Monday, August 31, 2009

August 30, 2009: Felafel with yoghurt sauce

One of the meals generously cooked for me on my recent trip to Brisbane was felafel and fattoush (with crispy fried pita), by Beth and Ryan. While I devoted most of my attention to catching up with everyone round the table, it was difficult not to notice that these were the best felafel I had ever tasted. It wasn't obvious why, exactly - perhaps the fresh-out-of-the-fryer timing, the sesame seed coating, or the fresh herbs in the batter. (Maybe - just maybe - it was the soaked dry chickpeas but I'm not ready to admit that possibility.) Whatever it was, I was pretty excited that I might be able to replicate this at home. Beth mentioned that she found the recipe on The Cook and the Chef website, so it was no trouble to track it down.

Beth did an admirable job of soaking chickpeas overnight and carefully deep-frying the felafel - both firsts for her! By contrast, I lazily cracked open a couple of chickpea cans and had a go at baking these critters, as much for the reduced mess as the reduced calories. If you really crank up the oven, it's possible to develop a bit of that crunchy crust. Not quite as magnificent as Beth's rendition, but still rather good. What surprised me was how great the leftover (yes, singular) tasted the next day - less crunchy, of course, but the tender herbed centre really came to the fore. So make a lot and resist the temptation to eat them all and completely smother them in sauce!

Sauce? Funnily enough Simon's sauce is very similar to my own preferred felafel condiment, a mixture of yoghurt, tahini, lemon juice and leftover herbs - he took it further by adding a neat garnishing sprinkle of smoked paprika. A completely different, but equally awesome and additionally vegan-friendly, felafel dipper is muhammara. To fill it all out and call it a meal, I'd recommend the eat-anywhere quinoa (or couscous) salad.

Felafel with yoghurt sauce
(based on Simon's recipe from The Cook and the Chef)

1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
5 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 green chillies, seeds removed and chillies chopped
2 x 400g cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
sesame seeds
salt and pepper, to taste
spray oil

yoghurt sauce
150g natural yoghurt
3 tablespoons tahini
juice of 1 lemon
2-3 tablespoons leftover herbs (parsley, coriander, mint), chopped
a shake or two of smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to a very hot temperature - something like 250ºC.

In a food processor, blend together the onion, garlic, fresh herbs, ground coriander and cumin, and the chillies. Add the chickpeas and blend further - I actually couldn't fit all the chickpeas in the food processor at once, so I removed half of the spice paste and continued making the felafel dough in two batches. After the chickpeas, add the flour and baking powder, processing until the mixture starts coming together as a slightly mushy dough. Season, to taste.

Line a baking tray with paper and spray it lightly with oil. Form the chickpea mixture into balls, pressing them slightly flat and rolling them in the sesame seeds, before placing them on the baking tray. Give them a brief spray of oil on top. Bake the felafel for about 30 minutes, flipping them once at half time, until they're golden brown and develop a just-barely-cracking crust. At this heat, it's best to keep an eye on them and use your own judgement on when they're ready.

While the felafel are baking, whisk together the yoghurt, tahini and lemon juice. Stir through the herbs and sprinkle the smoked paprika over the top. Serve alongside the felafel.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

August 29-30, 2009: Just-as-good gyoza

Those ravioli left me with extra gow gee wrappers, and I felt a little uncomfortable with them lurking 'round the house. I love dumplings (love! dumplings!) but they're the kind of fiddly thing I'm not so good at making. I tried once, a couple of years ago, and they turned out a little weird. Ultimately, this week, the dumpling love and wastage hate won out and I gave Lucy's gorgeous gyoza recipe another shot. Michael pitched in with some stellar chopping, creating the delicately textured filling that I didn't quite manage last time.

And the folding? I mimicked Lucy's simple and pretty half-moon shapes with half the wrappers. Then I watched this youtube clip, took a deep breath, and tried pleating the rest. I fumbled through a couple, but was soon pleating quite quickly (if crookedly). I tried to hold off too much pride in my handiwork until they came out of their steaming phase - I remembered that this was when all went awry last time. This batch held their shape a lot better and a fine Saturday dinner in was had by all (we ate them with bok choy in 'oyster' sauce).

The dipping sauce is worth a mention too. The lime, tamari and sesame seeds were always going to be good, echoing the lime leaves, tamari and sesame oil in the filling, but this time we had a substitute for the optional fish sauce. Vincent Vegetarian Food in Footscray sell a brilliant chilli "fish" sauce! It's a pleasant-tasting (though less pungent) alternative that you might even be able to make yourself - the ingredients are water, soya beans, sugar, chilli, salt, vinegar and a couple of weird 3-digit codes (I suspect one of them's MSG).

If you're game for grappling with gyoza, I can highly recommend Lucy's recipe - next time (and I won't leave it so long next time!) I'll try make an extra batch to pop in the freezer.

Just-as-good gyoza
(Lucy's kaffir lime leaf gyoza, doubled in quantity to double the gobbling)

4 kaffir lime leaves, spines removed and leaves finely sliced
2 small red chillis, seeds removed and finely chopped
4cm chunk ginger, peeled and grated
4 spring onions, chopped
2 tablespoons tamari
2 teaspoons sesame oil
150g Swiss brown mushrooms, finely diced
150g tofu, finely diced
24 gow gee wrappers
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup water

dipping sauce
juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons vegetarian fish sauce (optional)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

In a food processor, whiz together the lime leaves, chilli, ginger and spring onions. (It's worth finely dicing them in spite of this step 'cause those lime leaves are otherwise tough to chew on.) Add the tamari and sesame oil and pulse until just combined. Add the mushrooms and tofu and pulse briefly again. (I prefer to retain a little texture in the mixture - I think Lucy's is probably smoother still.)

Fill the wonton wrappers with teaspoons of filling, using a finger dabbed in water to seal them. Do this step however you like or know, using simple half-moons or fancy (but not too dificult!) pleats.

Heat the olive oil in a frypan and spread out the gyoza in a single layer (you may need two frypans or two batches to cook this quantity of gyoza). Fry the gyoza for a couple of minutes, until they're golden and crispy underneath. Pour the water into the frypan but stand back and be careful! The oil will spit. Cover the frypan(s) and steam the gyoza on low heat for 3 minutes. Remove the lid and allow any excess water to cook away.

Stir together the dipping sauce ingredients in a bowl, and serve it alongside the freshly cooked gyoza.

August 29, 2009: Seven Seeds

Though it's situated in a warehouse-lined street at the North Melbourne end of Carlton, Seven Seeds has had no problem attracting a following. Just a whisper of "micro roaster" might be all it takes in Melbourne, though I understand that these folks have been successfully grinding up the good stuff for a while at various other cafes around Melbourne. Not much of a coffee drinker myself, you'll have to look elsewhere for reviews of their bean scene - I noticed blog posts by Nugmeg, Claire, that Jess Ho, EssJay, Penny and several by Ryan but a google search of seven seeds carlton turns up even more.

No, of course, I'm here for the food. The menu's small but attractive; most attractive to me because almost every dish features Dench's fine, fine baked goods. What's nominally the breakfast menu is an all-vegetarian line-up of pastries, toast, muesli, sweet and savoury, and for 'lunch' there's a choice of five hot pressed sandwiches (one vegetarian). Actually the entire menu's available whenever the kitchen's open so there's no need to get uptight about the time and type of meal you're after.

What you see up there is that one vego toastie - Dench's supernaturally awesome grainy bread, buttered and toasted and filled with a judicious smattering of pecorino, dukkah, sage and lemon zest ($9.50). The side salad is a nice touch, lightly dressed and scattered with sesame seeds. If ever a toastie was worth a tenner, it is this one.

Michael ordered the 'savoury breakfast': a plate of fetta, avocado, toasted seeds, walnut oil and more of that crazy grainy bread ($11). It's another plateful of flavours I love, with the seeds and the greens and the lemon keeping everything lively and not over-the-top rich.

Speaking of over-the-top rich, I've got my eye on their 'sweet breakfast': French-toasted brioche with pear, ricotta, toasted almonds and maple ($11)... though given Seven Seeds' neat restraint in the dishes we did try, I'm hoping the brioche will prove to be just-the-ticket rich.

Address: 114 Berkeley St, Carlton
Phone: 9347 8664
Price: light meals $3.50-$11

August 28, 2009: Indya Bistro

Edit 22/12/11: Indya Bistro is now closed. It's been replaced by another Indian restaurant called Ganesha.

Cindy and I were at a loose end on Friday night and, with the weather a bit on the ugly side, we wanted to go somewhere local to eat. Without any particular inspiration, we decided just to wander up Rathdowne Street and see what we stumbled across. Surprisingly (to me anyway), the little Rathdowne Village strip is pumping of a nighttime, with places like Rathdowne Street Foodstore and Black Ruby open for dinner, and the usual suspects like Zum Zum bubbling along. Amidst it all was a brand new place: Indya Bistro, a fancy looking Indian restaurant.

It was pretty quiet, with a few curious diners taking up some of the tables, and friendly staff greeting us and ushering us to one of spare tables. The menu is quite small for an Indian restaurant, without the dozens and dozens of curries you get at a cheaper takeaway place. For the non-meat eaters, there are even fewer choices: five entrees and four mains.

Cindy, typically, was much more excited by the entrees than the mains, and was particularly taken by the promise of 'Mumbai fries' ($7) - crunchy potato masala fries, Mumbai style.

Turns out that these are basically just fries, with a few interesting spices on them. The flavour reminded Cindy and I of some crisps we'd bought from an Indian grocer before, and the whole experience made me feel a little dirty. I mean, chips! At an Indian restaurant! It just doesn't feel right.

To accompany her chips, Cindy went for something that sounded at least slightly more healthy: gobi florets ($7), cauliflower florets tossed in a honey garlic sauce.

Turns out these were probably even less healthy than the chips. Imagine crispy-fried honey chicken but with cauliflower instead of chicken in the middle. This was sweet and oily. And delicious - let's not forget delicious. A very odd dish for an Indian place, but one that was insanely addictive. I could have kept snacking on them all night.

Being more of a traditionalist, I couldn't order anything but a curry with rice. I was tempted by the palak paneer, but decided to branch out and try something new: Diwani Handi Delight ($18), mixed roasted vegetables and cottage cheese in a funugreek flavoured sauce.

The first thing I noticed was the freshness of the vegies - when you're ordering a $10 curry, you kind of expect your vegies to be the dregs of the market, drowned in strongly flavoured sauce. But at $18, I had higher expectations for this dish, and I wasn't disappointed by the quality of the produce. The sauce was mildly spiced, and not particularly fenugreeky to my tastes, but enjoyable enough. If you ignore the price it was pretty impressive, but I'm not quite convinced it was worth $18.

Indya Bistro are just getting things going - they're still waiting on a liquor licence, and I'm hopeful that they'll expand their menu a bit as they settle in. Still, there's something a bit weird about spending nearly $20 on a curry, so for now we'll stick to cheap takeaways, tiffins and homemade alternatives.

Address: 643 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North
Ph: 9347 6387
Price: Vegie entrees $7, vegie mains $15-$18
Unlicensed (for now)

August 27, 2009: Pumpkin, ricotta and pine nut ravioli with yoghurt sauce

Before I'd even begun making August's calendar recipe, I knew I'd enjoy the flavours. The pumpkin, ricotta and pine nut ravioli filling bears a striking resemblance to some canneloni filling I ad-libbed and blogged a few years ago. One key difference is the use of mint here instead of basil, and its a refreshing alternative.

I embarked on this dinner with a little trepidation, too, due to a previous experience. I once used wonton wrappers to make ravioli, finding them awkward to assemble and somewhat unpleasant in texture. On her blog, Haalo helpfully pointed out the difference between wonton and gow gee wrappers, so I was able to carefully track down the latter from a local grocer. They're round, and perhaps a little thicker. Though there were a couple of nerve-wracking moments along the way these were quite successful. I still think I'd revert to canneloni shells if I made these again.

The one major change I'd make, though, is to the garlic. None of it is cooked in this recipe, and it has a stinging pungency that overwhelms the meal (and your digestive system for hours, even days, later). All you'd need to do to tame it is throw the skin-on cloves into the oven with the pumpkin. I've made this change to the recipe below, since I expect that most eaters would prefer to taste the ravioli this way.

Pumpkin, ricotta and pine nut ravioli with yoghurt dressing

350g pumpkin
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, skin on
60g pine nuts
50g ricotta
pinch nutmeg
24 gow gee garlic wrappers
100mL Greek-style yoghurt
1 teaspoon mint, finely chopped plus extra for garnish
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 190ºC and place a baking tray in the oven to heat up.

Peel the pumpkin and cut it into 8 slices. In a bowl, lightly coat the pumpkin slices with the olive oil and season them. Remove the hot tray from the oven, arrange the pumpkin slices and the garlic cloves on it, and return the tray to the oven. Bake until tender, turning the pumpkin once - we baked ours for roughly 15 minutes, turning at the 10-minute mark (the garlic may take less time). While they're baking, gently dry-roast the pine nuts in a frypan.

Set half the pumpkin aside (we kept it warm in the now-turned-off oven), and mash the other half of the pumpkin. Peel and mince the garlic. Stir the ricotta, half of the pine nuts, two thirds of the garlic and the nutmeg into the mashed pumpkin.

Set out half of the gow gee wrappers on a clean bench and a small bowl of water to the side. Place a teaspoon of pumpkin filling in the centre of each wrapper. Lightly brush the edges of each wrapper with water and place a second wrapper on top, pressing down the edges to seal in the filling, and pushing out as much air as possible.

For the dressing, whisk together the remaining garlic, yoghurt and mint. Chop the remaining pumpkin into bite-sized pieces.

Bring a large saucepan of water to boil and gently place the ravioli in it. Cook them for about 3 minutes, or until they float to the surface. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and arrange them on plates. Spoon over the yoghurt dressing, scatter over the pumpkin pieces and remaining pine nuts, then garnish with more mint.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

August 26, 2009: Chocolate-pistachio cake

With Cindy coming back to Melbourne's drab winter after two weeks of sunny Queensland sun, I figured I needed to do something to soften the blow. And clearly that something had to involve chocolate. I'm not usually much of a baker - in fact, I think if you trawled the blog archives, you'd find only one baking post by yours truly - so I figured a cake would have both chocolate and an element of surprise.

I turned to Nigella to find something suitably indulgent, and settled on a chocolate-pistachio cake, mainly because Nigella promised it was relatively straightforward to put together. And I guess she's probably right - unless, like me, you struggle with simple baking tasks like separating eggs or melting chocolate. Still, I survived, and everything seemed to work okay. We ended up with a pretty delicious cake anyway - tasing mostly of rich dark chocolate, with just a hint of all the ground up pistachios in the batter.

Chocolate pistachio cake
300g dark chocolate
150g caster sugar
160g pistachios
150g soft unsalted butter
6 large eggs, separated
150ml double cream
1/2 lemon

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees.

Melt half of the chocolate (I did it in a saucepan, but Nigella recommends a double boiler).

While it's melting, grind up 150g of the pistachios with 50g of the sugar in a food processor until you've got a fine powder. (Keep an eye on the chocolate, you don't want to burn it!) Add the butter and another 50g of sugar and blend into a smooth paste.

Take the melted chocolate off the heat and leave to cool.

Add the egg yolks to the food processor one at a time, pulsing after each one goes in. With the food processor running, poor in the cooled, melted chocolate and blend it all together.

Wipe the inside of a big mixing bowl with half a lemon, and then whisk the egg whites and salt in it until you get soft peaks. Then add the rest of the sugar, whisking together until you've got a glossy, firm mix. Take a big dollop of the egg-white mix and add it to the batter in the food processor, blending together. Now, dollop this batter over the egg-white mix and fold it all together to finalise the batter.

Pour the batter into a prepared cake tin and bake at 190 degrees for 20 minutes, before turning the heat down to 180 degrees for another 25 minutes.

In the meantime, the icing is pretty simple: melt the rest of the chocolate in a small saucepan with the cream, and then whisk briefly to thicken. Wait until the cake has cooled to pour the icing over the top, and then sprinkle with the remaining pistachios (you may want to chop them up a bit).

Friday, August 28, 2009

August 19-22, 2009: More of West End, Brisbane

Perhaps you've noticed the declining frequency of blog posts appearing here these last six weeks. (Hopefully you haven't noticed a decline in enthusiasm within those few posts; we still love doin' what we do here.) There was that holiday, and then we accommodated friends for a few weeks while they searched for a more permanent Melbourne home - their contrasting eating habits altered our own. Michael disappeared to Queensland for almost a week and I worked long hours, subsisting on soft tofu tacos and brightly wrapped items that could just barely be described as food. I was working towards my own trip to Queensland, where I wanted to pack as much family, friends and food as I could around a conference.

And I did. I saw old family friends, new babies, people I've known since we were children ourselves, and I was utterly spoiled with their home cooking. Chocolate date cake, sesame-crumbed felafel, cheesecakes and gnocchi, afternoon teas and punnets and punnets of new-season strawberries. All the while the sun shone, unseasonably hot.

Have you attended many conference dinners? I've been to a couple of crackers, but many more disappointments. (It must be difficult to arrange an accessible venue, entertainment, and simultaneously serve pleasing meals to several hundred delegates.) This time a few colleagues and I decided instead to spend what we could have on that conference dinner, on a smaller but special dinner elsewhere.

It started at the Lychee Lounge. This bar was open on Boundary St for all the years that I lived in West End, yet I never stopped in for a drink. Its hip cocktail lounge style, common in Melbourne, wasn't my scene - I was a frugal full-time student, more casually dressed than the stilettoed girls visible out front (still am) and the Pavilion across the street offered cocktails at half the price on Sunday evenings.

I can now confirm that it's a lovely spot to settle in with friends, drinks and even a few snacks. The cocktail menu is extensive and not unreasonably priced - I sampled their signature drink, the Lychee Lounge Martini, with lychee-infused vodka, lychee juice, triple sec, a squeeze of lime and a frozen lychee garnish ($13). The snacks are deliciously pretentious - I couldn't get enough of the honey and shichimi crushed potato chips, served with tomato jam and lemon mayo ($7).

The main event, though, was dinner at Mondo Organics. Having enjoyed a few brunches and one terrific cooking class at Mondo when I was a local, I was looking forward to this meal. I always remembered their efforts to cater for vegans and coeliacs and with their devotion to local produce, it seemed a good choice to share with some interstate vistors too. The Mondo folks got us started with an amuse bouche of blended beetroot and goat cheese with a acidic kick and slender spelt bread side.

One of the evening's specials was truffled and scrambled duck eggs served with puff pastry - a deliciously rich dish.

Another memorable entree was the spelt ravioli filled with Stilton and quince, walnut oil and opal basil ($18) - the nutty crispness on the outside perfectly offset the oozing cheesy filling.

The featured vegetarian main of the season was sweet potato gnocchi with tallegio, peas, enoki mushrooms and oloroso sherry ($28). I was immediately impressed with the depth of flavour in the stock-like sauce - it's a bit of a rarity when there's no meat involved. The gnocchi were smooth and silky, and the peas and mushrooms worked well. I surprised myself by setting aside much of the cheese; it was just too intense up against that sherry-soaked sauce.

Across the table we tried two of the desserts. First up, orange blossom dumplings with poached orange, whipped vanilla tofu and pistachio ($14.50). Though they looked like little doughnuts the dumplings had a course heaviness that reminded me of a flourless orange cake; everyone loved the pistachio-flavoured fairy floss garnish.

More impressive still was the amaretti-crumbed goat's curd cream cheesecake, served with fig compote and vincotto coulis ($14.50) - a stunning, slightly sweeter alternative to finishing up with a cheese platter.

Our meals at Mondo were unrelentingly rich. There were a couple of minor disappointments amongst the dishes and some overindulged stomachs by the end of the night, but these were eclipsed by wonderful entrees and really creative desserts.

A cheaper way to treat yourself in West End is to head to Three Monkeys Coffee and Tea House. The rambling rooms offer plenty of nooks to share secrets and enormous slabs of cake with a friend. Further out back is a leafy courtyard, where you can sip tea and play backgammon.

Air-conditioned indoors and well-shaded out back, it's one of the coolest, calmest places to be in the height of this city's summer. And in spite of the heat, I couldn't have felt cooler or calmer after my fortnight catching up with Brisbane.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

August 11, 2009: Monsieur Truffe

January 2016: The Collingwood branch of Monsieur Truffe has closed - they're still connected to East Elevation in Brunswick.

Remember the 8-stop chocolate tour that I embarked upon with my friend Katy? It was long before Monsieur Truffe had set up shop on Smith St, so when her birthday approached I thought I'd supply Katy with a chocolatey epilogue to our tour. Michael and I made an outing of it, treating ourselves to some of Monsieur's pastries before work. The shop is a cosy space, with a smattering of tables and a couple of lounge chairs, rendered cosier still by the warm service.

Michael ordered a mocha, and it was like no other mocha I've ever tasted - deeply, darkly flavoured bittersweet chocolate with that bonus bitter edge from the coffee. Though it's restrained in size, the thick creamy texture and complex flavour means it's almost a meal in itself. But of course Michael didn't know that when he ordered pastries...

The staff initially forgot our pastry order and once reminded, insisted that we wouldn't pay for them, further suggesting that we try the last chocolate croissant as well as an almond one. And whoah, these croissants are the REAL. DEAL. Not the soft, squidgy, golden croissants I'm accustomed to, they're a burnished brown that shatters into buttery flakes on contact with a knife or a tooth. The chocolate is more of the gorgeous dark stuff found in the mocha, and the almond analogue is equally delightful.

The prices far outstrip the cost of a Cadbury family block but oh, so do the products. This trailing stop on my chocolate tour of Melbourne may actually be the ultimate destination.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

August 10, 2009: Enlightened Cuisine III

Edit 25/04/2017: Enlightened Cuisine is now rebranded as Vegie Kitchen.

Mike and Jo typically share each other's meals whenever they eat out but negotiations became far more complex (albeit more polite) when they joined Michael and I for dinner at Enlightened Cuisine. Each individually wanting to try as many dishes as possible, our best strategy had to be a group ordering consensus. We eventually got there, with the help of a pot of tea and some patient wait staff.

The first dish to arrive was sweet corn soup for Jo ($5.50). Carrying tiny tofu cubes and shredded mock chicken, she was quite happy with this one and the rest of us enjoyed a taste too.

Lettuce cups ($4.50 each) offered some nice crunch, though the flavour was weak and salty.

Mike's curry puffs ($4.50 for two) weren't quite what he'd hoped, either. Though he was expecting puffy Indian-style samosas, these turned out to be small but dense triangles of filo-style pastry. They at least had a pleasantly spicy vegetable filling.

When it came to mains, Michael was most adamant that we would have Kung Po Fish ($16.90). The faux fish (Lamyong-style pieces) were accompanied by plenty of cheery vegetable chunks and almost as many whole dried chillis! Michael's convictions were well-founded, with this dish being one of the night's best.

The plum sauce duck ($16.90) was popular too, maintaining its crispness under a light but syrupy sweet sauce.

Jo and I agreed that some nostalgic lemon chicken ($16.90) was a must. The sauce was impressively acidic and naturally hued; unfortunately the chicken was stodgy, almost gluey in a too-thick batter.

Our last main was the spicy eggplant ($16), recommended by Lisa. It did indeed have a nice kick to it, and the eggplant was at optimum melt-in-the-mouth texture. Also along for the ride were tofu chunks and more mock meat.

Though Jo had staked a claim on deep-fried ice-cream early in the evening, none of us could cope with the thought of it after such a feast. Even sharing amongst a group, it seems impossible to sample the Enlightened Cuisine menu to full satisfaction!

You can read about our previous visits to Enlightened Cuisine here and here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

August 5-8, 2009: Brisbane

A brief work trip to Brisbane gave me a great opportunity to take a quick run through the vego scene there. It's booming, with two new veg-only lunch places popping up in the CBD since I'd last visited. First up, VegeRama (1/300 Queen Street, weekday lunches only). It's basically a vegie hot box place, with a wide selection of curries, stir-fries and other treats to choose from. I couldn't go past the burger (which was vegan) - a marinated tofu pattie, with a satay/hummus sauce, grated carrot and beetroot, and other salady bits and pieces on a wholemeal bun ($8 ). It's pretty tasty, but maybe a little pricey for what is really a very simple sandwich. Still, the remaining options at VegeRama looked worthy of investigation, and it's fantastic to see a veg place sitting in a food court amongst all the other horrors.

The second new place in town is the Sanitarium Kitchen (145 Eagle Street), run by the folks who produce all of this stuff. Given the amount of faux meat they churn out, I was expecting a cafe that was high on sausage and bacon-based dishes, but Sanitarium are shooting for something with broader appeal: sandwiches, pastas, curries and tagines, along with their signature dish (and my lunch order), Spanish bean quesadilla ($12).

Inevitably this was a little disappointing - my lunch-time Mexican standards have been raised too high by Trippytaco. The filling was a little on the bland side and, while the sauces were nice enough, a bit of zing was missing. Perhaps I should have ordered something else - Sanitarium was overrun when I visited, with almost all the tables full and a queue of takeaway customers snaking out the door. It's worth noting that the menu doesn't provide any help for vegans, and from all reports Sanitarium aren't trying particularly hard to cater for a vegan audience, which seems like a pretty poor oversight to me.

With the new boys out of the way, it was time to return to some old favourites. Kuan Yin (198 Wickham St, Fortitude Valley) is possibly the best value mock-meat restaurant in Australia. For $10, I got this:

The 'combo' ('fish', 'chicken' and 'pork' I think), comes in one of their cute bento boxes, with all kinds of delicious sides. Throw in a lychee bubble tea, and you've got a delicious and affordable treat. Their hours are a bit weird - I think they close at 8pm most nights - but no trip to Brisbane is complete without a quick visit.

Saturday morning saw me trudging through Oxley Creek Common (highlights: black-shouldered kite, brown quail, scarlet honeyeater), and then swinging past the West End Markets to get some fried breakfast from Ykillamoocow (West End Markets, Davies Park - Saturdays 8am-2pm).

For $7 I wandered off with a dagwood dog and a no bull pie (both vegan). The pies are fantastic - only bettered by the homemade version (I'd rate them slightly above La Panella), and the dagwood dog was pretty great as well (let's face it, I was just excited to be eating a vegie dagwood dog). The markets themselves have changed since we used to live nearby - lots more stalls in seemingly less space = a very crowded morning.

Finally, it was time for a visit to an old favourite: Govinda's (99 Elizabeth Street). It's Krishna food, but it's Krishna food done well and done cheaply (between $6 and $10 all you can eat).

Throw in a run of four straight sunny days with temperatures in the mid-twenties, and it's enough to make you think about moving back...

Sunday, August 09, 2009

August 9, 2009: Nutella ice cream

When Michael went away for work for a few days, I too worked. A lot. My usual 7-8 hour weekdays stretched to 9 or even 10 hours, I spent much of Saturday in the office and even blew off a friend's birthday drinks to review an article on Saturday night. I returned to the office on Sunday morning, but before immersing myself in equations I made a plan. I would go home early, sink into the couch and watch a doco (where the maths is so much more beautiful than mine) and cook something fabulous, just for me. It was time to break out Clotilde's simple-yet-stunning nutella icecream recipe.

How simple, you ask? Here it is, in 12 words: whisk together equal weights nutella and evaporated milk; chill, churn and freeze. Sure, you can embelish it - go for a high-end nutella alternative or, as I did, add some chopped hazelnuts for a bit of crunch - but the core recipe is pretty special just on its own. And just how stunning? Licking the drippings from the bowls and utensils was enough to satisfy me that day, though I felt compelled to have a little taste 4 hours later, when the texture was likely to be at its peak. It was like something from a dream, with the rich fluffiness of a chocolate mousse - I was disappointed that my full stomach precluded me from eating any more.

But, wonder of wonders, the texture was very nearly as good more than 48 hours later when Michael joined me for dessert! While most homemade icecreams freeze hard and dense, this one is scoopable straight from the freezer. (I've tried not to muse too long or deeply about which of nutella's highly processed, nutrient-scarce ingredients has that effect.) Rich and sweet, it's also very, very easy to stop at one scoop. Simple recipe, stunning results, built-in portion control - is there anything that Clotilde's nutella icecream can't do?

August 9, 2009: Vegetarian cassoulet

This is not the kind of recipe I'd instantly resolve to try on sight. (Indeed, as much as I enjoyed Johanna's post about this cassoulet when she first published it, I didn't bookmark it at all.) Yet Johanna submitted it to our giveaway as one of her favourite winter warmers, and I must admit that she has a pretty good track record with recommendations. This proved to be no exception.

I tire quickly of the veges-in-tomato-sauce style of vegetarian cooking, but this has a little more going for it. There's fennel, left to brown amongst the onions and garlic, and there's a comforting mix of breadcrumbs, parmesan and parsley allowed to crisp on top before it's stirred through the casserole. Johanna made note of two other properties that are popular in this household: the flavours develop over several days and there's enough for several meals. (Even the version below, which is probably two-thirds the original quantity.) Just what we want for lunchbox leftovers!

Vegetarian cassoulet
(based on a recipe at Green Gourmet Giraffe)

1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion
1 small fennel bulb
3 cloves garlic
1 large carrot
1 stalk celery
2 Lebanese eggplants (they're roughly the shape and size of a zucchini)
200g mushrooms
2 tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons mixed dried herbs (I used parsley, oregano and sage)
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup stock
400g can butter beans, drained and rinsed
75g red lentils
3 tablespoons parsley
100g parmesan
100g bread crumbs

Finely chop the onions and fennel and mince the garlic. Heat the oil in a large pot - if you have an oven-proof one, use that. Add the onions, fennel and garlic and cook them over low heat, stirring often, until browned (about 20-30 minutes).

While that's cooking, continue chopping, getting the carrot, celery, eggplant, mushrooms and tomato into nice bite-sized chunks. When the onions are ready, add all those veges to the pot, along with the tomato paste, mixed herbs, bay leaf, vinegar and stock. Bring it all to the boil, then cover and simmer it for 10-20 minutes. Drain and rinse your beans, adding them and the lentils to the pot to simmer for a further 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Chop the parsley and grate the parmesan.

Once all that simmering's done, it's time to get baking. If your pot's not oven-proof, transfer the mixture to a casserole dish that is. Scatter two-thirds of the parsley, parmesan and breadcrumbs over the cassoulet, then bake it for about 20 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to break the crust and stir it into the cassoulet; sprinkle over the remaining parsley, parmesan and breadcrumbs and bake for a further 20 minutes.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

August 3, 2009: Gertrude Street Grub - Charcoal Lane

The old Aboriginal Health Service on Gertrude Street has been something of a landmark, despite sitting empty for more than a decade. The giant red, yellow and black facade was a reminder of pre-gentrification Gertrude Street and a symbol of the close connection Indigenous Victorians felt to the area. So there was a bit of community consternation when Mission Australia was given a 10 year lease on the building late last year. While it remains problematic that some local Indigenous groups were unhappy with how this crucial part of their local heritage was passed on to a non-Indigenous group, the basic premise of Mission Australia's newly opened restaurant, Charcoal Lane, is a positive one.

Taking some inspiration from Fifteen, Charcoal Lane has been set up to provide a place for Indigenous young people to receive training in the hospitality industry, under the supervision of some of Victoria's finest restauranteurs. It's a fine idea, and hopefully one that pays off over the coming years. The restaurant, named after the nearby lane where local Indigenous people congregated, produces slightly fancy Australian-inspired meals, with a preponderance of fish and meat dishes. Vegetarians get a few decent options, but are limited to appetisers and entrees.

I took advantage of the $35 two-course lunch offer, starting off with some spiced yam fritters served with a bush tomato chutney. The yams were slightly sweet with a depth of flavour added by some unidentified spices, and were dunked liberally in the slightly smokey, tomato chutney. They were similar in structure to a bhaji, and I immediately lowered the tone by eating these with my fingers - I'm sure I'd have made an even bigger mess with cutlery.

The vegie main on offer (an upsized entree) was a pumpkin gnocchi, with fried sage, macadamia nut butter and saltbush. I'm often annoyed by the fallback of meaty restaurants on gnocchi or risotto for their vegetarian offering, but this was a revelation - crispy little pillows of pumpkin gnocchi, surrounded by a glorious combination of flavours. The fried sage and the saltbush contributed a kind of fancy salt and pepper combo, while the chunks of macadamia and the macadamia butter were rich and smooth. I could have eaten two bowls.

They also offer a black rice risotto, which looks amazing (alas my photos do not), but was apparently a little on the bland side.

We had a very satisfying (and upmarket) meal at Charcoal Lane. The restaurant is only open during lunch until mid-August, when they will extend their hours to dinner and weekend breakfast. Similarly, they're still going through the process of getting a liquor license. Regardless, it would be well worth sneaking in there for a quick lunch now, before word gets around and the place starts to book out.

Address: 136 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
Ph: 94183400
Prices: Vegie entrees $16-$17, two-course lunch $35
Unlicensed (for now!)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

August 2, 2009: A healthier peanut butter cookie

Browsing through the archives, I see that this isn't the first time I've baked and blogged peanut butter cookies. But this recipe, from 101 Cookbooks, distinguishes itself as a healthier, veganer version - something I'm happy to pack for my mid-afternoon munchies at work. A little olive oil augments the peanut butter for the fattiness, sweetness comes from maple syrup, and the flour is 100% wholemeal.

If nothing else, these cookies have demonstrated how my eating preferences have influenced Michael over the years; when I first met him he had minimal interest in dessert. Yet on Monday night after dinner it was he who rummaged through the kitchen seeking something sweet, ultimately lamenting that these cookies tasted "too healthy". I don't know about that, but they're not quite as sweet as your typical American-style cookie (which I don't think is anything to be ashamed of) and the wholemeal flour certainly adds some weight and chew to them (which I want when mild mid-afternoon hunger strikes).

The dough comes together easily by hand and is a little sticky (though the five minute rest allows it to dry out a little). It expands quite a bit in the oven so spoon small and leave plenty of space on the tray! These cookies are moist and just a little crisp on the outside. They're very nearly fantastic. The one thing that doesn't quite sit right with me is the use of maple syrup to sweeten the peanut butter - they mellow and intermingle over a few days, but it's not the same as the peanut butter-brown sugar partnership I'm accustomed to and will probably revert to. Regardless, it's a splendid recipe and one that Heidi has taken a lot of time, patience and flour to perfect - any improvements will be incremental and serve only my very specific, personal peanut butter cookie expectations.

A healthier peanut butter cookie
(a recipe from 101 Cookbooks)

2 cups wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray or two with paper.

In a smallish bowl, stir together the flour, bicarb soda and salt. In a larger bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients until well combined. Stir the flour mixture into the peanut butter mixture until just combined and allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes.

Drop spoonfuls of the dough onto the baking trays, leaving plenty of space for expansion between them. Bake for about 10 minutes, keeping a close eye on them from the 8 minute mark onwards. Allow the cookies to cool on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

August 2, 2009: Zippy warm potato salad

For Sunday night's dinner I planned chickpea burgers. Our favourite burger side is oven-baked potato 'chips' but with 4-6 eaters expected and 8 burger patties prepped, the oven couldn't fit my side-dish wish. My online recipe stash failed to inspire and I pulled out a few choice recipe books - here I found what I was after almost immediately! A 'warm potato salad with green olive dressing' from vegie food, with all heating provided atop the stove.

Though it looked to be precisely what I wanted, I prepared myself for some disappointment. Most of the photos in vegie food show food that's just my style, yet for every great recipe we've tried, there's been one with terrible timing or quantities.

Thankfully this one was bang on. It takes little more than the 15 minutes the potatoes need to boil - time I had while the burgers were baking. All the spuds need then is a quick toss through a zippy dressing of lemon and olive oil, green olives, capers, parsley and garlic. Served hot, it's everything I was after in a chip replacement. Served at room temperature, I reckon it'd make a lovely alternative to the standard mayo-drowned picnic potato salad.

Zippy warm potato salad
(from vegie food)

1.5 kg small waxy potatoes
1/2 cup green olives, pitted and chopped
2 teaspoons capers, chopped
3/4 cup parsley, chopped
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Boil the potatoes for 15 minutes or until just tender (test them with a knife).

While the potatoes are boiling, whisk together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl.

When the potatoes are done, drain and cool them just until you're able to handle them. Slice the potatoes into large chunks, then toss them through the dressing.

Serve the salad warm or at room temperature.

Monday, August 03, 2009

August 1, 2009: Roasted vegetables with tomato charmoula and quinoa

I got myself back into a cooking groove on the weekend by picking out a recipe submitted to our winter giveaway. Dmargster originally found this one at FatFree Vegan Kitchen and promised "You will enjoy this or your money back!"

While there's quite a few different elements vying for your palate's attention, he's right that this is simple to prepare: the chopped vegetables go into the oven with a scant but spicy dressing based on crushed tomatoes, while the saffron, garlic and currants just join the quinoa for its usual stove simmer. Better yet, it's the kind of thing you can prepare in bulk and pack up for several lunches at work.

The lightness of the tomato chermoula coating that initially had me worried about impending blandness, but actually there's plenty of flavour to be had. Michael tends to prefer things saucy (make of that what you will), so if I make this again, I might try padding out the chermoula with some tomato paste as a compromise. I didn't really like the eggplant in this guise but the cauliflower, zucchini and chickpeas were lovely.

Roasted vegetables with tomato charmoula and quinoa
(based on a recipe at FatFree Vegan Kitchen, recommended by Dmargster)

2 roma tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon 'chicken' stock powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon fresh marjoram, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small eggplant, chopped into chunks
1 small cauliflower, cut into florets
2 zucchinis, chopped into chunks
1 red capsicum, chopped into chunks
2 x 400g cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup quinoa
2 cups 'chicken' stock
few threads saffron, crushed
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons currants

Halve the tomatoes and place them cut-side-down on a tray. Grill them until the skins blacken and pull away from the flesh. Remove the skins and mash the tomatoes in a small bowl with a fork. Stir in the stock powder, cumin, paprika, pepper, ginger, marjoram, cayenne and salt.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Put the eggplant, cauliflower, zucchini and capsicum into a large baking tray and stir through the spiced tomato mush. Roast the vegetables for about 30 minutes, add the chickpeas, and roast for a further 15 minutes.

During that last 15 minutes, stir together the quinoa, stock, saffron, garlic and currants in a saucepan and bring them to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the saucepan and cook the quinoa gently until all the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes).

Fluff up the quinoa, spoon it onto serving plates and top it with the roasted vegetables.