Friday, 21 November 2014

Summer citrus cordial - and what a summer we are going to have!

Wow!  We have just had the weekend from hell with 40+C weather and hot northerlies blowing at us.  I can imagine what all the G20 leaders said when they got home about stinking hot Brisbane.  Never mind that this is really really odd for Spring.  Gawd knows what is ahead in the coming Summer months.
We had a friend coming over for dinner on the Saturday night, so I made citrus cordial.  We sat in the air-con and drank cordial, and then Champagne 'cos that's what you need to do when the weather is unbearable.  Oh, and just to keep us on our toes, we had a huge storm yesterday and flash flooding.  Eek!
This is a really easy recipe, and only takes a short time to make.  And it's so handy to have a jugfull (is that a real word?) in the fridge ready to go.  You will get 2 jugs' worth out of this recipe.


2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
zest of a lime or a lemon
2 cups of fresh citrus juice- this can be a mixture of oranges, lemons and limes
1 bottle of soda or mineral water
extra citrus zest for serving


Place the water and sugar into a medium saucepan
Stir and keep stirring till the sugar has dissolved over a medium heat
Add the cinnamon stick and zest now to the pan
Stop stirring! and let it simmer away gently on a low heat for 6 minutes
Take it off the heat
Leave to cool down
Take out the cinnamon stick when ready to mix the syrup with the juice

Juice your fruit - I used 2 big oranges, a lime and several lemons to get 2 cups
Add the juice and sugar syrup together and stir
Pour half the mixture into a nice jug
Add the bottle of sparkling water
Throw on the extra zest and ice cubes - and drink!

making sugar syrup

gnarly organic lemons from a friend's tree

zesting and juicing

combining cordial and mineral water 

sparkling and so refreshing!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Feral chooks and a coconut chilli chicken dish

Did I ever tell you about the feral chooks that lived next door to us when we were children?  We lived in a poor, rural area with lots of "interesting" residents. Some were escaping the city, some were escaping the War in Europe (long before my time of course) and some were just escaping.  Our neighbourhood included many Dutch refugees who had come to Australia during and after the War.  There were also a lot of hippies, a lot of druggies, a witch's coven or 2 and apparently a fair bit of wife-swapping!  Oh, and our immediate neighbour was a convicted felon, in and out of gaol, who kept chooks in his yard. I am not sure what he did to them to make them so savage, but when we were ensconced on the outdoor loo, we would suddenly have mad chooks crashing through the door with huge claws at the ready.  It was a terrifying experience and didn't do much for your internal system.  We usually had to go down in pairs so one sibling could fend off the mad chooks with a broom.  Not sure why mum or dad didn't think this was unusual.  Happily this experience did not leave me with mixed emotions about chooks, only with recalcitrant, recidivist neighbours!  I do love a good chicken dish, and here is one that I have adapted from the winning recipe in the Sample Food Fair macadamia competition.  (sadly I didn't win, but this savoury one deserved to!)  There are 3 parts to this dish - the chicken, the rice and the sauce.  I suggest making the rice before the chicken goes into the oven to bake, as it can sit and rest awhile before the chicken comes out.
Remember that you need at least 30 minutes to marinate the chicken before baking so give yourself plenty of time for this.



4 chicken breasts (about 1.2 kg)
1 tbs olive oil
2 tbs lemon juice
1/2 cup coconut chilli sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves


2 tbs butter
2 cups long grain rice
2 tsp chicken stock powder
1 tsp turmeric
1.5 tbs lemongrass paste (or a stalk of fresh lemongrass finely chopped)
1.75 cups water
1.5 cups coconut milk


1/2 cup macadamia butter
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup coconut chilli sauce


Dice the chicken into 2cm cubes  (Mr Pickings suggested I had cut them too big- the cheek!)
Place them in a bowl and stir in the olive oil, lemon juice, chilli sauce and coriander
Leave in the fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes; 45 would be better!

yep I wear gloves to chop chicken, and I keep a separate cutting board

Just before you are going to put the chicken in the oven, start on the rice.  It takes about 20 minutes to make, and it needs to rest for 15 minutes before eating.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan
Throw in the rice and give it a good stir
Add the stock powder, turmeric and lemongrass paste
Stir everything till the rice grains are glistening and turning opaque
Pour in the water and coconut milk - the liquid should be 2cm from the top of the rice grains - you may need to adjust the liquid quantities given above
Bring it to the boil, then turn down as low as you can
Let it simmer away, covered with a lid for 15 minutes
Turn off the heat, and leave to rest for 15 minutes, covered
Do not sneak a peek says Mr Pickings!  Leave the lid alone while cooking and resting!

Mr Pickings is the rice and pasta king in our household-I leave it all to him!

Now that the chicken is beautifully marinated, you can put it into the oven at 190C for about 15 minutes

excuse the shadow of the phone folks!

So before you are going to serve, you will need to get the sauce together.  It is really quick and easy.  Grab a bowl, throw in the macadamia butter, coconut milk and chilli sauce and whisk!  Done!

throw in the ingredients and whisk 

You will now have a dish of delicious, spicy chicken, along with a nutty sauce and fluffy rice.  So put them together!

all ready to eat; bowl being held by the lovely Princess Pia neighbour extraordinaire

Add some plain yoghurt and more chopped coriander leaves; eat with gusto.
Next time I will add some roasted, chopped nuts upon serving, maybe macadamias but cashews would do nicely too. And I am thinking of adding steamed green beans to the chicken 'cos I think it needs a bit of healthy and crunchy vegetable goodness.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Breakfast smoothie Belle General style

Like most people we had 2 grandmothers. To differentiate between them, we called our mum's mum Nanny car 'cos - you guessed it-  she had a car!  This Nanny as I may have mentioned before, used to buy strange things for us like musk sticks and whole coconuts and tinned quinces - can you even buy those anymore?- when a sensible gift would have been a pound of steak (no metrics in those days) or potatoes. Another thing she used to give our poor tired-out mother was packets of dates.  And these were not the gourmet dates you can buy these days. Oh no - they were small and hard and chewy with nasty bits that stuck in your throat. So why am I telling you all this you may well be asking?  Because I had a bit of a date breakthrough this weekend.  I had not knowingly eaten dates since I was a child but this weekend I ate- well, drank- some dates!  I had sucked up a delicious banana and date smoothie in a cafe recently, so thought I would give it a go at home.  Bravely I went out into the world and purchased some "gourmet dates" (clearly, calling them "gourmet" means you can triple the asking price) and a few other items for my attempt at this smoothie.  It was not as delicious as theirs, but a pretty damn good try I thought.  I still have some dates, and a banana in the freezer so I guess I will have to make another one.  I actually sliced up and froze my banana first, but I see now that you can just chuck your banana pieces in the blender and forget the freezing bit unless you have a ripe little beastie that won't last until you can drink it.


laying on tray ready for the freezer (that's the banana not me)

I put the slices in the freezer for an hour or so, then placed them into a freezer bag so I could use them another day. No need of course to freeze if you are making the drink straightaway.
Here is my version of The Belle General super smoothie:


1 ripe banana sliced
5 or 6 "gourmet" dates
1/3 cup coconut cream
1/2 cup almond milk (or soy or rice or whatever takes your fancy)
1 tsp chia seeds
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbs oats
ice cubes
extra ground cinnamon


well, you know the drill.  Blitz it all up in the blender, peoples!  And throw on some extra cinnamon if you fancy.  Add more milk if it is too thick for you.

dates and banana- my nemeses! 

all ready for blitzing

blitzed!  and now for the drinking 

here we go!  mmm not too bad

Obviously I will have to go back to Ballina to try this drink again at the cafe, as they have it just right.  And I will keep trying to get my own perfect version till I get it right.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Road Trip to Sydney- the extended version

Just for the hell of it I thought I would throw in a few more photos of our recent road trip to Sydney.  I love to snap away with my phone camera.  Mr Pickings always asks if it is ok to eat his meal 'cos he knows I have to snap it first!  And as we drive along, he will often ask if I want to take a photo of something we have just passed.  Sweet man that he is, he will happily reverse or turn around so I can take another photo.
So here are a few more shots of our trip:

Irish Town/Thunderbolt's Way and Roadies Cafe-Gloucester

wonderful sculptures at Sculpture by the Sea in Bondi

wooden whale/big baby's bottom and sunset over Sydney

East Coast Lounge and delicious platters 

a Zumbo cake/Art Gallery NSW/Tacking Point Lighthouse/kitchen window of our hotel

trawler heading out to sea from Ballina/house-smoked ocean trout at Northern Rivers Community Gallery
                                                                gorgeous ceiling at the Gallery                                                                                                                            

 Can't wait for our next trip!  Melbourne here we come!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Two cafes and a road trip - Bill's in Bondi and The Belle General in Ballina

This past week Mr Pickings and I took off on a road trip to Sydney.  I have often said to him - "let's just keep driving" whenever we cross over to the southside of town and see the big highway sign which tells us the big smoke is only 900+ klicks away.  So this time we did it!  We drove to Armidale the first night and spent a lovely evening in the very cool air at a wonderful place called Moore Park Inn.  Even though it was Sunday night, the chef was on and made us a delicious meal.  I thought it was somewhat amusing that room delivery cost $7 when the owner only had to walk about 10 metres to our room with the plates!

chicken and mushroom tart 

Next day we drove down Thunderbolt's Way to Sydney.  What a fantastic road this is!  So peaceful and beautiful, and we were lucky enough to see a koala and baby very close to the side of the road.  (our niece who works for the RSPCA said this was a bad sign though, as they should be much higher in the trees).

We stayed the night with friends at Gosford, then headed down to Sydney.  There is such a lot to see and do here, so with only 2 days it was all a bit of a lightning foray.  The afternoon we arrived we went to Bondi to see Sculpture by the Sea- such a wonderful festival.  It was a beautiful day and it was a joy to walk along the cliffs taking in the marvellous artworks.  We met up that night with an old friend who now lives in Sydney. Nothing more delightful than spending time with someone who knows you so well, and takes no nonsense.
On our last morning we went to Bill's in Bondi for breakfast with all the beautiful people.  For a Thursday morning it was pretty darn busy, full of tourists like us.  Service was quick and efficient, and the food was fantastic!

the ceiling wasn't really falling on our heads!

We really enjoyed a delicious breakfast and it was a lovely end to our Sydney sojourn.  We just had the long drive back home.  Oh well, what's a thousand kilometres between friends?!

Bill's blend of single origin coffee $3.90
beetroot carrot apple and fennel juice just made your blood sing! $8.50

scrambled organic eggs and sourdough toast $14.50
side of haloumi $4.50 and housemade gravlax $6.00

On the way home we stopped in Ballina for a couple of nights to recoup.  We love it there and go down several times a year.  I have been dying to try out a new(ish) place called The Belle General in East Ballina. We managed to haul ourselves out of bed and get along there for breakfast the next day.  We hadn't booked but luckily for us someone hadn't turned up so we grabbed their table.  The restaurant was comfortably full, but it didn't feel crowded or overwhelming and service was very efficient.

Mr Pickings perusing the menu

the menu (check it out online)

The Belle General proudly uses local produce, and organic and  free-range whenever possible.  Clearly, locals and tourists alike are keen on this approach.  I loved my soft breakfast taco with beans, (added) bacon, avocado and scrambled eggs.  And even though I am not a fan of banana or dates, the Super smoothie was soooo delicious I wolfed it down. (Yes you may well ask - why did she pick that one then?  To which I have no answer except senility).  Mr Pickings hoed into his brekkie of pancakes and fruit which was a special that day.  (sorry- can't remember the price).

Mr Pickings had the Summer smoothie with mango, raspberries etc
(oh and banana which he also doesn't like! but loved in this). $10.50   

my taco was delish!  $19.00 + $4.50 for the bacon

Mine was a substantial dish and I had to force most of my taco on Mr Pickings who willingly sacrificed himself for the cause.  I think I have a bacon fetish and always order it as an extra where appropriate (obviously not with sweets or a fish dish!)   And I loved the hot and sweet chilli relish- yum!  No whimping out here with the heat.

my artistic shot of their pendant lights

the great outdoors

the lovely ladies of The Belle General doing their thing 

As we left, 2 (other) lovely local ladies also having breakfast stopped to have a chat with us.  They had seen me taking photos of the food, and wanted to know what we were up to.  They talked about how the Northern Rivers area is picking up economically, and starting to zing.  I do think it is a bit of a shame that development is starting to take over this area. I want it all to myself!  No but really, the very thing we love about it is the peace and beauty, and sadly we are starting to see housing estates take over.  I guess I am selfish, but I would like to see the serenity remain.  But it is still a wonderful place to visit with lots of great eating places and beautiful scenery, and of course really nice people to talk to!

The Belle General

Address: The Belle General Cafe Takeaway Store
12 Shelly Beach Rd East Ballina NSW
Phone: 02 6681 3263