Thursday, November 29, 2012

Nut Roasters

When I was pregnant with our second child, my partner and I looked around as our 16 month old wrought havoc on the midfloor, two bedroom flat we had purchased scarcely more than16 months before and realised our days of living there were numbered. That Marrickville flat was our first foray into home ownership (ie, major debt), precipitated by my first pregnancy and a desire to stay geographically accessible to our circle of friends. We crunched the numbers and realised that we could (just) afford to buy a modestly-priced house if we (sharp intake of breath) doubled our mortgage and looked further afield. A few months and several house viewings later, we found ourselves buying a 3-4 bedroom, free-standing home on a tidy block on a quiet, cul-de-sac street in an unfamiliar suburb about a 10 minute drive from where we used to live: Belmore.

Not long after we moved in, one of our lovely new neighbours (an elderly Greek lady) told us about a shop a short walk away where she buys her olives and cheese. Keen to explore, I went to investigate. That it was love at first sight seems inadequate to the experience; it was more of a spiritual awakening. Nut Roasters in Roselands was the first food-related discovery that made me feel excited about our new neighbourhood. This family-owned business has been hand-roasting nuts in copper barrels for over thirty years. Apart from the wide range of delicious nuts, Nut Roasters sells a vast array of foods including olives, dried fruits, cheeses, legumes, grains, seeds, spices and Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and other specialty foods.

A mere glance at my kitchen reveals my reliance on Nut Roasters as purveyor of my family's dietary staples. In my pantry are numerous bags of their lentils (red, brown and French), beans (glossy, deep red kidney; shiny, purple-black turtle; pretty, speckled borlotti; pristine white and plump, blonde chickpeas), dried fruit (raisins, apricots, apples and currants), cous cous and pearl barley. There is a large flagon of extra virgin olive oil that has served us well for months, as well as tins of Italian tomatoes, Spanish artichokes and Lebanese dips, a bottle of pomegranate molasses and generous bags of various fresh spices. My refrigerator boasts a Nut Roasters bounty of nuts (pine nuts - they have several varieties, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds and walnuts), seeds (chia, sesame, pepitas, sunflower and nigella), quinoa (white and tri-colour), haloumi, feta and free-range eggs. I also have jars of tahini, mustard, relishes (including the novel and delicious Bomb Serres and a fiery brand of harissa, both pictured), sundried tomato and the plumpest, juiciest Kalmatta olives I have ever encountered. My family had a long-standing obsession with Susu's Bircher Muesli (pictured; they also make natural and toasted varieties); now I make my own blend using their dried apricots, golden raisins, dried apples, pepitas and sunflower kernels. Other less frequent purchases I make at Nut Roasters include Belgian chocolate, fruit and nut squares and various snack foods to help cater for parties and festive occasions.

Clearly, I could go on. Shopping at Nut Roasters remains one of my favourite domestic activities. I highly recommend you go there and, like the locals, get right into it!

Nut Roasters is open 8am to 5:30pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 4:30pm on Saturdays and 8am to 1pm on Sundays.

79-81 Chapel Street  Roselands NSW 2196,  (02) 9759 1206.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Bloodwood on Urbanspoon For my birthday this year I received a great gift from good friends of mine - vouchers to dine at Bloodwood, in Newtown. Things being as they are when you have young kids and limited access to babysitting it took until my partner's birthday (3 months later) before we got there. We had been pre-warned about lengthy waits due to Bloodwood's popularity and policy of not taking reservations for parties of less than 8. It being Wednesday, we were reasonably confident this would not be an issue. As it turned out, shortly after arriving we were seated at a table for two in close quarters with our like-numbered co-diners. The few vacant tables there were filled within the next hour. 

Bloodwood is industrial, yet intimate, with interesting recycled glass, wood and metal suspended from the ceiling and comfortable cushions and soft lighting closer to the floor. With plates designed for sharing, a substantial portion of the menu is vegetarian. We began with rum cocktails (their list is exciting and extensive) and wonderfully tangy luxe light rye sour dough bread ($3). Following the insistence of friends who had dined there previously (and a work colleague who happened to be there that night), we ordered the polenta chips with gorgonzola sauce ($9). They were everything a good chip should be - chunky, salty, crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. As a fan of fromage but not so much the blue variety, I was initially hesitant about dipping into the gorgonzola sauce. I was quickly converted, enjoying its creamy piquancy against the chips.

Next, my partner tucked into some swordfish carpaccio ($18) while I enjoyed the lion's share of the socca - chickpea pancake, spiced pumpkin, quinoa, persian fetta, fresh herbs ($18). Its unassuming presentation as a nicely constructed pumpkin pizza belied its complexity. It was assertive in musky, spiced flavour and interesting in texture, thanks to the besan in the crust and the feathery, fresh dill. Our last savoury dish was the baked mushrooms served in paper with red wine, garlic, cream and farro ($18), a rich combination of exotic mushrooms, creamy, garlic wine sauce and a sprinkle of chewy grains. They were simply outstanding, but we sorely needed something to soak up the glorious sauce (the sour dough would have done nicely, but I made do with the spoon).

To complete our celebration, we needed dessert. Once again, a recommendation from a work colleague (my parter's this time - is there anyone who hasn't been here and loved something?) dictated ordering the Bloodwood trifle ($14), comprised of poor man's orange, pound cake, port wine jelly, champagne anglaise, yoghurt mascarpone. Our first choice, however, was immediately obvious to both of us - chocolate, caramel peanut torte with banana mousse ($14). Foolishly, we tasted the torte first and then greed got the better of us and we inhaled it in its entirety. It was rich, sweet, bitter and luscious with dark chocolate, savoury, crunchy and salty with peanuts, smoky and fragrant with caramel and banana...the poor trifle didn't stand a chance. It was nice, and probably would have garnered more appreciation had we eaten it before its decadent companion, but as things played out, it was no match.

Overall, we were very happy with our dining experience. Apart from the high standards reached by the food, the service was exemplary - polite, attentive (our water glasses never fell below a quarter full) yet unobtrusive.

Bloodwood is located at 416 king st. newtown 2042 - (+61 2) 9557 7699.  It is open 5pm onwards on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Mondays and from midday onwards onwards on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (closing at 10pm on Sundays). It is closed Tuesdays.

Friday, October 5, 2012


 Another year, another combined birthday party for my boys, another cake-decorating challenge! Ben got in early and requested a Spiderman cake for his 5th birthday. Toby, who was turning 3, kept to the theme by asking for a Batman cake. The bar had officially been raised. My spidersense told me I'd be needing some black, black and more black icing. Holy trip to the cake decorating supply shop,  Batman!
During the compulsory internet research phase of  this project, I discovered that colouring icing black is hard work. Knowing that I'd be using it for outline as well as colouring the inside of the batman logo, I went for ready-made Wiltons black icing. I also purchased blue, red and yellow gel colours for colouring my buttercream icing, as with a small squeeze they produce much truer, brighter colours than floods of their liquid, supermarket counterparts.

I came to the conclusion a while ago that although it is a great product for moulding and decorating purposes, I am not a big fan of the taste (or texture) of fondant icing, particularly when used in large quantities. This year I tried a new technique - frozen buttercream transfers. As seen in the third photo, you begin by finding a template for your design (colouring-in pages are great, as are image searches on the internet). I taped the templates to a flat surface (a baking tray), covered them with wax paper (uncommon in Australia, but can be bought at Coles), and also secured that with tape. Using a No. 2 icing tip (the smallest in my set) and coupler on the tube of black icing, I outlined the designs. This took a long time, especially the Spiderman, which would have benefitted from a No. 1 tip as the design is rather detailed! After leaving the outline to dry a bit, I filled the outlines with coloured icing using a piping bag. During both phases, I used a fine paint brush to gently press down on any lifted areas as I went. Finally, I covered the entire area of each transfer with the colour I was using to ice the cakes - a soft shade of yellow. This was to protect the surface of the iced cakes from any colour bleeds once I applied the transfers. I used a small, angled spatula to gently smooth the final icing layer on the transfers before placing the tray in the freezer. Once complete, buttercream transfers can be left in the freezer for up to 24 hours. Before I even started the process, I had baked, cooled and iced the cakes and left them in the refrigerator for the party the next day.

About half an hour before serving, I took my iced cakes out of the fridge and removed the transfers from the freezer. For each transfer, I untaped the wax paper, lifted the transfer up off of the tray and gently flipped the frozen design over on to one of my hands while peeling off the wax paper with the other. Then I placed the transfer onto the cake. Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of the images (I had thought Superman could turn out to be a spectacular fail). The transfers were a little thick and stood up from the cakes, but this could have been disguised with some decorative piping had I the time or any remaining icing! I imagine that with practice, I could produce a thinner transfer.

The boys were very chuffed with their superhero cakes - mission accomplished (for another year)!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Jamie's Italian

Jamie's Italian on Urbanspoon

For my 40th birthday, my partner and I were looking for somewhere new to try for a special, childless (!) lunch on a day we would otherwise be at work. After canvassing various options, we decided to try out Jamie's Italian, near the corner of Pitt and Hunter Streets in Sydney. As usual, I looked at various reviews of the restaurant and found they ran the gamut from bemusement ("waited too long for average food") through to culinary rapture ("best...pasta....ever!"). Knowing we couldn't book, we chose to arrive near the start of lunch service (11:30ish). There was no queue (hurray!). We were shown to our upstairs table by a friendly waiter, left to peruse the menu while taking in the low lighting, graffitied walls and the bustling kitchen below. Then the feasting began in earnest.

To start, we had Vegetable antipasti for 2 ($10 each), fetchingly laid out on a wooden plank atop two large, rustic tins of Italian tomatoes. As seen in the first photo, the spread included bruschetta topped with eggplant capanata; buffalo mozarella with olive oil, chilli and herbs; grilled, marinated and pickled vegies (eggplant, fennel, capsicum, Sicilian green olives, mild chillies & caper berries); Italian coleslaw (shaved root vegetables with chilli, lemon & mint) and pecorino on flatbread with chilli jam. The variety was great and on the whole, it was a tasty introduction to what lay ahead.

When the opportunity to eat stuffed zucchini flowers presents itself, I must act on it. To wit, we shared a special entree (second photo) - Courgette fritti - zucchini flowers stuffed with fresh ricotta, smoked mozarella with a rocket pesto on a bed of roasted tomatoes ($14). For me, this was the dish of the day. Sublime!

For main course, I had to try the fresh pasta. It was gratifying to have a few different vegetarian choices. I ended up settling on the Pumpkin panzerotti - homemade half moons filled with roasted pumpkin, ricotta
& parmesan served with chilli, rosemary butter sauce & crushed amaretti  ($12.50 entree/$19.50 main). It was the crushed ameretti biscuits that drew me in - I love a good savoury/sweet combination. The pasta was well-made and the flavours were good. My partner, feeling he should order the pasta, sheepishly went for the Burger Italiano ($19.50) - Wagga Wagga beef with fontina cheese, salami, soft lettuce, tomato salsa, dill pickles, chilli & fried onions. The look on his face confirmed that he had indeed been transported to Burger Heaven.

The Italian beer was good, too!

Overall, we both really enjoyed our food. It is not a fine-dining establishment, but that was not what we were looking for. It was comforting, familiar food, but at the same time, special. There are also (happily) enough compelling vegetarian options on the menu to make me look forward to going back to Jamie's Italian for more.

Happy birthday to me!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Parsnip, cheddar and dill soup

In my early twenties I thought I wanted to be an academic when I grew up. I studied philosophy at graduate school at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, USA. Two years into the five year program I came back to Australia for a break and never went back. To this day, the most enduring memories I have of Ithaca and Cornell are not of Descartes et al but of food - cooking fresh pasta with my fabulous house-mates, being inspired by the excellent seasonal produce at Ludgate farm market and, while on campus, savouring the fresh soup of the day at Temple of Zeus, a cafe in Goldwin Smith Hall. Zeus has a prolific range of tasty soups, recipes for which can be found on their website. What follows is my interpretation of one of my favourite Zeus soups - Cheddar Parsnip - scaled down from commercial proportions, lightened with light milk and less cheese and brightened with the addition of fresh dill right at the end of the cooking process.

Parsnip, cheddar and dill soup

Serves 4

1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 small carrot, diced
1 rib celery, diced (optional)
500g parsnip, peeled and cubed
500g potato, peeled and cubed
1 cup (approx 100g) grated mature cheddar
1 cup low-fat milk
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh dill
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and saute the onion for 5 minutes or until transparent. Add the carrot, celery (if using) and caraway seeds, sauteing for another 5 minutes or until the vegetables have all softened. Add the parsnip and potato and enough hot water to cover the contents of the saucepan. Cover, bring to the boil, lower heat to a fast simmer, cover again and leave to cook for about 15 minutes or until all of the vegetables are fully cooked.

Add the grated cheese, milk and dill to the saucepan and blend the contents with a stick blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Apple and cinnamon wholemeal muffins

This recipe developed out of a desire for afternoon tea and a need to use up the growing collection of barely eaten apples (courtesy of a toddler whose eyes are often bigger than his stomach) in my fridge. These muffins are substantial, full of fibre and low in sugar and fat. Fortunately, they are also tasty and I love the way they fill my house with the tantalising fragrance of apple and cinnamon as they bake.

Apple and cinnamon wholemeal muffins

Makes 12  

3/4 cup rolled oats
400ml skim milk
2 cups wholemeal plain flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
2 tablespoons honey
2 or 3 apples, cored and finely diced (skin on) - enough to make 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups

Combine oats and skim milk in a small bowl. Leave to soak for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Lightly grease a non-stick 12-hole muffin tin with butter or oil.

Meanwhile, sift flour, baking powder and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add brown sugar and stir well to combine. Make a well in the centre for the wet ingredients.

Add egg and honey to with the soaked oats mixture. Beat lightly with a fork to combine. Pour into the dry ingredients and, using a spatula, fold gently together until just incorporated (do not over mix or the batter will become tough). Gently fold in diced apple. Spoon mixture evenly into muffin tin.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes before gently loosening muffins from the tin.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Fresh rice paper rolls with marinated tofu, vegetables and quinoa

These rolls were inspired by a dinner at Nourishing Quarter - a gem of a restaurant in Redfern where you can enjoy tasty, wholesome, vegetarian Vietnamese food and feel like you are in Nanna's sitting room. Nourishing Quarter marry clean, Vietnamese flavours with ancient grains, like quinoa and they cater very well for food intolerances. The recipe below can easily be made gluten-free by substituting the soy sauce with tamari.

Fresh rice paper rolls
Makes approximately 8 large rolls or 16 small rolls

1/2 cup quinoa
1 small carrot, peeled and grated
2-3 iceberg lettuce leaves, rolled and shredded
100g marinated tofu, finely cubed (I use 2 cakes of Japanese flavoured Soyco Tofu)
2-3 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
2-3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
2-3 tablespoons peanuts, toasted and crushed
2 spring onions, chopped
Vietnamese-style dressing (recipe follows)
rice paper sheets for fresh spring rolls

Place quinoa and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover with tight-fitting lid and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and leave for a further 10 minutes. Remove lid and allow to cool for 5 or more minutes. Gently fluff up grains using a fork.

Meanwhile, prepare other filling ingredients as listed above. Gently toss together with the quinoa and dressing in a large bowl.

Fill a shallow, flat dish with hot water. Soak one rice paper sheet for a few seconds until soft and pliant. Carefully lay out on a clean, flat surface and place 4 tablespoons (for large rolls) or 2 tablespoons (for small rolls) of filling in the centre of the sheet. Fold the left and right sides of the rice paper over the filling, bring the bottom side up and over to make an envelope of sorts, then, keeping gentle pressure on the covered filling to ensure a firmly packed result, roll upwards to seal the spring roll. Repeat with remaining filling and rice paper sheets.

Serve rolls with a simple hoisin dipping sauce, made by diluting a small amount of hoisin sauce with an equal quantity of water and mixing with a smaller amount of sweet chilli sauce.


Vietnamese-style dressing
1/8 cup light soy sauce (can substitute tamari for a gluten-free version - use less and adjust to taste)
1/8 cup lime juice
2 teaspoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 small clove garlic, bruised

Combine all ingredients in a small jar and shake until caster sugar is dissolved. Taste for a balance of salty, sour and sweet flavours, adjusting quantities as required.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Gado gado

The warmer weather coaxes me out of the hot kitchen and draws my family outdoors to play. My version of this classic Indonesian salad is decidedly inauthentic, made more substantial by the addition of Japanese buckwheat noodles. This recipe is very flexible - think of what follows as merely a guide - and easily multiplied, making it a great dish to take to a picnic, barbecue or other gathering. The peanut sauce (based more or less on the Moosewood's Chinese peanut sauce recipe) is really a dressing, made of a mixture of readily available pantry ingredients. It thickens upon cooling; mixing in small amounts of hot water will help to restore it to drizzling consistency. 

Gado gado


Peanut Dressing

1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/4 cup hot water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
a pinch of cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic, grated
1-2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped

In a small bowl, mix the peanut butter with the hot water until thoroughly combined [It is important to do this first!]. Mix in remaining ingredients and set aside.

The rest (blanched and fresh veggies, protein source(s) and noodles)

2 medium, red-skinned potatoes, cut into 2cm chunks
1 medium head of broccoli, cut into even florets
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into thick batons
1 small red capsicum, cored, seeded, sliced into thin pieces
1 spring onion, sliced into thin shards [leave a small amount aside for garnish]
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and halved
135g (approx) Japanese soba noodles
100g fried tofu puffs, halved or quartered (depending on size)

Using a separate sauce pan for the eggs and potato, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Switch off the eggs and leave for 5 minutes. Boil potatoes until tender (about 10 minutes). Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables as indicated in the ingredients list and a large bowl of iced water. Once the eggs are done, remove from the water using a slotted spoon then plunge into iced water, drain and set aside. Once the potatoes are cooked, transfer from the water to a colander using the slotted spoon, then leave aside to steam dry.

If necessary, top up the water in the saucepans using boiled water from the kettle. To one, add the broccoli spears and carrots and to the other, the soba noodles. Leave all to simmer for about 4 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and halve (or quarter) the eggs.

Remove broccoli and carrot using the slotted spoon and plunge into the iced water, drain and set aside. Using a sieve, drain the noodles in the sink and then plunge into the iced water, drain and set aside.

To assemble, use separate plates or a large serving platter and alternate layers of potato, noodles, vegetables, tofu, drizzling them lightly with sauce as you go. Top with boiled eggs, remaining sauce and the remaining spring onion shards.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Darley Street Bistro

Darley Street Bistro (at Botany View Hotel) on Urbanspoon
As a former denizen of the Inner West, the Botany View Hotel was a place I might go to for Hair of the Dog and local music on a Sunday afternoon. Now, thanks to a bit of a scrub-up and the excellent addition of Darley Street Bistro, this place has become somewhere to treat the kids and visiting relatives to an earlybird gourmet meal at a reasonable price. Unlike many other bistro menus, there is variety to be found in the vego options, so I can enjoy the rare luxury of agonising over my choice.

The first time I came here I had Pumpkin and goat's cheese ravioli tossed with roasted peppers, lemon and gremolata topped with grana padano ($20; pictured). This generous helping of home-made pasta was delicious and satisfying. More recently, I enjoyed the Haloumi stack with roasted capsicum, sweet potato, mushroom, green zucchini pesto, roasted tomato vinaigrette and wild baby rocket salad ($19)- a tasty, lighter meal, which I supplemented with pieces of a shared Vego pizza topped with cheese, roasted tomato sauce, chilli and lemon and rocket salad ($12 special; pictured). The latter is particularly good with a frosty glass of Bulmers Pear Cider or White Rabbit (both available on tap at the bar), as are the Hand made vegetarian spring rolls with sweet chilli sauce ($11 special). One day soon I will try the Vegetarian roasted beetroot salad with oranges, summer greens and roasted hazelnuts and extra virgin olive oil ($16). They also have a Veggie wrap special. For a tiny kitchen, Darley Street Bistro produces a dizzying array of plates that delights my (extended) vegetarian/omnivore family.

There is limited, communal seating downstairs so if you are bringing the little ones, make sure you have someone to help you upstairs with the pram. Bookings are recommended (they have high chairs).

Darley St Bistro is located at 597 King Street (corner of Darley Street) Newtown NSW 2042. To book, call 9517 1133.