Saturday, November 24, 2007

November 23, 2007: Bowl of Soul

Michael and I ventured out to Port Melbourne for the first time on Friday night with the purpose of eating at Bowl of Soul. I spotted this cafe on More To Love Vegan quite some time ago, and I was rather psyched about the possibility of a veggie BLT. As a lover of burgers I was overwhelmed with the choice here - they were based on tofu, lentils, beans, and faux meats from beef through to prawns! Other toppings and sauces are well chosen to suit the burger themes, from Mexican to satay. There's also some soup and a couple of other things on the menu, but mostly it's about the burgers.

The vegan and vegan-adaptable items are clearly marked and cover almost everything on the menu. There are a few gluten-free options too, particularly in the mouthwatering cake display. Buttons rued the lack of chips to go with her burger and to our surprise, they are now available after 6pm! Unfortunately I didn't notice until after I'd ordered, and Michael chose a side-sized Soul Salad ($5.50) instead. In addition to the usual mixed greens and carrot, this was packed with fresh beetroot, mung beans, sprouts, capers and semi sun-dried tomatoes.

In spite of the BLT that brought me here, I actually decided to order the Soul on a Roll ($9). This featured a freshly fried fillet of wheat gluten with a ocean-flavoured 'skin' of nori. There were generous servings of lettuce and tomato, and a thick spread of lime-infused tartare sauce. These guys get triple points for the super-fresh ingredients and preparation! It makes all the difference with fast food such as this, with no oily guilty feeling sitting in my stomach afterwards.

As you can see from the top pic, Michael was into the Soul Dog ($7.50). This is no little wiener, it's smothered with grilled onions, cheese, tomato sauce and mustard. With that many condiments it's just as well he ordered the salad! He demolished the lot in record time and I seriously challenge anyone to tell the difference between a soysage and a hot dog in a blind taste test.

As we ate, we were sitting with a full view of the dessert cabinet and it was inevitable that I'd be picking up a little something to take home and enjoy later. These are wild figs coated in dark chocolate and vanilla sugar (50c each). They taste at least as good as they sound, filled with chewy fruity sweetness. The Soul kids don't skimp on the chocolate either! The cook warned us that they were addictive and it's just as well I had a belly full of burger, 'cause those choccies were good. I could easily have run all the way back and bought out their supply.

It's no secret that Bowl of Soul has my number. I love, love, love a freshly prepared vege burger and these guys do an amazing array of them for less than $10 each. It'll be no chore to revisit and report back on the standard of the chips!

Update 10/5/10: Unfortunately, Bowl of Soul has closed down. Very disappointing. We didn't get across the river very much, but it was always a winner when we visited.

Address: 118 Bridge St, Port Melbourne
Ph: 9645 2470
Price: veg mains $5 - $9.50

November 21, 2007: Baked stuffed mushrooms with herb and lemon gremolata

It's hard to believe that it's taken us more than a year of blogging before we finally got around to stuffing some mushrooms. They're such a vego staple, it's difficult to explain how we've neglected them for so long. Luckily, Cindy had tucked away this recipe for when the mood finally took us. I'm not sure how she's still keeping up with Ready, Steady, Cook, but her efforts were rewarded with a delicious dinner thanks to Dominique Rizzo from Mondo Organics (and my sterling efforts in the kitchen of course).

This recipe has the added bonus of being vegan - it's predominantly mushrooms and herbs, with a heap of almond meal to give it all some body and texture. The herb and lemon gremolata gave a nice citrusy kick to the meaty mealy mushrooms, and the whole meal was topped off with some salty baked spud-bits that Cindy sorted out. I won't reproduce the directions, but feel free to muck about with the quantities - the recipe at the end of the link is designed to produce 1 entree (we multiplied by around 8). We ended up with a lot more filling than could fit in the mushrooms - so either get really big mushies, or fiddle the proportions a little.

November 18, 2007: Sweet'n'salty popcorn

Maybe this isn't the most exciting food photo you've seen around the blogosphere today, but it's a picture of one of my favourite snacks in recent weeks. It's a bowl of saucepan-popped corn, seasoned simply with sugar and salt. Doesn't thrill you? That's fine, but it's become a darn addictive combination for this afternoon snacker.

I'll get about a dozen bowls out of one $3.50 packet of organic corn so it's light on the pocket. I've tried to keep the sugar and oil levels down, so it's probably a lot lighter in calories than any instant-microwave-bag version too. If you're willing to stretch from 'instant' to 'takes 3 minutes' then I encourage you to give it a go.

Sweet'n'salty popcorn

~1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1/3 cup popcorn
1 teaspoon raw sugar
a shake of fine sea salt

Pour just enough oil into a medium-large saucepan to thinly cover the base. Spread the popcorn in a single layer over the bottom of the saucepan and set it on medium-high heat. Put the lid on and shake the pan in a horizontal motion to get the popcorn evenly distributed and lightly coated in oil.

Sprinkle over the raw sugar and replace the lid. Keep the saucepan over medium-high heat, shaking again roughly every 15 seconds. The corn should start popping pretty soon! Continue periodically shaking the pan horizontally just above the heat source as the corn pops, until the time between pops stretches to about 3 seconds. Turn off the heat. Continue shaking the pan for another 15-30 seconds until it's all popped out.

Pour the popped corn into a bowl and discard any burned ones that might be near the bottom (I'm getting better - no burning in my third batch!). Give the popcorn a light sprinkling of salt and get munching while it's still warm!

November 18, 2007: Strawberry icecream

It's the perfect time of year for icecream, and I've been keeping an eye on berry prices, biding my time. This weekend I found just what I was after - punnets of almost overripe strawberries for only a couple of dollars. It hasn't always been this way. The kind of strawberry icecream available from the supermarket when I was a kid was enough to scare me off the concept almost for life. I bet mine wasn't the only household where it was always the last flavour left in a tub of Neapolitan, right? And then there was the strawberry flavoured Quik... ergh... what were those food scientists thinking?!

My epiphany came shortly after buying my icecream maker seven years ago. The manual had a few recipes at the back, including the ubiquitous vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. I tried the chocolate first of course, with good results, but was soon looking for something new. The artificial strawberry flavouring that I knew was so different from the lovely taste of fresh ones that I figured it was worth a gamble. Boy, was it ever! This tasted like strawberries. And cream. And spring! I've since added some lemon juice to that recipe to really lift the fruity flavour. Given the water content of the fruit, this icecream isn't the richest around - it sets up a somewhat icy and needs a bit of time at room temperature before scooping but the reward is a slightly more refreshing taste. If you're after a super thick and creamy icecream, look for a recipe with more egg yolks than this one, probably more cream, and perhaps a cooked custard stage of preparation. For me, this is all I need.

Well, almost. We had some more lattice biscuits in the pantry.... and more cooking chocolate. It only took minutes to melt the chocolate and spread it on the back of the lattice biscuits, insulating them against sogginess. Voila - strawberry chocolate icecream sandwiches! I had by this time issued a spontaneous invitation for Jo-Lyn, Mike and Lee to share some strawberry bliss. We enjoyed these while sprawled around the lounge room, cream dripping from our fingers and into chipped bowls.

Strawberry icecream

250g fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
juice of 1 lemon
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup castor sugar
300mL bottle cream
250mL milk

Place the strawberries and lemon juice into a food processor and blend until smooth. Next blend in the yolks and sugar, then finally the cream and milk. Refrigerate the mixture until it's really cold, at least an hour. Churn in an icecream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions and freeze for about 6 hours.

Before serving, allow the icecream to soften in the fridge for about 30 minutes, or at room temperature for 10-15 minutes.

November 18, 2007: Julio

Edit 2/12/2019: Julio closed some time ago. Now this address holds Mary Miller.

Friends of ours recently moved to North Fitzroy and discovered Julio (slightly later than The Breakfast Blogger, whose always ahead of the game). We joined them for breakfast on a quiet Saturday morning and settled in. It's a smallish place in the front of an old corner store, with seating for maybe 30 people and a fairly casual vibe. The menu is small but impressive, with the focus firmly on their homemade doughnuts. Delicious, delicious doughnuts. We ordered one each, with Cindy and I both going for the custard variety (they also do jam ones). They came out warm and tasty - crispy on the outside but gooey and sweet on the inside. The homemade custard was a fantastic mess oozing out from the middle. They were also huge - much larger than I expected for $3, which was something of a concern given we'd already ordered some breakfast 'mains'.

Cindy asked for avocado on toast and got a couple of thick slices of toast, some fresh avocado and a sprinkling of seasoning. She was pretty full after the doughnut, but was very, very impressed by this - the seasoning was one of those little touches that takes something relatively straightforward and lifts it up to outstanding.

I went for one of the specials: baked eggs with sumac, chilli, yoghurt and spinach. I'm generally a fan of baked eggs, and these were a particular success - perfectly cooked eggs, with a light spice from the chilli and some interesting flavour contrasts from the yoghurt and sumac. I couldn't leave any of it and found myself full to bursting after my two course feast (and my two cups of free-trade coffee).

We were so enamoured with Julio that we returned less than a week later to join in their glorious election night party, thus ensuring that it will have a happy, happy place in our hearts. Hurrah for Julio! (And Kevin. At least until he disappoints).

Address: 171 Miller Street, North Fitzroy
Ph: 9489 7814
Price: $3 - $12

November 17, 2007: Leftover makeover - dessert pesto II

My first set of chocolate clusters were transformed into a sweet spread and the leftover ingredients from my ginger-cashew clusters received the same treatment. This time I blended the cashews, glace ginger and chocolate with Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese to smooth it out.

The 'pesto' was a success equal to my first attempt and I found some even better biscuits to team it with! These are Arnott's Lattice biscuits, pastry squares that are like sweet glazed SAOs. I haven't had them in years, though I do remember some incredible passionfruit vanilla slices made with them when I was growing up.

November 17, 2007: 'Fish' fingers

The weekend was shaping up to be a decadent one (if you think Friday night was big, wait 'til you see what we ate on Sunday!), and we desperately needed some fresh salad in the middle of it. The lineup of mixed greens, carrot and cucumber sticks and red capsicum were flavoured with pickled ginger and a dressing like this one. The more filling feature, though, was a tray of oven-baked tofu 'fish' fingers developed by Jennifer of Vegan Lunch Box fame. She really works to perfect her inventions before releasing them to the salivating public, but it's always worth the wait. The fingers are golden and crunchy even though they're baked with just a spray of oil, and the spice mix is a revelation - I've never used garlic powder before but I can see it becoming a spice rack staple! If garlic-seasoned crumbs aren't enough to get your mouth watering, keep in mind that these also include corn and almond meal, paprika and pepper.

I made a few minor changes to the recipe for the sake of convenience - I bought dulse flakes because I couldn't find kelp, skipped the onion powder and used a bit of extra garlic, skipped the dill entirely, and used water instead of soy milk. The one shortcoming of my fish fingers was that they were a bit tough. I probably over-baked them, and I plan to experiment with other tofu textures in future. The brand I chose was a bit too firm and crumbly, I think.

Even with these minor glitches, our fish fingers proved to be rather addictive when dipped into vegan mayonnaise. Along with the above alterations, I'll have to grab some pickles and capers next time to upgrade my vegannaise to tartare sauce - then we'll have hit on the ultimate vegan 'fish' finger experience.

Want a shot at these? Head over to Schmooed Food for the recipe.

November 16, 2007: Coyote Cafe

Updated 31/12/2014: The Coyote Cafe has been closed for some time, presumably swept away by the Mexican food tsunami that swamped Melbourne in 2008/09.

Cindy and I met up with Mike and Jo-Lyn for dinner at the Coyote Cafe in North Fitzroy. We've had a takeaway menu from this place sitting on our fridge for about six months and have been meaning to try it out almost the entire time. It's a Mexican place, with a menu which is quite friendly to vegetarians. And to drinkers. We started off with some icy cold margaritas ($10 each) and kicked back to browse through our options.

We quickly convinced Mike and Jo to join us in a vegetarian shared plate to start things rolling. It sounded fantastic: marinated olives, zucchini chips, jalapeno jelly, chillied mushrooms, sweet potato and goats' cheese sincronizada and pinto bean sopas ($19.50). Unfortunately, when it (eventually) came out, we'd scored a different tasting plate: one with chorizo on it. Still, the bits that Cindy and I could enjoy were great - particularly the bean sopas and jalapeno jelly. Maybe we could try to cook these up at home.

Cindy was half-full from her efforts at the tasting plate and opted for just an entree-sized meal: mushroom quesadillas ($10). They were adequate, but not particularly exciting and a bit on the cheesy side For Cindy's tastes.

I had eyes bigger than my stomach (this in spite of foolishly filling up on Burger Rings at the pub before dinner) and opted for a full-sized meal: spinchaladas. These are basically enchiladas with a potato, pumpkin and spinach filling, smothered in tomato sauce and sour cream ($19.50 - which was a shock when it was listed as $9 on the takeaway menu. Can prices have doubled in 6 months?). They were a little on the heavy side - the filling was predominantly spuds and pumpkin and could really have used some beans or something to liven things up a bit. The sauce was fine (but lacking a little in spice), and the greens and rice were a nice touch, but the whole thing was a bit of a letdown. Particularly at $20.

We had some long delays waiting for each of our courses and everyone was a bit tetchy by the time the mains came out. It turned out that the kitchen had been short-staffed for the night and our waitress kindly offered us free margaritas to reward our patience. So all was forgiven. Still, the night was slightly disappointing - the food was much pricier than we expected and not up to the standard of Los Amates. Probably not somewhere we'll visit again in a hurry.

Address: 414 Nicholson Street, North Fitzroy
Ph: 9489 0077
Price: veg mains $9.50-$19.50

November 16, 2007: San Churro

Update, 31/12/2014: San Churro has moved a couple of doors down the street to 275 Brunswick St, and has been replaced at this address by B'Stilla Cantina.

We followed up our dinner at Coyote Cafe with dessert at San Churro - another place that we've long been meaning to eat at. It's pretty crowded on a Friday night, but we managed to snag an outdoor table and Jo shouldered her way in to order for us. The hot chocolate I had was a little disappointing - I just found it way too thick. And too hot - by the time it was cool enough to drink, a horrible skin had formed on top.

The churros were pretty good though - maybe not as fresh as would be ideal, but still a fairly successful late night dessert option. Particularly with the fine dark chocolate dipping sauce on offer.

So it was, like our dinner before it, a little hit and miss. I think in future if I'm after a late-night dessert in the inner-north, I'll stick with Koko Black.

Address: 277b Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Ph: 9419 9936
Price: $8.90 for the churros, I can't remember how much the drinks cost (and Cindy didn't take any notes!)

Monday, November 19, 2007

November 13, 2007: That delicous yoghurt chickpea thing... and fried eggplant

This dish is long overdue. It's been more than a year since I first visited the Moroccan Soup Bar and had my first taste of "that chickpea thing". It's got chickpeas and yoghurt, something crunchy and something nutty, and it captivates all who taste it. What's the secret? Lemon juice? Tahini? They're probably both in there, but surely there must be something else that lifts this bowl of legumes to such heights?

I revisited the restaurant for Beth's birthday, scrawling down a guessed ingredient list as I ate and then overhearing the recipe explained by another birthday guest further down the table. In spite of this nudge, my notebook filled up with other dates and restaurant menus and I actually forgot about the chickpea thing. The real kick-in-the-pants came from Anna's post of fatteh on Morsels & Musings. Her personal amalgamation of different recipes looked pretty close to what I was after, so I made a few more adjustments to fit with my old ingredient list and away we went!

The rye pita that Michael picked up from the grocer wasn't ideal for this meal. The objective is to toast the pita to crunchy-brown and break it into shards, but these ones were thicker and softer. Otherwise this was everything I was after. Michael well and truly made up for the pita mishap by choosing King Island yoghurt for the dressing. Mmmm mmmm. Lemon juice, tahini, roasted almonds and a sprinkling of cayenne round this out wonderfully.

On the side we enjoyed a simple green salad and some fried sliced eggplant. The eggplant is also inspired by another dish from the Moroccan Soup Bar, but is my own version and hopefully a bit lower in fat. We doubled the chickpea recipe and I stuffed the leftovers and some eggplant slices into the remaining pita pockets for lunch.

A chickpea thing

1 x 400g can chickpeas
a handful of slivered almonds
1 round of pita bread
125g natural yoghurt
3 tablespoons tahini
1 clove garlic, minced
juice of 1 lemon
cayenne pepper to garnish

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Put them in a saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring them to the boil and cook for about 7 minutes, until tender.

Gently dry roast the almonds in a frypan until fragrant and brown. Set aside.

Use the same unoiled frypan to toast the pita bread until brown and crunchy. Break it into pieces.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the yoghurt, tahini, garlic and lemon juice. Add some of the water from the chickpeas to thin out the dressing a little. Stir in the chickpeas.

Arrange the pita piece in a bowl or on a plate and spoon over the dressed chickpeas. Sprinkle over the almonds and dust with cayenne pepper.

My fried eggplant

1 large eggplant
olive oil, for frying
balsamic vinegar

Slice the eggplant lengthways into pieces about 8mm thick. Fill a large saucepan or baking dish with salted water and soak the eggplant slices for about 15 minutes. This will not only reduce the bitterness, but prevent too much oil from soaking into the eggplant.

Brush a frypan with oil and bring it to medium-high heat. Fry a few pieces of eggplant at a time, arranging them so they don't overlap. Brush the top side with olive oil just before flipping, and turn them over only when they're golden brown.

Transfer the eggplant to a plate and repeat with the remaining slices. Drizzle them with balsamic vinegar and serve hot or at room temperature.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

November 12, 2007: Mac & cheese cupcakes

photo taken by Ed from Tomato

Food preparation for Monday night's dinner was a more nerve-wracking process than usual. Usually it's just me in the kitchen, with Neighbours on for company, putting together something to greet Michael with after his netball game and then to pack into lunchboxes for Tuesday. Contrary to what the above picture might suggest, neither was I cooking for Satan on this particular Monday. Rather, I was contributing food to a Bloggers' Banquet, a chance to meet other food bloggers in Melbourne face to face, palate to palate. The venue was the Vegout Community Garden in St Kilda, which features a wood-fired pizza oven.

Naturally, the weekend was spent carefully planning and preparing my offerings. I needed to choose food that could be created in advance, transported easily via tram, preferably finger-friendly to share among the crowd, and served either at room temperature or hot out of the pizza oven. Sweets were easy - with ingredients I already had on hand, I whipped up a double batch of ginger chocolate clusters. Something savoury was a bit more challenging, but when I saw Vanessa's shiitake mac & cheese cupcakes I had precisely her reaction: "good God YES!"

I figured I could make up the mac & cheese mixture on Sunday night, bake a few as a test run, then bake and pack the rest on Monday evening. The test run ones were OK, but they didn't hold together all that well. For the main event I decided to skip the breadcrumb step and bake these straight into shiny cupcake papers, ensuring that they'd be easy to handle. When I arrived at Vegout and saw the homemade pizza dough and table heaving with other gourmet treats, I actually thought twice about bringing out my cupcakes. The day in the fridge had caused the brown mushrooms to spread their grey juices through the macaroni, and pasta with cheese just seemed a bit dull. Eventually I decided to go ahead and put them in the oven queue for a quick heat-up before offering them around. To my surprise and relief, they were warmly received. All 22 of them disappeared, and a couple of people confessed to going back for seconds, one person even for thirds.

photo taken by PG, the Goddess in the Kitchen

Of course there were many, many other fabulous dishes to enjoy on the night and I didn't pay any attention to my own cooking. And what of the people behind the food? Here's the goss according to Cindy...
  • Ed, the elder statesman of Melbourne's food blogging scene (due purely to his blog's age, not his own!), is friendlier and more approachable than you can possibly imagine;
  • Jamie may also be a veteran but it sure doesn't guarantee good service, he has the stories to prove it;
  • Elliot knows a heck of a lot more about the history and traditions of food preparation than most of us, with the possible exception of Neil, who won Elliot's quiz;
  • Sarah is seriously psyched for all things edible in Germany;
  • Purple Goddess is as crazy and funny (and purple-wearing) as you would guess from her blog;
  • Sticky is actually almost as boisterous;
  • Anna is a down-to-earth girl on a never-ending quest for good eating in the outer suburbs;
  • Katie is a dab hand at maneuvering a scary-hot pizza oven;
  • Duncan is a refined gent with the careful attention to detail required for good web design, cake decorating and, yes, perfectly formed salted caramel macarons;
  • Jon is the slightly shy new kid on the block, but he very effectively broke the ice with a plate of homemade chocolate truffles;
  • Josh is in no way the expanding man - where can he possibly be storing all that food?
  • Jackie is the go-to girl for Melbourne's restaurant gossip;
  • Claire is a stylish gal who can put anyone at ease with her gentle conversation;
  • Thanh is just who I imagined him to be, but even quicker to smile and laugh;
  • Vida's was the most reassuring face I could possibly have seen as I timidly entered the garden gate.
It was a pleasure to meet every one of them. (You can 'meet' them too on a joint Flickr page.) Here's to another Bloggers' Banquet before summer escapes us!

Friday, November 16, 2007

November 11, 2007: Paneer koftas in creamy saffron gravy

Last month we made some tasty and virtuous baked spinach kofta balls for Vegetarian Awareness Month. As I browsed through the other entries on Coffee & Vanilla, I spied another more indulgent kofta recipe. These cheesy kofta looked much more like the ones I've grown to love from Indian restaurants everywhere and I was keen to give them a try.

The recipe takes quite some time to prepare, so it was the stuff of a lazy Saturday afternoon and evening. Although there's frying involved and a lot of time to be spent, I think these are fabulous. Unlike many of the vege patties and fritters I've tried making in the past, these really hold together. That's the magic of cornflour! I'll have to keep it in mind for future adventures in frying. The koftas are tender on the inside with a golden crust, and the mild sweet flavour of garam masala. The sauce is spicier and smells just like my favourite takeaway, although the taste is more complex.

Our efforts yielded enough to enjoy koftas with sauce and rice over a couple of meals, and even more koftas without sauce to put onto a sandwich with greens and tomato sauce. I was in sweet kofta country there for a good four days!

I'll rewrite Sia's recipe here because I made a few minor changes, but check out her post for some lovely photos of the process.

Paneer koftas in creamy saffron gravy
(from Monsoon Spice)

2 medium potatoes
1/2 cup green peas
1 small carrot, grated
5-6 green beans, finely chopped
2 cups paneer, grated
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
3-4 tablespoons cornflour
2 tablespoons cashews, roughly chopped
salt to taste
lots of vege oil for shallow frying
fresh coriander leaves to garnish

Boil, peel and mash the potatoes; steam the peas, carrot and beans for just a few minutes, until tender. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, steamed vegetables and paneer. Add the spices, cornflour and cashews, then salt to taste. Take large tablespoons of the mixture and roll them into balls.

This is a good time to prepare the sauce. Then while it's simmering, get back into frying these koftas...

In a frypan, pour the oil to about 1/2 cm deep and bring to medium heat. Space out some koftas in the frypan and fry until golden brown, turning a few times to cook evenly. Transfer to a paper towel and repeat with the remaining koftas.

When it's time to serve up, plonk the koftas into the gravy and garnish with fresh coriander leaves.

12 cashews
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
a pinch of cinnamon
1 x 400g can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons milk
a generous pinch of saffron threads
1 tablespoon ghee
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 green cardamom pods
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece ginger, grated
1/4 cup cream
salt to taste

In a food processor or spice grinder, whizz together the cashews and spices from garam masala through to cinnamon. Stir them through the canned tomatoes.

Gently warm the milk. Crush the saffron and add it to the milk to infuse.

Heat the ghee in a pan and add the cumin seeds through to the bay leaf. Saute until fragrant. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and continue cooking until the onion browns. Pour in the tomatoes and simmer for 5-7 minutes. Stir in the saffron milk and the cream, and cook over low heat for 10-15 more minutes. Season to taste and serve with the koftas.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

November 10, 2007: Filou's Patisserie

Saturday dawned clear and warm, so Cindy and I decided to head out for breakfast. After stumbling into Filou's Patisserie a couple of weeks ago, I was keen to return and sample some of their pastry-based delights. The nearby park as a sunny, warm eating venue was an added bonus.

My eyes widened in the shop: there are dozens of pastry-based choices and I had to try at least one savoury and one sweet option. The savoury choice was the spinach slice - a lightly toasted pastry wrapped around a spinach and cheese mixture. The mixture was great - heavy on the spinach, with just a smattering of feta-y cheese smooshed through. I polished it off in no time.

For breakfast-dessert, I went for one of the berry danishes (something of a Filou specialty it seems). The pastry was perfect - soft and flaky, with a smear of custard and slightly sour berries. Despite my savoury headstart, I could have eaten two.

Cindy skipped straight to sweets: a wodge of sugary pastry wrapped around a selection of fruity goodness. I didn't get a bite, but Cindy was pretty positive - it tasted as good as it looked apparently.

It's hard to believe that it took us so long to visit a place that is perhaps five minutes walk from our house and is so full of wondrous goodies. We've made two visits in two weeks now, and I imagine we'll be back again and again.

Address: Cnr Fenwick and Lygon Street, Carlton North
Ph: 9347 4029
Price: ~$20 for 3 pastries, 2 juices and a coffee

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

November 7, 2007: Ginger chocolate clusters

Michael arrived home from his conference late on Wednesday night. There was no need to keep dinner warm for him but I wanted to prepare a little welcome-home treat. Previously, he loved the quick-and-easy crunchy chewy chocolate clusters I cobbled together and so I set about creating a new flavour combination: dark chocolate with cashews, glace ginger, shredded coconut, a small slosh of Cointreau and a pinch of salt. (Thanks to Mary/Beppo for the Cointreau idea!)

These were at least as addictive as the cherry-pistachio version. I probably added a little too much salt, and this ramped up my compulsion to eat cluster after cluster after cluster. Michael shared this compulsion, though I'm not sure that had anything to do with the salt quotient.

If you'd like to put yourself at risk of a chocolate frenzy, just follow the rough quantities I used previously and try your own crunchy-chewy combination.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

November 4-6, 2007: Leftover makeover - Fruity tiramisu and other sundaes

While ferreting around the cupboard I found something that had been there for a long time - some dry Italian biscuits previously used for orange tiramisu and dipping into dessert pesto. The packet was well-sealed so they were still perfectly fine for softening in a slosh of Coitreau and layering into some more fruity tiramisu. I popped mascarpone on my shopping list, but actually picked up something else when I hit the supermarket...

This is a vegan-friendly soy-based cream cheese substitute, and it was on special so I figured I'd give it a shot. It's thick, smooth spreadable consistency is dead on, and the taste is pretty close. There's something in the flavour that isn't quite the same as the real thing, but mixed with a little sugar it is perfect wherever you'd use cream cheese in a dessert. Recipes on the Tofutti website indicate that it can be used in baked and refrigerated cheesecakes.

But I just wanted to layer it up with some other goodies and eat it straight away! Here's what I enjoyed it with over a number of days....

First I combined the Cointreau-soaked biscuits and brown-sugared Tofutti with frozen blueberries and canned passionfruit pulp.

Then I finished off the passionfruit pulp and enjoyed fresh strawberries in place of the blueberries.

For my final trick, I was out of biscuits. But there was no need for them when I had bananas, walnuts and maple syrup on hand! It's the prettiest one pictured up top, and indulged in during daylight hours.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

November 6, 2007: Leek, mushroom and asparagus pie

I had another bunch of asparagus left over from the ravioli and cannelloni and a hankering for something a bit special, just for me. Pastry. Cream sauce. Neil's solution is a chicken pie with morels and asaparagus, and with leeks in season, it's not difficult to beef up the mushroom quotient and make a vegetarian version.

This recipe makes enough for a family meal or in my case, enough to repackage the leftover filling in fresh pastry and share with Michael two days later.

Leek, mushroom and asparagus pie

~15g dried porcini mushrooms (more if you can afford them)
40g butter
1 leek, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
200g portobello mushrooms, sliced into meaty chunks
1 heaped tablespoon flour
2/3 cup "chicken" stock
100mL cream
10 stalks asparagus, sliced into 1 inch lengths
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
a little milk, for brushing the pastry

Rehydrate the dried mushrooms in hot water. Melt half the butter in a frypan and gently cook the leek and garlic until the leek is soft. Drain the rehydrated mushrooms and reserve the liquid. Finely slice the mushrooms and add them to the frypan, along with the fresh mushrooms.

In a separate small to medium saucepan, melt the remaining butter. Add the flour and stir to combine, allowing a minute or two to cook. Whisk in the stock and mushroom water, then the cream. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Add the cream sauce, asparagus and parsley to the frypan and season to taste. (I distributed the pepper generously but needed no more salt.) Turn the heat off after a further minute.

Thaw out the pastry. When it's flexible, spoon the filling into a casserole dish, cut the pastry to size, and place it carefully on top. Try to seal up the sides, but poke a few air holes in the pastry. Decorate with the leftover scraps, it's a crime to waste delicious pastry! Brush with a bit of milk.

Bake in the oven at 220 deg C for about 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

November 5, 2007: Tempeh chips

OK, so I am going to stop mentioning our Saturday morning trip to the markets soon, but not until I've shown you these. These are tempeh chips! Your usual dense, nutty meat substitute, sliced finely and baked to crispness. They were rather expensive compared to other varieties of chips ($3 for a bag that must've weighed less than 100g) but worth a try. They have a great savoury, garlicky flavour.

I decided to make the best use of their crunch by topping a stir-fry vege meal with them. Layer one is a mix of stir-fried zucchini, capsicum, sweet potato and snow peas; layer two is my leftover tofu in Kurma's maple syrup marinade. The chips were just perfect here!

November 4, 2007: Banana walnut muffins

Michael is again absent for a few days at a conference, and what's a girl to do? Go shopping for new jeans and bake with bananas, of course! These are lovely low-guilt muffins from Dayna, the Vegan Visitor. They are not 100% guilt-free, with oil and brown sugar in the mix and caramelised walnuts perched on top, but the bananas, wholemeal flour and rolled oats are the justification I need to make these my afternoon snack throughout the week. I even managed to plan ahead and buy the walnuts fresh in their shells from the markets on Saturday.

What I particularly like about this vegan recipe is that there aren't any of those weird ingredients like 'egg replacer' - three mashed bananas do the binding job very well on their own! They even popped out of the tray easily and neatly after a 5-minute rest. The result is a fairly solid and not-too-sweet muffin with extra chew-and-crunch amusement on top. Unfortunately my walnut pieces had a tendency to fall off at this stage, so if you're going to give this a go, make an effort to smoosh them into the muffin tops firmly before baking.

For the recipe, head to Vegan Visitor - I followed it to the letter.

November 3, 2007: Asparagus ravioli

Another Saturday morning market meant I couldn't resist the lure of cheap organic asparagus, and Fiber (of 28 Cooks) had just the task for it: filling ravioli. The filling is bulked up with protein-rich tofu, has its flavour filled out with grated cheese, and gets that spring sass from, you guessed it, lemon zest. Only I subbed out the lemon zest for finely chopped preserved lemons.

I was planning to use Heidi's tomato sauce recipe over these ravioli but the markets provided an alternative: 4P Organics pasta sauce. My enormous $10 jar of the roasted vege variety was sweet, thick and chunky.

Fiber's recipe makes use of wonton wrappers to make reasonably large ravioli, and I wasn't a big fan of them. I found it incredibly difficult to push all the air out as I sealed them, creating chaotic shapes when I boiled the critters. Then there's that sloppy, kinda slimy texture they have. Not my thing, but Michael loved them. I was happier with my second strategy on the leftovers: stuffing the filling into cannelloni tubes, pouring over the sauce and some cheese, then baking the lot. It's a fine filling for a cool spring night.

For the recipe, head on over to 28 Cooks.

Monday, November 05, 2007

November 3, 2007: The Galleon Cafe

I've been meaning to try the Galleon Cafe for breakfast ever since Mary recommended it to us in a comment and on her own blog. A further search revealed that Jamie the Breakfast Blogger gives its old-school cred a nod. All good signs, but I decided to delay my visit by a further week so that the excursion would coincide with the Vegout Farmers' Market.

I suppose I could say, "It was worth the wait". It would be more fair to wail,

"Oh my god, the wasted time - I've lived a year in Melbourne without seeing the Galleon breakfast menu!"

This is my kinda place. It's grungy with second hand furniture and art on the walls, but it's not overly pretentious. Active young families, wankers with their turned-up industrie shirt collars and Paris-wannabe girlfriends, and oldsters with trendy glasses and newspapers were dotted amongst the hungover hipsters I expected to populate the room. And with all these people enjoying their breakfasts at various volumes, there were no spare tables inside for us. We managed to snag the last outside one, meaning our meal would come with a side of car exhaust and an interval of attention-seeking from a couple of unleashed dogs. But no matter, because as I hinted (ha!) above, the menu at the Galleon rocks.

This place isn't vegetarian, but the vast majority of its dishes are. And sure, you could order toast or muesli or French toast or eggs on toast, but why would you? There are three kinds of bagels, three kinds of porridge, savoury scones, poached fruit with ricotta and biscotti, rice pudding, pikelets! These ain't your average cafe breakfast. I could have very happily ordered any one of these (well, maybe not the bagel with smoked salmon), but I felt compelled to choose an eggless savoury breakfast that is one of my favourites - vegetarian bubble'n'squeak ($10, pictured top). It was big (that's one of those oversized restaurant plates) and beautiful, in an ugly sort of way. Served with multigrain toast, it had those caramelised crunchy bits from where the potato stuck to the frypan, and two grilled ripe little tomatoes perched on top for the perfect amount of moisture. The probably-frozen pea-carrot-corn medley wasn't ideal, but everything else was there.

Michael went for the sweet potato, basil and feta hash browns served with wilted spinach, a poached egg and house-made relish ($11.50). I swiped a forkful of hash brown and it was sweet-salty heaven on a plate.

Since our visit Jack (from Eating with Jack) announced that she has just shifted her breakfasting loyalties to the Galleon to correspond with a shift from her favourite Las Chicas staff. Given how much I liked Las Chicas, this can only be good news for the Galleon. But I didn't need to know that to be impressed - as we wandered over to the market, I suggested to Michael in a most roundabout way that if we stayed in St Kilda for a couple of hours we could always go back there for lunch. I had my eye on the pikelets. And I'll devour them yet, dammit!

So, go forth and breakfast at the Galleon. It has everything the Boathouse didn't offer (a vegetarian) at little more than half the price. Just get up earlier than the hungover hipsters to ensure a table indoors.

Address: 9 Carlisle St, St Kilda
Ph: 9534 8934
Price: veg breakfasts $3-13

Saturday, November 03, 2007

October 28, 2007: Chipotle Maple Tofu Scramble

Despite enjoying an absurdly large cooked breakfast on Saturday, for some reason I got it into my head that it'd be a good idea to cook breakfast for ourselves on Sunday. I'm not sure why I didn't just go back to cereal as usual, but that's hardly the point of this post.

The point of this post is this:

Cindy had bookmarked Vanessa's vegan breakfast recipe and had been waiting for a chance to sample it - my enthusiasm for cooking breakfast was the perfect opportunity. I started the day with a pre-breakfast wander around the Merri Creek Trail and swung by Filou's Patisserie on the way home to grab some bread to accompany our scrambled tofu. We've lived here for over a year now and somehow never bothered to poke our heads into this little bakery sitting on Lygon Street across from the cemetery. It's probably been for the best - it's certainly reduced the amount of delicious pastries we'd otherwise have eaten. Anyway, they provided me with a fresh loaf of roast capsicum and herb bread to bring home with me.

The rest of breakfast turned out to be pretty easy. Vanessa's recipe is quick and easy and results in a frying pan full to overflowing with egg-looking vegan breakfast. My only suggested alteration would be to cut down a little on the chilli - we only put in 3 peppers and a teaspoon of the sauce, but that was still a little on the hot side. Maybe chipotles are less fiery in Brooklyn. Or maybe Vanessa's just tougher than we are. You could certainly see why some peppers are necessary - combining chilli and maple syrup is a fine idea, and one that added a brilliant flavour to our Sunday brekkie. And given it was scrambled tofu and not eggs, I could even convince myself that it was healthy!

Edit 03/06/09: I'm adding the recipe, since vanesscipes has sadly disappeared. Thanks to the anonymous commenter below for pointing us to an archived version!

Chipotle-Maple Tofu Scramble

3 canned chipotle chillis + 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
1/4 cup maple syrup
oil, for frying
500g extra firm tofu
1 green capsicum, diced
2 tomatoes, seeds removed and diced
2 bunches green onions, sliced
1/4 teaspoon turmeric

Use a food processor to blend together the chipotle chillis, adobo sauce and maple syrup.

Heat up a little oil in a frypan. Fry the green capsicum for a couple minutes, then add the tofu, blended chipotle-maple syrup, tomatoes, green onion, turmeric and salt to taste. Stir it with a wooden spoon and smush up the tofu a bit, cooking until it's all hot, tender and any liquid has dried up.

Friday, November 02, 2007

October 27, 2007: The Boathouse

This Saturday morning saw us venturing to a new suburb, Moonee Ponds, to knock a breakfast spot off Michael's wishlist. I think he first spotted a review of the Boathouse on the Breakfast Blog, and was no doubt excited by the prospect of pesto hollandaise over poached eggs. Actually the menu looks to have changed substantially since Jamie's visit and although most items begin with the standard fruit, muesli, toast or eggs, the full descriptions tend to include an interesting little twist. The muesli and granola have carefully chosen fruit and nut accompaniments, cheese on toast in prepared with corn bread and gruyere, and there's even a breakfast pizza! It's a shame that the breakfast menu runs so short, at 11 items, and includes only one meat-free fry-up for Michael.

That fry-up sounded pretty good nonetheless: a white zucchini, bell pepper and Bulgarian fetta omelette with spinach ($16.80). The photo below doesn't quite do justice to the enormity of it - it almost overhung the sides of an already super-sized dinner plate, dwarfing the standard-sized piece of toast perched atop. Rather than being mixed through the egg, the generous supply of zucchini, capsicum and fetta lay in wait in the centre, bursting across the plate as Michael delved in. I couldn't imagine that Michael would finish it all, but he couldn't help himself. It was a good omelette.

There wasn't any particular dish that jumped out at me, so I decided to eat lightly with the melon and seasonal berry salad with passionfruit and lime syrup ($13.50). The fruit were fresh and flavoursome, particularly the strawberries, and the tangy-sweet syrup prevented my interest from waning as a worked my way through. I really tried to get every drop of that syrup soaked into the watermelon!

The Boathouse deck is a very pleasant way to watch the weekend activity along the Maribyrnong River - or at least it will be, when it's finished. We were unlucky to hit a morning that involved an earthmover and a lot of dust. The menu is small, particularly for vegos, and on the pricey side. But if you're willing to take your chances on the choice and fork out a couple extra dollars, your breakfast will be impeccably prepared with a bit of originality. There's also the added bonus of a stroll along the river and through Pipemakers Park. Here's the History of the Land Garden....

Address: 7 The Boulevard, Moonee Ponds
Ph: 9375 2456
Price: veg breakfasts $8-$16.50