Friday, July 31, 2009

July 15-26, 2009: North Queensland

Our friends Mike and Jo grew up around Townsville, and recently we had the pleasure of following them to north Queensland for ten days of an entirely different kind of winter. You probably won't be shocked to hear that Townsville's restaurants don't offer much to rival Melbourne's dining scene, particularly for the vegetarian eater. Nevertheless, we shared a few memorable meals between walking, swimming and marvelling at the sunshine.

We first got a sense of the local cuisine via the town's op-shops...

Click on that photo to see just how many people have tossed out their microwave cookery books! You heard it here first, folks - microwaves are OUT. If you looked closely at the photo above, you might have noticed another curious title...

If it's not quite vegetarian, then it's not quite what we're after.

We next moved on to the supermarkets. Here we learned that iced tea is a 'lifestyle drink'. We indulged in a few of these (and more than a few falafel wraps) as we toured Townsville's food courts. Mike, meanwhile, exhibited an unusually high tolerance for milk by slamming milkshakes and iced coffees at every opportunity.

Between beverages, Mike also took us to a few nice cafes. Cbar, for example, had pretty views and a nice breakfast menu.

The standout dish, though, was the one of their specials - mushrooms and garlic fried in butter, served with sourdough toast, baby spinach leaves and green onions.

Masala Indian restaurant is expensive, with even the vegetarian curries costing $18 each, but it was worth it. This palak paneer was one of the tastiest I've eaten anywhere.

Julliette's is popular by both day and night. There's coffee and milkshakes, and no end of croissants and other baked treats in their display cabinet. Most popular of all, though, there's...

... gelati!

For more iced magic we also stopped by the Frosty Mango, located 70km north of Townsville, after a walk and a swim at Paluma. Jo advised us that their mango icecream is the only thing worth buying, though they also offer plenty more icecream, snacks and interesting tropical fruit.

The main event of our holiday was a wander alond the northern end of the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island. I'm not really one for hiking and camping, birdwatching and going without showers, but it was probably worth it for this...

... and this, ...


... and this little guy...

... though I was a little crabby myself by the time we got to this...

We camped here, amongst the trees...

... and collected water from a nearby creek.

Breakfast was muesli, powdered milk and grainy coffee.

For the rest of the day there was lentil soup or sludgy beans slopped into tortillas, packet-mix pasta, 2-minute noodles, and endless trail mix.

After dinner we played cards...

... and treated ourselves to steamed processed puddings by candlelight. They were horrid. But you know what? Everything else tasted terrific. Somehow, almost anything bursts with flavour and nourishment when you're sweaty, achy, itching with bug bites and camping.

Eventually we made it back to the relative civilisation of Townsville and appreciated the availability of frypans and ovens all the more. Mike created an inspired breakfast of crumpets cooked in the style of French toast - incredible! I revived some comatose strawberries with a little icing sugar and dressed a banana in maple syrup to accompany them. We slathered the lot with some lovely yoghurt from the local Mungalli Creek Dairy.

When Mike invited a couple of old friends over for dinner, he and I teamed up to produce non-sausage rolls and Stephanie Alexander's potato gratin, while Jo showed us how Brussels sprouts are done (hint: with a lot of butter!). We followed it up with mandarin maple pudding and cream whipped with vanilla and more maple syrup. Probably the greatest meal of the holiday was served on our last night, when Mike's uncle turned out an Indian feast. There was a dizzying array of dishes, with mushrooms and legumes, bread and biryani, condiments and vegetables, including a gorgeous bowl of fried spiced potatoes.

North Queensland's no haute cuisine hotspot; nevertheless our visit will probably sustain us through the winter that Melbourne's dishing out.

Monday, July 27, 2009

July 12, 2009: Sweet potato and cabbage soup

Before fleeing Melbourne's winter for a jaunt in the sun, we had time to knock off one more of our winter recipes. This time it was Kristy's recommendation - sweet potato and cabbage soup, courtesy of Gluten Free Goddess.

Despite the multitude of ingredients, it's a pretty straightforward recipe, with everything happening in one big pot. And it's tasty - a hint of spice from the peppers and cumin, the sweetness of the sweet potatoes and the crunchy chunks of cabbage and onion for texture. Ours ended up more stew than soup, and I really enjoyed the leftovers served up on some rice.

Sweet potato and cabbage soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 medium red onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1/2 head purple cabbage, shredded
1 large yellow capsicum, diced
2 chipotle peppers, with a half a teaspoon of their adobo sauce
400g can white beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups vegie stock
1/2 cup peanut butter
400mL can coconut milk
2 tablespoons vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 fresh red chilli, finely diced
2-3 tablespoons chopped coriander
1 lime, juiced
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the cumin powder to make a spicy paste. Throw in the onion, garlic, sweet potato, cabbage, capsicum and chipotles and stir, cooking until everything's softened (about 10 minutes).

Add in the beans, stock, peanut butter, coconut milk, Worcestershire sauce, chilli and coriander and stir together.

Cover and simmer the soup for about half an hour, until everything is tender. Add in the lime juice and seasonings right before serving.

Garnish with leftover coriander if there is any.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 12, 2009: Dench Bakery

While we've sampled a few delicious skerricks from Dench Bakery while in Melbourne, we've only just made our first visit there for breakfast. The reason is simple - Dench's excellent reputation means that they're consistently packed out and even sold out of fun stuff. But when we set out a little earlier than usual on Sunday, we managed to snag a table outside without any dramas.

The menu is quite vegetarian-friendly (though probably not very vegan-friendly): it begins with a range of muffins and pastries ($5.50 each), progresses to fruit and cereal dishes ($9-10.50), then gets serious with eggy cooked breakfasts and a specials board ($9.50-15.50). In an unusual turn of events Mike and Jo also ordered meat-free meals, so we've got lots to show you!

Mike ordered the chive scrambled eggs on brioche ($10.50) with a side of sauteed mushrooms ($12.50). These eggs are like the ones that Bill Granger is famous for - probably more cream than egg at all! But they are undeniably rich and cloud-like. Meanwhile the mushrooms could be the best I've ever eaten at breakfast - the tell-tale trail of butter down the plate suggests why.

Michael chose a savoury option from the specials board, a Turkish breakfast of spicy lentils on buttered sourdough with poached eggs, dukkah and labne ($15.50). It was terrific, with the eggs poached to perfection and the lentils studded with diced vegetables.

I ventured to the sweet end of the specials board, which featured ricotta hotcakes with poached quince, marscapone and praline ($15.50). The pancakes were a little thick but the quince portion was generous and the sprinklings of candied nuts were spectacular. Our waiter brought out a bottle of maple syrup to slosh as I pleased, but I was happy to skip it - this has plenty of sweetness as is.

Jo landed the cinnamon French toast from the standard menu ($13) - as you can see, it comes with generous servings of poached fruit and toasted almonds. Unfortunately the egg batter didn't soak far into the dense bread, but Jo loved the huge helping of fruit and nuts.

The service throughout our visit was relaxed and friendly, and Michael reports that the coffee was great. We walked away with a danish, bombolini and multi-grain loaf for later and they proved to be outstanding; the bread in particular was outstandingly outstanding! Breakfasts cost a few dollars extra than we tend to pay elsewhere, but they're well worth it (their secret to deliciousness appears to be butter, cream and more butter). So don't hesitate to give Dench a go - if it's packed out, there's always the lovely North Island Cafe next door and next weekend to try again.

Address: 109 Scotchmer St, North Fitzroy
Ph: 9486 3554
Price: veg breakfasts $5.50-15.50

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

July 11, 2009: Empire Cafe Gallery

21/04/2013: Yesterday while travelling along Sydney Rd we noticed that Empire has closed.
15/09/2013: Empire has been replaced by Maddox.

Cindy and I had some chores to do around Sydney Road (okay, she was buying pants at Savers and I was aimlessly browsing the magnificent selection at Brunswick Bound), and when we were ready for lunch we had to choose between three places we'd yet to visit: Red Box, Brunswick Flour Mill and Empire Cafe Gallery. Cindy remembered Anikee raving about Empire, so we wandered into its stunningly decorated interior. We settled into the cozy little front room (there seemed to be plenty more space out the back) and perused the menu.

The women who run the place are insanely friendly, and the good folks at Aduki make it clear that they'll tweak the ingredients in any of their dishes to account for everyone's dietary requirements. We didn't need to tweak anything: the vegie burger (a homemade pattie made of red lentils, roasted garlic, chickpeas, red onion, carrot, carrot, mushrooms, capsicum, basil, bread-crumbs and flour, served up with grated carrot and beetroot, lettuce mix, alfalfa and tomato if you want it, $12) with wedges ($3) for me, and a fetta toastie (slow roasted pumpkin, fetta, toasted pinenuts and baby spinach, $11) for Cindy. While we were waiting for lunch to arrive I enjoyed a very fine coffee.

Then the burger came out:

... and it was huge. Look at it! Imagine anyone attempting to eat it in the traditional burger-eating manner! You'd need two mouths. I carefully deconstructed the tower and tucked in with my cutlery. The pattie was delicious - a great combination of textures and flavours - and the piles of fresh salad allowed me to enjoy the crispy golden wedges guilt-free. Amazingly I managed to get through it all (with some help on the wedges from Cindy) - which is a testament to the quality of the burger. You couldn't eat something that size if it was bland.

Cindy's meal was a more manageable size:

It was thick with fresh spinach, liberally sprinkled with toasty little pine-nuts and smeared with a sweet and salty combination of roasted pumpkin and fetta. The fetta was a little unevenly distributed, but that didn't slow Cindy down - she mowed her way through her toastie (while sneaking a decent share of my wedges), and smacked her lips happily at the end.

The staff were wonderful throughout, sharing wisecracks and banter with everyone who came in, while ensuring we had everything we needed. What more can you ask for: excellent coffee, heaps of vegie menu options, substantial and tasty meals, great staff and atmosphere up the wazoo. The only question is why we've never wandered in before.

If you're in the neighbourhood, do drop in and buy a coffee, a vegan sweet treat or some lunch - Empire has recently been hit by an absurdly high internet bill (thanks to their generous free wi-fi policy), and could use any tips you can spare. Keep an eye out for a ''kill the bill' benefit night at the Playspace around the corner.

Address: 295 Sydney Road, Brunswick
Ph: 9387 6696
Prices: $9-$12

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

July 10, 2009: Las Vegan II

July 3, 2015: Las Vegan have announced that they're closing the cafe and going to focus exclusively on catering from now on - we've sampled their catering before and it's great.

Las Vegan update - their usual weekday lunch opening hours have been extended to Thursday and Friday nights! Finally a chance for me to visit them, rather than just hearing about Michael's (and reading about other bloggers') great meals. I made my meal one of their $8 wraps, this one stuffed with marinated tofu and tempeh chips, satay sauce and plenty of fresh salad. The satay sauce is sweet rather than spicy, and the tempeh and tofu come in sizable savoury chunks.

Meanwhile, Michael dug into the chilli 'non' carne ($12.50): a plate piled with rice, beans and salad and a side of corn chips and salsa.

I can see why this cafe is such a hit at lunch time: it's a cosy, homely venue with food that's comforting and not too junky. Hopefully these extended opening hours will bring Las Vegan a few more appreciative eaters from further afield.

You can read about Michael's previous visit(s) to Las Vegan here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

July 9, 2009: Butterscotch sultana duff and frozen yoghurt

I was a little surprised that our recent request for warming winter recipes didn't yield any comforting desserts! Never mind - that other regular feature, the Calendar Recipe, provided just the thing for July. I'm not familiar with duffs and a brief browse around the internet hasn't got me knowing them much better - they seem generally to be steamed or baked puddings, though they might also be cookies or pastries.

This particular recipe had me wondering if duffs are a product of hard times: it's egg-free and contains very little butter (though other online versions contain plenty of both). There is admittedly plenty of sugar involved, yet the sweetness comes equally from sultanas. What I found most unusual about the recipe was its consistency as I prepared it. The dough is quite stiff, like a biscuit dough, and sat barely an inch deep in my casserole dish. Meanwhile the butterscotch sauce is extremely watery and much larger in volume than the pudding dough! Over the hour that it baked, the dough absorbed much of the liquid and the butterscotch sauce thickened. The pudding rose almost to the top of the dish before subsiding again as it cooled (check out the tide lines in the photograph above!).

So, this duff here is essentially a self-saucing pudding. The cake is quite coarse (presumably from the lack of fat) and becomes quite tough as it cools so is best eaten freshly baked or patiently reheated. However the sauce and dried fruit provide plenty of moist sweetness - any sultana lover will be pleased to dig into this on a cold night.

The recipe recommends serving the duff with ice-cream or vanilla custard. Instead I decided to try the vanilla frozen yoghurt from The Perfect Scoop - it's a ridiculously simple mixture of natural yoghurt, sugar and vanilla. While I loved the flavour, this iced confection came out a little powdery and not quite scoopable. Still, there's plenty of weeks ahead to perfect this for summer, right?

Butterscotch sultana duff

1 1/3 cups plain flour
2 2/3 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup sultanas
1/2 cup milk
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups boiling water

Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease a large casserole dish.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir through the sugar and raisins, then mix in the milk to form a stiff dough. Spread the dough evenly over the base of the casserole dish.

Stir together the brown sugar, butter and boiling water until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted. Gently and slowly pour it into the casserole dish. Bake the lot for 45-60 minutes, until the pudding is cooked through.

Vanilla frozen yoghurt
(based on the recipe in The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

500g natural yoghurt
2/3 cup castor sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Thoroughly stir together the ingredients in a bowl, until the sugar has dissolved. Chill the mixture for an hour or two before churning it in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Friday, July 17, 2009

July 9, 2009: Mapo tofu: ingredient update

Since making our first Mapo Tofu last week, a couple of knowledgeable and helpful readers have helped us on our way to finding the right ingredients to perfect our dish. Michael has hunted a few of them down in a bid to make the best darn Mapo Tofu this blog has ever seen.

It turns out the Lee Kum Kee brand of Chili Bean Sauce (Toban Djan) can play the role of fermented broad beans. Its first four ingredients are salted chili peppers, water, fermented soy bean paste and fermented broad bean paste. It should be easily found in most Asian grocers and it provides some of the heat that I wussed out on the first time around!

This isn't necessarily the ideal way to add fermented broad beans though. In an email to us, eatnik explained that fermented soy beans are a cheap substitute for their broader counterpart. She went on to advise:

"The English name should be 'fermented broad bean sauce in chilli oil' although apparently, according to below at least, they also use the term horsebeans ... It also goes by the names dou ban jian, toban djan, toban jhan, chilli bean sauce and chillie bean paste."

Next up: black beans. We initially used a black bean sauce, which is more water and sugar than actual back beans at all. Will tipped us off that their Cantonese name is Dao Si and linked to the Chinese characters for further reference. Eatnik said, "Black fermented beans can be bought either wet (ie pickled) or dry (just salted). The wet ones come in a jar/vac pack and are shit (although will do in an emergency)."

More than a week since his first Mapo Tofu hit, Michael considered this an emergency and bought the vac pack. The dry ones come in a cardboard tube (the yellow container pictured on the Douchi wikipedia page) and they sound like they're worth chasing down. Eatnik promises the dry beans "are the most awesome ingredient and taste kinda like funky vegemite, which is lucky cause they look remarkably like large rodent shit." Yep, we've already been getting that vibe from the wet ones!

Finally, there's the Szechuan peppercorns. Like us, Eatnik first bought some musty old ones from an Asian grocer. Then she had an epiphany: "I went to HuTong and tried their offal slices with sichuan peppercorns, and a mouthful of popping, zingy, lemongrassy numb spots told me that I should try elsewhere for my supply." While I'd rather bypass the offal, this lively spice was something we had to try! Though they're not quite up to her first mind- and mouth-blowing experience at HuTong, Eatnik recommended Peter Watson's Szechwan Peppercorns for a milder hit. Michael dropped by his Fitzroy store, got a small taste of that mouth-numbing goodness, and left with a 20g tin for many tofu nights to come.

Our second Mapo Tofu was certainly different to, but as least as good as, our first try. We're looking forward to refining our skills and ingredients further.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

July 7, 2009: Spaghetti and bean mush

Time for the next installment in our series of warming winter recipes, submitted in honour of our recent giveaway. This recipe for spaghetti and beanballs was recommended by Penny, who's already posted the recipe on her own blog. As you can see, our beans didn't turn out too ball-y. Strangely, the mixture was far too wet and sloppy - this in spite of adding a few extra breadcrumbs and none of the kidney bean liquid at all! It wouldn't hold its shape when I fried the first half of the mixture, nor when I baked the rest, but it cooked happily enough as a bolognese sauce when stirred up with Heidi's hasty, tasty tomato sauce. It was in this form that we were finally able to eat and enjoy this recipe. And we did ultimately enjoy this a lot. The addition of plum sauce/relish/chutney (mango chutney in our case) is a twist I'd never think of and it adds a neat sweet dimension. You'll get something unique each time you try a different condiment.

Oh, and if you're concerned about the white mouldy appearance of the meal above, don't be - that's just a sprinkling of vegan parmesan!

To try Penny's bean balls, you can see the recipe at Vegerati.
You can check out our rendition of Heidi's hasty, tasty tomato sauce here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

July 5, 2009: Crème brûlée

For many years, the words 'crème brûlée' just made me think of the daggy and wistful has-been (or rather, never-was) Les McQueen from the League of Gentlemen. But when I saw a novel rendition of this dessert in Leigh Drew's Vegan Indulgence and imagined serving it in still-warm ramekins, I put it on Sunday night's vegan winter menu. It was always going to be a high-risk venture, and I managed to make it extra difficult for myself.

Leigh gives directions for making about 2 cups of almond milk and supplements this with a further 2 cups of soy milk. Not being a big fan of soy milk, I thought I'd skip straight to buying a litre of almond milk and proceed from there. Only I couldn't find almond milk at the unfamiliar supermarket I was visiting. Instead I decided to buy rice milk, which has a natural sweetness that I thought could work here. Actually, once I'd made the custard and sampled the saucepan's leftovers, I didn't care for the aftertaste of the rice milk at all! While Michael protested that the rice custard was OK, I prepared myself for binning the lot and congratulated myself on purchasing some just-in-case vegan chocolate.

The recipe quantity allowed me to make one extra custard, so I rehearsed the sugar caramelising process on Sunday afternoon. In short, it was a mess. Brown, bubbly and gooey, my brûlée looked more like a swamp sample than anything you'd want to eat. But I developed a new theory or two during the process, and I reminded myself that this night's guests were the kind to appreciate an experiment and forgive a disaster dessert... especially if I could follow it up with chocolate.

And what do you know? I totally pulled these off! The key seems to be the shortest, hottest caramelisation process you can manage - heat up the grill completely before putting these in, pull them out as soon as they brown, and give them a good 5-10 minutes for the sugar to harden. Cross your fingers and it just might end up being the dish that everyone's still talking about days later.

I got so worked up about the custard flavour and toffee texture that I forgot to fret about using agar agar - thankfully it worked a treat, producing a smooth set custard that wasn't rubbery. I'm a little curious about Leigh's use of both cornflour and custard powder - custard powder is little more than cornflour and sugar, so I'd be tempted to sub it out for its main constituents if I made this again. (On the other hand, I now have most of a box of custard powder to use up...)

Les' nostalgia trips have been overtaken. Now the words 'crème brûlée' will have me thinking: problematic, possible and still to be perfected.

Crème brûlée
(adapted from a recipe in Vegan Indulgence by Leigh Drew)

1L rice milk (or almond milk, preferably!)
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
3 tablespoons agave nectar
1 tablespoon agar agar
2 tablespoons cornflour
1 tablespoon custard powder
3 tablespoons water
7-10 teaspoons sugar

In a medium saucepan, stir together the milk, vanilla and agave. Sprinkle over the agar agar and set the mixture aside for 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix together the cornflour, custard powder and water until the powders are dissolved.

Put the saucepan of milk over medium heat and bring it to the boil. Once it's boiling, whisk it thoroughly for a couple of minutes. Whisk in the cornflour mixture and allow it all to simmer for half a minute. Remove the custard from the heat and continue whisking it for a few more minutes as it thickens.

Pour the custard into ramekins, leave them to cool at room temperature for half an hour, then cover them with foil and store them in the fridge for 24 hours.

When you're ready to serve dessert, heat up a griller as hot as you can. Sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar over each ramekin of custard and put them under the grill, a few at a time. Heat them until the sugar melts and remove them as soon as the sugar has browned. Allow the custard to cool and the toffee to harden before serving.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

July 5, 2009: Tofu, tempeh and pumpkin stew

The second course of our vegan feast came courtesy of the Fatfree Vegan Kitchen, although it was a far from fat free recipe: Tofu, tempeh and pumpkin in peanut mole. One of our guests is always chasing more protein in his meals, so we thought that a stew containing both tempeh and tofu would be a sure-fire success. And it was, but not just because of its high protein. This has a rich and complex flavour - the peanut butter gave it a nutty saltiness, the pumpkin a mild sweetness and the spices a warming... spiciness. We made some minor changes from Susan's recipe - predominantly thanks to our lack of either a slow cooker or the organisational prowess to have food ready hours in advance - but everything worked out well and a hearty, warming feast was had by all.

Tofu, tempeh and pumpkin stew

2 chopped up dried chilli peppers
2 cups vegie stock
5 allspice berries
5 black peppercorns
5 cloves
3/4 tsp. ground cinammon
1 large onion, chopped
1.5 cups diced roasted tomatoes (we popped ours under the grill until the skin blackened and could be pulled off)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 slice bread
2-3 chipotles with liberal dollops of their adobo sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
500g tofu, frozen, defrosted and cubed
200g tempeh, cut in small cubes
700g pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon sugar

De-seed the dried chillies, chop them up and soak them in 1/2 cup of the vegie stock to soften for about half an hour.

Saute the onion for about 7 minutes, until it browns slightly, and then add in the garlic and saute for another minute.

Whie the onion is frying, grind up the all-spice, peppercorns and cloves with the cinnamon.

Put the fried onion and garlic, ground spices, soaked chillies (along with their soaking stock and the rest of the stock), tomatoes, salt, peanut butter, bread, chipotles and adobo sauce into a food processor and blend until you've got a reasonably smooth paste. We just managed to squeeze it all into our food processor - it may be worth doing it in batches.

Heat some oil in a large saucepan over a low heat. Add the tofu, tempeh and pumpkin cubes to the pot and then pour the sauce over them. Stir everything together and simmer gently for about half an hour. We let ours go a bit too long and the pumpkin basically broke down and became part of the sauce. Not that this was really a big problem.

Before serving, stir through the sugar and add more salt if required. We served ours up over rice and tortillas, but you could also use delicious naan or roti breads.

Monday, July 13, 2009

July 5, 2009: Baked artichoke dip

Michael and I invited a few friends over for a vegan evening meal and kicked things off with this creamy spinach-artichoke dip from Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit. Actually, ours was a creamy spinach-artichoke-chard dip thanks to our Green Line box. I was inordinately excited by the idea of a serving a baked dip in winter, and this one was exactly the comforting appetiser that I was hoping for. It'd make a great lunch, just scooped onto crusty bread.

This is the kind of recipe where soy cream cheese is at its best. In combination with blended cannelini beans and yeast flakes, it provides a rich savoury base without any of the odd aftertaste it can have on its own. The flaky texture of the artichoke hearts is a little like tuna, and the greens prevent it all from becoming too bland and flabby. This is one of those dishes that you'll barely believe is vegan, terrific for sharing with a crowd of mixed eaters.

Baked artichoke dip
(adapted very slightly from Lindy Loo's version, which itself was inspired by the Don't Eat Off the Sidewalk! zine)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups rainbow chard, chopped
2 cups baby spinach leaves, roughly shredded
400g can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
250g vegan cream cheese
400g can artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
1/4 cup rice crumbs
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
extra rice crumbs and yeast to sprinkle over the top (optional)
black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Heat the oil in a frypan, drop the onion in and cook it until the onion is nearly translucent. Add the garlic and cook it all for a further minute. Add the chard, cooking until the leaves just start to wilt, and then the baby spinach leaves. Cook until the spinach is also just wilting, then take the pan off the heat and set it aside.

Plonk the cannelini beans into a food processor and blend them until smooth. Transfer them to a casserole dish and stir in the vegan cream cheese. Add the pan-fried greens, artichoke hearts, rice crumbs and yeast flakes and stir everything until it's roughly combined. Spread the dip out evenly across the dish, then sprinkle over more crumbs and nooch if you want. Grind some black pepper over the top.

Cover the dish and bake the dip for about 20 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, until the top begins to brown just a little.

Monday, July 06, 2009

July 5, 2009: Mitte II

Here's an update on Mitte's sweet breakfasts - there's more to the menu than that muddled Middle Eastern compote I tried the first time. Our Sunday morning companions Jos, Libby and Mike confirmed that the alternative berry and maple syrup topping to the pikelets works very well indeed. Meanwhile, I ordered the breakfast crumble ($9.50, pictured above). The poached apples and pears were steeped in a lot of liquid, but it was sweet, flavoursome liquid. The crumble was granola-y rather than biscuity, with some lovely bursts of toasted macadamias.

You can read about our previous visit to Mitte here.

July 4, 2009: Cheesy arancini with lemon mayonnaise

The next wintery recipe submitted to our giveaway turned up as an email rather than a comment - Megan sent us arancini with lemon mayonnaise. Stuffed with butter and two kinds of cheese, deep-fried and topped with that mayo, they provide immense short-term pleasure while probably taking a year or two off your life. In a bid to counteract the richness, I served them up with sauteed rainbow chard (so pretty! and not actually bitter!) and whole portobello mushrooms.

When I read that I'd be stuffing these risotto balls with cheese, crumbing and deep-frying them, I was prepared for trouble. This is exactly the kind of food I prefer to order from a cafe than cook for myself. I was astounded at how easily it all came together - the rice balls actually held their shape, and though the crumbing stages were messy, my arancini continued to hold their own in the bubbling oil. Nevertheless, they do take some effort - you'll need time and patience to pull these off unscathed.

It was actually the mayonnaise making, which I've done before, where I came unstuck. It just would. Not. EMULSIFY. I've previously learned that this can be a problem in humid conditions (see: the Potato Salad Incident of the Cairns Christmas in '06) but it seems unlikely to have been my problem here in dreary dry Melbourne. After some whinging and foot-stomping and declining Michael's suggestion that we "just use it as it is", I was about to dispose of my 'mayonnaise' when Michael suggested adding some cornflour. It seemed crazy and unlikely but why not try if it's getting tossed out anyway? A pinch of cornflour into the food processor did actually thicken up this mess of a mayonnaise, and we went ahead and poured it over the arancini. With a very acidic edge, it had just the flavour (if not texture) to complement that gooey, cheesy centre.

Pssst - if you're vegan and have made it this far through the post, have we got a reward for you! Coming very soon are recipes from a recent vegan dinner party, in three delicious installments.

Arancini with lemon mayonnaise
(halved and adapted slightly from a recipe sent by Megan, though it also appears on

1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and white pepper
dash of cayenne
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons boiling water

400mL vegetable stock
150g arborio rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
150g parmesan
50g mozzarella
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
30g butter
1/4 cup plain flour
1 egg white
100g breadcrumbs
oil for deep-frying

In a food processor, thoroughly blend together the egg yolk, mustard, salt, pepper and cayenne. With the blade still going, slowly pour in the oil, cross your fingers, and hopefully the mayonnaise will thicken. Add a pinch of cornflour if you are absolutely desperate. Blend in the lemon juice and boiling water, then refrigerate the mayonnaise.

Bring the stock to the boil in a medium saucepan, then add the rice, salt and pepper. Bring it all back up to the boil, then simmer the lot for 15 minutes. Set it aside to cool.

Grate half of the parmesan, then stir it and the parsley through the cooled rice.

Slice the remaining parmesan, mozzarella and butter into 8 cubes each. Lightly squish one parmesan, one mozzarella and one butter cube together. Spoon out roughly an eighth of the rice mixture and form it into a ball around the cheese glob. Put it on a plate and and repeat the process to make 7 more arancini.

Set the flour, egg white and breadcrumbs out in shallow bowls. Dredge the balls in turn through the flour, then the egg white, then the breadcrumbs.

Heat the vegetable oil at least an inch deep in a saucepan. Deep-fry the arancini in small batches until golden, shifting them around with tongs for even cooking. Rest them on absorbent paper until they're all ready.

Serve the arancini with the lemon mayonnaise poured over or on the side as a dipping sauce.

July 3, 2009: The Green Line

Cindy spotted Penny at Vegerati talking up home delivered organic goodies from The Green Line, and we decided that we'd try it out. They let you go through and pick out a specific order, but we both thought that a mixed box would be the best option - if nothing else it would help us to use more seasonal ingredients. For $35 (free delivery for your first order!) you get something like this:

An impressive selection of fruit and vegies. We've munched our way through most of it, and have been pretty impressed by everything. Neither of us are particularly good at eating fruit usually, but having a ready supply has done the trick. The apples and mandarins have knocked my socks off, and the pears are just about ripe enough to start on. The vegies we've used have also been delicious, and the mix of inclusions was interesting enough to stop us getting bored (I was a little afraid we'd get a box full of potatoes and carrots, and not much else). The rainbow chard was a particular winner. They have all kinds of options and free delivery for people who make big or regular orders - we're going to get a box a fortnight and see how we go eating it all.

Check them out here:

Thursday, July 02, 2009

July 2, 2009: Red wine lentils on polenta

Once we'd tried the giveaway-winning soup I decided to start trialling entries from the top with Elizabeth Bennet's red wine lentils. Not only are they winter-appropriate, but she explained that they're especially fitting for the shift from June to July: "Italians eat lentils and sausages (or cotechino) on New Year's Eve to bring luck and money in the coming year. Since it's nearing the end of the Financial Year, why not try it to ensure riches come tax refund time?"

Liz didn't leave a precisely measured recipe so I'm not sure how close this rendition is to hers. I couldn't track down fresh sage and crushed up some dry leaves instead, and this seemed to work out fine. Though I think Liz meant for us to plonk several sausages on top of the lentils, we were down to our last two home-made sausages in the freezer so I chopped them up and stirred them into the saucy lentils. And as for the sauce itself, it was lovely though I'd be tempted to reduce the volume of stock next time. Regardless, it soaks gorgeously into the cheesy polenta.

Red wine lentils on polenta
(based on directions from Elizabeth Bennet)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
1 carrot
2-3 sticks of celery
2 x 400g cans lentils, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup red wine
1 1/2 cups 'beef' stock (I'll use less next time)
1 teaspoon dried sage leaves, crushed
1 sprig rosemary, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
2 large vege sausages
1L water
1 cup polenta
3/4 cup parmesan, grated

Bring the oil to medium heat in a frypan, then saute the onion and garlic in it for 2 minutes. Add the carrot and celery and saute for a further 5 minutes. Stir through the lentils, wine, stock and herbs and simmer the lot until the lentils are tender and the sauce has reduced a little.

Pop the sausages under the grill, turning them once or twice, until they're crisp on the outside but still tender in the middle. Slice them into generous chunks and add them to the simmering lentils.

Bring the litre of water to the boil in a medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in the polenta, ensuring there are no lumps. Reduce the heat and continue whisking the polenta for 10 minutes. Remove the polenta from the heat, stir through the parmesan and allow the polenta to stand for 5 minutes.

Season the lentils and polenta to taste. Scoop polenta mounds onto plates and top them with the red wine lentils, garnishing with a few extra parsley leaves.