Thursday, 10 April 2014

autumn in melbourne, and what i've been up to lately

Autumn in Melbourne.

It's autumn in Melbourne, and I've started walking to work when the weather is nice. I walk on the exact same route that I take on the tram. Going on foot gives me a different perspective. It takes a little longer, but public transport delays no longer bother me, I'm more in touch with my surroundings, and I feel rather fresh and invigorated when I arrive at the office.

I slow down for fluffy black cats.

It also means that, if I see a fluffy black cat on my way to work, I can easily stop and pat it if I want to.

Miso udon noodle soup.

I think I've mentioned that Simon and I are in kind of a long-distance Perth-Melbourne relationship at the moment. Well, he recently visited, and we've been eating out a lot, dumplings mostly, but I've also been cooking for us, making simple dishes such as this above bowl of udon noodles in miso broth.

Little Red Owl card by Melbourne artist Natalie Marshall.

We also went to my friend Joanne's wedding. I picked out this absolutely adorable card with little red owls by Natalie Marshall, a Melbourne artist, at Paperpoint, a stationery shop in South Melbourne. It came with a very appropriately cheerful red envelope, perfect for stuffing a few notes in and slipping into the wishing well.

I cooked Malaysian chicken curry one night for Simon and my housemates. It was very tasty, and I have to give most of the credit to the neighbour back in Malaysia who roasted and ground the spice mix from scratch, and my parents for bringing a jar of that gorgeous flaming golden curry powder over to Australia for me.

Astam village, one of my favourite places in Nepal.

Last but not least, I'm actually in Nepal right now! I'm traveling for a few weeks with Simon, and we're having a great time. I'm not sure if I'll be doing much else in the way of blogging or other internet activities while I'm on holiday, but rest assured when I get back there shall be a lot of catching up to do!

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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

gelateria primavera (spring st grocer), melbourne cbd

Gelati on a summer day in Melbourne, from Gelateria Primavera / Spring St Grocer.

Gelateria Primavera, out the front of Spring St Grocer (157 Spring St, Melbourne) is one of my favourite gelati places in Melbourne. Their ever-changing seasonal menu is always a delight, with fresh ingredients skilfully handled to create pretty, sensuous flavours.

Gelateria Primavera.

I've been here several times and have tried a number of their offerings. There is the summery brightness of strawberry mint, the delicate elegance of peach basil, the tangy floral loveliness of yoghurt rose cardamom, and the surprisingly rich intensity of the no-dairy choc cashew.

Sometimes there are more unusual creations, like rice pudding with lemon and bergamot, or prickly pear with pomegranate molasses, which I suspect don't come by often.

Then there are the popular items which can often be seen on their board - the beautifully perfumed cardamom-pistachio is usually around, perhaps one time paired with turmeric, another time with saffron.

But for all the fancy combinations, which I appreciate tremendously, my perennial favourite is the simple, yet absolutely luscious fior de latte (translation: "flower of milk"), which I could eat every time. This is an ambassador for the deliciousness of dairy, if there ever was one: pure, creamy perfection. And the cool thing is that, being a "basic" flavour, it's one that seems to be always on their menu. Just how I like it.

Gelati on an autumn day in Melbourne, from Gelateria Primavera / Spring St Grocer.

Also, despite their reputation and popularity, I like that I've yet to experience crazy queues or crowds with Gelateria Primavera, unlike some of the other trendy gelati establishments. Plus, they open till late everyday. What's not to love?

I've popped in to the providore section of Spring St Grocer as well, and it's worth the time to browse their fresh produce or gourmet treats, which you may just decide to take home with you. Additionally, my friends who work in the city tell me they like getting lunch at the "Rolls Ready" sandwich bar located inside. That's going to be my next stop, I think... and of course, I'll follow it up with their tasty gelati for dessert.

Gelateria Primavera on Urbanspoon

Spring St Grocer on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, 16 March 2014

baked lamb cutlets in kaffir chilli cider sauce

When I think about it, this is kind of a wacky dish.

These lamb cutlets are part of a meal, one that is a rather odd combination that strangely works. It's kind of an Asian fusion thing, paired with sauerkraut and spatzle-like egg noodles. A weirdness that is sort of Australian meets Thai meets German. It's not intentional - just a coming-together of ingredients when I want to use up a few things, and the nonchalantly cooperative part of my mind thinks, "That should do."

And it did well, for us. So here's the recipe, if you're feeling wacky enough...

6 lamb cutlets (each cutlet between 60 - 75g, or 2 - 2.5oz)
2 tablespoons apple cider
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
4 single kaffir lime leaves (or 2 twin leaves)

Mix all ingredients together, making sure the liquid thoroughly coats the lamb cutlets. You may leave them to marinate for a while, but it's not absolutely necessary if you're in a hurry.
Transfer lamb cutlets to a foil-lined baking tray, then pour the marinade over them.
Bake at an oven that has been preheated at 180ºC / 360ºF fan-forced (200ºC / 390ºF conventional) for 20 - 25 minutes, turning once mid-way.
Serve with salad, or try it with sauerkraut and egg pasta, like we did!

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Monday, 10 March 2014

a long weekend, and a mussel festival

Paella at the Port Phillip Mussel Festival, South Melbourne Market.

Just a hastily written post today, to mention the mussel-licious long weekend I've had!

The Port Phillip Mussel Festival (part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival) was held at South Melbourne Market on Saturday and Sunday, where fresh mussels were sold by the bucket, and a fun variety of mussel dishes were on offer. And let's not forget - live music and a great crowd.

(I also witnessed a few people - one of whom was an almost-naked dude, save for his bright red underwear and bandanna - parading down the sidewalk while doing some kind of dance with whole, raw fish in their hands, and I have no idea what that was about. If anyone can solve the mystery, please do!)

But anyway.

I wandered around and found this bargain of a dish from the Turkish restaurant, Koy - mussels in tomato and feta sauce. It was $5 for a small plate, which is considered good value for typically pricey festival food in Australia. I was happy with what I got for my money. Plump, juicy mussels, at least half a dozen of them, in a spicy, tangy tomato sauce with feta cubes liberally dotted throughout. I lapped it up.

Mussels in tomato and feta Turkish sauce ($5).

But wait, there's more! We have a public holiday on Monday, and my friend Leon invited me over for home-cooked mussels in a chilli-kaffir-lemongrass coconut milk broth. We enjoyed that with steamed rice for a delightfully filling meal. Additionally, he treated me to creamy brie with some wondrous fig jam, plus Guinness beer; while I proffered fragrant Malaysian biscuits and a refreshing achacha beverage.

A merry food exchange this was, indeed.

Mussels cooked in coconut milk with chilli, kaffir lime leaf, and lemon grass.

How was your weekend?

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Thursday, 6 March 2014

black sesame quinoa porridge for breakfast, or, alternatively, a quinoa pudding dessert

Quick black sesame quinoa porridge for breakfast.

I'm new to the quinoa porridge concept, at least in practice - I mean, I'd heard of it, but never made it myself, until recently. This packet of organic quinoa flakes my sister gave me had been sitting unassumingly in the cupboard, and all this time I haven't really been giving it much attention, other than sneakily adding it to my savoury rice porridge (i.e. congee) from time to time.

Finally, I decided to make a proper quinoa porridge with it. After all, there were basic instructions at the back of the packet, and it looked incredibly easy. I didn't end up following those instructions, but I did successfully create a quinoa porridge in the end with the quinoa flakes. One with lashings of black sesame powder that my parents bought for me, plus ginger, rice syrup, coconut milk, and a pinch of salt. It was not bad, actually. Be warned, though - this does leave you with black sesame residues on your teeth, so brush after eating!

Organic quinoa flakes.

quick black sesame quinoa porridge with ginger and coconut milk
(serves 1)

1/3 cup quinoa flakes
1/4 cup ground black sesame / black sesame powder
1/4 teaspoon finely grated ginger
1 cup water
3 tablespoons coconut milk
1 pinch salt
rice syrup, to taste (may be substituted with other sweeteners e.g. maple syrup, sugar, etc.)

Place quinoa flakes, black sesame powder, ginger and water into a saucepan and bring to boil, then turn down the heat slightly and let it bubble merrily till the quinoa flakes have absorbed the water and the mixture has thickened - this will take around 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix coconut milk with a pinch of salt.
When the gingered black sesame quinoa porridge is done, add rice syrup to taste. (I used 2 tablespoons - rice syrup is only about half as sweet as sugar, and this was a good amount for me to keep this dish just sweet enough while still being relatively healthy. You may use whatever sweetener you have on hand, to your liking.)
Scoop the quinoa porridge into a serving bowl, then ladle the lightly salted coconut milk over it.

I had this warm, but I suspect it would also be pleasant if chilled and served cold. Moreover, I would venture that one could turn this into sort of a quinoa pudding dessert simply by making it sweeter.

Quick black sesame quinoa porridge with ginger and coconut milk.

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Thursday, 27 February 2014

ganache chocolate, south yarra & melbourne cbd

Ganache Chocolate is one of those places that I've known for years, and just never wrote about on this blog because I kind of take it for granted.

It is the place I go to when I need an awesome cake to bring to a party. My favourite is the Hazelnut Fan - layered with milk chocolate mousse, hazelnut sponge and hazelnut praline. If you like chocolate-hazelnut combos like Nutella or Ferrero Rocher, you'll love this cake. It is just utterly delicious with the smooth and crunchy layers, the nutty cocoa flavours. You can get single slices too, but a whole cake is better value, so when there are special occasions I leap at the opportunity to purchase one. I've gotten it from the original South Yarra store (250 Toorak Rd, South Yarra) and also the Melbourne CBD branch (245 Collins St, Melbourne) - both were of the same fabulous quality.

Hazelnut fan cake from Ganache Chocolate (starts from $33 for a small cake to feed several people).

It is also the place I go to when my friends are in the neighbourhood and we're just looking for a place to chill out. My most recent order was a Chocolate Frappe from their specialty summer drinks menu, a blended icy drink with gelato and ganache. It had the ideal balance for me - authentically chocolatey, without being too rich and heavy, and not too sweet. Just right.

Chocolate frappe ($6.90).

Ganache Chocolate also has a simple selection of savoury dishes on their menu, with items like croque monsieur, quiches, and sandwich bread rolls, which look attractive and reasonably priced. Due to the main attraction that is their chocolatey goods, I've never gotten around to trying those. But they're definitely on the radar, and I may have a light lunch there someday. Meanwhile, if you haven't been, and you happen to drop by, do try their chocolatey goods!

Ganache Chocolate on Urbanspoon

Ganache Chocolate on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, 20 February 2014

how to eat sweet tamarind from pods

A box of sweet tamarind from Thailand.

A few months ago, a friend offered me a box of sweet tamarind from Thailand. This was actually given to him as a gift, but he found them a little strange and daunting. I've used tamarind as an ingredient before, but these were whole tamarind pods which are sufficiently ripe and sweet that you can enjoy as a snack just by themselves, which was actually quite novel to me, too. So how does one eat sweet tamarind? Let me show you the way.

The tamarind pods look like this. Not the prettiest things...

The whole sweet tamarind pods.

I cracked the outer shell open. I did this by applying pressure to the pod with hands until the shell broke. Visually, it doesn't really get much better.

A half-peeled sweet tamarind pod.

Then I scrapped off the shell until I was left with just the sticky fruit. Now, here it is, with the shell completely removed.

Sweet tamarind pod with the shell completely removed.

I peeled off the tough, stringy fibers that still clung on to the outside of the flesh. To proceed from here, take a bite of the fruit, one section at a time, chew and spit out the seed.

What does sweet tamarind taste like? To me, it tasted like a tangy dried date. Simon concurred, describing it as having the texture of a date, and a mild cranberry flavour.

A chunk of the sweet tamarind flesh, and one of the sweet tamarind seeds.

In conclusion, these sweet tamarind pods may look quite challenging, but they're really not difficult to eat. All you require is a sense of adventure, and you'll be rewarded with a nice snack!

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Thursday, 13 February 2014

oven-baked spiced kale frittata-omelette

Oven-baked spiced kale frittata.

Food bloggers have been waxing lyrical over kale for ages, yet for some reason I've never felt driven to purchase it at the markets. That is, until I saw a packet of baby kale on the bargain table for 50 cents. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know I love the bargain tables - the cheap prices give me extra incentive to take the plunge on an unfamiliar ingredient.

A bowl of washed baby kale.

I am also currently going through a phase where I enjoy experimenting with Indian flavours in the kitchen. Thus, an oven-baked spice kale frittata was born - a really thin one, almost an omelette. I used various spices I had on hand. I just sort of threw them together because I find that kind of thing enjoyable, but if you can't be bothered, I think some of those pre-mixed Indian curry spices in tins would suit here, too. If you're mixing your own, feel free to adjust the amount of chilli powder to suit your preferences. Mine had a surprisingly generous dose of heat - good thing we both deal well with spicy food!

Oven-baked frittata with baby kale and lots of spice.

oven-baked spiced kale frittata

For the kale:

1 tablespoon oil
1/8 teaspoon chilli powder
1/8 teaspoon coriander seed powder
1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon salt
100g baby kale (about 3 - 4 packed cups)

For the eggs:

4 large eggs
2 tablespoons coconut cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper

In a 20cm/8" oven-safe pan, fry spices in oil for about 15 seconds over low to medium heat, keeping an eye on them and stirring so that they don't burn. Add salt and baby kale. Stir-fry for another 2 - 3 minutes until the leaves are wilted.

In a bowl, whisk eggs together with coconut cream, salt and pepper. Add in the cooked kale and mix well. Pour the entire mixture back into the oven-safe pan you had previously used for stir-frying the kale.

Bake in an oven that had been pre-heated to 180ºC / 350ºF fan-forced (200ºC/390ºF conventional) for about 15 minutes. It should be golden brown on top by then.

Cut and serve the frittata! You can eat it by itself with a dollop of cool coconut cream or tangy plain yoghurt, have it with rice, slot it into a sandwich, or whatever.

I'll admit, this is a pretty basic recipe, so feel free to add more veggies in there - next time I'd cook a bit of garlic and onion before adding the baby kale at the stir-frying stage, for extra nutrition and flavour.

Oh, and happy Valentine's day, whether you celebrate it or not! Simon and I are doing a temporary long-distance thing at the moment, so I'll likely be having a quiet one at home - not that we usually do much for it anyway. :)

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