Saturday, December 31, 2011

Middle Fish

Edit 30/08/2017: Sadly Middle Fish is now closed! Their instagram account reports that they'll be opening at a new address in 2019.

30 December, 2011
When Claire first blogged about about Middle Fish, the stylish new Thai place in our neighbourhood, Cindy and I were cautiously enthused. Enthused because of the beautiful fitout and fresh sounding food and cautious because of their much-vaunted authenticity. Authenticity for a Thai place basically means fish sauce and/or shrimp paste in everything, so we were uncertain as to whether or not Middle Fish would have much to offer us. But I wandered in for lunch, relieved to find something open in the Christmas/NY gap (this was an unplanned solo visit, so the photos are all from my phone and not up to Cindy's usual standards).

As with Seven Seeds (where Middle Fish source their coffee), this is a converted warehouse, which means high ceilings and loads of space. It's outfitted with wonderfully designed sculptures and fittings courtesy of visiting Thai designer Torlap Larpjaroensook. The basic menu has almost nothing vego on it, but there's a sentence at the bottom promising veg adaptations are available. After a quick chat with one of the very friendly staff, I'm given a decent range of options, settling on a version of fried rice minus the pork. They checked in with me about various ingredients - it was particularly reassuring when they asked me about fish sauce - and relayed my answers to the kitchen.

What came out was this:

A generous serve of fried rice, filled with crispy fresh vegies and accompanied by a bowl of biting chilli-soy sauce. The combo of slightly vinegary flavours, soy and heaps of fresh chilli really went down well with me. I was particularly pleased to find out that Middle Fish don't load things up with sugar or skimp too much on the heat - the bottle of water on the table certainly came in handy.

This was an excellent lunch - quick, fresh and tasty and served by super-friendly staff who were happy to deal with vegetarian fussiness. The only slight downside was the price - $14.50 might be okay if you're paying for the fancy pork version of this but is a bit steep otherwise. Vegetarians clearly aren't the main priority of Middle Fish, yet it was nice to discover that they'll happily cater for us - I'm going to drag Cindy back to find out what else they can do.

Middle Fish is gradually developing some blog-buzz: Melbourne gastronome, Authenticcity and The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar have all raved about it since it opened a few weeks back.

Middle Fish
122-128 Berkeley Street, Carlton
9348 1704
salads $12.50, mains $14.50

Accessibility: There's a flat entry way leading into an incredibly spacious and naturally well-lit dining area. Service takes place at the table, payment at a low counter.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Carob truffles

December 29, 2011
The end of 2011 brings with it the end of one where's the beef? tradition. This here is our final calendar recipe! Michael's mum gave us some beautiful Japanese-style crockery for Christmas in lieu of material for a "Robyn's Recipe Calendar 2012" tag.

I'll confess to some trepidation ahead of making this recipe. I haven't eaten carob in about 15 years - back then carob buds were 40 cents a packet at the school tuckshop and thus one of the more popular sweets. Now with more disposable income and a weakness for dark chocolate, I've not sought out carob in a long time. It seems fewer and fewer other people are seeking it out either: the sales assistant at Brunswick's Organic Wholefoods drew a blank and theorised that with dark chocolate now sold as an antioxidant-rich health food, there mightn't be much market for carob. Michael had more luck in Smith St's sister store.

That's if you ever want to consider sugar-free soya carob lucky. It's a pretty joyless product, earthy and floury and nearly 30% palm oil. I was not feeling any more optimistic after my test nibble at the corner. But determined to see this tradition through to the bitter, chocolate-free end, I persevered with the recipe. The carob melted to a silky puddle and combined smoothly with the other more truffle-like ingredients. I added an extra dash of maple syrup to ensure a bit of sweetness, rolled them out, popped them in the fridge and... they were alright. Not chocolate, of course, but pretty good. As if my carob anxieties weren't enough, I'd been sceptical about mixing sultanas and peppermint but that totally worked. You could even increase the quantities of each, I reckon!

I ate several of these at my desk the following afternoon and they sustained me through a few hectic hours. I really, actively enjoyed them; I did not expect that. I'm still not sure that I want to buy sugar-free carob again, though. Are there any carob fanciers out there? Do you have any serving suggestions for us uncreative chocolate lovers?

Carob truffles

2/3 cup hazelnuts
1 1/2 tablespoons cream or 1 tablespoon soy milk
2 tablespoons sultanas
1 tablespoon maple syrup
100g milk or soy carob
peppermint essence

Grind one-third of the hazelnuts to a coarse meal, and roughly chop the remainder. In a bowl, stir together the ground hazelnuts, cream/milk, sultanas and maple syrup. Gently melt the carob and add that to the sultana mixture. Add peppermint essence to taste, and mix well. Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes.

Roll the mixture into balls with your hands, and press in the chopped hazelnuts to coat the balls. Refrigerate the balls further before eating.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Cutler & Co IV

December 8-20, 2011
For a while now Michael and I have had a habit of sharing a degustation for our birthdays. Six to ten (or more!) courses is a lot of fun and a lot to digest: while my mind always looks forward to dessert, my stomach's capacity to follow through varies. This year I hatched a plan to please both my sweet tooth and my unreliable appetite - for my birthday I'd eat my way through Cutler & Co's dessert menu, just one dish at a time, over the course of a couple of weeks. As we'd already discovered, they're willing to accommodate a late-arriving guest without a reservation at their front bar on a quiet night.

At $18 apiece, these five plates total less than most vegetarian degustations around town. The crisp, not-at-all-syrupy dessert wine that Michael tipsily ordered on our first visit was a fitting substitute for the matched wines he'd usually request.

Let me show you what sugary delights Cutler & Co are serving this summer...

strawberries, black olive caramel, olive oil ice cream & pine nuts

Silky ice creams, firm fresh fruit, sour jelly, salty candied pine nuts, vanilla puddles and toffee shards - there's a lot here to love even when one hates olives. In fact, I would have been game for a shade more brinyness! This pretty thing is made extra-lovable by the fact that it can be served vegan and gluten-free on request.

white chocolate mousse, beetroot ice cream, orange jelly and sherbet

The second dessert crept up on me. Its two-toned disc of mousse and jelly was nice, then better with the slightly earthy beetroot ice cream. The powders were puzzling but a welcome contrast in texture. Then I pulled in the sherbet and kapow! Everything made sense.

fromage blanc ice cream, chocolate ganache, pink grapefruit
& licorice meringue

This plate was a confusing mish-mash. The fromage blanc ice cream was finer than any cheesecake I've tasted, and the ganache just heavenly. I liked that the grapefruit sauce was too tart on its own yet just right once mixed with those sweeter components. Ultimately, though, there was too much powder for me and too much ganache for Michael. And where was the licorice? I couldn't taste it at all.

mango parfait, passionfruit curd, coconut, pineapple & pain d'epices

The mango parfait cubes are wrapped in slivers of fresh pineapple, like a high-end Splice! While this amused me no end, I was more pleased still by the mysterious treasures under the ginger crumbs, catching bursts of coconut and pandan.

chocolate ice cream sandwich, vanilla parfait & salted caramel

This is undoubtedly the richest and most well-known of the desserts, a fruit-free zone. While I liked the ice cream sandwich on our first encounter, this time I got it. I suspect that I was served a little more salted caramel, and that made all the difference.

It was probably a bit self-indulgent to draw out my birthday like that, but I relished every minute of it. This dessert menu warrants all the attention and appetite I could give it, and the staff made every visit a pleasure. The other unexpected pleasure was sharing the occasion with a number of my friends - their dropping by for a single course was no budget-buster, and it definitely doubled the fun.

You can read about our previous visits: one, two, three.

Cutler & Co
55-57 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
9419 4888
desserts $18

Accessibility: Cutler & Co has a flat entry and generous space between tables. The front bar often contains high benches and chairs, but there are some standard-height booth seats to the side. There's full table service.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Syrupy stone fruit

December 18, 2011
Taking a cue from Michael's wholesome vege box-clearing savoury potluck dish, I pulled together a simple fruit-based dessert. A gentle bake with just a light sprinkle of sugar evened out the softness of these slightly bruised and misshapen nectarines and apricots, and drew out a lovely thick syrup. I threw in a little ground ginger and some sugar-coated pistachios for extra bite. The sugar was coconut sugar (a gift from Steph!). It added some pleasant, almost woody, notes to the nuts. Brown sugar would be a simpler alternative.

This dish provided a nice interlude between the many rich chocolatey offerings at the potluck. I'd like to think that it'd hold up as a stand-alone dessert too, possibly topped with a small dollop of yoghurt, cream or ice cream.

Syrupy stone fruit

Preheat at oven to 180°C. Wash 5 nectarines and 6 apricots. Slice them into halves or quarters, removing the stone and placing the segments in a single layer in a baking dish. Sprinkle over 2 teaspoons of ground ginger and 2 tablespoons of coconut sugar. Bake the fruit until they're soft and their juices are released into the pan, about 15-20 minutes. Allow the fruit to cool; the juices should thicken.

Spread a sheet of baking paper on a bench. In a small saucepan, cook a small handful of pistachios and a generous tablespoon of coconut sugar over medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until the sugar is melted and coats the nuts. Be careful not to burn the sugar! Turn the nuts onto the baking paper and allow them to cool. Chop or crush the pistachios roughly, then sprinkle them over the baked fruit just before serving.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Miso-curry pumpkin

December 18, 2011
One of the many gifts I showered Cindy with on her recent birthday was Heidi Swanson’s newish cookbook Super Natural Every Day. We've been fans of Heidi's blog 101 Cookbooks for a while, and her photos and recipes look wonderful in printed form. The book has a similar vibe to Ottolenghi’s Plenty (which even the occasional reader will know we’re completely in love with), although the recipes tend to have fewer ingredients and steps – consider it a weeknight Ottolenghi perhaps.

I decided to have first shot at cooking from it for a potluck we were attending on the weekend, settling on the gorgeous-looking miso-curry pumpkin, in part because of the massive pumpkin in our vegie box delivery and in part because it was vegan and gluten-free by default. Score.

The recipe is pretty simple – cut up your vegies, mix up a sauce and bake. I was particularly happy that it just specified ‘Thai red curry paste’ rather than demanding that we make our own, especially since Maesri offers a vegan friendly curry paste in a tin that we’ve grown quite fond of. We made a few tweaks, largely to use up vegie box ingredients – doubling the size and replacing the kale with a pile of lettuce leaves and the coriander with basil and parsley.

I was worried about the pumpkin skin being too chewy so I ended up overcooking the vegetables a bit – the pumpkin in particular went a bit soft and lost its shape. Luckily the tofu was nice and firm, providing some textural variation. More importantly, the whole thing tasted fantastic – the combination of white miso and red curry paste is divine, and the pumpkin and greens just soaked up the flavours. This was a smash hit at the potluck and may yet be remade at home to deal with the half-pumpkin still sitting in our fridge.

Miso-Curry Pumpkin
(adapted from a recipe in Heidi Swanson’sSuper Natural Every Day)

700g pumpkin
1/2 cup olive oil
150g white miso paste
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste (we used Maesri)
500g tofu, cubed
8 small potatoes, quartered
4 tablespoons lemon juice
50g mixed lettuce leaves
120g pepitas, dry roasted
1 bunch basil, roughly chopped
1/2 bunch parsley, roughly chopped
Handful of chives, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop all the seeds out and chop into 1cm thick half moons (half of our pumpkin was roughly 700g, adjust based on pumpkin size).

Whisk together the miso, olive oil and curry paste. Take roughly half of this mixture and combine it with the tofu, pumpkin and potatoes in a large bowl. Get your hands in there and make sure that everything gets well covered in the sauce.

Add the lemon juice to the remaining sauce.

Lay the sauced-up veggies out on baking trays and roast. We ended up roasting them for about 45 minutes – this was probably a bit too long. Stick the recipe's recommendation of 30 minutes, but make sure you check up on things regularly and toss to make sure everything gets its share of roasting.

Once the vegetables are roasted, pop them into a large bowl and combine them with the remaining sauce, the lettuce leaves and herbs and the pepitas. Stir everything thoroughly (but gently if you want your pumpkin slices to retain their shape!) and serve. We had ours at room temperature and it was still wonderful.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cooking for Christmas

With Christmas coming up this week, we're pulling a few seasonal recipes out of the archives. If you haven't planned your menu for the 25th yet, maybe something here will take your fancy!

If your Christmas companions like to sit down to a roast dinner, a nut roast, seitan roast or tofurkey is a meat-free, gravy-friendly alternative.

Christmas pudding can be iffy what with the suet, but these cute pudding bites cater to a broader crowd - the recipe includes vegan and gluten-free adaptations. I've also tried gleeganising White Christmas slice, albeit with less success.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer makes a pretty tasty cupcake, with pretzel antlers and a Jaffa nose.

All that said and linked, we're hardly Christmas traditionalists. When planning our contribution to the family meal, we focus more on crowd-pleasers that can be made in advance.

In 2006, we fried up spicy veg burgers and an uninspiring potato salad.

In 2007, I won a few fans for my non-sausage rolls.

In 2008 spanakopita was the star, and we shared a half-dozen more favourite recipes with family over the break.

In 2009 I played host at home, arranging a casual afternoon of pizza and ice cream. (Meanwhile Lisa made our vegan sausage rolls!)

In 2010 I hosted again, and we picnicked on salads and chocolate.

This year we'll be guests in a family home, attempting to ease the stress by contributing a veg dish or two while not commandeering too much of the kitchen. We're leaning towards salads like the eat-anywhere quinoa salad, green couscous, mango and coconut rice salad, quinoa avocado salad, or the quinoa salad with Persian dried lime, paired with a pan-fried protein like braised tofu, pomegranate tofu or soy bombs. Johanna GGG and Carla have also been discussing Christmas menus on their blogs.

Eating vego at the Christmas table ain't always easy. If you're feeling a little vulnerable, we'd highly recommend you read Lisa's tips for eating vegan with others and Carla's guide to surviving the family roast. Hopefully, though, you'll do far better than survive; sharing a fresh, tasty meal and the company of those you love.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Helados Jauja

12/05/2016: The Helados Jauja team have announced that they will not be renewing their lease. We'll miss them!

December 17, 2011
The Carlton end of Lygon St has long been studded with gelaterias, but Michael recently observed the opening of a new ice creamery of note. Tucked between two spruiker-fronted restaurants, Helados Jauja offers Patagonian icecreams and chocolates. Flavours rotate regularly but the dominant theme appears to be rich and milky: we saw dulce de leche in multiple guises and others spiked with coffee, tea and chocolate. The dairy-free fruit sorbets are more culturally diverse, tending towards the tropical at the moment, and include durian.

Cupfuls don't come cheap (Michael's serve above set him back $8.60) but they're undeniably luxurious, made from the best ingredients and whipped to a gorgeous silky, just-a-tiny-bit-stretchy texture.

Helados Jauja has already won fans on the blogs The moving beast and MoMo & Coco.

Helados Jauja
254 Lygon St, Carlton
9041 2927
ice cream cups $4.70-10.60

Accessibility: The ice cream counter is a single step up from the main footpath, plus an alternative ramp. Small stools are arranged under a tree out front. There appears to be more seating inside but we didn't check it out properly.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Grandstand Gourmet Hot Dogs

January 2016: Doing a bit of blog tidying up and it looks like this place has been closed for ages.

December 17, 2011

When we posted about Snag Stand, twitter burst into life with hot-dog recommendations. My eye was particularly caught by Astarlia's recommendation of Grandstand Hotdogs, promising of really good vegan hot-dogs for $6. So with the combination of a sunny day and some rare spare time during the pre-Christmas craziness, Cindy and I wasted no time in checking it out.

Despite (or because of) the sunshine, Birrarung Marr was pretty deserted, meaning no queues at the hot-dog stand. The menu provides a wide variety of dogs, from the straight-up ketchup and mustard version, to less conventional approaches (e.g. Thai and Malaysian-inspired hot dogs!). Cindy is a staunch traditionalist - she doesn't even think onions really belong on a dog, so she ordered the classic version ($6).

The veg sausages here are much less fancy than those on offer at the Snag Stand; we suspect they're Sanitarium brand hot dogs. Still, stuffed into a white bun roll and slathered in sauce and mustard, these are much closer to a traditional hot-dog than the fancy-schmancy versions served up at Snag Stand. It's all pretty basic - cheapo dawgs in cheapo buns with loads of condiments. Still, for $6 she had no real complaints.

I went a bit more upmarket - the Bavarian comes with pickles, warm sauerkraut, onions, sour cream and mustard (and a few bonus napkins!). Despite all the additions, this is still only $6, making it one of the better value hot dogs around - Lord of the Fries charges $8 and the Snag Stand closer to $10 (although the appallingly-named 'Massive Weiners' in Prahran apparently has a $5 veggie foot long!). All the accompaniments make it hard work to eat this with any dignity, but nobody's really shopping for dignity at a hot-dog stand. Sauerkraut is a particularly excellent addition to a hot-dog, and this whole package worked very well. I'm keen to go back and try out the chilli-dog in the not-too-distant future.

Tummy Rumbles were reasonably positive when they visited (some three years ago now!), and I can't find anybody else who has bothered to review them.

Grandstand Gourmet Hot Dogs
Birrarung Marr (behind Federation Square), Melbourne
vegetarian hot dogs $6 (be warned, their site doesn't seem that up to date)

Accessibility: The hot dog stand is on the highly accessible path that runs along Birrung Marr. Ordering and pick-up occurs at a high counter. There are park benches and steps around to sit on, but not a great deal of shade.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Raspberry lemonade slice

December 10, 2011
Last weekend pub club turned potluck again. Michael recreated Ottolenghi's lovely quinoa salad with Persian dried lime, while I tried something new. The Sugar Junkie had posted a recipe for raspberry lemonade slice just a few days earlier and it hadn't left my mind since!

With a coeliac in the crowd I knew there'd be alterations to make. In fact I ended up replacing the biscuit base entirely with another recipe I've used before. This landed me in troublesome portioning territory. It took two packets of biscuits to spread a base in a 22cm-square baking tray, yet I could have filled the tray with my raspberry topping twice over. I tried baking the excess raspberry lemonade mixture in ramekins, and they made passable puddings, but in the recipe below I've halved the topping quantities so that it should fit the slice more neatly.

I was not attentive enough with oven temperatures and times either, so take the ones below as a guide only. Michael had been busily baking sweet potato and I just shoved this in without a glance at the dials. (Silly, silly Cindy.) My slice emerged blackened at the edges with unsightly brown craters on top, an unappetising gloopy texture and firm grip on the baking paper. I did not have time to refrigerate it; it was still warm as we arrived at the potluck. I was embarrassed to take it to the table, not least because there was already a perfect gingerbread house with a Curly Wurly fence sitting smugly on said table.

Miraculously, this slice received more than just pity compliments. Some people expressly praised the texture. I'd timidly sliced up just half of it, yet people were coming back for seconds and carving it up further. One of my closer friends admitted that he wasn't expecting much when he first saw it, but he was ultimately very impressed (and helped himself to a substantial extra portion to prove it). I guess it takes more than my petty neglect to ruin raspberry lemonade.

Still, if you're going to position it right next to a gingerbread house, a little more care and perhaps a sprinkle of icing sugar wouldn't hurt.

Raspberry lemonade slice
(adapted from a recipe on The Sugar Junkie,
taking further inspiration from the base of this slice)

360g gluten-free coconut biscuits
2/3 cup margarine, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup rice milk

1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cups gluten-free plain flour
zest and juice of 2 lemons
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed
3 egg whites
1 egg

Preheat an oven to 180°C and line a slice tray (mine was 22cm square) with baking paper.

Make the crust by crushing the biscuits in a bowl. Stir in the margarine, vanilla and rice milk until well combined. Spoon the mixture into the baking tray, smoothing it out with the back of a spoon to evenly cover the base of the tray. Bake the base until just golden, about 15 minutes.

While the base is baking, prepare the topping. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, lemon zest and salt. Puree the raspberries in a blender or food processor, then press them through a sieve and into the flour mixture. (Discard the seeds and muck left in the sieve.) Stir the raspberry puree through the dry ingredients until they're well mixed. In a separate small bowl, lightly whisk the egg and egg whites together. Add the eggs to the raspberry mixture, whisking thoroughly to combine. The mixture will be very liquid, but persevere. When the base is ready, pour in the raspberry mixture and return it to the oven to bake until set, up to 50 minutes.

Chill the slice thoroughly in the fridge to set it before slicing.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cafe Lua II

Update 27/1/2019: Cafe Lua has permanently closed.

December 10, 2011
Cindy and I sought to combine laziness with efficiency on Saturday morning, wanting somebody else to make us breakfast but not able to spare too much time. Good thing then that we recently discovered Cafe Lua - it's close, never too packed and, importantly, serves up great food.

I ordered the pumpkin and chia seed pancakes topped with a yoghurt, lentil and spinach salad, with sumac and red onion ($13.50)

The waitress told us that these pancakes are based on an Ottolenghi recipe, so naturally it offers a great combination of flavours and textures. The pancakes were quite dense but not at all heavy, while the salad was a wonderful fresh and healthy topping.

Cindy turned down all the fancy menu items, instead going for a straightforward mushroom and cheese toastie ($6.50).

This was exactly what she was looking for - a simple but effective start to the day.

We're still making inroads into Cafe Lua's menu (in particular there's a vegan and gluten-free smoothie that Cindy's keen to try, while I'm eyeing off some more savouries), but everything we've sampled so far has been great. The staff were friendly and helpful again, and the coffee is consistently good. Cafe Lua is the local breakfast option we've been waiting for.

Read about our first visit to Cafe Lua here. Our review hasn't prompted too many other bloggers to check it out, although Melbourne Coffee Review have given it the thumbs up.

Cafe Lua
Cnr Elgin and Drummond Streets, Carlton
9348 1118
veg dishes $6 - $15

Accessibility: There's no step as you come in and the cafe is spacious and well-lit. Ordering takes place at the table, with payment at a lowish counter. We didn't check out the toilets.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Westgarth Books & Cooks Cafe

December 4, 2011

Edit 19/12/11: Unfortunately the cafe section of Westgarth Books has closed! Their chef is apparently available for home catering and events.
I'm sure I've commented before on the frightening reach and speed of Melbourne's vegan telegraph. As soon as Westgarth Books announced that they were incorporating a vegan cafe and becoming Westgarth Books & Cooks cafe, K and Toby put together a posse of Melbourne veg*ns to check them out. The gang at Westgarth are still sorting themselves out, they were a bit overwhelmed when a group of 8 of us rolled in for breakfast. They were short a few menu items and were generally a bit disorganised, but they struggled on cheerfully dealing with our massive order. The food took ages to come out - they're clearly still working out how to run a cafe, so for now I'd recommend turning up in small groups only.

The menu looks impressive - a couple of different breakfasts (big and small), a curry and a noodle dish, pasta, nachos, a selection of four or five raw-ish dishes, and some over-the-top desserts - all vegan. I really wanted to try the big Aussie breakfast (toast, smoked tofu scramble, spinach, mushroom, beetroot relish, $17.50) but that was one of the dishes they weren't doing yet. Instead I decided to start the day with something fresh - a raw papaya salad (scented papaya, tossed with organic carrot, pumpkin, green bean and tomato salad, garnished with crushed almonds and cashews, fresh chilli, garlic and house raw dressing, $15).

This was stunning - super fresh, loaded with nuts and crispy vegies, all covered in a tangy and spicy dressing. The only downside was the tiny orange pieces scattered throughout with the rind still on them - maybe I should have just eaten them rind and all, because picking each piece out and eating them off the rind was a bit of a pain. Otherwise, this was amazing - delicious and healthy.

Cindy had real trouble making up her mind, eventually settling on a breakfast dessert - the fool of the day (seasonal fruit compote layered between dollops of ice-cream, custard and cake, $10).

Look at that! It was basically a massive sundae for breakfast. Cindy seemed fairly happy with her choice - there was a good mix of fruit, loads of cakey goodness, custard and ice-cream with a cherry on top. The cashew-based ice-cream was outstanding, the smoothest she's ever tasted.

Everybody else at the table was happy with their dishes (see K's review for more detail), coffees were okay and service was friendly and gracious. But slow. Really, really slow. Still, they acknowledged the delays by offering us complimentary tea top-ups and a plate of delicious passionfruit-iced yo-yos to compensate.

Westgarth Books & Cooks Cafe is an exciting new veg cafe for Melbourne - a diverse menu prepared really, really well. It's worth noting (as K does) that they cater excellently for coeliacs, even offering gluten-free waffles! Once they sort themselves out a bit this could be a contender for Melbourne's best veg cafe.

Typically, the veg-blog scene hasn't wasted any time - In the Mood for Noodles and Words @ Random have already blogged about it, while @ah_blake has been there three times already!

Westgarth Books & Cooks Cafe
77 High Street, Northcote
snacks $3-$5, meals $9-$18
facebook page

Accessibility: There's a tiny step as you enter, and things are a bit crowded inside. Ordering and payment happens at a medium-high counter.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Lemon posset

December 3, 2011
We had some friends over for po' boys on Saturday night. It was all planned late and I didn't have time to make and freeze icecream, but this lemon posset recipe from Stonesoup looked like a nice alternative. It is maddeningly simple - dissolve sugar in cream, stir in lemon juice and chill in cups. I could only squeeze in five of the six instructed hours of refrigeration, but didn't imagine that would change the texture too much. As I shared the posset cups around, I offered mango, orange and cherries for dunking.

The top of the dessert had the same thick custardy texture as Jules' seemed to have in her picture. But as I dug down, I noticed it was much more watery at the bottom. When I mixed it all up it had the same texture as the heavy cream I used - lovely for submerging fruit in, though I kinda wished it was custardy all the way through. If I made this again, I think I'd experiment with a little cornflour or an egg yolk for some setting power. Either way, it's an elegant time-saving alternative to icecream.

Lemon posset
(adapted slightly from a recipe at Stonesoup)

600mL heavy cream
150g castor sugar
juice of 2 lemons
fresh fruit, to garnish

In a small-medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together the cream and sugar. Keep cooking them until the cream just starts to bubble and the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Divide the mixture between five small bowls or cups. Refrigerate for 6 hours, then serve with fresh fruit.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Snag Stand

January, 2016: We noticed from the tram the other day that Snag Stand appears to have closed, replaced by a Mr Burger outlet.

December 3, 2011
Melbourne Central's Swanston St side has been under much inconvenient construction in the past few months. Tram stops have been shifted, shops shut, pathways narrowed, and access for cyclists pretty much denied. At last it's all been resolved with a new more accessible tram stop and heaps of room for pedestrians. Bike lanes are well marked, though cyclists will no doubt be dodging and/or abusing wandering shoppers for a while yet. And Snag Stand has opened up on the corner.

I like me a vege dawg, but I didn't dare hope for more than a second that this grill-in-the-wall would sell me one. Oh, how wrong I was! Among Snag Stand's 'haute dogs' (a pun I mightily approve of) is a meatless sausage of potato, smoked apple and sage, served on a brioche roll with sautéed onions, rosemary mushrooms and truffle aioli ($9.90). While the brioche and truffle are affectations more than real  contributing components, this was darn good! A hearty snag, neither rubbery nor crumbly, with a lovely savoury flavour.

Michael took the build-your-own route, ordering his vege sausage wrapped in a 'rustic roll' and topped with sautéed onions and bbq sauce ($8.90); he would've liked more onions but was otherwise satisfied. We couldn't fit in chips, but they looked pretty good.

Snag Stand is happily extending dude food to the bleeding-heart veg*ns and gluten wusses of Melbourne. The sausages are vegan, gluten filler-free* and cooked on a separate grill to their fleshy counterparts; there's a coeliac option on the bread too. Lord of the Fries offers more diverse veg*n fast food round the corner, but Snag Stand will probably tempt us away on occasion.

*After further enquiry from Mandee, it turns out that the veg sausages aren't actually gluten-free. The gluten-free buns are vegan, but there's a lack of gluten-free stuff to put in them. The operations manager mentioned plans for new vegetarian sausages, so fingers crossed they're coeliac-friendly!

new international students weren't wowed by the Snag Stand freebies they scored when it first opened. The bloggers at We Dare Food and Muddy Thrills are much bigger fans.

Snag Stand
corner Latrobe and Swanston Sts
vegetarian hot dogs $6.90-9.90

Accessibility: Snag Stand opens directly onto the Swanston St footpath, which is reasonably flat and without too many obstructions. Ordering and pick-up occurs at a low-ish counter. The few tables available are high set.

Monday, December 05, 2011

L'atelier de Monsieur Truffe II

07/03/2013: The management team here has changed and the cafe is now known as East Elevation.

December 2, 2011
We had an ex-Melbournite and big Monsieur Truffe fan visiting last week and we decided she couldn't go back to Brisbane without trying the newish Truffe place up on Lygon Street. We loved it the first time we went and were both happy to start our workdays a bit late to squeeze in brekkie at 8am.

The menu has changed substantially since we first visited - neither of the dishes we had the first time remained. I decided to try out something sweet this time, the apricot and nectarine parcel, with baked leatherwood honey and ricotta and pistachios ($15).

I was expecting the parcel to be some sort of pastry-based treat, but instead it was actually a parcel - fruit wrapped in paper and (I guess) lightly poached. The apricots and nectarines were soft and ripe, swimming in a big puddle of juice. The little baked ricotta and honey slice was delicious, particularly in combination with the pistachio pieces on top. I didn't really find a good way to combine the two parts of this dish, although I think that they'd work pretty well together. So this was a bit awkward to eat - delicious, but not quite what I hoped for.

Cindy ordered the hotcakes (with Queensland strawberries, lemon syrup and almond & hazelnut praline, $15).

She raved about them - citrusy syrup, crunchy candied nuts and fresh strawberries all combined with perfect fluffy pancakes. They were so good that I didn't even get a bite.

L'atelier de Monsieur Truffe hit the mark again for us. The service was unsurprisingly good at 8am on a Friday (we were the only table there for the first half an hour or so), the coffees and teas were delicious and the takeaway pain au chocolat that I took with me was as wonderful as ever.

Read about our first visit to L'atelier de Monsieur Truffe here. In the few months since we visited, adventures of the ordinary, polyphagia, green been food, Addictive and Consuming, Almost Always Ravenous, dear melbourne and Little thoughts have given it the thumbs up, while Everything is Edible, mmmays food blog and Miss Adriennely were less impressed.

L'atelier de Monsieur Truffe
351 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
9380 4915
veg brekkies $6-16

Accessibility: Excellent. A ramp on entry, great light, lots of space and a dedicated disabled toilet. Ordering happens at the table and payment at a reasonably low counter.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Date, rum & pecan icecream

November 27-28, 2011
I was on quite a dessert kick last weekend, turning out two batches of cupcakes and then this icecream. I was looking for an actual chocolate-less dessert as I browsed through The Perfect Scoop, and I picked this one because Michael's rather partial to rum and raisin flavoured sweets. He pitched in by bringing home a small bottle of Bundy Rum, a liquor best characterised by Rich Hall, and trashily appropriate since we ended up sharing the icecream with a bunch of Queenslanders.

Michael didn't bring home as much cream as the recipe required, yet I didn't attempt any substitutes for it, so this was a pretty intense dessert (the 3-scoop serving pictured above would satisfy 2-3 people!). In particular it was very boozy - if that's not your thing I'd suggest soaking the dates as directed (or replacing some of the rum with water, perhaps) and omitting the extra rum that goes into the custard. On this occasion it was my thing; I loved the way the dark rum stretched into the rich caramel of the dates and the yolk-heavy custard.

Date, rum & pecan icecream
(adapted slightly from a recipe in The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

80g dried dates
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons dark rum
115g pecans
200mL heavy cream
6 egg yolks
1 cup milk
2/3 cup castor sugar
big pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chop the dates into chunks and place them in a small saucepan. Pour over 1/4 cup of dark rum. Bring to the boil, then take the saucepan off the heat and set the dates aside at room temperature for at least 4 hours.

Roughly chop the pecans and gently toast them (I did this in the oven).

In a large bowl (ideally one with a lid!), pour in the cream and set a sieve over the top.

Place the egg yolks in a small-medium bowl, whisking them to smoothness.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix together the milk, sugar and salt. Stir them together until everything's warm and the sugar is dissolved. Gradually pour the warmed milk into the egg yolks, whisking as you go. When it's all well mixed, transfer it back into the saucepan on medium heat. Stir the mixture constantly, scraping the bottom and sides of the saucepan to avoid burning and sticking, until the custard thickens.

Pour the custard through the sieve onto the cream. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of rum and the vanilla. Refrigerate the mixture for several hours, until thoroughly chilled.

Churn the icecream mixture in an icecream machine, according to the manufacturer's instructions. In the last few minutes of churning, add the dates and pecans to mix the through. Freeze the icecream for several hours, until firm and scoopable.

Thursday, December 01, 2011


27 November, 2011
Sunday somehow became one of our laziest days of the year. We got up late and had plenty of time to try out somewhere new for brekkie. By the time we pulled ourselves together and pedalled lazily northwards, we were sitting down to eat after 11. Luxury.

Milkwood is part of the new hip Brunswick East scene clustering around Nicholson and Blythe. We'd previously only made it to New Day Rising, so had our pick of Milkwood, Piano Piano and Pope Joan to explore. Milkwood's veg-friendly menu tipped us in its direction - we were surprised we could turn up and grab a table without waiting. It's a lovely space - white walls and big windows give it an airy, light-filled vibe and there's a charming assortment of white chairs and stools around the variously sized tables and benches.

The menu (surely the only bacon-free breakfast cafe menu outside of vegetarian places) is loaded with delicious-sounding options: lemon thyme mushrooms on ricotta toast ($15.50), tomato butter beans on toast with feta and mint ($14.50), porridge with baked orange blossom rhubarb and toasted macadamia and brown sugar crumble ($11.50) and on and on. Vegans and coeliacs will do okay here as well - it's a pretty inclusive menu.

I went with something vegan: warm cannelini bean, lemon and rosemary mash on toast with avocado ($14.50).

What a breakfast! The beans are reminiscent of A Minor Place's classic Henry's beans: hearty simple and perfectly seasoned - I really need to try to make something like this at home. The toast was cripsy but soft in all the right places- I didn't ask where the bread they use comes from, but it was excellent. The avo was perfect as well - ripe without being squishy and gross. A really fantastic meal.

Cindy went savoury as well (I was really hoping she would order the porridge so I could sneak a taste), going with one of the specials: toasted baguette with scrambled eggs, roasted red capsicum, feta, dressed greens and basil ($13.50). She also grabbed one of the sides for us to share: smashed potato with lemon zest, feta and chives ($4).

I stole a good chunk of the spuds, which were soft and lemony and completely unnecessary (seriously, the regular meals here are a full-sized breakfast). Cindy's baguette was a success as well - nicely scrambled eggs, divine feta and some colourful and tasty vegies to liven things up. It comes wrapped up and ready to go - surely one of the best takeaway breakfast options in town.

We'd spent at least half of the meal eyeing off the glorious sweets cabinet at the front of Milkwood.

By the time we were ready to leave our resistance was gone - we took home a couple of treats, which were the perfect way to accompany the rest of our lazy Sunday.

We had friendly and efficient service and I enjoyed the soy flat whites they served up - Milkwood ticked a lot of boxes for us. We'll be back to sample more in the very near future.


Lots of love for Milkwood from easy as vegan pie, Temasek, The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua,, Hookturns (twice), Broken Lense, The f-word, The Quince Poacher, Tour de Clance and Eat This. Little lady liked the food, but wasn't impressed by the service.


120 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East
9380 4062
breakfasts $4.50 - $15.50

Accessibility: There's a biggish step on the way in, and things are quite crowded inside. Ordering happens at the tables, but we paid at a high counter. We didn't check out the toilets.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Linzer cupcakes

November 26, 2011
Since I was lucky to see lots of friends on Saturday, I baked lots of cupcakes! This second recipe is a slightly more faithful rendition of a Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World recipe: the Linzer cupcake is a recommended adaptation on the hazelnut cupcakes.

They're a little bit fancy without requiring cut-outs or piping or even buttercream. Well, technically the raspberry jam is supposed to be piped into the centre of the hazelnut cake, but I found that slathering a bit on top was much easier, and the dark chocolate ganache glided across the top of the jam just fine. A few extra chopped hazelnuts sprinkled over them add a bit of crunch and hide any bumps.

These were a lovely break from the chocolatechocolateCHOCOLATE rut I can get into with desserts. Admittedly the cupcakes do involve ganache, but it's the moist hazelnut cake and sweet raspberry jam that are the real charmers here.

Linzer cupcakes
(adapted slightly from a recipe in
Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World
by Isa Chandra Moskovitz & Terry Hope Romero)

2/3 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup ground hazelnuts
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sunflower oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 tablespoon Frangelico

1/2 cup raspberry jam
4 tablespoons almond milk
75g dark chocolate
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup roughly chopped hazelnuts

Preheat an oven to 180 C and line a muffin pan with cupcake papers.

In a small-medium bowl, whisk together the milk and flaxseeds. In a medium-large bowl, stir together the flour, ground hazelnuts, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

Return to the smaller bowl and whisk in the oil, maple syrup, sugar, vanilla and Frangelico. Gradually pour these wet ingredients into the bowl of flour, stirring as you go and continuing until mostly smooth.

Pour the batter into the cupcake papers, about two-thirds full, and bake for about 20 minutes, until they pass the skewer test.

You can top them with jam while they're still warm! Use a teaspoon and make sure the jam is a bit stirred up and loose, not set like jelly. Spread about 2 teaspoons of jam on top of each cupcake, smoothing it as best you can with the back of a spoon.

Set the cupcakes aside to cool as you make the ganache. Bring the milk to the boil in a small-medium saucepan and then take it off the heat. Stir in the chocolate and maple syrup immediately, until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

Spoon the ganache onto each cupcake, using the back of a spoon to spread it out. Sprinkle hazelnuts over the cupcakes while the ganache is still warm.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cherry Ripe cupcakes

November 28, 2011
We spent much of last Saturday hanging out with friends, in our home and in others'. To ensure we had something to nibble at with those cups of tea and glasses of wine, I was inspired to bake for the first time in a while. These cupcakes sprang almost entirely from pantry supplies - just the almond milk was bought specially - and from a couple of the basic recipes in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World

With two kinds of cherries cluttering the cupboard I went for a Cherry Ripe kinda vibe, folding dried cherries into the chocolate cake batter, supplementing the flour with shredded coconut and popping a glace cherry on top of each ganache-spread cupcake. The ganache is so easy to make (no double boiler for the chocolate!) and so easy to spread thickly and smoothly. (I've used and raved about it once before; it really is something.) I also made a straight-forward switcheroo between wheat and gluten-free flour.

These were very nice indeed! I erred just on the side of under-baking them to keep them moist, and for a gluten-free recipe they had plenty of springy-ness. I only wish I'd had dessicated rather than shredded coconut on hand. The coconut was strangely crunchy, and I've found that a finer grind tends to meld into the batter better.

Cherry ripe cupcakes
(adapted from the basic chocolate cupcake and chocolate ganache
in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World
by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero)

1 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup sunflower oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup gluten free plain flour
1/3 cup cocoa
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup dried cherries

chocolate ganache
4 tablespoons almond milk
75g dark chocolate
3 tablespoons maple syrup

~12 glace cherries, to garnish

Preheat oven to 180 C. Line muffin pan with cupcake papers.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk and vinegar, then give them a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil and vanilla, beating until frothy.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, soda, baking powder and salt; stir through the coconut. Gradually add these dry ingredients to the milk mixture, beating as you go. Fold in the dried cherries.

Spoon the mixture into the cupcake liners and bake for 15-20 minutes, until they pass the skewer test. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely.

To make the ganache, bring the milk to the boil in a small-medium saucepan and then take it off the heat. Stir in the chocolate and maple syrup immediately, until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

Spoon the ganache onto each cupcake, using the back of a spoon to spread it out. Pop a glace cherry onto the middle of each cupcake to garnish.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Vegan parmesan

24 November, 2011
Cindy has been semi-regularly rejigging our monthly calendar recipes into gluten-free and vegan versions (e.g. here, here and here). I assumed that the wheaty, buttery, cheesiness of our November pasta would prove a bridge too far but, under Cindy's instructions, it turned out to be relatively simple. All it took were three fairly simple substitutions: 1) the pasta (courtesy of the fresh pasta stall at the Queen Vic Markets), 2) the butter (Nuttelex of course), and 3) the parmesan.

The parmesan seemed trickiest to me, but Wanting Kneading had the answer. It's a very simple recipe that takes all of 90 seconds to throw together. You don't end up with a particularly parmesan-y flavour, but a half a cup stirred through our pasta added a garlicky cheesiness that was not at all out of place. Our vegan gf version of this pasta was a very passable imitation of the basic recipe - the pasta wasn't quite as nice (and wasn't particularly cheap), but otherwise everything hit the spot.

Vegan parmesan cheese
(slightly modified version of wanting kneading's recipe)

1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/3 cup raw cashews
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine all your ingredients in a food processor (we used the little spice-grinding attachment on ours) and whizz them together.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Le Traiteur

Update 27/1/2019: Le Traiteur is permanently closed.

24 November, 2011
I'm living a temporarily luxurious life whereby I basically have Wednesdays and Thursdays to do as I please (which, thus far, has meant reading a whole bunch of books and watching an awful lot of Deadwood). Occasionally I convince Cindy to join me in a breakfast somewhere nearby on her way to work. Months ago Le Traiteur was recommended to us (most likely by essjayeff) and we finally decided to check it out.

Le Traiteur is (as the name suggests) a French-inspired little cafe, pumping out breakfasts and lunches for city workers at the legal end of town. We turned up at about 8:30 and had no trouble finding a table - at that time of day they seem to mostly do takeaway traffic. The breakfast menu is not one for the vegans: savoury dishes are all eggy, and the sweets don't skimp on the dairy. The only possible option is the one that Cindy ordered: semolina porridge with quatre épices (a French spice mix of pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger) and poached fruit ($8.50).

This was as good as it looked - the semolina had the texture of semi-set polenta and was drowning in delicious poaching juices. The fruit was excellent too (although a little challenging to eat). Very impressive at the price.

I, as always, ordered something savoury: poached eggs, silverbeet, field mushrooms and bernaise on brioche ($15).

This was real heart-attack material, which is not to say it wasn't delicious - it just all got a bit much by the end. Given the bernaise and the eggs, I would have been happy to swap the brioche for some regular toast. Still, everything was cooked to perfection and it was a generous and filling start to the day.

Coffees were good and service was friendly and prompt, but I'm not sure we'll be hurrying back - if only because of the fairly limited range of vegetarian options. Although apparently the pastries are pretty good, which might be enough to lure me in.

The blogosphere is filled with love for Le Traiteur - check out: Addictive and Consuming, half-eaten, eat, drink, stagger Melbourne Gastronome, Ballroom Blintz, Tour de Clance, Lunchosaurus and Almost Always Ravenous.

Le Traiteur
552 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
9670 0039
breakfasts $5.50 - $15

Accessibility: Le Traiteur has a small step on entry but is fairly spacious inside. Ordering happens at the tables, but we paid at a high counter. We didn't check out the toilets.