Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November 23, 2010: The Gasometer II

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 29, 2010

November 22, 2010: Zesty orange mojo tofu

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

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

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

November 20, 2010: Gingerboy II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November 18, 2010: Pizza pull-apart loaf

Pizza pull-apart loaf is our calendar recipe for the month of November.  I imagined it being just the thing to bake in the morning and pack for a picnic but I actually ended up preparing it for a weeknight dinner, roasting some broccoli and garlic on the neighbouring oven tray.

This pull-apart loaf is not quite like the light bready ones I've encountered at bakeries; it reminds me more of damper.  On the couple of mornings that I lightly toasted a leftover wedge for breakfast I remained full for hours longer than usual, uninterested in lunch until mid-afternoon.  So it's lucky that it didn't go stale for days - I needed a good 24 hours to work up an appetite for another slab!

Pizza pull-apart loaf

4 cups plain flour
2 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
90g butter, cold and chopped into cubes
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1 green capsicum, chopped
3/4 cup tasty cheese, grated
1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup tomato-based pasta sauce

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

In a food processor, briefly pulse the flour and baking powder.  Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Transfer the butter/flour mixture to a large bowl and stir through the sun-dried tomatoes, capsicum and 1/2 cup of the cheese.  Add the milk and egg, combining it all to form a dough.  Knead the dough lightly, form it into a 20cm round and place it on the baking tray.

Use a knife to cut not-quite-through the to the bottom of the dough, so that you've marked out eight wedges.  Fill the wedge cuts with pasta sauce, then sprinkle the remaining cheese over the loaf.

Bake the loaf for 35-40 minutes, or until it's golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped at the base.  Allow it to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

where's the best now?

Our 1100th post has quietly come and gone, and that means it's time to update our where's the best? list of favourites:
We've made lots of veg-friendly discoveries out on the town, too:
There's been one sad loss too - Juanita's is no longer in business. Nevertheless, we're discovering great eating spots at a far greater rate than the good 'uns are disappearing; I don't think vegetarian dining in Melbourne has ever been better!

November 17, 2010: Andrews Hamburgers II

Melbourne's now seeing some gorgeous days.  And with the sun setting after 8pm, it's the perfect time for us northsiders to cycle across the river for Andrews Hamburgers.  Since our previous post three years ago, the gloriously massive and messy vegie burgers have increased in price from $7 to $7.50 - that's a hike I can handle.

Vegie souvlaki are now also available for $8.50 apiece.  They boast extra yoghurt and spices, but feature the same vegie patties and risk-of-spilling-everything-down-your-shirtfront as the vegie burgers.

Andrews' old-fashioned charm is no Melbourne secret, so be prepared for a bit of a wait and zero space to eat in.  I found myself happily occupied for the requisite 20 minutes just observing the staff's speedy and systematic use of their small open kitchen, and on a bright and breezy day the oversized traffic island/tiny park across the street offers all the al fresco dining facilities (grass, bench chairs, bins) you need.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

November 14. 2010: Rum-banana waffles

After years of claiming my icecream maker as my one single-use totally inessential but much-loved appliance, I've caved and acquired another. This month I traded in six years' credit card points for a waffle iron. I blame Isa Chandra Moskowitz and her irresistible Vegan Brunch. The omelettes, scrambles, hash browns and home fries are unbeatable, but they only had me wanting more. Every time we pulled the book from the shelf I couldn't help flicking through and lingering longingly over the seven waffle recipes, several of them photographed in drool-inducing poses with plump fruit and lurid syrups.

When my highly anticipated waffle iron arrived I happily hefted it home from the post office, devoured the manual, carefully followed the seasoning instructions and started simple, with Isa's recipe for old-fashioned Chelsea waffles. It was painful to toss my first pan-full in the bin but the manual insisted on it (I presume they soaked up the worst of the chemicals the iron is treated with). The next lot were well worth the time it took to do them properly - we ate them for breakfast with lightly stewed cinnamon apples and a splash of maple syrup. We gradually finished the rest, jam-smeared, as snacks.

I reckon the only way you'd possibly pick these as vegan is through their distinct lack of egginess. They're gently sweet (I added maple syrup instead of Isa's barley malt syrup) and a little cornmeal supplements the flour; these ingredients served to totally overpower the soy milk and lend the waffles a satisfying chewiness. And I learned the hard way that waffle batter doesn't work like muffin mixture - any flour that's not mixed in thoroughly ultimately pops up as an unpleasant chalky clump.

One day later I made more, rationalising this as a way to use up a not-so-fresh banana and stock myself with workday afternoon snacks. I added some vanilla-infused rum and a pinch of nutmeg to perk up that sad banana and flipped round the mixing (whisking wet gradually into dry) to avoid the flour pockets. Perfect! I've enjoyed these waffles best straight out of the toaster and slathered with peanut butter.

Rum-banana waffles
(inspired by the Old-fashioned Chelsea waffles in Vegan Brunch)

1 large banana
1 tablespoon vanilla-infused white rum
2 cups plain flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cornflour
pinch of nutmeg
2 cups soy milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons maple syrup

In a small bowl, mash the banana and stir in the rum. Set it aside.

In a medium-large bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, cornflour and nutmeg.

In a small-medium bowl, whisk together the milk, vinegar, oil and maple syrup.

Gradually whisk half of the wet ingredients into the bowl of flour until smooth and thick. Stir in the banana, then whisk in the remaining liquid to attain a smooth batter.

Cook the batter in a waffle iron, following to the manufacturer's instructions.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

November 12, 2010: Spring pasta salad

'Tis the season to eat outdoors! On the few days that the sky is clear, anyway.  Actually the skies were notably oppressive and dispensing much water on Friday evening, but our friends persisted with a barbecue anyway.  They charged us with bringing a salad so I took inspiration from one that we ate at the last barbecue we attended, an asparagus and risoni salad prepared by meveg of Eat More Vegies.

My one intended tweak to the recipe was to use the moghrabieh that has long been languishing in our pantry instead of meveg's risoni.  But after I finished tossing together the ingredients and gave it a taste I found my batch a little dull, so I ended up tossing other bits and pieces in too - some extra lemon juice, lots of salt and pepper, and even a little maple syrup.  This was better, but still not quite as good as meveg's rendition.  Clearly the moghrabieh was an inferior choice to the risoni - it developed a moist starchy coating and was a bit chewier than I would have liked.

Asparagus, fresh peas, parsley and lemon are perfect flavours for this time of year.  I'd certainly recommend you give meveg's risoni salad a shot before this late spring gives way to a scorching summer.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November 10, 2010: Konjo Ethiopian Restaurant

Cindy and I got the opening hours of Las Vegan wrong and found ourselves in need of a feed at the quiet end of Smith Street. Our last few meals had been Mexican-inspired so Trippytaco was, for once, off the menu. Lucky for us, Konjo was sitting quietly next to Las Vegan with tables to spare and plenty of veg menu items. Ethiopian vegetarian food seems pretty similar between restaurants: split pea and lentil stews with various spices, served on top of injera. We've had fun with it before, but you're never likely to be surprised. Konjo made things easier for us by offering a Beyeinatu combination: 3 lentil dishes and a turmeric-y dish of cabbage, carrot, potato and onion served on a big injera plate ($14.50 each).

This did the job of feeding us relatively cheaply on a Wednesday night - Cindy liked the potato dish, while I was most into the Kai Misir Wot (red lentils, tomatoes, garlic and onions, simmered in berbere).

Kono is a cute little place, though it lacks the atmosphere of The Horn or the cheapness of Cafe Lalibela. The service is friendly and the menu provides decent vegetarian options, but Konjo shares Smith Street with some of the best vego places in Melbourne so I'm not sure we'll return too quickly.

Brian at Fitzroyalty and Foodie Dreams are the only other bloggers who have made the trip to Konjo so far.

Konjo Ethiopian Restaurant
20 Smith St, Collingwood
9419 5713
Vegie mains: $15, combo: $14.50
Unlicensed (no BYO)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November 9, 2010: Chimichurri baked tofu

We were filled with new recipe book excitement over Viva Vegan, and went straight back for a second shot after our initial success. This time we opted for something a little more straightforward - make up a tasty sauce and bake some tofu in it to serve alongside simple salad. The chimichurri sauce is garlicky and strong when raw, but after baking with the tofu it turns into a wonderful kind of spicy pesto. It's traditionally a meat marinade and the little rectangles of baked tofu had a nice firm texture, which made for an excellent steak replacement in this protein + salad dish. They're not pretty, but they're pretty delicious. Viva Vegan succeeds again!

Chimichurri sauce 
(based on a recipe from Viva Vegan)

4 garlic cloves (peeled)
2 French shallots (peeled)
1 large bunch flat leaf parsley, washed and trimmed
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon salt

Combine the garlic, shallots and parsley in a food processor and whiz into a finely chopped paste.

While running the processor, pour in the oil and vinegar and sprinkle in the spices and seasoning. Pulse until everything is mushed together into a smooth paste.

Chimichurri baked tofu
(based on a recipe from Viva Vegan)

500g firm tofu, pressed and sliced into 2 cm thick rectangles
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Chimichurri sauce

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Combine the olive oil and soy sauce in a baking dish that's big enough to fit all your tofu in it.

Press the tofu slices into the marinade and flip them over, pressing on both sides, so you've got a tray full of tofu slices that have been well covered by the marinade

Bake for 15 minutes, flip all the tofu slices over and bake for another 15.

Remove from the oven and smear with chimichurri sauce, flip and smear the bottoms of the tofu as well.

Put the tofu back in the oven and bake for another 20 minutes, until the tofu is nice and firm.

Monday, November 15, 2010

November 7, 2010: Mix 'n' match burritos

After reading gushing comments about Viva Vegan all over Twitter by the likes of Mandee and Zuckerbaby, Cindy and I decided it was time to add another recipe book to our pile. Its first job was to provide us with some ideas for a Sunday dinner with Cindy's aunt. Just flicking through Viva Vegan was an overwhelming experience - there are so many amazing-sounding recipes in it that choosing what to make became a long and frustrating process. We ended up doing a bit of ad-libbing and a bit of recipe following, and coming up with these burritos - filled with a mix of refried beans, spicy corn and hominy salad, greens and avocado. They were excellent, resulting in a bout of over-eating from me - there's something about beans and avocado that switches off my restraint.

Spicy corn and hominy salad 
(dressing inspired by the creamy ancho chile dressing from Viva Vegan)

2 cobs corn
400g can hominy, drained and rinsed
1 canned chipotle (chopped finely) and ~ 1 tablespoon of the accompanying adobo sauce
3/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lime juice

Shuck the corn cobs and roast them whole over a hot fry-pan, turning every 5 or 10 minutes - you want the kernels to start blackening on the outside. Cool and then cut the kernels off the cob.

Make the dressing by combining the chipotle, adobo sauce, mayo and lime juice.

Combine the roasted corn, the hominy and about half the dressing (the rest is great as sauce on almost anything).

Refried beans 
(based on the home-style refried beans from Viva Vegan)

2 x 400g cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 brown onion, diced finely
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped finely (we found jalepenos at Safeway, which was surprising to me)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
3 bay leaves (less if yours aren't two years old and kind of flavourless)
salt and pepper
2-3 cups of water
3 tablespoons olive oil

Heat the oil in a frying pan (preferably not a non-stick one, you're going to be mashing directly in the pan) and cook the garlic, onion and chillies for about 10 minutes, until everything is nice and soft.

Add the cumin, oregano and chilli powder and stir through.

Add the beans, bay leaves and 2 cups of the water, stirring everything together. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed - you want to end up with a centimetre or so of water left.

Fish out the bay leaves and get rid of them, before mashing the beany mix with a potato masher - try to get them fairly smooth. Stir and cook for another 5 or 10 minutes, adding more water as things dry out.

Serve on warm tortillas, with a a few tablespoons of the corn and hominy salad, some smushed avocado (with a dash of lime juice and tabasco stirred through it) and some shredded lettuce.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November 6, 2010: Easy Tiger

Collingwood is booming - it seems as though every month a new trendy place opens up at the southern end of Smith. We caught the initial buzz about new Thai place Easy Tiger and put it on our 'once the hype fades' list, to check out when getting a table doesn't require planning ahead or going on a waiting list. Wandering Smith St on a Saturday, we discovered a new option: lunch-time! Easy Tiger was sitting open at midday on a Saturday without a single patron in sight - we strolled in, grabbed our pick of the tables and were the sole focus of the staff's attention.

As everyone else has commented, it's a beautiful fit out - sleek and clean, with rows of bright colourful glasses running down the walls to frame everything. The guy serving us was amazingly friendly and helpful, taking us through the menu, suggesting dishes that would work well together, even telling us how we should eat things. Even better, he was a vego, so was happy to figure out what they could for us. The $60 vegetarian banquet sounds brilliant, but seemed a bit excessive for an early lunch.

Instead, after taking advice, we picked a couple of small dishes, a salad and a curry. The first dish was the main reason I'd been enthused to try Easy Tiger - the dimly lit picture on Brian's post couldn't disguise the impressiveness of the silken tofu with eggplant and Thai basil ($10).

The star of this dish is the amazing smoky eggplant paste - apparently it's as simple as roasting a whole eggplant over a gas burner and blending it with some oil and basil. However simple it might be to make, it was exquisite atop the silky (but essentially flavourless) tofu. Throw in a couple of crispy salty eggplant chips and a crunchy betel leaf and our meal was off to an amazing start.

The rest of our order came out together: son in law eggs ($4 each, with the fish sauce swapped for a mild chilli jam), Panaeng curry of pumpkin, baby corn and Thai basil ($26) and a watermelon salad with green chilli, mint and peanuts ($25 when served with the standard duck, we forgot to check if we paid less).

The son in law eggs were crispy fried on the outside and oozed soft and gooey when cracked. The chilli jam was sweet and rich, but pretty mild in terms of actual chilli kick.

Even without the duck, the watermelon salad was a success - sharp mint and lemongrass flavours, a mild chilli hit and the sweetness of the watermelon, combining to make a refreshing and tasty dish.

The curry was a good complement to the salad - providing something rich and warm to offset the salad's sharpness. Again, this was mild in terms of spiciness, but had a satisfying depth of flavour. The pumpkin was soft without being mushy, while the beans and corn retained enough crunch to add some textural variety.

We were both very impressed by our lunch - the dishes were all well cooked and flavourful, and the set of things we ordered worked together nicely to add up to more than the sum of their parts. This was at least partly down to the service - the staff were among the best we've dealt with: helpful and friendly and willing to answer any of our questions (this may have just been because we were the only people in the place, but Ashley had an equally good experience during a busier visit). If you expect your Thai food to get the eyes watering a bit you'll be a bit disappointed by Easy Tiger - they're working with a subtler range of flavours. But if you go expecting an excellent meal, wonderful service and a stylish setting, Easy Tiger will hit the spot. Our only disappointment was not getting to try the desserts that Claire and Joyce raved about - we'll have to return for an evening meal some time soon.

I've already mentioned all the blog reviews of Easy Tiger I could find: Melbourne Gastronome, Mel: Hot or Not, Fitzroyalty, Hookturns, I'm so hungreeeeeeeeee

Easy Tiger
96 Smith St, Collingwood
9417 2373
veg banquet $60 per person, small plates $4-$10, mains $24-$30

Saturday, November 13, 2010

November 5, 2010: Shark Paradise Fish & Chips

Shark Paradise looks like your typical suburban fish'n'chip shop, which makes its occurrence on Smith St a little atypical.

The menu starts out very much as you'd expect - after the fish and chips there's burgers, Chiko rolls, dim sims and potato cakes.  Then there's something we would never have discovered if it weren't for a blog post from Johanna, a section headed Vegetarian Delight!  Here there are five burgers listed, along with meat-free dim sims, soy nuggets, spring rolls and battered tempeh.

I chose the tempeh burger ($5) with chips (add $1.50).  The battered tempeh is tender but unseasoned and a little bland; this is counteracted well enough by the BBQ sauce, tomato and lettuce.  The chips were fine corner shop-style specimens - fat and fluffy with lots of salt and plenty of the crispy bits I like best.

Michael had a tempeh wrap ($7.80) with chips (add $1.40) - here you get double tempeh and what looks like double BBQ sauce, onion and beetroot as well as salad.

It's all highly processed and unrefined but it's the stuff I grew up with, and I love it.  It's great to see a chippie with a few creative vegetarian alternatives to flake, and I'll certainly be returning to slather some tempeh slices in tartare sauce.

And if the food weren't enough to evoke some nostalgia, there's also decades-old arcade games to pump your change into!

Edit 01/07/2011: Shark Paradise is now closed! There's some kind of renovation going on in there so the shopfront will be hosting something new soon...

Shark Paradise Fish & Chips
76 Smith St, Collingwood
9486 0609
veg snacks & meals $0.90-$9.20

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 3-4, 2010: Salted caramel icecream: vegans' revenge

I'm a little fearful that that beige-and-blue just-barely focused photo above isn't going to keep your attention for long.  But seriously, you guys, this is one of my proudest moments in the kitchen in a long time.

David Lebovitz's salted butter caramel icecream? I done veganised it.  And dramatically reduced the number of kitchen implements I used in the process.

Here's my formulae:
  butter -> Nuttelex (obviously) 
  milk + cream + egg yolks -> coconut milk + arrowroot.

I haven't tasted the two recipes side by side, but I reckon what we have here is a pretty good match.  And it's that much easier that I won't be looking back.  I didn't even strain it.

I had a slightly different experience with the caramel this time round.  I used our smallest gas burner with a heat diffuser on top and felt much more in control of browning, but not burning, the caramel.  But then when I poured the toffee out it didn't want to spread far so it set in a very thick sheet, was difficult to break up, and remained too crunchy in the icecream.  I also stupidly forgot to add the salt to the caramel in the saucepan and sprinkled it over the setting toffee.  This made repeated taste-testing of the toffee irresistible but didn't carry quite so well to the finished icecream.

One final cooking note - this icecream is crazy-sweet.  I'll experiment with reducing the quantity of sugar in future batches and work out what level I like best.  But don't hesitate to try this version of the recipe now now now.

Vegan salted caramel icecream
(adapted from David Lebovitz's salted butter caramel icecream)

mix-in toffee
spray oil
100g castor sugar
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, ideally some fancy fleur de sel

300g castor sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (again, fleur de sel preferable)
60g Nuttelex or other vegan margarine
2 x 400mL cans coconut milk
1 generous tablespoon arrowroot
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line a baking tray with paper and spray it lightly with oil.  To make the toffee, place the sugar in a saucepan and melt it over moderate, even heat.  Don't stir it too often or vigorously, but go ahead and shift the liquid bits out of the way to encourage the solid bits to melt quicker.  Continue cooking the sugar until it is all liquid and brown, until it just starts smoking.

As efficiently as you can, sprinkle the salt over the caramel and pour it all onto the baking tray.  Lift and tilt the tray to get the thinnest layer of toffee you can - it doesn't have to be a pretty shape or single sheet.  Set it aside to set completely.

Now for the custard!  Repeat exactly the same caramel-making process with the sugar in a medium-large saucepan.  Take it off the heat when it's time to add the salt, and whisk in the margarine too.  Next, gradually whisk in the coconut milk.  Return the saucepan to a moderate heat to help evenly melt the coconut fat through the mix.  The caramel may harden again but be patient, it will re-melt over the heat.  Sift in a generous tablespoon of arrowroot and bring the mixture to the boil. Take it off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

Cool the mixture, refrigerating it overnight so that it's completely chilled.

When the custard is ready, churn it in an icecream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.  Crumble the toffee into little pieces (DL suggests 1cm in size) and stir it into the finished frozen custard.  Transfer it all to a container and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

November 3, 2010: Menudo

Menudo (no, not the Puerto Rican boy band) is a traditional Mexican soup, commonly made with cow's stomach. Which is gross. Luckily Chow Vegan has invented a wacky vegan version, which we were determined to replicate.

Vegan Menudo required trips to two of our favourite specialty grocers: Casa Iberica for hominy and Minh Phat for yuba sticks.

The yuba sticks (which are made of dried bean curd) fill in for tripe, providing at least something texturally appropriate - I'm pretty sure bean curd tastes nothing like cow's stomach but I wouldn't actually know.

This is a spicy and hearty stew rich with vegies. The interest comes from the slightly nutty hominy and the chewy bean curd, both of which make this more interesting than your average soup. It packs a bit of a punch (even more the day after) and is best eaten with a tortilla or two torn up and dunked in it.

Vegetarian menudo (recipe courtesy of Chow Vegan)

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
1 small white onion, diced
2 medium potatoes, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
4 celery stalks, diced
1 x 400g can crushed tomatoes
1/2 x 800g can hominy drained and rinsed (or 1 x 400g can if you can find it)
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup 'chicken' stock
3 cups water
100 grams yuba sticks, soaked to rehydrate and cut into 3 cm pieces

Heat the oil in a large pot and fry the garlic and onions for about 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add in the potatoes, carrot and celery and fry for a couple of minutes.

Pour in the tomato and the hominy and stir through the spices, making sure everything is mixed well.

Add the stock and the water, along with the drained yuba sticks. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 40-50 minutes, until everything is nice and soft.

Monday, November 08, 2010

November 2, 2010: Monk Bodhi Dharma

It's rare that a vegetarian cafe generates buzz amongst the omnivore set, but Monk Bodhi Dharma has done just that (see, again, an extensive link-list towards the bottom of the post). This is most likely due to their coffee chops - it's another third wave joint with a fancy bean rotation and even fancier set of coffee preparation methods.

It's consistently crowded, and densely designed at that. I have rarely felt this cramped while eating out, having to leave my seat and shuffle round the cafe in order to let some other customers depart. BYO collegial attitude!

However Monk Bodhi Dharma has some other features that endear it to this finicky breakfaster - an extensive tea menu and a complete lack of eggs. Yes, folks, they have a page-long breakfast menu where the only thing that's poached is a pear. I was spoilt for choice - the cereals had luscious-sounding fruit accompaniments, toast came with beans or bruschetta toppings or kicked-up avocado and the ricotta hotcakes were pesto-topped savoury temptations.

I tried out their soy chai and it was not only one of the cutest ones I've been served around Melbourne; it was one of the tastiest and best prepared.

Michael ate the Yucatan "Peasant" Beans ($14.50) - slow cooked chile beans served with feta, toasted sourdough and house made chile jam. Michael found the presentation awkward - there was no room to slather the beans on the toast, and a fork wasn't the best tool for scooping up such a runny sauce - but he spoke highly of the flavours.

I ordered the extremely popular Madagascan French Toast ($15.50); this saffron French toast came with a cardamom, vanilla and cinnamon-poached pear, lemon ricotta and crushed pistachios. Between the saffron, the poaching spices and a suspected hint of rosewater, this was a very fragrant dish; I'd almost warn folks who dislike floral flavours against it. I loved it, and the crusty baguette too - it was almost easier to eat the toothsome toast by hand than use cutlery. The ricotta was a funny one - utterly smooth, none of that usual velvety texture, and intensely sweet. It's a very memorable dish and I'd rate it with Ray and Gingerlee's French-inspired toasts as a personal favourite (all the better that it's egg-free and vegan-friendly!).

Having heard good things about their cakes, Michael ordered one to takeaway - it was an enormous iced wedge of cakey brownie goodness, with a nice coffee kick.

Service was reasonably efficient given the demands of the crowded space; some staff were notably more cheerful than others.  I'd like to try more from the very appealing menu but it's rare that we make it across town; I haven't sampled enough from nearby Las Chicas or the Galleon either.  There appears to be no end of southsiders frequenting these great cafes, though, and I look forward to at least experiencing a few more of their dishes vicariously online.


After breakfast, we continued to explore Balaclava.  K recommended a visit to Rishon Foods, a specialty kosher store - in their efforts to avoid mixing meat and milk, the Jewish community have developed many vegan-friendly products.  Rishon has shelves full of vegan sweets and freezers well-stocked with dairy-free icecreams, a few faux-meats and the like.  For us non-vegans, the collection of rennet-free cheeses is impressive too.

We enjoyed observing the mix of old and new along Carlisle St, picking up some bagels from Glick's and checking out an izakaya menu before heading into Coles, where another wealth of kosher specialty products awaited.  It's a facet of Melbourne we've not really experienced before and one I'd certainly like to revisit.  As Carla wryly noted, this is the southside that us northsiders are allowed to like.

Monk Bodhi Dharma
rear of 202 Carlisle St, Balaclava
9534 7250
veg breakfasts $7-15.50

Rishon Foods
23 William St, Balaclava
9527 5142

Glick's Cakes & Bagels
330 Carlisle St, Balaclava
9527 2198

Sunday, November 07, 2010

November 1, 2010: The Gasometer

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

The opening of the Gasometer on Smith Street was the perfect excuse to reconvene our increasingly sporadic pub-club. The Gasometer is run by the peeps who used to run the kitchen at the East Brunswick Club, so it was always going to have a veg-friendly menu. We also needed a coeliac friendly menu and were pleased to hear that they'd got some gf options together following K and Toby's visit.

We got there before 6:30 and had our pick of spots, opting for a big fireside table with plenty of room for our group of eight. As expected, the menu was filled with intriguing options - Cindy and I both resisted the 'chorizo' inspired vegie burger and the mac and 'cheese' this time around, meaning we'll have to make a return visit post-haste. I was lured in by the arepas (which I've become obsessed with thanks to Sonido). The Gasometer version comes with house made shredded seitan cooked in a rich Mexican chilli sauce, topped with a fresh coriander-laced ceviche of hearts of palm, tomato, avocado and corn, drizzled with cashew cream ($18).

Unlike The EBC, the Gasometer goes for relatively sane serving sizes - for $18 I was expecting a larger portion; even so, this turned out to be plenty of food (especially when I got to sneak a decent amount of Cindy's meal as well). The seitan was meaty and deliciously slathered in the rich, spicy sauce, while the toppings were an intriguing combination of textures and flavours. The only slight disappointment was the arepas themselves, which were a little dry and tough compared to our other experiences.

Cindy went for two entrée orders, starting with the Buffalo smoked tofu strips (tofu strips tossed in a spicy Buffalo sauce, served with house made ranch dipping sauce, $12).

These had a satisfying chilli kick (although I think you can up the ante and order them 'brutal'), with the somehow vegan dipping sauce providing a cooling complement. I snuck as many of these as I could get away with - highly recommended.

Of course the true test of any pub for Cindy is the quality of their chips, so she added an order of fat steak fries, seasoned with black ash salt and served with garlic aioli ($7.50).

I can't say as I noticed anything special about the black ash salt, but these were some excellently crispy chips - a slightly bigger serve of aioli would have been nice, but these golden potato chunks were good enough to stand on their own.

By 8 o'clock or so The Gasometer was doing a roaring trade. And why not? There's a good range of beers on tap, plenty of tables, friendly staff and an excellently varied menu. The food is not cheap, but it's great to see a pub trying to be a bit adventurous with their vego options - between this place and The Fox, the north-west corner of Collingwood has become the a veg-friendly pub hotspot.

The Gasometer has had rave reviews for vegan-bloggers In the Mood for Noodles and Adrian Wallace, while their meaty options (and the chips!) got the thumbs up from Em at it pleases us.

Address: 484 Smith Street, Collingwood
Ph: 9417 5539
Prices: $7.5 - $18
Licensed (of course!)

Saturday, November 06, 2010

November 1, 2010: Three Bags Full

On Monday, Michael and I met up for lunch in the Richmond/Abbotsford neighbourhood.  We had a tip on a new vegetarian restaurant but it wasn't yet open, so we shifted our sights to Three Bags Full.  We were lucky to snag a table for two before the much-hyped (see the 32 links below) cafe filled up entirely.

Michael had a good shot at the drinks menu, getting both a coffee and a #2 juice ($6; pineapple, strawberry, apple & mint) and loving 'em both.

From there, he had a shot at the specials board, ordering the crushed spring peas and poached eggs on toast with basil and tomato vinaigrette ($14.50).  The eggs were a perfectly poached centrepiece to a very good plate of food.

He did sneak a couple jealous looks at (and bites of!) my pumpkin fritters ($15.50).  Fluffy yet substantial, sweet and salty - they were bloody good stuff, especially when smeared with the creamed Persian feta.  The huge handful of rocket had the right texture and bitterness to offset the rich fritters and I dug the oven roasted cherry tomatoes too.  The grilled haloumi was the odd element out for me, adding more fatty saltiness where I didn't really think it was needed.  My mind boggles at the thought of the prosciutto that usually also accompanies this dish - it just seems like overkill.

Our meals weren't cheap but the quality stepped up to the price.  Service was pleasant and prompt in the face of a full house; I get the impression that there's rarely a quiet moment at Three Bags Full and they seem to have a handle on it.  The all-day breakfast menu is extensive and attractive even though it features a lot of eggs.  It's not vegan-friendly as is but given my skip-the-prosciutto success, it's probably possible to try the beans, avocado or mushrooms without cheese.  There's every chance they don't need it!

Update 07/11/2010: Unfortunately Three Bags Full is even less vegan-friendly than we imagined - K and Toby stopped by and found that the beans and mushrooms are cooked with butter.  That leaves toast with jam, vegemite or avocado as the only vegan options across a long breakfast menu.


Address: corner of Nicholson and Mollison Sts, Abbotsford
Ph: 9421 2732
Price: veg lunches $10-15.50
Website: www.threebagsfullcafe.com