Culinary Christmas Gifts

Published 18th December 2010

I finally got my hands on the finished cookbook ‘Tropical Cuisine – Cooking in Clare’s Kitchen’ when it was launched recently, and what an achievement it is. Clare Richards has done an amazing job of compiling 250 luscious recipes using the most common and the most obscure foods of this region in a 300 page cookbook with stunning images and a great reference A-Z of tropical product. This is a cookbook that every discerning chef in Queensland …and Australia should have on their reference shelf. What a great gift for Christmas.

On the subject of Christmas, you can’t go wrong with a gift of food and wine. It’s something that appeals to everyone and perfect for that person who has everything. To indulge in the decadence of beautiful chocolates, premium sweets, rich fruitcake, sauces and other luxurious foods that you may not normally buy yourself, is a delight when received as a present. Giving a hamper of foods that are specifically from this region adds to the experience.

I recently attended the Club Relish evening at The Edge Food Store, where a wonderful range of beautifully packaged Christmas foods were on show. There is a great selection of local and Australian food gift ideas in all price ranges to choose from and you can buy a ready-made hamper or select your own items and they will gift wrap it.

Mangoes and other tropical fruits are well known to us but to family and friends in southern states, receiving a box at Christmas time has a real Wow Factor. (But check for quarantine regulations first).

Whether you consider a book, a box of mangoes, a beautifully wrapped hamper or a number of food items and make up your own gift or stuff into a stocking, you can be sure you will please the lucky person who receives it.

Soils ain't Soils

Published 11th December 2010

Last week over 140 local people turned out on a Sunday evening to listen to a public talk by Joel Salatin of PolyFace Farms in Virginia, USA. His introduction was by the hilarious, very passionate, and hirsute Costa of Costa's Gardening Odyssey who always enjoys coming to this region to learn more about gardening and regenerative agriculture.

Joel’s Poly Face Farm is a small property with an array of animals and food crops that symbiotically produce a richness of food products in a diversified system that is profitable. He calls himself a ‘beyond’ organic farmer as he is not ‘certified’ organic but uses a holistic farming methodology that enriches the soil with compost, natural manure and earthworms and without chemicals or pesticides. Using portable electric fences the animals are moved around the property is succession in what Joel calls a ‘salad bar’ of rich pasture that offers landscape healing and greater nutritional food.

Joel works on the transparency theory; he doesn’t have to have a certificate to tell people about his farming methods, you can visit anytime to see what and how he does it. He sells produce to only people within a radius of his community and doesn’t need the ‘big guys’. His product sells through ‘word of mouth’ and he doesn’t have a marketing plan or an advertising budget for his product…and if sales are down, he can’t blame his budget, he looks within!

He talked about how the price of food has escalated due to the many regulations and control and was amused at the governments concern for safety in not allowing a more nutritional raw milk, yet its okay to feed your kids on multinational brand burgers, sweet chocolate breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks.

Joel is a world-leading example of how a small family farm can become an extremely diverse and profitable Local Food producer, and how the benefits of Local Food Systems can create resilience, stability and abundance for both local farmers and the wider community.

Joel’s parting words were ‘The food we eat is as good as the soil it is grown in or the pasture it is fed on and as good as the farmer who is the custodian of the land’. Eat well!

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Save our Honey

Published 4th December 2010

Since ‘on the go’ breakfast products have bypassed the breakfast table, the art of smearing honey across a slice of crunchy toast or swirling it on your cereal has shown a bit of a slump. Honey is now also competing with other new highly marketed sugary spreads available. Yet there are great health benefits in bringing honey back to the breakfast table, such as its low Glycaemic Index or GI. (The lower a food’s GI rating, the slower you absorb and digest it, which means a more gradual and healthier infusion of sugars into their bloodstream and helps keep ‘hunger pains’ away for longer).

New Zealand’s Manuka (the NZ name for tea tree) honey is famous for its anti-bacterial power and Tetsuya raves about the Leatherwood honey from Tasmania and South Western Australia where many of the trees don’t blossom till more than 70 years old.

Here in Tropical North Queensland there are a number of apiarist manufacturing honey with very distinct tropical flavours. If bees have access to where a particular blossom predominates, they produce honey with a flavour and colour typical of that plant. Our tropical honey tends to be dark amber in colour with wonderful flavours of red mahogany, Molloy box, grey box, rainforest, macadamia, mango, guava and a number of other exotic blossoms that are unique to this region.

Where larger honey manufacturers blend honey from many apiarists, local honey is often pure honey from one hive. The honey is also most likely to have had less process treatment of preservatives or heat searing so the nutrition and flavour is in its purest form.

However we have one threat to our honey industry that first appeared inside a mast of a yacht here in Cairns in 2007 and that is the Asian honeybee. These aggressive little bees compete with our European honeybees for local flora. They rob honey from hives, which may cause hives to die, but most importantly Asian honeybees are a natural host for mites and other unwanted bee pests and diseases, a major threat to Australia's honeybee industry.

The Asian honeybee has been found nesting in tree hollows, under the eaves of houses, in the recess under the floor of houses, in letterboxes, in a cable reel, and in various other urban locations. It is smaller than European honeybee at approx. 10 mm long, flies fast and erratically, is less hairy than the European honeybee and has distinct yellow and black stripes on the abdomen. So look out for this little blighter and call Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 to help save our local honey.

A Future for our Agri-Food Industry

Published 20th November 2010

There was a time where agriculture was the key industry in this region. That's when sugar prices were sweet, tobacco was a cash crop, locally caught fish & chips was the best ‘fast food’, we lapped up the rich milk from our own Tablelands dairy and eating a mango was considered an exotic luxury.

Now the farmer has to contend with being a ‘price taker’ in a market that often doesn’t reach break-even point, the fisher competes with cheap (and sometimes questionable) imported seafood, the dairy farmer is selling out and the exotic fruit farmer is ploughing in his trees.

If all this hasn't sent their motivation into a state on inertia, the amount of red tape and regulations has. So what is the future for our farmers and fishers in a region that is blessed with fabulous soil and clean waters and an abundance of rainfall? It should be the food bowl of the nation?

Last week I attended an Agri-food tourism field day and Food Industry forum held in the Cassowary and Tablelands areas. These four well attended workshops proved that the farmer is interested in the future of the industry.

The field day looked at opportunities to diversify their farming product in a number of ways that included linkages into tourism. Whether it’s selling local food at local farmers markets, processing their product, finding a supply chain to local retail & food services, or opening their property for visitation, these farmers were positively encouraged to take the next step; a series of workshops of mentoring their way through a maze of related business development skills.

The forums were about bringing the industry together; development of a local food supply chain that brings regional produce into the Cairns area, to retailers and restaurants, and developing an accreditation framework that links to the new regional food brand; Taste Paradise.

The sessions provided a great discussion lead by Rose Wright from the Southern Cross University. This lady knows her stuff when working along the supply chain from farmers to the consumer but also works on a political level of compliance support and regulatory reform to address the impediments placed on agribusiness entrepreneurs.

At the end of the forum it was exciting to see a very positive response from farmers, and it goes without saying the more who embrace this framework, the better chance of success. Rose’s work will continue in the region over the next six months.

Good Food & Wine Show

Published 13th November 2010

Last weekend was action packed in Brisbane with Lenard Cohen, James Galway, Valentino Retrospect, and of course the Good Food & Wine Show.

With the consumer clearly in mind the Good Food & Wine Show attracted a crowd well in excess of 20,000 people over three days. Many of them; seasoned attendees armed with their shopper trolley ready to ‘buy up big’ at the special prices of a host of gourmet products and wines from across Australia.

With over 300 exhibitors you could taste cheeses, salamis, sauces, ice-cream, coffee, pasta, health snacks, to name a few, and scoop up some lovely gourmet Christmas presents. This year wines from the Barossa, McLaren, and Margaret River joined a large selection of Queensland wines that were of particular appeal in the late afternoon.

There were hands-on cooking, wine and coffee classes but the star attraction was in the 500 seat celebrity theatre where chefs Gary Mehigan and George Colombaris, Matt Moran, Jane Purcell, and Manu Fieldel applied their skills and with a great sense of humour. Matt Moran was particularly entertaining as he butchered a lamb carcass to show the audience that you don’t have to rely on the most expensive cuts of meat. After Good Food & Wine Shows in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, the celeb chefs have developed a fun repartee between themselves. Having his Aria restaurant in Brisbane, Matt received plenty of flack from the Gary and George about the expense of his menu but also a number of referred invitations to free dinners at his restaurant.

The Queensland Government display hosted 26 food and wine exhibitors from 10 different regions of the State and for the first time our own Taste Paradise regional brand showcased 15 packaged foods of Tropical North Queensland.

This annual event is growing in popularity each year and is worth a visit.

Tempura Bugs - Green Papaya Salad - Sweet Chillie Lemon Myrtle Dipping Sauce

Serves 4 entrée’s
Recipe by: Craig Squire, Ochre Restaurant, 43 Shields St Cairns. “Simple quality local ingredients providing a fresh and lively flavor perfect for the tropics”.

8 pieces of green bug meat
8 fresh lemongrass skewers
‘Red Ochre’ Sweet chilli lemon myrtle dipping sauce
Tempura batter
oil for deep frying

1 small green papaya, peeled, cut into long matchsticks
50g green beans cut into 1-inch pieces
40g unsalted roasted macadamias
½ red onion – sliced
12 cherry tomato’s - halved
10 gms mint – chopped
10 gms coriander - chopped

2 fresh small whole green chilli’s – finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
60 ml fresh lime juice
60 gm palm sugar- grated
60 ml fish sauce
30 ml Rainforest Bounty ‘Jeowbong’
1 tsp sea salt

Mix all ingredients


Cut lemongrass sticks on an angle at the point where the stem starts to branch
Skewer 2 pieces of Bug meat onto each stick of lemongrass
Prepare batter according to instructions
Heat oil to 180 c
Dip bug skewers in batter and fry to golden and cooked thru.
Mix salad with dressingAssemble papaya salad on plate, place skewers across, and serve with dipping sauce.

For this recipe Craig uses local products from NQ Prawn Cutlets, Cairns Produce, Rainforest Bounty, Rusty’s marketRed Ochre retail products, Asian Foods, and Wondaree macadamias.

Taste Paradise Signature Dish

Published 6th November 2010

When you think of a dish that represents the wonderful flavours of this region, seafood tend to come to mind as the star ingredient. Well that's what 22 chefs thought when asked to produce a regional dish for the inaugural Taste Paradise Signature Dish competition. The public have made their choice by voting on-line and the two highest scored dishes will compete against another two finalist chosen by a panel of judges.

With the public voting closed, it was the restaurants from far and wide that gained the most votes with dishes from Cedar Park Resort at Speewah coming in at sixth position, Restaurant 1770 in Cooktown came fifth, Eden House Restaurant at Yungaburra was fourth, and Emerald Restaurant at Green Island, voted third highest by the public.

The two highest public voted dishes; ‘Tropical pan seared Tuna salad laced with a Mango vinaigrette’ by Chriso the Personal Chef’s won top position, followed by ‘Julaymba Journey’ from Julaymba Restaurant at Daintree Eco-Lodge in second place.

Whist the public tended to vote for the dish from their favourite restaurant, a panel of six judges have now voted on another two dish, for their innovative use of local produce.

Mayor Val Shier of Cairns Regional Council, Ross Contarino of Advance Cairns, Jeff Gillies of Tourism Queensland, & Dale Flack of TTNQ, plus two highly professional chef judges; Patrick Biddlecombe, La Chaines des Rotisseur, and Brian Down, Australian Culinary Federation, cast their votes this week.

The Judges chose two finalists; the ‘Tempura bugs, green papaya salad, sweet chilli lemon myrtle dipping sauce’ from Ochre Restaurant and the ‘Tier of mud crab, mango and avocado’ from Kewarra Beach Resort.

Next Saturday starting at 10am at The Farmgate Markets at The Pier, the four finalists will cook off their dish in front of the public and the judging panel to find the winner of the Taste Paradise Signature Dish.

The winner of the competition will receive a trophy as well as a tourism marketing package that will promote their business throughout the next 12 months.So come along next Saturday to see who takes out the trophy.

Special Dietary Menus

Published 30th October 2010

The number of food allergies seems to be growing rapidly in our society and gluten free diets are becoming more popular even to those who don’t suffer Coeliac Disease. At Chelsea Clinton’s (that's Bill & Hillary’s daughter) recent wedding, her gluten free wedding cake made headlines across the nation and bought attention to this dilemma.

Restaurants and caterers are finding there are more requests for special dietary requirements and after a request I made to many of the local restaurants in Tropical North Queensland, it seems most of them are geared to cater for the usual gluten free, lactose free, vegetarian and vegan diets. Many of the restaurants have icons beside the items on their menus or denotations that offers any special dietary dishes.

Whist I sometimes wonder if we are all getting too much gluten in our diets, there are other allergies to foods such as shellfish, nuts, eggs, even fruit, meat and vegetables that can have life threatening effects to some. Anaphylaxis is an issue that restaurants must take seriously. It is too big a responsibility for any waiters to ensure the food from the menu is completely free of the allergic ingredient.

When a guest asks for a special diet, there are two reasons why it is important for wait staff to notify the head chef on duty. 1. The chef will ensure there is no mistake, 2. The guest feels confident their request is being taken seriously. It maybe that the waiter returns from the kitchen with menu suggestions, but best of all is when the chef takes the time to come out of the kitchen and speak directly to the guest.

Functions can be tricky, with agency staff serving canapés. They can be unfamiliar with all the ingredients and not aware of the seriousness of an anaphylaxis. At a cocktail reception I witnessed a good friend of mine suffer before me, an anaphylactic shock from food after she was told there was no seafood in the canapé.

Most of our best restaurants and caterers are geared for special dietary requirements, but as a guest, it is always good to let them know when making a booking at a restaurant or accepting an invitation to a catered function; that you will require a special menu.

Tablelands is really Tasty

Published 23rd October 2010

Nothing brings people together better than food, and what an enjoyable day it was at last weekend’s “Tastes of the Tablelands”? It exceeded my expectations of being one of the best food events in the region and I take my hat off to the organisers and volunteers who made it so. Every year this event gets bigger and better and with 53 stalls, a chef’s cooking competition, ice-carving demonstration and some great community performers, there was something for every one of the 5,000+ people who attended. ..and spending an hour or so on the gate I found there was a good mixture of people from the Tablelands and Cairns region and a surprising number of visiting tourists.

Of course my special interest was with the food growers and producers who displayed, offered tastings and sales of what the Tablelands region has to offer. Local coffee, waters, Indigenous sauces, jams and preserves, fruit wines, ice-cream, Italian nougat and biscuits, spices, fruits and vegetables, dried fruits dipped in chocolate, honey, macadamia’s and peanuts, the list goes on. It was all there – if not sold out. The stall holders all did well on the day.

One stall that caught my attention had books and a display of wonderful food photography from world famous photographer William Yang who was born in Dimbulah. These photos were part of a 2006 exhibition that documented the many cultures of Dimbulah families through their food.

The success of the photographic exhibition led some energetic community members to produce the book that celebrates their artisan foods from their ethnic origins. Aptly named ‘Our Celebration – Stories behind the Food’ the book takes you into the homes and kitchens of the community to expose the richness of their cultural food traditions from Spain, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Philippines, as well as indigenous Australia. Looking like they had been designed, photographed and beautifully produced in Melbourne and not our sleepy little farming community of Dimbulah, I just had to buy a book which was well priced at $30.00.

This event organized by the Rotary Club of Atherton truly shows great community spirit and the amalgamation of all the regions of the Tablelands area. I’ll be sure to be there next year.

Taste of the Tablelands

Published 16th October 2010

One of the best food festivals of the region is the “Tastes of the Tablelands” and it’s on again tomorrow (Sunday 17th October) from 10am – 4pm. This Festival won an Australia Day Award for the best community Event in the Tableland region in 2008, an award the Rotary Club of Atherton is very proud of. Last year 4,000 people attended the festival and this year the numbers are expected to increase significantly.

This great community event is held in the serene grounds of the Chinese Temple on Herberton Road, Atherton, and will once again be a showcase of the very best that the Tablelands has to offer. The day will be filled with cooking demonstrations, music, entertainment, a fashion parade, a vintage car & motorbike display, ice carving displays and children’s activities. The Chinese Temple Museum and the Art Gallery will also be open. All funds raised on the day will go towards community projects organized by the Rotary Club of Atherton.

Just over an hour drive via the Gillies Highway or ninety minutes via Kuranda, it makes for a lovely day out on the Tablelands. Do the circuit and take in some of the other attractions of the region. If you need a caffeine fix, the Mareeba area is ‘Coffee Central’. Drop in to Tichum Creek Coffee, Jacques Coffee or The Coffee works, or meander out to Skybury or Maloberti’s on the Dimbulah Road.

Other stops along the way are Mt Uncle Distillery at Walkamin, The Peanut Place and The Humpy at Tolga and around Atherton you have Gallos Dairyland for a snack, cheese or chocolates. Between Mareeba and Kuranda there is de Brueys Boutique Winery and Emerald Creek Ice-creamery.