Saturday, January 31, 2009

I'm a dedicated follower of...Nigella

For the last few months, I’ve been rushing home to watch Nigella Express, which has been showing on Wednesday nights. There you’ll find me, with the accompanying cookbook on my knee, following the recipes as Nigella Lawson swans about her busy daily life – taking the kids to school, meeting her publisher, shopping at the deli, having girlfriends over for dinner…
That time of day is busy for me, too, what with having to leave work early to catch the show, rushing to the supermarket for groceries beforehand, and dishing up Fancy Feast Royale (garnished with Optimum dry mix) for the demanding Tabitha cat’s evening meal. OK, my life’s not quite so glam as Nigella’s.

Thank goodness the DVD of the series is out next week, I don’t know how long I can keep this up.

Anyway, the recipes from the book/show focus on speediness, effortlessness and simplicity – my favourite things when it comes to cooking. This Buttermilk Roast Chicken is super easy to make. In fact, I would have done it for my picnic that wasn’t, except that I’d already prepared the picnic food when the episode aired!

Buttermilk Roast Chicken

Serves 6


12 chicken drumsticks (approx. 1.25kg)
500ml buttermilk
60ml vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, bruised and skins removed
1 tbls crushed peppercorns
1 ½ tsp table salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbls maple syrup


Place all ingredients into a large sealable freezer bag.

Squish everything around to mix the marinade and coat the chicken.

Leave the chicken in the bag in the fridge, ideally overnight. Or leave out of the fridge for at least 30 mins and no more than 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 220 deg C. Take the chicken pieces out of the bag and drain off excess marinade. Arrange in roasting tin lined with foil.

Drizzle 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over the chicken and roast in oven for about 30-45 minutes, until brown and cooked through.

Recipe adapted from Nigella Express

You can eat these straight away or cool them and munch while watching the next episode of Nigella Express.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Another HAPPY New Year!

These are just some images of the Chinese New Year markets in Central's Belmore Park. A rather motley collection of sideshow alley games and stalls selling tins of food and jars of sauce. The Australian Tax Office was also there - wonder what they were giving away, Tax Audits??

The street parade will be next Sunday, 1 Feb, starting at 7.45 pm. Should be a spectacle, see you there!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Satasia satisfies - or does it?

During dinner at Satasia, our conversation turned to how long the restaurant had been around. BF is a long term resident of the Balmain peninsula, while I am a relatively new blow-in at 6 years. ‘Over 10 years’ was his uneducated guess as to Satasia’s heritage. In the frequent turnover of restaurants in Balmain, that makes it a veritable institution.

Satasia certainly has a loyal following, with regulars packing it out every Saturday night. It can get pretty noisy upstairs where large tables celebrate birthdays or hen nights, so a table in the relative quiet of downstairs is best. Although you may have to put up with cigarette smoke wafting in through the open doors courtesy of the smokers outside (so much for ‘non-smoking’ venues, eh?).

I’ll admit we used to be regulars, too, until I realised that it’s not exactly the best value restaurant to be eating at every week. Why is that, you ask. Well, check out what we had the other night.

The menu at Satasia is extensive. The dishes are not numbered, but my quick count of the items on the menu totalled more than 140 (30 appetisers, 8 noodles, 30 seafood, over 41 meat and poultry, 17 curries, 12 vegetables and 2 side dishes, plus rice and dessert). They are a mix of different SE Asian cuisines, ranging from Chinese (eg. chop suey, Mongolian lamb, jing yee fish) through to Vietnamese (nem nuong, tiger cry beef), Thai (pla tort samrut, pad thai) and Indian (pappadums, rogan josh).

We started with duck pancakes ($11.90 for 2) and sang choy bao ($13.90 for 4). Hmm, now I remember why we stopped coming here. Last time, the duck pancakes were $9.90 and even then I thought the serving was a bit stingy. The pancakes are tasty containing duck meat, cucumber, hoisin sauce, and strangely, snow pea shoots and alfalfa sprouts in a soft wrapper. The sang choy bao serving was better value although I wasn’t a fan of the pork filling which I thought tasted a bit bland and burnt.

Mains were a hokkien chow mein ($18.90) and mu shu pork ($19.90). The chow mein included pork, chicken and vegetables in a fairly spicy sambal chilli with sweet soy sauce. It was a bit reminiscent of food hall takeaway (at double the price, thought the serving size was decent).
I’ve never had mu shu pork before, and to me it was nothing special, with pork fillet stir fried with ginger, vegetables and scrambled egg. As a second opinion, BF thought they were both pretty good, and there was enough left for us to take home in a doggy bag/plastic container.

I think the desserts at Satasia are its strong point ($9 each). They are written on a whiteboard and include crème caramel, black sticky rice, gula meloka (sago) with banana fritters, and summer berry pudding. I always order the strawberry rhubarb meringue, which is like Eton mess, but with stewed rhubarb and Grand Marnier in it. It was a nice finish to the meal. BF wanted fried ice cream, and it came smothered in caramel sauce, as he requested.

The lovely manageress runs a tight ship on the floor at the restaurant and, as a result, the young staff are enthusiastic and helpful. So, if you aren’t too fussed by the shortcomings in the food, then Satasia is a deservedly popular place for an eclectic Asian meal.

Satasia is at 300 Darling St, Balmain. As a point of reference, it is just 2 doors up from Adriano Zumbo Patissier (the Centre of the Universe).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A delicious non-creamy mushroom pasta (there is such a thing!)

Dried Porcini mushrooms are surprisingly pungent when soaked in water. This recipe uses the soaked mushrooms as well as porcini powder. The powder is made of dried porcini that has been ground up, and is cheaper to buy than the whole porcini. It is just as flavourful as the mushroom, and it provides a real depth of flavour to this dish

Mushroom and Bacon Linguine

Serves 4


400g linguine
2 tbsp olive oil
4 rashers bacon, chopped
8 Swiss brown mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 tsp porcini powder
2 tsp porcini mushrooms, soaked, drained and chopped
2 green chillies, finely sliced
200ml white wine
5 sprigs parsley, chopped
150g butter, chopped
Salt and pepper
Grated parmesan cheese, to serve


1. Boil linguine in lightly salted water for 8-10 minutes. Drain and reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan and cook bacon over medium heat until crisp.
3. Add Swiss brown mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes.
4. Add another tablespoon of oil , then add garlic, porcini and chillies and stir well.
5. Add wine and stir to deglaze pan.
6. Add reserved cooking liquid to bacon mixture.
7. Add linguine, parsley, butter and stir to combine.
8. Season with salt and pepper and serve with parmesan.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What day is it again?

I like to think of myself as being intermittently creative. That is, occasionally, I’ll come up with something artistic and go “ooh, that’s nice”. But those days can be pretty far between, which is why my craftiness is only a hobby.

Lin Mei, on the other hand, does it for a living. Which is why her input was greatly appreciated in the creation of this lovely calendar. LM came up with the design, as well as a great example for me to, um, rip off.

It’s not that easy, though, as we found out on that hot day in a non-air-conditioned house. It took us about 3 hours to come up with the ‘right’ colour combinations – we finished the calendar just as the cool southerly change blew through.

Here is the end result. The patterned papers are Basic Grey (Urban Prairie range), the bird cage transparency is by Hambly, and the ribbon and stamps are by Stampin’ Up!. Not too shabby, just shabby chic.

PS: We had lunch first at the Zumbo chocolate café (ham and cheese brioche, nice) and were going to go back for dessert after the marathon craft session. But, dammit, the café closes at 4pm on weekdays! Denied!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Desultory search for the ultimate Breakfast

To me, the test of a good café is its Big Breakfast. Firstly, it must be served all day (especially on weekends). Then, it must have a choice of eggs, some decent toast, hash browns, sausage, mushrooms and tomato. Parsley sprig is optional. Tomato sauce must be provided, if requested.

This entrant is from Trojans Café Restaurant in Darling St, Balmain. It is a café during the day, and a sort of Greco-Italian-Oz restaurant at night. My only previous experience here was a couple of years ago, where the food and service were forgettable.

This time, we sat at the footpath tables, under an umbrella on a sunny day. Be warned, though, you are separated from the speeding traffic on Darling St by only a flimsy-looking metal fence (Leichhardt Council trying to give people an alfresco dining experience while protecting themselves from 3rd party claims). It’s nice out here, if you have faith in others’ driving ability.

The Big Breakfast ($16.50) comes with the works. The bacon is (thankfully) a full strip, not just the short cut, with the rind left on. The toast is Italian sourdough, nicely toasted, but not too much. The poached eggs did not have that horrid vinegar flavour (yay!) and the sausages were beef chipolatas that were some of the better ones I’ve had. Mushrooms were a mushy dark colour, but tasty nonetheless. Tomato was okay, nothing special. The hash browns were really good, crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. My only complaint was that only a measly triangle of butter was provided, certainly not enough to cover the 3 slices of toast. And we had to ask for tomato sauce.

Actually, I had another complaint – the plunger that my English breakfast tea came in was broken (and stained), so I had to remove the lid in order to pour out the tea. Just as well the tea came in a tea bag(!), otherwise the leaves would have poured out as well. The tea also came with a waving Tiny Teddy biscuit, but no sugar (and I like my sugar!).

So, all in all, a reasonable experience at Trojans. The BB was pretty good, and the place was let down only by the flakey crockery and not enough condiments.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The versatile sausage

I don’t know about you, but to me, the Chorizo is a king among sausages. It’s meaty, spicy (depending on the type you use) and wonderfully flavoursome. And it cooks quickly and can be added to any number of dishes.

Here it is in a Chorizo salad with paprika dressing, adapted from Donna Hay’s ‘no time to cook’.

To feed two people:
Make a paprika dressing by mixing 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar, sea salt and black pepper.

Cook 160g baby (chat) potatoes and slice thickly.

Slice 2 chorizo sausages (total of about 400g) and cook in a grill pan or non-stick frypan over medium-high heat, for 2-3 minutes each side, or until crisp. Set aside.
Add 1 quartered red capsicum to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes each side.

To serve, place potatoes, some baby spinach (or rocket) leaves, chorizo and capsicum on a plate and pour over the dressing.

Monday, January 12, 2009

After-work dining returns, thanks to accommodating cat

The other night, I was chatting with friends before going on to dinner, when I realised that we hadn’t been to Masuya for over a year. That is, since BC (Before Cat). Because in the early days, Tabitha was kept outside during the day and she disliked us being late home. Honestly, she’d be literally spitting with rage when we got back, which meant our eating out after work was curtailed. Not sure what that says about us – or the cat.

These days, Tab can be trusted to stay inside, hence the long overdue visit to Masuya. This is one of my favourite Japanese restaurants. I used to work across the road (in O’Connell St in the City) and went to lunch there often. There were also loads of Japanese tour buses that would eat there, which I took to be a good sign.

It has changed since then, with a more modern décor, less tour buses and, from what I could see, a majority of Chinese clientele. The food is pure wonderful Japanese, though.

The two of us had the sashimi platter, which was overflowing with fat slices of tuna, salmon, kingfish, hokki and scampi. The tuna and scampi in particular were soooo creamy and incredibly melt-y that you probably didn’t even have to chew it.

We got the tempura prawns because they were out of the sakamushi black mussels, and the three prawns (and a wedge of tempura onion!) arrived on the table piping hot and delicious.

I had a craving for soft shell crab, so we got the spider roll, which was filled with the said crab, avocado, crabstick, cucumber and a spicy chilli mayonnaise. I've had just the plain soft shell crab here before, and the spider roll is better because it is less oily.

There are two sittings on Friday nights, at 6pm and 8pm (our first dish hit the table at 8.15). The service is really quick, so, for us, there was no problem in finishing under an hour, if that's what you need to do.

And Tabitha was really happy to see us when we got home. I think we were happier, though, after such a great meal. The days of BC are officially over!

1. Sashimi Platter Special ($58) 2. King Prawn Tempura ($14.80) 3. Spider Roll ($17.80)

Masuya is part of the Masuya Group of dining establishments. “We aim to be the best sushi bar and restaurant in Australia, which is loved by all nationalities and generations” – Owner, Ken Sadamatsu.
Doesn’t that sound a bit like Chairman Kaga?

Friday, January 9, 2009

New URL, Same Fun Blog!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why is technology so unkind?

Things are not well in the world of Belle’s blogging. Technology is on the blink, photos are falling short and clumsiness rules.

For a start, I had to change internet providers, and to cancel my account with the old provider was a real pain (is it ever anything else?). Luckily, the new provider is proving to be quite good.

Secondly, my lovely slim Casio Exilim camera started over-exposing all my photos, so that they turned out completely white. Apparently, it is a problem that happens sometimes with that model of camera. So I had to trawl the net looking at digital camera reviews, compare prices, visit camera stores, etc. I managed to find a new one – a Canon Ixus 980. Not as svelte as the old one, but very nice.

Finally, and most drastically, I spilt a full mug of green tea onto the desk where my laptop is, and some of the liquid seeped underneath and ruined the all number keys, as well as T, Y and Backspace. I mean, Backspace is my most used key!
And it’s not until you lose them that you realise that numbers are critical to everyday life – in passwords, calculations – and the little ‘at’ sign above the number 2 is needed for all your email addresses!
Again, I was fortunate to borrow an external keyboard from my brother. It now sits elegantly on a piece of felt on top of the laptop.

As these things only happen in threes, I have had my fill for now. The birds are singing again and all is right with the world.

To celebrate this small victory over technology, we had a ‘Yuzu no a nothing!’ from Adriano Zumbo. Looks like a pine lime Splice, tastes like a pine lime Splice. It was so tangy that I had to have a green tea chaser afterwards. Several metres away from the computer, though.

And the jar of Vegemite in the background is a reminder that just because something is salty doesn’t mean you need to tax the hell out of it (ooh, topical!).

The picnic that wasn’t

I had such wonderful intentions of having a picnic on New Year’s Day. So much so that I spent most of NYE chopping, stirring and baking in preparation. The weather report was most encouraging for the three days before new year’s – sunny and 29 degrees. Perfect!

So imagine my annoyance when the temperature soared to 35 degrees – not so perfect. Needless to say, it was too hot to venture out, so the picnic lunch I’d prepared sat waiting in the fridge.

The recipes are from Gordon Ramsay, specifically for alfresco dining. We had the chilled soup that day anyway, as it was absolutely perfect for the hot weather, served straight from the fridge rather than a Thermos flask.

We had the chicken and couscous a day later, microwaved in the plastic containers I’d put them in, then transferred to a civilised plate for eating in front of the TV.

Here is the recipe for the soup – it is a real winner; give it a try on the next hot day!

Chilled cucumber and dill soup

Serves 4

Make this soup a day ahead, transport it to your picnic (ha!) in a flask and serve in small teacup-sized bowls or punch glasses.


1 litre (4 cups) good-quality chicken stock
2 baby leeks or 1 regular leek (white part only), finely chopped
2 eschalots, finely chopped
8 whole white peppercorns
2-3 parsley stalks
2 ¼ large telegraph cucumbers
2 tsp arrowroot (I used cornflour)
1 tbs finely chopped fresh dill
200ml crème fraiche
¼ small red onion
1 tsp lemon juice


Bring stock to boil in a saucepan. Add leeks, eschalots, peppercorns and parsley stalks, and simmer for 15 minutes over medium-low heat.

Peel 2 of the cucumbers. Halve them lengthways and remove seeds with a teaspoon. Cut flesh into 1 cm slices, then place in a colander and season with freshly ground salt. Stand for 10 minutes to draw out any excess water or bitterness from the cucumber.

Rinse in plenty of cold water and drain well. Add the cucumber to the stock and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. Transfer to a blender, process until smooth, then return soup to the pan.

Mix arrowroot with 1 tablespoon water and add to the soup. Heat gently over low heat, stirring until soup begins to thicken – do not allow to boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Add dill and crème fraiche, mixing well – you may wish to use a handheld blender.

Chill in fridge for 2-3 hours or overnight.

For the salsa, finely dice remaining cucumber, place in a bowl with the onion and lemon juice, and season well. Cover and chill.

Pour the soup into a flask. At the picnic, serve soup topped with the salsa.

Recipe from delicious. November 2005

Saturday, January 3, 2009

When too much cake is never enough

So what is your new year's resolution?

Mine are:
1. Be positive and optimistic
2. Be kind to others
3. Eat more cake

This is my first cake of 2009 from Adriano Zumbo.

Cassius is so chocolatey yet salty at the same time. It is the best type of resolution because it is so easy to keep!