Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pitaya (Dragon Fruit)

I first experienced dragon fruit in a market in Vung Tau in southern Vietnam in 1995. What a stunning fruit; waxy pink skin with crisp white or bright red flesh and edible seeds. Easy to peel and wonderful decorative qualities.

I just wanted to bring one back to Australia and plant the seeds here. I did finally think better of my idea to eat one just before flying out and ... well you know what I mean? So it was several years later that they made it to tropical Australia and I am pleased to see there is quite a pitayta industry now.

Pitaya is the fruit of a cactus that originates from Central and South America. The fruits are brightly coloured and have a pink and green skin, which is unique in appearance. The pulp is white or a vivid red and contains many small black edible seeds, which add an appealing crunch. The flesh is sweet and refreshing with a slightly acidic melon-like flavour. A pitaya should give a little when gently squeezed. The fruit can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days. Cut in half lengthways then scoop out flesh. May be cut to suit needs. Best eaten chilled and sprinkled with lemon or lime juice to enhance the flavour. Blend with milk and yoghurt for a vivid milkshake.

Pitaya is rich in Vitamin C, antioxidants, dietary fibre and said to help lower blood glucose levels.

Back to School Lunchbox

We are all time poor these days and mornings are the worst when kids are back at school. An easy way to plan for the school week lunchbox is to prepare in advance. Using five snap-lock bags (one for each day) per child; fill them with fruit, health bars, yoghurt and pro-biotic milk and place in the fridge. Each morning, just simply make a healthy sandwich; grab a bottle of iced water and with the bag of snacks, into the lunchbox they go.

Variation of flavour and new tastes are essential to developing a child’s interest in food and nutrition. Kids may prefer white bread but if you have their health in mind, whole-grain seed bread is more nutritious. To keep it interesting, vary between sandwiches, rolls, pita bread and flat breads. Instead of butter or margarine, try spreadable cream cheese or avocado. Add plenty of salad items to the sandwich, and to avoid sogginess, drain watery items (sliced tomatoes) first on absorbent paper before adding. Kids need a serve of protein at lunchtime so ensure you include lean meat, egg, peanut butter, chickpeas. Add some brain food of high omega fish such as tuna at least one day a week.

Small snack items are popular so consider a pot of low-fat, low-sugar yoghurt, cheese, nuts, or pro-biotic milk. Use small containers for dips with vegetable sticks (celery, carrot, cucumber). Try frozen Edaname (soya beans in pods) for a highly nutritious snack. Fruit can be varied each day with our local rambutans, lychees, jaboticaba, longons, or half a diamond scored mango wrapped in plastic. On the weekend, get the kids to make their own snack bars and biscuits that are healthier and less expensive than those in the shops.

Juice is high in sugar so instead, add an iced bottle of water that will last throughout the day and keep the lunchbox chilled. On these hot days, kids will not miss the sugary drinks.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Locavore Carnivore

It’s that time of year when our Lambassador, Sam Kekovich, is at it again, this time on a global scale, by proposing that the United Nations declare 26 January ‘International Australia Day’. Well Sam! lamb in this region creates food miles, so our tropical barbecues will be sizzling with local prawns, beef and pork on Australia Day.

With a long history of cattle and pig breeding in this region we have a number of producers offering outstanding cuts of meat.

Morganbury Meats at Walkamin supply butchers in Cairns with quality pork and beef. For years I have raved about their lean and sweet juicy flavoured pork that deserves cooking a little underdone.

On a boutique scale Marsh’s Specialist Butcher in Stratford breeds his own Hereford cattle on the family farm at Malanda where permaculture soil practices are used. Tucked away in the tiny hamlet of South Johnstone is the artisan work of a German butcher who creates an assortment of traditional continental smallgoods. Now also at Wongaling Beach, Northern Smallgoods is worthy of a visit when in either neighbourhood.

The emergence of organic bred meat into the local marketplace has come with Jervois Organic beef and Happy Beef – Happy Hog, whilst Neef Beef breeds (Natural, Ethical & Environmentally Friendly) Wagyu and Angus meats. These well nurtured animals run free in lush green pastures and look to be truly happy.

So on Australia Day don’t be un-Australian, ask for local grown meat for your barbecue.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Finger Limes

Finger limes are from a rare Australian rainforest tree originally found along the eastern coast. Named for their size and shape of a finger but otherwise called ‘Citrus Caviar’.

When broken open and squeezed; out pour little (green, white or pink) balls of citrus juice that resemble caviar. Once crunched in the mouth, there is an explosion of citrus flavour that makes them ideal to decorate and accompany any seafood, Asian dishes, salads, dressings, and desserts. Fabulous in cocktails and drinks.

Finger Limes are available from Sunset Ridge at Yungaburra. Contact Sue & Ken Pike on(07) 4095-3341

Sunday, January 17, 2010

To Market To Market

16th January, 2009

Weaving through a crowded Hawkers Market is a favourite pastime of mine when travelling. It’s a great insight to the characters and culture of a country; awakening all the senses with a barrage of provocative sights, sound of clashing woks, the drift of spicy aromas, and stimulating taste of new and different foods.

Just recently I visited Darwin’s Parap Market for a fabulous display of Australia’s flourishing multiculturalism. You realize just how close this part of Australia is to Asia. I was excited with the delicious food that was being prepared from purpose built ‘kitchen on wheels’ trailers, and how well they improvised with less stricter rules and regulations of the health department in ours and other states. It’s difficult to make judgement but it was this element that made it exciting; gave authenticity to the cuisine and made the price acceptable.

Freshly prepared and cooked in front of you, the popular Green Papaya Salad, seafood Laksa and Indonesian satays were being dished out to the queues of eager diners at a rate that nothing was held long enough in the ‘danger zone’ of temperatures. Like their Mindil Beach Market in the dry season, the Parap market appeals to a throng of locals and tourists alike.

I am pleased to see authentic multicultural food starting to permeate into our fantastic local markets. I can only hope that others will follow and Cairns will one day have a true Multicultural Hawkers Market.

Trends 2010

26th December, 2009

With the end of year drawing to a close, prophesies of new trends in foods and restaurants for 2010 start to emerge from around the world. Here are some collective trends that may or may not emerge in our region.

  1. Online Food. The digital era has provided a new way of purchasing food and new opportunities for the small food manufacturers and distributors. Home deliveries of all foods are now possible as well as a growing trend in organic food baskets from community gardens. Online recipes are taking over from glossy culinary magazines.
  2. Informality of Dining. Street dining, food markets and food vans. Some of the most authentic ethnic cuisines are available from these sources. In the USA underground restaurants are popping up illegally in houses.
  3. Comfort Food. Seems to be a perennial favourite that has validity in the global economic downturn. A return to the prosperous ‘sixties’ lends comfort to the baby boomers with updated iconic menu items for more flavour (Prawn Cocktails never tasted so good).
  4. Local Regional Foods. For reasons of freshness, minimal transportation, and supporting local communities and businesses, chefs are looking for relationships with producers, a story to tell, and a history of the regional foods on their menu. A menu that happily changes with the seasons, rather that sourcing food from afar for year round continuity.
  5. Conscious Food. Ethical foods, sustainable foods, free trade products, organics and bio-dynamic and free-range produce. People also want to know where their foods come from, and with Country of Origin Labelling, consumers can make valued buying decisions.
  6. Drinking Trends. Local produced micro-beers and spirits, artisan cocktails, relaxing drinks in place of hi-energy beverages. Savoury/culinary cocktails are becoming popular with concoctions that are more like a meal than a drink using vegetables, herbs & spices. Specialty teas and organic coffee.
  7. Less is More. Joining the ‘cup cake’ revolution are mini desserts, mini burgers, amuse bouchĂ©, smaller quality snack and tapas style grazing food for healthier portion size and price. Also deconstructed, simple, minimal ingredient dishes cooked well .
  8. Health Foods. Gluten-free/food-allergy conscious meals, anti-oxidant rich foods, away from hi-energy drinks "relaxation" beverages with herbs and other ingredients designed to actually relax you, with a resurgence of calming after dinner drinks.
  9. New Ethnic Direction. Cuisines of Spain, Scandinavia and South America are following on from the trends of Africa, Middle East and Korea as well as the comeback of a simple French bistro.
  10. Home Cooking with Flair. Expressing your inner chef. Experimenting with new and interesting ingredients. A strong trend for barbeques makes casual gourmet home dining easy and economical.


MANGOSTEEN (Garcinia mangostana)

Intro: Originated from Southeast Asia. Known as the “Queen of Tropical Fruits”. Despite their name they have nothing to do with mangoes.

Colour: Leathery skin that is deep purple when ripe. The flesh is pearly white and divided into five to seven segments.

Taste: Subtle delicate sweet acid taste that melts in the mouth.

Buying/storage: Mangosteens do not ripen further once harvested. Choose fruits that have no skin imperfections or major discolouration. Fresh green stem indicates good quality fruit.

Avoid if fruit is very hard. Fruit should yield when pressed gently. It will keep for a few days without refrigeration. Storage at 10ÂșC is ideal and extends shelf life to about 20 days.

Refrigeration causes cold damage. To minimise this wrap fruit in newspaper and store it in the upper part of the refrigerator.

Preparing/serving: Mangosteens are best eaten fresh. Eat them just as they are or add to fruit salads. To open, the simplest method is to place the mangosteen in the palm of your hand with the stem on top, and use your fingers to exert gentle pressure on the upper half until the shell opens. Another option is to cut through the diameter of the shell all the way around, and then simply lift off the top and spoon out the flesh of the fruit. Care should be taken when eating fruit as the skin pigment can stain.

This gives a very attractive presentation, ideal for desserts etc. Just remember not to cut through the segments. They are an exotic addition to champagne or sparkling wine.

Variety: High in calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin B and C.

Fruit Wine Celebration

19th December, 2009

So we don’t have a grape wine industry in the tropics! That hasn’t prevented some local enthusiasts from making wine from our luscious tropical fruits such as Lychee, mango, passionfruit, papaya and jaboticaba; to name a few. So much so, that this is the largest commercial fruit wine industry region in Australia.

What is interesting is that when you taste a grape wine such as Sauvignon Blanc; you can often taste the characteristic tropical flavours of pineapple, guava and passionfruit. When tasting fruit wine it’s a whole new adventure where these flavours are predominant rather than secondary, yet they still provide the same complexities of grapes. The challenge is to experiment. So go ahead and give our local fruit wines a try. Delicious by themselves - refreshing as a summer sprizter.

From fruit wine there has been an emergence of fruit liqueurs which are proving very popular. Where the big beverage companies produce melon, lychee, passion and mango liqueurs, we have the authentic product. Liqueurs taste great simply with ice, with mixer (soda) or as part of a cocktail ingredient. Try the De bruey’s Boutique Wineries Tropical Temptation (reminiscent of an Irish cream), that took out this years trophy for Best Liqueur at the Australian Fruit Wine Awards, or their Coffee Elixir or Strawberry Temptation. Mt Uncle has their Elixier de Muse Banana, Sanguis Mulberry and Davidson Plum Liqueur as well as Lemon & Lime Cello’s and Sexy Cat Marshmallow.

All these fruit wines and liqueurs make great Christmas gifts if you don’t drink them yourself.

Christmas Lights

12th December, 2009

Memories of my childhood Christmas’ were that it was always hot; with the soaring summer temperature boosted by the humble oven, heating the house to an unbearable degree. Only the aroma of turkey and ham, wafting from the kitchen could lend logic to the insanity of this tradition. Hours of sweltering until the Christmas faire arrived at the already heavily laden table and a feeding frenzy would follow, before retirement for an afternoon nap.

Now with more emphasis on gourmet food and cooking, the family and friends festive soirees have taken on the simpler, more casual (and cooler) format of the oven barbecue.

Smaller flavoursome birds such as marinated duck and stuffed quail are now on the menu, with barbecue pork loin, and plenty of seafood making a stronger presence. Whole red throated emperor or ruby snapper stuffed with Asian herbs and limes and bound in banana leaves, bakes magnificently in a BBQ oven. Simply throwing some skewered prawns or scallops on the ‘Barbie’ makes for a good starter.

That heavy traditional Christmas ‘Pud’ is now being replaced by lighter and cooler delicacies such as creamed mango or plum pudding ice cream and lots of fresh berries and tropical fruits and nuts. Christmas may have gone gourmet but certainly more casual.


PAPAYA / PAW PAW Carica papaya

Mother Nature’s treasure chest. Very high in nutrients. The skin and flesh of unripe papaya can be used to tenderise cheaper cuts of meat. The smooth skin is inedible. Young leaves are cooked and eaten like spinach. Hawaiian Solo has a long shape and proving to be the more popular sweeter flavour.

Colour: Green when unripe and turns deep yellow or orange when ripe. Fruit has yellow or orange flesh, depending on variety, which is firm in texture. There is an abundance of edible black seeds.

Taste: Soft, juicy, and sweet tasting.

Buying/storage: Papayas bruise easily, so do not buy if the skin is damaged. Unripe fruit should be left at room temperature to ripen. Ripe fruit can be kept in refrigerator for five to seven days.

Preparing/serving: To eat, fresh simply cut the fruit in half lengthwise and scoop out the seed. Can be added to fruit salads, made into ice cream and sorbets. It also goes well with cured meats and savoury dishes, like curries. Green unripe papaya can be used as a vegetable, cooked similarly to zucchini. Grated green papaya is great in salads. Can also be juiced.

Variety: Hawaiian solo, PNG Red, Yellow - 11B, 1B and other selections.

Christmas Gift Treats

5th December, 2009

Take a jar of Gagarra honey and Rainforest Bounty’s native fruit preserve; throw in a Spicez Curry Kit. Add a pack of Nucifora tea, Mareeba coffee, some exquisite Chocolate Sensation chocolates and a bottle of De bruey’s boutique fruit wine. Pack them into a recycled gift box with some tinsel and pretty tissue paper, wrap in cellophane and tie with a ribbon. Voila! You have a great Christmas present for family and your ‘foodie’ friends.

Depending whether your budget is big or small, you can wrap up a simple gift pack of 2-3 items or an overflowing hamper of all things ‘delicious’.

So where do you find these treasures? Take a stroll around the Farmgate Markets at the Pier for the best range of local flavours; from conserves, pickles and sauces, dukkahs, rubs and herbal tea infusions to panaforte, brandy fruit cake and gingerbread houses, to name a few. All of which can be gift wrapped at the market. If you’re not that crafty or time is of the essence, seek out Jill at Simply Hampers. She has a wonderful selection of foods, beautifully gift wrapped and can arrange for delivery anywhere in the world.

At The Edge Gourmet Deli in Edge hill, Loren has an extensive range of gift wrapped Australian and local gourmet foods and will package a hamper to your order. Here you will find plum puddings, shortbread, gingerbreads, confectionary and all things Christmassy. Happy hunting & gathering!

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Mango (Mangifera Indica)

Mangoes originate from Malaysia and India and were introduced into Australia in the 1800s. They are amongst the most delicious and luxurious of all tropical fruits.

Buying/storage: Colour is not necessarily an indication of ripeness, some remain green when ripe. Select fruit free from blemishes and with no black marks on the skin as this is an indication the fruit is overripe. The best test of a mango is its aroma, which should be highly perfumed when ripe. The fruit, when pressed, should also give a little. Unripe mangoes will ripen at room temperature. Ripe mangoes can be refrigerated for one week and the pulp can be frozen.

Prepare: A popular way to eat the fruit is by cubing it. To do this, first, slice each side of the mango along the seed to give two halves. Then hold one portion of the mango with the peel side down. Score the fruit down to the peel in a tic-tac-toe fashion. With both hands, bend the peel backwards. Cut the cubes along the peel to remove from the skin or simply eat.

Serve: Mangoes can also be added to fruit salads, pureed to make sorbets, dried, and ice-cream, served with cured meats, such as prosciutto and used in spicy dishes and curries. Green varieties can be used to make chutney and can be baked or stewed with chicken or meat dishes. Also great in salads and Asian recipes. Mango flesh can be frozen and dried, both make welcome out of season treats.

Variety: Kensington Pride (Bowen), R2E2, Choko, Nand, Keitt, Brooks, Palmer, Kent, Irwin, Haden, Nam Doc Mai & Keow Savoey.

Fish Pondering

28th November, 2009

Some will argue that aquaculture may well be the future of the seafood industry in Australia. Its cost effective production enables a quality product grown to a high standard of uniform size, colour and continuity of supply. Others will argue the taste is not the same but that's a personal choice. The most popular aquaculture product in Australia is of course, Atlantic Salmon from Tasmania which graces most restaurant menu in some form.

But try something different and something local. Here in this region, we have exceptional aquaculture products in prawns, barramundi, redclaw, jade perch and eels. Prawn farming has become highly competitive and quality is paramount. In some cases prawns are farmed in pens at sea which enhances a ‘salty’ taste. A good grower of barramundi controls the process to ensure the firmness and cooking characteristics of the fish to be similar to the wild product. These plate-sized ‘barra’ are great for baking or barbecue.

If you are health conscious for Omega-3; Jade Perch is an outstanding cholesterol free table fish. It has been found by CSIRO scientists to have extremely high omega-3 fatty acid content, said to be approximately 6 times higher than that of Atlantic salmon. It also boasts an exceptional recovery rate of white flesh to body weight making it value for money.

Eels that swim up and down the eastern seaboard find their way into estuaries and on to freshwater creeks and ponds and are now farmed in this region. Popular with the Asian market, it is a worthy consideration for a special treat.

Redclaw is our own freshwater crayfish and makes a wonderful alternative to seafood. It’s light and sweet flavours enhance a many number of dishes from salads to pasta and risotto.

So think outside the normal shopping basket and try some of our regions great aquaculture products.

Tropical Chefs

21st November 2009

Over the years we have seen a number of celebrity chefs grace the Tropical North Queensland region with special cooking classes, luncheons, lavish dinners and demonstrations. …and it’s wonderful to engage and an honour to taste the stunning foods they prepare.

Whilst we welcome these chefs as highly professional artisans who bring fresh ideas and skills that flow onto local foodies and chefs, it is worth acknowledging that we also have some very good chefs in this region. Some who if they were in a major city could be labelled ‘celebrity’ given the right promotional break?

For instance, in Cairns notably Craig Squire of Ochre Restaurant who was asked to audition for the position as a MasterChef judge. From Palm Cove two brilliant chefs are Nick Holloway of NuNu and Philip Mitchell of Sebel Reef House, and at Port Douglas there is Bill Conway at Salsa Bar & Grill and Patrick Spencer of Harrisons Restaurant. The Tablelands is fortunate to have Jason Chuck at Eden House Restaurant at Yungaburra and new kids in the kitchen in Cairns are Leon Walker at Wink and Richard Falkiner at North Food & Wine.

All outstanding chefs who have in common, their passion for all things local and fresh and their creative culinary skills to produce innovative menus that showcase our regional food and offer tourists a true tropical food experience.

Tis the Season

Saturday 14th November, 2009

We are truly blessed to have such a diverse range of tropical fruits grown in Tropical North Queensland, and with the imminent ‘wet’ upon us; November signifies the start of the exotic fruit season. Already local lychees, star apples, sapodillas, rollinas, and pomelos are making their entrance into the markets.

The mangoes you see at present are from the Northern Territory; as their season commenced in October. Traditionally at the Brisbane Markets, the first tray of mangoes is auctioned for charity, and this year a tray of 12 mangoes sold for $45,000. But have not fear, wait a week or two and you’ll see our local mangoes start to appear in our shops, on the side of the road and in our markets, at a lot cheaper price!

Nearly four years has passed since Cyclone Larry swept through and destroyed many of the fruit trees in its path. The good news is that farmers are reporting heavy flowering at present and an expected early crop and ‘bumper’ season for rambutans, mangosteens and other exotics. Already small amounts of these fruits are trickling into the market from Cooktown and Mossman and as the season moves in a southerly trend, there should be an abundance of fruit following over the next month or two.