Tuesday, September 29, 2009

September 27, 2009: OMG omelettes with hash browns

Michael could not stop thinking about the chorizo-style vege sausages that Kristy brought to the T-house potluck. And with a few dollars still left on a gift voucher for a local bookshop, I did not need to be coerced into buying the chorizo source, Vegan Brunch. This is the latest cookbook from Isa "Veganomicon" Chandra Moskowitz and it's stuffed with reasons to spend the weekend's mornings lounging round the kitchen or to eat breakfast for dinner - alongside the scrambled tofu, hash browns and pancakes I expected are polenta rancheros, pierogi, dosas and *gasp* omelettes.

I didn't really expect the omelette to be up there amongst vegans' most missed foods but there are 11 versions of this usually-eggy dish right up front of this book and a few rave reviews amongst the blogs I read. Given that we're currently suffering from some kind of gluten flour drought, I set the sausage recipes aside and hoped that an omelette filled with capsicum and store-bought sausages would compensate. And, oh, how it compensated! Managing omelettes and omelette fillings and hash browns, toast and cheesy sauce got a little harried (OK, it actually got a lot cursey and cranky and oh-why-can't-Michael-just-fix-this) but the results were SPEC. TAC. U. LAR.

So how do you make an omelette without breaking a few eggs? Unsurprisingly, you start with a food processor and some silken tofu. A pinch of turmeric for that yellow colour. Garlic and nutritional yeast are standard seasonings for such vegan savouries, and then things get interesting. Chickpea flour, for example. It adds a little something that you probably wouldn't recognise in a blind taste test but it's there and it's awesome. Then there's the black salt. Ever heard of this stuff? You can buy it from Indian groceries, either in dark greyish-pink rocks or ground into paler pink powder. It's salty, of course, but it has this sulfurous quality that is distinctly eggy. When I dipped an enquiring finger into the batter all I could say was "Whoah". When Michael, the veteran eater of eggy breakfasts, dug into his plateful his first words were, "It's so weird that this is vegan".

The cheesy sauce that we poured over the top deserves a little "whoah" of its own. Perhaps the recipe won't shock or exhilarate the accomplished vegan cook, but it's a thick white sauce with some character and some room for variation and I'll definitely use it again. Finally, I trialled the individual baked hash browns. The potato grating and squishing reminded me of the Hungarian potato pancakes we've previously made, though I didn't get my hopes up that this oven-baking, oil-spraying job would earn us anything with such a crispy golden crust. But what do I know? These were perfectly crispy-golden out, with a generous creamy centre. Another keeper!

If getting a good cafe breakfast around here weren't so easy and cheap, a book like this could have me swearing off them entirely. As it is, I'll simply swear that Isa's a genius, and very likely swear at my delusional ambition when I try to cook three of her recipes simultaneously.

Oh, and one last tip for the omelettes. The first one I made ended up scrambled 'cause I couldn't flip it over. My advice is to go against Isa's; use a lot of oil to keep it from sticking and cook it for waaaaaay longer than the recommended 3-5 minutes on the first side. You need that sucker cooked right through, 'til it's firm even on the top side, before you even think about flipping it over.

OMG tofu omelettes
(based on the recipe in Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

In a food processor blend together 300g silken tofu, 1 minced clove of garlic, 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast, 1 tablespoon olive oil, a generous pinch of turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon of black salt. When the mixture is smooth, add 1/3 cup chickpea flour and 2 teaspoons arrowroot (or cornflour) and blend again, scraping down any mixture from the sides to ensure even mixing.

For the filling, roughly chop 2 garlic chives, half a capsicum and 3 vege sausages. Heat a teaspoon or two of oil in a frypan and saute the chives, capsicum and sausages until the capsicum is tender and the outside of the sausages crisps up a little. Set the filling aside.

Heat a further tablespoon of oil in the frypan. Pour about half the omelette mixture into the frypan and use a spatula to gently spread it out into a flat circle. Cook the omelette until it has firmed up all the way through (I found this took ~10 minutes, not the 3-5 minutes estimated in the original recipe). I tend to gently shake the pan a couple of times along the way to make sure the omelette hasn't stuck. Only when you're sure it's ready should you attempt to flip the omelette! It will take only a minute to cook on the other side. Set the first omelette aside, keeping it warm, and repeat with the remaining mixture.

To serve, place the omelettes on plates, arrange the fillings on half of the omelettes and fold over the other half. Pour over some cheesy sauce if you're in the mood for it.

Cheesy sauce
(based on the recipe in Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon 'chicken' stock powder and 1 tablespoon flour.

Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a small saucepan and gently cook 1 minced clove of garlic for a minute or so. Add a pinch of dried thyme, a pinch of salt and a few shakes of pepper. Add the flour-stock mix, a pinch of turmeric and 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast. Whisk and cook the mixture constantly for about 3 minutes, until it thickens. Stir through a teaspoon of champagne vinegar (or lemon juice) and 1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and season it to taste.

Baked hash browns
(based on the recipe in Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

Preheat the oven to 200°C and spray a muffin pan with oil.

Peel and grate 500g of waxy potatoes. You need to squeeze as much water as you can out of them; Isa did this by bundling them into cheesecloth but I just used clean hands and a colander. Transfer the squished potato to a bowl, and stir through 2 teaspoons vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon cornflour and generous pinches of salt and pepper.

Spoon the potato mixture into the muffin pan, filling them up to the top (I think I made about 8). Bake the hash browns for about 30 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and crunchy.

September 26, 2009: Buffalo tofu

At last, we've reached the final entry from our 800th post giveaway! (Let the warmer weather begin!) Stru recommended the Buffalo Tofu recipe at Hungry in Hogtown, saying: "I made it as a quick dinner before heading out to a party, but made/ate way too much of it, and felt too full to eat the desserts at the party... and for me, that's really saying something!!" Yes, it really is saying something - I've been lucky enough to taste evidence of Stru's expertise in desserts.

Stru also noted that this is more of a guide than a recipe, and I agree that it's best used in that way. The tofu cubes are supposed to be deep-fried, and I almost deep-fried them using a generous pool of oil in a wok and lots of stirring, but I actually think they'd be just as good shallow- or almost dry-fried. The key is getting a crispy golden skin going. The Buffalo wing sauce, sourced from the Alton Brown, is a mixture of butter, garlic, hot sauce and salt. American-style hot sauces aren't so common here, so I took another tip from Stru and used our Chinese-style barbecue sauce as a base, adding extra garlic and butter. I really couldn't detect the butter in the dish and I doubt I'll bother with it again. The final touch is some crumbled blue cheese in the original recipe, which we also used, though Stru suggested mayo and sour cream as potential alternatives. I actually really enjoyed the pungent contrast of the blue, though I think the sour cream could be pretty neat too.

With all that frying and saucing going on, it was good to have a bed of mixed couscous and quinoa to soak up the flavour. We also served some sauteed spinach on the side, a slightly more wintery (and fridge-clearing) version of the "BIG fresh salad" that Stru wanted.

September 26, 2009: The couscous experiment - phase I

Recently a marketer representing a food company offered us some samples of a new brand of couscous. Couscous is not something we use an awful lot of and I wasn't sure I could fairly assess or review it as a stand-alone product; we'd rather not post about foods that we wouldn't use or willingly pay for ourselves. But as a scientist by day, it didn't take me long to devise a series of trials, whereby we could test this product other couscous options available to the home cook.

Let me run you through our contenders.

Product #1. This is the standard variety of couscous that's been available at supermarkets for years (aka North African or Moroccan couscous, I think). A 500g box goes for $2.39 at our nearest supermarket (that's $4.78/kg) and the only ingredient is 'durum wheat semolina flour'.

Product #2. This is the new couscous on the block, the 'pearl' variety (aka Israeli couscous, as far as I can tell). Our friendly marketer tells me it retails at $3.29 for 250g ($13.16/kg) at major supermarkets and some delis. Its sole ingredient is wheat flour.

Product #3. I picked up this moghrabieh (aka Lebanese couscous) from a new food store called Two Prickly Pears at the Carlton end of Lygon St. This 1 kg bag cost $9.95, though it might be available for less elsewhere - has anyone spotted moghrabieh on Sydeny Rd, for example? Its ingredients are semolina, salt and water.

Product #4. I've added quinoa as a final left-field entry. While the various couscous varieties are all essentially pasta, quinoa is a whole grain (and supposedly a super food). Since it cooks up to a similar consistency to ordinary couscous (product #1) and is arguably a more nutritious alternative, I've been substituting quinoa in couscous recipes for a couple of years. This organic quinoa (from Allergy Block) cost $8.30 for 600g (that's $13.83/kg).

The couscous experiment: phase I
For our first taste test, something simple. We cooked each product according to the directions on the packet, adding some 'chicken' stock powder to the cooking water and a small slug of olive oil to finish.

Product #1. The standard couscous takes only 5 minutes to prepare and roughly doubles in volume. A sunny yellow colour, it was soft (not at all chewy) and absorbed the stock flavour well.

Product #2. The pearl couscous took about 10 minutes to cook and expanded only a little. Its colour was more beige; the pearls were tender with some chewiness, and the stock flavouring clearly shone through.

Product #3. The moghrabieh took the longest to prepare (15-20 minutes) and did not expand substantially. Since it's boiled in a large amount of water (in every other case all the cooking water is absorbed), it's probably not surprising that the stock flavouring was rather weak. Even after the longer cooking time these were very chewy, occasionally tough, possibly still undercooked.

Product #4. After 10-15 minutes of cooking, the quinoa doubled in volume. The grains become translucent and lightly golden-brown. It's the outer hull that provides chewiness, a different experience to chewing the denser centres of the larger couscous varieties. Quinoa has a distinctive nutty flavour of its own and the stock only came through mildly. Michael thought this tasted "healthier" than the other products.

At the end of phase I, Michael and I agreed that we preferred the pearl couscous over the other options. It had a nice balance of tenderness and toothsomeness, and carried the stock flavouring best of all. The quinoa earned second place - it has a unique taste and texture that doesn't demand too much seasoning.

This wouldn't be phase I unless there were more couscous experiments to come. Keep an eye out for the next installment!

September 25, 2009: Cafe Vue, Friday Cocktail Night III

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

Cafe Vue's cocktail nights are always a lot of fun and we gave it another spin in September, when the theme was martinis. Though all the drinks were served in martini-appropriate glasses, the theme was followed very loosely, with none of the cocktails resembling the traditional version so much as the one we drank here last year. Apologies is advance for the particularly mediocre photos - the lighting here is not picture friendly, but then neither is consuming five cocktails.

First served was the barista's martini (pictured above) - with cucumber jelly, lime juice and mint-infused sugar syrup, it reminded us of raita and had me wishing for some onion bhajis on the side.

Instead we were served this - "mushroom risotto with... I don't know what". Uh, thanks. I take it that's the tarragon emulsion we were served with the mushroom risotto last time. And the time before that. Shannon Bennett must be really bloody proud of this risotto, because he seems to serve it to every vegetarian that walks through the door. But if we must be served risotto over and over, I'm glad it's this one - it's one of the deepest, richest risottos I've ever tasted.

The sommelier's martini didn't include any wine that I was aware of, though there was Calvados (apple brandy), blood orange and a lemon twist.

For the paired plate we received 'fried egg on toast'. This is one of those low-heat/slow-cooked eggs with a just barely solidified white and gooey yolk, panko-crumbed. Michael loved it and I rather liked it myself. The cheesy polenta cake helped and the lemon ketchup was excellent, though I would have liked a bit more. This slight imbalance might reflect the three meat-based elements that were on our companions' plates but not our own.

The waiter's martini was flavoured with Grand Marnier and apple juice, then frothed up with egg white. The egg white frothing seems to be a favourite approach here and at this stage in the evening I pulled out a favourite approach of my own - forgetting to photograph a dish. It was the cheese course, a goat's cheese served with three textures of honey. This wasn't the salty white curd that I'm accustomed to, rather a light yellow washed rind cheese, silky and nutty. The accompanying honey was served in sticky crystals, as a foam and as a jelly. None of them really enhanced my cheese-eating experience, though I did very much like the small square lavash crackers.

Surprisingly this was not a transition to dessert. Instead we received the chef's martini, a burning ginger concoction garnished with kaffir lime leaves. I loved it!

Our final savoury plate involved cauliflower couscous, beetroot, some kind of gravy and some other stuff. Don't blame me and my blood alcohol for the vagueness of this description; it was actually all our waiter could cope with sharing. (I did wonder if he'd been matching us one-for-one on the cocktails.) These morsels were tasty but the pretty plating was awkward - it's difficult to scoop up much of the sauces, or indeed the teeny vegetables themselves, when they're sparsely displayed on such a flat surface.

The maître d's martini was the pièce de résistance - a ganache with white crème de cacao garnished with bittersweet chocolate shavings. There are few things I love more than ganache, and this was a stunningly silky, dangerously alcoholic sample.

My glass of ganache was finished by the time the Valrhona chocolate soufflés arrived. Though they'd risen admirably, I felt a little deflated. Baked until a crust has just formed, they were 80% chocolate-flavoured frothy egg white. Some folks'll adore this dessert but after splashing around in the maître d's martini, I had no need for froth, more chocolate, or anything at all but water. So we lingered for an hour and I downed a good litre or more of the stuff.

At $75 a head, Cafe Vue's cocktail nights are terrific value when you're in the mood to splash out. Not every dish or drink will suit every palate but there's always something that impresses.

You can read about our previous cocktail night experiences here and here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

September 25, 2009: Chunky monkey shake

What's the difference between a smoothie and a shake? I think smoothies seem healthier and require blending; shakes sound more like they require icecream, though I suspect they're blended as often as they are actually shaken. Using this convention, I'd suggest that Jo's chocolate peanut butter shake is a smoothie in shake's clothing. The least healthy ingredient is a heaped tablespoon of peanut butter and I'd be slathering that on my toast anyway, if I wasn't slamming it down in this smoothie. Because I've started drinking these for breakfast. I can't believe how effectively they're keeping me full and snack-free until lunch time. It's just a bonus that I feel as if I'm drinking dessert for breakfast.

The initial ingredient proportions produce quite a thick concoction; I've altered them slightly to make a darker, thinner brew. I've also gone and renamed it the chunky monkey shake in deference to the chunky monkey cookies that feature the same combination of cocoa, banana and peanut butter. Shake or smoothie, peanut butter-choc or chunky monkey, it's a whole lotta fun.

Chunky monkey shake
(based on the chocolate peanut butter shake at It Ain't Meat, Babe)

1 banana, frozen or fresh
1 heaped tablespoon peanut butter
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
1 cup milk of your choice - dairy's OK but give almond, oat or soy a go!

Blend everything together and drink, drink, drink.

September 23, 2009: Shepherd's pie

I have a confession to make. This extended winter - y'know, the one that's given us 13 degree days in late September? It's our fault. It seems as though spring won't actually spring until Cindy and I have cooked all of the winter recipes entered into our 800th post competition. And things are looking up weather-wise, because we're almost there! The penultimate entry was Hannah's shepherd's pie, which was a rich and warming winter delight. It's surprising to realise that this is probably the first time we've made a vego shepherd's pie - it seems like it's a staple for many other non-meat eaters, and after this it may become a winter staple for us as well. It's simple, delicious and, as we discovered, the leftovers double as stunning toasted sandwich filling.

Lentil and mushroom shepherd's pie
2 cans lentils (this was the lazy option - I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to start with dry lentils)
1 onion, chopped finely
2-3 ribs of celery, chopped finely
2 small carrots, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
6 rehydrated shitake mushrooms (keep the broth)
Wine (if you've got some spare)
Olive oil
A vegie mash (we used potato and carrot, but anything would work)

Fry the onion and celery in the oil until they start to soften. Add the carrot and the garlic and keep frying for another few minutes.

Add in the lentils, garlic, tomatoes, bay leaf and a splash of wine and stir together. Bring to the boil and then simmer, adding in the mushrooms and their soaking liquid.

Simmer things down while you whip up your mash, and then pour the bolognese mix into a baking dish, slather the mash on top, grate some parmesan over it all if you've got some lying around, and then bake at 180 for about half an hour.

We served it (as suggested) with steamed brussel sprouts dressed in a dash of olive oil and the juice of half a lemon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

September 22, 2009: The Gem

One of my colleagues has initiated a semi-regular Pub Club, an informal gathering of friends with a common interest in sampling the beers and pub meals available around the inner north. This week it was also an opportunity for Michael and I to try the Gem bar for the first time; we'd heard good things about the food but hadn't made it to the far side of Smith St. It's a pleasant pubby space with a rockabilly vibe and a designated dining room tucked round the side.

The menu is typically loud and proud with its meaty mains but there's few options for the vegetarian. Many of the sides - such as sagnaki, green beans & feta, spinach chilli & lemon, and patatas bravas ($7 each)- sound tasty enough to justify a sharing-plates strategy. Less inspiring is the pasta with napoli and parmesan ($12), so hooray for the haloumi burger ($15) listed further down. Michael and I requested one each and when I noticed garlic aioli listed separately on the menu ($1), I put in an order for that too.

The burger isn't a big 'un yet this dish unlikely to leave anyone hungry. The haloumi is served in sizable slabs, with a smattering of salad and spicy chutney. Then there's the vast expanse of chips lapping up against it - I'm not sure the photo above does it justice! Crisp and skinny, these are more fries than chips, to be grabbed unceremoniously by the handful, dunked liberally in aioli and stuffed inelegantly into one's mouth. To do anything more dainty would take hours to clear the plate, or at least that's what I told myself.

At $15 the haloumi burger and fries is reasonable value, for the quantity as much as the quality. This doesn't seem to be the case across the menu, with some of the fancier dishes (e.g. the confit duck leg) coming in more refined serves. The Gem's a nice spot for a casual meal (and a live band!) but you can't afford to be too casual about arranging a table - even on a Tuesday night the place was packed out.

Address: 289 Wellington St, Collingwood
Ph: 9419 5170
Price: vego snacks & sides $7, mains $12-15
Website: www.myspace.com/thegemcollingwood

September 20, 2009: Cabbage rolls

Theresa's entry in our winter recipes/800 posts competition was stuffed cabbage rolls, originally from La Dolce Vegan. The idea is pretty straightforward - steam a cabbage, use the middle to make a delicious filling, and then wrap the filling in some of the outer leaves. Unfortunately, we didn't quite get this right. The little parcels turned out a bit chewy and difficult to eat, and the cabbage leaves ended up overpowering the filling flavours. Sorry Theresa - I'm sure the blame is ours rather than the recipe's (the use of an ill-fitting saucepan/colander combo as our steamer probably didn't help). The filling itself, with the bulgur, mushrooms and cabbage mush was appropriately hearty and Cindy enjoyed the leftovers as a toasted sandwich filling. We served the rolls with roasted sweet potato and radish as suggested by Theresa - any roasted vegies would work well but the radishes were a particularly excellent idea and a new one for us!

Cabbage rolls

2 cups tomato sauce
1 large half-cabbage
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups mushrooms, chopped
1 cup burghul
1.5 cups water
1 porcini stock cube
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon hot paprika
a few shakes of cayenne
olive oil

Steam the half-cabbage whole (if you see what I mean), and then peel off the large outer leaves - as many as you'll want rolls. Slice up the cabbage innards reasonably finely.

Fry the onion, garlic and cabbage in the oil, until things start to soften nicely.

Add in the mushrooms and burghul and fry some more.

Pour in the water, crumble the stock cube through and add in the spices. Simmer for a while, stirring every so often.

Stir through the walnuts and kill the heat. This is your filling!

Spoon the filling into the steamed cabbage leaves, and wrap it up into a neat little parcel.

Place the rolls in a baking tray, pour the tomato sauce over the top and then bake at 180 degrees for about half an hour.

September 20, 2009: Tart'n'round

On a Sunday with nothing important to do, Michael and I eagerly set off for Preston by bike. Our first stop was La Panella for a lunch of pies and sausage rolls. Afterwards we slowly made our way back south along High St, pausing at an Indian grocer for inessential (but fun!) supplies. Ultimately we were aiming for dessert at Tart'n'Round. We first encountered this company's vegan gluten-free sweets at last year's World Vegan Day and since then they've opened up a cafe in Thornbury. Kristy scooped their opening almost three months ago and still can't stop gabbing about how great they are.

This didn't just influence us - Kristy's ravings had inspired Steph and D to stop in for lunch too! They thoroughly enjoyed sampling the savoury side of the menu, and between us I think we covered the range of soy shakes ($6 each). Steph's chocolately version had mighty wodges of the stuff, while my strawberry one was a little more restrained; D seemed to approve of the banana version.

Restrained is not the appropriate word for the desserts on offer at Tart'n'Round. For starters, check out that black forest cake ($6) at the top of this post! The gluten-free flour gives the cake an unusual texture (one I'm not a fan of) but this dish will immediately win over lovers of mock cream and over-the-top sweets.

Michael's choc-mint mudcake ($6) is more my style. It has the fudgy intensity found in many flourless chocolate cakes but the mint takes it somewhere new - it's as if they've distilled the essence of a thousand Mint Slice biscuits and crammed them into each piece. In servings this large, it could be lethal. Oh, but what a way to die!

Dessert comes in other shapes and sizes - there's ice-cream, slices, biscuits and other confections, all available to take away as well as eat in. I don't think we'll be so bold as to order a dessert each again, but I've vowed to return for the brownie sundae whether Michael agrees or not.

Update 10/5/10: Unfortunately, Tart 'n' Round Cafe has ceased trading - they're back to focussing on their delicious sweet treats.

Address: 839 High St, Thornbury
Phone: 9480 0818
Website: www.tartnround.com.au

September 19, 2009: Parmesan pea dumplings with lemon-agave sauce

This may seem unnecessarily repetitious but if posting two pea dumpling recipes is good enough for Heidi Swanson, then it's certainly good enough for us! We've had an abundant supply of peas and wonton wrappers around here and we're not sick of either of them yet. While the previous recipe showed off its Indian influence via paneer and green chillies, this one takes a turn towards Euro-Asian fusion with parmesan and ricotta (actually, I went for the last quarter of a tub of thick cream instead).

Nevertheless, it partners prettily with the Asian-style lemon-honey dipping sauce that Will recommended on our previous post (though ours was actually sweetened with agave nectar). This sauce is mild enough to let some subtle cheesiness shine through, and its lightly acid edge keeps things lively. I might even have sipped the remaining sauce straight from the bowl once I was done with the dumplings.

The best thing about this recipe is that it makes plenty - we've been able to ration those dumplings out over a couple of meals, storing them in the freezer. The worst is that it's a filling that's liable to burst out of any too-stretched skins. I fry-steamed the first batch Lucy-style and they were not pretty. The photographed oven-baked ones were less problematic, with plenty of crisp golden crunch but not much tenderness.

It's difficult to determine the ideal side for upsizing these dumplings to a full meal. The first time round I baked Brussels sprouts and za'atar-spiced cauliflower more as a fridge-clearing strategy than a food-matching one. I think I got it right on my second shot - the strawberry spinach salad, dressed with pomegranate juice/molasses and sesame oil and scattered with smoked almonds, was just the right brand of crazy-tasty confusion-fusion to hold its own against this irresistible snack.

Parmesan pea dumplings
(based on the plump pea dumplings at 101 Cookbooks)

1 cup fresh peas
1/3 cup thick cream
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 garlic chive, finely chopped
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
zest of 1/2 a lemon
~35 wonton wrappers

Bring a small saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the peas and cook them briefly, for only 1-2 minutes, until they're tender-ish.

Drain the peas and transfer them to a food processor. Add the cream, olive oil and salt then puree the lot until you get a texture you like (I left ours pretty chunky). Scoop the pea mixture into a bowl and stir in the garlic chive, parmesan and lemon zest. Taste the filling and adjust the seasoning to your preference.

From here you should fill, wrap and cook the dumplings by whatever method you prefer. I've tried wrapping half-moons, pleats, rolls, and the folded-round triangles you see above. To cook, you could try steaming, fry-steaming or oven-baking (with a little oil spray) these dumplings.

Lemon-agave dumpling dipping sauce
(based on the lemon and honey sauce posted by Will)

1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon agave nectar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon kecap manis

Whisk together all the ingredients until well combined.

Will also suggests topping the sauce with chilli slices, julienned ginger and/or crushed nuts.

September 19, 2009: Birdman Eating II

Edit 11/03/2016: Fitzroyalty has declared Birdman Eating to be closed.

This was one of those unfortunate (but thankfully rare) Saturdays where Michael was obliged to spend a few hours at his Gertrude Street office. We agreed that breakfast at the nearby Charcoal Lane would soften the blow, though on arrival it became clear that they're not keeping to the 8am opening time currently listed on their website. (They did seem to have opened their doors by the time Michael backtracked from breakfast, though, so you can probably rely on them for a fine weekend brunch from 9am.)

While this was disappointing, Birdman Eating was an excellent consolation prize. We were surprised to see it overflowing with trendsters at this relatively early hour and were lucky to snag a spot at the front window. The menu doesn't appear to have changed much since our visit a year ago, offering plenty of novel (and veg-friendly) dishes with modest serving sizes and prices. The baked eggs, at least, seem to come in a rotation of different flavours and at the moment they're all vegetarian. Michael chose the chickpea, pumpkin and ras el hanout version ($12); the spice combination wasn't quite as explosive as he'd hoped but the eggs were cooked well and happily fuelled him through a productive morning.

While I was tempted by the black rice pudding, I was compelled to try the Welsh rarebit ($8.50). It's unapologetically cheesy, though it also had a nice fluffiness and distinct hint of mustard. A raspberry juice was its perfect foil.

Birdman's still a lovely spot to commence a leisurely weekend (or in Michael's case, to add a pinch of leisure to a working weekend). It's no insiders' secret, though, as there's constant demand for tables throughout the morning and plenty of diners appear to have travelled from further afield than the local neighbourhood for a taste of Fitzroy.

Birdman Eating now has a website.

You can read about our previous breakfast at this cafe here.

September 16, 2009: Bande A Part Pizza

December 31, 2012: Bande A Part is no longer trading.

Cindy and I have had some good meals at Pizza Meine Leibe in Northcote, but the place has a few problems: it's too far away for a lazy night out and you probably need to book to make sure you'll get a table. Problem solved! Bande a Part in North Carlton is a Meine Leibe's closer, emptier sister. We turned up with Mike and Jo on a Wednesday evening and had our pick of tables in the spacious and trendy interior.

The friendly staff quickly had us sipping our first beers and perusing the long and varied menu. After a brief power struggle, we agreed to order 4 vego pizzas to share, along with a couple of salads to give us the illusion of nutrition.

The first salad (Ms Pink, $9.50) was a delicious concoction of radicchio and green leaves, orange, beetroot and red onion, dressed in a red wine veaigrette. Despite the protestations of some at the table that fruit doesn't belong in salads, this was a hit - sweet and tangy enough to cut through all the delicious pizza grease.

The second salad, ordered for the Ms Pink naysayer, was a typical rocket and parmesan job. It was a generous plateful, and one we might not have ordered if we'd realised that one of our pizzas would look like this:

The field of dreams ($15) is a pretty standard vego pizza of mushroom, buffalo mozzarella and garlic, with a pile of rocket and parsley popped on top for some textural variety. As with all the pizzas, the base was perfectly cooked, and all the ingredients were tasty - but on the whole this was probably the least memorable of the four pizzas we ordered.

Next up was the eggplant pizza ($13) ,with roasted eggplant, tomato sauce, fio di latte, pesto and semi-dried tomatoes. This was an outstanding flavour combination - the slightly smokey eggplant working surprisingly well with the pesto and semi-dried tomatoes.

Working in the same genre as I Carusi's broccoli pizza is the Greenpeace ($13), although Bande a Part add tellegio and silverbeet to the mix while dropping off the chilli. Whether it quite measured up to the simpler broccoli, lemon and chilli combo of the Holmes Street pizzeria was contested, but the fact that we were even talking about them in the same breath is high praise indeed.

Finally, something a bit wacky: the blue velvet ($15), with mozzarella, bontazola blue cheese, potato and soused pear (Mike and Jo were kind enough to ask for the standard prosciutto from this pizza to be served on the side). This was probably the star of the show, with the pungent blue cheese applied with appropriate restraint and the sweet pears taking the edge off perfectly.

Bande A Part is not a cheap local pizzeria for evenings when cooking is too much hassle, it's targeting the same market as the I Carusis, Pizza Meine Leibes, DOCs and Oskars of the world, and it's delivering the goods impressively. It's fantastic to have a delicious pizza place nearby that you can basically walk into and get a table. The service is great and the pizzas are competitive with the places listed above. It's surprising that, despite being open for more than six months, this place has developed very little buzz (e.g. this is the only vaguely relevant web review I can find). Here's hoping they maintain a nice balance: successful enough to stay open, but not so successful that we can't just stroll up and start eating.

Address: 749 Nicholson Street, North Carlton
Ph: 9388 8950
Prices: Small vegie pizzas - $11-$15; large - $16-$20; salads - $8-$12

Friday, September 18, 2009

September 16, 2009: Embellished banana bread

It's been a challenge, single-handedly munching my way through the Green Line bananas each fortnight. (Michael will not do a thing to help, except possibly don rubber gloves and escort them to the bin.) Inevitably a few bananas started browning and I transferred them to the freezer for future baking.

I actually retrieved them in a matter of days, looking for a kitchen distraction during a working-from-home lunch time. I realised that I had everything I needed in the pantry for a loaf of banana bread and while delving into the freezer I discovered about half a cup of frozen berries - into the mix they went, along with four ailing chopped fresh strawberries. I stirred some roasted hazelnuts through the batter, and substituted half a cup of the wholemeal flour for an equal volume of dessicated coconut.

Though it looked pretty similar on the outside, slices of this loaf bore little resemblance to my original batch. The cake was especially soft and moist thanks to the coconut, and the seam of berries was quite something - in fact, I could barely detect the banana at all! If only I'd been a bit more devious in introducing this to Michael, he might have started scoffing slices as fast as I did.

September 14, 2009: Leftover makeover - silverbeet & celery gratin

Regular fruit & veg deliveries from Green Line have challenged us to plan our meals a little more. This week the celery and silverbeet threatened to wilt first, so I devised this vegan gratin as a weeknight side:
  • The first layer is chopped onion, silverbeet and celery - stalks, leaves and all - sauteed until soft in a little olive oil;
  • I poured a white sauce over the vegetables, which was made of olive oil & flour, soy milk, leftover cashew cheese and a seasoning of pepper and powdered 'chicken' stock;
  • Finally I sprinkled breadcrumbs over the top and baked it all until nicely browned.
It was delightful! Michael went back for seconds at dinner and claimed the last portion for lunch. It's a new approach for me that I'm hoping will become a habit, taking inspiration from seasonal produce, foods already in the fridge and pantry, and adaptable techniques that don't require a recipe.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

September 13, 2009: Vegan crackers and cheese

When Miss T opened the doors on her newly renovated home for a 'new'-themed potluck, I wasn't sure how best to bring something novel to the table. Trying a new recipe for a potluck would not be a new strategy at all; swapping sweet and savoury responsibilities with Michael was certainly a start! There was an additional constraint - a two-day work trip and some social plans meant that I would have little time to shop or cook.

The solution seemed to be a recipe for a food I'd never before tried to make - Clotilde's raw cashew cheese. Though the cashews need a few hours' soaking, this dish requires no more than minutes of attention as the ingredients get stuffed into a food processor. I set my expectations for 'creamy dip' rather than 'cheese substitute' and was pleasantly surprised. This had a savoury taste that reminded me very much of the ubiquitous vegan cheese sub, nutritional yeast flakes. I was rather pleased with my adaptations; replacing the lemon juice with champagne vinegar, reducing the quantity of pungently raw garlic, and stirring through some finely chopped chives.

Then on Sunday morning I tempted fate. I tried making another new food, home-made crackers, on very little sleep. I will admit to cursing once or twice (this is nothing new in our kitchen, even when I'm well rested) but I have rarely made an easier or more gratifying recipe than this one. The dough, though moist, rolls out well enough and tastes delicious. As the crackers bake, their colour and flavours deepen and by golly, they actually crisp up! Evenly, perfectly! Their taste was a teensy bit bitter (I'll tone down the turmeric next time) but the cashew dip knocked off its edge. It is quite remarkable just how complementary these two recipes are. Like crackers and cheese, really.

Creamy cashew dip
(based on the raw cashew cheese recipe at Chocolate & Zucchini)

200g raw cashews
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons champagne vinegar (or substitute with lemon juice or another type of vinegar)
1/2 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste

Put the cashews in a bowl, cover them with water, and allow them to soak for at least 2 hours.

Drain the cashews and put them in a food processor with the 1/4 cup water and remaining ingredients. Whizz the lot until it's as smooth as possible, occasionally pausing and scraping down the dip on the sides of the bowl.

Clotilde says the the 'cheese' will set over the first 24 hours, but I didn't observe this with ours. I'd suggest just dipping in whenever you're ready!

Oat Herb Crackers
(a recipe by Anni of Tofu for Two)

1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic, crushed
4/5 cup rolled oats, finely ground
1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (I'll use less next time)
extra flour for rolling and dusting

Preheat the oven to 175°C.

Whisk together the water, olive oil, lemon juice, mustard and garlic.

In a separate medium-sized bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients. Stir in the wet ingredients with a fork until it all forms a dough.

Line a tray with baking paper and generously dust it with flour. Plonk the dough onto the tray and dust the top with more flour. Gently roll the dough to about 3mm thickness, using more flour if you need it to prevent sticking. Slice the rolled dough into cracker shapes, using a pastry wheel or pizza slicer if you have one. I also poked each cracker with a fork. Bake the crackers for about 20 minutes (but watch them carefully!), until browned and crisp.

September 13, 2009: Coconut chocolate nut truffles

Others have already blogged about the wonderful vegan potluck held in Miss T's home last Saturday, so I'll just focus on what I made (noting along the way that Kristy's vegan chorizo was otherwordly in its tastiness). The theme for the event was 'new', and the easiest way for Cindy and I to do something new was for me to take care of the sweets and her to deal with savoury.

In the end, I was almost embarrassed to present my offering, chocolate nut truffles courtesy of Johanna, alongside the other stunning desserts - they were trivially simple to make, and just a tiny bit disappointing (at least when put up against white chocolate risotto and peanut butter icecream). I really liked the flavour of these little balls, but the texture was a letdown - they were a bit dry and powdery and were only really rescued by being served with a variety of delicious icecream to moisten them up. I'm not sure if I mismeasured something but they didn't have the gooiness of Johanna's version.

Anyway, here's the recipe - experiment with upping the proportion of liquids slightly.

Coconut chocolate nut truffles
(courtesy Green Gourmet Giraffe)
makes about 15 balls

3/4 cup desiccated coconut
3 heaped tablespoon tahini
3 heaped tablespoons almond butter
6 tablespoons ground almonds
2.5 tablespoons maple syrup
6 teaspoons cocoa
3 teaspoons cocoa nibs (optional)

It's barely even worth writing directions: you just put everything in a mixing bowl and stir it all together. That's it! That's your mixture. Roll it into golf-ball sized spheres of deliciousness and refigerate. And you're done. See - that's a shamefully straightforward effort for a potluck. I'll have to go for something a bit more complex next time.

PS: Mad props to Rachel for hosting us all - it must almost be our turn again.

September 6, 2009: Shoya

Shoya has received plenty of blog attention over the past few years. Japanese barbecue, degustations and lunch sets, top notch sashimi, seafood, ox tongue, foie gras, blah blah blah - what does this vego care? Well, this vego started caring when she heard from Emily Aduki that Shoya had an $80pp (vegan-friendly) vegetarian degustation menu. I filed this information away for a month or two until our anniversary came around and we could justify the expense. By then the asking price had risen to $100pp, though the meal was no less impressive in its volume and scope.

Some bloggers have been unimpressed with the service they received, yet we can only report good things about the Shoya staff. Making the reservation was easy, we were seated in a pleasant secluded space on the entry level, and our waiter was already aware of our interest in the special vegetarian menu. He even double-checked with us whether we'd prefer to avoid seafood-based stock throughout our meal.

Our first course was sumisoae, which I think refers to the terrific mustard miso dressing in this dish. We both enjoyed slathering it over the lightly boiled green beans, though I've still not come around to the distinctive texture of seaweed.

This was followed up with the palate-cleansing ohitashi - lightly boiled spinach and enoki mushrooms served with dashi and a delicate radish garnish.

Next came furofuki daikon - poached daikon radish with a sweet red miso sauce. These tender little morsels were really brightened up by the small garnishes, especially the fresh pink peppercorns.

Time for tofu! This is Agedashi Yasai Tofu, a deep-fried ball of vege-tofu goodness served with sweet soy sauce and grated white radish - a neat combination of different textures, flavours and even temperatures.

The deep-frying got serious with yasai tempura, served with more sweet soy, radish and ginger.

The usual okonomiyaki took a turn for the unexpected when we were served with mixed vegetable pancakes - dense and squat, the black truffle sauce was a darkly delicious world away from the mayo and sweet soy used elsewhere.

At this point I was getting rather full... only to be hit with more food than I'd normally eat for dinner! We were presented with these beautiful long, narrow plates - salty-steamed edamame and shredded lettuce bookended a tofu steak, stunning for both its size and flavour. I don't think I'll ever tire of those sticky sweet soy sauces, especially when they're studded with mushrooms and cashews.

I'd barely tasted the tofu when out came the vegetarian California rolls. Four huge ones. Each. I regret to report that unlike the widely-lauded sashimi, this was not particularly fresh and the avocado was floury and flavourless. I left two on my plate and feebly sipped at the miso soup. Could I possibly fit dessert in?

That, of course, would depend on what dessert was - the menu just teased us with the promise of Chef's dessert. It seemed unlikely that we'd be dealt the famous sea urchin cheesecake; I had my fingers crossed for the tofu chocolate mousse, even if I could only bear to taste a single spoonful.

What we ended up with was this layered soy jelly. The top section was all bittersweet green tea, while the milder underlayer held a few strawberry chunks and a reservoir of sweet red bean paste. It's well outside my usual dessert range and though I didn't love it I appreciated its mild, cooling effect at the end of an extravagant meal.

Shoya gave us an interesting degustation to contrast with the $100+ Mod-Oz renditions we've tried elsewhere. Some dishes were refined and tasty, though the deep-fried lead-up to some enormous 'mains' was rather bloating, and there were one or two disappointments along the way. It's unlikely that we'll be returning for a while, but we're nonetheless impressed at the vegetarian spread put on by a distinctly non-vegetarian restaurant.

Address: 25 Market Lane, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9650 0848
Fully licensed
Price: Vegetarian degustation $100 per person
Website: www.shoya.com.au