Wednesday, October 28, 2009

October 28, 2009: Agar agarrrrgh

In a bid to use some leftover wholemeal shortcrust and a few oranges, I set about making a tart. My vision was a wholesome, non-sweet crust filled with a sweet cashew cream, topped with orange segments set in an orange juice-agar agar jelly.

The crust was passable, though I'll try something different next time. The cashew cream was great and I'll share it with you in a future post. I even managed to segment the oranges rather nicely, thanks to this video tute. My undoing proved to be the orange juice-agar agar jelly. I used this recipe from the Vegetarian/Vegan Society of Queensland website. The agar agar gelled very effectively as I stirred it into the water over heat, then turned to hideous jellified strings when I added it to the orange juice. The remaining liquid juice didn't ever set, ultimately leeching into the crust and making for one soggy tart.

Can you offer me any agar agar advice? I wonder if the orange juice should have also been hot or warm as I stirred in the agar agar-water mixture. What have you made (succesfully or unsuccesfully) using agar agar?

October 28, 2009: Spicy tempeh and broccolini pasta

A couple of weekends ago, Michael and I wandered down Nicholson St and ran into Maria's Pasta Shop. Vaguely remembering some positive blog reviews, we picked out some frozen pasta packages for future meals. The eggplant and roasted capsicum ravioli made its way into this slight adaptation of Isa Chandra Moskowitz's spicy tempeh and broccoli rabe with rotelle. While the recipe's rotelle isn't a filled pasta, I can highly recommend the complexity and comfort that ravioli add to this dish. In particular, Maria's pasta is the most enjoyable store-bought ravioli I've eaten - it actually tastes of roasted capsicum!

Otherwise the dish has an Italian sausage theme, featuring tempeh chunks cooked in a spicy tomato broth - they've a strong yet pleasant aftertaste of fennel seeds. I don't know that I've come across Isa's preferred broccoli rabe, and after some internet browsing came to the conclusion that broccolini would make an adequate, if different, substitute. And even though I overcooked those greens, this was one fine meal. Michael loved it, and ended up torn between eating seconds and saving leftovers for lunch (he managed to do both).

My one difficulty with this recipe was that it demanded the tempeh, greens and pasta be cooked in separate pots. It made for a messy, busy kitchen and I didn't schedule things well. Next round, I'll be experimenting with cooking the tempeh and green veges in a single pan while the pasta bubbles in the background.

(Vegans beware: The ravioli we used on this night isn't vegan, though I believe some of Maria's other products might be. I've appended the vegan or vegan-friendly tag because this recipe is likely to do brilliantly using any number of other pastas.)

Spicy tempeh and broccolini pasta
(based on spicy tempeh and broccoli rabe with rotelle in Veganomicon)

600g tempeh, diced
1 cup stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons tomato paste
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons chilli flakes
2 teaspoons oregano
4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
2 small bunches broccolini, chopped coarsely
500g pasta
salt and pepper

Place the tempeh in a large frypan over medium heat. Whisk together the stock, soy sauce, tomato paste, 2 of the garlic cloves, the fennel seeds, chilli flakes, and oregano. Pour the mixture over the tempeh, stir it through, and allow the tempeh to cook for 8-10 minutes. Isa recommends covering the frypan during this time, but I found that I had too much liquid left at the end - instead I'd suggest allowing some of the liquid to evaporate away by cooking the tempeh uncovered.

When most of the liquid is gone and the tempeh is tender, transfer the tempeh to a bowl and smush it briefly with a wooden spoon, so that it's half cubes and half mush. Give the frypan a quick clean and heat up about 2 tablespoons of oil in it. Drop the tempeh back in, stir-frying it for 4-5 minutes, until it begins to brown. Sprinkle over a teaspoon of the balsamic vinegar.

Bring a pot of water to the boil and cook the pasta until tender (time required will vary a lot amongst types).

In another frypan, heat the remaining oil and add the remaining garlic, cooking it for just a minute or two. Add the broccolini, toss them around to coat them in oil, and sprinkle over a little salt. Sprinkle over the remaining balsamic vinegar. Cook the broccolini for 5-8 minutes, until it's just tender and still bright green (I overcooked ours).

Drain the pasta and gently toss everything together in the dry pot. Season to taste and serve.

October 27, 2009: Baked mushrooms with herbed fetta

I dealt with October's calendar recipe only in the last few days of the month. While I knew I'd like these baked mushrooms - topped with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts and served with marinated fetta - I suspected they wouldn't well suit Michael's long-term tomato issues and newfound cutlery-operation challenges. This was pretty much the case, though we both enjoyed the meal more than I expected at the outset.

For the tomato-lovers amongst us, these are terrific. Cherry tomatoes get wedged into the large mushrooms and as they bake, the tomatoes' skins puncture while the flesh sweetens and almost melts. It nearly but not quite falls into the acceptable category of 'tomato sauce', with Michael compelled to set aside the last couple of tomatoes on his plate. At least he agreed that the marinated fetta was a winner - I used lemon thyme rather than the standard stuff and can highly recommend it. If I made these again, I'd use a little less fetta and crumble it over the tomatoes rather than serving it, uncooked, on the side. For the anti-tomato brigade, I'd be interested to try slotting in olives and whole garlic cloves instead. I'd probably add a splash of balsamic vinegar across the board, too.

Baked mushrooms with herbed fetta

150g fetta, diced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme leaves, plus 4 extra sprigs
1/3 cup olive oil
4 large field mushrooms
16 cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
salt and pepper

Place the fetta cubes in a shallow dish. Sprinkle over the rosemary and thyme leaves, crack over some pepper, and pour over the olive oil. Allow the fetta to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Break off four pieces of baking paper, each roughly 30cm square. Put a mushroom at the centre of each one. Put four cherry tomatoes and a sprig of thyme on each mushroom. Sprinkle over some salt, pepper and a little of the oil from the fetta. Wrap the mushrooms up in the baking paper and bake them for 40 minutes. Unwrap the mushrooms and transfer them to plates, sprinkle over the pine nuts, and serve the fetta alongside.

October 26, 2009: Coconut cauliflower curry

It should be Michael writing about this lovely curry. Yes, it was me who spotted it on Another Outspoken Female's blog, bookmarked it, and made the immediate connection when cauliflower and broccoli turned up in our next fruit and veg box. But I was flying interstate a day later for work, and I pointed it out for curry-loving Michael's enjoyment while I was away. Things went awry when, over the weekend, a cycling accident dealt Michael two fractured elbows.

It could have been a lot worse, and we're grateful that it wasn't, but it means Michael won't be making curries (or doing very much at all) for some time. I booked the next flight home and took up tending duties where several very generous friends left off. Since then I've been caring for Michael as best I know how, and that means lots of cooking. (Don't expect too much restaurant blogging over the next few weeks!)

AOF's Sri Lankan inspired curry was the perfect place to start. Curry is probably Michael's favourite food group (or might come a close second to Weetbix), it made use of that vege delivery (I added some unsolicited green beans), and the tender bite-sized pieces are the easiest kind of food for Michael to feed himself at this stage. It's comfort food we both needed. The sizzling spice mix stimulated our appetites, but the coconut milk cooled it down and a finish of lemon juice kept things perky. It was great over brown rice, as AOF recommends, and we also enjoyed some of the leftovers with roti (messily torn and messily eaten, in Michael's case).

Coconut cauliflower curry
(based on a recipe developed by AOF on her blog Confessions of a Food Nazi)

1/2 cup cashews
2 cups water
3 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons fenugreek
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon minced ginger
6 curry leaves
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
1 onion, diced
1/2 large cauliflower, broken into florets
2 small heads broccoli, broken into florets
1 handful green beans, chopped into bite-size lengths
1 x 400mL can coconut milk
1 cup vegetable stock
juice of half a lemon

In a medium sized saucepan, boil the cashews in the water for 20 minutes. Set them aside.

In a dry frypan, gently toast the coriander and cumin seeds, fenugreek and chilli flakes. Grind them with a mortar and pestle - I didn't get them down to a fine powder, but found that the coriander seeds needed a good bash to break up.

Heat the coconut oil in a large pot or wok over medium heat. Add the ground spices, garlic, turmeric and ginger, stirring as they cook and sizzle for a couple of minutes. Stir in the mustard seeds and curry leaves, then the onion, cauliflower, broccoli and beans - make sure the spices are coating everything. Pour over the coconut milk and stock, then drain the cashews and add them too. Stir everything until well mixed, then leave it on a gentle simmer for about half an hour. Give it the occasional stir for even cooking.

Add salt to taste, a generous squeeze of lemon, and serve.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October 22, 2009: Indya Bistro II

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

When Mike and Jo arranged to come over for a takeaway dinner and cards, Jo registered an interest in trying out Indya Bistro. Our first experience was certainly pleasant enough, and we'd received comments indicating that the menu has expanded since then. It has indeed - there've been a few alterations to the entrees (no more Mumbai fries!), while the number of main courses to choose from has almost doubled. If anything, it looks a little more like the typical Indian takeaway menu and a little less like a modern reinterpretation of Indian cuisine. Nevertheless, the unusual and irresistable gobi florets ($7) are still there - hooray!

The Diwani Handi Delight has been renamed the mixed vegetable sabzi and goes for $3 less ($15). It still tastes great, with Mike deeming it his favourite of the night. This is high praise, since all of us agreed that the paneer and spinach delight ($15, a long-term Indian favourite amongst the group) was probably the best we'd ever tasted - it was terrifically creamy and probably dreadfully unhealthy! The new malai kofta ($15, another of our Indian meal yardsticks) was also lovely. We mopped those thick, delicately spiced sauces with basmati rice ($4), garlic naan ($4) and kashmiri naan ($4).

On paper, I wouldn't have expected to become an Indya Bistro regular - the vegetarian options aren't too different from the norm and cost a few dollars more than usual. But they're easily the tastiest in the neighbourhood! Next time we're in the mood for Indian takeaway, we'll almost certainly be ordering it from Indya Bistro.

You can read about our previous visit to Indya Bistro here.

Indya Bistro now have a website:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

October 20, 2009: Kentucky fried tofu

One of my guiltiest pleasures before going vegetarian was KFC. I still get cravings for chicken fillet burgers that are completely out of proportion to the actual enjoyment I would derive from eating said burger. So naturally, when I saw this 'Kentucky style fried chicken' crumbing mix in an Asian supermarket, I had to give it a go... on tofu. Even if this did taste like KFC (it doesn't), Colonel Sanders' secret combination of eleven herbs and spices would hardly have been exposed - the ingredients list in its entirety reads "wheat flour, salt, spices, herbs, flavour enhancer".

And if this crumbing doesn't taste like KFC, it does at least taste good. It's spicier than the Colonel's original recipe, and I think the dominant flavour is cumin. At only a couple of dollars for a box (this will coat enough tofu to make us two or three meals) it's a fun alternative to our usual tofu preparations. However, with a large collection of dried herbs and spices already on hand, I'd like to start developing my own secret seasoned flour recipe rather than buying more.

To get into the pseudo-KFC groove, we accompanied the tofu with mashed potato and gravy, and popcorn cauliflower.

October 19, 2009: The Lomond Hotel

Some of Cindy's workmates have recently kick-started a fortnightly pub-jaunt that we're periodically heading along for (see, for example, our trip to The Gem). This time around we all headed north to The Lomond in East Brunswick.

The Lomond has been positively reviewed by a couple of meat-eating bloggers, but one of them was of the slightly upmarket restaurant tucked away out the back and the other didn't sample anything meat-free. Our pub-club is less about table cloths and more about fried food and front-bars, so we opted for the casual vibe by the pool tables. The bar menu is pretty veg-friendly, with five meals to choose from. We eschewed the stir-fried vegies with couscous and harissa ($12) and the fattoush salad with warm chickpeas ($14), instead opting for dishes that were seemingly vegan (I must admit we didn't check though).

I ordered the spicy chickpea, potato and cashew hot pot with steamd rice ($15, see above). This was warm and filling, but not particularly flavoursome - it felt like something we could throw together at home without too much bother and was a little overpriced for what it was.

Cindy's croquettes were appropriately deep-fried (which is what you go to the pub for really isn't it?), and came with an ineresting coconut sauce on the side. Again though, they were a little bland, so despite their textural excellence, Cindy was not particularly impressed. It's worth noting that someone else at the table ordered the twice-baked goats cheese souffle, and it was deemed a great success, so maybe we just ordered poorly.

The front-bar at the Lomond has a very laid-back vibe (especially when there's some sort of lesbian pool competition going on, as there was on the Monday we visited), which is apparently a long way from the atmosphere in the restaurant. We had fun kicking back casually around the table but seemingly the food isn't a high priority in the bar (even our non-veg friends were a bit disappointed) so it might be worth braving the tablecloths if you're after a meal.

Address: 225 Nicholson Street, East Brunswick
Ph: 9380 1752
Licensed (obviously)
Price: Vegie bar mains, $12-$15

October 18, 2009: The couscous experiment - phase III

For the third and final phase of the couscous experiment, I chose and adapted one of the recipes that was supplied with our promotional package of pearl couscous. Originally a "medley of mushroom and spinach with gourmet pearl couscous and bacon", I replaced the bacon with a vegetarian imitation, and the spinach with silverbeet.

In this recipe, the onions and mushrooms get sauteed before the couscous and stock are added. Once the stock has been absorbed, in goes the spinach/silverbeet and some grated parmesan, and on goes some grilled (faux) bacon. Based on our previous trials, it was pretty clear to me that product #3, the moghrabieh, was not going to come out of this well. Given the risotto-like nature of the recipe I decided to replace it with product #3a, arborio rice. Costing $2.49 for a 500g packet ($4.98/kg) at our local supermarket, it's at the cheaper and more accessible end of the products.

Let's kick off with the recipe, should you wish to try it at home.

Experimental couscous risotto
(based on a recipe by Gabriel Gate in promotion of pearl couscous)

1 onion, finely chopped
400g mushrooms, chopped
2 cups couscous (or appropriate experimental substitute)
3 cups stock
3 cups chopped silverbeet
1/2 cup grated parmesan
4 slices faux bacon
olive oil
salt and pepper

Genlty saute the onions in some olive oil until they are soft and beginning to brown, 5-10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to saute until the mushrooms are tender. Add the couscous and stock; bring the mixture to the boil, then turn it down to a simmer. Cook, adding extra water when necessary, until the couscous is tender (time will vary dramatically between products).

While the couscous is cooking, grill the faux bacon until crispy. When the couscous is ready, stir through the silverbeet and cook for a further minute. Take the saucepan off the heat, seasoning with salt and pepper then stirring through the parmesan. Serve the couscous topped with the grilled faux bacon.


Product #1, the standard supermarket-sourced couscous, was of course the quickest to cook. The flavours of the mushroom and stock carried through nicely, but I didn't think it particularly suited the use of parmesan.

Product #2, the pearl couscous, should have been at a distinct advantage here since the recipe is intended for its use. Actually, it was our least favourite - the pearls have a smooth, slippery suface that just didn't meld with the cheese.

Product #3a, the arborio rice, took substantially longer to cook through than the pearl couscous. While the creamy texture was what we know and love from traditional risottos, this rendition was surprisingly bland.

Product #4, the quinoa, took the longest to cook but was the greatest pleasure to eat. Though its chewy hulls were a far cry from the texture of conventional risotto, it had the deepest, most satisfying flavour. Interestingly, we weren't at all troubled by its combination with the parmesan.

The couscous experiment - Conclusions

After trialling a few semi-comparable products on the market, we've not arrived at a single superior product. The Moroccan/North African couscous (product #1) is undeniably the cheapest and most convenient option, cooking up in just a few minutes. It absorbs flavours nicely but doesn't offer much to get your teeth into. By contrast, the new pearl couscous (product #2, which we received promotional packets of) has a bit more substance. It still cooks reliably in ten minutes, absorbs flavours well, and has a unique silky texture. It's great on its own and pretty good in soup, but we wouldn't recommend it as a novelty risotto ingredient. It's also at the pricier end of these items.

Products #3 and #3a, the moghrabieh and arborio rice, didn't really shine in these trials but I think they each have their place. Arborio is the traditional risotto queen, while some leftover moghrabieh soup hinted at what it can be at its best.

Quinoa (product #4) is probably the most nutritionally attractive of the bunch. It's pricey and takes some time to cook through, but the rewards can be great. With a nutty taste and chewy, bubbly texture it already has a lot of character of its own, yet it also pairs brilliantly with stock and the cheesy-risotto approach. I'd think twice, however, before adding it to another soup.

So while the new pearl couscous is probably worth a try, it doesn't completely outcompete the alternatives. It'll be a welcome addition to our rotation of starchy sides, though it probably won't reach the staple status that quinoa holds in our pantry.

Take a look at the first and second installments of the couscous experiment.

October 17, 2009: Tinh Tam Chay

30/10/2013: Tinh Tam Chay has closed down.

One of the things Cindy and I love most about blogging is the input we get from our readers - we've discovered some great places and great recipes thanks to suggestions from various enthusiastic contributors. So we were both very excited when an unsolicited email turned up letting us know about Tinh Tam Chay, a new 'vietgetarian' place in St Albans. We quickly rounded up a posse of interested veg-folk and arranged a road-trip into the wilds of the western suburbs.

It's a strange little place - tucked in amongst a fairly nondescript shopping strip, seemingly co-sharing its premises with a churros place. It was all a bit odd. Once you're inside though, you're in capable hands - the guy running it was incredibly welcoming, adding to our excitement about the meal ahead.

It's a mock-meat heavy menu, with classic Vietnamese dishes served up with faux-pork and chicken. We started things off with rice-paper and spring rolls. The rice-paper rolls were filled with a combination of tofu and fresh vegies and were a clean and crisp start to the meal. The spring rolls were less healthy and thus slightly more delicious, although their filling lacked the variety of the rice-paper wraps.

I steered away from mock-meat, ordering a tofu-based dish: Dau Hu Chien Xa O't (fried tofu with lemongrass, served with steamed rice - $8.50, see picture at top). It was an excellent choice - crispy skinned tofu with a hint of chilli and a bright lemongrass flavour. A smear of chilli paste and a splash of soy sauce and I was in heaven.

The rest of the table spread their orders around nicely, meaning we all got to sample a range of what was on offer. The star of the show was Kristy's Com Ga Chien Don (vegetarian crispy chicken, served with steamed rice, $8.50) which, from the bite that I had, wouldn't be out of place on the menu at one of the fancier mock-meat places in Melbourne.

Cindy's giant Bun Bi Supon Chay (rice vermicelli with vegetarian shredded grilled pork, $8.50) was a success as well, with a crispy 'pork' bits, generous serves of vegetables and nuts and a tasty sauce to pour over the whole thing.

Craig and Toby were adventurous enough to order the Banh Tam Bi (Vietnamese spaghetti with shredded grilled pork, $8.50), which came with an intriguing coconutty sauce and lots of crispy fried bits and pieces.

The only dish I didn't try was Steph's, both because we were at opposite ends of the table and because a noodle soup isn't the easiest sharing meal. Still, it earned high praise from Steph and looked great (it looks even better in Steph's photo).

The dessert menu is basically two smoothies ($3 each) - avocado...

... and jackfruit.

These got mixed reviews - I think the idea of a sweet avocado drink put a few people off, but Cindy was pretty happy with the results, while the jackfruit smoothie lacked the avocado's creaminess but provided a more tropical flavour.

So our night in St Albans was a great success - Tinh Tam Chay does wonderfully tasty food for fantastically cheap prices and with friendly and helpful service. The only downside: the constant stream of animal cruelty images being shown on the tv near the counter - I don't think images of slaughterhouses are really the best appetiser. It may be a while before we can muster the energy to trek out to St Albans again, but I'm sure we'll be back - make the effort, it's well worth it and probably a step above its competition.

Update 10/5/10: According to the VNV, Tinh Tam Chay has stopped focussing on vegetarian food and is chock full of meat these days. Booo.

Address: 13 Alfrieda Street, St Albans
Ph: 9366 3952
Price: Mains $8.50, entrees $6

Sunday, October 18, 2009

October 16, 2009: Leftover makeover - sweet'n'starchy snacks

I don't think I mentioned that one of the prizes I received at the annual lab culinary competition was the biggest sweet potato I have ever seen. Some of it was transformed into sweet potato and adobo pies, and plenty more was simply diced and roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. I put the final half-kilo to work with some other leftovers - smoked tofu, silken tofu, mint, gow gee wrappers and puff pastry - to make some gently sweet, sweet potato snacks.

In one of her recent posts, Kathryn (of Limes & Lycopene) noted what a difference a long, slow saute makes in bringing out vegetables' sweeter side. She's right - it's the most important part of the silverbeet and celery gratin I recently devised, and it's the starting point here. You need to slowly, gently cook the onions until they're golden and caramelised, meanwhile baking the sweet potato chunks until they have a similarly caramel crust. Cinnamon and nutmeg enhance the sweetness, smoked tofu extends the flavour, while the silken stuff acts as a creamy binder. Inspired by those pumpkin ravioli, I added mint for a bit of lift.

The result was rather fine indeed. I packaged some up into puff pastry parcels, which were are doubly delicious with some pesto on the side. The rest became potsticker dumplings, dipped into a variant of the lemon agave sauce.

Sweet'n'starchy snack filling

500g sweet potato, peeled and finely diced
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 onion, finely chopped
120g silken tofu, mashed
120g smoked tofu, finely diced
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
2 tablespoons chopped mint

Preheat an oven to 180°C, then get busy with all the chopping. Put the diced sweet potato on a baking tray, drizzle it lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake the sweet potatoes, tossing them occasionally, until they're soft and just start to caramelise, about 30 minutes.

While the sweet potato is baking, gently saute the onion in a frypan, with a little more oil and salt. Stir the onion around regularly until it's caramelised but not burned, about 15 minutes.

In medium-sized bowl, mash the silken tofu with a fork. Add the sweet potato and lightly mash it too, making sure it keeps some of its texture. Stir in the onion, smoked tofu, cinnamon, nutmeg and mint.

Use the mixture to fill pastries, dumplings, ravioli, cannelloni or anything else you can think of.

October 15, 2009: Wholemeal shortcrust pastry

In a bid to use up some silverbeet we revisited the greenie pie. But the crust didn't particularly impress me last time so instead I gave Lucy's wholemeal shortcrust recipe a go. Though she painstakingly grates and rubs butter into flour, I took the lazy food processor route without ill effects. I did take more heed to Lucy's other instructions and assurances, and they're just what this impatient cook needs - the crust will tear and crack but that's just fine. The holes get patched up with spare dough and it bakes into a rustic, crispy and tasty shell regardless.

Though the recipe isn't vegan, the butter used is frozen and I wonder if the same quantity of frozen Nuttelex might also work. If not, there's always Clotilde's already-vegan olive oil tart crust, which I also plan to try.

Wholemeal shortcrust pastry
(based on a recipe at Nourish Me)

150g butter
300g wholemeal flour
pinch of salt
juice of 1 lemon

Wrap up the butter in greaseproof paper and freeze it for at least 30 minutes.

Put the flour and salt into a food processor and pulse them briefly. Cut the butter into cubes, add it to the food processor, and process the mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the lemon juice and process further, until the dough just starts coming together.

Turn the crumbly dough onto a clean bench. Squish it together and make two balls from it. Wrap the balls in greaseproof paper and refrigerate them for 30-60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Take the pastry from the fridge, lightly flour a clean surface, and roll out the pastry balls as thinly as you can (aim for 5mm). It will probably tear a bit along the way, but don't worry about it! Gently ease the largest pastry pieces into a pie dish, then use the smaller scraps to patch up the holes and cracks. Trim the edges and keep all the leftover pastry - you're not done with it yet.

Place a sheet of baking paper over the pastry and fill it with dried beans to gently weigh down the pastry base. Bake the pastry for 10 minutes, remove the beans and paper and bake the pastry for a further 10 minutes.

By now you might be disappointed to see more cracks and holes in the shell. Gently fill these with some of the leftover pastry. I found the best way was to dab on roughly the right sized scrap, then give it a minute to soften from the heat of the pastry, before using the back of a spoon to gently smooth the scrap out.

Allow the mended pastry shell to cool completely before filling it as you choose.

October 14, 2009: Vegie Bar VI

It's been a long time since Michael and I have dropped by the Vegie Bar (probably more than a year!) but it was a convenient location to share dinner with Kristy and Toby, Rachel and Buzz after attending the Neon Pilgrim book launch. Even without our regular patronage the Vegie Bar is doing just fine, thank you very much; we just barely managed to get a table on this Wednesday night.

The menu doesn't seem to have changed much, though this restaurant should be commended for the extensive rotating list of specials scrawled on the walls. This was where Michael selected his dish of chilli tofu, served on brown rice (~$12, pictured below). He commented that we'd be able to make this at home but this didn't diminish his enjoyment of the meal, particularly the dried chillis.

After much umming and aahing, I went for the tempeh burger with a side of chips (~$10, pictured top). These proportions and price were just my style - generous chippage with a modestly-portioned burger and plenty of fresh veges.

Though we might claim to be Vegie Bar veterans, this was our first stab at dessert. Others have suggested that dessert is what the Vegie Bar does best, so this has been quite an oversight! There's usually about half a dozen items in the display case and they are not for the faint-hearted - the servings are HUGE. Michael and I shared a super-fudgy slice of sticky date pudding, warmed so that its butterscotch topping melted in a languid pool, and accompanied by two large scoops of vanilla icecream ($8). It was a delicious challenge between two and would surely mean imminent death for the brave soul who tried to eat it on their own!

Via the others at our table, I also scored tastes of the flourless chocolate cake (more sweet rich density) and a comparatively light vegan chocolate cake (pictured above) - though I could detect hints of tofu, Kristy loved it.

This was one of our better Vegie Bar experiences even if it wasn't perfect. It's a relentlessly rowdy environment; the menu is extensive if not creative and the specials board adds some novelty. The food's cheap and cheerful, and though the portion sizes are unpredictable they are usually generous, sometimes gut-bustingly so. Service is erratic but friendly - the staff made several mistakes at our table during our visit but each time corrected the error with a smile and an apology.

Read about some of our previous Vegie Bar meals: one, two, three, four and five.

And here's an interesting pic of the Vegie Bar premises in a previous life.

October 13-14, 2009: Macadamia blondies

With a couple of guests visiting my workplace and making presentations, I thought some more seminar snacks were in order. This recipe for macadamia blondies comes from the now-defunct food blog This Is Vegan Melbourne. It uses silken tofu as a binder and most of the hard work is done in a food processor. It's thick and sticky and it comes out of the oven looking a little ugly, but if you're a fan of macadamias and sweet, sweet caramel then you'll love it. It's best eaten fresh, so make sure you've got a gaggle of appreciative friends, family or co-workers on hand to help out.

Macadamia blondies
(recipe from This Is Vegan Melbourne)

150g silken tofu
1/4 cup soy milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
3 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups macadamias, chopped roughly

1/4 cup Nuttelex
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup macadamias, chopped roughly

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with paper and lightly grease it.

Blend the tofu and soy milk together in a food processor until smooth. Add the oil, sugar and vanilla and blend further until everything is smooth and well-mixed.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb soda and salt. Stir in the tofu mixture, then fold in the macadamias. The dough will be thick, but you should be able to spread it out into the baking tray. Bake the blondie for 25 minutes.

During the last 5 minutes that the blondie is baking, prepare the topping. Melt the Nuttelex, sugar and maple syrup together in a small saucepan, stirring often. Bring the caramel to boil for one minute, then stir in the nuts and remove it from the heat. When the blondie is ready, pour the topping over them, spread it out evenly, and return the blondie to the oven for another 10 minutes. Allow the blondie to cool completely before slicing and eating.

October 11, 2009: Min Lokal III

When we've got a reason to be in Fitzroy on a weekend morning it's hard to ignore the siren song of Min Lokal, tucked away on George Street. Thus, we arranged to meet Mike and Jo there pre-bike shopping (Cindy is now the proud owner of a new Shogun!) and settled around a corner of one of the communal tables to get the day started. The coffee is always of a high standard, and by the time the caffeine had sunk in we were ready to get cracking on some food.

I switched things up a little, changing from my standard order of Adafina, and opting for the tallegio, potato, cauliflower, caramelised onion and rocket baked eggs (minus the standard pancetta, $15). It was a nice change - beautifully cooked as always, and given a nice kick by the taleggio - but probably a little too creamy and rich for me. I was eyeing off the olives and harissa in Jo's adafina by the time I'd got through it all.

Cindy took the high road and went for the healthier option - bircher muesli served with yoghurt, honey, grated apple, banana and strawberries ($9). Simple but effective, this was a well balanced mix of fresh fruit and muesli, with lots of nuts and seeds to keep things interesting.

Min Lokal's consistency is impressive, and it remains the inner-north's baked eggs champion. Read about our previous visits to Min Lokal here and here.

Ocotober 10, 2009: Chorizo sausages

Ever since Kristy wowed us all at the last potluck, I've been itching to try to replicate her stunning 'chorizo' sausages. The first step, procurring a copy of Vegan Brunch, was dealt with quickly and easily thanks to a Readings voucher. The second step, procurring the key ingredient gluten flour, proved much tougher. Allergy Block has been our regular supplier, but they've not had it for weeks. Cindy rode up to Barkly Square to try the health food store there and failed again - it was like there was a gluten flour shortage in the inner-north. Luckily we were tipped off that Organic Wholefoods was stocked up, and finally we were ready to get sausaging.

Making the sausages is actually pretty straightforward - a bit of mashing, some mixing and then a whole lot of rolling and steaming and you've got yourself some of the tastiest meat-free sausages around. We made only one small change to the recipe - adding in a generous splash of liquid smoke to offset the lack of smokiness in our paprika. The texture is sausage-like, but denser and a bit chewier, and the flavour (while being almost nothing like actual chorizo) is rich and spicey with some lemon tang working with the smokey heat of the chilli, paprika and liquid smoke. The recipe in Vegan Brunch says that it makes 4 sausages, so boldly doubled it, ending up with 10 massive snags, which have been slotting into various meals all week. On the night we let them take centre stage, with roasted sweet potato and baby carrots on the side. Having discovered how easy these are to put together and how much better they are than pre-bought veg sausages, it seems unlikely we'll ever settle for Sanitarium snags again.

Chorizo sausages
(from Vegan Brunch) - makes 8-10 sausages

1 cup cooked pinto beans (we used canned beans), rinsed and drained
2 cups vegie stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons tomato paste
4 teaspoons lemon zest
4 garlic cloves, minced
2.5 cups gluten flour
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons hot paprika
2 teaspoons chilli flakes
1-2 tablespoons dry rubbed sage
2 teaspoons dry oregano
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
A few splashes of liquid smoke

Before you even start make sure your steamer is ready and you've got the water on the heat so that you're not waiting for it to start boiling once everything else is ready - it doesn't take very long.

Mash the beans in a large bowl and then add all the other ingredients in the order listed above, mixing periodically with a fork to ensure a smooth dough. Once everything's in, stir it all through again and get ready to make sausages.

Tear off 8-10 sheets of alfoil, maybe 15-20 centimetres across. Pull out a small handful of dough (say 2 inches in diameter) and roll into a rough sausage, before placing it on one of the foil sheets and wrapping it up. The wrapped sausages need only be roughly sausage-shaped, as the steaming tends to shape them appropriately anyway.

Steam them in their wrappers for 40 minutes and that's it - your sausages are ready. We fried ours whole, but I've been given the tip that the texture is a bit more satisfying if you slice them up and then fry them. Regardless, they're a taste sensation and well worth the time and energy to make.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

October 10, 2009: Kiwi gelato

There were a range of excellent icecreams at the T-house potluck last month; among them was a kiwi gelato prepared by Toby. So when a couple of kiwi fruits turned up in our next vege box I didn't think twice about how we'd be eating them. I pureed them up into gelato within days and then, for one reason or another, didn't actually taste the gelato for about two weeks. Amazingly, after a few minutes resting on the bench, this gelato still had a terrific texture! It's lighter, smoother and frothier than any other sorbet I've made. It could be that I finally nailed the right sugar-to-water ratio or perhaps it's down to the corn syrup, which I've not used before. Either way, this refreshing sweet-sour ice won't last so long in the freezer next time, especially once the weather warms up.

Kiwi gelato
(based on a recipe at veganfood, via vegan potlucker Toby)

1/2 cup water
1/4 cup castor sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
2 kiwi fruits, peeled
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon

Stir the water, sugar and corn syrup together in a small saucepan, heating them gently until the sugar is dissolved.

Puree the kiwi fruits in a food processor. Add the lemon juice and zest and the sugar syrup and puree the lot.

Chill the kiwi mixture thoroughly and churn it in an icecream maker before freezing.

October 9, 2009: Roti Man

The Roti Man has been on Cindy's list of places to try since Stickyfingers gave it the thumbs up 18 months ago. We've not really had a reason to trek across the river to try it out, and have been well occupied sampling local Indian fare. With a night out in St Kilda on the cards and a general enthusiasm for Indian, we did a quick check of the tram maps, happily discovering that the 96 runs straight past Middle Park on its way to Fitzroy Street, making The Roti Man an easy stop off. We didn't have any trouble scoring a table without a booking at around 8 on a Friday night, but things were reasonably busy (and noisy) the whole time we were there. And you can immediately see why: The Roti Man has a colourful attractive vibe, friendly staff and an impressive-looking menu.

Cindy ordered her customary mango lassi, which was one of the most visually striking that I'd seen, but probably not the wisest choice given the rich curries that we ended up ordering.

Cindy ordered probably the least lassi-appropriate meal on the menu: Dum Aloo Kashmir ($14.50), potatoes and onions stir-fried in a wok with a delicate dry roasted spice mix of cardamom, fennel and cinnamon and other selected spices and simmered in a cashew nut creamy yoghurt sauce. This was an incredibly rich and mild curry, with just enough spice to stop it from being overwhelming. Cindy loved it - a nutty, creamy potato-based curry is a recipe for Cindy's approval, and the sprinkling of dried fruit was a nice touch (although the cherries were a bit weird). I had a few spoonfuls and agreed with Cindy's appraisal - this is an excellent dish, but I think it would be too much for me to get through on my own.

I went for something a bit sharper, the Kadai Paneer ($14.50), home made cottage cheese with onions, tomatoes and capsicum in a tomato based sauce. This had a bigger kick than Cindy's curry, and it was a nice change to order a paneer that wasn't in a saag sauce. If anything, it could have used a bit less capsicum - the flavour started to dominate by the time I'd worked my way through the dish, but I was still pretty satisfied.

We couldn't visit the Roti Man without sampling some breads, so we ordered a serve of coriander paratha and a serve of garlic naan.

Cindy was pretty impressed by the coriander paratha, and I enjoyed the flavour combination, but realised that I'm not really a fan of paratha - I much prefer the softer naan and roti breads. The garlic naan hit the spot, but didn't scale the heights of our previous southside Indian experience. Perhaps I should have ordered the eponymous roti.

Still, this was a fine Indian experience - a kind of middle ground between the cheap local curry shops and the slightly more upmarket Indya Bistro. It's not exactly convenient, so it may be a while between trips, but The Roti Man has shot towards the top of our options for eating out the next time we're heading off to the Prince or the Palace.

Address: 10-12 Armstrong Street, Middle Park
Ph: 9699 4244
Prices: Vegie curries $13.50 - $16.50, breads $4-$5.50

October 5, 2009: Annual lab culinary competition

Anticipation and rivalry has been steadily building in my workplace for a solid month or two, in the lead-up to the biggest social event on our calendar - the annual lab culinary competition. This is thought to be the sixth such event, held in honour of lab member Jane, as close to her birthday as is feasible. The competition seems to get bigger and better every year; new people arrive in the lab and contribute new styles and flavours, while departed lab members frequently come back especially for the occasion.

With my past blogged reports and even a cookbook compiling the 2008 entries, new lab members were duly alerted to what was expected of them. This year theirs were among the most exciting entries, with some entrants presenting novel and delicious dishes from their home countries, and one newbie even snagging the grand prize.

Our trio of judges comprise one vegetarian, one gluten-free girl and one raging omnivore. This provides an excellent incentive to prepare foods that meet the range of dietary requirements amongst the lab. In this spirit of inclusiveness, this is the one time each year that you'll spy pictures of meat on this blog.

The only unfortunate aspect of this competition's growth is that it gets harder and harder to taste, photograph and jot down the name of every entry, so my commentary below will be brief. However a 2009 edition of the competition cookbook is in the works, so if you see anything that you absolutely, positively must know how to make, I can probably help you out in a month or so.

These tomatoes rest on haloumi pieces, are stuffed with risotto and came with a mustard dressing. They were prepared by our horrendously competitive leader, who won a Lifetime Achievement Award on the day. They were probably my favourite dish of the competition, but I'm not letting him know that!

These won a prize for the best meatifying of a vegetable.

Tamales! Stuffed with spicy black beans as well as steamed cornmeal.

This salad won the Taste of Spring Award.

You might recognise my tropical 'slaw, this time with red cabbage. It was the Best Twist On A Classic prize winner.

This amazing Thai rose petal salad won the "We Really Like This Salad" prize.

The White Fungus Salad won an award for the Best Use of Last Year's Prize.

The Pickle Award winner.

Winner of the "You Don't Win Friends With Salad" Award.

Winner of the award category "We Don't Know What This Is, But We're Impressed".

A Spanish tortilla.

My Mapo Tofu, prize winner for the Best Vegetarianising of Meat.

Moroccan eggplant salad.

A Persian-style mushroom soup.

Winner of the "There's something in the water" prize. Funnily enough, this name of this alcoholic punch translates as Water of Valencia.

These gorgeous strawberries won a prize for Best Presentation.

Rocky road containing, among other things, raspberry liquorice! I fully endorse this innovation.

Vanilla-honeycomb ice-cream. It won the "No you can't have mine, get your own" prize and also the GRAND PRIZE.

A coconut pie topped with fresh pineapple and mint won a prize for the Use of the Most Coconut.

I'm proud to tell you that my raw lime pie won the Jane's Choice Award.

The delcious cakes above and below jointly won the Imitation Award.


You can also check out reports on the 2006 and 2008 culinary competitions.