Thursday, April 30, 2009

April 30, 2009: Gigibaba

28/02/2013: Based on Ed's tweet, it appears that Gigibaba is no more.

Both the blogosphere and traditional media have been abuzz over Gigibaba since it opened about 6 months ago. Its no-bookings policy means that it's almost impossible to get a table on demand after 7pm on any night of the week (though turn up at 6pm on a weeknight and you've a good chance of scoring your seats straight away). We spent about 40 minutes relaxing at Grumpy's Green across the street after Michael added his name to the wish list.

The menu offers well over a dozen teeny tasting plates and about a third as many main dishes. It's worth noting that the menu seems to change regularly. On this night, none of the mains were vegetarian (save for the choban salata lingering alone at the end of the same menu page), but almost half of the tasters are veg-friendly and I was happy to graze my way through them. These saucers of food are so teeny, in fact, that Michael and I tried every vegetarian dish on the menu except one (the salt cured black olives, since you asked).

Before we go any further, let me apologise for the photos. This is a hip and in-demand establishment; the lights are low and the majority of customers (including Michael and I) are seated at a bar, facing the jovial but bustling staff. It wasn't a night for flash photography or desktop tripods! Moving on to the subject of this photo - Gigibaba offers great bread. And though they'll present it in smallish servings, there seems to be a bottomless supply of this soft sourdough.

And what better way to enjoy fine bread than with baba ganouj ($6)? It was lick-the-plate fabulous, though baba ganouj often seems to have that effect on me.

These are cabbage sarma ($8), cabbage rolls stuffed with flavoured rice. They were pleasant, but a little bland to my taste.

The tomato and capsicum ezme ($8), by comparison, was vibrant in colour and acidic flavour, with lots of oily juice to mop up with our second bowlful of bread.

The smoked eggplant salad with basil and roast peppers ($9) seemed almost like a fusion of the smoky baba ganouj and tangy ezme; a great combination but a little repetitive under the circumstances.

Michael was rather keen for the slow braised runner beans (fasulye, $8), but their mild saltiness didn't quite live up to his expectations.

The hummus ($6) was lovely, but suffered by arriving after the knock-out baba ganouj.

We finished off our savoury succession with the sprightly choban salata ($8), a mix of tomato, cucumber, onion and parsley, dressed in lemon juice and olive oil.

It's not often that I sample seven savoury plates and find room for dessert! Here I like Gigibaba's style - rather than offering a dessert menu, the chef provides a selection of sweets that follow his current whim ($8 per person).

The baklava was stuffed with walnuts and though it was certainly sugary, it wasn't dripping with syrup as they often are. I liked that.

This is a sliver of poached quince, draped with a creamy choc-hazelnut sauce.

Finally, a pot barely larger than a thimble. It contained a panna cotta-like dish scented with rose water and topped with tangy pomegranate seeds.

Michael washed his share down with a Turkish coffee, while I opted for the sweeter, less caffeine-laden option of apple tea.

Our Gigibaba experience was a most pleasurable one, but we're in no rush to return for more. It's in ridiculously high demand and while the food is excellent, the tiny portions and less-tiny prices make for an extravagant night out. The aromas wafting from the kitchen hint that there are some amazing spices and marinades that us vegetarians are missing out on; given the $90 bill we racked up, I'd guess that the $55-per-head banquet could offer great value for the omnivores, at least. As for us, we're more likely to be requesting a more accessible table at Cafe Zum Zum, Rumi or Cafe Najla when we're in the mood for a Middle Eastern-style feast.

Address: 102 Smith St, Collingwood
Ph: 9486 0345
Fully licensed
Price: veg plates $6-9, dessert $8

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

April 25, 2009: Cryptic cookies

This is my first attempt at something from the sweeter side of Veganomicon. For all their Plain Jane looks, I've dubbed these cryptic cookies for a reason - they have a lot more going on than they let on at first glance. The initial hint for the non-scoffer is the curious aroma. The first bite confirms it to be rose water; then there's sourness before sweetness and as chewing continues, a golden roastedness and hint of salt to round out the flavour.

The rose water's backed up with an all-star line-up of vanilla, lime, cardamom and sesame seeds. These are actually supposed to be decorated with chopped pistachios (hence their original name, pistachio-rosewater cookies) but designated shopper Michael lamented that there wasn't a pistachio to be had in Fitzroy, and I took a chance on the sesame seeds in the pantry. I wasn't immediately convinced, yet they snuck their way into my favour over the course of a few cookies.

Isa and Terry promise cookies "pretty as a picture" and I'm sure they'd be a little more eye-catching if studded with the recommended pistachios. However, my dough was far too runny to roll into balls so they seemed doomed to this blobbly shape. I can imagine, though, how lovely they'd look if the dough was piped into thick S shapes using a star-shaped nozzle. Warm from the oven, the cookies had the perfect balance of crisp outer and chewy centre; once cool they were uniformly crunchy, a fine candidate for dunking in tea.


Cryptic cookies
(based on the pistachio-rose water cookies in Veganomicon, by Isa Moskowitz & Terry Romero)

1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3 tablespoons oat milk
1 tablespoon rose water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
juice and zest of 1 lime
1/4 cup cornflour
1 3/4 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 cup sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray or two with paper.

Whisk together the sugar, oil, milk, rose water, vanilla, lime juice and zest in a bowl. Whisk in the cornflour until the mixture is smooth. Thoroughly mix through the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom.

Drop large teaspoons of the dough onto the baking sheet, leaving plenty of space between cookies. Sprinkle the blobs with sesames seeds, then bake them for 10-13 minutes (mine needed no more than 10 minutes). Allow them to cool and firm up on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack.

April 25, 2009: Hot chocolate

'Tis the season for hot chocolate! Actually, I've not been an avid hot chocolate drinker for years. Cadbury's powdered drinking chocolate in frothed milk was an immense treat as a youngster and I've occasionally enjoyed Koko Black's more sophisticated version since moving to Melbourne, but generally I prefer my chocolate served in its solid state.

That is, until Tracy and Lee rewarded our cat-sitting with a canister of Monsieur Truffe's hot chocolate mix. These are dark chocolate buds of 70% cocoa solids, to be melted in just-boiled milk and sweetened if you must. Noticing that they're vegan, I packed them and a litre of oat milk for dessert to follow a weeknight dinner at Lisa's house. I stretched my resources among more people than the instructions recommended but I don't think anyone felt cheated - this is one rich, cocoa-packed brew. I've since enjoyed using the same method with other scraps of dark chocolate (if chocolate can ever be called 'scraps'), and have persisted with oat milk in preference to dairy or soy.

The recipe below makes just one of my slightly smaller portions. I think I'll start trialling a pinch or two of ground spice (ginger, cardamom, cinnamon or chilli!) to keep things interesting.

Hot chocolate
40g dark chocolate - in buds, grated, or pulverised in a food processor
200mL milk (not necessarily dairy)
sugar, to taste (my taste usually being none!)
a pinch or two of ground spice (optional)

Bring the milk just to the boil in a small saucepan, then reduce the heat to low-medium. Add the chocolate, sugar and spice, stirring until the chocolate is completely melted. (Scrape the bottom of the saucepan as you stir, that's where it likes to lurk!) Pour the hot chocolate into a mug and sip, slowly and appreciatively.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

April 24, 2009: Mojo's Weird Pizza

We've had some very fine pizzas in Melbourne, but have yet to really settle on a pizza delivery option for those nights when it's too cold to venture out and we're too lazy to cook ourselves. Umago has been our regular option but it has only intermittently satisfied. So when I found out that we were in the delivery area of the Clifton Hill branch of Mojo's Weird Pizza I was keen to give it a try.

For all their talk of weirdness (and to be fair, a banana and bacon pizza is pretty strange), the vego options aren't particularly wacky, with options like tomato, artichoke and rocket, roast vegie and bruschetta sounding delicious without too much craziness.

Cindy tried to dial up the weirdness as much as she could, ordering the two most interesting sounding veg options. First up, the cheeseathon known as Kaas Kop - caramelised onion, blue vein cheese, regular cheese, parmesan cheese and cream cheese. We only got a small one of these, which was a good choice - the blue vein and caramelised onion were a fantastic combination but the whole thing is just incredibly rich. You can feel your arteries clogging.


Our second choice was The Gringo (salsa base, corn chips, cheese, spanish onion, fresh tomato, jalapenos, cream cheese. topped with sour cream and guacamole), which is shooting for the same territory as Umago's Mexican pizza. I really liked the idea of this pizza - particularly the loads of jalapenos and slatherings of sauces, but the chip layer was a bit much for me. I could handle a smattering of corn chips on top of a pizza, but this came with a layer of chips 2-3 deep right across it. Apparently the chip level is pretty variable, so I haven't given up hope on this one entirely.


Cindy couldn't resist ordering a garlic bread ($5), which wasn't anything particularly special (beyond the fact that it was garlic bread of course).


And, in a nod of the head towards healthfulness, we also ordered Mojo's own garden salad, which came with its own little tube of Heinz dressing and a dense layer of fetta and olives across the top. It was okay, but a long way from being healthy I suspect.

I had high hopes for Mojo's, but this was all just a little disappointing. I think I'll try them again but my expectations have been suitably modified.

Address: 384 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill (there's also a Port Melbourne branch)
Ph: 9489 6588
Licensed.
Price: weird pizzas from $11 (small) to $22 (family), classic pizzas $10-$20
Website: http://www.mojosweirdpizza.com.au

April 23, 2009: Cafe Najla

Cindy and I had a date with nostalgia at the Northcote Social Club on Thursday evening, and we were both in the mood to eat somewhere new beforehand. Luckily, Cindy's voracious blog-reading means she's got a massive list of interesting places tucked away, and she quickly turned up this recommendation from FoodieFi. We turned up at about 8:30 concerned that we'd miss out on a table, but there was plenty of space for us and we settled in to check out our options.

The waitress recommended the vegetarian Mezza selection, including delights like Bazrjan (tangy pomegranate bulgher salad with fresh tomato, Aleppo peoppers and walnuts) and Salatit Shwander (beetroot and onion in pomegranate dressing), and we were both sorely tempted. But once I'd spotted the vegetarian set menu ($22.50) there was no turning back. I was unadventurous with my drinks choice but Cindy splashed out on a sour cherry cordial with mineral water ($4.50), which tasted as good as it sounds.

First up in the set menu was a dip selection, including a wonderfully smoky baba ganoush, a garlicy hummus and a sweet beetroot based dip. The dips came with some health vegie dippers but also with a big pile of bread, and Cindy was already concerned that we'd over-ordered by the time we'd worked our way through these.


Next up were our two entree sized dishes. The Fatet be Zed (Damascan style chickpea ragout, served with rich yoghurt, tahini dressing, pistachio nuts and crisp pita) was another in the long line of yoghurty chickpea things that we've had around town (and at home) - it was a delicious version of it, only let down slightly by the sogginess of the 'crisp' pita.


It was closely followed by the Ful M'dammes (a warm broad bean and tomato salad, served with lemon, garlic and tahini dressing). The dressing was super-tangy and well-suited to the tender beans - even the tomato worked in this dish. The major problem we had was our lack of something to soak up all the deliciousness - we probably should have saved some of our dipping bread.


Our salad, Salatit Fattoush (Syrian salad with Cos lettuce, grapes and strawberries, servied with sumac and pomegranate dressing and crispy pita) was the meal's highlight - the sweetness of the fruit and the lemony bite of the sumac were an outstanding combination, and this time the crispy pita was nice and crispy. It's not something I'd ever have ordered off the menu, but it really shone.

We were both really struggling to find room by this point, so there was no disappointment that the set dessert option was a small plate of sticky Turkish delight, served with mint tea.

I've been turned off Turkish delight by Cadbury, but whenever I've had a serve of the proper stuff, I've really enjoyed it. It helped to have the minty tea to take the edge of the sweetness a bit.

Nalja turn on a pretty good vegetarian feast, and have a wide selection of smaller offerings on their regular menu. With friendly staff, a cosy space and a High St location, I was surprised that there weren't more people filling themselves with Middle-Eastern delights. Their loss I suppose.

Address: 102 High St, Northcote
Ph: 9482 1168
Licensed
Price: Set menu - $22.50, Mezze - $4.20 each, Entrees - $10.80-$13.80, Mains - $18.50-$28.50

April 23, 2009: Tiffins III

My workplace's Tiffin lunches have a new organiser and a new day - we're now enjoying Tiffin Thursdays. This one features Dhabba Dal and a Veg Coco Malai. It's not been my favourite of the bunch but as always it's good value at $7 - I was even able to put aside some of the rice and curry and team it with a leftover roti for a second lunch.
__________

You can read my other accounts of Tiffins here and here.

April 22, 2009: Soft tofu tacos

While sharing an East Brunswick Club meal with them at the end of last year, Caroline and T let us in on one of their favourite ways to prepare tofu - baked in cubes, seasoned with nutritional yeast flakes and chicken-style stock powder. Thinking it'd make a neat taco filling, I couldn't resist adding a little oregano to the 'fu. Michael sauteed a cheerful mix of sliced zucchini, capsicum and mushrooms, then poured over a purée of pickled chipotles (adobo free) and balsamic vinegar. We rounded out the meal with fresh lettuce and hot, soft tortillas.

At first bite, this didn't blow me away... then it really crept up on me as I munched on. It doesn't compare to Trippy Taco's spicy grilled tofu, nor will it tempt omnivores away from their chicken fajitas, but it certainly has a charm all its own. Low effort, fresh-tasting and adaptable, I can definitely see this entering our weeknight meal rotation.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

April 20, 2009: Leftover makeover - Thai coconut soup

The clever guests at our Vegan Indian Potluck knew not to fill up on bland staples while there was such an abundance of vibrant curries (and pastries!) on offer. So, at the end of the night, we found ourselves with leftover curry to feed one, a big saucepan of dried-out rice, and a last unopened packet of roti. (There were also a number of mushrooms, leftover from pizza, slumbering in the fridge.) With a wisp of winter in the air, I planned a big pot of soup filled out with rice; if I could track down a Thai or Indian-inspired number, then the roti would make a perfect side!

Our Moosewood cookbook's been sitting neglected for a while (Chinese-style bbq sauce recipe excepted), yet it almost instantly provided an answer when I opened it - a Thai-style soup with mushrooms, tofu, lemongrass stock and coconut milk. I took the author's advice and doubled the quantity of stock, freezing half of it for later. I took some liberties, though, regarding rice and spice. The recipe didn't include any rice but I happily up-ended 2-3 cups of it into the simmering soup. While Moosewood recipes are often verdant with herbs, they're a little timid with the spices; I increased their pinch of cayenne to several rigorous shakes.

The result was just was we (and our over-burdened fridge) needed - smooth and filling, with that Thai team of heat, sweetness, limey tang and a touch of salt. But it's not quite a match for Lucy's tofu in lemongrass broth.


Thai coconut soup
(based on a recipe in Moosewood Restaurant New Classics)

lemongrass stock
6 cups water
3 fresh lemongrass stalks, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 leek or onion, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
6cm piece fresh ginger, sliced
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

soup
1 x 400mL can coconut milk
2 tablespoons lime juice
cayenne pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
200g firm tofu, sliced into cubes
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
2-3 cups cooked basmati rice
1 tablespoon fresh coriander, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the stock, put all the ingredients in a large saucepan, bring them to the boil, then cover and simmer them for 35 to 45 minutes. Drain the vegetables from the stock, squeezing them to get as much liquid as possible.

For the soup, return the stock to the saucepan and add the coconut milk, lime juice, cayenne and turmeric. Bring it to a simmer before adding the tofu, mushrooms, rice, coriander and salt then cook for 3 to 5 minutes.

Serve the soup garnished with extra coriander leaves.


April 18, 2009: Idea Fine Food and Wine

Michael and I crammed our Comedy Festival experience into one weekend. Booking four shows over two nights, one dinner at Lord of the Fries seemed compulsory. For the other we picked out a slightly special Chinatown restaurant, Idea Fine Food and Wine, from the Melbourne Veg Food Guide; I had a small success at work to celebrate.

From the outside, I wouldn't distinguish Idea from the myriad Asian restaurants in the neighbourhood. However it's elegantly fitted out (though a bit noisy when full) and has a specially dedicated menu page of vegetarian entrees and mains; what surprised us most on entering was their extensive list of wines and other alcoholic drinks.

The Veg Food Guiders raved about the vegetarian 'Szechuan' eggplant hot pot ($19), and we didn't think twice about ordering it. It arrived promptly and sizzling, full of meltingly soft vegetables. I ate around the chunks of red chilli and enjoyed a mild spiciness; Michael cleaned his plate and felt the heat.

It's difficult to imagine why the Veg Food Guiders didn't similarly exalt the spicy bean curd ($18.80, pictured top - perhaps the reviewer was vegan and the batter, egg-based). The silky-soft tofu had a crisp-battered shell and was seasoned with a most swoon-worthy spicy salt. The plate offers extra shards of batter and crispy-fried onions, just the thing to spark duelling chopsticks when the tofu's gone.

I'm not sure how the Food Guiders stumbled across Idea Fine Food and Wine amongst the bewildering local array of Asian restaurants but I'm grateful that they did. The terrific tofu alone could easily lure me away from the Chinese mock meats that are my vice.

Update 10/5/10: Idea Fine Food and Wine has closed its doors. We're going to spend the rest of our days yearning for that eggplant.

Address: 146-148 Little Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9663 8829
Fully licensed
Price: veg entrees $5.80-$8.80, mains $14.80-$19, rice extra

Sunday, April 19, 2009

April 16, 2009: Kaju Katli

When Steph mentioned that she and her partner D were visiting Melbourne from Perth, I offered to host a vegan potluck in our flat. I was a little anxious about how we'd all fit, but once we pushed all the furniture to the walls and filled our biggest saucepans with curry it was clear that there'd be no problems. Michael and I had proposed an Indian theme and as our guests arrived the table was progressively stacked with onion bhaji, spiced peanuts, stuffed capsicums, chutneys and raita, curries, samosas and roti. Michael chipped in with spiced new potatoes (actually Sri Lankan) and spiced chickpeas, while I fussed over the crockery and mixed up a jug of Indian-style lemonade.

These potlucks usually lead to as much sweet gluttony as savoury but this theme had its limitations - many Indian desserts are milk-based (such as my beloved kulfi and rice pudding, and the super-sugary gulab jamun). Nevertheless, Pip demonstrated that vegan kheer is possible, while Kristy prepared some vegan-friendly carrot halwa. I had a shot at kaju katli, a sweet that I spotted on Vegan Yum Yum some months ago. Even without dairy, it managed to include some of my favourite Indian ingredients - ground cashews and cardamom, flavoured and bound with sugar, salt and water.

I prepared the kaju katli the night before the potluck, with some difficulty. Once all the ingredients have boiled together in a saucepan you're supposed to pour it onto oiled foil and knead it "until glassy" (whatever that means). Obviously anything involving boiled sugar needs to cool before you touch it, so I plonked it onto a foil-lined board and gave it some time. It was during this time that the mixture attached itself quite firmly to the foil. The foil ripped and the cashews clung and I really wasn't sure where to knead the mixture that I had managed to unhinge. There wasn't a lot of mixture anyway, and the amount I could handle was diminishing by the second!

Eventually I came upon a solution - oil spray. I sprayed it on the board, on my hands, and on the paper-lined baking tray I dumped the mixture into. (If I did this again, I'd skip the foil and spray oil into a large mixing bowl, where I'd do my kneading.) I even sprayed the back of the spoon I used to smooth over the cashews once they were in the baking pan. That was when it achieved a smooth, glossy surface and I decided that I must have done something right. After scattering some sugar sprinkles and popping it in the fridge overnight, it was a breeze to slice and serve. The small volume wasn't a big drama - an itsy piece is plenty to round out a meal of potatoes and pastry.

(Steph & Pip have also recounted the evening on their blogs.)


Kaju Katli
(based on a recipe at Vegan Yum Yum, who cites Saffron Hut)

1 cup cashews, raw and unsalted
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 pinch salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
coloured sprinkles or edible foil (optional)

Use a food processor to grind the cashews to a fine powder. Mix in the cardamom and salt.

Stir together the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring them to the boil. Add the cashews and stir the mixture well. Cook for a further 5 minutes, until the mixture has thickened.

Lightly spray a large mixing bowl with oil and pour in the cashew mixture. Allow it to cool until you can handle it; spray your hands with oil and lightly knead the mixture until it forms a ball.

Line a small baking tray or loaf tin with paper and spray it with oil. Plonk in the cashew dough and smooth it down with the oil-sprayed back of a spoon. Decorate with sprinkles or edible foil if you're using them. Refrigerate the mixture until firm, then slice it into diamonds before serving.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

April 9-13, 2009: Easter eats

Like Christmas, Easter was a time of sharing recipes and restaurants we already know and love.
  • On Thursday night, I bought my brother a late pub meal at the East Brunswick Club after he made the nerve-wracking drive south from Tumut;
  • On Friday, Carol brought over a bottle of red and I cranked out some pizzas. We finished up with icecream.
  • Dinner on Friday night was at Sue's, where my Dad and his wife were staying. While they generously catered, I delivered an Easter package of golden bars, grubs and carrot cake biscuits.
  • On Sunday night I cooked a comforting 'meat'-and-veg meal for brother Liam, featuring vegan sausage rolls; he was oblivious to his first ingestion of tofu.
  • Monday night? Dinner with Dad and Anne at Shakahari. The croquettes were mildly disappointing, the laksa excellent, and I finally sampled the tofu caramel:
    While the tofu was as smooth and creamy as I'd dreamed, the electric sweetness of the candied pistachios came as a shock. A welcome one.
    The rest of the weekend I worked. Reluctantly, but steadily. It would have been lonelier if it wasn't for our other houseguest, Missy:
    (That's the reproachful look of a cat who knows I shouldn't be checking my Yahoo account.)

April 8, 2009: Peanut butter crumble cake

We had a student seminar scheduled for our lab just hours before everyone was due to take off for the Easter weekend. Clearly an accompanying cake would be required to lure everyone in. It had already been a week of working longish nights and spending the days sharing afternoon teas, birthday cakes, and chocolate eggs so I searched my many, many bookmarked recipes for something that didn't contain chocolate and wouldn't keep me up all night with its fiddliness. Lindyloo's recent success with a peanut butter coffee cake fit the bill. It was recent enough that I remembered how much it impressed her and I didn't bother reading her post all over again before shopping for and preparing this cake. If I had, maybe I wouldn't have done a couple of stoopid things.

First, I was all surprised when the cake batter tried to devour my electric mixer. Seriously, peeps, this is one thick cake batter. Yet it creates a surprisingly normal cake crumb. This is in spite of the other BONUS stoopid thing I did, which was to forget I was all out of baking paper until the batter was ready. This is not a great idea under any circumstances but as I understand it vegan baked goods are particularly sensitive to losing their airiness when they sit around too long. This cake batter spent some time sitting around while Michael heroically tripped down to the local IGA-no-longer. But this cake took it like a champion, with a crumb slightly lighter than banana bread, and pulled off the role of 'normal' (i.e. non-vegan) home-baked cake.

The Second Stoopid Thing I Did was to choose too small a cake tin. I can't imagine why I didn't use the pretty white baking dish that approximates the dimensions recommended in the recipe. Instead I used a much smaller square cake tin, and I was a little alarmed to discover the the peanut butter crumble almost erupting from the tin after ten minutes in the oven. But it didn't spill over, it just blackened a little around the edges and took much much longer to cook through than suggested. It didn't look like the seminar enticement I was hoping for.

Never mind. It was super-tasty: gorgeous texture, lots of peanut buttery goodness and the faintest hint of banana. Just perfect for afternoon tea.


Peanut butter crumble cake
(found at Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit, which credits Crazy Vegan Mom)

Topping
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons Nuttelex

Cake
2 1/4 cups plain flour
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup rice milk
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 ripe banana, mashed
1/4 cup Nuttelex

Preaheat the oven to 190°C. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Really! Not something smaller.

For the topping, stir the brown sugar and flour together in a medium-sized bowl. Blend in the peanut butter and Nuttelex with a fork.

In a larger bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Beat in the milk, banana, peanut butter and Nuttelex, until you have a smooth (but thick) batter.

Pour the batter into the baking pan, then crumble over the topping. Bake the cake for 30 minutes (or more, if your pan is too small), until it passes the ol' skewer test.

April 6, 2009: Tempeh lasagne

When I first suggested lasagne for dinner recently, Cindy plied me with more options than I could begin to take in. I opted for the first on the list, the eggplant lasagne rolls, but I had my eye on the tempeh lasagne that Anni and Heikki over at Tofu for Two raved about. It's a different beast to the eggplant rolls, going for a much meatier and more traditional filling. The tempeh soaks up the salty and smoky flavours from the soy sauce and liquid smoke and, by the time it's all been mushed together with onions, garlic, tomatoe sauce and basil, you've got yourself a filling that would satisfy even the meatiest meat-eater. The vegan version of the white sauce was also a success, with the nutritional yeast and lemon juice giving a bit of flavour to an otherwise fairly plain nut-based mush.

Between the white-sauce and the filling, there's a fair bit of work involved (it helped that we had some tomato sauce leftover from the eggplant rolls), and if I were doing it again, I'd probably up the tempeh filling a bit and cut down the amount of white sauce. Still, this was another astounding success, and satisfied us both for days of delicious lunches. So within two weeks we've gone from having no particularly exciting lasagne recipes to having cooked up two of the most deliciously satisfying lasagne recipes known to man. And they're both vegan! I'm still trying to decide which one is my favourite - we'll have to make them both again to help me choose.

Tempeh Lasagne with Cashew Cream Sauce

250g lasagne sheets

The tempeh filling
2 cups tomato sauce (we still had some of this left from last time)
2 finely chopped onions
200g tempeh
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Chop the tempeh into tiny little mince-sized cubes and then heat some olive oil in a pan and fry the cubes for around ten minutes - they should start turning golden brown.

Add in the soy sauce and liquid smoke and fry until the liquid has either been soaked up by the tempeh or has evaporated.

Take the tempeh out of the pan and use it to fry up the onions for ten or fifteen minutes - until they're completely soft and delicious. Add in the basil, the tomato sauce and the seasonings and simmer for as long as it takes you to make the cashew cream sauce. Once you're almost ready to build your lasagne you can throw the tempeh back in and stir it through the tomato sauce mix.

Cashew cream sauce

3 tablespoons nuttelex
1/4 cup flour
1 cup cashews and 100ml oat milk
900 ml oat milk
1/3 - 1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt

Blend up the cashews with the 100ml of oat milk in a food processor to get a thick paste.

Melt the nuttlex in a saucepan over medium heat and then add the flour, whisking it through the butter. Fry for a few minutes, whisking almost constantly and then gradually add the rest of the oat milk while whisking to keep everything as smooth as possible.

Once all the oat milk is in the saucepan, bring the mix to the boil and simmer for ten minutes or so - until it all starts to thicken up a bit. When it's almost as thick as you want it, add in the pre-ground cashew cream and the yeast flakes and stir everthing together well. Simmer for another five minutes or so and then finish things off with the pepper, lemon juice and salt.

To create your actual lasagne, layer up the two sauces with lasagne sheets - we went with a fairly ad hoc ordering - I think the main thing is to put some of the tempeh mix on the very bottom and to finish things up with the cashew sauce on top. As I said earlier, I'd rejig this slightly next time so that we have more of the tempeh and a bit less cashew cream - we were spreading the tempeh pretty thin by the time we were on our last layer.

Once it's all assembled, bake in a 200 degree oven for about half an hour - until the top layer browns nicely.

April 5, 2009: Mitte

Another week, another new breakfast spot. This time we had high expectations - Mitte won the 2009 Cheap Eats breakfast of the year award. It hasn't received too much blog attention just yet, although Jules Gormond's review had me enthused at the idea of a chickpea bake with poached eggs.

It's a cute little place - a converted residence in the vein of A Minor Place or Julio's, and while it was quite full, we were happy to turn up and scoop up a table without waiting at all. The menu is chock-full of interesting options including breakfast crumble, some delicious sounding toasts and various egg dishes.

I opted for the aforementioned combo of chickpeas and poached eggs (free range poached eggs with a Middle Eastern chickpea bake, topped with Meredith marinated goat's fetta and a shallot and herb salad, served with avocado, lemon and toats, $15).

It was bursting with flavours - fresh coriander, a yoghurty sauce and fresh lemon added plenty of spark to the spiced chickpeas, fresh avocado and perfectly poached eggs. It's a lot of food, but everything worked together so well that it was surprisingly easy to chow it all down. I was mightily impressed.

Cindy sampled from the sweet side of the menu, opting for pikelets with mascarpone and a Middle Eastern fruit compote ($10).

She was a little less impressed than me, finding the pancake accompaniments a little short on zing - some interesting spices or some sort of citrus bite would have livened things up a bit. Still, part of her disappointment probably stemmed from just how good this dish sounded - it was pretty satisfactory on the whole.

We had friendly and reasonably efficient service (although if I was being picky, we did have to wait a while for the food to arrive) and they churn out high quality coffees (and Jo's berry smoothie tasted amazing as well). It's a strong addition to the inner-north's already crowded repertoire of trendy brekkie places, but I'm not sure how The Age scored it above Min Lokal, Fandango or Las Chicas.

Address: 76 Michael Street, Fitzroy North
Ph: 9077 7379
Price: veg breakfasts $5-$15

April 4, 2009: Chocolate Mexican wedding biscuits

While Michael thoroughly covered the savoury side, I prepared a dessert for the Tex Mex potluck. If MexicanDessertRecipes.net is anything to go by, many Mexican desserts involve custard and/or dulce de leche (a milk-based caramel) and don't lend themselves to straightforward veganising (though it's by no means impossible!). Mexican wedding cookies, however, don't require eggs and I was particularly taken by this chocolate version. Chocolate's not the only ingredient that reeled me in - I also liked the use of cinnamon and ground pecans. I made my own mark on them by adding a generous pinch of cardamom and some chilli powder.

These didn't turn out quite as I expected but were still pleasant enough. Lazy ol' me tried putting the chocolate in the food processor rather than grating it, and most of the chocolate remained as separate speckles rather than disintegrating into the cookies. The spices made little impression at all. My biscuits turned out to be one of three Mexican wedding cookie submissions to the potluck (the others being traditional and raw renditions, respectively), yet most of them were happily eaten. Dessert didn't stop there, either - there were also churros with chocolate, chocolate-chilli and margarita cupcakes, and a piñata bursting with candy.



Chocolate Mexican wedding cookies
(inspired by a recipe from MexicanDessrtRecipes.net)

1 cup Nuttelex
1/3 cup icing sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 3/4 cups plain flour
1 cup ground pecans
1/2 cup chocolate, grated (I used dark 80% cocoa and chucked it in the food processor)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
generous pinch of cardamom
scant pinch of chilli powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup icing sugar, extra
1/4 cup grated chocolate, extra

Using an electric mixer, cream together the Nuttelex and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.

In a separate bowl stir together the flour, ground pecans, grated chocolate, cinnamon, cardamom, chilli powder and salt.

Gradually beat the dry ingredients into the Nuttelex mixture, a few large spoonfuls at a time. Once everything's combined, it shouldn't be too difficult to scoop the dough together into a ball using a spatula. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour, preferably two.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC, and line a baking tray (or two) with baking paper. In a small bowl, stir together the extra icing sugar and chocolate.

Pinch and roll the dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter and place them on the baking tray. Bake the biscuits for 15-18 minutes, until firm to touch. Give them a minute or two to cool, then dredge them through the sugar/chocolate mixture before cooling them properly on a rack.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

April 4, 2009: Green pumpkin-seed mole


Emily's Tex-Mex themed potluck has already been well covered by bloggers far more timely than Cindy and I. I'm not going to go through all the wonders that were produced - suffice to say the food was plentiful and consistently amazing. I gorged myself almost to bursting point.

Our contributions to the food fiesta were relatively modest - Cindy whipped up something sweet (which will no doubt appear here shortly) while I went mad with savoury accompaniments. Cindy recommended two of her previous Mexi-themed successes: the chipotle-onion sauce and the coleslaw from this post, and I added something new: green pumpkin-seed mole.

This is another Veganomicon recipe, and is as simple as the two linked to above - the only cooking required is a bit of pepitas toasting and then it's everything in a food processor. It did require a brief jaunt to Casa Iberica for canned tomatillos, but everything else was pretty straightforward. And it turned out a treat - only a little bit spicy, with the flavours coming more from the fresh herbs and onions, it was a nice cooling sauce to go with the more firey chipotle-based option.

Green pumpkin-seed mole

1 cup pepitas
4 black peppercorns
1 cup fresh coriander
1 cup fresh parsley
1 x 250ml can tomatillos
1 chilli, seeded and chopped
2 shallots, chopped coarsely
2 lettuce leaves, torn into pieces (although it's worth noting that I didn't notice the influence of the lettuce leaves, and you're probably better off just skipping this ingredient if you don't have any greens in the fridge)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil

Heat a frying pan over medium heat and toast the pumpkin seeds, turning regularly. It took me about 10 minutes, but it can probably be done in less if you crank the heat up a bit.

Put the toasted pepitas and the peppercorns in a food processor and blend into a coarse powder.

Add everything else except the oil and blend it all together. Throw in the oil and give it a last whizz and voila, you're done.

April 2, 2009: Gingerboy

Gingerboy's been kicking around for a few years now. It's received fairly regular attention from food bloggers over that time, and most seem to have emerged with a gripe or two. Surely, though, you're all hungry for the specific vegetarian gripe(s) we might have about Gingerboy, right? Actually, the strange vegetarian gripe I have is that they undersell their veg-friendliness.

It starts with their website. Ezard's other eponymous restaurant clearly spells out its vegetarian menu online, and even notes that vegan options are available. The Gingerboy menu? Trawlers full of seafood and a token tofu dish. The staff aren't any more encouraging. When we arrived with a large group and happily agreed to a banquet, our waiter dutifully jotted down that there were two vegetarians amongst the dozen of us. Preferring to avoid a meat overload, another in the group requested that they serve us 40% vegetarian food. After some consultation this was apparently impossible; first because they couldn't convert a percentage to a number of dishes, and secondly because "40% vegetarian won't be enough variety". Huh? Does that mean that the two vegos at the table were always doomed to a monotonous meal?

The Gingerboy crew aren't shy, however, about their cocktail menu. It's a tantalising list of twists on old classics and entirely new concoctions (all priced at $17). Michael tried the Mexican cherry blossom, a "tart and fruity" combination of Jose Cuervo traditional tequila, pink grapefruit, lime and strawberry.

I requested the more manly Glasgow kiss, a terrific sweet and sour mix of Drambuie, Campari, aloe vera, lime and vanilla syrup - finished of with a lemon peel and novelty miniature clothes peg... or peel peg in this instance.

The first dish for all was a vegetarian one - son in law eggs with chilli jam and Asian herbs. These eggs are soft-boiled, crumbed and deep-fried; we were instructed to pop an entire egg in our mouths lest we dribble the liquid yolk. Knowing the limited capacity of my mouth, I did no such thing, spilling nothing on my first bite and making a terrible mess on my second. Oh well - none of the people taking the one-bite approach looked any more elegant than I.

While the others shared cuttlefish, the vegos scored similarly seasoned and battered tofu bites. These were spectacular; piping hot and a little crisp on the outside with a centre of almost-molten silken tofu and a charming hint of spice. Topped with a squeeze of lemon, I daresay these were the equal (if not the better) of the fishy version.

As we politely offered each other the last of the tofu, a few more dishes popped up. Most were meaty, though there was also this green papaya salad, with its perky flavours of lime and basil. Michael warned me that it was rather spicy, yet I happily gulped down three mouthfuls before the chilli hit me. Once that heat turned up, it sure stuck around a while.

A couple bowls of corn cakes appeared at odd intervals and were very popular. The balance of flavours and textures was completely different to any other corn fritter I've encountered. The corn was so caramelised, and the fritters so salty; the batter so deep-fried that there was as much crispy crust as there was fluffy centre. They were an intense, and intensely enjoyable experience... but it wasn't difficult to stop at two.

The main dish for the vegetarians was inevitably more tofu. This silken brick of bean curd came with XO sauce and a chilli black vinegar dressing. The deep, mushroomy flavours were a pleasant contrast to the other tofu dish, and we had no difficulties fobbing off the second plateful to the omnivores around us.

After a puzzlingly long pause (about 40 minutes), we were presented not with dessert, but with more mains! The crispy Singapore noodles were bathed in the tangy-sweet coconut laksa and they concealed a medley of soft vegetables.

The wok greens had a pleasantly subtle saltiness, but didn't receive priority as most of us filled up.

Most of the table was utterly defeated by the time the shared dessert plates came round but, oh, not I! I'd swooned over the online dessert menu before we arrived and was thrilled to have the chance to taste the lot. While others nursed last drinks or sighed at their over-full stomachs, I (with just one or two others) was delightedly picking my way through the tofu cheesecake with pandan jelly (so creamy!), a chilli sugared banana fritter with Baileys icecream (gorgeous texture, but where was the Baileys?), a custard pot with a dehydrated and candied pineapple wedge (amazing... like a chewy toffee), a rhubarb and apple dumpling with coconut sorbet (impossible to share), and a curious sugar pudding. While it was all rather good, I suspect that it was the variety itself that impressed me most. It certainly outdid the sugar-fest we were served up at Ezard.

Gingerboy certainly didn't try to endear itself to me - the backless stools were not designed for an extended meal, references to vegetarian food were somewhat dismissive, and the hipster-bar-with-$30-mains reality doesn't exactly gel with the "South East Asian street food and hawker identity". Yet not only was the banquet tasty, it offered a few surprises along the way and was fun - the right fit for this rowdy birthday party.

Address: 27-29 Crossley St, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9662 4200
Fully licensed
Price: banquet $65 per person, cocktails $17
Website: www.gingerboy.com.au