Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Spice Mixes

Many spices have wonderful healing properties. Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits, while chilli has been shown to  reduce cholesterol and clear congestion. Cardamom is a good source of minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium as well as containing high levels of iron and manganese. Cumin is also a great source of iron and assists with digestion. Nutmeg is known to aid sleep while also protecting teeth and gums.
Herbs have also been used for hundreds of years in healing, before antibiotics came on the scene. Many such as oregano are anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. Herbs in the mint family are well known for their use as breath fresheners, but they also soothe the stomach and aid in digestion.
Parsley is another herb used to freshen the mouth due to its high levels of eugenol. Parsley and clove oils have long been used in dentistry as anaesthetic and anti-bacterial agents. Parsley is also highly nutritious, containing many minerals and vitamins.

So, while flavouring our food, herbs and spices are also helping us to digest it and nourishing our bodies at the same time.  I love to use herbs and spices in my cooking, but prefer not to have the additives that are found in many commercial mixes. I've come up with a couple of my own mixes, one of which I've included here. As I perfect my herb and spice mixes, I will update this post.

All Purpose Seasoning
The Bush Gourmand

3 Tbsp sea salt
1 Tbsp Celery Salt
2 Tbsp icing sugar
4 tsp paprika
4 tsp rice flour
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp chilli powder, ground black pepper, garlic powder
½ tsp nutmeg, ground coriander, ground cumin, ground cardamom

Blend on speed 5 for 3 or 4 seconds. Place in a jar and label.

The following recipe has been developed by a friend from forumthermomix.com, known as achookwoman. It makes the most outstanding Southern Fried Chicken. 

Southern Fried Chicken Seasoning

2 Tbsp ground white pepper
3 Tbsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp sea salt
2 Tbsp pizza herbs or oregano
2 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp cumin, cardamom, ground cloves, garlic powder, allspice, celery seed 

Blend on speed 5 for 4 seconds. Place in a jar and label.

I am working on a Lemon & Herb Pepper and a Steak Spice.  I'll post to Facebook when I have perfected these.




Sweet Chilli Chicken Strips

Harvest is in full swing after a few breakdowns, some rain and some harvest bans due to hot, windy weather. Harvest brings with it our two lovely boys who take holidays from their regular jobs to come home and help.
We couldn't manage without them and are so grateful that they continue to use their time off this way.

Of course, this means I have extra mouths to feed and extra lunch boxes to fill. It's always a bit of a battle thinking of savoury foods to pack. Foods must be able to be eaten with one hand as most times the boys are driving a header or a truck. I often make sausage rolls, mini pasties, meatballs and such, but was wanting some roadhouse food that they both love. The healthiest I could think of was the Sweet Chilli Chicken Strips. I've created my own version and they're pretty good. There's also some variations on the theme with my other spice mixes as well as using fish and pork instead of chicken.

It's best to start the night before to marinate the chicken strips. When ready to coat, allow an extra couple of hours refrigeration if you are able.

Sweet Chilli Chicken Strips
The Bush Gourmand

1 cup Buttermilk
3 Tbsp Sweet Chilli Sauce (Woolies Homebrand)
1 Tbsp All Purpose Seasoning
2 Chicken Breasts, sliced into strips
Marinate chicken strips overnight in buttermilk mixture.

2 cups cornflake crumbs (blitz in Thermie, speed 6/3 seconds)
2 Tbsp or so of either millet or quinoa puffs
1 Tbsp All Purpose seasoning

Mix together in a wide bowl.
Scrape strips on container to remove most of buttermilk mixture. 
Place into coating and press down firmly, coating both sides. Place on a baking tray and refrigerate for 2 hours, if possible.
When ready to cook, pre heat oven to 200C and place some coconut oil into a large frying pan.
Gently fry to brown both sides of strips. 

Place back onto clean oven tray and into oven for 10 minutes or so until completely cooked through. 

Serve with Sweet Chilli Mayonnaise.

Sweet Chilli Mayonnaise
The Bush Gourmand

½ cup good mayonnaise
¼ cup plain yoghurt
2 Tbsp Sweet Chilli Sauce
1 tsp white vinegar

Mix together and serve with chicken strips.


Southern Fried Chicken Strips
Replace Sweet Chilli Sauce and All Purpose Seasoning with mayonnaise and Southern Fried Chicken Seasoning in the buttermilk mixture.

Use the following coating:
½ cup rice flour
½ cup plain flour
1 - 2 Tbsp buttermilk mixture

Mix together lightly to make a lumpy batter. Coat drained chicken, refrigerate and cook in the same manner. A double coat works well.

These are delicious served hot with gravy, though BBQ sauce works better in a lunch box.

Parmesan Chicken Strips
Coat chicken in ½ cup mayonnaise mixed with ½ cup plain yoghurt.
Add ½ cup grated parmesan and 1 tsp All Purpose Seasoning to the cornflake crumbs.
Proceed as per recipe.

Lemon Fish Strips
Use firm white fish - shark works well.
Coat fish in mayonnaise mixture as per Parmesan Chicken Strips.
Add 2 tsp grated lemon rind and 1 Tbsp Lemon Pepper to cornflake crumbs.
Proceed as per recipe. Do not place in oven as shallow frying should be enough to cook fish through.

Serve with a mayonnaise/plain yoghurt blend with lemon juice, lemon rind and lemon pepper.

Honey Mustard Pork Strips
Use strips of pork steaks and marinate in the following:

1 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp seeded mustard

Coat with cornflake crumbs blended with 1 Tbsp All Purpose Seasoning.
Serve with mayonnaise mixed with some Dijon mustard.

I encourage you to experiment with other marinades and coatings. There are so many different flavour ways.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Soft, Fluffy Bread

I'm happy to eat tough sourdough and seedy wholemeal loaves, however, my nearest and dearest likes only soft white bread in a packet. I've tried to make a loaf like store bought for some time, but have never quite achieved the right texture.

However, I think I've found it! Over at The Road to Loving My Thermomix, Peta has developed a great recipe and has loads of tips on bread making. I learned that I have had my oven way too hot for this sort of bread. I cook at 180C now and have been making some lovely loaves and rolls using her recipe.

Rather than copy it, I'll pop a link here so you can read all the tricks of bread making yourself.

Here's one of my lovely loaves with some rolls made from the dough. This is double her normal recipe for rolls, that is, it uses 750g flour. This particular loaf has 620g strong white flour, 80g wholemeal flour and 50g white spelt flour. It made a large loaf plus 6 rolls. I leave my dough to rise until it's tripled, rather than doubled. My bread tin measures 28 x 14 wide x 12cm high. The rolls were baked in a 20cm tin.

Do try this fabulous recipe. I'd love to know how you go with it.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Cauliflower Fried Rice

My other half is not a fan of rice and I love it. There's no better accompaniment to an Asian meal than Fried Rice. So, with cauliflower rice all the rage at the moment, I gave it a try and we both loved it!

Cauliflower Fried Rice
1 small head of cauliflower, cut into large chunks -  about the size of the hole in the lid of the Thermomix
1 onion, sliced
1 egg
1 tsp sesame oil
salt and pepper
macadamia oil, for frying
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 carrot, julienned
¼ green capsicum, diced or sliced
handful of snow peas, diced (or use frozen peas)
soy and sweet chilli sauce, to taste

Place half the cauliflower in the Thermomix bowl or food processor. Chop on speed 5 for 2 seconds. Check cauliflower size, stir around with spatula and chop again if necessary. Repeat with remaining cauliflower chunks. Set aside.

Beat egg with sesame oil, salt and pepper.  Heat a small amount of macadamia oil in wok and add beaten egg. Flip over when brown on underside. When cooked, remove from pan and roll up on board. Slice when cool.
Heat more oil in wok and add slice onions and garlic. Stir fry until fragrant and starting to colour. Add carrots and continue to stir fry. Add soy and sweet chilli to taste and a little water. Add cauliflower and stir fry. Add capsicum, then snow peas and omelette. Do not overcook at this stage, cauliflower should have just a little bite to it.
Taste for seasoning and serve immediately. Sprinkle with sesame seeds to serve.

Asian Braised Chicken

This recipe comes from one of my favourite cook books, Belinda Jeffery's Collected Recipes. I took the book out of the library and then after renewing it twice, realised that I couldn't do without it, so I purchased it. You can buy it here.

This recipe is called Braised Star Anise Chicken, but I don't always put the star anise in, so I just like to call it Asian Braised Chicken. It is finger licking delicious and the stock can be frozen to use in other asian dishes. It's fabulous for pork belly.

Asian Braised Chicken

1 cup kecap manis - this is a sweet thick soy sauce. If you don't have it, just use a little more sugar
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup chicken stock - you can use water with a teaspoon of stock powder or paste
½ cup rapadura sugar
2 star anise - or leave out as I sometimes do and use 2 teaspoons of five spice powder
½ cup sherry
2 cloves garlic, sliced
6cm piece ginger, sliced
1 x Size 20 Free Range Chicken

Pre heat the oven to 180C.
Place everything except the chicken into the Thermomix bowl and heat on 100/5 minutes/speed 2.
Place chicken into a large casserole dish and pour over the sauce. Place the lid on the dish and place in the oven.
Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, basting regularly. You can turn chicken over, but I prefer not to.
If you like, cook the liquid down after removing the chicken to make a thick glaze to brush over the skin before serving.

Strain the stock into jars and freeze for later use.

Serve with fried rice and stir fried asian vegetables. Or serve cold with salads.

I'm cooking this next Monday, so will take a photo then!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Muffin Master Recipe

Muffins have defeated me for years. I can't for the life of me make a really good muffin. They're either too moist, too dry, too crumbly, too heavy - you name it, I've made it and badly.

So, not to be completely defeated, I've been searching the internet for a good master recipe. I found two that were fairly similar and adapted them into one recipe. I made dried apricot muffins with this recipe and they turned out beautifully! Light, just moist enough, good crumb, nice flavour. A winner!

They're not what I'd call healthy eating by any means, but since I make them for others, not for me, I'm not worried. Now that I have the perfect recipe, I'll play around and experiment with soaked wholemeal flour and rapadura or coconut sugar instead of raw sugar.

Recipe has been adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction website. The other site I used was the US Better Homes And Gardens Website.

Muffin Master Recipe
The Bush Gourmand

1 ½ cups plain flour
½ cup raw caster sugar 
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

Mix dry ingredients together with any dried fruit, cheese, spices, choc chips etc.

2 eggs, beaten
½ cup soured milk or buttermilk
¼ cup oil (I use macadamia) or melted butter (I think these would be a little firmer when cool)
2 tsp vanilla

Blend together and mix into dry ingredients. Fill greased muffin cups to ¾ full. Preheat oven to 220C and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce to 190C and bake a further 20 - 25 minutes.


Streusel topping
3 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp brown sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp butter, chopped

Blend together in Thermomix until crumbly. Sprinkle over uncooked muffins prior to baking. Can add 2 Tbsp chopped pecans.

Apricot Muffins
Add ½ cup chopped dried apricots into flour mix.

Date and Orange Muffins
Add ½ cup chopped dried dates and rind of one orange. Make up milk to ½ cup including 2 Tbsp of orange juice.

Cheese Muffins
Reduce sugar to 2 Tbsp. Stir ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese and ¼ tsp cayenne pepper into flour mixture. You can also add corn and grated zucchini.

Berry Muffins
Fold ¾ cup frozen berries into flour mixture just before adding liquid mixture. 

Banana Muffins
Reduce milk to ¼ cup. Stir 2 small mashed banana and ½ cup chopped nuts into flour with the liquid ingredients.

Cranberry Muffins
Fold 1 cup coarsely chopped cranberries and 2 tablespoons additional sugar into flour mixture.

Oatmeal Muffins
Reduce flour to 1 cup and add ½ cup rolled oats to flour mixture. 

Lemon Muffins
Add zest of one lemon to flour mixture. Make up milk to ½ cup including 2 Tbsp lemon juice. 
Grind 2 Tbsp raw sugar with thinly peeled rind of one lemon in Thermomix until fine. Sprinkle over muffins just before baking.

Muffins are best eaten warm. I love to split them open and spread each side with lashings of butter. 


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sugar - Sweet Poison? Part II


I've previously written a bit about the chemistry of the simple carbohydrate, sugar in my blog post Sugar - Sweet Poison?  The discussion ranged around white sugar and it's empty nutrition and how other foods can provide sweetness while still being 'good for you'.  Now, in Part II, I'd like to expand on that topic in this post about the various types of sugar and how they are made.

In Australia the main sweetener in our processed foods on in our pantries is processed white sugar (in the US, it's high fructose corn syrup, but that's another story...).

White Sugar


White Sugar, as mentioned in my post on sugar, is a disaccharide, meaning it contains two monosaccharides, glucose and fructose. In Australia, white sugar comes from sugar cane. Many other countries use sugar beets to make white sugar. Caster sugar and icing sugar are simply white sugar that has been ground to make it finer.

Cane sugar is highly processed, first by crushing the sugar cane to extract the juice. The juice is then mixed with lime and phosphoric acid to adjust its pH to around 7.  The clarified juice is then heated under vacuum to make a syrup. Further heating is done under vacuum to concentrate and super saturate the syrup. It is then pressure filtered through cloth and deodorised using activated charcoal. (1)

The cleaned syrup is then seeded with sugar crystals and cooled. Upon cooling, the sugar syrup crystallises and is then put through a centrifuge to separate the sugar from it's remaining liquid, known as molasses. The remaining molasses can be further processed to extract more crystals, leaving blackstrap molasses. (2)

Raw Sugar


At this stage, the product is Raw Sugar (a terrible misnomer) which is a light golden colour. So raw sugar is still a highly processed product. The raw sugar is then bleached, sometimes by bubbling sulphur dioxide through the crystals. (1) I'm unable to find out exactly how Australian sugar is bleached. None of the companies explain this process, other than saying that the raw sugar is then 'further refined'. I'm awaiting a reply from CSR. The fact that it must be 'bleached' sounds ominous, though.
Raw caster and golden icing sugar are made from raw sugar. White processed sugar is pretty much 99% sucrose and has a GI of around 65. (3) GI isn't a perfect method for judging a product's health benefits, though. Adding fructose to a product will reduce it's GI, but read more about the problem with fructose below.

Brown Sugar

Brown Sugar is simply white refined sugar with the molasses added back in. Now, there's no information to say whether this is the first extraction of molasses with all its health giving goodness, or the less nutritious blackstrap molasses. My guess is that it is the cheaper one. So, the sugar is refined, bleached and deodorised and then the stuff they took out is put back in! If you want to make it yourself, simply add molasses to white sugar until it's fully saturated.

LoGiCane Sugar

LoGiCane is a brand name from the CSR company promoted as low GI. The CSR company explains on their website that LoGiCane sugar is refined white sugar sprayed with molasses. The molasses slows down the digestion of the sucrose, making it less likely to spike blood sugar. If this is the case, then brown sugar and 'raw' sugar will do the same. 
In fact, if you delve further into it, the molasses is actually treated to remove the nutrients such as minerals, polyphenols and other phytochemicals. (4) So, once again a highly processed product that is more expensive than simply buying 'raw' sugar. This appears to be a marketing ploy, in my opinion.

Demerara and Turbinado are still processed raw sugars, albeit with more molasses left in the final product.
Rapadura Sugar

Rapadura and Panela are two different names for the same product, pure unrefined cane juice. The sugar cane is simply crushed and the juice is dehydrated. The nutrient rich molasses with all its minerals and phytochemicals is retained in the final product, making it a far healthier alternative to white, processed sugar or even 'raw' sugar. Rapadura is quite expensive, but can now be found in supermarkets. I purchase it in bulk from www.2brothersfoods.com

Here's a chart showing the comparison of nutrients for each of the sugars. The 'evaporated cane juice' in the chart is that which is processed using heat. 

Coconut Sugar

Coconut Sugar, also known as coconut palm sugaris made from the blossom of the coconut tree, that ubiquitous plant that provides so much for so little. It has a low GI, only 35. It also contains a great many nutrients, mainly potassium, iron, zinc, calcium plus polyphenols, inositol (part of a vitamin B complex) and other phytonutrients. (5) (6)  It's a natural product, with very little processing other than collection and dehydration. It's fairly expensive.

Many people are becoming wary of Fructose and with good reason. Fructose is natural fruit sugar, but is also found in sugar.  Sugar, or sucrose, is 50% Glucose and 50% Fructose. Fructose is the monosaccharide which is only broken down in the liver.  The liver will transform fructose into glucose derivatives, storing it as glycogen. The liver can only store so much glycogen. If it's not being used through providing energy, it will be stored as triglycerides (i.e. fat) which is then deposited around the organs in the body. (7)

This concept is being espoused by Sarah Wilson of the "I Quit Sugar' movement. Sarah has an enormous group of followers on her Facebook page and blog. She has published two books on the subject, containing excellent information and recipes. Her concept is a little extreme, though and I don't believe we should deny ourselves certain treats. Life can be hard enough as it is without being unable to eat dessert at a restaurant.

There are many references showing that fructose is indeed a baddy in our diets. Mainly because sugar is consumed in large amounts in processed foods such as mayonnaise, sauces, soft drinks, biscuits and cakes. A study in 2010 showed that fructose consumed as soft drinks and sweetened fruit juices, taken in large quantities did cause weight gain. (8)

My take on the consumption of sugar in the diet is this.
  1. Consume whole foods as much as possible. Eat whole fruits, peel as well if possible (obviously not banana peel). If you're making a cake with oranges, use the whole orange - flesh, juice and zest. 
  2. Include good fats (coconut, palm, lard, tallow, poultry fat, butter) in your diet to allow for satiety, so you're not hanging out for a chocolate after tea.
  3. Limit sugar in all your cooking and use unprocessed sugar wherever possible. Some other options for sweetening include rice malt syrup, maple syrup and honey. Fresh dates can be used instead of sugar in some recipes - e.g. protein balls.
  4. Don't consider that every meal must be followed by dessert. Make desserts a special treat. 
  5. Make your own fruit roll ups with whole fruit, raw chocolate with cacao and so on. 
  6. Finally, don't stress about it too much! Do your best and allow yourself some treats without feeling guilty. 
There's a wealth of great wholefood recipes out there and some great books and blogs, too. Here's a list of recommended reading:

Wholefood Cooking - Jude Blereau
Nourishing Traditions - Sally Fallon
I Quit Sugar and I Quit Sugar for Life - Sarah Wilson 


(1) SKIL - How sugar is made: http://www.sucrose.com/lcane.html
(2) https://au.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070515070200AAENMgq
(3) Sugar and sweetener guide: http://www.sugar-and-sweetener-guide.com/glycemic-index-for-sweeteners.html
(4) Product review: low GI cane cugar - Catherine Saxelby's Food Watch: http://foodwatch.com.au/reviews/item/product-review-lowgicane-sugar.html
(5) http://coconutpalmsugar.com/Home_Page.html
(6) Coconut sap sugar: http://www.cocofat.com/about-coconut-products/coconut-sap-sugar/
(7) Precision Nutrition. All about fructose: http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-fructose
(7) Metabolic effects of fructose and the worldwide increase in obesity: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20086073

That's all for now, bravo if you've actually read the whole post!!