Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August 26, 2011: Cafe Zum Zum II

It's been more than three years since we blogged about Cafe Zum Zum - it's still doing its thing with very few changes, at a few dollars more per plate. The entrée list has many tempting vegetarian options, while the mains include only one meat-free plate. Many dishes are heavy with dairy - a vegan could potentially cobble together a meal from entrées but I'd recommend calling ahead.

From our last visit I remembered sitting outside under weird blue lighting, eating feta pastries and chickpea salad. If only I'd remembered that we were stuffed from sharing four entrées, we might not have ordered three entrées and a main this time! Eep.

The sambousik ($14) are golden filo parcels stuffed with feta and mint, and everything you'd hope them to be.

The falafel ($12) are less memorable but still good, coated in a thick tahini sauce. I like that they come with a tart little side salad.

The highlight for me has always been the fatteh ($15), a chickpea salad dressed in yoghurt, tahini and olive oil, topped with tomatoes, mint and crispy squares of toasted bread. I would happily eat this solo, as a main, with a little fresh bread to mop up the dressing.

Finally, we checked out the pumpkin and eggplant tagine ($25). I didn't detect the pickled chillies listed on the menu but did strike a couple black olives. Brine hits excepted this is sweet and soft, just melting in the mouth.

We also received a basket of soft pita bread and dish of aromatic rice to soak up all the sauce. It was a lovely meal - too much food, though not too much to pay. 

You can read about our first visit to Cafe Zum Zum here. Since then it's had positive reviews on Cakestorm, food men & love and Melbourne Places, while Eat N Speak was disappointed with their experience.

Cafe Zum Zum
645 Rathdowne St, Carlton North
9348 0455
veg entrées $11-16, mains $25

Accessibility: Entry is average (no step, I don't think) and tables are a bit crowded. There's full table service. The lighting is fairly dim and it can get quite loud and echo-y.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August 22, 2011: Coconut bread (breakfast serial part xiv)

When I had my breakfast whinge on twitter way back in January, Anh rapidly replied with Bill's coconut bread as a suggestion. I found a recipe for it quickly enough on Lifestyle Food but only made proper use of it last week. Like banana bread this is really more cake than bread, leavened with baking powder and containing a substantial amount of sugar. It is undeniably coconutty and delicious!

I have good reason to believe that a vegan adaptation of the original recipe would work well. I subbed out the eggs and dairy milk mostly for convenience, and I reckon you could easily do the same with the butter. 

Coconut bread
(based on this recipe from Lifestyle Food)

2 egg-equivalents (I used Orgran's No Egg + water, as directed)
300mL milk (I used almond milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 1/2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup castor sugar
150g shredded coconut
75 g butter, melted (margarine should be fine)

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

Lightly whisk the eggs (or replacer) in a small bowl, then add the milk and vanilla and whisk further to combine.

In a larger bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir through the sugar and coconut. Pour in the milk mixture and stir until everything is just combined. Fold in the melted butter, again trying to avoid over-mixing. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and bake until the bread is golden on top and passes the skewer test, about 1 hour.

Monday, August 29, 2011

More for Melbourne's veg*ns

Hot on the heels of our blogiversary comes the 2nd birthday of Planet VeGMeL! Planet VeGMeL aggregates the posts of participating vegetarian and vegan bloggers in Melbourne. And us vegos are pretty keen participators - there's 44 of us at last count. We'll be celebrating both on- and offline.

The main event is a picnic potluck on September 18. All readers and friends of VeGMeL are invited, not just its contributing bloggers. Please bring a plate of vegan food and a smile! An RSVP on the facebook event page would also be helpful for the organisers.

For those of y'all with blogs, Steph is also hosting 'that recipe seems very familiar...'. This is a chance showcase the awesome recipes blogged by fellow VegMellers. Our wish list is long and we'll be trying and blogging as many as we can between now and the September 13-ish deadline.

In other news for local veg*ns, Melbourne's Fringe Food Festival is hosting a 5-course vegan dinner with Embrasse's Nic Poeleart and winemaker Neil Prentice on September 7. Get in quick for tickets! We really enjoyed Poeleart's way with vegetables at this year's Melbourne Food & Wine Festival and can't wait to see what he'll do when butter, cheese and eggs are off the menu.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

And the winner is...

Congratulations, Georgie! We'll be in touch.

Thanks to everyone who sent blogiversary well wishes and competition entries.  We really appreciate your support, and we're looking forward to spring as much as you are. I reckon we'll be enjoying a few of your favourite things, too, in the coming few months.

Friday, August 26, 2011

12 hours in (north) Melbourne

First up - don't forget that our blogiversary week competition closes tomorrow night.You can enter by reading and commenting on this post.

Second, it's our final feature for the week. Two and a half years have passed (half a blog lifetime ago!) since we published our personal 12-hour tour of Melbourne and it still gets visitors every week. In that time we've come upon some new favourites and we've realised that what we know better than Melbourne as a whole is Melbourne's inner north. Today we unveil our redesigned and more locally-based tour.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

August 20-21, 2011: Gleegan chocolate pecan pie

In the circles we run round in, a vegan potluck is not a vegan potluck without a table heaving with desserts. I did my bit by attempting a vegan and gluten-free version of the chocolate pecan pie I made last month.

The first challenge is the crust. When you're using neither butter nor wheat flour this is no trivial task. K and I have attempted a few different pastries of this kind (both separately and as a power-baking duo) with mixed results. I kinda wussed out and went for more of a biscuit base, pressing it into a square dish lined with baking paper. I've made this one before and knew what to expect. It was thicker than I intended but tasted fine - it doesn't need pity points on account of being gluten-free.

The second notable challenge is replacing the three eggs that are beaten into the filling. I suspected this would be a good opportunity to try a widely-used vegan egg replacer for the first time - crushed flax seeds in water. They whipped up into an impressive goop in the spice-grinder attachment to our food processor, and when combined with the other ingredients created a filling very much like the original. I made another change based on my pantry supplies - my corn syrup ran out and I started replacing it with maple syrup, then the maple syrup ran out and I made up the remainder with agave nectar. While I didn't notice a difference at that stage it may have affected the final flavour of the pie.

For all that, this pie did not turn out nearly as well as the original. Though I baked it for 10 minutes less, the caramel bubbled too much around the edges, toughening and burning a little. It also leaked down the side and under the biscuit base in some places, rendering it difficult to slice. I couldn't much taste the chocolate.

A nibble at the centre of the pie tells me that I've got the right ingredients together here, but a bit more thought's needed before I create a really great dessert from them.

Gleegan chocolate pecan pie
(a recipe inspired by this biscuit base and this pie filling)

225g vegan margarine
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 1/4 cups gluten-free plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

170g dark chocolate
2 cups pecans
3 tablespoons flax seeds
2/3 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup agave nectar
3 tablespoons castor sugar
4 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons brandy

Preheat the oven to 180°C, and line a medium baking dish with paper.

Mix together the margarine and brown sugar. Sift the flour and baking powder over them, and mix it all together well with a fork. Press the mixture into the baking dish; I layered plastic wrap over the mixture to help smooth the sticky dough out. Bake the base for 10-15 minutes, until just golden. Set the base aside to cool, and turn the oven down to 160°C.

Roughly chop the chocolate and spread it across the base of the pie.

Coarsely chop 3/4 cup of the pecans.

Grind the flax seeds in a spice grinder. Add the water and continue blending until it forms a smooth-ish gloop. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the corn syrup, maple syrup and agave nectar, then the sugars, oil, salt, vanilla and brandy. Whisk again until well combined. Stir in the chopped pecans, then slowly pour the caramel over the chocolate.

Arrange the remaining 1 1/4 cups pecan halves on top of the filling.

Bake the pie until it is set in the centre, about 50 minutes (test it with a knife). Allow the pie to cool, serving it warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

where's the best, 5 years on?

It's been the best part of a year since we've updated our where's the best? guide. There's much to add!

Our 2010 trip to Malaysia has brought dishes like nasi lemak and char koay teow to our kitchen. We've discovered Ottolenghi - mango and coconut rice salad, green couscous, eggplant dressed in buttermilk, gado gado, legume noodle soup... even this non-Ottolenghi quinoa avocado salad reminds us of him. We've also remained devoted to Viva Vegan, learning how to make our own tortillas and stuffing them with tofu chicharrones or chimichurri baked tofu. There's been a bit of a tofu resurgence all round, including basic braising and this pomegranate version. A comic taught us how to cook asparagus! And we've been eating a bit of pasta. I've embarked on a quest for more varied breakfasts, and it has peaked with tahini granola. Of course I can always find an excuse for dessert, more of them vegan than ever - salted caramel icecream, home-made ice magic, apple peanut butter crumble slice, and chocolate pecan pie.

We've added a few new northside cafes to our rotation, including Cibi, Grigons & Orr, Jackson Dodds, The Mercy Seat, Proud Mary and Three Bags Full. Our new favourite south of the river is Monk Bodhi Dharma, and Mister Close is offering nice weekend breakfasts in the city. For dinner we've been digging Discobeans, Izakaya Den, Naked for Satan and The Tramway Hotel. Visits to Easy Tiger, Warung Agus and the Royal Mail Hotel were pretty special, and I've had lovely desserts at Coco Loco and LuxBite.

There've been a few favourites closing too: Court Jester, Plush Pizza, Penang Affair and Bande A Part. Though we'll miss them, we know we're still spoiled for choice. We're adding restaurants and recipes to our to-try and confirmed-favourites list far faster than we ever need to take them off! There's enough out there for another five years' blogging, no doubt.

What noteworthy new discoveries have you made in 2011 so far?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

August 21, 2011: Szechuan pepper tofu with wasabi pea sauce

Along with our blog's fifth birthday spring give-away spectacular, we decided to have an actual real-life celebration of veg food to mark the occasion. We gathered our usual potluck crew for a Sunday afternoon vegan, gluten-free binge, a veritable smorgasbord of deliciousness. Everyone came through with the goods (chocolate-coated root beer ice-cream! the most amazing black-bean sauce of all-time!! choc-berry tarts!!! Buffalo tofu!!!! and so much more!!!!!). It was a lovely afternoon, and having a dozen people in our house who we'd never have met without the blog was a fitting way to mark five years since we started. 

My attempt to impress involved shallow-fried Szechuan tofu fish-fingers with a wasabi pea puree, inspired by VeggieNumNum. This was an easy combo to whip up and one that is guaranteed to impress. The Szechuan peppers gave a tingly numbing kick to the tofu strips, which combined a crunchy rice-crumb exterior and a lemony-soy tofu interior. The pea mush was a striking green colour and gave the illusion of being guacamole - it tastes nothing like avocado, so you've got to try to manage your expectations. As long as you're not expecting guac, it's a tasty treat, with the sweetness of the peas cut through by the wasabi tang. I'll probably go heavier on both the Szechuan and the wasabi next time. Rest assured there will be a next time.

Szechuan pepper tofu
(from Veggie num num)

1kg tofu, cut into fish-finger sized rectangles
juice of 2 lemons
3-4 tablespoons tamari
5 teaspoons of ground Szechuan pepper corns (I'd go higher here next time, I was playing it safe for the potluck gang)
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups rice crumbs
2 teaspoons corn flour
plenty of oil for frying

Combine the lemon juice and tamari in a baking tray and marinate the tofu in it for 20 minutes or so (I even turned my tofu pieces once, but that's probably not essential).

Combine the rice crumbs, Szechuan pepper, white pepper and salt in a bowl. This is your crumbing mix.

Take the tofu out of the marinade and pat it down with some paper towels to dry. Combine the remaining marinade with the cornflour and whisk until smooth.

Heat a 1/2 cm layer of oil in a frying pan until it's nice and hot. Then, dip your tofu in the cornflour/tamari/lemon mix and coat it in the crumbing mixture before dropping it in the frying pan.

Do this for a pan-load of tofu pieces - by the time you get all the pieces in (about 4 minutes I'd guess) it'll be time to flip the first pieces you put in. The crumbs go nice and hard and you end up with something very reminiscent of a fish finger.

We've got a big frying pan and this still took us three batches to get done - we kept our cooked tofu in a covered container to retain some warmth while we finished the job. I think these are best eaten at once - ours had turned a little dry by the time they'd cooled down.

Wasabi pea sauce

(again, via Veggie num num)

Note: because I doubled Trudy's quantities for the tofu, I did the same for the pea puree. This is not necessary! Below are the quantities I used, but beware that this makes more pea puree than you could possibly use.

5 cups frozen peas
1 cup water
3 teaspoons wasabi

Combine the peas and the water in a large fry-pan over medium heat. Get things simmering and let them bubble along, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes. The peas should be bright green and nice and soft.

Pour the pea/water mix into a blender and whizz to a thick, bright mush.

Stir through the wasabi (add more or less depending on your tastes - it was definitely noticeable at these quantities, but I might kick it up a notch next time).

Monday, August 22, 2011

5 years, still no beef

Today marks five years since our first post here at where's the beef?. It's getting difficult to remember what we did with ourselves in our blog-less days with only a dial-up connection to check our email. (I think I read more books... and I suspect Michael watched more sport.)

In that time we've written about 401 different restaurants across 563 posts and tried 602 vegetarian recipes. That includes 75 breakfast venues and 25 pubs, 31 flavours of home-made ice-cream, 42 soups and tofu cooked 56 ways in our kitchen alone.

We've more trouble counting the friends that we've made, the things that we've learned, or the number of days in that time that have been cheered by your comments, tweets and emails. As a thank-you for your support, we'd like to run a giveaway for our Australia-based readers this week. The prize is a $60 gift voucher to spend at the Radical Grocery (if you're in Melbourne) or at the Cruelty Free Shop (if you're anywhere else in Oz)... PLUS we'll donate an additional $60 to the World Food Programme in your name. We reckon these folks all do great work and we'd be proud to support them on your behalf.

To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us what or where you're most looking forward to eating this spring. It could be a seasonal ingredient, a recipe just not quite right for winter, a favourite picnic spot or beer garden... there must be something that you've been hanging out to have these cold couple of months! If you do not already have an email address or twitter account attached to your commenting profile, please send us an email entry as well to wheresthebeef_blog[at], so that we can contact you in the event that you win. Entries close at midnight ending Saturday August 28 and the winner will be randomly drawn and announced on Sunday August 29.

Between now and the prize draw we've got a few posts for you following the five-year theme. Cheers!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

August 20, 2011: Munsterhaus II

Edit 07/03/2020: Munsterhaus is now closed.

Despite our initial enthusiasm, it's taken us more than a year to make a return visit to Munsterhaus. In part this is to do with their trading hours - they're basically a lunch place and are closed on Sundays. Given our weekend breakfast habit, it's a rare Saturday that we're looking around for somewhere to go for lunch. There's also something summery about Munsterhaus - the bulk of the food is salady, and the big windows are made for letting in the sunshine, so it hasn't been a priority over winter. So when spring suddenly appeared on a fairly quiet Saturday we jumped on our bikes and headed over for a revisit.

Not much has changed since we were first there - the setup is as cute and stylish as ever and the dining options are the same: small ($9), medium ($12.5) or large ($16) plates filled with a pick 'n' mix of salads and hot dishes. Even some of the dishes are the same - we both returned for another go at the delicious tempeh and broccoli salad, but otherwise we mixed things up a little.

I had a medium plate with one of the hot dishes (a mild coconut and tofu curry) served on a little scoop of quinoa, alongside a few garlicky brussel sprouts, the aforementioned tempeh, another broccoli based salad (this one with marinated tofu), a chickpea salad and a miso-flavoured noodle salad. There's a dab of tofu-based dip somewhere in there as well.

Everything was excellent - lots of fresh vegies turned into creatively flavoured salads. I think next time I'll ditch the hot meals altogether (the curry was fine, but it kind of seeped into all the other dishes) and just compile a salad plate. The glazed slivers of crispy sesame tempeh were the stand-out, but that's hardly a surprise. It's wonderful to go out and eat a big plate of delicious food and not feel like you're being particularly unhealthy.

Cindy had the broccoli and brussel sprouts as well, but otherwise ordered completely differently to me. She used a lentil and brown rice dish as her base and then piled a couple of okara patties on top with a few crispy polenta triangles and a big dollop of spicy cashew dip.

She was equally happy with her choices - particularly the okara patties, which were almost like unprocessed chicken-nuggets and were an excellent vessel for the cashew dip.

Having ordered a small plate, Cindy felt justified in trying out Munsterhaus' dessert. She ordered a slice of flourless chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla icecream on top ($6).

This was a pleasant dessert - the cake was a bit light on the cocoa, but Cindy liked the coarse home-ground texture of the almonds. I think she'd have been better off getting a bigger plate of savoury delights.

I'm not sure how much of my positivity about this lunch is related to the utter gorgeousness of the weather in Melbourne. We went for a wander along Merri Creek afterwards and everything seemed right with the world, so it's hard to feel anything but great about our lunch. Munsterhaus was the perfect fit for the day, healthy, tasty and loaded with veggies. The service was friendly and the coffee was fine (although Cindy wasn't the excited by her chai). Vegans should have no problems - I think my plate was accidentally vegan and only the yoghurt on Cindy's brown-rice dish un-veganed her plate. There was at least one vegan dessert on offer as well. Pick a sunny Saturday and go!

Read about our first visit to Munsterhaus here. Since then, Juganaut and Words@Random have given it the thumbs up.

371 St Georges Road, North Fitzroy
veg lunches $9 - $16, cakes ~$6

Accessibility: There's a flat entryway into a reasonably spacious and well-lit interior. Ordering requires you to look at your options across a reasonably high counter, and payment etc all takes place there.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

August 19, 2011: Beatbox Kitchen

We've stopped by Beatbox Kitchen a few times in the last six months. They roam around the inner suburbs, usually loitering northside and often favouring the intersection of Rathdowne and Park Streets. Our first visit in early autumn felt almost like a festival - the adjacent green space was occupied by many dozens of urbanites, most with a bike and some with a child in tow, the best prepared carrying picnic rugs or BYO booze. Now it's much quieter, with just a few clusters of hoodie-clad folks close by.

The menu's short and sweet: a beef burger, vege burger, fries, water and Coke.  I'd rate the Shroom Burger ($10) as one of the best around. It's a generous but not over-the-top portion in a nicely designed wrapper that catches the worst drips. The bun is light yet sturdy enough to hold everything together and soaks up the juices from the whole mushroom that serves as a patty. There's also melted gouda cheese, tomato, lettuce, onion and stereo sauce. I believe that they'll cater to vegans on request by omitting the cheese and replacing the mayo-based sauce with tomato relish. It's a good deal, as I think I'd be just as happy without the cheese anyway.

The fries ($5) are also decently portioned, and in the non-greasy shoe-string style. I'd just prefer a heavier hand with the sauce.

Given Beatbox are not providing a venue, as such, you might consider this meal on the steep side. But for a vege burger as good as this one I'm willing to cough up.

Beatbox's shroom burger has inspired poetry at The Big V. Its other wares also earn nice words at MEL: HOT OR NOT, FreshToast, Dave Plus Food, things that make you go POO and Multicultural Melbourne.

Beatbox Kitchen
Location announced via twitter and facebook
veg burgers $10 each, chips $5

Accessibility: This will vary mostly with location, however the counter is very high.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August 13, 2011: Halava (breakfast serial part xiii)

Here's a recipe that will be recognised by anyone who's ever frequented a Krishna restaurant - halava, or semolina pudding. I first encountered it as a student visiting Govindas in Brisbane and have long had a recipe for it stored away in Kurma Dasa's Vegetarian World Food. I got to witness its making in a cooking class with Kurma last year and now, finally, I'm trying my own hand at it.

If you've not come by it before this is a fluffy, grain-based pudding studded with dried fruit and often served with custard. While this recipe uses raisins, walnuts and dates I suspect you could try almost anything. Just this morning I saw a fabulous-looking version with pineapple juice, cashews and saffron (wow! saffron!) on Veggie Belly. Kurma also helpfully notes that you can use polenta instead of semolina for a gluten-free version.

I actually had intentions of eating this for breakfast and so reduced the amount of sugar involved by a third. Regardless this remained intensely sweet and dessert-like, and I enjoyed it most with a large mug of hot unsweetened tea. Halawa keeps just fine for ages in the fridge (and might even survive a while at room temperature) but the texture's never quite the same as when it's freshly steamed and stirred - it gets pretty dense as it cools and/or gets packed away for storage.

(slightly adapted from a recipe by Kurma Dasa)

3 1/4 cups water
1 cup sugar (I used 3/4 cup jaggary and 1/4 cup castor sugar)
1/3 cup raisins
grated zest of 2 lemons
180g butter
1 1/2 cups semolina
1/3 cup walnut pieces
3/4 cup dates, chopped

In a medium-large saucepan, stir together the water, sugar, raisins and lemon zest. Bring them to the boil, with a couple of stirs along the way to dissolve the sugar, then turn the heat down to low and cover with a lid.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the semolina and gently roast it in the butter for 20 minutes, stirring regularly for even cooking. Add the walnuts at the 10-minute mark. It should smell great once it's done!

Bring the sugar syrup back to a rolling boil and pour it into the semolina, stirring as you go. (I did this in about 4 doses.) Keep stirring the pudding, letting the grain soak up all the liquid. When it's all absorbed fold in the  dates, cover the saucepan with a lid and take it off the heat. Allow the pudding to steam like this for about 10 minutes. Then fluff up the grains a bit with a spoon and serve it out. Serve a little less than you expect - it's surprisingly rich and if you want to, you can always go back for seconds.

Monday, August 15, 2011

August 14, 2011: Mixed Business III

Without much forethought we managed to make the most of Sunday morning's mild weather, slowly riding the scenic route to Mixed Business for a late breakfast with Mike and Jo. We weren't surprised that it was busy; we put our names down and accepted a table outside when it was offered up a quarter-hour later. Though we and the waitress all assumed inside would be superior, we were blessed with lots of sun and no smokers in the vicinity.

The menu has changed a little since we last documented a meal here but it follows the same themes - lots of interesting savoury things on toast, a couple of sweeties, a goodly proportion of vegetarian options but not much that's vegan.

Coffees arrived promptly but food took a lot longer; the former had folks a lot more forgiving of the latter! Michael was very pleased with the free range poached eggs on sourdough with paprika and capsicum red beans, lemon and manchego ($14), though mushing it all together while keeping it on the plate was a challenge.

Once I read 'gingerbread waffles' ($14.50), I could look no further. They had a great crispy-yet-not-tough texture but were a little short on the spice for me. The gorgeous maple syrup baked apple slices were all I needed as topping... the vanilla bean icecream and candied walnuts were complementary but over-the-top by my breakfast criteria.

Even though we were tucked out the back at a busy hour, service was prompt and friendly throughout. Mixed Business carries its busy-ness well.

You can read about a couple of our previous visits to Mixed Business here and here. Since last time it's received positive mentions on " pleases us", Melbourne Gastronome, The World According to Wooly, MEL: HOT OR NOT, imakecake eats Melbourne, finicalgal (though she waited a long time to eat), Jentopia and Gastroeconomy.

Mixed Business
486 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill
9486 1606
veg breakfasts $5.50-$14

Accessibility: Tables out front are roomy and under cover. The entrance, although flat, has a door that's a bit of a hassle to open (still, people seem to get prams in there!). Tables inside and out back are a bit crowded, though there's a wide path through the middle. There's full table service; we didn't visit the toilets.

Friday, August 12, 2011

August 10, 2011: Legume Noodle Soup

By the middle of August, the Melbourne winter really starts to get you down. It rained for hours on Wednesday as Cindy's cold turned her into a grumpy, snotty couch-hog. The only solution was soup. And what better soup than this amazing treat from Ottolenghi's Guardian blog (first drawn to our attention by Kathryn at Limes and Lycopenes). It's a rich and hearty combination of proteins and carbs, with spinach to make you feel healthy plus loads of fresh herbs and a crucial twist of lime juice for flavour. It's like comfort in a pot - the perfect cure to winter's worst blues.

We took some lazier options than recommended by Ottolenghi - canned chickpeas and beans, packaged stock and linguine rather than Iranian noodles. The stock was probably a tad on the salty side - this would no doubt work better with home-made vegie stock but if you're using store-bought like we did, I'd recommend leaving the seasoning until right at the end. You might find it doesn't need anything extra. Regardless, this has gone straight onto our list of classic winter meals - I'd say we'll get back to it again even before this one is over.

Ash-e reshteh/Legume noodle soup
(based on this recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi)

80g butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
10 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
half a bunch of green onions, sliced finely (white and green parts kept separate)
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
salt and pepper
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can butter beans, drained and rinsed
225g yellow split peas
2 litres vegie stock
2/3 cup chopped parsley
2/3 cup chopped coriander
1/3 cup chopped dill
150g baby spinach leaves
100g dry linguine
200g sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and sautee the onion, garlic and white parts of the green onions for about 20 minutes, until completely soft and starting to brown up. Stir in the turmeric plus some salt and pepper (maybe skip the salt here if you're using salty stock) and cook for a minute or so. Scoop out about a third of the onion mix and set aside for garnishing purposes.

Add the chickpeas, butter beans, split peas and stock and bring to a simmer. Cook for 30-40 minutes until the split peas are nice and soft, scooping off any frothy scum that comes to the surface.

Add in the fresh herbs, the green onions and the spinach and stir everything together. Cook for another 15 minutes or so. Add in the linguine and cook for 8-10 minutes until the it's nicely cooked. Stir through 150g of the sour cream plus the vinegar and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Serve garnished with a spoonful of the reserved onion mix, a dollop of sour cream and with the juice of half a lime stirred through. And with a home-made naan if you've got any lying around.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August 6, 2011: The Mercy Seat II

Edit 07/06/2012: The Mercy Seat is now closed.
Our first visit to The Mercy Seat had acted as a kind of cruel taunt to our coeliac buddy K from In the Mood for Noodles so when she discovered they'd started providing some gluten-free options, she and Toby grabbed us for a quick weekend lunch (and turned around a blog quicker than we have!).

Cindy and I had spent our first visit eyeing off the various dishes we hadn't ordered, so were happy to have another chance at the menu. Cindy went with the vegan BLT bagel (seasoned vegetarian bacon with sliced tomato, lettuce and house-made mayo on a savoury bagel, $8). The 'bacon' seemed to be a slightly tastier version than the standard Sanitarium fare (Redwood maybe) and the bagel was nicely toasted, but it turned out a little on the dry side. A heavier hand with the mayo would take this to a yummier place.

I decided to split two savoury dishes, thanks to Toby's enthusiasm for sharing. First up, the scrambled tofu I'd admired from afar on our first visit (pan-fried organic scrambled tofu, sautéed with sweet Spanish onion and sliced avocado on toasted rye, $10).

This was as good as it looks - turmeric and cayenne pepper were the most obvious spices in the tofu mix, but I reckon they might have snuck some cumin in as well. It's a generous serve for $10, especially with the avo on the side. Impressive.

Our other split savoury was the Philly cheesesteak roll (torn vegetarian beef chunks, sauteed with chopped mushrooms, bell peppers and onion, covered with a melted cheese sauce on an organic baguette roll, $11/$11.50 with vegan cheese).

This is like the dapper little brother of the EBC's terrifyingly delicious cheesesteak roll with some pretty excellently flavoured mock-meat in a fresh, crusty. It's awkward to eat, especially with the thick layer of yellow sauce on top (the vegan version, possibly made using nooch, is pictured). A bit junkier than the scrambled tofu and not quite as great as the blackened tofu burger I had last time but still a success.

Along with g-f bread, the Mercy Seat had added a homemade lemonade to their repertoire since our first trip - at $2 a glass this is a sweet and tangy treat that taunts you by looking just like a delicious mojito would.

Cindy was keen to sample one of the desserts (all vegan on our visit), opting for this cupcake ($4).

This was ordered in part to satisfy K's curiousity - she'd seen someone at another table get one and thought that it might have been vegan meringue. It was just prettily swirled two-tone vanilla icing though, on a tasty little vanilla cupcake.

We're two wins from two attempts at The Mercy Seat - they've got a small menu of really well-priced vegan-friendly meals. They were doing a pretty good trade on Saturday, so the word is clearly getting out.

Read about our first visit to The Mercy Seat here. Since then, Mapping the Peace have given it a good write-up.

The Mercy Seat
31 Johnston Street, Collingwood
no phone
brekkies $7.5 - $10, lunches $10-$12
Facebook page

Accessibility: Flat entryway with a small step between the front room and the room with the counter (which is where you order and pay). It's fairly spacious and easy to get around, although we didn't suss out the bathroom situation.

Monday, August 08, 2011

July 30-31, 2011: Spiced yoghurt eggplant & naan

July and August's calendar recipes were designed to be cooked together, and we found plenty of time to do this on the last weekend in July. I started out with the naan on Saturday - my dry yeast was a bit old and I couldn't work as much flour into the dough as the recipe listed, but they still puffed up nicely in the frypan. The test naan we nibbled was lovely, light and buttery though a little sweet for our taste.

On Sunday Michael took responsibility for the spiced yoghurt eggplant. The eggplant rounds soaked up staggering amounts of oil as we fried them - we'll use a much lighter touch next time. The sauce is a cinch to stir together but a little more care is needed to cook the eggplant in it, if you want to retain their shape. While they weren't exactly pretty they were very, very tasty. The naan was perfect for mopping up the extra turmeric-stained oil on our plates. Leftovers microwaved magnificently, stretching the meal into August as intended.

Spiced yoghurt eggplant
(a recipe that seems to be online here, here and here)

2 large eggplants
1 tablespoon oil
2 green cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida powder
1 cup yoghurt
2 teaspoons fennel seed powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
more oil to fry

Slice the eggplant into thick rounds and fry them in oil until golden brown. You can deep-fry, shallow-fry or alternatively recipes say you can brush the eggplant in oil and grill it - though they may mean American grilling, which I'd call barbecuing or dry-frying. Drain the eggplant on absorbent paper once cooked.

Heat the tablespoon of oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the cardamom pods and asafoetida, tossing them around, then stir in the yoghurt. Add the fennel, turmeric, chilli and ginger powders, stirring to combine and cooking for about 4 minutes. Add the fried eggplant, gently layering them up and slathering them in the yoghurt as you go. Turn down the heat, cover the saucepan, and cook gently for a further 4 minutes. Season to taste and serve with naan and fresh greens.

(looks like it's sourced from

1 x 7g packet active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup castor sugar (I would use less next time)
3 tablespoons milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons salt
3 1/2 cups bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1/4 cup butter, melted

In a large bowl, stir together the yeast and warm water until the yeast is completely dissolved. Let the mixture rest for 10 minutes, after which it should be a bit frothy. Stir in the sugar, milk, egg, and salt, then gradually add flour to make a soft dough (the original recipe had 4 1/2 cups flour, but I couldn't work that much into it). Knead the dough for 6-8 minutes, until smooth. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover it with a damp cloth and set it aside to rise for about an hour.

By this time the dough should have doubled in volume (mine hadn't, but I persevered anyway). Pinch off golf ball-sized portions of dough, roll them into balls and place them on a baking tray. Cover the tray with a towel and allow the dough to rise for a further 30 minutes. They should double in volume again (mine didn't).

Heat up and lightly grease a frypan. Roll out a dough-ball at a time into a thin circle or oval (mine were about 4mm thick) and lie them out in the frypan, cooking for 2-3 minutes on the first side. When it's lightly browned and a bit puffy, brush the top side with melted butter and flip the naan over to cook on the other side for 2-4 minutes. Transfer the finished naan to a plate and continue with the remaining dough. Serve warm with your favourite curry.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

July 31, 2011: Slow down! at Harley Court

January 2016: Slow down! at Harley Court has closed

Last weekend was unseasonably warm so, along with about half of Melbourne's population, we set out for St Kilda for lunch and some sun. Stickifingers recently alerted us that Slow Down! at Harley Court has a new menu that's two-thirds vegetarian and vegan so we resisted a return visit to the Galleon and checked it out.

Part of this restaurant's interest in veg-friendly meals no doubt stems from its slow food ethos: Slow Down aim to source 90% of their produce from within 200km and make it seasonal, sustainable and organic wherever they can. (This means that there's no guarantee that what we ate will be on the menu if you choose to visit.) One of their sneaky approaches to upping the veg ratio is offering four kinds of soup. Granted, they are great sounding soups (minestrone, pumpkin and garlic, cream of mushroom and celeriac, cream of cauliflower, nutmeg and pangrattato - made with soy cream!), but I generally prefer something I can get my teeth into when eating out.

Michael tried the casserole of the day, a mix of chickpeas and vegetables in tomato sauce, served with toast (~$10). We were surprised at how small the serving was and though the quality of the vegetables was good, Michael wasn't much inspired by the flavour.

My vegetarian rendition of the Big Breakfast ($14.90) was more impressive. The beans were similarly under-seasoned but the mushrooms and spinach more than made up for it, just bursting with flavour - I guess that's local, seasonal produce for you. And few things endear me to a cafe quite so much as a hand-made hash brown. The eggs were well poached but I'm more of a scramble gal myself - I forgot to specify my preference to our waiter, he didn't ask, and I guess the chef just took a punt. At least it was a skilled punt.

It's hard to get enthusiastic about a venue with a slow turnaround; we waited a looooong time for our meals to arrive even though there would have been little else queued up at that time. Some other bloggers have reported similar waits.  The lunch menu was a mixed bag, largely saved by the quality produce rather than the preparation, and I'd be more interested in returning for breakfast or dinner - the options looks a little more diverse at these times.

Eat More Vegies found far fewer vegan options when visiting last year. All the omni eaters blogging Slow Down! have enjoyed the food, though there are mixed reports of the service; see Social Change Room, The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua, Pete Does Stuff and KC's Food Affairs.

Slow Down! at Harley Court
56 Acland St, St Kilda
8534 3030
veg lunches $9.50-$15

Accessibility: There is outdoor seating at street level (the ground is a bit uneven) and multiple stairs up to the covered and indoor seating; tables are somewhat crowded in together. There's full table service. We didn't visit the toilets.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

July 30, 2011: Perfumed chocolate slice

A couple of years ago I had an online conversation with Anna. She was adapting her mum's chocolate slice recipe to suit her friend's dietary needs, had good replacements for flour and butter on the go, and was exploring her options for eliminating the egg. She found success with Orgran. These days one of my own friends is on a similar diet and I pulled this recipe out for her.

It's the kind of thing that my mum made when I was a kid too - a simple crunchy chocolate-coconut base spread with chocolate icing. Overconfident with a one-bowl recipe, I managed to completely mess up my first batch by forgetting to add the coconut. Ridiculous. That slice was one oily, black over-baked puck. Thankfully the ingredients are quite straightforward and, in my pantry, plentiful so I was able to start over. This batch fared much better although it was still very oily, soaking through the kitchen paper I stored it on. I wonder if my chunky, home-processed almond meal might have affected the texture, as I can imagine finer almond meal mixing through the wet ingredients more effectively.

I dressed the slice up a little, adding rosewater to the icing and sprinkling crushed pistachios over the top. They really alter its look, aroma and taste.

Perfumed chocolate slice
(adapted from a recipe on Anna's Sharing My Interests)

1 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2/3 cup brown sugar
150mL sunflower oil (this seemed too much)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon Orgran No-Egg, mixed into 2 tablespoons water
3/4 cup dessicated coconut

1 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon rosewater
1-3 tablespoons hot water
1/4 cup pistachios, chopped

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line a baking tray (mine was 22cm square) with paper.

In a bowl, stir together the almond meal, bicarbonate of soda, cocoa and sugar. Whisk in the oil, vanilla and egg replacer. Add the dessicated coconut and stir well to combine. Pour the mixture into the tray, smooth over the top with the back of a spoon and bake until cooked through, about 20 minutes.

When the slice is ready and cooling on the bench, chop the pistachios and make the icing. Stir the icing sugar and cocoa together in a bowl and sprinkle over the rosewater. Add a little hot water at a time, whisking together the mixture until you have a consistency you like. Spread the icing over the slice and sprinkle over the pistachios, pressing them lightly into the icing to stick.

Slice and serve!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

July 30, 2011: Mister Close II

With another trip to the Queen Vic Markets lined up for Saturday morning, Cindy and I had a quick brainstorm of city breakfast ideas before inevitably settling on a return visit to Mister Close. Our first trip had been such a success that we thought we should go back and sample some more of their wares.

Things were humming along a bit more than on our first trip - disturbingly, the place was still not as full as Starbucks next door - but they had a decent crowd in by 11am. The menu is unchanged but we still had plenty of things we wanted to try. In particular Cindy was keen on the ricotta hotcakes (with rhubarb and passionfruit butter, $15.50), though for some reason they were unavailable. Instead she reluctantly went for the chocolate French toast (with maple and marscapone, $13.50).

I was expecting the actual bread to be chocolate based, so the reality of this was more restrained than my mental image. Still - chocolate spread sandwiches made of eggy fried bread and drowned in syrup and marscapone is a pretty indulgent start to the day. The spread was melted chocolate (not Nutella as Cindy thought) and this was as sweet and desserty as it looks. Cindy enjoyed the bread and chocolate but the left most of the syrup on the plate.

I stuck with my typical savoury approach to breakfast with the Amalfi eggs (scrambled with fried onion, tomato, chopped olives, shaved parmesan and truffle oil).

This had kind of the reverse problem to Cindy's - between the olives and the truffle oil it was very, very savoury. It didn't quite have the balance of my dish last time, but it was still a decent enough start to the day.

The coffees were good again and the service was as friendly and efficient as last time. We were a bit less wowed by the food this time around but I'd still recommend Mister Close for people trying to hunt down a weekend CBD meal.

Since we first visited: Two Munch, Caffeine City, Checks and Spots, A Bit of Butter and Melbournian Girl have given Mister Close the thumbs up, while Food Cautious and That Jess Ho were a bit less impressed.

Mister Close
Shop 13, Midtown Plaza, 246 Bourke St, CBD
9654 7778
veg brekkies $4.5 - $18.5

Accessibility: Mister Close is step-free and there's plenty of space between tables. Ordering and payment happens at the table. We didn't make it to the bathrooms.

Monday, August 01, 2011

July 29, 2011: Warung Agus

Warung Agus is a family-run restaurant that's been serving up Balinese food for more than two decades. A post about it on Confessions of a Food Nazi brought it to our attention and is as thorough a write-up as you should need. It's been more than two years, though, since AOF's review was published and what's more, I am a ridiculous completist, so I'm going to write about it too! A restaurant this lovely deserves renewed endorsement every so often.

Warung Agus is just about as veg-friendly as meat-serving restaurants get. All the vegetarian dishes are marked with a V on the menu and we hear that (with the possible exception of dessert) they're all vegan. Roughly half the items have that V on them and they're appetising, protein-rich dishes.

Another feature that I appreciate? A full page of interesting non-alcoholic beverages. Many are, admittedly, Balinese-style preparations of tea and coffee that you might not want with your meal, but you can also get house-made iced fruit drinks featuring lemon, banana or avocado ($7). I know I should be more adventurous but a sweet'n'sour lemon drink hooks me every time - all the better that this one features slushy blended ice.

There was a minor seating mishap on the night, meaning that we needed to shift tables between ordering and receiving our food. While we weren't all that put out the staff were enormously apologetic, with the manager/chef even emerging from the kitchen to thank us for our understanding and give us a complimentary basket of cassava chips (krupuk singkong, normally $6), assuring us that the peanut sauce was not garnished with shrimp paste. (We hadn't said the v-word all night but he clearly noticed from our order - amazing!) What a treat - these are thick, airy, crunchy and lightly spiced crackers with the silkiest peanut sauce I've ever eaten. I could barely believe my eyes when, once two-thirds of the way through the crackers, they replaced our sauce with another fresh, hot bowlful! Heaven.

The vegetarian nasi campur ($28) is a tasty sampler of crunchy sweet-soy tempeh, sesaur (spiced golden shredded coconut sweetened with palm sugar), pecel (mung beans) and peanut sauce-smothered tofu around steamed rice, with a few lightly pickled vegetables on the side. Not pictured are the complimentary condiments - a tangy lemongrass-chilli mix and a fiery chilli sauce that Michael dug into with equal enthusiasm.

As I gobbled my share of the nasi campur I gave our other main a couple of sidelong glances. The monochrome tuung mebasa santen lalah manis ($20) couldn't possibly rival it, right? Actually, this dish of eggplant and tofu was just as gob-smackingly good! The gravy is smoky, sweet soy-ish and satiny with a splash of coconut milk. We were glad for some extra rice ($3) to soak up as much of it as possible.

Dessert was not an option. Our mains were incredibly filling (I fear the banquet!), and had plenty of palm sugar and coconut milk to go round anyway. I expect a lot of mains exceeding $20 and I reckon these delivered. The food was quite sweet and (coconut-)creamy across the board, but the condiments provided let hot-heads season to taste. Sweeter still were the staff! They were faultlessly welcoming and sufficiently attentive. I'll gladly return when I've a somewhat special occasion to celebrate.

(It's hard to believe but our meal was ultimately upstaged by the evening's entertainment. Compared to the two years I've sat on AOF's review, I've been waiting a decade for Pulp to return down under. They were kind enough to bring their greatest hits, a dorky laser show and a dolphin with them.)

Everyone who blogs Warung Agus seems to love it! Our inspiration for visiting was AOF's two-year-old post. There's another veg-focused review at In The Mood For Noodles. It's also been covered on foodoalbum, Foodiefile, eat, drink, stagger and The misadventures of MissC.

Warung Agus
305 Victoria St, West Melbourne
9329 1737
veg entrees $6-14, veg mains $19-28, extras $3

Accessibility: There is a small step up into the restaurant and a step down between the two dining rooms. Tables have only low-to-medium amounts of space around them, though a fairly wide path has been made from the front door, right around to the farthest tables. There's full table service. We didn't visit the toilets. The air is very thick with incense so beware if you have a sensitive olfactory system.