Vanessa Pike-Russell
Italian Food Safari

Episode 1
TONIGHT: Thursday, 18 March at 7.30pm on SBS ONE
Italian Food Safari opens with a celebration of the wood-fired oven.

Costa's Garden Odyssey is back

New series begins
TONIGHT: Thursday, 18 March at 8pm on SBS ONE
Our Greek gardening guru returns with more for the soil and the soul. For a bit of hilarity check out the Q & A Costa Vs Wilfred. (Wilfred: Mondays at 10pm)

Gourmet Farmer

Get all the recipes from the series and watch the last few episodes online if you missed them. 

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Vanessa Pike-Russell Photography

Baked Ricotta with capers, thyme and Dorsogna triple smoked ham:Vanessa Pike-Russell

The first time I tasted baked ricotta cakes was when I was living near the Gourmet Platter store in Corrimal. Once a week they had tastings of new products and I fell in love with the texture and flavour of their ricotta cakes with ham and capers.

Tonight I decided to make some for Philip and I since he treated me to a round of fresh ricotta. I felt like making something special to say thank you for all the nice things he does for me. I would not be as productive and successful without his support. He does the lion's share of the cooking and cleaning whilst I work on my photography and web design business which I am forever thankful for.

The recipe isn't difficult and you'll be surprised how good it tastes. If you spend the time whipping the egg whites you'll find the texture similar to a souffle - llght and fluffy. As Philip said, "Just close your eyes and enjoy."

Combine one cup of fresh ricotta cheese with the yolks of two eggs, diced capers, fresh thyme leaves, chopped dorsogna triple smoked ham, 1/3 cup of pizza cheese (mozzarella, parmesan and cheddar), salt and pepper. Whisk up the two egg whites and fold into the mixture a third at a time until gently combined.

Spoon into buttered ramekins and bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 350oF

Serve with a salad such as the Mediterranean salad which includes mixed salad greens, marinated Kalamata olive, olive oil, garlic, diced tomato, lemon juice, lemon zest and chopped parsley. Delicious!
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The Dragonfruit is one of the strangest looking fruits I have ever seen. The fruit of several cactus species, most importantly of the genus Hylocereus(sweet pitayas). It is usually either a vibrant red or yellow with white flesh and small black pips inside, shaped somewhat like an artichoke. The red species is the more commonly found in Australia.

  image by _e.t 

Recently I was told about a dragonfruit farm in in Queensland owned by Mary Vassallo, a very talented lady who has authored two cookbooks on Maltese Cooking and another in conjunction with the State Library of Queensland At Our Table - Queensland people - our stories, our foodShe and her husband has been growing pitaya on their farm and sent me some photos of their harvest.

According to Wikipedia [1]  there are three commercially farmed pitaya varieties:

  1. Hylocereus undatus (red pitaya) has red-skinned fruit with white flesh. This is the most commonly-seen "dragon fruit".
  2. Hylocereus costaricensis (Costa Rica pitaya, often called H. polyrhizus) has red-skinned fruit with red flesh
  3. Hylocereus megalanthus (yellow pitaya, formerly in Selenicereus) has yellow-skinned fruit with white flesh. 

Native to Mexico and Central and South America, the vine-like epiphytic Hylocereus cacti are also cultivated in Asian countries such asTaiwanVietnamThailand, the PhilippinesSri Lanka and Malaysia. They are also found in OkinawaHawaiʻiIsrael, northern Australia and southern China. Hylocereus blooms only at night; the large white fragrant flowers of the typical cactusflower shape are among those called "moonflower" or "Queen of the Night". Sweet pitayas have a creamy pulp and a delicate aroma.

Some information from the At Our Table profile on Mary:

Mary, the daughter of Carmnu and Angela Muscat was raised in San-Martin, Malta.  The family (parents, six sons and four daughters) migrated to Australia on the ‘Toscana’ in 1954 and settled in Mackay.  Mary, a well-known Maltese identity,  has written two recipe books. Together with her husband Victor they raised a family of four and now make time to enjoy their grandchildren.
Although life in Malta was never easy, memories are treasured of their life there, but equally cherish their life in Australia.

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Tell me, how do you get your fussy kids to eat vegetables?

I quite often have fussy eaters at my house. As a kid I was a fussy eater myself and would take hours to finish a meal if it included brussell sprouts, silverbeet or zucchini. I hated them with a passion! Nowadays I love all my vegetables, with the exception of brussell sprouts. I encourage children to try a little of everything on their plate and provide vegetables that are milder in flavour such as Bok Choy, Carrot, mashed potato (with pumpkin and creamed cauliflower) and after some perseverance I have been able to widen the range of vegetables that kids will eat. If that doesn't work then it's time to get sneaky :) 

51Wf0JtMtmL._AA300_.jpg (300×300)

When making a bolognaise, hamburger patty or fish cake I add grated or pureed vegetables. Carrot adds a sweetness which kids often enjoy and helps to mask the flavours of stronger vegetables such as cauliflower.

Another method to encourage kids (and some adults!) to eat their vegetables is to provide a range of chopped or sliced vegetables for the kids to putting on a personalised pizza. Common favourites are  sliced champignions (milder flavour than mushroom); baby spinach leaves or bok choy; root vegetables such as sweet potato or pumpkin; adding pureed vegetables to the tomato base;  adding a touch of pesto to garnish. 

Be clear up front that if they take anything off the pizza it will be taken away and it will be replaced with a big bowl of the vegetables instead. They don't have to eat all of their pizza but no part of the topping can come off once cooked. Given the choice of two options they'll usually decide to go for the option they hate the least and even a veggie laden pizza is better than none at all :) 

51seJTRfFEL._AA300_.jpg (300×300)

Another nifty way to hide vegetables is to cook and puree vegetables and add them to recipes such as macaroni and cheese as a 'white puree'. A few years back I saw a Today Tonight feature on the Sneaky Chef cookbook and its white, green, orange and purple purees to sneak vegetables and nutrition into kid-friendly food.

The white puree is made up of cauliflower, zucchini, lemon juice and water.
The 'green puree' made of spinach, broccoli, peas and water and is used in recipes such as the  speedy lasagne recipe
The 'purple puree' is made of baby spinach leaves, blueberries, lemon juice and water. 

The 'orange puree' is made with sweet potato or yam, carrots and water. 

You can read more about these sneaky recipes in her book 
The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals  

The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for
 Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals

By Missy Chase Lapine

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Weekly specials at Westfield Warrawong


Save $5kg
At Warrawong
Fish Market


Spend $15 to go in the draw to win $5000
At Country Deli, Westfield Warrawong

Little Hong Kong

$3 Meal Deal

Visit Little Hong Kong in the Food Court and get a large rice or noodles for only $3 - save $2.
Offer from Mon, 1 Feb 10 to Fri, 19 Mar 10

Copper Chimney

Meal Deal

Get a 3 curry combo for $10.90 from Copper Chimney in the Food Court.
Offer from Mon, 1 Feb 10 to Fri, 19 Mar 10

Don't forget we are giving you the chance to shop it up with return flights for two to one of 5 Australian cities, a $1500 Gift Voucher and $1000 spending money with a Westfield Gift Card.
The competition closes on 19 March 2010 so don't miss out!

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I first discovered Polish pierogi dumplings at the Polish Food Festival as part of Viva La Gong.  

Dumplings pictured includes a mix of the meat variety and Cabbage with mushroom variety purchased from Aga Deli, Wollongong at 30 pierogi for $14.50 several months after the event. To cook just boil in salted water and pan fry in butter. Delicious! Below I have some information about the Polish Food Festival event and some recipes to try.

pierogi polish dumpling

Here is the entry I made in my online journal. Looking back this was one of my favourite food events and my interest in documentary food photography began. The camera I had at the time wasn't very good so it prompted me to want to upgrade and revisit the next year.

Today I visited the Polish Food Festival with some fellow food lovers. It was a clear day when we started out, but it soon became overcast and then the rain fell. Sounds of polish folk music filled the Polish Hall in Gwynneville and the smells of Polish food greeted us as we made our way around the stalls. Bigos (like a sauerkraut but with meat), Polish Dumplings (three different fillings - potato, meat and mushroom), White Borscht (a white beetroot soup with garlic polish sausage) and an array of desserts and treats were all sampled and enjoyed. Polish dancers were a treat, girls spun around by their partners, piercing squeals as they become almost airborne. The costumes traditional polish style and you could have been forgiven for thinking you were in Poland for a day. I ate my fill, I sampled the Polish beer and enjoyed the entertainment throughout the day. I tried to take some photos but they do not do the food justice. I've added some recipes. Enjoy!

Pierogis are traditional Polish filled dumplings. Fillings include pork and onions, cottage cheese, potatoes, cabbage and mushrooms. The dumplings are cooked in boiling water, drained and sometimes sautéed in butter. They are most often served as a side dish. Pierogi dough may also be filled with fruit, then boiled or deep-fried and served as a dessert.

5 cups flour
1/4 lb. butter
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup water
6 egg yolks
3 eggs
pinch salt

Make a mound out of the flour, then make a well in the center.
Place egg yolks and eggs in the center, cutting in the flour with
a knife and adding water and salt. Knead until firm. Cut in three
parts. Roll dough out thinly, then cut circles with a cup. Place
small amount of filling off center on each circle of dough. Fold
over and seal by moistening edge with water and putting pressure
on edges for a firm seal.

Boil a pot of water. Add salt. Drop pierogi into boiling water.
Cook lightly for 5 minutes uskng a low flame. Remove gently with
strainer spoon and brown in butter in frying pan. Serve with sour

Cheese Filling
1 1/2 cups cottage cheese (drained)
1/4 tsp. vanilla
i egg yolk
1 tb. maragarine, melted
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tb. sugar

Drain cottage cheese. Combine ingredients and mix until smooth.
Fill circles of dough with desired amount.

Can also use potatoes, meat, sauerkraut, prunes, mushrooms or
combinations of these to fill pierogi.

The tradition of this Polish hunter's stew goes back centuries, and every ancient Polish manor had a Bigos recipe in its house cookbook. The ingredients were kept in good supply in larders, and the stew was taken on long road journeys and eaten on feast days. While the stew cooked in a huge pot, the hunters drank crystal clear, gold-flecked vodka from Gdansk. It's one of our favorite recipes for venison, a lean meat which has a tendency to dry out when cooked by other methods. Used in Bigos, it becomes tender, juicy, and flavorful. (Serves ten)

8 tablespoons olive oil
2-1/2 pounds venison (or stewing beef or pork), cut in 2-inch pieces
2 onions
4 cloves garlic, crushed
8 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons mild paprika
3 10-1/2 oz. cans of condensed beef broth, plus 3 cans of water
8 ounces smoked ham, cut in large dice
8 ounces smoked sausage, sliced
2 teaspoons marjoram
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Black, white, and red cayenne pepper in equal parts, to taste
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 head white cabbage, chopped
4 apples, cored and chopped
4 carrots, thinly sliced
16 pitted prunes, roughly chopped
6 tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
2/3 cup red wine or Madeira
Pinch sugar

Heat the olive oil in a large oven. Roughly chop the onion, add with the garlic and cook 2-3 minutes. Remove and set aside. Add the venison in four small batches, cooking over high heat to brown. When all the meat is browned, return it to the skillet with the onion and garlic. Sprinkle the flour over the meat, stir in and cook until light brown. Add the paprika and cook 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer everything to a large stock pot, pour on the beef stock gradually and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to simmering and add the smoked meats, herbs, salt, three peppers, and tomato paste. Stir well, cover and cook over low heat for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and add more liquid if necessary during cooking. When the meat is almost tender, add cabbage, apples, carrots, prunes, tomatoes, wine, and sugar. Cook a further 20 minutes, adjust the seasoning and serve immediately.

( More Recipes )
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Illawarra Gluten-Free is a directory of Gluten free products,
stores and online shopping catering to people from the Illawarra.

I started Illawarra Gluten-Free after realising that all the research I was doing on living a gluten free lifestyle and finding locally sourced food and restaurants would be best shared with others in the same plight.

In the past few years I had noticed a significant cause and effect between foods eaten and symptoms labeled as IBS which have now almost disappeared once I cut wheat and gluten out of my diet.  You can read my story about discovering my wheat sensitivity here.

I have provided an index of directories: books, flours, product outlets, recipes etc to get you started.
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