Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year 2010

Talk about the year going past quickly, hasn't the decade overtaken it at lightning speed?  I remember like it was yesterday when we bunkered down to watch the new millenium unfold and to wait for chaos to explode as Y2K appeared before us.   More of a fizzle than a bang (the computer bugs, that is).

So here are some photos from this year's fireworks (the 9pm ones, it isn't midnight yet).  They were suitably spectacular, with some new quad-colour ball fireworks drawing lots of applause.

Happy New Year everyone, hoping that it's a wonderful year for us all.


Update: The midnight fireworks! It's now officially 2010!

Don't know if it's a precursor of what's to come in 2010, but I was too lazy to walk the 10 minutes down to the end of the street to see the fireworks, so here are some photos taken from my upstairs window.

Looks kind of apocalyptic, no?

Afterwards, when I came downstairs, Tabitha cat was huddled under a chair, a little perturbed by all the booming... there, there, Tab, it's alright.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Salted Peanut Brittle - a touch of salty sweetness

After my relative success with a sugar thermometer (result: chewy salted caramels), I thought to myself, "You're on a roll, genius, bring on some more salty sweetness!".  So along comes this brilliant and easy-to-make salted peanut brittle.

This recipe combines the best of sweetness (ie. caramel) with the best of salty (ie. peanuts and salt flakes).  There is no more heavenly combination.

Salted Peanut Brittle
makes about 1kg of brittle

2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup water
120g (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup liquid glucose or light corn syrup
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
340g (12 oz) roasted salted peanuts (or other nut, such as cashews, pecans, etc)
Sea salt flakes (eg. pink salt or fleur de sel), for sprinkling

1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with baking paper.  The sheet size depends on how thickly you spread the brittle mixture. I used a 30cm x 20cm sheet for brittle about 1cm thick.
2. Have the nuts and baking soda measured out and at the ready.
3. Combine the sugar, water, butter and liquid glucose in a large saucepan.  Bring to the boil.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel hits 149 deg C (300 deg F) on a sugar thermometer.  This will take about 10 minutes.
4.  Turn off the heat and carefully stir in the baking soda.
5.  Then stir in the nuts and immediately pour the brittle into the prepared baking sheet.  Make sure the baking sheet is on a heatproof surface, as it will get hot.  Smooth out the brittle with the back of a spoon into a thin, even layer.
6.  Sprinkle with salt flakes.
7.  Let the brittle cool completely (about 30 minutes).
8.  Break the brittle into large shards to serve.

Brittle can be stored in an airtight container (do not refrigerate) for up to 1 month.

Recipe adapted from

Ingredients and implements: Note the large saucepan - the caramel mixture will bubble up, so you don't want it to boil over.

Apologies for the lack of photos of the making of - it was pretty difficult to balance a camera while watching the thermometer then mixing in the nuts before the mixture hardened (excuses, excuses..!)

Heat the caramel to 300 deg F - or 'hard crack' stage.  Sounds like something a sniffer dog would unearth.  By the way, 260 deg F is 'hard ball', which is what the magistrate plays when you are caught with 'hard crack'.
And I love pink salt.

To crack up the incredibly hard crack brittle, I turned the cooled brittle over and used a meat mallet and sharp (old) knife.
Hint: Rinse your large saucepan, stirring spoon and thermometer with boiling water before washing - the hot water will melt the hardened caramel, no problems.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Season's Greetings!

Hi Everyone,

  Thanks for reading Ooh, Look over the past year.  Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season and look forward to seeing you all again in the new year.

Warm wishes from
Bel and Tab

Monday, December 21, 2009

Just a couple of Adriano Zumbo's Tarts

It's been a bit quiet on the Zumbo cake front at Ooh, Look, so here's a bit of eye candy before the festive season.  Actually, the Adriano Zumbo Patisserie does not seem as crowded lately, and there have been many of the new season's range of cakes available even late on weekends.  So it seems like the hoo-hah around Zumbo has subsided somewhat.

Anyway, here is a closer look at some of the new range - and they are all tart-based creations.

What looks like an egg on the Jessica Rabbit is actually hollow shell of icing-like substance.  This is a smallish tart with pieces of pandan jelly surrounded by the creamy coconut filling.  Personally, I wasn't impressed with this tart - too small for the price ($7).

This is the infamous Weekend at the Cross, the one that comes with a little plastic bag of watermelon powder.  Shock value aside, the tart is lovely to look at and refreshing to eat.  I love anything rose-flavoured, and this cake is faintly scented with rose, with the fruit topping providing natural sweetness and moisture.  Nice, and reasonable value at $7.90.

The Google it has a firm round of creme atop the citrusy custard in the tart.  It was okay, nothing spectacular, and not offensive.  At $7.90, it was alright.

Ah, Thermonuclear... looks like a reactor, tastes, well, unusual.  If I can be a bit critical, I'm not sure about the flavour combination in this cake.  The round, crisp shell is mint meringue, with the mint flavour being quite strong and 'toothpaste-y'.  The filling actually appears to be mashed potato inserted with small peas (podded snowpeas?) and raisins.  The rice pudding in the tart shell would be better off on its own, I think. This one also costs $7.90, though I doubt I will get it again.
Coincidentally, there was an episode of Heston's Feasts on recently (the Henry VIII one) that featured a dessert made of bone marrow rice pudding in the shape of a sausage, with 'mashed potato' (banana puree) and  peas (pea puree dropped into liquid nitrogen).  Great minds think alike - or something?

That's all for now.  Further Zumbo cakes will be consumed in the new year, so you can look forward to more ramblings on the topic then.  And you thought I'd stopped ...!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Eveleigh Markets and Summer Finders Keepers - shopping for cat grass

Where does the year go? Whoosh - there it goes, straight past your face in a flash and before you know it, it's a new year.

It seems like last week that I visited Eveleigh Markets, but it was probably earlier this year.  A return visit was in order a few weeks ago because the twice-yearly Finders Keepers event was on at the same time at the same place. But more on that later.

Eveleigh Markets are held each Saturday in a large open shed beside the railway lines near Redfern Station.  There is all manner of fresh farm produce - fruit and vegetables, artisan breads, cheesemakers and their wares, colourful flowers, a plant man, gourmet meats, it's all there.

It's good that the market is held under cover, as it's on even when it's wet.
The summer fruits and flowers are particularly abundant at this time of year, as are the pre-holiday shoppers.

Notice the shimeji mushrooms above - the grey tones are reminiscent of a colder, more dismal climate, but they are so picturesque.

The apple grower had golden apple pies for sale, adorned with sprigs of Christmas bush.  There were also heirloom tomatoes available - I didn't get any though I'm regretting it as they'd be perfect in a summer salad, dressed with a tangy vinaigrette.  And isn't the basil just gorgeous.

The main reason for visiting Eveleigh this time was to pick up some more cat grass for Tabitha. She enjoyed her last pot so much that when it ran out (ie. died) she resorted to eating the liriope leaves that grow on the side of the garden. So we got a new one for her ($3 per pot).

When we'd finished at the food/produce section, we strolled across the path to the Carriageworks building, where the Finders Keepers market was on.  This event is for new designers and artists to show their works, and is filled with gorgeous accessories, artworks, fabrics, clothes and jewellery.

There were around 80 stalls this time around, and it's a fabulous place to pick up unusual trinkets and gifts. The next Sydney market is not till next year, and there is also a Brisbane market soon.

All up, it was a productive, feelgood type of day.

And of course, Tabitha cat just adores her new cat grass.

Eveleigh Markets are at 245 Wilson Street, Darlington NSW, about 10 minutes walk from Redfern Station.  The final markets for 2009 are on this Saturday 19th Dec, and they will have a Christmas theme, with hampers, etc.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sugoi Sushi Bar - the only train in the Village

Many decades ago, Balmain was a working-class inner city suburb with a pub on almost every corner.  In the early 21st century, it is a trendy inner city suburb where the footpaths are shared with 4-wheel drive prams and there is a pub on almost every corner.

There is also an abundance of Asian restaurants, from Thai and Vietnamese through to Japanese, Chinese and Indian.  Some are better than others.

Sugoi Sushi Bar sits in the cluster of shops past Balmain Town Hall, towards neighbouring Rozelle.  It opened after the spot was left vacant when Restaurant Pepper mysteriously closed a few years ago.  I was particularly excited at seeing the sushi train being installed, as it was a Balmain first. 

The interior of Sugoi is modern and sleek, with an open kitchen at the back.  You can order noodles and tempura from a menu as well as eating at the sushi train counter.
Since it opened, I've eaten at Sugoi many times, and the food is always really fresh, which is essential in a sushi restaurant.  The range of sushi, while not as wide as, say, Makoto, is varied enough to provide the usual favourites.

On this visit, we had the regular sushi rolls, and tried some new dishes.  The grilled beef was particularly good, with a chargrilled flavour and sprinkled with a sweet soy sauce.

An impressive dish was the scallops on rice wrapped with salmon and topped with fish roe.  They aren't stingy with the serving sizes (this was a 'black' plate, the most pricey), and this allowed the scallop flavour to shine through.

I love soft-shelled crab, and the sushi roll with crab does not disappoint. Again, a good serve of crab.  The tuna was a lurid red colour but tasty nonetheless.  There were not many sashimi plates on the train, so the sushi rice plates had to do.

Desserts aren't usually a strong point in Japanese restaurants, so it was pleasing to see bowls of fresh fruit salad on the conveyor belt.  This one had 2 lychees amid the nicely arranged melon and pineapple.  And have you noticed the Coca Cola cans that are out at the moment - the Aussie Summer range with graphics of thongs, cricket and barbies!

Prices at Sugoi are average for sushi train.  This is inner-city Balmain, after all, though after a previous experience at Wase restaurant down the road, Sugoi is definitely better value for money.  We had 14 plates, and with 2 Cokes and a green tea, the bill came to $67.  The service is attentive and eager-to-please, and you can usually get a seat without a booking.  In fact, it's sometimes quite empty when we visit, so I wish more people would eat there - it's the only train in the village, haha!

Sugoi Sushi Bar is at 390 Darling Street, Balmain, NSW. Ph: 02 9555 6959.  They are open for lunch and dinner Mon-Sat.
Sugoi Sushi Train on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hello Cookie: White Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies

Here is a great idea for holiday giving.  Actually, anything with cranberries reminds me of Christmas, and combined with white chocolate, and in shortbread form, well, all I can picture are snowmen with beady red eyes and a carrot nose.

While I'm on the topic, why is shortbread considered such a Christmas thing?  I may have to spend couple of hours later looking it up...  Anyway, I made these cookies to give to the girlies at Ellie's lunch last week.  They were made even more sweet with the addition of decorated tags, courtesy of my extensive scrapbooking stash.  Details further on.

These are a very 'short' cookie, with the smoothness of white chocolate and colourful specks of cranberries throughout.  Take a bite and imagine bells jingling and snowmen melting on the lawn.

White Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies
makes about 60 small cookies

250g butter, at room temperature
125g (3/4 cup) icing sugar mixture
1 tsp vanilla essence
300g (2 cups) plain flour
75 g (1/2 cup) dried cranberries (craisins), coarsely chopped
100g white chocolate, finely chopped

1.  Preheat oven to 106 deg C.  Line baking trays with non-stick baking paper.
2.  Use an electric mixer to beat the butter, icing sugar and vanilla in a bowl until very pale and creamy.  Beat the mixture until it's almost white in colour or it won't incorporate the flour.
3.  Stir in the flour, cranberries and chocolate.  Mix until the dough comes together.  If the weather is warm and the dough is sticky, you may need to refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes before continuing.
4.  Roll the dough into balls the size of a walnut. Place about 3cm apart on the baking trays. Flatten slightly with a fork.
5.  Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden.  Cool on trays for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
6.  These cookies will last for about 1 week in an airtight container.

Recipe from Good Taste magazine (Dec 2008)

Ingredients: Craisins, butter, plain flour, vanilla essence, icing sugar mixture, white chocolate

The colour of the cranberries is so intense!

As always, I ended up with so many cookies.  The original recipe says 'makes 35', so how come I end up with 60? 

I placed some cookies in a cupcake liner and wrapped them in cellophane paper.  Then I tied them with ribbon and attached a tag. The tag was made using a Stampin' Up snowflake stamp (with glitter glued on for sparkle).  The scallop background is of Basic Grey paper.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chewy Salted Caramels - a tense but happy experience

Amongst the many desserts at Almost Bourdain's Girly Lunch was my contribution of Chewy Salted Caramels.  They came about because I found a sugar thermometer that I had bought years ago to make something that never got made.  I think it was actually salted caramels, but I didn't get around to it, and the thermometer sat in a drawer, wrapped in tissue paper and with its price tag still on.  A sad, lonely, forgotten cooking accessory...

Chewy Salted Caramels
Makes about 24

250g white (caster) sugar
250ml (1 cup) double cream - this is cream with at least 45% whole fat
60g liquid glucose
30g butter
3 tsp sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling

1.  Place sugar, cream, glucose, butter and salt in a heavy-based saucepan.  Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
2.  Increase heat to medium-high and boil until the mixture reaches 118 deg C on a thermometer. It should take 7-8 minutes.
3.  Remove from the heat and pour into lightly greased mini muffin moulds or foil moulds.  Do not use paper moulds because the caramels will stick to them.
4. Stand until set.  Remove from mini muffin moulds, if using, and store in a single layer on baking paper in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Recipe adapted from

Anyway, this was my first ever attempt at making caramel sweets, and this is my story...

Ingredients, including the luscious double cream, which you could eat straight out of the container, if you are so inclined.  Not saying I did, not saying I didn't...

Boiling the caramel - don't do what I did and use a saucepan that is too small.  It was a very stressful, precarious situation as I watched the mixture boil higher and higher. It didn't overflow, thank goodness, but it was a close call.  It also took longer than 7-8 minutes to reach 118 deg C because I had to reduce the heat to stop it overflowing...

Now, don't tell me you couldn't eat this off the spoon.  I did not, repeat, not, do this!

Caramels are ready for their public appearance.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Girly lunch and strange event - too many desserts

There was movement in the blogosphere 'cos word had got around that... Ellie from Almost Bourdain was organising a girly lunch!

So, with no boys allowed, we congregated on a sunny weekend at Ellie's place for an afternoon of food and hospitality.  Each of the 15 ladies who attended brought at least one dish, and Ellie provided some delicious food as well.  There was lots of laughter, meeting of new faces, and ... sixteen (count them, 16) desserts.

Here's a rundown of what we had:

Ellie is a fabulous cook, as evidenced by her beef rendang, which has also been featured on her blog.  To accompany this Malaysian specialty, there was sambal ikan bilis (made by crushing dried anchovies) and side dishes of fresh pineapple and toasted peanuts with salty fried mini fish.  Trissa brought a tasty dish of chorizo with capsicum.

Other Malay dishes that stood out were the chicken kapitan (with coconut milk, chilli and lemongrass) that was served with coconut rice.  Teresa brought a jar of risoni and beans that, when upturned into a bowl, magically transformed into a colourful salad (sprinkled with goat's cheese).

Karen had prepared the plump little profiteroles for a croquembouche beforehand, then she and Linda boiled up some sugar, and while we watched in amazement, they spun the caramel into an intricate yet delicate nest which would surely win any MasterChef challenge.  And look at the shiny cachous pressed into the sugar.

After eating the savoury dishes, there were faint cries of "I'm so full.." heard around the room.  But don't you know that there are desserts still to be had??!!  I suppose it's telling, and typical, that when you get that many girls together, the sweets have to outnumber the savouries, and we did not disappoint.

Get ready for the onslaught.

Linda had prepared a light-as-air lemon tart that was served with an amazing honeyed cream.  Lisa's lemon tart also stood out for its brilliant colour and flavour.  Ellie proved that she's a whiz not only at the mains by providing a fudgey brownie studded with Reese's pieces, and there was also a hazelnut chocolate tart that her daughter helped to decorate.

Can't get over the brilliance of the croquembouche.  It went well with Trisha's green grass jelly (nice and refreshing after the rendang).  Ellie had also scored some tubs of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and I tried Chunky Monkey for the first time in all its banana goodness.

Helen's popcorn cupcakes were a winner with me - the cake was smooth and moist, and the icing was amazing - salty is the way of the future, my friends!  Speaking of amazing, Suze's chocolate bowls, moulded using a balloon, were filled with brownies and fresh berries. They looked almost too good to eat.

Would it surprise you to hear that there was a lot of dessert left over.  No matter, all the more for us to take home!  It just goes to show that too many sweets can be enough for 15 lady bloggers.

Thanks to Ellie for her hospitality, and these lovelies for a great afternoon:
Suze from chocolatesuze
Karen from Citrus and Candy
Linda, Minh and Teresa from eatshowandtell
Helen from grabyourfork
Betty from The Hungry Girl
Jen from Jenius
Leona from pigged-out
Steph from raspberri cupcakes
Lisa from Spicy Icecream
Trisha from Sugarlace
Trissa from Trissalicious

And thanks to Trissa for being my brilliant chauffeur - the GPS lady needs a lesson in directions, though.