Sunday, February 28, 2010

February 20, 2010: Coco Loco II

Update 31/12/2014: Coco Loco has changed its name to Papasito and its emphasis to Mexican food. It's still run by the same owner and still has a decent range of vegan options.

Michael and I spent Saturday afternoon at the Applecore Backyard Festival with some friends. The relaxed atmosphere and discovery of some great unfamiliar bands were obvious highlights, but we were also pretty chuffed that we avoided sunburn entirely thanks to some huge, cheap Big W hats. Even so, we were a little drained as evening fell and in need of some sustenance before heading home. We'd spent the day grazing on vege sausages-in-bread and BBQ shapes and had very different ideas about what we needed to eat next. While Michael and Mike originally suggested pizza, Toby was keen on Coco Loco, and since I was fighting from the Sweet Stuff corner I readily agreed with Toby.

Toby assured us that Coco Loco sells savoury crepes and this is true. However this restaurant's love of sweet luxuries is written and illustrated all over the menu. There are pages and pages of chocolate truffles, cocktails, hot and iced chocolate and coffee beverages (liquor-shot by request!), waffles and other desserts competing against a modest offering of 4 savoury crepes. (Even one of those contains chocolate!) Our incredibly cheerful waiter also rattled off a handful of additional specials, his enthusiasm not diminishing as he repeated them for our late-coming companions Mike and Kristy.

It wasn't in vain - I took him up on the drinks special, a mocktail involving hibiscus, ginger, vanilla, pineapple and coconut (~$13). It was just the refreshment I needed, with a nice gentle ginger burn in the back of the throat.

Michael chose the Kama Sutra crepe ($15), which was stuffed with Indian spiced roasted pumpkin and fetta cheese. It was richly flavoured with cumin and went down a treat.

To eat I chose yet another dish from the specials - a chocolate mousse garnished with strawberries. The first time we visited Coco Loco I was underwhelmed by the grainy texture of the cashew milk. Here I was completely knocked out by the smooth, rich fluffiness of the mousse. An unsuspecting eater would never have guessed that this was vegan, it's a refined dessert by any standards. (How I'd love to know their secret! My tofu chocolate mousse is tasty'n'all, but it's not this kind of bliss.)

While the menu is a little inconvenient to navigate, vegan and gluten free options are clearly marked. Our waiter of the evening deserves another positive mention - he was utterly good-natured in the face of our embarrassing disorganisation and social lingering. I believe everyone around the table was well satisfied by their meals - these aren't everyday-eating prices but then, these aren't everyday-eating dishes.


Read about our previous visit to Cocoloco here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Eat Drink Blog

Eat Drink Blog, Australia's first food bloggers' conference, is being held here in Melbourne on Sunday March 21. It's an all day (and all night!) affair with panel sessions on:
  • how and why we blog
  • practicalities of photography
  • copyright, ethics and legalities
  • SEO and how to be social
  • making money through blogging
There'll also be plenty of time to socialise and eat with fellow food bloggers.

Participation is free but places are very limited. If you'd like to attend, fill in this form to register and cross your fingers for an invite!

Keep up to date with the conference by checking out the Eat Drink Blog blog.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February 20, 2010: Cafe Vue@401

With a friend visiting from Brisbane and our only vacant weekend slot on Saturday morning, Cindy and I plotted a breakfast outing. There's been a bit of buzz around Shannon Bennett's new venture, 401. This mines the same territory as the Cafe Vue in the city - affordable breakfast and lunch food from the man behind Melbourne's finest dining.

It's a slightly wacky fit-out, with a weird mix of casual and trendy. We nabbed a spot outside in the sunshine and perused the breakfast offerings. For all its pedigree the prices here are very reasonable, with vegie options starting at $4 and working up to $14. Cindy's attention was quickly taken by the corn fritters with avocado and tomato ($12).

These were, frankly, weird. They're an ultra-crisp fritter, fried to within an inch of their lives. Cindy spent most of her meal picking bits of corn out of her teeth and expressing disappointment. It's interesting to see how different these look to the slightly undercooked ones served up to Ponikuta, perhaps they're still working this dish out. Similarly strange was the avocado, which had been turned into an odd curl of smooth avocado paste - it was flavoursome, but the texture didn't really work for me. Cindy's tomatoes were yet another oddity. With the seeds and liquid scooped out, they'd clearly been sitting around for a while and were drying out.

I ordered the 62 degree eggs ($9.50 + $3 for the avo), which are cooked for a long time at (you guessed it) 62 degrees. This results in super soft eggs, with everything runny and delicious. Smush them across the crispy toast and you end up with a soggy pile of goodness. As discussed, the avocado wasn't really what I was looking for, so I ended up a little disappointed in my meal - I probably should have gone with a grilled mushroom or something instead.

The fresh orange juice came out in cute little bottles and hit the spot nicely, while my coffee was adequate without being exceptional. A highlight worth mentioning: the little tray of cutlery, salt and pepper comes out with a bottle of house-made tomato sauce in it - this was probably the best tasting thing that we ate and should be smothered over everything they serve. It's divine.

The service was pretty mixed - friendly, but a bit haphazard. We ended up with a spare juice, my coffee took ages to come (and was then followed straight away by an unordered 2nd one), and everything just felt a little disorganised. Possibly it was my high expectations (this is part of the famous Vue empire after all), but I found the whole experience very disappointing. Possibly it's just that fancy cheffing and breakfast aren't my ideal combo - the oddness of the fritters and avocado may be cutting edge cookery, but give me the more straightforward delights of Mitte, Min Lokal or Court Jester any day.

I seem to be in a minority though, there are positive reviews of Cafe Vue at Foodlicious and Fenciana, Sarah Cooks, Hot Chocolates and Lattes, Second Helping, Bright Copper Kettle, Food Rehab, Breakfast Out and Eat Almost Anything. A few others have noted some teething problems at 401: Ponikuta and 1001 Dinners, 1001 Nights.

Address: 401 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Ph: 9691 3899
Price: $4 - $14

Monday, February 22, 2010

February 15, 2010: Grumpy's Green II

It's kind of weird to review Grumpy's. All we've posted thus far is a quick write-up of a lunch that I had there many moons ago. In the meantime we've spent probably 15 wednesday nights there as part of the infamous Dyslexic Brians trivia ensemble, veering between glorious gold and shameful, shameful bronze (or worse!). Mostly we eat stuff that shares well: nachos (pretty good), chips (up and down) and pizza (#6 with the jalapenos is the best). Grumpy's does this kind of junky vego pub food pretty well and, while we initially made various attempts to blog our trivia eats, we've never actually managed to take good photos and put pen to figurative paper.

Now, finally, we've been back in a more blog-friendly situation - a Monday night pub-club outing. The courtyard is beautiful on a summer evening - shady but warm and spacious enough for a crowd of eight to slot comfortably into a table. It's a treat ordering off a totally vego menu, so Cindy and I decided to have a starter to share - stuffed button mushrooms with a parmesan crust ($7). These cute little guys were crispily fried, cheesy and tasty. Not a taste sensation, but a pub snack that we happily devoured.

I decided to order something that we'd never try to share around the trivia table: eggplant parma ($13.10). The sauce and the crumbing were pretty spectacular, but the whole thing was smothered in too much cheese even for my tastes.

Cindy smartly ordered something a little less fried: the spicy chickpea tortillas ($12), stuffed with lettuce, chickpeas and tomato-y sauce and served up with avocado and sour cream. These were a refreshing break from the deep-fried dishes I tend to order but didn't really get beyond meals we can easily make at home (and have a lot of work to do to match the wonder of Trippytaco up the street). Still, it's a hearty meal at $12.

Despite the ambivalent tone of this review, I really love Grumpy's: it's a sprawling comfortable space, the staff are friendly, there's all kinds of great beers on tap and the whole place is veg-tastic. They've even improved their vegan-friendliness since the early days, with quite a few things to choose from across the menu (not that you'd know from what we ordered). They're also on top of coeliacs' issues, with loads of gluten free options (including some pretty decent pizza bases). If you're after a great dining experience it's not the ideal venue but if you want a casual pub night out, you won't go too far wrong at Grumpy's.

Read about our previous trip to Grumpy's Green here.

Other reviews of Grumpy's can be found at Melbourne Bits and Pieces, This is Weeny, Veganik, Fitzroyalty, Melbourne Brunch, The Daily Veg, and Melbourne Vegan.

Friday, February 19, 2010

February 14, 2010: Lord of the Fries IV

A lot's been happening at Lord of the Fries since we last wrote about them. Their empire of vego junk food has expanded to Melbourne Central, Northland and Chadstone and their menu's been extended too. We stopped by the Melbourne Central outlet on Sunday afternoon for lunch.

You might have noticed the most short-term of their changes in that picture up top - throughout February, you can get wasabi mayo on your chips ($3.95 chips + $1.25 sauce)! This concept pleased me no end, though unfortunately the execution was less impressive. I couldn't detect any wasabi in my mayo at all, not even the faintest tickle. Oh well. Their straight-up Belgian mayo is one of my favourite classic sauces, anyway.

It seems the burgers now come in three sizes (with a 'mega' version now on offer for $7.95), and there's the new Lord's Chicken burger ($5.95)! The vego chicken patties nestle in a bun smeared with mayo, mustard, lettuce and cheese. Michael's ambivalent about this innovation but I'm all over it - the 'chicken' has a nifty chewy texture, a faint hint of the Colonel's secret herbs and spices and I dig those creamy condiments. My only quibble would be with that fairy floss they're calling a bun. Even when I'm scoffing junk food, a little fibre wouldn't go astray!

Like the 'beef' burgers, this LOTF branch does hotdogs ($5.95) in original, spicy and big mark varieties, and Michael went spicy. If you've had a vege hotdog smothered in sauce, then you know exactly what to expect and this was precisely what Michael was after. I hear they didn't flinch on the hot sauce either.

That was enough to stuff us to the gills, but there are still more novelties to be had - we saw Mexican soft drinks and vegan cookies and brownies here too, and down at the Lord's on Flinders St you can buy La Panella's sublime pies and sausage rolls (at an insane markup).

It's all a bit much for a vegetarian junk food junkie to take in! However, not everything is yet available at every store. So front up to the nearest one and take your chances. What's the worst that could happen? A fallback cup of their chicken nuggets is hardly a disappointment.

Read about some of our previous LOTF visits here, here and here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

February 12-13, 2010: Orange-Szechuan pepper icecream

Not having made dumpling skins before, I anticipated that Michael's Chinese New Year potluck preparation would be a bit of a challenge (though I didn't imagine quite the debacle it became!). I figured that if I was going to supply something sweet it'd best be made in advance - a perfect excuse for icecream. I know icecream's not exactly traditional CNY fare but there's this funny-looking orange-Szechuan pepper recipe in David Lebovitz's Perfect Scoop that I thought would make a nice twist on the theme.

Of course, it being a David Lebovitz recipe, it was chock full of eggs and dairy and involved lots of pans. I shrank down the steps, using creamy soy cooking milk (analogous to evaporated cows' milk) and some arrowroot as a thickener. This no doubt changed the taste and texture of my icecream but not to its detriment - the orange and Szechuan peppers were certainly bold enough to mask the soy. They're so bold that a little scoop of this icecream is more than enough. The orange hits you straight up with its sweetness, acidity and a little bitterness before the pepper is unleashed in the back of your throat. It's quite the palate cleanser!

Orange-Szechuan pepper icecream
(inspired by a recipe in The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

2 x 375 mL cans creamy soy cooking milk
3 tablespoons Szechuan peppers
zest of 6 small oranges
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons arrowroot

In a medium saucepan, stir together 1 can of the milk, the peppers, orange zest and sugar. Continue stirring the mixture over low-medium heat until the mixture is hot and the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the arrowroot, take the mixture off the heat and rest it at room temperature for an hour so the flavours can infuse.

Strain the mixture into a bowl - I used a fine sieve lined with muslin to squeeze through as much liquid as possible. Whisk in the second can of milk and refrigerate the mixture until very cold. Churn and freeze it using an icecream maker, according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

February 12-13, 2010: Disaster dumplings

On Saturday night Steph and D gathered a large crowd of potluckers together to mark Chinese New Year (blog posts thus far from Vicki and Steph, twice!). This was the first potluck we'd had since Kristy had her Coeliac diagnosis, so the general theme was Chinesey and gluten-free. Aha, I thought - I'll make vegan, gluten-free dumplings. What could be more delicious?

My research quickly turned up the fact that pre-made dumpling wrappers are all wheaty, so I resorted to making my own dumpling skins. The recipe comes via Jill at 'Hey that tastes good' and is pretty simple: just combine a bunch of non-wheat floury things together with a bit of oil and water and you've got your dough. A bit of rolling and some circle slicing and you're ready to steam yourselves some gluten-free dumplings.

Which require some sort of filling. In my focus on the dumpling skins, I hadn't given much thought to what we'd put inside them. Cindy found this recipe, which required a bit of veganising - I almost used TVP instead of pork mince but at the last minute realised it wasn't gluten-free and went with tofu instead. And then I just poured the soy sauce in. Soy sauce, for the uninitiated, is made with wheat. Wheat is chock full of gluten. I am an idiot. By this late stage there was no time to start the filling again (we still ended up half an hour late), so my 'gluten-free' dumplings ended up being inedible to their intended audience. Very disappointing.

The dumplings themselves turned out okay. The skins were pretty dry and unappetising after they'd been steamed, but a quick spin in the frying pan at Steph's place improved them immensely. I was too disconsolate to really enjoy them, but Cindy reported reasonably high approval levels from the non-coeliacs at the potluck. Note that the recipe below is designed to make heaps of dumplings - it could easily be halved.

Gluten-free dumpling skins (from here)

1.5 cups tapioca starch
1.5 cups fine rice flour
2.5 teaspoons xantham gum
3 tablespoons olive oil
~ 1 cup of water

Mix together the three dry ingredients and then add the oil and water, mixing until things get doughy. Roll the mixture into a ball and cover. We refrigerated at this stage, but you can just leave it to rest for half an hour or so.

'Gluten-free' dumpling fillings (from here)

1.5 cups shredded dry tofu
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce (for God's sake use tamari!)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 teaspoon white pepper
5 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 an onion, chopped finely
1-2 cups shredded cabbage
6 tablespoons shredded bamboo shoots
3 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic

Fry the onions, garlic and ginger in the sesame oil for about five minutes, until they're nice and soft.

Add the tofu and cabbage and stir-fry for another 10 minutes or so.

Stir-through the tamari and sherry, along with the bamboo shoots, salt and pepper and cook for five more minutes.

Leave to cool for half an hour or so until you're ready to get dumpling folding.

Assembling the dumplings

Flour up your counter (rice flour! Don't mess it up now!) and roll out small chunks of your dough (see above). Cut out circles the width of a Goulbourn Valley peaches container lid.

Put a teaspoon or so of filling in the middle of each circle (don't overfill, it's tempting but foolish) and gently fold them closed, wetting and pinching the edges to keep things together.

Repeat until you run out of dumpling skin or patience.

Steam the dumplings in a bamboo steamer for ~ 15 minutes and then lightly fry on one side in sesame oil before serving. If you've got this far without trying to poison one of your friends: well done, you've made delicious gluten-free dumplings. Otherwise: spend half an hour having a complete sook before buying some consolation mock-meat for said friend which, it turns out, probably isn't gluten free either. Then cry.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

February 13, 2010: Court Jester II

Our first visit to Court Jester was such a success that when Gem from the excellent Soupurban suggested a Brunswick brunch, there was only one place we wanted to visit. Things were a little busier than our first trip, suggesting that word is gradually spreading, but we still snared a four-person section of the big communal table without any trouble.

The menu isn't massive, so Cindy went straight back to the blintzes which had so wowed her last time. Alas, by 10:30 or so there wasn't a blintz left in the place. The waiter was quick to suggest an off-menu alternative - French toast with the blintz topping.

This was an excellent recovery of what had seemed like a major setback. The French toast was splendid and the topping as impressive as it had been with the blintzes. If anything this was missing the creaminess that the blintzes' ricotta stuffing provide - perhaps some mascarpone would have done the trick.

As much as I'd enjoyed the Brunswick Green, I decided variety was the spice of life and tried the other non-meaty savoury option on the menu, the creamy casper (baked free range eggs in sour cream w/ mushrooms, zucchini, spinach and shredded gruyere cheese, served with crispy Dench toast, $12).

This was a hearty breakfast - lots of heavy mushrooms and rich gruyere, which would easily work as a late lunch or dinner. The flavour combinations were excellent again, although by the end of the dish I was running out of enthusiasm for the cheese.

The coffee was great again and the staff as friendly as ever. One staff member told us that they're about to appear in Epicure, so they've well and truly been discovered. Get in quick before the line is out the door!

Read about our previous visit to Court Jester here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

February 9, 2010: Raspberry-banana sorbet

Time for another hack at my frozen banana collection - I baked a dozen peanut butter crumble muffins (using wholemeal flour and double the 'nanas) and returned to this banana icecream business. For this round I took a tip from Barbara and tried raspberry-banana icecream.

It's another maddeningly simple recipe: freeze two bananas and a punnet of raspberries, then blend them until creamy. This took a little longer than the malted version but the results were no less impressive - out came a frothy and vibrantly-hued sorbet, tingly with that sherbet-y edge of raspberries. The banana flavour and colour are somewhat concealed but still detectable - I don't think Michael would go for it. But plenty of others will! Eating fruit doesn't get much more fun or refreshing than this.

(Your homework - find a way of eating fruit that is indeed more fun and/or refreshing than this, and post it in the comments! Bonus points if it's no more labour-intensive than this stuff.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

February 6-7, 2010: Silverbeet calzoni & watermelon salad

We spent some of last weekend with Michael's mum and her husband, Melbourne being one stop on their current driving tour through New South Wales and Victoria. They had booked a pleasant hotel overlooking Princes Park, so on Saturday we ate breakfast with them at Green Refectory and gave them a walking tour of Sydney Road.

On Sunday we headed out to the Dandenongs with a simple plan - they provide the transport, we provide the food, everybody strolls and has a nice afternoon. I took great delight in planning the menu and with Michael's help it wasn't too hard to pull together. We started with crackers and dips - muhammara, sun-dried tomato hummus and beetroot pesto. Then I sprung calzoni on them - that simple pizza dough wrapped around silverbeet, mushrooms, garlic, pine nuts and preserved lemon. (Thanks to Emily for the inspiration!)

For a bit of freshness and something to segue into dessert, I made a watermelon salad. It was a post by Amanda last week that gave me the idea but rather than following her recipe precisely I tried to emulate the watermelon salad I ate a year ago at Hellenic Republic. In that time I've become increasingly irritated by George Columbaris' ubiquitous media presence, but I have to admit: the Dodoni feta he spruiks is the best I've tasted from a supermarket. The salad pleased me enormously, though I found that the watermelon cubes leached a lot of liquid in transit. Between that and the fresh mint leaves it was clear that this salad is best eaten as soon as it's prepared and I happily prioritised it that hot day, going back for thirds and finishing the leftovers for dinner.

And for dessert proper? Near-pure chocolate, of course.

Silverbeet calzoni

Finely chop some silverbeet (stems and leaves), mushrooms and a little preserved lemon. Gently toast some pine nuts in a fry pan until golden. Remove them from the pan, the use the pan to heat a little olive oil. Add some minced garlic and the mushrooms, cooking gently for a few minutes. Add the silverbeet and cook until it's beginning to wilt; perhaps another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir through the preserved lemon and pine nuts. Set the filling aside to cool.

Prepare a pizza dough and when it's ready to roll, preheat the oven to 180°C. Sprinkle a baking tray with a little cornmeal. Sprinkle a clean bench and a rolling pin with flour and pinch off a small ball of dough - say 1/4 to 1/3 cup. Roll the dough into a thin circle and spoon some of the silverbeet filling onto half of it, leaving a 1.5 cm border. Fold the dough over and pinch together the edges to seal your half-moon calzone; place it on the baking tray. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, then bake you calzoni until the dough is cooked and a little golden, about 15 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Watermelon salad

Slice the flesh of a watermelon into large cubes, removing as many seeds as you can stand to. Place the watermelon in a large bowl and drizzle it with pomegranate molasses and a tiny bit of rosewater. Dice some feta, rip up some mint leaves and toast some flaked almonds. Toss these ingredients through the watermelon only when you're ready to serve the salad.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

February 5-6, 2010: Pecan mudslide cookies

"Make something with chocolate... and gluten-free!" my cheeky coeliac officemate Andy suggested. Though this birthday baking wasn't for her, it was for her housemate, and she wanted in on the action. Luckily for Andy (and conveniently for me), Clotilde posted the perfect candidate cookie recipe just hours after our conversation. It was neither gluten-free nor vegan, but it was a cinch to adapt it and make it so.

It was Orgran to the rescue on both counts - their gluten-free flour mix and egg replacer made easy and direct substitutes for the offending ingredients. (A Nuttelex-for-butter sub was likewise a no-brainer.) And, of course, these imposters were never going to be detected - this recipe contains more than four times the weight of chocolate as it does my substitutes. So while you don't have to fuss over the flour, eggs or butter, it is worth buying chocolate you really like.

As a consequence, these are intense and melty and not as bulky as your average cookie. Yet they also have a little more softness and chew than I was anticipating - a win all round! Clotilde has this quantity of dough making 16 enormous cookies but I split it into a couple of dozen smaller serves - enough for a box for the birthday gal, a box for Andy, and a few more for a weekend picnic.

Pecan mudslide cookies
(adapted from a recipe at Chocolate & Zucchini)

430g chocolate, roughly chopped (I used Lindt 70%)
35g Nuttelex
135g castor sugar
equivalent of 2 eggs (I used 2 teaspoons Orgran No Egg whisked into 4 tablespoons water)
50g flour (I used Orgran gluten-free plain flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
60g pecan halves

Gently melt 250g of the chocolate and set it aside to cool slightly.

Line a baking tray with paper and preheat the oven to 190°C.

In a large bowl, beat together the Nuttlex and sugar until well combined. Gradually beat in the 'eggs' until the mixture is completely smooth. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and mix them until just combined. Add the melted chocolate and stir again only until the indgredients are just combined. Fold in the pecans and remaining chocolate.

Now the mixture's going to be pretty sloppy. Clotilde does this thing where she pours it onto a tray, refrigerates it, slices it into single portions and shapes them with her hands. I just plonked spoonfuls of the sloppy batter onto the tray and they turned out OK. (I refrigerated the remaining bowl of mixture for a while and it was tough to spoon and shape - probably don't do that.) Anyway, get your mixture into biscuity shapes on the tray, allowing some space for spreading.

Bake the cookies for 10-15 minutes, until they've just set on the surface. Allow them to rest for at least 5 minutes on the tray before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

February 5, 2010: Bangkok Rain

With a Friday evening of birthday gift baking lined up, Cindy wanted to grab a quick meal somewhere near home so that she'd have some energy left. Our first option, Sippers, has basically ditched the food side of their operation, so we were left to explore the rest of that Rathdowne Street strip. We were tempted by De Orchid's replacement, but once we saw that Bangkok Rain had a whole vegetarian menu, we decided that we might as well try some Thai.

Cindy started things off with a weird rosella-flavoured Thai herbal drink. She said it was basically a cordial and the rosella didn't really knock her socks off - tamarind next time.

I couldn't resist a curry - green curry tofu (tofu, snow peas, carrots, round beans, kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk and bamboo shoots, $11.90). It was rich and coconutty, light on the chilli and very runny. The kaffir lime leaves were probably the dominant flavour. There were plenty of vegies and tofu chunks hidden in the sauce, and I was quite content with the meal without ever feeling amazed by it.

Cindy, typically, picked something battered: crispy fried tofu in batter in a sweet, sour and spicy sauce, with carrots, beans, snow peas, kaffir lime leaves, spring onions and coriander ($11.90). The sweet was the strongest of the three flavours - the sauce coming off like a homemade sweet-chilli sauce, with just a mild chilli bite and a hint of sourness. The crispy tofu was as delicious as you'd expect, and Cindy had a similar verdict to me: good without being memorable.

At $12 a meal, Bangkok Rain represents a significant saving over local rivals like Penang Affair, and their food is pretty good value for money. It's not a place that Cindy and I will be raving to friends about but it's a nice local option to have for nights where we're too lazy to cook or venture far from home.

Address: 176 Rathdowne Street, Carlton
Ph: 9347 7487
Licensed and BYO (wine only)
Price: Vegie mains: $11.90, entrees $8-$10
Website: (although the vegie menu isn't on their website).

February 2, 2010: Masala dosai and cheaters' chickpea curry

Our eventually-successful pie and some broccoli burgers had us pretty well sorted for workday lunches last week. This freed us up to be a little more creative for dinner and I pulled a couple of packets out of the pantry...

I love masala dosai, though I don't eat them often. This packet powder requires only water, a stir and a brief rest before you can get frying. I'm a little clumsy when it comes to fry-and-flip items like pancakes and burgers, and these dosai were no exception. Even though the batter was thick, there were breakages every time. On the second night that we made this meal I doubled the quantity of water, hoping for a thinner, crispier dosa like the ones I've eaten out. There were inevitably even more breakages. My technique needs a lot of improvement but these nevertheless tasted great and I won't hesitate to buy this again and practise, practise, practise.

I improvised my own potato stuffing, basing it on Lucy's Indian spiced potatoes. I added a finely chopped onion in to fry at the start and finished them off with a splash of tamarind concentrate. They were marvellous.

The Curry Tree spice mix was even easier to prep. The vacuum-sealed spice mix goes into a saucepan with a can of drained chickpeas and some water; simmer for 10 minutes and it's ready. Naturally it's not as complex and tasty as a homemade chickpea curry but it is rather good, easily the best 'instant' product I can remember buying. The ingredients list consists entirely of foods I recognise, from onion and sunflower oil through to mango powder and turmeric. No three digit numbers to be seen! This, I like.

Though our meal was riddled with ghee, this could easily be replaced with vegetable oil. Both packets are free of animal products so they get a vegan-friendly tag from me.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

January 30-31, 2010: Potato-crusted silverbeet pie

When my enthusiasm for silverbeet was waning, you guys got me sorted. I was so pleased with the meal ideas you left on that post that I was actually counting down the days until the next silverbeet delivery! During those chard-less days I received another recipe suggestion via email, from Michael's mum Robyn. Well, folks, she's my mother-in-law, so I figured I'd better give it a shot. Ha! Actually, it looked like a good one - a quiche-style dish with a pastry made mostly of mashed potatoes.

Now, a mashed potato 'pastry' is usually the kind of thing that would have me suspicious. Shortcrust pastry is almost sacred to me. But Michael and I had this dish we used to make pre-blog, with a grated potato crust and broccoli-quiche-kinda filling, so I knew this had promise. I just didn't read the recipe closely enough before we started. Michael set to boiling and mashing the potatoes a little late in the evening and it was only then that I noticed the 30 minutes required to rest the pastry, the 40-50 minutes to bake the pie and the subsequent 20 minutes that the finished pie allegedly needed to rest. (I knew it'd take a while to bake but, really, did it need all that lazing around?) So Michael made the potato dough, popped it in the fridge and we got dinner delivered.

This was a good decision. Our delivered dinner was marvellous, and the pie prep got even more involved than the recipe predicted. The potato pastry was mushy and challenging to mould, even when I tripled the flour quantity, and the pie just would. not. set. It spent at least an hour and a half in the oven all up, and got its post-oven nap twice over - still the crusty walls buckled when I loosened the springform pan, with cracks oozing mashed potato and threatening to unleash an eggy avalanche. Dinner was messy but tasty, and lunch was better - a night in the fridge firmed everything up nicely and it even withstood a solid microwave heat-up at work.

Naturally, that picture you see up top is the well-behaved post-fridge version of this pie. I've since had a chance to consult Robyn on our approach and not come up with any glaring mistakes. She thinks we could potentially up the flour quantity even further, while I'm plotting a pastry pre-bake to firm those potatoes right up. In the recipe below I'll record what we did (with a couple of asides) and, if we do something better next time, you'll be the first to know. It's the least I can do for you crazy silverbeet lovers.

Potato-crusted silverbeet pie
(based on a recipe from Michael's mum, Robyn)

4 large potatoes
20g butter
3/4 cup plain flour
3 eggs
300mL cream
1/2 cup grated tasty cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan
6-8 cups chopped silverbeet, stems included
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste

Peel and chop the potatoes, then cook them in boiling water until tender (about 15 minutes). Drain the potatoes and mash them thoroughly (you don't want lumps!). Add the butter and flour and stir everything together until it's firm enough to form a ball (you may want to add more flour). Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes (we left ours for a full day).

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Roll the dough out between two pieces of greaseproof paper, large enough to fit a springform tin (if you don't have one, I'm sure you can use a pie or casserole dish or cake tin). Remove the top sheet of paper, then ease the bottom sheet and the pastry into the tin and gently shape it to form a crust. Although I did not do this, I would suggest pre-baking this crust until lightly golden - maybe 10, 15 minutes?

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream, then stir in the cheeses, silverbeet and nutmeg. Season it as you like and pour the mixture into the potato crust. Bake the pie until it's set - this will probably take an hour and possibly longer. Allow the pie to cool in the tin for 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

Friday, February 05, 2010

January 31, 2010: Pearl Oyster

Late, late, late. Late to discover Pearl Oyster, embarrassingly late to join my companions on this Sunday morning, and later still to blog the experience. But when the cafe's this cute and tasty, it sure is better late than never.

Once I did finally join Lisa, Kristy, Toby and Michael I had to choose my breakfast quickly. There was granola, then lots of toast - with spreads, lots with eggs, decorated with hummus and dukkah or pickled ginger as well as some more traditional sides. There was French toast, with rose honey, raspberries, pomegranate seeds, pistachios and double cream. Hot and flustered and surprisingly not very hungry, I went back to the granola, which promised almonds, vanilla yoghurt and apple cherry compote ($8).

It sure was a pretty plateful when it arrived. The plums were beautifully sweet and juicy, and the almond granola was just, well, sweet. Within just a minute or two it soaked into the milk, turning it a caramel colour and flavour. You've been warned - this is one sweet cereal!

The majority of those round the table ordered one of the day's specials, cumin-spiced scrambled tofu with a pear and walnut salad ($16). It scored high points all round, and hope that it might earn a more permanent spot on the menu.

Pearl Oyster's yet another example of the northside's excellent brunch culture - it has a charming fit-out, the staff are friendly and attentive and the menu accommodates a range of tastes and dietary requirements.

Address: 114 Miller St, Preston
Ph: 9480 2500
Price: veg breakfasts $4.50-$16

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

January 30, 2010: Penang Affair

Cindy and I planned badly for dinner on Saturday night, not deciding to cook until it was far too late. After postponing our kitchen-work halfway through, we decided life would be easier if we ordered something in. We're on a constant quest for tasty home-delivered options and, after deciding that pizza and Indian weren't going to hit the spot, went exploring for Thai or Vietnamese places instead.

It's always hard to find restaurants that deliver, so Menulog was a bit of a godsend. It compiles restaurants that deliver and their menus, even letting you order over the web with a credit card - I'm still trying to figure out whether they're more expensive than just ringing the restaurant, but I don't think that they are. Anyway, Menulog meant that we discovered a few places that would deliver food to us and once we discovered Steph's review, it was clear that Penang Affair would be feeding us for the night.

We ordered two entrees and two mains: spring rolls ($5.90), tofu goreng ($6.90), the char kueh teow ($10.90) and some spicy tempura eggplant ($16.90). Everything was very satisfactory: the tempura eggplant was the standout, sprinkled with little chilli pieces and seasoned liberally with 5-spice powder, these were wonderfully tasty even without the plum sauce that came on the side. The char kueh teow hit the spot as well - lots of vegies and tofu amidst the saucy noodles - as did the spring rolls, which were crispy sauce vessels as per usual. The tofu goreng was a bit of a disappointment, the description (Deep-fried fresh tofu pieces layered with slices of cucumber, bean shoots and topped with satay sauce) was better than the result, which was a bit heavy on the rather gluggy satay sauce for my taste. Still, for about $40 we got enough food to feed us for about 5 person-meals and all delivered straight to our door. Score!

Editted 08/03/11: Brian from Fitzroyalty has recently reported that Penang Affair has closed.

Address: 325 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Ph: 9419 7594
Licensed and BYO
Price: Vegie mains: $10.90-$16.90, entrees: $5-$10.90

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

January 27, 2010: Lentil tacos

Cindy had tucked this recipe away for speedy school-night shenanigans, and I was happy to take charge of throwing it together. Lindyloo has provided us with many delicious recipes, so I was a bit surprised to see that this was basically a kit-taco assembled with lentils taking the place of mince. Still, the use of slightly terrifying pre-mixed taco spices added speed and simplicity to the whole deal, along with a distinct nostalgic flavour - back in the day many a share-house meal was based on the powdery delights of the taco seasoning sachet.

The chipotle sour-cream sauce effortlessly trumped the watery salsa included in the taco pack, demonstrating the limits of pre-packaged condiments, and a smattering of salad later we had ourselves some fine tacos. I tend to favour soft shell Mexican goodness, primarily because I lack the basic coordination to eat crunchy ones - but I had a smile on my sauce-stained face after this meal. Outstanding.

Spiced lentil tacos
(courtesy of Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed
1 packet taco seasoning (it came in our Mission taco kit!)
2.5 cups vegie stock
1/2 cup vegan sour cream
1-2 chipotles in adobo sauce, finely chopped (with as much extra adobo as you can scrape out)
6-8 taco shells
Salad-y toppings (we had grated carrot, capsicum and greens - although it looks like Cindy skimped on her greens)

Heat the oil in a frypan and fry the onion, garlic and salt until soft.

Add the dry lentils and the seasoning and stir through, cooking for about a minute.

Pour in the stock and bring everything to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the lentils have softened. Uncover and simmer for a few more minutes to thicken up the mixture.

While the sauce is thickening, give the tacos 2-3 minutes in the oven, at about 180 degrees.

Mix together the sour cream and the chipotles.

Serve it up and enjoy!

Monday, February 01, 2010

January 26, 2010: Savoury baklava and orange-olive salad

Savoury baklava. The idea of it was irresistible to me, even more so when I read an ingredient list that included sun-dried tomatoes, almonds, fetta, dates and cinnamon. But I needed to make a hearty dinner that would extend to a couple of leftover lunches, so I decided to sub out the rich, salty fetta for firm tofu. Then I figured, why not try veganising the entire thing? I've been wondering how filo fares when it's brushed with oil instead of butter.

The answer is that it fares rather well indeed. I think the flavour's a little different, but no less delicious. I infused the tofu with a little extra flavour by stirring through a little salt and some of the sun-dried tomatoes' marinating oil and didn't miss the cheese one bit. The one ingredient that was surprisingly conspicuous, though, was the almonds. Perhaps my chopping was a little too rough, but they retained much of their crunch and didn't really blend in with the rest of the filling. I suppose I could chop or even grind those almonds a little more finely in future but actually they got me to thinking about pine nuts as a potential replacement. Then I started thinking about preserved lemons instead of the dates, or even dried apricots? Other herbs, other bakeable vegetables... this recipe could serve as a basic outline for dozens of different pies (one of them, most obviously, being spanakopita).

A filo pie needs a salad, and there was one waiting in my new 2010 recipe calendar. Michael's mum Robyn generously hand picked twelve more recipes and made me another calendar for my December birthday and it looks even better than last year's! I was expecting this January mix of rocket, watercress and witlof to be a bitter battle but with the sweetness of the oranges and some richness from the avocado (and pastry!), it was the ideal side. My only blunder was dressed it all right away, meaning the leftover leaves were a little soggy and sad in my lunchbox the next day.

Savoury baklava
(a veganised version of this recipe on Gourmet Worrier, which itself is adapted from The Modern Vegetarian by Maria Elia)

2 red onion, finely sliced into circles
3 cloves garlic, minced
100mL olive oil
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
200g sun-dried tomatoes, some liquid reserved
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
300g firm tofu
salt, to taste
250g almonds, roughly chopped
10 dates, pitted and finely chopped
~150g filo pastry
agave nectar

Over low heat, gently cook the onions and garlic in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the cinnamon and sugar and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions a caramelised (I gave them at least 10 minutes). Add the sun-dried tomatoes, water and dill, and cook for a further 5 minutes or so, until most of the liquid has evaporated or been absorbed.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Crumble the tofu into a bowl, sprinkle it with a few tablespoons of the sun-dried tomatoes' marinating liquid and season it with salt.

Brush a large rectangular baking dish with some of the remaining olive oil, and set out the filo pastry on a damp teatowel to prevent it from drying out. Layer about five pastry sheets in the bottom of the baking dish, brushing a little olive oil between each layer.

Spread half the tomato-onion mixture over the pastry, then sprinkle over half the almonds, half the dates and half of the tofu. Repeat with five more filo pastry layers, the remaining tomato-onion mixture, almonds, dates and tofu. Top with more oil-brushed pastry and a light splash of water.

Bake the baklava for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Allow it to cool slightly before drizzling it lightly with agave nectar, slicing and serving.

Orange-olive salad

1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine or champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon castor sugar
100g rocket
1 bunch watercress
1 small head of witlof
3 large oranges, peeled and sliced into segments
1 avocado, sliced into chunks
1/4 cup kalamata olives
1/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegars and sugar. Add the remaining ingredients and gently toss them through the dressing.