Sunday, October 31, 2010

October 29, 2010: My Restaurant

January 2016: My Restaurant has closed.

Cindy and I had a Friday evening free and decided we should chase down some dinner outside of our usual inner-northern enclave. Cindy remembered Sticky Fingers raving about My Restaurant, noting cheap and delicious food and more than 30 vego options, so we decided to brave the terrifying lands across the Yarra to check it out.

My Restaurant is a pretty unassuming looking place, tucked away in a fairly unassuming part of Windsor. The generic name, functional furniture and big bain marie didn't generate a lot of excitement but a quick glance at the menu and we were sold. My Restaurant do Indian and Malay food: rotis, dosai, murtabaks, mee and nasi goreng and a range of Indian curries. And it's cheap! We're talking $6-$8 for most meals - a maximum of $10 for combo plates.

I went for one of the combo plates - a roti meal, with three curries, 4 pieces of roti and some raita ($10). The curry choices for the roti meal come from the bain marie but there are plenty of options: I went with a chickpea masala, mixed vegie Madras and sambhar daal.

The first thing to note about this meal is the roti: cooked fresh and to perfection, these were some of the best rotis I've sampled. The curries were a mixed bunch - the chickpea masala was the clear stand-out, with a tomatoey sauce that was rich was chilli and spices; the daal was good company for the roti, but could have used some pickle or chutney to spark it up a bit and the mixed vegies were soft and saucy, but a bit lacking in flavour. Still, the roti was so wonderful that you only needed vaguely decent curries to make this an excellent dinner.

Cindy is a huge fan of dosai, and couldn't resist the masala dosai, stuffed with a mild potato curry and served with chutneys and sambar. The dosai was wonderfully crispy, and the accompaniments were all excellent - I particularly enjoyed the spicy chutney.

Despite its fearsome size, Cindy made her way through almost all of her dosai, a testament to its tastiness. She was careful to leave a little bit of room spare to sample something from the sweets menu. She wandered up to order a roti bom, but was convinced by the lady behind the counter that the tisu roti ($5.50) was the better choice.

The tisu roti is a crispy cone of roti bread slathered with condensed milk - it's like a delicious volcano. I'm sure it's terrible for you but it's very, very good - my 'taste' turned into a half-share just because I couldn't stop going back for more.

My Restaurant is a great little place - the staff are friendly and helpful, the meals amazing value for money and the menu interesting and veg-friendly. If we lived on the southside there's no doubt we'd be regulars - with Bismi and Nila nearby though I'm not sure that we'll make the trek across town to visit too often.

My Restaurant has received particularly positive reviews from bloggers looking for authentic Malaysian-style food in Melbourne - see Citrus and Candy, Jeroxie and Deep Dish Dreams. It also got a nice write-up from The Age, back when Matt Preston was still chasing down interesting and cheap places for Epicure.

Address: 186 High Street, Windsor
Ph: 9521 4100
Price: $3.50 - $10.00

Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 23, 2010: Fancy mushrooms and spinach on toast

I’ve been getting quite enthused with the home-cooked weekend breakfasts lately, so I was more than happy to take charge of this month’s calendar recipe – a mushrooms on toast dish that, with its truffle oil and fancy feta, wouldn’t look out of place on most cafe menus.

It’s all pretty simple – pop some bread in the toaster, do a little bit of pan-frying, add a few toppings and you’re done. And it’s well-worth the minimal effort – the rich, chunky mushrooms kept us going for hours and were set off by the earthy truffle oil and salty fetta. Having some good bread is important - we’d gone to the trouble of grabbing some fresh bread from the newly re-opened Filou’s Patisserie and I think using supermarket bread would have greatly reduced our enjoyment.

Sauteed mushrooms on toast with baby spinach, fetta and truffle oil

3 cups mushrooms, cut into chunky pieces
4 slices of fresh wholegrain bread
2 cups baby spinach leaves
4 tablespoons fetta
2 tablespoons white truffle oil
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Saute the mushrooms in the vegetable oil over high heat, until they’ve softened and started to caramelise. Season with salt and pepper.  Pop the bread in the toaster when your mushrooms are nearly cooked – don’t leave it too late or else your spinach will wilt away to nothing.

Add the spinach and parsley to the mushrooms and fry for a minute or so, until they start to wilt. Remove everything from the heat.

Arrange the toast on a plate. Toss the mushrooms mixture over it and crumble the fetta on top.

Lightly drizzle with the truffle oil and season with extra black pepper.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 20, 2010: The Fox Hotel III

Last Wednesday was one of Melbourne's better Spring days, and Michael mused that we should eat dinner outside.  Miraculously he also remembered Emily leaving us a comment that mentioned our current favourite pub, the Fox Hotel in Collingwood, has a rooftop beer garden.  We were delighted to discover once we'd arrived that they've also altered the menu a little to suit the season.

Although we really didn't need them, Michael and I agreed that it was high time we tried the fat chips with desert dust and sauce ($6.50).  It's a very generous serve of maybe-but-not-really-fat chips.  We didn't find that the desert dust added much interest at all - it's certainly got nothing on the smoky spice mix on Trippy Taco's fries - and the sauce appeared to be stock-standard tomato.  It's still a good-value bar snack but nothing remarkable.

What was remarkable was the meal that arrived at the same time.  Even after photographing it, I took an extra moment just to marvel at it.  It's a marinated tofu steak with wasabi mayo and a black sesame crust, with Asian greens, sticky rice and a ginger soy sauce ($17).  I might have enjoyed a little more ginger and the rice was on the mushy side of sticky but this meal was fabulously fresh and filling, with the tofu a little firm yet not at all tough.  It's very, very rare to see tofu treated so well in a 'western' restaurant, let alone a non-vegetarian one, let alone a pub!  (Edinburgh Castle, I hope you're taking notes.)

There was a minor ordering mishap that meant Michael waited a while for his meal - Thai tofu balls with Asian coleslaw, tomato, cucumber, sprouts, coriander, spring rolls and satay sauce ($17).  He was initially skeptical that the balls were tofu at all until he made the connection with the soy bombs we make at home - they're very similar, albeit crumbed and deep-fried here.  He thought the spring rolls were a little out of place and the satay sauce could've been spicier but these were minor quibbles with another very good meal.

It seems that the Fox Hotel does nothing but very good meals!  We'll be back again and again for more, and you can be sure that we'll post the new ones here.


You can read about our previous visits to the Fox Hotel here and here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Back it up, blogger

Backing up data ain't nearly as exciting as, say, vegan vanilla slice or Plush Pizza, but we think it's worth a mention for those of y'all who also blog.  Just as you should back up any important documents on your personal computer in case of a meltdown, you can also back up your blog.  As several unlucky Melbourne food bloggers can attest, accidents and malicious attacks do happen!  Maintaining a blog takes a lotta love and hard work and it'd be pretty devastating if all those posts you've written just vanished overnight. 

Thankfully for us folks who possess only basic technical skills and use Blogger, saving a blog back-up to a hard disc is quick and easy.  Here's what you do...

To back up all of your posts:
  • Sign in to Blogger to access your dashboard.
  • Choose Settings.
  • You should be in the Basic tab.  Here the first subheading is Blog Tools.
  • From Blog Tools, choose Export Blog and confirm that you wish to Download Blog.
  • A dialogue box will pop up; choose to Save File.
  • I found that my computer automatically saved the .xml file to My Documents/Downloads, so I shifted it to my preferred folder after download.
This approach will not save your pictures; the .xml file just records the URL of where each picture is hosted.  But, amazingly enough, it does save all the comments on your posts!

To back up your blog design (header, fonts, side bar content, etc):
  • Sign in to Blogger to access your dashboard.
  • Choose Design.
  • Select the Edit HTML tab, where the first subheading is Backup/Restore Template.
  • From Backup/Restore Template, click on Download Full Template.
  • A dialogue box will pop up; choose to Save File.
  • I found that my computer automatically saved the .xml file to My Documents/Downloads, so I shifted it to my preferred folder after download.
Again, any pictures that form part of your design will not be saved; just the URL of where each picture is hosted.

In the event that you do need to restore your blog or its layout from a backup, you should be able to work it out by adapting the instructions above (e.g. choose Import instead of Export blog and proceed; choose Upload template instead of Download).  You might even consider setting up a dummy blog and testing the uploads there right now.  (We did this when we wanted to test out our pretty new 1000th post style.)

I know nothing of how to back up blogs in other platforms like Wordpress.  If you do, give us the low-down in a comment below or better yet, write your own blog post about it and send us a link!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 19, 2010: Asparagus and white bean pesto tart

Spring finally turned up in Melbourne and in the same week we got our first vegie box asparagus of the season. Cindy had tucked this tart recipe from VeganYumYum away for just this kind of occasion.

They're super easy to make and show off the beautiful flavour of in-season asparagus. The bean pesto is simple and delicious, and the leftovers are wonderful smeared on bread or crackers (or eaten straight from the container with a spoon!). These are the perfect weeknight meal - brilliantly tasty and straightforward to make.

Asparagus and white bean pesto tart (from VeganYumYum)

For the pesto:
1 can white beans (we used cannellini), drained and rinsed
1/4 cup raw cashews
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon basil pesto pasta sauce (we couldn't find a vegan pesto at Safeway, but they do exist!)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons soy milk
1/2 - 1 teaspoons salt

500g asparagus
1 puff pastry sheet
salt, pepper and olive oil

Defrost your puff pastry sheet and preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Blend together all the pesto ingredients, scraping down the sides of the food processor occasionally to make sure everything is smooth and pastey.

Spread a thick layer of the pesto onto the puff pastry sheet, leaving 1-2 centimetres gap at the edges.

Place your asparagus spears in a neat little row on top of the pesto - you fit more if you put adjacent spears head to tail.

Brush or spray the asparagus lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 25-30 minutes until the asparagus is soft and the pastry is puffed and golden.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

October 17, 2010: Funky Pies II

We've already mentioned the wonderful pies produced by Sydney's Funky Pies and sold by local supermarket superstar Radical Grocery, but we thought it worth mentioning that there's a new flavour available. We grabbed a couple of "G'day Satay" pies last week and used them as the basis for a very lazy Sunday lunch. The pastry casing is as good as ever, a vegan miracle, but its contents didn't rock my world. The sauce is sweet and lacking in any spice, and the filling was mostly starchy vegetables (potato, pumpkin etc). It wasn't bad at all, but I think if I'm having a pie from the freezer for lunch I really want it to be something that reminds me of all the meat pies I ate in my pre-veg years. So the Funky Chunky, La Panella or Cindy's homemade versions are much more likely to get me excited.

Friday, October 22, 2010

October 16, 2010: Plush Pizza III

On Saturday night we ate at Plush Pizza with four friends - this was an excellent opportunity to try a few more flavours while revisiting some favourites. I was adamant that we'd have the Potato Swoon ($13.50), which Fiona recommended to us. Unlike your typical potato-thins-and-rosemary pizza, this one has perfectly tender roast potato in chunks, the obligatory rosemary, red onion and chives (there's also mozzarella and sour cream on the non-vegan version). It's very nice indeed, though one of the less bold options.

We ordered the Chunky pizza again ($18.50) - I still can't quite believe that pickles and canned pineapple can work so well on a pizza!

Toby let me in on the secret to a vegan-friendly Barbecue pizza ($15) - have the honey-riddled barbecue sauce replaced with mustard. I was a big, big fan of the original and a mite skeptical but, heck, this was still amazing.

Ben Special ($17) was charming as ever - still not much hint of the promised spices, but mushrooms and avocado can do nothing wrong in my eyes.

The Satay was new to us (and comes recommended by Bec) - the thin layer of satay sauce is topped with button mushrooms, red onion, roast zucchini, fried tofu, fresh coriander and sesame seeds ($16). It's not too gluggy and another perfectly complementary set of flavours.

Finally, we tried the Tom Yum ($16). I was more curious about this one than I was actually expecting to enjoy it, but the first bite was a revelation! How did they get something as dry and chewy as pizza to taste so much like a soup?! The tom yum sauce was tongue-tinglingly sweet-and-sour and the toppings - mushrooms, red onion, capsicum, tomato and fried tofu - still had freshness and crunch to them. Just. Wow.

I'm repeatedly impressed at how gosh-darn smart the topping combinations are at Plush Pizza, as well as being enormously tasty. Rumour has it that this business is up for sale and I can only hope against hope there's a way for Plush to continue doing what it's doing, because it's doing it so bloody well.

Edit 10/07/11: Sadly, Plush Pizza has closed - Melbourne veg community will miss it terribly.

You can read about our previous visits to Plush Pizza here and here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

October 16, 2010: Sonido II

I first checked out Sonido shortly after they opened their doors right near where I work. Since then, I've raved about them to Cindy so many times that she insisted we drop in for lunch when we were in the neighbourhood on the weekend.

They're clearly doing something right - we turned up after 2pm and the place was still heaving with weekend lunch-goers. I was happy to go back with a camera so I could blog a meal that I've eaten almost every time I've visited: frijoles con feta (a black bean and feta arepa with guacamole and picadillo, $11.50 + $2 for side salad). Combined with a few splashes of hot sauce, this is a cracking lunch - a crispy corn arepa, topped with hearty black beans and generously sprinkled with salty feta. The little saucy sides are particularly impressive - simple guacamole and a little tomatoy salsa that add a bit of variety to the beany flavours.

Cindy branched out into something I hadn't tried: arepa de choclo (a sweet corn arepa with fresco cheese, $6 + $2 for salad). Apparently they were using a different cheese than normal on the day we visited - with no baseline for comparison it's hard to say whether it was a good move. Regardless, Cindy raved about her little corny treat - the strong sweetness of the arepa contrasted perfectly with the salty cheese on top. Pretty good value at $6 as well.

Cindy had been consciously trying to order something smallish so that she had space for Sonido's already famous choc-berry brownie ($4.50). This gluten-free wonder is rich with dark chocolate and flecked through with sweet raspberry chunks. I'm too embarrassed to admit how often my working afternoons are broken up by a trip to Sonido to grab one these to go with their beautifully made coffee.

Read about our previous review of Sonido here.

Sonido is garnering lots of fans - there are more positive reviews at Vetti Live in Northcote, Fitzroyalty, Fat Belly Club, Crafty Llama and pleases us.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October 10, 2010: Linda McCartney vegetarian sausage rolls

On a recent trip to Radical Grocery, Michael picked up a box of Linda McCartney brand vegetarian sausage rolls.  They're totally vegan and can go straight from the freezer to the oven.

I did not hold high hopes for the pastry but it was actually rather good!  Though it looked heavy and not particularly golden, it was surprisingly flaky.  The wheat protein-based filling was less impressive, having a rather rubbery texture and very little flavour.  (Veganator recently noted that Linda McCartney country pies don't taste of much either.)  These are probably no worse than most meat-based sausage rolls available at your local supermarket but they're poor cousins to what La Panella (and dare I say it, I) can conjure up.

October 9, 2010: Oven-baked taro chips

I've eaten taro on a few occasions but never brought it into my kitchen before winning one at the lab culinary competition.  I briefly considered trying my hand at a taro-based dessert but preferred to do something simpler where I might get a clearer taste of the vegetable itself.

So I made taro chips! I wussed out of deep-frying, just slicing the peeled taro thinly and baking it with a spray of oil and a little salt (Martha Stewart promised it would work). They need a careful eye on them to avoid burning; cutting them all to the same thickness helps too. I was pleased just how crunchy even these oven-baked chips were. Like the choko, they didn't really have a striking flavour - they were just starchy, salty, crunchy and fun.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

October 9, 2010: The Bell Jar II

Sometimes places just work. The Bell Jar for instance - it opened to a small burst of hype and has seemingly settled into a steady and successful addition to the inner-north's range of breakfast options. It boasts a stylish interior that doesn't beat you over the head with its hipness, a cute little courtyard (complete with friendly local cat), cheerful and obliging staff and a decent sized menu with lots of interesting dishes to choose from.

Our second visit brought with it weather warm enough to try out the courtyard - there are only a few tables out there, but it's a light and sunny place to start your Saturday morning, and the cat's antics provide some simple entertainment. Typically, we split into our sweet and savoury breakfast ordering modes.  I went for something from the specials board: spicy corncakes with chipotle, poached eggs, coriander, creme fraiche and avocado (subbed in for the standard bacon without any issues at all, $16).

This was right up my alley - clearly more cafes need to incorporate chipotle into their breakfasts. Perfectly poached eggs, ripe and tasty avocado, a thick crunchy corn fritter and the simply amazing combo of spicy/smoky chipotle and cooling creme fraiche. My only problem with this meal was that it was so delicious that I wolfed it down too quickly. I hope it turns up on the menu proper in future - it's too good to be limited to occasional star turns on the specials list.

Cindy's sweet treat was also from the specials menu: ricotta hotcakes with apricots, orange blossom mascarpone and a nut crust ($15). Cindy realised soon after this arrived that ricotta hotcakes are probably her least favourite member of the broader pancake family - this was a decent version, but the whole concept is a bit 'squidgy' for her. Still, the wonderful combination of toppings more than made up for it.

A word of praise too for the coffee - the two flat whites they served me up were reminders of how good coffee can be. The Bell Jar is fast becoming a contender for my favourite breakfast place in town - it's got some stiff competition, but their all 'round consistency is hard to fault.

Since we first blogged The Bell Jar, Hayley and Gluten Savvy have discovered its delights, while Brian has also revisited successfully.

Monday, October 18, 2010

October 8, 2010: Zenzero Blu II

Edit 11/03/2012: Zenzero Blu has now been replaced by Pinotta.
Zenzero Blu are still hosting $25 vegetarian degustations! As we noted on our visit a year ago, they are willing to serve a vegan adaptation for large pre-booked groups and my recent revisit was as part of such a group.

They started us off with warmed marinated olives.  Though I'm far from an olive lover, I ventured to taste a couple of these and almost enjoyed them!  They were marinating in a very pleasant olive oil, with some bites tasting of aniseed and others of garlic.

The olives were followed by hummus, a Moroccan lentil dip and roti.  The lentil dip was our hands-down favourite and the roti had a nice smokiness thanks to some charred grill marks.

After a bit of a wait, we were served with a dish of pumpkin soup each.  The stock base was nice and salty, but it wasn't otherwise anything remarkable.

Then a very long wait ensued.  It was past 9pm and we'd had some nice entrees, but we were still rather hungry.
The food drought was finally broken near 9:30pm when were were presented with these Dutch cream potatoes flavoured with garlic, fennel and rosemary.  Referring to the menu it looked suspiciously as if we might have missed two courses; thankfully these arrived while we were chowing down on the spuds.  It may have been the hunger overriding reason, but wow.  These roast potatoes were spectacular.  Golden, crispy and savoury-spiced on the outside, creamy as advertised inside.  I reckon I could eat these daily and never get sick of them.

The porcini mushroom and pumpkin arancini evoked neither porcini nor pumpkin. (The two mushroom-haters near me ate them without wrinkling their noses at all.)  But they had the right texture and were pretty good dredged through the sugo sauce. I love the presentation with the psychodelic herb-oil fringe.

The crostini with caponata and salsa verde arrived very late in the meal but were well received.

It was then that the chefs made a curious serving decision - out came large communal plates of pumpkin and sage risotto and individual bowls of the side salad. I would usually expect the converse! The risotto was a good one, but between the pumpkin soup and arancini I felt as if we'd already covered these flavours and textures tonight.

The salad featured bitter rocket leaves, which concealed apples, dates and walnuts. It was the right punchy counterpoint to the risotto.

I was very happy to finish up with the same coconut and kaffir lime sorbet that a vegan friend raved about last year.  It certainly was rave-worthy!  Its feather-light, creamy texture was everything I wish my home-made coconut icecream to be, and probably even better than the very special one we tried at Vegans Choice in Sydney.  It was a bit short on the lime for my taste but oh, the texture was incredible.

It's all really an incredible deal at just $25.  Some dishes are a little unimaginative but all of them were very well executed and a couple are absolute gems.  It's a great venue for gathering together a group of friends and enjoying their company over a few hours, a few dishes and perhaps a few wines.

You can read about our previous visit to Zenzero Blu here. Since then, it's also been blogged on Itsy Bitsy Food Reviews.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

October 6, 2010: Juanita's II

It's taken me a while to come good on my vow to try Juanita's post-breakfast options; it seems we spend lots of time brunching in Fitzroy but I'm rarely there for other meals. It's been so long that the selection of empanadas they previously offered has been replaced by a more extensive Mexican menu. There's lots of chicken, beef and chorizo, but thankfully there are also three or four veg options dotted amongst them.

The veg quesdilla is filled with mushrooms ($9). The house-made salsa is great, and the corn tortillas are very much like the ones I've bought from Casa Iberica (... so I'd guess there's a good chance they're sourcing them from the Casa rather than making them themselves).

We also shared the vegetarian tacos ($18); here you receive a dish of roasted cactus, potato, onion and chilli topped with cheese and sour cream, with salsa and warmed tortillas on the side. The cactus was very much like roasted capsicum - watery, velvety and slightly sweet - and the tacos were pleasantly light, not weighed down by the cheese and cream.

All the better for me to fit in dessert! Hot chocolate ($5) comes in chilli, orange, mint and coconut varieties; there's also a hot white chocolate with vanilla or honey, and the option of adding liqueur to any of them at extra cost. My hot chocolate wasn't gloopy with cornflour thickening (as they are at San Churro) and had actual shredded coconut all through it - yum! I went for the smallest of the sweets displayed in the cabinet, a chocolate walnut tart filled with caramel ($2.20), which was precisely as good as it looks.

Juanita's is the kind of casual and un-hipster cafe that's becoming rare on Brunswick St and we found the service timely and welcoming. I'd like to visit more often, particularly when I have room to try their churros! But as a vegetarian, I'm not sure that it'll be for dinner - Trippy Taco's all-vegetarian tortilla-wrapped meals are cheaper and just as fun.


You can read about a Juanita's breakfast we ate here.

Update 22/11/10 - Juanita's has closed and will soon become yet another chocolate cafe

Saturday, October 16, 2010

October 4, 2010: Stir-fried choko

My raspberry-coconut icecream earned me a novelty prize at the annual lab culinary competition - a choko and a taro root.  I could barely even recognise these vegetables (thanks to twitter for the help!) so I had little idea how best to cook them.  Of course the reliable ol' internet had some helpful suggestions.

Even many folks who can't spot a choko recalled the Aussie urban myth that McDonald's apple pies are filled more with choko than with apples.  I wasn't inclined to test its palatability as a dessert and instead took some tips from The Simple Green Frugal Co-op and stir-fried my choko, adding a little soy sauce, parsley and lime juice when it was cooked through.  (We ate it as a side to just-add-water falafel and the eat-anywhere quinoa salad.)

The choko's texture reminded me very much of cucumber; firm yet full of water.  It didn't taste of much at all.  I'd be unlikely to cook it on its ownsome again but I can imagine choko making a great addition to a meal-sized stir-fry with a variety of crunchy veges, holding up to the heat far better than zucchini. 

Unfamiliar green veges can be a little threatening but the choko is actually as mild-mannered as they come.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October 2, 2010: Vanilla slice

When we breakfasted at Naked Espresso a few weeks ago, their menu taunted us with the existence yet unavailability of vegan vanilla slice.  The chronically sweet-toothed K was particularly disappointed, so when we cooked together a fortnight later we made sure our own home-grown vanilla slice was on the menu.  There are a few different version floating around the internet and I picked the one appearing on the International Vegetarian Union web page.  It uses frozen puff pastry sheets, a filling based on soy milk and custard powder, and is topped with passionfruit icing.  (Yep, it was the passionfruit that had me hooked.)

Frozen puff pastry is obviously a time-saver, and a cheat that I'd happily use again.  The one hitch is that it tends to shrink as it bakes, so the frozen rectangle that I cut to fit neatly in my baking tray ended up undersized.  I can think of no obvious solution to this problem and was more than happy to spoon up the pastry-less custard edges as they were.

I was a little wary of the custard, as I'm wary of any dessert involving this much soy, but the flavour was just fine.  We used a carton of the finest re-released Bonsoy and the scrapings of a bourbon-soaked vanilla bean to create a sweet, smooth custard that set up nicely in the fridge overnight.  The 'smooth' bit was in doubt as I cooked; I don't have much experience using custard powder and was alarmed to see it setting in little chunks in the heated saucepan rather than thickening gradually.  Fearing jellied gobs in the finished product, I pushed it all through a sieve, making quite a mess in the process, and I'm not sure whether it's necessary.  (Any custard powder experts out there? Help a sister out.)

The crowning glory of this slice was the passionfruit icing.  I tripled the amount of passionfruit that the recipe called for and have no regrets - these rich creamy squares desperately need that sour, fruity edge.  (This reminded me of the brilliantly unorthodox berry coulis slash across the vanilla slices at Sorrento's Continental Hotel.)  Fresh passionfruit is available right now but I imagine that the canned stuff would do OK if the vanilla slice angels were whispering to you out of season.

This is definitely the kind of 'I-can't-believe-it's-vegan!' dessert that I'll be making again.  While it doesn't resemble the crisp-pastried cream-custard versions that gourmets flock to, it'll trounce your best memories of suburban bakery snot blocks.

Vegan vanilla slice
(based on a recipe at the International Vegetarian Union website)

2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 cup castor sugar
3/4 cup cornflour
1/2 cup custard powder
1L soy milk
60g vegan margarine
2 teaspoons vanilla essence

2 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon vegan margarine
pulp from 3 passionfruits
1 teaspoon water

Heat an oven to 200°C. Bake the puff pastry sheets on lightly greased trays for about 6 minutes, until lightly browned. Set them aside to cool.

In a saucepan, stir together the sugar, cornflour and custard powder. Whisk in the milk and add the margarine. Set the custard over medium heat to melt the margarine and bring the mixture to boil. Remove the custard from the heat and stir in the vanilla. At this point I strained it; if your custard looks lumpy you might want to, too.

Set a layer of pastry into a baking dish, trimming and reshaping it as needed. Pour over the custard and spread it out so that it's roughly even. Place the second pastry sheet on top, again trimming and reshaping as needed. Refrigerate the slice.

To make the icing, stir together all the ingredients until smooth. Retrieve the slice from the fridge and spread over the icing as smoothly as you care to. Return the slice to the fridge for several hours (preferably overnight) until the custard has set firm. Slice and serve.

October 2, 2010: Half Moon Cafe II

A week long thread about falafel on Mess and Noise had me craving a trip to Half Moon Cafe to resample their outstanding wraps. Cindy and I rustled up Toby to accompany us and hit the bike path. Things haven't changed much since we visited more than three years ago - lots of different falafel wrap options, a range of other delicious treats, insanely friendly staff and cheap, cheap prices.

Cindy kicked things off with a fresh fruit cocktail, a carrot and mixed fruit juice that rejuvenated her from the bike ride.

This time around she decided to have a full serve of the foul medames (we'd had a tantalising free sample on our last visit). At $6 for a good size bowl of creamy, beany flavour this is a good value lunch. And it's so, so, tasty - Cindy had to be constantly vigilant to ensure that Toby and I were restricted to sneaking only a couple of spoonfuls each.

I had to get my falafel fix, and settled on one of the wraps from the specials board: lettuce, rocket, eggplant, cauliflower, babaganoush and yoghurt dips ($6).

They really deserve their falafel reputation - the little balls of fried goodness are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and filled with delicious herby flavours. The accompaniments were pretty great as well - smoky babaganoush, soft roasted cauliflower and plenty of greens. I could have used a few more pickles, but I think that was basically my ordering at fault.

Half Moon remains one of Melbourne's best lunch places - incredibly cheap, vaguely healthy and completely delicious food, served up by super-friendly staff. Now that Mankoushe is offering a similar set of attractions a little closer to us it may be harder to lure us all the way to Coburg, but if you're in the neighbourhood I can't recommend it enough.

Read about our first visit of Half Moon here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October 1, 2010: White Lotus IV

Edit 11/11/2017: Sadly White Lotus is no longer in business, but there's a Loving Hut here now.

White Lotus has always been a family-run business so when they had personal family business to attend to, the restaurant closed for several months.  But we're very happy to report that they've reopened!  They're back serving up Chinese-style mock meats on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.  Given their limited hours, I'd highly recommend that you book a table in advance.  We saw quite a few people regretfully turned away on the Friday night that we visited.

Though we were visiting primarily for the mock meats, it was a good thing that our wok tossed greens ($15) arrived first.  We hungrily lined our stomachs with bok choy before embarking on the richer stuff.

The restaurant's signature vegetarian fish in tamarind sauce ($19) was a must.  The 'flesh' was a little mushier and homogeneous that I recalled on past visits but the nori-and-bean-curd skin was delicate and crisp and the tamarind sauce as zesty as ever.

We also tried out one of the specials, sweet and sour spare ribs ($16).  I suppose we imagined something like the seitan ribs I made earlier in the year and received a starchy shock on first bite - inside were layers of vegetarian ham, pumpkin and taro!  They were tasty and novel once we got going, but pretty stodgy as we neared the end of the plate.  Like most things at White Lotus, the ribs are best shared amongst several people.

Although the restaurant was busy, the one waitress on duty provided us with reliable and unwaveringly friendly service.  Prices are a little steep but I don't mind paying them in support of a local vegetarian business on the odd night out.  And until Peace Harmony or Mei Lin see fit to open a restaurant here, they boast the best vegetarian fish in Melbourne.

You can also read about our previous visits to White Lotus: one, two, three.