Sunday, February 27, 2011

February 18, 2011: Misty's Diner

Tummyrumbles first drew my attention to Misty's Diner a few years ago.  I'm a sucker for burgers, chips and desserts and I was surprised at how veg-friendly the online menu looked.  (Since then a couple of friends have expressed disappointment at the vegan options; the meat-free dishes are still quite lacto-ovo-heavy.)

Misty's is a loud-and-proud American-style diner with booths boasting jukeboxes and TVs, walls heaving with memorabilia, and a menu stuffed with the foods the U.S. is famous for: 18 burgers, 9 hot dogs, sodas, thickshakes, Tex-Mex and all things deep-fried.  I asked twitter for advice on what Michael and I should check out.

Within seconds, Nashina urged us to try the jalapeno poppers (and sizeoftheocean later agreed).  These deep-fried nuggets (we received 8 for $12.90) were more cheese than jalapeno, and barely needed a dipping sauce at all.  They weren't all that spicy but were darn tasty nonetheless.

I was mighty impressed to note that they're willing to make any of their burgers with a vegetarian patty, and put them to the test by ordering a bleu cheese and cajun burger veg-style ($10.90).  They package it up pretty, wrapped carefully to prevent spilling, with a half-pickle pinned through the top with a miniature US flag.  It was pretty mild, bordering on bland - the patty was a standard potato/carrot/pea mix and  lthough the dressing had a nice tang to it, I didn't pick up any Cajun spices.

Michael was keen for a vegetarian chili dog ($9.90), such an intimidating mass of chili and cheese that it took several bites to ascertain whether or not it even included a 'dog' (it did).  Once Michael overcame his concerns as to how to eat this, he rather liked it - it was rich with beany protein.

On katspat's advice (because I totally wouldn't have done this on my own, oh no), I made the Reese's Pieces thickshake ($7.95) my beverage and dessert.  It was both of these and more, a morass of peanut butter, chocolate syrup, crispy chunks and general sweet creaminess.  It's unashamedly over-the-top and a definite winner in its class.

Our trip to Misty's was fun.  It's pretty novel and not something I'd be inclined to eat regularly though it clearly has a following, with all of the booths booked out on the night we stopped by.  (If/when we do make it back I'll be agitating to try the deep-fried pickles and cherry pie, as recommended by rbbrown and sizeoftheocean.)  The menu has a distinctly high-fat vibe, with the couple of lighter options not sounding all that appetising (steamed mixed veges or Oriental vegetarian salad, anyone?).  That said, our mains were pleasantly grease-free and reasonably portioned.  Though chili fries and gut-busting burgers are their bread and butter, Misty's have got the ovo-lacto-vego with an all-American appetite covered.



Misty's Diner
103-105 High St, Prahran
9510 0033
fully licensed
veg snacks and mains $5.90-$16.90

Accessibility: Entry includes a couple of steps and a fairly narrow door.  The front tables are quite well-spaced and are a good vantage point for checking out the dessert display.  There is table service, although payment is to be made at the low-ish front counter.

Friday, February 25, 2011

February 17, 2011: Chillipadi III

Update 27/1/2019: Chillipadi is permanently closed.

I've taken to spending the occasional evening at Club 377 engaged in high-stakes social table-tennis with some equally enthusiastic buddies. Cindy met up with us after we'd worked all our frustrations out and we decamped for dinner at nearby Chillipadi. Not much has changed since we first visited Chillipadi almost exactly four years ago. It still offers up a hodgepodge of Asian dishes (Szechuan, samosas, pad thai, laksa etc) and it still does a solid trade.  Vegetarian options are marked with a V on the menu, though there's a little ambiguity amongst the mains.

Cindy couldn't resist the chips ($7.50), and the rest of us were more than happy to help her out eating them. They're thin, crispy, liberally sprinkled with shichimi ("7 flavour chilli pepper") and utterly delicious.

Cindy ordered a healthy sounding dish that had caught my eye as well - seasonal vegetables with miso sesame paste ($14.90).

In the end this was a little disappointing - the sauce was tasty enough but the steamed vegies were a bit dull. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it something more exciting than this. Still, it was definitely healthy, and a nice counterpoint to all of those chips.

I went for the vegetable fried koay teow (flat rice noodles with wok breath, beanshoots, chives and crispy shallots, $12.90), mostly so I could see what 'wok breath' tasted like.

Turns out wok breath is the smoky flavour that the wok's seasoning imparts on this pretty delicious stir fry. Healthy amounts of onion, capsicum, chives, tofu and egg rounded out the wok breath-infused noodles. We've started making this at home - but Chillipadi's version was probably a tad better than we've managed so far (better wok? more generous use of oil? not sure).

Chillipadi is a good bet for a quick city meal - it's moderately affordable, fresh and reasonably tasty, with functional service and plenty of space.

Read about our previous visits to Chillipadi here and here.

Lots of bloggers have given Chillipadi the thumbs up: : Melbourne Cupcakes Party, Tummyrumbles, Jules Gourmond, Love My Food and Sugar, Melbourne Gastronome, Catty, Gastronomical Voyage in Melbourne, 730 days of my life, The Glutton's Diet, Merveilles de la Nourriture.

A few have been less impressed: My Melbourne Food Blog, Mel:Hot or Not, Off the Spork.

And Fatty McBeanpole (AKA Jess) was positively scathing.

There's also a bunch of folk who have been invited to review buffet style shindigs at Chillipadi, all of whom have been pretty enthused: Pepper, Salt, Sugar, Spice, Jeroxie, Ms I-Hua, Berry Travels, I'm so Hungreeee.

Menzies Alley, Melbourne Central
9664 5688
veg mains $13-$15 (the website is cute, but the menu doesn't match the one we were actually offered, so maybe it's out of date).

Accessibility: Entry is via a half-dozen or so stairs, tables are pretty cramped, bills are paid at the counter, and the toilets are distant.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 16, 2011: Leftover makeover - rice pudding with mango

When we recently had leftover steamed rice from a takeaway dinner, I took a moment to reconsider my usual fried rice solution.  There was also leftover canned mango in the fridge and I got to thinking that I should try my hand at rice pudding. I have an Indian mango rice pudding recipe that I like very much, but it uses canned creamed rice.  Unsurprisingly many other online recipes begin with uncooked rice. 

So I decided to wing it.  In a saucepan, I stirred together 2 cups of cooked rice, a 400mL can of coconut milk, 1/2 a cup of the mango's canning syrup, 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, 1/2 a teaspoon of cinnamon and a 1/4 teaspoon of cardamom.  I brought the mixture to the boil, then simmered the lot until the rice was soft and plump again - this took around 15 minutes.  I let it cool almost to room temperature before serving it up with the sliced mango.

It wasn't quite so lovely as my other recipe, but this was a very pleasant way to recycle rice.  I enjoyed it, too, as an afternoon snack at my desk the following day; it's sweet and filling without causing bloating or a sugar spike.  I did notice a few days later, though, that the grains in my final serve had reverted to hard chewiness. This leftover makeover has an expiry date of its own.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February 15, 2011: Basic braised tofu

K's been talkin' 'bout Matthew's Delicious Tofu as a weeknight winner for a while now, so we figured we'd better give it a go.  We altered the ingredients a little to suit what we had but stayed true to the proportions in the original recipe.  

It was a roaring success, both for dinner that night and packed into our lunchboxes the following day.  I wish I'd discovered braising as a tofu cooking technique earlier in my time as a vegetarian; it's a lovely way to achieve a chewy-tender texture and get flavours adhering to that bland bean curd's surface.  (This is probably contingent on matching cooking times and temperatures with your tofu's consistency, as I've previously encountered a batch or two of tough tofu as well.)

We ate our tofu on a bed of Ottolenghi's green couscous, counting every last piece to ensure they were shared evenly.  I think this recipe's going on regular rotation here, too.

Basic braised tofu
(adapted from Matthew's Delicious Tofu in The Garden of Vegan, as posted on In The Mood For Noodles)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
500g medium-firm tofu
4 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons tamari
1 teaspoon lime juice

Heat the oil in a large frypan and add the tofu in a single layer.  Fry it on each side until golden.  Reduce the heat and add the green onions, ginger and Sriracha sauce; cook for a few more minutes, tossing the mixture around to evenly distribute the flavours.  Pour over the maple syrup, tamari and lime juice; continue to cook the mixture until most of the liquid has evaporated and the tofu is coated in a thick sauce.  Serve it up and guard your share carefully!

Monday, February 21, 2011

February 14, 2011: The Napier Hotel

Our Monday pub-club continues to try to find new veg-friendly pubs to sample. This week it was The Napier in the back-streets of Fitzroy, most famous for its ridiculously artery-curdling meat attack, the bogan burger. Thankfully the menu is wide-ranging, providing many dishes with fewer than three types of meat.

The pub itself is something of a TARDIS, with 3 or 4 biggish rooms, a nice little courtyard and a handful of tables out on Napier St - we had to do periodic sweeps of the pub to make sure people knew where we were hiding. The menu provides plenty of veg options - a burger and two mains out of about ten meals in total.

Cindy and I both had our eyes on the vegie burger, a couscous and cannellini bean patty, with salad, eggplant relish, aoli, crinkle cut chips and coleslaw ($16).

From where I was sitting (which was too far away to steal a bit), this looked great - chunky beans were visible throughout the patty, which had a nice crispy outer layer. Cindy concurred that the patty was one of the better vegie burger patties she's had, but with the big bun-roll and generous pile of chips, the whole thing was just too massive for her - I'm sure I could have given it a good home.

Instead, I worked my way through a whole red capsicum stuffed with couscous, mushrooms and haloumi, served with a warm salad of green bean and artichoke with shallot and sherry vinaigrette ($17).

This seemed a meal much too classy for a pub offering up a bogan burger - the bean and artichoke salad was just the right mix of crunchy and tender, while the lightly roasted capsicum was stuffed full of glorious couscous-based tastiness. The only downside was the lack of substantial haloumi pieces in the filling - it seemed to have been melted through, a fact I only realised after spending half the meal digging around for a delicious cheesy chunk or two.

The Napier ended up providing an early pub-club highlight for 2011, with the rest of our gang very positive about their meatier choices. It's hard to imagine a better place to be on a sunny summer afternoon than a shady table in the beer garden at the Napier.

The Napier has been pretty well reviewed (largely thanks to its bogan burger notoriety). See: My Aching Head, G'day G'day, Strange and Cold, Mel: Hot or Not, Totally Addicted to Taste, Melbourne Gastronome, Eat and Be Merry, NavMan, Fitzroyalty and I Just Ate It.

The Napier Hotel
210 Napier St, Fitzroy
9419 4240
veg mains $16-$17

Accessibility: The Napier's rooms are crowded with furniture and people, and are often separated by steps.  Food and drink orders need to be placed at the bar.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

February 12, 2011: Merrijig Inn II

Our friend Jo is currently sojourning in Warrnambool so Mike, Cindy and I packed up a hire car for a long weekend in south-western Victoria. Our weekend feasting included home-made pancakes, old-school burgers (at Kermond's, trading since 1949) and several country bakery stops. But the centrepiece of the weekend (food-wise at least; op-shops and sheepdog trials were the non-food highlights) was a Saturday night degustation at the Merrijig Inn, scene of one of our favourite fancy meals.

Cindy and I made exactly the same order as on our previous visit - starting with Pimms for her and gin for me.

Then it was the six-course vegetarian tasting menu ($90) , with matching wine ($70) for me. The Merrijig have shuffled their menu around a fair bit in the course of a year but we started with the same amuse bouche - a fresh and buttery asparagus soup.

The first course had the same name as last time, "surf & turf", but was a little different in composition. They were both a combination of root vegetables and ocean-inspired vegies but rather than the amazing hash-browns we had last time, the root vegies were more conventionally roasted. Still, their earthiness matched well with the tangier 'surf' components (seaweed, some herbs and a salty foam).

Next up was a dish featuring heirloom carrots, crunchy quinoa bits, a black garlic paste and some greens called salad burnet.

This was a cute dish, combining a couple of different types of carrot and really set off by the rich black garlic paste. This was followed by the prettiest dish of the night: summer vegetables, nuts and grains, herbs and flowers and Shaw River mozzarella.

Just look at all the colour! It lived up to its look - the vegies were delicate and fresh, with the nuts adding a bit of crunch and the cheese some delicious saltiness.

Next up was a beetroot-based dish, featuring apple, walnut, horseradish and the leaves of a succulent called aptenia. As with our last visit, the beetroot dish was my favourite, combining the sweetness of apple, earthiness of beetroot and sharpness of horseradish into something pretty special.

Our final savoury dish was different to what was listed on the menu (something fantastic sounding including both broccolini and brie). Instead, we got asparagus and kipfler potatoes, with more cute little greens and some excellent ewe's milk cheese.

This was Cindy's pick of the savouries; as close as things got to hearty, and a good way to finish off the savouries.

Our palette cleanser turned out to be one of the highlights of the night, a combination of creamy peach icecream and amazingly refreshing pear sorbet.

I was just sad it was such a small serve!

We had a fruit-hater amongst us and so the staff obliged us in swapping the set dessert of flowers, nectar and petals with a chocolate-hazelnut number from the extended degustation.

We were all pretty pleased with our decision. Beneath the ground-hazelnut layer you can see above was a hodge-podge of chocolate brownie pieces, meringue, caramel chips and icecream. Much more satisfying for Cindy's sweet-tooth.

Things finished up with this cute little plate of petite fours - lemon meringue on shortbread, choc-hazelnut truffles and vanilla cupcakes. What with the matching wines, I was pretty liquored up by this point but Cindy assures me that the lemon meringues were the best of the bunch, but that everything on the plate was pretty great.

As on our last visit the service was friendly and efficient, the wine was excellent and each of the dishes we had offered up something special. The overall menu didn't quite excite me as much as last time - I really noticed the lack of protein across the veg dishes, and nothing quite lived up to the 'surf & turf' or 'onion family' dishes from our first visit. Still, this is a restaurant that clearly knows how to prepare vegetables - it's inventive, fresh and delicious and pretty damn impressive.

Read our previous review of Merrijig here.

Given the masses of reviews that Dunkeld's Good Food Guide winner the Royal Mail Hotel has picked up, it seems strange that only a few bloggers have visited the two-hatted Merrijig. Both A Food Story and 6lumens give it rave reviews, so hopefully it'll make it's way onto the blog radar eventually.

Merrijig Inn
1 Campbell St, Port Fairy
5568 2324
fully licensed
veg 6 course degustation $90, add matching wine for $70

Accessibility: As you can see from the top photo, entry requires traversing uneven ground and a small step. Tables are well spaced; toilets are on the same level and quite narrow. All service is provided at the table.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February 10-11, 2011: Mushrooms on polenta (breakfast serial part III)

Now this is the kind of breakfast I'd never think to make - Ganga108 responded to my breakfast tweet with (among other things) a suggestion of polenta with sautéed mushrooms.  I've cooked similar stuff for dinner, though, so I pulled it together with some confidence.  I prepared a half-batch of this polenta, adding some fresh parsley and paprika, then sautéed my mushrooms in a little oil with a green onion, more fresh parsley and a splash of red wine vinegar.

This was enough polenta to last two meals so I set half of it in a tin, slicing and dry-frying it alongside my mushrooms on the second morning.  I was disappointed that the polenta strips weren't as tidy and cute as Michael's past efforts.

This is definitely worth a shot for lovers of cooked savoury breakfasts; I liked it best teamed with a glass of orange juice.  I found the preparation a little time consuming on day one, then reheating the leftover polenta and frying up some fresh mushies on day two only took about ten minutes.  Stirring and setting a big batch of polenta on Sunday could keep me sustained for brekky and on-time all week.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February 9, 2011: Bean curd rolls with mango sauce

I was really looking forward to trying my February calendar recipe - bean curd rolls!  I barely even knew such a thing existed but it could only be six kinds of right, right?  A vegan and gluten-free alternative to spring rolls, deep-fried golden and crispy.

Little did I know that the bean curd sheet in my cupboard was... weird.  It was actually a single sheet, which had been folded up into a rectangle in a previous, more flexible lifetime before drying out to crumbly rigidity.  I figured it probably just needed a light dunking in warm water to restore it to a fold-friendly state, like a rice paper wrap, but this didn't quite work out. The outside of the sheet dissolved quickly into sloppiness while the inside remained brittle.  Worse, the outer layer was not of even thickness at all, looking like a sloppy mesh.  I found it very difficult to roll it round the filling.

The deep-frying was not without its worries, either.  I struggled to cook the rolls evenly (they have a powerful centre of gravity!), some threatened to unravel and they never quite attained the crunchiness I had fantasised about.  Oh well.  I have to admit they tasted pretty good, for all that.  Michael heartily enjoyed them, and was particularly enthusiastic about the sauce.  This gave me a chuckle since it's made of no more than a blended can of mango.

I'm still a bean curd roll believer - I'm convinced there are better ones out there.  Does anyone have any hints on choosing and using bean curd sheets?

Bean curd rolls with mango sauce
(ingredient quantities adapted, original recipe also found online here)

1 carrot
3 mushrooms
half a bunch of coriander, finely chopped
400g tofu
1 x 50g bean curd sheet
vegetable oil, for deep-frying
200g canned mango
more coriander leaves + chopped fresh red chilli, to garnish

Reserve a little of the coriander as a garnish.  Chop the carrot, mushrooms, and the rest of the coriander finely and place them in a medium-large bowl.  Crumble or mash the tofu into the bowl and combine the ingredients thoroughly.

Soften the bean curd sheet by brushing it with warm water.  Separate the layers.  Place a tablespoon or so of filling onto a sheet segment and roll it up.  Dust the roll lightly with cornflour.  Continue rolling the tofu filling into the bean curd sheets, dusting them with cornflour.

Heat the oil in a saucepan.  While it's heating, puree the mango in a food processor until smooth.  Line a plate with absorbent paper.

Deep-fry the rolls, just two or three at a time, until they're golden brown.  Drain them on the absorbent paper.

To serve, arrange the rolls on a plate, cover them with pureed mango and sprinkle over the reserved coriander and red chilli.

Friday, February 11, 2011

February 6, 2011: Spicy Moroccan carrot salad

We had a summer Sunday bbq to attend and had been tasked (along with a few other guests) with contributing a salad. One of the attendees had called first dibs on our favourite quinoa salad recipe so we delved straight into Plenty for new ideas.

Ottolenghi is a master of delicious and interesting looking salads so we had options galore - in the end we went with the second recipe in the book - spicy Moroccan carrot salad. This was a pretty simple to make, just a quick cooking of the carrots and onions and then a whole lot of stirring. The pay-off is a stunningly flavoured salad - the raw garlic and spices really power things up. To be honest, it would probably be a bit much as your only side salad, but combined with all the wonderful dishes everyone brought along, it was a taste sensation. Ottolenghi wins again!

Spicy Moroccan carrot salad 
(courtesy of Ottolenghi's Plenty)

1kg carrots
80ml olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon castor sugar
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 medium green chillies, finely chopped
1 green onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1-2 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon
1 bunch of coriander
120ml yoghurt

Peel the carrots and cut them into half moons, about 1 cm thick. Simmer in salted water in a large saucepan for about 10 minutes, until they've soften a bit but still retain a decent crunch. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion for 10-12 minutes, until soft and starting to brown. Add the drained carrots, followed by all the remaining ingredients except for the coriander and yoghurt. Stir well, fry for a minute or so, kill the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Just before serving, stir through the coriander. The recipe suggests serving the salad in individual bowls with a dab of yoghurt on top (as pictured), but we took the salad to the picnic with the yoghurt stirred through it, which worked just as well.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

January 30 - February 5, 2011: Cherry sorbet

Though three years have passed, I didn't forget Lucy's comment about David Lebovitz's cherry sorbet.  And finally I've made it happen this summer.  It's one of David's less fussy recipes (a feature I'm sure appealed to Lucy); the ingredients are just cooked down for a quarter hour, pureed in a blender than cooled and churned.

I skipped the almond extract/kirsch element of the original recipe, since I hate one and lack the other.  And I added my staple icecream-making step of straining the mixture for guaranteed smoothness.  Regardless, I imagine that my sorbet shared the same key element as David and Lucy's batches - a pure, intense cherry flavour.

Since the cherries I used were dark, over-ripe and very sweet the taste here was admittedly a little flat.  I bet other cherry (and berry) varieties would show more moxie.  A bit more lemon juice or some liquor would no doubt do the trick too.  It's certainly a base worth tinkering with - not too fiddly, it churns to a beautiful light texture, and allows plenty of space for the feature fruit to shine.

Cherry sorbet
(adapted slightly from a recipe in David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop)

~500g cherries
1/2 cup water
scant 1/2 cup castor sugar
squeeze of lemon juice

Remove the stems and pits from the cherries; you can be messy about it since they'll be pureed eventually. Place all of the ingredients in a small-medium saucepan over moderate heat. Stir them occasionally as they cook for 10-15 minutes and take them off the heat when the cherries are soft all the way through.

Bring the mixture to room temperature, then puree it in a blender or food processor. Strain the mixture then chill it thoroughly in the fridge.

Churn the mixture in an icecream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Monday, February 07, 2011

February 2, 2011: Sweet potato patties and cucumber salad with smashed garlic and ginger

One of Cindy's workmates has been growing more cucumbers than she can eat, so we found ourselves with a couple sitting in the fridge that we had no real plans for. I'd been eyeing off Ottolenghi's cucumber salad, which he pitches as a dairy-free alternative to yoghurt or sour-cream based sauces. We followed the recommendations in the book and made sweet potato cakes to serve with the salad.

The cucumber salad is very, very flavoursome - raw ginger and garlic pack some pretty powerful punches (Cindy refuses to eat this at work for fear of overpowering her colleagues). It's also a cool and tasty treat, that really added to the fairly starchy sweet potato cakes. I'm not sure it's really a direct substitution for the lemon and yoghurt sauce originally intended to serve with the patties, but it definitely works with them, cutting through with pungent, cool deliciousness.

The sweet potato patties themselves were pretty simple and tasty enough, but they'd be a little doughy and bland without something like the cucumber to offset them - I'm not sure they'll end up in our regular burger rotation. Both recipes are pretty straightforward, although they do both include hour long rest periods (for drying the sweet potato and combining the cucumber dressing), which means you can't just throw them together at the last minute.

Cucumber salad with smashed garlic and ginger 
(via Ottolenghi's Plenty)

4 cucumbers, peeled
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 large garlic cloves, peeled (maybe drop this down to one unless you're a big fan of raw garlic)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
3-4 tablespoons chopped coriander
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil

Whisk together the vinegar, oils and the sugar in a mixing bowl. Add in the green onions and set aside to marinate.

Pound the ginger in a mortar with some salt. Add the garlic and keep pounding, until everything is broken up but not pureed. Scrape the smushed garlic and ginger into the dressing bowl and leave to sit for about an hour.

Cut the cucumbers into little angled half-moons about 1/2 cm thick. Combine the dressing and the cucumber in a bowl, add in the sesame seeds and corainder, stirring well to make sure everything is well combined. Leave to sit for 10 minutes or so for the flavours to really combine.

You can carefully tip some of the excess liquid away before serving, but we were happy just scooping out the solid bits and leaving a puddle of dressing in the bowl.

Sweet potato cakes 
(also via Plenty, and accessible from Ottolenghi's Guardian column)

1kg sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 teaspoons tamari
100g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
3 tablespoons chopped green onions
1 red chilli, finely chopped
Sunflower oil for frying

Steam the sweet potatoes until they're almost falling apart with softness and set aside in a colander to drain for an hour or so (this can correspond with the hour the cucumber dressing marinates for!)

Mash the sweet potatoes in a large mixing bowl and then add the rest of the ingredients.

Mix everything together until you've got a nice smooth dough (this is easiest with your hands). It should be a bit sticky and not at all runny - if it's liquidy (ours wasn't), add more flour until it's dough-like.

Heat the oil in a frying pan. Mush together little dough-cakes 5-10cm across and about 1cm thick and fry over medium heat, about five minutes on each side. Soak up any excess oil on some paper towels and then serve, with the cucumber salad beside (or on top!).

Saturday, February 05, 2011

January 31, 2011: Sweet'n'sour bircher muesli (breakfast serial part II)

Thanks to y'all for your positive and helpful responses to my new breakfast serial!  (I would never have predicted that avocado on toast would elicit so many comments, while my last icecream post attracted a single astroturfer.)  I figured I'd keep the momentum up with a second entry right away.  AnneTreasure and GemCarey both recommended bircher muesli, with Anne specifically mentioning Neil Perry's recipe (which I tracked down on LifeStyle Food).

Before commencing I also wanted to consult my friend Dylan, who's been a resident of die Schweiz for a number of years.  He knows his way around a traditional Swiss bircher.  I was particularly interested in whether I could soak the oats for many days, and/or mix in the yoghurt and apple in advance, such that I could prep a week's worth of muesli over Sunday night and Monday morning.  Here's his advice:
I find that if you have a fully-made bircher muesli, then the day after it starts to separate out a bit — I think it's an issue of having the yoghurt and the juices from the fruit together. I think you'd be safe to mix all the dry ingredients (if you want more than just oats) and soak in milk and yoghurt for the week, then add the fruit just before eating each day. I've never kept the soaked oats for so long, and it could be that you'll need to add some extra milk to make the muesli a little more liquid for each morning's serve.

My preferred mixture of fruit is berries, banana and a little apple. Crushed roasted hazelnuts are a superb addition, and I would add a little honey or maple syrup if it's not sweet enough. Especially if the berries are not sweet, or if you use bornhoffen (sp?) yoghurt!
Like me, Dylan is a scientist by training and always up for an experiment.  In a subsequent message he also said:
Actually, you could try adding some cream to one -- Swiss yoghurt is super creamy compared to Australian.
I've left some of his tips for future replications.  I did, however, have a go at stretching my bircher further than a day with good results.  Setting my oats to soak at night then stirring in yoghurt, honey and grated apple in the morning, I didn't detect any changes in the flavour and texture of my muesli between the first and third days.  I'm game to try for a full working week next time.

This recipe is quite different to the bircher Dylan would typically eat (and the ones I remember sharing with him almost five years ago).  The oats are soaked in lemon juice and water, and then I used a just-barely-creamy low-fat yoghurt that's a far cry from European dairy.  I'm not much of a honey fan, and I was sceptical of the quantity used in this recipe, but it actually provided the ideal balance to the lemon.  (I'm keen to try agave or maple syrup in future.)

My muesli wasn't all that thick; more like a summer porridge, just as nutritious and almost as filling.  While a bit of advanced planning is required, this doesn't require excessive effort and most of it can be done before the working week has even commenced.

Sweet'n'sour bircher muesli
(contributed to LifeStyle Food by Neil Perry, who credits his friend Greg Fraser)

2 cups rolled oats
juice of 2 lemons
1 cup water
2 Granny Smith apples
2 cups yoghurt
6 tablespoons honey
fresh or poached fruit, to serve
4 tablespoons hazelnuts, roughly chopped

In a medium bowl, mix together the rolled oats, lemon juice and water.  Cover the mixture and allow it to soak overnight.

Stir the yoghurt and honey into the oats.  Peel and grate the apples, adding them to the muesli.  Serve the muesli in bowls, topped with extra fruit and sprinkled with hazelnuts.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

January 24, 2011: A breakfast serial - avocado on toast

For all the novel recipes we try here in the where's the beef? kitchen, we are pretty unadventurous when it comes to breakfast.  Yes, we like eating fancy things while out and Vegan Brunch has provided inspiration on the odd weekend, but we break our workday fast with startling monotony.  Michael always, always eats Weetbix topped with muesli and milk (though he made the transition from dairy to soy in the last year or so).  I tend towards cereal too, chugging through box after box of Just Right, occasionally mixing it up with a day or two of toast.  

It's not right at all, really.  I've had a few shots making my own muesli or porridge or smoothies and these have amused me for up to a month at a time.  But I'm keen to push my breakfast boundaries a little further - hence this new Breakfast Serial.  My Friends In Food have already come through with a bunch of great suggestions via twitter but sling me more if you've got 'em!  I'm hoping to give a new one a go every couple of weeks and, of course, record them here.

My first entry is well within my comfort zone - sarahcooks and veggie_mama both recommended avocado on toast.  I like lathering the avocado on thickly then topping it with salt, pepper and lemon juice; even better if there's a glass of fruit juice on the side.  It's easy to prepare and adequately filling.  Avocados aren't always abundant and ripe when you want 'em but this is a great option when they are.  I can't imagine committing to this daily and indefinitely but avocado on toast is an excellent option to have in my weekday brekkie repertoire.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

January 22-23, 2011: Spicy pecan chocolate icecream

More than a month after my icecream party, we finally got down to the last few leftover scoops and I could justify popping the canister back into the freezer for dessert with Mike and Jo.  Loosely following the Latin theme and swinging away from our vegan stock, I browsed David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop and picked out the Aztec "Hot" Chocolate Ice Cream.  Unlike many of his other recipes, this one is egg-free and isn't too equipment heavy - all the ingredients are whisked into the one saucepan, though David instructs us to blend them before chilling and churning.  Instead I strained my mixture between chilling and churning and I'm quietly confident that my icecream was just as smooth.

I didn't have any fancy smoked chile powder but I reckon my stash performed pretty well.  The unchurned mixture and first day's scoops brought a gentle, slow warmth to the back of my throat, leaving plenty of room to taste the rich, satiny chocolate.  A few days later the chile was more outspoken and the chocolate receded into the background; the smooth texture largely remained.

The cookbook points out a recipe for Spiced Pecans as the perfect pairing to this icecream, and I was keen for the extra texture.  Ironically, this recipe does use egg whites - how much more convenient it would have been if this icecream had been one of Lebovitz's yolk-heavy standards!  They're used as a binder for the sugar and spices and are no doubt supposed to leave the pecans with an attractive lacquered surface.  I didn't get this bit quite right.  Where the recipe says 2 tablespoons, I used the whites of two eggs.  This was clearly a larger volume and led to some awkward frothy batter bits once the pecans began baking.  In future I'd be tempted to do away with the egg altogether, substituting it and the brown sugar for maple syrup or agave nectar.

The pecans were pretty great, nevertheless, and I chopped about half of them up to churn through the icecream.  These ones didn't make much of an impact.  The other half, which we used whole as a garnish, held their crunch much better and made that promised perfect pairing.

Spicy chocolate icecream
(a very nearly faithful rendition of David Lebovitz's Aztec "Hot" Chocolate Ice Cream from The Perfect Scoop)

2 1/4 cups cream
6 tablespoons cocoa
3/4 cup castor sugar
85g dark chocolate
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon chile powder, or to taste
2 tablespoons brandy
1 cup spiced pecans, optional

In a large saucepan, whisk together the cream, cocoa and castor sugar.  Place the saucepan on medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a boil.  Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the chocolate until it's completely melted through.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir thoroughly to combine.  Chill the mixture thoroughly (preferably overnight).  Strain the mixture to remove lumps and churn in an icecream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

If you're using the spiced pecans, chop them roughly and add them to the churner 10 minutes before the icecream is done.

Spiced pecans
(from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop)

2 tablespoons egg whites (yes, really - not just '2 egg whites')
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups pecans
spray oil

Preheat the oven to 150°C.  Line a baking tray with paper and lightly spray it with oil.

In a medium-large bowl, whisk the eggwhite briefly so that it's nice and loose.  Whisk in the brown sugar, spices and vanilla, then toss through the pecans until they're evenly coated.

Transfer the nuts to the baking tray and spread them out evenly.  If you have extra liquid in the bottom of the bowl, it's probably best that you don't pour it all over the tray.  Bake the pecans for about 30 minutes, tossing them at 10 minute intervals, until they're toasty and dry.  Allow them to cool completely before using them.