Saturday, February 28, 2009

February 24, 2009: Gertrude Street Grub - Grumpy's Green

The stretch of Smith Street between Johnston and Victoria must be the one of the most veg-friendly strips in the world. You've got Friends of the Earth and Soul Food at the northern end, Trippy Taco and Las Vegan at the southern end (not to mention Vegan Wares). And now, somewhere in the middle, Melbourne's newest veg*n establishment: Grumpy's Green (we're not the first to check it out: Toby and Kristy, Nimal and Karen and Veganik have all been there before us, and reader Erika recommended it to us, too). It's more pub than cafe, with a wide range of local beer on tap and in the fridge and a selection of Victorian wines. The whole venture is shooting for sustainability - locally sourced ingredients, water tanks, recycled paper and their own mini earth hours three times a week. Impressive.

The inside area is moodily lit and atmospheric but on a glorious February day, life was much better in the sunny beer garden. Added bonus: the owners have a gorgeous puppy that patrols the outside areas, gnawing on chairs and staring plaintively at anyone with food (I'll confess that he begged a few chips out of me - could you say no to that face?).

There are just four mains to choose from: an eggplant parma, a pizza, a vegie burger and a pumpkin and asparagus risotto. There are heaps of snacks and starters as well, but with the $10 Tuesday special on offer, I couldn't go past a burger. The vegie pattie uses a chickpea base, and is thick and tasty. It comes with roast capsicum, lettuce, tomato, cheese and a special mustard mayo. Throw in a side of crispy fries and a green salad and you've got yourself a pretty impressive $10 lunch. I really enjoyed the burger, particularly the mayo and cheese (vegans might find it a tad dull - the mayo really brought the flavour).

Still, if Tuesday wasn't my netball night, I can imagine regularly spending my post-work Tuesdays with a Mountain Goat or Holgate in hand and a burger in front of me. Paying full price for the mains ($15) is a bit less appealing (in much the same way as the EBC rocks it at $10, but is less attractive at $20), but a few drinks and some of the delicious sounding snacks (marinated tofu skewers, chickpea battered vegetables!) would be a fine way to spend an evening.

Address: 125 Smith Street, Fitzroy
Phone: 9416 1944
Price: Mains $15 ($10 on Tuesdays), Snacks $7 - $10.50

February 21-22, 2009: Semlor

When Michael ate a semla on his recent trip to Sweden, I was reminded of the similar bun that a student visiting from Sweden baked for a few of us classmates back when we were undergrads. Then Hayley, in her comment on Michael's post, planted the devilish idea in my mind that I could, nay should, try baking these for myself. And so I did, picking the weekend closest to Shrove Tuesday; apparently they're most closely associated with this day, which is tellingly called Fat Tuesday in that part of the world. Much like hot cross buns they're actually available for purchase from just after Christmas, right through until Easter. I shared the buns on a Tropfest picnic, where we were happily and unexpectedly accompanied by a Norwegian (as well as our friend Marty), and she told me more about authentic semlor.

Semlor begin with a yeast bun, lightly spiced with cardamom. Traditional recipes seem to use fresh yeast, which I was reluctant to buy, so I hunted down one that involved dry yeast. It included baking powder as well, which our Norwegian companion and I agreed was weird. The buns didn't turn out quite as they were supposed to - NC astutely observed that they were more like scones than yeast buns. (The one pictured above is a little overcooked, too - my second and third trayfuls were a more appropriate pastel shade.)

The next key ingredient is almond paste. After poking around further on the internet, I deduced that ready-made almond paste is expensive and difficult to find, while it's not too difficult to make yourself. I think it's traditionally made mostly of blanched sweet almonds and sugar, with a small number of bitter almonds added to the mix; instead I made a small quantity of this recipe, simply throwing some blanched almonds and sugar into a food processor, adding a touch of almond essence, and pouring in just enough egg white to pull the mixture together into a firm ball. Though I'm no a marzipan lover, I definitely took a shine to this softer, sweeter version. NC seemed quite taken with it, too, and was quite tickled that I made it easily in a food processor - apparently her mother uses a much more laborious and traditional hand grinder.

This sturdy block of almond paste doesn't go in quite as is - instead you hollow out the semlor, mix the crumbs with grated almond paste, and add just enough milk to achieve a porridge-like consistency. It probably doesn't sound especially appetising but once spooned back into the hollow, the semla becomes softer and sweeter - this is the step that makes it special, in my opinion.

However, that's not almond paste you see holding up the semla lid in the top picture - these buns become the ultimate indulgence when freshly whipped cream is piped over the almond filling. What with the picnic and my hatred of piping, this wasn't a practical approach and I resorted to something I'm not proud of...

Supermarket-purchased aerosol-propelled cream. Shudder. This one was unsweetened, at least, and offered that frilled border I couldn't otherwise create. Most important of all, it was easily transported on our picnic. It deflates faster than a souffle, however, so it really does need to be applied at the last minute. (What on earth am I going to do with the leftovers - any ideas?)

Semlor should be finished off with a dusting of icing sugar, but again this wasn't realistic for a picnic. The recipe below outlines the steps I took in creating these but since they were far from the quintessence of Swedish semlor, you'd do well to read around before baking your own. This blog post, written by a resident of Helsinki, is a great starting point.

(based on semla and almond paste recipes submitted to

150g butter
1 1/2 cups milk, plus up to 1/2 cup more for the filling
2 eggs
7g sachet dry yeast
5 cups plain flour, plus 1 more cup for later
1/2 cup castor sugar, plus 1/3 cup more for almond paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup blanched almonds
1/3 cup icing sugar, plus more for dusting
a couple drops of almond essence
1/2 an egg white
4 teaspoons baking powder
one can aerosol-whipped cream

Gently melt the butter in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat and stir through the first measure of milk. When the mixture is not too hot, whisk in the eggs. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. When it's lukewarm, sprinkle over the yeast and allow it to develop for 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, sift together the first measures of flour and castor sugar, the salt and cardamom. When the yeasted mixture is ready, stir through these dry ingredients to form a soft dough. Cover the bowl with a damp teatowel and leave it to rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

This is a good time to make the almond paste. Place the blanched almonds, the second measure of castor sugar and the first measure of icing sugar into a food processor. Whizz them up until the almonds are ground to a coarse powder. Add a few drops of almond essence (to your preference, it can be overwhelming stuff!) and just a little egg white. Process again, adding just enough egg white so that the almond mixture begins to stick together. Turn the almond paste onto a bench or into a large bowl, and use your hands to press it together into a firm ball. Wrap the ball in plastic (or pop it in an airtight container) and store it in the refrigerator.

Return to the bun dough! Start by sifting together the second measure of flour and the baking powder. Pour it over the risen dough and stir it through - this is difficult work. Turn the lot onto a bench and knead it until the dough is smooth. Divide the dough into 24 pieces of equal size, form them into balls, and place them on greased baking trays, leaving some space between the balls. Cover them with damp teatowels and let them rise for another 35 to 40 minutes. During this time, preheat the oven to 190°C.

When the oven is ready, bake the buns for 10 to 15 minutes, until they are cooked through and just starting to colour. (Note that the bun pictured up top is over-cooked!) Transfer the buns to a wire rack to cool.

Slice a thin lid off the top of each bun and hollow out the bun centres with a small knife, spoon, and/or your fingers. Crumble up the bun middles in a bowl, and grate over the almond paste. Stir them together, then add just enough milk to achieve a porridge-like consistency. Spoon the almond filling back into the buns.

When you're ready to serve the buns, pipe whipped cream over the almond filling and replace the bun lids; shower them with icing sugar through a sieve and serve.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

February 20, 2009: Cafe Vue, Friday Cocktail Night II

Update 27/1/2019: Cafe Vue has closed down.

Some months back Cindy, Jo, Mike and I sampled the delights of Cafe Vue's friday night cocktail extravaganza, rescuing Cindy's mood in the process. We decided it was time to revisit, and February's Roaring Twenties theme seemed like it was bound to hit the spot. So, with no particular stresses or disasters to counter we returned to see how much we enjoyed it without the drama of flight delays to ramp up the tension.

Once again, we faced five courses and five cocktails, with the vego side of the table were treated to a mix of dishes from Vue de Monde proper and variations on the meaty options from the Cafe's set menu. First up, an unphotographed course (we weren't even five cocktails deep yet!) that involved a ravioli type construction, made of ricotta wrapped in a mozarella skin, with tomato confit, baby basil shoots, parmesan with dehydrated olives and an olive reduction and bits of crostini poking out like spears. The mozzarella skin was a slightly strange texture as a wrapping, but the flavours were excellently combined.

For our first drink we were served up a Twentieth Century (wikipedia suggests that Cafe Vue didn't do their research - this cocktail first appeared in the late 1930s - roaring twenties indeed). It includes lemon juice, gin, some sweet white wine and a bit of creme de cacao. It's named after a famous art-deco style locomotive, and the sleek flavours of the creme de cacao and sweet wine provided the style while the gin supplied the engine. Yum.

Next up food-wise was something that looked suspiciously like another cocktail. After being assured that the waitstaff weren't trying to fool us into more booze, we were given the complete run-down: the bottom of the glass was a tomato consomme, while the decoration on top included tomato fondue, confit tomato, cherry tomato, dehydrated olive and some basil shoots. My well-known tomato issues meant this wasn't really to my taste, but I was impressed by the idea and presentation. Cindy, however, was liked it a lot - it was her favourite savoury of the night.

Our second drink the more thematically appropriate mint julep, with Cafe Vue's own twist: they took the standard mint, bourban and soda, but cut down on the amount of soda and mixed in cloudy apple juice rather than sugar. I liked the sweetness of the apple juice rubbing up against the smokey bourbon and minty mint, but Cindy was less enamoured.

While the other two were dealing with a dish disgustingly titled 'pork and bacon floater', Cindy and I were served up the same mushroom risotto as we'd sampled last time - right down to the tarragon emulsion. This dish is all about the strong mushroom flavours and, while we were a little disappointed to get a repeat offering, it's an excellent example of a fairly common vego dish.

The first few drinks had kicked in by now, and conversation was spiralling out of control, leaving Cindy distractedly slurping down half of her cocktail before remembering to pull out the camera.

This delicious concoction was a Bohemian (that has a mysterious provenance - google at least provides little enlightenment): aniseed bitters, bourbon, lemon juice and maple syrup foam. It had a tremendous bittersweet flavour, with the foam a particularly successful inclusion.

Our fourth course took us a step towards dessert with a cheese plate: fancy cheddar, fancier pickles and some sort of fancy rye bread. In short: it was pretty fancy. Everyone knows how well cheese and pickles work together, so just imagine a top quality combination of the two.

To wash down the cheese: a six-penny crank, traditionally gin, lemon juice, sugar and beer. Cafe Vue went with a much different recipe - whisky, French red wine, Italian bitters and some sort of elderflower liqueur.

This was a punchy cocktail - probably the booziest of the night. I didn't get a strong taste of elderflower, it may have been overwhelmed by the bitters. Still, I have vaguely pleasant memories of this drink (full disclosure: I had some post-work drinks pre-cocktails, so I may not have been carefully savouring things by this stage).

Onto dessert! Another cocktail-shaped course: orange segments, chocolate biscuit pieces, chocolate and vanilla foam in the bottom of a tall glass with a chocolate disc on top decorated with a few sprigs of basil. The waitress places the glass on the table and then carefully pours a warm orange-infused olive oil on top so that it melts its way through the disc and into the cup. Amazing.

To go along with it, the best cocktail of the night: a Ramos gin fizz: gin, lemon juice, orange blossom water, eggwhite, cream and soda water all smashed together in a food processor. This had an amazing creamy texture, and was full of citrussy goodness - so good we tried (and failed) to replicate it over the weekend.

There was nothing wrong with Cafe Vue's performance this time, but I think the added drama of Cindy's late arrival and general stress levels made the first time a little more thrilling. Even so, five fantastic cocktails and five inventive and delicious little courses is incredible value, though the price seems to have crept up to $77 per person. The theme changes each month so we'll probably go back to try another variant in the future. Be warned: you'll need to book, and book early.

(Read about our previous visit to the Cafe Vue cocktail evening here.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

February 19, 2009: Heaven-sent haloumi and the eat-anywhere quinoa salad

I'm not quite sure why, every Sunday without fail, I pick up and flick through The Age's Life magazine. Newspapers' glossy, coloured Sunday lift-outs are invariably trashy and superficial, I know, but there's something about this choice of title that really riles me. If vacuous interviews, pop statistics devoid of analysis, fashion spreads full of analysis and expensive techno-gadgets are truly the Stuff Of Life then kill me now. Maybe I persist in looking because it gets the blood pumping, and raging self-righteousness passion is actually the stuff of (my) life. Or it could just be the off-chance that Karen Martini has contributed an enticing vegetarian recipe.

And if you don't think that haloumi pictured up there looks enticing, then I'm not sure what I can do for you. (Just trying clicking that "next blog" button up top and put us both out of our misery.) You barely even need a recipe to make it, you just need some bright spark to put two already-awesome ingredients into one sentence for you. Haloumi, and pomegranate syrup. Kaboom! Sweet, sour, salty and fried. How could dinner get any better? Well, Karen also thought to sprinkle over chilli flakes, za'atar and thyme and they're certainly worth the effort, but it's the pomegranate syrup that still has me shaking my head in wonder.

Haloumi and pomegranate syrup could well be the Stuff Of Life, but they're probably not the Stuff Of A Well-Rounded Dinner. So I made this salad. It's based on a Middle Eastern couscous salad that Michael and I used to make all the time, back before we had a food blog or a life in Melbourne. From Kurma Dasa's Vegetarian World Food, it's filled with fresh herbs and vegetables, dried fruit and nuts, and has a dreamy tahini-lemon dressing. (It's also why this post, in spite of the featured slabs of cheese, earns a vegan-friendly tag.) It lasts for days in the fridge, tastes lovely at room temperature and is great for transporting to a picnic to share, or just for an ordinary workday lunch.

It's also pretty forgiving of alterations, and I made a lot of them:
  • quinoa is the new couscous, at least in this house.
  • I don't buy this whole "1/4 cup finely chopped red capsicum, 1/4 cup finely chopped green capsicum, 1/2 cup finely chopped tomato" guff. I'm chopping one WHOLE red capsicum and an entire tomato, 'cause we can't abide leftover veges, and as many beans as Michael brought home.
  • almonds > peanuts, even if the peanuts are roasted.
  • currants are always, always > sultanas.
But, you know, do what you want. It'll probably still taste good and travel well.

Heaven-sent haloumi
(Based on Karen Martini's pan-fried haloumi with chilli, za'atar and pomegranate molasses, from the Age's Sunday Life magazine)

olive oil, for frying
300g haloumi, cut into 1cm thick pieces
3 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
2 tablespoons za'atar
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Drizzle some olive oil into a frypan and bring to high heat. Fry the haloumi slices until golden brown on each side, then transfer them to absorbent paper.

Arrange the haloumi on the serving plate(s); sprinkle over the thyme, chilli and za'atar. Drizzle over the pomegranate molasses and serve immediately.

Eat-anywhere quinoa salad
(inspired by Kurma Dasa's couscous salad, published in his book Vegetarian World Food)

1 cup quinoa
2 1/2 cups water
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons tahini
4 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 tomato, diced finely
1 red capsicum, diced finely
a handful of green beans, cut into small lengths
1 x 400g can chickpeas
1 small Lebanese cucumber, diced finely
1/2 cup currants
1/4 cup green olives, chopped (I bought chilli-garlic marinated ones)
1/4 cup almonds, chopped roughly

Stir together the quinoa and water in a saucepan; bring them to the boil, then turn down the heat and cook them through on medium-low heat until the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). While it's cooking, do all the vegetable chopping listed above.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, sugar, tahini, mint, salt, pepper and parsley.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked quinoa and the remaining ingredients. Stir through the tahini dressing and serve at your leisure.

February 17, 2009: Leftover makeover: rice-malt icecream

The parmesan herb risotto cake left us with a few ingredients that we rarely use. Miraculously, the ricotta and cream reminded me of my old kulfi recipe and I set about making a batch of icecream to complement the cardamom-heavy pepparkakor. Since sweetened condensed milk (another kulfi ingredient) isn't sold in tins as small as I wanted, I bought evaporated milk instead and tried sweetening the mixture with rice malt syrup. The rice malt syrup, I recently impulse-bought from Allergy Block without any particular plans for it. Its sweetness has a dark, caramel tone and slightly bitter aftertaste. For my final trick, I added some malted milk powder to boost the maltiness promised by the syrup.

The end result didn't quite match the moose as I'd hoped, but it's still an interesting and adult alternative to vanilla icecream.

Rice-malt icecream
(Measurements are approximate.)

185mL evaporated milk
150mL 'lite' thickened cream
150g light ricotta
1/3 cup rice malt syrup
2 tablespoons malted milk powder

Whisk together all of the ingredients in a bowl, and refrigerate the mixture until it's very cold.

Strain the icecream mixture and pour it into an icecream maker, churning it according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Local blogs for local people

Those of y'all who live in and/or love Melbourne's inner north have probably already stumbled across (and perhaps regularly read) Fitzroyalty. Now this blog's creator, Brian Ward, has put together four new blogs! Thankfully, for the sake of his sanity, he is not attempting to increase his posting rate five-fold. Rather, these blogs aggregate other writers' posts about Brunswick, Carlton, Collingwood and Fitzroy - including where's the beef? reviews of restaurants and events in these suburbs.

While Brian has done a super job at setting up these sites, he's interested in having other people on board to edit and manage them. If you'd like to collaborate, get your own blog involved, or even set up a similar site for your favourite suburb, then drop Brian a line: brian [at] .

February 16-17, 2009: Sushi II

We are on a roll. My sushi habits have progressed from not-eaten-in-years to home-made-every-fortnight. Each roll here includes a subset of:
We would've liked to add some avocado to the party, but it seemed unlikely to survive as we prepared our sushi 24 hours in advance of a picnic. Our expedition to the Moonlight Cinema failed, with the patron two places ahead of Michael in the queue snagging the last tickets, but with stiff upper lips we proceeded to picnic anyway. Kristy and Toby shared beer, soft and 'cheesy' savoury muffins, baked chickpeas, Turkish bread sloshed through olive oil and za'atar, and the creamiest, most delectable coconut fudge. (You can check out the goods over on Kristy's blog.) Neither darkness nor a time-set sprinkler system deterred us and we finished off with a drink at Markov Place before calling it a night. And a fine night at that.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

February 16, 2008: Pepparkakor

Michael returned home from Sweden with more than just a bunch of statistical models - he also brought chocolate and this little fella, a moose-shaped biscuit cutter with an accompanying recipe in Swedish and English. Noticing that the spiced biscuit recipe was eggless and could easily be made vegan, I saved it up for a picnic Michael was organising.

When it comes to baking biscuits, I tend to go for recipes that involve just blobbing batter onto a tray. Flouring, rolling and cutting can leave me a bit frazzled, and I certainly did my fair share of swearing at these! While the mixture was quite pliable and easily rolled, it was harder to shift these large yet delicate shapes from bench to tray without rendering them much less moose-shaped. The eye cut-outs left very little dough to support the antlers. Some crazed flour-scattering seemed to help, and my last couple trays of these didn't look too bad.

The biscuits require very little time in the oven, and ours ended up with at firm crust and moist, somewhat chewy interior. The overwhelming impression, though, is of cardamom! With a full tablespoon of the stuff going in, you're hard pressed to detect the cinnamon, cloves, ginger, or anything else much at all. It makes for a slightly one-dimensional experience, and I couldn't help thinking that their dry spiciness might be more enjoyable with a scoop of vanilla icecream.

What's left me completely flummoxed, now that I'm writing about these biscuits, is where I put the recipe! Michael and I have searched our flat up and down for that little white square of paper to no avail. Perhaps it will show itself this week, in the frenzied lead-up to our rental inspection on Friday - if it does I'll post it here. Otherwise, there are many other recipes for pepparkakor on the internet, though none of the ones I've seen have quite the same ingredient list.

Edit 04/04/09: Somehow the recipe reappeared last night, on our coffee table, in between pieces of brand new mail. It was eery, but cool. Looking at the recipe now, I'm pretty sure I halved the quantities below and still had lots and lots of pepparkakor to share around.


300g smör
5 dl socker
1 dl ljus sirap
2 msk kanel
1 msk malda kryddnejlikor
1 msk malen ingefära
1 msk bikarbonat
2 tsk kardemumma
2 dl vatten
1,5 l vetemjöl

Rör ihop rumstenpererat smör, socker och sirap till en jämn smet. Tillsätt sedan kanel, kryddnejlikor, ingefära, bikarbonat och kardemumma. Därefter tillsättes vatten och sist mjölet som knådas in på bakbord. Låt degen ligga i kylskåp minst 1 dygn. Tag ut kakor med din form och lägg på kalla smorda plåtar eller med bakplåtspapper. Grädda i mitten av ugnen i 200-225 grader i 4-5 minuter.

Swedish Ginger Biscuits

300g butter (I used nuttelex)
400g castor sugar
6 tablespoons golden syrup
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda
2 tablespoons cardamom
200mL water
900g flour

Cream the butter, add castor sugar and syrup and beat in the flavouring - cinnamon, ground cloves, ground ginger, cardamom - and the bicarbonate of soda. Add the water and work in the flour and knead well on a lightly floured surface. Put the dough into the fridge and let rest for at least 24 hours. Roll out the dough thin and cut out biscuits with your mould and put them on a cold buttered baking sheet or on a baking sheet lined with paper. Bake in the middle of the oven at 200-225°C for 4-5 minutes.

February 15, 2009: Roasted beetroot salad

Though a handful of green leaves might be enough to transform a slab of risotto cake into a meal, this was a weekend meal and I was willing to go further than that. I flipped through the Salads section of Vegie Food, created a shortlist and asked Michael to make the final decision; he chose this roasted beetroot salad. It's actually written as a double-beet, double-onion salad, featuring the oft-neglected beet leaves as well roots and a pungent dose of garlic cloves and French shallots.

Our salad didn't quite work out like that; we blindly followed the suggested roasting times to disastrous effect. You know how you can roast garlic until the cloves are sweet and squishy and spreadable? I think we were aiming for a stage just before that, where the cloves are soft and sweet but still hold together when peeled. Instead we learned that after the squishy stage, garlic cloves re-harden and eventually they covert to little rock-like chunks of blackened coal. Whoops. Thankfully the French shallots were a made of tougher stuff and we were able to peel off a couple of layers and make use of their sweet, tender centres.

Regardless, this salad impressed us both. The bitter leaves are well offset by the sweet beetroots and shallots, and the single fresh garlic clove in the tangy mustard dressing made quite an impact - I didn't miss the other 12 roasted cloves at all! Adding the walnuts for crunch, this salad has all the variety in flavour, texture and colour you could ask for in a side dish. It's a little fiddly and time-consuming as salads go but I don't think that'll deter us from making this again - we'll just set the oven timer a lot earlier next time.

Roasted beetroot salad
(based on a recipe from Vegie Food)

13 cloves garlic
12 French shallots
a large bunch of baby beetroots with leaves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup walnut oil (we used macadamia oil)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup walnuts
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Roast the shallots, beetroot and 12 of the garlic cloves, leaving all their skins on, until tender. The recipe recommends 1 hour for the shallots and garlic, 1 1/2 hours for the beetroots, but they could take a lot less time - check them regularly. Allow the vegetables to cool slightly, then gently peel them; slice the beetroot into large chunks.

Mince the one remaining clove of garlic. In a small bowl, whisk it together the vinegar, mustard, and walnut/macadamia oil; season the dressing with salt and pepper. Toss the beetroot chunks through the dressing and give them a few minutes to soak up the flavours.

Arrange the beetroot leaves, shallots, garlic, and walnuts on plates or in a salad bowl. Spoon in the beetroot chunks, then drizzle over the dressing.

Announcing: the Veganomicon winner

I'm happy to announce that the winner of our Veganomicon giveaway is...


Thanks to all of you who contributed your favourite things to do in Melbourne - we saw a few excursions and restaurants that we've previously enjoyed, as well as lots of new ideas that we're keen to try out.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Last chance to win a copy of VEGANOMICON!

We have just entered the last 12 hours where you can tell us what you'd do in your last 12 hours in Melbourne.

Up for grabs is a copy of VEGANOMICON and we'll be drawing a winner tomorrow morning!

To enter the competition, take our 12-hour tour of Melbourne and add your comment at the end.

Good luck!

Monday, February 16, 2009

February 15, 2009: Parmesan herb risotto cake

February's dish from our 2009 recipe calendar came under the heading Picnic in the Park, and indeed this risotto cake would be ideal for packing with a blanket and bottle of wine and enjoying on a mild summer night. (Unfortunately it wasn't suitable for our upcoming picnic dinner - more on that in a few posts' time.) Though it's tasty warm, it slices more smoothly once it's cooled down, and it wouldn't be too difficult to carry atop the picnic basket if kept in its springform tin. Fresh herbs and sun-dried tomatoes provide bursts of flavour, but most of all it's a rich concoction of eggs, cream and two kinds of cheese.

The recipe, however, provided some cause for confusion. The first ingredient listed in the original recipe is "2 x 250g packets arborio rice risotto base" - what, I asked myself, is that? Do I simply mix in 500g of uncooked arborio rice? Make up a risotto separately and plonk in 500g of that? The 'packets' part had me thinking that perhaps I was supposed to use a packet-mix risotto from the supermarket. But should I cook it up by the box's instructions or just stir in the dried mix? Does the 250g refer to the dry weight or the reconstituted weight? Argh! There didn't seem enough liquid in the recipe to properly cook the rice so I took what I thought was the middle road, buying and reconstituting two 145g packets of mushroom and garlic risotto. These seemed to provide the right amount of substance for the cake. I was impressed by the fluffy texture of the packet-mix risotto, though the flavour was very salty on its own.

Given the early preparation required to cook the risotto before making the cake, I probably won't remake this often but the recipe did reward my efforts with eight generous servings, each requiring little more than a handful of rocket to call it a meal.

Parmesan herb risotto cake

2 x 145g packets risotto mix
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup light thickened cream
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup ricotta, crumbled
pepper, to taste

Cook the risotto according to the accompanying instructions and allow it to cool, perhaps storing it in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180°C; grease a springform pan. Transfer the risotto to a large mixing bowl; add the garlic, zucchini, eggs, cream, basil, parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, 1/3 cup of the parmesan and a generous grinding of pepper. Mix it all together well then pour it into the springform pan, smoothing over the top a little. Sprinkle the top with the ricotta and remaining parmesan.

Bake the risotto cake for 40 minutes or until set.

February 15, 2009: Min Lokal II

Cindy and I first stumbled across Min Lokal in an attempt to locate Wild Flour bakery and I was instantly smitten. Ever since I've held their baked eggs up as some sort of paragon of eggy goodness, finding fault with every other cafe that tries to compete. I eventually snuck back one afternoon to make sure that my memory wasn't deceiving me and was once again overwhelmed by the quality of the brekkies. So when we met Mike and Jo and some friends at Ici to be confronted by a long wait for a table, I dragged everyone around the corner to sample the delights at this unassuming little place.

Things have changed a little since we first visited - they've got the freezer situation sorted out, so iced coffees are on the menu, and they've greatly expanded their menu including the addition of something sweet: waffles (more on them later). The claypots remain, with two vego options and a meaty alternative. I went for the Adafina claypot ($14): baked eggs with pumpkin, green olive paste (and a few half olives), harissa, saffron, green beans and toast.

Mmmmm. Look at that deliciousness. A great mix of flavours, with the olive and harrissa flavours packing the real punch, while the eggs and pumpkin added a bit of heartiness. The eggs were cooked perfectly again, and the toast was ripe for the dunking. I could have eaten two.

Cindy was very excited to spy the waffles ($13) on the menu, after being reduced to ordering toast the first time we visited. The menu promised balsamic strawberries and grapes, vanilla mascarpone and pistachios alongside. It wasn't the biggest serve of sweetness, but it was an impressive breakfast nonetheless - Cindy complained about the relatively small serve of fruit, but was wowed by the waffles themselves and the combination of colours and flavours.

The other folks at our table avoided the baked eggs and opted for pan-fried haloumi or the aforementioned waffles - everything except the eggs was a little on the small side, but it all seemed to hit the spot.

We've tried a few times to hit Min Lokal on the weekend and been overwhelmed by crowds - for some reason we walked straight into a table this week, but I think it's always going to be a bit of a gamble. So if you're keen for a fine breakfast, but not so hungry you won't be put off by a wait, Min Lokal is my pick of the Fitzroy breakfast scene.

(You can read about our first visit to Min Lokal here.)

UPDATE: Melbourne food bloggers' meet-up

Duncan, Thanh and Sarah wisely postponed the recently planned food bloggers' bbq and have now cooked up an alternative plan.

The new and improved
Melbourne food bloggers' meet-up
is being graciously hosted by
The Commoner
(at 122 Johnston St, Fitzroy)
March 7, from 2pm.

The courtyard will be set aside, free of charge, and The Commoner folks have even offered the use of their wood-fired oven for reheating food! (Oh, how we food bloggers love a wood-fired oven.) As a show of appreciation, bring your wallet and order your drinks from their staff rather than BYO-ing.

Sadly Michael and I won't be in attendance, but it seems that almost everyone else with a modem and an appetite has already signed up. You can, too, by leaving a comment on Duncan's official meet-up post.

Friday, February 13, 2009

700 posts, one giveaway

700 posts! Can you believe it? To celebrate we've got a double-barrelled treat for you. First up, let us take you on a 12-hour tour of Melbourne. Almost five months ago the Amateur Gourmet asked his readers how they'd spend a final 12 hours in their dearest city. Though it's taken us a little while, Michael and I have drawn up an itinerary and laid it out over 9 posts. We couldn't quite agree on everything so we'll be splitting up along the way and you can decide who to tag along with. Don't worry, we'll be converging for a damn fine dinner at the end of it. So lace up your favourite sneakers, stuff $50 or so into your pocket, sling a roomy bag over your shoulder and...

Are you back? Did you have fun? Now tell us, what hidden gems were missing from our last 12 hours in Melbourne? Usually we're simply appealing to your sense of generosity when we ask your advice, but this week your recommendations could win you this...

That's right, it's a copy of Veganomicon! Its chickpea cutlets, po' boys and black beans have wowed us, and as we've had only a couple of months with this book, we've no doubt that there are many, many more awesome recipes to discover within its pages.

So drop us a comment on your absolute favourite place to go, thing to do or food to eat in Melbourne. If your comment is not linked to a profile with an email address and you'd prefer not to give your email details publicly in a comment, then email us at wheresthebeef_blog[at] immediately after posting your comment. We won't share your details with anyone else and we'll delete our records of them once this competition's over. And it'll be over at midnight, Melbourne time, on Friday February 20. The winner will be drawn at random and announced on the morning of Saturday February 21 as I lounge, bleary-eyed, in front of Video Hits.

Edit 21/02/09: The giveaway is now closed and we've drawn a winner! However, we'd still like to know what you'd do in your last 12 hours in Melbourne - add your ideas below and earn our gratitude, if not a cookbook.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

February 10, 2009: Maesri curry pastes

Last month I had a little whinge about non-vegetarian curry pastes. A couple of commenters helped out with shrimp-free brands, and I've discovered another one at my local independent supermarket - Maesri. These little tins go for a dollar apiece, are vegan, and every ingredient listed is recognisable as an actual food - no weird chemical codes here!

I cooked up the masaman paste with a can of coconut milk, tofu cubes and lots of fresh chopped vegetables. This is a lot less coconut milk than recommended on the curry can, but I found the spice level bang on and it was even a little too mild for Michael. With a base of steamed rice and a crown of cashews, it made for a fine weeknight dinner (and several great workday lunches). It's by no means an instant meal, but the most time-consuming part is simply chopping up the vegetables.

I'll happily buy this product again, at least until I muster the motivation to make my own bulk curry paste and freeze it in batches.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

February 7, 2009: Hellenic Republic II

While we were keeping cool in this cafe on Melbourne's hottest-recorded day (46°C/115°F!), another even less enviable record was broken - rural Victoria was hit by the most damaging bushfires on record in Australia. Many, many lives and homes have been lost and it's not over yet. Please make a donation, if you can, to the Australian Red Cross response.

After arriving home from Stockholm late on Friday night, Michael was keen to get back into the swing of Melbourne and suggested eating out for breakfast on Saturday morning. With the temperature already in the mid-30s, we took the lazy (but cool) tram north to Hellenic Republic. Inside, it was barely recognisable from our previous visit - where once there was a crowded and cacophonous room, dimly lit, now only a handful of tables were occupied in a space streaming with light.

Perhaps it's just as well - Hellenic Republic has only a modestly sized espresso machine and they just barely kept up with the higher morning demand for coffee. It's no problem for caffeine-free me, of course - I happily slugged down water as I checked out the menu of twelve items before us. Eight or nine of them appear to be vegetarian, though probably none are vegan - this is a feast of feta, yoghurt and eggs, if not meat.

Michael happily surrendered, ordering the spanakopita with poached free range eggs ($12.50). The eggs were perfectly poached and the spinach pie was more enjoyable than last time we tried it - though he relished every bite, Michael was equally conscious of what an unbalanced meal it made. (It's worth noting that there's no list of add-ins on this menu, so requesting a side of vegetables wasn't an obvious tactic.)

Mindful of the heat, I skipped past the sweet trahana and tried the salad of watermelon, feta, almonds, mint and rose syrup ($8.50). As I pictured hefty chunks of salty feta, I considered this a bit of a gamble, but my bet paid off - the juicy watermelon chunks were augmented with just a sprinkling of creamy feta crumbs. With that minty top note and undertone of roasted almond flakes, I neither noticed nor wished for more of the rose syrup I'd been promised. This was a prince among fruit salads!

Hellenic Republic by day is a different but equal prospect to Hellenic Republic by night. Our bill was no larger than what we'd rack up at any other cafe in the neighbourhood; though the portions were modest, they were satisfying and impeccably executed. And for now, at least, there seems to be no wait for a table; only for coffee!

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

Address: 434 Lygon St, Brunswick East
Ph: 9381 1222
Price: veg breakfasts $8.50-$14.50
Website: (still 'coming soon'... yawn)

January 26 - February 6, 2009: Stockholm

The second half of my Stockholm trip found me finally figuring out a reasonable sleeping pattern and spending a lot more time on work stuff, but there was still a bit of time for eating and exploring.

Days 9 and 10
The week started with me chock-full of work-related enthusiasm, leaving little time for excitement. The one highlight was a post-work wander to Kokyo, a veg-friendly Japanese restaurant that Cindy and I enjoyed on our first trip to Sweden. The vegetarian section of the menu is massive, with all kinds of stir-frys, curries and other Japanese delicacies. I started out with some of the best gyoza I've ever eaten - crispy on the outside and filled with lucsious mushrooms, vegies and some sort of soy protein.

The follow-up: a Kokyo special vegie stew, with three kinds of tofu (fried, steamed and weird tofu-based meatballs), shiitake mushrooms and other vegies in a slightly sweet sauce.

Day 10
Having put in two good days of work and with a vaguely promising weather forecast, I decided to use the middle of Wednesday as a chance to go wandering, starting with a walk around Brunnsvikken to the Natural History Museum. Unfortunately I left the camera's memory card in the computer, so there are no beautiful lake shots from the walk. The museum has a wonderful Swedish wildlife section, with dozens and dozens of expertly taxidermied bird and animal species (which is kind of sad, but also very impressive - at least some of the specimens died natural deaths and were then restored by the museum) with loads of information in English.

After another quick spell of work, I decided to make it a museum-tastic day and headed in to Djurgarden to visit the Nordic Museum, which is focussed on the cultural history of Sweden - lots of stuff about food, design, traditions and general life from about 1600 through to the present day. It's a massive, beautiful hall, and the free audio-guide was a nice way to check out the highlights. By the time I'd had my fill, it was getting towards 6 and I was ready to chase down some dinner. Lao Wei was on the route home, so I swung by to try to nab an early table - I ended up sharing with some other non-bookers (and kind of spoiling their romantic birthday dinner I'm guessing) and dived into a Qing Hui Bai Yie. This is "a delicate dish prepared with bai yie (a tender beancurd product), fresh shiitake, golden needle mushrooms, gingko nuts, pak soi, and wolfberries)" - it was glorious. Lao Wei was easily the best vegetarian place I found in Stockholm - if it wasn't so hard to get a table I would have visited many more times.

Day 11
Another day in which all the hours of light were spent inside. For dinner I decided to make use of the kitchen facilities and have my first shot at cooking Quorn. Quorn is a fungus-based mock-meat and isn't available in Australia (and, disappointingly, is non-vegan).

It's not too dissimilar from soy-based mock-meats but has a slightly moister texture. It doesn't have a particularly strong flavour of its own, but soaked up my impromptu thai red-curry sauce pretty effectively.

Day 12
Another regular working day, followed by a big party for one of the PhD students in the office who successfully defended her thesis in the morning. The vego food was quite good without being particularly exciting, and I was too shy to take food photos.

Day 13
Saturday saw the visit of my old friend Melissa, whose been living in Switzerland for a few years now. We started a long-weekend of sightseeing with a quick wander through Gamla Stan and a visit to the Nobel Museum.

The evening started at the KGB Bar, a friendly pub-like venue, with a range of interesting beers. It's probably best not to think about money when you go out in Stockholm - we had three beers each and spent somewhere in the vicinity of $75. By the time we decided to eat, it was getting late, so we had to aim for somewhere nearby, meaning it was time for a return trip to Kokyo. This time I decided to go for the tempura, which was crispy and delicious.

Day 14
The main plan for Sunday was a boat cruise through the inner-archipelago. Once we'd sorted out tickets we had a quick wander around Östermalm.

It's one of the ritzier suburbs in the city, but felt strangely desserted on a Sunday morning. Still, we found Baresso, which churns out high-quality coffee.

The boat cruise started out in an icy Nybrogatan - we were wondering how the boat was going to get out into open water, but the ice turned out to be only a few centimetres thick, and the hull made short work of it. The trip winds slowly out through the Stockholm harbour to some of the innermost islands of the huge archipelago, before a brief stop at Vaxholm and then a return trip. It was a pleasant jaunt, but we probably should have just taken one of the ferries so we could have got off and had an explore around Vaxholm. Still, it was easy to see why locals rave about the islands - although the ice has a certain charm, it would be even easier to appreciate them in summertime.

We had enough time after the cruise for a quick stroll through the impressive Moderna Museet, which featured some very strange video art from Tabaimo, along with the more standard Picassos, Matisses and Duchamps.

For dinner we hit the buffet at Örtagården, Sweden's oldest vegetarian restaurant. At least, it was - it's now got a couple of meaty dishes tucked away at the back of the buffet. I can't really imagine that the change will win them any new customers but I could be wrong. The vego food that was there was quite tasty - especially the little balls of beetroot-based goodness. I probably enjoyed Herman's more this trip, if only because of the nicer setting. A note about the dessert: the things right next to the tasty rhubarb crumble that look like custard and berry sauce are actually cheese mush and beetroot soup - the custard lives much further away from the dessert tray. Weird.

Day 15
I couldn't let Melissa visit Stockholm without spending some time at one of my favourite museums - the Vasamuseet. The centrepiece of the museum is the stunning 17th Century warship, the Vasa, salvaged from Stockholm harbour where it sank twenty minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628. The ship was remarkably well-preserved in the Baltic Sea and is stunningly presented - it really has to be seen to be believed.

By the time we'd exhausted the museum's offerings, we were both ready for some lunch, so we headed up to the nearby Östermalms Saluhall. It's a beautiful old market hall built in 1888, which is stuffed full of wonderfull food stalls - fresh produce abounds, along with all kinds of deli goodness and a handful of cafes.

After a quick coffee, we did a quick lap and settled on a cute little sandwich store for lunch. I went for this delight:

Blue cheese, figs, quince paste, walnuts and greens, all on a moist chunk of fruit-bread. Amazing.

Then it was time to browse the stalls - particularly the amazing range of cheeses on offer. I couldn't resist a couple of quick purchases and, after a chat to one of the market holders, went home with a chunk of the quintessential Swedish cheese, Västerbotten cheese and a small wheel of goats cheese.

Once we'd fully explored the markets we had a bit more time before Melissa had to head out to the airport, so we wandered back to Baresso to sample one of Sweden's favourite sweets, a semla. These creamy treats first appear just after Christmas each year and take over every cafe in Sweden until easter, when they disappear again. They're lightly spiced buns, scooped out and then stuffed with cream, almond paste and breadcrumbs. It was a bit too much for me in the end - maybe we should have split one between the two of us.

Days 16 to 18
Once Melissa headed back to Switzerland, the rest of the trip was pretty much work-focussed, with just leftover quorn curry for dinners. Not too exciting. The highlight was a gorgeous sunny day on Tuesday, which prompted a stroll up to the main campus across the frozen Brunnsvikken. Aside from a few disconcerting noises from the ice as four of us walked a little too close together, it was a fun stroll.

And that was that really - it all kind of petered out a bit with a work-focus for the last few days. A final highlight: the courtyard in the middle of the Wenner-Gren Centre where I was staying was populated by some very hardy and very cute little black rabbits. They were also very cautious, so it was hard to get a good picture.