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Update 27/2/2014: Walking past the other day, I noticed that The Green Grocer has closed down and been replaced by Sixteen 83 Epicerie.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