Saturday, November 28, 2009

November 28, 2009: Double-double chocolate sesame cookies

This week my knitting crew went on a field trip to Footscray to check out the Big Knit installation, part of the Big West arts festival. We were planning a picnic at Newells Paddock, where we could view the installation and celebratory dancing, share snacks and compare our latest yarn-based projects. Not all went to plan. The weather could only be described as miserable and worse, the installation had been vandalised overnight. Under a wet grey sky, ragged candy-coloured sections of PVC 'knitting' listlessly skimmed the river and bitterly disappointed festival staff revised their plans for the event.

Our picnic was brief but still thoroughly enjoyable. Taking shelter under the Stockbridge, we spread out a blanket and watched and ate and chatted and giggled. There were treats from the Footscray market and spinach pie. Mindful of L's wheat avoidance, I made sundried tomato and rosemary muffins (replacing the small amount of plain flour with a gluten free mix). And I baked these chocolate sesame cookies because they used spelt flour (unfortunately I learned that spelt is a wheat species and still a no-no for L).

Aside from my wheat blunder, these cookies were terrific. They're dark and sweet, with the sesame (seeds and tahini) adding a little something nutty and unexpected to the chocolate. They're meltingly chewy. They're a cinch to prep - the fat comes from tahini and vegetable oil so they can be stirred up quickly by hand and the baking tray probably doesn't even need to be greased. Eating one as I type, it's difficult to imagine why I'd want to make any other cookie recipe again. (I'm sure I'll find a reason... next week.) This one's going straight to our where's the best? honour list.

Double-double chocolate sesame cookies
(based on a recipe at Veggie Meal Plans)

75g spelt flour
75g brown sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 tablespoon arrowroot
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch of cayenne
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons soy milk
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup chocolate chips
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

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

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (spelt flour through to salt). In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (tahini through to vanilla) until smooth. Sift the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir them together until well combined. Fold through the chocolate chips and sesame seeds.

Form teaspoonfuls of the dough into rough balls and space them out on the baking tray. Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes. Cool them for 5 minutes or so on the tray before transferring them to a rack.

November 28, 2009: Chef's Edge/The Knife Shop

Edit 15/02/2021: This cafe is long gone; the address now hosts Chotto Motto.

A while back, Brian at Fitzroyalty lamented the lack of blog attention for The Chef's Edge in Collingwood, so Cindy and I dutifully trekked off to try it out this morning. First things first, I can't figure out why everyone is calling it The Chef's Edge - the menus have "The Knife Shop - Breakfast Menu' emblazoned across the top. I didn't see the phrase "Chef's Edge" anywhere. Weird. Still, the basic premise is still as described by Brian (and by Matt Preston among others). A kitchen shop, knife sharpener and cafe rolled into one little shop at the northern end of Wellington Street.

The decor is old-school, with formica tables, a 1960s refrigerator and a general diner-style vibe. There's plenty of light streaming in, and there was no shortage of tables on this Saturday morning. The breakfast menu doesn't spring any surprises: a few sweet options and a wide range of eggy-based delights (all using local free-range eggs!). Cindy and I split things the usual way: me pigging on savoury, and she preferring sweet. Somehow she resisted the lure of breakfast crepes and went for the semi-healthy bircher muesli with yoghurt, honey and summer fruit ($8.50).

It's served up with a generous mix of fruit, and slathered in yoghurt. Often phrases like 'summer fruits' means a couple of slivers of apple, or half a strawberry, so the stone-fruit and berries were an impressive accompaniment. If anything, it was a bit sweeter than Cindy would have liked, but it was still a fairly satisfactory muesli-alternative.

I ordered the 'Herbivore' ($14), poached eggs with avocado, fetta, beans, tomato, potato rosti and spinach on toast. The eggs were well-poached and the beans were a nice flavoursome mix. The rosti was more of a hash-brown but fried potato is always a winner at breakfast. Throw in some ripe avocado, a sprinkle of salty fetta and some fresh spinach leaves and you've got a pretty solid savoury brekkie. The thick-white toast fits in with the old-fashioned setting, but was a little much for me (I've been spoiled by all these inner-north Dench-serving cafes).

So, a solid and satisfying breakfast, refreshingly free of pretention and hipster-ness, but correspondingly lacking a bit in surprises. Still, sometimes a generous, straightforward brekkie is just what's required. They do lunch and dinner as well, but a quick scan of the menu suggested that after breakfast, this place is basically for meat-eaters.

The Chef's Edge has also been reviewed by Three Thousand and Do You Want to Stay for Breakfast?

Address: 287 Wellington Street, Collingwood
Ph: 9415 1488
Price: $7.50 - $14

Thursday, November 26, 2009

November 23, 2009: Amish apple dumplings

The apples in our latest vege box were floury and not much fun to eat in their natural state. I was still optimistic that we might enjoy them cooked, so I pulled out a recipe that I made (badly) once before - Amish apple dumplings from Kurma Dasa's Vegetarian World Food. It's an ingenious way to make individual apple pies - just roll out some shortcrust pastry, peel an apple per person, and wrap each apple in pastry. Amazing! Who'd've thunk it? The Amish, apparently.

If you can manage to roll thin, flexible pastry and draw the pastry together at the bottom (not the top) of the apple, they work tremendously - with enough baking, the pastry and apple are tender enough to be scooped up with a spoon. I found this pastry recipe to be wonderfully moist and flexible, and used less per apple than Kurma advises. The one aspect I still haven't perfected is the butterscotch sauce, which is supposed to be poured over the dumplings before they go into the oven. I found that most of it burned in the bottom of the pan during baking. (Ever tried burned sugar? Not tasty.) In future, I'd try brushing the dumplings with just a little sauce, several times during the baking process (think of it - butterscotch varnish!) or just rolling the dumplings in a little sugar and skipping the sauce altogether.

Amish apple dumplings
(based on Kurma Dasa's recipe in Vegetarian World Food)

3/4 cup plain flour
pinch of salt
1/4 cup butter
2 teaspoons milk
2 tesaspoons water
1 teaspoon white vinegar
3 apples

for the sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon water

In a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter in cubes and pulse the mixture until it resembles bread crumbs. Sprinkle over the milk, water and vinegar and process the mixture until it comes together as a moist dough. Turn the dough onto a clean surface, bring it together into a ball with your hands, wrap it in plastic, and store it in the fridge until you're ready for dessert.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Peel the apples. Divide the dough into thirds and on a clean, lightly floured surface, roll the three dough balls out to ~2mm thickness. Drop a dough sheet over each apple. Mould the pastry down around the apples until they're completely covered. (Pinch off some of the excess pastry and decorate the apple with it if you want.) Lightly grease a small baking tray and place the apples on it.

In a small saucepan, stir together the butter, sugar and water over medium heat. Bring them to the boil. Pour the sauce over the dumplings. (Next time I will try brushing the pastry with the sauce, and re-brushing several times during baking.)

Bake the dumplings for 40-50 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the apple yields easily to a knife.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

November 23, 2009: Asparagus stir-fry

Putting in a standing order for a random box of fruit and vegies from Greeline has meant that every couple of weeks we scour the internet for ideas to help us use up cabbage, celery, cauliflower, or whatever else is flavour of the month. This week we had asparagus and spinach, and Cindy knew the perfect recipe.

This stir-fry is another great dish from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks. It's quick to make, relatively healthy and just ridiculously full of flavour. I used a heavy hand with the chilli flakes, meaning we had a strong chilli bite, which really complemented the ginger, basil and mint, all cut through by the acidic lime. We used vegetarian oyster sauce rather the hoisin, and it hit the mark perfectly, adding just the right amount of sweetness. It's probably not essential to use asparagus in this recipe - it would work just as well with beans or any other crisp green vegies, but the asparagus stalks had a very satisfying texture alongside the softness of the tofu and spinach.

Asparagus stir-fry
(via 101 Cookbooks)

This makes about 3 serves.

sesame oil
1 small handful fresh mint, chopped
1 small handful fresh basil, chopped
1 packet smoked tofu, cubed
4 shallots, sliced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger (we used some from our jar, which worked just as well)
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
6 asparagus stalks, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup cashews
a few handfuls of spinach leaves
zest and juice of one lime
2 tablespoons vegetarian oyster sauce

Make sure everything is ready to go in the wok and that whatever accompaniment you're serving this with is basically ready before you start cooking - this takes no time at all to cook.

Stir-fry the tofu in some seseame oil for about 5 minutes, until it's started to go golden. Remove and set aside.

Load up the wok with some more sesame oil and, once it's hot, add the shallots, ginger, asparagus, chilli flakes and a generous pinch of salt.

After another minute or so of stir-frying, throw in the garlic, cashews and spinach. Stir-fry until the spinach starts to wilt (about a minute). At this point I realised that the cous-cous we were having on the side was still 8 minutes away from being cooked - our spinach ended up pretty wilted.

Return the tofu to the wok, along with the lime and oyster sauce and stir-fry for another 30 seconds or so. Kill the heat, stir the fresh herbs through and add more salt if required.

Voila, it's all over in about 6 minutes, and you've got yourself a deliciously healthy meal.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22, 2009: 'Honey'comb

Our recent Soulmama post generated some speculation about vegan honeycomb. What's commonly called honeycomb here in Australia bears only a passing resemblance to the wax-and-honey structures built by bees - this crunchy, airy, sugary confection is known elsewhere as sponge or cinder toffee, yellow man, puff candy, hokey pokey or sea foam. In fact, I was pretty sure that this stuff doesn't usually even require honey! Indeed, the first recipe I came across was completely vegan. I guess the milk chocolate that commercial honeycomb is typically covered is the major vegan impediment.

If I'd bothered to read further I would have realised that this Sunday, when Melbourne was pelted with a volume of rain it rarely sees, provided very nearly the worst conditions for honeycombin'. It seems that these ideally-rigid sugar sponges will happily soak up any available moisture in the air, rapidly reducing themselves to a sticky mess unless they're prepared and stored in the driest of conditions. Whoops. At least they still taste good. Especially when coated in comparatively bitter dark chocolate.

(based on a recipe contributed to All Recipes by Nicola)

1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 tablespoon agave nectar (or just use more golden syrup; I was all out)
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 heaped teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Paper-line and grease a small baking tray. Set aside a small cup of tap water.

Heat the golden syrup, agave nectar (if using) and sugar in a medium-large saucepan. Bring them to the boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes. You need to get the sugar to a toffee-making stage - test it by spilling a drop of the syrup into the water cup; it's ready when the sugar cools into a brittle toffee drop.

Take the sugar syrup off the heat. Add the bicarb soda and stir it all together vigorously - it will froth up a lot! Spread the mixture into the cake tin as quickly as you can, as it will harden rapidly. Allow the honeycomb to set completely at room temperature and store it in a dry place.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

November 21, 2009: Natural Tucker Bakery

Our post on the delights of Funky Pies prompted a comment from Craig suggesting that there were more top-notch vegan pies to be had in the inner-north. Following his lead, I made my way to Natural Tucker Bakery on my way home from a wander through Banyule Flats (where I added Latham's Snipe to my bird list!) to check out how they measured up.

Things didn't start well - at 11:30am there were no hot pies available (I'm not sure if they'd already sold them all or if they hadn't got around to heating them up yet), so I grabbed a couple to take home. The pies come in four varieties: curry, tofu-topped, chilli and vegetable and, at $4.95 each, these fall somewhere in between La Panella and Funky Pie price range. I went for one curry and one tofu-topped (which was Craig's specific recommendation). In their uncooked state the pastry doesn't look all that impressive - it actually looks like vegan pastry, whereas La Panella and particularly Funky Pies produce awesome pastry that happens to be vegan.

After twenty minutes in the oven, the pastry puffed up a little, but it was still a long way short of the flaky goodness I was hoping for. The tofu-topped pie is an intriguing invention, with a thin layer of some sort of tofu-based product forming the lid. I'm not really sure what to make of it - it's better than the pastry, but a little odd nonetheless. The filling is a chunky mix of vegies and lentils that does its job well without blowing your mind. The curry pie has a fairly similar filling, with a very mild curry flavour adding a bit of punch.

Neither of these really measured up to my expectations, which have been inflated by a series of awesome vegan pies. I think I'm basically looking for something to replace meat pies in my diet, so pies like these that are full of chunky vegetables, while no doubt healthier, are never going to tick all my boxes.

Address: 809 Nicholson Street, Carlton North
Ph: 9387 3930
Price: Pies - $4.95

Thursday, November 19, 2009

November 15, 2009: Mango-coconut spliced icecream

This week was the optimal time to kick off a new season of icecream making. The weather was warm, a mango was ripening dangerously in the fruit bowl, and I wanted to make a light-ish dessert for our Sunday night guests. David Lebovitz’s Perfect Scoop index indicated that mango sorbet was the go, though I only had enough mango for a half-batch. David didn’t leave me hangin’, noting at the end of the recipe that it goes brilliantly swirled through his toasted coconut icecream. Sold! I stocked up on the required ingredients and only then felt the first pang of uncertainty when I read the recipe method properly.

There’s no coconut in the custard. I mean, there is coconut in the custard during the process, but it’s just supposed to infuse everything with its flavour and get strained out. I was skeptical, even when the coconut came out of the oven so fragrant, and an hour later when the coconut-custard mix tasted so golden-sweet. The flavour did dull down when it was diluted with more cream, but there was no denying that toasty tropical aftertaste. The infusion actually worked! (I’ll never doubt you again, David Lebovitz.)

A pastry chef by training and eternal connoisseur of all things sweet, David doesn’t do short cuts – his recipes involve an irritating number of saucepans and bowls and ice-baths. The rich custards of egg yolks, whole milk and cream seem distinctly French, and defy veganisation. But the superb results cannot be denied.

The mango sorbet on the other hand, is both vegan-friendly and lazy cook-friendly – everything just gets pureed together in a food processor. I didn’t even churn it, simply layering the mango between fluffy cream clouds. The sorbet was probably a little icier than it needed to be, but it made a refreshing contrast to the much heavier coconut custard.

Mango-coconut spliced icecream
(based on David Lebovitz's recipes for toasted coconut icecream and mango sorbet in The Perfect Scoop)

toasted coconut custard
1 cup dried shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup milk
2 cups cream
3/4 cup castor sugar
generous pinch salt
5 egg yolks
1 teaspoon bourbon vanilla

mango sorbet swirl
1 large ripe mango
1/3 cup castor sugar
1/3 cup water
juice of one lime
2 teaspoons Cointreau
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 175ºC. Spread the coconut on a baking tray and bake it for 5-8 minutes, stirring it at least twice, until it's fragrant and golden brown.

In a medium saucepan over gentle heat, stir together the milk, half of the cream, the sugar and salt, until the sugar has dissolved. Stir through the shredded coconut. Remove the mixture from the heat, cover it and allow it to infuse for an hour.

Reheat the coconut cream, then strain out the coconut - press down firmly on the coconut to extract as much liquid as possible. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Whisk in a little of the warm coconut-infused cream, then pour it all back into the saucepan. Whisk the eggs through the cream mixture, returning this saucepan to medium heat and stirring until the custard thickens.

Pour the remaining cream into a large bowl and strain the custard into the bowl. Stir them together well, adding the bourbon vanilla along the way. Chill the mixture thoroughly.

Cut the mango flesh away from the pit and place it in a food processor. Add the remaining sorbet ingredients to the food processor and puree the lot until it's smooth.

Churn the toasted coconut custard in an icecream maker until fluffy (mine took 20 minutes). Layer the toasted coconut and mango mixtures in a container before freezing the icecream for at least 4 hours.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

November 15, 2009: Sushi III

With the weather hotting up again and a handful of friends joining us for dinner, it seemed like it was time to bring out the Veganomicon sushi recipe again. We varied our toppings a little this time, in the process un-veganising things with the addition of Kewpie mayonnaise, which accompanied our standard spicy tofu, adding a slight twist on the always delicious recipe.

Cindy decided that Pandan 'chicken' would be a reasonable substitute for the KFC-style sushi rolls that used to be her favourite carriage on the sushi-train, so we baked up a batch and sliced them into sushi-size chunks. They were chunky, meaty and spicy - and no doubt far from authentic. Tasty though, very tasty.

Finally, something veg-tastic: marinated mushies, courtesy of Big Oven. This is super-simple: just chop up some mushrooms and soak them in a mix of rice vinegar, sake (we used dry sherry instead), a couple of shallots, some sugar, soy sauce and a dash of salt. Leave to soak for a few hours, stirring occasionally and you've got yourself a delicious Japanese-style mushroom mix. Combined with some sesame steamed spinach and some slices of avocado, this was an innovation that we'll no doubt return to.

Sushi has yet to let us down and, judging by the number of sushi rolls slammed down by our small group, it's a recipe that everyone enjoys. I thought we'd be eating sushi all week, but these were so successful that the leftovers were pretty limited. Ah well, we'll just have to make some more.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

November 14, 2009: Soulmama II

It is testament to the vast array of veg-friendly eating in Melbourne (and probably to our northside bias) that it's taken us more than three years to revisit the popular St Kilda vegetarian restaurant, Soulmama. Our only other visit occurred during our first month living in Melbourne and there seem to have been few changes since then. The setting is lovely, especially on a sunny day such as this one - the restaurant is located on the second floor of the St Kilda baths, with much of the seating in the large, well lit space overlooking St Kilda Beach and Port Phillip Bay.

The menu style is a little odd, given the classy-casual atmosphere this restaurant is going for. While table service abounds, main meals are 'medium' or 'large' and selected by queuing up at a buffet. Since this meal was both our lunch and dinner Michael decided to live large ($19.50), selecting five dishes from the display:
  • seasonal vegies and cauliflower in mushroom oyster sauce
  • beans and greens salad
  • eggplant, tempeh and noodle salad
  • tofu in Japanese Amai sauce
  • carrot and cauliflower hotpot
While he enjoyed them all, the tofu impressed him the most. I wondered, though, whether there was anything here that we couldn't cook at home.

Not having fond memories of the hot-box approach, I looked to the small list of made-to-order entrees, picking out the rice balls ($9.50) and gyoza ($9.50). The rice balls arrived first, hot and crisp out of the fryer, rich with a cheese-and-basil pesto flavour. I particularly liked the creamy mustard dipping sauce on the side (the other appeared to be stock standard sweet chilli).

The gyoza charmed me as soon as they arrived. Presented elegantly, the skins were perfectly seared on one side and steamed all over. If I hadn't been eating them at a vegetarian restaurant, the filling's resemblance to pork mince might have had me nervous - as it was, I simply relished some fine tofu preparation.

I couldn't resist a peek at the dessert menu and cajoled Michael into sharing a jaffa honeycomb truffle ($9.50). I'm not sure exactly what we expected, but it probably wasn't this - a ridiculously dense and sweet segment of orange-scented chocolate, eerily posed like the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, flecked with small crunches of honeycomb. (As an aside - this dessert was marked vegan and though I'm not certain, it's plausible that this is honey-free honeycomb... I certainly couldn't detect its flavour.) This is truly for the most die-hard dessert-lovers out there - we couldn't finish it and even yours 'chocoholic' truly wouldn't order it again.

My first reaction to the Soulmama experience is that it's overpriced, but on further reflection that's difficult to justify. The $20 mains, while not sophisticated, are generously portioned; the entrees and fresh and well executed. And the seaview setting is surely worth a few dollars. Regardless of our irregular patronage, Soulmama seems to be serving up something the St Kilda set likes with the restaurant booked out in the hours following our visit.

Updated 11/7/2011: Soulmama has closed down. It had its detractors, but it's hard to imagine a vegetarian restaurant with a better view.


You can read about our previous visit to Soulmama here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

November 4 and 13, 2009: Funky Pies

I've been hearing good things about Sydney's Funky Pies for some time, with murmering that they outshine other vegan pies on the market. For a month or two they were near-mythical objects, with Radical Grocery selling out of a batch in no time and our quest to get some from their World Vegan Day stall also coming up empty. I was beginning to wonder if we'd ever get to try them. And then bam: they're everywhere. The East Brunswick Club added to them to the menu, and Radical Grocery ordered in a massive batch. It was time to try them out.

Rather than forgo Philly cheese steaks or parmas, Cindy and I grabbed a handful from Anikee and took them home to prepare ourselves. We picked up two varieties: the Funky Chunky and the No Wurry Curry, kicking off our pie-tasting with the shitake-based chunky variety.

Awful name aside, this is one impressive pie. Large shitake chunks that have the texture of faux-meat (are they actually some sort of combo of soy protein and mushies? It's hard to imagine getting such meaty chunks just from mushrooms) and the gravy-tastic taste that you expect from a good pie. The pastry is top-notch as well, taking these pies straight to the top of my pie ranking table.

A week or so later and it was time to try our second batch - the No Wurry Curry pies. These are filled with a lentil, chickpea and coconut curry, which is nicely spiced but a tad on the dry side - the impressive pastry needs a more liquidy gravy inside to satisfy my pie cravings.

At $5.95 each to take home and bake, these aren't cheap pies (well above La Panella and Ykillamoocow), but the Funky Chunky pie is well worth the expense, with better pastry and a more delicious filling than any of the other options. The curry pie was a bit of a letdown in comparison, but I've heard good things about the Spicy Thai Pie so we won't settle on just the one variety just yet.

Radical Grocery is the best place to get them in Melbourne, although their stock tends to get bought up quite quickly. Funky Pies are also now available for $12 with chips and salad at the EBC, for those of you who'd rather someone else prepared your meat-pie fix for you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 10, 2009: East Brunswick Club VII

Edit 22/05/2012: The EBC has now closed, but most of the menu has migrated to The Cornish Arms.

I suppose I could pass off these photos as dessert following the EBC Philly Cheese Steak in my last post. I had no chance of fitting such a thing in on that night; actually we revisited this vegan-friendly pub a mere five days later, but with good reason! This time Michael and I were accompanying a larger crowd, all of us wanting to squeeze in some time with Liz before she moves further south to the Apple Isle.

Tuesday at the EBC is $12 parma night, and Michael and I didn't deliberate long before agreeing that we'd both order the discount option. The size of the cheap parmas is also discounted on the $18 variety but we didn't mind a bit - there's still plenty of food on the plate and, I couldn't help noticing, just that little more room for dessert (or beer, I guess, if that's your preference).

With Kristy at the table, I wasn't the only one preferring dessert over beer. The night's sweet options were 'peanut butter chzcake' and 'cherry vanilla' (both vegan, both $8) and we happily ordered one of each to split. We were even happier to discover that the 'cherry vanilla' dessert wasn't just fruit doused it vanilla essence, as we'd joked, but another dairy-free cheesecake-style slice.

These chzcakes do a stellar impression of the real thing, perfectly smooth and creamy without any untoward soy flavour. The cherry one was a little bland (especially considering how much it impressed us a year ago) but Kristy and I, united in our love of chocolate-peanut butter desserts, had no such complaint about the peanut butter chzcake. It's a super-rich slab of salty-sweet heaven, best shared with a fellow connoisseur.

Managing to sample the full dessert menu had me feeling pretty smart, and I soon discovered the table's collective cleverness extended to pub trivia too! Our impromptu EBC Tuesday Trivia team earned a repectable 2nd place and a cheeky bottle o' red.

You also can read about our previous visits to the EBC: one, two, three, four, five, six.

Friday, November 06, 2009

November 5, 2009: East Brunswick Club VI

Edit 22/05/2012: The EBC has now closed, but most of the menu has migrated to The Cornish Arms.
The East Brunswick Club's vegan Philly Cheese Steak has been an elusive and tantalising beast. It has been on and off and on and off the specials board, and been unavailable on $10 Mondays and Mexi Wednesdays. Now the EBC seems to have revised its menus. In the face of rising food costs, Monday meals have risen to $12, Mexi Wednesdays might be no more, and the Philly Cheese Steak has earned a more permanent place on the standard menu.

At $17, and notably absent from the cheap Monday menu, you'd want this burger to impress. It does! Silky-tender mock duck pieces get sauteed with capsicum and onions in a light and lightly spicy sauce, then stuffed into a roll with some pleasant-but-unnecessary vegan mozzarella. I'd be as, if not more, happy if the cheeze was replaced with some leafy greens but it'd be a token stab at nutrition in what's a fundamentally junky pub meal.

On this Thursday night, the EBC was typically popular and the food took a little while to arrive. However it was well worth the wait, with our meals arriving at the same time, with a smile and crispy hot (an improvement on some past performances). The chips were probably the best batch I've had here. The food's neither refined nor nutritious but if that was what we were after, we wouldn't have headed down to the pub!

Kristy and Toby have both written about the EBC's Philly Cheese Steak over at kblog.

You also can read about our previous visits to the EBC: one, two, three, four, five.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

November 3, 2009: Apple and walnut pancakes

During the first week or so of Michael's convalescence, I went into comfort food overdrive. A stray egg in the fridge turned into pancakes for breakfast on a weekday and then when there weren't any stray eggs I realised that I could still make pancakes from the pantry, thanks to Vegan Brunch.

My first rendition was cobbled together from memories of my mum's Sunday pikelets. They were always based on self-raising flour, eggs, milk, and a little sugar. Sometimes she subbed half the white flour with wholemeal, and occasionally she added grated apple. If you've not tried grated apple before, I highly recommend it - I love the extra moisture and tangy flavour it adds. Used in tandem with the wholemeal flour you end up with a healthier tasting pancake, but not a stodgy one. Since I was in a pantry-clearing mood, I threw a handful of walnuts into the mix too.

I lacked the intuition to whip up vegan pancakes on the fly, but of course Isa had me sorted. In Vegan Brunch, she recounts her first efforts to create them at the age of 17. The accompanying recipe for 'perfect pancakes' is clearly tried and true, having been published in Vegan with a Vengeance prior to this cookbook. While I was all anxious for an egg substitute, Isa doesn't seem to replace it directly - the liquids involved are oil, water, soy milk and a smidge of maple syrup. These pancakes were flatter and less cakey than my more traditional ones, but no less delicious.

As far as toppings go, I'm always keen on fruit and sometimes a little syrup - we had both on hand. On the second occasion I scavenged what pie filling remained, remodelling it into a rather fetching cashew cream dollop and orange compote.

Apple and walnut pancakes - traditional
(inspired by my mum's Sunday pikelets)

Sift together 1/2 cup plain flour, 1/2 cup wholemeal flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder. Stir through a tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt. Add a small peeled and grated apple, and 1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts. Lightly beat one egg in 1 cup of milk, then beat this liquid into the dry ingredients. Fry third-cups of the batter in a hot frypan, greased with a little butter. Only flip the pancakes once, when bubbles have risen to the batter's surface and it has started to dry out. If you want to keep a lot of pancakes warm for serving, set the oven to its lowest temperature, line a tray with baking paper, and store the fried pancakes in the oven.

Apple and walnut pancakes - vegan
(adapted from Perfect Pancakes in Vegan Brunch)

Sift together 1/2 cup plain flour, 3/4 cup wholemeal flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, a pinch of salt and a shake of ground cinnamon. Add a small peeled and grated apple, and 1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts. Gradually whisk in 2 tablespoons of canola oil, 1/3 cup water, 1 cup soy milk and 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. Fry third-cups of the batter in a hot frypan, greased with a little vegetable oil. Only flip the pancakes once, when bubbles have risen to the batter's surface and it has started to dry out. If you want to keep a lot of pancakes warm for serving, set the oven to its lowest temperature, line a tray with baking paper, and store the fried pancakes in the oven.

November 2, 2009: Creamy spring pasta bake

Diets probably don't come much more different than those of siblings Bec and James. While Bec is vegan, James has a salicylate intolerance. This natural preservative pervades the plant kingdom, meaning that the meat, dairy and eggs that Bec eschews are some of the least risky foods for James to eat.

Catering to both Bec and James is just the kind of challenge our potluckin' crew loves. Cooking vegan for a crowd has boosted our confidence and creativity in the kitchen, and we gobble up a good theme. Salicylate-free Vegan looked like being our most extreme theme yet. Bec and James helpfully supplied a spreadsheet of do's and don'ts - while vegetables are a fifty-fifty mix, the permissable fruit list had only two items, and most herbs, spices and condiments are out. James also hinted at some foods he's like to rediscover - mayonnaise, jam, and pasta sauce (the poor guy lives in a tomato-free world).

Pasta sauce! That was something I thought I could do. Thinking of the great cashew cream sauces we've discovered this year, I started my shopping list and moved on to flavourings. Garlic and onion? Done. Then some other veges - fennel, celery and asparagus suit the season. While I would have dearly loved to add some lemon juice or mustard to the mix, such acidic accents are very clearly on James' blacklist.

So I set about roasting and sauteeing veges, blending up a sauce and cooking some pasta. While all the elements tasted good, the final mix was pretty ugly and a bit gluggy. It looked a bit more enticing when at the last minute I decided to transfer it to a baking dish, sprinkle it with rice crumbs (our bread had some suspicious 3-digit additives), and bake it 'til the top was a little golden and crispy.

Creamy spring pasta bake

1. Saute and/or bake some veges with sunflower oil and salt. I:
  • slow cooked 2 onions (sliced into rings) until caramelised, about 45 minutes;
  • sauteed 4 chopped sticks of celery and one very large sliced fennel bulb until tender, about 20 minutes;
  • baked two chopped bunches of asparagus and 4 cloves of garlic until tender, about 15 and 25 minutes respectively.
2. Blend up a creamy sauce in a food processor.
  • Start by grinding 2 1/2 cups cashews to powder.
  • Add a 400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained.
  • Add 1/2 cup of Nuttelex, and salt to taste.
  • Finish with the baked garlic cloves and 1/4 cup water. (Maybe up to 1/2 cup water to reduce glugginess.)
3. Cook 500g of pasta.

4. Stir it all together in a big pot, adding the chopped leaves of the celery (or some parsley - it's allowed!). If you're happy and hungry, go ahead and eat! Otherwise, transfer it all to a baking dish, sprinkle over some rice crumbs, and bake until the top goes crispy and golden, about 20 minutes.


Pip has a run-down of all the contributed dishes over at The Fairest Feed.
Steph has posted D's recipes from the night at Vegan About Town.

November 9-December 24, 2009: Support Streetsmart

Streetsmart supplies grants to small, grassroots organisations that are combatting homelessness. In the six weeks leading up to Christmas, you can help Streetsmart help these organisations help the homeless (phew!) while dining out at some of Melbourne's great restaurants.

You can check out a full list of participating restaurants, Australia-wide, at the Streetsmart website. We've been to a few of them before! Check out our reviews of Abla's, Anada, Birdman Eating, Cumulus Inc, Ezard, Gingerboy, Laksa Me, Misuzu's, Oskar, Oyster Little Bourke, Red Spice Road, The Commoner, and The Town Hall Hotel.

Leave a donation when you pay your bill at a participating restaurant. As the Streetsmart logo above hints, as little as $2 can make a difference! You can also make direct donations to Streetsmart through Spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, your blog or by (gasp!) speaking directly, in person, to your friends, family and coworkers.

We plan to visit and review a few Streetsmart restaurants during the campaign. We hope you can find a way to pitch in too!

October 30, 2009: Lebanese lemonade

Initially we planned to order takeaway from Cafe Zum Zum on Friday night, and with this is mind I decided to make Lebanese lemonade. Never mind that we ended up eating pizza; this tangy drink perfectly cut through the greasy dough!

Liz deserves credit for introducing this rosewater-spiked version to me, first on her blog and then later ordering a jug for the table when we shared a meal at Mezza. I had assumed that such a heady concoction must be quite involved to make, but it really is just lemonade (lemon juice, sugar, water) with a capful of rosewater stirred through. And it is spectacular! I bought a second bag of lemons the next day for an encore batch, and it vanished as fast as the first jugful.

Lebanese lemonade
(taken from Cynna's blushing rose lemonade on Recipezaar)

5 1/3 cups water
1 cup castor sugar
1 1/3 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used 7-8 smallish lemons)
2 teaspoons rose water (or to taste)
lots of ice

Stir together the water and sugar in a saucepan over low-medium heat, until the sugar is dissolved. If you have plenty of time, pop it in the fridge to cool down.

Transfer the sugar syrup to a serving jug. Stir in the lemon juice and rosewater. Chill again if there's time, otherwise just add lots of ice and serve!

October 30, 2009: Crust pizza

After the best part of a week looking after a useless invalid, Cindy was ready to forego the kitchen on Friday night and order in some takeaway. We still haven't settled on an option when the pizza cravings hit (a delivery one anyway, we've got plenty of options for great pizza otherwise), with my favourite (Umago) low on Cindy's rankings. Last time we had this interminable discussion on the blog, KittyMeow recommended Crust Pizza, so when Jetsetting Joyce flagged their new Smith Street store, we were ready to give them a try.

The menu is chock-full of vego options, from 'healthy' Heart Foundation pizzas to the weirder upper crust options (curry pizza? Really?). We went a fairly conventional route, ordering three of the standard vego pizzas ($20 each for large ones) - Wild Mushroom, Sweet Potato and Vegie Moussaka. The pizza bases are thin and light, and they have a light touch with the toppings - the sauces and cheese don't dominate the main ingredients.

The best of the bunch was the wild mushroom, with three kinds of mushrooms, asparagus spears, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. Mushroom pizzas are always looked kindly upon in this house, and the addition of asparagus and pinenuts elevated this one from the usual fare.

The moussaka was a fantastic idea, with grilled eggplant, roasted potatoes, garlic, parmesan and bechamel sauce. It almost carried it off, but the potato slices were not as well cooked as they should have been, which lowered this one from outstanding down to adequate.

Finally, the sweet potato pizza, with roasted capsicum, cherry tomatoes, pinenuts, red onion and gorgonzola. With all those ingredients, you'd expect a flavour sensation, but this pizza really only came alive when you got a bit with gorgonzola in it. I may be a bit biased by my anti-tomato agenda, but on the whole this was the least impressive of the three.

At $20 a pop, Crust is a tiny bit pricier than some of the other places we've tried, but probably a tiny bit better as well. It's not a clear winner, but it's leading and will most likely be the place we call next time we want someone to bring pizza to us.

Address: 350 Smith Street, Collingwood (they're all over Melbourne)
Ph: 9095 0955 (again, this is the Collingwood store)
Price: Large vego pizzas - $20