Thursday, September 27, 2007

September 22, 2007: Slow Food Market

Winter had pretty much put a stop to our adventures to the countless markets that Melbourne hosts, but with the first hints of spring warming our bodies (and spirits), we decided to resume our explorations. We didn't really stray too far from home - off to Abbotsford for the monthly Slow Food Market, held in the Abbotsford Convent right next door to the Collingwood Children's Farm.

The market is spread out across the grounds of the convent (most of which is a school I think), with a few fruit and vegie stalls, some butchers, cheese-makers and a lot of other bits and pieces like dips and jams. I'd saved room for a second breakfast, so the first stop was The Convent Bakery - offering a range of bread and pastry products and a few sandwiches and panino. I decided to dive into one of the raspberry danishes, which was sweet, tangy and chewy in all the right places, while Cindy ducked outside to grab one of the fancy-pants cupcakes from one of the stalls.

The cupcake was a red velvet cake with marshmallow icing ($2.50) from 'Tea with Alice'.

Loaded up with sugar (and caffeine in my case) we were ready to face the stalls. We picked up most of the ingredients for our evening meal (coming soon!) and Cindy was seduced by some frozen blueberries and preserved lemons (which I don't think we've tried yet). I, on the other hand, couldn't resist buying more goodies for a guilty lunch: pumpkin bread, two kinds of cheese and an asparagus pesto.

The bread was as good as you'd expect - particularly when slathered with the tasty dip or the drippingly delicious soft cheese.

The blue cheese, which was a reasonably mild offering also hit the spot on some of Cindy's knackerbrod (although I'm not convinced by her addition of maple syrup!). Meanwhile, my cholesterol probably hit six million.

As ridiculously good as all the food was, the real highlight for me was just the sunshine, the grass and the outdoors - Saturday morning markets are destined to be a highlight of the warmer months ahead.

Address: 1 St. Hellier's Street, Abbotsford
Timing: The fourth Saturday of each month from 8a.m.

September 21, 2007: D.O.C.

D.O.C. is the new pizza and mozzarella bar on the Carlton block, just a couple steps beyond the touristy Lygon St restaurants and within a cannoli's throw of Brunetti. Michael first pointed it out to me a few weeks ago as we stepped out of Video Dogs, but I wasn't actually that excited about paying it a visit until Claire, the Melbourne Gastronome, showed us exactly what it had to offer. Then, of course, I was all emails and dates and meetings for Friday night.

I met Kerrie and Daniel there right after work and we settled in with a bottle of red and a plate from the mozzarella list. The only vegetarian plate was the cheapest of the bunch, Australian Fior Di Latte with Pomodori Con Pesto (vine ripened tomato with pesto, $13.50). For the mozzarella buff, there's the pricier option of buffalo mozzarella air-freighted from Italy for an extra $4. I was most content with the basic version, by the time the wine was poured and we'd broken out the grissini sticks we had Michael, Mike and Jo-Lyn digging in too.

For our main course, we haggled our way to four different pizzas between the six of us - three of them vegetarian, much to my delight. D.O.C. don't allow changes to toppings or half/half pizzas, but the existing meat-free options should be enough to satisfy. In total, five of the 14 pizzas are vego - we gave the olive oil & sea salt and potato, onion, & rosemary foccaccias a miss this time. I was further pleasantly surprised that the two Michaels joined my enthusiasm for the understated Margherita ($14), with its modest topping of tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil. It was probably the best margherita I've ever eaten, with the restrained layer of quality mozzarella and thin, elastic base.

Here's the Pizza Bianca ai Porcini ($21.50), with wild mushrooms, truffle oil and mozzarella. While the distribution of mushrooms might seem a bit miserly, it's actually right on the mark, as the aroma of the truffle oil permeates the base and cheese. This one was topped with a generous handful of bitter radicchio - while I'm not their greatest fan, they were just the thing to cut through the richness of the pizza.

The third vego selection was the Pizza Cicoria ($18), with chicory, piave cheese and lemon. Another winner, with the lemon and cheese making a surprisingly cute couple.

In my opinion these pizzas rank with I Carusi, though Jo-Lyn astutely noted that they're a little on the salty side. The bases have the right balance of crispness and chew and are thin enough to let the toppings show off their flavours. But they're also thin enough to have us all looking at the dessert list...

Michael was up for the sweet pizza ($8), with creme fraiche, strawberry, kiwi and vanilla bean icecream. It was enjoyable enough, but not really more than the sum of its parts.

I was most intrigued by the sweet goats cheese tiramisu with pavesini ($8). I would probably have been scared off the idea of goats cheese in a dessert if Claire hadn't tried it already. I certainly noticed the goaty aftertaste in my first few spoonfuls but as I pushed on, my tastebuds dulled and it was all light and airy cream with just the coffee-soaked biscuits adding bite. Also worth noting is the nutella calzoncino with vanilla bean icecream ($8), an enormous pastry filled with molten chocolately nutella - best ordered to share between two.

Friday at the D.O.C. was a success all round - there was never a quiet minute in this company and the pizzas were superb. The service included a few glitches as might be expected for a new restaurant and the friendliness of the staff easily smoothed that over. I'll definitely be back for more high-end pizza, but might take my dessert desires back to Brunetti or Lygon St afterwards.

Address: 295 Drummond St, Carlton
Ph: 9347 2998
Price: veg pizzas $8-21.50, dessert $8

September 20, 2007: The Horn Restaurant

The Horn in Collingwood is a stange hybrid of African cafe and jazz bar. It's cosy, with a couple of linked rooms and is atmospherically decorated with a combination of African and jazz-related paraphernalia. Cindy discovered it via 1001 Dinners, 1001 Nights and decided it was worth a visit. I wandered in around 7 to meet Cindy and a group of friends for dinner and the friendly and relaxed staff set me up at the back corner table with one of the organic Ethiopian beers that they offer. I could have quite happily sat there and relaxed all evening, but eventually everybody else arrived and we could get down to the business of eating.

The menu contains a fairly extensive range of Ethiopian snacks and meals, with a reasonable number of vego options. It was hard to go past the vegie and dahl combination, which Cindy and I shared, - a chance to try five of the dishes on offer without eating until bursting point. Our waitress explained the traditional Ethiopian style of eating where stews are placed on top of giant pancakes (injera) and eaten without implements - the injera providing something with which to pick up the liquidy meals. The pancakes arrived on large pizza trays, complete with a salad garnish and a couple of rolled up injera for extra grabbing power. To accompany this great expanse of breadiness, we got a selection of three vegie stews and a couple of dahls. Four of the dishes came out in a stylish little serving device, while the fifth languished rather sadly in a plain bowl. The food was tasty without being particularly mindblowing - most of the fun came from digging around with the injera and generally making a ridiculous mess.

With a few more organic beers (including a very nice stout) under our belts and the last of the sauce-soaked injera devoured, we were just settling back in our seats when the tiny spare space next to our table was transformed into a makeshift stage and out came the band (one of whom doubles as the proprietor of the venue). We shuffled ourselves across to a table a little bit further away to give them some room and then sat back as they played a fantastic 40 minute set of rhythmic jazz. It killed off our conversation, but nobody really minded - the music had us all transfixed.

We snuck out in their break between sets (some of us to head off to bed and other, less responsible types to push on to more live music and beer further into Collingwood), happy with a good meal, some fine company and an unexpected burst of enjoyable jazz. The only (slight) downside of the whole evening was the unexpected cover charge we had to pay for the band. It wasn't really a problem, but it's probably a good idea to let people know that there's going to be an extra charge for staying in the restaurant after a certain time. But that was a minor quibble - The Horn has all the ingredients for a very satisfying night out.

Address: 20 Johnston Street, Collingwood
Ph: 9417 4670
Price: $30 for a vegie platter for two ($16 for one)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

September 18, 2007: Rhubarb and ginger pudding

Much as I'm excited to see spring arrive, there are a couple of wintery things that I've been meaning to do prior to gorging myself on asparagus. The main one was to cook with rhubarb. I've enjoyed the tang of rhubarb in a number of compotes and crumbles while eating out, and every time I've seen those crimson stalks at Safeway I've promised myself I'll get some nicer ones from a market. Actually, we barely ventured to any markets this winter and so rhubarb almost passed me by. In a last desperate bid to catch up, I surrendered to Safeway's convenience on the way home from work and made a weeknight pudding.

But first I had to inspect my new vegetable. Its smell reminded me very much of celery and I was surprised to see that the core of the stalk isn't pink at all, just green and even more celery-looking. It was difficult to equate this creature with the soft pink strips previously seen on my French toast at Gingerlee. I took an experimental taste and didn't like it at all: stringy with a sourness that wasn't at all fruity, and that pesky likeness to celery. (For the record I actually like celery but its place as a savoury salad vege really interfered with my appreciation of rhubarb as a "fruit".) It briefly occurred to me that I might have picked up some bitter rainbow chard by mistake.

Another blogger (I think it was Matt of MattBites but I can't find the post) waxed nostalgic about eating raw stalks of rhubarb dipped in sugar as a kid, so I tried that as phase two of Getting To Know Rhubarb. This was a bit more agreeable - the sweet and sour taste was starting to come through. A cynical little voice in my head noted that most disliked veges would probably yield the same improvement in taste if I coated them in sugar. Besides, that celery smell and texture were still lurking.... I still wasn't completely convinced that it was actually rhubarb I've been eating out all these years.

But I pushed on and followed this recipe for rhubarb and ginger pudding that appeared in the Age a few months ago. As I spread the small amount of batter over those stiff and disturbingly green sticks, I wondered if this entire exercise was a waste of time and butter. It wasn't. What emerged from the oven was what I knew rhubarb to be - soft and pink and sweet and sour. Better yet, it was encased in a pudding! This one is a fairly dense and not overly buttery cake - the firm surface reminded me very much of gingerbread. It's delicious warm or cool, with or without cream. And if the learning process isn't reward enough in itself, this dessert is the perfect pay-off for trying something new.

Rhubarb and ginger pudding

500g rhubarb
125g castor sugar
1/3 cup golden syrup
185g plain flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
a shake of ground nutmeg
a pinch of salt
125g butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and grease a 1-litre casserole or pudding dish. Chop the rhubarb into 3cm lengths and arrange them on the bottom of the dish. Pour the castor sugar evenly over them.

Measure the golden syrup into a cup and stand it in hot water, so that it's liquid and pourable. Sift together the dry ingredients (flour through to salt). Cream together the butter and brown sugar. When they're pale and fluffy, introduce the syrup and continue beating. Next add the egg, beating until well combined. Fold in the dry ingredients.

Gently heat the milk and stir in the bicarbonate of soda until completely dissolved. Add them to the pudding batter and mix well. Spoon the mixture over the rhubarb and bake the pudding until it's well-browned and an inserted skewer comes out clean. The original recipe estimates 35 minutes but my pudding took 45-50 minutes to cook through in the centre.

September 18, 2007: Asian-inspired salad

Here's a darn tasty weeknight meal - an Asian-inspired "chicken" salad. Mixed greens, capsicum, carrot, cucumber and bean sprouts are topped with some oven-baked gluten pieces. Extra flavour came from an ad-libbed dressing of kejap manis, tamarind paste, soy sauce, rice wine, palm sugar and 5-spice powder.

September 16, 2007: The Press Club

Cindy has been itching to go to the Press Club ever since she fell in love with Georgie Calombaris on Ready Steady Cook while we were living in Brisbane. I think it was his willingness to put together interesting (and sometimes vegetarian!) meals while exchanging witty repartee with Peter Everett, but it may just have been his boyish good looks. Whichever, Cindy's been talking up The Press Club for a while and, after bailing out of our first booking to let Cindy's wisdom teeth heal, we were finally making the trip.

We chose Sunday lunch, figuring that the new chef of the year's restaurant would be packed out at nights. It meant we were there for the Sunday masa lunch - a more traditionally focussed meal than the adventurous dishes Calombaris is developing a reputation for. There are no other options for Sunday lunch, you just sit back and they bring out the food. Once we'd clarified that we were vego, they had a quick conference and reeled off a seemingly endless list of dishes that they were going to bring out. Our waitress seemed new and was a little uncertain about a few things (probably not helped by our vego-ness), but she picked it up as the meal went on.

But first it was time for drinks - I went for a carafe of the white wine, which was pleasant enough, while Cindy opted for a sour cherry soft drink. Instead, she got a limonata, as they'd run out of sour cherry. Except it turns out that they hadn't (this was while our waitress was still struggling a little) - a few minutes later she ended up with two drinks to enjoy - to match with different courses I guess.

With that confusion out of the way, it was on to the food. First off was a plate of bread with olive oil and fancy black salt, which combined tremendously well with the tomato and lentil soup that came out shortly afterwards.

This was followed almost immediately (I'd just finished my soup, but Cindy was barely halfway through) by the meze plate, a colourful selection of Greek nibblies. There was a Greek salad (with some seriously scrumptious feta), a plate of marinated olives (which even Cindy kind of enjoyed), pickled cabbage (Cindy's favourite on the plate), a beetroot tzatziki and dolmathes (my favourite). This was all pretty enjoyable, but it was around this point that we started to get overwhelmed with the dishes flying out of the kitchen.

I'm not sure if you're supposed to wind up with a backlog of dishes on your table or if something was a bit off with the timing in the kitchen, but we had no chance of keeping up. Anyway, Cindy just sat back and enjoyed hers happily letting the dishes pile up around her, while I foolishly tried to keep up with the onslaught and ended up feeling a bit stressed out by it all. It certainly wasn't the laidback Sunday afternoon feeling I was expecting. But that's by the by, let's push on with the rest of the food.

Next up was another wooden meze tray, this time with a plate of spanakopita, a couple of roast tomatoes stuffed with some sort of rice concoction and an iceberg lettuce salad dressed with lemon juice. The spanak was tasty, without being as mindblowing as Cindy had hoped (I think she expecting one of Georgie's more innovative creations - he does some odd seafoody spanaks, so it was bit of a shame that the vegie one was just a standard effort) and the tomatoes looked great (if you like that sort of thing).

With a bit of table rearrangement, the next set of dishes arrived: a bowl of lemony roasted potatoes, a haloumi, shaved fennel and orange salad and a roast pumpkin and almond bougatsa (basically a filo wrap filled with a pumpkin mix). Cindy was really excited about the potatoes, but unfortunately they were a bit of a let down - a little on the dry side and not particularly lemony (we both had fond memories of the oily lemon spuds at Lefka's Taverna in West End). Luckily the haloumi salad more than made up for it. This was easily the highlight of the meal - beautifully fried haloumi, which combined well with the shaved fennel and slices of citrusy goodness. Throw in the grape confit that was drizzled over the whole thing and it was a non-stop flavour explosion. The pumpkin filo was fine, but I was filling up by this stage and it was a little on the heavy side for my near-bursting stomach.

By now our table was overflowing with food - we struggled on bravely and made a decent dint in all of the dishes before eventually throwing our hands up and quitting. Luckily, this was the point where they chose to pause our non-stop food attack, giving us a decent fifteen minute breather before the desserts came out. When they did, we were given a little paper bag containing six different dessert nibbles: some sort of mini Greek donuts, some little baklavas and some sort of vaguely custardy thing. All were fantastic (particularly the baklava, which I'm not usually a huge fan of) and the coffee they served up was high quality as well.

The finale was a series of Greek spoon sweets - preserves of quince, eggplant and pistachio served up on little spoons. They were delicious, although our waitress made some ambiguous comment that suggested we probably weren't supposed to eat all six.

On the whole, it was probably a slightly disappointing experience - I think we'd be better served ordering off their regular menu when there are a few more exotic options like the haloumi salad. Everything else was fine, but none of it was particularly thrilling. The service was a little uncertain, but in a friendly and entirely forgivable way and the room is airy and light in the afternoon (which is good for Cindy's photography). We won't write off The Press Club for our future slightly upmarket dining experiences, but I doubt we'll pick the Sunday afternoon masa for our next attempt.

Address: 72 Flinders Street, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9677 9677
Price: Sunday lunch masa, $55 per person

Monday, September 24, 2007

September 15, 2007: Andrews hamburgers

On this Saturday we were blessed with sunny skies and an empty schedule, so we decided to venture southside to visit a Melbourne icon: Andrews Hamburgers. This place is the real deal, a 50-year-old family business that hasn't changed its spots (or wood panelling) over its lifetime. And why change when you've hit on the winning formula? The burger-with-the-lot is widely touted as the best in town.

Now that's all well and good, but such an establishment is unlikely to offer much to a vegetarian, right? Actually, Andrews Hamburgers do have a vegetarian burger and it's not a completely token latecomer: owner Greg Pappas told the Age that the patty - made of potato, pumpkin, sweet potato, coriander, parsley and feta - is from a recipe that his mother made at home. This is veering into the territory of Grill'd Urban Burger Republic, perhaps, but the rest of this construction is old skool Aussie takeaway: a well-toasted white bun, tomato and iceberg lettuce, gooey cheese, sloppy sweet onions and a big gloop of tomato sauce that's destined for your shirt front. It's messy and a tad greasy but an enormously satisfying sunny-day lunch, and good nostalgic value at $7.

If you do succumb to Andrew's old-world charms, consider atoning for your cholesterolic sins with a walk around the nearby lake.

Address: 144 Bridport Rd, Albert Park
Ph: 9690 2126
Price: vege burger $6.50

September 11, 2007: Camy Shanghai Dumpling & Noodle Restaurant II

On Tuesday evening Michael, Jack and Emma were booked in for some soccer at the MCG. That didn't appeal to me in the least, but I was happy to join them for a fast and furious dumpling dinner straight after work. We predictably kicked our order off with 20 steamed mushroom and vegetable dumplings ($6.50) and they were as fabulously munchable as last time.

Birchy's rave on the red bean fried cake ($4.90) had me hunting through the menu and insisting Michael share one with me: this is a crispy fried shell filled with sweet red bean paste. A delicate balance is required between waiting for the filling to cool to an edible temperature and not letting the shell lose its crunch, but the rewards are great. Can anyone tell me whether this is a meant to be a dessert? It's definitely a sweet one, yet it's tucked in the menu amongst the spring rolls and other savoury delights.

Thanks to my own curiosity and a little encouragement from Gin, we also ordered a plate of the vegetarian duck ($3.80). In amongst our other steamed and fried foods, it was quite a shock to discover on my first mouthful that this was actually served cold! That surprise overcome, this proved to be one of the best textured faux meats I've eaten. Though it's plenty salty, I'd love it even more if there were a bit of extra flavour - a couple shakes of Chinese 5-spice powder and I'd be in fake meat heaven.

So, Camy and co prove to be more than just the darlings of dumplings. But with two readers' comments already paying off, we might be well served in heeding advice from Jen and Buttons to try the place next door soon...

(You can read about our last visit to Camy here.)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

September 11, 2007: The Quarter

Jackson, Emma and I spent our Tuesday wandering around the Queen Vic Markets and the Pixar exhibition at ACMI (I enjoyed it almost as much the second time as the first). In between, we grabbed lunch at The Quarter on Degraves Street in the city. It's hard going finding a spare lunch table at 1p.m. on a working day, and we ended up just choosing The Quarter because we could see some free seats. The menu's pretty standard Italian - some lunch foccacias, a bunch of pastas and a few meaty mains. Emma and I both opted for the soup of the day: A spicy Middle-Eastern vegie soup, with spinach leaves and a dollop of yoghurt and mint floating on top. The spiciness of the soup came almost entirely from pepper, but it was a hell of a lot of pepper. Emma gave up halfway through, but I struggled through it, using the yoghurty sauce and about six glasses of water to dampen the flames. I think somebody's hand slipped during the seasoning process. Ah well, it was a nice idea and quite tasty if you ignored the pepper-power.

Address: 27-31 Degraves Street
Ph: 9650 6156
Price: Soup: $8, Foccacias $11, Pastas etc $15+

Saturday, September 22, 2007

September 10, 2007: Brunetti VIII

Update 27/1/2019: Brunetti is still trading, but has moved from Faraday Street into a huge custom-built space inside Lygon Court.

What would a night with interstate guests be without a trip to Brunetti? Fun, perhaps, but with fewer pairs of widened eyes. After sharing a tapas-style dinner with Beth and Ryan, we reunited with Jack and Emma for a 6-person dessert fest. Michael reacquainted himself with the pear and cheese crumble from his second visit (and the photos I took of it this time were really awful). That gilded cocoa-based creation you see above is my Chocolate Oblivion ($4.50, from memory): a heated and molten chocolate cake. Here is a crisp brownie-like film yielding to a cakey layer, then giving way to viscous cake batter without a hint of baking powder to sour it. Oblivion, indeed - blissful in this modest serving size, but sure to put you into a chocolatey coma were it any larger.

(Check out our other Brunetti trips: one, two, three, four, five, six and seven.)

September 10, 2007: Markov Place

Edit 23/03/2020: This spot is now occupied by Taquito.

Edit 23/01/2018: Markov Place has closed, the premises is now occupied by The Moor's Head.

We were overwhelmed with Brisbane visitors over the weekend. After hanging out with Jack and Emma for a few days at the Prom, we returned to Melbourne on Monday evening to meet up with Beth and Ryan, who were setting off on a Great Ocean Road drive on Tuesday. We all sat around at home for a while chatting, but once I started kicking red wine glasses over, we decided it was best to head out and get some dinner. Jack and Em wanted some Italian treats and wandered off along Lygon Street, while the rest of us headed to Markov Place.

Tucked down its laneway, Markov Place was looking moodily lit and very hip - there was some concern that our lack of style would see us barred from entry. Luckily, the staff seemed not to notice our unhipness and ushered us straight to our table. We started off with cocktails - the boys diving into 'Tuscan Mules', a combination of Tuaca (a vanilla and citrus flavoured spirit), ginger beer and lime, while the girls both had Cariel vanilla vodka with pomegranate. Both were delicious, and we greedily slurped them while perusing the food menu.

The options have changed somewhat since we last visited - the focus these days seems to be on tapas-y things. Beth and Ryan happily agreed to share a range of the vego dishes with us, which made ordering easy. We started with the vegetarian tapas plate (fried piquillo peppers, croquetas, olives and manchego cheese, $20), and added a couple of salads (Young broccoli with pine nuts, sultanas and queso Iberico ($11) and a spring salad of asparagus, herbs and fromage frais ($15)). Of course, Cindy insisted we add Markov chips (with Murray River salt and aioli, no less, $7) to the list.

The tapas plate was fantastic - particularly the croquettes and the fried peppers. But the whole lot was great - it's hard to go wrong with olives and fancy cheese. The accompanying salad in the photo above is the asparagus and fromage frais one - it basically convinced Cindy that spring was here and it was time to start eating asparagus again (as I type, she's gearing up for a trip to the markets to load up on fresh asparagus).

The chips were chunky and crispy although, as always, there were too many chips for the amount of aoli. The baby broccoli salad was delicious as well - particularly the slatherings of queso Iberico cheese.

I think we ended up with almost all the vego options on the menu, and it turned out to be the perfect amount for the four of us (particularly with a trip to Brunetti to follow). The service was friendly and efficient and the atmosphere was as hip as any place we've gone. The prices are probably a little bit higher than we can justify on a regular basis, but as a slightly fancy night out with friends, it's pretty good value really.

Read about our previous visit to Markov Place here. They've since added a (largely useless) website here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

September 9, 2007: Orange Roughy

Rather than force our vegetarian lifestyle on Jack and Em for the whole weekend, we researched a few places in the general vicinity of Yanakie that would provide a tasty dinner. Unfortunately the Waratah Park Country House was closed, but luckily Orange Roughy were doing Sunday dinners even in the off-season. Although, if we hadn't called them to book, I'm not sure that they would have bothered opening - we were the only people in the place all night. Lesson: September Sunday nights in the Prom area are quiet. Very quiet.

Even so, the lady running the show for the evening didn't seem too bothered. She cheerfully welcomed us, ran through the specials and chatted happily to us while we settled in. The special deal for the evening was a starter and main combo for $19.50. There were a couple of vegetarian mains and a range of meat and fish options for our non-veg companions. Entree-wise there was soup, garlic bread, bruschetta and some non-veg spring rolls. I opted for the soup, which was leek and potato, while Cindy went for garlic bread. In all honesty, we could have just shared the soup - it came with two nice pieces of toast and was thick, tasty and full of leek-y bits. Having said that, Cindy's garlic bread was delicious - but look at how much there was! Craziness.

For mains, Cindy went for a spinach, parmesan and basil pasta, while I couldn't go past the vegie pizza. Again, both were huge - the pizza dotted with mushrooms, pumpkin, feta, spinach and pesto. It was tremendously impressive - a handful of kalamata olives and it would have been perfect. I had no chance of getting through it all after polishing off the soup, so I made it through half and saved the rest for our lunch on the way home.

Cindy's pasta was rich and creamy - sprinkled with cheese smothered in a creamy pesto sauce. There was a liberal smattering of pine nuts and the pesto flavour really shone through. Again though, there was no way Cindy could finish it off (and she didn't even get through her entire entree) and we departed with leftovers in tow.

Orange Roughy was a good find - it was only 10kms up the road from our accommodation (listen to me, only 10kms - in our usual carless Melbourne world, 10kms might as well be a different state) and the food was delicious and ridiculously generously sized. The service was superb - friendly and helpful, but, despite the empty restaurant, not intrusive at all. It looks like the kind of place that would be chock full of happy diners on summer evenings and was impressively well-suited to vegos (there was even a vegie burger on the lunch menu!). Highly recommended.

Address: 2 Old Waratah Road, Fish Creek
Ph: 5683 2207
Price: $19.50 for a main and entree combo

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

September 9, 2007: Mock tuna salad

We've been enjoying quite a few recipes from Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit, but I've had a nasty habit of tainting my renditions with dairy products. So I was pretty excited when at Organic Wholefoods, I found just the ingredients to make this mock tuna salad in all its vegan glory. Lindyloo raved about it, and I'll heartily join her chorus: "this is a damn good recipe". (Huh, usually her raves are much sexier than that... I was sure I'd be singing something about rubbing this all over Julian Casablancas' unclothed body.)

I fixed this recipe up at home and then packed it on our Wilson's Prom weekend for our hike-day lunch. This stuff is so good that even though we had a box of cookies in our pack, it was the promise of a mock tuna sandwich at the top that propelled me up Mt Oberon. In fact, this stuff is so good that even our non-veg companions said, "Hey, this stuff is actually pretty good".

Hmmm, I wish I'd finished on a slightly more effusive note than that.

This stuff ROCKS! GET INTO IT!! And seriously consider doubling the recipe.

Given that we're welcoming spring in this part of the world, might I recommend that you pair it with some fresh asparagus?

(You can see more photos from our Wilson's Prom weekend at my Flickr page.)

Mock Tuna Salad
(Lindyloo credits this recipe to Compassionate Action for Animals)

1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise (I used Melrose brand)
1/3 cup celery, finely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons dill pickle, finely chopped (2-3 mini ones)
1/2 tablespoon nutritional yeast (I used Lotus brand)
~3 shallots, chopped finely
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon kelp powder (optional - I couldn't find it at any of the shops I checked out)
pepper, to taste

Coarsely mash the chickpeas using a fork. Stir in the remaining ingredients.

Eat on sandwiches, with a green salad, perched on a potato chip (as photographed by Lindyloo), or maybe with some excitingly fresh asparagus.

Monday, September 17, 2007

September 8, 2007: A vege barbeque

The accommodation that Michael found for our stay near Wilson's Promontory was great: a cabin with room for four at a cheap off-peak rate, with lots of avian company and views of cows and fields and hills. But the key descriptors I noticed before we arrived were "full kitchen" and "barbeque". I don't have much experience with barbeques, but it seemed an appropriate thing to do on holiday of driving and hiking and natural surrounds, and I knew what I wanted to barbeque most of all. Haloumi.

Fortunately the barbeque area was as clean and well-equipped as we could have hoped for, with a cheery mural painted on the shelter. Cheery for a vego like me, anyway: I dunno how the average eater feels about a scene of big-eyed cows while they tuck into their steaks. (On reflection, perhaps I should say a little prayer for her calf as I tuck into my cheese steak.) Unfortunately the chilly weather and Queensland-sourced company necessitated eating indoors rather than making use of the picnic tables. Still, Jack braved the elements and carried out the actual grill-work while I generally bossed people about. It was a fairly successful combination, in my opinion - it yielded some deliciously charred pieces of haloumi (with lemon juice and black pepper, as always) and tender, smoky asparagus spears. Travelling around the plate, we also had a medley of capsicum and mushroom chunks (sauteed on the plate and dressed with some olive oil and za'atar) and some fresh greens with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Peeking in the edge of the photo is some corn. We attempted to roast these in the husk but undercooked them. I'm not directing any blame Jack's way, because he deferred to my bossing at all times!

The mixed success of this meal has served to pique my interest in the vege barbeque for the longer days and warmer nights ahead. It has demonstrated that there's much to master, while tantalising me with a couple of early successes. I've found some more ideas in Jeanne of Cook Sister!s recent meatless barbeque blog event (watch out for the seafood, fellow vegos!). Do you have any other meat-free barbeque favourites?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

September 7, 2007: Road trip cookies

This weekend brought two holidaying couples from Brisbane and two road trips! First up, Michael and I took a day or so leave from work so that we could travel to Wilson's Promontory with Jack and Emma. Long before I got excited about long walks and birdwatching, I enthusiastically set about preparing the weekend menu. Featuring high on my list of things to make was this recipe, originally dubbed the Team Cookie by a teammate of basketballin' Brilynn from Jumbo Empanadas. I can only imagine how great these taste after the exertion of a game of basketball, and they're just the thing after a hike through the Prom. They're also a pretty sweet break in the monotony of a long drive!

The recipe itself bears a remarkable resemblance to my long-standing favourite choc-chip cookie recipe, both in the ingredient list and the quantities: the major differences are that chopped almonds are replaced by crunchy peanut butter, and the rolled oats remain whole (instead of being ground to a powder). I was looking forward to that peanut butter taste and chew, but it was a much milder component than I expected - I might experiment with increasing it (even reducing the butter) next time. I was more skeptical about the whole oats, but they did lend an agreeable chew; I'm undecided whether I prefer them pulverised or not. I also cooked these a little longer than I should have - none of them burned, but they were all very crunchy from the moment they were cool.

Regardless, these were very popular all round. We polished off a lunchbox full of them on our weekend, and when we met up with Beth and Ryan (more food fun with them coming up!), I filled a noodle-style gift box with them for their own impending road trip along the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide. My workmates happily demolished another entire lunchbox-full for afternoon tea a few days later. Can you believe that still left another dozen for Michael and I, back at home?

Road trip cookies

1 cup peanut butter (gotta be crunchy, surely!)
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup castor sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups oats
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
250g packet dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Beat together the peanut butter and butter, then add the sugars and continue beating until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla.

Sift the flour and baking soda, stir in the oats, and then stir these dry ingredients into the sweet butter mixture. Finally stir in the chocolate chips.

Brilynn suggests that if the dough is really sticky you can add more flour here. My mixture was quite sticky but I powered on without any more filler! Use two teaspoons to drop the dough onto an ungreased baking tray. The front cookie pictured above was done like this - the neater, rounder one behind came from gently rolling the dough in my hands.

Bake for 10 minutes until lightly browned. I'll echo Brilynn's emphasis on not overcooking these: in fact, I might only bake mine for 8-10 minutes next time for a chewier cookie.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

September 6, 2007: Hooked

My love of fish and chips was the greatest challenge to overcome in my shift to vegetarianism three years ago. My devotion to chips still abides, of course, and that battered-fish-shaped hole in my life is filled relatively well with other things: tartare sauce, tempura veges, crumbed tofu with lemon, and occasionally an actual dish of faux fish. So when Elegant Gourmand recently raved about fish'n'chipper Hooked, mentioning killer fries and tempura veges, I was, well... hooked. So I lined up a quick and casual dinner there prior to an opening night screening of Ratatouille.

Hooked is every bit the trendy takeaway: the stencil drawings, prices and menu options are consistent with its Chapel St address, but you'll receive counter service, paper wrapping and ineffectual plastic cutlery even if you're eating in. The full extent of the vegetarian options are already outlined in EG's post: light tempura veges with a soy dip ($8.50), a hooked salad ($8.50; featuring mixed leaves, tomato, cucumber, bbq corn, pickled ginger, bean sprouts, kumera crisps and a oil-free dressing) and chips ($4.50 for regular size). We ordered one of each...

First up we tried the tempura veges - while Michael enjoyed them, I was less impressed. My first piece was actually a haphazard ball of multiple veges bound together with batter that wasn't completely cooked through - not exactly light and crunchy. And there wasn't enough darn sauce! Still, I am pretty shameless in my consumption of deep-fried foods, and I found what enjoyment there was on offer in helping Michael polish these off.

Next I unwrapped our parcel of fries - thankfully these lived up to the expectations that EG inspired! Chunky and fleshy on the inside, with just enough golden crispness on the outside. Again, our 90c pot of tartare sauce wasn't enough to bathe all our potatoes, but there was complimentary ketchup and vinegar on the table to pick up the slack.

The salad, too, was far better than I'd expect from the average fast food joint. Generous mixed greens and a lovely bite from the pickled ginger, this is the perfect counterbalance to the greasier foods I can't resist. The crunchy kumera chips were delicious, of course, but not entirely necessary amongst the oil-fest that was the rest of my dinner.

And what of Ratatouille? I didn't find the script and characters as charming as some of Pixar's previous efforts, but the visuals are their most stunning yet. I think it's worth seeing on the big screen, just to gaze beyond the action at the cute restaurant kitchen and gorgeous scenes of Paris-in-a-parallel-universe. The climax of the film, in which critic Anton Ego tastes the dish of the title, is pitch-perfect in its depiction of the joy of eating.

To follow this tangent even further, the 20 years of Pixar exhibition at ACMI continues for only one more month! A must-see for lovers of animation - it's worth the price of admission just for the zoetrope, I swear.

Address: 172 Chapel St, Windsor
Ph: 95291075
Price: veg mains $8.50, regular chips $4.50