Saturday, May 31, 2008

May 30, 2008: Hot dawg

White bun.

Sanitarium hot dog.

Cheddar cheese spread and tomato sauce.

Please don't ask me to justify it. I haven't eaten this 'food' in ten years.

(It tasted as un-nourishingly good as I remembered. Uh-oh.)

May 28, 2008: Chickpea cutlets

A google search for chickpea cutlet veganomicon yields about 12900 English web pages. So what can I say about these patties that hasn't been said already? Actually, I'm hoping the photo above might communicate a good thousand words on my behalf.

For the uninitiated, Veganomicon is the latest cookbook to come from Isa Chandra Moscowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Published only last year, it has instantly become the go-to book for cruelty-free cooking. And these chickpea cutlets are allegedly the authors' favourite recipe in said bible. The use of wheat gluten ensures that the patties won't crumble to bits, and it adds a unique texture. The brief three-minute knead forms gluten strands and I expect that some experimentation is warranted either side of that guideline to achieve your preferred texture, from soft and tender to dense and chewy.

These were easy to pull together on a weeknight, and I initially tried one with a splash of lemon, and side of baked potatoes and steamed broccolini. It was just the comfort meal I needed, reminding me very much of the meat and three veg that my grandmother used to prepare. Then I reheated a leftover cutlet in the frypan on Saturday afternoon for a lunchtime burger.

Oh yeah.

This might have been the best burger ever.

The chickpea cutlet's new crew of BFFs are a multigrain roll, a handful of rocket, a quarter of an avocado and a loving spoonful of baked tomatillo salsa. Their powers combined form a burger that not only tastes fantastic, but tastes like you're doing your body a favour.

Chickpea cutlets
(the recipe is everywhere, but appears to have been posted to by the authors themselves)

1 cup cooked chickpeas (I used a 400g can, drained)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup wheat gluten (I used Lotus 'gluten flour' from Allergy Block)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup vege stock or water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced (I actually used the dry powdered stuff)
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
1/4 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
extra oil for frying or greasing

Mash the chickpeas and oil together in a bowl until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and combine to form a dough. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes, until gluten strings form. Divide the dough into four pieces and form them into patties, no more than 1.5 cm thick.

Now you can bake or fry them. I did a combination of both: frying in a little oil until golden on both sides, then baking for a further 15 minutes to cook through.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

May 26, 2008: Classic Curry Company

Monday night looked like a good one for De Orchid takeaway, so I gave them a call as Michael walked home. Unfortunately their phone went unanswered, eventually returning a message that they were closed due to unforeseen circumstances for a week or two. Darn. It seems that someone else was having the very same conundrum, finding our blog via a google search for indian delivery carlton melbourne just eight minutes after they searched for "de orchid" carlton! I wonder if they tried the Balti Indian Cafe as google recommended? Instead I took a look at our fridge, papered with takeaway leaflets as it is, and chose the Classic Curry Company.

Michael and I first sampled the Classic's curries even before we moved to Melbourne. We were lodging nearby while attending a conference and had somehow heard of it as a local purveyor of cheap and cheerful Indian food. Like Red Pepper, it was an unadorned fit-out filled with members of the local Indian community, and big pots of curry going at very cheap rates. If memory serves, I think we paid only $6-6.50 for a vegetarian curry and rice! The prices are higher now, though $7.50 still seems a reasonable asking price.

With orders over $25 scoring free delivery, we were almost obliged to buy up big - a serve of pakora (2 for $2), vegetable kofta, palak paneer, vegetable korma and two garlic naans ($1.50 each). The pakoras, rather than being the battered whole chunks of vegetable that I expected, were deep-fried balls of vege mush. They didn't impress me much, though the tamarind dipping sauce brought out the best in them. The naans looked pretty flat and lifeless, but did actually reveal some flakiness once I started tearing in. The palak paneer had a mild, salty flavour with the spinach served near its natural texture rater than pureed. The kofta were quite good and the tangy sauce had a little kick. I expected little of the korma, but its sweet sauce won me over at first bite.

This is not nuanced cooking, and I had wondered if the Classic Curry Company's meals would live up to the slightly higher prices they're now charging. These curries definitely did, well exceeding my (fairly low) expectations and making our Monday night in a cozy one.

Address: 597 Elizabeth St, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 93294040
Price: vege curries with rice $7.50

May 25, 2008: Mandarin maple pudding

This pudding and I have had a rocky relationship. It wasn't love at first sight, though there was undeniably an attraction there when I first spied the recipe in a weekend newspaper. The first date, only a few weeks later, was definitely a success; I even presented him to my Dad and brother after dinner.

Then the seasons shifted, time passed, and I moved to a new city. When winter arrived I tried to dress my recipe up in more sophisticated ramekins, which was a complete disaster. (You know what they say about men and baking recipes - don't try to change them.) Dishes were thrown, things were said - we clearly needed another break from each other.

With winter returning again I wanted to find out if this pudding and I could become 'just good friends'. I set about recreating the comfortable environment of our first meeting. Grind, grate, beat, fold: everything seemed to be running smoothly and I started to relax. Then I'd just put the pudding into the oven when I realised I'd forgotten to add the baking powder. Crap. So it was a hasty trip back out again for a highly unconventional stirring of the powder into the batter, while trying my best not to disturb the underlayer of maple syrup.

You know what? Everything turned out fine. Crisp top (all cratered from the belated baking powder), moist and slightly coarse interior with hints of mandarin and almond, and a sweet and sticky maple base. We've been meeting cheerfully over cups of tea for a full week!

Mandarin maple pudding
(credited to Matthew Evans, and most likely taken from the Good Living section of the SMH in 2005 or 2006)

200g butter, softened
150g castor sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
3 eggs
1 tablespoon mandarin zest
150g self-raising flour, sifted
50g almond meal
125mL maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter, sugar and golden syrup. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well mixed. Fold in the zest, flour and almond meal.

Grease a 2L casserole or pudding dish, then spread the pudding batter evenly over it. Pour the maple syrup over the batter as evenly as you can. Cover the dish with foil.

Fill a baking tray with hot water, 2cm deep. Place the pudding dish into it, then put the lot in the oven to bake for an hour.

Take off the foil, turn the oven down to 180 degrees C and bake for 20-30 more minutes - until the top is golden and firm, and a skewer comes out cleanly.

Serve warm with cream.

May 25, 2008: Nutty carrot'n'cumin roast

With plenty of time to cook on Sunday night, I set about preparing some winter warmers. First up was this cumin, carrot and cashew nut roast from Wendy of A Wee Bit of Cooking. I first caught sight of it when Johanna presented her Neb at Nut Roast blog event last month. Since I ground my own cashews and breadcrumbs they took a loooong time from pantry to plate, the four serves really are a bit on the small side, and I seriously overestimated the amount of cumin I was supposed to add. Nevertheless they were tasty and substantial, earning high praise from Michael.

We topped them with a little mayonnaise and ate them alongside mixed green leaves and baked fennel. The baked fennel was a little experiment on my part - though the segments ended up looking a bit dry, they were tender with chewy caramelised edges. This has become my favourite way to get to know unfamiliar vegetables - a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and 20 minutes in the oven seems to bring out their best.

If you'd like to try this cute and comforting carrot'n'cumin roast for yourself, head on over for A Wee Bit of Cooking.

May 25, 2008: wwwash II

It's been a long time between wwwashes, but I can confirm that they're still making mighty fine crepes. Vegetarian? Into poached eggs? You're in luck - there are five such crepes on the menu, at $10-12 each, with adornments such as spinach, roasted capsicum, dukkah and/or lemon aioli. Not into eggs? The mushroom, spinach, ricotta and lemon filling is still a winner. And then there's the sweet ones - I wish I had room.

You can read about our last visit to wwwash here.

Edit 13/11/08: Wwwash is now the Wick - it's neither a laundromat nor an internet cafe, but it still does crepes! Read more at fitzroyalty and unwakeable.

Monday, May 26, 2008

May 24, 2008: Attica

With my birthday fast approaching, Cindy and I sat down for our now bi-annual hunt for a fancyish place with an interesting vego menu to splash out on. Cindy recalled dmargster's recommendation, which had been followed up by raves in The Age, Tomato, Melbourne Foodie and Eating With Jack and rumours of a vegetarian degustation menu, all of which meant that Attica was the venue of choice this May.

While we were forced to cross the river for our fancy feast this time, Attica is conveniently located about 100m from Ripponlea train station, which made getting there relatively easy. The room itself is dark, inviting and sleekly designed. Thankfully, the design isn't just about aesthetics - there's plenty of space and some strategically hung heavy curtains that help the restaurant from being swamped by noise. We had a nice back corner table, and settled straight into our pre-pre-meal bread with exotic accompaniments: smoked almonds, fried brussel sprout pieces and a fromage blanc spread with olive oil and chives. And butter of course.

It's a good sign for the meal ahead when the bread comes out with imaginative and interesting bits and pieces - the crispy brussel sprouts were particularly impressive.

Next up was the pre-meal treat (this seems to be standard practice at fancy degustation places - I don't really get why they don't just include it as part of the menu, but I guess it feels more like a treat when it's 'free'): a twice blanched potato crisp topped with avocado puree and a sliver of compressed pear that had been soaked in dry sherry. The textures and flavours of this little morsel made me wish it was more than bite-sized.

Finally it was time for the meal proper to begin, with both of us lined up for the 8 course vegetarian degustation option (I think Saturday is degustation night), and just me braving the matching wines (I'll be up front now: I'm not a wine expert at all - I enjoyed all of the drinks I was served, but feel utterly incapable of offering any deeper commentary that that).

Course number one (or three, depending on how you count things) was an astonishingly creamy slow-poached egg, served with grated horseradish, crudites and fromage blanc. The contrast between the crispy vegie bites and the creaminess of the egg and fromage blanc was exquisite, and the grated horseradish added a subtle flavour. I think Cindy's problems with eggs probably held her enjoyment back a little here, but I was hugely impressed.

Next up was a multi-mushroom plate: about five different types of gently cooked mushrooms, with some chestnut slivers and a slightly baffling canestrato cheese foam. How do you make a cheese foam? Craziness. The mushrooms had a variety of textures and tastes, and the cheesy foam added a nice contrasting flavour.

The next dish was the only remaining hint of the Thai inspiration in Attica's past - a coconut and galangal soup, poured at the table over sweet corn and garlic. The broth had a wonderful, deep flavour - vaguely reminiscent of our recent Thai broth efforts, but superior in every way. The crunchy corn and garlic provided the texture (and proved quite difficult to scrape out of the bottom of the stylish, but slightly awkward bowls). Outside of the desserts, this was the star of the show.

The obligatory tofu dish was next in line: silken tofu on eggplant puree, with a walnut sauce and some salsa verde. The salsa was the strongest flavour, its tang outshining the smoky eggplant mush. The tofu (as it often is) was really just there to provide a texture to go along with the stronger flavours of its accompaniments.

The next dish had caught my eye on the menu and I had high hopes indeed: smoked beets with jerusalem artichoke custard and apple-glazed shallots. All these ingredients have been hidden by the fancy rye crisps on top. The shallots were sweet and tender, cooked to within an inch of the point where they just fall apart. The artichoke custard was a little too subtle for my palate, but the smoked beets lived up to my expectations.

Our final savoury meal was an autumn vegetable garden with horseradish and hazelnuts. The vegies (lightly charred cauliflower, tender brussel sprouts and some greens) were beautifully cooked, and came out on a rich pumpkin paste, with a sprinkling of nuts. There was also the delicious purply crumbled bits, which we're guessing was some sort of hazelnut and horseradish paste. It was tasty anyway.

On to dessert! First up was the Terroir (which loosely translates as 'sense of place' apparently) - we'd ceased taking notes at this point, and this was laden with ingredients, so I can only give a vague description: there was a lime flavoured jelly and some sorbet hidden under the top layer, which was largely made up of crumbled beetroot cake (I wonder where they get their ideas), sorrel, pepper and some cute little purple flowers. It was full of complex flavours, with the tangy lime jelly distracting us while the other ingredients snuck up on our palates. I wish I could remember more about what was in this - it was truly outstanding.

The final listed dish was this dessert, described as sauternes custard with apple bits and pieces. The apple bits and pieces included some slightly dry little apple crunches embedded in a layer of toffee on top, some custard apple sorbet and some tender apple bites throughout. It's rare for Cindy to be so impressed with non-chocolatey desserts, but this was at least the equal of the terroir - an amazing variety of textures and a wonderful mix of apple-themed flavours.

I was really quite full by this point, so I was glad when the final treats were these tiny rhubarb jubes - a nice light flavour to finish things off. Attica really do put on quite a meal - the dishes combine unexpected flavours and textures without trying too hard to be experimental, meaning there were no real misses across the 8 (or 11) dishes. The savoury dishes were all excellent, although there was a little sameness in styles across them (excluding the broth and the tofu) - I think that's a risk of the vegetarian degustation. The desserts were the real stars - two outstanding, imaginative and refreshing treats. The whole meal was beautifully paced, the service was friendly, helpful and knowledgeable and the food was wonderful. It probably falls a little short of the gold standard but it's still highly, highly recommended.

Address: 74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea
Ph: 9530 0111
Price: Degustation menu $110, $185 with matching wines

Sunday, May 25, 2008

May 24, 2008: Lord of the Fries

On our way to Game On the other week, I noticed the original Lord of the Fries (on the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth Streets) selling new nuggets! However, after getting our game on, we retired to the newer LOTF stand across from Federation square at Flinders St station - there were no nuggets to be found here.

So Lisa beat me to blogging them, sampling the nuggets on the same weekend that I had hoped to. A few weeks later I was offered a second chance while running a few city-based errands.

These are advertised as vegan, gluten free, and $3.95 for 8 nuggets and a classic sauce. I actually received 11 of the little fellers, which is more in keeping with the asking price. I'm really surprised that these are gluten free, since the springy texture reminds me of the gluten-based faux meats I've eaten elsewhere. Hot and deep-fried, they are salty and delicious. The Thai style sauce, tasting of peanut butter and curry powder, is an ideal partner. Props to LOTF for packaging the sauces so generously - there is no rationing required.

These tasty nuggets are very much snack size only, but the chips and burgers are an easy temptation if you're more hungry.

(You read about two of our many past visits here and here.)

May 22, 2008: Baked tomatillo salsa

On our recent visit to Casa Iberica I picked up a large can of tomatillos. My one previous brush with tomatillos, where they constituted a broth, didn't reveal much about the fruit's flavour. So the first step was undoubtedly to drain them and have a little taste! I've learned how my mind and senses combine to fool me, and it's difficult to know how the signals of tomato-texture and definitely-not-tomato-colour influenced my sense of taste. These canned tomatillos struck me as tangier than tomatoes, though otherwise very similar.

Michael prepared a dinner of black bean tofu tacos, while I decided to adapt Kurma's easy-bake salsa recipe to my green alternative. Mashing the tomatillos roughly; combining them with a chopped green chilli, a glug of olive oil and a few spoonfuls of brown sugar; baking the lot in a hot oven for half an hour; this was all it took to achieve the sweet and sour condiment you see above.

Yummy blog award

Pam has generously passed on the Yummy Blog Award to where's the beef?. The Yummy blog award is an award given to blogs with yummy recipes/photos. Even though our being vegetarian is closely linked our personal ethics, the main purpose of this blog is to show that vegetarian food is just plain yummy! So we're mighty pleased that Pam reckons we've succeeded.

Winners of the award are also asked to nominate their favourite desserts. Michael doesn't have a long history of dessert preparation or consumption, though he does seem to have a soft spot for fruit pies and pastries, as well as baked cheesecakes. I, on the other hand, was born with a dessert spoon in my mouth. I bookmark and try new dessert recipes often and only occasionally repeat them. However I have an abiding love of dark chocolate and home made ice cream - the peanut butter chocolate balls and raspberry ripple ice cream I made last summer are good examples. Now as winter rolls around I'm getting into gear for pudding: choc nutella, rhubarb & ginger, and banana butterscotch have proved winners in the past, and I've got another one to show you in just a few days!

The blogs that have been making me go mmmm for sweets lately would have to be:
So I, in turn, pass the Yummy Blog Award on to these two capable cooks.

May 20, 2008: Broccoli and blue vein soup

Many months ago one of Cindy's friends had passed on this recipe for broccoli and blue cheese soup - with winter properly upon us (it was 3 degrees when I was riding to work this week! 3!), Cindy dug it out of her email and set me to work on it. It's remarkably simple - a bit of chopping, some simmering and a run through the food processor - and pretty tasty, with the blue cheese flavour really shining through (in contrast to this effort, where the cheese flavour was a bit too subtle). The downside of the cheesy flavour was the removal of any pretence that this is a particularly healthy soup, in fact it sat a little heavily in my stomach by the end of the meal, and might work better in smaller bowls to start a multi-course meal off.

Broccoli and Blue Vein Soup

1 Onion
2 large potatoes, chopped
1.1 litres vegetable stock
350g broccoli, chopped roughly
80g blue cheese, crumbled
150mL milk
Salt, pepper and juice of half a lemon (opt.)
90mL (6 tablespoons) cream, to serve

1. Soften the onion in a saucepan. Add potatoes and stock and bring to the boil. Simmer 10 minutes.

2. Add broccoli and cook for 10min. Puree or mash the soup.

3. Add the cheese and milk and season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Heat through without boiling.

4. Serve with swirl of cream in each bowl.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

May 15-16, 2008: Chocolate beetroot brownies

Orange, coffee, mint, fruit and nuts: these are the flavours I'm accustomed to pairing with chocolate. But what about beetroot? It seemed like a match made in purgatory when I first heard it. Yet I was impressed by the agreeable earthy flavour once I sunk my teeth into that dark, moist chocolate and beetroot cake about 12 years ago. I was in high school and it had been baked by my friend's older sister - the cake probably contributed some way to my image of her as cool, alternative, and galaxies away from my closeted life.

Not being much of a cook at the time, I wasn't curious to try my own hand at it. It's only since I've been blogging that I've started collecting recipes that pair chocolate with beetroot. And here's my first trial of the odd couple at home, a recipe for brownies that recently appeared in Karen Martini's section of the Age's Sunday Life magazine. I baked them for the occasion of another guest speaker at work, and I was a little anxious as to how they'd be received. Consequently I went a little overboard with the chocolate "drizzle" over the top (it was more of a downpour).

I thought these brownies were fantastic. Chocoholic as I am, I was actually quite happy for my favourite food to take a step back from centre stage and share the limelight with almond meal, nutmeg and beetroot. They combine to form an organic, complex flavour and moist, slightly chewy texture. I'd even skip the chocolate drizzle altogether next time, though it probably did ease the way for a couple of skeptics in the group. My new-old mixmaster made the beating stages effortless, though I didn't spend quite long enough incorporating the eggs (make sure you do!). Deciding to make one and a half times the original quantity to share around (these are the measurements given below), I finally found something to fill up a convincing half of the mixer's gigantic bowl. The only nuisance was grating the beetroot, but that certainly won't stop me from making these again.

Chocolate beetroot brownies

150g butter, softened
150g brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
165g plain flour
6 eggs
135g dark chocolate, melted
150g ground almonds
170g raw beetroot, finely grated
75g extra chocolate, melted

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Line a baking dish with paper and grease it well.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Mix in the vanilla, nutmeg and flour. Beat in the eggs one at a time until well combined (I failed to do this!).

Once the melted chocolate is at room temperature, add it to the batter. Fold in the ground almonds and beetroot.

Spread the brownie mixture in the baking dish and bake it for 25-30 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Once the brownie has cooled, drizzle over the melted chocolate before slicing and serving.

May 11, 2008: Leftover makeover - colcannon

Dinners of knishes and bangers and mash yielded extra shredded cabbage and mashed potato. I figured that they could easily be transformed into some kind of patty, and a wander around the internet produced this recipe, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's version of the Irish peasant food colcannon. Though I wasn't aware of it at the time, the chopped deli slice I added to the mix was entirely consistent with the traditional addition of boiled ham or bacon.
It was a struggle to keep the mixture together in one piece, but of course the crumbling edges didn't affect the taste at all. Paired with mushroom paprikash, it was a fine, warming winter meal.

May 11, 2008: Green Refectory

One day we'll have sampled all the breakfast options in our surrounds. It might take a few more years given how long it takes us to visit places as highly recommended as Green Refectory. A few of our friends have spent months raving about their affordable and delicious muffins and the quality of their coffee, but we've been too lazy to make it all the way across to Sydney Road.

After some missed opportunities, we'd booked in a post-breakfast ACMI trip, and Green Refectory was as good a mustering point as any. There was a shortage of tables inside we trusted that the weather would hold, made our way to the back alley, and pulled together an impromptu group table. It's all counter-service so, after downing some very impressive coffee, we wandered back in and browsed our options. There were plenty of veg meals, some sweet and some savoury - I decided to brave the rather hefty sounding breakfast stack ($9): a potato cake, slabs of haloumi, tomato chunks and spinach, all topped with a poached egg. The egg was just slightly over-poached and the potato cake was a bit soggy, but otherwise the stack was pretty good - basically any excuse to have haloumi at breakfast will do me.

Cindy couldn't resist the muffins, going for a two course muffin-meal: a pumpkin, feta and pine nut (with added zucchini, cheesiness and sundried tomatoes - $3.50) for her savoury first-course and then a raspberry, choc chip and pear muffin ($2.80) for breakfast dessert. They were not the most photogenic treats - all lumpy with fillings. Both were a little less nutritious than Cindy prefers, but they were good value and rich with flavoursome bits and pieces.

The staff were helpful and friendly, curious as to how we'd all managed to sneak out on Mother's Day without getting in trouble. That's just one upside of developing a gang of ex-pat Brisbanites*.

Address: 115 Sydney Road, Brunswick
Ph: 9387 1150
Price: veg breakfasts $2.50 - $14

*This review is dedicated to our wonderful Mums!

Monday, May 19, 2008

May 10, 2008: Cafe Italia

Update 27/1/2019: Cafe Italia is permanently closed.

On Saturday night we had a spontaneous meet-up with my aunt Carol and family friend Jens for dinner and a movie. We floated Thai, Vietnamese and Indian as options, but Jens had a hearty appetite and a preference for Italian so I suggested we try to get a table at Cafe Italia. Set in a laneway away from the spruikers on Lygon St, it still has no trouble attracting diners through its closed doors. In summer the open courtyard is delightful and in winter the same area is snugly closed up, housing just as many people.

Cafe Italia's menu is adequate for vegetarians if not inspiring. There's bruschetta or dips to start, plenty of side dishes, four pasta plates and a pizza on offer. Disappointingly the mushroom risotto is made with non-vegetarian stock, but the waitstaff are clued up enough to know that kind of thing. (On a previous visit a waiter offered, without any provocation from me, to find out what kind of stock was in the soup of the day. I was impressed.)

We concentrated on the main courses but it took very little coaxing from our waiter to have us start with a pizza aglio (sliced garlic, sea salt, rosemary and olive oil, $6.50). It was the perfect portion to share amongst the four of us; so hot and fresh and salty, leaving me appetised and keen for the next round.

Michael ordered the agnolotti (jumbo spinach ricotta pasta with napoli sauce and shaved parmesan, $19.50). While he enjoyed it, he was disappointed that it didn't quite fill him (and at that price). Before I was half way through Michael was already casting scheming eyes over my plate!

It was full of fettucine pesto (fresh basil, pine nuts, a touch of cream and cheese, $17.50). While it was a bit oily, I couldn't get over the soft tenderness of the pasta - one of the best I've ever eaten. (Between my meals here and at the Corner, I may have to rethink my skepticism of restaurant-prepared pasta.) Even so, I didn't mind sharing a bit with Michael since it left open the possibility of dessert.

In particular I'd heard good things about Cafe Italia's tiramisu ($10.50) and bullied Carol into sharing a piece with me. It was the real deal, and the ideal pick-me-up before embarking on our late movie session.

I wouldn't strongly recommend Cafe Italia to an adventurous vegetarian, particularly given that Shakahari is only a short walk away. The menu doesn't offer any surprises and the prices are a little steep. Yet the food and surrounds are a world of quality away from the Lygon St hussle. It's a pleasure to share it with carnivorous company.

Address: 56-66 University St, Carlton
Ph: 9347 0638
Fully licensed
Prices: veg mains $16.90-19.50

Sunday, May 18, 2008

May 10, 2008: Tokyo treats - Collon

Time to dive into that bag of exotic mass-produced treats yet again! I think Matt chose these entirely on the basis of their funny name. Actually, my colon is probably one of the digestive organs I'd like least to dwell upon while eating.

Instead I concentrated hard on the snacks before me. They're little wafer tubes filled with sweet white goop. There's not much to say about these other than that they're sweet. A study of sugar in two textures. I stoically munched my way through the entire box (Michael couldn't face more than one) and I can say with confidence that there are no nuances to be savoured. These are just sweet.

Actually, they're most likely not even vegetarian. Like the Pocky before them, a stroll around the internet indicates that they most likely contain animal-based shortening. So no more Collons for my taste buds, my stomach or my colon.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

May 7, 2008: Watercress salad

May's calendar dish of the month is a light but vibrant and intensely flavoured watercress salad from Laos. As with most salads, there's little more involved than a quick vege slice and dressing shake. Substance and that little extra prep come from hard-boiled eggs.

This salad was playing a losing game from the start - I can't handle hard-boiled eggs any more than Michael enjoys raw tomato. We took a courtesy bite each of our respective nemeses before playing swaps. Otherwise the dressing and fresh herbs were most agreeable, so there may be a future adaptation of this salad that Michael and I could both enjoy.

Watercress salad

2 eggs
2 tomatoes
12cm cucumber
1 tablespoon fresh mint
1 tablespoon fresh coriander
225g watercress
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon peanuts, toasted

Put the eggs on to boil for 8-10 minutes, until hard.

While they're boiling, quarter the tomatoes, slice the cucumber into rounds and chop the herbs. Toss these ingredients in a bowl with the watercress.

When the eggs are done, allow them to cool before peeling and chopping into quarters.

Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar, then whisk in the sesame oil and soy sauce.

Arrange the eggs over the top of the salad and pile the nuts in the centre. Pour over the dressing and serve immediately.

Friday, May 09, 2008

May 4, 2008: The Corner Hotel Kitchen

After watching others cook and eat, Michael and I were in need of a bit of sustenance ourselves. Thankfully, we needed to do little more than climb the stairs to the Corner Hotel Kitchen. Having spent the last few hours in the typically dingy environment of the pub gig venue, I was surprised by the sophisticated look of the restaurant. Then I was surprised by how few people were utilising it at 9pm on a Sunday! This was to our benefit if not the kitchen's, guaranteeing us swift service and a calm quiet environment in which to enjoy our meal.

The menu offers vegetarians a reasonable amount of choice amongst 350g rib eye and fish'n'chips. The snacks cover the usual chips and garlic bread and stretch further to vegetarian nachos piled high with guacamole and tofu kebabs with miso pesto; the mains include a calzone, pasta, a burger and a pizza. Michael ordered the veggie burger with wedges ($16). He wasn't much impressed by the patty, it being an uninspired mash-up of potatoes and mixed veges, but the wedges were surprisingly good. It's quite possible that they were of the frozen variety, yet they arrived hot, super-crisp and well seasoned.

I went for the linguini with swiss brown mushrooms, leek, pine nuts and a creamy white wine sauce ($15). Pasta with cream sauce has been massacred by many a pub kitchen, but this one was a dream - the lightest of sauces clung to the toothsome pasta with none left over to pool in the bottom on the plate, the mushrooms and parmesan were shaved thinly, providing regular bursts of earthy flavour. It's rare that I'd deem pasta served at a restaurant to be worth $15, but this one certainly was.

While the cook-off joyfully fulfilled my expectations, the Corner Kitchen far exceeded them. I'd be happy to return before another year's done and the Circus Pie Classic brings me to the Corner Hotel once again.

Address: 57 Swan St, Richmond
Ph: 9427 9198
Fully licensed
Price: veg mains $15-17

May 4, 2008: Good Shepherd's Circus Pie Classic 2008

Last year's Good Shepherd Circus Pie Classic probably ranks as the best night out Cindy and I have had in Melbourne: a great selection of bands, some frantic and shambolic cookery, drunken restaurateurs and breast-milk sauce - it had everything. So of course, when The Corner announced this year's event, Cindy and I immediately ordered tickets. We'd lazed around Rathdowne Street all morning post-breakfast, so by the time we wandered in to the band room, the rock 'n' roll had already begun, with the country-rock stylings of Downhills Home. They were an excellent start to proceedings, catchy and twangy.

Before I'd even made it to the bar, Cindy had purchased raffle tickets in the hope of picking up the 1st prize - a $200 dinner at our favourite flash restaurant, Three, One, Two. Once the band had wound up their set, MCs Clem Bastow and Angus Sampson wandered on and let us know how things were going to be. The programme had been cut down from last time - there were no semi-finals, just two teams, 40 minutes of cooking and glory for the winners.

The two teams were introduced: Team A featuring last year's winners Ally Spazzy and team captain Rebecca Barnard, along with new competitors Phil Kakulas (from the Blackeyed Susans), Kim Salmon and Jon Chapple (from Shooting at Unarmed Men).

None of the other contestants from last year returned, so Team B was made up entirely of newcomers: team captain Deborah Conway, Willy Zygier, Adam Rozenbachs, Emma Race and Cameron Potts. As with last year, the cooking was based around an Iron-Chef style secret ingredient. This year it was eggplant! An exciting secret ingredient for us vegos in the audience.

After some hurried planning (by planning I mean Rebecca Barnard bossing her team around), the cooking got underway. There wasn't quite the same amount of commentary as last year's event, so it was harder to tell exactly what all the on-stage action was producing.

Luckily, Dynamo were on hand to entertain us. Think Jack Black style frontman, funky horn section, and all kinds of good-time rock. Outstanding.

We had periodic updates from the cooking zone - the teams had quickly sorted themselves into those who do (Rebecca, Deborah and Willy) and those who taste (Jon and Ally).

Still, everything seemed to be coming along, with piles of delicious dishes building up on each teams counter tops and, after a final burst of rock, the dramatic countdown began and the hurried plating began. Then, it was time for the judging!

John Lethlean had obviously recovered from his breast-milk-related disgust, and reprised last year's role as head judge. Helping him out were Tracee Hutchison (all 'round Melbourne media personality who, if you head here, you can see interviewing yours truly in my brief moment of national stardom) and Adam D'Sylva (from Pearl).

The dishes flowed thick and fast from the kitchen stage, Team A churned out three plates: melitzana (a greek eggplant dip), eggplant salad with a tahini yoghurt dressing (inspired by Greg Malouf), and some sort of eggplant, tofu and pork curry (apparently inspired by Charmaine Solomon). Team B upped the ante with four dishes. They were a little upset that the judges had to taste cold versions of their creations, but were promised that it wouldn't prejudice their decision. Things started off with a babaganoush and flatbread, followed by eggplant rolls with rice (somehow including cinnamon, mint and lemon zest), a Lebanese style sweet chilli eggplant and yoghurt dish (which was responsible for a choking chilli cloud taking over the pub during the cook-off) and the crowning glory: breaded eggplant with French green beans.

The judges were periodically impressed with the dishes served up, raving about the melitzana, the tofu and pork mush and, especially, the breaded eggplant. They were given a set of criteria to judge the two teams and, after much deliberation, the decision came back... Team A! Despite declaring Team B's breaded eggplant the best dish of the night, the better all round set of dishes from Team A helped them defend their title and reclaim the Golden Wok. The celebrations began at once.

As did the gloating.

Team B seemed happy enough with second place and the coveted silver spatula and, far too quickly, our second Circus Pie Classic was over.

At least the cooking part was. There was still time for some more rock and a raffle draw. Old-school Melbourne rocker's Hoss gave us a punchy, rockin' set. Joel Silbersher may be tiny, but he sure knows how to make some noise.

Next up were the Town Bikes - some sort of strange dance-based comedy act that left both of us pretty bemused. Nevertheless, the raffle was still coming up, so we hung around.

After many redraws, the full range of winning raffle tickets were finally announced and, not only did we fail to win the Three, One, Two voucher, we ended up with absolutely nothing. What are the odds? Still, the desperate hangers on were rewarded a fine, fine set from The Blackeyed Susanas.

I can't recommend them enough - they don't play as a full band a lot these days, but there are duos and other combinations involving Rob Snarski that turn up around the place periodically, and it's hard to imagine any show featuring his voice being a disappointment.

Good times. The second Circus Pie Classic was another fine evening in Richmond - I was a bit disappointed at the reduction in cooking (I guess it's hard to find four teams worth of Melbourne rockers willing to give up an afternoon for a cook-off), and the whole event lacked some of the bonkers charm of last year's (which happens when you remove Bog Log III and Sixfthick I guess). Still, some wonderful music, some hilarity, some cooking and a bunch of money for a good cause - we'll be back again next year. Good Shepherd Youth and Family Service do some damn fine work around Melbourne and if anyone wants to donate without enjoying the benefits of a rock 'n' roll cookoff should head right over to their website.