Which Butter is Better

By | Eating for Health | 13 Comments

Before we start this post, please take a minute to look at this video about Country Valley milk and how John Fairley is turning his farm into one large living organism.

Can you guess what the difference between the two types of butter in the photo is? I asked that question on The Food Blog’s facebook page and one of my readers commented that “one has colour added”. Though it made me chuckle a bit, it was a fair comment; since we hardly see butter with such a deep yellow color, one can assume that the butter has somehow been messed with.

In fact, both butters are completely unadulterated and are handmade butters given to me by my favourite butter man, Pepe Saya. The butter on the left is Pepe’s famous cultured butter. The other one is an experiment he did with cream sourced from a commercially available milk. Pepe’s usual milk comes from Country Valley, a local dairy based in Picton. The cream he receives from Country Valley has a rich yellow colour similar to what you see in the photo. However, when Pepe looked at the commercial cream, he saw a pasty-white cream so different from what he was used to seeing from Country Valley. A bit of digging around and the reason for the lack of colour became obvious. As opposed to Country Valley cream which comes from 100% grass-fed cows, the commercial cream comes from grain-fed cows. Grass-fed cream is pigmented by beta-carotene, an anti-oxidant and a pre-cursor for vitamin A. Grain-fed cows get no beta-carotene in their diet (beta-carotene is contained in grass).

To make a fair comparison, Pepe made both butters in the exact same way. He added cultures to the two batches of cream until they became sour, and then churned them into butter. We tried both the cream and the butter, and differences more than just colour were obvious. Where the grass-fed butter tasted complex (I swear you can taste the pasturelands), the grain-fed butter fell flat. There was little flavour, with almost a synthetic taste and an odd mouthfeel.

Grass-fed dairy is far superior to grain-fed dairy. Here’s a list of why I think you should always go for grass-fed dairy:

  1. It tastes better
  2. It’s so much better for health
  3. You will be supporting real farmers, ones interested in the health and sustainability of their land, just like we saw in the video link above.
  4. You will be discouraging feed lots, inhumane practices and mass production
  5. You will be paying more for milk. That sounds like a bad thing, but milk should never cost $1. Real food costs real money and if you buy from farmers markets, more money will be going to the producer.
  6. Cows and other herbivores are fantastic at transforming solar energy into food. The cycle is simple: sun > grass > milk. Grain feeding changes this cycle: Fossil fuels > chemical fertilisers> grains > milk (and arid land). The importance of grass-feeding is paramount to future sustainability and supply of food.
  7. Grass-fed cows are healthier than grain-fed cows. Cows can not digest grains well and it makes them sick.
  8. Sick, grain-fed cows require much more medication and antibiotics which make their way to the milk (and meat).

There are great grass-fed products on the market that you should be going for when choosing your dairy products. I personally buy Country Valley milk. In supermarkets you can find Parmalat unhomogenised organic milk (which the producer has told me is around 95% grass-fed with a 5% supplement of hay and organic, non-genetically modified grain). Do remember that organic does not mean grass-fed since you can still feed cows 100% organic grains and hay and they might never see a blade of grass. Also, I’ve noticed that the Macro organic milk at Woolworth’s contains ultra-heat treated milk, which I personally avoid.

What brand of milk do you buy and why? Can you share what the deciding factor for you when it comes to choosing dairy products is? Can you think of other reasons why grass-feeding is better than grain-feeding? Or do you perhaps you believe grain-feeding is a better alternative? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and let me know.

Five Ideas for Christmas Gifts

By | Christmas | 6 Comments

Any moment now, my wife and I are expecting our second baby. Little Sophie was due on Monday, but like her older sister, she is taking her time and is officially 6 days over due. So for this Christmas, the only gifts I care for is a happy healthy little baby, and an easy delivery.

To those of you who aren’t expecting sleepless nights and are instead having a good old regular Christmas, here are some food-related ideas for Christmas presents. They’re highlights from my year- books that I’ve received and loved, food that I’ve enjoyed and things that I’d like to have but cannot afford – one can only dream…

For full disclosure, please note that both books I mention below were sent to me by the respective publishing houses. I have both bought and received many books throughout the year, and these are my top two picks. I would happily spend my own money on buying them.

Every Grain of Rice

Every Grain of Rice – photo from amazon.com

If you’re after an easy argument for keeping print publications alive, Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice will do the trick nicely. There’s a tactile experience that comes with this book – weight, design and texture – as well as a rich visual experience. I’ve never been to China; its cuisine is one that I find daunting but Dunlop’s recipes are so elegant in their simplicity and so beautifully photographed that they really motivate you to get cooking. Her eggs with tomato recipe has revolutionised my breakfast (and sometimes dinner). This has become one of my all-time favourite recipe books and I recommend it wholeheartedly. I saw Dunlop speak at the Sydney International Food Festival a couple of years back, and her immersion in Chinese cookery is inspirational. You can also follow her blog at http://www.fuchsiadunlop.com and at @fuchsiadunlop. Get the book for $36.34AUD here.

Pepe Saya Butter

Pepe Saya Butter – image from theage.com.au

Pepe Saya butter has probably formed around 30% of my calories over the past year. If you haven’t heard about it, you must be hiding under a rock that’s covered by a couple of other rocks. This European-style cultured butter that is handmade in Sydney by Mr Pierre Issa (Pepe Saya is his alter ego). It is simply one of the best butters I’ve ever had. The cream comes from cows that have been pasture-fed; live culture is then added and the cream is left to sour; this gives the butter depth and character. The flavour of the butter has been different every time I’ve had it, as you would expect from a seasonal, hand-made product. I met Pepe almost a year ago and we found out that we went to the same school in Lebanon. We hit it off immediately and have become really great friends. I was lucky enough to go on an excursion with him to Country Valley, a dairy in Picton where he sources the cream for the butter. There, I got to see the cows grazing on lush grass, outdoors and happy. As far as I’m concerned, only cows that happy and butter-makers as dedicated as Pepe can make butter this awesome. You can find Pepe Saya butter at most quality food stores, as well as several Sydney markets for around $8 for 225 grams. Follow Pepe at @pepesaya.

Japanese Knife from Chef’s Armoury

Saji Ironwood 210mm Gyuto from Chef’s Armoury – image from www.chefsarmoury.com

I often visit the Chef’s Armoury website to day dream about one day having a complete collection of their knives. Everything on that website is an item of beauty. This knife is just one example. Just look at that stunning damascus pattern. These guys are not cheap ($549.95AUD for this one), so maybe putting a dollar away each day is a good strategy for Christmas 2014. If you’re thinking about buying me a Christmas gift, here’s one big hint! Day dream at www.chefsarmoury.com and tweet at @chefsarmoury

Love & Hunger

Love & Hunger

Love & Hunger – photo from loveandhunger.com

I’m a sucker for good narratives, especially when they are food related. Written by Sydney’s own Charlotte Wood, Love & Hunger is my kind of book. Here you have a collection of food-centric, non-fiction short stories from Wood’s life. Wood is neither a celebrity chef nor a winner of a reality TV show; she is a serious writer with several titles to her name, and Love & Hunger is her first book on food. She’s also a normal person who “gets it” and her stories emanate with love and humanity with none of the fake glamour and decorative glorification that food writers usually dedicate to their topic. When I received a review copy of this book, I was unable to read it because my wife was hooked on it (she said that it completely changed her perspective on cooking, for which I am eternally grateful). Of course, I have since read it, and totally recommend this to anyone interested in great story telling as well as good recipes and tricks in the kitchen. Follow Charlotte’s lovely blog here and at @charlotteshucks.

Homemade Macadamia Butter

Roasted Macadamia Butter

I can’t finish this post without talking about gifting food that you can make yourself. Don’t worry, I’ve made this one simple: roasted macadamia butter. This Australian nut is my absolute favourite and to turn it into luscious macadamia butter couldn’t be easier. Roast the nuts at 200 c for 15 minutes, turning every 4 minutes or so to avoid burning them. Let them cool and then put them in a food processor along with some good quality salt. Blitz until the nuts turn into butter, approx 1 minute. Make enough for 2 jars at least: one for you and one for the Christmas tree.

Where to find Sydney’s Best Mexican Food – Travis Harvey at The Essential Ingredient

By | Miscellaneous | One Comment

Sydney’s Mexican scene in no way resembles the real deal, and with our geographic remoteness from Mexico, Australians will probably always struggle to get anything decent at restaurants. Luckily, our best Mexican food does not come from restaurants, but is being cooked by chef Travis Harvey at the Essential Ingredient’s Rozelle cooking school. I have been invited to two of Travis’s cooking classes, and I have been blown away every single time. Travis’ knowledge of Mexican food is encyclopaedic, and I am not one for hyperbole. I get the impression Travis knows more about Mexican food than I know about Lebanese food. Travis has been researching Mexican food for many years. He has spent much time in Mexico where he got the opportunity to learn firsthand all these traditional Mexican recipes he is teaching. And his food is so damned interesting and awesome that I want to be this guy’s best friend.

I’ve learned so much about Mexican food that go far beyond recipes and dishes simply be hearing Travis talk about how the food interplays with the culture. But I’ve also learned about the large variety of chilis used in Mexican cuisine, the variance in their uses and flavour profiles; I’ve learned how to make a real mole in a way that a book could never teach me; I’ve learned about amazing ingredients like an out of this world goat’s milk caramel; how to use a comal to bring the best flavours out of ingredients; how tortilla dough should feel like in order to turn out the good stuff; how boiled and grilled sweet corn with chili and parmesan can rock your world… However, I don’t want this post to be an account of the class itself, because that would be pointless. You have to see it to believe it. I can not encourage you enough to go visit Travis and learn from him. The food is amazing and the class is educational while also being a whole lot of fun (you finish up by eating what you cooked along with some great wine). I promise you, you will want to go back over and over again. Do it! For information on classes at The Essential Ingredient, click here.

Yacon-Sweetened Macadamia & Hazelnut Chocolate Recipe

By | Recipes | 4 Comments


With The Food Blog nearing its seventh year, it’s almost impossible to believe that I have never written a post about chocolate. Having deprived you guys from chocolate recipes, I’m amazed I have a readership at all. I hope this might make up for it, but excuse the health-oriented take on chocolate. Most of you know that I have been off sugar for well over a year now, in an attempt to regain my health. With abstinence from sugar, chocolate consumption declines drastically. I’ve looked for sugar-free/insulin-friendly chocolates, but most of them are made with aspartame (or some other artificial sweetener) or maltitol and emulsified with soy lecithin, and I try to stay away from these things. Of course, there are agave-sweetened chocolates, but health-wise, that stuff is the worst sweetener ever. Agave is higher in fructose than high-fructose corn syrup, and if you want to see why too much fructose is bad, do yourself a favour and listen to this.

My sweetener of choice is xylitol, but when it comes to home-made chocolate, xylitol doesn’t do the trick since it is not fat-soluble (does not dissolve in fat). I’ve found that the best sweetener to use is yacon. Yacon is a sweetener derived from a south-American tuber. The syrup is a sweet-tasting fructooligosaccharide, which is a prebiotic fermentable fiber and seems to have little/no effect on blood sugar (my blood sugars went from 4.3 to 4.8 on one of the tests I did to see if yacon affects me, which is pretty okay). It has a rich, caramel flavour and a buttery mouthfeel, and it also works wonders in chocolate. Now, yacon isn’t cheap (340ml for $22.40AUD from iherb.com), but for special occasions, it’s worth it. I’m a huge fan of hazelnuts and chocolate, and macadamia is by far my favourite nut, so to make my home-made chocolate a bit more of a treat, a few handfuls of roasted hazelnuts and Australian macadamias are perfect. One last thing. I recently bought a Thermomix and have used it to make the chocolate at home. The recipe below is a Thermomix recipe based on Quirky Cooking’s recipe (thanks Jo) but can easily be adapted if you don’t have a Thermomix. My guess is that you can melt the cacoa butter in a bain-marie, making sure the temperature doesn’t go over 50degrees C.

Yacon-Sweetened Macadamia & Hazelnut Chocolate Recipe


  •  100 grams cacoa butter, chopped in small pieces (I bought mine here)
  • 35 grams cocoa powder (I bought mine here)
  • 70 grams yacon (or 40 grams yacon and 30 grams xylitol. The yacon will allow the xylitol to melt through)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla syrup (the real stuff)
  • 1/3 cup roasted hazelnuts
  • 1/3 cup roasted macadamia (or raw, if you prefer)


  1. Line a banana bread tin with baking paper
  2. Evenly distribute the macadamias and hazelnuts inside
  3. Melt cocoa butter in Thermomix on speed 1 at 50c for 6 minutes. Make sure it’s all melted.
  4. Add cocoa powder and mix on speed 5 at 50c for 3 minutes
  5. Add yacon (and xylitol if using), salt and vanilla syrup and mix on speed 5 at 50c for 3 minutes
  6. Pour over the nuts
  7. Refrigerate overnight. You can eat it as soon as it sets, but it will have a lower melting point and will feel as though it is melting instantly on your fingers.

Makes 1 large chocolate bar

Easy Braised Pork Ribs Recipe

By | Recipes | 6 Comments

There is hardly a cut of pork that suits this style of cooking as well as ribs do. Within 2 hours of cooking, what starts off as tough pork ribs boiling away in a thin soup ends up being a brilliantly tender braise with a thick, sweet sauce. Really, with soy, mirin (sweet cooking sake), garlic and ginger, you can’t go wrong. Start off by browning 1.5 kilos of pork ribs in a heavy cast iron pot. I used leftover lard for the browning and browned the meat in 2 batches. Tip off any rendered fat, add 100 ml of soy sauce (I used gluten-free tamari), 100 ml of mirin, 400ml pork of beef stock, 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic, 5 star anise (optional) and 2 tablespoons of grated ginger. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a gentle simmer and cover for 2.5 hours. You are looking for the pork to be falling from the bone and for the sauce to have thickened. If the pork is still not tender enough and the sauce already looks too thick, add a little water and cook covered until the pork is done. If the opposite happens and the pork is already done while the sauce is too thin, uncover the pot and take the heat up, stirring often until the sauce thickens. Stir the pork to glaze it with the sauce. I ate this dish as is, with no accompaniment, since I rarely eat grains; but for those of you who do, rice would go perfectly well.

How to get the best out of your sauerkraut

By | Recipes | 10 Comments

Some fantastic news for those of you who are fans of sauerkraut: my experiment with vacuum bag sauerkraut was a success! Forget all about those recipes that call for jars and sauerkraut pressing. Vacuum bag sauerkraut is a set and forget method: shred some cabbage, salt it, put it in a vacuum bag and vacuum seal it. Two or three weeks later, and the kraut is made! And once you do make it, there’s no turning back to store-bought sauerkraut. Let me know if you decide to make sauerkraut and how it turned out.

For many, the flavour of sauerkraut is a bit too much like vinegar and is off-putting. I happen to like vinegar and therefore sauerkraut, but I also like a bit of variety, so I’ve come up with a recipe to turn my sauerkraut into a delicious salad. Drain some sauerkraut and dress it with olive oil, a few drops of sesame seed oil and sprinkle it with isot pepper (or any chili you like) and sesame seeds. This sauerkraut salad is the bomb. I like eating it on its own but it goes brilliantly with roasted meats.