Saturday, June 28, 2014

New York, NY | Day 4

June 16, 2014

We started our fourth day in New York with a Wholefoods breakfast in Union Square and set off to walk the High Line (see slideshow above). This green strip sits a couple of storeys above Manhattan's roads and sidewalks, on a former West Side freight rail line that's been converted and maintained by the community. It was pretty, with abundant flowers at this time of year, and also very hot.

By the time we were done I was craving some shade and a drink, I was lucky to secure both of these at the popular Taim falafel house. These guys are vegetarian by virtue of skipping the kebabs and concentrating on falafel in three flavours: traditional balls of brilliant green with parsley, coriander and mint; spicier harissa fritters; and sweet roasted red pepper morsels. We sampled them all in a mixed platter (US$12 ~ AU$12.70) on a bed of hummus, with thick za'atar-sprinkled pita, tabouli and and Israeli tomato-cucumber salad on the side, trialling different combinations of their spicy S'rug sauce, Amba mango chutney and tahini yoghurt. The sandwiches and salads we saw others ordering looked just as good, and we noticed clearly-marked vegan and gluten-free options.

In my dehydrated state, I was smitten by their pineapple and coconut smoothie (US$5.50 ~ AU$5.80). I daydreamed about its creamy-icy tropical flavour on several later hot days in the city.

We took it easy in the afternoon and visited vegan institution Blossom for dinner. Here we shared:
  • crab-like Cape Cod cakes (US$11 ~ AU$11.70) with an excellent tartar sauce,
  • sophisticated seitan scallopini (US$22 ~ AU$23.40) on a bed of mashed potatoes and sauteed kale in a white wine, lemon and caper sauce,
  • pistachio-crumbed tofu (US$21 ~ AU$22.30) perched between a sweet potato-stuffed crepe parcel and a tangle of frisee lettuce, and
  • a very sweet coconut-based cup of tiramisu (US$11 ~ AU$11.70).
We really liked their way with sauces, and I mused that I'd like to develop a better intuition for them in my own cooking. Otherwise the food and environment was comfortable but a touch dated - we imagined how exciting and innovative it might have been ten or fifteen years ago.

With dinner done, we set off for an unforgettable theatre experience - Sleep No More. Punchdrunk theatre company have claimed four floors of a former hotel as their stage, decking them out with cobwebbed crucifixes, bedrooms, shop fronts and very little lighting. Actors stalk the rooms, performing an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, and the audience are masked voyeurs who wander the hotel at their whim, free to rifle through papers, touch trinkets and chase the action. There's blood and dance, sex, nudity and death. It's utterly immersive, and something we talked about for hours afterwards.

As we approached our apartment, we finished with a midnight snack from Van Leeuwen's icecream truck. Their vegan flavours are a clever splice of coconut and cashew milks, their chocolate and pistachio flavours (totalling US$5.75 ~ AU$6.10) rating amongst my best ever vegan icecream experiences.

Friday, June 27, 2014

New York, NY | Day 3

June 15, 2014

We decided to keep things local on our third day in New York, staying in Brooklyn to eat, shop and explore. We started off at Bliss Cafe, a Bedford Avenue spot that was both vegan friendly and open early for breakfast (a lot of the US seems to think that 'brunch' starts at midday or something ridiculous).

The menu at Bliss is all vegetarian with about half the dishes either vegan or vegan adaptable. I've decided to go crazy for the tofu scramble on this trip, so I ordered a serve of Bliss' version (with home fries, toast and jam, $US7.95 ~ $AU8.45) and a side of tempeh bacon ($US3 ~ $AU3.20). The scramble was quite good, with plenty of greens, onions and mushrooms mixed in, although the tofu mix itself wasn't bursting with flavour (thankfully every cafe in the US seems to offer hot sauce as a default table setting). The tempeh bacon was a bit better than the version at Champs, but basically convinced me that I shouldn't keep ordering it - we make it too well at home to be paying $3 for inadequate imitations. Cindy had the vegan bagel delight ($US6.50 ~ $AU6.90), which involved the same tempeh bacon and tofu scramble served on a bagel with a slice of tomato. It had basically the same strengths and weaknesses as my dish. Don't get me wrong, Bliss is a handy and decent option for a vegan breakfast in Williamsburg, but the food isn't that exciting and the breakfast menu is pretty limited (after 10 the full brunch menu opens up, offering chilli, seitan steak sandwiches and the like). Basically, it's no Champs and with so many more things to try on their menu, we quickly decided that any future Brooklyn brekkies would be there rather than at Bliss.

One of the reasons we were staying in Brooklyn was to check out the Brooklyn Flea (which K and Toby had raved about). It's a nice mix of food, craft, vintage clothes and random odds and ends (plenty of furniture too).

Melbourne readers: check out that weather! NYC was sweltering in the mid-thirties most days, and the Brooklyn Soda Works provided me with a refreshing rhubarb and ginger soda to help me survive the markets.

We took a little break at home and then headed out to explore Park Slope, another Brooklyn neighbourhood. On our way to the subway we stopped off at one of the many Momofuku Milkbars that are dotted around New York. We grabbed a couple of milkshakes - espresso flavoured for me and cereal for Cindy ($US7 ~ $AU7.40 and $US6 ~ $AU6.40, respectively).

They were tasty, but not quite the life changing experience I was hoping for. Maybe that's too much to ask from a milkshake. This weird little crochet alien on a nearby fence made up for any milkshake-related disappointment.

We eventually made it to Park Slope and wandered 5th Avenue looking through op-shops and fancier stores, before stumbling onto The V Spot, a Latin vegan bar and restaurant that had the perfect menu for the small lunch we needed (it's hard going eating even 3 meals a day in the US due to the bonkers portion sizes).

We split a serve of the Jamaican jerk empanadas (tortillas filled with brown rice, pigeon peas, carrots, collard greens and spicy jerk seitan, $US8 ~ $AU8.50) and an arepa con todo (grilled corn patty topped with melted Daiya mozzarella, house made salsa, guacamole and black beans, $US7 ~ $AU7.40). Both were excellent, with the spicy empanada filling and the house made salsa particularly impressive (they sell the salsa in bottles and I'd have been taking a couple home if I didn't imagine them smeared all through our luggage and/or confiscated by customs). The staff were lovely, they've got an outdoor courtyard and a relaxed vibe. V-Spot is one of the many places I was sad not to make a second trip to - maybe schedule it in for dinner so you can really get stuck into the menu.

One of the places we did make a second trip to (and a 3rd and 4th!) was Champs. It was perfectly located between the subway and our evening's entertainment (free Sunday night comedy at the Knitting Factory, well worth a visit if you're in the neighbourhood) and it had a whole lunch/dinner menu we hadn't explored yet.

There are so many options that we sat there paralysed for a while - should we build our own burger (choosing one of three different patty options), grab a banh mi or a Philly cheesesteak or go for a healthier salad option? Eventually Cindy decided on the Buffalo ranch salad ($US11 ~ $AU11.70, crumbed chicken pieces with spicy Buffalo dressing, greens, celery, cucumber, tomato, grated 'cheddar' and a tub of ranch dressing), while I chose the Baja fish burrito ($US9 ~ $AU9.60, crispy fish cutlets with purple cabbage, greens, sour cream, guacamole, salsa fresca and chipotle dressing in a wholewheat tortilla).

These were both excellent - the fish burrito in particular was to die for, crispy and saucy and loaded with fresh avocado, it really takes the vegan burrito to new heights. The salad was no let down either, combining a rare chance to stuff some fresh greens into our faces with still more delicious mock meat. Champs quickly became our go-to option in Williamsburg - it's a total winner.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

New York, NY | Day 2

June 14, 2014

We spent our first full New York day exploring the Brooklyn neighbourhood that we were staying in. Our breakfast venue, Champs Family Bakery, became one of our favourite eateries in the city. They've got a sweet diner set-up in a residential street and a menu that runs to dozens and dozens of American-style vegan meals: burgers, sandwiches, wraps and burritos; all-day breakfasts of scrambled tofu, biscuits, home fries, pancakes and waffles; bowls and salads; sundaes, cakes and cookies.

Michael tucked into the Tofu Rancheros (US$12 ~ AU$12.80), a large plate piled high with rice and beans, tortilla chips in a cheese sauce, tofu scramble, ranchero sauce, salsa fresca and sour cream, and ordered an utterly unnecessary side of tempeh bacon (US$2 ~ AU$2.10). I dug their hefty biscuits smothered in soysages and country gravy (US$10 ~AU$10.70), grateful for the fresh greens to break up the richness. Even then I couldn't polish off this dense breakfast. We stumbled out groaning, feeling equal parts pleasure and pain.

We walked deeper into Brooklyn for the monthly Vegan Shop-Up (thanks to Anne B for pointing this one out) at Pine Box Rock Shop, a vegan bar. We spent a couple of hours just hanging out, with Michael watching the soccer and eventually working up an appetite to try something from the Cinnamon Snail food truck (which came recommended both by Anne B and Justin M). He happily ploughed through a tortilla-lined box of spicy Korean barbeque seitan (US$9 ~ AU$9.60), and I found room for an Alchemy Creamery gleegan icecream sandwich (it was nice, but better vegan icecream was to follow).

Otherwise I checked out the stalls of clothing, preserves, baked goods and tea, and was delighted to discover a Lagusta's Luscious stall - I've been a reader of Lagusta's blog for years and hadn't imagined that I'd be able to access her chocolates in the city. I bought a corn on the cob bar and a four grain bourbon caramel chile bar, and we rationed them out over later days. They were both absolutely brilliant and based on ethically-sourced, smooth, dark, just-sweet-enough chocolate. The corn bar included bold corn kernel chunks, hints of paprika and sage, plus a good dash of salt; the other had the darkest, most adult caramel I've ever chanced upon. I'd trade all the Caramello Koalas in the world for another.

We spent the evening back closer to our Williamsburg accommodation, where the Northside Festival was being held in the streets and local arts venues (see slideshow below). We ate dinner at Wild Ginger, a vegan pan-Asian restaurant. Service was reserved by American standards and the food was variable: Michael's Thai iced coffee and my iced green tea (US$3 ~ AU$3.20) hit the right notes and the miso-dressed salad was nice; I loved the freshness of the avocado, mountain yam and mango tartar (US$8.50 ~ AU$9.10) though it was overwhelmed by its wasabi-soy sauce; the salt and pepper king oyster mushrooms (US$8.50 ~ AU$9.10) were greasy and underseasoned; and our General Tso's soy protein (US$15 ~ AU$16) was a great mock meat in a sauce too sweet for Michael.

We were more in sync with our evening's entertainment, a live show led by Courtney Barnett (from Melbourne's northside to Brooklyn's) and Benjamin Booker at the Williamsburg Music Hall.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

New York, NY | Day 1

June 13, 2014

After a few weeks of travelling around separately, Cindy and I rendezvoused in New York City to start a three week where's the beef? tour of NYC, Portland and Tokyo. We're gonna blog it all eventually, but trying to fit some holidaying between all our eating has meant that we're already falling behind.

I got in quite late on a Friday night and met up with Cindy at our apartment in Williamsburg (yes, I know, we're dreadful hipsters). We were both tired and hungry and I knew of the perfect solution - pizza by the slice at Vinnie's Pizzeria. It was just a few blocks from where we were staying, was open late and promised an intriguing range of vegan slices.

They have about a dozen different vegan pizzas on their menu (plus another dozen vegetarian) and seem to rotate the slices pretty regularly - we saw a new batch of flavours come out just while we were eating our slices. There's also a few other vegan meals - chicken drumsticks, eggplant or chicken parmas and a vegan baked ziti. At 9:30pm on a Friday it's busy but not crazy - I suspect by midnight the booths would be much harder to claim. We ordered three slices (US$4 ~ AU$4.20 each). First up the T.HANKS (bbq chicken, bacon, mozzarella, cheddar, bbq sauce) and tiger style (teriyaki chicken, broccoli, mozzarella, cheddar and sesame seeds).

And then the parma initiative (baked breaded eggplant, marinara sauce, cheddar, mozzarella).

These were all great - crispy bases, loads of toppings and a good range of junky flavours. We had very firm intentions to return later in our stay, but somehow filled our dinners up with everything else the city had to offer. I'm a bit sad not to try more of their pizzas, but I'll always remember them fondly. Seriously, what else could make a jetlagged, slightly hungover Michael look like this:

Thanks Vinnie's, you really got the trip off to a solid start.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Washington, DC

June 6-11, 2014

Since I was staying with a friend and colleague in Washington, I had the privilege of experiencing the city as both a tourist and a resident. I walked the Mall, stopped to photograph the Washington Monument and other famous buildings (see slideshow above), but also hung out with some locals and visited the kind of restaurants that they choose to eat at.

My host and I dined at Ambar on the evening we arrived in Washington. It's located on a street lined with bars and restaurants, and this contemporary Balkan restaurant's sophisticated casual look fits right in. Though the feature dishes are all meaty, there are lots of vegetarian plates to share - we enjoyed a freshly baked truffle-wafting flat bread (US$8 ~ AU$8.50), crepes stuffed with roasted mushrooms and bechamel (US$8 ~ AU$8.50), grilled asparagus with quail eggs (US$7 ~ AU$7.50), roasted zucchini topped with a pungent blue cheese raisin sauce (US$6 ~ AU$6.40), and crispy panko-crumbed cauliflower florets with a spicy lemon aioli (US$6 ~ AU$6.40). All up it made for quite a rich, cheesy meal, suggesting that vegans might struggle and that we probably should have subbed in a salad.

The Eastern Market reminded me of the Queen Victoria Market back home, albeit on a smaller scale. There's fresh produce, preserves, crafts and cheap imported knick knacks under marquees and a central building with deli stalls, where I bought some lovey mushroom tortellini. I liked the adjacent flea market the most - it included a lot of locally made crafts, and some cheerful guys making fresh fruit smoothies to order. (I made that my breakfast two days in a row.)

I got a tip from my host that the best lunch around the Mall was to be found inside the National Museum of the American Indian. The Mitsitam Cafe has a typical grab-a-tray cafeteria layout but features an extraordinary variety of native foods from the Americas in traditional and new preparations. I sampled a savoury Bolivian peanut soup (US$5.15 ~ AU$5.50), a mild and cooling hearts of palm salad with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes in a white wine vinaigrette (US$3.55 ~ AU$3.80) and a quinoa-based cordial. My eagle eye also spotted dessert, and I got a few envious looks for tracking down the coarse, shortbready corn wafer topped with a sweet panna cotta-like corn souffle and marinated blackberries (US$5.75 ~ AU$6.10).

My last DC dining experience was at 2 Amys, one of my host's favourite restaurants. It's a cosy family pizzeria that makes lovely woodfired bases and uses excellent mozzarella (the special green tomato margherita above was US$14.45 ~ AU$15.40). In addition to pizze, they offer a seasonal rotation of small plates to share, including breakfast radishes (US$6 ~ AU$6.40), sheep ricotta with honey and pine nuts (US$8 ~ AU$8.50), and a roasted rectangle of eggplant with green onion sauce and smoked ricotta (US$6 ~ AU$6.40). The suppli a telfono (better known to me as arancini, US$5.95 ~ AU$6.30) are a popular and regular fixture.

While Washington is a much smaller city than Melbourne, I got a sense of a strikingly similar food scene with great food at a range of price points, many different cultures represented (apparently I missed out on some fine Ethiopean food, a white-tablecloth Indian restaurant and some killer gelato), plus some neat markets. But I've got a suspicion that no-one does coffee and a cafe brunch quite like home.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Torino, Italy

June 6-13, 2014

While Cindy worked her way across the USA, I had a week long conference in Torino. Most of the week was taken up with work shenanigans, and we usually wound up at simple pizza/pasta restaurants for meals. I snuck in a couple of more adventurous outings, although I was cripplingly tired for the first and relied on my phone for a camera at both.

My first stop was Ratatouille (corso Tortona, 2G, open for lunch and early dinner Wed-Sun plus proper dinner on Saturday nights), a vegan place quite close to where I was staying. I stumbled in at 6pm after a long pair of flights hoping to nab an early dinner. My Italian is non-existent and the staff there didn't have the most fluent English, but it was eventually made clear to me that I was much too early for dinner. And they were booked out anyway. Nonetheless, they offered me my choice of the lunch buffet, a mix of salads, mock meat and other goodies that you pay for based on weight.

I put together a plate including two kinds of mock meat (a mustardy seitan dish and some sort of bean-based meat slathered in a slightly creamy sauce), some tofu-based mock haloumi, a wild rice salad and a daikon and carrot salad. It was all very tasty - a good mix of freshness and protein and a nice cool meal in Torino's sweltering heat.

I'm not quite sure what it cost - about 12€ (AU$17.40) from memory, plus another couple for a really good vegan cream-filled croissant (not pictured, thanks to my tiredness and pastry-enthusiasm). The menu of the restaurant proper looked excellent - filled pastas, interesting pizzas and a few other dishes - what a shame that it's only open on Saturday nights.

My second discovery came courtesy of James, a friend who was in town for the conference who had wandered past a likely looking vegan place and then directed us all there for a surprise lunch on Wednesday. Soul Kitchen (Via Santa Giulia, 2, open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday) had a very Melbourne vibe - big wooden tables, understated style and a mix of raw and cooked vegan goodies. The staff were friendly and spoke excellent English. 

The menu covered a wide range of stuff: there were wraps and sandwiches, hot dogs, quiche, salads, mock meat and raw dishes along with a few desserts. I ordered the Milanese seitan (10€ ~ AU$14.50), expecting something rich and saucy. 

It turns out Milanese basically means 'crumbed' and I was served up a big crumbed piece of excellent seitan with a side of chips. James had ordered the raw zucchini spaghetti (which came with some of the best hummus I've ever tasted and is pictured at the top of this post) and we swapped things around so that both of us got a mix of fresh and meatier bites. 

The rest of the table were pretty happy with their dishes as well and we stuck around to sample desserts including cheesecake and this delectable choc-caramel slice (5€ ~ AU$7.30).

These two discoveries added some nice variety to a week in which I consumed numerous mushroom pizzas and quite a bit of risotto - it's well worth seeking them out if you're ever in Torino. The city itself is worth a visit, with a slightly crumbling industrial atmosphere alongside some beautiful historical buildings and the very attractive River Po winding through it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Baltimore, MD

June 7, 2014

For my fourth week in the U.S. I was based in Washington D.C., staying in the home of a generous friend and colleague. She takes an active interest in the D.C. dining scene, as well as the wineries and restaurants of neighbouring states Maryland and Virginia. Baltimore MD is little more than a half-hour drive away, and my host helped arrange for dinner and a gig with a couple of her friends there during my stay.

In particular, she wangled us an early summer night's table at Woodberry Kitchen, one of the region's more upscale and well-known restaurants. The Washington Post article she circulated in advance set the scene - this restaurant is contained in a repurposed former foundry and it takes its local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients very, very seriously. All their meat and produce suppliers are proudly printed on the menu, and they rearrange their dishes as frequently as seasons and supplies demand it - often daily and sometimes even mid-service.

Though dietary requirements aren't explicitly mentioned on the menu, I daresay that most of them would be accommodated. This is a restaurant that requires a reservation, and the wealth of fresh produce and attention to every last ingredient should leave coeliacs, vegans and others in safe hands. The staff were relaxed, friendly, and knew the menu back-to-front so it'd be easy to ask them.

I liked Woodberry's attention to the drinks list too, which included a dozen unique cocktails, many including fresh fruits and house-made syrups. I especially appreciated their teetotallers corner, where I could order an Evening Breeze (US$5 ~ AU$5.30) of sweet cherry, green and rosehips teas muddled with verjus and maple syrup.

We sipped our drinks while we negotiated our food options. 'Supper' runs to a dozen pricey mains (only one of them vegetarian), while the snacks, flatbreads, salads and cold plates, soups and warm plates are half the price and more often plant based. We shared a range of these smaller dishes among the three of us.

The Dandelion Green Flatbread (US$14 ~ AU$14.90) was a stellar start, a woodfired dough spread with ricotta and a hint of honey, then strewn with tarragon and spring onion. It was so fresh and so green - if Spring has a flavour, this would be it.

The Marinated Vegetables (US$5 ~ AU$5.40) were not what we expected but shone through as my companions' favourite - a shallow dish of tomato, red onion and fresh beans in a tangy verjus sauce, scattered with popcorn and parsley.

The Wood Roasted Spring Onions (US$8 ~ AU$8.60) were dotted with a spicy peach sauce that reminded me of soy sauce and miso, and had a little extra savoury crunch from crushed peanuts.

At this time, we were presented with a complimentary plate of strawberries with lightly whipped ricotta and a basil garnish (priced at US$5 ~ AU$5.40 on the menu). They made for a gorgeous palate cleanser towards the end of our meal.

The milky ball of Stretched To Order Mozzarella (US$11 ~ AU$11.80) was offset with crunchy oiled toasts, lots of pea shoots and a few hot peppers and some excellent condiments, a sweet peach mostarda and bitier radish top-pecan pesto.

The salads also impressed. Beets (US$12 ~ AU$12.90) were served small and tender on a swirl of herbed cream cheese, then layered up with radish slivers, pea shoots, crumbled blue cheese, a honey black pepper dressing and granola.

The Young Chard (US$12 ~ AU$12.90) looked a little more homely but shaved radishes and fennel kept it lively.

For dessert, we split a Strawberry Shortcake Pavlova ($US10 ~ AU$10.70) - neat crunchy discs of meringue (but none of the chewiness I'm fond of), strawberries fresh and in jam, whipped cream and buttermilk. The tweaks didn't play out quite as I might've hoped - the buttermilk wasn't tangy and the basil came in shocking clumps rather than subtle bursts. Nevertheless this was a nice rendition, and authentic enough to please me.

I was absolutely enamoured of Woodberry Kitchen - their ethos, their setting and their food. In other circumstances I might seek more vegetarian protein, but these guys clearly delight in fresh produce and it was infectious. It's taken me more than a week to write a post that wasn't just "fresh fresh fresh bright fresh colour fresh!". But that's just about all you need to know - these folks love fresh food.

The Ram's Head was less fresh and summery it was the venue for a great Lucinda Williams gig later that night.


Woodberry Kitchen
2010 Clipper Park Rd, Suite 126, Baltimore MD
(410) 464 8000
dinner menu, drinks, dessert

Accessibility: I wasn't paying enough attention, until I noticed three unisex disability access toilets on my way out! Thus I reckon the rest is probably in good shape.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Denver, CO

May 30-31, 2014

I had a pleasant few days hanging around collegetown Fort Collins CO for a conference, getting my first serve of tempeh in weeks and lunching daily at Whole Foods. On my way out of the state I stopped in Denver for a day and two nights; this was enough time to explore the impressive Denver Art Museum (see slideshow above), try a couple of local veg*n eateries and stock up once more at my now-beloved Whole Foods.

On my first evening I walked across to WaterCourse Foods, which Michael had read about online just a few days earlier. It's a charming contemporary vegan restaurant where a lone diner can easily grab a seat at the bar without a reservation. The lone diner is likely to curse themselves, however, for only having the capacity to order one meal: the all-day breakfast menu alone holds a dozen excellent options, then there's the vegan deviled egg appetizer, cauliflower 'wings', eight sandwiches, four salads, nine mains and fifteen sides.

I ultimately ordered the "chicken" & waffles (US$11 ~ AU$11.80) with sweet tea syrup. The waffles were soft and savoury with corn and chives, light rather than doughy. The firm tofu "chicken" was more substantial, with a sublime toasted-herb crumb. I ate perhaps 60% of this, had the remainder boxed up, eating it for breakfast the following morning.

City O' City was my top-priority restaurant when I researched Denver eating, and it happens to be a sister restaurant to WaterCourse. It's also just a couple blocks from the Art Museum. The spacious layout and convenient counter option mirror WaterCourse, though the atmosphere is a little grungier. The menu's vegetarian rather then vegan, but the wealth of enticing dishes is similarly paralysing.

In spite of their four waffle options, I tried out the breakfast hash (US$9 ~ AU$9.60). This hefty bowl of charred potatoes and onions, smoky tempeh bacon, sauteed kale, zucchini and carrot ribbons was topped with gravy and scrambled tofu - all the carbs and protein I needed for hours of art exploration and some city wandering. I loved their sunny sixties soundtrack just as much as the food. If only every weekend could include a stop by City O' City.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Gainesville, FL

May 25, 2014

I'm currently embarking on a major (for me) trip around the United States. My work has brought me here, but I'm finding some time for fun and food along the way. My first stop was Gainesville, Florida. The hot, humid days, sub-tropical trees and afternoon thunderstorms reminded me of Queensland, and the sub-par restaurants near my hotel reminded me that I should really get a driver's license. My work commitments happily sustained me through the week, and then I splashed out on a taxi into town on the weekend, checking out the excellent Museum of Natural History and Harn Museum of Art, wandering through the university campus, and settling in for an early dinner.

I fell upon Bahn Thai Restaurant almost by accident, noticing their handwritten "Vegan and Vegetarian!" sign in the window, and deciding on a whim to give them a shot. I'm glad I did. Their menu included three full pages of vegetarian and vegan dishes, headed up with information about their ingredients and utensil practices. Most of their mains come with a choice of tofu, seitan or tempeh. My ginger seitan (US$12.95 ~ AU$13.90) was lighter and spongier than I usually encounter back home, all the better to soak up the thick sauce. I'd've easily got two meals out of this order, if only I'd had a fridge to take it home to.

Next door was Karma Cream, the icecream cafe that I was actually aiming for. Since I was full of Thai food I skipped over their sandwich menu, which included a vegan grilled cheese with tempeh bacon and Tofurkey Rueben. I had to look past the full sundae and cookie sandwich options, too, and stick to their smallest serve of icecream (US$3.70 ~ AU$3.97). They had ten vegan flavours on offer, most of them coconut-based, and all the toppings - including hot fudge, cookie dough, gummy bears, sprinkles (US$0.75 ~ AU$0.80 each) - were vegan too. My bowl of ginger cookie caramel icecream with peanut butter shell (aka ice magic) was creamy, coconutty and very, very sweet. I'd expect no less of an American icecreamery. I picked up three Go Max Go chocolate bars for the price of two on my way out.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Creamy corn-crusted tempeh pot pie

May 24, 2014

Cindy has left me to fend for myself while she falls in love with Wholefoods and other North American goodies. I must confess that for the first week I ate a lot of restaurant meals. When the weekend rolled around I finally got my act together and cooked for myself, tackling one of the more involved recipes from Viva Vegan.

I'm a sucker for a good tempeh-based stew, and the pie filling here combined the nutty tempeh flavours with some saltiness from the olives and sweetness from the currants. The topping had a hint of sweetness to it as well and was creamy and crispy in all the right places. The whole dish is a fair bit of work, but it tastes good enough to justify the effort and will feed you for the best part of a week.

Creamy corn-crusted tempeh pot pie
(based on a recipe in Terry Hope Romero's Viva Vegan!)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
300g tempeh, sliced into small cubes
2 brown onions, sliced finely
1 large carrot, diced
2 tablespoons red wine
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
250g potato, diced into 1cm cubes
1 1/2 cups veggie stock
2 tablespoons tamari
1/3 cup currants
2/3 cup sliced green olives
ground pepper

4 cobs of corn, shucked
3 tablespoons corn flour
2/3 cup heavy cream (obviously vegan cream by default, but we had dairy cream to use up)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
10 basil leaves, shredded
1 tablespoon sugar

Steam the potato until it's just cooked, about 15 minutes, and then steam the tempeh for 10 minutes.

Once the tempeh has cooled a bit, crumble up the cubes as best you can - the filling should resemble a kind of thickly ground mince.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onions and carrot over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the onions completely soft. 

Add the wine and stir - it will cook off pretty quickly. Stir in the cumin, oregano and paprika and then add in the tempeh, potato, stock, soy sauce, raisins, olives and the pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring and then remove from the heat.

Lightly oil a casserole dish - I used a round one about 25cm across - and pour the filling in.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

In a food processor, combine the corn kernels, corn flour, cream, garlic, salt and pepper and whiz until it's a thick, creamy paste.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the corn mixture, stirring, until it thickens (about 10 minutes). Remove from the heat and stir in the basil. Spread the mixture on top of the tempeh filling and sprinkle over the sugar.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until the top has browned up nicely. You can char the top up under the grill for a few minutes at the end if you really want a crunchy shell, but I didn't think it really needed this step.