Sunday, May 31, 2009

May 31, 2009: Semolina gnocchi, potent orange-fennel salad

At last I can boast a gnocchi success! I haven't triumphed over (or even re-attempted) the potato-based kind just yet - these large golden rounds are semolina gnocchi, as demonstrated by Maggie on The Cook & the Chef's vegetarian-themed episode. They come with a walnut pesto sauce, and I picked a stonesoup salad recipe to round out the meal.

The semolina gnocchi take a bit of time but actually aren't too fiddly. The first curious step is to infuse a half-litre of milk with rosemary and bay. I must admit I was a little skeptical, but the flavour actually shone through to the finished gnocchi. Like polenta, the fine-ground semolina sets up easily into a slab (even when I subbed powdered no-egg and milk for the requested egg yolk). Maggie had me cutting the slab into rounds, and I wondered whether I was supposed to discard the semonlina scraps. I decided to bake them too, and they were at least as delicious as the 'real' gnocchi discs, with even more crispy golden edges. Next time I think I'll just slice that slab into diamonds or some other waste-eliminating tessellation. Fresh out of the oven, the gnocchi have a wonderfully tender interior, a gloriously golden brown underside, and tantalising hints of parmesan and rosemary.

Maggie's gnocchi sauce is essentially a pesto made with walnuts and parsley. Though I didn't have any marjoram I otherwise tried to keep to the recommended ingredient portions. Even so, my parsley pesto looked nothing like Maggie's and worse, tasted completely unbalanced. The perky lemon I liked but there was far too much cheese, rendering the gnocchi too rich, and no flavour from the walnuts at all. Next time I'll take George Calombaris' advice and taste, taste as I go, yeah?

When choosing a side salad I was after something acidic to cut through the rich gnocchi. Jules' orange, fennel and olive salad had the added advantage of using up the two oranges I took the rind off on Saturday morning. Not being a fan of olives or raw onions, I gave them a miss and added a few capers to the mix. The combination of oranges, fennel and spicy-sour dressing proved to be a great one, though I forgot the parsley and overdosed on the chilli powder and it was all a little caustic. Another lesson in care, restraint and tasting as I go.


Semolina gnocchi
(based on Maggie Beer's version, presented on The Cook & the Chef)

500mL milk, plus 1 tablespoon extra
1 bay leaf
1 sprig rosemary
125g fine semolina
1 teaspoon no-egg powder
50g parmesan, grated
30g butter, melted
salt
spray oil, for greasing

Put the milk, bay leaf and rosemary into a saucepan and bring them to the boil. Take them off the heat and leave them to infuse for 20 minutes.

Strain the milk and bring it back to the boil. Whisk in the semolina and season with salt. Continue stirring until the mixture thickens and almost forms a ball, then take it off the heat.

Whisk the no-egg powder into the last tablespoon of milk and stir it through the semolina. Stir through the parmesan and butter until everything is well combined.

Pour the semolina onto a baking tray and spread it out until it's about 1cm thick. Leave the semolina to cool and set.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly spray a baking tray with oil. Cut the semolina slab into shapes using a knife or a round glass. Place the gnocchi in the baking tray and bake them for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Serve the gnocchi with parsley-walnut pesto, below.


Parsley-walnut pesto
(based on Maggie Beer's walnut sauce, presented on The Cook & the Chef)

30g walnuts
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 small sprig of rosemary leaves, finely chopped
80g parmesan, grated
90mL olive oil
zest and juice of one lemon

Crush the walnuts in a mortar and pestle. Add the garlic and pound further, then the herbs. Add the parmesan in batches and mush it up too. Gradually stir in the olive oil, then the lemon zest and juice. Spoon the pesto over semolina gnocchi.


Potent orange-fennel salad
(based on Jules' orange, fennel and olive salad at stonesoup)

3 oranges
1 bulb fennel
1 tablespoon capers
juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder, or to taste
1 bunch parsley, roughly chopped
salt and pepper

Peel the oranges and chop them into chunks. Finely slice the fennel bulb. Stir together the oranges, fennel and capers in a bowl.

Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, paprika and chilli to form a dressing. Toss the dressing through the salad, season to taste, and stir through the parsley.

May 30, 2009: Conglomerate cupcakes

(vegan birthday grrl x Scrabble party)an otherwise empty weekend =

Though these are technically my own invention, I'm dubbing them conglomerate cupcakes after the mish-mash of flavours and recipes I drew on to create them. The cake is a vegan adaptation of the salad dressing cupcake, itself a happy clash of citrus zest, slivered almonds, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. On top I slathered a dairy-free rendition of the cream cheese icing that excited me so much a month ago.

It's not my usual way, but I concocted these cupcakes using wacky (but direct) vegan substitutes for ordinary and very non-vegan ingredients:

Original ingredientVegan substitute
4 eggs
1 tablespoon Orgran No Egg whisked into 2/3 cup water
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons oat milk
60g butter
60g Nuttelex
120g cream cheese120g Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese

Nothing turned out quite as I expected it to. My original non-vegan batch of salad dressing cupcakes were very eggy and I was nervous for my powdered egg replacement. It did its job just fine - actually, the cupcakes suffered more from cheap vinegar and oil. They tasted too strongly of those fruity olives but this was less of a problem once they were fitted out with icing. The icing was ultra-sweet and without tang (next time I'll add lemon juice) but had a surprising marshmallowy character.

Though these conglomerate cupcakes weren't what I expected, a pleasant surprise or two along the way was half the fun. They're just the thing to encourage a little more tinkering in the kitchen!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

May 29, 2009: Poached

With his birthday only just finished, Michael was due to pack, get on a plane and go someplace else on Friday. He convinced me to make it a late morning to work and share a cafe breakfast with him. We chose Poached - one of the many cafes lining the Brunswick end of Lygon St, and one of the few we had yet to visit.

While the breakfast menu is extensive, there was nothing on it that really begged to be tasted - the run of toast variations, muesli and fruit all looked pretty standard and the rest of the menu was Egg Central and involved a lot of meat. While ordering, though, we found our waiter to be most accommodating - rather than hearing a terse "no changes to the menu", we discovered that it was no problem for me to have the French toast without the bacon, nor for Michael to exchange tomatoes for baked beans. I may even have spied a nearby diner tucking into mushrooms, tomatoes and toast without the requisite eggs.

Michael's vegetarian big breakfast ($13.50, pictured above) featured poached eggs, mushrooms, grilled potatoes, sauteed spinach, grilled tomatoes baked beans and grilled haloumi. He remarked on their fine poaching skills (I guess they can keep their name), though the rest of the plate didn't have him brimming with enthusiasm - the beans, in particular, weren't up to the high standards set by other nearby cafes.

Meanwhile, I tucked into French toast with pear, mascarpone and maple syrup ($12.50 - no bacon, thanks). I was a little confused when I cut into the toast and observed an oozing white centre - was the toast not cooked through? Actually, the mascarpone had been spread between the layers! It was a nice contrast against the crispy-fried outer. Shame about the snowstorm of icing sugar all over the plate (and ultimately all over me and my black shirt!).

Our lingering morning at Poached was an enjoyable one, but it seems unlikely we'll be back. While the waitstaff were truly lovely, the wait for food was unacceptably long - especially considering we visited on a weekday, when the cafe was never more than half full. The dishes on offer are pleasant and apparently adaptable to your preference, but the ones we sampled didn't match the creativity or quality of Poached's Brunswick breakfast peers.

Address: 169 Lygon St, Brunswick East
Ph: 9387 2396
Price: veg breakfasts $3.50-$13.50

May 28, 2009: Vegan sausages

In addition to buying Michael a fancy dinner out for his birthday, I offered to cook him his choice of dinner and dessert at home. Michael ummed and ahhhed for days and eventually I began tossing out ideas to him. The first one to really stick was hot dogs, smothered in sauce and fried onions. I must admit to having a small ulterior motive - I'd noticed Alex publish a recipe for home-made vegan sausages on v-plates just a few days earlier and I was keen to try them out.

The sausage mix is an interesting one - lots of dried spices and some gluten flour, but also chickpea flour and refried beans. I bought the particular Woolworths brand beans that Alex recommended and was pleasantly surprised - they had a perky spicy smell, much nicer than the other brands of canned refried beans I've used in the past. The sausages get steamed for 40 minutes or so before being fried, and this was just the right amount of time to get my onions slow-cooked and caramelised. Another pleasant surprise revealed itself - once steamed, the sausages held together quite sturdily!

The verdict? Well, I must admit that Michael and I treat our sausages as vessels for condiments more than anything, and they fulfill that role with aplomb. Michael diplomatically remarked that their texture was a bit 'pastey' and I'd tend to agree. I think there are a few ways around this - for starters, I was a little timid during the cooking phase lest the sausages get too tough. They could probably do with more time in the steamer and/or frypan. My other idea is to bring a little toothsomeness to them using a grain of some sort - probably rolled oats, maybe ground up, or even some crushed Weetbix.

We followed these delightful dogs up with Martha Stewart's apple pie.


Vegan sausages
(a near-exact copy of a recipe by Alex of v-plates)

400g can Woolworths Select refried beans
2 teaspoons gravy powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/4 cups gluten flour
1 cup chickpea flour
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 cup water
more vegetable oil, for frying

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, adding the water last to form an almost sloppy dough.

Take hunks of the mixture (about a 1/4 cup each?) and gently roll them into sausages. Place each sausage on a small square of the foil, rolling it to cover and folding over or twisting the ends.

Steam the sausages for 40-45 minutes, rotating them periodically for even cooking.

Fry the sausages up in a little oil until they have a golden crispy exterior.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

May 23, 2009: Spicy sweet potato pie

Michael's Dad has been in town this week. We see him very rarely and we insisted that we'd cook him a meal. Michael took charge with eggplant lasagne rolls and roasted beetroot salad for dinner, while I happily prepared dessert. Keen for another installment in my series of autumn-appropriate recipes, I thought wistfully of the sweet potato pie that I saw on vanesscipes about a year ago, before the blog's demise. Thankfully, as with her cocoa cookies, I was able to track down Vanessa's recipe on another site with a google search.

Pumpkin and sweet potato pies strike me as being distinctively American - I've not encountered anything like their starchy, smooth and mild filling elsewhere. This one is livened up with ginger, both mixed into the filling and via the use of gingernut biscuit crumbs in the buttery crust. After a tentative taste of the filling, I added extra spices and sugar and include these new quantities below. This recipe is most definitely not vegan in its current form, and I'm a little surprised since so many vanesscipes were. As I chewed meditatively on my second slice (for breakfast on Sunday!), I wondered whether ground cashews or silken tofu might replace the cream and eggs in the filling... perhaps with an extra binding agent (egg replacer? arrowroot? agar agar?).

This sweet potato pie really is unlike anything else I've baked before - closest perhaps to a baked cheesecake, though without the acidic twang. I'm not certain that it will be loved by everyone, but I reckon it will please most. It certainly pleased us.


Spicy sweet potato pie
(based on a recipe from defunct blog vanesscipes, still viewable at the cooking channel)

filling:
700g sweet potatoes
2 eggs
3/4 cup cream
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla

crust:
oil spray
flour, for dusting
3/4 cup almonds
150g ginger nut biscuits
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
90g butter, melted


Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Line a baking tray with foil and place the whole, unpeeled sweet potatoes on it. Prick them with a fork and bake them until tender, about an hour. Allow them to cool.

Spray a pie dish lightly with oil, and then roll a small amount of flour (a tablespoon or two) around the inside of the dish until it is completely but lightly coated.

Grind the almonds in a food processor, then add the ginger nut biscuits and blend until they're coarse crumbs. Add the sugar and salt, pulsing briefly, then the melted butter, blending until just combined. Press the mixture into the pie dish to form the crust, and chill it in the fridge until the filling is ready.

Once the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel away the skin and roughly chop the flesh. Put them in a blender with the remaining filling ingredients and blend the lot until very smooth.

Pour the filling into the crust and bake for 45 minutes, or until the filling has set and is just starting to crack. Cool the pie for an hour before serving, with an extra dollop of cream.

May 23, 2009: Fandango II

Fandango is still rocking breakfast. Here are three more reasons why:

1. Their back courtyard is cute, and includes a heater now that the weather's getting chilly.


2. Their dandelion lattes ($3) are sweet and lovely. (Vegans beware: although soy milk is available, I think I tasted honey in the brew.)


3. Their French toast ($12). It typically comes with bacon but obviously I skipped that. The toast was the eggiest I've ever encountered and the baked apple was a little undercooked but all was forgiven the moment I tasted the maple butter. Silky, sweet and just superb.
__________

You can read about our first visit to Fandango here.

May 22, 2009: Circa, the Prince

Long-time readers will be familiar with the birthday tradition that Cindy and I have developed - the lucky birthday boyorgirl gets their pick of veg-friendly hyper-expensive fancy restaurant for a night of degustation madness. Then you, lucky readers, get posts full of slightly dim photos of gorgeously presented tasting plates and paragraphs of text. Everyone's happy.

For my birthday this year we still got our ridiculously classy dinner (venue: Circa the Prince), but you guys are going to have to go photo-less. And there's no getting around who's to blame. This guy:

That's right, Australia's largest owl species. There's a powerful owl roosting in Flagstaff Gardens at the moment and I ducked over to see my 228th Australian bird species. And to take some photos. Unfortunately, in the course of transferring the photos to the laptop, I left the camera's memory card in the laptop slot, leaving us carmera-less for our fanciest meal of the year so far. Sigh.

Once Cindy had recovered from her initial outrage, we found ourselves able to just sit back and enjoy our meal - there's something liberating about eating without photo requirements.

It's worth mentioning just how veg-friendly the folk at Circa the Prince are. We made sure to stress our requirements when booking but it turns out their veg-degustation is a standard option, available every night and offered to every table (at least to the two nearest us on Friday). The a la carte menu is a bit less impressive, but there's one veg entree and one main available, along with a few sides. Still, if you're going to go upmarket for a night, you might as well dive into the nine-course vegetarian degustation (we didn't think to ask how they'd go with vegan food but I reckon they'd be up to it if you gave them a call ahead of time).

We kicked things off with a pre-dinner cocktail each and, as per usual I indulged in the matching wines with the degustation - the cocktails were both pretty good, and the matched wines really hit the spot. But you don't go to Circa for the booze, you go there for the outstanding two-hatted dining experience. And goodness me is it a wonderful experience. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but the lack of photos isn't going to lead me to write a 10,000 essay here - I'll keep things brief. Suffice to say - everything we had was wondeful.

First up: carrot velouté, curried cauliflower. Out came some small bowls, dotted with tiny pieces of lightly spiced cauliflower, with some sweet (almost candied) slivers of carrot. Over the top was poured a wonderfully smooth carrot veloute. Everything worked together perfectly - it will be a recurring theme in this post, but the cooking at Circa is all about subtle flavours blending together to make something special. While this was called 'curried cauliflower', the curry flavours were mild and complex, not simply hot and spicy.

Next up:
Garden vegetables, goats' cheese emulsion. Circa have their own little kitchen garden at Albert Park and this dish highlighted their seasonal goodies: little pieces of parsnip, carrot, turnip, rocket and some herbs, served on a scraping of goats' cheese emulsion. The cheese provided a small burst of tartness, but the dish was really about letting the fresh, well-cooked vegies shine.

Parsnip, horseradish and black rice risotto. This was the star of the night - a rich, dark risotto that had some sort of smokiness amongst its deep flavours. Really outstanding stuff.

Next up was a cleansing course: Spiced beans, herb cream and fresh ricotta. For some reason I assumed that we'd be getting some sort of beany stew, but this was much lighter and fresher: crispy green and white beans, served with two kinds of pulses that were cooked to be edible but still firm. A very light herb cream and some small splotches of ricotta capped off the light flavours.

In case we weren't cleansed enough: Red Hill golden ale cleanser. This came out looking like a small glass of ale with a generous foamy head, but there was something else going on as well - there were gingery and lemon flavours, which I'd guess aren't found in Red Hill's regular golden ale.

Next up was our ostensible main course: Cous cous and pumpkin brik, ras el hanout spiced carrots and beets. The cute little bricks of cous-cous and pumpkin were wrapped in very light filo pastry, and served with more delicious vegetables, again lightly and subtly spiced. This is on the a la carte menu ($36), and I'd highly recommend it along with the wonderful risotto ($20, as an entree) if you're not up for the marathon.

We'd made it through the savoury selectoin, and it was time for the intermediate cheese course: Comte gruyere, poached quince, brioche. The brioche and quince were excellent in combination with the gruyere. The cheese was a little lighter in flavour than I'd have liked, but still very satisfying.

Onto dessert #1: Confit pineapple, gingerbread crumb, coconut chilli sorbet. This was one rectangular prism of pineapple preserved in sugar, with a scattering of gingerbread crumbs and the most divine coconut chilli sorbet. The pineapple was quite good, but everything on this plate paled in comparison to the sorbet - a smooth, sweet coconut sorbet with just a hint of chilli to sharpen the flavours.

Our final dish: Soft chocolate croquante, orange and mint. Google tells me that croquante translates as 'crunchy', but this was a stunningly smooth little blob of chocolate-y goodness, served up with a couple of little eggs of orange and mint ice-creams. They were okay, but the croquante was where it was at - rich, smooth and wonderful. I think Cindy had better fetch me some chocolate now, I can't keep writing this now I've recalled this dessert.

Shit, there's no chocolate. I'll push on...

Everything winds up at Circa with Brydie's garden tea. This is a tea made out of whatever herbs are ready in Circa's kitchen garden. This week it included lemon verbeena and three or four others (I'm eight wines to the wind at this stage, so the tea ingredients have escaped my memory). It was an appropriately clean finish to the meal, which had been nine courses of clever, understated flavours, with lots of beautiful seasonal vegies and loads of classy touches. The services was efficient, friendly and relaxed - a little less formal than some of our other fine-dining experiences, which suits our style well. It's a beautiful space as well - suitably dim lighting, plenty of space and a general low-key style - you can forget that it's attached to the much less salubrious Prince band room.

Things don't come cheap at Circa, but you get what you pay for - an outstanding experience for a special occasion. Apologies for the lack of pictures - you'll just have to enjoy the owl.

Addressed: 2 Acland St, St Kilda (cnr Fitzroy Street)
Ph: 9536 1122
Licensed
Prices: Vegie degustation $105, with wines, $200
Website: http://www.circa.com.au/

May 18, 2009: Curried eggplant soup

There's much to dislike about winter in Melbourne - darkness at 5pm, day after day of greyness and chilly nights. Upsides: doonas and soup. With darkness encroaching increasingly early as May drifts past, it was time to get back into a winter soup rotation. Our first new soup for the winter: curried eggplant soup, courtesy of Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit.

This was a great start to our winter of soup - the curry and other spices contrasting perfectly with the sweetness of the apple and agave nectar, while the roasted eggplant added a nice smoky tone to the whole thing. It's not the quickest soup to make, but the effort is well worth it.

Curried eggplant soup
(found at Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit, where it's credited to SusanV of FatFree Vegan Kitchen)

1 large eggplant
1 large onion, diced
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
1 can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 pinch cayenne
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons agave nectar
1 can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
4 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup oat milk
Salt and pepper, to taste

Peel the eggplant and slice it up into discs about 1cm thick. Put the slices on an oiled baking tray and bake at 200 degrees C for about 30 minutes. When the eggplant is done, take it out and put it aside to cool.

In the meantime, heat up a frying pan with a bit of oil and fry the onions for a couple of minutes, until tender. Add in the apple and fry for another few minutes, before stirring in the tomato, curry powder, cayenne, soy sauce, and agave nectar and cooking for another two minutes. Add in 1 cup of the stock and cook for another minute.

Put about half of the eggplant in a food processor and whizz it all up. Chop the rest of the eggplant coarsely and stick it in a large saucepan with the rest of the stock. Bring this pot to a low simmer.

Put the mix of fried onions etc into the food processor with the eggplant and whizz it all together. If you've got the space, add the beans to the mix and pulse them through to thicken up the puree.

Scrape the mush in the food processor into the simmering eggplant saucepan and stir everything together thoroughly. Simmer for about twenty minutes, stirring often.

Season with salt and pepper and any other spices that you fancy (our curry powder was pretty old and bland, so I added a tablespoon of garam masala to bring a bit of extra flavour).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

May 17, 2009: 'Tuna' patties and tropical 'slaw

I expected to use the entire packet of vege 'tuna' in the cheesy tuna bake that wasn't. However, as the baking dish filled up with ingredients, I was very happy to reserve the second half of the packet for another recipe: Kristy's 'tuna' patties. She made these, to great acclaim, for a potluck that I was unable to attend and I was keen to taste them for myself. I made a couple of substitutions - using chopped spring onions, mint and a little grated carrot for the vegetable component, and seasoning my white sauce with only the chicken-style stock powder. Though the white sauce was a little gluey in texture, I loved its flavour! I will have to find other ways to make use of it.

I found the patty mixture too moist to roll, exactly, but somehow I managed to get those globs into the breadcrumbs (rice crumbs, actually!) and then a hot, oily frypan. Though a little fragile, these patties were a great success in this kitchen too, earning high praise from Michael.

The patties' salady side is another blog-sourced recipe that features an unusal ingredient: coconut oil. I previously baked a couple of biscuit recipes that suggested its use, though I resorted to alternative fats. I'll be interested to make them again with the recommended coconut oil. It lends a fantastic taste and texture to the dressing of this 'slaw (which I found at 28 Cooks) - it's combined with almonds, lime, ginger and chilli to create a super-vibrant sweet-sour-spicy flavour and luxuriously smooth, sillky texture. I've been musing that the coconut oil, almond and lime component could make a similarly zesty dressing for a fruit salad dessert.

I found coleslaw (and cabbage generally) utterly underwhelming as a youngster. Now with a few great 'slaw recipes under my belt, I'm a lot more enthusiastic. The only thing that could improve this one is the use of some spunky red cabbage, as suggested in the original recipe.


'Tuna' patties
(based on a recipe at kblog)

1 tablespoon Nuttelex
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 teaspoon chicken-style stock powder
3/4 cup oat milk
150g vege tuna, coarsely shredded
1/2 cup grated carrot
4 spring onions, finely chopped
a dozen torn mint leaves
100g super-melting Edam Cheezly, grated
1/2 cup rice crumbs (or breadcrumbs)
oil, for frying

Melt the Nuttelex in a small saucepan, then whisk in the flour and stock powder until they form a paste. Continue to cook the paste for a few more minutes, then gradually whisk in the oat milk, continuing to whisk until there are no lumps and you have a thick sauce. Remove the sauce from the heat.

Combine the tuna, carrot, spring onions, mint and Cheezly in a bowl, then mix through the white sauce. Place the rice crumbs in a shallow dish and splash some oil in a frypan over medium heat. Gently form the tuna mixture into patties, crumb them with the rice and place them in the frypan. Cook the patties for a minute or so on each side, until golden brown. Rest them on absorbant paper until you're finished cooking the rest of the patties.



Tropical 'slaw
(based on a recipe from 28 Cooks, which itself is based on a recipe at Daily Raw Cafe)

1/2 cup almonds
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 tablespoon golden syrup
zest and juice of one lime
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon chilli flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 cups cabbage, finely shredded
1 cup grated carrot
1 tablespoon fresh mint, minced
1 tablespoon fresh coriander, minced

Grind the almonds to meal in a food processor. Add the coconut oil, syrup, lime zest and juice, ginger, garlic, chilli and salt, then process the lot until you have a smooth dressing.

Fold together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, then stir through the dressing. Allow the 'slaw to rest in the fridge and let the flavours develop, for anywhere between an hour and a day.

May 17, 2009: Buddha's Day & Multicultural Festival

Our visit to this year's Buddha's Day & Multicultural Festival was much anticipated. I first heard of it two years ago, after Mellie and EG attended and blogged the festival food. Last year Michael and I were out of town when the festival rolled around and I enviously read more about the food from Kristy and Buttons. Finally, this year, Michael and I got ourselves to the festival and having skipped breakfast, we couldn't wait to hit the stalls. Though they're operated by only two or three organisations, the volume of deep-fried and faux-meaty goodness is pretty amazing - barbecued corn, turnip cakes, deep-fried sushi and bread, curry puffs and spring rolls, veg oysters and squid, steamed buns, noodles, soup and sticky rice... these are the things we ultimately didn't find room for!

My first taste was of vegetarian Peking duck. This is probably the best flavoured 'duck' I've ever had, though the wrap suffered a little from sitting in the display box for a while.


Michael got stuck into the veg chicken in lotus leaf. More filling than my first choice, this was unlike anything we've bought before - soft and subtle rice, 'chicken', mushrooms and what we think were chestnuts.


Ramping up the grease factor were the deep-fried chicken drumstick, prawn, and sweet potato. The faux-meats offered some interesting textures, but ultimately there was too much oil and too little crunch in these morsels.


By contrast, this plate got the oil element down perfectly. The roti was delectably crisp and perfectly mopped up with the smattering of curry sauce. The golden chicken skewer ranked as the best faux meat we sampled that day - served super hot with a melt-in-the-mouth centre and light and savoury crispy coating.


By this time I was done eating, but Michael went back for a bowl of 'beef' noodle soup. It was most impressive, with tender tofu in addition to the faux beef, and some fab spicy condiments to ration out.


After eating our fill, we headed over to the ongoing Vegilicious cooking demonstrations to see what Fifteen had to show us. Between instructor Glen and Fifteen alumnus Patty, they demonstrated an impressive three course meal in about 40 minutes. The mushroom pasta main and baked pear dessert looked fabulous, but the thing that Michael and I will remember most from this exhibit was Glen's use of anchovies in the bruschetta entree.

At a vegetarian cooking demonstration - seriously? Not. Cool. Unfortunately, this has only served to put us off visiting the restaurant.

On the brighter side, the Vegilicious booklet has many genuinely vegetarian recipes from the other cooking demonstrations at the festival (although I just spied another one that includes shrimp paste - argh!). We also had the good fortune to run into Will - we made his online acquaintance through this blog a while ago and he was photographing the festival. Hopefully his pictures will be up on the festival web site soon!

Will had already attended a lot of the cooking demos and he observed that many of the successful chefs featured had admitted that these dishes don't appear on their menus. It's possible that they chose dishes more accessible to the home cook but in some cases I suspect it reflects the scarcity of vegetarian meals at their establishments. I'd like to think that these sessions might encourage them to think more about tasty meat-free meals but I also wonder if the opportunity's been lost to show off the awesome vegetarian cooking that has long been going on in Melbourne. I would love to see something from the Las Vegan crew, or learn how to make roti and faux meats by hand, like the ones we enjoyed from the stalls. How about some East Asian Buddhist cooking?

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed our outing to the Buddha's Day and Multicultural Festival; I'll look forward to stopping by for a lunchtime feast next year. In the meantime, I'll be thankful for the many Melbourne cafes and restaurants who know their stuff and can sell me a brilliant vegetarian meal any time I want it.

May 15, 2009: Leftover makeover - paprikash pies

Readers who visit our site regularly (rather than keeping up via RSS feed) may have noticed a new feature on our side bar. Over to the right, just below our index, is Old Favourites We're Eating This Week. Here I'll link to recipes that we've previously blogged that are earning repeat runs in our kitchen. This way, I figure, the best recipes are less likely to languish in our archives and are more likely to be noticed (and perhaps cooked!) by you.

One such recipe is mushroom paprikash. Not even bothering to attempt those disastrous dumplings and skipping the Sanitarium seitan, I decided this time to augment the mushrooms and onion with some zucchini and capsicum. Spooned over couscous, Michael and I liked this version even more than we remembered enjoying it the first time around. The porcini mushroom stock may have helped!

There was a lot of leftovers and I sealed some of them up in little puff pastry pies, served with a side of Brussels sprouts. While I know they don't look particularly pretty or impressive, they are remarkably tasty. My tip is that you'll notice mushroom paprikash and paprikash pies appearing on Old Favourites We're Eating This Week a couple of times more before winter's done.

Friday, May 15, 2009

May 13, 2009: The cheesy tuna bake that isn't

A few days ago Lisa asked a few veg*n bloggers about our perspectives on the rewards and social outcomes of blogging. I happily rattled on for several paragraphs about what this here blog means to me but I realise now that what I really should have shown her was this tray of warm, golden, comforting 'tuna' bake. It takes a whole blogosphere of creative veg*ns to create a winter meal as wonderful as this one.

To start with, there's vegan melbourne. Actually, that's not even the real start because Harriet tips her virtual hat to Melbourne Vegan Potluckers Brendan, Sarah and Emily for their renditions before posting her own take on the vegan tuna bake. The thing about this tuna bake is that it requires mock tuna, and that's hard to come by. Enter Kristy - she and I would probably never have met if it weren't for our respective food blogs. Kristy invited me on a weekend expedition to Footscray, and Vincent Vegetarian Food Mart in particular, where I picked up some very orange but very tasty mock tuna:

The third set of contributors are even more unlikely - a Helsinki-based vegan couple that I've never even met. Their lasagne recipe ranks among the best that Michael and I have ever eaten, and its white sauce was my choice for this bake. A final nod is due to Lolo of VeganYumYum; her terrific lasagne rolls recently convinced me that a vegan-friendly crunchy breadcrumb topping can be at least as good as melted cheese.

I don't think I can impress on you too forcefully just how great the resulting cheesy tuna bake is. The 'tuna' is perfectly squidgy and salty. This dish will happily accommodate your sad leftover vegetables (broccoli and tomato, in our case), cooking them until tender and surrounding them in a sauce so smooth, creamy and savoury that the absence of cheese is difficult to believe. Some grated Cheezly adds to the effect, but isn't necessary in my opinion. What's more important is a generous sprinkling of breadcrumbs, baked until golden and crisp.

I don't think comfort food, or community food, gets much better than this.


The cheesy tuna pasta bake that isn't
(a spectacular and unwitting collaboration from vegan melbourne, kblog, Tofu for Two and VeganYumYum)

375g pasta spirals
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
small head of broccoli, chopped into chunks
1 tomato, diced
1 small red capsicum, diced
200g vegan tuna (from Vincent Vegetarian Food Mart)
100g Edam style super melting Cheezly, grated (optional)

creamy cashew sauce:
2/3 cup cashews
2 2/3 cups oat milk
2 tablespoons Nuttelex
1/6 cup plain flour
1/6 cup savoury yeast flakes
2/3 teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2/3 teaspoon salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the pasta, and cook until done to your liking.

Meanwhile blend up the breadcrumbs, chop the veges and get going on the cashew cream sauce. Put the cashews in a food processor, blending them to powder, then add 1/4 cup of the oat milk and blend to a smooth paste.

In a smallish saucepan, melt the Nuttelex and then whisk in the flour. Whisk and fry for a few minutes, then gradually whisk in the remaining oat milk. Get as smooth a sauce as you can. Bring the sauce to the boil and simmer it until thickened. Stir through the cashew paste and yeast flakes, then season the sauce and stir in the lemon juice.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Once the pasta is cooked and drained, tip it into a large casserole dish. Scatter the broccoli, tomato and capsicum over the top. Tear the tuna into small chunks and scatter them over the top, too. Gently combine the pasta, veges and tuna together until they're all evenly distributed, then fold through the creamy cashew sauce. Sprinkle over the grated Cheezly and the breadcrumbs. Bake until the top is crisp and golden, about 20 minutes.

May 11, 2009: Shredded brussels sprouts and smoked tofu salad

Cindy has a small stash of recipes she's tagged as somehow autumn-y, so with the warmth well and truly gone for the year, she's started pulling them out. This week it was tofu and brussels sprout salad courtesy of Heidi from 101 Cookbooks.

We used some smoked tofu (amazingly available from the new Coles on Johnston Street) as the centrepiece of ours, and were both pretty impressed by its texture and flavour (we'd never tried it before). Once you've shredded the sprouts, this whole dish comes together pretty quickly. It was all tasty but I was a little underwhelmed. I think our sprouts were past their best, and this dish is all about the sprouts - the other flavours (tofu, maple syrup, apple and pine nuts) are fine but without awesome sprouts you're going to end up a bit disappointed. We've enjoyed sprout-centric dishes before, so we may try this again when we can pick up our sprouts from somewhere other than the supermarket.


Shredded brussels sprouts and smoked tofu salad
(based on a dish at 101 Cookbooks)

2 fuji apples, cut into bite-sized wedges
juice of one lemon
200 smoked tofu, chopped into small cubes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted and chopped
1 tablespoon golden syrup
350 grams brussels sprouts, shredded
salt
olive oil

In a bowl, cover the apple slices with water and the lemon juice.

Heat the oil in a pan, and fry the tofu with a pinch of salt for a few minutes, until it starts to brown up. Stir in the garlic and maple syrup and cook for a minute or two.

Drain the apples and add them to the pan, cooking for a couple of minutes. Once they're done, scrape the mixture out into a bowl and set aside.

Add a bit more oil and a pinch of salt to the pan and fry the brussels sprouts for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. When the sprouts are going a little bit golden, add in the apple/tofu mix and the pine nuts, stir it all together and serve straight away.

May 10, 2009: Believe-it-or-not broccoli burgers

"Vege burgers are awesome!"

This exclamation came, to my surprise, from the full and chewing mouth of our non-veg mate Mike. He went on to explain that he doesn't think beef-based burgers are anything amazing and that most vegetarian burgers aren't seeking to imitate that meatiness, anyway. Unlike so many veg dishes, burgers are free to just be, rather than trying desperately to live up to a standard set by their non-veg inspiration.

It has me considering that there probably isn't one ultimate veg-burger recipe out there, waiting for me to discover it. Some will impress me with their resemblance to meat, perhaps, but others will have their own nuttiness, or smokiness, or the crispiest crust ever seen on something that wasn't deep-fried. None of these properties is better than the other, and a single burger with all of them would probably actually be a bit of a mess. Maybe what I really need is a shortlist of great veg-burger recipes, none of them alike but all of them special.

The second surprise is that a recipe for broccoli burgers could make it onto such a list. While I've no big prejudice against broccoli, really, I just found it difficult to imagine how broccoli could offer anything to the art of the Good Vege Burger. But a positive review and picture of a crispy-golden patty from Johanna is the kind of thing that can bring me around. They didn't get off to a rollicking start; I temporarily forgot the breadcrumbs, and then even when they were stirred through, the patty mix Would. Not. Hold. Together. I persevered, and was happy to discover that after 20 minutes in the oven these patties were developing a handsome golden crust and were entirely flippable.

I served them on pide-style rolls with roasted capsicum, grated carrot, mixed greens and a range of condiments. My new condiment of choice is vegetarian mushroom oyster sauce, which I picked up from Vincent Vegetarian Food Mart (thanks to Kristy and Toby for including me in their expedition to Footscray!). It's a savoury salty delight, with the colour and viscousness of ketjap manis but a distinctly different flavour.


Believe-it-or-not broccoli burgers
(found at Green Gourmet Giraffe, credited there to Rhonda)

2 cups finely chopped broccoli
2/3 cup ground hazelnuts
1 finely chopped onion
2/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 handful grated cheese (optional)
1 tablespoon vegetarian Worcestershire, oyster or soy sauce
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup water
salt and pepper, to taste
oil spray

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

In a large bowl, stir together the broccoli, ground hazelnuts, onion, breadcrumbs and cheese. Stir through the sauce and eggs, then add the water gradually while you continue to stir. Don't put quite all the water in if you fear the mixture is getting too mushy. Season to taste, then form the mix into patties as best you can and place them on the baking tray. Don't worry if they fall apart a little, but try cupping them with your hands to form a firm, round edge. Spray the tops of them with a bit more oil.

Bake the burgers for 20 minutes or so, until they've developed a firm and crusty underside. Gently flip them over and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until they're crispy-crusted all over.

May 10, 2009: Mixed Business

We're gradually expanding our breakfast range - Mitte was on the fringe of Clifton Hill, and this week's Sunday morning feast was at Mixed Business all the way across on Queen's Parade. Mixed Business has been steadily accumulating rave reviews across the internet, so it wasn't hard to convince Mike and Jo to meet us there and help us check it out for ourselves.

It's a beautiful place for brekkie - all light and space, with some stylish touches (it's hard to go wrong with a giant sign promsing 'chips and gravy' on the wall). The tables are well spread out, which makes for a more relaxing meal than some of the more densely packed cafes. Partly because of the space (plenty of stroller room y'see), Mixed Business is a hit with the trendy parents of Clifton Hill. When we arrived just before 9 it was more creche than cafe, with babies and toddlers as far as the eye could see. As the morning progressed, the bright-eyed parents were gradually replaced by some of the slower starting residents, but regardless the room is big and open enough that things don't get too hectic or noisy.

The much raved about coffee was quick to arrive, but a little on the weak side for my taste. Sure I ordered a second, but it was more about ensuring I was getting enough caffeine than about the flavour. Still, it got my eyes open enough to check out the menu. The chalkboard is full of interesting options - a few variations on poached eggs, some delicious sounding beans and a reasonable selection of sweet treats.

I spent a good while considering the baked beans, but in the end the lure of poached eggs ($13) was too strong. These came with a potato and rosemary rosti, avocado and house relish and were utterly delicious. I've had a few mediocre roestis in the past - too gluggy and bland, but this was light, well-cooked and had enough flavour to be delicious on its own, not just as company for the perfectly poached eggs and generous serve of ripe avocado. The tomato relish and lemon added a bit of zing, and the toast (Dench's I believe) was divine. Outstanding.

Cindy chose something she knew I wouldn't try to steal - a banana split (with caramelised on brioche with nutmeg pecans and yoghurt - $10.50). It was pretty heavily slathered in caramel sauce, but the brioched provided a bit of balance and I didn't hear any complaints about the sweet bananas or yoghurt on top. It seemed a popular choice, so those of you without weird banana issues should probably give it a try.

There's a lot to like about Mixed Business - great food, good service and a relaxing space. I wasn't wowed by the coffee, but others have raved, so it may just be my lack of connoisseur-dom.

Address: 486 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill
Ph: 94861606
Unlicensed
Price: $5-$13

Saturday, May 09, 2009

May 7-8, 2009: Chocolate Guinness cake

I've been wanting to try this cake for almost as long as we've had this here food blog, but I've been waiting for the right occasion. It's Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness cake, which appears in her book Feast and also on her website. I remember seeing it on Vicious Ange's blog some time ago, though it's also recently been made by Melbourne cooks Julesgourmond, Coby and the Pseudo Epicurean. The dense blackness of the cake has always intrigued me and this week my enthusiasm for cream cheese icing was at an all-time high.

An occasion for such a cake could not come any more perfect than our Friday night lab get-together. The lovely Lady Jane invited us all (several dozen people) into her equally lovely home. Though the garden is her pride and joy, the kitchen and living area - glowing golden from the fireplace - is an even better environment to linger over food and conversation (and bread baking) on a cool autumn night. There were to be three enormous pots of soup, any number of delicate garnishes and baskets of crusty bread, followed by cheeses and fruit paste, red wine-poached pears and cake. If anyone could concoct that cake, the final course of a comfort-food feast, I knew it was Nigella Lawson.

The only flicker of doubt was whether I was up to the task of replicating that recipe. This one has a great start, with the butter being melted into the Guinness rather than softened and beaten. Once the cocoa and sugar were in it tasted fabulous. The cocoa was lumpy, though, so I sieved the mixture before stirring through the eggs and cream and (more strategically) sifting in the dry ingredients. This is when I got nervous. This is when I added four and a half teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda to the batter. Licking the bowl as the cake baked, I was getting a lot more of that cement-mixer bicarb flavour than I was chocolate. And no wonder because looking at the recipe now I should have used only half as much!

At the time, I just whipped up the cream cheese icing, confirmed that it was awesome, and hoped that it'd mask any potential weirdness in the cake. It seemed to. No else appeared to have a problem with the cake at all, though it was certainly less dense and chocolatey than what other bloggers have described. (I think we can safely put that down to some of the cocoa being sifted out and my heinous abuse of rising agents.) The crumb was most pleasant and the chocolate flavour had an interesting siltiness to it. The hosts seemed thrilled that I wanted to leave the leftovers with them (mind you, they are incredibly kind and polite people).

This is without doubt a wonderful cake to bake for a cosy night in with friends. It's so good that you can utterly desecrate the recipe and still somehow earn generous praise. Praise be to Nigella!


Chocolate Guinness Cake
(by Nigella Lawson, available on her website)

cake:
250mL Guinness
250g butter
75g cocoa
400g castor sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

icing:
300g cream cheese
150g icing sugar
125mL double cream

Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease and line a springform cake tin.

Gently heat the Guinness and butter in a large saucepan until the butter has melted. Take the mixture off the heat and sift in the cocoa and sugar, whisking to combine. In a small bowl, beat together the sour cream, eggs and vanilla, then stir them into the beer'n'butter saucepan. Sift and whisk in the flour and bicarbonate of soda.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 45-60 minutes (use the skewer test). Leave the cake to cool in the tin.

Prepare the icing only when the cake is completely cool. Then beat the cream cheese until smooth, sift and beat in the icing sugar, then finally beat in the cream. Continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Transfer the cake to a serving plate and slather on the icing.

May 7, 2009: Maggie's burnished eggplant and leek tart

At last we've got round to trialling one of the recipes from the vegetarian-themed episode of The Cook & the Chef. Since Beth commented on her success with Maggie's leek and aubergine tart tatin, I decided to have a go too - I need only the faintest encouragement to plan pastry for dinner! Luckily I was working from home on this day; it gave me the opportunity to prepare the pastry dough and sugar syrup early.

The pastry dough was done with a swift pulse of the food processor and handily used up a bit of my leftover sour cream. The sugar syrup started out with promise, but ended up the bane of my afternoon. It's made up of a quintessentially Maggie Beer Barossa-based combination of water, sugar, verjuice and vino cotto. Verjuice is an acidic juice of unripe grapes, while vino cotto is another grape-based product that seems almost entirely to be Maggie's domain. We actually already owned some rarely-used Maggie BeerTM verjuice and I elected to substitute the vino cotto with balsamic vinegar.

The syrup ingredients taste fabulous, all sweet and tangy and hinting at the caramelised tart to come, but reducing them to one sixth of their original volume was dangerous business. I wasn't too concerned by the bit of bubbling that went on during the first 15 minutes of reduction - it's just speeding up the evaporation, right? - but once I lapsed into inattention it shifted rather rapidly to burnt sugar. It wasn't so much bubbling any more as fizzing and expanding! Its colour was still lovely but when the molten sugar had cooled down enough for a taste, this was one of the most horrible, acrid things I've ever sampled. I unhappily filled the saucepan with warm water and the syrup stiffened into some kind of Poison Toffee, cemented stirring spoon and all.

So I began again, this time using a heat diffuser on the stove, never allowing the syrup to unleash a single bubble. It took a lot longer and I anxiously took the syrup off the heat when it still had the volume of about 3/4 of a cup (I should have been aiming for 1/4 cup). This later proved to be the undoing of this upside-down tart, rendering the crust soggy and impossible to flip in one piece (see the second less glamourous photo above).

While this tart turned out to be a lot of trouble, it was undeniably tasty. The pastry and eggplant in particular were out of this world and perfectly offset by the goats' cheese. I'd certainly consider making a variation on it again - perhaps something with a blind-baked, right-way-round crust, double the eggplant and half the leek, and a sparing drizzle of verjuice and balsamic vinegar. No syrup. Oh no, certainly no syrup.



Maggie's burnished eggplant and leek tart
(by Maggie Beer, as presented on the Cook and the Chef)

pastry:
125g plain flour
100g butter, cold
~60mL sour cream

sugar syrup:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup verjuice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

filling:
2 leeks, with the mostly white part sliced into 3cm cylinders
1/4 cup verjuice
1 large eggplant
olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped lemon thyme

topping:
120g goats' cheese
2 tablespoons chopped mint

To make the pastry, chop the butter into small cubes. Place the flour and butter in a food processor, blending until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream, a bit at a time and blending with each bit, until the dough begins to come together. Note that you may not need to add all of the sour cream (I didn't).

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured bench and bring it together into a smooth ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate it for at least 20 minutes. If you're making the pastry well in advance, allow it to rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before trying to roll it.

Next, make the sugar syrup. Stir together the sugar, water and verjuice in a small saucepan on low-medium heat. Gently reduce the mixture to about a 1/4 cup in volume, being careful not to burn it. Stir through the balsamic vinegar and set the syrup aside.

Cut the eggplant into large chunks and soak them in a large bowl of salted water for half an hour or thereabouts; this will prevent them from soaking up too much oil.

This is a good time to preheat the oven - aim for 180°C.

If you have an oven-proof frypan, this recipe will now make good use of it. Since we don't, I used an ordinary frypan and a pie dish. Heat some olive oil in your frypan and add the leek chunks; arrange them so that the circular cut sides are touching the pan. Cook them until they're golden brown, then flip them over until the other end's also golden brown. Transfer them to the pie dish and bake them in the oven until they're just tender. Take them out and set them aside; turn the oven up to 200°C.

Drain the eggplant chunks and plonk them in the frypan with a little extra oil. Brown them nicely on all sides, pour in the verjuice, and continue to cook them until all the liquid has evaporated or been absorbed. Arrange the eggplant in the pie dish, interspersing the pieces with the leek. Sprinkle over the mint and lemon thyme. Drizzle the lot with the sugar syrup.

Roll out the pastry so that it's a bit larger than the pie dish and use it to cover the tart filling, tucking the edges in. Bake the tart for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 180°C and bake for a further 30-35 minutes. Allow the tart some time to cool down. Flip it upside down onto a plate and garnish it with dabs of goats' cheese and a sprinkling of mint.

May 6, 2009: Bowl of Soul II

Cindy and I had made a few failed trips to Port Melbourne trying to revisit Bowl of Soul - failing to check their opening hours the first time and then finding them on summer holidays the second time. This time everything fell into place and we strolled up Bridge Street to an empty but open Bowl of Soul.

Things haven't changed much since our last visit - it's the same little space, with the same slightly weird palm tree on the wall. The menu has changed a little, with the two things we flagged in our earlier post (ribs and chips) no longer available.

Ah well. We happily made do with a burger apiece: a deluxe stake-out sandwich (chilli-rubbed, grilled soy-stake with tomato, lettuce, onions, Baja bbq sauce, mayo, fakin' bacon and cheese - $12.80) for me, and a Creole chic'n roll (Cajun-spiced soy chic'n, lettuce, tomato and lush lime-infused mayo - $10.80) for Cindy.

These were both pretty similar - loaded up with massive chunks of tomato and plenty of fresh lettuce, with variations on the fake-meat and sauce combo. Mine had a nicely smoked flavour (presumably from the bbq sauce), and was helped along by the salty fake-bacon. The 'steak' wasn't particularly exciting, but it added some meaty texture to the whole deal. Not bad. Cindy's chicken burger boasted a spicy crusted chic'n patty, a little mayo, and a generous smear of some kind of chutney.

We spent the whole meal eyeing off the dessert counter (which last time wowed us with chocolate-coated figs). This time it was brownies: a dark-chocolate, cranberry and raspberry brownie for me and a vegan peanut butter brownie for Cindy ($4 a pop). I loved my chocolate-berry delight but Cindy was a bit disappointed in hers - the texture was a bit off, lacking in any real cakiness. Something to work on.

We both really enjoyed our burgers - the buns and salad were super-fresh, filled with saucy goodness and deliciously filling. Having said that, they'd be pretty easy to replicate at home and might not justify the trip across town (maybe the hot dog does). If you were working in the vicinity it would be the lunch place of your dreams but when you live so close to the EBC, it takes a pretty great mock-meat to lure us outside the inner-north. It's worth noting that this is a very vegan-friendly establishment, with almost everything either vegan or vegan-convertible.

Read about our previous visit to Bowl of Soul here.

Update 10/5/10: Unfortunately, Bowl of Soul has closed down. Very disappointing. We didn't get across the river very much, but it was always a winner when we visited.

May 5, 2009: Autumn apple-potato salad

Though I haven't done so as often as I would like, I label some of my bookmarked recipes with the season they're best suited to. In this case, Matt (of Matt Bites) did the work for me by naming this dish Autumn apple and potato salad. The inclusion of apple certainly sets it apart from the common bacon-and-mayo potato salad seen at barbecues across Australia; Matt also suggests dressing it with blue cheese or ranch-style condiment. I think these dressings are more common in the U.S. than here, and easily bought by the bottle. Instead I thought I'd try making my own blue cheese dressing and I picked this recipe from Taste.com.au since it'd make use of my leftover buttermilk.

We teamed the salad with baked tofu 'fish' bites and a generous handful of spinach and rocket leaves. I'm still only a cautious and occasional appreciater of the more pungent varieties of cheese, and this dressing pleased me in more bites than it repelled me (how's that for a recommendation?). Lovers of blue cheese will certainly enjoy it; for me it was at its best up against the sweetness of an apple chunk or sultana.

Autumn apple-potato salad
(a synthesis of recipes at Matt Bites and Taste.com.au)

salad:
500g small red potatoes
3 large crisp red apples, e.g. Fuji
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sultanas
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

dressing:
80g soft blue cheese
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream

Boil the potatoes, skin on, until tender but still firm.

Meanwhile core and dice the apples (leave the skin on), place them in a salad bowl, and sprinkle them with the vinegar to prevent browning. Toss through the sultanas and parsley.

In a separate smaller bowl, crumble the blue cheese and then whisk through the remaining dressing ingredients until it is as smooth as possible (you could also do this in a food processor).

Once the potatoes are cooked, allow them to cool until you can handle them. Roughly dice the potatoes and gently toss them through the apple salad. Stir through the dressing, season to taste and serve.

May 4, 2009: Cheatin' pepperoni

Rather shamefully, it's taken Cindy and I about three months to make our way to Radical Grocery on Sydney Road. Cindy was there for the pre-opening potluck, but since then we've somehow avoided Sydney Road for months at a time. The shop is everything other bloggers say - loaded up with exotic vegan and fair-trade goodies, run by the super-friendly and enthusiastic Anikee and remarkably reasonable prices. We loaded ourselves up with chocolate, mock-meats, coffee and tea, and wandered out with a vow to return sooner next time.

The most interesting of our new purchases (at least to me) was a packet of meat-free Cheatin' pepperoni. I've missed heavily processed salamis and such since going veg - especially on pizzas (which is why I was so excited about Eat Pizza), so there was only one place these little slices were going.


These were pretty basic pizzas - pre-bought bases from Piedemontes, a bit of tomato paste, some mushrooms and roasted capsicum strips, mozzarella and our 'salami'. Fake salami is never quite going to recapture the crispy spiciness of the real thing, but the Redwood brand loads theirs up with some kick, giving the pizza the zing I was hoping for. It's probably not an essential fake-meat product, but Cheatin' pepperoni will at least partly fill the spicy void on your pizzas. We'll definitely be going back for seconds.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Coming soon: Budda's Day & Multicultural Festival

We're rolling 'round to mid-May and that means it's time for Buddha's Day and Multicultural Festival! Michael and I haven't yet been but we're looking forward to attending this year's celebration, which is happening in Melbourne in Federation Square next weekend.

The food stalls promise to be amazing - check out what Buttons and Kristy gobbled down last year, and what Mellie and EG sampled two years ago. There's also Vegi-licious, a series of vegetarian cooking demonstrations featuring lots of Melbourne chefs and running across both days.

Thanks to Jacinta (one of the festival organisers) and regular reader William for giving us a heads-up a few weeks early.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

May 1-2, 2009: Red velvet cupcakes

Brownies weren't my only contribution to the tea party. This party's premise was the 30th birthday of a rather smashing lady, and I felt compelled to scroll through my Dessert bookmarks for more inspiration. Red velvet cupcakes caught my eye. This version comes from Simply Recipes and is written by cupcake creative Garrett McCord - I'm a regular and admiring reader of his other food blog, Vanilla Garlic.

The 'red' in 'red velvet' doesn't come from raspberries, beetroot or any other produce; it's the biggest dose of red food colouring you might ever ingest in a sitting. The cake also includes a little cocoa but doesn't have a strong chocolate flavour at all. These proved to be pleasant and mild; it's their looks that are more memorable.

But, oh - the icing! Red velvet cake is iced not with traditional buttercream but with a cream cheese-based version. And it was the lightest, smoothest spoonful of heaven I may ever have tasted. It seems likely that I will never bother with buttercream again (though ganache will probably still get a guernsey at other times and places). Not one for piping, I slathered it onto the cupcakes with a teaspoon and rather liked the effect.

Garrett's recipe is a fabulous rendition of a southern U.S. favourite. The cake has a lovely texture, but I reckon it's the icing that's the absolute keeper - I'm looking forward to teaming it with other flavours.


Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing
(a halved, metric-fied, and Aussie-spelled version of Garrett McCord's recipe at Simply Recipes)

cake:
3/4 cup sugar
60g butter, softened
1 egg
1 1/6 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon cocoa
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
3/4 tablespoon red food colouring
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar

icing:
60g butter, softened
120g cream cheese, softened
1 - 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Set 10-12 cupcake papers into a cupcake baking tray.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (I had real trouble with this! Most likely because my butter hadn't softened enough.) Beat in the egg thoroughly.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, bicarb soda, baking powder and salt. In a second smaller bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla and red food colouring.

Gradually and alternately beat the flour and buttermilk mixtures into the sugar/butter/egg mixture, until the cake batter is smooth and homogeneous.

Spoon the batter into the lined cupcake tray, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, checking them with a skewer. Allow the cakes to cool before icing them.

For the icing, cream together the butter and cheese, then beat in the vanilla. Gradually beat in the icing sugar until the sweetness is to your taste (I found that 1 cup of icing sugar was just right). Slather the icing onto the cupcakes.