Saturday, January 31, 2009

January, 2009: Assorted Indian groceries

Redcliffe's come a long way since I grew up there - it now boasts its own Indian grocery! My mum raided their shelves at Christmas time and picked out a few treats for Michael and I, wrapping them up in a cheerful ecosilk bag. Throughout January we've enjoyed slowly making our way through them...

First on trial was this khatta mitha mix. I think khatta mitha means 'sweet and sour' which is certainly how it tastes - though chilli is listed as an ingredient, it's barely hot at all. The mix of legumes isn't quite as crunchy as we'd like, though it improves when stored in the fridge!


How would you pronounce Grapetiser? Combining 'grape' and 'appetiser' into a single trademark doesn't quite work. Never mind, carbonating grape juice does work - it's delicious.

These badam halwa come individually wrapped. They're extremely sweet (65.99% sugar, in fact!) with a gelatinous texture (don't worry, the jellifying ingredients are plant-based). I expected them to be milky but they're not at all; more like a firmer, more dense piece of Turkish delight.


This packet of farari chevda-tikha has the sweet and sour flavours of the khatta mitha, with a little more chilli besides. It's mostly made up of crispy fried potatoes and dotted with sultanas and peanuts.

Finally, there are Jelly Tots (again, with a vegetarian gelling agent). Though the colours alleged to represent different flavours (orange, lemon, lime, grape and 'tutti frutti'), they taste mostly of sugar.

It's been fun snacking our way through this bag of treats that we'd be unlikely to buy for ourselves. We probably won't be making any of them regular additions to our diet, but I'll be regularly appreciating the bag - unlike the ubiquitous 'green bags', it scrunches down perfectly into my backpack each workday, ready to be filled with more mundane groceries on my evening walk home.

Friday, January 30, 2009

January 18 - 25, 2009: Stockholm

For reasons that seem quite plausible until you try to explain them, I've had the privilege of avoiding Melbourne's hottest-ever week and spending around eighteen days in Stockholm to learn some fancy new statistics skillz. As (very) long-time readers may know, Cindy and I have been to Stockholm before, finding it stunningly beautiful and rich in vego eating options, so I jumped at the offer.

Of course Stockholm in January is quite different to Stockholm in May, and the general darkness and chilly weather has put a curb on my outings. There have been too many nights where I've got back from my course (in the dark) at 4:30 and decided that I'm just going to get crappy take-out from somewhere very close to the place I'm staying. Having said that, I have piled on the warm gear and headed out into the city on a few occasions, and here are some highlights.

Day 1
I got in at 7am, to find all in darkness and sleet slashing down. It seems reasonable to hide in my room for a few hours but I can't afford to sleep at 9 in the morning so, when the weather clears up a bit and the day gets 'light', I walk into town and explore a little - the upside of the cold is the beauty of the freezing harbour.

Stricken by hunger, I made my way across to Sodermalm to check out Chutney, talked up the Lonely Planet guide as hip, cheap and friendly. It was all three - the staff happily explained the menu to me in English and ladled me up a plate of bami goreng and Malaysian stew (100kr - $18, which is affordable by Swedish standards). Chutney's quite small and very popular, so I ended up sharing a table and chatting briefly to a friendly local - it was the perfect start to my Stockholm dining experience. By the time I'd eaten it was getting dark, so there was nothing left to do except flee to my room again. Dinner was a non-event thanks to my tiredness - I was out like a light by 6pm.

Day 2
Thanks to my early night, I woke up ridiculously early, and lounged around trying to cook up a plan for the day - I'd intended to get out and about and do something fun but the day started out looking very bleak and I stayed in, watched the snow and did a bit of work. Hunger again motivated me to get out, to find that the snow had worked its magic on the neighbourhood.

The main target of the outing was Lao Wai - rated the best vegetarian restaurant in Stockholm. The menu on the website looked exciting, but lunch is a set meal for 85kr ($15). Monday's meal was a sublime spicy tofu and 'pork' mince noodle dish and some lightly steamed vegies. Tremendous.

A bit more exploring was the order of the day - Kungsträgården was a sunny outdoor lunch hotspot last time we were in Stockholm. It's now an ice-skating rink.

Again I let the oncoming darkness drive me back inside, but by Monday I was able to stay awake late enough to go out for dinner. To Abyssinia, just two blocks from where I'm staying. The vegetarian special (they have a vegan special too, although I think it's just the same but without the little cheese bowl) comes in at 170kr ($22), and is a massive injera plate filled with gloriously warming stews.

Everything was beautifully spiced - it really is perfect winter food (which is a bit weird when you think about Ethiopia). The woman running the place was friendly and enthusiastic and, like almost everyone in Stockholm it seems, fluent in English. I staggered home stuffed with food and ready for bed - even though it had been dark for hours, it was still only 8pm.

Day 3
Tuesday was the first day of my course, so the morning was spent meeting people and the afternoon was spent learning. Lunch was passable but unphotographed Thai food from nearby. This was the worst jetlag day yet - by the end of the afternoon I was semi-concious, having cold sweats and feeling strange in the stomach. Thus dinner (at 5:30) was a couple of apples and a lie down. I think the early darkness makes it much, much harder to shake off jetlag - this trip is easily the worst bout I've had, and I think nightfall at 4pm makes it doubly hard for your body to adjust.

Day 4
Wednesday was split between working (when it was dark) and walking (when it was light). The main goal was to get out to Djurgarden and see if any birds stick around through winter - turns out that a few do: nuthatches, blue tits and great tits were everywhere, along with blackbirds and fieldfares. An obliging green woodpecker was the highlight of the walk, which ended with a nice stroll along the waterfront looking back across to the city.

More wandering in the afternoon - this time around Brunnsviken, a lake that's between the place I'm staying and the main university campus.

Dinner was an un-blog-worthy stir-fry that I made myself to make sure I was eating some fresh vegies amongst all the dining out.

Day 5
Another work/course day, with little in the way of adventure. For dinner I attempted to return to Lao Wei to sample the evening menu, but they were booked out. Luckily I stumbled across Restaurang Malaysia, a success from our previous visit. It's a Malaysian restaurant with a substantial vegetarian menu and the 'chicken' curry, although poorly photographed, was outstanding.

Day 6
Working again - in winter a regular worker would spend months leaving for work in the dark and coming home in the dark. Not fun. I spent Friday evening at a wonderful dinner hosted by a colleague here - vegetarians were extremely well catered for, and I was introduced to vegetarian caviar for the first time. Weird. Weird but good.

Day 7
The weekend dawned miserably and sleety, but I couldn't waste another day lazing around inside. So I jumped on a bus across to Sodermalm to revisit Hermans. The view wasn't quite as spectacular as our first trip (with the foggy rain you could barely see across the water), but the food was much the same - a buffet with a few hot dishes and an amazing array of salads. The stews were a bit interchangeable but the felafel balls were amazing and the spiced potatoes were to die for.

I hardly touched the salad - it was really a hot food kind of day.

Lunch was followed with a stroll around the Stadmusem and then a wander up to Mariakirken before heading home to lie around and eat a lazy Patak's curry.

Day 8
A shamefully lazy Sunday. Lots of lazing around and some takeaway Indian were all that took place.

That's probably a good place to end this first installment - a week of crippling jetlag, laziness in the face of bad weather and some damn fine eating. Stay tuned for more in a little while.

Monday, January 26, 2009

January 25, 2009: Wu Chung mock duck

WARNING: Some viewers may find the following image disturbing.

Yes, that's mock duck meat. In a can. I bought it for little more than a dollar at the local IGA, dizzy with the opportunity to eat more things Michael would probably disapprove of. This time, though, I couldn't help wondering if this was something I should disapprove of myself. But looking at the label, I read only ingredients I recognised - gluten, soy sauce, sugar, salt and soy bean oil.

What came out of the can bore more resemblance to a rubber chicken than a feathered or fleshy bird. It proved not to be as rubbery as I feared when I sliced it, the texture akin to the seitan I've occasionally bought from health food shops.

As a strategy to ensure I wouldn't go hungry, I trialled the mock duck as a component of my usual fried brown rice. I omitted the fried egg and rapidly stir-fried the mock duck in a little sesame oil and a lot of Chinese five spice, setting it aside as I cooked the vegetables and rice and stirring it through at the end.

And you know what? It wasn't bad, not bad at all. Not as succulent as some of the mock meats I've enjoyed from other Asian supermarkets and restaurants, but completely servicable as a supporting player in the meal. I might even try sneaking it into Michael's rice sometime!

January 25, 2009: Chocolate almond figs

These chocolate almond figs kinda start with the Radical Grocery. I first noticed these peeps at World Vegan Day, picked up their card and checked out their website. I admired their M.O. - ethical, sustainable, environmentally friendly, vegan, organic, fair trade - even if it's overlong and overused in this bourgeois food-blogging bubble that I live in. There's a more succinct alternative on their website - "Because we give a shit".

Since then I've been introduced to Radical Grocery mastermind Anikee and on Sunday I had a chance to check out the new RG headquarters, a super-cute shopfront on Sydney Rd next to Scavengers and just across the street from the Don Bosco op-shop. (Don't rush out there just yet! Though the website currently says otherwise, it's most likely that the Radical Grocery will first open its doors for business at noon on Sunday, February 8. Then rush, rush, rush!) These chocolate almond figs were the shop-warming gift that I hastily cobbled together and brought along.

Here's how the recipe goes. Slice whole dried figs in half. Stuff an almond into each half. Coat the almond-fig-halves in melted dark chocolate. Refrigerate or freeze until firm. If you have more chocolate and time, chocolate-coat and cool them once more. There's no need to be neat; either way they'll be velvety and sweet. And they'll sweeten the day of everyone you share them with.

January 24, 2009: Oskar II

Oskar seems to be a fallback when our preferred restaurant is closed. First, there was that visit when we actually wanted to try Burger Republic; this time it filled the gap when Mike and Jo wanted pizza and I Carusi was closed. This is rather unfair to Oskar as their pizzas are fine specimens in their own right, already earning them a mention on our where's the best? page of highlights.

The menu seems to have altered only slightly since we were here two years ago; the seasonal mushroom and kipfler potato pizzas we enjoyed are still there, as is a pizza featuring bull boar sausage, but the kangaroo and duck Michael mentioned last time were notably absent. As it currently stands, six of the fifteen main pizza options are vegetarian - a commendable ratio.

They range from the rich (three cheeses, or kipfler potato with tallegio, rosemary and olive oil) to the vegetable-friendly - you'll never see a pizza more packed with mushrooms than their 'seasonal mushroom' one, and there's another featuring roast eggplant and zucchini. Then there's this one, topped with roast pumpkin, garlic, pine nuts, onion, nutmeg, ricotta, rocket and pecorino ($14.50). It's quite the treat, though inevitably we compared it to I Carusi's Pizza for a Friend and the ricotta here came second to their salty dabs of goat cheese. The onion and nutmeg, though, are excellent additions.

Though the menu has fine and fancy ingredients scattered throughout, I think these pizzas are quite reasonably priced - a small one will serve a reasonable appetite well (I was full after three quarters of a small pizza), and the vegetarian ones peak at $15 (meat-laced ones at $17). A salad will set you back $8, a heftier-than-usual price that will yield a much heftier-than-usual portion, plenty to share amongst 2-4 people. With specs like these, there's no reason why Oskar shouldn't be your first choice for dinner out on a Saturday night.

(You can read about our previous visit to Oskar here.)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 18, 2009: Wokked-up cashews, quinoa and pineapple

I bought a pineapple. A whole one. I'm not sure why I picked a surly, spiny whole one when there were neat little containers of cored and chopped pineapple flesh sitting nearby; perhaps I hoped it'd keep me company in the kitchen for a couple of days while Michael's away. Perhaps I thought it was something that Michael would disapprove of - on several of our early dates we ate at a cheap Malaysian restaurant where Michael was a regular, and he consistently ordered the satay and picked out all the pineapple chunks. He has since protested that he's not an across-the-board pineapple hater, but I can't remember ever seeing him eat it and the conviction lingers in the back of my mind.

So I can't help thinking that this is a meal that Michael would disapprove of. He shouldn't - it's filling yet summery, fits into his favourite wok, and uses the combination of pineapple and chilli to great effect. Never tried pineapple and chilli together? Neither had I, but it is mouth-tinglingly good.

This is Veganomicon's Pineapple-Cashew-Quinoa Stir-Fry and though it was many good things, it wasn't a quick meal. The quinoa's to be cooked and cooled ahead of time, as you would for fried rice. I'm something of a slow chopper, and inexpertly cutting down that pineapple was quite a task. Finally, the recipe recommends about 20 minutes cooking time all up, not exactly the quick-and-hot in-and-out that stir-fries are supposed to be. I sped up this phase, as I like to keep my veges crunchy. I made a couple of substitutions, too - orange juice masqueraded as pineapple juice, and I preferred the latest crop of sugar snap peas to Veganomicon's frozen peas.

Wokked-up cashews, quinoa and pineapple
(based on the Pineapple-Cashew-Quinoa Stir-Fry in Veganomicon)

1 cup quinoa
1 cup orange juice
1 cup cold water
1/4 teaspoon + 3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable stock
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
120g cashews, raw and unsalted
3 tablespoons peanut oil
2 spring onions, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red chilli, chopped finely
2cm piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 red capsicum, chopped
1 cup sugar snap peas, trimmed and halved
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped roughly
2 tablespoons mint, chopped finely
2 cups fresh pineapple, chopped
lime wedges, to garnish

Rinse and drain the quinoa, than plonk it into a medium-sized saucepan. Pour over the orange juice, water, and 1/4 teaspoon of soy sauce. Pop the lid on and put the saucepan on high heat, bringing the quinoa to boil. Give it a little stir, put the lid back on, and turn down the heat to medium-low; cook the quinoa until all the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove the lid, give the quinoa a gentle stir, and let it cool. Store it in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook, preferrably overnight.

In a cup or small bowl, stir together the 3 tablespoons soy sauce, stock and rice wine vinegar. Set it aside.

Put a wok or very large frypan on low heat and toast the cashews in it, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Set the cashews aside.

Turn the wok/frypan heat up to medium and toss in the peanut oil, spring onions and garlic. When it's all sizzling, add the chilli and ginger. Stir-fry it all for a minute or two, then add the capsicum and sugar snap peas. Stir-fry for another minute or two, until the vegetables are bright and glistening, then stir through the basil and mint. Add the pineapple and quinoa, using your spatula to break up any quinoa chunks. Stir-fry for just a minute, then pour over the stock mixture and stir it through. Continue to stir-fry just until everything is hot and well-combined.

Scoop the stir-fry into bowls, sprinkling over the cashews and serving lime wedges on the side.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

January 18, 2009: Small Block II

Small Block was crazy-crowded at lunch time on Sunday, but the wait for a table was worth it for the lime syrup cake, especially recommended by Mike and Jo. Served warm, it's melt-in-the-mouth stuff, with a buttery crumb and that tangy syrup soaking through the top inch. The accompanying cream is entirely unnecessary but hard to resist when it's already there by your hand. I've no idea how much it costs but if it's anything less than $7 it's so, so worth it.

(You can read about our last visit to Small Block here.)

January 17-18, 2009: Tempeh, not bacon

Tempeh bacon's had to wait a while to find its place in our kitchen. I've been wary of tempeh a long time - like tofu, it needs to be prepared with care and flair and I've eaten dull, dry renditions more often than not. And over the years I've seen many vegetarian marinades, including ones for tempeh bacon, calling for a mysterious ingredient called liquid smoke. I finally spotted it, almost by accident, in a deli at the Queen Victoria Markets last year and snapped it up. (It's proved a great addition to the already-awesome barbeque sauce.) The making of this recipe probably marks my graduation from a renewed tempeh interest (oh yeah, I made sushi again, this time with the actual tempeh) to a prolonged tempeh phase.

I think the most widely used tempeh bacon recipe comes from Vegan with a Vengeance, but since I don't have a copy I used a hybrid recipe from Jess of Get Sconed! and tinkered with it further. A finger lick of the marinade told me that this was potent and promising stuff, and the tempeh is sliced thinly to soak up as much of it as possible. As my not-bacon bits sizzled away, I set about making myself a B.L.T. T.L.T. on a half-baguette.

The verdict? Dang, that is good tempeh. Smoky, salty, and with a bit of bite, it doesn't particularly taste like bacon but it suits the greasy-bacon-rashers kinda role (and roll). Just to be sure, I had a fried-egg-and-not-bacon roll for brunch.

Yes. Yes, this will do quite nicely. And a tip for doubling your niceness? Mix together a little of the leftover marinade with some mayonnaise to spread on the roll. Saucilicious.

Tempeh, not bacon
(based on Jess' recipe at Get Sconed!)

300g tempeh
4 tablespoons soy sauce
~1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke
2 teaspoons tomato paste
vegetable oil, for frying

Slice the tempeh into the thinnest sheets you can.

Whisk the rest of the ingredients (except the oil) together in a bowl.

Spread some of the marinade on the base of a shallow tray, lay out the tempeh, and spread over more marinade. Let the tempeh soak up the yum for at least a couple of hours; pop it in the fridge and it'll last for days.

When the tempeh's ready, pour a little oil in a fry pan a heat it to medium/high. Fry the tempeh strips until they darken and crisp up a little.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

January 17, 2009: The Breakfast Club

I'm not quite sure why it took so long for me to notice the Breakfast Club and tack it onto my to-do list of weekend breakfasts; it's already seen its share of blog attention. It could be my indifference towards the John Hughes movie that this cafe and a few of its dishes are named after, but it's not as if my dislike of Will Oldham prevented me from visiting and liking A Minor Place. More likely it's been my conviction that Northcote is a little too far and too difficult to travel to for breakfast. But Lisa showed me the way, and now the Breakfast Club's been conquered!

A first look at the menu turns up eggs, eggs, eggs - three dishes of the baked variety and two 'eggs in a roll' (I guess they're fried). This of course was just fine with Michael; he was happily pronouncing the baked egg plates all vegetarian when he noticed that he'd ordered something with bacon, and had to scoot back to the counter to change his order to Huevos Rancheros ($14.50 - 2 free range eggs, beans, baby spinach, soft cheese, fresh herbs; avocado, tomato and coriander salad; sour cream). He said the eggs were a bit firm and the price was higher than other cafes but he concluded that it was very good; for the volume and variety he received it looks like a fine deal to me, especially if you appreciate the tomato rather than picking around it.

Beyond the eggs there is a promising little section entitled Sweet Tooth. It doesn't feature the usual pancakes or French toast and I liked that - instead I could choose between Coco Pops, muesli, banana'n'date bread and my ultimate choice, the Bananarama. (The menu helpfully notes that vegan versions of the muesli and banana'n'date bread are available.) The standard Bananarama is toast with cream cheese, banana, cinnamon and honey ($7); I spent an extra dollar to get the deluxe version with nutella. It was delicious, $8 very well spent, though I would probably have been equally happy had the cream cheese and honey been absent. This chai latte ranks among my most-enjoyed, too.

Other bloggers have complained about slow service and no printed menus, but these appear to have been dealt with. It looks to us like the inner north has another very worthy breakfast hangout! It's a little beyond our usual neighbourhood of morning haunts so they may not see us as often as they deserve to, but there's hope yet - the lunch menu doesn't look too bad either.

Address: 206 St Georges Rd, Northcote
Price: veg breakfasts $4 - $14.50

January 15, 2009: Hellenic Republic

Who doesn't love Georgie Calombaris? He's bloked it up with Peter Everett on Ready Steady Cook, shilled for a fancy brand of feta and won all kinds of awards with his city restaurant The Press Club. So when word started seeping out that he had something on the go in East Brunswick, Cindy and I were very excited. It opened to stunning reviews and huge crowds, and Mike and Jo rounded us up on Thursday night so that we could try it out.

Even with a 9pm booking we were faced with a packed out venue as we arrived - it was probably closer to 9:20 when a table opened up for us. It's a nice place, all wide open space with a bar and a courtyard, but the tables are crammed a little too close together. The menu is predominantly about small plates ($7-$13.50) and we ordered roughly two each. We were pretty well satisfied, although not so much so that we couldn't fit dessert in - more about that later.

Let's start with the undoubted star of the show - the Kefalograviera Saganki served warm with peppered figs ($11.50). Honestly, I could have eaten these until my heart seized up - perfectly fried cheese with the sweet and peppery flavours somehow enhancing the saltiness of the cheese. If you've yet to sample this, stop reading this now and dash over to East Brunswick and give it a shot - it's even better than it looks.

We'd also heard good things about the chips (Tiganites Patates - hand cut potatoes cooked in olive oil and seaseond with oregano, $8.50), so they were the second of our unhealthy choices. Again, they really hit the spot. They were perfectly cooked - you can almost taste the crunchiness in the photo - and the seasoning gave them something a little more interesting than just saltiness.

We opted for a couple of healthier plates to try to counterbalance the fried cheese and chips of our first two. The Patzari (roasted beetroot in cumin served with yoghurt, $7.50) added some non-yellow colour to our meal, not to mention some tender vegies - they were well roasted, and real beetroot is a treat whenever you eat it, but the cumin didn't quite shine through like I'd hoped it would.

Our other healthy option was the Horta (wild greens served cold with olive oil and lemon juice, $7.50)

I'm not sure what made these particular greens wild but they were delightfully slathered in oily lemon flavours, and probably not the counterpoint to the cheese that I pretended they were.

Finally, we traded some of our chips with Mike and Jo in exchange for a taste each of their spanakopita (spinach pie, $11.50). There was something unidentified in the filling that I thought gave this spanak something a little extra, but the pastry was a bit of a let down (not as light and crispy as I'm used to), making this the night's only real disappointment.

Cindy had been planning her ordering around dessert from the moment we'd picked up the menu, so there was no question that we'd be sampling something from the sweets section. The question was, how much? We were all set to order one dish each but our helpful waiter advised us that we'd probably all end up dead, and suggested we split three instead. So we did: Loukoumades (Greek donuts soaked in Attiki honey, $12.50), Baklava Yianniotiko (baklava from Yiannina, $11.50) and Ekmek Kataifi Pagoto (Soaked Kataifi, cherries and Mastic icecream).

There's not really much to say about baklavas - these were quite good versions of the idea, but be careful not to do what Cindy did and bite into the whole clove that's baked into the pastry - hmm, strong!

The donuts were nothing if not plentiful - I'm very glad that the original order (which had me dealing with a bowl of these on my own) didn't stand. They're pretty special - the honey is very sweet and would probably be overwhelming after about three, but they're chewy little balls of joy for the first couple.

Finally, the mastic icecream. This was a little strange - it started out making everyone slightly uncomfortable but the flavour really grew on us, and it was rivalling the donuts for best dessert of the night by the end. The soaked pillow of nut pastry (kataifi) was pretty outstanding as well.

So take all that, add a couple of meaty plates, two carafes of wine and a couple of coffees and estimate a price - I estimated a lot more than the $180 that it cost the four of us. Our four vego plates come in at $35, which is insanely cheap for the quality of the food that's being put on your plate. It's probably pricey enough that we'll not become super regular visitors to Hellenic Republic but for a treat night out, it's great value. By all accounts the meaty stuff is excellently prepared as well and the whole place is running pretty smoothly already (I think they've made their lives easier by bringing a whole bunch of Press Club staff across to get things going), so we were all pretty pleased with our visit - maybe we should check it out again for breakfast one of these days.

Address: 434 Lygon Street, East Brunswick
Ph: 9381 1222
Price: Small plates, $7.50-$13.50; desserts $3.50-$12.50
Website: (coming soon apparently)