Wednesday, December 20, 2006

December 10, 2006: The Green Grocer

Update 27/2/2014: Walking past the other day, I noticed that The Green Grocer has closed down and been replaced by Sixteen 83 Epicerie.

With Cindy heading off to Brisbane for a pre-Christmas training course, Sunday was our last chance to catch up with Krusty and J-Files before they ditched Melbourne (and us) for exotic foreign pastures. To commemorate our brief Melbourne overlap, we braved the stifling heat and dense smoke for breakfast at The Green Grocer in North Fitzroy. The Green Grocer doubles as a small organic foodstore and a cafe specialising in organic breakfasts and lunches. Surprisingly, things were still fairly quiet when we arrived - obviously North Fitzroy doesn't get going until a bit after 9am. Either that or the thick smoke had fooled everybody into sleeping in. Regardless, we had the place almost to ourselves and the focus quickly turned to ordering.

Aside from Cindy's baffling anti-egg agenda, the mix 'n' match egg options were the flavour of the day: I went for beans and avocado to accompany, Krusty settled for just the beans and J-Files opted for mushrooms and hash-browns. All of us settled on poached eggs - with good reason. The eggs were perfectly cooked - fluffy whites gently encasing delicously gooey yolks. The beans are worthy of a mention as well - spicy and flavoursome, a long way from the world of Heinz. The non-egg savoury options were pretty limited, so Cindy went for the French toast with seasonal fruit. The seasonal fruit turned out to be a couple of stewed peaches, which was a tad disappointing, but her breakfast was otherwise a success.

It was, all in all, a delicious occasion tinged with sadness - Krusty and J-Files have introduced us to some of our favourite Melbourne places and been a beacon of familiar friendship in a strange new world. They will be missed. Their legacy will be carried on by the treasure trove of cookbooks we plundered from their pile of pre-intercontinental relocation cast-offs.

Address: 217 St. Georges Rd. Fitzroy North
Phone: 9489 1747
Price: Breakfast $10 - $15

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

We are experiencing logistical difficulties

You may have noticed that posting has been patchy over the last week or so: the reason is that I've been out of Melbourne and without internet access for 8 days! Furthermore, it seems that Michael is too shy (or rude or lazy, but we can give him the benefit of the doubt) to respond to comments in my absence. On the agenda, three items:

1. Scroll down a little (or follow this link) to find a new review of SOS.

2. There are still a few days left on the Menu for Hope. Please buy some raffle tickets in support of the United Nations World Food Programme, and pick out your preferences in the mouth-watering list of prizes. I'm after the blog redesign and the Traveller's dark chocolate sampler. If you choose something else you'll be increasing my chances of success, thank you!

3. Michael owes us a review of the breakfast he and I ate at the Green Grocer, so hopefully it'll appear in a few days.

Otherwise we'll probably be taking a mini blog-break until the new year. Happy holidays!

Monday, December 11, 2006

December 7, 2006: Panir Steaks with Maple Syrup Marinade

In an attempt to use up a chunk of paneer left over from our Doof-inspired Indian night, Cindy decided to make marinated panir steaks from Kurma's 'Vegetarian World Food'. This had been our plan on Tuesday night, but this time we remembered to buy some fresh salad to accompany things. The marinade was delicious - sweet and a bit spicy, but we could probably have used tofu rather than paneer to improve the nutritional value without a big sacrifice in taste. Still, it was a speedy meal, and gave us another flavour to add to our salad rotation.

Panir steaks with maple syrup marinade
2 blocks panir chopped into triangles
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon asafetida powder

3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste (preferably from a bottle without mold on the top layer, but you do what you can)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablepoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Whisk all the marinade ingredients together in a bowl. Heat the oil in a frypan and sprinkle in the asafetida powder. After frying the asafetida briefly, add in the panir triangles. Fry the panir in the oil and asafetida for a while until they start to get crispy and brown on the outside.

Add in the marinade and keep cooking the panirs, turning fairly often, until the liquid thickens and reduces a little. Once they're done, serve them with a fresh salad (Kurma suggests a sweet potato mash as well, which would be pretty fantastic) and use any leftover marinade as dressing.

Menu for Hope

Helen over at Grab Your Fork is running the Asia-Pacific section of this year's Menu for Hope.

Last year food bloggers around the world raised $17,000 for UNICEF. This year, the United Nations World Food Program will receive the proceeds of the campaign. The money is basically raised through a series of raffles with prizes donated by generous bloggers, restaurants and other food-related organisations. The list of prizes is over at Grab Your Fork, along with more details about the whole campaign.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

December 9, 2006: SOS

To celebrate my 26th birthday Michael booked a table for two at SOS, a somewhat upscale restaurant that I'd been wanting to try for a while. What sets SOS apart from Melbourne's other fine dining is its premise of sourcing sustainable and seasonal produce as much as possible, with seafood the only vegetarian violation on the menu. And Another Outspoken Female's review and the online menu gave us due warning that there is a lot of seafood on offer: the entree list is roughly 40% vegetarian, the mains list 33% veg, and all the specials were distinctly fishy.

I found the atmosphere of SOS to be a little disjointed. It's very open, making the most of the summer daylight, and ultra-modern in design. The communal tables and placemats give a casual feel, yet the service is more formal, with the staff pulling out chairs and setting napkins on the customers' laps. While I appreciate the constant topping up of my water, I'd feel much more comfortable looking after my own jug (and my own lap). While we're at it, I'd also feel a lot more comfortable in different chairs.

While we perused the menu we were treated to our choice of bread and a shallow dish of citrus-infused olive oil. I was going alcohol-free, and was disappointed that my 'lemon squash' was almost certainly a can of Lift in a crystal-glass-with-a-lemon-peel-garnish disguise. After we'd made our decisions and returned our menus, we were presented with tiny bites of bruschetta on crunchy, oily mini-toast.

As an entree, I ordered "warm green and white asparagus served with 'pane croccante', parmigiano and bottarga" ($17). Having since dicovered that bottarga are fish roe, I'm pretty confident that they were omitted from my dish. The asparagus were fresh, flavoursome, and a little firmer than my preferred texture. The creamy sauce, sliver of cheese and salty-crunchy breadcrumbs were the perfect accompaniment, but a bit more foliage would have been nice. Michael had zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta, with crispy tomato skins on the side.

Michael's main course was "hand made polenta pasta with borlotti ragu, baby silverbeet, Roman cauliflower and truffled Pecorino" ($27). A tasty mix of textures with silky-soft pasta. I had "hand filled triangles of pumpkin and ricotta served with pumpkin puree, butter and sage sauce" ($27). The mathematician in me protested that these weren't really triangles, but the gastronome was well satisfied: soft sweet filling contrasted with garnishes of sharp salty cornflakes and orange rind, all made especially indulgent with melted butter.

We had plenty of room for dessert, and a sly look at portions served near us confirmed that we had plenty of room for a dessert each. On the left is my "traditional Italian style Zucotto served with chocolate sorbet and vin santo sauce" ($14). The innocent ice-creamy centre with lollyish glace fruit pieces was wrapped in an extremely alcoholic layer of pink sponge cake. The chocolate sorbet was a strong cocoa hit with a hint of coffee, and not a drop of milk or cream to be tasted. A new and very adult summer dessert experience for me! Michael picked the daily special, a tart with grapes, custard and pistachio ice cream on the side.

It was certainly worth visiting SOS to sample the upper end of Melbourne cuisine for the first time. But as vegetarians rather than seafood-lovers, the increased quality of ingredients and creativity in the menu doesn't quite match the increase in price and decrease in portion size. For my next birthday, I'll remind myself how many Melbourne restaurants offer fabulous meat-free feasts for under $25.

Edit 21/07/07: SOS has since closed but creator Paul Mathis has opened a new restaurant, the 100 Mile Cafe, in the same location.

Address:Level 3, Melbourne Central, 211 La Trobe Street, Melbourne
Ph: 9654 0808
Fully licensed
Price: entrees $17-21, veg mains $27-29, desserts $13-18

Friday, December 08, 2006

December 6, 2006: Koko Black

Instead of preparing dessert for mum and Carol, I thought that a visit to Koko Black would be an impressive way of introducing them to my neighbourhood. We arrived at about 9:45pm, and even on this Wednesday night the Carlton chapter was chaotically busy. We joined the waiting list and were shown to a table within about 10 minutes. Despite the demands made on them, the young staff were efficient and more than friendly; they were entertaining.

Pictured above is the Belgian Spoil that Michael and I shared: little tastes of chocolate cake, shortbread, two Belgian chocolates, chocolate mousse and chocolate ice-cream ($10). All were delicious: Michael particularly loved the bittersweet, cocoa-powdered chocolate and my pick would probably be the mousse. Mum and Carol shared a molten chocolate pudding, with a crisp and decorative wafer topping and fizzy-sour raspberry sorbet on the side. They were into it long before I had my camera poised: those sisters are a bunch of fast eaters, something I have certainly not inherited. Still, they were kind enough to offer Michael and I a taste before it all disappeared.

(You can read my previous posts about Koko Black here and here.)


December 6, 2006: Pad Thai

My mum arrived from Brisbane this week for her annual summer visit to Victoria, where her four sisters live. Thus, on Wednesday night, she and next-sibling-up Carol turned up at our house for dinner. First up was lots of chatter, the exchange of a few Christmas and birthday gifts, and a brief tour of the flat. Next was Pad Thai! Though it's probably considered one of the less adventurous options on a Thai takeaway menu, it's one of my favourites and almost always available meat-free. I love the textural variety of silky salty noodles, crunchy veges, crushed peanuts and a squeeze of sour lime over the top. On a good day tofu adds an extra smooth-but-chewy mouthfeel.

And this was such a day! Michael and I chopped the veges and prepared the sauce before our guests arrived, and the subsequent wok-work doesn't take hosts from guests for too long. Setting out the wok, bean sprouts, coriander and peanuts for everyone to serve themselves allowed for the wildly differing appetites and fondness for coriander amongst us. While the sauce was just right for our audience, I'll probably increase the quantity next time round: it has a stronger chilli-tamarind kick than the most of the takeaways I've eaten.

Pad Thai
(adapted from the recipe at this website)

375g rice stick noodles
1/3 cup peanut oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
250g firm tofu, cut into small cubes
2 teaspoons tamarind concentrate
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon ketjap manis
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon sambal ulek/chilli paste
a handful of green beans, trimmed and sliced bite-size
1 large carrot, sliced into matchsticks
1 red capsicum, sliced
3 shallots, sliced
2 big handfuls of bean sprouts
1 handful roasted peanuts
Fresh coriander to garnish

In a large saucepan or heat-proof bowl, pour boiling water over the noodles, stir, and then cover for up to 10 minutes. When the noodles are soft, drain them in a colander.

Whisk together the tamarind, soy sauce, ketjap manis, sugar and sambal ulek in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the wok and add a bit of the oil. Pour in the eggs and swish them around to form a thin omlette. Flip over when it's holding together and lightly browned on the underside. It doesn't matter if it breaks, just that it's cooked through. Transfer the omlette to a plate and slice into small wide ribbons.

Pour the remainder of the oil into the wok and then add the tofu. Stir it continuously until the outside is crisp and golden. After a few minutes, remove the tofu onto absorbant paper, and pour all but two tablespoons of the oil out of the wok.

Next into the wok are the noodles. Try to evenly coat them in oil, then introduce the sauce that you mixed and set aside. Add the beans, carrot, capsicum, shallots and tofu, stirring until just heated through but still fresh and crunchy.

Serve the noodles topped with bean sprouts, peanuts and coriander.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

100 posts in 123 days

It's been a fun four months discovering the edible side of our newly adopted home, Melbourne! Here are the highlights so far:

Favourite breakfast: Michael votes for Ici, and I wish I'd ordered his crepe at wwwash

Favourite vegetarian restaurant: Moroccan Soup Bar

Favourite omni restaurant: Los Amates for Michael; Borsch, Vodka and Tears for me

Favourite dessert: roast hazel and macadamia chocolate meringue torte at Soulmama

Favourite new recipes: Michael's savory harira soup and my Bollywood biscotti

Favourite old recipes: Spiced chickpeas for Michael; I've made multiple batches of the I-can't-believe-it's-not-meat pies

Unlikely to be repeated any time soon: the delicious but labour-intensive vege stock

Likely to be repeated (but we hope not): several incidents of putting the oven on the wrong setting, resulting in a burnt top, uncooked base, and takeaway food all round.

December 9, 2006: Falafel Kitchen

Since I was out shopping madly for Cindy's birthday present, I left her in charge of the shopping for dinner. Obviously unaccustomed to such responsibility, Cindy wandered out of Safeway at 6:15 expecting to pick up salad for dinner from the fruit shop. Alas, it closed at 6 and a return to Safeway was too much to bear, leaving us no option but to head out for a quick meal at Falafel Kitchen.

We first experienced the fill your own falafel style at Maoz in Paris, and we'd been very impressed. Luckily, Cindy managed to find Falafel Kitchen on Lygon Street before she'd even found a place for us to live.

I filled my large pocket up with as many falafel balls as possible and slathered everything with three different sauces (hommus, eggplant and chilli), leaving me with only a tiny bit of space for a few of the salad options. I think Cindy's (pictured) was a more balanced meal, including pickled turnip, greens and potato salad along with her falafel balls all in a 'mini-pocket'. I'm sure there are better falafel places in Melbourne, but as far as convenience and choice go, Falafel Kitchen's going to be hard to beat for fast, lazy dinners.

Update (29/6/09): Falafel Kitchen has been gone from Lygon Street for some time now. It's sadly missed.

Adress: 175 Lygon Street, Carlton
Phone: 9348 1111
Price: Mini-pocket: $4.95, Large pocket: $7.95

Sunday, December 03, 2006

December 3, 2006: Parippu dhal and green bean salad

On Sunday we had a pub lunch with Michael's mixed netball team lined up, so we wanted to be prepared with a not-too-oily dinner in the evening. We pulled out a dhal recipe that we received during an Indian cooking course at Mondo Organics last year, and then looked for an Indian-style salad to munch on the side. Along with a bit of home-made flat bread from the depths of the freezer, this was a thoroughly satisfying meal. The common ingredients of black mustard seeds, green chilli and coconut meant that the dhal and salad weren't fighting for flavour domination, and the crisp cool texture of the salad was a great contrast to the thick soft lentil soup. This is a low-fuss combination worth repeating!

Green bean salad
(from The Low-Fat Indian Vegetarian Cookbook by Mridula Baljekar)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 cup green beans, trimmed and chopped into bite-size pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup dessicated coconut
2/3 cup boiling water
A bunch of radishes, thinly sliced
1 green chilli pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon coriander leaves, chopped

Heat the oil and add the mustard seeds, then the beans and salt. Give it a stir, reduce the heat, cover the pan and cook for 6-8 minutes.

While the beans are cooking, soak the coconut in the water for 5 minutes, drain, and add to the beans. Mix well, remove from the heat and cool.

Mix in the rest of the ingredients and let the flavours develop for half an hour or more.

Parippu dhal
(from Dominique Rizzo of Mondo Organics)

250g red lentils
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tomato, roughly chopped
1 can coconut milk
2 green chillies, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
10 curry leaves

Put the lentils into a saucepan with 2 cups of water, on medium heat. Add the onion, tomato, coconut milk, chillies, turmeric, ground cumin and ground coriander and bring the lot to the boil. Allow the mixture to simmer until the lentils are cooked to mushiness, adding a bit more water if it gets too dry.

Heat the oil in a separate pan, add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds, cover the pan and watch 'em pop! Add the curry leaves, and after a minute or two pour them into the dhal. Season with salt and continue to cook until the mixture completely disintegrates: you'll know when it's there.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

December 2, 2006: Sugardough

Michael and I spent a few hours of Saturday morning Christmas shopping in Brunswick, and hit Lygon St for lunch at about 1:30pm. We had I Carusi in mind, but suspected it would be shut and didn't know the way to Holmes St anyway. When we instead encountered the much-blogged-about Sugardough (here, here and here) we knew we had to try it out. The small interior was crowded with people lining up for their share of the baked treats, but we had no problem finding a little table off to the side. From this vantage point we ducked and weaved our heads around those standing for their takeaway orders, checking out the breakfast menu behind us, the display case of paninis and quiches, the oven of pies and pasties, and the blackboard of specials. We were spoiled for choice, with many meat-free options, and I tried not to look too carefully at the assorted biscuits, cakes and sweet pastries. (Don't fret: you've seen the first photo and you must know this'll end well.)

The atmosphere of Sugardough is trendy yet comfortable, very shabby chic, though the Supertramp soundtrack was rather incongruous. It really is impossible not to be transfixed by the display of sweets at the counter (go on, click on the picture above and take a closer look). Even so, I ordered a pumpkin and cumin pastie, which arrived with a small tub of home-made-looking tomato relish ($3.40). There was a high pastry-to-filling ratio, with an outer that was only slightly flaky. The filling had a uniform but not completely smooth texture, which wasn't too sweet, and had just the right cumin edge to remind me of an Indian curry. Michael's pick from the board of specials, Iranian split pea soup with fresh herbs and yoghurt ($7), took a little longer to arrive but was definitely worth the wait, as far as he was concerned. It was complex in flavour and texture, with a surprising but welcome taste of mint. In spite of the delay, Michael's plate was empty before mine!

Without any prompting from me (I don't think I was making wistful looks), Michael suggested we take home a little sweet each for afternoon tea. Cheap Eats 2006 recommends the brownies as one of the top three in Melbourne, so my decision was made. Michael didn't take much time in choosing a blueberry and ricotta pastry for himself. I carefully carried them home on the tram, nestled on a tray in a paper bag, and it was several hours before we even considered eating them.

Michael's morsel had a lot of buttery shortcrust pastry going on, but only a few blueberries. The soft, cloud-like ricotta had a nice tart edge created by a smidgin of lemon rind, I suspect. My brownie had just the texture I love: moist and fudgey inside, with an outer that starts crisp then gives way to chewy. The taste was super-sweet and short on cocoa, in my opinion, and yes, that is a marshmallow melted on top! The last quarter was almost an effort to eat, so rare for me and desserts.

Sugardough is an absolute winner on variety and value, and our mixed success with the sweets won't diminish my enthusiasm to try more.

Address: 163 Lygon St, Brunswick East
Ph: 9380 4060
Price: lunch $4.60-$10, sweets $1-$24


Thursday, November 30, 2006

November 29, 2006: Thaila Thai

Tracy from Brisbane was visiting Cindy's lab group so, as with her last trip, Cindy gathered up a posse of ex-Brisbanite ecologists and hangers-on for after work drinks. Those of us with stamina ended up dining at Thaila Thai in Brunswick East - a giant two-storey restaurant with a tiny, open kitchen by the front door and a bevy of svelte, androgynous Thai waitstaff. Turning up unannounced with a group of seven seemed a risky plan to me, particularly when confronted with the hubbub around the kitchen, but we were cheerily ushered upstairs where there were still a few tables spare.

The menu is simple and effective - a selection of stir-frys and curries and a choice of meats (plus tofu!) to go with them. Throw in the optional extras (cashews etc) and a fairly stark looking one page becomes a mix-and-match sensation with dozens of options . Mike and Jo-Lyn had visited previously and Cindy followed their recommendations (Mike: "It's so good you'll... you'll wet yourself") and ordered a Pad Thai, while I couldn't say no to a red curry (both with tofu). Cindy's pad thai was a tiny bit burnt, but otherwise tremendous. My curry was wonderful - a wide array of fresh vegies (pumpkin, potato, broccoli, zucchini, capsicum and, surprisingly successfully, asparagus), some slightly crispy tofu and plenty of delicious spicy sauce in which to drown the rice. The other meals around the table looked equally impressive and by the time we stood up to leave, our earlier plans for dessert at GeloBar seemed a tad optimistic. Ah well, it's good excuse for another venture to upper Lygon Street to sample some more of Brunswick East's wares.

Address: 82 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
Phone: 9387 0659
Price: veg mains $12
BYO only

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

November 26, 2006: Lord of the Fries

I have been wanting to visit Lord of the Fries since I first saw it listed on the Vegetarian Network Victoria website. This Sunday afternoon offered the opportunity, preceeded by a walk from Carlton to the CBD, which diminished my chip-guilt. Lord of the Fries is essentially a burger stand opposite Flinders St station, and it seems to be designed with me in mind. First, it's 100% vegetarian. Second, they offer a multitude of condiments with their chips. Third, they sell miniture burgers as well as regular-sized, because they know that some of us like chips more than burgers.

Between us, Michael and I almost demolished a box of chips with Belgian-style topping (mayonnaise). The chips were tasty and soft in the centre, though not as crunchy on the outside as those at Grill'd. The thick mayo is actually on a par with home made, far superior to Kraft or any other supermarket brand. The burgers are like vegetarian Big Macs, though the soy protein patties might be beefier. The buns are doughy and sweet, and my mini-burger had the distinctive combo of pickles, ketchup and mustard. Michael order a spicy one and he commented that it was pretty hot. My big gripe is the lack of foliage: even Macca's include some limp iceberg lettuce and I would have enjoyed a generous handful of leafy greens to cut through my sauce sandwich.

Our teenage afternoon was completed with a visit to the Tezuka manga exhibition at the National Gallery. I can foresee LOTF cravings in my future, and indulging will assuage my conscience for cruelty but not calories.

Edit 02/06/07: I snuck over to LOTF for a burger today and their menu proclaims NOW WITH LETTUCE! Yep, it's limp Macca's-style iceberg lettuce but I'm happy to see it there amongst the multiple condiments.

Address: corner of Elizabeth and Flinders streets
Price: burgers $2.50/4.50, fries $4/4.50

Sunday, November 26, 2006

November 21, 2006: Walnut Pesto Pasta

The recipe is another result from our typical weekday search for a recipe that'll give us both dinner and easily-packed leftovers for lunch. It's called Ziti with Walnut Pesto, Zucchini, and Red Pepper, from Ken Charney's Bold Vegetarian Chef cookbook. Michael bought a little more than the required walnuts for the pesto, so I made extra and we tested it out on crackers while we cooked the pasta: it was a little too sweet for me and the raw garlic was really intense. I'd reduce the maple syrup and roast the garlic if I made this again just for snacking. I used the pasta I bought from Mediterranean Wholesalers a while ago instead of the prescribed ziti, but otherwise stuck faithfully to Charney's recipe. In this context the sweetness and garlic of the pesto became more subtle, creating a light but creamy coating on the pasta. The zucchini and red capsicum were just the right vegetable choices, and in the future I reckon I'll reduce the quantity of pasta and up the veges a lot. We split this into a dinner and two lunches each and I thoroughly enjoyed it fresh, re-heated and at room temperature, making it the ideal weeknight meal!

Walnut pesto
(from the Bold Vegetarian Chef by Ken Charney)

In a food processor, combine 3/4 cup (75g) of walnut pieces, 3 garlic cloves, 1/4 cup of coarsely chopped parsley, 1/4 cup of olive oil, a tablespoon of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of maple syrup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Walnut pesto pasta

(also from the Bold Vegetarian Chef by Ken Charney)

500g pasta
1/2 cup (60g) pine nuts
1 large red capsicum, cut into strips
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 zucchini, sliced into half-moons
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup walnut pesto (recipe above)
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
fresh basil leaves, to garnish
grated parmesan cheese, to garnish

Bring 4L of salted water to the boil, add the pasta and stir often. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes (or according to the recommended time on the packet) and drain.

While the pasta is cooking, toast the pine nuts in a frypan until lightly browned. Set aside and use the frypan to cook the red capsicum in the olive oil. When the capsicum is soft and starting to blacken around the edges add the zucchini and cook for a further couple of minutes until the zucchini is tender.

Transfer the veges to the pasta saucepan. Boil the stock in the frypan until it has reduced in volume by half. Stir in the pesto and cook for another minute. Mix together the pasta, veges, chickpeas and pine nuts in the pasta saucepan and fold through the sauce and lemon juice. Season to taste and serve garnished with the basil leaves and parmesan.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

November 19, 2006: Mario's

Another morning, another serve of eggs. Having visitors is a really fine excuse to dine out every meal of the day, and Cindy and I took Doof to Mario's Cafe on Brunswick Street. Mario's has been around for over twenty years and, apparently, was the first to bring the all day breakfast to Fitzroy. It's maintained a good reputation as a breakfast place, so I was looking forward to it.

It's a strange little place - a completely out of focus tv on one wall, posters promoting Mario's 20th anniversary wine and gift-packs on another and concert-posters covering the entryway. Despite the generally casual atmosphere, the waiters stroll around in black trousers and waistcoats, it's all very odd.

The menu is full of breakfast standards, without too many fancy options. Doof and I had both got a taste for poached eggs at Cafe Varda the day before, and we both ordered them again (me with hollandaise, and he without). Cindy's anti-egg agenda continued and she opted for mushrooms, hash-browns, avocado and tomato with toast. I really enjoyed my eggs - poached to perfection and with a sauce that wasn't too thick or gluggy. I'm pretty sure Doof was well satisfied with his eggs - they were demolished very efficiently. Cindy was a bit less enthused by her meal - all of the components were tasty enough, but it seemed like something she could have easily prepared herself. That's what you get for skipping out on the eggs I guess.

Address: 303 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Ph: 9417 3343
Price: Breakfast from $7 to $15


Thursday, November 23, 2006

November 18-19, 2006: Johnston St Hispanic Fiesta

After an hour or two of recuperation and a lunch of strawberries, Doof, Michael and I hit the Johnston St Hispanic Fiesta. Doof was psyched for dancing in the street and we arrived in time for the last few minutes of a salsa dance class on the main stage. Michael and I were feeling more timid and, more importantly, I was hungry. We walked the length of the festival to check out our options and made our initial selections.

Michael and Doof both bought bean-stuffed soft tacos. These were good fresh fare as far as stall food goes: rice and salad and deep-fry-free.

I lined up for some corn cakes: choc-full of kernels with just enough batter to bind them together, and some crunchy shallots too.

After all that eatin', it was time for some sangria at the incredibly crowded Spanish Club. After all that sangria, it was time to soak up the alcohol with some more food!

Michael and I hung around the Los Amates stall, but by this time (6:30 or 7pm) they were selling their last stores and referring customers back to their restaurant. We took some of the nachos, which were crunchy and fresh-tasting, even though they were essentially the dregs of the stall. (The least scary "cheese sauce" I've ever encountered!) I also bought a large cup of lemonade a few stalls down, which was the ideal thirst-quencher in the late-day sun: very tart and not overly sweet. Doof had some sort of savoury crepe, which was fantastic. I have no idea what it was flavoured with and wish I knew.

Although we stayed in the area for several more hours, I didn't get a chance to return for Hispanic sweets on Saturday night. Doof and Michael were keen enough to return on Sunday afternoon for churros. Naturally I was twice as keen!

They were the perfect festival dessert: deep-fried to crispness with a sweet doughy centre, squirting lolly-ish jam... I wanted to save the chocolate 'til last, yet had to eat it straight away to minimise the mess on my fingers. Heaven in the mouth and almost immediately heavy and regrettable in the stomach. How else could you possibly stop eating them? (Only if you'd spent all your pocket money.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

November 18, 2006: Prahran Market and some more BVnT

After breakfast we browsed the Chapel St shops. Doof and Michael bought the only shirts they tried on: meanwhile I selected four different items, sending the shop assistant back for a second size of one of them, eventually rejected them all and bought a Devo figurine instead. However I could hardly be a picky customer once we hit the Prahran Market. We bought punnets of strawberries and raspberries within seconds of entering, and they proved to be the cheapest (99c), sweetest, juiciest strawberries so far this season. The charming French man at the Monsieur Truffe stand courteously laid out the origins of all his cocoa products, along with toothpicks and samples. Doof and I didn't need too much coaxing to choose a small packet each, and as we turned to go, Monsieur Truffe urged us to refrigerate our treasures since they're preservative free.

As we looked over the fresh produce and organic dairy Michael lamented that we didn't have a recipe to shop for, but it was a hot day and we wouldn't be home for hours. Instead he and Doof satisfied themselves with sampling all the cheese and olives on offer in the deli section. When Michael encountered an Indian chutney, mixed with yoghurt and smeared onto crackers, he needed a jar of his own. We coveted the fine and generally overpriced goods at the Essential Ingredient, and I bought a little bottle of elderflower softdrink. It was deliciously flowery and refreshing as we hit the hot dry air outside.

We continued to cover the shops until we hit Borsch, Vodka and Tears. None of us had room to eat, nor did they have room to feed us, so we sat at the bar and perused the lengthy drinks menu. Doof quickly picked out a cognac/vodka, served in a balloon glass and warmed over a tumbler of hot water. Michael ordered cherry vodka, and I had a hot lemon, honey and ginger drink. All were excellent, though the entire Polish experience didn't really fit with the hot and slightly dusty day outside... Michael and I were just too keen to share the highlights of Melbourne dining with our guest.

(Read about our previous visit to Borsch, Vodka and Tears.)

November 18, 2006: Cafe Varda

Update 31/12/2014: Cafe Varda has closed, replaced by Luck Thai.

Our vague plan to entertain Doof on Saturday morning was to go for a wander along Chapel Street. The first step, however, was to find some breakfast. A quick scan of Cheap Eats gave us a few options, and the description of Cafe Varda as "a comfy slipper in the heart of stilletto land" struck a chord. The menu and setting were very much comfy slipper material, so much so that I was slightly concerned that the food would be cheap and greasy. It was certainly cheap, but the chef soon convinced us that it would make our tastebuds "explode" and we settled in.

The chef's enthusiasm was infectious and when Doof ordered a short-black, he rolled up his sleeves and promised to make a special, velvet coffee - like real Italians drink (he even made one for himself to prove the point). Doof was suitably impressed, although after the build-up he really couldn't have reacted any other way.

The menu focussed on the basics, with a few vegetarian options. Doof and I both chose the Ant special: a poached egg served on a tomato and avocado bruschetta with pesto, while Cindy opted for the tastebud-exploding vegetarian melt: oven-baked veges, tomato, pesto, marinated mushrooms, cheese and chutney melted on to a huge soft piece of white bread. Everything in the Ant Special was amazing - the avocado was fresh and tasty and made the bruschetta about a million times better than plain tomato bruschetta, the egg was poached to perfection and the pesto topped it all off. Both Doof and I were finished in no time. Cindy took longer over her melt, but she assures me that her tastebuds did in fact explode.

It was a fine breakfast, made special by our gregarious host. Trust me, it's well worth seeking out Cafe Varda instead of one of the more stylishly decorated and expensive places along Toorak Road.

Address: 69 Davis Avenue, South Yarra
Phone: 9867 6444
Price: $4 - $15

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

November 17, 2006: Revisiting Polly and the Vegie Bar

On Friday, a work-day, Michael and I were obliged to leave Doof to his own devices. To make up for it in the evening we devised a dinner-and-cocktails plan on Brunswick St in Fitzroy. We unintentionally picked the same two venues that Krusty and Jason introduced us to on our visit to Melbourne last year. Admittedly it's not such a huge coincidence, given (a) Polly and the Vegie Bar are both a lot of fun, and (b) both Doof and Krusty are vegetarian, too.

So, a few more samples from the menus:

Since we didn't have a booking, we figured that entering Polly early in the evening would give us a better chance at a table and we did indeed score some pretty armchairs towards the back. My first cocktail was an S&M: "mandarins crushed with lime, mint and apricot syrup, shaken with Havana Anejo Blanco and mandarin liqueur, topped with soda." I also ordered a bowl of shoe-string fries with sweet chilli aioli to share. This combination was a flavour explosion: an intensely alcoholic apricot and mint fizz with sweet-hot and salty all in one mouthful. I calmed down, eating and drinking in turns, after that. Loved the fresh apricot pieces in amongst the ice, and struggled to fish them out genteel-ly with my flimsy plastic straw. Spilt ice instead.

When it was eventually time for round two, I was ready for dessert: a plate of fairy bread and Grand Marnier truffles to share and a Rocky Road cocktail just for me. I'm a little perplexed by the portioning here: surely the truffles are the more expensive part of this dish and we received 5 for $4. I'm not complaining at all, just wondering why the powers at Polly then gave us half a slice of bread's worth of the sprinkled stuff? It seems ludicrous that the other half a slice of white bread would languish in the kitchen until someone else wants to revisit their childhood. Both components were excellent, really, and the truffles were probably prepared on site: there were tell-tale bits of solid chocolate that I doubt would appear in "professional" ganache.

My Rocky Road cocktail consisted of "Marshmallow Vodka, shaken up with Chambord, Cherry Brandy, Chocolate Liqueur, Frangelico and a lil’ dash of soy milk, finished with crushed hazelnuts and vodka soaked marshmallows". It was dessertingly good, but not really my thing: I love the texture contrast that nuts give to food but I don't want them floating in my drink. I don't love marshmallows either. Maybe now you're asking "So why did you order a 'rocky road' if you don't want nuts or marshmallow in your cocktail?" I was asking it by then. I guess I just wanted a sweet reason to order the fairy bread.

By this time I'd well and truly had my fill of alcohol and we wandered down to the Vegie Bar to eat something more substantial. It was pumping, and we were tucked at the end of a communal bench, right next to the kitchen. No biggy. Doof ordered a tofu burger, Michael and I had pizzas. All supersize considering the price (less than $10 each, including non-alcoholic drinks). The waitress must have misheard my order over the din because the wrong pizza turned up for me, but I didn't mention it 'cause what I got looked pretty good. A bit overboard on the cheese, but who whinges about cheap and cheesy pizza when they're inebriated?

As we exited the Vegie Bar, it was only 9pm and our mouthes could consume no more. Instead we fed our eyes and ears at the Nova Cinema before calling it a night.

(You can also read about our previous visits to Polly and the Vegie Bar.)

Monday, November 20, 2006

November 16, 2006: Dinner for Doof

To welcome our Bris-friend Doof to Melbourne's fair shores, a home-prepared Indian meal was necessary. With Krusty, Jason and Sharon included on the invite list, we had to upscale from 'meal' to 'feast'. Luckily, Cindy and I are well-practiced in the art of Indian feast-making and we called upon some previous successes: palak paneer and mango rice pudding. To make sure we had enough, we decided to add some roti bread (picked up ready-to-fry at IGA) and broccoli pilau to the menu.

Broccoli Pilau (from Mridula Baljekar's low-fat Indian vegetarian cookbook)

Wash about a cup of basmati rice and soak it in cold water for about 20 minutes.

In a good sized saucepan, fry a teaspoon of fennel seeds, half a dozen cardamom pods, 1/2 a teaspoon of peppercorns, a bay leaf and a cinammon stick in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. After about 30 seconds, add a finely chopped onion and a couple of chopped green chillies and fry until the onions have browned slightly.

Add a teaspoon of turmeric and the rice. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes and add about 3 cups of broccoli florets. Keep stir-frying for another minute or so and then add two cups of hot water. Bring to the boil and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes or until the rice is cooked.

Everyone was very enthusiastic about the meal and there were at least a few trips back for seconds. The palak paneer is a sure-fire winner and it went down pretty well with the bread and pilau, while Cindy's dessert was as fantastic as last time. To be honest, I was too excited to see Doof again to really pay much attention to the food. At lunch the next day I found the spinach a bit gritty and got annoyed with the remnants of the cinammon stick, but on the night it was a roaring success.

November 15, 2006: Egg and 'bacon' sandwich

On Wednesday night I put together a slap-dash but satisfying dinner of egg and soy bacon sandwiches. As I previously mentioned, I have a love-hate relationship with soy bacon: it really doesn't hold up against the taste and texture of real bacon, but I still enjoy eating it occasionally as I enjoyed the occasional KFC burger in my pre-veg life. On Turkish bread, I layered soy bacon, fried egg, sliced tomato, black pepper, lettuce and Worcestershire sauce. Note that standard Worcestershire sauce isn't vegetarian: I try to buy the fish-free kind, but sometimes resort to the more convenient Holbrooks.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

November 14, 2006: Cindy's careless cannelloni

On Tuesday night I improvised a cannelloni style meal, with the purpose of making a dinner that would use up some lasagne sheets and provide leftovers for lunch. As you can see from the picture, lasagne sheets do not make pretty, closed pillows and actually created a bit of a mess all round (this is a cold next-day one, which was at least a neat square). Still, both Michael and I loved the flavour: with a couple of tweaks and some proper cannelloni tubes, I'd cook this for guests.

Cindy's careless cannelloni

Filling: Michael peeled, chopped and roasted some pumpkin with a splash of olive oil. It'll take roughly half an hour in the oven at 180 degrees: the aim is to get the pumpkin a bit caramelised and soft enough to mash. Then I transferred the pumpkin to a bowl and, you guessed it, mashed it up. To the bowl, I added three huge tablespoons of quark (from the Collingwood market), a small packet of pine nuts that I'd toasted in a frypan, some leftover sliced mushrooms, and some ripped up fresh basil leaves.

Cannelloni-ing: Next I filled up the frypan that I used to toast the pine nuts with hot water and cooked the lasagne sheets in batches. I didn't cook them until they were completely soft, just until they were pliable. Then I'd plonk one into a baking dish, spoon a line of filling down the middle, and use another sheet to roll around the filling. In an ideal situation, you could probably fill up cannelloni tubes without pre-cooking them, then bake the lot for longer to ensure that they've softened enough.

Sauce: I briefly fried a few cloves of garlic in butter, then added a huge can of crushed tomatoes. After it had reduced a bit, I added some more ripped up fresh basil and some chopped parsley. I'll omit the parsley in the future because I thought its flavour overpowered the basil, pumpkin and pine nuts. (They're really the key combination here, I think!) The sauce gets poured over the cannelloni and cheese is sprinkled on top (leftover parmesan for us). Then it all goes in the oven until the cheese is melted and the pasta's cooked to your liking.

November 13, 2006: Gopal's II

Before visiting the famous Spiegeltent on Monday night, Michael and I revisited Gopal's for another quick and cheap meal. He ordered the enormous chef's special again, and this time I had the concession special: a kofta ball with green salad and rice for $5.90. This kofta was enormous, spicier and more substantial than any I've eaten before. I couldn't finish even this down-sized Krishna meal!

(You can see our last visit here.)


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

November 11-12, 2006: Tapas

Our swag of goodies from the Collingwood markets had me pulled in all sorts of directions for the rest of the weekend's eating. Once I'd hit upon it, I become set on the idea of preparing a series of tapas-style tasting plates for the evening. Michael was feeling lazier, but kindly chipped in anyway.

Round 1: strips of home-roasted capsicum with Holy Goat silk cheese, torn basil leaves, black pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The capsicum and cheese were a perfect pair, the cheese being as smooth as the name suggests and very mild in taste. The balsamic added the acidity it needed, as did the tiny glass of iced limoncello I had on the side. A fabulous start, inspiring me to return to the kitchen for...

Round 2: shitake mushrooms fried in a little butter, flavoured with garlic, chilli and parsley. I intended to buy Swiss brown mushrooms but was careless at the shops (wish we'd hit the markets before the mushroom stand closed). I found the shitakes too rubbery in texture for this dish, but the flavour was spot-on.

Round 3: white bean and roasted garlic spread on toasted rye and caraway sourdough, with baby spinach leaves on the side. The dip comes from The Bold Vegetarian Chef and it's made by processing a head of roasted garlic, 2 cups of cooked white beans, 2 teaspoons of ground cumin, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, 3 or 4 dashes of Tabasco sauce, 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley and basil, salt, pepper, and a bit of milk to thin it out. I found the fresh herbs a bit overpowering, and a bad clash with the caraway seeds in the bread. We'll know what to do on our next attempt!

By this time Michael and I were well fed and not inclined to make our final dish. We saved it up for lunch on Sunday:

Round 4: Steamed aparagus with lemon dressing and a sprinkle of parmesan. Sensational, especially with a bit of bread to mop up the leftover dressing. You can make the dressing by whisking together the juice of one lemon, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, 1/4 of a teaspoon of pepper, and a 1/4 of a teaspoon of nutmeg. (Kudos to Kurma Dasa and World Vegetarian Food for that recipe.)


November 11, 2006: Collingwood Children's Farm Farmers' Market

In the past few months, Cindy and I have been slowly visiting Melbourne's many food markets. Saturday dawned sunny and warm and a quick check of our Cheap Eats Guide informed us that we'd luckily hit the right Saturday for the farmers' market at the Collingwood Children's Farm. A glance at the website for the on-site cafe was enough to convince me that we should head off straight away and have breakfast once we were there.

The first thing we noticed when we finally made it to the Children's Farm after the long walk up Johnston Street was the greenery: trees, grass and little farm plots everywhere.

Melbourne seems to specialise in these inner-city havens - at both CERES and the Children's Farm it's remarkably easy to forget that you're basically in the middle of a city of almost 4 million people.

The first order of business was breakfast. Cindy had snacked before our departure, and settled for a lemon poppy seed muffin, whereas I'd starved myself in anticipation of the 'grass green breakfast': poached eggs with spinach, mushrooms, avocado, tomato, sourdough toast and pesto.

What a breakfast! The veges were fresh and delicious, the pesto was as tasty as anything we've made at home, the eggs were perfectly runny and there was enough toast to mop everything up. The only problem were the chickens peering over my shoulder - they roam free around the cafe, which makes for a nice farm atmosphere, but adds to the competition for space.

After polishing off brekkie, we had a quick stroll around the first part of the farm. As well as the roaming chickens, there were a few different chicken pens and a little cage full of baby chicks. Chicken-tastic!

After the chickens, we finally made our way to the market part of the farm. By 10:30 in the morning, a few of the stalls had already started to close, but there was still a big crowd of people wandering around the remaning stalls. My enthusiasm got the better of me and after we'd inspected the first few stalls I'd already picked up some fresh asparagus, a punnet of cherries and some goat's cheese. I calmed myself down and we wandered the rest of the stalls picking up a few other delicacies (a loaf of rye and caraway sourdough, quark, nectarines, limoncello and a box of citrus-twist tea) and soaking up the sunshine.

Following a lap of the markets, we went on an exploration of the rest of the farm - paddocks housing goats, sheep, cows, horses and donkeys seemed to go on forever. We got up close with a few of the animals and I was tempted to push the kids out of the way to get my turn to feed the goats and horses. But I patiently waited and eventually got my turn.

Laden down with our bounty, we did a quick tour of the fete that was on at the Sophia Mundi Steiner school. It was enjoyable enough, but the heat and the walking caught up with us and we caught the bus home to admire our treats.

The Farm Cafe
St. Heliers Street, Abbotsford
Phone: 9415 6581
Price: $7-$15