Sunday, October 14, 2018

Xenia Food Store

October 3, 2018

Xenia Food Store is a Greek restaurant that popped up late last year, in one of newer apartment buildings lining Lygon St in Brunswick. Soon after, we read news on facebook that they proudly tout their vegetarian and vegan options, offering discounted vegan banquets on Tuesday and Wednesday nights ($30 per person, compared to a usual $40 per person). We rallied our friend Lisa and made it a banquet for three earlier this month.

The opening share plate impressed us all! We picked through olives and soft salty, marinated blocks of mock-feta, ate dolmades and falafels with our hands, and slathered eggplant and fava dips over soughdough bread. Our favourites were the large oval-shaped koupes, golden-fried bulgur wheat shells stuffed with savoury minced greens. We did not leave a skerrick.

The main meal was even heartier, and we had no choice but to leave a lot. (Not to worry, it travelled home with us to be reheated another day!) I'm not typically a huge fan of stuffed vegetables, but these rice-stuffed tomatoes and capsicums were good 'uns. The grain salad offered some contrasting chewiness to the the vegetables' collapsed softness, and the lemony roasted potatoes were always going to be a hit.

For dessert, Xenia have figured out vegan loukoumades, and they're very generous in their portioning. These crunchy little batter balls were sticky with syrup, dusted with crushed walnuts and cinnamon.

Xenia is a casual and comfortable option, and we reckon this discounted banquet is great value for money. I can foresee us popping in again on a lazy weeknight and simply ordering the vegan plate for 2 (which looks very much like our entree plate up top).


There's a positive review of a complimentary meal at Xenia over on consider the sauce.

Xenia Food Store
202 Lygon St, East Brunswick
9191 7206
meze, mains, sides, salads & sweets, banquetsdrinks 1drinks 2

Accessibility: Entry is flat and there's an average amount of space around the low tables and chairs. We ordered at our table and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Oaty rhubarb muffins

September 29, 2018

I had some extra rhubarb in the fridge after making that salad, so I put it to work in these muffins. I've made something very much like them before, and blogged about it ten years ago. They were in pretty regular rotation for a while there.

This time around I made them vegan. Soy milk with a little apple cider vinegar instead of buttermilk, ground flax seed slush instead of an egg. This is actually much more pantry-friendly for us, and I didn't notice any difference in the muffins.

Let me warn you that this muffin batter is dense. It's all wholemeal flour and oats, with the brown sugar and spices not doing a lot to perk it up. It's lifted by the rhubarb strips and dots of citrus peel, so it's important to add the full quantity and get them distributed evenly through the batter.

The muffins freeze well and I've been packing one into my bag most workdays, letting it thaw through the morning and then pulling it out to break up the afternoon doldrums.

Vegan rhubarb-oat muffins
(veganised from this previously posted recipe)

1 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon flax seeds
3 tablespoons water
2 cups rhubarb
3 tablespoons raw sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup rolled oats
2 teaspoons of spice - I used a mix of ginger, cinnamon and Chinese five spice powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
40g candied citrus peel, diced

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a muffin tray

In a small-medium bowl, mix together the soy milk and vinegar. Set it aside to curdle.

Wash and trim the rhubarb; chop into 3cm lengths. drop them into a medium-large saucepan and add the raw sugar. Turn on a low-medium heat and cook the rhubarb, stirring regularly, until the sugar has melted and the rhubarb softens slightly. Set it aside to cool a bit.

Place the flax seeds in a spice grinder and grind to a powder. Add the water and blend until as smooth as possible. Whisk the flax mixture into the soy milk bowl. Whisk in the vegetable oil and brown sugar until well combined. When the rhubarb has cooled somewhat, stir it in too.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, oats, spices and salt. Toss through the candied peel, making sure the pieces are separated and lightly coated in flour.

Pour the soy milk mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Spoon the batter into the muffin tray and bake it for about 15-20 minutes, until they pass the skewer test.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Beetroot & rhubarb salad

September 26, 2018

Here's an Ottolenghi recipe I dug up from 7 years ago! It's a salad that centres on a crimson sweet'n'sour medley of roasted beetroot, rhubarb and pomegranate molasses. 

It's got a fairly restrained ingredient list by Ottolenghi standards, and comes together without too much fuss on a weeknight. The beetroots take a while to roast, admittedly, but they don't need to be handled too much, their skin comes off easily post-roast, and they're beautifully tender. I'm going to use this approach again and again. The rhubarb's even less effort sitting on the second oven shelf, the dressing just needs a little shake in a jar, and then there's dabs of blue cheese and a sprinkle of fresh parsley on top.

I tossed in some fresh green leaves and called this a meal, though I'll confess that the dense beetroots and rich cheese didn't keep me quite as full as I hoped they would. Storing the components separately allowed me to re-make the salad for days, and it still felt fresh every time.

Beetroot & rhubarb salad
(slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe in The Guardian)

800g beetroots
300g rhubarb
1 tablespoon caster sugar
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
100g creamy blue cheese
20g parsley, roughly chopped
salt and pepper

Preheat an oven to 200°C.

Give the beetroots a little scrub and trim off any stems or roots. Wrap each beetroot separately in foil and place them all on a baking tray. Bake the beetroots until tender, up to 70 minutes (my medium-large ones were done in 60 minutes). Allow the beetroots to cool. When you can handle them, unwrap them, peel off the skin and chop the flesh into 2 cm cubes.

While the beetroots are baking, trim the rhubarb and slice it at a angle into 2.5 cm lengths. Toss together the rhubarb and sugar in a small bowl, then spread them out across a paper-lined baking tray. Roast the rhubarb for 10-12 minutes, until soft but still holding its shape. Allow the rhubarb to cool.

In a small glass jar, shake together the vinegar, pomegranate molasses, maple syrup, olive oil, allspice, salt and pepper until emulsified. In a medium bowl, toss together the beetroot cubes and this dressing.

On a serving dish, layer up the beetroot and rhubarb. Cut the blue cheese into dabs and drop them over the salad; sprinkle over the parsley.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The Reverence Hotel IV

September 23, 2018

Last time we visited The Rev, we lamented that the for-sale signs might be forecasting its demise. Happily, 18 months later, they're still hosting live music, trivia nights, taco Tuesdays and big veg-friendly pub meals all week long. The menu still follows the same themes - deep-fried everything, plenty of mock meat and vegan cheese, with lots of Mexican-ish meals alongside burgers and pizzas.

Unusually, it was Michael who picked out the fish burger ($18) - here it's a dense battered mock-fillet layered with tartare sauce, beetroot relish, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions, and then a side of fries. It was rich, yet nothing that Michael couldn't handle.

After some lengthy indecision and consultation, I picked out the smoked chicken pizza ($15) and shared around a couple of slices. The base had that uniform supermarket vibe, but the toppings were more lively: napoli and melty-enough cheese, mock chicken pieces, spring onion, pineapple and some very hot little chilli rings, all drizzled with barbecue sauce.

I left enough room to help our friend Natalie out with those chocolate nachos ($15) that we'd previously noted on the menu. The concept is deeply questionable, but the execution is really very impressive! The Rev kitchen have worked cocoa and a little sugar into their flour tortilla dough, then fried it up into chips - these were topped with scoops of vegan icecream, crushed nuts, strawberry wedges and stripes of chocolate sauce. It's a fun, crunchy and very shareable sundae.

Though we barely make it to the Rev more than once a year, we really like what they do and it seems that plenty of locals do, too!

You can also read about one, two, three of our previous visits to The Rev.

The Reverence Hotel
28 Napier St, Footscray
9687 2111

Accessibility: There's a small step at the (narrowish) front door, but the side door is flat and wide. Inside things are fairly spread out, with at most small steps between the bar, side-room and courtyard. We ordered and paid at the bar, and didn't visit the toilets.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Yuba-mushroom cheesesteak sandwiches

September 22, 2018

When we're in the mood for an all-day food project, we often turn to Serious Eats. Most recently, we had a crack at their veganised Philly cheesesteak. We've never tried the real thing - a soft long roll filled with many layers of thinly sliced steak and some mild and melty cheese - but we've had a few mock meat versions around Melbourne before.

What most appealed to me about this recipe is the use of layered bean curd sheets in place of the meat. We don't have a lot of experience cooking with it and I was keen to try it again. KFL Supermarket stocked numerous brands and forms, and we picked two to play around with. The first were just thin dried rectangles, and the second were thicker fried rings - I thought these latter ones might be a bit chewier and better at absorbing flavour.

Each component is a full recipe in itself. First, there's a mushroomy stock where the veges are roasted for maximum flavour. You can optionally smoke the yuba, but we just added a few teaspoons of liquid smoke instead as we later cooked it in the stock. A vegan cheese sauce gets its creaminess from blended simmered potato as well as cashews; it's spiced up with paprika, chipotles and jalapenos. Then there's onions slowly caramelised on the stovetop and more roasted mushrooms for the filling. It really is an all-afternoon affair!

The one core hiccup for us was cooking the bean curd sheets. They're thin and brittle, difficult to slice into strips and and not amenable to being coated in dark caramel as the recipe suggests. Even once the stock went in, I picked and prodded at the bean curds, adding a bit more water and trying to make sure each one had enough time submerged in liquid to soften properly. I wonder if the ones used by the Serious Eats team had a different form.

The finished rolls were sloppy and savoury and very enjoyable! And leftovers that we were glad to eat for days. But we didn't really pick up on the many nuanced ingredients that went in along the way - the stock was quite mild, the peppers barely perceptible, the mushrooms losing out to the volume of bean curd in the filling. Our minds are ticking over on a different version - less yuba (pre-soaked) and more mushrooms, sauteed in vegan Worcestershire and oyster sauces, and perhaps one of our other creamier vegan sauces. At this stage we're boldly hoping that we can quarter the effort and possibly even dial up the flavour along the way.

Yuba-mushroom cheesesteak sandwiches
(slightly adapted from a recipe on Serious Eats)

mushroom stock
560g button mushrooms, brushed and quartered
1 onion, quartered
8 cloves garlic, roughly smashed
1 large carrot, cut into large chunks
4 ribs celery, cut into large chunks
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon beef-style stock powder

cheese sauce
6 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 chipotle pepper plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce, all chopped finely
1 small potato, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup roasted cashews
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 teaspoons pickling liquid from a jar of jalapeños

sandwich filling
2 onions, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons sunflower oil
200g king oyster mushrooms, shredded lengthwise
salt and pepper
1/4 cup caster sugar
400g bean curd sheets (yuba), sliced into thick strips
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

6 long rolls

Start with the mushroom stock! Preheat an oven to 230°C. In a large bowl, mix together the mushrooms, onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Add 4 tablespoons of the oil and the salt and toss everything together. Spread the veges out over two baking trays and roast them, tossing them around every 15 minutes, until they're dark brown, about 45 minutes total.

Set a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and the tomato paste, cooking for up to 5 minutes, until dark brown. Add 1.5 litres of water, the roasted vegetables and the stock powder. Simmer everything together for 45 minutes. Strain out the solids and keep the stock for the following steps.

Next, the cheese sauce. Pour the oil into a medium-large saucepan and set it over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeño, and cook them, stirring regularly, until soft but not browned. Add the cumin, paprika, garlic powder and chipotle with sauce and cook for a further a minute. Add the potatoes and cashews, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the water and almond milk and bring it all to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and add the hot sauce, pickle juice and salt. Use a blender or spice grinder to make the smoothest sauce you can (it's a tough ask with all those potato chunks!).

Time to prepare the sandwich filling. In a small frypan, heat 3 tablespoons of oil over low-medium heat. Add the onions and cook slowly, stirring regularly, until thoroughly caramelised, about 30 minutes. Set aside.

Get that oven back up to 230°C. In a bowl, toss the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil through the king oyster mushrooms and season it all with salt and pepper. Spread them over a baking tray and roast until golden brown, up to 20 minutes.

Go back to your largest saucepan and set it over high heat. Add the sugar, and cook it until melted and browning. Add the yuba strips and, if you can, stir them around to get them coated in the caramel. Add the liquid smoke, paprika, garlic powder, and then pour over the mushroom stock. Simmer, stirring regularly, until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the yuba, about 15-20 minutes. (We added some extra water and put the lid of for a bit to get the yuba steaming, before taking it off to let liquid evaporate.) Turn off the heat and stir in the mustard. Fold through the sauteed onions and roasted king oyster mushrooms.

To assemble, slice each long roll lengthways. Spread 1/4 cup of cheese sauce on the bottom half of each roll, pile up the yuba-mushroom filling and pop the top back on.