Archive for May, 2008

Gânache Chocolate is the New Black

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Restaurants in Melbourne with tags , , on May 24, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

Everyone, I’m pleased to announce that the new Old Koko Black is back. Walking past the Gânache Chocolate‘s brightly-lit signboard on the bustling Toorak Road, one could easily mistake this shop for another one of those try-too-hard mass-market chocolatiers who promise the world but leave you with pittance. The signboard is too modern for something as sexy and French as chocolate, in my humble opinion. “Meh.“, I tell the Jman. But after reading about it over at Syrup & Tang’s, I realise that this new kid on the block is no small player. (Ah, classic case of never to judge a book by its cover!)

Arno Backes, one of the founding chocolatiers of Koko Black, is the mastermind behind all this. For those who remember Koko Black in its heydays before it went mass-market (and sadly downhill as with any establishment that branches out), when it was still confined within its tiny four walls on Bourke Street Arcade, Koko Black was the chocolate shop of the moment (Monsieur Truffe aside). I remember the hot chocolate back then – wonderfully rich, with the fruitiness of the cocoa dancing in your mouth with each sip that you take. It was divine, it was the best hot chocolate I’d tasted. Sadly, when I returned a few years later, Koko Black’s hot chocolate had been reduced to nothing more than chocolate syrup in over-frothed, overheated milk. It was flat, it had a horrid aftertaste. Worst of all, unsuspecting customers still went back for more, validating its worst-ever recipe for success.

The truffles, too, were no longer carried out of the chocolate room on trays; they are now taken out of boxes from the chiller underneath the counter, a sign that these little gems are no longer made on the premises. They are, shock-horror, mass produced. While they are still miles better when pitted against the plebian Cadbury bar (although I have to qualify I am a sucker for Cadbury chocolates too, albeit on a different plane), and are enough to satisfy my chocolate cravings, it no longer possesses the element freshness I once remembered it had. It was that element that differentiated it from every other chocolatier in Melbourne. As Syrup & Tang puts it very succinctly, it is heading down the slippery slope of becoming the Starbucks of chocolate.

And so last night, the Jman and I paid homage to Gânache Chocolate to decide for ourselves if we were going to like this new kid on the block. Stepping through the interiors of the shop, one would immediately pick up a few striking similarities to Koko Black (sorry that I keep comparing, but I can’t help but notice the similarities) – the dark-wooded panels, display shelves, high ceilings and the hoity-toityness that comes along with anything French. I liked how the tables were tucked behind the shop, giving its patrons that little bit of privacy, but the deafening silence of the place made me feel like a giant rampaging through the corridor as my heels click-clocked their way to the table.

We placed our orders with Arno who, I must say, had the most impeccable manners to match up to the aura of the place. I spied the cake display and picked the most chocolatey one available, a chocolate brownie (which really was more like a chocolate truffle cake). We also had the hot chocolate that would have been unforgiveable not to order. I was surprised at how long our orders took to arrive, seeing how the shop had no more than 10 customers, but they finally came anyway. Perhaps all of us 10 customers came at the same time, because the table next to ours that came later received their orders fairly quickly.

I sipped the hot chocolate first. It was good. It was as good as what Koko Black used to serve. Inside my mind I was secretly applauding profusely as I heaved a sigh of relief that FINALLY, Melbourne has regained a decent hot chocolate. It was smooth, rich and chocolatey, yet not cloyingly sweet to sicken me. The cake, however, was slightly under my expectations. It was good, or at least decent, but perhaps not as intense as I would have liked it to be. Given that this was the only chocolate cake available (the others being fruity ones or chocolate mousses), I thought that this would be the one to steal the show, but it didn’t. It didn’t have the lingering chocolate sensation that most kickass chocolate cakes would give you the satisfaction of, the same feeling that I got out of Grossi Florentino’s chocolate marquis (which sadly, they no longer make) or the chocolate truffle cake at The Westin, Melbourne. Even the Gateaux Chocolat and Le Royale at Canelé Pâtisserie in Singapore did it better for me.

That said, I believe that Gânache Chocolate has a lot of potential. As long as they focus on doing what they do best, polish up on the rough edges and avoid going down the slippery slope of expansion, they can still sit at the helm of being the best commercial chocolatier in Melbourne (as long as we consider Monsieur Truffe to be in a league of its own, that is) now that Koko Black has relinquished the top spot with its numerous outlets (ouch that hurts) mushrooming up all over the city. That, my friends, has always been the recipe for disaster.

Truth be told, I am cynical that Gânache Chocolate will ever be better than what Koko Black used to be; it can only be as good as, unless fresh blood is pumped in. But for what it’s worth, Arno’s a winner in my eyes because his chocolates are freshly made on premises, and because his hot chocolate is pretty darn good. I just hope it stays that way because I’m not sure if my weak chocolate heart could bear the heartbreak of another disappointment.

Welcome back, Arno. You were sorely missed.

Gânache Chocolate
250 Toorak Road
South Yarra 3141
(03) 9804 7485

Finding Bonsoy

Posted in Cafes, Food Reviews with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

Bonsoy

You know you’re in a bit of trouble when your (unfortunately) gold-plated tastebuds have acquired a liking for the crown jewel of all soy milks, Bonsoy, which in our consumeristic society, also means that it comes with a hefty price tag. This is a classic case of how curiosity killed the cat; I tried it one day and have never looked back since. I wouldn’t recommend it in your coffees, teas and basically as a milk substitute in your cooking, but it’s great if you have it plain or with your cereal in the morning.

But at $4.12 for a 1-litre carton (in Safeway and Coles), it certainly is very expensive to be drinking it everyday as a milk substitute, especially when it was never intended to be in the first place since I am not exactly lactose-intolerant.

As a result of this, I’ve resorted to looking out for them during the weekly Safeway/Coles specials, but since it’s not your regular household item (like Glad wrap or Kleenex), and a premium one to be more precise, it’ll probably only ever go on special when the sun, the planets and all of their moons are aligned.

I’ve even gone as far as googling “discount Bonsoy” and reading up forums to see if I could find them any cheaper, but to no avail…until today. A quick (online) surf up to the organic grocers that are just across the road from my house, and I have discovered that they sell my revered Bonsoy for $3.75 a pop.

News like this is too good not to share, because I’m pretty certain that there are lots more tightarsed people like me who love their Bonsoys and are looking for a less costly solution that doesn’t require a compromise.

Oh, and while you’re there, you’ve gotta pop over to Artisan Espresso that’s right across the road for a coffee.

Organic Wholefoods: 483 Lygon Street, Brunswick East

Artisan Espresso: 438 Lygon Street, Brunswick East

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Posted in Life with tags on May 21, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

Not having time to cook is a sad, sad, thing; having to eat out everyday is tragedy. So excuse the silence while I:

  1. play editor to the Jman’s thesis;
  2. play tour-guide to visitors from afar;
  3. work;
  4. mourn the loss of any semblance of a healthy life (my 3rd week away from pilates has turned my abs from fab to flab)

I definitely have lots of catching up to do! BRB!

My First Risotto

Posted in Food Reviews with tags , on May 14, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

Coming from Melbourne, the land of great Italian food outside of Italy, it would be unthinkable to not have had risotto ever. Well, yours truly has achieved the unthinkable. I’ve never had risotto before (except for a spoonful or two I stole from my dinner companions once, and it was rather forgettable anyway) until today.

Fuelled by my recent curiosity over the dish that has received a lot of attention (and flak over how it should be cooked), I took the plunge and ordered my first ever risotto during lunch today. To add some more thrill to that, it was at some untried and untested cafe that I had lunch with two girlfriends today.

I couldn’t decide what to eat and time was ticking fast; with exactly thirty minutes to place my order, wait for my food, and scoff it all down, I jumped at the safest bet – the classic mushroom and onion risotto. I barely waited five minutes before my lunch was served, and spied the mound of grains on my plate with reasonable caution (and suspicion!) as they placed it in front of me.

The verdict? If not for the fact that risotto is basically a whole plate full of CARBS (and the fact that I wasn’t exactly starving), I would’ve wolfed it all down in 10 minutes flat. With my limited knowledge of risotto, I thought it was pretty good. It was done pretty much al dente, not at all starchy, and actually very easy on the palate. It had a good balance of parmesan and white wine in it, with the tartness of the wine cutting through the creaminess of the cheese beautifully.

It was a wonderful experience, quite unforgettable in fact, and will now go down in my books as a dish to behold with great respect (because I can foresee many more risotto experiments and I’d expect gluggy ones along the way). And on that note, I recently stumbled upon a book that had a tip on how to cook risotto (I can’t remember which one though). The trick, apparently, is to shake the pan and not stir it so that it doesn’t become starchy.

So there, I’m pleased to report on my first risotto experience…and many more to come!

When Life Throws You Lemons

Posted in Desserts, Restaurants in Melbourne with tags on May 14, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

I’m a chocolate-lover through and through. When scanning the dessert menu, I go straight for anything with chocolate in it, and most of the time, it’s either a chocolate-something or none at all, unless there’s a dessert that looks compelling enough for a chocolate-less menu to be forgiven.

But recently, it’s started to change. I still love my chocolate desserts and they still top my list, but I’ve recently discovered a few new favourites – lemon-anything. I can’t recall when exactly my love affair with lemon desserts first started. Was it the lemony-lickits that I made for Christmas? Or was it the most luscious but refreshing lemon meringue tart that the Jman’s mom made one day?

Whatever it is, I have begun my search for The Best Lemon Tart in Melbourne and have had just one recommendation thus far, from my sister. I was told that Café Provincial on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy serves the best lemon tart – I have yet to try it. I also know someone, other than the Jman’s mom, who makes one of the best lemon tarts as well.

Thankfully, I have the book from which he took the recipe – the acclaimed Shannon Bennett’s (of Vue de Monde fame) My Vue, and a new pie pan that I bought from the restaurant supplies store at a steal.

And so all this culminates in my next endeavour – the ubiquitous Lemon Tart. It’s all around Melbourne, that’s for sure, but I’m not daring enough to taste every single one of them for fear of 1. a burst artery and 2. being eternally scarred by one bad tasting experience that will put me off lemon tarts for the rest of my life.

Now if only life really threw me lemons, I wouldn’t have to head down to the shop to buy them for my lemon tarts. Stay tuned!

p/s. If you have any wonderful lemon tart recipes to share or if you know of any places that serve up a really good lemon tart in Melbourne, please leave me a comment!

Tiramisu and All Things Italian

Posted in Desserts, Dinner Parties, Recipes with tags , , on May 12, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

You could consider me a huge fan of Italian food in all respects. It’s not just the pastas and pizzas that excite me, but I love how there is so much culture ingrained in their cooking. Every Italian I’ve met evidently takes great pride in how their food is made.

Take the Italian trattoria La Bussola just down the road from my house, for example. It is a humble looking cafe-restaurant that is mostly unadorned except for a couple of sign boards and very unattractive furniture. The menu is unpretentious, with the standard fare of marinaras, carbonaras and the like, no different from what you’d get from its Lygon Street counterparts. But having said that, their spaghetti marinara is perhaps one of the tastiest I’ve ever had, even outshining the snobby (but once good) Tiamo.

Despite the tiny morsels of seafood (a decent combination of squid, mussels, shrimp and fish I think) in my pasta, they were fresh and there were loads of them; what they lacked in size, they sure made up for it in quantity. The tomato sauce was light and refreshing yet thick enough to hold the fort – the result was a hearty, satisfying spaghetti marinara. At $12 a pop, this is definitely the best value spaghetti marinara dish I’ve ever had.

Anyway, I digress. What I really wanted to talk about was tiramisu. I love tiramisu because it’s Italian, and because it’s got coffee, chocolate, and a good dose of alcohol in it. Oh, and of course, it’s sweet. That’s the perfect winning combination for me. I don’t just love to eat tiramisu, I also love making it. It’s one of those great desserts you can wow your guests with, but can be created with your eyes closed, in 10 minutes flat.

I came home from work feeling sick today but because I was missing K’s birthday bash (for the umpteenth time this week), I decided to make it up to her by making her all-time favourite dessert – why, tiramisu, of course. Later on in the evening, she called me to say that the tiramisu was “sooooo good” and that she’d already finished half the tray in no time. It was a lovely compliment to receive and probably the highlight of my depressing day, but then I thought, hey it was REALLY easy to make!

Anyway, I figured I’d share my own recipe with you. Not quite a recipe because I never did follow one in the first place. It was pure trial-and-error and guesstimations; after a couple of attempts, I’m pretty sure you’ll get the hang of it. The only thing I don’t understand is why recipes make it out to be so complicated because it really isn’t. So there…

The Easy Peasy Tiramisu
Serves about 4-6 people, depending on how much they like tiramisu

Mascarpone Layer

  • 250g mascarpone cheese
  • 1.5-2 tablespoons caster (superfine) sugar
  • 1/2 cup Irish cream liqueur (Baileys, Kahlua, or Tia Maria)…or more!

Whisk the mascarpone and sugar together, then gradually add in the Irish cream liqueur to loosen up the cheese mixture until you get a creamy consistency. It should be as thick or thin (whichever way you look at it) as cream.

Sponge Base

  • +/- 16 savoiardi (sponge finger biscuits)
  • 1 cup strong espresso + 1/3 cup Irish cream liqueur (combine)
  • Best quality cocoa powder for dusting (like Valrhona)

Spoon the espresso lightly over the top surface of the sponge fingers; you don’t have to moisten the bottom as the liquid will gradually sink to the bottom and soften it as well.

Putting it together
Layer half of the moistened savoiardis onto a rectangular dish (or any dish for that matter) until it is packed like sardines. Spread half the cream over the surface, then dust with cocoa powder.

Layer the rest of the savoiardis and spread the remaining cream over. At this stage, DO NOT DUST ON THE COCOA POWDER! Refrigerate it for a couple of hours or overnight for the tiramisu to set, and dust on the cocoa powder when you’re ready to serve.

Voila!

The Food Photographer

Posted in Cooking, Desserts with tags , , on May 12, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

The cousin “steelwool” – when she was studying here in Melbourne last year, we used to have cookouts at my place where I’d teach her how to do a few simple dishes and desserts. On hindsight, I think this trigger happy cousin of mine was more excited about the prospect of having a new subject to photograph than cooking itself, and photo-documented my recipes and instructions. This girl has the amazing ability to make food appear better than it tastes.

So when I told my cousin that I was starting a food blog, she very excitedly sent me an email of links from her own food blog. You see, she’d gone and photo-journaled all our cookout sessions and put in instructional captions on the photos. Amazing.

Anyway, I thought I’d share the links for the sake of some eye-candy and because my cousin’s a great photographer. I won’t comment about the food though. 😉