Wednesday, October 31, 2007

24 October, 2007: Houndstooth

I've been walking past Houndstooth on Johnston Street in Fitzroy for months and months and have repeatedly agitated for a trip out to sample their absurdly cheap delights. Finally, I managed to convince Cindy that it was worth a visit, and we met up for dinner and a couple of drinks on a Wednesday evening. Houndstooth isn't your typical restaurant: for starters it's ridiculously cheap - just $10 for two courses or $15 for three. Secondly, there are very few choices - basically there are a couple of entrees and a couple of mains on offer, with a weekly menu update. The dessert options are a bit broader, but still change slightly from week to week. In fact there are far, far more options behind the bar than on the menu. I didn't check out the wine list but the beer options included an impressive range of local brews including the full range of Mountain Goat and Grand Ridge stubbies. I'd come directly from a painful game of squash, so I was particularly happy to knock back a couple of cold, Victorian beers. The place itself is cosy (small) and is full of communal tables and trendy locals and all the ordering is done through the friendly bar staff.

But on to the food. Cindy opted for just two courses (main and dessert of course), while I went the whole hog and had all three. The Houndstooth folk are kind enough to make sure that one of the two options for both the entrees and the mains are vegetarian. It meant that Cindy and I were restricted to having the same thing when it came to the mains, but it's not often that half of the menu is meat-free, so it's not worth complaining about.

Cindy was forced to watch while I enjoyed the vego entree: a gorgonzola, thyme and caramelised onion tart. It was tasty, but it was more pastry than tart - I could have used more gorgonzola. Still, it was salty-licious and a decent start to the meal.

We both got a serve of the main: Middle Eastern chickpeas, peppers stuffed with cous cous, and asparagus with tarragon served up with a generous dollop of sour cream. The chickpeas weren't quite up to our recent standards, but they were still quite good - a nice hint of spice without anything too overwhelming. Throw in some deliciously fresh asparagus and enjoyable stuffed peppers and we had a ridiculously good meal for the price. And, without wanting to gloat, it looked a lot nicer than the meat option that some of the surrounding customers went for.

There were a few more options for dessert and, unsurprisingly, all were veg-friendly. I couldn't resist the pear custard cake while Cindy, somewhat predictably, went for the pecan tart.

Both came served with a dollop of fresh cream. Unfortunately I didn't get to taste Cindy's dessert (nor she mine), as they were both too delicious to enjoy slowly.

A word of warning: when we strolled in at 6:45 things were pretty quiet, but by 7:30 or so most of the tables were full. It might be worth making a booking if you're desperate to enjoy what Houndstooth has to offer (otherwise, you could always turn up and use Los Amates or Fitz Curry Cafe as fallbacks).

Address: 36 Johnston Street, Fitzroy
Ph: 0411 404 374
Price: $10 for two courses, $15 for three

Monday, October 29, 2007

October 21, 2007: Baked zucchini flowers

Our visit to Brunswick on Saturday morning also yielded some zucchini flowers. Michael noticed them at the large fruit & veg shop and pointed them out. I automatically whirred through my mental catalogue of recipes and remembered one for baked and stuffed zucchini flowers. Unfortunately I didn't have the right blog name neurologically attached, nor did I bookmark it when I initially found it. Even so, it only took a bit of time sifting through my blog aggregator to find the source: this was another spring gem from Jules of stonesoup.

More recently, Haalo has remarked on the differences between male and female zucchini flowers, and I can retrospectively identify mine as female, the better for stuffing. Lucky, 'cause I had no idea about their gender issues at the time. (I wonder if Jules had any surprises during her de-flowering...) The stuffing recipe includes two delicious cheeses, ricotta and parmesan, and is lifted into real spring territory with the zing of grated lemon zest. Even though we didn't have as many flowers as Jules did, I made the full quantity of stuffing - we enjoyed it spread on crackers and bread for almost a week.

While we strictly followed Jules' instructions for stuffing and baking the flowers, we got a bit lazier on the dressing. Instead of buying or making basil oil, we simply sprinkled the baked flowers with shaved parmesan and torn basil leaves. The result was incredibly delicious - the baking transformed the flavour of the ricotta to something deeper and nuttier, while the zucchini stalks were tender and juicy. I'm sorry to say that I may never make this again.

I may never make this again because I hate piping. I HATE PIPING. I've got neat handwriting and I like my pictures hung at just the right angle, but I cannot handle the finicky-ness of squeezing spaghetti-lengths of goo onto a cake or into a floppy zucchini flower. It's where I draw the line. I've never claimed that life is too short to stuff a mushroom, but my fuse is definitely too short to pipe anything. I'll pay some other patient schmuck for my delicately-iced cupcakes.

If you're willing to brave the piping (it's probably worth it, I must admit), grab the recipe from stonesoup.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

October 20, 2007: White chocolate kulfi and a bit of Bollywood

It's that time of the year again. Nope, it's not Halloween I'm excited about, or even Vegetarian Awareness Month. I'm psyched for Nova Cinema's Indian Film Festival! I'm always keen for an over-long and overly obvious story of love and dancing in the Subcontinent, and to keep Michael interested there's usually plenty of Indian-style eating to go along with it. On Saturday night I booked tickets for Chak De! India and invited Tracy and Lee to join us for dinner beforehand.

During our day-trip to Brunswick we stopped by the Indian grocery for a few supplies. I was very pleased to find there Lay's latest foray into potato chips for the Indian market: a packet of Masala Magic chips resplendent with Indian World Cup Cricket logos. Even better, it was bundled up with a bonus small sample of Mint Mischief chips. With Taj Mahal beers in the fridge, pre-dinner nibbles were all sorted out.

For the main meal, we called on a few previously successful dishes. I shelled some fresh peas and baked a batch of jumbo samosas, while Michael prepared our favourite spiced chickpeas and steamed some rice. Raita and two kinds of pickle guaranteed that everyone could adjust the spiciness to their liking.

I can't leave a theme alone without planning something for dessert, and I was keen for kulfi. I already have a favourite recipe, but instead I tried a non-traditional and eye-catching version by Mridula Baljekar which includes white chocolate. Although kulfi doesn't require an ice-cream maker and is usually rather firm when frozen, I elected to pop it in the machine for a lighter, airier version. I also couldn't resist adding a couple of pinches of ground cardamom to the mix. Unfortunately I didn't leave enough time for the mixture to freeze fully, and we ended up with bowls of sweet cream only slightly firmer than slush! Never mind, it still tasted great, and the leftovers were even better, topped with some canned passionfruit pulp.

While this white chocolate kulfi is far from traditional, I think it's very much in the spirit of an Indian dessert: milky and very sweet, it's the ideal cooling finish to a fiery meal.

White chocolate kulfi

1 x 375mL can evaporated milk
300mL double cream
1/4 cup castor sugar
180g block white chocolate (I won't tell if you eat one or two pieces)
two pinches of ground cardamom
1 small can of passionfruit pulp to serve (optional)

Combine the evaporated milk, cream and sugar over low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat - it need only be lukewarm.

Melt the chocolate gently in a double boiler (or your own preferred set-up). Stir it into the milk-cream mixture until well combined. Add the cardamom and stir through.

If you're not using an ice-cream maker, pour the mixture directly into a pretty mould or other container and freeze for at least 5 hours. If you are using an ice-cream maker, refrigerate the mixture until it is very cold, then churn it according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Serve the kulfi in slices or scoops topped with passionfruit pulp.

Friday, October 26, 2007

October 20, 2007: A1 Bakery

I started Saturday with an early morning game of squash at Fitzy's Gym in West Brunswick. The plan was to meet up with Cindy afterwards and find ourselves some breakfast around Sydney Road. In my head this was going to involve a repeat trip to Ray or something, but Cindy suggested we finally visit one of the raved-about Lebanese bakeries at the northern end of the strip. In the end this worked out for the best - I was ravenous by the time we met up and A1 Bakery was the perfect place to satisfy my well-earned hunger for less than 10 bucks.

A1 started out as a pita bread manufacturing company a couple of decades ago and developed into a retail outlet with a wide range of Lebanese groceries and a bakery shopfront churning out breads, pastries and pizzas. The place is bustling on a Saturday morning, but we managed a window seat and loaded up on fresh-baked delights: a cheese pie ($4.80) for Cindy and a spinach and cheese pastry ($2.80) plus a herb bread ($1.20) for me.

The spinach and cheese pastry was the star of the show - crumbly Bulgarian feta, fresh spinach and deliciously cooked pastry. And it was huge - it was really three little triangles in one. The herb bread was fresh and warm and sprinkled with a mix of herbs and spices. It did the job of filling me up, but was probably a little dry - it'd be better split between two than eaten entirely by one greedy individual.

Cindy's cheese pie was more delicious pastry wrapped around some slightly melty haloumi. It was probably a little more bready than my spinach and cheese pastry, but was still a fine morning meal.

We had a quick browse through the groceries on offer and headed out into the hubbub of Sydney Road full to the gills, having spent just a tick over $10. Not too shabby.

Address: 645-645 Sydney Road, Brunswick
Ph: 9386 0440
Price: Veg pastries/pizzas $1-5

October 16, 2007: Gertrude Street Grub - Made A Mano Gertrude Street Organic Bakery

I've been a bit slack with Gertrude Street Grub of late - mostly because I've not been venturing to any new places and just been revisiting old favourites. This week, I finally got around to dropping into the Made A Mano bakery and grabbing a pasty to takeaway and eat. Made A Mano is an organic bakery, with a wide range of breads and a heap of delicious looking lunch options (focaccias, pastries, muffins etc). It was impossible to go past the vegetarian pasty option ($5): a huge slab of pastry, filled with potato, peas, onion, celery and a dash of curry flavouring. The pastry was crisp and flaky and the filling was rich, tasty and vegie-licious. I found myself a nice park to sit in and savoured every mouthful. Tremendous.

Address: 228 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
Ph: 9417 5998
Price: $5 for pastries

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

October 14, 2007: Spinach kofta and eggplant raita

It's been a while since Michael and I prepared Indian food at home, but as usual I've had a few appetising recipes from other bloggers tucked away. These super-healthy baked spinach kofta come from SusanV's Fatfree Vegan Kitchen and they're fantastic. The main reason they were fantastic this time was because Michael made them, but they're also special for maintaining a golden crunchy crust even without frying.

We were clearly going to need some sauce for the kofta and some more veges to complete the meal, and I found both of these in Mallika's recipe for eggplant raita over at Quick Indian Cooking. Unfortunately I couldn't locate any mango powder, but these were still a winner. The eggplant slices added plenty of substance and a little extra spice, and the yoghurt brought some much-needed moisture to pair with the dry kofta. Next time I make these (and you can bet your bottom dollar there'll be a next time), I'll add a lot more yoghurt so that there's plenty to slather over the kofta. Also, I'll try adding salt to the eggplants' soaking water to leach out a bit of the bitterness - sadly, my market-sourced eggplants were past their prime.

We followed the recipes to the letter, so head over to Fatfree Vegan Kitchen and Quick Indian Cooking to recreate them for yourself.

October is Vegetarian Awareness Month and to celebrate, Margot is hosting a blog event over at Coffee & Vanilla. We'd like to submit this, our favourite vegetarian dish of the month, to the event. If you're visiting from Margot's site, welcome! You might like to browse through our Recipes index, because we're all vegetarian all the time and we have lots of tasty dishes to share.

Monday, October 22, 2007

October 13-15, 2007: Peanut butter and jelly drops

On Saturday night, Kerrie and Daniel invited a gaggle of refugees from Queensland to their home for a housewarming and movie night. They invited us all to bring a DVD to share and challenged us to team our movie choice with some thematically appropriate food or drink. Much as I love a theme, I found this one a particular challenge. The DVDs I wanted to share didn't have memorable eating scenes at all!

I decided to go ahead and take Press Gang (a favourite TV series from my tween years) regardless. This series was set in a newspaper office run by high school students and featured reams of snappy dialogue, but was most compelling for the love/hate relationship between the highly strung, very English editor Lynda Day and the American wise-guy sometime-journalist Spike Thompson. So why not find an edible clash of England and America?

This proved to be perfect Nigella territory. I was keen to try making her jam doughnut muffins, but they didn't really allow for early preparation and easy packing. But there, on the facing page, lay the answer: peanut butter and jelly drops. The original shortbread-y jam drop, perfect with a cup of tea, transformed by the injection of America's favourite food pairing.

These went down well enough on Saturday night, but a bit of leftover biscuit dough allowed me to refine my method on Monday night and share the ultimate version after Mike and Jo-Lyn cooked us dinner. Saturday night's drops were a little too firm and didn't taste of peanut butter at all. Monday night's drops didn't look cooked but were actually perfectly chewy and decidedly peanut butter flavoured! So the message here is don't don't DON'T over-bake these - they took no more than 10 minutes in my oven. This lesson could well translate to the peanut butter choc-chip cookies I made last month. Perhaps their peanut buttery goodness will do better with an even shorter bake.

Some other food and movie pairings from the night? Enjoy Napoleon Dynamite with cafeteria-style potato gems (Tater Tots), and add some Chinese-style barbeque sauce to cut the grease. Bagels or pancakes suit The Breakfast Club, while The Big Lebowski should be washed down with a White Russian. To see more food in film, check out this blog event held last August by Susan from The Well-Seasoned Cook.

Peanut butter and jelly drops

125g butter, softened
150g castor sugar
125g brown sugar
200g smooth peanut butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
300g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
about 2/3 cup red berry jam

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars; add the peanut butter and mix until combined, then mix in the eggs and vanilla.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, then gradually introduce then to the butter mix. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for about an hour. (I refrigerated leftover mixture for a couple of days and it was perfectly fine.)

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C and grease a baking tray. Roll tablespoons of the biscuit dough into balls, place them on the baking sheet, and use a round handle end of a spoon to make an indentation in the centre of each biscuit. (Nigella suggests a firm thumbprint.) Although Nigella bakes these jamless, I suggest adding it before baking: dab it into the indentations using two teaspoons.

Bake the biscuits for 10-15 minutes (my best ones were only in for 10 minutes). Make sure the base holds together, but don't worry that most of the dough is still soft - these will be deliciously chewy once cooled. Transfer to a cooling rack while you repeat with the remaining biscuit dough.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

October 14, 2007: Cafe Plum

Update 31/12/2014: Cafe Plum is closed.

Cindy continues to devour the combined output of Melbourne's 8 million food bloggers, so when the weekend rolls around and I'm looking for somewhere new to go for breakfast, she's always ready with a recommendation. This week it was Cafe Plum, thanks to the rave review from Agnes at Off the Spork.

I was a little worried as we approached - there were no other cafes nearby and from the outside Cafe Plum didn't look too exciting. But I was wrong to doubt - the inside was stylish and welcoming and the menu was full of delicious sounding breakfasts. After much agonising (the mushroom bruschetta and Castro's Cuban eggs both tempted me), I settled on the masala potatoes, with poached free-range eggs, spinach, herb mushrooms and tomato chutney ($13.50). As if that doesn't sound good enough, the chef apologetically informed me that they were all out of spinach and offered up asparagus instead. Winner!

We'll get the negatives out of the way first: the eggs were maybe a tiny bit overcooked. Otherwise, this was a joy - perfectly cooked spuds well covered by a subtle but delicious spice mix, mushrooms fried up with a bunch of delicious herbs (including something twiggy, which the chef later informed me was lemon thyme), a homemade chutney for flavouring and some fresh, in-season asparagus just to cap things off. Tremendous.

I think as soon as the word marscapone appears on a menu, Cindy's decision is made for her. In this case it was blueberry pancakes with marscapone ($14.90). Another fine choice - the pancakes were stuffed full of fresh berries, dusted with icing sugar and served with a big, fat dollop of marscapone on top. I only got a tiny taste, but they were at least as good as they look.

The service was friendly and efficient throughout and, as we were finishing up, the chef came out for a bit of a chat. He was a larger than life character, filling us both with even more enthusiasm for our morning meal. A little research once we got home revealed that the chef at Cafe Plum is Franco Italia - something of a celebrity in the Melbourne food scene having been head chef at Cafe e Cucina and Sud. We'd never heard of him before. Regardless he's a chatty, friendly guy and he runs a wonderful cafe that will surely satisfy your breakfast needs.

Address: 193 Flemington Rd, North Melbourne
Ph: 9329 8867
Price: veg breakfasts $4-15

Thursday, October 18, 2007

October 10, 2007: My healthiest, vegan-est muffins yet

I've written before about my need for mid-afternoon work snacks and recently I have fallen back into my bad, bad habit of buying chips or chocolate from the shop near my office. In a bid to remedy this, I retrieved this recipe for full meal muffins. They were developed by Jennifer McCann - the super-mum behind Vegan Lunch Box - with much trial and error along the way, so I was confident that the final recipe she shared with the world would be appetising as well as scrupulously healthy.

These muffins had the added advantage of requiring a few ingredients that have been sitting neglected in my pantry for while (spelt flour, blackstrap molasses, currants) and I managed to time my preparation of them perfectly. Michael was away interstate for a couple of days and so I purchased the required bananas (plus a couple extra) with impunity.

As I set about blending up the wet ingredients, my expectations took a dive. I had forgotten just how strong blackstrap molasses really is, and its acrid taste swamped the bananas and apple juice in the mix. I wondered if I'd like these muffins at all. But I needn't have worried. The little mounds that popped neatly out of my muffin pan were perfectly edible! They're incredibly dense and filling without being leaden, with a lovely springy texture. The taste is fairly nondescript, with the previously dominating molasses defeated by heat and flour to create a pleasant, bland and faintly sweet flavour. The currants and walnuts are vital for texture and taste, and I'm sure there are many other dried fruit and nut combinations that would work well.

Jennifer's muffins are a far cry from those fist-sized puffs of white flour, sugar and chocolate chips - and thank the Lord for that! Instead I have a pocket sized package of goodness to push me past 4:00 without a thought for chocolate. Would you believe I even converted Michael to them? I cheekily told him about the bananas within only after I won his approval. He has continued to munch on regardless.

My healthiest, vegan-est muffins yet

1 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 ripe bananas, peeled
3 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup apple juice
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 zucchini, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup currants

Set the oven to 190 degrees C and grease and muffin tin.

Sift together the flours, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda into a bowl.

In a food processor, blitz together the bananas, blackstrap molasses, apple juice and apple cider vinegar until smooth. Stir them into the sifted dry ingredients, then fold in the zucchini, walnuts and currants. My mixture was fine, but Jennifer suggests adding a bit more apple juice if you need it to wet all the flour.

Drop large tablespoons of the mixture into the muffin pan and bake for about 20 minutes, until the top "springs back to the touch".

Divide mixture evenly into the 12 lined muffin cups, and bake for 20 minutes, or until the top springs back to the touch. Remove muffins from the pan and cool on a wire rack.

Store in an airtight container or freeze in individual freezer bags to pull out and put into lunches as needed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

October 8, 2007: Creamy cabbage

On our recent visit to Williamstown, I gamely invested in a new cookbook. I say 'gamely' because, unlike many food bloggers, I'm trying not to amass too large a collection of cookbooks. (I'm a rebel in a long family line of hoarders and feel guilty about owning anything that I don't actually make use of.) Besides, you may have noticed that the new dishes we prepare at home are more often inspired by other food bloggers than by anything printed on paper. So it's a high compliment that the anonymously authored vegie food took my fancy as I idly flicked through it in a gift shop.

Even more improbable than my impulse purchase of this book (no dessert recipes - can you imagine?!) was my first choice of recipe, a side dish of cabbage. While I've never hated cabbage as such, it's never really excited me either. But it seemed just the right combination of subtle flavour, fresh texture and nutrient richness to prepare alongside our two pies from TOFWD. This creamy cabbage was even tastier than I hoped - the gentle cooking toned down a texture that can be rubbery when raw, and the flavour was very savoury and buttery. Michael and I enjoyed this so much that we ate the leftovers with simple old toast the night after.

Creamy cabbage

1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
2 leeks, sliced thinly
500g cabbage, sliced thinly
juice of half a lemon
5 tablespoons cream or creme fraiche
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

In a large frypan, heat the oil and butter, then add the mustard seeds and cook until they pop. Add the leeks and cook them until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the cabbage, turn the heat down to low, and cook for a further 4 minutes until it, too, has softened.

Season the mix with salt and pepper, add the lemon juice and cream, then cook for a minute more. Finally, add the parsley and serve.

October 8, 2007: The Organic Food and Wine Deli

After our cheap and delicious lunch at Nila, we ducked our heads into The Organic Food and Wine Deli (TOFWD) to check out what they had to offer. While the stock isn't strictly vegetarian, there was a wide range of well-marked vego, gluten free and vegan treats to eat in or takeaway. We selected two vego pies: one filled with a mushroom and tofu mix (vegan) and the other with a cheesy mexican bean mush ($4.80 each).

We heated them both up on a lazy evening at home (accompanied by a cabbage dish that Cindy will blog soon) and halved them to share between us. The mushroom and tofu mix was my favourite - one of the better pie fillings I've tasted (although still not a patch on Cindy's homemade efforts). The fact that it mixed so well with my preferred condiment (Worcestershire sauce) probably helped. The Mexican pie was tasty as well, but a little less like a traditional pie and thus not quite as exciting (at least for me).

It's rare that we opt for the lazy premade dinner option (although I've been meaning to try something from the Brunswick Street Alimentari for a while now), but these were a cheap and delicious option - it mightn't be a bad idea to stock the freezer with a few for days when cooking is too much trouble.

Address: 28 Degraves Street, Melbourne
Phone: 9654 5157
Price: Veg pies - $4.80

Sunday, October 14, 2007

October 7, 2007: Nila City II

Update, 31/12/2014: Nila City has been closed for a while now, replaced by a fancy fish and chip shop. The old Brunswick branch is defunct as well, but there's a Nila Restaurant trading in Coburg that is probably a related operation.

Here's another sample from the Nila menu: pizza roti ($7.95). This is a large roti bread, crisp on the bottom like a pizza base, topped with a chickpea and potato curry, fresh tomato and capsicum slices, and finely chopped steamed mixed veges (most likely sourced from McCain or Birds Eye). Evidently this isn't gourmet grade but it's a tasty and filling plateful - its charm lies in the fresh, flaky bread.

My one Nila grumble: in my three visits I have always asked for a lentil doughnut and they've never been available! Perhaps it's time they're stricken from the menu...?

(You can also read about our previous visits to Nila City and Nila Junction.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

October 6, 2007: Burger Culture

After more than a year in Melbourne, Cindy and I are still gradually exploring the area - by the time the weekend rolls around there's usually enough adventure to be had in the inner north for us to be bothered exploring more widely. Finally, we ran out of alternatives and decided to make the trip out to Williamstown. After a quick stroll around the waterfront (which did provide a cracking view back to the city, but was a bit on the cold and windy side to be entirely pleasant), it was time to chase up some lunch. A wander along the main strip threw up an array of reasonable (if not terribly exciting) options, but when we stumbled on a sign promising us great burgers a few hundred metres down a side street, our decision was made for us.

Luckily, they didn't let us down on the vego front, with two non-meaty burger options. Cindy chose the 'Vegi Patch', a vegie pattie, sun-dried tomato, salad and tomato relish ($7), while I went upmarket and ordered the 'Vegi Vibe', the same pattie, salad and relish, but with roasted capsicum and egglant, feta cheese and olives instead of the sun-dried tomato ($9.50). And it should go without saying that we also opted for chips - a large bowl full, with complimentary dipping sauce. The burgers were both excellent. We've not really found a super exciting vegie pattie in our burger-related travels as yet (except for these homemade beauties), and these weren't an exception. Still, they were decent enough and the salad and trimmings were fresh and delicious, as were the wholemeal buns. The chips were cooked perfectly and the 'Mayo Culture' that we chose to dip them in was a real winner - and free! A fine example for other burger shops to follow.

I'm not sure when we'll be back in Williamstown, but as spring gradually creeps up on us, it wouldn't surprise me if we ended up munching on some of Burger Culture's fare before too many sunny afternoons pass us by.

Address: 3 Cole St, Williamstown
Ph: 9397 7156
Price: $7 - $9.50

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

September 26, 2007: Orange-scented cashew ice

So that recipe for candied rinds told me to discard the sugar syrup after I'd sweetened and softened up those orange bits. Nuh-uh! That's sweet, fragrant sugar water we've got there, why would I throw that out? The orange flavour was quite delicate and I was after something that would allow that to shine through. My mind turned to the subtle and summery vice cream that I tried back in January - I've never teamed cashews and oranges before, but I thought it was worth a shot.

It was. With a bit of extra oomph from a few drops of orange essence, the two flavours shared the spotlight nicely. However, the texture just didn't work out for me this time. I tried soaking the cashews beforehand and they were looking pretty soft, but I guess I just didn't give them long enough in the food processor. Once in the ice-cream maker, this mixture was looking super-thick after only 15 minutes (this typically takes 30-40 minutes with a standard ice-cream recipe) so I took it out. Perhaps a bit of extra time churning would have improved the texture, but I suspect it all goes back to the processing phase.

So, this rendition of orange-scented cashew ice was a bit too big on the ice. But teamed with the blueberries sitting in the freezer, I'm sure we'll be able to polish off this slightly fruity number.

Orange-scented cashew ice

1 cup cashews
1 cup orange-infused sugar syrup
1 cup water
a few drops of orange essence

Soak the cashews in the sugar syrup and water for at least an hour (or up to a day) in the fridge. Add the orange essence and blitz the mixture in the food processor until the cashews are as liquified as possible. (It may help to drain some of the liquid away and then re-introduce it after the cashews are completely blended.) Return the mixture to the fridge until it's super-cold, then churn it in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

September 24, 2007: Maya gold chocolate mousse

Last month a post from Neil of At My Table reminded me of the importance of seeking out Fair Trade chocolate, and subsequently led me to a Fair Trade chocolate blog event over at R khooks. Fortunately, buying Fair Trade chocolate is just getting easier and easier for me - Green & Black's brand is now available at my local Safeway, and their Maya Gold is one of my all-time favourites. This is a dark chocolate with "spices and a twist of orange". And what better way to savour those subtle flavours than in a chocolate mousse? To extend the taste, I added a pinch of cinnamon to the mousse and tried my hand at some candied orange rind to garnish.

Unfortunately my hand is not so adept at the gentle folding that gives a mousse its light, airy texture. I ended up with some fairly dense dessert cups but the rich, buttery texture was still thoroughly enjoyable, especially when teamed with the chewy strips of rind.

I won't effusively recommend the mousse recipe since I didn't master it and I won't effusively recommend the candied rinds because, nice as they are, they're rather labour-intensive. However, I will channel all my effusiveness into recommending you buy Fair Trade chocolate (and coffee) products whenever possible: let no-one else bear the cost of the pleasure these luxuries give you.

I'm far too late (and too honest about my mediocre result) to enter this into the Stop the Traffik chocolate competition. Still, head on over to R khooks to see some more delicious and more timely entries.

Spiced chocolate mousse
(based on this recipe from Simply Recipes)

2/3 cup double cream
90g Green & Black's Maya Gold chocolate (eat the last row of your 100g block as you cook!)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs, separated

Whip the cream until soft peaks form, and put it in the fridge.

Using a double boiler (or two-saucepan set-up) with hot water in the lower saucepan, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring continually. When the mixture is fully melted and smooth, remove it from the heat and let it cool until "it is just slightly warmer than body temperature". Stir in the cinnamon.

Whip the egg whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form.

When the chocolate's ready stir in the egg yolks, then one third of the whipped cream. Fold in half the egg whites until just combined. Repeat with the remaining whites, then the remaining cream.

Using a spoon or a piping bag, transfer the mousse to a serving bowl or set of glasses (this should make 4-6 serves). Refrigerate for about 8 hours, up to a day.

Candied orange rinds
(taken from this page at Epicurious)

3 large navel oranges
1 cup castor sugar

Use a vegetable peeler to remove strips of rind from the oranges, avoiding as much of the white pith as possible. I found that while the strips were still moist, it wasn't too difficult to scrape the remaining pith from the strips with a knife. Slice the rinds into thinner strips. Place them in a small saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring them to the boil, then drain the rind strips. Repeat this process with fresh water, then pat the strips dry.

Over moderate heat, bring 2 cups of water and the sugar to boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Drop in the rind strips and simmer them until they soften and go translucent, stirring occasionally along the way. This will take about 25 minutes.

Take the saucepan off the heat and allow it to cool. Drain the rinds - the original recipe instructs you to discard the syrup but I'm sure you can find something nice to do with it! (I'll have a recipe up in a day or two.) Set a cake rack over a baking tray and spread out the rinds across it to dry properly. Give them an hour or so - they'll still be sticky but much more manageable.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

September 22, 2007: Green and gorgeous spring salad

Now that winter's rhubarb has been ticked off, on to spring and asparagus! The pretty green vege was my main target on our market trip (though obviously I was distracted by some impulse buying along the way...). I had this salad from stonesoup in mind for them - I can get into quite a stodgy comfort-food rut during winter, but I was sure this perky mix of blanched asparagus and lemony dressing would get me on track for some lighter, fresher eating. It's a nice segue at least, with buttery avacado chunks still providing some richness.

Although Jules intended this as a side for fish and chips, we found that a large bowlful made for a most satisfying recovery dinner after our cheesy lunch. A rarity among salads, I was really looking forward to a second run of this one for lunch the next day. Unfortunately the asparagus ribbons aren't looking their best by then, so try to eat them freshly blanched if you can.

Green and gorgeous spring salad

2 bunches asparagus
120g baby spinach
1 ripe avocado, sliced into thin wedges
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup of your best olive oil
salt and pepper

Cut the fibrous ends off the asparagus spears, then slice them lengthways into ribbons using a vegetable peeler. Fill a large saucepan with water, add salt, and bring it to the boil. Blanch the asparagus ribbons in it for only 1 1/2 minutes, then drain them and rinse in cold water.

Whisk together the lemon juice, mustard and olive oil and season to taste. In a large bowl, toss the dressing through the asparagus and spinach, then add the avocado.

September 22, 2007: Sweet Source

Update, 27/1/2019: Sweet Source has closed.

On Saturday we rode (and walked) our bikes to the markets in the morning, and still Michael and I wanted to soak up those last few rays of spring sunshine in the afternoon. So off to the park with books and a blanket we went. Trouble is, there was a little rumble in my stomach and Sweet Source in our direct path. It's difficult to believe that we've lived so close to Sweet Source for the past year and I've not visited since our first weekend. Even their attempt at serving me a beef pie shouldn't have put me off that long! The tiers of cupcakes in all shades of pastel are a little twee, but there's no denying the delicious looks of their sweet and savoury baked goods.

I picked out a slice of ruby grapefruit frangipane tart ($5) and it proved to be a winner. The almond frangipani is sweet and cloud-like and there's a shiny glaze on top, but what makes this tart a real gem is the genuinely bitter grapefruit segments that bring it back to earth. Sweet Source's sugar and spice are nice enough, but it's that grapefruit edge that impresses me more.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

where's the beef? switches off

Even though we have a number of tasty new posts to publish, where's the beef? will be distinctly quiet for the next 24 hours. We'll be minimising our greenhouse emissions and joining the Big Switch Off. The challenge is to go 24 hours without using any electricity, gas or battery-powered devices from 8pm tonight, October 6 through to 8pm October 7. We're going to cheat just a little and keep our fridge running, but there'll be no lights, no TV and no internet. What we do have to look forward to is a walk into the Treasury Gardens for a community event of food, stalls, live music, comedy and speakers. Also, look to the city tonight as the Arts Centre and Giant Sky Wheel switch off.

The level of energy usage that we accept in our daily living is really not sustainable, and it's ultimately more important that we try to reduce our habitual energy consumption. If you haven't already, consider requesting green power from your energy supplier.