious and uses no refined sugars, so simple and tastes amazing when layered with yoghurt and my toasted muesli.

Ingredients

1 bunch fresh rhubarb cut roughly into chunks
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
Dash of good vanilla extract
10 dried dates roughly chopped
1 teaspoon coconut sugar, optional

  • Add all of the ingredients in a saucepan and add a dash of water to entice the ingredients to steam. Pop a lid on and stir occasionally.
  • Taste for sweetness and add extra dates or a drizzle of honey if you’d like a sweeter taste.
  • It should take 8-10 minutes on a low heat for the rhubarb to soften.
  • Remove the star anise and cinnamon stick before enjoying.

* Layer the rhubarb with a mixture of natural yoghurt and/or cottage cheese and/or smooth ricotta mixed through with a dash of vanilla extract and then add a layer of my toasted muesli or some toasted nuts and desiccated coconut.

** You could use dried apricots or apples instead of dates if you like, get creative with natural sweeteners.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a great source of vitamin C and it also contains vitamin K that is known to protect the bones and help ward off some types of cancer. It’s great for digestion and a good source of fibre that can also help lower cholesterol.  It’s delicious and a versatile ingredient for all of your pies, bakes, puddings and even tasty when eaten raw when dipped in some honey. Yum

Healthy lush chocolate mousse

As a child I never had that much of a sweet tooth, but I’ve found as I get older I enjoy a little sweet treat after dinner. Perhaps it’s because I head to the gym straight after work and in the evenings my body feels it has earned a little indulgence… Whatever the reason, this decadent chocolate mousse that showcases the natural creaminess of avocado, needs no excuse.

You’ll be amazed at how rich and satiating this recipe is, and trust me it’s sure to curb any late night chocolate cravings. Not to mention it’s actually good for you. But shhh, let’s not dwell on that. Although this recipe is not a massive portion, this mousse is very rich so it’s perfect for two, if you are willing to share…

Ingredients

40 grams 70% dark chocolate melted
Small pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
1 ripe avocado
1 tablespoon cacao powder
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Melt chocolate over a water bath or in the microwave (approx 2 mins), stirring as it melts. Add a small pinch of chilli flakes to the melted chocolate.
  • In a food processor add the avocado, chocolate, vanilla and cacao powder.
  • Blend until smooth and creamy.
  • Transfer the oozy chocolate mixture into two pretty glasses.
  • Refrigerate for half an hour before serving (if you can wait).
  • To serve you could sprinkle crushed coffee beans, grated chocolate, seasonal or frozen berries or any fruit of your choice.

* I made some crunchy and super easy almond praline to top my mousse with. 

** You could flavour your mousse with coffee, liqueur or any flavourings you can think of – but try to keep it healthy!

** If you’re vegan just leave out the melted chocolate and add extra cacao.

Avocado

Avocado is a delicious antioxidant that is most commonly used in savoury dishes but thanks to its mild creamy nuttiness it can also be used to thicken desserts. Avocado can help lower cholesterol and they are high in Vitamin E and healthy unsaturated fats and Omega 3. They aide in keeping your heart healthy and also help slow down the ageing process. Can’t argue with that.

Mango trail mix

I go to the gym most mornings but on the days I don’t, I pack my gym bag with water and sunscreen, throw in a snack, and hit the road for some outdoor exercise. Bananas are a great pre-workout snack – nature’s gift, but for something just as easy to throw in your gym bag this is my mango trail mix.

I keep all of the ingredients in my pantry at all times, usually for my muesli recipe, but this recipe takes about ohh 10 seconds to throw together. The organic shredded coconut makes all the difference as it’s super moist and fresh. I used some dried mango that I recently purchased in Fiji but any dried fruit of your choice would be just as yummy. Think outside the norm. You could also add toasted almonds for some extra protein.

Ingredients

1/3 cup puffed rice
1/3 cup organic shredded coconut
1/3 cup bran flakes
2 pieces dried mango diced
1 tablespoon pepitas

  • Just mix everything together. Done

* Play around with the dried fruit you use. Dried cranberries are delicious to add to the mix but be mindful of not adding too much sugar, this is a healthy trail mix.

** If you’re not in a rush try toasting the shredded coconut which adds more depth of flavour.

Sweet potato, lentil and quinoa burgers

There’s nothing quite like a good old juicy burger. Tomato and sauce juices dripping down your hands as you bite into a hearty patty…. As much as a good burger can make your day, often takeaway versions have meat patty’s that are high in saturated fat and ooze fatty juices. My sweet potato, lentil and quinoa burgers are just as hearty but trust me, not only do they satisfy a burger craving and taste amazing, they also provide a great serve of energy that actually doesn’t leave you feeling guilty post your initial burger high.

Ingredients

2 cups mashed sweet potato
1 teaspoon smoky paprika
1 (400g) can of lentils
1 cup cooked quinoa
½ teaspoon cumin powder
Small bunch of fresh coriander or flat leaf parsley finely chopped
1 small chilli finely chopped
1 glove garlic crushed
1 small onion finely chopped
1 egg lightly beaten
salt pepper to taste
Panko crumbs or sesame seeds to crumb (optional)

  • Cut 2 big sweet potatoes length ways and sprinkle over paprika, drizzle with olive oil and bake in a 180c oven for approximately 1 hour. (You can also boil the sweet potato but make sure it’s not watery when it’s mashed). When the potato is cooked, mash well.
  • To the sweet potato add all other ingredients and mix well with your hands.
  • Shape into patties and coat in breadcrumbs or sesame seeds. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
  • Pan fry using coconut oil (or another oil of your choice) or bake in a moderate oven until cooked through and browned.
  • Enjoy with all of your usual burger toppings or serve with a side salad.

* I used caramelised onion, salad and my Loving Cook humus in a wholemeal burger bun.
** This mixture also makes great ‘meat balls’ and can be fried off and served with a tomato sauce and fresh basil.
*** The patties will be quite delicate because there is no added flour, the longer you refrigerate the better. You can also freeze these patties and then bake or grill them.
**** Instead of sesame seeds or panko breadcrumbs, try an LSA mix (linseed, sunflower and almonds), or even crushed pistachio nuts to create a nice outer crust.


Berry breakfast quinoa

I hate to admit it, but I hate porridge, the sludgy smooshy texture puts me off based on clearly tormenting childhood memories. That said, I love the idea of porridge, a nutritious and filling breakfast that provides plenty of energy in the morning. In order to enjoy a warm breakfast I created my own sweet berry breakfast quinoa recipe. The fresh pops of berries and toasted almonds provide a nice texture crunch to avoid the baby food texture of porridge.

Ingredients

½ cup washed quinoa
½ cup milk (any)
½ cup water
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cacao (optional)

Optional toppings

Fresh or frozen berries
Toasted almonds, pepitas, walnuts etc.
Fresh or frozen bananas
Toasted shaved coconut
Honey or rice malt syrup (or even maple syrup)

  • In a small saucepan add all of the main ingredients.
  • Bring to the boil then simmer on a very low heat for 10 minutes. Watch the pot to ensure it doesn’t boil over as milk has a tendency to do this.
  • After 10 minutes (or when the liquid has evaporated), take off the heat and add frozen berries or a frozen banana (or both)
  • Cover the lid and let sit for 10 minutes.
  • Top with toasted coconut and toasted slivered almonds (or any nuts or seeds of your choice) and drizzle lightly with some honey or rice malt syrup (sweet toppings are optional as I find I don’t need them if the berries are sweet enough).


* Adding a dash of vanilla extract to the quinoa mix adds a beautiful caramel flavour.
* Get creative with toppings, I like to use frozen fruit like berries because it’s quick and easy. But you could also top your quinoa with fresh figs and drizzle over Greek yoghurt, or fresh summer strawberries with chopped mint, or stewed apples and rhubarb in winter…

Blurry pic of my puppy admiring my breakfast….

Quinoa

I could go on about quinoa for days as it’s a protein staple in my daily salads, however it also works beautifully in sweet dishes. Quinoa is a gluten free seed that is high in protein, hence a terrific energy source, and has the best nutty flavour. It’s really filling and I often use it as a pasta or rice alternative because it’s lower in calories and less refined. The protein and complex carbs in quinoa help me stay fuller for longer, helping me stabilise my metabolism, which is why this berry breakfast quinoa is such a great recipe to keep you going in the morning.

Chocolate crackle slice

I subscribe to health and fitness magazines, I love them. I also devour cooking books and scour the web for ‘healthy’ recipes to inspire my kitchen experiments. When it comes to ‘healthy’ treats like ‘energy’ bars or chocolate slices I’m often shocked at the high sugar content, especially with the overload of added dried fruit in most recipes.

I created this chocolate crackle slice when trying to emulate the traditional chocolate crackles that many Australian children have grown up enjoying at kids parties. The traditional version uses butter, milk chocolate and other not so healthy ingredients. My slice on the other hand, is nutritious, crunchy and coconutty and it makes you feel like you’re eating something naughty from your childhood. You can play with the ingredient variations but the key is to ensure that your mixture is wet enough to set. This recipe makes 24 squares and pleases both kiddies and ‘adult-children’ alike.

Wet ingredients

10 dried dates
1 cup whole almonds
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
1 tablespoon brown rice malt syrup or honey
8-10 tablespoon water

Dry ingredients

1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup puffed rice
¼ cup pepitas
¼ cup craisins (dried cranberries)
¼ cup cacao nibs (optional)
3 tablespoons coconut butter, melted

  • Place the wet ingredients in a hand held mixer and blend until well combined. The mixture needs to be moist (think chocolate crackle consistency).
  • Combine all of the ingredients together in a large bowl, including the melted coconut butter and stir well ensuring that all of the ingredients are well coated.
  • Spoon the chunky mixture in a brownie dish lined with baking paper, press the mixture down firmly with the back of a spoon and refrigerate for 2 hours before cutting into squares.

 

* Once the slice has solidified you could decorate your squares by drizzling with melted chocolate. Try using white chocolate for a cheeky treat as the contrast between the rich dark slice and the white chocolate looks beautiful.

** This slice freezes well. Cut into squares and wrap in cling film and freeze for up to 2 weeks. The slice also tastes great semi-frozen.

Craving busting chocolate cookies

Sometimes I need chocolate, and I need it fast. A piece of dark chocolate can do the trick but when I’m feeling sorry for myself my inner child craves a cookie with a glass of cold milk. We all have days like that don’t we?

This recipe is fantastic because from start to finish you could be enjoying fresh homemade cookies in just 15-minutes. The cocoa nibs help elevate your mood, the coconut butter assists in stabilising your metabolism and almond meal is gluten free and also gives you a steady does of energy. All good things on days when you don’t feel so great. These crunchy cookies with their chewy centre are a winner with kids of all ages.

Dry ingredients

1 cup almond meal
¼ cup cocoa nibs
⅛ teaspoon baking powder
Dash of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon organic cocoa

Wet ingredients

1 heaped teaspoon peanut butter (optional)
3 tablespoons melted coconut butter
2 tablespoons honey or rice malt syrup

  • Preheat oven to 170c
  • Combine dry and wet ingredients and stir well.
  • Take a heaped teaspoon of the mixture and roll into balls placing them on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
  • Press the tops of the balls lightly to gently flatten them and bake for 10-12 minutes.
  • Cool completely before enjoying. Pop the cookies in the freezer to cool faster if you’re impatient like me.

* These cookies will keep for up to a week in a sealed container. I like to keep them chilled in the fridge for extra crunch.
* You can add some coconut or dried fruit to the mixture but I like to keep these cookies as chocolatey as possible for extra craving busting results.

Nut seed loaf

So I’ve been experimenting with coconut flour. When I say experimenting, I mean a few culinary disasters – I was a little shocked at how much liquid that stuff can absorb! But recently I got to playing in the kitchen again with the aim of creating a proper nut/seed bread. A loaf that could even be toasted for breakfast or eaten with cold butter and jam (naughty but nice). And so my Loving Cook nut seed loaf was created! Thank goodness all those coconut disasters were good for something…

This loaf is perfect to have with savoury toppings as well as sweet, and if you wanted to make this bread a little more of a sweet treat, you could always add some dried dates, shredded coconut or whatever you please. My tip is to keep the ratio of dry ingredients the same to make this recipe work well. Go nuts (haha) with whatever nuts (or seeds) you want to use.

Dry ingredients

1 cup almonds
1 cup walnuts
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 ½ cups rolled oats
4 heaped tablespoons of LSA mix (linseed, sunflower seeds and almonds)
3 tablespoons whole flaxseeds
2 tablespoons coconut flour

Wet ingredients

1 tablespoon maple syrup/rice malt syrup or honey
3 heaped tablespoons coconut butter, melted
1 ½ cups water

  • Pre-heat your oven to 180c.
  • Combine all of the dry ingredients and in a separate bowl whisk together the wet ingredients, including the coconut butter.
  • Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Set the mixture aside for one hour in a cool spot to let the coconut flour do its thing.
  • Line a loaf tin with baking paper (be generous with the baking paper as you will need excess to lift the loaf out of the tin) and give it a light spray of oil. To this add the loaf ingredients and press down firmly into the corners with the back of a spoon.
  • Bake for about one hour and then remove the loaf from your tin and gently flip it over onto the baking paper and bake the bottom side for a further hour or until the bottom is lightly brown. When you tap the bottom it should sound hollow, but also check the inside of the loaf with a skewer to ensure it’s fully cooked. 
  • Let the loaf cool completely before slicing.

* This loaf tastes ahhhmazing slightly toasted and served with ricotta and honey.

** For a savoury alternative try toasting the loaf and serving with a sharp cheese, some slices of tomato, fresh basil leaves and lots of freshly cracked pepper.

Almond Milk

So many people have intolerances these days and lactose intolerance is something my mum has unfortunately suffered with most of her adult life. As a result, an excess in cow’s milk can also sometimes upset my stomach so I like to mix it up and use almond milk some weeks.

In my quest for low-calorie and nutritious almond milk I discovered that many brands of milk contain additives, preservatives and extra sugar to give it a longer shelf life. This recipe is extremely simple and a great way to create milk for your own needs so you can control exactly what you’re putting into your body.

Ingredients

1 cup almonds
3 cups water
Large piece of muslin (cheese cloth) fabric

  • Soak your almonds in water for at least 24-hours. 
  • Put all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until the almonds have broken down and the liquid becomes white and frothy.
  • Place a piece of muslin over a sieve and strain the mixture, reserving the almond pulp.
  • Store in a glass bottle, refrigerate and use within 3-4 days.
  • For my recipe on how to use the almond pulp, see the notes below.

Makes 1 litre

* You can add a dash of vanilla extract to add some more flavour to the milk.

** A great way to use the leftover pulp is to place it on a baking tray in a pre-heated 200c oven, sprinkle with some cinnamon and 2 teaspoons of rice malt syrup. Bake for 20 minutes until crunchy and let cool. This almond topping is great on baked desserts or added to muesli.

*** I use this almond milk on my muesli, in baking and it tastes delicious in hot chocolate. See http://thelovingcook.com.au/recipes/lush-hot-chocolate//

Almonds

Almond milk is a great milk alternative as it’s high in Omega-3 healthy fats and it’s a perfect dairy-free alternative for those that suffer from lactose intolerance. Almonds are a nutrient-packed parcel that helps lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of developing heart disease. They are also said to decrease spikes in blood-sugar following a meal which is particularly helpful to diabetics. Super high in protein, quite often before a gym class I’ll grab a small handful of almonds to give me a pre-workout protein boost. My top tip: Keep your almonds in a sealed container in the crisper compartment of your fridge. They will stay crunchy and flavoursome for months.

Lemon and coconut cupcakes

We have a lemon tree in our backyard, it would be ‘un-Australian’ not to, right? Well our lemon tree is on steroids so much so that I’ve been inventing recipes as often as I can to best utlise these golden morsels of tangy juiciness. I’ve made preserved lemons, lemon pancakes, lemon sugar, lemon cordial and given bag loads of lemons to family and friends. But when it came to baking I thought hmm what goes well with lemon? Honey… and coconut? And voila my lemon and coconut cupcakes were brought to life.

These cupcakes are dense yet oddly light, I think it’s the coconut. The lemon juice is crucial and I’m lucky because our lemons are super juicy and you really do want to achieve that lingering citrus tang. My ricotta and lemon frosting is the icing on the cake, literally. It makes these cupcakes something special.

These cupcakes are gluten free and healthy. They are especially pretty when you top them with my ricotta frosting and decorate with an oozing of golden honey, crushed pistachio nuts, or toasted shredded coconut. Simply beautiful to enjoy with a cup of tea and perfect for a pretty tea party.

Dry ingredients

2½ cups almond meal
½ cup desiccated coconut
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 lemons (zest and juice, see recipe)
1 cup wholemeal flour

Wet ingredients

2 eggs (room temperature)
¼ cup plain yoghurt (or you can use ½ cup of either yoghurt/ricotta alone)
¼ cup ricotta
1/3 cup honey
¼ cup coconut butter, melted

Ricotta and lemon frosting

½ cup ricotta
½ lemon (juice and zest)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup toasted desiccated coconut

  • Preheat the oven to 180c.
  • Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
  • Add the wet ingredients and mix well. Depending on how juicy your lemons are, use the juice and zest of 1-1½ lemons as you want to achieve a nice tang.
  •  Transfer the mixture into a pretty cupcake liners and bake for 30 minutes or until cooked through. Please be sure to check that the centre of your cupcakes are cooked through by checking with a skewer.
  • Let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting.
  • To make the frosting combine the ricotta, vanilla extract, juice of ½ a lemon (reserve the zest), and mix very well so you achieve a smooth and creamy consistency.
  • Drizzle the cupcakes with the lemon and ricotta frosting and sprinkle with toasted coconut and lemon zest before serving.

* I like to try the wet mixture before it’s cooked to make sure I can taste the lemon tang. If your lemons aren’t juicy enough add more juice to suit your taste.

** Keep these cupcakes stored in an airtight container in the fridge, they last for a few days but I doubt they will last long!

Lemons

I’m sure you’ve heard that drinking a warm glass of water in the morning with some fresh lemon juice helps digestion by restoring your body’s natural balance. I’ve been doing this for years as an alternative to my morning tea and I love it. Lemons help boost your immunity (think lemon, honey and hot water when you have a cold) and they fight infections with their rich natural concoction of vitamins. Lemons cleanse your liver and bowels and they are versatile in both sweet and savoury dishes so try integrating them into your day.  FYI: As tasty as lemons are, please don’t go too overboard if you suffer from things like heart burn.

Lush hot chocolate

A work colleague of mine recently said he was on a mission to quit drinking coffee for 2 weeks. Complaining that caffeine no longer had an effect on him he wanted to look for substitutes that provided comfort on a wintery morning or afternoon. His motives were questionable but when I told him I had pretty much been caffeine-free my entire life, bar a bit of experimental dabbling, shocked is downplaying his reaction. The interesting thing is, when I do happen to have a casual latte, my body goes into shock and I can’t sleep a wink that night – even if I’ve had a coffee as early as 11am! Makes you think….

I concur that coffee does also have some health benefits like boosting you metabolism, and I definitely agree with the mantra ‘everything in moderation’, but I assured my colleague there were other warm drinks that satisfied me just fine. On a daily basis, I love my mammoth sized cups of peppermint tea or warm lemon water, whereas I try to avoid too much green tea in the evening as it’s also high in caffeine. For something a bit lush and special to replace your afternoon caffeine hit, why not try my guilt-free and super chocolately alternatives.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon organic cocoa powder
½ teaspoon honey or rice malt syrup (to taste)
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Pinch of cinnamon
½ cup warm milk
½  cup boiling water

  • Place cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon and honey or rice malt syrup in a mug. Splash in some cold milk and stir to form a thick paste.
  • Top with hot water or warm milk. I like to use 50/50 hot water and warm milk.
  • You can use any milk you like: soy, almond, rice milk…

* I like to use the Loving Earth brand of organic cocoa. http://thelovingcook.com.au/loving-earth-raw-organic-cocoa-powder/

** Check out my Products page for the T2’s White White Cocoa blend. Another guilt-free and delicious chocolate-tasting alternative to coffee. http://thelovingcook.com.au/t2-white-white-cocoa/

Milk

As the staple of many people’s diets, milk is such a highly debatable ingredient. While many people suffer from intolerances, cows milk still remains a good source of calcium and protein. Nevertheless milk is not  equally beneficial to everyone. It’s definitely worth trying rice milk if you prefer a lighter tasting milk or creamy soy or almond milk for a unique nutty and lactose free alternative. Low fat, reduced-fat, calcium added, full fat… with so many choices out there it can be hard to decide what the healthiest and most nutritious choice should be for you. Through my studies I realised that less fat does not always equal ‘better for you’ when it comes to milk as low-fat often equates to added sugar. Reduced-fat is a far better choice in my opinion but I always read the labels. Personally, I find it hard to digest large quantities of milk so I reserve cows milk for things like hot chocolate or a light splash on my muesli in the morning. The key is to work out what’s best for your body.

Healthy chocolate truffles

In between breakfast, lunch and dinner I always ensure I have healthy snacks to keep my metabolism working effectively which is why many of my recipes are created for this purpose. You may have heard of protein balls that are all the rage these days but they often use a protein powder whereas I prefer to use more wholesome ingredients that I can blend and mix myself without additives that I can’t control.

This recipe for my fruit and nut chocolate truffles is a healthy source of energy that offers you a steady energy hit as well as a good dose of protein and omega-3 fats from the nuts. They are so easy to make and they are a healthy twist on buttery and fattening chocolate truffles.

Ingredients

½ cup (125g) toasted almonds
½ cup (125g) toasted walnuts, pepitas or sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon peanut butter or tahini paste
1 tablespoon organic cocoa powder
10 dried apricots
10 dried dates (or prunes)
1 teaspoon flaxseeds
Pinch of cinnamon
1 teaspoon coconut oil (optional as you can use water instead)

  • Soak the dried fruits by covering with a small amount of boiling water and leave for 20 mins.
  • Add all of the ingredients and the soaked fruit (reserve the water the fruit soaked in) and blend with a hand-held blender.
  • Add one tablespoon of fruit water (or plain water) at a time to achieve a thick and sticky consistency. Make sure you don’t add too much water as the truffles will become too wet to shape.
  • Take a heaped teaspoon of the mixture and roll into balls and roll through some organic cocoa powder, desiccated coconut or coffee.
  • Refrigerate for at least one hour before enjoying.

* Try using a coffee or spice grinder to blend dried pepitas or goji berries to create a terrific colourful powder to roll these truffle balls through, the green and red looks especially festive at Christmas time.

** Store these truffles in a sealed container in the fridge or freezer for up to 5 days. I personally love eating them straight from the freezer as an after dinner treat with a big mug of tea.

*** These truffles make an excellent gift so get creative with your decorating; consider drizzling the truffles with dark chocolate and sprinkling with dry strawberry powder.

Chilli bowl 10-minute meal

Cooking is more often than not a pleasure for me however, there are certain days of the week when I am too busy or too tired to spend hours in the kitchen experimenting. As exhausted as I might be, I don’t like to order take away food as I know I can whip up something nutritious in less time it takes for me to decide on what to order. This recipe is a no-fail, no-brainer, 10-minute-meal-solution. It’s so simple and really you are only limited to your imagination when it comes to toppings.

Much cheaper than a greasy take away pizza, you will have most of the base ingredients, like tinned beans, in your pantry. This dish is also a fantastic way to clean out your vegetable crisper with whatever bits and bobs you have lying around. The best bit is that my partner thinks he’s having ‘junk food’ for dinner because he gets to top his chilli bowl with lots of cheese, sour cream and fresh avocado while I personally go for the beetroot, corn and humus topping. We both win and lets just say we are very competitive in the kitchen…at the gym…at work…you get my point!

Ingredients

1 tin of red kidney beans (chickpeas or cannellini beans are good too)
1 tin crushed tomatoes
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon curry powder
1 glove garlic crushed
Chopped fresh chilli or dry chilli flakes to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional toppings

Shredded lettuce
Chopped tomato
Rocket or mixed salad leaves
Avocado
Diced red onion
Fresh parsley, coriander or basil leaves
Grated cheese or feta
Chopped cucumber
Grilled or tinned sweet corn
Cubes of beetroot
Natural yoghurt
Humus
Sour cream
Chopped jalapeños

  •  In a non-stick pot add the tinned beans, crushed tomatoes, garlic, spices and salt and pepper to taste.
  •  Bring to a simmer on a low-heat, this should take about 10 minutes.
  •  While the beans are simmering prepare your toppings.
  •  Place the bean mix into a large bowl and top with your toppings of choice.

* Another favourite topping combination is plenty of shredded lettuce, chopped fresh tomatoes, shredded grilled corn and a big dollop of natural yoghurt topped with a generous sprinkling of chopped jalapeños.

** You could use this same recipe to make healthy nachos with homemade pita bread chips. Yum

Beans

More often than not I prefer to eat vegetarian meals because I find them easier to digest. Nevertheless in doing so I still try to pack my meals with some sort of protein, and that is where beans come in. They are low in saturated fat and full of fibre that also helps keep your cholesterol levels down. Worth noting however, is if you increase your fibre intake make sure you increase the amount of water you’re drinking as fibre absorbs water. I think this is a blessing in disguise as the more water you drink the better you feel especially if you want to avoid unnecessary bloating.

I adore beans as they are a great pantry staple but just make sure that if you use tinned beans you wash off their brine and go for low-sodium varieties. These protein-packed gems will leave you feeling full, keep your weight down and keep your heart healthy.

Homemade humus

I love humus and I’m always amazed that people still buy this easy to make dip at the supermarket. This recipe is simple and so cheap to make that I whip up a batch once a week as it refrigerates well for a few days. I like to use a fair bit of garlic, chilli and lemon juice in my humus, but the key to this recipe is adding the ingredients to taste. If you don’t like the sharpness of fresh garlic leave it out. Easy. I knew I was onto a winner when an Israeli family friend said that my humus was the best he’d ever had. *Blushing.

Ingredients

1 can chickpeas
1-2 lemons, juice only
1-2 teaspoons tahini paste
3-4 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Fresh chilli or chilli flakes (optional)
1-2 small cloves of garlic chopped
Salt to taste

  • Add all of the ingredients to a hand held mixer. Add the chopped chilli or chilli flakes, salt, garlic and spices to taste.
  • Blend until smooth and creamy.
  • You can add a splash of olive oil, water or more lemon juice if you want to thin out the consistency.
  • Refrigerate or enjoy straight away.

* Serve with chopped vegetable sticks, falafels, drizzled over salad or serve as an accompaniment to homemade grilled pita bread crisps.

** To make grilled pita bread crisps, spray a piece of pita bread with some olive oil and sprinkle lightly with paprika or any spices of your choice.
– Bake in the oven on 180c for about 10 minutes or until crispy. Break into pieces and enjoy.

Chickpeas

Chickpeas are a terrific source of protein and a complex carbohydrate that provides a steady dose of energy. They are a good source of soluble fibre that can also help lower cholesterol and satiate your appetite to avoid overeating. The raw garlic in my hummus recipe also has detoxifying properties that helps lower cholesterol. I love chickpeas and when I‘m trying to avoid red meat they are a great protein source for a number of hearty vegetarian dishes. Chickpeas are low in calories and high in nutritious properties so make sure you include them in your diet.

Crunchy eggplant chips

As I have mentioned on my blog previously, I LOVE crunchy food. Chips when cooked well can be my weakness but I definitely try to avoid them unless I can make them at home and know what I’m putting into my body. I came up with this recipe when I dined at a Melbourne restaurant some years ago that did a deep fried cheesy version of polenta chips.

Eggplant is a unique and hearty ingredient and when you grill these chips at the end of their cooking time they come out super crunchy and really, they are irresistible. My eggplant chips are a moreish snack or a delicious addition to an antipasto platter.

Ingredients

2 large eggplants
½ cup milk for dipping
Lemon juice or yoghurt to serve

Crumb mix

½ cup fresh breadcrumbs (or Panko breadcrumbs)
1/3 cup coarse polenta
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
Small pinch of chilli flakes
½ teaspoon paprika
Salt to taste

  • Pre-heat your oven to 200c.
  • On a plate combine and mix the dry crumb ingredients.
  • Slice the eggplants into thick baton sticks.
  • Dip each piece of eggplant into milk and then crumb thoroughly on all sides.
  • Place the eggplants on a sheet of baking paper and give them a light spray of olive oil.
  • Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then turn over and bake for a further 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
  • Once the eggplants are cooked through pop them under the grill for four minutes on each side and they will be extra crispy. Make sure they don’t burn.
  • Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon or some Greek yoghurt that has either some chopped mint or a teaspoon of Kasoundi stirred through.

* You can use gluten free bread to make your fresh breadcrumbs and leave out the polenta if you don’t have any on hand. The idea is to have a fairly chunky crumb mix.

** Kasoundi is a spicy Indian condiment that can be bought from supermarkets or even some fantastic farmers markets. If you don’t have Kasoundi available, you can use a curry paste or chutney and stir this through the Greek yoghurt to create a terrific dipping sauce.

Eggplants

Eggplants are also known as aubergines and they are low in calories, saturated fat and sodium. They do tend to be high in carbohydrates however, so you should keep this in mind before binging on eggplant! Nonetheless eggplants are good for weight loss as they have a great combination of vitamins and minerals like manganese that is known for its function in fat and carbohydrate metabolism. I personally think these crunchy eggplant chips are a terrific alternative to fatty deep fried potato chips.

Glass half full crunchy fruit and nut bars

I often find myself needing an energy hit in the afternoon, like most people, and I try as hard as I can to avoid unhealthy quick fixes. These dried fruit and nut bars are a terrific go-to snack. Full of healthy Omega-3 fats that are readily found in nuts, these bars will give you a steady flow of energy, versus a quick sugar hit that is often followed by a devastating low. The addition of rice malt syrup makes all the difference.

I love my food to have texture and these are super crunchy when enjoyed straight from the fridge, or you can break up the bars and scatter them over some stewed fruit as a crumble topping for dessert.

Dry ingredients

½ cup dried fruit (craisins, apricots, prunes, apples, sultanas etc.), chopped roughly
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup pepitas
½ cup whole almonds
1 ½ cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons shredded dry coconut
1 tablespoon whole or ground flaxseeds (optional)

Wet ingredients

2 tablespoons coconut oil
4 tablespoons rice malt syrup

  •  Pre-heat oven to 200c.
  •  In a large mixing bowl add the dry ingredients and combine well.
  •  Stir through the coconut oil and rice malt syrup. The mixture will be very chunky but it’s important you moisten all of the ingredients.
  •  Line a small-medium sized baking dish with baking paper and press the mixture very firmly down. Using the back of a spoon helps.
  •  Sprinkle the top of the mixture with the reserved tablespoon of flaxseeds.
  •  Bake for 30 minutes.
  •  Allow the mixture to thoroughly cool before slicing into preferred sizes. It will get crunchy as it cools.

* These fruit and nut bars refrigerate well for up to a week when kept in an airtight container.

** You can play around with your favourite dried fruit, nut, and seed combinations.

*** If your coconut oil has stiffened over winter, place the oil in the microwave for 30 seconds to make it easier to mix with.

Rice malt syrup

Rice malt syrup is gluten free, suitable for vegans, and it’s made from brown rice and is therefore a complex carbohydrate that is low GI and provides energy over a slow and consistent period of time. It’s a great alternative to honey and it has a delicious natural caramel flavour. The best bit is that rice malt syrup has an amazing ability to make ingredients become crunchy when baked. This ingredient is one of my favourite baking discoveries.

Choc banana berry smoothie

I’m not a big fan of drinking my calories as you can often find yourself consuming more calories than you would if you were eating a proper meal. This recipe should be treated as a small meal because it provides protein (almonds and cocoa), calcium (yoghurt and milk) as well as a good dose of antioxidants (berries) and potassium (bananas). This smoothie is a very nutrient dense ‘liquid meal’ that doesn’t add sweet ingredients for the sake of it.

Ingredients

½ cup mixed frozen berries
1 ripe frozen banana
1 cup milk
2 heaped tablespoons Greek yoghurt
1 teaspoon organic cocoa powder
Pinch of cinnamon
6 almonds

  • Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy.

* You can add your own frozen fruit to this recipe. I personally like to buy fruit when it’s in season, like berries, bananas or mangoes and then freeze them to use in smoothies throughout winter. That way your smoothies are naturally sweet from the ripe fruit and you don’t need to add any extra sweeteners.

** Almond or rice milk or any milk of your choice works well in this recipe. In summer sometimes I use water instead of milk to make this smoothie even lighter.

Chocolate pudding (microwaved & guilt free)

You know those nights when you crave something chocolatey but you want something more substantial than just a hot chocolate? Your mind starts thinking I’d love a warm choc brownie right now, or just a small slice of mud cake… Well I invented this super quick and easy concoction using organic cocoa when I was in a great need of such desperation but had no time or ingredients to ‘bake’. Not only is this recipe fool-proof, it’s also healthy and satisfying. And trust me the coconut oil makes all the difference. So here it is, the recipe that all my friends have been requesting!

Wet ingredients

1 tablespoon coconut oil melted
3 tablespoons milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey

Dry ingredients

3 tablespoons self raising flour
1 ½ tablespoons organic cocoa
⅛ teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup frozen berries
Tiny pinch of salt

  • In a ramekin mix together the wet ingredients.
  • Add the dry ingredients and mix very well.
  • Microwave for 45 seconds or until cooked and enjoy.

* You can add coffee or any flavourings to the uncooked chocolate mixture. Frozen berries work beautifully as do sour cherries in syrup – Black Forrest anyone?

Cocoa

Organic cocoa is derived from the bean of the cacao tree and is most well known to be the source of chocolate. Nevertheless the chocolate many of us binge on has lots of added fats and sugars and is often highly processed. The high sugar content in cheaper commercial chocolate is also what causes us to crave it so much. Cocoa in its natural state however, is very high in magnesium which relaxes your body and also helps alleviate stress. It is also high in iron and chromium that helps your body metabolise efficiently. This guilt free recipe is ideal for anyone wanting a pick me up chocolate hit that will really improve your mood and health.

Toasted muesli

Most health nuts like me have their own muesli or granola recipe. This is mine. I like to eat regularly throughout the day to keep my metabolism working well, and trust me I am not a happy lady when I get hangry (angry-hungry). Rest assured when I tell you that this recipe really will give you energy and a feeling of fullness without it being high in sugar and fats. It’s crunchy, which is crucial, and I use this muesli mix for a number of recipes or just snack on it when I need some energy throughout the day.

Ingredients

3 cups rolled oats
½ cup shredded coconut
1 cup bran flakes
1 cup puffed brown rice
3 teaspoons cinnamon
½ cup roughly chopped almonds
3 heaped tablespoons coconut oil
4 tablespoons honey or rice malt syrup
½ cup pepitas
½ cup craisins (dried cranberries)

  • Preheat oven to 180c.
  • Heat the coconut oil and honey or rice malt syrup for 30 seconds in the microwave so it becomes syrupy.
  • In a very large bowl mix all of the ingredients together including the syrupy mixture. Ensure that all of the dry ingredients have been moistened by the syrup.
  • Place the muesli mix on a lined baking tray. Do this in 2-3 batches so the muesli can toast evenly.
  • Bake for about 10-15 minutes until lightly toasted and then give the muesli a good stir through and bake for a further 10 minutes or until golden.
  • Once the muesli is toasted remove from the oven and let it cool and it will become even crunchier.

* I have this muesli on most mornings with frozen mixed berries and either some milk or fat reduced ricotta stirred through.

** This muesli makes a great crumble topping on stewed fruit.

*** My preference is to use rice malt syrup in this recipe as it helps you achieve a crunchy muesli and it’s not as sweet as honey.

**** You can store this muesli in an airtight container for up to 2-3 weeks.

Oats

Oats are a low calorie and low GI food that releases energy into your body at a steady rate, which leaves you feeling fuller for longer. They are packed with vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, manganese, potassium, magnesium and much more. Not only are they a cheap ingredient, but because they are high in fibre oats can also help keep your cholesterol levels low and aide in healthy digestion.

Banana berry loaf cake

My mum makes the yummiest banana bread/cake IN THE WORLD and I used to gobble hers up, toasted of course, without a second thought. That was until I asked her how she made it. On a baking Sunday afternoon I sat on the kitchen bench, like a good student, and watched my mum use super ripe bananas that were naturally sweet (tick) but then she added a massive amount of olive oil to make the banana bread super moist! I was shocked at how much oil she used!

Through the years I came up with this ‘healthier’ version of banana cake which uses yoghurt, almond meal and coconut butter to achieve that desired moist texture. While there are quite a few ingredients, the berries, coconut and walnuts make this loaf cake extra delicate and pretty. Enjoy!

Dry ingredients

1 cup almond meal
1 cup wholemeal flour
Tiny pinch of salt
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda

Wet ingredients

2 eggs
1 tablespoon good vanilla extract
½ cup honey
½ cup coconut butter, melted
⅛ cup olive oil
½ cup plain yoghurt
3 medium-sized ripe bananas, mashed with a fork

Extras

½ cup toasted desiccated coconut
½ cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
1 cup frozen or fresh mixed berries

  • Preheat the oven to 180c.
  • Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
  • Beat your eggs in a separate bowl and when they are light and golden stir through the remaining wet ingredients. (I use an electric mixer and beat the eggs for approx. 2 mins)
  • Combine the wet and dry ingredients together and mix gently.
  • Once the base mixture is well combined gently fold through the walnuts, coconut and berries. Try to be gentle so the berries can keep their plump shape.
  •  Transfer the mixture into a lined loaf tin and bake for 60 minutes or until golden brown. Please be sure to check that the centre of your loaf cake is cooked through with a skewer.
  • Let the cake cool slightly before cutting and serving.

* My preference is to use frozen berries as they tend to keep their shape better than fresh squishy berries when cooked, but you can always use what’s in season.

** When I take the loaf cake out of the oven I like to glaze it with some warmed honey and then sprinkle over some toasted coconut and berries.

Wholemeal Flour

This loaf cake uses both almond meal and wholemeal flour – both of which are terrific alternatives to processed white flour. Wholemeal flour is a great source of fibre and it also has a lower glycemic index than white flour which keeps your blood sugar levels steady and helps avoid blood sugar spikes or crashes in your energy. Interestingly wholemeal flour also contains a variety of vitamins like folate. When choosing your wholemeal flour try to buy 100%  whole-wheat flour as different brands can be mixed with white flour or manufactured differently.

Cooper and Milla’s

1094 High Street, Armadale, 9500 8127
531 Malvern Road, Toorak, 9827 9002

Walking into the Cooper and Milla’s Armadale store (they also have one in Toorak) the abundant display of pretty desserts and savouries is breathtaking. My eyes didn’t know where to begin. The piles of pillowy meringues…the flourless fig cake that looked like a piece of art…? My willpower being tested is an understatement.

So when in doubt, I sampled a few things. The hard-to-resist chocolate brownie was rich in flavour and suitably gooey. The lemon curd in the raspberry slice was genius in keeping the slice light and tangy. And the pretty mini-carrot cake was moist and light, not overly sweet or oily as some carrot cakes can be. Tick.

I don’t often review such decadent sweets as I like to search for healthier alternatives, but given my first impressions and Sofia’s warm hospitality (FYI-all staff were gorgeous to all customers) I had to share this find with you all.
Cooper and Milla’s is a gorgeous place when you feel like indulging with a good friend or lover. If you’re going to treat yourself, do it well.
They make all their goodies in-house, including some of the most sensational cakes made to order.

Piggery Cafe at Burnham Beeches

1 Sherbrooke Road
03 9691 3888
http://piggerycafe.com.au/
Mon-Fri 10am-5pm
Sat-Sun 9am-5pm

I’d been looking forward to visiting Shannon Bennett’s (Vue de Monde) new venture in the historic Dandenong Ranges – my favourite weekend spot in Victoria – for quite some time.

Having opened just a few months ago, driving up to Burnham Beeches, a 1930s 23-hectre property – comprising of a greenhouse, cafe, on-site bakery and lush lawns – was simply breathtaking.

Post an epic climb of the infamous thousand steps, lunch was in order. Bordering on ravenous, there was a 30-minute wait to be seated inside but my gosh the wait was worth it. We munched on some fruit bread from the adjoining Burnham Bakery while we waited. Outside seating is also available and worth the view in the warmer months.

When you score a table inside the cafe and adjoining bakery, the front counter is a visual overload with an abundance of cakes and just-made bread. The scent of freshly baked goods compete with the waft of smokiness from meat being grilled outside. Sheer sensory heaven.

After enjoying a chunky granola cookie and some super moorish fruit bread (very generously fruited, with the perfect exterior crunch and pillowy centre), it was time to tackle the menu. A lot of the dishes seemed smallish so worth trying a few (unless you fill up on baked goodies like us!).

I ordered the Blackmore Wagyu beef burger ($12) but rather than have the brioche (why do people do that?!), I requested the seeded loaf which was amazing! The smokiness of my beef and the quality of the bacon and cheese made this little burger worth every post-exercise bite. Its size suited me perfectly but to fill us up we shared some cheeky potato chips. The chips too, were amazing. They were crisp and soft, again worth every calorie.

My friend ordered the barramundi burger. Again, it was sized like my burger but instead of a meat patty it had a flavoursome fish patty that was generous with actual fish, as opposed to other budget-cutting ingredients like mashed potato.

We didn’t order dessert, but made use of the toasters situated on the shared long tables to enjoy some more fruit bread. The Yirgzero coffee and my Valrhona hot chocolate were also fantastic, perfect to keep us warm while we waited for a table.

You can see why Shannon Bennett’s venture has been so long awaited. Both the Piggery Cafe and Burnham Bakery are fine examples of how quality produce, good service and classic but clever dishes really can make the 40-minute drive from Melbourne worthwhile.

Patch Cafe

32 Bendigo Street, Richmond
Mon-Sunday 7am-4pm

Blink and you might miss it, the Patch Cafe is snuggly hidden within the old channel nine building in Richmond and signage was, well easy to miss.

I’d heard a lot of hype about Patch Cafe’s paleo-inspired menu and wasn’t surprised to find lycra-clad beauties tucking in. Alongside them sat some of the best looking people in Melbourne, no comment.

I ordered the ‘must-have’ baked eggs that came with chorizo and a spicy chipotle sauce. The tomato-based sauce was lovely and smoky with a wonderful chilli kick. The eggs cooked well and the portion size was decent, not massive but decent. The side of paelo-inspired bread (or optional sourdough) was lovely and dense and remained soft although toasted, it was perfect to mop up the tomato juices.

My friend tried  the chilli eggs with avocado and bacon. Her portion was diet-sized, as were other dishes that I saw guests enjoying. The eggs were nice but lacked chilli and the bacon left her craving a Vietnamese pork roll from down the road.

Coffee was tasty, but again, serving sizes  were on the smaller side.  I’d visit Patch Cafe to check out their tasty-looking paleo sweets – minus the omnipresent protein balls – and if I was ever in need of some hot-people-watching.

Sarong – Seminyak, Bali

Jl. Petitenget No, 19 x
Kerobokan, Bali
Indonesia
+62 361 4737 809
www.sarongbali.com

I dined at Sarong about four years ago. I’d heard so much about founding chef Will Meyrick’s innovative and refined Indonesian dishes that he cleverly de-constructed. Lucky enough to get a booking, a friend and I dined there on Christmas night in 2011. The food was unbelievable. The plating, the luxe decor, the sophisticated and friendly staff and the black sticky rice pudding – all unforgettable.

Since then as I’ve been completing my chef qualifications, I’ve spoken to many top chefs who also speak highly of Sarong. FYI – Singapore World Gourmet Summit placed Sarong in the top five best Asian restaurants in 2011, and the Miele Guide pegged Sarong in the top five best Indonesian Restaurants in 2009 and 2010. Reminiscing about my Sarong experience I could almost taste the dishes…

Recently I returned from my second trip to Bali but while there I made sure to make a booking at Sarong. Sadly I booked a table for my last night in Bali, which I am still having withdrawals from leaving…

Upon being seated we were served complimentary soya crisps. Delicious and flavoursome bites with a terrific crunch, wonderfully served with a punchy green chilli dipping sauce. A scallop with pork was also a tasty mouthful to begin with.

I couldn’t decide on one entree, so I had two. It was my last night in Bali after all!  To start, a beautifully presented plate of Balinese duck sausage with smoked eggplant, served with micro lemon basil. The duck sausage was juicy and flavoursome, however the standout was the smoky eggplant relish. I then followed this up with the most delicious signature crispy pork belly with Sichuan chilli salt, tamarillo and tamarind sauce. The pork belly was succulent and the plum sauce combination was unbelievable. I will have dreams about this.

For my main I tried the slow braised babi genyol pork cheek with Balinese black pudding served with cabbage and pork crackling. The pork cheek was braised nicely but the fat was not rendered off enough so it was a bit too fatty for me. The accompanying rich blood pudding was super spicy and the crunchy cabbage salad worked well. And, the crispy pork crackling was amazing, as I’d expected.

After a protein rich dinner I couldn’t fit in dessert, but I took a cheeky snap of the dessert menu. I must say I was a little disappointed not to see their amazing black sticky rice pudding on the menu, but hey, the signature pork belly made my night.

Sarong is truly worth a visit if you’re ever in Seminyak, Bali. Definitely make a booking and make sure you arrive hungry and ready to explore the wonderful menu.

* Apologies for my images as I was camera-less.

** Sponsorship for my next foodie trip would be very much welcomed

Atman Kafe – Ubud, Bali

38 JI. Hanoman,
Padang Tegal, Ubud. Bali, Indonesia.
Open 7 days
0361 862 0505
www.atmankafe.com

I’ve been to Bali once before but one of the things I had on my travel list was to find a beautiful cafe, sit alone, and reflect on what has been a crazy year for me. Perhaps do some writing, but also enjoy some good food in the silence of my own company. On a recent visit to Ubud I found the perfect place to do just that.

Ubud for those of you that haven’t visited, is around two- to three hundred meters above sea level and surrounded by rice fields, its picturesque and attracts many ‘hippy’ travellers, lovers of yoga, mediation and beautiful nature. Some areas near the Monkey Forrest attract many tourists and the town centre can also be overcome with camera-totting foreigners. Within this organised chaos and in a setting as beautiful as you could imagine, I discovered the Atman Kafe. A vegan cafe with an amazing menu, and an atmosphere that was so, ‘un-touristy’. It was the peaceful hideaway from the world that I was seeking during my trip.

I ordered a vegan hot chocolate made with raw cacao and coconut milk. The contents of my large mug was super lush and creamy, almost soup-like. Definitely a meal on its own. The Atman Kafe also sells locally grown organic arabica coffee.

Sitting in a cosy corner on a pile of cushions with peaceful music; it was raining outside. The setting, this drink, made me tear up – this is why I came to Bali. To find peace and feel overwhelmed by flavours on my own again.

I wanted to explore the Indonesian dishes on the menu further so I ordered the Jakut urab salad – a crunchy and  flavoursome combination (although probably not salty enough for our Western pallet), served with some wild rice and also white rice. The chilli within the salad was balanced perfectly and didn’t overwhelm this colourful dish.


I found solace at the Atman Kafe. It was peaceful and the vegan and healthy menu is my kinda thing. The menu read wonderfully with some clever Indonesian options as well as offering some more western dishes (although why would you!) If you ever find yourself seeking an escape from the craziness of Bali’s tourist trails, the Atman Kafe is a perfect respite from the chaos, definitely worth a visit.

Porch and Parlour

17/110 Ramsgate Avenue, Bondi Beach NSW
(02) 9300 0111
www.porchandparlour.com.au

On a recent trip to Sydney to celebrate my birthday I’d planned a big weekend of eating. That said, I did try to cram in some beach runs and eat healthy meals when I could. Hence my visit to Porch and Parlour. A Melbourne friend suggested that I MUST visit and try their green brekky bowl. And so I did.

Getting a table wasn’t easy, Porch and Parlour is a cool place to be seen by people who like to be seen – the pretty people. But if you’re lucky to get a table outside, the views of Bondi beach are worth it. First thing first, the coffee. It was delicious but unfortunately served lukewarm. The service was also a little slow. BUT…the food…

I ordered the green brekky bowl as instructed – a health nut’s delight! It comprised of a small amount of quinoa, some kale, a quarter of an avocado, some parsley and two poached eggs. I felt super healthy having a bowl of protein for breakfast, but to be honest, as I like my eggs well-done, this dish lacked any sauce and as a result was pretty dry. My side order of a green smoothie made with mango, banana and spinach (served in a jar of course!) was delicious however, it tasted amazing AND good for me.

My dining companion ordered the green pea pancake which came with a tasty tomato sauce, lots of fresh coriander and parsley, feta and a soft poached egg. This dish was sensational. The pancake and tomato sauce were flavoursome and I would have died for some of that sauce on my breakfast. The coriander also worked beautifully to liven this dish up. I will definitely be replicating this at home.

After our ‘green’ breakfast’s my friend and I were glowing with health and as it was my birthday we headed to the beach promenade in search of a French patisserie to round off our meal with a sweet treat.

Afghan charcoal kebab

256-258 Thomas Street, Dandenong
9794 5558
Open 7 days 11am-9:30pm
Eat in or take away

The smell of smoky meat as you approach is intoxicating. Blink and you might miss what looks like a hole in the wall cafe. It’s no frills and pretty basic, but the meat is fantastic. My dad and I visit the Afghan charcoal kebab kitchen a couple of times a year when I have a real craving for meat.

I debated whether or not to share this food review with you as this venue is nothing fancy and nor is it large, Afghan charcoal kebab simply serves up robust and punchy flavours that are consistently good and never a surprise.

The menu is limited, and yes it has pictures, just like any old kebab shop. $14 for a kebab which can either be lamb, chicken, beef or a mixed grill (a combination of beef and chicken). You can also buy a whole chicken that’s been beautifully spiced and grilled flat or craving-fulfilling meat wraps.

My preference is to order a platter of meat which comes with a simple green salad, a house made hot sauce, and a generous stack of house made Afghan flat bread. The hot sauce is made from vegetables and vinegar that’s been cooked for hours, I am obsessed with its tanginess. The bread, oh the bread. So warm, so pillowy and smoky. Dip your bread in some sauce, grab some salad and a piece of meat and enjoy a flavoursome little package.

For me who doesn’t eat any white bread or much meat, rest assured I always walk away from Afghan charcoal kebab with a clean plate and a full belly.

Fress Café

239 Bambra Road
9523 7377
Caulfield South
7:30am-4pm daily

If you like good salads like I do, you will love the colourful display of salads at Fress Café in Caulfield. On the day I visited with my mum I was only peckish, although that didn’t stop me from ordering a large bowl containing ‘up to five salads’ from the display fridge. Yup, I tackled those salads like a trooper.

Beetroot, walnut and goats cheese salad with sliced apple, a classic. A creamy potato and celery salad that actually tasted good for me. A delicious chickpea coleslaw and a simple brown rice salad. These salads were no-fuss, healthy and super fresh, so I was happy.

Fress Café has a largely Israeli clientele who enjoy traditional dishes like Shakshuka – two eggs baked in a tomato and capsicum ragout topped with fresh herbs, served with crispy Turkish bread toast. My mum is a massive fan and insisted I try her dish while force feeding the salad-eating-me.

The coffee at Fress Café is okay, but the desserts really caught my eye. Overall the menu is varied with café classics like bircher muesli with poached rhubarb, however the menu is highlighted by interesting Middle Eastern dishes like Middle Eastern beans with feta, rocket and za’atar with Turkish bread.

I really appreciated the variety at Fress Café and look forward to my next exotic or classic brunch.

Mr Burch

129 McKinnon Road, McKinnon
9503 4312
Mon-Sun 7am/8am-3pm
www.mrburch.com.au/

Situated on McKinnon Road, Mr Burch is a hit with the locals. Kid-friendly, this local family café is quirky and unique, offering great value for money in a relaxed atmosphere.

The menu is clever and gluten-free diners are well catered for. I enjoyed an amaranth pikelet with lashings of goats cheese, tomato, two perfectly cooked poached eggs and delicious spears of asparagus; the presentation was very pretty.

My friend enjoyed a classic breakfast combo of poached eggs, bacon, toast and spinach. Classics are what Mr Burch does well and although the menu has clever daily specials like tagliatelle capricciosa, the menu favourites like steak sandwiches, the Mr Burch burger and bircher museli are what keep locals coming back for more.

Yummy treats are displayed at the front counter and are happily devoured by lots of happy families. The coffee is great too.

Overall the the quirky decor adds to the feeling of community support for Mr Burch, where the work of local artists is featured and works fantastically as a backdrop to the classic menu.

Cornerstone & Co.

75 Ludstone Street, Hampton
Tues-Sun Lunch and dinner
03 9521 6865

First thing that I love about Cornerstone & Co. in Hampton is that it’s not on Hampton Street, this means finding a parking spot is actually a reality. Secondly, the warmth of the hospitality inside is contagious. Having only recently opened, customers range from young and old and while posers could fit in perfectly, so would my grandma or my little nephews. It’s relaxed and as it should be.

The menu has all the classics like smashed avocado and eggs, and bircher muesli, but the Japanese chef, who up until recently worked at Da Noi in South Yarra, has also previously worked in Italy and the menu reflects his experience well – I’m sure to the delight of owners Antony and Michelle Pavone, both also of Italian heritage.

The Japanese inspired crispy chicken Karaage burger is sensational. It’s like cafe-esque KFC but so much better in terms of flavour, texture and well everything. The crispy chicken pieces are addictive as it the house made mayo. Beyond good.

On the Italian side of things, I tried the Aquacotta Tuscan baked eggs which were served in a classic terracotta pot with crispy ciabatta. The sweet tomato, onion and basil sugo sauce with crispy ciabatta bread was a perfect combination with my softly baked eggs, yolks oozing. This dish definitely filled the post-workout hole in my belly.

The coffee here is great too. Serving Maling Room single origin coffee, (awarded ‘Best boutique roaster 2013′ by The Age Good Cafe Guide). Cornerstone & Co. also use Saint David’s organic milk, which is locally sourced from a dairy in Fitzroy. Tick.

All I can say is welcome to the neighbourhood Antony and Michelle, I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again soon.

Touché Hombre

233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne
9663 0811 &
15 Claremont Street South Yarra
03 9827 0399
www.touchehombre.com.au/

If you’ve ever eaten in Melbourne you’ll know this beautiful city of mine is Mexican crazy. I actually think we have pretty great Mexican too, and I’m not talking florescent yellow cheese-from-a-can type Mexican. I think it’s because in Australia we have amazingly fresh produce that lends itself to the non-fussy Mexican cooking methods and techniques.

Enough food chat, let me introduce Touché Hombre. Cool is an understatement. Situated in the CBD (and South Yarra) most wait staff are tattooed and the walls are artistically graffitied. Not at all pretentious or stuffy, this place is…well….cool.

But the food is what I’m about. Sharing a small starter of tangy guacamole and tortilla chips I was impressed by the toasted pepitas used as a garnish. The caramelised nuttiness is a little trick I’ll now use at home for my weekly batch of quac. Washed down with a creamy and buttery tasting Bohemia cerveza (beer), this place seems like a winner.

For our main meal a friend and I shared the Platos de Califa: grilled sirloin steak marinated in tequila and lime served with salsa negra (a spicy and smoky flavoured sauce), red rice, pico de gallo (tomato-based salsa), half an avocado and six warmed tortillas. The steak was succulent and generous in size and the accompanying salsa negra sauce was outstandingly memorable – I wanted more of it! This section of the menu offers a few sharing options showcasing pork, chicken and a vegetarian option. I personally think the ‘Platos’ option is a great way to a share meal without over-ordering or overpaying on too many starters that sometimes leave you hungry and bankrupt at the end of a meal. When ordering make sure you also check out the extensive tequila menu.

For dessert we shared a cold crunchy choc-chilli biscuit lovingly welded together by a delicious peanut parfait. The parfait was intensely nutty – in a great way, and the chocolate cookie had the best kick. I was so glad to end my meal with the chilli tinge lingering in my mouth. Overall, loved this place and can’t wait to go again and pretend to be cool.

White Rabbit

118 Church Street, Brighton
Mon-Sun 7am-late
03 9553 8344
www.whiterabbitrestaurant.com.au

White Rabbit is right in the thick of Brighton’s busy Church Street shopping precinct. It’s on the sunnier side of the strip but unfortunately it’s situated right next to Middle Brighton train station.

Although I don’t typically like my poached eggs with a side of screeching trains, locals happily flock to White Rabbit to enjoy their extensive breakfast, lunch and dinner menu.

Having eaten at White Rabbit previously for dinner, if I recall correctly our evening meals were fantastic and the soft lit interior was cosy and inviting. Wanting to visit again for breakfast, my mum and I returned on a busy Sunday morning following a walk along the beautiful Brighton beach.

After reading an article on Melbourne’s smashed avocado craze I had a hankering so I ordered the boring but classic breakfast bruschetta.  The mushed avocado and tomato salsa (which needed a little more seasoning) came with a balsamic reduction, two well-cooked poached eggs and some ciabatta bread. Plating was pretty but overall this dish was safe and satisfactory.

Mum ordered the ‘Melbourne staples’ breakfast that comprised of eggs Benedict, lovely and salty honey leg ham, wilted spinach and a generous ooze of creamy white wine vinegar hollandaise. I had food envy. (see main pic)

With a lunch menu that offers the much-loved New York Reuben club sandwich, I want to go back and sample more. Pork belly, seafood, pasta, goats cheese soufflé, steak salad, roasted apple pikelets with custard ice cream… The menu is slightly Italian and contemporary Australian, nevertheless most dishes are classic and cleverly interpreted.  Check it out.

Monk Bodhi Dharma

Rear 202 Carlisle Street, Balaclava
Mon-Fri 7am-5pm
Sat, Sun & Public Holidays 8am-5pm
03 9525 3107
www.monkbodhidharma.com.au

Another cool cafe in St Kilda? Yup? Monk Bodhi Dharma caters to a niche of gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, low-fat, health conscious diners. I personally find the fare very simple (with St Kilda prices) and liken it to a lot of my meals at home. But look, it’s pretty hard to find somewhere you can go out for breakfast, lunch or dinner and know that your meal will be healthy and wholesome, so no complaints from me.

On a recent visit I had the special of the day which was a vegetarian Nepalese curry that was spiced terrifically and served atop some quinoa with a chilli relish and fresh coriander. I had to ask for more chilli and I really think this dish needed it. My friend had an umami mushroom concoction served on house-made pumpkin, spinach and sun-dried tomato polenta bread and sprinkled with goats cheese. The natural flavours of the mushrooms shone through and the dish was very pretty.

The menu offers a succinct all day breakfast/lunch menu with a specialised dinner menu only available on Friday nights from 6:30pm. Worth mentioning, they don’t serve alcohol.

The mostly vegan and gluten-free cookies and muffins are hard to resist and the coffee is pretty great. A note on the coffee: Monk Bodhi Dharma describes itself as a “boutique micro roastery” and they roast all of their coffee in-house (terrific smell). Their coffee is direct trade, seasonal and mostly single estate.

Fiji – Eating my way through

Welcomed by endless bula (hellos) and big wholesome smiles the stresses of home in Melbourne melted at the airport as tiny seashells strung into a delicate necklace were draped around our necks. A late flight and a 3-hour drive to our accommodation in darkness meant that our first meal was a packet of Twisties in a taxi. The only other alternative would have been the sad leftovers in a curry shop that had been sweltering in the heat all day. Worth noting: tourist areas keep some restaurants open until late but Fijians themselves tend to eat at home, with most small businesses shut on Sunday as that is church and family lovo day (I’m sure they also squeeze in a few hours of rugby, obsession is an understatement.)

* Lots more pics below

Lovo is a traditional Fijian feasting ritual in which fresh fish, meat or vegetables are tenderly encased in soft palm or banana leaves and cooked over hot rocks underground. The result is soft succulent flesh. Not only is the taste amazing, so is the ritual of this cooking tradition.

The first morning we stayed on the Pacific Harbour I feasted on the sweetest pineapple, watermelon and papaya. Little produce stalls are dotted all over the Queens Hwy that takes you from Nadi through to the Coral Coast, Pacific Harbour and to the other end of Fiji.  You often see bright yellow pineapples strung up at the produce stalls and the intoxicating waft of summer sweetness is hard to pass by.

Fijian food tends to centre around seafood, makes sense as everywhere you look there is water  – or jungle. Mind you they don’t have snakes in Fiji! Massive tick. One popular dish is Kokoda, a stunning ceviche style dish made with the freshest fish like Mahi Mahi, which is then pickled in lemon juice and mixed through with coconut cream and served with a refreshing tomato salsa. So simple yet perfect.  One of the dishes we enjoyed was served with cassava chips. Cassava is a root-like vegetable and its chips are quite dry but ideal for mopping up the coconut cream.

While  staying on the Pacific Harbour my partner, a keen fisherman, went out on a boat for the day and returned to our room beaming with a prized tuna. Hopping into action while he prepped the fish, I chopped up some sweet tomatoes, shredded the flesh of fresh coconut and drizzled over the juiciest of limes. An unforgettable meal for both of us.

Fresh coconut, don’t get me started. I bought several and snacked on the soft white flesh as my in-between meal snack.

In Fijian cuisine you’ll also notice a lot of curries as a result of the large Indian population that migrated to Fiji during the 1870s to work on the sugar cane plantations. We sampled a few curries and they bursted with robust spices – Fijians definitely aren’t afraid to let their chilli’s pack a punch.

During our idyllic escape I really admired how Fijian cuisine can restrain flavour pairings to let fresh and simple ingredients shine but it can also combine strong spices and ingredients to create a whole multitude of dishes that offer layers of intense flavours. There really was an art to their simple but clever cooking.

If you love the water, sunshine, amazingly fresh food and beautiful smiles, I suggest you visit Fiji and eat your way through the islands like me.




Eclectic Tastes

2 Burnbank Street, Ballarat, Victoria

What a cool place, Eclectic Tastes in Ballarat has a great vibe and lives up to its name. The retro chic feel is inviting, alluring and captivating. Mismatched table settings, plastic cup lampshades, retro 70s Asian cinema posters and personal photographs are a creative sensory overload, but it works.

The menu, presented in children’s old-school Little Golden Books, is a sweet touch and it features a diverse cuisine spanning the globe. Middle Eastern, Asian or Australian; whether you come for dumplings at lunch or enjoy Moroccan baked eggs for breakfast like I did, the style of cooking is homely and considered. My baked Moroccan eggs (Shakshuka) were rich and flavoursome and the cumin spice was perfectly offset by the accompanying sour cream. For sweets I tried the pistachio and orange cake that was moist and dense and it was served beautifully with a sticky pomegranate molasses. The accompanying labneh was a terrific combination.

Eclectic Tastes is kooky, adventurous and very memorable for all the right reasons.

Little Tommy Tucker

432 Centre Road, Bentleigh
Mon-Sun: 7am-5pm
03 9576 5174

How exciting! Bentleigh has welcomed (with open arms) another great breakfast/brunch cafe, Little Tommy Tucker. Serving up honest and delicious food that is fresh, innovative and made with so much love. Jimmy and his wife Mary Jane are the epitome of hospitality as they go out of their way to ensure things run smoothly and everyone is catered to (Note. without being annoying). Staff are friendly and the space is spacious and light-filled.

I visited (on Father’s Day) and the cafe was happily buzzing with diners contently sipping on flavoursome and perfectly creamed lattes. My open steak sandwich comprising of cheddar cheese, grilled onion, shredded beetroot, relish, a mustard-mayo and topped with a perfectly fried egg was faultless. The fried egg and the entire sandwich for that matter, tasted as indulgent as a burger (and as filling) without being at all greasy and naughty. Big tick.

In addition to outstanding coffee and decadent hot chocolates, Little Tommy Tucker also serves amazing Prana Chai lattes and strives to support local businesses (again, big tick).

I can’t wait to visit again and I’m genuinely so pleased to see Bentleigh doing so fantastically well and generating an exciting energy in the area.

Brown Cow

382 Hampton Street, Melbourne
03 9521 0547 
www.browncowcafe.com.au

I’ve been having brunch with my girlfriends for years at Brown Cow. It’s a no-brainer for us as a meeting spot as we’re a health-conscious group of girls and Brown Cow offers a varied and generally healthy menu with good coffee.

Brown Cow’s beachside location makes it popular amongst local cyclists who loiter around in their lycra…no comment. Seeing people in lycra makes me want to go for a run or do something physical and that can’t be a bad thing!

Offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, the menu is consistant and tasty. For breakfast you can choose to enjoy decadent pancakes with a salted peanut brittle banana parfait, fresh strawberries, chocolate crumble and a dark caramel butterscotch sauce (not so healthy)! My preferred choice is the breaky bruschetta with poached eggs and smashed avocado with feta served on crunchy wholegrain toast. It’s all good.

Inside you’ll find cosy seating which is rather nice to enjoy in the evening for dinner, the outside deck nonetheless, is where all the action and people-watching happens. You’ll find groups of girlfriends gossiping over a latte or a cheeky glass of wine (it’s probably me) or couples snuggled up under the outdoor heaters. Best of all Brown Cow is family friendly so really its popularity is understandable and to be honest, they don’t need any more promotion!

Shiraaz

48 Malop Street, Geelong, Victoria
03 5229 7777
www.shiraaz.net.au

Having previously lived in England I grew to adore Indian food but I’m always concerned about how greasy and poor the ingredients can be when you visit your local takeaway. Having eaten at Shiraaz previously for the Golden Plate Awards I have fond memories as the dishes are light, full of flavour and the quality of the ingredients is consistently high.

When dining in the evening candlelit tables are presented with crisp white linen and sparkling glassware. Indian fine dining? Yup, but without the stuffiness, instead you’re treated to warm and attentive hospitality that makes your dining experience extra special.

I tend to think about food 24/7 and I was peckish on the night I recently visited Shiraaz and I was impressed by the complimentary pappadams and dips that were provided in lieu of bread which was fitting. The two dipping sauces that came with the pappadams were delicious, the mint yoghurt was utterly gorgeous and saved me from my ravenous state.


We shared the mixed grill for our entrée and it was well-spiced; the meat, a selection of chicken and lamb, was tender and for me who doesn’t eat a massive amount of meat, I couldn’t get enough! For our main course we shared the beef and mushroom curry which again was spiced beautifully and it was well matched with the fragrant zafraani pulao rice. This rice had a lovely crunchy texture because of the pistachios and the dried fruit that wonderfully off-set the spice.  My personal favourite dish of the night was the keema naan bread that was filled with lamb mince and spices – I would go back just to eat this! The bread, cooked in the tandoor oven was soft and pillowly and the filling was spicy and well paired with a yoghurt raita, heavenly.

Shiraaz has consistently delivered a tasty and memorable dining experience and I am just so thrilled to see Indian food wonderfully celebrated for its distinct and gorgeous exotic flavours.

Merchant’s Guild

680 Centre Road, Bentleigh East, Melbourne
03 9579 0734
www.themerchantsguild.com

There’s been a lot of buzz about a new cafe in my old neighbourhood of East Bentleigh and I just had to see what all the fuss was about. On the morning I visited I was greeted by friendly staff who were flat out busy but super attentive and the place was buzzing with a cool and friendly crowd all chatting happily over well-presented plates of breakfast and brunch.

I had the poached eggs on sourdough that was drizzled with a flavoursome pesto and it came with a zingy avocado salsa with chargrilled corn and a thick slice of smokey bacon (note a THICK slice of bacon – yum!). So far so good, the food was pretty impressive.

The open kitchen allows you to see the barista at work and it’s clear that coffee is an important element at the Merchant’s Guild, but the tea is just as celebrated. The tea menu reads poetically and just wait until you see how your tea selection is served. Wow.

I am so excited about Merchant’s Guild bringing cool to the suburbs. I love Bentleigh and its friendly locals but this area massively needed this refreshingly youthful cafe addition in the ‘hood.

Servery and Spoon

137-139 Waverly Road, Malvern East, Melbourne
03 9571 7495

Rustic table settings, the smell of good coffee brewing and an overall earthy and casual café feel with an abundance of delicious food displayed at the front counter. First impressions are great.

The menu is thoughtful and even though I have become somewhat of a regular, I’m constantly tempted to sample more. Something as classic as a poached chicken sandwich is done so well using the freshest country grain bread and well poached tender chicken. The sticky five spice chicken with Vietnamese coleslaw is my personal pick, but some of the fan favourites come from the tasty all day breakfast options like crispy dukkah crusted eggs or decadent smoked salmon and sweet corn blini’s – so good!

Personally I don’t have a massive sweet tooth but the cupcakes and muffins – especially the gluten free varieties, will definitely tempt you. The adjoining larder is also worth perusing while you grab a takeaway latte for the road.

Bendigo Corner Store Café

305 View Street Bendigo, Victoria
03 5442 2008

The Bendigo Corner Store Café does what inner-city cafes try to emulate, offering a warm country feel while serving memorable and tasty coffee with fantastic food. Not only is the food great you can also buy the weekend papers and purchase lovely loaves of bread and packs of tea and chai to enjoy at home. It makes you cherish that local corner store nostalgia.

The menu reads beautifully with plenty of healthy and hearty breakfast options to chose from. During my visit I had the quinoa and vegetable fritters served with cherry tomatoes and grilled haloumi cheese, which was presented outstandingly, such a pretty dish. The produce was full-flavoured and fresh and the ingredient combinations were clever.

What I loved most about the Bendigo Corner Store Café was the smell of freshly brewed coffee as you walk in. The beans are a house blend of 100% organic and fair trade beans and you can tell that great love is taken with each drop. I really liked this place.

Omars & the Marvellous Coffee Bird

124 Gardenvale Road, Gardenvale, Melbourne
03 9596 4186
www.omars.com.au

Best coffee in Melbourne? Quite possibly. Queues of locals line up for their daily caffeine hit and they want the good stuff. I discovered Omar’s earlier this year when after not drinking coffee my entire life I wanted to try something amazing, and the coffee here definitely converted me. Andy Gelman is the barista and one of the owners at Omar’s and he is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to deciphering what coffee would suit you best. I can’t resist driving past each Saturday morning and treating myself to one of their creamy lattes or mocha’s, but the black coffee is where you get the full whack of flavour.

Not letting the food take centre stage, Omar’s serves breakfast and lunch – but funnily enough no eggs. Recently for breakfast I sampled the braised beans with avocado, labneh (similar to a soft cheese but yoghurt-based), and sourdough. This also came with a wedge of lemon and the citrus kick made this dish work perfectly. I am quite pleased to see that Omar’s doesn’t fall short of serving good food alongside their great coffee, because it’s clear to see that’s where the focus is.

Expect to wait a while for your coffee and you might also have a bit of a wait if you’d like to enjoy a meal, things can get a little chaotic on the weekends, but really the coffee is that good.

Marchello’s Eurocafe

420 Hampton Street, Hampton, Melbourne

Hampton Street is dotted with many cafés all within close proximity to the beach and you’re never spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a spot to refuel and people watch. Trust me, I have my favourite spots along this strip but recently I wanted to try something new and that’s when I came across Marchello’s Eurocafe. The menu is varied and appetising.

For lunch I decided on the slow cooked King Island beef ragu with pappardelle – although they ran out of pappardelle so fettuccine had to do. The beef was cooked wonderfully and the tomato and jalapeño sauce was full of rich spice. My pet hate is when people break pasta like spaghetti or fettuccine, despite this I was truly impressed with my generous serving of tender beef. Enjoying an impromptu Sunday lunch with my mum, she ordered the seafood chowder which was also very flavoursome, creamy and indulgent. The rich chowder was dotted with fresh seafood that made it a satisfying winter meal.

Marchello’s Eurocafe isn’t “cool” or “urban country chic…bla bla bla”, it’s cosy and the food is not only well priced, it’s also pretty darn tasty.

Cuda Bar

82-84 Mountjoy Parade, Lorne, Victoria
03 5289 5006
www.cudabar.com.au
*Closed from 10 June until early September 2013

The menu at Cuda Bar reads beautifully, and the ambiance, added to by the outstanding customer service, made for a memorable evening on the night I visited.

My house-made gnocchi with braised beef cheeks was a standout – the sauce was plate-lickingly delicious. The flavours were superb in this dish and the care taken with the tender gnocchi was apparent. I also adored the creaminess of the house-made ice cream that accompanied out lush chocolate brownie, which I am sure would curb any chocoholic’s cravings. The drinks list and cocktails were also fantastic – where to start?! The Grape Expectations cocktail in particular was light and refreshing, my kinda drink.

I think that Cuda Bar creates a friendly warmth from the moment you arrive, the staff are well versed on the menu and adding factors like the live band on the weekend is a great touch. Situated right on the main beach strip in Lorne, I genuinely enjoyed having dinner at Cuda Bar and it’s definitely one of the standout dining options in this area.