Monday, June 29, 2009

Last chance to win our winter warmers!

There's little more than a day left before we draw the winners for our current giveaway.

Leave us a comment here telling us your favourite veg-friendly winter recipe, then email us at so that we have your contact info. You'll be in the draw to win a copy of Soup For All Seasons, written by Las Vegan's Lia Vandersant and Liam Davies, and a canister of Monsieur Truffe Hot Dark Chocolate Mix!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

June 19, 2009: The Press Club II

It's no secret that I'm a bit of a George Colambaris fan, though his current stint on Masterchef Australia hasn't had my heart growing any fonder. ("Cook like you're saving the world!"? Really?) Nevertheless, I was pleased when a fellow vegan potlucker sometimes known as Clag admitted his own affection for the man, similarly forged in the afternoon hours of Ready Steady Cook, and investigated the potential for a classy potluckers' meet-up at the Press Club.

It took a couple of months for us to synchronise calendars and save our pennies while Clag negotiated a $90 five course vegan kerasma with Press Club staff. But once it was all set anticipation grew, with Press Club-themed Facebook updates reaching a dizzying crescendo in the couple of hours before our meal.

We assembled in the bar, with some of us eager and early enough to have time for a drink. The division of the cocktail menu into feminine, masculine and unisex items had a couple of us cringing but didn't stop us ordering. Michael and I shared an M ($15, pictured above) - a sweet and sour combination of coconut liqueur, cherry brandy, lime juice and vanilla sugar syrup.

Once we were seated at our table, out came the bread! Tender and tasty, I tried to restrain myself as I anticipated the courses to come. It was difficult, though - this was really good bread.

The waitress called these saganaki martinis. Watermelon skewers straddle shot glasses filled with a 'Greek salad' of tomato consomme and finely chopped cucumber. The second skewery mouthful was of rockmelon and peppered fig (just like the peppered fig served at Hellenic Republic). Though the flavours were certainly pleasant, I think it was the novelty of the arrangement that impressed us and had us excitedly wondering what might come next.

The second official course was probably the highlight, with happy disagreements ricocheting around the table as to which component was the best. Sarah was most impressed by the smoked beetroot with pomegranate vinaigrette, Lisa loved the delicate daikon that wrapped itself around a second 'modern Greek salad', while Clag, Michael and I were gobsmacked by the ladyfinger with moussaka, a feather-light filo pastry with a silky centre of savoury zucchini. I tried to genteelly slice it up, but it really needed to be picked up and relished as a finger food.

Course #3 sent some ripples around the table. A few avowed tomato-haters weren't happy to see their nemesis so prominently on display, but at least gave it a try. These tender tomatoes contained a sweet stuffing of couscous, dried fruit and nuts, and sat amid a bean puree. Sadly this was the most protein we were to see all night.

The stuffed tomatoes arrived with two 'sides' - the first was this eggplant, disintegrating deliciously into olive oil and warm spices, served at room temperature. Reminding me of my favourite Indian-style eggplant curries, I would have preferred to eat this warm but I ate it very happily all the same.

A cabbage salad with a bright and citrusy dressing rounded out the course.

The fourth course featured large and juicy mushrooms, stuffed with rice and herbs.

On the side, a bowl of lemon kipfler potatoes. I wasn't especially impressed by these, though I know a couple of my vegan potlucker peers will disagree.

Also appearing in round 4 was the third and final Greek salad. Toby loved the way they prepared the cucumber, removing the seeds and chopping the flesh into chunky curls.

Finally came dessert - a quince crumble topped with a delicate dollop of soy sorbet. (House-made soy sorbet, just for us!) The crumble was hearty and homely, and many of us failed to finish it. The problem was the soy sorbet - it tasted spectacular, cut through the crumble perfectly, but was too small to spread across the entire dish. Not having been offered coffee or other drinks at this stage, we toyed with our sweet but dry crumbles and dreamed of second and third helpings of the sorbet.

The Sorbet Shortfall reflected my one quibble with the meal - it seemed out of balance. What we ate was like a procession of side dishes. Delicious, sometimes remarkable side dishes, but nothing that sat proudly and clearly as a centrepiece. And where was the protein? Greek food is chock-full of brilliant legumes and I'm sorry that we didn't see more of them.

Imbalance aside, this was a most memorable meal. Everyone was thrilled to have a high-end, lamb-and-leather restaurant oblige us with a feast completely devoid of animal products. We've been talking to each other, and anyone else who will listen, about the Press Club for the entire week since.

You read about Michael's and my previous (non-vegan) visit to the Press Club here.

June 18, 2009: Smoked Tofu Stew

When I mentioned to a work colleague that I'd finally discovered smoked tofu (at the new Johnston Street Coles in Fitzroy if you're interested), she was quick to talk up her favourite recipe that made use of it: smoked tofu stew. It turns out our discussion inspired her to get her blog going again, which made it even easier for us to give this recipe a try.

It's a pretty simple recipe - lots of chopping and lots of simmering - nothing very complicated. And it all ends up with a rich, warming and hearty meal. If anything, it was a little short on flavour - we pepped it up with a generous splash of veg Worcestershire sauce, which was the perfect addition. It's a good way to make use of the smoked tofu, which was a suitably bulky stew centrepiece.

Smoked tofu stew
1 brown onion
2 sticks celery
2 small carrots
250g swiss brown mushrooms
500g potatoes
300g smoked tofu
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons vegemite
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons plain flour

Chop all your vegies and the tofu into hearty chunks, and fry them in a large pot with the olive oil. After things have started to soften, add the stock, vegemite and bay leaves and then simmer for 45 minutes or so, until things are almost falling apart.

Combine the the flour and water in a separate cup to make a thick paste, and add it to the stew to thicken it all together. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with rice or cous-cous and a splash of Worcestershire sauce and then feel the warmth spread through you.

June 16, 2009: Sauerkraut chowder

June's calendar recipe promised to be a winter warmer - sauerkraut chowder. Utterly different to the soups that Michael and I typically make, it features potatoes, onion and, of course, sauerkraut. It gets its creaminess from evaporated milk and cream cheese and the flavour is pepped up with a little horseradish (I used more of the horseradish cream that we bought for a previous calendar recipe). It's definitely a filling and rich brew. It'll be a while before I'm brave enough to plonk an entire block of cream cheese into soup again, but I'd like to transfer the evaporated milk idea to other recipes.

Sauerkraut chowder

3-4 large potatoes
1 medium onion
400g can or jar of sauerkraut
~300mL evaporated milk
250g cream cheese
2 teaspoons horseradish cream, or to taste
salt and pepper

Chop the potatoes into bite-size pieces, leaving the skin on. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover them with water. Chop the onion and add it to the pot. Bring the soup to the boil and cook the vegetables until the potatoes are tender.

Stir in the sauerkraut, evaporated milk and cream cheese, continuing to stir until the cream cheese has melted and blended in. Season with horseradish, salt and pepper to taste.

Cover the soup and simmer it on low heat for 30 minutes before serving.

June 15-16, 2009: Blonde choc-nut cookies

More biscuits to share round a seminar in the lab - these are eggless, butterless white chocolate macadamia cookies that Hungry Hamster posted quite some time ago. I suspect I initially bookmarked the recipe for its vegan potential but I ended up stirring dairy-riddled white chocolate chips into the dough.

Cookie doughs that use oil instead of butter have quite a distinctive greasy texture when raw - this one reminded me of the chocolate-raspberry and cryptic cookies I've previously baked. Unlike the butterscotch biscuits I baked a day earlier, this dough isn't particularly tasty before it's cooked - the baking powder and soda are rather strong. Unfortunately they're still a bit too prominent in the final product, though it's not all that difficult to concentrate on the sweetness of the white chocolate chips and reach for a second cookie.

There are two more quirks worth mentioning. First, Hungry Hamster's original quantity is relatively small, and thankfully I noticed this in time and doubled the recipe for the sizable group I was catering for. I didn't have enough macadamias, though, so I topped them up with raw cashews. The second quirk is that Hungry Hamster isn't clear whether she used canola or macadamia oil in the dough. Having macadamia oil on hand, I gave it a go but couldn't really detect it in the finished cookies.

All up, these were easy to make and enjoyed by many. But I probably won't use this dough recipe as a base for future vegan-friendly baking.

Blonde choc-nut cookies
(adapted from Hungry Hamster's Food Adventure, where it's credited to Baking Bites)

250g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
100g sugar
120g macadamia oil
160g maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup macadamia nuts
1/3 cup raw cashews
2/3 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 170°C and line a baking tray with paper.

In a large bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, carb soda, salt and sugar together.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the macadamia oil, maple syrup and vanilla. Pour it into the flour mixture and stir everything together until just combined. Fold in the nuts and chocolate chips.

Scoop spoonfuls of the dough and place them on the baking tray, allowing plenty of room for the cookies to spread. Bake them for 10-14 minutes, until lightly brown and just developing a crust.

June 15, 2009: Pandan 'chicken'

Kristy has been blogging and telling anyone who will listen about the vegan pandan 'chicken' she discovered at a local supermarket a few months ago. So, when I noticed them at my own nearby supermarket I was compelled to pick up a packet, even though my freezer was already bursting with mock meats.

I'm glad I did. These Veaty Bites take very little time to bake from their frozen state, and they taste delicious. Having never sampled the real deal, I've no idea whether they're a convincing imitation. But these mock meat parcels are incredibly fragrant, with a sharp lemongrassy earthiness and heating burst of chilli. They'd make a fun little finger food at a party, though I used them to top a salad. It was a whatever's-in-the-fridge mix of baby spinach leaves, grated zucchini and corn kernels, dressed with chives, ginger oil, vegetarian oyster sauce and apple cider vinegar.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

800th post, 2nd giveaway

Today this blog reaches another little milestone - 800 posts! It's a good time to update our where's the best? guide. New home cooking highlights include:
Out and about, we've loved:
Sadly, we've had to remove Filter, Vina Bar and Three One Two from our favourites as they're no longer open for business.

This is also a good time for another giveaway, right? Up for grabs are a couple of winter-friendly items that we've recently been enjoying ourselves - a copy of Soup For All Seasons, written by Las Vegan's Lia Vandersant and Liam Davies, and a canister of Monsieur Truffe Hot Dark Chocolate Mix.

To enter the draw, tell us about your favourite veg-friendly recipe for winter in the comments section below. Give us enough information that we could try making it ourselves, or just link to the recipe if it's already available online. We'll make and blog the winning entry, and any others that especially take our fancy!

If you don't wish to add a contact email address publicly to our comments, then email us at as soon as you've posted your entry so that, if you win, we can arrange delivery of your prize. We won't share your email address with anyone else or hassle you ourselves once this giveaway's been given away. Entries close at midnight on Tuesday June 30.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

June 14, 2009: Baked beans and hushpuppies

This Sunday night dinner looks more like a big vegan breakfast! Here's what we ate...

Baked beans with 'sausages'. I tried Veganomicon's recipe for Cheater Baked Beans and liked them a lot. If you have a cooking pot that can be used both on the stove-top and in the oven, then this is a one pot wonder. We don't, so unfortunately it dirtied a few more dishes along the way. The sauce is very sweet, owing to a heapin' half-cup of molasses/golden syrup, and I'll try reducing that next time. My special addition to the mix was a couple of home-made vegan sausages, retrieved from the freezer, cooked in amongst the beans towards the end of the oven time, then sliced into small chunks once tender. Highly recommended.

Hushpuppies. I'd never heard of hushpuppies before, but I got caught up in Lindyloo's nostalgia and enthusiasm and gave them a go. By contrast, Michael was distraught at having to eat anything with 'puppies' in the name. These little balls of crunchy corn eventually won his reluctant approval, being perfect for dipping into those saucy baked beans. Though they went down a treat, I'll probably revert to my usual cornbread recipe next time I'm in the mood for such a thing.

Sauteed mushrooms. I just finished these fungi off with a couple of teaspoons of vegetarian oyster sauce and loved the salty-sweet effect.

Sauteed spinach. Much-needed greens.

Multi-grain toast spread with Nuttelex. A cook-up staple, brilliant with the mushrooms.

It's rare that I prepare a meal with so many separate components, but they were all well appreciated. The quantity of beans and hushpuppies made for a couple of envy-inducing workday lunches too.

Baked beans
(based on the Cheater Baked Beans in Veganomicon, by Isa Moskowitz & Terry Romero)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 x 400g can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup golden syrup
2 teaspoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 bay leaf
2 x 400g cans canellini beans, drained and rinsed
3 vegan sausages, chopped into chunks

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan - use an oven-proof pan if you have one. Cook the onions in the oil for about 10 minutes, until they're soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Stir through the crushed tomatoes, golden syrup, mustard powder, salt, allspice and bay leaf; cook the sauce for about 5 minutes.

Add the beans. You need to bake the lot in a covered container, so either pop the lid onto your oven-proof pan or transfer the beans into a casserole dish. Bake for 30 minutes, stir it around. Bake for a further 20 minutes, stir in the sausage chunks. Bake for 10 minutes more, until the sausage is tender.

(adapted from Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit, where it's credited to VegCooking)

1 teaspoon powdered egg replacer
2/3 cup rice milk
1 1/4 cups polenta
1/2 cup plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup corn kernels
1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon pickled jalapeno, minced
spray oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a baking tray with paper and lightly spray it with oil.

In a large bowl, whisk the powdered egg replacer into the rice milk. Stir in the polenta, flour, baking powder, sugar and pepper. Next stir in the corn kernels, green onion and jalapenos.

With clean wet hands, form the mixture into balls and place them on the baking tray. Spray them with more oil. Bake the hushpuppies for 10 minutes, turn them over and bake for a further 5-10 minutes, until they're crispy on the outside and lightly browning.

June 14, 2009: Butterscotch biscuits

On Sunday I visited some family friends that, by my calculation, I haven't seen in 13 years. And of course I couldn't contemplate going empty-handed, so I baked these biscuits. They had a few things going for them. They'd been posted on Orangette a few months ago, a blog that had already supplied us with one winning dinner that week. I was (gasp!) a little weary of chocolate. And then, instead of chocolate, these were studded with pecans, which I already had sitting happily in the pantry.

The biscuit dough comes together quite easily but needs careful surveillance once in the oven. The general consensus over at Orangette seems to be that the couple tablespoons of milk powder increase its browning and crisping properties, and there's not a long interval between pleasantly brown and burnt. It's worth striving for that perfect hue, though, 'cause the biscuits I undercooked didn't develop quite the same complexity. Molly is right, though - they all improve with age, so save some for later. The biggest challenge on that front is that the uncooked dough is one of the loveliest I've sampled.

Butterscotch biscuits
(seen at Orangette, who credits them to The Tenth Muse by Judith Jones)

1 3/4 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
200g butter, softened
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup pecans, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line one or two baking trays with paper and lightly spray them with oil.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, bicarb soda and salt.

In a larger bowl, cream together the butter and sugar using an electric mixer. Beat in the egg, milk powder and vanilla. Gradually beat in the flour mixture, then fold in the pecans by hand.

Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking tray, leaving plenty of space between dollops. Molly suggests pressing the dough drops into circles - I didn't do this but you might like to if you want crisp biscuits. Bake the biscuits for 8-10 minutes, until they're lightly brown all over (watch them carefully to ensure they don't burn).

June 13, 2009: Red Spice Road

Having not seen him in person for several years, Michael and I were quite surprised to discover that Michael's dad would be visiting Melbourne twice in one month. We cooked for him the first time and decided to try a new restaurant with him on his second visit. I suggested Red Spice Road on the basis of Adski's recent rave review, though I was aware that experiences have been mixed. While Claire enjoyed the lunch special, Dan liked the banquet and JamesBluntKnife loved the service, Melbies/Foodies were less impressed and Ed's initial review had him 'respectfully' uninvited to their launch party.

I didn't exactly enter Red Spice Road in the best frame of mind - I was two days into a headache that could not be tamed and alcohol was out of the question. But there, on the second page of the drinks menu, Michael drew my attention to a range of fabulous-sounding mocktails. Big points to Red Spice Road! Even bigger points when my Chi chi ($8) arrived - this concoction of roasted pineapple, hazelnut, pineapple juice, vanilla and lemon tasted terrific, sweet and tangy with a marshmallowy foam.

Only a small proportion of the menu is veg-friendly but it's well marked. Michael picked out the tofu stir fried with spinach, sesame, eggplant, green onion and sweet soy ($26). I liked the silky textures but was pretty underwhelmed by the mild, salty flavour.

For our other main, we shared the green papaya, cashew, coriander, cucumber, chilli and lime salad ($22). It had a more noticable chilli kick, but not the right balance of sweet, sour and salty to counteract it. 'Twas no match for the vibrant green papaya salad we ate at Gingerboy.

Red Spice Road redeemed itself once more at dessert time. Ron politely declined anything more than a coffee and Michael said he'd "just have a bite of whatever you have", but ultimately I had plenty of assistance in polishing off the lychee jam doughnuts, chilli syrup and coconut sorbet ($14) - a perky combination of flavours and comforting, winter's night textures.

In the face of mixed blog reviews, all we can offer you regarding Red Spice Road is... a mixed blog review. While I was delighted by my mocktail and dessert, the vegetarian mains left us cold. Though it's not without its own flaws, I'd be more inclined to revisit Gingerboy, another Asia-inspired city restaurant with $30 mains, than return here; Ed compares it instead to Longrain, which we haven't visited. Either way there's a sense that at this price, we can expect a little better.

Address: 27 McKillop St, Melbourne
Ph: 9603 1601
Fully licensed
Price: mocktails $8, veg mains $22-$28, desserts $12-$14

June 13, 2009: Juanita's

Last week Brian from Fitzroyalty made a bold claim - that Juanita's offers the best breakfast in Fitzroy. To be honest, I wasn't even aware that Juanita's offers breakfast! I only knew it as the place selling Latin-style sweets 'til all hours, which I'd been vaguely intending to sample for some time. Could its morning meals outdo such heavyweights as Babka, Ici, Julio and Min Lokal?

It certainly offers some stiff competition. Michael loved the Huevos Rancheros ($12.50) - two sunny-side-up fried eggs with gooey yolks, avocado, kidney beans, corn tortillas and a 'rancho style' sauce that Michael couldn't stop talking about.

Meanwhile, I tucked into the Reina Andaluz ($6.50) - a lemon and cinnamon creamed rice pudding served with orange and passionfruit. The rice was drier and firmer than I've known in other rice puddings (this one excepted), but it had a lovely vanilla flavour and was offset nicely by the tangy, juicy fruit. I would have liked to have even a little more fruit, but I happily polished off this bowlfull and was satisfied for hours afterwards.

The breakfast menu isn't long but it offers something different to most of the local cafes and is very reasonably priced. All seven items are either vegetarian or veg-adaptable; even the empanadas listed on the blackboard include two vegetarian fillings. The preponderance of eggs will constrain vegans, though I've heard a rumour that the churros are safe! And the churros are just the beginning of the tempting sweets on offer at Juanita's. A closer look at the display cabinet had me resolving more firmly than ever that I'd be back for dessert.

Update 22/11/10 - Juanita's has closed and will soon become yet another chocolate cafe

Address: 370 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Ph: 9415 9396
Price: veg breakfasts $6-$12.50

Monday, June 15, 2009

June 10, 2009: Broccoli soup with lemon-chive cream

As part of my thirtieth birthday present, Cindy cleverly got me a stick-blender. Exciting isn't it? Maybe not immediately, but if you'd spent many hours exhausting your repertoire of creative curse-words trying to transfer hot soup between a huge saucepan and a small food processor, you'd appreciate the thoughtfulness. I'd dashed out of the country post-birthday without a chance to take it for a test-run, so for my first full day back in Melbourne I was all set to crank out some soup.

The recipe of choice: this, from Orangette. It's all relatively simple - a bit of chopping, a bit of frying, a bit of simmering and an awesome few moments of destruction with the stick blender. Good times. Luckily, it's also damn tasty. Between the stalks of the broccoli and the faux-chicken stock, it had a kind of meatiness to it, offset by the delicious herbed sour-cream and the parmesan hints left by the rind. A few pieces of bread on the side and we'd found the antidote to Melbourne's burst of winter.

Broccoli soup with lemon-chive cream

The soup
1 tbsp butter
2 leeks, washed and sliced (just the white parts)
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
~1kg broccoli, chopped (include everything - stems and all)
~1l faux-chicken of vegetable stock
1 parmesan rind

The cream
1 cup sour cream
2 shallots (the long, green kind), sliced thinly
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp powdered garlic

In a saucepan, melt the butter and then add the leeks and onion, cooking over medium heat for about ten minutes. Everything should get nice and transparent.

Add the garlic and stir through, cooking briefly, before throwing in the stock, broccoli, parmesan rind and salt. Stir everything together, bring to the boil and then simmer.

While things are simmering, make the cream. Basically just stir all the ingredients together and alter the amounts of salt/garlic/lemon juice to your tastes.

Once the soup has simmered for about twenty minutes, remove the parmesan rind and attack the soup with your powerful stick blender (or go through the whole rigmarole of batches in the food processor).

Add about half of your sour-cream mix to the soup and stir it through, using the rest of it as a garnish to dollop on top.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

June 10, 2009: Cumulus Inc

I had a quick jaunt overseas in the past week (for the record: Copenhagen's best vego meal is the buffet at Riz Raz, and Little India is where it's at in Singapore), and Cindy and I decided that I needed to ease back in to the working week here in Melbourne. So Wednesday morning was spent finally checking out Andrew McConnell's raging city success: Cumulus Inc. It's been reviewed all over the Melbourne food blogosphere, with the few breakfast-specific reviews gushingly positive. First thing to note: having breakfast in the city on a workday means you'll be underdressed if you're not wearing a suit.

McConnell has a history of catering impressively for vegos, so we were optimistic that Cumulus would serve us up some interesting treats. The menu caters reasonably well to those of us not up to the Full English (although it's worth noting that vegans may be left with only fruit salad or toast to choose from). I was tempted by the Cumulus breakfast (boiled egg, toast, preserves, yoghurt, organic orange juice and coffee, $16) but in the end couldn't resist the Turkish baked eggs (with spiced tomato, labne and dukkah, $14).

These were pretty impressive - soft yolked eggs and a swirl of well-combined flavours. I missed butter for my toast, but there's really no need for it when you're dunking it in an eggy mess. I think I've developed something of a crush on labne - it's use in Min Lokal's baked eggs first sucked me in, and these finished the job. For the record, I reckon Min Lokal's are still slightly better, but there's no shame coming second to my favourite breakfast in Melbourne.

A quick note on the coffee: it's outstanding. But don't just take my word for it, Melbourne's most prolific coffee blogger agrees.

Cindy bafflingly maintains her anti-coffee agenda, instead ordering a banana smoothie ($7). It was enjoyable, but not $7 enjoyable. Unless they're using diamond-studded bananas, I suspect we could make our own version of this for about $2.50. That'll teach her to boycott coffee.

For her breakfast, Cindy went the healthy route: strawberry & watermelon salad with rosewater, mint, pomegranate & yoghurt ($11). In a similar vein to my breakfast, this was excellent but suffered from comparison. Cindy couldn't help comparing this dish with the watermelon salad at Hellenic Republic, which she thought was marginally more enjoyable.

I think the real reason that Cindy had been keen to visit Cumulus Inc was the possibility of breakfast dessert. They have a cabinet chock-full of scrumptious looking sweet treats, but we couldn't go past the baked-to-order breakfast madeleines filled with lemon curd ($2.50), which have been raved about elsewhere. They're well worth the 15 minute wait.

It's taken us a long time to get to Cumulus Inc - we're clearly not at the cutting edge of Melbourne food-bloggery - but it was worth the wait. Great food, excellent friendly service and not unreasonable prices. If I worked in the city I'd be there for coffee every day, but Cindy and I are more likely to revisit Min Lokal or Hellenic Republic if we're after something a bit fancy for a weekend brekkie.

Address: 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Ph: 9650 1445
Price: $6-$16

Saturday, June 13, 2009

June 7-15, 2009: Steel-cut oats

Last winter I tried my hand at porridge. This winter I've graduated to porridge using steel-cut oats. If you're not acquainted with steel-cut oats then read these posts by VeganYumYum and FatFree Vegan Kitchen - this is where I first discovered them. Then I discovered 'em in the flesh (or grain, rather) at Habib Wholefoods on Flinders St over summer.

Initially I thought that this breakfast would suck up as much time and money as it does water. Organic groceries are rarely cheap, especially on Flinders St, and these oats take longer to cook than their rolled rivals. But I've learned that I want only a 1/4 cup of oats each morning, making them much cheaper than the Kellogg's stuff I usually buy, and they cook in the time it takes me to shower. Best of all, they sustain me until lunch time like nothing else.

I guess what sets steel-cut oats apart from the regular kind is the texture. There's a real substance to them, something you can sink your teeth into, as well as that comforting sludginess. I've been cooking them up with orange juice, water and a few spices before stirring dried cranberries and blanched almonds through at the end. Except for this morning, when I used rice milk and the last of some apple-pear crumble:

I've got my eye on the leftover dried figs and walnuts in the cupboard, too.

Steel-cut oat porridge
(based on recipe proportions at FatFree Vegan Kitchen)
makes 2 Cindy-sized serves

1/2 cup steel-cut oats
1 cup water
1 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five spice
1/4 cup blanched almonds
2 tablespoons dried cranberries

In a medium-sized saucepan, stir together the oats, water, juice, salt, cinnamon and Chinese five spice. Bring the mixture to the boil then reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the oats. SusanV estimates 30-45 minutes, but mine have taken as little as 20 minutes, so keep an eye on them.

Take the porridge off the heat, stir through the almonds and cranberries and serve the porridge in bowls.

June 7, 2009: Leftover makeover - semolina gnocchi II

I enjoyed Maggie's semolina gnocchi so much that a mere week after my first attempt, I baked a second double-sized batch. This time I cooked up my own sauce, inspired by a sun-dried tomato gnocchi sauce at Cafe Italia, containing:
  • a defrosted and reheated batch of tomato jam,
  • a sad-looking week-old red capsicum, grilled, skinned and chopped, and
  • lots of chopped semi-dried tomatoes.
It was the ideal acid tang to offset the golden creamy discs. I ate the leftovers for four days straight, as content on the last day as I was on the first.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

June 6, 2009: Good Food & Wine Show

This year's Good Food & Wine Show has earned its share of publicity, most of it owing to a potty-mouthed, misogynist import. For accounts of the rest of the fest, the blogosphere's got it covered - Nutmeg, Ellie, Shellie and AOF have all posted their perspectives. I was lucky enough to score a ticket from Neil of At My Table, which included entry to a Cheesematters Masterclass.

I still haven't worked out exactly who or what Cheesematters are. I gather that they are an organisation devoted to promoting cheese, sponsored by several Australian cheese/dairy companies. Their brief in the masterclass is clearer - a 45-minute tour of cheese, matched wine and other nibbly bits. In addition to several dairy brands, this was sponsored by wine companies, a glace fruit business, a kitchenware company and even a clothing company (who dressed our hosts). This abundance of partners and promotion no doubt explains why we were provided with such a lavish spread for $30 per ticket.

Here's what we tasted:
  • goat's cheese with lemon-infused olive oil, dukkah, olives, crispbreads and a blanc de blanc sparkling wine;
  • camembert, brie and triple cream brie with beetroot and apple chutney, fresh grapes, crusty bread and more blanc de blanc sparkling wine;
  • Swiss-style cheese and walnuts, cheddar with quince paste and green apple, aged parmesan with fresh pear, all washed down with shiraz viognier;
  • one washed rind and two blue cheeses with glace figs, muscatel clusters, truffle honey and botrytis semillon.
It was all utterly delicious. Though the blue cheeses weren't liked by all, my own uneasy relationship with them was on good terms this day. However my slow eating was challenged by the short session, and my low threshold for alcohol was challenged further by the 10am start! Gulping down the bottled water, I managed to maintain my equilibrium, gratefully accept a showbag (including a DVD, glossy book and the inevitable promo brochures), and return to the main show floor.

It was great to unwittingly meet Neil's daughter, say hi to Mellie & EG of tummyrumbles, and hang out with PG for an hour or so, catching up and guffawing over the wonderful, terrible and occasionally nonsensical products being pitched around us. For the most part I happily kept my wallet tucked away.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

June 1-2, 2009: Heidi's Nikki's healthy cookies

Another recipe knocked off my to-bake list and shared around during a lab seminar - these are Nikki's healthy cookies, as published on Heidi's 101 Cookbooks. I was rather keen to try them now that I have my own jar of coconut oil - Heidi's been featuring nourishing baked goods with increasing frequency and the few I've tried have all been gobbled up with gusto. These were no exception, with the batch vanishing within the hour. I must admit that they weren't my favourite of the lot; the no-added-sweetener formula really showed when I used 70%-cocoa chocolate. They were very heavy on the oats, too... perhaps the real underlying problem was a shortage of mashed banana. Don't let my fussing put you off, though - these received their share of compliments after the more academic themes of the day had been discussed.

To make these cookies for yourself, head to 101 Cookbooks for the recipe.