Sunday, September 16, 2018

Artichoke & chickpea salad

September 9, 2018

This is a salad that we've been enjoying for several years, thanks to Smith & Daughters. It's been on a couple of versions of their dinner and brunch menu, and it's also in their cookbook. It's hearty and hardy and pickley and just a bit toasted, something that works both as a side and as a main dish on its own. 

The original version pairs artichoke hearts with Jerusalem artichokes; I've gotten lazy about the root vegetable and just use regular old potatoes instead. My two other convenient pantry swaps are dried thyme instead of fresh, and maple syrup instead of agave.

This is the second or third time I've prepared it to share at a friend's house. It's usually tough enough to travel in its final serving state, but this one had a two and a half hour train journey between prep and presentation so I got finicky and packed many of the components separately. Rocket: in its own bag. Almonds: lightly roasted then jarred. Roasted potatoes and paprika chickpeas sharing one lunchbox, charred artichoke hearts and capers in another. Lemon-cumin dressing: jarred and ready for a last emulsifying shake before pouring. It was worth the effort to preserve all those textures, and the entire salad was happily demolished in a sitting, making the train trip home all the easier.

Artichoke & chickpea salad
(slightly adapted from Shannon Martinez & Mo Wyse's Smith & Daughters Cookbook)

1 can chickpeas
olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
small handful of slivered almonds
500g potatoes
2 teaspoons dried thyme
400g can artichoke hearts
45g capers
2 large handfuls rocket
salt and pepper

juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat an oven to 180°C.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas, then spread them out in a small-medium baking tray. Drizzle over the some olive oil, sprinkle in the paprika and add a little salt. Stir well and bake for 20-30 minutes (mine never really crisp up as promised).

This is a good opportunity to toast the almonds in a separate small baking dish. There's no need for oil! Just keep an eye on them to avoid burning - they'll only take about 5 minutes.

Scrub the potatoes and slice them into cubes, skin on. Place them in a large baking tray, drizzle them with olive oil, then add the thyme, plus some salt and pepper. Toss everything together, then bake the potatoes until tender, 30-40 minutes.

After the almonds are out of the oven and cooling, There's probably enough time to make the dressing. Place all of the ingredients in a lidded glass jar and give them a thorough shake.

Drain and lightly rinse the artichoke hearts, then slice them into quarters. Lightly dress them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Set a frypan on high heat and sear the artichokes on 1-2 sides. Remove the artichoke hearts. Drain the capers and pop them into the pan for just a minute, until they pop.

When it's time to serve, layer up the rocket, potatoes and chickpeas, artichokes and capers, then the almonds. Pour over the dressing and lightly toss everything together if you have the space.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Coke & peanuts sheet cake

August 30, 2018

Last month Slate pushed an article into my RSS reader pronouncing Coke and Peanut Butter Sheet Cake Is Sweet, Salty and Southern. A sweet and salty dessert with an offbeat ingredient list? I was very predictably Into It. I found the right excuse to make it soon enough: we set off on a long weekend in Forrest with a couple of friends and I resolved to take most of the cake along with us, leaving a quarter of it back home with our cat sitter.

This recipe is egg-free and pretty easy to veganise, so I went ahead and substituted Nuttelex for the original butter. This only goes a small way towards explaining the worrisome things I noticed as I proceeded. The cake batter was thick and a bit rubbery, and it barely stretched across the baking tray I'd chosen for it, even though this was smaller than the baking tray directed in the recipe. It never achieved the fluffiness of a fresh cake, and seemed to have two-day-old texture from the get-go. 

The peanut butter buttercream was incredibly rich, even by my tolerant standards, and licking the beaters was enough to have me feeling bloated. The quantity here seemed far too high: as you can see in my photo, the buttercream looms as tall as the cake itself! (I wonder if this recipe was tested well, because the photo accompanying the recipe shows very different proportions.)

Yet, somehow, these two not-quite-right components came together to make a pretty great cake. The Coca Cola didn't offer a distinct flavour, but the thick buttercream countered the dryness of the cake and it was very satisfying to eat with a spoon. While this wasn't the novelty experience I hoped for, it was a comforting treat as we lounged by the fire with a jigsaw.

Coke & peanuts sheet cake
(a veganised version of a recipe at food52)

500mL Coca-Cola
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
125g margarine, cut into tablespoon-sized pats
3 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter
225g margarine, softened
3 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons soy milk
3/4 cup peanuts (roasted and salted), chopped

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a very large baking tray with paper and spray it with oil.

In a large saucepan, place together the cola, sugar, cocoa and margarine. Set it over medium heat and bring it to a high simmer, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat when the margarine has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Set the saucepan aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, bicarb soda and salt. Pour in the still-warm cola and whisk until smooth. Pour the cake batter into the baking tray and bake until it passes the skewer test, 15-20 minutes. Allow the cake to cool before you ice it.

Use an electric mixer to beat together the peanut butter and margarine. Gradually beat in the icing sugar, then the salt and vanilla. Add a little soy milk to loosen texture of the buttercream if needed. Beat for an extra 20 seconds after everything is well combined. Spread the buttercream over the cake. Sprinkle over the peanuts, and slice the cake to serve.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Northcote Fish & Chips

August 29, 2018

A few months back the veg*n telegraph pounced on the news that Northcote Fish & Chips were trialling a vegan menu, so when we were looking for a quick dinner in Northcote we headed straight there. The sign on the street promising vegan dim sims made it clear we were in the right place.

The vegan menu has mock prawns and scampi, a pumpkin burger, mushy peas, salad plus dim sims, fish, chips and potato cakes. We stuck with a a pretty classic fish and chip shop order - a couple of dim sims ($1 each from memory), a serve of the Vish ($8.5), a scoop of chips ($3.9) and a couple of potato cakes ($1.25 each). 

The dim sims were fine - I'm not hugely nostalgic for them, but they're nice fried little parcels of cabbage and other veggies, served with some soy sauce for dunking.

The fish was the star of the show - an oatmeal and soy fillet, wrapped in nori and beer-battered. It absolutely delivers the fried fishy goodness you've been missing. Throw in some excellent crispy potato cakes and good chips and you've got the perfect mock fish meal. The guy who runs the joint is super friendly and it's very well located - this place is destined to become a Melbourne vego staple.


The only other post we can find about Northcote Fish and Chip is Messy Veggies announcing the vegan range back in July.

Northcote Fish & Chips
341 High Street, Northcote
9482 9079
vegan menu

Accessibility: There's a flat but narrow entryway and a few well spaced tables inside. You order and pay at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Tidbit cakes & cafe

August 26, 2018

I first got to know Rhi through her blog Vegan in Melbourne and was very excited for her when she opened her own business, Tidbit cakes, in Richmond. Rhi's primary trade is in special occasion cakes but she also sells smaller daily treats from her brightly lit workspace. Everything is vegan.

Sadly our lunchtime visit was too late to claim any of the sausage rolls, but we were well satisfied with the toasties still available. Rhi blends two vegan cheeses to get the best combination of meltiness (Bio Cheese) and flavour (Vegusto). I liked that the pesto, tomato & cheese version ($10) was seedy and nutty, and loved the mustard and pickle piquance of the ham/cheese/tomato standard ($12.50).

There's a couple of little tables to eat in at Tidbit, but Rhi had also pointed out to me the dog park just down the street, so we had our sweets boxed up for a takeaway in the late winter sun. While we watched lots of cute canines frolicking, we split two excellent desserts. This is one of the best vegan cheesecakes ($7) I've ever eaten - super smooth and without a whiff of tofu, with a thick chocolatey biscuit base (get outta here, raw date crusts). We made a magnificent mess of the nutella brownie ($6), which was super-dooper fudgy, with just a little welcome crustiness around the edges.

Though we didn't buy any on this day, these guys make the most stunning vegan macarons! Sadly for us, Richmond's outside our regular circle of movement, but you can bet we'll stop in again (hopefully for a sausage roll) when we're within Tidbit's range.

Tidbit has also appeared on the blog messy veggies.

Tidbit cakes & cafe
255 Mary St, Richmond
0434 872 867

Accessibility: There's a ramp on entry and more floor space than furniture inside. We ordered and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Xi'an Famous

August 19, 2018

As we expounded upon our new love for youpo mian, Laura Jean McKay suggested that we give Melbourne's Xi'an Famous a go. This mini-chain has outlets in the CBD, Carlton and Caulfield, and we figured the CBD one would be a convenient dinner stop before settling in for a MIFF movie.

Online reviews warned us that this isn't a place for vegetarians, but we noticed a solid choice or two in each section of the menu: hot and cold rice or wheat noodles with chilli or sesame; a vegetable or egg burger; little fried pancakes and pies; vegetable dumplings; and cold dishes like chilli oil bean curd and shredded potato.

But we were here to test out the big bowls of noodles! Ensuring we had some variation on the youpo mian, I ordered the tomato and egg noodle ($12.80). It was enormous, with a very mild and almost milky broth, plenty of tomato and egg fragments floating through, and a large submerged mass of noodles (the same as the ones below). The overall effect was a bit bland and soupy, and yet again I was jealous of Michael's superior order!

He had, of course, the youpo mian - called spicy hot oil seared hand ripped noodles ($12.80) in English on the menu. The garlic-chilli dressing was exactly what we fondly recalled from our couple of bowls in China. I was again tentative about the chilli intensity, but it was well within my tolerance. The noodles, though, were a bit of a let-down: far from the wide flat belts we loved, these were more thick and slender and thus, much chewier.

This eatery has a casual, help-yourself style; the staff confirmed with us what was vegetarian and were quick to turn around the food. While this wasn't quite the youpo mian we're yearning for, I'd gladly return to order it (and maybe some of the other fried things!) again.


Xi'an Famous
260 Russell St, Melbourne
9663 3993
noodlesnoodles & fried thingssoups, noodles & dumplingscold dishes & drinks

Accessibility: There's a small step on entry. Inside, furniture is a mixture of low tables with backed chairs and high tables with stools; they're densely arranged with a clear corridor through the middle (see photos above). We ordered and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.