Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March 20, 2011: Gallo pinto and cabbage salad

After gorging on Ottolenghi's recipes for a week or two, it was time to return to our other favourite cookbook - Viva Vegan. We've made this recipe for gallo pinto (Costa Rican refried rice and beans) a few times already, usually when Cindy's whipping up home-made tortillas. This time, we decided to go with lazy store-bought wraps (they're nowhere near as good!) and whip up a Viva Vegan salad instead.

The refried rice-bean combo is great - filling and hearty, with lots of garlic and spices to add a bit of punch (admittedly I usually pour on some Casa Iberica hot sauce to kick it up another notch or two). It's also pretty straightforward - much easier than making separate rice and bean recipes at least. We need to branch out a bit and try some other options from Viva Vegan, but this is so good that it's hard to make the effort.

The salad was a winner as well, a simple combination of crunchy cabbage and carrot with a tangy and garlicky dressing. Combine this with the gallo pinto on a burrito with hot sauce and avocado and you're basically in heaven.

Gallo Pinto
(from Viva Vegan! by Terry Hope Romero)

3 tablespoons olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1-2 chillies, finely sliced
1 red capsicum, seeded and chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 cups of cooked rice, cold
1-2 teaspoons of cumin
2 cups kidney beans (we used canned - the recipe strongly recommends cooking your own so you can use the cooking liquid later on)
1/2 cup vegie stock (or bean cooking liquid)
1 tablespoon veg. Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
Fresh coriander, chopped

Heat the oil and garlic in a big pot. When the garlic sizzles, throw in the onion, chilli and capsicum, and fry for 5-10 minutes, until the onion is soft.

Put the rice in and stir-fry for 10 minutes. Add the cumin, beans, stock, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, salt and pepper. Stir well and mash the beans a bit (it's up to you how mushy you like them - I go for pretty mushy, Cindy would rather them mainly unsquashed).

Cook until the liquid is mostly absorbed - about 10 minutes. Kill the heat and stir in the coriander when you're ready to serve.

Classic cabbage salad 
(also from Terry Hope Romero's Viva Vegan!)

4 cups cabbage, finely shredded (due to availability constraints we used Chinese cabbage, which worked fine)
2 carrots, shredded (I reckon a peeler is the best tool to use for this job)
1 tomato, diced finely

coriander-citrus vinaigrette
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 2 limes
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons coriander
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
A few shakes of pepper

Combine dressing ingredients in a blender and pulverise.

Stir together salad ingredients and toss with the dressing. Done!

Monday, March 28, 2011

March 19, 2011: Jackson Dodds

It seems as though the inner-north is getting progressively bigger. At least that's the only explanation I can think of for the existence of the straight-outta-Brunswick style cafe Jackson Dodds well north of Bell Street. Jackson Dodds beat out all the usual suspects to win Cheap Eats breakfast of the year, which was enough to get us on the tram northwards.

We grabbed the last table (right in the path of the seemingly endless stream of people coming in for takeaway coffees) and perused our options. The menu is focussed on savoury - lots of eggs (in omelette, poached and scrambled forms), with just toast, bircher muesli and pancakes for the sweet-tooths (sweet-teeth? How do you pluralise that word?).

Even Cindy was forced into something savoury - going with the pea and haloumi fritters, with avocado (subbed in for the standard bacon), baby beetroot leaves and tomato relish ($13).

The fritters were exceptional, a perfectly cooked combination of sweet peas and salty cheese. The tomato relish was outstanding, and the beetroot leaves and avocado gave the illusion of healthiness. I only snuck a single mouthful but I'd have been happy to eat the whole meal.

Luckily, I ended up with avocado, tomato relish and haloumi of my own in the Jacks Breakfast (2 poached eggs with grilled haloumi, avocado, sautéed spinach and tomato relish, $15).

This had all the components of a great breakfast: perfectly poached eggs, fried cheese, ripe avo and a home-made sauce. I'd basically ordered this meal because I wanted haloumi - it didn't disappoint (does it ever?). Still, I think I made a mistake by not ordering the breakfast-of-the-year-winning dukkah eggs. Next time I guess.

Good coffee, quirky interior and a queue out the door - Jackson Dodds has taken Brunswick all the way out to Preston. Check it out.

A lot of other bloggers didn't need The Age to point them in the direction of Jackson Dodds. Eat Drink Stagger, Hookturns, Melbourne Dining Experiences and Laughing Chef were ahead of the game.


Jackson Dodds
611 Gilbert Rd, West Preston (right at the end of the 112 line)
9471 1900
veg brekkies $4-15

Accessibility: There's a small step at entry level, and the interior is pretty crowded.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

March 14, 2011: Sweetcorn soup with chipotle and lime

We had half a pumpkin to use up and a fairly lazy evening in which to cook - once again, we turned to Ottolenghi (it may soon be time to decommission this blog and just reroute Ottolenghi's RSS feed). This time, we came up with this recipe, which used up our pumpkin perfectly while providing a tangy and rich delight for us. It's not the most substantial meal, so don't expect anything especially hearty, but it's so flavoursome and vibrant that we were happy enough with just a small bowl each and some grilled tortillas.

Sweetcorn soup with chipotle and lime (via Ottolenghi's Guardian blog)

3 tablespoons olive oil
5 green onions, chopped finely
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 celery sticks, diced small
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon grounder coriander
400g peeled pumpkin, diced
2 bay leaves
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 litre water
1 chipotle, diced finely, with a few dabs of the adobo sauce it lives in
Kernels from 4 corn cobs
150g sour cream
Juice of 2 limes (3 if they're not very juicy)
1 handful torn coriander leaves

Heat the oil, and then fry the onions, garlic, celery, cumin and ground coriander with a shake or two of salt for 10 or 12 minutes, until the celery has softened.

Add in the pumpkin, bay leaves, lime leaves, chipotle and water. Cover until the pot boils and then simmer for 10 or 15 minutes, until the pumpkin is tender. Add in the corn kernels and simmer for another five minutes.

Scoop out half of the vegetables and set aside, and throw away the bay and lime leaves. Blend the rest of the soup until everything is nice and smooth, pop the vegetables back in and stir in half of the sour cream and the lime juice.

Serve with a sprinkling of coriander leaves and a generous dab of sour cream on top (with some grilled paprika tortillas on the side).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

March 13, 2011: Gado gado

I got stuck into more Ottolenghi on a Sunday afternoon. I've had my eye on the gado gado since the day Michael gave me Plenty but the recipe's quite involved and was destined to produce questionable leftovers.  

The satay sauce took an hour, maybe an hour and a half, to prepare but it was other-worldly in its deliciousness.  It was as if the ingredients queued up patiently to be tasted one by one as this rolled across my palate.  Fragrant galangal and lemongrass, sour tamarind, the sweetness of sugar and coconut, then the garlic, peanuts, and a final gentle chilli burn.  Just astounding.

The salad itself is a fun and filling mix.  Cabbage, beans, sprouts and cucumber get rounded out with turmeric-dyed potato chunks, boiled eggs and tofu, dressed with the peanut sauce and then showered with fresh herbs and crunchy-fried bits.  It is a hassle to blanch everything separately and in future we might pick-and-choose what to include; I'd prioritise fresh greens, par-boiled potatoes, tofu chunks and the convenient crispy-fried shallots.  For the other crispy-fried treat (Ottolenghi nominates cassava chips, croutons and wonton skins as options) I dug out the garlic chips we bought at Minh Phat last year.  They were terrific but might have been more effort than they're worth.

The leftovers were far more palatable than I'd feared (...even the cabbage!).  This dish will definitely reappear in our kitchen, though it might take a few goes to find the version that best suits us.

Gado gado
(from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi,
also available on The Guardian website)

4 cloves garlic
1 stalk lemongrass, roughly chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons sambal olek
2 small pieces galangal
4 medium shallots
1/3 cup vegetable oil
225g roasted peanuts
450mL water
2 teaspoons salt
90g sugar
2 teaspoons paprika
2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
200mL coconut milk

1 teaspoon turmeric
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1/4 large cabbage, cut into chunks
70g bean sprouts
100g green beans
1/2 medium cucumber, sliced
4 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
100g tofu, sliced
garlic chips (or something else crunchy and deep-fried)
3 tablespoons coriander leaves
crispy-fried shallots

In a food processor, blend together the garlic, lemongrass, sambal olek, galangal and shallots until they make a coarse paste; add a little of the oil as you go if it needs help pastifying. In a medium saucepan over low-medium heat, pour in the remaining oil and add the paste. Turn the heat down to low and cook the paste, stirring regularly, for 40-50 minutes.

Roughly crush the nuts - I did this with a mortar and pestle but you could also briefly pulse the nuts in a food processor. Transfer them to a frypan, cover them with the water, and simmer the nuts for 20-25 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated.

While the peanuts are simmering, the paste should be almost done cooking. When it's ready add the salt, sugar, paprika and tamarind concentrate. Stir everything well to combine and cook for a further 10 minutes. Add the peanuts and coconut milk to the sauce and stir everything well to combine. Set the sauce aside, ensuring it's warm come serving time.

Bring a medium-large saucepan of water to the boil and add the turmeric; boil the potatoes in this water until tender. Bring more water to boil in a second pot and blanch and drain the other vegetables in turn - the cabbage should only take a minute, the sprouts half a minute, and the beans about 4 minutes.

Finally, pile everything up on plates (or a single large serving platter). Layer the blanched vegetables, cucumber, tofu and eggs; spoon over the sauce and then sprinkle over the garlic chips, coriander leaves and crispy-fried shallots.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

March 12, 2011: Choc-ice Magic

I bet a few of you instantly recognise the chocolatey shard shapes pictured above, yes?  You might even be thinking, "It's Cottee's Ice Magic to be quite precise, and in just a few seconds it turns into crackly choc ice!"  (Or, if you grew up in the US, perhaps you know it as Magic Shell.)  This was my favourite treat when visiting my grandparents as a kid and in the past couple of years I've bought a couple of bottles and re-experienced the magic in full.  (That's some industrial-strength nostalgia right there!)

I assumed they were pulling out the industrial-strength chemicals to create the liquid-to-solid transformation, but it turns out you can make it at home.  With 2 ingredients.  They're not even very scary ingredients.  What's more, it's both vegan and gluten-free if you choose those ingredients well.  K and I got talking about it on twitter and she already tried it out in January.  What I can tell you now, as the temperature skips and dips more often, is that it behaves (as well as tastes) very much like the real deal:
  • you can store it at room temperature just fine, just giving it a little shake or whisk before serving,
  • it's perfectly crunchy yet silky about half a minute after you pour it on icecream,
  • at cooler room temperatures it tends to thicken, but sitting it in a hot water bath for a couple of minutes before the shaking/ whisking is all it takes for full revival.
This could have me eating icecream all winter long.  I suppose it could be dressed up with a little instant coffee, peppermint essence or even rosewater, but right now I'm still hooked on the original.

(For the record, I first tried this out as dessert for our third Simpsons Night after a dinner of Indya Bistro takeaway [thanks Mike].  That tag-line we used to run about being reformed Simpsons addicts is probably best forgotten.)

Choc-ice Magic
(based on a recipe from The Accidental Vegetarian,
found via In The Mood For Noodles)

1/3 cup coconut oil
2/3 cup chocolate (dark chips are best)

In a small saucepan over gentle heat, melt the coconut oil.  Add the chocolate and stir regularly, until the chocolate is melted and you have a smooth sauce.

Spoon the sauce over icecream and store leftovers in a jar at room temperature.

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 11, 2011: A salad for your best tomatoes

On Friday we showed Matt a more of our neighbourhood - we hit A Minor Place for breakfast, spent an hour at Savers, stopped by Mankoushe for lunch before attending an early afternoon gig at The Workers Club.  I was almost relieved to have Friday night to myself while M & M set off for another gig.  I needed some home-cooked food and had a bag of garden veges, from our friends Troy and Bec, to use.

Since Michael doesn't care for them, I claimed the tomatoes for dinner.  I remembered recently seeing this salad on Nourish Me and was delighted to note that I could make it from ingredients already at home, including our own potted parsley.  I used separate bowls for whisking the dressing and serving the salad then realised that I should really flip the recipe around, whisking the dressing in the bowl and tossing the veges right in afterwards.

It was a lovely way to augment some home grown tomatoes.  For some carby comfort, I had a cheese and pecan scone on the side.

A salad for your best tomatoes
(adapted from a recipe found at Nourish Me,
where Lucy credits it to Sam & Sam Clark's Casa Moro)

In a bowl, whisk together 4 parts olive oil, 2 parts pomegranate molasses and 1 part hot water.  Stir in minced or powdered garlic to taste and a generous dash of cinnamon.  Thoroughly toss through chopped tomatoes.  Stir in some roughly chopped walnuts and finely chopped parsley just before serving.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 10, 2011: The Fox Hotel V

As well as a full cooked breakfast, Matt was keen to re-experience Australia's pub scene. Of course we took him to our favourite, the Fox Hotel. There was plenty of room for us in the upstairs beer garden on a Thursday evening.

Michael had us sharing a plate of the mushroom and tofu gyoza ($10) to kick things off. These were surely never going to live up to Matt's Tokyo gyoza experiences and unfortunately didn't even live up to my previous Fox gyoza experience - the dumpling skins were a bit thick and undercooked. This was a minor complaint though - they were pretty good all up and again I appreciated the accompanying greens.

For his main meal, Michael tried the crispy battered salt and pepper tofu with green papaya salad ($17). They sure got the crispy batter right (again, I hope the Edinburgh Castle is taking notes). The green papaya salad was a refreshing partner but had none of the chilli heat Michael's enjoyed in green papaya salads elsewhere.

I had a shot at the whole field mushroom lasagne with three cheeses and spinach ($17, served with chips and salad). Like vege stacks, lasagne is a common bland token to vegetarians on restaurant menus and with three cheeses promised, there was some risk of receiving a plate of congealed gloop. But this lasagne had already earned positive reviews on Eat More Vegies and MEL: HOT OR NOT and they weren't wrong - this is an excellent dish for mushroom lovers. Its dark colouring in that photo is all you need to know about the rich depth of fungi flavour here. I happily dragged my chips through the juices and saved the salad 'til last.

We've very nearly covered the full range of vegetarian mains offered at the Fox. It really is something, that it would take two of us 5-6 visits to do so. And with the seasons shifting at the moment, there's half a chance that the menu will be revised again soon anyway. We'll be there to test it out when it happens.

You can read about some of our previous visits to the Fox: one, two, three, four.

Since our last visit, this pub has also been blogged by "... it pleases us" and Peet Can Cook.

The Fox Hotel
351 Wellington St, Collingwood
9416 4957
fully licensed
veg entrees $5-17, veg mains $16-17

Accessibility: There's a small step at entry level. Several of the indoor rooms (and probably the ground level outdoor space) have widely spaced tables; the beer garden is up a narrow staircase with rail. All orders are taken and paid for at the high bar. Toilets are at ground level.

Friday, March 18, 2011

March 10, 2011: Small Block IV

Matt was pretty keen to hit some breakfast hotspots while he was visiting us.  For all its wonderful food, Tokyo hasn't got a wealth of places dishing up poached eggs and excellent coffees. In need of a nearby venue so that those of us heading to work weren't waylaid too much, we settled on a quick tram ride up to Small Block. We've worked Small Block over pretty hard - it's probably my favourite of the Lygon St Brunswick East brekkie strip - but they've had a small menu shake-up since we last visited.

Most intriguingly, they've added an explicitly vegan option, and it's not avo on toast! Cindy went with it - a vegan tortilla with refried beans, avocado and salsa ($13.90).

The beans inside this tortilla sandwich weren't particularly refried, more like baked beans. But they were hearty and delicious, and the fresh avocado, tomato and coriander on top was a nice accompaniment. I didn't get a taste of this in the end, which is an indication of Cindy's satisfaction levels.

I went for a simple serve of baked beans on Turkish bread with Meredith fetta ($11.50).

The portioning of this dish was a bit weird - four massive pieces of Turkish bread with just a small bowl of beans and fetta to spread across them. With a light touch you can make the beans last, but I'd have been happy to have one fewer pieces of toast I think (I know nobody was making me eat it all, but once it's there..). Still, the beans (which looked suspiciously similar to Cindy's 'refried' ones) were excellent, and nicely offset by the sharpness of the fetta. I was full until a very late lunch.

Small Block's a pretty consistent performer - the staff are casual and friendly, the food is always excellent, and the atmosphere is always pleasant (even moreso on a school day without the mad weekend crowds).

You can read about previous visits to Small Block here, here and here.

Small Block keeps getting good write-ups: The Breakfast Club Carlton and Eat and Be Merry have both given it the thumbs up since we last visited although slicing almonds and zesting lemons was less impressed.

Small Block
130 Lygon St, Brunswick East
9381 2244
fully licensed
veg brekkies $5 - $16.50

Accessibility: Entry, seating and service are very accessible.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March 9, 2011: Embrasse Restaurant

18/12/2012: Embrasse has recently closed, but head chef Nicolas Poelaert can now be found at Brooks in the city.

Michael's brother Matt, who shared this meal with us, is a resident of Japan.  We feel extremely lucky that he was safe with us in Australia while last week Japan experienced one of its worst earthquakes.

So many people have died, been injured, lost their homes and livelihoods. If you have the means, please make a donation to the Red Cross Japan and Pacific Disaster Appeal.


We've not got all that excited about the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in recent years.  I developed an impression that it was celebrity-focused, expensive and not particularly veg-friendly.  But Claire pointed out some important exceptions this year, including plenty of free events and a definitely-expensive-but-totally-vegetarian six course meal at Embrasse.  Embrasse's co-founder Nic Poelaert teamed up with Pope Joan's Matt Wilkinson to present For The Love Of Vegetables, and we were mighty pleased to share the occasion with Michael's brother Matt.

Course number one was called 'spikes and spoons'.  The spoons featured goat cheese, fresh hazelnut, and plum jam.  These were rather sweet, and dominated by the hazelnut.

The spikes carried carrot, beetroot, and radish, roasted to a very sweet and tender state and simply seasoned.

Our second course went salad style. The tabouli with Meredith goat curd was terrific, with lots of variation in flavours and textures.  I couldn't help thinking smugly, though, that our months with Ottolenghi have had us producing some very-nearly-as-good salads at home.

The follow-up salad was definitely out of my scope though, a gorgeous mix of figs, radishes, lettuce and toasted coriander seeds. 

Michael and Matt's favourite dish was the slow cooked Green poulet egg, served with garlic and corn champ.  They didn't eat much corn as kids but this was bringing them around.  I was more taken by the seasoning sprinkled over the top.

The fourth course brought together swede, spiced cauliflower, banana capsicum, organic carrots, and Jerusalem artichokes.  The pale sheets that looks like pasta were mostly likely shaved swede and the Jerusalem artichoke appeared as dots of puree; the capsicum roll was stuffed with spiced cauliflower. Cauliflower stuffing excepted, this dish was a little bland and our least favourite of the night.

The final savoury course is where I really have to give Nic Poelaert some credit.  We've been served beetroot during almost every high-end dinner we've had, and it's almost always been teamed with sweet apples or a piquant white cheese. Here instead was burnt jersey milk and orange sugar, offering the same complementary sweetness and piquancy in a completely new way.  Wonderful stuff!

The beetroot plate was served with a dish of aligot, mashed potato so saturated with cheese that it stretched like mozzarella when we attempted to serve it.  Goop never tasted so good.

For dessert we were treated to Embrasse's famous Forest Floor.  Mushrooms with meringue stalks and chocolate parfait caps are planted in chocolate cake soil, scattered with tuile twigs and sorrel mint ice.  It is stunning to behold!  In the flavour stakes, though, it didn't match Attica's Terroir for me - I think I'm biased towards desserts that offer sour alongside the sweet. 

We finished with some citrusy 'macaroons' from Vanessa.

While our meal was presented meticulously by the kitchen staff, I can't report the same for the front of house.  One waiter was gentle and friendly while the two others were extremely stand-offish, often not bothering to speak to or even look at us as they brought food and drinks.  None of them could tell us anything more about the food than was listed on the menu.  This really disappointed me, as learning about the ingredients and techniques that go into each dish always enriches my appreciation for them.  I don't know whether these were Embrasse's usual staff, and presumably they didn't know this menu as well as they might Embrasse's standard menu.  Possibly this event was more stressful to pull together than a typical night in the restaurant.  Blog reviews I've read for Embrasse have few comments about the service and those are mostly positive, so hopefully our experience was not typical of this restaurant.

Still, we were treated to an interesting selection of what Embrasse can offer vegos as well as some festival specials.  The regular menu is very promising, with the same love of vegetables evident in many of the dish descriptions.

Embrasse Restaurant
312 Drummond St, Carlton
9347 3312
fully licensed
special event veg degustation $130 with matched wines

Accessibility: Entry, seating and service on the ground level seem very accessible.  Toilets are situated upstairs.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 9, 2011: Depot de Pain

Update 27/1/2019: Depot de Pain has permanently closed.

Cindy spotted this review of Depot de Pain in Milkbar Mag and was keen to check it out. They provided her with some particularly dense fruit bread during her raisin toast experiments but we wanted to check out their dining-in options. So, with my brother (visiting from Tokyo) in tow, we headed down for a pre-work Wednesday breakfast.

The interior is all clean lines and minimalism set off by a few gorgeous flourishes, like the chandelier above our table.

Menu-wise, it's all pretty French - croque monsieur, French toast, quiches, baguettes and pastries abound (vegans beware - everything in this place is likely to be at least 40% butter). Cindy went for something sweetish - banana bread with berries and fromage frais ($9.50).

The portioning was a bit odd - there was enough berry/yoghurt mix to smother twice as much bread as was on the plate. Aside from that minor quibble, Cindy was pretty happy with her dense and banana-y brekkie.

I went for something a bit more substantial, Toast Champignon (sauteed forest mushrooms finished with herbs and truffle oil, $10.50) with a side of avocado ($3).

This was a pretty rich start to the day: the buttery mushrooms and the liberal use of the truffle oil meant that by the end of the meal I felt as though my arteries had clogged up a smidgen. But it was worth it - the mushies were perfectly cooked and the herbs and avocado cut through the earthiness of the truffle oil nicely. The bread is, as you'd expect, excellent. We were too full to sample any of the pastries available at the counter - it won't be long!

Only the not-quite-blogs Milkbar and Broadsheet have reviewed Depot de Pain so far (Melbourne Dining Experiences has checked out their sister venue on St Kilda Rd).


Depot de Pain
693 Rathdowne St, Carlton North
9349 1311
veg dishes $5.50 - $11.50

Accessibility: Good - no steps, good light and a reasonable amount of space.

Monday, March 14, 2011

March 6, 2011: Poached quinces with yoghurt (breakfast serial part VI)

Among the first cohort of breakfast tweets, Anh suggested poached fruits with yoghurt.  I hopped to it when the quince tree at work was harvested and the rewards shared amongst staff.  I tried poaching quinces for the first time last year and followed the same recipe again for this batch.  Their fragrance is really quite something.

I'm always after a little textural variation so I was compelled to top my quinces and yoghurt with some roughly chopped hazelnuts.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

March 5, 2011: Little lemon cheesecakes

Michael, Mike and I enjoyed our first Simpsons night so much that we soon arranged another.  This time Michael picked up dinner at Trippy Taco and with an eye on my calendar, I volunteered to make dessert.  

The March feature recipe is for individual cheesecakes and with its reliance on pre-made ingredients, I couldn't help thinking of Sandra Lee as I whipped these up.  Actually a little googling has revealed that this recipe comes from Australia's answer to Sandra Lee, the 4 Ingredients crew.

While it's not my usual food-prep style, I can't deny that these were simple and very popular.  (They also used up some Arnott's biscuits that may have been sitting in my cupboard for a year.)  I'd recommend eating them semi-frozen.

Little lemon cheesecakes
(this looks to come from the 4 Ingredients website)

8 butternut snap biscuits
250g cream cheese, softened
280g jar lemon butter
berries to garnish

Line 8 holes of a muffin pan with cupcake papers.  Place one of the biscuits in the base of each paper.

In a small mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until fluffy.  Add the lemon butter and beat until smooth and completely combined.  Spoon the mixture into the cupcake papers and smooth over the tops; freeze the cheesecakes until firm, 2-3 hours.

To serve, give the little cheesecakes 5 minutes to thaw, and garnish them with berries.

Friday, March 11, 2011

March 5, 2011: Human Powered Cafe

Edit 01/03/2012: Human Powered Cafe is no longer operating under the same management. It seems to have been renovated and we've no idea what its current incarnation is like!

A few months back, Cindy and I heard a rumour that Human Powered Cafe were serving up this blog's semi-famous vegan sausage rolls. We've been meaning to check them out ever since, and finally got around to it on a glorious Saturday morning.

Alas, the only sausage rolls on offer the day we visited were lamb-based ones, so we didn't find out how well they reproduce one of our favourite dishes. Instead, there were a few lunch options - pastries and sweets, fruit toast, a vegan big-breakfast, and a veg focaccia.

I couldn't resist the vegan chow down - scrambled tofu, sauteed mushrooms, house made baked beans, rocket, caramelised red wine onion & toast ($16.5).

It was a pretty decent sized plate. The scrambled tofu looked amazing and had a nice warm flavour to it, but was a tad on the dry side. The beans were almost non-existent (seriously, there was like a tablespoon) yet everything was redeemed by the glorious caramelised red wine onion.

Cindy had delayed her breakfast for too long and hadn't worked up any real hunger, so just went with a flapjack ($3). This was an incredibly dense oaty treat that ended up being too much food for her despite its modest appearance.

I like the idea of a combination bike-shop and cafe, and Human Powered do a pretty good job. Decent coffee, friendly and efficient service and loads of wonderful old bike posters on the walls - it's a nice place to just sit and hang out.

Human Powered Cafe has had pretty good reviews from Vetti, Hey Bambini and Do You Want to Stay for Breakfast?.

Human Powered Cafe
562 High Street, Thornbury
9480 0848
veg dishes $4-$16.50

Accessibility: Human Powered seemed pretty accessible - no step, lots of space and great light. Once again, we didn't check out the loos.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

March 5, 2011: Leftover makeover - spiced lentils on toast (breakfast serial part V)

Lentil tacos have been getting multiple runs in our kitchen recently - they're unfussy, flexible and reasonably healthy.  Leftovers do very nicely on toast too!  For breakfast on Saturday morning I layered our remaining grated carrot and lentils on bread and popped them under the grill to warm through, finishing them with the last quarter avocado and a side glass of orange juice.

This would make an excellent meal or snack at any time of the day.  I found that the lentils kept me satisfied for hours, something I'm always looking for and particularly in the morning.  A Sunday night lentil-simmer is all you'd (I'd) need to enjoy this toast all week long.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

February 28, 2011: The Pinnacle Hotel

Our pub-club continues apace - exploring the inner north for veg-friendly pubs open on Monday nights. This time around: North Fitzroy's Pinnacle Hotel. Occupying the narrow wedge between St Georges Rd and Taplin St, The Pinnacle was once a Post Office and is now an oddly shaped but cosy looking pub.

One of the bonuses of Monday night pub-club (the other being the general lack of pub crowds) is that a handful of pubs offer discount meals. The Pinnacle, for example, had a blackboard menu of $12 Monday specials. Two of the six options were vego: risotto cakes and eggplant parma. For once Cindy and I didn't mix things up, we both had our hearts set on parma.

Credit has to go to the Pinnacle for making a bit of effort on their parma sides - the skinny, crisp potato wedges were to die for and the sesame-dressed beans and greens salad was a touch classier than I was expecting. The parma itself was pretty well done - a few bits of slightly tough eggplant but a rich and cheesy topping on a couple of very generous slices. Impressive.

Despite the cheap meals, The Pinnacle had plenty of space for our group of seven on this Monday night. It's a nice pub and definitely worth a revisit.

While I'm at it - if anyone out there has any pub suggestions, let me know - pub-club is starting to run out of new places to sample (for a complete list of places we've visited, check out the blue markers on this map).

The Pinnacle hasn't had a lot of blog love: Brian at Fitzroyalty gave it the thumbs up and Melbourne Booze Hag and The Happiest Hour are also fans.


The Pinnacle Hotel
251 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North
9489 3884
veg mains $12 (on Mondays, usually $15-$18)

Accessibility: You'll need to get up a couple of small steps to get into The Pinnacle but things are pretty flat and spacious once you're inside. All ordering and payment happens at the bar. We didn't visit the bathrooms to suss them out.

Monday, March 07, 2011

February 17-22, 2011: Fruit toast (breakfast serial part IV)

My breakfast call-out elicited a few tips on making the best of fruit toast. This interested me no end because as much as I love fruit toast, I'm not sure that I've ventured further than applying slabs of butter to it.

Natalie recommended I try mashed banana and honey.  This began badly when I managed to smash two sweetener bottles on the tiles as I returned the honey to the pantry but was worth the sticky, cutty clean-up.  Bananas on fruit toast taste great, fill the belly and add a major nutritional boost.  Honey can be substituted with golden, maple or any number of other sweetening syrups (should you have any left).

Brian gets a little more elaborate still, teaming banana and fruit toast with peanut butter and cinnamon.  This was pretty damn exciting - four elements I know well, combined in ways I'd never plan, creating an instant favourite.  Yes, really: I got excited about toast.

Johanna suggested variations on the cheese theme.  Cream cheese was an easy sell, adding just a little yoghurty tang to my butter habit.

Then she suggested harder cheeses.  Theoretically, I got this - a little fruit is great with cheese and crackers, right?  But I still couldn't imagine it.  Apparently Johanna likes cheese slices atop toasted fruit bread, while her partner E prefers to grill cheese onto the bread.  I trialled both, using a sharp cheddar, and am backing Johanna on this one - I liked my cheese with more bite and less grease.

I began this project with an almost explicit goal of getting away from toast, but it's been even better to be shown this old fall-back in a new light.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

February 23, 2011: Classy cauliflower

We had a fairly lowbrow evening lined up: 9 episodes of The Simpsons (three each chosen by Mike, Cindy and I, representing the creme de la creme), awesome pies from La Panella and a six-pack of beer. So to step things up a notch, I was in charge of coming up with a vegie side to complement the pies.

After browsing Cindy's massive stash of bookmarks, I settled on this straightforward cauliflower recipe from 101 Cookbooks. It's easy to prep - most of the work is in cutting up the cauliflower (rest assured, I'm nowhere near as precise as Heidi in making my florets uniform). The cauliflower gets a bit brown and softens up nicely, and the chives, lemon and parmesan are a pretty classic flavour combo (with good reason). It may not have turned us into debonair arthouse movie watchers, but it did take meat pies and beer to a slightly classier level.

Classy cauliflower
(based on a simple cauliflower recipe from 101 Cookbooks)

1 head of cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
small bunch garlic chives, sliced finely
zest of one lemon and a few splashes of juice
freshly grated parmesan
salt, to taste

Trim the cauliflower into small florets - see the picture for a rough size guide.

Heat the oil in a fry pan and add the cauliflower, stirring to coat well with the oil.

Let it fry for a while, stirring occasionally. You want the florets to start to get some colour (I probably could have left ours for longer, but The Simpsons awaited). Just before you're ready to kill the heat, stir through the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so.

Kill the heat and stir through the chives, lemon zest and juice and grate some parmesan over the top.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

February 21, 2011: Izakaya Den

Having skimmed through the forty other blog reviews of Izakaya Den that we could dig up(see links below), I feel like I could auto-generate a decent enough post: a few sentences about the challenge of finding the place behind its mysterious entry-curtain, some sort of reference to Lost in Translation, a comment on the cute Yoshimoto Nara designs on the glasses, something about watching the food being prepared in front of you, a paragraph raving about the food and the service, and then a couple of sentences pondering the value for money given the smallish serving sizes.

Then I thought, "well, at least we're providing a vegetarian focussed review".  Until I discovered that we'd been beaten to the punch by a nine-year-old. So I'm not really sure what we're bringing to the table here. Ah well, here goes...

Neither of us were feeling very boozy, and we were pleasantly surprised to see a range of mocktails on the substantial drinks menu.

Cindy ordered the Lubiled high tea (ruby red grapefruit, fresh orange, cold oolong tea and sparkling blood orange, $12), which was probably the best mocktail I've ever tasted. The tea and the grapefruit meant that it wasn't just sweet or citrusy - it was a bit sour and still wonderfully sippable. My order (Fuji breezer: apple juice, fresh lime and shiso, pomegranate, $12) was more typical - it was like a wonderful softdrink, and at $12 you want something a bit more than a jumped up Tiro.

When it came to food we were a bit uncertain of our options - so often Japanese food that seems vegetarian will be flavoured with fish stock or tiny shrimp. Luckily the staff were highly knowledgeable and very helpful - pointing out all our options and double-checking for us that the dashi in one of the dishes was seaweed rather than seafood-based. We decided to start with four dishes and see how we felt before ordering more. First up was the sweet corn kaki-age, ($7) made famous by Johanna as the only vegetarian savoury dish on offer at the Taste of Melbourne Festival.

I guess the mocktails were going to our heads, because neither Cindy or I noticed the powdered green-tea salt that these came with until it was too late. Despite this oversight, these were pretty great - all crunchy, juicy and sweet. Given how wonderful the salt tasted when I rudely dipped my finger in it, I imagine this would be an amazing combo when eaten properly.

Our other starter was the grilled aspargus with miso-mayonaise ($9).

This was a simple but winning affair, relying on fresh and just-cooked spears of excellent asparagus and the winning combination of rich Japanese mayo and miso powder.

The first of our two bigger dishes was the stir-fried peppers, mushrooms and chilli-miso ($15).

The capsicum chunks in this dish were super crispy and surprisingly sweet, offset well by the slight bite of the chilli in the miso. Tucked away under all the pretty colours were a few chunks of tofu, which really soaked up the flavours of the sauce.

Finally, we had the greens, fried bean-curd and dashi ($10).

This was a fairly straightforward combination of greens and tofu skin bits in a light broth. Nothing too fancy, but nicely executed - it's rare to get dashi that's free from weird tuna-based powders.

Four dishes was just about enough for us in the end - we vacillated for a while about sampling the chocolate fondue but decided we should head home while we still felt like we'd had a healthy experience. The vegie food all felt pretty fresh and healthy - even the corn, which is basically battered, was cooked with a light touch. The service was helpful, friendly and efficient, and the menu provides pretty well for vegetarians (there were at least a couple of other dishes we didn't get to). Now that the hype has died down to the point where you can wander in at 6:30 on a weeknight and get a table straight away, Izakaya Den is probably worth swinging by. Just don't go when you're too poor or too hungry - we spent $65 on four dishes and 2 (non-alcoholic) drinks, and neither of us were particularly full.


Those forty blog reviews in full:

Veg experiences: The Big V.

Izakaya Den
114 Russell St, Melbourne
9654 2977
veg dishes $7-$15 (another useless restaurant website)

Accessibility: Izakaya Den is only accessible via stairs (at least as far as we saw). Inside is fairly dark and most tables are set high (though there is a large standard-height table at the far end).  All ordering and bill-paying is managed at the table. We didn't make it as far as the bathrooms to suss out their spaciousness.