Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chipotle carrot chips

March 24, 2012
I have a deep and abiding love for potato chips and when I crave potato chips, I will accept no substitute. Thankfully I wasn't particularly fixed on potato chips when I tried this recipe for carrot chips and they forged their own identity as a tasty snack or side. Carrots roast up sweetly and softly, not quite as fluffy as a potato but far less soggy than a sweet potato. The charred bits crisp up delicately but teeter on all-out burning.

While we're on the topic of burning, these chips are dressed in chipotle chili for some extra smoky heat, à la Tofu for Two. I cooled them down with a little mayonnaise and I imagine that the original accompanying avocado dip is even better.

Chipotle carrot chips
(a recipe from Tofu for Two)

2 teaspoons mashed chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
a dash of olive oil
4 medium-large carrots

Preheat an oven to 200°C. Line a baking tray with paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the mashed chiles and olive oil. Chop the carrots into sticks (not too fine!) and toss them in the chipotle dressing until evenly coated all over. Spread the carrot sticks out on the baking tray so that they're a well-spaced as possible. Sprinkle over some salt and bake until tender and caramelised, 20-40 minutes. Toss them at least once as they bake. (The original recipe says they take up to 50 minutes, but ours needed only half that - presumably they were a lot thinner.)

Serve with a cooling condiment.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cafe Lua III

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

March 24, 2012
Cafe Lua has become our go-to option when we want to grab a quick, local breakfast. The menu is extensive and interesting enough to keep us from getting bored, the staff are always lovely and the cafe itself is stylish and spacious.

This time around, Cindy and I both hit up eggy options – I had the corn cake stack with avocado, roast tomato, mushrooms (instead of the standard bacon), coriander pesto and a poached egg ($16). The corn cake had a nicely fried exterior and was filled with crunchy corn kernels and capsicum pieces – it was an excellent base for the pesto, poached egg and perfect half-avocado to be mushed together on top of. I even ate half the tomato before palming the rest off on Cindy.

Cindy built her own breakfast – a simple combo of fried eggs and avocado on corn toast ($11.50). The eggs were a bit runnier than she likes them (although they’d have been perfect for me), but otherwise she was pretty happy with her rare foray into the savoury side of the breakfast menu.

The word is evidently getting out there about Cafe Lua - by the time we left they were packed to the rafters, with a steady stream of people dropping in for takeaway coffee. It’s great to see an unpretentious and consistent cafe like this becoming a success – let’s just hope we don’t end up having to queue for a table.


Read about our first two visits to Cafe Lua here and here. There's been a few more positive reviews since our last visit - check out Fitzroyalty, Green Gourmet Giraffe and Her Lifestyle Project.

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

Accessibility: There's no step as you come in and the cafe is spacious and well-lit (although things get a bit crowded when it fills up with people waiting for takeaways). Ordering takes place at the table, with payment at a low-ish counter. We still haven't checked out the toilets.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Eggy quesadillas

March 20-22, 2012
While Michael toured New Zealand, my work days lengthened a little and I cooked for one. I started out preparing dishes he hates - a pineapple-spiked stir-fry stretched across several dinners and lunches, and each night concluded with banana-butterscotch pudding (made with double banana, just to rub it in). My office hours meant that I couldn't sustain such cooking endeavours, though, and pretty soon I just wanted something simple and filling.

Heidi Swanson's quesadilla recipe delivered all the unfussy nourishment I needed and was tastier and fancier than I'd dared hope for. The important bits are an egg and a tortilla; to my mind, all other ingredients are negotiable. I had sour cream, a stub of cheese, a jar of capers and a pot growing chives and so stayed relatively true to the original recipe. On other days with other fridge scraps, I think this could work just as happily with a bit of avocado, some salsa or relish, almost any kind of cheese, fresh herbs of all kinds, probably some olives and maybe even pickles.

The essential egg doesn't leave much room for a vegan version. A runny faux-omelette batter would probably meld just as delightfully with a tortilla, but the effort of blending up a batter negates this recipe's meal-in-a-minute appeal. A silken tofu breakfast wrap might be the better tactic.

When Michael returned home, delayed and exhausted at midday, I emailed him express instructions to make himself one of these with the last remaining egg. Turns out it's the meal-for-one that we can both enjoy.

Eggy quesadilla
(an almost-entirely-faithful rendition
of Heidi Swanson's quesadilla recipe)

Heat a teaspoon or two of olive oil in a frypan over medium heat. Crack an egg into a mug and whisk it thoroughly with a fork. Pour the egg into the frypan and after it's cooked for just 10-15 seconds, lie a tortilla over it, so that the frying egg adheres to the tortilla. After they've cooked together for a minute or so, flip them over and grate a little cheese onto the egg. Once the cheese has melted a little, fold the tortilla in half and transfer it to a plate. Top the quesadilla with sour cream, capers and chopped chives and serve.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Aunty Mena's

March 20, 2012
I had a three-day/three-city whistle-stop work tour of the North Island of NZ last week and managed to squeeze out a single spare evening to explore the veg dining options in Wellington. I only made it to my hotel at about 7:30pm and Wellington had turned on one of its insanely windy, cold and wet evenings, so I was very tempted to just order some crap off the room service menu and hide under the doona. But having read both Carla and Pip raving about Aunty Mena's, I knew I had to brave the weather.

Aunty Mena's is a Wellington institution, serving up cheap, vegan Malaysian and Chinese food for at least the last decade (and probably longer - it's got a timeless kind of feel to it). The menu is gigantic, with about 50 different dishes to choose from. With nobody to share with, ordering was tricky - I ended up deciding to overeat and ordered an entrée (BBQ pork buns, $7NZ) and a main (veggie chicken laksa, $14NZ).

They were both fantastic - light and fluffy buns stuffed with a smoky bbq mock-meat and a thick, creamy laksa loaded up with tofu, mock chicken, noodles and veggies. The laksa probably wasn't quite as good as the vegan laksa from Laksa King, but it was still pretty damn excellent. I somehow ate everything I ordered, appreciating the deliciousness long after I actually needed to consume any more food. The service is friendly and efficient, while the space itself is pretty rudimentary, but it's all about the food here - for a tick over 15 Australian dollars I ate myself silly and (slowly) walked back to the hotel feeling very pleased with myself.


Aunty Mena's has a very positive online reputation - I knew about it thanks to Melbourne vegans Pip and Carla, but it's also been given the thumbs up by: Purposeful Mention, vegan vaginas, Ellice Street Gallery Kitchen and An Auckland Vegan.

Aunty Mena's
167 Cuba Street, Wellington
04-382 8288
entrees $6.50 - $8.50, mains $9 - $18 (NZ dollars)

Accessibility: Aunty Mena's has a flat entryway and a fairly spacious interior. Ordering and payment is at the table. I didn't make it to the toilets.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

1000 £ Bend

Update: 1000 £ Bend closed in mid 2017

March 18, 2012

We ate 1000 £ Bend's saganaki burger for breakfast on a Sunday with no real justification. It was not a 2pm 'breakfast'. We were not hungover. There was no shortage of more breakfast-appropriate items on the menu (avocado on toast, granola, toasted sandwiches). We just felt like it, and we loved it.

The saganaki was ridiculously salty, with that parmesan-flavoured crust that seems to set it apart from haloumi. There was plenty of salad and two excellent condiments. It was all wrapped up in the finest burger bun I might ever have eaten - it had the light crumb of brioche but wasn't as rich, was more substantial that the typical fast-food fairy floss version and capable of supporting fillings and sauces without turning to mush. It was a superlative burger and, washed down with a bottle of orange juice, a damn great breakfast.

For another veg perspective, check out easy as vegan pie. Reviews of 1000 £ Bend have been quite the mix of positivity, (Sweet and Sour Fork, Milk, Chai & Honey, Mandy and Adam, bean there, read that, The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar, Gastrology, new international students), ambivalence (The misadventures of MissC, eat, drink, stagger, My Food Odyssey), and negativity (Brunch Addict).

1000 £ Bend
361 Lt Lonsdale St, Melbourne
veg breakfasts and burgers $5.50-12.50

Accessibility: This is a warehouse space with a very wide, flat doorway that would have previously served as a driveway. The interior is spacious but the table spacing is variable. Ordering and payment takes place at a high bar. Toilets are unisex with a flat entry and are quite narrow.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mad Mex

March 14, 2012

We've been hitting up Mexican joints all over town lately, and big ups from Louise, Carla and an anonymous commenter put Mad Mex at the top of our 'to try' list. It's a chain that started in Sydney and has now spread across Australia - there are a couple in Melbourne, on Chapel Street and in Melbourne Central. We hit up the Melbourne Central store, in a little corner of the food court with its own tables and a liquor licence. They've done a good job making the setting interesting, with Corona-bottle light fittings and cute little planter boxes.

The menu is sort of a build-your-own Mexican meal setup - you choose a base style (tacos, burritos, nachos etc) and then select fillings, sauces and toppings. The mix and match style means that Mad Mex is both vegan and gluten-free friendly, which is a rarity in food court style places.

On our first quick visit, Cindy and I split a plate of the nachos ($10.90, not pictured as we were camera-less). They come covered in the stock veg filling (a mix of eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms) with cheese, black beans, your choice of salsa, sour cream and guacamole. The corn chips were crispy and fresh and the toppings generous and tasty - a promising start.

We returned a week or so later for a proper meal. Cindy went with the veggie quesadillas ($9.90), which included the same veggie filling and oodles of cheese grilled between two tortillas and accompanied by corn and tomatillo-based salsas, a fresh tomato mix, sour cream and guacamole (which is free with all the veggie dishes).

The accompaniments were all pretty great, but the quesadillas themselves were a bit disappointing. They were really, really cheesy, which kind of overwhelmed everything else and the eggplant/zucchini/mushroom filling had a slightly bitter taste. They were hard work - Cindy didn't make it through the whole dish.

I went for the standard veg burrito option ($10.90), with the veggie filling and all the trimmings: black beans, rice, cheese, guacamole, hot salsa, sour cream, onions and capsicum and the fresh tomatoes.

It's a good sized burrito - and very filling, but I wasn't crazy about it. I had the same issues with the eggplant mix - it stood out amidst the rest of the ingredients, and not in a particularly pleasant way. I think I'd have enjoyed this more with just the beans and rice as the main filling. Still, the hot salsa was sharp and smoky and the guacamole fresh and delicious, so it wasn't a complete loss.

Mad Mex provides the fastest fast-food Mexican in town - the production line at the counter means you go from ordering to eating in less than five minutes. The staff are friendly and the flexible nature of the menu is a plus. We were just a bit disappointed by the actual food (especially on the back of all the rave reviews) - if we're eating in the food court for some reason we'd probably go back, but we won't be making a special trip to seek it out next time.


The opening of Mad Mex in Melbourne has been met with universal acclaim. From a vegan perspective, both easy as vegan pie and Louise, by Degrees and fans, while meat-eaters: Americans in Melbourne, eat.drink.write, Travelling in Mary Janes (sponsored post), Melbourne Dining Experiences, new international students, foodcautious, trish eats and The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua (sponsored post) also all give it the thumbs up.


Mad Mex (Melb Central Store)
Food court, Melbourne Central (cnr Swanston/La Trobe Streets)
9663 7010
Veg dishes: $7.90-$10.90

Accessibility: It's as accessible as Melbourne Central, which presumably has lift access (although we came up the escalator). Ordering and payment takes place at a relatively low counter (see picture above).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Kentucky fried seitan

March 11-12, 2012
On the long weekend we had time for a more extended cooking session, and Michael was kind enough to humour me with a Kentucky fried seitan project. (You might already know that I have this weird nostalgia for KFC, though my memory of what it actually tastes like is now rather dim.) Michael may himself have perked up at the prospect of mashed potato and gravy on the side. I planned on some leafy greens, too, for the sake of our vege crisper and our health.

Michael's kindness extended to preparing the seitan on Sunday night, using this recipe I'd bookmarked on Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit (originally from Viva Vegan). As he attempted to knead the dough he commented that it seemed too wet and sticky. Lacking much seitan savvy, I assured Michael that Lindyloo and Terry both know their stuff, we should probably follow their orders and he should go ahead and keep jabbing his fingers in it like that, it's how to make gluten strands. We wrapped up and steamed those globs as directed and refrigerated them overnight. Alas they were rather jelly-ish, even once battered and fried, and I barely enjoyed them at all. Baking leftovers later for half an hour provided a bit more chew but this is hardly efficient - I imagine that for the texture I'm after we need to reduce the liquid in the recipe and/or steam the seitan for longer.

We fared better with the crumbing on Monday though I was less loyal to the recipe, which I found on vegansaurus. I reduced the amount of salt involved and instead of adding powdered tomato soup mix to the crumbing, I mixed some tomato paste into the dipping liquid. This worked out fine, except that the gelatinous seitan nuggets, slimy with pink batter, bore a disturbing resemblance to raw diced chicken. (Blergh.) Failing to read properly (or at all), I didn't grind up the herbs and spices, nor did I double-dip my seitan. The texture of my batter was fine anyway, though perhaps not very KFC-y. Yet it was all still really salty! So long as there's stock powder involved, the straight-up salt probably isn't needed at all.

We ended up with lots of crumbing to spare, so I dusted up some tofu squares a few days later and rather liked those. I'll chalk this Kentucky fried seitan project up as a useful pilot study. Next time I'll use firm tofu, no salt, try double-dipping with the batter and I reckon I'll come close to something that's finger lickin' good.

Kentucky fried seitan
(slightly adapted from this recipe at vegansaurus)

1 quantity of this seitan "chicken", chopped into nugget-sized pieces
vegetable oil for frying (dry/shallow/deep as you wish)

1 tablespoon ground sage
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme
1 tablespoon salt (I'll skip this in future)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
3 tablespoons dried parsley
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons "chicken" stock powder
1 cup plain flour

3 tablespoons no-egg powder
4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup soy milk

In a small-medium bowl, combine all the crumbing ingredients except for the plain flour. If you want a smooth batter, grind them to a fine powder in a food processor. Stir in the plain flour and transfer the flour to a shallow bowl.

In a small bowl, gradually whisk the water into the no-egg powder to form a smooth paste. Stir in the tomato paste, vegetable oil and soy milk until well mixed.

Heat as much vegetable oil as you want in a frypan or saucepan. Line a tray or plate with absorbent paper.

For each seitan nugget in turn, dip first into the liquid then roll in the herby flour to thoroughly coat. (I use my left hand for the liquid and my right for the flour to keep this marginally tidier.) The original recipe says you should dip each nugget a second time into both the liquid and the flour! I didn't, it's worth a try. When the nugget's well coated, drop it into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, turning it as needed. Transfer cooked nuggets to the paper-lined tray/plate to rest as you continue with the rest of the batch.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Middle Fish II

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

March 12, 2012
Melbourne's serving us a little more summer than any of us have a right to expect. We took advantage of it on Labour Day and strolled down to Middle Fish for lunch. Many bloggers have complimented this cafe's interior design and I wondered what extra appeal could be derived from yet another exposed brick converted warehouse, but on stepping inside I instantly saw it too.  Yes, we've seen the high ceilings and polished cement floors before but there's something especially cheerful about Middle Fish and its technicolour touches, so many items seemingly reused or repurposed. I loved it!

On Michael's first visit, veg options were absent from the written menu but available on request. Katya pointed out to us more recently that the menu's had an update, with vegetarian items and adaptations more clearly marked. (Vegan options aren't specified but I reckon almost all the veg dishes would qualify.) Sadly this meant the apple and cherry salad recommended by Wendy was no longer available.

The warm weather called for cold drinks - our icy bowls of coffee with sweetened condensed milk and lemon tea could not have been better.

However, Michael's Pad Puk Satay ($14.50) left much room for improvement. The table-side sriacha enhanced the sauce a little but couldn't distract from the fact that this plate included just two teeny tiny pieces of tofu.

My Thai style omelette ($14.50) was later, uglier and luckily, tastier. Salty and studded with mushrooms, tomato and onion, a few spoonfuls in I realised that it was concealing a mound of steamed rice. Scattered with sriacha, this was splendidly savoury and deceptively filling - something simple to perfect at home, methinks.

Middle Fish's hits and misses were equally unexpected. While the sunny staff and light, breezy atmosphere were a treat, I don't think the vegetarian meals lived up to their cost. I could yet be lured back for a mid-afternoon condensed milk roti, though, and Michael can barely resist those coffees.


Michael previously blogged Middle Fish here. Since then we've barely read a negative word about it! Check out Epicureaddict, Let's Get Fat Together, Flagrant Food Fawning, Peach Water, Like the World, Spatialthoughts, Let Me Feed You and Sharking for chips and drinks.... Reviews are more equivocal on The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua and Gastronomical ramblings.

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

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

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Moroccan Soup Bar II

The Moroccan Soup Bar is one of those Melbourne institutions that seems to have existed forever. And been insanely busy the whole time. In some ways it's a precursor to trendy no-booking places like Mamasita: if you've got a group of less than 6 you can't make a booking and even now, more than a decade after it opened, there are queues waiting for the doors to open at 6pm.

We've been a few times and always loved it, but it's always hard to muster up the energy to go somewhere when you know you're going to have to spend an hour or so waiting for a table, so it's fallen off our radar a bit in recent years. At least it had, until we read Nouveau Potato's post recommending the combination of takeaway MSB and a picnic in Edinburgh Gardens. What a revelation!

You need to bring your own containers for takeaway at the Moroccan Soup Bar but it's well worth the effort - for $25 we got three containers full of typically delicious food (the chickpea and yoghurt dish the standout as always). Pack a picnic rug, a cocktail in a thermos, a couple of plates and some cutlery and, provided the weather's decent, you've got yourself the best damn picnic in Melbourne. The only disappointing thing about our meal on Sunday was that it made us realise how many fantastic summer nights we've wasted.

There are a few dissenting voices, mostly finding the whole experience a bit yoghurt heavy: gila makan, Melbourne Culinary Journal, mochii eats, Let's Get Fat Together and because I cant cook.

Moroccan Soup Bar
183 St Georges Rd, Fitzroy North
9482 4240
We paid $12.5 a head for our food, but I think it varies based on how much they can fit in your containers.

Accessibility: We didn't really pay attention since we were eating in the park - there's at most a small step on entry, and the place is generally pretty crowded.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sunday brunch

March 11, 2012
Sunday started with an extended brunch at home. I was keen to use up a tub of silken tofu in the fridge and revisit Vegan Brunch's OMG omelettes. This idea got even more kitchen-friendly when I browsed the suggested omelette fillings and spied a combination of roast tomatoes (in the vege box), basil (on the balcony) and cashew ricotta (previously made here). Roasting potato cubes and sautéing mushrooms on the side cleared the vege box further still and only added to the delicousness.

Honestly, I think was a little too much tofu for me - it dominates both the omelette mixture and the ricotta - but the plate was nonetheless very, very satisfying. I've enjoyed smashing the leftover ricotta, basil leaves and tomatoes over bread since.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Las Vegan V

July 3, 2015: Las Vegan have announced that they're closing the cafe and going to focus exclusively on catering from now on - we've sampled their catering before and it's great.

March 10, 2012

We hit Las Vegan on a Saturday night with a gang of ten people or so for Veganator's birthday bash. The highlight of the night was the vegan meat cake that we all enjoyed for 'dessert' (see full details here), but the food that Las Vegan served up was pretty great as well. Since we last visited they've added pizzas to the night-time menu, and Cindy and I both decided they were worth a shot.

She had the Hawaiian ($10), which was smothered in fake-ham, vegan cheese and pineapple. It was a pretty solid effort, falling just below Cindy's favourite junky vegan pizza. I couldn't resist the bbq chicken pizza ($12), which was well topped with mushrooms, vegan cheese and mock chicken. It's good to know that I'll be able to fulfil my bbq meatlovers cravings even after the EBC closes down in the next few weeks.

Since we last visited Las Vegan has appeared on blogs mochii eats, vegan about town, Fiona's World, Little things, The Healthy Party Girl, crosslegged on the front lawn (twice) and soya and chocolat (in French!).

We've written about Las Vegan one, two, three, four times.

Las Vegan
22 Smith St, Collingwood
9415 9001
veg mains $9-15

Accessibility: Pretty good - reasonable entry, plenty of space around tables, order at the table and pay at a low-ish counter. We haven't visited the toilets.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Albert Street Food & Wine

January 2016: Albert Street has had a redesign and has reopened as Albert & Sydney

March 10, 2012
Albert Street Food & Wine is the newish home of ex-Il Fornaio and Masterchef alumnus Phillipa Sibley. It's been open since the start of the year and we decided it was time we checked it out. Pro tip: going out for breakfast in Brunswick is a lot easier on Golden Plains or Meredith weekends - we waltzed in at 9:00 or so and had our pick of the tables. It's a lovely fit-out: they've taken an old bank and trendied it up beautifully. The bank vault is the wine storage room, the tables are made of recycled basketball courts - it's clear that no expense has been spared in creating an impressive space.

The breakfast menu is fairly short - vegos have the choice of half a dozen or so dishes, almost none of which appear to be vegan by default, although Marieke found them to be very helpful during the dinner service so it's probably worth asking them what they can do for you.

Cindy ordered off the specials - baked ricotta with figs (about $14). This was a bit cake-ier than we expected - Cindy suspected there was more to the batter than just ricotta. The edges were dry and crispy (maybe a little too dry), while the middle was a figgy, cheesy, pudding. The almonds were a nice touch.

I hummed and hawed for a while before settling on the mushroom and tallegio omelette ($16). I've often been disappointed by omelettes, but this was a pretty well executed version - light and fluffy eggs, stuffed with gooey, pungent cheese and a variety of tasty mushrooms. The only risk is the tallegio - I usually love the stuff but it's probably a bit intense for the first meal of the day.

Cindy spent half the meal looking over my shoulder at the pastry selection - there's plenty to admire, although we were both restrained enough to walk out without sampling any of it this time.

Neither of us were crazy about our meals, but they were decent enough breakfasts in a pretty lovely environment (although the generic Cafe del Mar soundalike music got pretty infuriating after a while). The service was friendly but not super efficient (Cindy asked the waiter what was in the ricotta batter and he said, "Ummm, just what's normally in ricotta,") and the coffee was only adequate (I think they struggled with soy for some reason - the milk froth was weird and a bit gross). We probably won't rush back for brekkie, but they've been getting excellent reviews for dinners (see below) and Phillipa Sibley's desserts are legendary, so we'll definitely be giving them another chance to impress.

There haven't been too many reviews of Albert St at breakfast time, although both nightowlsite and ragingyoghut really enjoyed it. Lots of people have raved about the lunch and dinner options: Epicureaddict, I'm so hungree, whereiatelastnight, Once a Waitress, Sharking for chips and drinks, A Place A Day and Foodie About Town really liked it, while The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua has a more mixed review.

Albert St Food and Wine
382 Sydney Road (cnr Albert), Brunswick
8354 6600
Breakfasts $6-$16

Accessibility: Albert St has a ramped entryway and is fairly roomy inside. Ordering and payment happens at the table. We didn't visit the bathrooms.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Peppermint bark

March 9, 2012
Peppermint bark is one of those American foods that doesn't seem to have made it across the Pacific Ocean to Australia. I gather that it's a Christmas thing, what with the smashed candy canes involved. I don't much like candy canes, tasting of toothpaste yet rotting the teeth, but a few of them were thrust on me last December. This peppermint bark recipe from Orangette had me combining them with more than five times their weight in chocolate, which I figured would make those sugar sticks more palatable.

There's not much to it - two thin layers of white chocolate with minty dark chocolate ganache (mine replacing heavy cream with coconut milk) and smashed candy canes in between, then more cane fragments decorating the top. It's not well suited to an Aussie summer Christmas as the ganache remains gooey and there's not enough strength in the white chocolate to hold it together. The first piece I ate was just sweet and messy and, I thought, a bit meh. Once the remaining pieces had spent a night in the fridge I was more positively disposed to them - my fingers didn't instantly sink through melting chocolate, the candy canes were chewy and I could appreciate the cocoa contrast more. I still couldn't slice it prettily though!

Peppermint bark
(adapted slightly from a recipe at Orangette,
which is adapted from a recipe 
in the December 1998 issue of Bon Appetit)

45g candy canes
180g white chocolate
80g dark chocolate
2 1/2 tablespoons coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon peppermint essence

Line a small loaf tin with foil. Coarsely crush or chop the candy canes.

Gently melt half of the white chocolate and spread it evenly over the base of the loaf tin. Quickly sprinkle over one third of the candy canes. Refrigerate (or freeze, if you're in a rush!) the layer until set firmly.

In a separate saucepan, melt together the dark chocolate and coconut milk. Stir them together to form a thick, satiny ganache and add the peppermint essence.Spread the ganache evenly over the set candy-chocolate and refrigerate until very firm, at least half an hour. (You could try the freezer again, but I found that some of the coconut oil separated so I wouldn't recommend it.)

Gently melt the remaining white chocolate and spread it over the ganache. Sprinkle over the remaining candy canes and refrigerate until firm, another half hour or so.

Slice the bark into small squares to serve.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Crepas de huitlacoche
con salsa de chiles poblanos

March 4, 2012
The first I ever knew of huitlacoche (or cuitlacoche) was seeing it a number of years ago in the Steve, Don't Eat It! blog series. The series' name should be the hint that it was not a positive mention - huitlacoche is a smut disease on corn and Steve was happy to play up this aspect, as well as its dark sludgy looks, for maximum disgust and entertainment.

More recently I noticed tacos de huitlacoche on the menu at Mamasita. While we didn't order them, it certainly opened my mind to huitlacoche's potential for deliciousness - everything else at Mamasita was great, after all! A week or two later I found myself discussing huitlacoche with a visiting Mexican colleague and others at the lunch table. He's a big fan it and pointed out that it's just a fungus, like mushrooms, right? And it's sometimes known as the Mexican truffle, such is its delicacy. The conversation concluded with an agreement amongst three of us to meet at the markets the following Sunday to shop and later prepare one of Pedro's favourite huitlacoche recipes.

Huitlacoche is not as accessible in Australia as it is in Mexico or the U.S. Pedro has used it fresh and is accustomed to paying a few dollars for it in cans; here those cans cost $15 apiece at Casa Iberica. Thankfully that one can stretched to lunch for six. Its contents don't look particularly appetising, for sure, but few things do straight from the tin. There was onion and spices mixed in there, too, much like a can of refried beans (... which has to be the grossest thing straight from the can, right? It reminds me of pet food).

In Pedro's recipe, the huitlacoche is sautéed with green onions, fresh corn and ezapote and serves as a crepe stuffing. The crepes are smothered with a creamy poblano chile sauce and grated mild cheese and baked. We tentatively tasted them with a simple side salad.

They were not a pretty picture, but they were pretty damn good. Though still deeply black and sludgy, the huitlacoche had a gentle earthy flavour boosted by the onions and complemented by the sweet corn kernels. I had to cordon off a serve in a plastic container for an absent friend before those present went ahead and finished off the whole dish.

By then we were all avowed fans of the 'hibernating excrement'! I'll definitely try using it again on my own. Working in the field of biosecurity as we do, we wondered whether this corn disease is present in Australia. Co-cook Yung tracked down a few interesting documents revealing that corn smut outbreaks have been recorded in Australia as early as 1911. There doesn't seem to be any hope for eradication and instead the corn "industry has learnt to live with the disease". Perhaps if more Aussies tasted Pedro's crepes they'd be even happier to co-exist with corn smut and it could support a small industry of its own.

Crepas de huitlacoche con salsa de chiles poblanos
(as shared by my colleague Pedro,
based on a recipe in A Taste of Mexico by Kippy Nigh)

1 cup plain flour 
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
butter for frying the crepes

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup green onions, finely chopped
2/3 cup corn kernels
2 teaspoons dried epazote
1 x 420g can huitlacoche
salt to taste

2 poblano chiles, seeded and deveined
1 1/3 cups milk
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 cup sour cream
salt to taste

1 cup grated cheese, firm but mild and able to melt
(Yung picked out a lovely goat's milk cheddar)

Start with the crepes. Place the flour in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in the eggs, milk and vegetable oil to make as smooth a batter as you can. Melt a teaspoon of butter in a small non-stick frypan on medium heat. Pour a quarter-cup of the batter into the pan, swirling it around to make a large, thin, circular crepe. Let it cook until the edges are dried out and it's just barely about to brown, then flip it over. Don't worry it they're not perfect, but try your best to keep them intact. When the crepe's done, set it aside on a dinner plate. Repeat with the remaining mixture and stack the crepes up on the plate - hopefully you'll make about 9 crepes all up.

When the crepes are done, get busy on the filling. Heat the oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Sauté the green onions until tender, add the corn and epazote, and sauté until the corn is tender but still firm. Add the huitlacoche and cook the filling, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Season to taste.

Set the filling aside and prepare the sauce. Blend the chiles and 1/3 cup milk, until smooth. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and stir in the flour to make a paste. Gradually stir in the sour cream and then the remaining milk. Add some salt, then cook and stir the sauce until it thickens. Add the blended chiles and cook the sauce gently for a further 5 minutes. Set the sauce aside.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly butter a large baking dish.

Spoon a tablespoon or two of filling in a line along the diameter of a crepe, roll it up and place it in the baking dish. Repeat with all the crepes, lining them up snugly in the baking dish. Pour the sauce over the crepes and sprinkle over the grated cheese. Bake the crepes until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbly, about 25 minutes.

Serve hot with a side salad.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Nasu Dengaku

March 3, 2012
The miso eggplant that crowned our meal at Seamstress left both Cindy and I with a craving for home made nasu dengaku. We were inspired by our successes with Ottolenghi's eggplant recipe and decided to combine the basic premise from it with a miso sauce from Tammois' recipe book Gourmet Poverty.

We were biding our time, hoping that eggplants would turn up in our veggie box, but they just wouldn't come. Cindy put a call out on twitter, wondering whether organic eggplant was something that existed locally, and out of the blue The Quince Poacher offered up some her home-grown produce. Score!

Look how beautiful they are! Thanks again Quince Poacher!

Our version of nasu dengaku turned out really well - we'll experiment a bit with the sauce in future, it turned out maybe a little bit saltier than we were shooting for and probably slightly too runny (although this was most likely due to our egg and dashi substitutions). But really it was a wonderful success - miso makes everything delicious. We need to use it more often.

Nasu Dengaku
(adapted from Tammois' recipe here)

4 small eggplants, halved
200g white miso paste
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon peanut oil + 1 teaspoon cornflour (this was our vegan egg yolk substitute!)
1 teaspoon of dulse flakes in about 6 tablespoons boiling water (subbing for dashi)
1 large knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
more peanut oil
sesame seeds

The first step is to get the eggplant cooking. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Score the eggplant halves with some diagonal slices, brush them lightly with peanut oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and then pop them in the oven - they'll cook for about half an hour.

While they're baking you can make the sauce. Get a double boiler going - we just use a saucepan on top of a slightly smaller saucepan that's full of water.

In the double boiler, combine the miso, sherry, sugar, mirin and the egg yolk substitute. Whisk them together thoroughly and cook them gently. Stir in the dulse/water mixture and keep it all simmering until the mixture starts to thicken up a bit. It's supposed to get to a custardy texture, but ours ended up a bit too liquidy - maybe we'll cut down the amount of water in the dulse mix next time.

Take the mixture off the heat. Pop the grated ginger in a piece of muslin (or a chux, which was what we used) and squish the juice out into the sauce mixture.

Check on the eggplants - when they're basically cooked and nice and soft, take them out of the oven. Slather on as much of the sauce as they can take and sprinkle on some sesame seeds before popping them back in the oven for another 10 minutes or so - you want the seeds to start to go a bit golden.

Serve however you like - we just had ours with plain rice and it was outstanding.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

ANZAC biscuits

March 3, 2012
ANZAC biscuits need no introduction for Antipodeans - these cookies are inextricably linked to our World War I soldiers and are supposed to have been baked and mailed by the soldiers' wives due to their long shelf life. Caramelised with golden syrup and chewy with rolled oats, it's not difficult to understand why the recipe has persevered. I made them this week to share with an overseas visitor at my workplace.

I haven't made a lot of ANZACs in my time, and I find it challenging to get the texture right. I want them golden - which takes time - yet chewy, which requires that they're not overbaked! Baked for 12-14 minutes, these were perfect warm out of the oven, then very crunchy once cool.

I've seen chocolate-chipped variations around and I'm sure they're very tasty (and an absolute luxury when compared to the biscuit's origin). One of my colleagues mentioned adding wattleseed to the mix, which appeals to me both for its likely flavour and its Aussie endemism.

ANZAC biscuits
(a widespread traditional recipe,
which I accessed from the New Zealand Woman's Weekly)

1 cup plain flour
1 cup castor sugar
1 cup desiccated coconut
2 cups rolled oats
125g butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
3 tablespoons boiling water

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a couple of baking trays with paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, coconut and rolled oats. Make a well in the centre.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt together the butter and golden syrup. Pour them into the dry ingredients stir everything together.

In a mug, stir together the bicarb soda and boiling water. Add them to the biscuit mixture and stir thoroughly to combine.

Roll the mixture into balls, about an inch in diameter, and place them on the baking trays with a couple of inches space between each one.

Bake the biscuits for about 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Baked Mexican street corn

March 3, 2012
This weekend snack was also somewhat inspired by our Mamasita meal, though it owes at least as much to our vege box and everything, really, to Viva Vegan. Terry Hope Romero offers a couple of variations on street-style corn and it was most convenient for me to go for baking my corn and slathering it with vegan mayonnaise.

While this doesn't involve the charred edges and cheesiness of Mamasita's street-style corn, it has its own charm - the kernels are juicy and sweet and the mayonnaise carries the nooch, Mexican oregano and dried chilli across the whole surface area. It's also pretty fun to roast corn still in its husk.

Baked Mexican street corn
(one of several variations appearing in Viva Vegan!
by Terry Hope Romero)

a whole cob of corn, husk intact
vegan mayonnaise
coarse salt
nutritional yeast flakes
dried crumbled Mexican oregano
ground dried Mexican chilli
lime, quartered

Preheat an oven to 180°C.

Place the corn cob, still tightly wrapped in its husk, on a rack in the oven and roast it for 30 minutes.

Carefully unwrap the husk from the corn and clear away the corn silk. Chop the cob in half to form two more manageable pieces and place them on a plate.

Slather over the mayonnaise, then sprinkle over the salt, yeast flakes, oregano and chilli. Serve with a wedge of lime on the side for squeezing over the top.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Besan fritters

February 28, 2012
These besan fritters are inspired by the ones we recently ate at Mamasita. I didn't have to look far for a guide - I've had Manfest Vegan's besan fry recipe bookmarked for almost a year. It involves cooking the chickpea flour into a batter with water and some spices then pouring it all into a tray to set, much as I would for polenta. From there I chopped the besan slice into thick Mamasita-sized triangles and dry-fried them instead of deep-frying rectangular 'chips'.

As with polenta, it's important to avoid lumps. I added the water in small doses and all was looking well until the batter began thickening. Our gas heat source was too hot and focused, flicking up chunks of thickened mixture from the centre while the rest was still a thin liquid - this really requires an even heat source and I'll use a diffuser next time. I managed to beat the lumps out of the batter but it cooked quicker than Allyson advises and looked pretty gluey. It set as intended, and then posed a few challenges again as I dry-fried the triangles and tried not to leave their golden crust stuck to the pan.

For all the insecurity, they were rather good - soft and savoury, though far denser than the pillowy Mamasita fritters. (I wonder how we can pull that off? They're vegan, so there should be no need to whip egg whites, for example.) Their density made them rich and I was glad that we'd sautéed mushrooms to augment them. We also ate some home-pounded basil pesto and leftover coleslaw on the side - a piecemeal but tasty meal.

Besan fritters
(adapted slightly from a recipe on Manifest Vegan)

1 1/4 cups besan (chickpea flour)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups water + 1/4 cup extra water
a few tablespoons vegetable oil

Line a 22cm square cake tin with paper.

In a medium-large saucepan, stir together the besan, pepper, garlic, chilli and salt. Whisk in 1/2 cup of the water to make a smooth paste, then another half cup of water until the batter is smooth again. Whisk in the next cup of water and when it's smooth, set the saucepan over steady well-diffused medium heat. Stir the mixture continuously with a whisk or wooden spoon as it thickens. Allyson suggests cooking the batter for about 15 minutes, but I found that mine was thick and gluey by the 10 minute mark - I added a further 1/4 cup of water and couldn't push it much further for fear of the mixture completely drying out.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and let it spread out into an even layer; mine needed a bit of coaxing. Chill the besan slice for at least 3 hours (I stored mine overnight).

Pour oil in a frypan to cover the base and set it over medium-high heat. Retrieve the besan mixture from the fridge and slice it into wedges. Fry the wedges in the oil for about 3 minutes on each side, until they develop a golden crust. You may need to do this in batches and/or top up the oil as you go.

Serve the wedges warm with your favourite condiment.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Chocolate & raspberry icecream

February 26-27, 2012
February set forth a last blast of heat and I resolved to churn some more icecream. I revisited my vegan salted caramel one and it was spectacular, but then I went and shared most of the batch with friends. I needed MOAR ICECREAM and I didn't really want to leave our air-conditioned fortress to buy it or its constituent ingredients.

Flicking through The Perfect Scoop, I noticed a chocolate and raspberry icecream that didn't include eggs. I had (frozen) raspberries and I had no eggs! With coconut milk in the cupboard I figured a vegan version (no heavy cream) was the easiest solution. It all really was quite easy, though it left me with a dirty food processor and sieve (for Michael) to clean up.

This version is also lighter on the cocoa than David's because I ran out 3 tablespoons in. It's still chocolatey enough (look at the colour) but it's more like a milky chocolate that leaves plenty of space for raspberry fruitiness.

Chocolate & raspberry icecream
(adapted from a recipe in David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop)

1 can (400mL) coconut milk
3 tablespoons cocoa
2/3 cup castor sugar
2 cups frozen raspberries

In a medium saucepan, stir together the coconut milk, cocoa and sugar. Bring them to the boil, stirring regularly, and then take them off the heat. Fold in the raspberries, cover the saucepan and allow it to sit for 10 minutes.

Blend the mixture to smoothness - to prevent disaster with my food processor, this meant I fished out most of the raspberries and blended them first, gradually adding the rest of the liquid. Strain out the raspberry seeds and refrigerate the mixture until completely cold.

Churn the mixture in an icecream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions and freeze until firm.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Jackfuit pulled 'pork'

February 25, 2012
Apparently jackfruit pulled 'pork' circulated the vegan blogosphere a few years ago - Cindy reckons she first saw it on Chow Vegan. Then we sampled it here in Australia at The Gasometer and started plotting our own home-made version. The first challenge was finding canned jackfruit - most Asian supermarkets sell cans of it but they usually have it floating in syrup. For this more savoury meal you need to have it canned in brine. Thankfully K came through with two cans for us (although we're still not sure where from) and with the heat keeping us inside on the weekend we had plenty of time to give it a shot.

It's a bit of faffing about to make but luckily Jessica at Clean Green Simple has put together a detailed, photo-heavy post walking you through the whole process. We basically copied her recipe step for step. The end result was a baking tray full of stringy, tender and surprisingly porky looking jackfruit. The spice rub and sauce combo had a good mix of smokiness, tomatoey sweetness and spice but on the whole the 'pork' was a tiny bit lacking in savouriness - Cindy reckons a generous slosh or two of Worcestershire sauce would improve things next time. And there will be a next time because this was basically a success. It worked okay on our fancy rolls with a few greens and some coleslaw on the side, and then when we combined the coleslaw and pork on the same sandwich it became a really magnificent lunch.

Jackfruit pulled pork
(recipe taken from Clean Green Simple)

2 cans jackfruit in brine
2 small onions, chopped finely
5 cloves garlic, minced

spice rub
1/2 teaspoon red chilli flakes
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt

6 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons veggie oil
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Drain the brine off the jackfruit and rinse it well. Chop the firm centre-piece off each jackfruit segment so that you're just left with the stringier bits.

Combine all the dry rub spices and then stir through the stringy jackfruit pieces - the spice rub should stick to the fruit pretty effectively.

Put the coated jackfruit pieces in a dry pan over medium heat and toast the spice rub - it should only take 5 minutes or so for the spices to start to smell delicious.

In a separate bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients and then pour them over the jackfruit in the pan. Get it all simmering and cook for about half an hour - you want some of the sauce to be absorbed and for the jackfruit pieces to go nice and soft and start falling apart. Once it's ready pull the jackfruit apart with a couple of forks into nice stringy pieces (see above).

Spread the jackfruit mix out in a lightly oiled baking tray and stick it in the oven. Cook for twenty minutes, stirring after ten.