Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mandarin-chocolate ganache tart

May 27, 2016

This year we celebrated Michael's birthday in Stockholm. I had organised a couple of gifts for him while I was in Melbourne and he was already travelling. I hid a proudly home-sewn shirt for him in the lining of my backpack, but didn't want to carry the weight of the cookbook I'd ordered all around Europe. Instead I photographed a few of the recipes that might plausibly be made in a small foreign kitchen, and prepared a couple of them for him as a birthday preview.

The cookbook was Street Vegan, a collection of recipes from the Cinnamon Snail food truck that won Michael's affection and appetite in New York City two years ago. There's a detailed review and recipe trials on Veganopoulous posted late last year, and she kindly let me browse her copy while we were hanging out around then. There's lots of tasty-looking seitan that draws on our whole pantry-full of supplies and an entire doughnut chapter. It'll be fun stuff for weekend cooking projects at home. I wound things back a little in Stockholm, but was still able to draw on some specialty vegan groceries thanks to the nearby goodstore.

For dinner, I embarked on beer-battered Buffalo tofu with roasted garlic ranch dip. Sobel suggests serving it with stewed collard greens and vegan mac'n'cheese. Echoing his way, I used handfuls of kale-based salad mix and a just-add-soymilk packet of vegan mac'n'cheese. Add a couple of beers from the Systembolaget and we had a pretty great celebratory dinner.

For dessert I skipped over the doughnuts and made a mandarin-chocolate ganache tart. It has a base of crushed Oreos and a silky-smooth filling of dark chocolate, coconut milk and orange juice for a creamy jaffa effect. I reluctantly left out the cinnamon, cloves and cardamom due to my kitchen sitch and reckon I'd enjoy some spicy complexity. The impressive flourish is the candied mandarin slices on top, skin and all, baked for just 10 minutes, all chewy and brightly flavoured.

The local pie dish was very wide and shallow - I struggled to stretch my crushed biscuits across the base, and was a bit haphazard in my measuring. As a result my tart slices didn't hold together, and we didn't mind spooning through sloppy slices of biscuit-crumbed ganache one bit. I guess I'll just have to try this recipe again, as Sobel originally intended, when I'm back home.

Mandarin-chocolate ganache tart
(adapted from a recipe in Adam Sobel's Street Vegan)

candied mandarins
1/4 cup golden syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon water (added by me to thin out the glaze)
4 mandarins, washed

154g packet Oreos
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for greasing tray

200g dark chocolate
165mL can coconut milk
165mL orange juice (probably too much)

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with foil.

In a small bowl, whisk together the syrup, salt, oil, vanilla and water. Carefully slice the mandarins into rounds, as thin as you can get away with while keeping the pieces round and whole. Dredge each mandarin slice in the syrup and place them on the tray without overlapping. Bake for 10 minutes. (I turned the oven off and let them sit there as the oven cooled, to caramelise further and dry out a little.)

To make the crust, crush the Oreos and place them in a medium bowl. Stir through the oil. Lightly grease a pie dish, then press the biscuit crumbs into the base and up the sides of the dish - I use the back of a spoon to smooth them out. Refrigerate the crust while you make the ganache.

Roughly chop the dark chocolate and set it aside. In a medium-large saucepan, stir together the coconut milk and the orange juice. Bring them to the boil and then turn off the heat. Whisk in the chopped chocolate until smooth. My mixture was very runny, and I allowed it to sit and thicken for about 20 minutes. Retrieve the pie dish from the fridge and pour the ganache over crust, smoothing over the top as needed. Refrigerate the tart for at least an hour.

When the ganache has begun to firm up, arrange the mandarin slices decoratively over the tart. Refrigerate the tart for at least another 4 hours, until the ganache is firm enough to slice.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


May 14-19, 2016

As we've hinted in our last two posts, Michael has some colleagues in Helsinki. They welcomed us to their city for touring, eating and working, and we set aside extra time for our own exploring. I've got a couple of Finnish colleagues of my own, and they were wonderful sources of information for sight-seeing and vegetarian food. We lodged in Kallio, less than a block from its striking Lutheran church (pictured above).

Our first stop was Kahvila Sävy. Here Michael was glad to buy the kind of coffee he drinks daily in Melbourne and I enjoyed dark, frothy hot chocolates that are harder to come by back home. Most customers are here for the hot drinks (and perhaps the wifi), but there's also a small selection of sandwiches, pastries and cakes for the hungry. We shared a sweetly homely apple slice with vanilla sauce on our second visit.


Michael did just enough forward planning to secure us a 2pm Saturday booking at Sandro Kallio. While we would surely have eaten well there at any time, this booking coincided with their weekly Vegan & Veggie Garden Brunch. For 28.50€ (AU$44.30) each, we were handed glasses of sparkling wine and provided a two-hour slot to feast on a staggering buffet.

A candle-lit bench groaned with Ottolenghi-style salads, breads, pickles, freshly cut fruit, pastries and jams. It took two plates to cover these bases, and still there was a further section of 'mains'. These took the form of half a dozen tagines featuring braised vegetables, lentils, stewed seitan and tahini-drizzled felafel. At the bar, we were free to help ourselves to sparkling water, berry smoothies and ginger shots. The dessert table was right by the entry, so we knew to save space for a little cheese and a sample of the cakes.


Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, Just Vege offered more low-key meals. The staff preferred to speak in English and had easy-to-read menus laid out in two languages with clear vegan and gluten-free options. Though they boast about their felafel, we both preferred to try their mock meats.

Michael laid into hot'n'spicy burger meal (11.90€ ~ AU$18.50), a slightly less sugary, disposable version of what he'd order at Lord of the Fries. It came with extra coleslaw, shredded lettuce, and some knock-out seasoned fries.

I chose the schnitzel (11.90€ ~ AU$18.50), a slim and crunchy-crumbed cutlet that came with blander 'carved potatoes' (I may have taken Michael's dipping sauce), ratatouille, coleslaw and shredded lettuce.

Throw in a Club-Mate to drink, and Just Vege had us feeling rather nostalgic for the vegan fast foods we ate around Berlin four years ago.

On Michael's way in to work we stopped by Good Life Coffee for a small breakfast and a flat white (!). The menu - written decoratively in English on two mounted skateboard decks - includes granola & yoghurt, steamed eggs with avocado, avocado on toast, and (pictured above) peanut butter, sliced banana & maple syrup on toast (4€ ~ AU$6.20).

I worked quietly from our apartment and took myself out to lunch at a Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant I'd walked past a couple of days earlier. The menu of 3 lunch specials was written in Finnish, but the staff behind the counter didn't mind verbally translating the options. I ended up with rice vermicelli noodles stir-fried with tofu, carrot, mushrooms and either cabbage or iceberg lettuce (8.40€ ~ AU$13 for a 'small' [actually huge] serve), and a complementary bowl of salad with distinctly non-Vietnamese green olives.

The meal lacked the vibrant herbs and seasonings of the food we've enjoyed in Vietnam and, indeed, Melbourne. It was a reminder of just how great we have it at home.

For dinner after work, we retired to trendy pub Kuja. Vegetarian options rotate haloumi, eggplant and other roasted veges through burgers, crepes and 'white pizza's. We tested two of the burgers. Michael's vegan one (14.90€ ~ AU$23.20) featured a sweet potato-lentil patty that came off too mushy and messy; my haloumi one (14.50€ ~ AU$22.50) fared better with a thick slab of cheese offset by tangy pickles and chilli mayo. With a sturdier bun, mine just about held it together to the end.

With bags packed on Wednesday morning we fueled up at Silvoplee, a large, casual vegetarian buffet Michael had spotted earlier in the week. It's clearly a popular spot for healthy and varied lunches, where you can pick through dozens of salads and hot dishes, plonk 'em on a plate or in a takeaway container, and pay by weight (the ones above costs 16€ ~ AU$25 on the left and 8€ ~ AU$12.50 on the right). I most enjoyed the stuffed mushroom and the avocado hummus.

Kallio was definitely Helsinki's cool spot for coffee, veg-friendly eating and hairdressing. It seems that Europeans are fond of a good buffet and we've found that they're a great way to access a variety of vegetables and fruits. Though it's tempting, we can't survive this trip on haloumi alone.

Friday, May 20, 2016


May 16, 2016

Before we cover eating around Helsinki, I want to talk about Tallinn. It turns out that Estonia's capital is no more than a two-hour boat ride from Helsinki and our airbnb hosts and Michael's Finnish colleagues urged us to take a day to visit its Old Town. Indeed we were completely charmed by Tallinn's architecture, from its 13th century walls (pictured bottom of post) to the well-maintained pastel-hued shops and the orthodox churches.

Happy Cow also pointed us towards the instructively named Vegan Restoran V for lunch. Even as we arrived at their noon opening their cozy indoor seating was almost booked out - clearly they have a good reputation.

We started out with bubbly drinks in fancy glasses and distinctly Estonian nutty brown bread; Michael made sure this was all gobbled up before our meals arrived and the staff kindly supplied more.

As we picked through the rest of the menu, I wasn't sure what to order. The dips and cashew cheeses of the starters list appealed to me more than the salads, soups and main courses. That is, besides the seitan dish that Michael had already claimed - I wasn't in the mood for barley or quinoa or even a burger.

In the end I followed my instincts and ordered two starters. The beetroot ravioli with cashew cheese (4.90€ ~ AU$7.60) was a lovely little plate with skins of beetroot and generous lashings of tangy cheese garnished with fresh spinach leaves, sprouts and a little pesto.

Even better was the snack platter (7.90€ ~ AU$12.20), where I picked my way through spicy crumbly wedges of tofu, cheese cubes, olives, sundried tomatoes, more sprouts and spinach, and the two best components - grilled zucchini sandwiched with more cashew cheese, and pumpkin hummus on fresh bread. These dips were beautifully seasoned with garlic and salt, and I'd have gladly made a meal of them (and really, I just about did, didn't I?).

Meanwhile Michael took on the grilled seitan with parsnip carrot puree and red wine beetroot sauce (8.70€ ~ AU$13.50). It was a gorgeous, full-flavoured rainbow of a plate with two tender 'steaks', a comforting mash and fruity sauce, lifted by fresh asparagus, cherry tomatoes, radishes and herbs.

As we spied on the meals served to other tables, it was evident that there were no wrong orders from this menu. What didn't quite excite me on the page was consistently vibrant on the plate. The selection of vegan cakes by the counter were cute, too, but we didn't have the appetite or the time (our table had a reservation attached to it).

With English menus, professional staff and favourable prices, we couldn't fault our short lunch at Vegan Restoran V. The restaurant and Tallinn as a whole were unexpected delights that we'd enthusiastically recommend to anyone visiting northern Europe.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Stockholm, weeks 3 & 4

May 1-14, 2016

Weeks 3 and 4 of my Stockholm trip were split by Cindy's arrival and our long weekend in Basel. Before we met up I ate my way through a big pile of leftover Singapore noodles and squeezed in a couple of quick outings.

I worked at home on Wednesday and wandered the neighbourhood in search of lunch, settling on Bengali street food at Gossip. It's run by the same people who run Shanti (see below) and was buzzing at 12:30 on a sunny Wednesday. I nabbed a seat in the window and ordered the Monsoon rain sabji from the lunch menu - it's a combination of veggies (carrot, zucchini, sweet peas, pumpkin), lentils, papaya and a mildly spicy sauce, served with salad, rice and a fried egg. The standard lunch also includes a mango lassi and at 90 krona ($15), it's pretty decent value.

That evening I met up with some work friends for a speedy bird photography outing to Djurgården and we continued on afterwards for dinner together at Calexico's in Hornstull. It offers the kind of trendy Mexican food that Melbourne's been pumping out for the last five years in a bright, airy space down by the water.

My chimichangas with sweet potatoes, black beans, grilled veggies and a mild salsa verde (178kr, $29.50) were an excellent vegan option, and the atmosphere and company made for a lovely outing. 

My last meal before heading to Basel was a return visit for lunch at Chutney - Cindy followed suit soon after we arrived back in Stockholm, breaking up one of her days working from the apartment.

I'd eyed off the veggie burger (120kr, $20) on my previous visit and really enjoyed it on this visit - the patty is 'meaty' and rich, and the burger is a delicious mess of sauces and salads. The side spuds were fantastic as well - it's a hearty lunch though, so make sure you're hungry. On Cindy's trip she ordered from the set lunch options - for 98kr ($16.30) you get your choice of one of three main dishes, plus salad and bread. She ordered the tikka masala, a creamy dish of beans and veggies on some A-grade fluffy rice. Chutney isn't going to blow too many minds food-wise, but it's a reliable lunch place in a very convenient location.

We came back from Basel on a Sunday night and lacked the energy to shop and cook something for dinner. Luckily, Shanti is just down the street - it came recommended by a colleague at work and my successful lunch at Gossip (above) meant I had high hopes.

The menu is impressively varied - we could easily come back two or three more times to try all the dishes on our wish lists. We started out with a serve of the palak paneer pakoras (80kr, $13.30), an innovative attempt at combining two of my favourite Indian dishes. It worked brilliantly too - these crisp little balls are probably the best way to enjoy palak paneer. Cindy ordered the nawabi kofta, fried veggie balls flavoured with ginger, garlic, chilli and coriander, served in a creamy korma sauce. I managed to sneak a taste, and was impressed by the fresh veggie chunks evident in the kofta balls.

My main was the sak sabji dal - a similar dish to the great lunch I had at Gossip, with papaya, lentils, spinach, potato and coriander in a spicy curry sauce. It was superb, although the pick of all the dishes was probably the standard dal that came with both mains - a simple but perfectly spiced lentil curry. Shanti is a step above most Indian places we've been to - the veggies feel fresher and more central to the dishes - it's easy to see why they've built a little empire in Stockholm.

Tuesday night we took advantage of the late hours at Moderna Museet for a quick wander through their collection, before stopping for a pizza on the way home. Denniso Pizzeria is recommended on Happy Cow for its separate vegan menu, so we decided it was worth a visit.

There are five vegan options, with three relying on mock-meats and a couple of more vegetable-focussed offerings. We split the difference, with a funghi (mushrooms, red onion, vegan cheese, 100kr/$16.50) and a kebab (seitan kebab meat, onion, tomato, iceberg lettuce, pepperoni and garlic sauce, 120kr/$20).

These were decent vegan efforts - nice thin bases, a bio-cheese style cheesiness and a decent array of toppings. The recreation of a classic kebab in vegan pizza form was particularly impressive - the garlic sauce and chilli peppers gave this a very authentic kebab vibe.

The final blog-worth meal of the fortnight was all Cindy's - a solo lunch at SoderManna, another nearby casual vego place.

The menu offers a standard range of burgers, wraps and salads, mixing up mock-meat, haloumi and falafel as the main ingredients. Cindy ordered the veggie burger, with a side of potato wedges and salad (59kr/$10).

The thick potato wedges and garlicky dip were the best parts of the plate, with the burger a decent 'meaty' patty generously slathered in tomato sauce. Sodermanna isn't sophisticated or fancy, but it's super cheap and you won't leave hungry.

We skipped out on Stockholm after this meal for a long weekend in Helsinki - stay tuned for a quick tour through the veggie restaurants of Finland (and Estonia!).

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sauteed vegetables with mock chorizo

May 9, 2016

In Stockholm Michael's been living in a cute airbnb lined with books. The kitchen is small but handy, and a much cheaper alternative to eating out. There's a supermarket just across the street. On my first full day in town he set off to the university and I stayed in to do my own work, agreeing to organise dinner. 

I noticed that Michael had a packet of mock chorizo sausages in the fridge. They inspired me to do something I don't do often at all - look up recipes that contain meat. A page on BBC Good Food gave me a pretty good idea of what omnivores tend to do with chorizo. The recipe that most appealed to me seemed intended for brunch. It's a simple but substantial saute of baby potatoes, capsicum, onion and chorizo, all topped with a fried egg. It reminded me of the fabulous hashes served up at Smith & Daughters.

Since we didn't need to eat all four serves straight up, I did all of the chopping and potato-boiling but held over half the ingredients for a later meal. My fried eggs were ugly but did the job. I added some mixed greens and cherry tomatoes to the plate for some extra freshness, and the greens wilted nicely on contact with the sauteed vegetables. The chorizo played a pretty minor role in the end, but I like its spiciness and was glad for a colourful, vege-filled plate.

Sauteed vegetables with mock chorizo
(adapted from a recipe from BBC Good Food)

500g baby potatoes
2 onions, sliced into strips
1 red capsicum, sliced into strips
1 green capsicum, sliced into strips
200g mock chorizo, sliced
100g mixed green leaves
200g cherry tomatoes, halved
4 eggs
olive oil
salt & pepper

Chop the potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Place them in a saucepan and cover them with water. Boil the potatoes until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain the potatoes.

Cover the base of a large frypan with a thin layer of olive oil. Saute the onions until soft. Add the capsicums and continue to saute until the capcicums are soft and the onion is beginning to brown around the edges. Tranfer the capsicums and onion to a plate and return the frypan to the heat. Add the potatoes and chorizo to the pan, allowing them to brown a little before turning them. When the potatoes and chorizo have developed a crust that you like, add the capsicum and onion back into the pan for a minute or two. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Share the green leaves between four plates and top them with the sauteed vegetables and chorizo. Distribute the cherry tomatoes across the saute. Fry the eggs and put one on top of each plate. Serve.