Monday, March 31, 2008

March 31, 2008: Tempeh with a lil' less Buffalo

Tempeh-skeptic Fiber recently went wild for Buffalo tempeh "wings" and we were keen to give them a go. However, getting some wing sauce going here in Australia proved to be a bit of a challenge. It's composed of only three ingredients - Louisana-style hot sauce, ketchup and butter - so it seemed important to get all the components right. However, I've never seen such hot sauce on sale and a bit of internet research indicated that it wouldn't be realistic to try to make it myself. Instead I decided to make our favourite Chinese style barbeque sauce - it looked like having the necessary consistency and zing, if not the right ingredients or origin.

Tempeh is a funny one. It has a substantial, almost meaty, density to it but it's a bit dry. I had high hopes here but even the sauce didn't provide sufficient moisture for me. We were rather taken by the crumbing though, and Michael suggested that we could try it with tofu - after all, it works great for the 'fish' fingers. I'm foreseeing a sauce squabble too, with Michael voting Chinese-style and me on Team Tartare.

If you'd like a shot at these wings (no buffalo or birds need be harmed!), head over to 28 Cooks.

March 30, 2008: De Orchid II

It seems we've finally settled on a local Indian takeaway place, with our second visit in three takeaway trips to De Orchid on Rathdowne Street. The intermediate stop (at Spicy Junction) had been a bit of a letdown, so it was wonderful to go back to De Orchid and find three more delicious takeaway vego curries for our delectation. We decided to try totally different menu items to last time, going for: a serve of samosas ($3), daal maharani ($8), pumpkin masala ($8.90), navaratan korma ($8.90) and a roti bread ($2).

The samosas were a fairly standard smooth vegie mush, with a generous scattering of coriander seeds throughout and a lemon-minted raita. Very tasty. The daal was thick with chunky lentils, had a mild flavour and some easily dodgable chunks of fresh tomato. It was probably a little on the stodgy side, but that's what you want from a daal really.

The two vegie dishes were the stars: the korma had the finely chopped vegies that too easily remind me of frozen mixed vegies, but were much more obviously freshly chopped than Spicy Junction's efforts. The flavour was also more impressive - well-spiced and creamy. The description in the menu promises dried fruit, but Cindy and I only noticed one sultana between us. Which wasn't really a problem - sultanas in curry remind me too much of Keen's Curry Powder style stews. I liked the pumpkin masala best of all, but unfortunately (from her perspective anyway - it just meant more for me) it was a little on the hot side for Cindy's taste. The pumpkin hadn't melted into the gluggy mush that overcooked pumpkin can, instead coming in well-cooked tender chunks. The sauce (the chef's own apparently) was rich with both spices and spicyness - it was hot, but there was some depth to the flavour as well. We might have to ask them to tone the heat down a little next time, but I'm nominating it as a dish worth repeating.

When I went and picked our dinner up, we were given an inexplicable 10% discount. Just now, on closer examination of the takeaway menu, I've realised two things: they offer free, fast home delivery and they give 10% discounts for picking up takeaway orders. It's so close to our house that it seems wasteful to have them drive it over, but it's nice to know that if we need curry on a rainy winter's night, De Orchid will bring it straight over.

Read about our first visit to De Orchid here.

Another thing we discovered on their takeaway menu: De Orchid's website.

Update 4/9/09: After being 'temporarily' closed for nigh on a year, De Orchid has recently reopened. My first impression: things have gone down hill - but we'll probably give them another chance and write a proper review.

Update 10/2/10: It appears that De Orchid is no more at this address. There's an Indian restaurant with a different name in its place, and we've not yet tried it. It's unclear whether the De Orchid has changed names, changed locations or disappeared entirely.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

March 26-30, 2008: Queensland cuisine

It's been about six months since we last visited Queensland and I felt a little tug to return, so we set aside 5 days at the end of March to visit as many of our family and friends as we could.

We began on the Sunshine Coast on Monday and were comforted with the home cooking of Michael's mum Robyn: tea and fruit cake shared with Nan and two uncles, then miniature pies filled with pumpkin, pine nuts and feta for dinner.

Thursday was my mum's birthday, to be celebrated at my childhood home of Redcliffe. Dining in the outer suburbs has come a long way since Sizzler! There's now a lovely Italian restaurant on the foreshore, where I gobbled up gnocchi in sage butter. Then, wonder of wonders, a new Indian takeaway and grocery just metres away! Frozen flaky breads, shiny serving dishes, discounted DVDs, and a few ground spices I haven't even been able to locate in inner Melbourne. I hope Redcliffe's ready for them.

On Friday afternoon we moved on to Brisbane and amused ourselves for a few hours while everyone we knew finished their working week. The city's exclusive Andy Warhol exhibition was worth a look, and then we revisited our old haunts around West End. Past two of my former homes, fondly remembered restaurants, the video shop I loved, noting which businesses along the main street were new and what they had replaced. We finished the evening with an exquisite Turkish feast and wine; catching up with my dad, his wife Anne, and a childhood friend I hadn't seen for almost eight years.

The consumption climax was Saturday night, a cocktail party in celebration of L's birthday. With her partner S, sister L2 and a few other friends, we shook and stirred our way through Bellinitinis, Moscow Mules, Mimis, Sex On The Beach, White Russians and Chocolate Martinis. As we slept them off, the resident possum helped himself to the plate of cocoa left outside and added his own garnish to the cocktail book.

By Sunday morning, we could do little more than drag ourselves to the Little Larder for nourishment. I bypassed the naughty banana bread with cinnamon yoghurt for the sunny shades of avocado, tomato, wholemeal toast and an ocean of juice - the same zesty combination offered at Tom Phat. I was revived, though only just enough to propel me to an inflight nap.

Melbourne sure feels like home, but Queensland's got a lot more than nostalgia to recommend it. I knew how many people were worth going back for but the food took me by surprise!

Monday, March 24, 2008

March 24, 2008: Harira

This month's recipe from our World in Your Kitchen calendar comes from exotic Morocco and also entails some distant deja vu. Back in October 2006, we sampled harira for the first time and fell for its complex flavours and nourishing beans. We've not been particularly inspired to create new and nutritious dinners for a few weeks, so our bodies needed this as much as our taste buds did.

The calendar's recipe is quite similar to our previous rendition, but I'll include it anyway. If you've an appetite for more spicy soups, take a look at the most recent round-up of the No Croutons Required blog event, where every entry is a bowl full of punchy vegetarian goodness.

Harira (bean soup)

400g can chickpeas, drained
400g can haricot or other beans, drained
800g can crushed tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
a pinch of saffron threads soaked in a little warm water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
500-1000mL water or stock
juice of a lemon
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon harissa or chilli powder
1 tablespoon flour
salt and pepper

In a large saucepan, combine the beans, tomatoes, onion, saffron with water, turmeric, cinnamon, ground coriander and some pepper. Add half of the fresh coriander and parsley. Add enough water or stock to completely cover the mixture. Bring it to the boil, and then simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Remove a little of the liquid from the saucepan and mix the flour into it, then stir the flour back into the soup. Cook the soup for a further 5 minutes.

Just before serving, stir through the harissa/chilli powder, lemon juice and season to taste. Ladle into bowls and garnish with the remaining herbs.

March 22, 2008: Giant steps/Innocent Bystander II

After our late lunch at Tom Phat, Mike, Jo, Cindy and I made use of a borrowed car to head out for some sort of road trip. By the time we got our acts together and picked up Tracy it was already getting on for four in the afternoon, meaning that our initial plans of driving to the Dandenongs and going on a 7km lyre bird walk were looking a tad optimistic. Instead, we decided to head towards Healesville and go for a quick stroll around one of the nearby nature reserves before finding something delicious for dinner.

Our previous trip to Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander had been fairly successful, so we decided on a follow-up visit. Both Cindy and I ordered pizzas this time around - pumpkin, marinated goat feta, pomegranate and roasted garlic for me ($22) and green zucchini, capers, fennel & lemon for Cindy ($17). These were some fine pizzas - perfectly cooked thin bases, thoughtful combinations of toppings and an appropriate level of cheesiness. Mine (see the picture above) was a fairly straightforward pumpkin pizza, with the addition of a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds, which added a nice variation in texture and little bursts of tart sweetness.

Cindy's was all about the tang - the capers, fennel and lemon juice completely dominated the flavour - you really couldn't taste the zucchini at all. Still, that wasn't a problem at all - the pizza was a flavour sensation, with the fennel really stealing the show.

Across our two visits, the food here was deeply impressive. This doesn't come cheap, but I think it's a justifiable expense when everything is so good.

(You can read about our previous visit to Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander here.)

March 22, 2008: Tom Phat

On Saturday Michael and I had a few errands to run on Sydney Rd and to make the trip a little less arduous, we planned to eat lunch afterwards at Tom Phat. Once on the road we also spontaneously invited Mike and Jo-Lyn to join us.

While we waited for them to arrive, we stashed our bags under the low coffee table at the front of the restaurant, sprawled on the cushions and soaked up the atmosphere. This is the kind of styled, trendy place that you'll either love or hate. The murals, textures, furniture and plants have all been chosen carefully and I surprised myself by failing to reject it as 'too pretentious' and settling quickly into the 'love' camp. Maybe it was the capably relaxed and nonjudgmental attitude of our waitress that eased me in. Or just that I'm a sucker for unusual pot-plants.

Michael ordered a coffee and I took a look at the menu. This is modern Asian fusion kinda stuff - breakfast eggs come with spring onions and roti, and a lunch of lamb meatballs is covered with tamarind sauce. As the minutes ticked by, I decided to order a juice. The kickstarter ($5) consists of pineapple, apple, orange and ginger. So tangy and fresh, Tom Phat by now had won my loyalty for making pineapple juice awesome.

Our waitress was completely unfazed that we'd now been hanging around for 20 or so minutes and hadn't ordered our food. Between the breakfast, lunch and specials menus there were quite a few attractive options and I selfishly broke down and ordered a sticky soy wrap ($9.50) just as Mike and Jo-Lyn arrived.

It's described as "tofu & tempeh, salad leaves and roti". That's an understatement. Try "two fat skewers of sweet, sticky marinated tofu and tempeh, and a bedsheet-sized roti stuffed with a garden-full of herbs, sprouts, carrots and peppery rocket". It was huge and I wondered if I'd get through half of it. Leaning over my low plate, I unashamedly ripped at the roti with my hands and inelegantly stuffed forkfuls of greens into my mouth. So good. I ate and ate and ate, and even the last bite was a pleasure. Michael couldn't believe I finished it, and I didn't quite believe it myself. I guess greens aren't that filling. My only criticism would be that there's not a lot of chilli - it didn't bother me at all but I think it goes counter to the Vietnamese vibe of this filling.

Michael had grilled field mushrooms with rocket, fetta and caramelised onions ($8.90). Although it's a more conventional mix it was a large and tasty serve, excellent value at this price.

Also worth a mention is the lemon meringue pie that Mike and Jo-Lyn shared after their mains. I'm no great fan of meringue but this one impressed me - the surface had received a real firing, with crunchy, deeply caramelised edges. By this stage, one bite was all I needed for complete and utter satisfaction.

Address: 184 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
Ph: 9381 2374
Licensed & BYO
Price: veg breakfast or lunch $4.50-10.90

March 21, 2008: The Empress Hotel

28/01/14: We've spotted news that The Empress closed last month.

Cindy and I spent Friday evening hanging out with Tim Rogers, Glenn Richards and scores of other Melbourne hipsters at Mike Noga's show at the Empress Hotel in North Fitzroy. Before we settled in with some vaguely folk-ish alterna-rock, we ordered up dinner from the pub's impressively extensive menu.

I went for the Empress vegie burger, with fried onion, mixed salad, beetroot and cheese, a serve of fries and some 'house sauce' ($15). It was a pretty decent burger patty, made up some sort of generic vegie mush, with some well-cooked chips and a flavoursome sauce. On the downside - the salad was a bit sad (canned beetroot is never that attractive), and the whole thing was worth substantially less than $15. Still, it was filling and tasty and soaked up the beer.

Cindy wasn't as hungry as me, so she went for an entree-sized serve of tempura vegetables ($9). It was much better value for money -a good sized plate full of broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, zucchini and pumpkin. The batter fell a bit short of ideal, and the promised 'ketchup manis' was nowhere to be seen.

The whole meal was a little disappointing, but for a quick pre-rock pub meal, it's probably worth sampling a few of the cheaper dishes to get you through the night.

Address: 714 Nicholson Street, North Fitzroy
Ph: 9489 8605
Licensed (or course)
Price: veg meals $8 - $18

March 20, 2008: Los Amates III

Cindy and I decided to get the Easter weekend underway in style. Lazy, non-cooking, style. So after she'd done some birthday present shopping around Fitzroy and I'd ducked into the city to go to the library, we met up at the corner of Brunswick and Johnston streets in need of a dinner plan. I was keen to try somewhere new - throwing out Blue Chillies, Red Rice and De Los Santos as ideas - but Cindy had set her heart on a repeat visit to Los Amates.

We've tried to return a few times in the last six months, only to find it booked out or closed, so the opportunity to turn up as they were opening and snag a table was too good to pass up. As it turned out, they didn't seem particularly busy at all - by the time we left at 8 or so, half the tables were still vacant - maybe things have died off a little. Cindy and I settled into the long weekend with cocktails: fresh strawberry margaritas, all pink and icy ($10.50). We'd previously sampled the vego tasting plate and the enchiladas combo, but this time we limited our sharing to the entree from the specials menu: quesadillas de flor de calabaza ($9.80), zucchini flower and cheese quesadillas with homemade corn tortillas, served with salsa noja and guacamole.

While these didn't really highlight the delicate zucchini flowers (which were basically smooshed into a mushy filling), they did provide a tasty start to the meal - fresh guacamole is always a winner and the hot sauce that came with it was great.

I kept my attention focussed on the specials menu for the mains, ordering the chiles rellenos: stuffed peppers filled with fresco cheese, topped with a hot red salsa and served with rice, beans and corn tortillas ($18.50). I don't think I read the description of this dish very closely - for some reason I'd imagined the peppers stuffed with some sort of generic stuffing (rice and such), with a few dollops of cheese around for flavour. Instead, the peppers were stuffed full of delicious, melty cheese.

The first pepper was divine, but by the time I was working my way through the second, I could feel the cheese seeping into my arteries. There was nothing wrong with any of the flavours, it was just a bit of a cheese overdose (even for me).

Cindy went for the Budin Aztecan ($18.50): fried tortilla pie with fresh vegies and mole, topped with cheese and served with frijoles salad.

Again, this turned out a little on the cheesy side. The mole was as delicious as was expected, but it was overwhelmed by the cheesiness. Cindy would have liked reverse proportions - the mole should dominate, with just a hint of cheese.

We walked away stuffed to the gills with cheese and sauciness, and just a little disappointed with our meal - based on this display, I'm coming around to the argument that Blue Corn is the Mexican place of choice for Melbourne vegos.

Read about our previous visits to Los Amates here and here.

March 18, 2008: More muesli

I first wrote about making my own muesli at home more than a year ago. It came as no surprise to me that I would lose interest in it, and in particular the time required once every week or two to hover around the oven for an hour at a stretch while it cooked. But I came back to it a couple of months ago and have hit on a winning formula, which I'm going to note down here for future reference. After all, I am going to get sick of all that oven-hovering again one day and forget the process while I'm at it.

If you're interested in trying this recipe, be warned that it's not sweet granola by any stretch. It's golden and crunchy when I get the oven times right, but I've shied away from using any oil or strong sweeteners for my daily breakfast. I find that some canned fruit does that job nicely - all I'm after here is that filling nutty crunch. If you like dried fruit don't bake it at all, just stir it into the cooled toasted muesli mix.

The muesli pictured above uses hazelnuts and pepitas. This breakfast is proving to be an excellent way to use up stray half-packets of nuts and seeds that I've bought for other recipes.


4 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups fruit juice (I usually use the juice from a jar of fruit, strained)
1 teaspoon of ground spice (optional)
1 cup nuts, chopped
1/4 cup seeds

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. Stir together the rolled oats and juice in a bowl and allow them to stand for 10-15 minutes, until the oats have soaked up all the liquid.

Spread the oats evenly over a clean baking tray and sprinkle over the spices if you're using them. The oats need to be baked for about 45 minutes in total. Take them out of the oven every ten minutes to stir them around, break up the clumps and ensure they're not sticking to the tray. At the 30 minute mark, stir in the nuts. At the 40 minute mark, stir in the seeds.

The muesli should be golden brown with quite some crunch but a small amount of chew to it. Serve it sprinkled over fruit and yoghurt.

March 17, 2008: Tokyo treats - Pocky

Folks who've wandered around an Asian supermarket here in Australia should be no strangers to Pocky. These chocolate-coated pretzel sticks are crunchy, just a little salty, and contain not quite enough smooth dark-ish chocolate to sate me, causing me to eat more and more and MORE. Just as well they're divided into two sachets within the box, or I'd finish the lot in a sitting.

Note that Pocky is most likely NOT fully vegetarian - translations of the ingredient list indicate that they contain shortening. We ate, we enjoyed but we won't seek them out again.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

March 16, 2008: Tokyo treats - Korean kim chi chocolate

The first of the Tokyo treats given to us by Matt were these little chocolates. They're not actually from Japan at all - Matt picked these up on a recent holiday in Korea. I was pretty skeptical about a savoury cabbage-based delicacy going anywhere near chocolate but I was willing to give this small sample a go just for fun.

These were surprisingly good! The smooth paste in the centre gave no hint of cabbage and was just as creamy as the milky, melty chocolate. But whoa, did these have a spicy kick! Far stronger than any other chilli-chocolate dessert I've eaten (though admittedly I never managed to try the chilli-chocolate cupcakes at Inkari). I rather liked this explosive little package, and was even a little disappointed that I couldn't detect a shot of vinegar.

Friday, March 21, 2008

March 15-16, 2008: A Minor Place

Melbourne's inner-north must have the highest density of good to excellent breakfast places in the world. We've already had tremendous breakfasts at more than a dozen places in Fitzroy, Carlton, North Fitzroy, Carlton North, Brunswick East and Brunswick and there's a long list of places still awaiting our attention. Last Saturday we finally made our way to A Minor Place tucked away in Brunswick between Lygon Street and Sydney Road. And then we decided, like Homer Simpson before us, we're doing it twice.

There's really not much else on Albion Street, so A Minor Place seems to draw in all the gentrifying folk in the neighbourhood for a morning coffee or a bite to eat, meaning that, by the time 9:30 rolls around, things are getting pretty full. We snaffled one of the outdoor milk-crate tables on our first trip and squeezed a group of six around one of the slightly more comfortable inside tables on the Sunday. There's a particularly strong demand for their coffee, with locals staggering in bleary-eyed and then stumbling off home with a latte-loaded tray, so the obligatory flat-white takes a while to turn up. Luckily it's worth the wait, a smooth caffeine kick that basically demands you order a second.

The menu is fairly short, but is rich in vego options - I think only two of the regular menu items are meaty, meaning Cindy and I had plenty to choose from. They've also got a small specials menu (which was entirely vego last weekend) and a few muffins and cakes on offer at the counter. On the Saturday morning we were both in a savoury mood: a New York Style bagel ($7) for Cindy and a pumpkin cornbread based feast ($11) for me.

The cornbread came topped with a poached egg and some spinach with dukkah sprinkled over it, along with a decent scoop of Henry's white beans and a small container of currant relish. Look at it - what a nice, colourful plate! The bread was crumbly and maybe a little on the dry side, but once it was drowned in eggy goodness and slathered with the incredible beans (seriously - these beans are in four of the menu options and they are divine), it served its purpose (soaking up the flavours) very well. The relish was sweet and tasty and the greens let me pretend I was having a healthy breakfast.

Cindy's bagel offered no such pretense. A doughy, chewy bagel served up with a generous dollop of peppercorn cream cheese and half an avocado. I only managed a taste of the cream cheese (excellent), but Cindy's vociferous recommendations to our breakfast buddies on the Sunday morning suggest that she was quite a fan.

Mike and Jo had been the chief source of recommendations for A Minor Place, so when we mentioned to them at dinner that we'd finally visited, their enthusiasm took over and they insisted we return for a second shot on Sunday morning. Neither of us were complaining.

Cindy decided that, between the New York bagel and the churros, she'd had her fill of unhealthy food for the weekend, and settled for the Bircher muesli ($7). The muesli came out in a tall glass, which looks fantastic, but makes it harder to distribute the berries throughout the muesli mix. I think she really enjoyed the first third, was quite happy with the middle third, but a combination of fullness and lack of variety meant that the bottom third was a little disappointing. That's what you get for trying to be healthy.

I turned to the specials menu and ordered the caramelised onion and feta scrambled eggs on toasted wholegrain ($10.50). A combination of my hunger and the aroma of the onion-flecked eggs meant that I temporarily lost my mind and dove in before I'd taken a photo. Just when I'd started boasting to friends that I'd finally been trained to wait until the camera was off before disturbing the food. Ah well. As you can see from the wreckage of my breakfast, there was plenty of soft, sweet onion throughout my eggs and the occasional chunk of feta. I'm not usually a big scrambled eggs fan, but these flavours worked well together and I polished it off in no time.

A Minor Place is another of the trendy, slightly cooler-than-thou places that are scattered across Brunswick - the service was friendly and reasonably efficient, the menu as veg-friendly as we've come across for brekkie and the food was excellent across the board. Now that I've spent ten minutes linking to all the places we've yet to visit I'm not sure that we'll be back at A Minor Place in the near future, but that's a product of this area's riches rather than any flaws in the cafe itself.

Address: 103 Albion Street, Brunswick
Ph: 9384 3131
Price: $3.50 - $14.50

March 15, 2008: MoVida

To celebrate Mike's birthday, Jo-Lyn was keen to take him to MoVida. This struck me as a bit of a gamble - Mike has limited patience for 'scenes', crowds, and high-end dining. On the other hand, MoVida's meaty tapas have an excellent reputation and he does like his smallgoods. This presented some potential challenges for Michael and I, but a squiz at MoVida's online menu confirmed that we vegos wouldn't go hungry. If nothing else, I assured Jo-Lyn, we could just order four plates of the famous churros and hot chocolate!

Jo-Lyn didn't actually make a booking. Instead Mike popped in at 7:30pm and put his name down for a table near the bar and was given less than an hour to wait. We passed it pleasantly at Hell's Kitchen, then squashed into MoVida's entry for a further 15 minutes or so before our table was ready. This was plenty of time to get a feel for the space - low lights, lots of noise, and only a few staff quickly and capably tending tables. In fact, the feller receiving us at the door provided almost all of the service to our high bar table that night. Ours was a small space, with just barely enough room to fit our food, but at least it forced us to sit close and made it easier to hear each other.

I took photos, but they were my most hopeless yet! Instead of inflicting them upon you I think the menu descriptions will do - the presentation was very rustic and unpretentious and I'm sure you can imagine it well enough. It'll make the experience more authentic, given that we could barely see the food ourselves in the dim surrounds!

Croqueta ($3 each) - fried silky croquettes filled with mushrooms. These were sizable balls with a golden-fried crumb coating. Inside was like molten mushrooms! Silky indeed.

Patatas a la pobre ($9.50) - 'poor mans potatoes', slow cooked nicola potatoes with peppers in olive oil. These enormous potato chunks were tender all the way through with an incredible depth of flavour. The roasted peppers and dressing added just the right acidic contrast. The traditional name is now something of a misnomer given their richness and price.

Setas asado con jerez ($9.50) - oven roasted portabello mushrooms finished with sherry vinegar. Huge and boozy, a good complement to the potatoes and to the rich meats the other two were eating.

Expinacos con garbanzos ($9) - sauteed spinach with chickpeas and spices. Another flavoursome dish, though probably my least favourite of the night. But look at its competition!

Ensalada valenciana ($8) - Valencian salad, endive, orange, palm hearts and manzanillo olives. This added much-needed lightness and freshness. The palm hearts were a new vegetable for me and reminded me most of artichoke hearts.

The dessert menu is splashed across the wall in chalk, and it must have been looking at it over my head all night that inspired Michael to order his own dessert rather than sharing one with me. He picked the hot ganache pudding w vanilla bean ice-cream ($12.50). It was the rich molten chocolate experience you'd expect. I don't have much to say about my churros with hot chocolate ($9) either - while I enjoyed them, I wasn't exactly wowed. I think it simply means that I'm more a fan of intensely cocoa-y experiences than this milder, more carb-laden dessert. Pass me the 70% Lindt!

Movida isn't really the place for a first date or a sedate dinner with your parents - much better to crowd in with your more refined buddies and comfortably lunge across the table to help yourself to the tempting tapas just out of reach. Clearly, then, we were there for the right occasion and birthday boy Mike did enjoy the food immensely. In spite of the small number of staff on the floor we received excellent service and I didn't find the prices to be excessive. There is plenty for a vegetarian to enjoy, though the restaurant sells a lot of meat products. For this reason I wouldn't particularly recommend MoVida for a vego's own special night out, but I can happily encourage you to accept a friend's invitation as we did.

Address: 1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9663 3038
Fully licensed
Price: veg tapas $3-$10, dessert $9-$13

March 15, 2008: Chocolate raspberry sandwich cookies

I was rather keen to get going with my KitchenAid, and had plenty of gift-giving reasons to put it to use:
  1. A small edible thank-you to L for giving me the mixer was a no-brainer;
  2. I'd be attending a belated birthday dinner for Marty midweek;
  3. We owed Tracy and Lee thanks for lending us camping gear for Golden Plains; and
  4. Mike's birthday was also coming up!
With this much going on, I decided to make a double batch of chewy chocolate-raspberry cookie sammiches from Veganomicon via Lindyloo of Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit. I was determined to maintain their vegan-ness, but did make a few alterations to the recipe:
  1. I used sunflower oil instead of canola because I was all out;
  2. I skipped the almond extract since I hated it last time I used it;
  3. I replaced the shortening in the icing with more margarine, since I couldn't find it (nor copha) at the shops;
  4. I replaced the soy milk with rice milk.
My results were mixed. I don't think the oil type made any difference to the cookie dough, and I was happy to escape the perfume of bitter almond. However my cookies, once cooled, were crunchy and not chewy, actually quite hard on the teeth! (By then I'd baked the entire mix and couldn't alter my baking times.) I went to some effort not to overcook these (I whipped them out of the oven before the bases could colour up at all) so I can only emphasise that they need very little oven time at all.

Margarine doesn't have the firmness of butter, and so this icing doesn't harden from its just-whipped spreadable state. As a consequence, it struggles to support the top cookie during storage and eating. Squishy, even melting, icing everywhere! I suspect that using some shortening or copha would improve on this. As it was, I tended to ice the right number of cookie sandwiches a few hours before giving them away, then popping them in the freezer to firm up before boxing them up just before I dashed out the door. It was a reasonably successful strategy.

Finally, the rice milk. I bought this because, try as I might, I just can't enjoy soy milk. It tastes like tofu, and in my mind tofu is inextricably linked to savoury stir-fries, being crumbed and dipped in salty sauce. So I can't bear to pour it on cereal. By contrast I was really taken by this rice milk! Its consistency is a bit thinner than dairy milk and it's quite sweet. I've been drinking the leftovers with ice and finding it quite refreshing.

The KitchenAid was, of course, a dream to work with. Even with this gargantuan quantity of cookies, the icing barely filled a quarter of the bowl. There are so many more chewy chocolatey sweet treats to come from it, I just know it!

(If you'd like to try this recipe, it's over here.)

March 14, 2008: Friday Featre Food - Red Pepper

At the eastern end of Bourke St sit three Indian restaurants in a row: Red Pepper, Jaipur Curry Bar, and Green Pepper. Mellie recently recommended them to us, so Michael and I met up there for an early dinner in 36-degree weather before our second night at the theatre. Green Pepper was closed so we were faced with a choice between Jaipur and Red Pepper. We picked the latter because I knew it was one of the Peppers that offered Mellie's favourite naans. It was the wrong Pepper but never mind - the naans here were great!

Red Pepper is in fact a sister restaurant to Green Pepper, which might explain why we encountered excellent naans and rudimentary service eerily similar to what Mellie described. The atmosphere is no more sophisticated than a cafeteria - line up to order from the couple of menus or the chalkboard of specials, then take a number and a seat at a vacant table. If you're lucky the table will be wiped and there'll be a few napkins in a holder, but don't count on it!

Red Pepper is clearly popular with the local Indian community. As we sat down at our own napkin-less and not-yet-wiped table, we noticed that we were the only white kids in the shop. I remembered, then, that the menu didn't offer entire descriptions of dishes in English. Although the meat type is identified, it will help to know your aloo from your vindaloo.

Neither of us could go past the curry-and-two-naans specials. As already mentioned, the naans are fantastic, arriving fresh and hot and crispy. I chose the malai kofta ($9, pictured above) and received two sizable koftas in a sauce the equal of any I've slurped in Melbourne. As I write this, Michael is drooling over the memory of his paneer tikka masala ($10, pictured below). Both plates came with a 'salad' of a few raw onion rings and a cup of I-don't-know-what: its consistency was that of watered-down milk and it was a bit tangy. An unfamiliar lassi? I dunno, but it wasn't quite to my taste.

I'm no expert on these things, but all signs point to Red Pepper offering authentic north Indian food. But I've seen and tasted all I need to proclaim the price is definitely right! You'll get and fast and tasty feed here.

Address: 14 Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9654 5714
Licensed & BYO wine
Price: veg mains $5-10

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Food & Wine Festival Feedback

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is over for another year, and now its organisers are looking for feedback with an online survey form here. I was actually quite underwhelmed by this year's offerings and in answering their questions I've aimed to make my criticism constructive and to counter it with praise where I think it's due.

If you've had great experiences, attended disappointing events or even elected not to participate at all, the Festival organisers are interested in your opinion. Keep it pointed and polite and you've got every chance of influencing next year's program!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

March 12, 2008: Rumi

We're a bit slow off the mark. Rumi burst onto the scene in late 2006 and has received glowing reviews from The Age and just about every food blogger in Melbourne. It's right on Lygon Street, a mere 5 minute bike or tram ride north of our house and it's in the East Brunswick strip that we frequent fairly often. So why have we taken so long to get there? Disorganisation. Rumi became so popular so quickly that, by the time we'd heard about it, you had to book weeks in advance to get a table. And we just don't function well on that kind of timeframe - we can't even shop more than a day in advance.

Anyway, a couple of old friends of mine were in town on Wednesday and, with my usual foresight, I rang Rumi on Tuesday evening to try to book a table for the next night. They offered us a place, provided we could be out by 7:30. I made the promise without consulting anyone else and crossed my fingers that we could all turn up by 6 or so and have sufficient time to really explore the menu. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed one of their Turkish beers, Ben and Laura were stuck in a cab trying to make their way out to Brunswick. By the time they arrived, it was well after 6:30 and I was a bit tense that we were going to end up spending our meal rushing through the courses. Instead, we opted to move to one of the outdoor tables - these are unbookable and are there for the few walk-ins who take their chances. Luckily we claimed ours early and could sit back and relax for the rest of the evening without worrying about eating quickly or getting out on time. Excellent! The staff were very helpful throughout all of this - not at all grumpy at us for messing up and breaking our promise to be out of their hair early.

Our waitress was also exceedingly helpful when it came to ordering. We explained our situation: two vegos, two non-vegos (who were mostly sympathetic to our meat-free agenda) and four reasonably hungry people. After getting the complete run-down on our options, we settled on four of the smaller dishes (all vego) to share between the four of us and a main for each couple (Ben and Laura couldn't refuse the lamb koresht).

The small plates came out at reasonably regular intervals (along with some rolls of pita bread). The first plate came out with four little cigar-shaped pastries on it: sigara borgeri ($9.50) - pastries stuffed with three kinds of cheese (haloumi, feta and kasseri). These were a pretty great start to the meal, but were slightly let down by coming so soon after the amazing sambousik at Cafe Zum Zum. Still, that's like saying Degrassi doesn't quite measure up to Press Gang or that Breakfast of Champions isn't as funny as Catch-22 - it's barely even a criticism.

Next up came a couple of plates together - the eggplant m'nazleh (eggplant and green pepper braised with tomato, $10.50) and the fried cauliflower (with onions, currants and pinenuts, $11). The eggplant was soft and mushy - the best accompaniment for the pita breads of all our small plates. It was delicately flavoured - lightly spiced and a completely delicious. It's quite oily, but that works well in small doses smeared on bread. The cauliflower was probably the highlight of the evening. Somehow they'd gently cooked the florets until they were a bit on the soft side and then charred quickly to blacken up the edges and give them some crunch. The onions, currants and pinenuts added a bit of texture and flavour, but the florets could have stood alone - they were amazing.

The final small plate was the roasted carrot salad (with tahini, dukkah and parsley, $11). It was the most impressively presented of the plates: a little cross-hatched tower of carrot with generous sprinklings of dukkah and flat-leaf parsley. The carrots were cooked until they were as soft as they could be without falling to pieces and the carroty flavour was the perfect complement to the tart tahini.

Next up was our main - the only vego main on the menu, the vegetable fatteh (with pita, chickpeas, silverbeet, parsley and tahini yoghurt, topped with nuts and smoked paprika, $17). Again, this invoked obvious comparisons with Zum Zum, but I think on this occasion Rumi won the day. The crispy pita pieces, divine yoghurt, chickpeas and the delicious paprika-y nuts on top. We had no problems polishing this off (and even managed to share a few spoonfuls with our meat-eating friends).

By this stage of the evening it was pushing on towards 8, but our table switcharoo meant we had time to sit back and peruse the dessert menu. It was a fairly sparse menu: three small options and two more 'main' sized choices. Cindy couldn't resist one of the more substantial items - the Martyr's Square (with ashtar, caramelised banana and pistachio halva, $10.50). Despite my anti-banana agenda, this looked pretty good - rich cream, delicate pastry and a nice dusting of pistachio sprinkles. Unfortunately it was all filled with squishy, gross banana. Cindy seemed to enjoy it.

I decided to aim smaller and just ordered a small piece of pistachio halva ($4). This got lost somewhere in the ordering process, but it eventually turned up while Cindy was polishing off the last of her larger treat. The halva was a little on the dry side for my tastes - I can see how it would work better as part of a creamier dessert, but on it's own it would be better shared between two.

We topped things off with Lebanese coffees and a quiet drink across the road at Atticus Finch. After such a long wait and such a lot of hype (most recently winning The Age's Cheap Eats restaurant of the year award), it was always going to be hard for Rumi to measure up. Luckily, it went pretty close to my expectations: great service, wonderful little plates of innovative Middle Eastern cuisine, a delicious vego fatteh and a bustling, pleasant atmosphere. The only downsides: not as many vego mains as I'd hoped and a slight shortage of dessert options. Still, we'll be back - especially now we've learned that you can turn up early and snaffle one of the non-bookable tables at short notice.

Edit 02/04/09 - Rumi has moved to a new premises just a block or so down Lygon Street at number 116.

Address: 132 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
Ph: 9388 8255
Prices: Small vego plates - $4 - $11, vego main - $17.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

March 11, 2008: Satay sauce

The soy bombs are back. This time we ate them with salad and satay sauce. Since the tofu balls are quite rich, I elected to toss the salad lightly with the sauce and leave the balls dry.

We took this sauce recipe from the weekend Australian magazine quite a few years ago (the date has since disappeared from the cutting). In our first year as vegetarians we frequently teamed it with stir-fried veges, diced faux-chicken from the Asian supermarket, and rice. I think it later fell out of favour after one particularly watery and bland rendition. But as long as you keep the water levels in check (veges often contribute moisture if they cook in the sauce), it's actually quite tasty. Perhaps a few trials are in order to adjust the flavour balance to your personal taste, but all the important ingredients should be there.

Satay Sauce

2 tablespoons vege oil
half an onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1-2 red chillies, finely chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons soy sauce
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a saucepan, then add the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli. Cook until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar, peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce and 2-3 tablespoons of water. Simmer for 5 minutes and add more water, if needed. Season to taste.

March 11, 2008: The gift

Once a week, on Tuesdays, I share my office space with L. We're involved in different projects and spend most of our time quietly getting them done, but we've also established some common ground. She's always knitting cute socks and is apparently a very good photographer (I don't doubt it, though I've not yet seen any of her work). L has enthusiastically discussed the pictures I've hung on my side of the room and has a huge appreciation for fine food - at last year's Christmas party, we spent 20 exquisite minutes devouring roughly half a wilted (but still excellent) Bûche de Noël.

This week L gave me something very special.

This is the KitchenAid mixer that she has owned for 30 years. When she first had it she had been married about two years and was living in Boulder, Colorado. It was the launching point for a lot of baking. "Oh, the butter I've creamed, the cream and the egg whites I've whipped with this!", she marvelled. In the following years she had two sons and their first experiences of cooking were with this mixer.

By the time one of them was in kindergarten, she had moved to Australia and needed this transformer to convert the KitchenAid's voltage to suit Australian power points. (It's far heavier than the mixer!) Similarly, she embarked on the process of transforming her North American recipes to suit what was available in Australia, like the sugary chocolate instead of the unsweetened and bittersweet varieties she was accustomed to. For birthdays and fetes she baked brownies and cupcakes in little paper cases - at that stage unknown and most impressive to the Aussie mothers. For her part, L was bamboozled by fairy bread and lamingtons.

L's sons are now both in their twenties, and she doesn't have the back strength to heft the KitchenAid onto the kitchen bench. Instead she relies on a hand-held mixer she bought ten or fifteen years ago. So she offered it to me, keen to see it inherited by someone who'd use and value it as much as she did. As she took me to her car and dropped me and my new mixer at my house, she told me these stories about her mixer that had returned as she packed it up.

I couldn't think of much more to do than to thank her, and promise that I'd whip up some more memories with it. "I know you will," she replied. "That's why I'm so excited for you to have this!"

So, what was the first recipe I mixed up with my new-old KitchenAid? You'll have to wait a few days to find out...

March 10, 2008: Vina Bar

Cindy and I spent all Monday afternoon napping to recover from Golden Plains, meaning that dinner time came around and we had an empty fridge. We were both lacking the energy for any major food excursion, so it was lucky that Johanna had recently gushed about the Vina Bar on Lygon St. Cindy and I have almost entirely given up on the Carlton stretch of Lygon, with only the occasional visit to Trotters in a strip of dozens of tacky-looking Italian places. It was good of Johanna to remind us that there are still treasures to be found amongst all the dross and the speedy, cheap Vina Bar lived up to her enthusiastic recommendation.

We parked ourselves in the small and slightly crowded indoor area, escaping both the heat and the cigarette smoke outside. The menu provided a fairly decent number of vegetarian options, and I was tempted by the idea of curry, but in the end I had to follow Johanna's lead and order the vermicelli noodles with spring rolls ($10). I told myself that it was mainly about the crisp fresh vegies and slivers of tofu, but really the key to the meal was the deep-fried spring roll pieces. These are some fine morsels of flavour - filled with a much more interesting mix of vegies than the usual cabbagey mush and without a hint of the oily sogginess that blights spring rolls elsewhere. The only disappointment was that I ate them all too quickly and was left with more than half a bowl full of healthy bits. Still, even the noodles and vegies were thoroughly enjoyable - particularly when the chilli/soy sauce was poured through them.

Cindy went for the vegetarian crepe - which was actually more like an omelette than a crepe, a very eggy batter full of onion and mushroom bits wrapped around a gigantic pile of bean sprouts. It probably didn't quite fulfill the healthy role that Cindy was originally looking for to make up for three days of deep-fried festival food, but it certainly hit the spot. And there were some nice fresh salady bits on the side, so we could pretend.

Edit 04/05/09: We're sad to report that Vina Bar closed last month. I wish I'd had one more chance to enjoy their terrific spring rolls!

Address: 253 Lygon Street, Carlton
Ph: 9347 2510
BYO only
Price: $8-$11

where's the beef? profiled on I eat I drink I work

For the next ten weeks, this blog is being profiled on I eat I drink I work. This is a new Australian website intended mainly for the hospitality industry to advertise job vacancies. However it also has a frequently updated front page of food stories: blog posts, videos, profiles etc from people who like food. That's why we're on it! (What did you think was happening - that we were packing in our day jobs for the glamour and excitement of hospitality recruitment? Huh.) As well as a little introductory profile, blurbs of everything we write here will appear on the site.

A few other Melbourne-based food blogs already have visible presences at I eat I drink I work, and that's hardly surprising. The site's commissioning editor is dashing macaron hero and blogger Duncan Markham. It'll be interesting to see how what effect (if any) this venture will have on the volatile relationships between food bloggers, the industry and the "dead tree media".

Friday, March 14, 2008

Bloggers' Banquet: the sequel

One night in November last year, I took a tram to St Kilda with a Coles green-bag under my arm and butterflies in my stomach. Within two hours I had put faces and gestures to over a dozen of Melbourne's food bloggers, and eaten almost as many delicious dishes. Though many of us entered with some trepidation, the first Bloggers' Banquet was an enormous success.

The feeling of community endured, first with a flurry of posts and comments. A few people met up for subsequent edible outings, and a couple of group blogs (and Flickr and Facebook groups!) have sprung up. Then Ed recently offered tickets to Out of the Frying Pan, an opportunity to represent food blogging to the Food Establishment. Several took it up and what resulted was intensely frustrating, occasionally illuminating, and most definitely controversial. It's inspired me (and other bloggers) to contemplate the merits and pitfalls of blogging.

It seems to me that this is the perfect time for Melbourne's food bloggers to regroup and rediscover the fun, food and new-found friendship of the last banquet. In less than a month, the Purple Goddess will host Bloggers' Banquet #2 at her holiday home ('Chez Fur') in Dromana. She has documented many SOLEful experiences there and the backyard wood-fired oven is the envy of many a food blogger. Bring conversation, humour, opinions, your spouse, kids or pets, but most importantly, bring FOOD.

If you're a food blogger and can get to Dromana for lunch on April 5, drop PG a line at minor_deity1[at]hotmail[dot]com. The details are on her blog here.

If you're planning to attend and driving from Melbourne, fancy some car pooling? Michael and I live in the inner north and for a lift, we'll offer you petrol money and a free! surprise! gift! (Not cosmetics.) Leave a comment or contact us at wheresthebeef_blog[at]yahoo[dot]com.

March 8-10, 2008: Golden Plains

Summer is on its way out, but there was still time for a late bout of sun, music and grubby tent-living at Golden Plains music festival. With a total fire ban in force, we simply packed muesli bars, rice crackers and a LOT of water for sustenance. The stalls provided the rest...

For our first meal, I made a beeline for the Hare Krishna tent, ordering a feast plate ($9) and extra koftas ($4). These folks are so consistent in their offerings!

Here's the late-night, overexposed vegie burger ($8) Michael topped up on later.

On Sunday morning most people's first priority was coffee. We were up relatively early, so Michael only had to wait 20 minutes (!) for his.

Then it was another 20 minute wait for vegie brekky wraps ($8 each) and juice. These roti wraps were piping hot and filled with egg, pesto, caramelised onions, tomato and cheese. Best morning-after breakfast. EVER.

For a late lunch I scouted out wood-fired pizzas ($8 each). They were hot, doughy and delicious in the shade, but I really felt for the stall staff, working by the wood fire on a scorching day like this.

Obviously an afternoon ice-cream was necessary. Irrewarra's All Natural gourmet ice-creams were lovely, though their richness was wasted in the heat. My blackberry ($4) and Michael's double-scoop with blueberry ($5) were flecked with lots of real seeds.

Michael had a roasted vege panini for dinner (not pictured), then got a hankering for chips ($5.50) when it was my dinner time.

After assisting Michael with his chips, I tucked into a waffle with berries ($8). It was surprisingly good quality under the circumstances!

This was typical festival food - expensive and not particularly nutritious. However we were impressed by the abundance of vegetarian choices. We didn't even get a chance to sample the nachos, falafel wraps, pasta or slurpees!