Monday, November 26, 2007

Nigella Express: Random Dinners

More Nigella Express!

Brandied Bacony Chicken with Mushroom and Potato Gratin

Delicious. The chicken, being cooked with only brandy and bacon, has an impressive depth of flavour. The gratin was also nice, and slightly lower in fat than a regular gratin, as it contains milk instead of cream. On the downside, the dish was impossible to clean up afterwards. Mmm... burnt-on milk crud.

Curry in a Hurry

Very easy, very nice. It's basically a Thai green chicken curry. The most difficult thing about this recipe was podding the edamame (soybeans), because I couldn't find already-podded ones. It seemed like too much work at the time, but once I tasted the finished product, I felt the fabulous contrast of textures between the veggies made the process worth it. Yum yum.

Chef's Salad

I had high hopes for this one, and even bought a special bottle of cabernet sauvignon vinegar (made by a collective of farmers in rural Spain, thank-you very much) for it. However, the combination - ham, corn, emmenthal cheese, avocado, lettuce - just didn't do it for me. I was really hoping for a salad, like Nigella's ultimate Greek salad, or Jill Dupleix's panzanella, that you just want to wolf down. Better luck next time.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Lighten Up

I've been balancing out all that baking baking with some light meals... Please to enjoy more recipes from Jill Dupleix's Lighten Up.

Chicken Satay

Jill's satay is served with cucumber shavings, and a sort-of-peanut sauce. We turned the dish into a complete meal with some stir-fried veggies and steamed rice. The peanut sauce is a mixture of peanut butter, oyster sauce and a couple of other things. It tasted fine to me, but my mother complained that it wasn't a "true" Malaysian peanut sauce, made of crushed roasted peanuts mixed with oil and chilli. Well, duh!

Greek Meatballs with Panzanella

This was made for me as a surprise dinner on a workday. What a treat!

As I didn't make them, I can't tell you whether they were easy or not, but they tasted great! The almonds in the panzanella were substituted with pine nuts - yum yum. The meatballs were also tasty, but needed more sauce. I would add an extra tin of tomatoes (and more flavourings, correspondingly) next time.

Chicken Wings
Marinate chicken wings in various Asian cupboard staples for about an hour, then roast in a hot oven untily stickily brown and tasty. Easy, and compulsive.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

First, we take a stick of rich, creamery butter...

Ok, here we go. I leave on my trip very soon, and have a huge backlog of cooking to catch up on. Today is the baking post. Here we go.

Sticky Date Pudding

Jill Dupleix's recipe, ostensibly not from Lighten Up. It's a classic recipe from Old Food, and was recommended to me by a guy from my old work, who makes this as his specialty. I can't see how it's especially different from other sticky date pudding recipes, but it was definitely the best I've ever tried. Give it a go when you want some proper homespun comfort food.

Vanilla Apples with Sweetheart Croutes

This dessert, from the Storecupboard S.O.S. chapter of Nigella Express, is so simple; it shouldn't taste as good as it does. It is basically made up of thinly sliced apples, fried in butter and vanilla extract (I used a vanilla pod, wonderfully fresh and aromatic, bought cheaply at the market), and little hearts of Wonder White bread, also fried in the same butter until crisp. Absolutely delicious.

Night and Day Cupcakes

When I had to make a "welcome back" dessert for my friends who'd just returned from Japan a few weeks back, I wanted to make cute cupcakes with a not-to-sweet-yet-still-swirly-and-cute icing. I turned to Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess, and decided on her Night and Day cupcakes - a chocolate cupcake with a cream-cheese icing. I added a little piece of white chocolate to the centre of each cupcake...

... and added a cute little koala cookie to the top of each one!

London Cheesecake

I made this with a friend of mine for her to take to work for a "Multicultural day" at her work. Again, it is from How to be a Domestic Goddess. It is a rich, dense, creamy cheesecake, including 6 egg yolks, and covered with a layer of sour cream. Absolutely divine, but only in small slices.

Marble Cake
Sometimes you just want a little something sweet with your afternoon tea. Something plain, unfancy, and just a little bit naughty. The solution? Marble Cake, Donna Hay, Modern Classics 2. I know I keep saying I'm not a Donna fan, but I got Modern Classics 1 & 2 for my 21st birthday, and I have since realised that they're a great source for basic recipes. The only difference I made was to omit the pink swirl that Donna suggests, and increase the chocolate swirl.

Chocolate Cheesecake
I saw Nigella make this on Nigella Feasts, and just had to have it. Chocolate base, chocolate filling, chocolate glaze. Sounds beautiful! We made it as a trial run for that "Multicultural Day" thingo my friend was having at her work. When we tried it, however, we felt it was waaay too rich, even in teensy-weensy slices. So, we opted for the London cheesecake, and gave the remaining chocolate cheesecake to my dad to distribute to his (not-so-fussy) workmates, who all thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Vlado's is well-known, as proclaimed on the autograph-covered plaque adorning one of the walls, for "40 years of no change". And why would you need to change, when you're Melbourne's most famous and enduringly successful steakhouse?

61 Bridge Road
VIC 3121
9428-5833 or 9428-2819


Vlado Gregurek opened Vlado's in 1964, and has been serving up Melbourne's finest steaks ever since. His restaurant has become world renowned for the quality (and generosity) of its food, especially amongst the Japanese, and the Germans, who, according to Vlado himself, "very much enjoy their food". (Woo-hoo).

Stepping through the heavy wooden doorway for the first time, I was surprised by how small the space actually is. I suppose I was expecting a restaurant as large as the reputation that precedes it. However, it is just a pleasantly sized, 2 storey, narrow building. Speaking of which, when you make a booking (and you will need to, as it is always packed), ask to sit downstairs if you can. This way Vlado himself will definitely come around and greet you; he seems to spend more of his time downstairs than upstairs; and he is a genuinely lovely person. His waiters, too, are excellent, without a hint of attitude; our waiter had been working there for over 25 years, yet still seemed to be enjoying his work and served us with a smile. (Even when someone on our table ordered their steak well done. Shock, horror!).

The decorations on the wall include the aforementioned gold plaques, covered in autographs and the motto: "40 years of no change", photos of celebrity diners from all over the world, other bits and bobs, and a massive picture of livestock in a paddock. This picture, (see photo above) looks spookily like a similar picture from the menu of that flashy, expensive, new-kid-on-the-block steakhouse, bar and grill in Melbourne. But unlike the single benign beast on that menu, the herd of beasts on Vlado's wall stare at you as you eat. It's kinda bad-ass. I like it.

And speaking of eating... here is the food! It is a set menu, the only choice you have is which steak you would like, and how you want it cooked. (Actually, you can choose between 2 desserts, but that's hardly as difficult as selecting your steak).

Cabbage Salad

Just cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, and one addictively sharp dressing. It is simple and perfect. Steaks aside, I could eat bowlfuls of this salad by itself. (Note to self: buy a mandolin and start experimenting with dressings).

One enormous boule of crusty bread. Yummy though it is, heed my father's advice and don't fill up on it.

This is Vlado's house made beef and pork sausage. It combines a spicy taste typical of the eastern Mediterranean with the true coarse-ground meatiness of a proper sausage of Mitteleuropa.

Mixed Meat Selection
The tasting plate includes: beef fillet, calf liver, pork medallions and beef patties. 4 kinds of deliciousness.

Mmm... liver. By the way, I know liver isn't very popular these days, but it was very, very good. For those of you who aren't game to try it, fear not - Vlado told us only to eat what we want to eat, and to enjoy it. That is his aim, to give the customer the dining experience that they want.

Grilled peppers. These aren't strictly on the menu, but they were offered to us anyway.

This, my friends, is the meat station. Behind that fridge full of meat is the grill.

Once you have finished your starters, and begin to worry that you may be too full to eat a whole steak, a waiter will come around with a tray of steaks, and ask you to make your selection. That night, the choice was between fillet and sirloin, and large and small. I chose a small sirloin. Rare.

Check out the massive steak knife!
So good. Perhaps the best steak I have ever eaten. Rare as anything, with a delectably crunchy chargrilled crust, which had almost caramelised on the grill. I didn't think I would be able to eat the whole thing, but once I started, I just couldn't stop. Fabulous. The only accompaniments given are mild mustard, horseradish or hot mustard. For me, this was more than enough, as I just wanted to taste the incredibly complex flavour of the steak.


You have a choice of strawberry crepes...

Or strawberries with ice-cream...
... and filtered coffee or tea.

I guess you don't really need dessert after the meat-feast, but it is a lovely way to finish off a very rich meal. The price, per head, is about $75. This is great value, especially when you consider that you probably won't need to eat anything the next day.

Vlado's on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A quick note...

Hello all!

Just letting y'all know that I'm going overseas! Having finished my degree 6 months ago, and with no discernable future plans taking shape yet, I am doing what I do best - procrastinating - and heading off to see the world. Or parts thereof. Japan, Germany and France to be precise, following my heart and my tastebuds, and hopefully brushing up on my miniscule foreign language skills. I probably won't have much time to blog in Japan, but once I get to Germany, I should have a super-fast broadband connection at my disposal. I arrive in Germany just before Christmas, so I should be blogging again then. That is, if I'm not too busy inhaling Stollen, Gluhwein, and Weihnachts Gans. Yes, I have been doing my German homework.

I leave in less than 2 weeks, and have a lot of blogs to catch up on until then. These will be coming out quick sticks.


xox Sarah

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Dandenongs

Last week we headed up to The Dandenongs for a relaxing weekend away. The Dandenongs (as distinct from the suburb of Dandenong, where Oktoberfest was held), feature gorgeous mountain scenery, quaint towns, many B&Bs, cafés and beautiful parks. And it’s only an hour away from Melbourne!

Here are some culinary highlights of our trip…

Spaghetti Carbonara
Spaghetti Carbonara (Nigella’s recipe from How to Eat and Feast) is my meal of choice when cooking away from home, for its complete ease of preparation and deliciousness.

Fry-Up Breakfast

Our B&B provided a breakfast hamper in each room – eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, bread, jam, tea and coffee, milk, cereals and so on. Do you know that uncomfortable bloated feeling you get when you eat too much of something just because it's free? I certainly do!

The Verandah View Café
Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd (Directly opposite Mt. Dandenong Lookout Point)
9761 9902

As you can tell from the name, this café features an amazing view, facing Mt. Dandenong lookout point. I had a decent latté and an incredibly decadent pudding made of croissants, raspberries and custard. Divine!

SkyHigh Bistro, Cafe & Restaurant

26 Observatory Rd
Mt Dandenong
9751 0443

This restaurant is part of the Sky High Mt Dandenong observatory-slash-tourist destination. It does pleasant and slightly adventurous food at not-extortionate prices, in a nice atmosphere.
I had a crab and chive stuffed chicken breast (see what I mean by slightly adventurous?), atop a sun-dried tomato risotto and grilled zucchini slices, with a capery salsa verde. The chicken tasted great, as did the sauce. The risotto, however, whilst having a good texture, had a bizarre taste, somewhat like the juice in a tin of baked beans. And there was not a sun-dried tomato in sight. My dining partner had a parma, of which we didn’t get a photo. I’m sure you all know what a parma looks like. (Or at least, all the Aussies will).

The restaurant operates a free limousine service to and from the local B&Bs, which we decided to take advantage of. Amusingly, before going to the restaurant, we discovered that our B&Bwas a mere 2 minute walk away. But we still took it, because it was cold. And I wanted to ride in a limo, dammit!

Ranges Café
5 Main Street
9751 2133

Recommended to us by the lovely lady who ran the B&B, Ranges Café has good coffee and a big warm fireplace!
Some people seem to think that chips count as breakfast.

Miss Marples
382 Mt. Dandenong-Tourist Road
Victoria 3787
(Melways Reference: 66F9)
(03) 9755-1610

In the heart of Sassafrass lies Miss Marples, an English-style teahouse and tourist institution. I used to go there with my family when I was a child to devour their famous Devonshire Tea, and I was keen to relive the experience. This time, we went there for afternoon tea, after having had breakfast and a light lunch. This, my friends, was a mistake! In addition to their wonderful scones, Miss Marples serves all manner of English sweet and savoury treats. I was looking, with piercing envy, at all the tables around me, wishing I had left room for an open toasted sandwich. Or a pastie. Or a Ploughman’s lunch. You get the picture.
But back to the scones. The surprisingly cheap Devonshire tea includes 2 massive scones with raspberry jam and cream. I am glad to say it was just as good as my childhood memories had led me to believe.
Scones, JC, Tea

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Bratwurst und Bier

Melbourne's own version of the infamous German festival was a rather more restrained affair than I had imagined. Held last weekend in the Dandenong Showgrounds, a 5 minute walk from the infamous Dandenong station, I was imagining rivers of beer, mountains of bratwurst and cakes from the famous Cuckoo restaurant in Olinda, and dozens of Maedchens und Jungens in their Dirndls and Lederhosens.

Not quite.

It wasn't the massive celebration of German culture that I thought it would be. But it was still fun. Melbourne's Oktoberfest ran over 3 days, and we went on the last day, by which time I think the festivities were winding down.
Big Bavarian tent

A group of us rocked up in the early afternoon, braving incredibly strong winds and the hot sun. As far as German treats go, I had a sweet pretzel (apparently they don't have sweet pretzels in Germany, but they still tasted good!), the delicious bratwurst you see at the top of this post, and a good amount of Bitburger beer.

My mate George with a dark beer

Bizarrely, there was also Dutch poffertjes stand, a Spanish stand, and a Nando's. What's up with that?
Dutch poffertjes. What the?

I searched for the cake stand from the famous Cuckoo restaurant, but to no avail. We saw a good floorshow from the team at the Cuckoo (Victoria's other German restaurant), but the cakes were sadly missing. Oh well, nothing to do but to drown your sorrows in another tasty beer. Repeat: "Bitte, ein Bit!"