Tuesday, October 31, 2006

October 29, 2006: Black bean tofu tacos

I ate lots of candy during and after the Halloween party, resulting in a craving for something fresh to eat and plenty of excess energy with which to prepare it. We had a can of black beans in the cupboard that Michael picked up at Piedemontes, so we searched through our recipe books for something new and Mexican-themed to try. Eventually we picked out black bean tofu tacos from Ken Charney's The Bold Vegetarian Chef, extending ourselves to some salsa too.

The salsa recipe is inspired by one in Kurma Dasa's World Vegetarian Food, my main alteration being to use canned chipotles and half a teaspoon of their abodo sauce. The abodo sauce adds a fantastic smoky flavour to everything it touches but packs a mighty chili punch, so its use is always a delicate balance. The black bean tofu taco filling also had a bit of bite: thus the accompanying salad of iceberg lettuce, red capsicum and avocado was a fresh and cooling contrast. I dressed the salad with a bit of pepper and lots of lemon juice, and washed it all down with a Corona (with another lemon wedge floating in the bottle neck, of course). Michael and I were both thoroughly satisfied by this meal, and we'll certainly be making it again in the future.

Easy-Bake Salsa
(inspired by New Mexico Chili and Tomato Salsa in Vegetarian World Food by Kurma Dasa)

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees. Mix a 400g can of crushed tomatoes, one finely chopped chipotle, half a teaspoon of abodo sauce, a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of brown sugar in an oven-proof dish. (Substitute other chilli options as convenient.) Bake for about half an hour, until the mixture thickens and caramelises slightly. Stir regularly as it bakes, scraping the darkened bits back into the salsa.

Black Bean Tofu Tacos
(based on a recipe from The Bold Vegetarian Chef by Ken Charney)

650g tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 large green chilies
1 large onion, sliced finely
2 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons raw sugar
1 teaspoon salt
400g can black beans
300g firm silken tofu, cut into cubes
6-8 tortillas

Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the core. Place the tomato halves cut side down on a tray and grill on a rack about 30cm from the heat source, until the skins blacken. Once they're cool, pull off the skins and coarsely chop, keeping all the juice.

Dry-roast the garlic and chilies in a frypan. Take the garlic out when the skin gets brown spots, and then the chilies after the skin's blackening all over. Cool and peel, remove the chili stems and finely chop them. Mush up the garlic and chilies with a mortar and pestle.

Saute the onion in the olive oil until it's soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic/chili mix, along with the oregano, cumin seeds, sugar and salt. Stir it all up for about a minute, then add the beans and tomatoes (and all of the tomato juice). Keep cooking until you're happy with the thickness of the mix.

Gently stir in the tofu and simmer for a couple of minutes. While this is happening heat up the tortillas, either in a hot frypan or microwave. To serve, spoon the bean tofu mixture onto the totillas and roll them up. Garnish with salsa and get some fresh salad going on the side.

Monday, October 30, 2006

October 28, 2006: Kake Di Hatti

On Saturday night we agreed to meet up with Mike and Jo-Lyn for dinner, before Jo-Lyn got into some serious study and the rest of us costumed up for a Halloween party and stuffed ourselves with candy (or was the latter bit just me?). Unfortunately my first suggestion, Animal Orchestra, was closed. Instead Michael and I had our first experience of Kake Di Hatti.

This restaurant isn't glamourous or even tastefully decorated, but the clamour of voices echoing around the high ceiling are testament to its popularity. We were (curiously) offered a table that had a scrawled "booked" sign on it, but I was starving and didn't hestitate long before delving into the menu. There's plenty on offer for a vegetarian, with most of the meat curries having meatless options, and a further list of exclusively veg and legume dishes. We shared four items: malai kofta, saag paneer, muttar paneer and alu cholle. The kofta were particularly delicious, and all the curries were enjoyable and notably light on the grease. In contrast to this Veggie Friendly reviewer I think I've eaten better, although possibly not at $9 a bowl. The mango lassi that I ordered didn't ever turn up but I wasn't inclined to bother the busy staff or scratch it off a bill that came to less than $50 for four people.

I'd recommend Kake Di Hatti as a venue for a cheap and unpretentious meal. But like Flora, it's not ideal for a langorous evening with quiet conversation.

Address: 128 Lygon St, Brunswick East
Ph: 9387 7771
Licenced, BYO
Price: veg mains $8.50-$9.50, rice and bread extra


October 27, 2006: Vegie stir-fry with tamarind and chipotle sweet-hot sauce

Cindy and I spent most of last week working our way through a massive, cheesy lasagne that we cooked on Monday (the lack of a relevant blog entry provides an indication or the overall success of that venture). By Thursday evening, our arteries were filled with cheese, and the only solution was a fresh, vegie-laden stir-fry. Generally, we've made up stir-fry sauces using some combination of seasonings mixed up with soy sauce and lime-juice. This time, in a concession to our food-blogger status, we opted for something more adventurous.

Tamarind and chipotle sweet-hot sauce (adapted from a recipe in Ken Charney's The Bold Vegetarian Chef)

Start off by blending up 2 chipotle chillies (if they're fresh, you'll need to soak them in water first to soften them up) and a can of chopped tomatoes. Meanwhile, combine 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of paprika, 1/2 teaspoon of cinammon, 1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander, 1/2 a teaspoon of cumin and 1/2 a teaspoon of ground cloves in a medium sized saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.

In a different, larger, saucepan fry a chopped onion in olive oil until it startes to go brown. Add a few cloves of minced garlic and fry for another couple of minutes. Stir in the contents of the previous saucepan along with a tablespoon of tomato paste, a tablespoon of tarmaind paste, 1/4 cup of unrefined sugar and a reasonable sprinkling of salt. Turn the heat down, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes.

For the stir-fry, we simply cut up some vegetables (carrot, capsicum, zuchini, broccoli and beans) and threw them in the wok for a couple of minutes before adding in a cup or so of the sauce and a packet of noodles. Crispy and delicious.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

October 26, 2006: Gopal's

Thursday evening found us wandering the CBD, needing to find accessories for our Monkey Island themed costumes for a friend's halloween party. Drained by fighting our way through various Bourke Street shopping zones, the relaxed atmosphere and relative quietness of Gopal's was a relief. Gopal's is a hare krishna style vegetarian restaurant and, based on our experiences at Govinda's in Brisbane, we immediately settled on the chef's special: a green split pea soup with tomato and bittermelon, thai style curry with veges and tofu, basmati rice with poppy seeds, green salad, a pappadam and a tangy fruit juice, followed up with fruit crumble and custard. Once we'd sat down and spent a few seconds actually looking at the menu, we discovered that there were a range of set meal options, some of which were more suited to Cindy's smaller appetite than the gargantuan chef's special. Such is life I suppose.

The soup was tremendous - the slightly salty pea flavour combining well with the bitter taste and firm texture of the melon, all enhanced by some judicious use of spices. The pappadam made nice Indian-style croutons as well. Pushing on to the rest of the meal required fortitude - in reality the soup would probably have sufficed - and luckily the thai curry was worth the effort. A little milder than I enjoy, but still far from bland, with a good smattering of veges and plenty of tofu. The salad was fairly average, but you don't really go to a krishna restaurant for the salad. The fruit crumble was tasty, but by the time we got to dessert, the idea of eating more food was a bit of a problem, so we probably didn't appreciate it as much as it deserved.

At $12, the prices are a bit higher than Govinda's, and the lack of kofta balls in the special was a bit disappointing, but we left completely stuffed and very satisfied.

Address: 139 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Phone: 9650 1578
Price: mains: $6 - $12

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

October 19, 2006: Moroccan Soup Bar

The Cheap Eats guide and word of mouth are unanimous in their praise of the Moroccan Soup Bar. Michael and I had already had one unsuccessful attempt at getting a table, and given that they only take bookings for six or more people, I filed it away as a candidate for a large dinner group. The first such opportunity arose this week with two researchers from my last workplace in Brisbane visiting Melbourne, and I arranged for all the Melbournites they already knew to meet up for dinner. Ten of us slid into cushioned benches, set in a low-lit but brightly-coloured long room already brimming with chatter before we'd opened our mouths.

I was a little apprehensive about choosing a vegetarian, alcohol-free venue on behalf of a lot of other people, but the tasty food and comfortable setting more than compensated for the absence of our usual vices. To keep things simple we shared a banquet. It started off with dips, marinated vegetables and pita bread, then moved onto plates full of marinated eggplant and other veges, rice and legumes, all vibrant (and some quite heated) with Meditteranean spices. The highlight for me was the chickpea dish (centre left): creamy with a lemon tang and almond crunch.

We regretted sending back a couple of unfinished bowls that we just couldn't fit in, and Mich (one of the ten in attendance) tells me that they allow you to take leftovers home if you bring an empty lunchbox of your own. Thankfully round three was a small and dainty plate of sweets: shortbread and pastry with pistachios, sweetened with dates and honey. These were presented with equally dainty and aromatic cups of spiced coffee.

The bill came to only $16.50 a head, and even then the waitress gave us a couple of dollars grace when we muddled the total. With its comfortable and casual approach, I don't hesitate to add my voice to the chorus of Moroccan Soup Bar devotees.

Address: 183 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North
Ph: 9482 4240
Alcohol free
Price: $10.50 for veg mains, $16.50 per person for 3-course banquet

Monday, October 23, 2006

October 17, 2006: Chocolate and ginger biscuits

A hilarious Vanilla Ice-style party invitation brought to our attention that Krusty's birthday was coming up and, although we couldn't make it to her Brisbane-based party, I wanted to present her with a small gift. Krusty has been unwaveringly enthusiastic about our cooking, our blog, and sharing her favourite restaurants with us, and I was confident that she'd appreciate a small box of home-made biscuits to mark her birthday. I love baking for others: it's the ultimate comfort food, most people don't take the time to do it, and it's a treat rather than a sensible necessity, as the most enjoyable gifts are.

Krusty is a sweet and slightly off-beat girl with pretty ginger hair, as well as depth and intelligence. I think this recipe captures almost all those qualities: although the spiced chocolate angle is a little unusual, it loses a mark or two because the recipe belongs to Martha Stewart, who is surely as mainstream as it gets!

I've previously made this recipe several times, substituting golden syrup for the molasses. It produces a lighter and sweeter (but no less delicious) biscuit. This time I followed the recipe as intended, buying some blackstrap molasses from Allergy Block.

Chocolate and ginger biscuits
(slightly adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe for Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies)

220g dark chocolate chips (the "holds shape when baked" ones are great)
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon cocoa
125g butter
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Sift the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cocoa into a medium bowl. In a separate and larger bowl, beat together the butter and grated ginger until whitened (it'll take a few minutes). Add the brown sugar and beat until combined. Add the molasses and beat again.

In a heat-resistant cup, dissolve the bicarb soda in a small amount of boiling water. Gradually add the dry ingredients and soda mixture to the butter, mixing constantly. Stir in the chocolate chips and refrigerate the lot for at least an hour.

Heat the oven to 160 degrees, grease a baking tray, and pour the granulated sugar into a small bowl. Roll heaped teaspoons of the biscuit mix into balls, coat them in the sugar, then place them on the baking tray. Bake the biscuits for 10 to 12 minutes, until the surface is cracking a bit. Roll the balls one tray at a time and return the remaining mixture to the fridge between batches.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

October 17, 2006: Umago

Cindy had biscuit baking to do on Tuesday night, so we opted for a lazy night of takeaway. Unfortunately neither of us felt much like eating anything based on rice, meaning Indian and Thai were off the agenda, leaving us hunting for some good takeaway pizza. We'd tried Mr. Natural pizza previously, but given Melbourne's (and particularly Carlton's) reputation as pizza-town, were pretty sure we could do better. None of the Italian places on Lygon Street jumped out at us as being good takeaway options, so we gave Umago in Fitzroy a shot. I walk past it most afternoons on my way home from work, and have never been that excited by its slightly tacky looking exterior, but its menu looked impressive and they delivered, so that was good enough for us.

There are four gourmet vego options, plus a couple of plainer choices, though the big 'V' next to the seafood pizza bothers me irrationally. We went for a Mexican (beans, corn chips, capsicum, avocado, sweet chilli and sour cream) and a roast pumpkin (pumpkin, sun-dried tomato pesto, mushrooms, marinated capsicum and goat's cheese). Both were delicious, with well-cooked bases of medium thickness and a generous amount of toppings. Between the sweet-chilli on the Mexican and the pumpkin on the other, things were a little sweet for me, but that's just nitpicking really - these were some good pizzas, and are currently on top of our takeaway pizza table (any other recommendations would be greatly appreciated).

Address: 171-173 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Phone: 9417 4664
Website: www.umago.com.au
Price: Gourmet: $12.80 (med), $16.20 (lge)


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

October 16, 2006: Fried rice

This is my adaptation of Healthy Fried Rice, a recipe from delicious magazine. I think I bought a copy in an airport a couple of years ago. Unusually this recipe uses brown rice, which makes it a more nutritious and satisfying meal on its own.

Fried Rice
(adapted from delicious magazine)
serves 4

2 cups brown rice
2 eggs
a splash of milk
2+ tablespoons sesame oil
4 shallots, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped into matchsticks
1 capsicum, chopped into strips
2 cups bok choy, chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup cashews

Cook the brown rice and cool it. If you get the chance, put it in the fridge for a couple of hours before using it, even cook it the night before if you're well prepared.

Beat the eggs and milk in a bowl. Heat a bit of the sesame oil in a wok. (If you haven't tried sesame oil before, give it a go, it adds fantastic flavour to Asian dishes.) Pour in the egg mix and swish the pan around to make a large thin disc of egg. When the pan side is cooked, flip it over. Don't worry if it doesn't flip wholy and neatly, maybe chop it into a couple of more managable bits. Once it's all cooked, take the egg out of the wok and slice it into strips.

Put the rest of the oil into the wok. Stir-fry the shallots, carrot, capsicum and bok choy for a minute or two. Add the rice and cook for another couple of minutes. Pour over the soy sauce and keep stirring.

Serve it up in bowls, sprinkled with the cashews. They'll keep their crunch if they're not stirred through.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

October 14, 2006: Indian mango rice pudding

It isn't a themed evening without an appropriate dessert as far as I'm concerned, and I knew just the thing to make. I'd previously trialled this recipe for "Rose and saffron-scented rice dessert with mango" once while in Brisbane. I had had some agreeable creamy rice desserts served with thalis at various Indian restaurants, and I found my home-made batch to be an even more aromatic and satisfying end to a curry meal. The recipe comes from a fabulous and (in this house) well-thumbed cookbook instructively titled "The low-fat Indian vegetarian cookbook", written by Mridula Baljekar. However this is by no means a low-fat dessert: it comes from the more permissive High Days and Holidays chapter at the end of the book.

This dessert is quite simple to prepare and if you're planning to make a main meal on the same night, you can reduce the stress levels even further by doing the first half of the recipe a couple of hours or even a day earlier.

Indian Mango Rice Pudding

a pinch of saffron threads
1/2 cup full cream milk
2 tablespoons ghee (or butter)
9 green cardamom pods, bruised
1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
565g can of creamed rice (often near the instant cake and pudding mixes at the supermarket)
3 tablespoons double cream
1-2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
425g can of mango
1 tablespoon rosewater
pistachios or flaked almonds to garnish

Gently heat the milk in a very small saucepan and grind up the saffron a bit. Squishing it between two teaspoons with a small container underneath is a good approach. Stir the saffron into the milk and set it aside.

Get yourself a much larger saucepan (about 2 litres in capacity is good) and melt the ghee, subsequently adding the cardamom pods and cinnamon stick. Use more or less cardamom as you wish, but remember the number that you put in. You'll thank me later. Turn the heat up just enough to get the spices sizzling and infusing the fat with flavour, then turn it down again to low.

Once the ghee has settled down, cautiously add the creamed rice and saffron milk. I say 'cautiously' because the the ghee started spitting at me at this point. Once it's all combined, turn the heat up a bit and add the cream and sugar. If your creamed rice is very sweet, consider reducing or omitting the sugar. Simmer the mix gently, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Set it aside to cool.

At this point you can plonk a lid on the saucepan and pop it in the fridge for a few hours or even a day. I changed into my most brightly beaded shirt and checked out a Bollywood movie at the festival. Another fine amusement is preparing and devouring a curry as a precursor to dessert.

Mridula's recipe calls for a large, ripe mango and on this day Piedemonte's was selling them for $1.99 each. I confess that I still went for the canned option because I don't really like the intensity of fresh mango (a shameful admission for a girl raised in Queensland). Whatever your choice, cut your mango into small cubes, perhaps saving a bit as a garnish. Retrieve the rice pudding and fish out the cardamom pods and cinnamon (aren't you glad you counted how many were in there?). Stir in the mango and rose water.

Serve in invidual cups, garnished with a few crushed nuts. Pistachios look beautiful against the soft orange of the pudding, but I'd used mine up and opted for flaked almonds instead.

October 14, 2006: Khichari

To celebrate our mid-afternoon Indian Film Festival outing (we saw Koi Aap Sa, which is passable, but definitely no Lagaan), we planned an Indian-themed evening of food. I'd already filled up on the Indian chips we'd smuggled into the cinema, so it was quite late by the time I got cracking on my task: Khichari. This is another of Kurma's fine recipes, with a few alterations (for instance, we failed to find mung beans at Piedemontes, and opted for lentils instead). This recipe makes heaps - probably enough for 5 or 6 meals.

I like to get all the chopping out of the way first, so I started out by cutting up a couple of washed potatoes, a big head of broccoli, two tomatoes and a large carrot into bite sized pieces and slicing a green chilli and some ginger finely. You could probably optimise your cooking time by doing most of this while the lentils are boiling, but I'm easily stressed when something's on the stove. Once you're all prepared, throw about 2/3 cup of lentils, a couple of bay leaves, the ginger, chilli, a teaspoon of turmeric and 2 teaspoons of ground coriander seeds into a large saucepan along with 6 cups of water.

Cook for about 15 minutes, until the lentils have softened up nicely and then throw in a cup of rice, all the chopped vegetables and about a teaspoon of salt. Bring it back to the boil and stir everything together, and then leave it simmering for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, heat about 1 tablespoon of ghee in a small saucepan and sprinkle in 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds. Frying until the seeds darken slightly and then throw in a generous handful of fresh curry leaves - they'll make a terrifying crackling noise, but don't panic, they're supposed to. Quickly add in a couple of teaspoons of asafetida and stir it all together before taking it off the heat. Throw the seasonings into the big stew pot and stir it all together - gauge the moistness of the whole thing now, if you want your mush to be mushier, you can add in some more hot water. Cook for another few minutes and then stir in some fresh coriander and serve on chapatis with a slice of lemon.

I've made this a few times before and it's always been pretty enjoyable, but for some reason this time it was a little bland - I was probably a bit cautious with the chilli, but I think maybe I just left it all boiling for a bit long. Ah well, nothing a little lime chilli pickle can't fix.

October 14, 2006: L'edel de Cleron

I've walked past La Parisienne Pate on Lygon Street quite a few times and always been curious about the delightful French treats hidden within. There's a small selection of bread, a few antipasto options, loads of meaty French food and, most impressively, a wide range of exotic French cheeses. We randomly settled on the L'edel de Cleron, a runny cow's milk cheese, generally aged for a relatively short time and bound in a ring of pine bark. We were uncertain about how to eat it - it's close relative Vacherin is meant to be scooped out of the bark rind directly, but the L'edel de Cleron seemed a bit too hard for that approach, so we peeled the bark off to get the runny innards.

The moldy edges were stronger than expected, and too much for Cindy, leaving all the more deliciousness for me. The softness of the cheese meant I could spread it on the bread we bought from Piedemontes, making for a tremendously indulgent lunch.


October 14, 2006: Ici

Update, August 1 2013: More news from Fitzroyalty! Looks like Ici is reopening very soon.
Update, July 5 2013: As reported by Fitzroyalty, Cafe Ici has closed down.

The weekend got underway with breakfast at Ici, a cosy cafe tucked away off Brunswick Street in Fitzroy. Despite its slightly out of the way location, Ici's reputation ensures there's quite a demand for tables, which we'd unfortunately discovered through personal expierence. This time we were smart and got there 'early' - 9a.m. counting as early in Fitzroy on a Saturday morning - and had no trouble getting seats. A quick scan of the blackboard menu made it clear that we'd have no trouble picking out vegetarian breakfast options: scrambled tofu with miso paste and mushrooms, French toast with fresh fruit and creme fraiche, three kinds of muesli and plenty of egg-based options - everything was organic and the eggs were free-range. Cindy showed admirable restraint and settled on fruit toast and pot of ginger roobios tea.

The toast was well-fruited, with big chunks of dried apricot and dates, and tea was pleasant, although there was very little ginger taste to be found.

The real success story of the morning though was my omelette - filled with char-grilled asparagus and "ol' bitey cheese", covered with salsa verde and onion marmalade and served with two pieces of sourdough toast.

The onion marmalade was caramelised and sweet, contrasting nicely with the slightly spicy salsa and the sharp cheese buried throughout the omelet. There were plenty of asparagus spears cooked into the omelette and they were cooked perfectly. The sourdough toast was delicious, but sourdough isn't particularly well suited to mopping up omelette leftovers - probably the only negative about my meal. The two coffees I had were great as well.

Address: 359 Napier Street, Fitzroy
Phone: 9417 2274
Price: Breakfasts $5 - $15

October 14, 2006: Piedemonte's supermarket

A comment from Will mentioned Piedemonte's supermarket in Fitzroy North, which I hadn't previously heard of. A quick search of the internet confirmed its location (43 Best St) and its reputation as a yuppie haven. Armed with an extensive shopping list, Michael and I decided to check it out after breakfast at Ici. This IGA supermarket isn't particularly flash-looking inside or out, but the selection of groceries certainly leans towards the gourmet and the organic. We found almost all the ingredients we needed for our Saturday cooking spree, and picked up a few impulse buys too.

There was a pretty good selection of tofu, tempeh and sanitarium faux-meat products. I bought a pack of bacon-style rashers, with which I have a love-hate relationship. Michael was keen to try a bottle of Elgaar farm organic milk, I picked out some Barambah organic yoghurt. Michael was also very pleased to dicover canned black beans and nabbed one for no particular reason. I found the intriguing halva, an enticing block of vanilla and cocoa swirls made primarily of tahini. The bakery section also had a lot more to offer than the standard Safeway or Coles: wholegrain breads, gourmet biscuits, and pastries and pies ready to reheat. I picked out a rosemary and sea salt foccacia for lunch. It's not going to replace the convenience of our local Safeway and fruit shop, but we'll probably return for a few treats when we're in Fitzroy North.

Edit 04/11/06: I just discovered that Piedemonte's has its own website. This article (in the Age) is also an interesting read.

October 13, 2006: Raspberries

How could Friday the 13th possibly be a bad day when it begins with fresh raspberries in your cereal?


October 12, 2006: Dagoba chocolate

The fruit shop checkout is now stocked with tempting impulse buys like the supermarket! That's where I bought this bar of chocolate a few days ago, unbeknownst to Michael. Lucky for him I shared it anyway. The chocolate is very similar in taste and texture to 70% cocoa Lindt but I couldn't detect the vanilla or the flavour of the tiny cherry pieces, which was a letdown. Dagoba is more expensive than Lindt ($4.50 for just under 60g, compared to about $4 for 100g of Lindt 70%), but it comes with the conscience-cleansing bonus of being organic and fair trade. I was originally impressed by the other flavour options, including coffee and chai. Now having shown myself to be immune to their cherries, I can probably wait awhile to buy more Dagoba.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

October 11, 2006: North African tempeh tagine

Wednesday morning found us short of cooking ideas, so I flicked through the bold vegetarian cookbook over breakfast searching for some dinner options. Cindy was tired of tofu, I didn't feel like pasta and we'd just had Indian, so there weren't too many options. We settled on this tempeh tagine, mainly because we already had most of the ingredients. We were, however, lacking in tempeh. Used to the vege-friendly bounties of West End Coles in Brisbane, I assumed that the local Safeway would do the trick, but its mock-meat selection is pitiful. Luckily, Cindy checked out Allergy Block on the way to work and came up trumps, so we were ready to go.

North African tempeh tagine

2 medium carrots, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black pepper corns
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2-4 whole cloves
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons tamarind paste
1 cup vege stock
1 250g packet tempeh, cubed
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped coarsely
a pinch of salt
a dash of hot sauce

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (I forgot this part of course, so the whole process was thrown into chaos) and then boil the carrot slices for about 5 minutes and then drain them and leave them to one side.

Now for the fun part: roast the spices in a dry frypan for about two minutes, until they start to darken. Once they're roasted, tip them into a mortar and pestle and grind them up (a spice grinder can do the job if you've got one).

This filled the house with a warm, spicy aroma. Unfortunately dinner's still a while away at this point, so you just have to try to push on despite the hunger the delicious smells generate.

Once spices are all ground up, fry up the onion in the olive oil until it's soft and slightly browned and then throw in the garlic. After a couple of minutes, add in the spice powder and fry for another minute or two and then take off the heat.

Next, pour the stock into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Add in the tamaraind paste, carrots, tempeh and the tomatoes and simmer for a few more minutes. We added in a sliced green capsicum here as well just to bulk up the vegetable component of the dish. Finally, stir in the spicy onion mix, the salt and the hot sauce and bring it all back to the boil. After a couple of minutes, transfer the whole pot-load into a covered baking dish and stick it in the oven for about 25 minutes.

Just before the stew is ready to come out of the oven, mix up some instant cous-cous and you're ready to go.

Cindy's artful photo has the saucy stew and the cous-cous on separate sides of the plate, but if you're more concerned by the taste than the asthetic appeal, I'd suggest smothering the cous-cous in as much of the stew as you can. The spices gave the whole dish a potent flavour - strong and spicy without being very hot. I enjoyed the change of texture that the tempeh provides - most of our soy eating has involved tofu and tempeh is firmer and has a powerful taste. The only downside: this recipe only made enough leftovers for modest sized lunches. Which reminds me - eating cous-cous outside on a windy day can be a difficult and messy experience.

October 9, 2006: Mushroom polenta

Another day, another Sydney Road inspired dinner. This time we started off with the polenta and the porcini mushrooms. Cindy was uninspired by her mushroom-focussed cookbook, so after some judicious internet searching, we settled on this recipe. I won't bother retyping the whole recipe seeing as it's right at the other end of that link: basically it's a bunch of mushrooms (including some soaked porcinis) fried with some garlic, thyme, stock and wine (we used sherry instead) served up some fried polenta squares.

We added some fresh greens and roasted capsicum strips to fill out the meal. The polenta was crisp on the outside and soft and a bit doughy inside - a good combination with the liquidy mushroom topping. The rehydrated porcini mushrooms and the sherry dominated the taste, enhanced by the thyme and parsley. I'm not sure if I'd rush back to make this particular dish again, but I'm pretty enthused about going back to polenta in the near future.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

October 8, 2006: Bollywood biscotti

I was quite taken by the pictachio and dark chocolate biscotti that Mellie from tummy rumbles recently made and when I bought some pistachios for om ali, I made sure that I took enough to try biscotti too. Surprisingly my first inclination was to remove the chocolate from the recipe! I wanted to create a version with the heady flavour of an Indian dessert, where I first encountered pistachios used in a sweet. I thought it'd be wise to halve the original quantities for this experimental batch.

Bollywood biscotti
(adapted from Mellie's recipe for Cantuccini di Cioccolato e Pistacchio)

150g caster sugar
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
250g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon rose water
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
200g shelled pistachios

Beat the eggs and caster sugar in a mixer until thick and creamy.

Add the flour, baking powder, salt, rose water and cardamom and mix until just combined. Stir in the pistachios.

At this stage Mellie described the mix as a soft dough. Mine was at the super-sticky end of the biscuit dough spectrum, even though it was holding together as a mass, so the next steps were pretty messy. Plonk the dough onto a very well-floured surface. Roll it into one or two thick sausages, about 5cm in diameter. Place them on a paper-lined baking tray and flatten them down until they're about 2 cm high. (These are Mellie's suggested dimensions, I think mine were a bit smaller.) Leave plenty of room around each dough-sausage, because they will spread.

Bake 'em at 190 degrees for 15 minutes. Next you need to cut the biscuit logs into slices, no more than 1.5 cm thick. Mellie didn't mention waiting for the logs to cool but some other recipes do. It might depend on your knife skills: these fellers will be crusty on the outside and soft in the middle, so a blunt knife will probability squash the log as you cut. On the other hand the crust probably gets even tougher to cut once it's all cooled down. I'm impatient and I did mine straight away.

Lay the slices flat on the tray (more spaced out than that pic on the right) and bake them for a further 10-12 minutes. They're supposed to dry out, but not get too golden. Mine were golden, even though I flipped them over half-way through. It's probably a good strategy to use an oven shelf that's distant from the heating element.

These are soft and delicious warm, but they'll develop that characteristic biscotti crunch as they cool. By then, the most satisfying way to consume them is after dipping them in a drink. I reckon chai's the pick for this flavour combination, but coffee or a glass of milk would also be up to the task.

This small amount of rose water and cardamom made the biscotti fragrant rather than strongly flavoured and I like that effect. Michael was unusually enthusiastic about them, so they'll no doubt be repeated in the future.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

October 8, 2006: Muesli

While I thoroughly enjoyed my cashew ginger crunch granola, I didn't think it would be wise to continue eating such a high-sugar breakfast indefinitely. My mind started ticking over on making my own version. I find uncooked oats too chewy: it takes me at least half an hour to get through a bowl of them! Not an envigorating start to the day. My moosewood book has a baked recipe, but it involves both oil and maple syrup so it's not much of an improvement in the health stakes. Then I remembered that some health-food grainy things are sweetened with apple juice rather than sugar and thought I'd give that a go. I browsed the internet to get a feel for the right proportions of liquid to grain, oven temperature and baking time, then just had a go with what was in the house.

I've been eating jarred pears with my cereal and by this stage I had a jar of juice. I strained out the floating pear remains and had about 1 1/2 cups of sweet liquid. I mixed this into about 4 cups of rolled oats and left it sitting around a while to let the oats soak up the liquid. With hindsight, I'd suggest not leaving it for more than about 15 minutes. I forgot about it for an hour or so, and my oats had the globby, slightly jellyish consistency of porridge. Next I heated the oven to about 150 degrees (it's best to go for a low temperature) and spread the mix out in an ungreased baking tray.

Check it after 10 minutes. Stir it around, and chop up the big clumps with a spoon. Keep baking it, checking and stirring every 5-10 minutes, until it starts to brown. That'll take about half an hour. I found that the little bits were well-browned, but the bigger pieces were still chewy in the middle. I picked out the big bits and put them back in the oven with about a cup of chopped almonds and half a cup of dessicated coconut. Baking paper's a good idea, but I didn't use it before 'cause the oats were too mushy. I think I gave this mix only another 10 or 15 minutes, with one bout of stirring in the middle. By then the coconut and oats were well browned.

The result was mostly a success. The largest bits aren't completely dry, but the almonds give it some crunch. It's not nearly as sweet as any granola I've bought and the fruit that I eat with it does that job to my satisfaction. I'll try to keep this up and maybe experiment with different grains, nuts and seeds in future batches.

October 7, 2006: Palak Paneer

Inspired by our spoils from Sydney Road, I volunteered to cook up some palak paneer. We had a recipe from our Indian cooking class at Mondo Organics to use as a starting point, and some delicious roti as an accompaniment.

Palak Paneer

1 packet paneer
2 bunches of spinach (3 would probably be better)
1 onion
3 tablespoons lila masala
1 can chopped tomatoes
2 fresh tomatoes, diced
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon chilli powder

Steam the spinach until it's thoroughly wilted. If you've got a steamer, go ahead and use it. If not, a colander on top of a saucepan works pretty well.

Once it's all nicely steamed, pop it in a food processor and blend it up to mush. Fry the onions and lila masala in a large saucepan for a few minutes, then throw in the tomatoes and spices and stir them all together. Cook for a few more minutes and then scoop the spinach mush out of the food processor into the saucepan. It should look something like this:

Stir it all together - don't add in any extra water if it looks too dry, the spinach will leach out a fair bit of liquid as it heats up. When it's all stirred together, fry up a couple of rotis and serve!

This is pretty light on as far as spiciness goes, so if you happen to have some lime and chilli pickle handy, a couple of teaspoons on top are a nice touch.

Monday, October 09, 2006

October 7, 2006: Groceries on Sydney Road

After lunch we wandered a little further north along Sydney Road. I had tired of looking at clothes that I had no intention of buying, but I had heard that there was a great Mediterranean deli nearby. Mediterranean Wholesalers (at number 482) proved to be even better than I hoped.

Aisles and aisles of canned and jarred delicacies, pasta, meat, cheese and baked goods... I particularly enjoyed wandering the dried pasta section, finding lots of shapes and colours I'd never seen before:

I limited myself to one packet for the time being. I also picked out a can of crushed tomatoes, polenta, whole nutmeg (wish I had that in time for the om ali), and a bag of dried porcini mushrooms. The mushrooms appear frequently as an ingredient in our mushroom cookbook, and I'm keen to give them a go.

Next stop was an Indian grocery that we took a peek at before lunch. I remember neither its name nor its street number: very sorry. I can confirm that it's on the east side of Sydney Road, between the insections with Brunswick Road and Barkly Street. My best guess is that it's number 54. Pickles, instant mixes, spices, an extensive range of refrigerated and frozen breads... there's a collection of Indian DVDs too! We skipped them, but did buy an intriguing packet of Lay's chips, fenugreek-flavoured roti, cumin seeds, dessicated coconut, paneer (cheese), almond essence, rose water, orange essence and a jar of lime and chilli pickle.

Weighed down but satisfied with our finds, we walked towards home, stopping to rest and enjoy the weather in Princes Park. As we continued south next to the cemetery we marvelled at the clear sky.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

August 7, 2006: Lentil as Africa

Yesterday was a beautiful Melbourne spring day, so Cindy and I decided to wander up through Brunswick and explore Sydney Road. While Cindy browsed through a couple of trendy second hand clothes shops, I rifled through our Cheap Eats guide to find a suitable lunch place for us. Sydney Road is littered with ethnic eateries, pubs, clubs and a smattering of trendy cafes, so there was no shortage of options in the vicinity. On our way to my first choice, Ray, we stumbled across 'Lentil as Africa', one of the restaurants in the Lentil as Anything 'chain'.

Lentil as Africa is a non-profit cafe that is run by an African women's co-operative. They serve vegetarian African food every night and do breakfasts on the weekend. The setting is decidedly un-African - the walls covered with indie rock posters and hipster art. The furniture looked distinctly recycled and the whole place was comfortably shabby.

The all day breakfast menu was pretty egg-centric (sorry), and I couldn't resist the "green eggs" - scrambled eggs with basil, feta and a drizzle of pesto served on a thick slice of toast.

Cindy opted for mushrooms on toast, with parmesan, balsamic reduction and a smidgin of pesto.

Both of us thoroughly enjoyed our food and particularly enjoyed just sitting there and soaking up the ambience - we're definitely going to go back one day soon and try out the African dinners.

Edit 21/07/07: Too late! On our wander along Victoria St last weekend, number 328 was completely empty. Let us know if LAA moved and you know the new address - the old one is still listed on their website.

Address: 328 Victoria Street, Brunswick
Phone: 9387 4647
Price: Breakfast: $5-$10/Dinner: Pay whatever you think it's worth
Website: http://www.lentilasanything.com/index2.html

Saturday, October 07, 2006

October 5, 2006: Om ali

While Michael prepared tostadas for dinner, I was working on dessert. I had chosen to have a go at om ali from my Nigella cookbook, not because it was one of the most mouth-watering but because it would use up some superfluous filo pastry. Described as "a kind of Egyptian bread-and-butter pudding", it probably did stick in my mind as one of the more intriguing recipes.

Om Ali

Set the oven to 150 degrees. Paint 200g of filo pastry sheets with 100g of melted butter, crumpling each loosely and plonking them on two baking trays. I was unsure whether Nigella meant that the sheets should get layered on top of each other or scrunched up side by side, so I did a tray of each. The recipe wouldn't be perfect this time around, but I'd probably work out the best option and prepare all the pastry as intended next time. That's active adaptive management, people! (I'm thrilled that I've just managed to explain my thesis topic using a cooking example. Humour me.) I've come to the conclusion that the pastry sheets should probably be scrunched up side by side, if possible, but it doesn't matter all that much. Bake them for about 20 minutes, until they turn crispy and golden.

Next turn the oven up to 240 degrees. Nigella recommends serving this in a 20cm pie dish, but that was nowhere near enough space for me. A 20cm dish with walls that are at least 5cm high will probably do, or a bigger dish with shorter walls. Butter your chosen receptacle, whatever it may be. Next you need about 300g of dried fruit and nuts. Nigella lists sultanas, diced dried apricots, flaked almonds, pistachios and pine nuts. I did her mix without the sultanas, 'cause I'm not really into them. Go with whatever combination of fruit and nuts you're into. Crumble pastry into the baking dish to cover the bottom, then sprinkle on some dried fruit and nuts. Keep layering the crumbled pastry and fruit and nuts until they're all used up.

Now heat a litre of full fat milk, 300mL of double cream and 100g of sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil. As soon as it starts to boil pour it over the dish of pastry. Sprinkle some ground nutmeg over the top, ideally freshly grated, and bake it for 10 to 15 minutes.

I'm frequently of the attitude that the only desserts worth eating are desserts that involve chocolate, but this one really hit the spot on Thursday evening. The dried apricots were little jewels of chewy sweet-sourness in mellow milky pastry. I love desserts with nuts for the added texture and depth of flavour, and pistachios are a personal favourite for their incredible clash of green and purple. Here they looked especially festive next to the orange apricots.

When eaten fresh out of the oven, this has the typical butter-crisp top that filo gives, while the bottom is soft bloated milky pastry, and it is impossible to serve it neatly or attractively. After a stint in the fridge, the leftovers are much more firm and amenable to slicing. And here comes my biggest confession yet: Michael and I ate the leftover pudding for lunch the next day. It was fantastic, in that guilt-makes-it-more-delicious kind of way. As a more genteel alternative, might I suggest a room-temperature slice served with tea in the afternoon?