Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Unblogged Files: January 2013

Yo yo, January round-up! It didn't feel particularly busy, but here I am at the end of the month with a heap o' pictures to share! That doesn't even include the things I've already blogged (Shimbashi, Spring Street Grocery) or the things that I'll be blogging very shortly (a fab Australia Day concert/lunch at Rochford Winery, my endlessly Instagrammable breakfasts, round 2 of the Lobster Dinner...)

Here we go!

It was hot this month, I got obsessed with frozen yogurt - particularly Yo-Chi in Balaclava, which we visited a bunch of times. They seem to be constantly crazy busy, but the queues move pretty quickly, and the friendly staff seem to direct the crowd and clean up efficiently. I think Cacao Green has slightly higher quality products, but it's fun building your own fro-yo at Yo-Chi and adding all the different toppings. (Although it does get expensive if you go overboard!) Worth a visit!
Yo-Chi, Balaclava
I even had these big plans to do an epic comparison post between Yochi, Cacao Green, Tutti Frutti and Igloo Zoo... but then I OD'd on froyo and am totally over it. For now...

Speaking of obsessions - GLICKS!
Glicks Challah, Challah Bagel, Normal Bagel
On one of my visits to Yochi, I realised that the Carlisle street Glicks is open til late on Thursdays. Yay! Cue me wolfing down loaves and loaves of freshly-baked fluffy soft challah, and enjoying excellent bagels for breakfast. LOVE!

We made a visit to The People's Market, which was a pleasant way to spend a weekend afternoon. I wasn't too interested in the art or shopping stands, but really liked the different food stalls/trucks. (The food stands seem to rotate too, so I want to visit again in a few weeks' time!)
The People's Market

Vegan Chilli Dog - $8
Pink Lemonade - $4
Passionfruit Iced Tea - $4
It sounds like an oxymoron, but we were really impressed by the Vegan chilli dog from South - it was fantastic, and this is coming from me (a committed carnivore) and Sandra (who is German and therefore an authority on sausages). It wasn't just good "for a vegan dog", it was good for a hot dog, full stop. Great stuff! Just quietly, we liked the vegan chilli dog from South better than the real meat meatballs from The Meatball Company, which were a little underwhelming.

We had some blistering hot days this month, which means one thing: beach! I'm loving Chelsea beach right now...
Chelsea Beach
And trekking out to Chelsea always means stopping off in Springvale for cheap and tasty Vietnamese food. Yum! I've been enjoying Pho Hung Vuong and Pho Huong Dakao - but am happy to take recommendations! What's your fave place in Springvale?
Top left: Pho Ga from Pho Hung Vuong
Everything else from Pho Huong Dakao

We enjoyed a fab BBQ at Adrian's place - so much meat and so many Filipino treats! The BBQ lamb adobo with chilli dressing was Amaaaazing!
Meatfeast
I also made some meringues to bring along...
Shiny meringues
...so that we could make bowls of refreshing sweet Eton Mess. Perfect summer dessert, amirite?
Eton Mess

And in total contrast to that meat feast, lunch the next day was at Yong Green Food. I love their Macro Dragon Bowl, all healthy and nourishing with brown rice, chunks of tempeh and a fab lemon tahini sauce.
Macro Dragon Bowl - $18

Before dinner at Shimbashi, I ducked into Ombra Salumi Bar on Bourke street for a sneaky solo Friday-night tipple. I loved the negroni bianco I ordered, and totally want to go back to try their cichetti and salumi!
Negroni Bianco - Gin, Cocchi Americano, Cynar, Doli n Dry - $18

My friend Jeremy had a Mexican-themed birthday party - Jeremy made excellent tequila cocktails, and his girlfriend Val made fantastic tacos, using these incredible white corn tortillas that she ordered online from El Cielo. (They're miles above the standard supermarket tortillas, and certainly better than the hard cracker-like things I made when I attempted making tortillas myself!) Definitely buying the El Cielo ones next time.
El Cielo Tortillas

My contribution to the party was Nigella's flourless chocolate lime cake with margarita cream... very moist and super delicious. (This reminds me that Nigella has a whole range of flourless chocolate cake recipes I should try - she certainly loves riffing on a theme! I can also heartily recommend her chocolate espresso cake with caffe latte cream!)
Nigella's flourless chocolate lime cake with margarita cream
Val also got these super cute lego cakes from Burch & Purchese. They're so cute I can't handle it! They tasted seriously good too - each colour was a different flavour and was made up of a wonderfully light mousse and thin sponge base.
Burch & Purchese lego cake
Another friend brought a ricotta cheesecake - there was So Much Cake! Phew!

For one of our regular mid-week Miranda-viewing nights (yes, we have standing dates with different groups of friends to watch Miranda on different nights of the week and no, I'm not ashamed), I whipped up a batch of Dan Lepard's Chocolate Peanut Butter Muffins - wonderful stuff, especially with the crunch of salted peanuts. (The use of peanut butter in the batter is such a great idea too!) I thought they could have used a little extra sugar, but my friends seemed to like them!
Dan Lepard's chocolate and peanut butter muffins
PS I got those cute muffin cups from Daiso in Japan back in 2007. Cuuuute, right?

My friend Anna recently bought her own house - complete with pizza oven in the backyard, jealous! - and she had us over for a great pizza party. We got to assemble our own pizzas and cook them in the amazing oven. (For some reason no-one was taking the fior di latte, so I loaded up my pizza with it. Yummmmm).
Pizza party
Dessert was a make your own sundae bar (much like Yo-Chi, come to think of it), with loads of toppings (berries, Oreos, chocolate peanut butter fudge sauce...) and Anna's own homemade chocolate and vanilla ice-cream. So much deliciousness!
Sundae!

Dumplings at Luyang Dumpling House in Box Hill. They were a little rougher than, say, Mr Huang Jin, but very cheap and tasty. On this visit we only had dumplings, but I saw and smelled some cumin lamb coming out of the kitchen while we were there and it smelled amazing! Must try next time.
Clockwise from left: Pan fried pork dumplings, Xiao Long Bao, Chive Dumplings

Sandra made these incredibly cute Egg Cakelets as a weekend project. Yes, they are literally baked inside an eggshell, and they are too cute to function! (The recipe and steps are on this post at The Cupcake Project if you'd like to try them yourself!)
Egg cakelet

Chinese New Year is coming, and in preparation we've decorated the flat and stocked up on CNY cookies! Kuih kapit (centre) and kuih bangkit (right) are so addictive. I can't stop!

And finally, last night I attended the launch of Pawn & Co, a speakeasy-style bar in the surprising location of Chapel Street Prahran. (Directly above the Fitness First and opposite the KFC, for realsies).

The drinks list is inspired by the Prohibition era and foodwise, they tap into the current trend for sliders and meatballs. Their schtick is that everything in the venue is for sale. That's everything, from the decorations, to the chairs, to the bar, and even, disconcertingly, the waitstaff's clothes! Ahem!
Balls in boats with little tags. SO INSTAGRAMMABLE
That was January! My plans for February are to celebrate Chinese New Year, and to catch up on some much-needed sleep!!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Spring Street Grocery

Large cup: Blood plum, hazelnut, chocolate, mango/passionfruit - $7.50

Spring Street Grocery
157 Spring Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9662-1520
Spring St Grocery on Urbanspoon

I love ice-cream. I mean, I seriously love ice-cream. I love eating it, I love talking about it, I love making it. (Remember the Ice-Cream Party and the Ice-Cream Sundae project?) I love all types of ice-cream - cheap and nasty home-brand vanilla, sickly sweet American-style ice-creams studded with pieces of candy and ribboned with fudge, but most of all: I love proper Italian gelato.

The very first time I went to Europe, on a 6-week backpacking jaunt as a bright-eyed twenty year old, I hadn't even planned to include Italy on my itinerary - but a few months before the trip, an issue of Vogue Entertaining and Travel came out with a feature on Sicilian gelato. I thought to myself: "I've made a huge mistake!", enrolled myself in Italian classes and rearranged my itinerary so that a third of my trip was spent eating my way across la bella Italia. Best decision ever!

Flash forward to the present - I was incredibly excited when I saw this tweet from Alan Campion, sharing the address of a new artisan gelateria (and soon to be fancy-schmancy grocery store) on Spring Street.

We've visited twice now, and I totally love it! They make absolutely excellent Italian-style gelati and sorbets, with a mixture of classic and adventurous flavours that seem to rotate regularly. It is literally the best gelato I have ever had in Australia, and even better than a lot of the gelati I've had in Italy and other parts of Europe. I've been blabbing on endlessly about it to my friends and family - and now, I'm sharing it with you. (The below photos were taken on two separate visits with friends - I didn't eat all that gelato to myself!)
Spring Street Grocery

Flavours

I must admit, on my first visit I was a bit shocked at the prices - $6.50 for a medium, for which you get up to three flavours in a rather small looking cup - however, you can really taste the quality of the ingredients. They're also quite rich and intensely flavoured, so they're definitely satisfying. (Sometimes I feel the medium is actually too much!) Totally worth it. Visit, visit now!

Medium cone: Banana/date, salted caramel and chocolate, fior di latte - $6.50
The salted caramel/chocolate flavour was a great one - it looked like choc chip/stracciatella, but the ice-cream base itself was infused with a salted caramel flavour.

I couldn't resist ordering an espresso to make an impromptu affogato with the fior di latte gelato in the bottom of my cone. (N.B. fior di latte is a milk flavour, not mozzarella gelato!)
Impromptu affogato - $3.50 for the espresso
Medium cup: Watermelon/mint, turmeric/cardamom/pistachio, fior di latte - $6.50
The turmeric/cardamom/pistachio is an unusual one, but very delicious. It's a favourite amongst my friends!

Medium cone: Chocolate, salted caramel/chocolate - $6.50

Large cup: Chocolate, hazelnut, cinnamon/pear/pinenut, coffee - $7.50
My favourite of all the flavours has to be the hazelnut - it has such a pure, intense hazelnut flavour! After I Instagrammed it, I got a comment from their Operations Manager, saying: "glad you loved them! We changed the hazelnut today to a batch of hazelnuts sourced from a small harvest in Piedmont. Such a richer flavour." Pretty cool, huh?

Medium cup: Peach/apricot, hazelnut, chocolate - $6.50
Argh, they're all so, so very good! You know where I'll be all summer...!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lamb on Rocket with Potato Croutons


Time for an easy, healthy weeknight recipe! I made this one night when I wanted something easy and light, that didn't require a lot of effort, but still felt like a proper (indeed, luxurious) dinner.

So, I turned to that standby idea that Nigella loves so very much: rags of rare meat on salad. (See: tagliata, Ed's tender rump, Cambodian hot and sour beef salad, warm shredded lamb salad with mint and pomegranate). This time, it was simply a piece of lamb backstrap, which I marinated and briefly grilled, strewn atop a packet of salad leaves (yes, from the supermarket, judge me if you will).

Now, what turned this dish from simple to special was the addition of little potato croutons. I remembered making something similar during my How to Eat project - once as part of a Caesar salad, and once as an accompaniment to roast lamb. In short: wash a potato and cut into one-centimetre chunks, then smoosh it around with some olive oil and a couple of unpeeled garlic cloves in a baking tray. Roast at 200C for approximately 30 minutes, until golden and crispy. Easy!

Potato croutons

Making the potato croutons does mean that the whole meal will take around 45 minutes from start to finish, but the whole process is very relaxed and low effort - no frantic juggling of pots, pans, a food processor and a kettle à la Jamie's 15 Minute Meals. (N.B. I actually love 15 Minute Meals - it's a great program/book, and in my experience the timeframes are definitely achievable if you are organised and energetic). No such exertion required for this recipe, though. You can just pop the potatoes on, marinate the lamb and then relax - check Instagram, send off a few emails, make yourself a drink - until it's time to grill the lamb, and even this only takes a few minutes.

As for quantities - I've suggested amounts that make what I'd consider a nice light dinner, but only you know how much you feel like eating. Increase quantities, decrease, whatever you feel like! Just one note - one medium potato will make more croutons than I feel you need for that amount of salad. However, they are seriously addictive - like crunchy little chips! Trust me, you will start picking at them as soon as they're out of the oven. And you'll find that other people in your house, even those who have said that they didn't want anything to eat, will mysteriously drift towards the kitchen and start devouring them.

Lamb on Rocket with Potato Croutons
An original recipe by Sarah Cooks, inspired by Nigella's endless "rare meat on salad" recipes

Ingredients
1 medium potato
3 garlic cloves - 2 whole, 1 sliced
Olive oil
The juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
A few sprigs fresh herbs, optional (e.g. oregano, rosemary, thyme)
200g lamb backstrap
1 x 60 gram bag salad leaves of your choice


Method
Preheat the oven to 200C. Wash the potato (don't peel it) and cut into 1 cm cubes. Place the potato cubes and 2 whole garlic cloves in a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until cooked through and crispy.
Meanwhile, drizzle some olive oil and lemon juice in a shallow bowl. Add the sliced garlic clove and any fresh herbs you are using. Season with salt and pepper. Marinate the backstrap in this mixture.
When you're about 10 minutes away from the potatoes being ready, heat a griddle pan to very high. Grill the lamb for about 4-5 minutes a side, or until cooked to your liking. Allow to rest.
Place the salad on a plate, drizzle with some olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Slice the lamb into thin rags, and arrange on top of the salad leaves. Toss the potato cubes with salt and toss over the lamb and salad.
Serves 1, with extra potato croutons for snacking

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Shimbashi

Soba at Shimbashi

Soba noodles! They're all handmade, hence the appealing irregularity in shape and size. Love it!

Shimbashi
17 Liverpool St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9654-6727
Shimbashi Soba & Sake Bar on Urbanspoon

Shimbashi has been open for a few months now, and having briefly seen some positive mentions of "this handmade soba place in the city" on Instagram and Twitter, it was kinda on my radar as a potential place to try.

However, it wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that it moved up to the "let's go here NOW" part of my brain! We'd caught up with a friend for seriously amazing gelati at Spring Street Grocery (blogpost to come, because I love that place!), and walking back to the tram afterwards, she pointed out this tiny little restaurant down a lane - "Hey, that's the really good handmade soba place". The vague mentions I'd read on social media crystallised in my mind - so that's where it is! - and I promptly arranged a Friday night get-together there with some friends. Yay!

Shimbashi really felt like a blast from the past, for me - I don't go to that part of the city often these days, and when we walked down Liverpool lane, I was reminded me of my 80's childhood, with Little Malaysia close by.

Shimbashi interior
The low-key Japanesey interior of Shimbashi reminded me of my high school and uni days, when I was truly obsessed with Japanese culture and used to visit places like this all the time. And yes, back in those days I dutifully learned hundreds of kanji (anyone who did the notoriously difficult IB Japanese instead of VCE will know what I'm talking about!), voraciously read Japanese magazines, and listened to my favourite J-Pop bands, The Brilliant Green and Glay, on constant repeat. I'm not quite as enamoured of Japanese culture now as I was in my teens, but I still love The Brilliant Green. And I eat soba like there's no tomorrow!

Shimbashi interior including buckwheat mill
Apparently if you come during the day you might be able to see the soba being made, which I think would be really interesting. But on the night we were there, I was content to admire the big buckwheat mill and enjoy slurping up the soba!

The offer a good range of different sakes and shochu, as well as Japanese soft drinks... including Ramune! I love this stuff - especially the funky bottle!
Ramune

We wanted to try some sake, but weren't in the mood for a big night, so ordered a bottle of sweet sparkling hoshi no nagare sake to share. (I have no idea where this rates in terms of quality, but it tasted good to me! And I was rather taken with the name: "stream of stars").
Hoshi no nagare sake
Kaaaaaaanpa~i!
Kanpai!
We started with a complimentary appetizer of horenso no ohitashi - boiled spinach, served cold with soy sauce and bonito flakes. Perfect for this warm weather!
Horenso no ohitashi
Apart from the soba, they have a range of typical Japanese starters. And when I say "typical Japanese", I mean what we in Australia would typically think of when we think of Japanese restaurant food: things like sushi, sashimi, edamame, tofu agedashi, tamago-yaki, gyoza and so on.

I think we must have gotten a little over excited, ordering three starters as well as our (generously-portioned) mains. Although the soba is clearly the star of the show, the starters we ordered were all very good too.
Sushi rolls

The sushi rolls were very fresh and had nice soft rice.

Nasu no dengaku
Normally I think of nasu no dengaku as an oily eggplant half, slathered in thick, pungent miso paste, and was surprised by how subtle the flavours were here. In fact, when they brought it out, I thought to myself: "Did they forget the miso topping?" Of course they hadn't - the miso was there, just in a very thin layer. I loved how the delicate topping of miso complimented the eggplant, rather than overpowering it. Really excellent!

Kara-age
Fried chicken, how could we not? Kara-age is one of my favourites, and these were impressively juicy and tasty.

Umai yo
So, soba. Two of our group ordered chicken soba: chicken pieces and dumplings with soba, served in a hot broth.
Chicken soba

The standout here were the flavoursome and moist dumplings - I'm not sure if they're the same dumplings as the gyoza also offered on the menu, but if they are I'll be ordering a dozen of those next time! The bonito-based broth was a little too seafoody for our seafood-avoider Sandra, so after eating the dumplings, chicken and most of the noodles, she passed it to me and I got to finish it. Muahaha!

Tempura soba
I didn't try any of the tempura soba, but I was told it was very good. And even though the fried prawns and vegetables were great, the noodles themselves were the highlight of the dish. (And when plain cold noodles outshine deep-fried prawns, you know you're onto a winner!)

Gomadare soba
I couldn't go past the gomadare soba - cold soba served with sesame sauce. I absolutely love all things sesame (especially tahini!) and this seemed right up my alley. I loved the creamy sesame sauce against the cold, toothsome noodles.

I'd never tried gomadare before, but some quick googling tells me that the sauce is available in bottles at Japanese groceries - so you could easily make a low-rent version of this delicious dish at home! Side note: this dish was similar to something I often cook for myself : soba dressed with a mixture of sesame paste, minced garlic, Chinese chilli oil with sediments, black vinegar and soy sauce. (Fuchsia Dunlop-inspired, obviously).

Table

I didn't take note of individual prices, sorry, but to give an indication - the starters were all around the $9 mark, and the mains were around $17, with my gomadare soba being slightly cheaper at around $13. Our bill that night came up to about $106 for our group of four. I thought it was expensive at first, but then I realised that this included: hand-made soba noodles, a bottle of sake, and three starters. Definitely worth it!