Sunday, November 30, 2008

November 30, 2008: Brunetti XIII

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

As Michael mentioned, we had Damian and Annette as houseguests for the weekend. They were hit with sizable hangovers on Sunday, their last day with us, so we first guided them to Filter for a cooked breakfast. Somewhat refreshed, they were in a sufficient state for a gentle stroll along Brunswick St and through Carlton Gardens (Damian's a fan of the Royal Exhibition Building) before it was time for one last Melbourne coffee. Surprisingly it was Michael who thought to lead them to Brunetti, where we tend to take all our guests.

Though most of Brunetti's desserts are available year-round, I noticed a few new items entering the sweet rotation - most of them creamy creations served in cups. The larger ones go for $5 or $6, but there are also shot-glass-sized tasters such as the Bicchierini that I chose ($3). Indeed, I think bicchierini is Italian for 'small glasses', so you're probably just looking at a single bicchierino. It contains micro-layers of vanilla mousse and raspberry coulis, a cute concoction with a jam-and-cream flavour. It's a little over-priced but it's the kind of cheery mouthful that could just make your morning.

With a Brunetti trip for every houseguest (and perhaps a couple extra besides), this cafe has earned its own category. You can read every account here.

November 29, 2008: Savoury quinoa cake

It seemed on Saturday that baking biscuits wasn't enough. Even though I knew I'd probably be eating dinner alone I was compelled to prepare a full meal, telling myself that the leftovers would serve me well for workday lunches. A more accurate explanation is that I was at a loose end without an internet connection. Without the ability to write or read food blogs I resorted to creating more food blogging fodder for later! Of course I couldn't refer to my enormous to-cook list of online recipes; actually, it was a good opportunity to try something from my smaller to-cook collection stored elsewhere.

With soy bacon in the fridge and a full packet of organic quinoa in the cupboard I quickly settled on Clotilde Dusoulier's recipe for mushroom, bacon and quinoa cake, taken from her first book Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen. Like the cornmeal crunch I prepared a weekend earlier, this recipe isn't difficult but it takes a quite some time to bring together - the quinoa must be cooked and other bits chopped and sauteed before you even bother with preheating the oven for the 40-minute bake.

It all yields a hefty feed - Clotilde suggests that these 10-12 serves do well on a buffet table and I'm sure she's right. If only mine looked more appetising! Sadly the sauteed mushrooms tinged the entire cake a sickly grey. It tasted fine, though I would have enjoyed more of the crispy crust and less of the moist centre - if I made it again, I'd try spreading it into a larger rectangular baking dish to increase its surface area and crust. The cake's mild flavour is easily perked up with a side salad of rocket and capers.

Savoury quinoa cake
(based on Gâteau de quinoa, champignons & bacon/quinoa, bacon, and mushroom cake from Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen by Clotilde Dusoulier)

2 cups quinoa, uncooked but rinsed
2 cups water
1 mushroom stock cube
145g soy bacon, sliced
1 onion, chopped
600g mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon oil
3 large eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Put the quinoa, water and stock cube in a medium saucepan and bring them to the boil. Reduce the heat to simmer them, covered, until the quinoa absorbs all the liquid - this will take about 15 minutes.

While the quinoa's cooking, heat up a large frypan or saucepan and add the oil. Cook the onion over medium heat until softened (about 8 minutes), stirring it often. Next add the mushrooms and cook for another 5-10 minutes, until most of their liquid has evaporated. Set aside the onion and mushrooms, and use the same pan to cook the soy bacon for a few minutes.

Allow all the above ingredients to cool a bit, then preheat the oven to 200 degrees C and grease a baking dish or springform cake pan.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, salt and pepper. Stir through the quinoa and mushroom mixtures, then the soy bacon and the parsley. Pour the batter into the baking dish and smooth over the surface a little. Bake it for 30-40 minutes, until the edges are golden (or grey-golden!) and crusty, and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow 5 minutes or so for it to cool, then ease the cake edges away from the dish with a knife. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.

November 29, 2008: Chunky monkey cookies

I was down to my last salad dressing cupcake and a solitary Saturday stretched out in front of me - time for some baking! I believe this recipe was created by Vanessa of vanesscipes, a Brooklyn-based vegetarian blog that's sadly now defunct. I bookmarked these cookies over a year ago and was disappointed to discover a dead link. It took me a couple of days to think of googling the recipe name and check if anyone else had made these. Of course they had - "they" being Valerie of in such a world.

The original name for them is Vegan Banana Peanut Butter Cocoa Cookies - it gives you a pretty good idea of what goes into them, though you might also be interested in the inclusion of coconut oil (I just used Copha). The ingredients list struck me as kind of tropical, and something a monkey would surely love! Combined with their squat, nubbly shape, I feel compelled to rechristen them chunky monkey cookies.

As well as relying on Copha for the coconut fat, I made a couple of other alterations - replacing half of the plain flour with wholemeal, and using raw sugar instead of brown (I was all out). The Copha didn't really contribute anything and I wouldn't bother with it again - Nuttelex should do just fine. The wholemeal flour worked out great, so much so that I'll try a full 2 cups of it next time. My mashing bananas weren't as ripe as they should have been, so I popped them in the oven for 10-15 minutes while it was preheating.

These cookies walk a very agreeable line between sweet indulgence and wholesome snack. They're sturdy with banana and wholemeal flour, but the cocoa and sweetness ensures that they taste like a genuine treat. The cookie dough is quite thick and dry and it made reasonably smooth balls, yet it seems inevitable that the baked cookies will be homely and misshapen. I was unsure about when they were 'done' but somehow got it right - there's crisp resistance on the surface and depths of dense softness within.

Chunky monkey cookies
(based on a recipe from vanesscipes via in such a world)

1 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup plain flour (consider subbing with more wholemeal flour)
1/3 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 very ripe bananas (or firm-ripe bananas, baked for 10-15 minutes until the skin begins to brown)
1 1/4 cups crunchy peanut butter
1/4 cup copha (or use Nuttelex)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 firm-ripe banana, finely diced

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Lightly bake the first two bananas if they're too firm to mash easily.

In a smallish bowl, sift together the flours, cocoa, bicarb soda and salt. Mash those first two bananas in a separate dish.

In a larger bowl, beat together the bananas, peanut butter, copha, sugar and vanilla until very well combined. Gradually spoon in the cocoa/flour mixture while still beating - it'll be very thick and could take a while to mix properly.

Fold through the diced banana. I found this difficult since the banana is so much more delicate than the dough. I tended to chop the dough up into bits and scatter the banana pieces through it, so that one or two would get picked up as I rolled the dough into balls.

Roll generous teaspoons of the mixture into balls about an inch in diameter, and place them on a paper-lined baking tray (grease-free!). I found that mine didn't flatten in the oven, so I gave 'em a little squash.

Bake the cookies until the the outside lightens in colour and they develop cracks - mine took 10-15 minutes, I think.

November 27, 2008: Houndstooth III

We had visitors in town for the weekend and wanted to start things off with a low-key Melbourne dining experience. I pushed for another trip to Shakahari, but we decided to go for a slightly hipper vibe - Houndstooth on Johnston Street.

They have a fine selection of local - we enjoyed Mountain Goat and Grand Ridge brews - and international (although it turns out Japan's finest beer, Sapporo, is brewed in Canada!) beers, and a small but ever-changing menu.

There's usually just one vego option for each course (out of two or three in total), so Cindy and I only have to choose which courses to partake in - it's $20 for 3 or $15 for 2. We were both bold enough to opt for three courses: an entree, a main and a dessert.

The entree of the day was a gorgonzola, caramelised onion and thyme tart - it was a nice combination of flaky, soft pastry, sweet onions and creamy gorgonzola cheese. Cindy raved about it - it was clearly the highlight of the meal. Something to try at home perhaps.

The main of the day was a vegetable terrine with ricotta and a rocket and red cabbage parsley salad.

Apparently terrines are often served cold, but I was a bit surprised and disappointed that ours wasn't warmed up a bit. That's probably my problem more than Houndstooth's though. The flavours weren't particularly exciting either, although the salad worked pretty well. Verdict: adequate.

Cindy and I finally branched out at dessert time - lemon tart for Cindy and a chocolate cake for me. The choccie cake was popular - I snagged the last piece. It was rich, moist and chocolatey - definitely a worthy third course. Cindy was equally impressed with her lemon tart - particularly the pastry.

We've said it before about Houndstooth - the food's more homely than trendy, but the atmosphere is friendly and slightly hip. The prices aren't quite what they were, but $20 for three courses is still pretty reasonable.

Read about our previous trips to Houndstooth here and here.

November 26, 2008: Queen Victoria Night Markets III

Yep, the night market is back! The stalls don't seem to change much from year to year (though there's been a slight expansion) and you should be able to find every dish we've previously eaten there.

This time I took a tip from Kristy and bought a carrot and cashew pakoda wrap from Vegie Curry Man. Wrapped fresh in roti-style bread with greens and chutney, this is stall food at its absolute best.

Michael lined up a few stalls down for some Ethiopean food. The lentil sambussa ($2) is a deep-fried thin pastry stuffed with lentils, green chilli, onion and herbs. This was just a diversion from his two-dish combination with enjera ($10), featuring kik alicha (slightly pureed yellow split peas simmered in a sauce of onion, green chilli, herbs and spices) and misir (pureed lentils simmered in a spicy berbere sauce). Michael loved the misir but sadly the enjera is difficult to make the most of when it's tightly bundled up like this.

The night markets' meals have always held more appeal for me than the inedible wares, but this year keep an eye out for More To Love Vegan's Buttons - she's got her own stand packed with all your pin-backed needs!

You can read about our previous visits to the Queen Victoria Night Markets here and here.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Tokyo Treats - mystery orbs

This Tokyo treat didn't come directly from Michael's brother Matt. He actually gave it to their mum but, fearing it contained something spicy and wasabi-flavoured, she passed it on to Michael and I. Actually, these are just sugared peanuts! Tasty, and not gritty from the sugar, they're best shared around lest you make yourself sick. Just sayin'.

November 23-24, 2008: Grubs

Of all Johanna's posts, my favourite is Gorgeous Grubs. These curiously named sweets are a long time favourite in Johanna's family and it wasn't the recipe that appealed to me so much as the memories she recounted as she rolled them. I didn't plan to make them at all until I was faced with an imminent seminar from a guest speaker at work and a case of baking fatigue. The simple mix-roll-refrigerate process seemed achievable. It also seemed to invite mixing up the ingredients to suit one's own needs and pantry - I went for a gluten-free version, replacing the Marie biscuits with my remaining rice bubbles and some ground almonds. I can envisage mixing in dried fruit and chopped nuts; now that Léna's shared her recipe for sweetened condensed nothing, even a vegan rendition is within reach!

These grubs struck me as the ideal food for a children's party. Not only are they simple to make, they don't require complicated ingredients and their flavour is simple and sweet, not sophisticated. Regardless, they proved very popular with my adult audience! And where do they get their name from? I'm not sure, but I can guess:


1 1/3 cups rice bubbles
2/3 cup ground almonds
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
400g can sweetened condensed milk
~2/3 extra dessicated coconut for rolling

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the dry ingredients (rice bubbles, ground almonds, cocoa, dessicated coconut or any substitute you want to make). Pour over the condensed milk and stir it all together until well combined. Roll generous teaspoons of the mixture into balls and toss them through the extra coconut.

Johanna likes these best gooey and at room temperature, but they should otherwise probably be stored in the fridge.

November 23, 2008: Cornmeal Crunch

Though I revile them in their raw state, I love love love caramelised onions. They're all it took to have me bookmarking Heidi Swanson's cornmeal crunch recipe a couple of weeks ago, and to prepare it for Sunday lunch. Sweet melting onions aside, I'm unsure whether this turned out quite as Heidi intended. The U.S. seems to offer a wide variety of cornmeal - fine or coarse, steel or stone ground, yellow, white or even blue! Here all I readily see is polenta. Thankfully my polenta seemed to go through the textural changes that Heidi described in her recipe, so my rendition may be a worthy imitation.

I was pessimistic about this small amount of parmesan translating any cheesy flavour to the final dish, but it did fine; actually it was the onions that tended to disappear into the mix. Nevertheless the result is very pleasing indeed, especially with some baby spinach leaves and baked asparagus spears on the side. It's a little heavier than I expected, and I'll plan to add smaller chunks of it to a salad or soak up a soup with it next time. The only reason that 'next time' isn't tonight is that this recipe takes patience - get started well before your stomach's grumbling for service!

Cornmeal Crunch
(from 101 Cookbooks)

1 1/2 cups cornmeal/polenta
pinch of salt
3 medium onions, chopped
olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
3 cups water or vege stock (I added a vegetable stock cube to my water)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Grease a baking or pie dish.

In a medium bowl, stir together the cornmeal, salt and 1 1/2 cups of water and set them aside.

Splash some olive oil into a frying pan on high heat, then add the onions. Stir occasionally to prevent the onions from sticking to the bottom - you'll need to stir increasingly often as they brown. Continue until they're collapsing into a sweet mush, this took me at least 10 minutes, and probably 20. Take them off the heat when they're done.

Pour 1 1/2 cups of water into a saucepan and bring it to the boil (this is when I added my stock cube). Add the cornmeal mush, bring it back up to the boil, and stir regularly for about 5 minutes. Heidi says that you want a texture 'thicker than a heavy frosting'. Take it off the heat when it's ready, and stir in the cheese and two thirds of the onions. Pour the cornmeal into your baking dish, smoothing over the top, a drizzle over a little more olive oil.

Bake the cornmeal until the edges are golden and they pull away from the side of the dish a bit. It'll take about 45 minutes. When it's done, slice it up and sprinkle it with the remaining onions.

November 22, 2008: Gingerlee III

27/04/2014: Gingerlee has just had a makeover and become The Old Bike Shop Cafe. It seems that some of the same key staff are involved.

Saturday morning did not have the best of beginnings. Michael and I had a group meeting to get to at 10am and the grey skys, whistling wind, and the late Friday night we'd just had didn't make getting up any easier. The only practical means of travel was by foot, through the rain. We arrived a few minutes early but needn't have bothered - there was no-one around. Not at the front door, nor at the back. We huddled in the covered stairwell and watched heavier rain, then hail, sweep through. By 10:20 we'd agreed that there was no meeting and Michael needed a second breakfast.

Turns out Mike and a couple of his friends were making their way to Gingerlee, so we muscled in on their table. Many of Brunwick's fine breakfast destinations house cabinets of muffins, slices, cookies and other delicacies but when I visit I'm usually seeking something more substantial. Not this time! I was delighted to try a passionfruit curd cheesecake, served cupcake-style. It was a baked cheesecake without a biscuit base - soft and fluffy with a double-tang from the cream cheese and the passionfruit. I'm not sure how much it cost, so I really don't know whether it's good value for money. Washed down with a cup of tea after a morning like ours, I know it was worth every cent regardless!

Michael sampled the substantial shakshouka (try saying that three times fast!). At $9.50, it's a generous portion - the Israeli tomato casserole was runny, spicy, and just right for mopping up with bread. However, Michael was less impressed with the baked eggs - it seems that Min Lokal's still reign supreme.

You can read about our previous visits to Gingerlee here and here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

November 21, 2008: Soulfood III

02/01/2013: Recently Soulfood has changed hands. While the menu's still largely vegetarian, they have introduced meat dishes. This post probably doesn't reflect the current incarnation.

Before hitting a gig in the neighbourhood on Friday night, Michael and I stopped in at Soulfood Cafe for the first time in over a year.

Michael ordered these fajitas ($12.50) from the specials menu. They tasted about as good as they look, but no better.

I had a shot at the marinated tofu burger ($12), and ordered it with tandoori sauce. The texture was much more to my liking than the tempeh burger, but it was a little bland. Turn the plate round, though, and you'll see this:

That's a lot of chips, right? And the good news is they're great chips, second only to the rosemary-seasoned gold standard at Grill'd. If only they came with a big pot of aioli.

I like Soulfood, but I wish I could love it. The staff are hip and friendly, the all-vegetarian menu looks promising and the servings offer value for money - only the meals seem a little hit and miss.

If you think you've sampled one of their greatest hits, tell us about it! I could do with some menu guidance.

You can read about our previous visits to Soulfood Cafe here and here.

November 19, 2008: Leftover makeover - bean laksa

The beans I'd whipped up as part of our Sri Lankan feast a week before were ridiculously spiced - even by my curry-enthused standards, these were a bit much. Luckily, Cindy had the fine idea of repackaging them as a coconut-milk based soup - a kind of impromptu laksa. We figured the bean seasoning would provide most of the flavour, so I just added a handful of kaffir lime leaves and some onion, along with some sliced carrot, broccolini, cubed tofu and a couple of tins of coconut milk. To bulk things up we threw in the rest of the small amount of yellow rice we still had in the fridge and voila, our leftovers are gone.

This worked out pretty well - the bean seasonings still packed a bit of a punch, but the spice was nicely diluted by the coconut milk and rice. The kaffir lime leaves added a nice aroma to the whole meal, and we happily chomped our way through our big ricey mush for dinner and a few lunches.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

November 16, 2008: A vegan tour of Box Hill

The decadence I anticipated was a Box Hill yum cha meet-up with the vegan potluck crew. Lisa had intended that most of us bike our way there from the inner north, thereby earning this feast. I withdrew early on the basis of my inadequate bike and even less adequate fitness; a few others developed late-hitting ailments (really! I don't think they were wussing out...) and ultimately Lisa and Michael were the only two hardcore enough to take it on. (You can read Lisa's account of their journey on her blog.)

A bike ride is not the only way to develop an appetite for yum cha. Toby, for example, skipped breakfast, and talking food all the way to Box Hill in Kristy's car seemed to have all three of us salivating. Actually, my hunger to visit the Vegie Hut has been growing for over two years; the restaurant's name and address were written by a vegetarian colleague in the farewell card given to me by my former lab in Brisbane. Once there, overwhelmed by the entirely vegetarian menu, I was happy to cede ordering duties to Toby and Kristy.

We started with congee. I've never eaten this savoury rice porridge before and was surprised how much I liked it. I think it's free of charge when you order two or more items from the yum cha menu. Each other dish below cost $4.20, and my descriptions are little more than guesses - pipe up in the comments if you know better than I do what I was eating!

Though they were deep-fried and delightfully crunchy, I didn't really take to these faux-seafood balls - the texture was a bit rubbery.

These were more to my liking - mixed vegetable cakes, with a crisp-fried crust and a thick, salty sauce.

More crisp, deep-fried vege treats!

Spinach dumplings.

The steamed 'ribs' in black bean sauce were a table-wide favourite.

BBQ mock-pork buns - also a winner.

I think this is steamed siew-mai - delicious, but difficult to maneouvre with chopsticks for a clumsy kid like me!

I didn't really take to these - they tasted chemical-y to me.

These super-processed nuggets, on the other hand? Awesome. I ate more than my fair share.

The four season buns each have a different sweet filling - I scored a black sesame one, while Michael chose taro.

With that, we were full. 'Twas a fine feast for about $15 each. But the edible adventures weren't over yet; Kristy next led us to the most functionally named Vegie Bakery.

This bakery features the kind of breads and pastries I'm accustomed to seeing through a Breadtop window, though these were all vegetarian! There were plenty of faux-meat specimens, but on Kristy's recommendation I chose this little green tea cake ($2.20).

It's not the kind of dessert I usually crave or indulge in, but I was won over by the flaky outer layers and sweet fudgy centre when I later ate it for afternoon tea.

Our final stop was the Golden Age Health & Vegetarian Food Mart for some take-home groceries. Here everyone perused the freezer for faux meats - I wasn't immune, but I also picked up a pack of Toby's favourite ramen and some powdered egg replacer (those salad dressing cupcakes were a timely reminder to try an egg alternative).

Laden down with frozen goods, we all headed home to our respective fridges. What a treat; to discover a new suburb and its food with a crew of like-minded eaters!

Vegie Hut
Address: 984 Whitehorse Road, Box Hill
Ph: 9898 2287

Vegie Bakery
Address: 566 Station Street, Box Hill
Ph: 9898 8666

Golden Age Health & Vegetarian Food Mart
Address: 18b Rutland Road, Box Hill
Ph: 9898 2048

November 15, 2008: Warm pasta & sweet potato salad

After a somewhat decadent night out on Friday and in anticipation of more decadence on Sunday, I was keen to prepare something comparitively light and nourishing for dinner on Saturday. Unusually, I consulted our modest cookbook collection rather than my online bookmarks and picked out this warm pasta salad from vegie food. It takes advantage of the season's asparagus, features sprinklings of feta and pine nuts, and with pasta and sweet potato involved it's definitely a full meal on its own.

Though it's colourful and contains some lovely ingredients, this salad didn't quite work for us. The proportions seemed out of whack, with too much pasta and not nearly enough spinach or pine nuts. The feta we bought was tough and the flavours never really mingled, even as we ate it gradually over a number of days. I'm sure there's a great salad waiting to burst out from this ingredient list, but I think it'll need new proportions and a different dressing to really shine.

Warm pasta & sweet potato salad

750g sweet potato
2 tablespoons olive oil
500g pasta
325g marinated feta cheese in oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 bunch asparagus, chopped into short lengths
100g baby spinach leaves
2 tomatoes, chopped
40g pine nuts, toasted

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Peel the sweet potato and chop it into large cubes; plonk it into a large baking dish, drizzle it with the olive oil, season it with salt and pepper, and stir it all through. Bake the sweet potato until tender, about 20 minutes.

While the sweet potato is baking, boil a large saucepan of water and cook the pasta, draining it when it's done.

Drain the oil from the feta and whisk the oil with the balsamic vinegar as a dressing - we added some extra olive oil here to make up for our lack of marinating oil.

Steam the asparagus until tender, but still keeping its colour.

Stir all of the ingredients together in a large bowl - the sweet potato, pasta, asparagus, feta, spinach, tomatoes, pine nuts and finally the dressing.

November 15, 2008: Salad dressing cupcakes

After giving away most of my carrot and peanut muffins, I consulted to my to-cook list again for inspiration. Though I'm not a regular reader of Smitten Kitchen, I'd wandered by a couple of days earlier and bookmarked her recently posted olive oil muffins - not only did they contain olive oil, but also balsamic vinegar! The stuff of salad dressings, I couldn't quite imagine how this would taste, though I suspected I would like it.

I did. These cupcakes (let's reclaim the word for the neglected un-iced ones out there!) are moist and lively with citrus and flaked almonds; you probably wouldn't guess the secret ingredients, but they have their roles to play. The one that Michael and I shared, still warm from the oven, was blissful. Since then I've noticed that they have a whiff of egginess at room temperature and I'd be interested in reducing or replacing the eggs in a future incarnation. Deb reckons that, on their own, they're "nothing to compose sonnets over" but I reckon they're actually pretty close! I enjoyed another one later with a bowl full of strawberries, lightly dressed in more balsamic vinegar.

Salad dressing cupcakes
(recipe from Smitten Kitchen)

1 3/4 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons milk
3/4 cup olive oil
2/3 cup flaked almonds, toasted

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Fill a muffin tray with paper liners.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate mixing bowl, beat together the sugar, eggs and orange and lemon rind for a few minutes. Add the vinegar and milk while still beating and then the oil, gradually. Stir in the flour mix until it's all just combined.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tray and bake for 20-25 minutes, using a skewer to test whether they're done.

November 15, 2008: Shakahari V

We had Doof and Melissa visiting from afar on Saturday, and figured we couldn't really go wrong with a lunch at Shakahari. We've blogged our love of this place many times before, so I won't ramble on again - it's super. The added bonus for this trip was the sunny, daytime weather and the resultant use of Shakahari's really quite fetching courtyard area. There's not many better ways to spend a sunny Saturday than parked out at picnic tables waiting for lunch to arrive. Particularly when lunch is this:

It's called 'Green with buccatini' ($19.50), and is a durum wheat semolina pasta tossed in a basil almond pesto, with pan-seared greens, topped with shredded garlic and herb cheddar style soy cheese all slathered with a reduced lemon myrtle tomato sauce.

It was even better than it sounds - filled with fresh asparagus and broccolini, it even let me pretend I was being healthy.

Read about our previous Shakahari trips here, here, here and here.

November 12, 2008: Spiced new potatoes, curried green beans & yellow rice

Another month, another recipe. For November, the World in Your Kitchen Calendar offered up spiced new potatoes from Sri Lanka. This was clearly intended as a side dish, so I did a bit of poking around the web to try to find some Sri Lankan themed goodies that could accompany the spuds. Thankfully, this website: came through with the goods - dozens of vegetarian Sri Lankan options. I decided to go nuts and turn out three dishes: the spuds, some curried green beans and yellow rice.

Everything involved was relatively simple - even with three burners on the go this didn't take me much more than half an hour, with most of the background jobs finished by the time the spuds had boiled. The potatoes were fantastic - tangy, spicy and tender. Cindy even suggested they could replace her standard potato accompaniment. The rice was equally impressive, creamy and flavoursome, almost sweet enough for a dessert. It's probably not a healthy idea to soak rice in coconut milk, but it sure is a taste sensation. The problem was the beans. I'd popped in a couple of teaspoons of curry powder that we'd been given as part of a fancy Oxfam present, thinking it would be relatively mild. Turns out it was anything but - the beans packed a firey, firey, whallop. Too much for us to enjoy unfortunately, so the beans got shunted to one side of our plates to be frozen and rejigged into something more manageable later on.

So dinner ended up being rice and potatoes - a little colourless and dull, but rich, warm and flavourful nonetheless.

Spiced new potatoes

500g small potatoes
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1-2 tablespoons chopped coriander
juice of 1 lemon

Boil the potatoes for about 15 minutes, until they're well cooked. Drain and peel.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. Once they pop, throw in the potatoes and cook for five minutes.

Throw in the rest of the spices, salt and coriander and cook for another 10 minutes or so. Stir the lemon juice through just before serving.

Curried green beans

500g green beans, trimmed
3 tablespoons oil
2-3 teaspoons of curry powder (make sure the curry powder is not ridiculously spicy)
1 tablespoon mustard
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed

Fry the beans in the oil for about five minutes. Add all the other ingredients, stir everything together and cook for another five minutes or so. And you're done.

Yellow rice

3 cups rice
4 tablespoons butter
2 onions, sliced
10 cloves
20 black peppercorns
12 bruised cardamom pods
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
3 teaspoons salt
5 cups coconut milk

Heat the butter in a saucepan, fry the onions until browned.

Add the cloves, peppercorns, cardamom pods, salt and turmeric.

Add the rice and fry, stirring constantly until it's well coated.

Add the coconut, bring to the boil and then cover and leave on low heat cooking until the rice is done (maybe 25 minutes). The spices should come to the top while the rice is cooking, meaning you can scoop most (but not all) of the cloves and cardamom pods out before serving it all up.

November 11, 2008: Carrot & peanut muffins

Though I've been baking plenty lately, it's been a while since I prepared myself a mid-afternoon workday snack. (I've been subsisting on store-bought muesli bars, which are tasty enough but far less nutritious than you might think.) I picked these carrot and peanut muffins from my to-cook list mainly because we've had an unloved packet of peanuts in the cupboard for some time. Once those peanuts are ground up, this recipe's a cinch - there's no need for an electric mixer, and I conveniently ignored the bit where Clotilde piped the batter into a mini-muffin tray. Instead I plonked hearty spoonfuls into a standard-sized muffin pan.

Let me tell you what's good about these muffins - they're moist and nutty, just a little sweet, and they have lovely golden caramelised edges. The texture reminds me of cakes that have been made primarily with almond meal. Yet these muffins didn't suit me, somehow - I didn't spend the afternoon looking forward to eating one. When another last-minute guest speaker presented themselves at work later in the week, I shared the remaining nine muffins around and hoped that one of my colleagues might appreciate these more than I did - they certainly deserve to be loved.

Carrot & peanut muffins
(taken from Chocolate and Zucchini)

270g grated carrot (I used two-and-a-bit large carrots)
4 eggs
160g raw sugar
160g ground peanuts
60g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon warm spice mix (I used shakes of cinnamon, ginger, star anise and cloves)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and either grease or line a muffin tray with papers.

Put the grated carrot and eggs into a large bowl and beat them with a fork until they froth up a bit. Beat in the sugar, then the peanuts. Sift in the flour, baking powder, salt and spices and mix until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tray and bake for 15-18 minutes (use the skewer test to check when they're ready).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

November 11, 2008: Vege2go II

Update 27/1/2019: Vege2Go is now trading as a seller of pre-made meals and snacks rather than as a restaurant or cafe.

Vege2go gets its act together a whole lot quicker than this here blogger. I wrote about them back in February, citing their calzoni pastry and chocolate cake as their weaknesses. One short month later (especially short - it was February!), they announced new improved recipes for both in their e-newsletter! I'm not claiming that they were clamouring for my approval in particular, but their webmaster Stefano did us the courtesy of stopping by and leaving a comment. It all combines to paint a picture of vege2go cheerfully absorbing and acting on well-intentioned criticism, no?

So it's with some embarrassment that I admit that it took us nine months to get back there and try those new recipes. So long, in fact, that the calzoni aren't even on the menu any more!

Nevertheless, there were more than enough other dishes to choose amongst. Though I was pretty tempted by the pastry triangles and the mushroom polenta bake, I ultimately went for the arancini with napoli sauce ($8.95). It proved to be a tasty and hearty meal - not excessively oily or cheesy.

Michael ordered the sides for both of us by going for a discounted meal - a main and two sides will set you back $14.95. The vegetable lasagne, radicchio pear salad and rocket explosion salad (pictured up top) all hit the spot.

We could, nay, should have returned home without dessert, but I was keen to compare the current version of the chocolate raspberry cake ($6.50) with the previous one. It features a crunchy dark choc top and some light soft vegan cake. Though the texture's wonderful, I thought the cake was too light on the chocolate and raspberry.

Once at the dessert counter, I was overwhelmed with the variety of treats available and recklessly bought a second item, this choc hazelnut tiramisu ($6.50). Of all the things I've eaten out of disposable plastic in my life, this is the best. (And given that I ate it at vege2go, there's half a chance that plastic's getting recycled!) Be warned, though - it's a generous serving and you're best advised to share it with a trusted friend. Just be sure you trust them, mind, otherwise you'll be fighting hard for that last mouthful!

Vege2go still do a fine line in convenience food and I admire their commitment to evolving and improving. While they won't be winning haute cuisine awards any time soon, I'd nominate them as the most unceasingly cheerful, friendly and helpful staff I've encountered in Melbourne. And that's something to come back for!

November 10-11, 2008: Grape Cake

In the week following our annual lab culinary competition, I circulated the collected photos from the event and volunteered to collate a cookbook of everyone's entries. Since then the recipes have been flooding trickling in, and one of the first was one of the most surprising! Lab member Bonnie has been residing overseas for many months but emailed this grape cake recipe as a belated competition entry from afar. It'd be nice, I thought, to make, photograph and share around this cake before finishing the cookbook. And that's what I did when we had a guest speaker on Tuesday afternoon.

The idea of a plain cake with whole grapes suspended within it wasn't exactly rocking my world, yet this was perfect afternoon tea fare. The grapes were so soft that one person asked me if I'd peeled them, and the hints of lemon and cinnamon were just heavenly. Though the recipe suggests garnishing this cake with icing sugar or cream, I'd almost prefer not to - for me, its charm lies in its simplicity.

Grape Cake a la Bonnie's Mum

200g butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 lemons, juice and rind
2 1/2 cups self raising flour
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups seedless grapes, sliced in half

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Generously grease a springform cake tin.

Cream the butter and sugar. Mix in the eggs, vanilla, lemon rind and juice in turn.

Sift together the flour, salt and cinnamon. Gradually beat it into the cake mixture. Fold through the grapes.

Pour the cake batter into the tin and bake it for about 15 minutes, before lowering the oven temperature to 180 degrees C. Continue baking until the edges of the cake start to come away from the tin (this took a further 30 minutes for me, I think).

November 9, 2008: Pizza III

The full title of this post should probably be Pizza III: Careless Cooking. We'd actually chosen this meal even before we had breakfast, writing out a shopping list and stopping in at Piedemonte's on our way home from Babka. Yet things went awry when I pulled out ingredients mid-afternoon to make the dough. First, Kitchen Wench's blog (and the dough recipe therein) had mysteriously disappeared (sadly the damage done seems to be permanent). Second, the bread flour I knew I had in the bottom of the cupboard was wholemeal, not white as I had assumed. The third issue was ultimately my undoing - my dried yeast had expired, I tried using it anyway, and a couple of hour's proving only yielded an oily and not particularly airy blob. Michael graciously made an extra trip to the local IGA and bought the rectangular bases you see here, while I prepared the toppings and my stomach growled.

For his pizza (pictured up top), Michael took inspiration from this recipe. Though it's a white pizza he elected to start with slather of tomato paste, then worked his way up through a variety of chunky-cut mushrooms with some fresh parsley, marjoram and garlic. Finally he topped it with pieces of pungent, gooey taleggio cheese. I have a fractured relationship with such cheeses at best, and this one packed a real punch - it was even a little too strong for Michael! Given the odour that lingered throughout the house in the proceeding 36 hours, there'll be no more taleggio at home for a loooong time.

My pizza's a faithful replication of this apple, onion and vegan cheddar pizza I saw at Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit. Working from the bottom up, it features pesto, caramelised balsamic red onions, capers, sliced apple and mozzarella-style Cheezly. The combination of store-bought pesto and caramelised onions came out a little oily, but it's a damn fine flavour mix! The cheezly was a subtle but undeniably creamy addition. I've since tried it grilled on toast - in that situation it melted admirably.