Monday, May 31, 2010

May 17, 2010: Retreat Hotel

Our fortnightly 'pub club' outing with colleagues and friends has decreased in frequency since its ringleader was diagnosed as coeliac. Pub grub is more glutenous than you might expect, and even more disappointing for Andy is that most beers are now off the menu. But there was a little surge of enthusiasm when Michael identified Abbotsford's Retreat Hotel as having a gluten-free-friendly menu.

The hotel is set just off the eastern end of Johnston St, which makes for a less than pleasant ride (cross your fingers for a green light across Hoddle St!), but the warm and warmly lit interior is a lovely spot to recover. The menu's a smidge pricey - entrees are $10-$15, mains $21-27 with $15 parmi specials on Mondays - and there are a few vego options scattered about.

Michael ordered the 'roast beetroot risotto with goats cheese and walnuts' ($21).  He found it a bit bland, with only the mouthfuls containing the goats cheese providing much excitement.

I went for the vego parmi option ($15 on Monday nights) and received a mountain of food. The skinny chips were great; the eggplant parmigiana had a pleasant flavour but was incredibly thick and stodgy; the coleslaw was a nice idea that just didn't come through.  (Hey, coleslaw makers - you don't need to drown it in mayo!  In fact, some of the best 'slaws don't even include mayo!)

We gave the Retreat a chance to prove itself with dessert.  Michael was happy with the 'chocolate pudding with rich chocolate sauce and ice cream' ($9.50) that he shared with Jo.

Mike and I were keener for the 'sticky date pudding with toffee sauce and cream' ($9.50). The sauce hit the right note but unfortunately the pudding wasn't what I was after, more an airy cake without much depth of flavour. 

While the Retreat Hotel deserves credit for its cosy environment and gluten-free options, it's not exactly a vegetarian's delight.  The meat-free dishes they serve rely heavily on cheese (vegans, stay away!) and are a bit hit-and-miss.  It'll take another wave - perhaps a tsunami - of pub club enthusiasm to tempt me back.

Address: 226 Nicholson St, Abbotsford
Ph: 9417 2693
Fully licensed
Price: veg mains $15-21, desserts ~$9.50

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 12, 2010: Gertrude Street Grub - Proud Mary

When we finally got around to reviewing Auction Rooms last December, I made note of our typical missing of the zeitgeist and suggested it would be another 12 months before we got around to visiting Proud Mary, the darling of the moment. Well, clearly we're improving slightly - it only took until May for me to duck down from work one day to check out Melbourne's latest trendy "third wave" coffee place.

Even at 2 o'clock the lunch crowd filled all the tables, and it took 10 minutes or so for space to clear for our group of 4. Still, this gave me time to peruse the menu, which includes a range of all-day breakfast options, some lunchy mains and daily specials and sandwiches. But before we got to ordering food, it was time to sample the coffee that has earned Proud Mary rave reviews from all the coffee-blogs in Melbourne. As much as I enjoy coffee, I'm a bit of a philistine, so didn't order anything from any of the fancy machines - just a simple flat white in a cute blue cup. The verdict? In my considered opinion: it's pretty great.

Food-wise, the veg options ranged from quince salad to pumpkin tart with a tasty looking haloumi sandwich somewhere in between. I couldn't make it past the brekkie menu and ordered up the corn fritters (sweet corn and manchego fritters, with avocado and tomato and basil salsa, $15.5). A highlight of the visit: these come with crispy bacon by default and when I asked if they could leave it out, the waitress suggested straight away that they add mushrooms instead. This is pretty simple stuff, but you'd be amazed how often places either take the bacon out and still charge the same amount, or even worse refuse to make any alterations at all. So I was immediately impressed.

Things got even better when I tasted the fritters - these were moist and tasty (a far cry from the weird discs Cindy had a Cafe Vue) and the avocado, rocket and salsa added some nice fresh flavours. At $15.50, they're probably not the best value for money in the world, but they were a high quality meal and thoroughly enjoyable. There's a lot more on the Proud Mary menu to investigate, with some particularly impressive sounding breakfast sweets that would be right up Cindy's alley, so there's no doubt we'll be back there soon.

We're officially the last bloggers in Melbourne to try Proud Mary. Read other reviews at: Ronnies Spots, Addictive and Consuming, Bijou Kaleidoscope, Richard Elliot, Gourmet to Glam, Breakies worth getting up for, Tomato, Sarah Cooks, Cookbook, Cruxie Faye, That Jess Ho, Fitzroyalty, Eating Melbourne and Mel Hot or Not (plus all the coffee reviews linked to above!).

Address: 172 Oxford St, Collingwood
Ph: 9417 5930
Price: $6 - $16.50

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

May 9, 2010: Nasi Lemak

Cindy really loved her breakfast on our last morning in Melaka and was excited when AOF left a comment linking to her own nasi lemak recipe. It didn't take us long after we got back for us to have a crack at it. We took a few shortcuts - buying a jar sambal rather than making our own and substituting some bok choy we had in the fridge for the more appropriate kangkung.

Even having reduced the complexity a little, this was pretty involved - you've got a saucepan with rice, a pan for the peanuts, a pan for the tempeh, a pan for the greens and something to boil the eggs in. It'd be smart to do a few things (like the eggs and the nuts) ahead of time rather than messing up the entire kitchen, but we were too disorganised to do things the easy way. Still, it's worth the effort - this gave us three days or so of amazing food. The coconut rice provides a rich sweetness, which goes well with the kecap-manis flavoured tempeh and the freshness of the cucumber. There's a lot of textural variety with crispy tempeh, crunchy nuts and the soft eggs, and everything is brought together by the salty and hot sambal. (As an aside: if anyone knows a good vegetarian sambal available in Melbourne, let us know - ours was a little too sweet.)

Next time we might try to get things a bit more authentic, with homemade sambal and the right greens. Regardless, expect to see Nasi Lemak on our where's the best? list the next time we update it.

Nasi Lemak (via Confessions of a Food Nazi)

6 eggs
400ml coconut milk
1 1/2 cups brown rice
2 cups water

200g peanut kernels
2 large bok choy, rinsed and chopped into large chunks
1 tablespoon peanut oil
450 tempeh, cut into small strips
kecap manis
4 cups greens (e.g. bok choy)
soy sauce
vegie sambal, to taste
1/2 a cucumber, sliced

Hardboil and peel your eggs, and set them aside.

Add the coconut milk, rice and water to a saucepan and bring to the boil, lower heat and cover, simmering until the rice is soft (half an hour or so).

While the rice is cooking, toast the peanut kernels in a dry pan, being careful not to burn them.

Remove the nuts, add the peanut oil to the pan and add the tempeh, frying until it gets crisp. Add in a few teaspoons of kecap manis (to taste) and toss it through, coating the tempeh strips.

Set the tempeh aside and put the greens in the frying pan (with more oil if necessary) and stir-fry with a few splashes of soy sauce (Cindy steered clear of adding sambal to the greens at this point in case it all got too hot for her).

Assemble the dish by placing a big dollop of coconut rice in the middle of your plate, and surrounding it with all the other elements. Layer on a few tablespoons of sambal (to taste) and smush things together a bit for a sweet, salty and spicy delight.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 9, 2010: Choc-coconut banana muffins

Something something use up bananas blah blah workday snacks rhubarb rhubarb healthier than cake.  If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know the drill.  No prizes for surmising that I made banana muffins.  These take inspiration from the Lower-Fat Banana Bread recipe in Veganomicon and the coconut-embellished banana bread I made last spring.  The notable alterations are wholemeal flour for filling fibre, dark chocolate chips for fun, and a grated past-its-best apple in place of applesauce.

These were pretty good!  Make no mistake, they're not the fluffy fist-sized muffins widely sold in cafes.  They're smaller and dense and chewy and not at all cake-like.  They're also sweet and moist and something to get my teeth into when 3:30 rolls around.  Win.

Choc-coconut banana muffins

1 medium apple
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup water
3 small ripe bananas
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dark choc chips

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Peel and grate the apple. Place the grated apple in a small saucepan with the vinegar and water. Bring it to the boil, then simmer until the apple is very soft, about 10 minutes. Pour the apples over the bananas and mash them together thoroughly with a fork. I ended up with a little over a cup of puree.

Whisk in the oil, sugar and coconut. Sift over the wholemeal flour, plain flour, baking soda, nutmeg and salt, stirring until just combined. Fold in the choc chips.

Lightly grease a muffin pan and spoon the mixture in. The batter should be stiff but not dry, and make about 10 muffins. Bake until they pass the skewer test, up to 20 minutes.

Friday, May 21, 2010

May 1, 2010: Kentucky-style seitan ribz

We have an American colleague spending a year at my workplace. He and his family have been making the most of their time in this part of the world, holidaying extensively throughout Australia and New Zealand as well as making numerous weekend trips around Victoria. They've also shared a little of their culture with us Antipodeans, putting on a fabulous Thanksgiving spread last November. And, when the northern springtime rolled around, they upheld their 20-year tradition of hosting a Kentucky Derby party.

Mindful that there'd be many guests and not many vegetarians, I volunteered to bring along something thematically appropriate to share.  There are a few vege-based Kentucky Derby side dishes around but the meat is clearly the bigger attraction and I was rapidly attracted to the idea of mimicking barbecued ribs.  It was then I remembered Lindyloo's smashing success with SusanV's recipe for seitan ribz.  I mentioned my plan to Kristy and Toby over dinner at Yong, and they recommended I glaze them with Vegan Dad's Memphis BBQ sauce recipe.

This was excellent advice.  The sauce is a less-than-nutritious mix of ketchup, spices, lots of sugar and, if you're going with the Kentucky theme, bourbon.  Slathered all over those chewy gluteny ribz it's sweet and a little spicy and, my hosts assured me, a pretty good match for the real deal.  Actually I knew it not to be the real Kentucky deal, because I used a mini-bar-sized bottle of whiskey in place of the not-so-mini-bar-sized bottle of bourbon available at my local bottle shop.  I couldn't imagine how I'd get through the rest of such a quantity, though I learned a thing or two about mint juleps later on.  My second transgression was to use the grill setting on my oven in place of a barbecue - a low-fuss and highly successful alternative.

The seitan, made via the gluten flour short-cut, is very easy to prepare.  Though its own flavour didn't really carry through, it was certainly a worthy vessel for the sauce.  Many party-goers hadn't encountered this faux-meat before and it elicited many guffaws, while the sauce kept people going back for a second bite.  Michael heroically went back for more bites still as the party wore on, ensuring that I could take an empty dish home with me.

Kentucky-style seitan ribz
(based on recipes at FatFree Vegan Kitchen and Vegan Dad)

1/4 cup vegan margarine
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup bourbon or whiskey
1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoons vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon mustard
a few dashes of hot sauce

ribz dough
1 1/2 cups gluten flour
3 teaspoons smoked paprika
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
3 teaspoons onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 generous cup water
3 tablespoons tahini
1 1/2 teaspoons liquid smoke
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

First, make the sauce in a medium-sized saucepan.  Melt the margarine, then gently saute the onion and garlic in it until they're reduced and brown (this took me 20-30 minutes).  Add the remaining sauce ingredients, bring them briefly to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer the sauce for 20 minutes.  Set the sauce aside while you prepare the ribz.

Preheat the oven to 180°C and lightly grease a baking tray.  In a large bowl, mix together the gluten flour, paprika, yeast flakes, onion powder and garlic powder.  In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together the remaining dough ingredients.  It might be difficult to keep the water and tahini from separating but be as thorough as you can, to prevent tahini globs in the dough.  Mix the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and knead them together lightly in the bowl for a couple of minutes.

Place the dough in the baking tray and flatten it out with your hands so that it covers the base evenly.  Slice the dough into long, thin rib shapes.  (I used a pizza wheel to make one long cut through the middle, then about a dozen shorter cross-cuts to create 2cm-wide 'ribs'.)  Bake the seitan for 25 minutes.

While the seitan is baking, push the sauce through a sieve to remove the onion chunks.  When the ribz are ready, remove them from the oven and trace over the rib cuts again.  Slather half of the sauce over the top of the ribs.

If you're using a barbecue, cook the ribs sauce-side-down on the grill and slather the remaining sauce on the top side.  Turn it once to cook the other side and serve.

If you're using your oven's grill, place it under the heat sauce-side up until the surface is bubbling and browned (be very careful not to burn it!).  Gently flip the ribs over in the dish, slathering the remaining sauce on the other side and grilling it until it's also bubbling and brown.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reminder: 1000 post celebration

In case you missed it last week, where's the beef recently entered a new millennium, with the publication of our one-thousandth post. To mark the occasion, everyone is invited to join us for drinks, snacks and good-times at Grumpy's Green this Sunday from 3pm onwards.

As long-time readers will know, Cindy and I are both nerds and it is in that nerdy spirit that I offer up some blog-stats over our first 1000 posts.

Average posts per week: 5.15

% posts written by Cindy vs Michael: 69.5% vs 30.5%

Most popular restaurant review: Gujju's Cafe

Most popular recipe: Vegan sausage rolls

Most commented-on post: Soy bombs

First commenter: My uncle Lee

First unknown commenter: Mellie from tummyrumbles

First blog to link to us: tummyrumbles

Blogs that send us the most traffic: tummyrumbles & melbourne gastronome

Common search terms (ignoring 'where's the beef' related searches): trippy taco, piedemontes, difference between wonton and gow gee wrappers, baba restaurant brunswick

Most frequent commenter: While we can't measure this directly, we can say with some confidence that it's Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

April 30, 2010: Yong Green Food II

When Yong Green Food first opened Cindy and I were a little worried that they would struggle to compete with Brunswick Street behemoth, the Vegie Bar. Since then, we've been proven utterly wrong - Yong is booming, with reviews popping up all over the internet: Melbourne Vegan, New Perestroika, Shokuiko, In the Mood for Noodles (again), Words @ Random, Vegematarian, Marylou and Polka Dot Rabbit have all given it the thumbs up. And the word has clearly spread beyond a bunch of nerds on the internet - when we met Kristy and Toby there on a Friday night, the place was heaving.

The menu has undergone a few more changes since we visited, and we were spoiled for choice. Cindy was finally ready to take on something from the raw side of the menu, going for the raw nachos ($13.50).

She really dug them - nutty raw crackers (made from corn, flax seed, onion and garlic), a slightly spicy sunflower seed-based dip, onion-y guacamole and a smooth cashew cream. The dips were all fantastic, and the raw corn chips, while lacking a bit of crunch, were a pretty impressive effort.

I went with the Dragon Bowl ($12.50), a hearty noodle bowl with slivers of tasty faux-beef, heaps of fresh vegies and a generous dollop of rich chilli paste and sesame oil on top (see up the page). This was the perfect meal for me - everything hit the mark, it was healthy, spicy and filling. The side bowl of miso soup was a nice touch as well. A huge step up from the curry I'd ordered the time before.

Everyone who's tried dessert here has raved about the raw cheesecake ($7.50 each), so Cindy and I decided not to share and went with one each - she with the chocolate and me with the blueberry. The cheesecakes are built on a base of almonds, sunflower seeds, dates and sultanas, with a coconut and cashew 'cheese' filling. Mine was flavoured with generous swirls of blueberry, while Cindy's was rich with chocolatey goodness. These are deliciously smooth, but lacked a little in flavour - by the end of a slice you're running out of steam a little. The first few mouthfuls were amazing, but I reckon Cindy's raw lime pie gives them a run for their money.

Read about our previous visit to Yong Green Food here, or check out one of the many links above. And stop by - they're doing a great job, and should be able to hold down a place on Brunswick Street as long as they fancy it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

April 23-25, 2010: Quince & blueberry crumble cake

There've been a couple of recent incidents of edible generosity at my workplace, one in the form of free-for-all quinces.  I waited a polite few hours for others to help themselves but keenly took three of them home that night.

For recipe ideas, I headed to Cook Almost Anything.  Over the years I've been reading it, Haalo has posted quince recipes almost every time it's come into season.  We had a weekend trip with a few friends planned and I decided to reach back to the 2006 archives and make the quince and blueberry crumble cake to share around.

The first step is poaching the quinces.  There's plenty of warning online that you need to get cut quince flesh into acid water as quickly as possible to avoid discolouration.  And then there's the more desirable colouration you're meant to earn after the fruit's cooked.  It's all a little intimidating!  Thankfully these segments poached up nicely, with the flesh acquiring a pear-like tenderness, rosy tinge and lovely fragrance.  (A quince-savvy friend suggested later that upping the acid might have ramped up the colouring further.)

Constructing the cake itself was much more within my experience, though I'm not sure it turned out quite as nicely as Haalo's. I don't think my baking pan was large enough. (Actually, measuring it now I see that it was larger than Haalo's 23cm square tin - weird.) The cake rose unexpectedly high in the middle and I couldn't fit nearly as much fruit on it as Haalo did. (This was not ultimately a problem - the leftover fruit was delicious with plain yoghurt. Oh, and I also mixed the leftover poaching syrup with apple juice for some rather nice mocktails.)

What with all the size mismatching my cake didn't need quite so long to bake and ended up a little dry.  No doubt the higher proportion of fruit it was supposed to support would have helped with some moistness, and as it was I packed some cream to serve on the side.  I didn't hear any complaints from the crew, with some going back for second (and even third!) slices.

Quince and blueberry crumble cake
(based on a recipe at Cook Almost Anything)

poached quinces
~750mL water
110g castor sugar
juice of 1 lemon
750g quinces
1 cinnamon stick

185g butter, softened
165g castor sugar
2 eggs
335g plain flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
180mL milk
250g fresh blueberries

110g plain flour
2 tablespoons castor sugar
110g brown sugar
100g butter, diced
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Start with poaching the quinces. In a very large saucepan stir together the water, sugar and lemon juice. Peel and core the quinces, slicing them into segments and dropping the segments into the saucepan (ASAP, to prevent browning). When they're all done, top up the water if the quinces are not entirely submerged and add the cinnamon stick. Bring them to the boil then turn down the heat, cover the saucepan and allow the quinces to simmer until tender (up to 90 minutes). Allow the quinces and syrup to cool to room temperature. Drain the quinces and reserve the syrup for other uses.

Next, the cake. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a 22cm x 33cm baking tin with paper. In a medium-large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Sift the flour and baking powder in, beating gently as you go, then beat in the milk until it's all just combined. Spread the cake batter evenly into the baking pan and bake the cake until it's just set, about 20 minutes.

Finally, prepare the crumble. All this requires is putting the ingredients in a food processor and blending until combined.

When the cake is cooked, arrange the quince slices and blueberries over the top, then sprinkle over the crumble mixture. Return the cake to the oven until the crumble is browned and crunchy, 15-20 minutes.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

April 18, 2010: Cooking with Kurma

Recently we had the good fortune to attend a cooking class led by Kurma Dasa. I say 'good fortune' because our places in the class were a Christmas gift from Michael's mum Robyn. Kurma was a huge influence on our early days of vegetarian cooking, with Kurma's Vegetarian World Food being one of our first vego recipe books. (It was a gift too, from Michael's brother! You can find a few of those recipes in the archives here.)

Kurma's life as a chef is tied very closely to his involvement in the Hare Krishna movement and thus this class was held at Gopal's restaurant, where Kurma was head chef for many years. The foods we prepared, following the theme "Classics from the Subcontinent", were very much like the dishes I've enjoyed eating at various Krishna restaurants over the years.

As you can see above, our class began with litres and litres of milk. We'd be making panir!

This fresh cheese combines a lot of milk with a small amount of acid to create the curds. From there it's all about draining the whey from the curds, compressing the curd for at least an hour so that it forms a firm ball of cheese. Though most of the panir was destined for a curry, Kurma chopped up a little of it for us to taste as soon as it was ready. Drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, seasoned with salt and pepper then sprinkled with fresh parsley, the still-warm cheese was incredible. I would make it again at home, just for that kind of snacking.

This is the hot and sweet apple chutney. For the 'hot' part, Kurma brought in some of his home grown habaneros (which I'd previously read about on his blog). He said that these were the second hottest variety in the world and that chutney should be "too hot to bear, yet too sweet to resist"! This chutney solidly hit both marks - it was terrific spread so, so sparingly on the pakoras.

You'll see the pakoras later in the post but here's the massive quantity of ghee that we cooked them in, which we started heating up around this time.

Next Kurma showed us how to make chapatis. These unleavened breads need no more than flour and water.

OK, and maybe also deft hands.

First they're fried in the pan...

... then directly on the flame where, if you're lucky, they'll puff up like starchy balloons.

There was plenty of space and dough for us all to have a go.

Kurma moved on to some of the other dishes - toor dal soup, lemon rice, matar panir, raita and then halava for dessert.

The absolute last thing we cooked was the pakoras, battered chunks of eggplant, cauliflower and potato.

While I was keenest to eat the cauliflower ones, to my surprise the eggplant pieces were my favourite.

After a 5-hour marathon of chopping, cooking and note-taking, we were all desperate to dig in. It was a feast well worth the effort!

The panir came up nicely in its tomato gravy and the lemon rice - dotted with cashews, mustard seeds and herbs - was a lovely change from the steamed rice I usually eat.

The pakoras and chutney were a deadly-delicious combination, and the raita was a cooling reprieve.

While Michael returned to the mains for more, I focused on dessert. This semolina pudding is great comfort food, though I was surprised at how much ghee went into it! Halava might make it onto our table a few times this winter.

This cooking class was an altogether different experience to the one we attended at LaZaT a couple of weeks earlier. With around 25 students attending over 5-6 hours, Kurma's class was much larger and longer. With more dishes and more people, the tasks were divided amongst us instead of each of us attempting everything for ourselves. Nevertheless, there was ample opportunity to observe the processes involved and question Kurma. He knows a lot about food and I learned much from him in person that I couldn't have just by reading his recipes.

Friday, May 14, 2010

April 17, 2010: Munsterhaus

Edit 07/03/2020: Munsterhaus is now closed.

With the recent closures of Bowl of Soul, Ganesh and Tart 'n' Round, vego dining in Melbourne seems to be going through a bit of a downturn. So it was with some relief that we read about Munsterhaus on Essjay eats. Slotting in to a slightly neglected bit of St Georges Road, Munsterhaus promised (mostly) vegetarian food with good vegan and gluten-free options, so we were keen to give it a try.

Our visit has already been documented by Kristy and Toby, but after all the travel stories and the 1,000 posts hoo-ha, we're finally ready to get our own post up. The first thing you notice about Munsterhaus is its art-deco stylings - it's beautifully fitted out, with gorgeous wooden furniture and a light, airy feel. The food set-up is very similar to the Tofu Shop (with which Munsterhaus shares some connection I think) - basically you choose your bowl size and then get it filled up with whatever you fancy from the spread of options.

When we went there were four hot options and a seemingly endless array of salads, vegies and other cold dishes. You can choose to get a few scoops of rice as well, but that risks taking up valuable food-space so think carefully.

I went with a medium bowl ($11), while Cindy went small ($8), but we ended up covering mostly the same ground. Everything was brilliantly fresh and bursting with flavour, with the tofu-based dishes (a broth and a marinated chilli tofu dish) and the broccoli and tempeh salad particularly impressing me. None of it was especially fancy but it was all well prepared and managed to pair deliciousness with a pretty healthy vibe.

The options change regularly, and they're clearly keen to provide gluten-free and vegan options (although there was a sign warning that they might occasionally use non-veg products like bonito, so it's worth checking before you fill your bowl up). The staff were friendly and helpful, the prices are reasonable and our first shot at the food was entirely satisfying - Munsterhaus is a welcome addition to our inner-north dining options and will no doubt become a semi-regular haunt (although it's not doing dinners just yet).

Read other reviews of Munsterhaus at In The Mood For Noodles, Confessions of a Food Nazi and Fitzroyalty and a poem in its honour at The Big V.

Address: 371 St Georges Road, North Fitzroy
Price: $8 - $14

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

1000 posts

Yes, really - this is our 1000th post at where's the beef!  To celebrate, we're...

1.  Dressing up.
We've spruced up our layout a little.  Oh, and we have some NEW ILLUSTRATIONS BY PETER CARNAVAS.  Aren't they grand?

Pete is a writer and illustrator of children's books, with his latest publication - The Important Things - having just been launched last weekend.  He's also a long-time friend of ours and we're thrilled with his interpretation of what this blog is about.  You can find out more about Pete's work here.

2.  Inviting you to celebrate with us.

Come share a celebratory drink with us!  We'll be at Grumpy's Green (125 Smith St Fitzroy) from 3pm on Sunday May 23.  They've got comfy couches, a lengthy eco-friendly drinks list and crinkle-cut chips.  I'll bring cake.

(If you're not in Melbourne, don't worry - we've got something fun planned for you too.)

3.  Joining the Twitterverse
For those of you who didn't notice us slinking onto the scene a couple of weeks ago, we're now twittering as @herestheveg .  Expect quick'n'dirty updates on what we're eating, links to stuff we like and live Masterchef ranting.

 4.  Housekeeping
Housekeeping, woo!  We've been adding some new favourites to the where's the best? list, such as
We're also sad to note the closure of some favourite restaurants - Bowl of Soul and Idea Fine Food and Wine are no more.

If you're reading this on our home page, you might also have noticed that we've rearranged some of our links and updated our profile photos.  (I've gone and had a haircut since Matt took that photo in April, so focus on Michael's luscious ginger locks if you're looking out for us at Grumpy's!)

We hope these changes will make visiting where's the beef? all the more fun and functional, and that you'll pop by and say hi on the 23rd!

April 12-13, 2010: Spring rolls

By happy coincidence we had a vege box delivery due on the day we returned to Melbourne. This was only made happier by our kind house-sitter, who stuck around long enough to receive the delivery and stock our fridge and fruit bowl. The Challenge Ingredient of this box was a rather large cabbage. I made my first dent in it by shredding some for a vinegar-dressed 'slaw and stuffing it into lentil tacos.

Next my thoughts turned to spring rolls.  I bought some frozen wrappers from 'round the corner and defrosted a chunk of seitan.  Everything else I needed was already in the pantry!  I sautéed up the filling, got busy with the wrappers and then took a tip that Dirty Flamingo left in a comment on this blog more than two years ago - I used spray-oil and the oven to bake, not fry, my spring rolls.

This worked rather well! The rolls had a nice crunchiness to them, without being greasy.  The seitan and cabbage combo tasted terrific.  The only issue was that a few of the rolls split and burst.  When I made them again the following night (substituting red capsicum for the seitan) I reduced the amount of soggifying sauce and used two wrappers per roll.  Now they were perfect.  

All future deliveries of large cabbages are officially welcome.

Spring rolls

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 cup seitan, sliced into strips
3 cups cabbage, shredded
1 teaspoon five spice powder
2 teaspoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetarian oyster sauce (just 1 tablespoons will suffice)
1 packet spring roll wrappers
spray oil

Heat the oil in a frypan and saute the onion.  After a minute or two, stir through the garlic and ginger.  Add the seitan and cook the mixture a little more. Stir in the cabbage and cook it, stirring regularly, until the cabbage begins to soften.  Add the five spice powder, vinegar and 'oyster' sauce and stir them evenly through the filling.

Allow the filling to cool a little and preheat the oven to 200°C.  Line a baking tray with oven-proof paper.

Carefully pull apart the spring roll wrappers and spray them lightly with oil.  Place a tablespoon (not much more!) of filling onto the centre of a wrapper and wrap it up, then wrap again with a second wrapper. The spray oil should be enough adhesive to hold it all together.  Put the roll on the baking tray and continue wrapping rolls with the remaining filling.

When you have a tray full of rolls, give them an extra little spray with the oil and bake them until crisp, turning them half-way through (I think we baked them for ~10 minutes on each side).

Scoff them down with your favourite dipping sauce!

Monday, May 10, 2010

April 10-11, 2010: Basil ice-cream, dairyful and dairy-free

On arriving home from our holiday, I was keen to get back into the kitchen and took a cue from my recipe calendar.  April was all about basil icecream.  The recipe doesn't use the usual cream, eggs or milk at all, instead deriving its rich creaminess from mascarpone and yoghurt.  For my vegan/gluten-free challenge I simply replaced these with coconut cream (this is the paler of the two scoops pictured).

The coconut cream-based version was sweeter and mellower, while the original recipe had the pleasant tang of a cheesecake.  Both taste 'green' in the best possible way - fresh and summery, the perfect embellishment to a fruit salad.

Basil icecream

dairyful ingredients
1/2 large bunch fresh basil
250g castor sugar
125g mascarpone
600g Greek-style yoghurt

dairy-free ingredients
1/2 large bunch fresh basil
250g castor sugar
800mL coconut cream

Roughly chop the basil, including the stems, and place them in a food processor with the sugar.  Blend them thoroughly, until they're a uniform powdery mixture.  (You may need to stop the blade and scrape down the sides a couple of times.)

Transfer the basil-sugar to a bowl and whisk in the remaining ingredients.  Chill the mixture thoroughly and churn it in an icecream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

April 9, 2010: Crust Pizza II

After three weeks eating all manner of delicious Japanese, Malay, Indian and Chinese food, the food delivery option that Cindy and I could agree on for our first night back in Australia was pizza. After our last visit, we settled on Crust as our local purveyor of home-delivered goodness, so they were the first people we called when we arrived back in the country (sorry friends and family!).

Last time we posted, both Ruth and pfctdayelise highly recommended the vegie supreme (see above), so it our first choice for the evening. There was much to like about it, not least the pesto aioli, which was the star of the show, but not to the detriment of the sun-dried tomatoes, eggplant and artichoke. Perfect welcome-home food.

Cindy was also keen to try the samosa calzone, a pizza parcel filled with a chickpea curry, nuts and shallots.

This was adequate without being particularly amazing - let's just say that Cindy throws together much tastier pastry parcels out of our leftover curries. Crust wasn't a particularly classy return to Melbourne food, but when you get home late and your fridge is empty, it's well worth giving them a ring.

You can read about our previous Crust home delivery here.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Coming soon: Buddha's Day and Multicultural Festival

Back here in Melbourne, it's almost time for Buddha's Day and Multicultural Festival. It'll be happening next weekend in Federation Square and promises to be a treat for vegetarians. The food stalls are totally veg and there's hours of Vegi-licious cooking demonstrations from the following folks:
We enjoyed ourselves at last year's festival and will be checking it out again in 2010.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

April 8, 2010: Kuala Lumpur III

On our final full day in Malaysia, Michael and I took a cooking class!  After eating so much great food round town, I was itching to learn how to make some of it for myself.  And we could not have learned in a more pleasant environment.  Our class at LaZaT had just four students that morning, meaning lots of opportunities to observe up close, ask questions and get one-on-one advice on our techniques.  The kitchens had a lovely open design, our dirty pans were whisked away for someone else to clean and, most important of all, our teachers Ana and Saadiah were ten kinds of terrific.

LaZaT classes are not generally vegetarian but they were kind enough to adapt the day's recipes for Michael and I, having an alternative prepared for each of the meats that the other students cooked with.

Our first dish of the day was wontons.  This had Michael and I a little nervous for different reasons.  I'm not much of a deep-fryer (though I've no problem eating the outcome), while Michael prefers to avoid fiddly tasks like wrapper-folding.

It could not be denied, though, that Saadiah's chicken and prawn wontons looked rather good.  So we gave it a shot, using firm tofu for the bulk of the filling.

Saadiah rightly noticed Michael's fine chopping skills, and he actually did a pretty good job of the folding too.  I managed the hot oil well enough, ultimately frying the most wontons of all.

The tofu filling was flavoured with spring onions, garlic, fresh water chestnut, soy sauce and sesame oil.  I'd never seen a fresh water chestnut before - it tastes so different to the canned ones!  Their distinctiveness got a bit lost in this filling but I'd love to find and try cooking with them again.

Our second course was san chou bau, which Saadiah demonstrated using soaked bean curd skin instead of the usual crab meat.

With the bean curd skin already soaked, this was a super speedy dish.  I reckon it'd make a brilliant weeknight dinner in summer.

Rather than moving on to the main dish we next prepared our dessert, bubur cha cha.  It's a rich pudding of noodles (the coloured strips, like the ones in cendol), sago, yam and sweet potato cooked in sweetened coconut milk that's infused with a pandan leaf.

Like rice pudding, this is the kind of dessert that I would not have loved a few years ago and consequently I don't tend cook such things at home.  More recently these starchy puddings have crept up on me.  In fact when the time came, I think I was the only person round the table to gobble down my entire bowlful!

Our main course was char koay teow.  Instead of the fish cake and prawns used by the others, Michael and I were supplied with mock chicken pieces.  Nice!

Though it's a simple fried-noodle dish, we learned a few new things here too:
  • the wok should be shifted on and off the high heat regularly to ensure nothing burns
  • cracking an egg with one hand!
  • pouring the egg into the centre of the wok and piling the noodles on top while it sets
  • that clever wrist manoeuvre that tosses the noodles around in the pan (well, we observed it several times, both of us struggling to replicate the movement ourselves)

It's another delicious dish that I'd love to make more often at home.

With the char koay teow cooked, we had plenty of time to chat over the fruits of our (and the LaZaT assistants') labours.

Of course this meant that we weren't hungry for quite some hours afterwards.  Late in the afternoon we did at least dig into these curious fruits, which we'd picked up at the Petaling markets the previous day.

Nothing about this fruit was what I expected - beneath the red skin the flesh was most similar to an apple, though the flavour reminded me of carambola/starfruit.

Eventually we did develop sufficient appetite for dinner and walked on over to Pure Mind vegetarian restaurant.

Compared to most of our other meals in Malaysia, Pure Mind was a little more expensive (with mains running from RM12-25 ~ $4.10-8.60) but it probably also had the most refined setting.

I chose the deep-fried gluten balls in a pineapple basket (RM15 ~ $5.20).  For me, this was all about that pineapple - it's rare that I eat it so fresh and sweet.

Michael went for the mah po tau fu (RM12 ~ $4.10), which was both delicious and gratifyingly similar to our home-cooked version.

We walked back to our hotel - content with our meal, our day, our entire holiday - but also ready to return home.  I was looking forward to some more familiar home cooking in my kitchen (and an Aussie cafe breakfast!), while also inspired to bring back some of the flavours and styles I'd been tasting for the first time.