Tuesday, 25 June 2013

recent delights: brazilian banana candy, orangina, cantaloupe jam, havarti cheese

Hello everyone, I hope you've been well.

I knew I was way overdue for a "recent delights" post when some of the delights aren't that recent anymore. So here we go! Another edition of various odds and ends I've encountered lately.

My capoeira instructor came back from a trip to Brazil earlier this year, and he brought back these Brazilian banana confections with him. It's apparently pure banana. That's right, banana is the only ingredient in this sweet, chewy candy called "bananinha". I have no idea how it's made, but I imagine the bananas are cooked down until they're all thick and caramelised, then poured into a tray to set, before being cut up into pieces. How's that for a guess? I've also received a very similar banana candy from a Thai colleague, though I think that one had additional ingredients, and as a result, a slightly more complex flavour profile. Either way, these are pretty nice snacks. Maybe I should try making my own one day.

Bananinha, a Brazilian sweet... basically,  banana candy.

The carbonated citrus drink, Orangina, is quite common back home in Malaysia but I rarely see it here in Melbourne, or anywhere in Australia, really. However, one of my local spots, Le Petit Français Crêperie & Café in South Yarra, serves it. Intrigued, I hopped online to find out more about Orangina's story. Two things: 1) I find out that it's actually Algerian in origin, 2) I'd always assumed that it was just a fizzy orange drink, but I now know that it also contains lemon, mandarin, and grapefruit juices. I'm a bit of a citrus fiend so I guess this explains why I find this beverage so attractive. That plus the nostalgia factor, no doubt.

Orangina, a sparkling citrus beverage.

Simon's housemates went to Daylesford a while ago, and they brought back some lovely fruit preserves. Our favourite one was the homemade cantaloupe and passion fruit jam by Dale's Delights. I don't know if I've ever had a melon-based jam before this, but I'm a total convert - it was fresh, dewy, charming, playful. This is the kind of jam that makes people happy.

Cantaloupe jam. So fragrantly delicious.

I've also recently fallen in love with Havarti cheese. It's mellow and creamy and nutty and almost mushroomy. I can be a bit of a wimp when it comes to cheese, but Havarti strikes a pleasing balance for me with sweet, rounded flavours that don't get too strong and crazy. It's popular as a dessert cheese, with fruit and wine, and I can certainly see why. Obviously I had to pair it up with that exquisite cantaloupe jam, on top of some garlic and herb water crackers. It was a beautiful match all around.

Garlic and herb crackers, Havarti cheese, cantaloupe and passionfruit jam.

What are some of your recent delights?

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Thursday, 20 June 2013

brunch at luxbite, south yarra: the savoury edition

I have been increasingly neglectful of my 'hood over the past few years.

There are delightful places to be found in South Yarra, if you know where to go, and for the most part, I know where to go for delicious food in South Yarra, it's just that I usually end up visiting Simon in Fitzroy instead.

And yet - there are rare occasions when I can tempt my lazy boyfriend to visit me. Such as when I won a LuxBite voucher from a giveaway by Ashley from I'm So Hungree (thanks, lady!).

I've been to LuxBite for dessert (38 Toorak Rd, South Yarra) a few times, but it's been a long, long stretch since my last visit. During my absence, they've started serving up more than just desserts. Their savoury brunch menu looked really enticing, and on a cool Saturday afternoon, that was exactly what I was after.

But hey, let's still kick it off with something sweet. For drinks, we got the organic chai, and the salted caramel hot chocolate.

We're picky about our chai, but quite enjoyed the version here. It's probably one of nicer ones we've tried, though as usual, we yearned for just a bit more of a peppery kick.

Luxbite's organic chai, $4.50.

When the waitress served up the hot chocolate, we were instructed to stir before drinking. So I stirred, and I sipped. The cup had a salted rim, but instead of tequila inside, we get - of course - a rich, warm, sweet-and-salty chocolatey goodness with teasing hints of caramel. Oh, and yes, there was a good reason for stirring - the salt is located at the bottom of the cup. Good thing I stirred, which created a balanced overall experience, with only a few stray grains when I got to the end!

Luxbite's salted caramel hot chocolate (with Mörk's chocolate blend), $5.50.

One of LuxBite's greatest strengths, for me, is their playful East-meets-West inspiration, a style that is already well-established in their dessert offerings. Their savoury brunch options continue along this trend - here's what we had.

Satay marinated roast chicken with creamy polenta, caramelised garlic, anchovies, peanut.

Luxbite's satay marinated roast chicken with creamy polenta, caramelised garlic, anchovies, peanut. $15.

The chicken was well-seasoned and tasty, almost more curry-ish than satay-ish to me. I also liked the crispy anchovies and peanuts. I wasn't really watching out for the caramelised garlic but I'm sure they were in there somewhere, adding extra yumminess to the proceedings. This dish definitely reminds me of nasi lemak. The only thing I feel uncertain about was the polenta, the texture just seemed a little odd to me, and I found myself idly wondering if rice, quinoa or couscous would have been preferable instead. Simon didn't seem to mind it, though.

But the best is yet to come.

Slow braised beef with caramelised bacon and spring onion mash, fried egg.

Luxbite's slow-braised beef with caramelised bacon, spring onion mash, and fried egg. $15.

Holy cow, did I adore this. 

The beef was beautifully tender, and the fried egg had a perfectly runny yolk. The caramelised bacon added sweet umami, the spring onion mash was soft and light, and the lovely five-spice broth swirled and hugged everything together.

So hearty, so satisfying. And if you know anything about the Melbourne brunch scene, getting something of this calibre for $15 - a total bargain.

Wait, I think we need another picture.

Another gratuitous, closer-up shot.

We were full by the end of this. But let's face it, you don't leave Luxbite without dessert. I got a couple of things to take away: pre-planned delayed gratification. Let me tell you, making a decision was tough - everything just looked so alluring - but somehow, I survived.

This sour strawberry macaron tasted like a sophisticated strawberry candy. It was light and dainty, with a gentle sourness - yum. Though, given the name, I want it more daringly sour. I throw down this gauntlet!

Luxbite's sour strawberry macaron. $2.75.

This delectably shiny sphere is Home Sweet Home: Taste of the Tropics. Artful strips of pineapple encase a coconut cake with a mango centre. It was exquisitely constructed, and pleasant enough, but didn't knock my socks off. Also, a part of me couldn't help thinking about the chocolate-hazelnut and green-tea-pistachio creations I regretfully left behind. I suppose another trip is in order...

Home Sweet Home: Taste of the Tropics: toasted coconut mousse, mango cream, coconut sponge, burnt pineapple. $8.50.

In conclusion: I already knew from my earlier visits that Luxbite makes some fine macarons (and I still need to try more of the cakes for a more informed opinion, ha!), but after this leisurely Saturday afternoon, I'm happy to report that they do well on the savoury front, too. Go forth and get your beef on, people.

LuxBite on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

maple orange yoghurt soda-fizz

maple orange yoghurt soda.

I was recently sent a crate of oranges as an invitation to participate in the Live Well, Go Orange campaign for Citrus Australia, where they're challenging/encouraging Australians to eat an orange everyday for ten days.

I was ever so gleeful when it arrived. Fruits always seem to look extra-wholesome in a wooden crate, don't you think? I'll be keeping the crate, it might work nicely as a mini bench, or as some kind of storage solution.

a dozen oranges in a wooden crate.

So for these past several days I've been eating oranges. I've cut them up and eaten them fresh in all their glory. I've made an orange and olive oil cake, adapted from this recipe. I've also offered one to Simon when he was struck by midnight cravings, and together we concocted a snack by filling up a bowl with a cup of yoghurt, orange segments, a scattering of cacao nibs, and a drizzle of honey and plum coulis.

As you can imagine, we had a lot of fun, and I'm feeling mighty fine. The recipe I'm sharing with you today is that of a pretty healthy soft drink, inspired by oranges and their health benefits. I used not only the flesh of oranges here, which are a juicy source for a variety of nutrients (vitamin A, B, C, as well as fibre, folate, potassium and calcium) but also the zest, which contains an even more concentrated amount of the good stuff. It's all whirled together with yoghurt and maple syrup, then topped with soda water, for something refreshing and a little different.

Are you up for the Go Orange challenge? What's your favourite way to have oranges?

maple orange yoghurt fizz 
(makes 1 big serve or 2 small serves)

1 orange, zested and segmented (peel and seeds removed)
1/4 cup yoghurt
1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 cup soda water / sparkling mineral water / carbonated water
some ice, or vanilla ice cream

Blend orange zest, orange segments, yoghurt and maple syrup together until smooth.
Pour into a large glass, or divide amongst two glasses, depending on whether you're sharing.
Top up with sparkling water and some ice. Stir gently to incorporate.
If you're feeling indulgent, make it a dessert - throw in a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a delicious float!

Ingredient amounts can be adjusted to suit personal preferences.
I used plain unsweetened natural yoghurt but feel free to use your favourite, and create interesting combinations!

maple orange yoghurt fizz.

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Wednesday, 5 June 2013

b'stilla, south yarra: moroccan magic

Hot and sultry harissa, at b'stilla.

"It goes with everything", the waiter narrates as he sets the fiery red harissa down at our table, and my eyes lit up in anticipation of happily sprinkling this famous condiment all over the ensuing savoury dishes to come.

We're having lunch at B'Stilla (30b Bray St, South Yarra) on a Friday, and it is surprisingly quiet. The crowds, no doubt, will push through as the night falls. But for now, we have almost the whole place to ourselves.

We started with the eponymous dish, b'stilla. One of the nice things here is that the menu offers a glossary for those who are unfamiliar with Moroccan food, and I am one of those who could certainly use a helping hand. Here's what they say:

B’stilla pronounced as “bas - stee - ya”
- traditional Moroccan pigeon pie often served as a starter for special occasions and celebrations. Our B’stilla combines pigeon and duck with sweet and salty flavours and a combination of thin, crisp layers of brik pastry.

It sounded intriguing. It looked intriguing, too.

Yes, those are generous lashings of powdered sugar and cinnamon piled upon a pie with savoury fillings.

B’stilla - a traditional Moroccan pigeon pie, $14.

I was a tiny bit skeptical.

The pastry was, indeed, beautifully thin and crisp, shattering ever so pleasingly underneath my cutlery. Then, a spoonful to taste, and lo and behold, it somehow worked, the sweetness, the cinnamon, and the bits of pigeon and duck and egg and almonds. Unfamiliar, to be sure, but in a good way. For some, it may be an acquired taste. We acquired it within seconds.

B’stilla pie with pigeon, duck, almonds, cinnamon, saffron, and egg.

More adventures abound. This here is a lamb medfouna, which, according to the menu, is a Berber style pizza. Meat or lentils, encased in a pastry and usually cooked in the ground. Ours is made with a potato pastry and cooked in an oven.

Lamb medfouna with labne, $6.

We discovered this to be reminiscent of a comforting potato cake, made even more amazing with the lamb and cashew filling, and the minty-green labne served alongside. Simon loved this, ever so much. And so did I.

Gorgeous bits of lamb and cashew, wrapped up in equally gorgeous potato pastry.

We were sad when we finished the medfouna (which Simon later pronounced to be the dish of the day), but there was no time to mourn. On to the next plate: smokey eggplant with crispy garlic, sesame, and coriander. This was categorised under "salads" but it's almost more like a sensual, textural dip that you can enjoy on its own. It was pretty awesome, and probably the kind of salad with which you can win friends.

A lush, smoky eggplant dish, $9.

The cauliflower with pine nut paste, ras el hanout (a Moroccan spice blend) and herbs continue our good run with salads. As with the above, there are some lovely elements working in harmony here, and my only gripe, if I must, is that I would welcome even more of that spice on the cauliflower florets. Give it to me, baby.

Roasted cauliflower florets and friends, $8.

We also ordered this chargrilled duck merguez (basically, a sausage) with lemon, because, quite frankly, it was one of the cheapest things on the menu and we figured we could fit in a little more. Meaty, spicy, and quite perfectly cooked, this one definitely earned its keep.

Chargrlled duck merguez with lemon, $4.5.

Did anyone say dessert?

Rosewater flan, dates, walnut nougatine, $11.

This rosewater flan was just stunning. A smooth custard winks with ephemeral hints of rosewater as it perches prettily on a dense date puree. Dark, syrupy caramelisation. Shards of sweet, crunchy walnut toffee. Beautiful.

Rosewater flan on date puree, scattered with walnut nougatine.

Admittedly, I don't eat out as often or as lavishly as many other food bloggers, but for what it's worth, this is my favourite dining experience so far this year. It has been a long while since I have been so roundly impressed by a meal, and if B'Stilla can keep this up, I sincerely hope that they hang around for many, many years to come.

B'Stilla on Urbanspoon

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