Monday, June 26, 2017

Humble Rays

June 23, 2017


Humble Rays' neighbourhood is a strange mix of industrial buildings, new apartments, offices and construction work hinting at the past, present and future of Carlton. Inside the cafe the mood is much more consistent - it's a glowing, relaxed little getaway with pastel tiles and a gorman-patterned mural. The menu is just as playful and in-the-now: granola is served on panna cotta, hollandaise sauce is flavoured with yuzu, scrambled eggs are stuffed with crab meat, and salmon is served with quinoa. There's a little, but not a lot, of vegetarian savoury food.


But there's a full page of sweets! Hong Kong-style egg waffles, pancakes, rice pudding and 'skookies' - individual, skillet-baked cookies. Every one of these dishes is sprinkled with half-a-dozen ridiculous fripperies; fruit, fairy floss, crumbs and sauces and candies. My companion urged me to order the French Toast Forever ($19), and I obeyed because it was her birthday. The toast is fluffy and stuffed with cream cheese, with a little crunchy brûléed sugar on top, a scoop of lovely boysenberry icecream and a tuft of fairy floss.

I set the fairy floss aside and ignored the dish of maple syrup, picking at the riotous ring of other accompaniments; banana (yes!), passionfruit sauce (yes!), more cream cheese (just a bit), pomegranate seeds (lovely! tangy!), strawberries, kiwis and cherries (OK, but not at their best), more fairy floss and decorative flowers (pass). I felt like I'd been thrown the entire birthday party on a plate.


Since I was fighting off a cold, I justified adding a Pineapple Pop juice ($6.50) - its combination of apple, pineapple, lemon and mint was a perfectly perky way to start the day.


Birthday girl loved her (meaty) meal as well, declaring that these were the best poached eggs she'd eaten in years. Everything about our meal felt frivolous in the best possible way, a workday breakfast out garnished with cutesy trimmings and sunny smiles from the staff. I'll surely be sneaking back to indulge myself again.

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Humble Rays has received plenty of praise already from other bloggers, see Tess PressoLips TemptationsCouchfoodiesA Chronicle of GastronomyHungry CookieRabbit Town ArtShort & StoutfrenchtoastandindiepopThe Penguin Eats and F.E.E.D.
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Humble Rays
71 Bouverie St, Carlton
8354 8459
breakfast & lunch, ridiculous sweet stuff & drinks
http://www.humblerays.com/

Accessibility: Humble Rays has a flat entry and generously spaced tables. We ordered at the table and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Notes on a vegan cherry pie

June 18, 2017


My Twin Peaks cherry pie was so unforgettably good that only a month later I rolled up my sleeves to try making a vegan version. There's just one ingredient that needs substitution: butter. Following discussion on our facebook page, I replaced the butter with the same weight of Nuttelex and set my food processor a-whirring. It melded with the flour, forming a dough without need of any of the water listed as the final ingredient.

Then came the tough part. This vegan crust was easy to roll but impossible to pick up without extensive tearing. I rolled it twice, cursed the heavens a hundred times, and patched it up as best I could. Forming the lattice wasn't much better, with all of my pastry ribbons breaking in one, if not three, spots. For all that angst, my pie was a flawed beauty, just as sweet and juicy and sour and crumbly as the original. (If anything it was even more Twin Peaks-appropriate, with the filling gorily spilling from one side.)


So, what to do from here? Well, in the first instance we dolloped coconut yoghurt on the pie and shared it proudly with friends. A little later I pulled out my vegan pastry reference to compare recipes and reflect. It's possible that I was just rolling my small volume of dough too thin, and likely that my ratio of flour, fat and water was out of whack. Either way, I think the next iteration needs more flour (say, half-to-one cup) and whatever iced water is needed to form a dough. Hopefully this extended note to self will lead to an equally tasty but less fraught vegan cherry pie in... well, maybe one more month.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Paneer butter masala

June 12, 2017


I came back from overseas raring to get back into the kitchen and cook up a storm. Cindy and I settled on this paneer butter masala for Monday night. It's the perfect public holiday project - not super complicated, although the constant pausing/playing of Mallika Basu's video recipe slowed us down a bit. The paneer was fantastic - coated in a mix of turmeric, salt and chilli and charred up in the frying pan - but the sauce was the real star. It's rich, spicy and a gorgeous turmeric-y orange. We served it up with a side of spiced coconut spinach and some store-bought paratha and it was the best goddamn dinner I've had in ages.

The curry worked just as well for leftovers - there was a depth of flavour to it that beat just about any curry we've made before. This will definitely end up in our regular rotation.


Paneer butter masala
(slightly adapted from a recipe by Mallika Basu)

1/2 cup cashews
400g paneer, chopped into bite-sized cubes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup tomato paste
2/3 cup yoghurt
2 teaspoons ground coriander
3 tablespoons ghee
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon garam masala

Cover the cashews with water and soak them for at least an hour. When you're ready to cook, drain them and grind them to a cream with 4 tablespoons water. Set aside.

In a small-medium bowl, toss together the paneer, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, yoghurt and 2 cups water. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the ground coriander, remaining 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder and remaining 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, then whisk in 2 tablespoons water. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon ghee in a large pan over low-medium heat. Add the paneer and fry it for just a minute on each side, until it's golden. Remove the paneer from the pan and set it aside.

Keep the pan on the low-medium heat and add the bay leaf. Add in the ginger and garlic, stirring them through 1 tablespoon of ghee. Pour in the small bowl of dried spices and water, cooking for no more than half a minute. Pour in the tomato-yoghurt mixture, and stir everything thoroughly. Simmer for a few minutes, then stir in the cashew cream. Fold in the paneer, simmer gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the garam masala and melt in the last tablespoon of ghee; serve.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Urban Projuice

June 12, 2017


Michael arrived home on the weekend, and made sure to keep active and out in the sun during the days to stave off jetlag. This was a great strategy when we crossed the river to Urban Projuice for lunch - there was a wait for indoor tables but plenty of free spots out back.

The menu is varied and vegan by default: a couple of dishes include optional eggs, but there's no meat or dairy. Gluten-free folks have abundant well-labelled options too. It's all wholefood-oriented and scattered with the trappings of our time: an acai bowl, granola that's paleo, crushed avocado served on 'toasted raw sprouted bread' (...so is it raw or not?). But those of us seeking carby comforts aren't completely left out: there are pancakes, a baked sweet potato garnished with corn chips, and a vege burger.


Beyond the espresso machine there are $10 smoothies, turmeric lattes and something called a Coconut Bomb. Michael confirmed that they do the classics well with a flat white ($4), and I approved the hot chocolate ($4.50, both Bonsoy-based).


Michael went on to order the Big Breakfast ($21), even though he was skeptical that the tofu scramble would be up to much. He was happily proven wrong with this brightly coloured and flavoured batch, shovelling it down with the plentiful baked beans, mushrooms, roasted little potatoes, avocado, kale salad and toast.


I was predictably drawn to those pancakes ($19.50). They're cakey, deceptively gluten-free, and dressed up to the nines with bananas and berries, maple syrup, three scoops of icecream, a sprinkling of seeds and edible flowers. Every component was terrific, although I found the overall effect to be excessively sweet.


Urban Projuice is aimed at the instagram-wellness-smoothie set, but I think its appeal is broader - only the ugh, no bacon?! crowd are likely to be disappointed. It's not often we're willing to queue up southside for a meal and the prices are a little steep, but it was worth making an exception once for this cafe.

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Urban Projuice has received a lot of positive blog coverage, see TOT: HOT OR NOTTHATVEGANLIFEDOEdelightfully tastymessy veggiesFuture King and QueenHappy Little CoconutGoodness CollectivesimplySundayDaily WatermelonFire & TeaFrenchythe baroness of melbourne and Nourishing Adventuresfoodie about town had a more mixed experience, and lifestyle by lily was pretty unimpressed.
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Urban Projuice
315 Montague St, Albert Park
9696 0048
food, drinks
http://www.urbanprojuice.com.au/

Accessibility: This terrace house has several steps up on entry and densely packed tables. We ordered at our table and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Alley

June 3, 2017


A couple of friends alerted me to the opening of The Alley four months ago. Touted as a vegan burger spot, I imagined late Saturday nights on Brunswick St. Far from it! The Alley operates from a St Kilda Rd office block, primarily for lunch, and is closed on Sundays. Nevertheless, it's got the look - the bright yellows, millennial pinks, neon lights and line drawings remind me of Hobart's Veg Bar and just about any fro-yo bar you could name.

The menu takes the healthified, superfood-infused approach. There are chia puddings and acai bowls for breakfast, macro and taco bowls for lunch; noodles are made from seaweed and spaghetti is made from squash. Fries are actually air baked and instead of shakes there are smoothies shot through with coconut water, almond milk, pea protein, macca and (they've hit me with a new one!) camu camu.


Air-baked fries ($6.95) lack crispness but are beautifully fluffy on the inside. The almond parmesan and crispy kale crowning the potato wedges (pictured above, top right) were nifty, and we liked the herb-salted sweet potato fries even better.

The mac'n'cheese (front left is small [$6.95] and gluten-free [+$2.50], top right is large [$10.95]) is on a par with my favourite vegan recipes - smooth and savoury and very, very rich. They stretch the white-bean cashew sauce out with sweet corn, then sprinkle the tub with crispy kale and coconut bacon. 


And what of those burgers? The vegan brioche buns (pictured above, right) are perfect for those of us who like our bread soft and sweet, and my coeliac companion K rated the gluten-free ones highly too (pictured left, +$2.50). The five burger options lightly mock meat without using processed soy or gluten-based products: there's more coconut bacon, scrambled tofu, pulled jackfruit and a 'beet steak' among them. 

Toby ordered that beet steak (pictured with the mac'n'cheese above left, $12.95), K tried the eggplant-based 'mi_so hungry' (left, $12.95), and I went for the brekky burger ($9.95). They all tasted great, though in combination with the sauces and the insubstantial buns, it all got a bit squishy-mushy. Only the coconut bacon really held its own in flavour and texture.


There are the inevitable raw cakes but thank heavens, the Alley also sanction the baking of cakes, cookies and doughnuts. There's even a soft-serve machine! I've never been a cupcake fiend, but I'm glad I made an exception for this Snickers-themed one ($4.95) with its caramel drizzle and crispy sprinklings.


The Alley is infuriatingly on-trend and fitted out with all the current fad foods. But they're assembling them into some genuinely tasty meals! I could definitely see myself swinging by for more when I'm south of the river, if only they were open for more than five hours on the weekend.


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The Alley has won fans in fellow veg*n food blogs Veganishmessy veggies and Vegetarian Burger Life. Omnivorous blogs Short & Stout and gastrology seem to have been drawn in by freebies, and are also positive in their comments.
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The Alley
417 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
9820 8314
meals, desserts, smoothies, takeaway & beverages
https://www.thealley.net.au/

Accessibility: The entry is flat and wide. Furniture is spaciously distributed, a mixture of standard and high tables, with backed seats, booth seats and stools. We ordered and paid at a low counter. Toilets were located outside the cafe elsewhere in the building and I didn't visit them.