Friday, December 31, 2010

December 24, 2010: Babka II

Babka has an excellent reputation but we rarely make it there for breakfast. It's understandably popular, it can be difficult to secure a table and there are other excellent options closer to our home. On the morning of Christmas Eve, however, we waltzed through to a table for two while others queued out the door for takeaway goods!

We both ended up choosing brunches from the specials board.  The zucchini, mint and fetta fritters with mild(ish) chilli and apple jam and avocado ($12.80) sounded like my kind of savoury breakfast.  While it was good, it wasn't everything I'd hoped for - the toast was unexpected, the avocado was a tiny portion, the chilli jam tasted great but was just barely jammy, and the zucchini fritters weren't cooked.  Well browned on the outside, the crust gave way to a interior that was all batter and no fritter.  Nothing tasted bad, though, and I cleared my plate.

Michael completed the breakfast switch by ordering the sweet special, ricotta hotcakes with strawberries and home grown honey and pistachios ($12.80).  These had the right texture - cooked through, light and fluffy.  While they were all that was promised, they weren't a patch on the blintzes that feature on Babka's regular menu.

Babka's latest specials weren't quite as special as we'd hoped, though we acknowledge that the kitchen was probably under a lot of pressure in these last shopping hours before Christmas.  The staff were supremely accommodating in the circumstances - prompt, attentive and even cheery.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

December 22, 2010: The Fox Hotel IV

The Fox Hotel's menu is so veg-friendly that even on our fourth visit, Michael and I have yet to repeat an order!  This time we sat in a cosy nook of the dining area and were joined by my mum and her sister Carol.

Michael checked out the Fox homemade vegetarian burger with lettuce, bush tomato relish, cheese, sprouts and tomato with fat chips on the side ($16).  The mixed veg patty passed muster and the relish and chips were more exciting; Michael effortlessly cleaned the plate long before the rest of us were done.

I'd been holding off on ordering the vegetable stack ($17) - I'm prejudiced against them after receiving many, many bad ones from unimaginative caterers, particularly at work-related events.  But after a string of terrific meals at this pub I felt ready to risk it.  The Fox's version is uglier than most -strange, since many of their dishes are smartly presented- but is stacked (ahem) with flavour.  Tomato and eggplant are charred on the outside and silky soft inside, haloumi is plentiful, the green bean layer is a little odd but not unwelcome, the spinach is a more natural green accompaniment, and the underlayer of roasted chat potatoes is sublime.  I don't care for olives, so it's not surprising that I didn't appreciate the messy smear of tapenade over one corner of the spinach. 

We did make one repetition on this evening; Carol and I shared a plate of apple cinnamon gyoza for dessert (previously blogged here).  They're still fabulous, and highly recommended.

Check out our previous visits to the Fox Hotel: one, two, three.  Since then our raving has inspired meveg and Mel: Hot or Not (accompanied by Miss Kish) to give it a go.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

December 20, 2010: Chickpea, tomato and bread soup

I'd made first use of Cindy's new cookbook Plenty to whip up a salad for Lisa's Christmas potluck, and its success inspired me to go digging for more options. The unseasonal December weather meant that I was up for something hearty and the beautiful picture of this chunky soup in Ottolenghi's book was enough to get me inspired.

The combination of the bread, veggies and chickpeas meant this was almost a stew rather than a liquidy soup. Still, it turned out fantastically well, rich in flavour and filled with chunky chickpeas and deliciously soggy chunks of bread. I think the bread pieces give it a slight illusion of heartiness - we both took what we thought were massive leftovers for lunch the next day and found ourselves needing afternoon tea to get through the day. Regardless, this was a definite success and will probably get another run out when winter rolls around next year.

Chickpea, tomato and bread soup 
(from Ottolenghi's Plenty)

1 large onion, sliced
2 small fennel bulbs, sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
3 celery sticks, sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup white wine
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons sugar
1 litre vegie stock (we made up some Massel 'beef' stock)
~200g old bread, ripped into chunks
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons basil pesto
a few fresh basil leaves
salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

In a large pot, sauté the onion and fennel in 3 tablespoons of the oil for about five minutes. Add the carrot and celery and keep cooking, until the vegies soften a bit (about 5 minutes). Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another minute, before pouring in the wine.

Let the wine bubble for a few minutes and then add in the canned tomatoes, the herbs, sugar, vegie stock and some salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss the read chunks with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Lay them out on a baking tray and bake in the oven for about 7 minutes - until the bread is completely dry. Take them out and put them aside.

Crush the chickpeas roughly in a bowl, leaving some whole and add them to the soup. Simmer everything for another five minutes and then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the soup up into bowls, dolloping some pesto on top and garnishing with fresh basil.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December 19, 2010: Mango and coconut rice salad

Hot on the heels of Cindy's icecream potluck, Lisa had us all booked in for a Christmas shindig at her place. I was craving some savoury goodies but couldn't really face much more time in the kitchen, so I decided to make a quick and easy salad from our new cookbook Plenty. As you'll have seen already, Cindy's sugar addiction knows no bounds and she stuck with sweets.

I ended up paying more attention to things like cauliflower tart, roast vegies, fried rice and mushroom pate than to this dish so I don't have too much to say about it. It was strongly flavoured, with loads of green herbs, delicious crispy onion bits and, of course, mango. The two rice varieties added a bit of heft, while the nuts and coconut some nice textural variety. We took a big pile of this to the party and ended up with almost nothing to take home, so I guess this meal can be classed as a potluck success. (Cindy ate the small scoop of leftovers the following day and said they were even better than the first time round - the rice had acquired a rich buttery flavour even though I'd subbed the original recipe's butter with olive oil.)

The potluck as a whole was fantastic - after a day of eating a diet comprised almost entirely of sugar, it was great to have such an array of wonderful, vegan savoury treats to lower the blood sugar a bit. Wonderful as well to spend a relaxed pre-Christmas afternoon with such a fantastic gang of people - we're looking forward to keeping the regular potlucks going in the new year.

Mango and coconut rice salad
(based on a recipe from Ottolenghi's Plenty)

150g basmati rice
50g wild rice
20 grams basil (preferably Thai basil, but we couldn't find any on a Sunday morning)
10g mint, roughly chopped
10g coriander, roughly chopped
2 spring onions, sliced finely
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
grated zest and juice of one lemon
2 small mangoes, cut into rough 2cm cubes
60g roasted, salted peanuts, roughly chopped
50g shredded coconut
2 tablespoons olive oil
25g crispy fried onion bits

Put the basmati rice in a saucepan with a dash of oil and a cup of water, along with a big sprig of basil (leave the whole thing intact). Bring to the boil, and then simmer, covered, until the water is absorbed and the rice tender (about 20 minutes). Discard the basil, and spread the rice out to cool.

Meanwhile, add 2.5 cups of water to the wild rice in another saucepan and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the grains have started to open up and are nice and tender. Drain and cool.

Roughly chop the rest of the basil and combine it with all of the rest of the ingredients (excluding the crispy onion bits). Mix it all together gently and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Garnish with the crispy onion pieces.

Monday, December 27, 2010

December 18, 2010: Chocolate beer waffles

Cindy spent most of the week taking charge of the kitchen in preparation for her birthday icecream potluck. I'm typically a savoury potlucker, so I was a bit short of ideas - in the end deciding to make use of our waffle maker to throw together some quick and easy accompaniment for all of the iceream. Cindy gave me a quick lesson and I was away - throwing the mix together is simple (although I still managed to forget the sugar in the first batch!) and the waffle-maker takes care of the rest.  These were a bit chunkier than Cindy's previous efforts and were tasty without being particularly memorable.  I'd be tempted to add a bit more cocoa next time to get a more powerful chocolate hit and I didn't detect too much of the beer flavour coming through.  Still, they were never going to be the main event, and added some variety to a table groaning under the weight of all kinds of frozen treats.

This waffle is pictured with peanut butter icecream.  A past potluck at Miss T's inspired this one but it didn't turn out as well as Cindy had hoped.  She wants to continue refining that recipe before posting it.

Chocolate beer waffles 
(courtesy of Vegan Brunch)

1 1/3 cups of plain flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup soy milk
3/4 cup dark beer (I used Cooper's stout)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and sugar.

Pour in the milk, beer, oil and vanilla, and mix until everything is combined into a doughy mix.

Turn on the waffle iron, spray with cooking oil and pour in the batter, cooking for about 20 minutes (at least in our machine).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

December 16, 2010: Xmas pudding bites

For the month of December, Robyn picked a very seasonal recipe to display in the calendar.  (She also mailed me another totally original home-made calendar full of fab recipes for 2011 - yippee!)  Fruit puddings have never had much of a role in my family's Christmas traditions and their heaviness doesn't appeal to me in our summer setting.  But this is a recipe for bite-sized balls of choc-topped pudding and I could buy into that.  (It turns out that such mini puddings are a Christmas tradition of their own in some families.)

This kind of presentation - the ball rolling, the suspended-mid-drip white chocolate 'custard', and the holly-coloured sprinkles - is fancier that what I usually go in for, but it's really not too difficult.  What I mean is, it's not piping.  (Oh, lord, how I hate piping.)  It just calls for a knife, a teaspoon, and a wee bit of patience.  And you get a whole lot of cute for your efforts.

I made my first batch keeping almost true to the original recipe (making a couple of minor convenience substitutions) and shared them with my colleagues at our work Christmas party (they're pictured up top).  Then I made some more substantive changes and contributed a second vegan and gluten-free batch to Lisa's Xmas potluck (pictured just above).  Here I replaced the crumbled sponge cake with the only vegan and gluten-free biscuits I could access, Leda Gingernuts, used Bonvita rice milk white chocolate on the advice of my vegan Facebook brains trust, and scrounged some leftover red jellies from my icecream party in lieu of the long-gone glace cherries for the garnish.

I reckon my vegan, gluten-free mini-puddings looked just as great, if not better than, my first more traditional run.  They tasted pretty good too, though the crumbled biscuits had them a little sandier and more sugary than the originals.  If you can find a light cake that fits your dietary constraints, I'd definitely recommend it over the biscuits.

This was the perfect calendar recipe - something I wouldn't normally choose to make, nudging me to expand my skills, with a rewarding result that I'd happily make again.  These just might become a new where's the beef? Christmas tradition.

Xmas pudding bites
(it looks very much as if Robyn sourced the recipe from here)

original ingredients
1 cup raisins, chopped
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 cup dry roasted almonds
300g sponge cake, crumbled
200g dark chocolate
100g white chocolate
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
pistachios and glace cherries to garnish

vegan, gluten-free alternative ingredients (also a half-quantity)
1/2 cup raisins, chopped
1/4 cup currants
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/4 cup dry roasted almonds
155g packet vegan gluten-free gingernuts, crushed
100g vegan dark chocolate
50g vegan white chocolate
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
pistachios and vegan gluten-free red jellies to garnish

In a small saucepan, stir together the raisins, currants, brown sugar, brandy and orange juice.  Simmer the fruit for 3 minutes, then set it aside to cool.

Blend the almonds to a coarse meal in a food processor.  Mix them together with the cake/biscuit crumbs in a large bowl, then stir through the cooled fruit mixture.  Gently melt the dark chocolate and add it to the bowl, stirring to combine.  The mixture should have formed a firm and slightly crumbly dough.

Roll inch-diameter balls from the pudding mixture, place them on a lined tray and refrigerate until firm.

Finely chop the red and green garnishes.  Gently melt the white chocolate and oil together so that they're silky and quite liquid.  Drizzle the white chocolate over the pudding balls and sprinkle over the garnish.  Refrigerate until the chocolate has set, and continue to store them there until serving.  (They can last at least a few hours out of the fridge in cool conditions.)

Friday, December 24, 2010

December 13-18: Neapolitan icecream

So this birthday of mine was a notable one, as far as societies with decimal numeral systems go, and I wanted to do something special to mark it.  I did a few nice somethings, actually, but the most notable event was a vegan icecream potluck party.  I hinted at it months in advance, K supported it with dizzying enthusiasm, and everyone else kindly went along for the ride.  I spent weeks consuming everything not icecream related in the freezer, planning flavours and waffles and suggesting others bring fruit, sauce, sprinkles, cookies - anything that'd fit into a Saturday afternoon sundae.

I knew I'd be crazy not to make my salted caramel triumph again, and from there I mused about chocolate and peanut butter and vanilla and fruits... until I thought of Neapolitan and just couldn't stop thinking about it.  It's a childhood staple that many vegans probably wouldn't have eaten in years, and would be all the better for being made with real strawberries.  Could I arrange the three layers neatly?  Would it take me days?  I knew I had to find out.

I started out almost a week in advance, preparing the strawberry layer.  I found that the flavour of my punnet of strawberries was a little overwhelmed by the coconut milk, and added a little pomegranate molasses as a tangy boost.  I also couldn't resist a few drops of my vegan-friendly red food colouring for that straight-out-of-childhood hue.  Once churned it was quite easy to manoeuvre into an angled lunchbox, which I froze positioned on its side to make space for the chocolate and vanilla layers to come.

I prepped the vanilla section a day later without a hitch but came up against an unanticipated obstacle before I got to the chocolate.  I lost my sense of taste.  More completely than I have ever done before. I'd caught an epic cold, such that I couldn't discern a single flavour in the gorgeous, healing laksa Michael cooked for dinner.  This was not the time for icecream experimentation.  I reluctantly deferred my project for a few days, and insisted that Michael double-check my cocoa usage when I did eventually get back to it.  My last little challenge wasn't taste-based - I ended up making far too much vanilla and far too little chocolate icecream.  In the recipe below, I've suggested dividing 3 cans of coconut milk evenly between the vanilla and chocolate layers instead of my original 2:1 ratio.  Hopefully that'll make something closer to two even litres of tri-coloured goodness.

This icecream takes a lot of forward planning but I've no regrets - it sure put me in the right party mood!  And I'm mighty grateful to the fab veg*ns who granted my birthday wish.  They brought cookies and sprinkles and chocolates and fruit and waffles and icecream flavours you wouldn't believe!  Also laughs aplenty.  Among them K, Veganator and Johanna have blogged their contributions.

Neapolitan icecream
(inspired by recipes like this, this and this)

strawberry layer
250g punnet strawberries
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 tablespoon arrowroot
400mL can coconut milk
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
red or pink food colouring

Wash and hull the strawberries.  Place them in a food processor with the lemon juice and puree thoroughly.  Add the sugar and arrowroot and blend until smooth.

If you want a smooth icecream, strain the strawberry mixture.  Transfer the strawberry mixture into a medium-large saucepan and stir in the coconut milk.  Taste the mixture and add pomegranate molasses if you want a more fruity taste.  Stir the mixture over medium heat until slightly thickened.  Remove it from the heat and add a couple of drops of food colouring.  Chill the mixture thoroughly in the fridge.

vanilla layer

2 tablespoons arrowroot
2 x 400ml cans coconut milk (would use 1 1/2 cans next time)
3/4 cup castor sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place the arrowroot in a mug and add 1 tablespoon of the coconut milk, mixing it to a smooth paste.

Put the remainder of the first can of coconut milk into a medium-large saucepan with the sugar and set it over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  When the sugar has dissolved, add the second can of coconut milk and the arrowroot paste.  Bring the mixture almost to the boil, stirring regularly, and then remove it from the heat.  Stir through the vanilla and chill the mixture thoroughly in the fridge.

chocolate layer

3/4 cup castor sugar
1 x 400mL can coconut milk (would use 1 1/2 cans next time)
1/4 cup cocoa

1/2 tablespoon arrowroot
1 teaspoon vanilla

Dissolve sugar in the coconut milk in a medium saucepan; whisk in cocoa and arrowroot.  Bring the mixture to the boil, then take it off heat and stir in the vanilla.  Chill the mixture thoroughly in the fridge.

Use a container with a liquid-proof seal to store the final icecream.  Choose a flavour to start with and churn it in an icecream maker until it's light and fluffy. Scoop the mixture into the container, tipping it at an angle and filling roughly a third of the container.  Freeze the icecream solid with the container positioned on its side.

Repeat this approach over a series of days with the other two flavours, churning and partially filling the container at an angle and freezing it on its side.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

December 13, 2010: The Post Office Hotel

The quest for pub-club venues took us further afield than ever in December - up into the wilds of Coburg to sample the wares of The Post Office Hotel. Owned by a motley crew of Melbourne music identities, including Tex Perkins and members of Dallas Crane, The Post Office feels like a pub transported straight from the back streets of Fitzroy to Sydney Road.

It's a pretty massive space - an airy front bar (complete with jukebox - no doubt loaded up with all the Ladyboyz hits), a stylish dining area and a spacious, covered beer garden. We set up out the back, enjoying a rare day of Melbourne sunshine. On Monday nights, the food options are restricted to the bar menu - five mains ($20 a pop) and a similar number of sides and starters ($10). The vego options are quite limited, but there were enough for Cindy and I to find two meals worth of goodness.

I went for the main, a green bean tagine, with seeded cous-cous and soft herbs.

This was surprisingly successful - a spicy stew of crispy beans, soft cous-cous and loads of herby flavours. I thought it might get boring as my entire meal, but the richness of the sauce had me scraping out the bottom of the tagine.

Cindy decided to combine some smaller dishes - battered potato moons and tamarind roasted mushrooms with sesame yoghurt labna ($10 each). The mushrooms came out swimming in an oily and delicious liquid, which had infused them with a sweetness and slight tang (presumably the tamarind). The yoghurt cheese on the side didn't seem to add a lot to the dish but the tender and tasty mushrooms were surprisingly great.

And then there were the chips. Thickly battered little chunks of glorious spud - Cindy was pretty thrilled with these, and guarded them jealously.

The rest of the pub gang were fairly happy with their meals. The vego options lack the variety of most of the other pubs we've pub-clubbed at (the full dining menu doesn't provide many more options either) and it's not the cheapest pub food around, but it's well prepared and served up in a lovely venue. Certainly worth a visit if you're in the area. Who knows, maybe you'll find Tex working the bar.

The Post Office hasn't received a lot of blog attention - just this rave from My Edible Life.

The Post Office Hotel
231 Sydney Rd, Coburg
9386 5300
fully licensed
sides and entrees: $10, mains: $20

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

December 12, 2010: Panama

On Sunday night we met with Mike and Jo, took and lost a chance at Huxtable's non-reserved tables, and continued on to Panama. Three floors above Smith St, it's a surprisingly large venue with bars, pool tables, high tables and couches as well as a more conventional dining section. Glorious arched wall-to-ceiling windows funnel light to almost every corner, though when the light goes down I've heard the music go up and felt the vibe get clubby.

The menu offers a decent suite of vegetarian options - three out of eight starters, two out of eight mains and seemingly all six sides - though a vegan might have to negotiate with staff (the chickpea chip starter and lentil salad main might fit the bill). With starters at least $10 each and mains exceeding $20, we were hoping for something good.

And our starter was good! Michael and I shared one of their specials - zucchini flowers stuffed with gorgonzola and served on a bed of greens and grapes (~$12). The textures were fresh and varied and the sweet/bitter/creamy/pungent flavours were lovely, though a bit unbalanced. Too much gorgonzola, Jo commented, and we agreed.

For his main, Michael ordered the warm salad of lentils, freekeh and crunchy sprouts with sauteed spring vegetables ($22.50). With the exception of the orange pumpkin smear beneath the veges it was bland, dry and disappointing.

I fared better with the ravioli of artichoke, potato and two cheeses with creamed watercress ($24). This was definitely not dry - the sauce was almost a thick soup! There was plenty of springtime flavour and a pleasing balance of rich cheese and filling potato against the lighter watercress and hints of lemon.

It seems that I was lucky more than Michael was unlucky - Mike and Jo were distinctly unimpressed by their more meaty meals. It's a lovely setting that offers a few lovely dishes, but we'll be reluctant to fork out for such inconsistency again.


Level 3, 231 Smith St, Fitzroy
9417 7663
fully licensed
veg entrees $10-14, veg main $22.50

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 12, 2010: Sugardough III

Michael picked out these cute Sugardough sweets for dessert on my birthday night in - individually (but generously) portioned cherry chocolate creme brulee and citron tart.  In the end dinner was so late and filling that we deferred them to the next day, with me gleefully consuming my share of each for breakfast.

I like the way Sugardough present their desserts - they're neat and pretty and have a hand-made charm about them.  But honestly, I think they're the kind of thing a half-decent baker can pull off (I'll humbly submit this lemon slice and this chocolate berry custard as worthy home-made alternatives), though perhaps not in such variety on any given day.  Sugardough's versions were sweeter than I would prefer but a delight to eat nonetheless.

You can read about our previous visits here and here.  Since then Sugardough has appeared on Mai Lin Talks, Ryan On Coffee, Hot Chocolates and Lattes, melbourne gastronome, vegan melbourne, Words and Flavours, The Hungry Lawyer and Meating People.

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 11, 2010: Arepas with avocado tempeh filling

Cindy's ridiculous work birthday started with a breakfast out, was broken up by lunch provided by Mankoushe and was capped off with a home-cooked dinner from yours truly. She'd put her order for arepas in early and I'd headed off to Casa Iberica and Minh Phat to buy key ingredients - everything was in place. I couldn't find Colombian-style masa harina at Casa Iberica, instead grabbing the Mexican version. If I'd bothered to read the Viva Vegan recipe I was cooking from properly, I'd have noticed the line, "Never substitute Mexican-style masa harina." As it was, I read it at 7pm on Saturday night,and decided to push on regardless. Despite much grumbling and numerous retweakings of flour/water ratios, these arepas weren't a total disaster. They weren't amazing but were reasonably edible (at least after a few mojitos) but I won't post a recipe until I do a better job.

The filling, on the other hand, worked out pretty well. This was another Cindy choice, straight from the pages of Viva Vegan. There was one tricky ingredient - jicama - which, after some Twitter consultation, I decided to substitute with kohlrabi. Otherwise it was all pretty simple - a lightly flavoured tempeh mix and some fresh avocado slices, which worked particularly well topped off with a smear of Casa Iberica-sourced chilli sauce (not pictured - this was Cindy's milder meal). While the whole special birthday dinner plan fell a bit short of greatness, things could have been much more disappointing.

Avocado-tempeh filling (for arepas)
via Viva Vegan

250g tempeh, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup vegan mayo
juice of 1.5 limes (use the other half in your mojitos!)
the green parts of 2 green onions, chopped finely
1/2 of a kohlrabi, peeled and grated
1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced

Pop the tempeh chunks into a large saucepan full of boiling water and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain, sprinkle with soy sauce and leave to cool.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayo, lime juice and pepper, and then stir in the green onions, kohlrabi and cooled tempeh. Cover and chill for half an hour or so to allow the flavours to blend.

If your arepas have worked out perfectly, cut them open and fill them with a layer of the avo and a generous stuffing of the tempeh mixture. Otherwise just slather everything on top and enjoy the glorious mess.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

December 11, 2010: North Cafeteria II

Saturday was Cindy's birthday. Normally we'd have been setting off across town for breakfast somewhere new and exciting in celebration, but this year her birthday coincided with a horribly stressful work period that meant every non-celebratory minute of the day needed to be spent at in her office. So we looked closer to home for a nice birthday breakfast option. North Cafeteria in Rathdowne Village fit the bill perfectly.

Not much has changed since our last visit - the prices have snuck up by a dollar or so but the menu remains basically the same. It's still the hippest place on Rathdowne St and they still churn out pretty decent coffees, which helped kick me out of my cold-inspired morning funk (the observant will notice my indulgence in mocktails at Baba the night before, also related to illness).

I knew I wanted some of the beans I'd had last time, but also knew that I needed more variety than the basic bean dish provides, so I went for a build your own brekkie: poached eggs with sides of beans, avocado and mushrooms ($16.5).

Aside from the rather miserly slice of avo (which cost $3!), this was an excellent meal - the beans fall just short of Henry's beans excellence, but are still creamy and herb-licious, while the mushrooms and eggs were perfectly cooked. It all made for messy piles of delicious toast topping (egg mush, smeared with beans and then dotted with avo chunks and mushies). Outstanding.

Cindy decided she needed something hearty in her to tackle the trauma to come, so she took a rare detour into the savoury side of the menu: fried eggs with tomato and spuds ($13.5).

Again, everything combined beautifully although Cindy's ardour was focussed, typically, on the spuds: lightly browned, slightly oily and deliciously starchy. They were like a little serve of breakfast chips. A perfect start to her day.

We've been strangely slow to revisit North - it's close, has a good range of vego options and puts together a pretty excellent breakfast. Maybe it falls a little short of some of our favourites in terms of value for money, but it's remains an excellent local brekkie option.

Read about our previous visit to North here.

Strangely, there haven't been too many reviews of North since our last visit: just Slicing Almonds and Zesting Lemons and The Breakfast Club Carlton and this brief summary at non-blog Broadsheet.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December 10, 2010: Baba III

Edit 20/05/2012: Baba has been replaced by burger joint The B.East - it has a veg option but we didn't love it.
My job demanded a lot of me in the first fortnight of December, and Michael kindly ensured that I was well fed and well entertained in the hours I had away from my work.  (I hope he kept you well entertained too, with his three consecutive blog posts - possibly a new record!  And I think he's got more to come.)  This included dinner at Baba on Friday night. 

The edible options at Baba haven't changed an awful lot since we last blogged it two years ago (if anything there are probably fewer), though a new-ish bright yellow awning and matching printed menus do something to alter the vibe.

The cocktail list is an attractive one and although Shirley Temples are not explicitly offered any longer, they were happy to ad lib a mocktail for Michael.  It was even tastier than my potent concoction and a third of the price.

The eggplant ezmesi ($8) was as silky and smoky as we remembered it, and came with a very generous portion of bread.

The saganaki and carrot fritters (4 for $11) also hit their mark again - a bit of saltiness, a bit of chew and lovely crumbing, all set off with judicious dashes of yoghurt, olive oil, salt and pepper.

The roast pumpkin smash pizza ($13) with fetta, walnuts and dates didn't live up to my very fond memories.  There was almost no pumpkin to be seen or tasted, and the fetta dominated everything.  It didn't have that range of sweetness, gentle bitterness and warm spices that so excited me previously, just an agreeable but one-dimensional saltiness.

The fried potatoes ($8) were the one new dish for us, and a very impressive one at that.  The spuds were tender and waxy and dressed with a deft hand, rich with olive oil and yoghurt but never gluggy.  Onions, fresh herbs and a shake of hot spice made 'em pop.  (Oh lord, I am so sorry to use the word 'pop'.  Has Masterchef not ruined it for us all?)

And with that we were full and very happy, unable to consider the dessert menu.  We received pretty good service, which is a vast improvement on our first two visits, and the music volume was kept in check.  Baba might be flawed but it sure hits some high notes.

You can read about our first two visits here and here.  Since then, accounts of Baba have also appeared on Green Gourmet Giraffe, Flagrant Food Fawning, Ryan On Coffee, easy as vegan pie and The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

December 6, 2010: Pomegranate Tofu

We had some vegie box asparagus and lettuce to use up and a whole pile of spanakopita leftovers keeping us lunched up for the week, so we decided to make a big serve of this green salad. To accompany it, Cindy suggested we whip up a quick batch of K and Toby's pomegranate tofu. It's incredibly quick and easy and so, so delicious - the pomegranate makes it tangy and sweet while the soy sauce adds some nice salty layers. This will definitely go into our lazy weeknight dinner rotation.

Pomegranate Tofu 
(adapted from In the Mood for Noodles, who adapted it from Cooking Books)

500g tofu, sliced into 10cm by 5cm rectangles
1-2 tablespoons vegie oil
1/4 cup tamari
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1/4 cup water

Mix together the tamari, garlic, pomegranate molasses and water.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, until it's nice and hot.

Brown the tofu on each side and then pour the sauce over. Continue to cook until the sauce reduces right down (maybe 8-10 minutes) and then flip the tofu a final time to make sure both sides are covered in the saucy goodness.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

December 5, 2010: Lau's Family Kitchen

Good vego Chinese is hard to find (mock-meat places aside of course) - even in the vegetables and bean curd menu sections, many places throw in oyster sauce, pork mince or seafood (case in point: at a recent conference dinner I ordered 'stuffed bean curd in spiced salt', which turned out to be stuffed with king prawns). Our recent favourite, Idea Fine Food and Wine is no longer with us, so when semi-fancy meaty Chinese place Lau's Family Kitchen featured in Lisa's best eats for vegans and vegetarians we were very keen to give it a shot.

We teamed up with regular eating buddies Toby and K for an early Sunday dinner, admiring the cute wallpaper decorating small sections of the walls. The staff were quickly on hand to talk us through the menu - letting us know what could be done vegetarian and being completely on top of vegan requirements (the vego dumplings have a smidgen of egg, while the delicious sounding eggplant special had fish sauce in it). They were happy to tweak a bunch of dishes for us, swapping and dropping ingredients so we had a good range of options. We decided to order everything we could all eat and share - basically an entree and four mains.

The entree was a steamed rice noodle roll with spinach ($13.50) - we got two serves, and the waiter happily divided them up into four little bowls for us.

These were a great start - beautifully soft noodles, filled with spinach and sauced up nicely. flavours were not particularly strong, but I added a touch of the chilli sauce that they gave us, and was in heaven.

The first the mains was the most anticipated - ma po eggplant ($24, the waiter had decided that two dishes of tofu was too many, so he'd got the chef to make us an eggplant version of the ma po tofu).

The ma-po was the dish Lisa raved about, and this didn't disappoint. The eggplant was falling apart soft, while the mushrooms, capsicum and other vegies provided a bit of textural variety. But this is all about the sauce - it's much different to our version, but wonderful nonetheless. Spicy without being painfully fiery, sweet without being sickly and rich without being gluggy. If you're a vego at Lau's, order this dish (with tofu or eggplant, either would be great).

The tofu dish we did try was the deep fried bean curd with mushrooms ($18).

This was a nice enough dish, that suffered in comparison to the ma-po. The green vegies were fresh and crispy and there was a nice variety of mushrooms to accompany the big fried chunks of tofu, but the sauce was a bit lacking in inspiration - it was enjoyable without being particularly memorable.

Next up was the stir-fried seasonal vegetables ($17).

This came in a similar sauce to the deep-fried tofu and was basically the same dish minus the tofu and plus more asparagus and mushrooms. Again, everything was fresh and tasty, but it wasn't the most exciting way to spend $17 on food.

The last main on the list that was veg-adaptable was the Singapore noodles (minus the usual prawns and pork!, but still $24).

This had an nice spicy kick and was filled with fresh, crunchy vegies. The noodles were okay too (maybe a little overdone?), but the whole dish was a tad on the oily side. Still, it was probably my second favourite main of the night.

We left a little disappointed with Lau's - partly due to our high expectations. The combination of such a great pedigree (the guys running this place are the sons of the original Flower Drum owner) with a reputation for veg-friendliness had us expecting something spectacular. The ma po eggplant and the rice noodle rolls passed muster, but the rest of the food was just a tad underwhelming. Throw in some reasonably hefty prices and it's not somewhere we're likely to be hurrying back across town for.

Lau's Family Kitchen has been given positive reviews by everyone else who has blogged it, so maybe their meaty options are a bit more impressive - see: Melbourne Gastronome, Mel: Hot or Not, Jeroxie, Munching in Melbourne, I'm Hungry, 1001 dinners, 1001 nights, onnomnomnom, Delishaz, Tomato, Gastronomical voyage in Melbourne and tummyrumbles.

Environmentally-minded omnivores may be a tad concerned that Lau's sells Patagonian toothfish, which is on the Greenpeace red list and rated 'avoid' by Seafood Watch and the Australian Marine Conservation Society, suggesting it's not particularly sustainable.

Lau's Family Kitchen
4 Acland Street, St Kilda
8598 9880
Vegie mains: $17-$24

Monday, December 06, 2010

November 27, 2010: Julio II

Edit 2/12/2019: Julio closed some time ago. Now this address holds Mary Miller.

While Cindy was hard at work whipping up waffles at home, I was standing in the drizzle fruitlessly trying to convince the good voters of Brunswick to swing to the left. After a couple of fairly dispiriting hours, it was time to cast my vote and meet up with Cindy for breakfast across the road at Julio. This cafe is forever associated with politics for me, being the place where we watched the glorious demise of the Howard government in 2007. Despite being across the road from a polling booth, Julio was only about two-thirds full. We secured a table and perused the menu.

Having snuck a doughnut earlier in the morning, I opted for something reasonably healthy - muesli with fruit and yoghurt ($12).

It's always a bit strange paying for muesli, but this was a pretty satisfying breakfast - lots of delicious fruit, a decent combination of fruit and nuts in the muesli and a pleasing dollop of yoghurt.

Cindy also went for something a bit different - Romeo and Juliet (white cheese and quince paste on sourdough, $8.5, see top pic). The cheese was pretty mild, but worked nicely with the sweetness of the quince paste and the excellent bread.

All in all, Julio provided us with a pretty decent breakfast - the coffee was decent, the staff friendly and the doughnuts still pretty excellent. If you're in the neighbourhood, it's well worth stopping by.

Read about our previous visit to Julio here.

Since our last visit, lots of other bloggers have given Julio the thumbs up (fat feminist foodie, Do You Want to Stay for Breakfast?. Food Fable, Fitzroyalty, Words and Flavours, Sleeping Pirate) while others have had more mixed experiences (Never an Idol Moment, Breakies worth getting up for).

Friday, December 03, 2010

November 27, 2010: Ugly duckling waffles

I realise this is probably one of the less attractive waffles you've seen - it looks unevenly cooked and actually rather burnt in places.

But I need you to know that they're not charred!  They're choc chipped and they're my new favourite snack.

To make them I just went along with my rum-banana waffle recipe, doubling the quantity of mashed banana and stirring 1 cup of dark chocolate chips through the batter just before cooking.

These ugly ducklings' varied flavours and textures provide plenty of interest and don't want for any syrup, cream or other condiment - I've been eating them unadorned, straight from the toaster.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

November 24, 2010: Leftover makeover - Spanish-style tortilla

This was one of those meals designed entirely around the leftovers we needed to finish off - silverbeet, potatoes and onions from our vege box, some firm tofu that didn't make it into that orange marinade, and eggs we'd bought for the pizza loaf.  I web-searched Spanish tortilla recipe and winged it from there.

Pre-cooking the potatoes, onion and silverbeet made for some long-ish preparation but ultimately we thought it was worth it - this generated 4-6 satisfying serves.  The egg doesn't dominate quite so much as it would in a quiche or frittata, it's more there just to bind the other ingredients together.  I'll leave the tofu out of the recipe below - we had just a small amount, sliced and fried with the potatoes.

The most memorable part of this meal was Michael's impressive tortilla flipping - I don't think either of us has successfully upended anything so large in a frypan before!

Spanish-style tortilla
(inspired by online recipes such as this one)

3 large potatoes (about 600g)
300g silverbeet
1 large onion
6 cloves garlic
5 eggs
olive oil
salt and pepper

Peel the potatoes and slice them into thin rounds.  Separate the silverbeet stems and leaves; chop the stems finely and the leaves roughly.  Chop the onion and garlic finely.

Heat some oil in the base of a frypan and lay out the potato slices so they're not overlapping; fry them on both sides until they just start to soften (they don't need to be cooked through).  Transfer those spuds to a plate lined with absorbent paper and continue to fry the potato slices (+ bonus tofu slices) in batches.

When you're finished with the potatoes, sauté the onion and silverbeet stems until softened.  Add the garlic and silverbeet leaves, cooking until the leaves are slightly wilted.

Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl.  Stir in all of the vegetables gently, so that they're all coated in the egg.  There's no need to be too fussy, though - there's no harm in a few crumbled potatoes.  Transfer the entire mixture back to the frypan, cover it and cook it over low heat for 5-10 minutes, until it's cooked at least half-way through.  Take a deep breath and prepare for flipping!  Gently place a dinner plate over the tortilla and flip the plate and frypan together, so that the tortilla now rests on the plate.  Slide the tortilla back into the pan and cook it for a further 5 minutes.  When it's ready, slice it into wedges to serve.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November 23, 2010: The Gasometer II

11/11/2013: We're sad to report the closure of our beloved Gasometer.

On Tuesday night, K and I hit Gasometer to try a couple more of their veg options.  I went for the super-cute vegan chorizo burger ($15) - it arrives crowned with a pickled onion on a stick, in a basket with chips and a cucumber pickle and squeezy ketchup and mustard on the side.  These are the same to-die-for steak fries I ordered for my first Gasometer dinner, and we certainly didn't let any go to waste.

The burger is outfitted right - the bun, lettuce, roasted peppers and chimichurri aioli are rocking the support roles.  Toby has declared this the best vegan patty he's ever had, but unfortunately I can't say the same - mine was a bit mushy and squished out the sides of the bun with every bite.  And I wasn't tasting spiciness or smokiness.  It wasn't a bad burger, it just wasn't evoking chorizo for me at all.

I would consider revisiting the Gasometer's burger but for now I'll continue to roam the rest of their menu (and graze on the chips whenever possible!).

You can read about our first visit to the Gasometer here.  Since then it's also been blogged by Veg in the West.

Monday, November 29, 2010

November 22, 2010: Zesty orange mojo tofu

We had a bit of time on Sunday to put together a speedy meal for weekday leftovers before heading out for dinner and a movie. This is yet another Viva Vegan* baked tofu recipe, following on from the success of the chimichurri tofu. It follows the same basic approach, with a marinade made from orange juice and zest, lime juice, garlic, and spices. We mistimed everything a little and left the tofu a bit under-baked so it lacked the wonderful texture of our first shot, but the flavours were fantastic - sweet and tangy, spiced up with garlic and oregano.

Cindy took it upon herself to whip up some sides - using up our silverbeet  with capers and sultanas (also from Viva Vegan). This was an ideal accompaniment, its dressing cutting through the slightly dry tofu and the salty capers adding another flavour to the mix. She also made up some red quinoa, rounding things out perfectly. This all left us with some magnificent lunches for the working week ahead.

*We've already reproduced a bunch of Viva Vegan recipes, so I'm not going to spell the whole thing out here.  Seriously, go and buy this book; it's brilliant.

Friday, November 26, 2010

November 20, 2010: Gingerboy II

Some of my closer colleagues and I have milestones to mark this year-end and I persuaded them that we should make that mark with a banquet at Gingerboy. It's been about 20 months since Michael and I first sampled their banquet - back then we found the vegetarian options excellent but not well-identified.  This booking had a more auspicious beginning, with the staff member I spoke to on the phone confessing to being vegetarian themselves.  Our waiters on the night might not have been vegos but they knew the deal and communicated it well, always pointing out which dishes were veg-friendly and which not, which dishes were portioned for Michael and I only and which were intended for the entire party to share.

The cocktail menu is still prominent and original - this here near-abstainer was inspired to order two of the beasts over the course of the evening.

The first vegetarian special of the evening was a super-crunchy rice dish.  We loved the dressing, but it never really melded with the harsh rice chunks.

There were son-in-law eggs all round.  While the folks at Easy Tiger would have you smash these into your rice for richness and spice, the Gingerboy staff goad their customers to eat an egg whole!

The san choy bau was also shared amongst vegos and omnis alike; it featured some gloriously seasoned mushrooms.

Michael and I were thrilled to see the return of the crispy chilli salt tofu, a veg adaptation of Gingerboy's cuttlefish snack.  Crisp and well-seasoned on the outside, meltingly silken on the inside, I dread to think what quantities I would consume if I weren't constrained to sharing this one bowl-full at a banquet.

More silken tofu!  This one with its straight-out-of-the-box ridges still apparent, smothered in a dark, rich mushroom sauce and topped with fresh herbs and chilli.

The corn cakes didn't evoke the same enthusiasm as last time we had them - they were very batter-heavy and didn't contain an awful lot of corn.

We were encouraged to sop up this coconut-heavy sauce with the fritters, but I didn't think they worked especially well together.

We were lefting waiting - contently waiting and digesting - for quite some time before I glimpsed the dessert platter I was so looking forward too...

Here I think at least half of the fun comes from the variety!  Front to back, the platter featured a lemongrass pudding, banana fritters with Baileys icecream, a chilli fruit crumble, raspberry semifreddo and tofu cheesecake.

Our second visit to Gingerboy met, but probably didn't exceed, our expectations.  The food was consistently enjoyable but didn't give me any "Wow!" moments... though there was one "Hallelujah!" for those irresistible tofu bites.  Like Easy Tiger, this food doesn't have the chilli wallop of the cuisine that inspires it.  Unlike Easy Tiger, this progression of dishes was a bit weighed down with richness and thick sauces; I missed the searing and fresh green papaya salad that we sampled on our previous Gingerboy outing.  And although I kinda like the glitzy cocktail bar look, the cocktail bar music volume frustrated our attempts to talk across the table.

A fine night was had - quibbles aside, the food was very good, reasonably priced (now $70 per person) and perfectly portioned.  But it ultimately had me hankering for another meal at Gingerboy's sister restaurant Ezard, where the flavours are bitingly fresh, conversations are easily heard across the table and, inevitably, the prices are higher.