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Inspiring People – Ella Hooper

Articles September 30, 2015

You’ve been in the music industry for almost 20 years now and yet you’re still so young. What inspired you to start your journey with music? Do you have any particular moments of inspiration throughout your career that you would like to share?

I admired my parents’ record collection from a very young age, and I guess I wanted to be in it! Also as my older brother was quite talented at playing violin and guitar I wanted to copy him… I mean join in! I think I really got my ambition on after primary school when we started playing together as a duo at fetes and local things. The positive reaction gave me the hunger to chase that dream of getting in the record collection.

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Getting into the Christmas Spirit!

Articles December 15, 2013

Christmas is undoubtedly one of my favourite times of the year. I love all the decorations, the Christmas shopping, the shiny decorations and, of course, the Christmas baking! So getting into the festive season, I thought I would share some of my fave Christmas recipes with you.

Christmas truffles

I look forward to these Christmas truffles every year and I find that, if you’re not the type of person that enjoys Christmas cake, you may enjoy these! The melted chocolate mixed in with the fruit cake really gives a wonderful chocolatey flavour that takes away from the intense fruity-ness that some people dislike about Christmas cake. Give it a try at least once and see how you go if you aren’t the Christmas cake type, and if you’re still not convinced, I guarantee they will be gobbled up by others if it doesn’t take your fancy!

Flourless Christmas brownies

These gluten-free Christmas brownies are a great option for your gluten-free Christmas guests, but are also an incredibly dense, moist and chocolatey brownie that is very simple to make which everyone can enjoy. You can leave off the fondant topping if you want but I love the snowy white topping because it makes me feel extra Christmassy!


I love getting into the decorating spirit, especially with gingerbread. This is also a great activity to do with kids (but I am an adult and maintain this is also an extremely enjoyable activity ;)).

Last-minute Christmas gift ideas

If you’re still stuck for ideas for those hard-to-buy-for people, check out my handy list of 100+ budget Christmas gift ideas for the foodie (or non-foodie) in your life!

I’m looking forward to adding more Christmas recipes and ideas to this list!

Hope you are all having a stress-free, relaxing Christmas with friends and family.

Merry Christmas!


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Interview with a Pastry Chef: Anna Polyviou

Articles September 10, 2013

Some of you may remember not too long ago I interviewed Matthew McCool, head chef of Altitude Restaurant of the Shangri La. I found it very interesting to have a glimpse of what it’s like to work professionally with one of my great passions – food. So when the opportunity to interview the incredibly talented Anna Polyviou, Executive Pastry Chef at the Shangri-La in Sydney, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity!

As many bloggers do, I absolutely love baking – especially baking sweet treats. While I’m not sure if I would suit the pastry chef occupation, I do know of some friends who are interested in breaking into that field. I mean who could blame them – creating sweet treats that everyone loves definitely seems like a dream job!

So, let’s dive into the world of pastry with the legend herself – Anna Polyviou!

Anna Polyviou – Executive Pastry Chef at Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney

Tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming the pastry chef you are today. Would love to hear about what inspired you to choose this profession and any favourite childhood memories you have about baking!
I kick-started my career in cooking at Hotel Sofitel Melbourne, where my only interest were the flashing lights at clubs; dancing and having fun. Then I was asked to enter a competition in pastry because the team of four required a pastry chef and they needed an apprentice. I was a kitchen chef and had no idea about cooking anything sweet. So I trained so I wouldn’t let my team down and the more I got involved in pastry, the more I loved it. Things turned around and I found my love for pastry!

I stayed at Sofitel and finished my apprenticeship. I was then awarded the title of best apprentice in the Hotel, which led to winning the Les Toque competition for best apprentice within Victoria which got me a scholarship to London. There, I worked at Claridges hotel in London along with doing University in Culinary Arts in pastry. I won gold in different culinary competitions and won best dessert in the UK which gave me an opportunity to go work in Paris with Pierre Herme. I then returned to Australia and did another competition for best plated chocolate dessert, won that and got a trip to Chicago to do training. I was at Bathers Pavilion for five years as the pastry chef there, which was a great stage of my career. I’ve been involved in cookbooks, judging, writing for magazines and I am also the founder of the Sydney Pastry Club.

I love how food brings people together along with emotions that flow within the room after eating and tasting different items. During my childhood, my family was forever cooking and the aromas that traveled within the house are indescribable. We have such great memories.

Do you have any pastry chef heroes?
My friends within the industry are my heroes. I admire the people I know because I have seen their work and their passion firsthand. I admire Kirsten Tibballs and have seen her build her business from the bottom up, even Adriano Zumbo from the small shop till now. I’ve seen friends on TV and the way they make an impact on the foodie industry. Julie Sharpe is my HERO, because when no one believed in me or wanted to give me a chance, she did.

Tell us a little about your favourite dessert!
I have a huge problem (in a good way) with custard desserts and also ice-cream. I’m starting to think I have an addiction with ice-cream with chunky bits and caramel flavored products. I like creating complicated desserts but I love eating simple- especially home baked goods.

Do you have any guilty pleasure baking reality TV shows that you like to watch?
I love watching anything on television that involves food, especially when it’s my friends doing the cooking. I get very proud of them and love to brag on their behalf to anyone who will listen.

What’s your favourite kitchen utensil?
I love the KitchenAid ProLine stand mixer. Mine is candy apple red! It’s 6.9litres litres with all the attachments. It looks sexy and works amazing, I take it everywhere; from demos at Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney to my friend’s houses when I go over to cook for them.

What is the most difficult ingredient you’ve ever had to work with?
I really struggle creating desserts with grapes and melons along with different Asian ingredients such as Green Tea/mocha because if you infuse it too much or under infuse, you don’t get the flavour you want. I’m willing to play around with melons and grapes a bit more, it just takes practice.

How about a favourite ingredient to work with?
Vanilla for sure, especially Heilala vanilla. It’s vanilla from Tonga and the money goes back into the community and supporting the local people. This product comes in extracts, syrups, organic sugar, paste and my most favourite is the vanilla beans. It’s a natural product that can complement any dish.

What tips could you give our readers that are interested in becoming a pastry chef and breaking into the industry?
I’d say take your time to learn instead of trying to be a superstar right away. If you can, work in places where you can learn from people that share the same interests as you. Most importantly – stay humble and be respectful to people and to yourself.

Best perk of the job?
The main perks for me is that I get to do my hobby every day and am able to influence someone’s emotions. I love getting people excited about what I create. I also get to travel a bit overseas and do fun things like recipe development for cookbooks.

Any tips for us at-home bakers?
My tips for home bakers is to invite me over so I can eat what they have created and they can teach me! My favourite baked goods are created at home. Make sure to:

• Pass on the knowledge and passion

• Use good quality food ingredients

• And most importantly – use Australian seasonal produce and fruit.


Finally, Anna has shared one of her wonderful recipes with us for her “Passion-ate about Yellow”. Thank you to Anna for sharing such a beautiful recipe!

Passion-ate about Yellow

Passionfruit Posset
500ml cream
200gm caster sugar
60ml passionfruit juice

In a medium to large pot bring the cream and sugar to the boil.
Once there boil for 4 minutes.
After the 4 minutes are up whisk in the passionfruit juice and bring to the boil again and boil for 4 minutes.
Take off the heat and fill moulds or glasses.

Pineapple and Champagne Jelly
175gm pineapple puree
110ml water
50gm sugar
10gm gelatine, softened
100ml Champagne

Bring the puree, sugar and water to the boil and whisk in the soften gelatine.
Strain and allow to cool, stir in champagne.

Ginger Microwave sponge
100gm Eggs
5gm Egg Yolk
40gm Caster Sugar
50gm White Chocolate, melted
10gm Plain Flour 12%, sifted
5gm Ground Ginger

In an electric mixer bowl whisk the eggs, yolk and sugar until light and fluffy.
When ready add the chocolate in on a medium heat but only just combine.
Take off and fold in the flour and ginger.
Make a small slice at the bottom of a paper cup and fill half way with the sponge mix.
Place into the microwave and cook for 40 seconds it may need another 10 seconds.
Cut down the side of the cup with scissors to remove the sponge and reserve until needed.

Mango and Passionfruit Sorbet
400ml Water
70gm Glucose
10gm Stabilizer
350gm Sugar
500gm Mango Puree
350ml Passionfruit juice

Mix the sugar and stabilizer place in a saucepot and add the glucose and water.
Bring to the boil and once there, pour over the puree and juice.
Strain and allow to cool.
(If you don’t have the ice-cream machine I highly recommend pure gelato to use mango sorbet is light fresh and very tasty).



I also had the chance to visit the Shangri-La to sample Anna’s high tea that is on at the Shangri-La at the moment (and also got a sneak peek into Anna’s magical kitchen!) and will be posting about this on the blog very soon – watch this space!

Thanks to Jessica Somers-Haggie for helping to arrange this interview with Anna.

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Auburn Botanic Gardens Cherry Blossom Festival

Articles August 18, 2013

I will admit – I am a self-confessed cherry blossom addict. 

I was fortunate enough to visit Japan during sakura season and absolutely fell in love with them! Sadly they are very fickle and last for only 2 weeks of the year and although I matched my travel plans to the prior year’s cherry blossom dates, they opened 1 week earlier than normal, so make sure you’re aware of this if planning a visit during spring! 

While I did still see several lovely cherry blossom trees, they were sadly not as impressive as they normally are at their peak.

You can imagine how excited I was to hear that Auburn Botanic Gardens’ holds an annual Cherry Blossom festival for two weeks every year (and you don’t even need to jump on a plane if you’re in Sydney!). People are welcome to bring picnics or enjoy the food stalls available and experience hanami (Japanese sakura picnicking) Sydney style!

Everyone enjoying the beautiful blossoms.

The reflection pool.

Majestic peacocks chilling out.

Turkish Gozleme stand.

Japanese stand selling sushi, teriyaki chicken wings and takoyaki.

We were very lucky to have such beautiful, sunny weather. I really enjoyed seeing the beautiful masses of blossoms and definitely think it’s worthwhile visiting if you’re a sakura fan. Bring your camera so you can take plenty of snaps of the beautiful blossoms while in bloom, typical Japanese style!

The Auburn Botanic Gardens Cherry Blossom Festival is running again this coming weekend on Saturday 24th August and Sunday 25th August. You can read more information about the festival on the Auburn Council website by clicking here. A free shuttle bus is running from the train station to the gardens but there is also street parking available nearby. Cost is a $5 entry per adult (children and Auburn residents free).

Hope you had a lovely weekend!

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Singapore Must Sees

Articles May 27, 2013

I absolutely loved Singapore. Our recent three day trip was jam-packed full of sightseeing, photographing and, of course, eating! While I initially planned on writing separate posts for all of the fun activities and things we ate (a bit ambitious, I think!) I decided instead to compress all the best things of our Singapore trip into one condensed post.

So, without any further ado, I present:

Cooking Crusade’s Must Do, See and Eat in Singapore

I was off dairy products while in Singapore and I have to say… being lactose intolerant in Singapore seriously rocks. Check out their amazing range of dairy free desserts! I wish we had even half of these in Sydney.

Check out this incredible range of dairy free ice-creams. With flavours like mocha almond fudge, chocolate fudge brownie and butter pecan, I was totally in love! Sadly I never got to try any because, well there were just too many other delicious things that got in the way! I have seen some of these ice-creams being sold at Vegan’s Choice Grocery in Newtown though, so I would definitely love to give these a try! We also discovered a massive wall of dairy-free milks at a supermarket with milks that I’ve never seen before, like quinoa milk, hazelnut milk as well as a huge range of flavoured soy and rice milks. Their range for regular soy/rice/etc. milks was also much larger than anything I’ve ever seen in Sydney! It was a non-dairy milk drinker’s dream come true!

This amazing shop called “Mr Bean” makes being dairy intolerant a total dream. How amazing do all of these desserts sound?!

Kindly sign me up for one of each.

Not to mention the heart-stoppingly cheap prices. (By the way, SGD is slightly less than the AUD, so a $2 drink would cost about $1.60 AUD. CRAZY cheap!)

Hot “Classic Bean Curd” from Mr Bean with a sweet syrup. 

Another thing I loved about Singapore was randomly finding a huge building stuffed with Filipino restaurants. Sadly I discovered this post-lunch but I could still appreciate it’s awesomeness.

This is the stuff my dreams are made of. 

Cute Asian bakeries pretty much everywhere.

Hainanese chicken. Of course! (More on this coming to the blog soon!)

Amazing drinks, everywhere.

Falling in love with new desserts (above, durian chendol). It was so good I had it twice in one day!

Beautiful flowers, pretty much everywhere. Ain’t nothing can’t grow in that heat!

The novelty of seeing a boat on top of three towers. (Marina Bay Sands Hotel.)

The epic view on top of said boat above, especially at night.

And finally, even the airport at Singapore (Changi) is amazing. It’s consistently rated the best airport in the world (e.g. see here and here).

Not only do they have a free 24 hour movie theatre, they also have free wifi throughout the airport, a million free internet terminals, a butterfly garden, a koi pond, free phone charging terminals, free foot massages, a pool (entrance requires a small admission fee), free bus tours of Singapore (yes, seriously!) and heck, their website even has a list of suggested activities, depending on how long your layover at the airport is!

A butterfly garden! At the airport!

These are great if your phone battery’s running low at the airport (which of course I always am!) You attach your phone to the cable inside, lock it in the mini locker and then come back after a spot of shopping or a snack to a fully charged phone. Pretty useful for layovers, although I must admit I was scared of accidentally leaving my phone behind!

Have you been to Singapore? What were some of your favourite things to do there?


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Meat Storage Safety

Articles February 11, 2013

While I have been trying to cut down on my meat consumption lately, I still do enjoy making a few of my fave meat dishes at home each week. In an effort to save time and money, I have also been attempting to plan all my meals in advance, so I only need to go food shopping one or two times a week as necessary. Planning my meals in advance usually means they’ll be a bit healthier as well, as it cuts down on the last minute takeaways I end up buying when I haven’t organised myself properly. Planning and shopping in this way takes a bit of time but I reckon it’s so worth it – and I’ve definitely noticed a reduction in the amount of money I’ll spend on food weekly. I’m saving like a crazy lady for my trip to Singapore/Japan in just under two months and this is definitely giving me a helping hand!

One thing that has kind of been a bit of a dent in my planning at the moment is how long to store meat in the fridge. Since I don’t like going to the shops more than a week – I often struggle with how long I should be keeping fresh, uncooked meat in the fridge and Google hasn’t been a big help.

From my high school years, our food-tech teacher put the fear of God in her students in regards to cooking chicken safely. We watched several videos on the evils of salmonella and about how important it is to defrost your chicken or store raw chicken before cooking. However I didn’t really learn much about how *long* we should be keeping things and when I want to plan to cook specific recipes and buy ahead of time, its a bit difficult to know when to use up the meat, or how long it should be staying in the fridge before bacteria develops and is no longer safe to eat.

Prior to this, I kind of tried to keep to a 2-3 day rule to raw meat in the fridge, or to whatever end-dates were listed on packaged meat I would buy from Coles, etc. to help guide me. However this year I’ve resolved to buy more of my produce from better markets (i.e. Harris Farm Markets) rather than Coles as it seems that the fruit, veg and meat is not only cheaper from there, but also a great deal better in quality and freshness and have thus reduced my visits to regular supermarkets as of late – which means no more clearly labeled meat products.

On a recent visit to Harris Farm Markets butcher, I asked the butcher who served me for some tips on how long I could keep fresh meat at home in the fridge. What he told me I found quite surprising.

He advised that:

  • You should only store fresh meat for just 1 day in the fridge before you plan to cook it. If you intend to cook your meat longer than this, you should put it in the freezer as soon as you get home.
  • If you are planning to store your meat in the fridge for that one day, it needs to be removed from the plastic from the store and placed on a plate and covered with foil, rather than plastic (I’m not sure why he mentioned foil rather than plastic – do you know why this is? I assumed it would be cling wrap, but he corrected me by saying that you should use foil instead). If you intend to freeze your meat straight away, it is fine however to keep it in the plastic it came in.

Here I had some lovely beef ribs to be cooked the next day, so I removed them from the plastic, popped them on a plate, covered them with foil and put them in the fridge.

The butcher also said that the reasoning for keeping the meat in your fridge for only one day is because conventional home fridges do not run as cold as professional butcher’s fridges. Butchers’ usually run their fridges from 0-1 degrees, which allows them to keep the meat for much longer than 1 day. But in order to keep your meat free from bacteria at home, it only really can safely last for about 1 day in conventional fridges. When I asked if the one-day rule applies to all kinds of meats (i.e. beef, pork, chicken), he said that he would indeed apply this rule to all meats.

I was really surprised with this advice that he gave me (although I intend to follow it from now on!) as it’s completely the opposite of what I would normally do. I usually buy packaged meats and just leave them in the fridge for 2-3 days (usually shorter for chicken, but sometimes longer for beef) but had no idea that I shouldn’t be leaving them for more than 1 day.

It made me wonder a bit about the chicken I would normally buy from Coles as it often has a use-by date up to a week after I’ve bought it. Does this mean that they’ve put some sort of preservatives or etc into the chicken to make it last longer? I really don’t know, but if it is, I imagine that’s not really something I’d like to have in my food!

If I’m to be completely honest too, I actually quite dislike freezing meat. I often find that when it defrosts, it comes out slimey and smells strange… Mind you, this has only happened a handful of times. Am I freezing my meat incorrectly perhaps? I have had much more success in freezing cooked meats in the past, however but have really only tried that with beef mince, but not cooked chicken, etc.

So readers, do you have any tips on meat safety at home? Do you freeze raw meat and what sorts of results do you get with that? How about freezing cooked meats? How do you find the texture of frozen meat (cooked or uncooked) after it’s been defrosted ?I’m also curious about whether this same rule applies to fish and/or smoked fish meat. I would love to hear all about what sorts of things you normally do!

As luck would have it, just prior to posting this article, I was contacted by Mike Stewart, a writer and Editor in Chief for Australian Food Safety News who told me he’d be happy to answer any food safety questions you might have so please ask away and Mike choose a few to answer that I will post on the blog!

Hope you had a great weekend!