Unblogged Food: October – December 2013

As 2013 draws to an end, reflection on the year past is top of mind. It’s been a personally difficult year, but in terms of my investment into this all-consuming food blogging hobby, I couldn’t be happier. I’m still enjoying writing about the food experiences that I have (though increasingly sporadically because of increased freelancing work), and it’s been, I think, reflected in the growth of readership of Gourmanda. Here’s to further growth in 2014!

Salumi selection at Ombra Bar, Melbourne
Salumi selection at Ombra Bar, Melbourne

Most of the time when I meet up with friends, it’s for a full meal – brunch, lunch or dinner. It’s very rare for me to simply drop into a wine bar for a drink – which I did recently at Ombra Bar with my friend Beth. A few carafes of wine into our leisurely weekend afternoon catch up, we ordered a small salumi selection off the menu to whet our appetite for a later dinner. The salumi selection at Ombra is exceptional, and their wine selection is excellent as well. With two levels, the narrow bar is cozy and great for either a long leisurely lunch, a few glasses of wine with a friend, or even a hearty dinner with your family.
Ombra Salumi Bar on Urbanspoon

Fried icecream at Homer's Cafe, Eastwood
Fried icecream at Homer’s Cafe, Eastwood

My family has always been quite traditional – growing up, we always dined out at Chinese restaurants as my parents were unfamiliar with any other cuisines and unwilling to try something different. It all got a bit same-ish, but there was always one highlight – fried icecream for dessert. It’s quite possibly the worst thing you could possibly eat (the calories, oh the calories!), but so delectable at the same time. I recently indulged in fried icecream again after a meal in Eastwood, at Homer’s Cafe, one of the few dessert cafes that do more than Asian-style desserts. It was like a trip back into my childhood, with a super crispy shell and deliciously creamy vanilla icecream.
Homers Cafe Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Waffles at My Sweet Memory, Sydney
Waffles at My Sweet Memory, Sydney

I’ve walked past My Sweet Memory many times and lingered as I walked past, attracted by the gorgeous displays of cutesy and kitschy stationery in the store. The combination of dessert and cute stationery in the one store is a strange concept, but very clever at the same time as one could hypothesize that it’s the same demographic that would be attracted to both indulgent desserts and lavish stationery (I’m thinking of women like myself in their twenties and thirties with access to disposable income and a penchant for the finer things in life). The waffles were very chocolatey and indulgent – definitely a dish to share rather than to have by yourself.

My Sweet Memory on Urbanspoon

Breakfast at The Grain Store, Melbourne
Breakfast at The Grain Store, Melbourne

I met up with my good friend Jake for a quick breakfast at The Grain Store in Flinders Lane in Melbourne when I was down for a week for work. On a dark and miserably cold and rainy day, entering the warmth, light and delicious smells of The Grain Store was like entering heaven. The service was prompt and attentive, and the food was quick in arriving. The cheesy croquettes on this dish was the best thing on the plate – crispy on the outside with gooey cheese inside. Fantastic. The other elements were really well done as well, and made for a surprisingly healthy, yet hearty breakfast. With lots of business people entering for a quick takeaway coffee and breakfast, it’s clearly a favourite with the workers in the area, with good reason.
The Grain Store on Urbanspoon

Coffee art at a conference
Coffee art at a conference

I spent a week in Melbourne in early December for work, manning a booth at the World Diabetes Congress. I’ve worked a few conferences in my time and it’s interesting to see how things have changed. Where once companies were lavish in giving away free pens, notepads, stress balls, and other marketing merchandise, the tide has now turned. Free coffees are now the order of the day, with marketing representatives taking the opportunity to speak to conference delegates as they queue up for their hit of caffeine. The best stalls tailor their coffees with stenciled art on top for that extra touch of brand promotion. You can believe I had my fair share of complimentary hot beverages during that week I spent at the conference!

Black sesame dessert at Passionflower, Melbourne
Black sesame dessert at Passionflower, Melbourne

I simply adore Chinese and Japanese style desserts – most of the time, it’s not as sickeningly sweet and thus is much more more-ish. I particularly liked this black sesame based dessert from Passionflower (Bourke St, Melbourne) which included some fantastic glutinous balls coated in black sesame that provided a good textural balance to the softer and creamier icecream in the dish. This was an excellent blend of flavours, textures, and colours. If you prefer fresher desserts, there are also some fruit-based options on the menu, which I’m very keen to try.
Passionflower on Urbanspoon

Breakfast at Ethos Cafe, Fitzroy
Breakfast at Ethos Cafe, Fitzroy

I met up with my friend Adastra at Ethos Cafe in Fitzroy for brunch while in Melbourne. As a relatively new cafe with very few reviews, I went with no preconceived ideas of what to expect other than a sustainable cafe that did everything with the best ethics and morals in mind. What we did find was a warm and cozy cafe with super attentive and friendly service, excellent coffees and tasty food. With the opportunity to also buy suspended coffees for those less fortunate, you can go to Ethos for a good meal and walk away knowing that you’ve given a little bit back that day.
Ethos Cafe on Urbanspoon

Souffle at Restaurant Atelier, Glebe
Souffle at Restaurant Atelier, Glebe

Since my meal at Restaurant Atelier, Chef Darren Templeman had announced the imminent closing of Restaurant Atelier after many years in its Glebe Point Road location. K and I decided that we simply had to go back once more before it closed – and we were being conservative with our decision to go back once because K’s father went back two times for a meal before it closed! While I love absolutely all the dishes that Chef Templeman creates, I have to say that I simply adore his light and fluffy souffles. With rumours of Melbourne being the location of his next restaurant, I will most definitely be one of the first in line!

Quinoa salad at Coco Cubano, Crows Nest
Quinoa salad at Coco Cubano, Crows Nest

In the last week of work before Christmas, the mood in the office was definitely one of casual festive cheer and a decided lack of concentration. There were many long leisurely lunches with a few beers, sitting out in the sun. One of these lunches was at Coco Cubano, where we waited well over twenty minutes before we even got a menu, another twenty minutes before our orders were taken, and half an hour before our meals arrived. If we weren’t in the mood for a long lunch with plenty of drinks, this inefficiency would have definitely thrown a spanner in the works. At least the meal was excellent, with the quinoa salad being a super tasty and healthy option.
Coco Cubano on Urbanspoon

Christmas Chocolates
Christmas Chocolates

Finally to round off this entry, we celebrated Christmas in the office with a few treats and goodies – think panettone, champagne and Christmas chocolates. How gorgeous are these?

With this festive note, let me end this entry by wishing everyone a very Happy New Year. I hope Santa found you last week, and best wishes for 2014!

Recipe: Make It Up Salad

makeitupsalad

As much as I enjoy meal planning a week in advance, I also enjoy planning to have leftovers and coming up with new meals on the fly! A few weeks ago, I created what I call a “make it up salad” – a salad that you make up on the spot with whatever you have on hand across four salad food groups. For this particular version, I used:

Ingredients

Cous cous, chickpeas, coriander, avocado, roast pork, assorted pickles.

Method

  1. Start off with your ‘filling’ carb element. I find it hard to feel satisfied with a green leafy salad as I get hungry again within an hour, but a hearty salad with a carb component always hits the spot. In this case, I used a cup of cooked cous cous, and a can of chickpeas.  Other alternatives: lentils, vermicelli noodles, pasta, etc.
  2. For energy, add protein. I used some leftover roast pork that I had in the fridge, sliced into thin strips. Other alternatives: shredded BBQ chicken, ham, turkey, seared lamb strips, etc.
  3. For health, add fruit or vegetables. I used an avocado and half a jar of leftover pickled vegetables (again, using up what’s left). I also toyed with the idea of adding some fruit like a diced pear which can be great in salads, but ultimately chose not to. Other alternatives: roast pumpkin, capsicums, carrots, lettuce, etc.
  4. For a flavour kick, add herbs. I used coriander in this instance, as K’s mum has been growing coriander and had some to spare for us. Other alternatives: mint, basil, parsley, dill, etc.

The herbs and pickled veggies actually gave enough flavour to the salad without needing a dressing, but I did squeeze a wedge of lemon over the salad for an extra zing at the end!

Follow my four rules for creating a “make it up” salad (carb, protein, vegetables, herbs) and start using up the bits and pieces in your fridge. It will be a guaranteed flavour explosion!

Vegbox Meal – Sweet Rocket Salad

NB: I bought an organic vegbox from Doorstep Organics this week. This is the first post explaining how I used the produce in different meals.

Meal 1: Rocket salad with cucumber, avocado, tomato, peach and sweet corn

Ingredients: Mixed salad, a handful of rocket, half an avocado, half a cucumber, two Roma tomatoes, half a can of sweet corn kernels, two peaches, ham, balsamic vinegar and sesame oil.

K and I needed a quick and light meal on the weekend, so I just quickly threw together some leftover mixed salad (pre-vegbox purchase) with a handful of the rocket leaves (from the vegbox). I sliced half a cucumber, half an avocado and two peaches (all three from vegbox) along with two small Roma tomatoes (separate purchase, I was surprised the vegbox didn’t have any tomatoes in it) and half a can of sweet corn kernels (separate purchase, just for some different flavours and texture to the salad). Light drizzle of balsamic vinegar and sesame oil for a dressing, with a scattering of  and the salad was ready to go!

The peppery taste of the rocket works best when combined with a sweeter element like the peaches and the sweet corn. It definitely helps to make it a more colourful and ‘fun’ salad – perfect for those people who don’t like boring salads!

Produce quality – the rocket was ‘weedier’ than what I’m used to buying at supermarkets, with a correspondingly bitter taste. The peaches were also not sweet enough to be eaten on their own, but worked well in a salad combined with other ingredients. The avocado was super ripe when I received it – if I had eaten it any more than two days after I received it, it would have gone black. Definitely not something I could have left until later in the week. Overall rating for this produce – 6.5 out of 10.