Monday, April 30, 2012

Toronto Day 2

April 22, 2012
Toronto skyline behind a massive double-crested cormorant colony

I'd arranged my flights so that I had a full day spare in Toronto before work obligations kicked off. This served two purposes: eating as much great veg food as I could find and heading out to do a bit of birding. I woke up obscenely early and decided to start wandering to Tommy Thompson Park, hoping that I'd stumble across a bakery or something that opened before 8am on a Sunday. Queen Street East is loaded with hip-looking cafes, bars and restaurants, all of which looked like they'd be unlikely to open before 11. And then there was Lady Marmalade - already open and with a menu in the window that looked very promising indeed. When I got home I discovered it's on a bunch of 'best breakfast in Toronto' lists - good fortune indeed!

Lady Marmalade is a cute little place - a mix of old-fashioned diner stylings and trendiness. At 7:30 on a Sunday it's pretty empty but by the time I left at 8:15 there was a queue forming. The menu (pdf is here) is mostly savoury - lots of egg dishes, a (slightly terrifying sounding) breakfast poutine and savoury waffles. There are a few sweet options - the crepes in particular sounded promising. I considered the tofu scramble but in the end couldn't go past the vegan adaptation of heuvos rancheritos (scrambled organic tofu with chilli, smashed beans, guacamole, chipotle salsa and wholewheat tortillas, $12.50).

What a delicious start to the day! The beans (hidden behind the coriander pile) were a teeny bit smoky and were soft and smushy - perfect for smearing on the tortilla. The scrambled tofu was rich with what seemed like a part tomato, part chipotle sauce and were dotted through with little (mild) chilli pieces. Shake on some hot sauce (as I did) and you're in Mex-breakfast heaven. The service was lovely (although things were starting to get a bit slower as the room filled up) and the setting was a warm and quiet oasis from the windy streets.

A short walk later I was at the park, which only opens on the weekends and was full of joggers, bike-riders and fellow bird-nerds. The icy winds meant that this wasn't my most enjoyable birding experience ever, and I think I was a few weeks early for the full range of migratory birds that turn up here, but I still managed a few hours racking up lots of new birds. It's a pretty lovely park anyway and is well worth a wander if you find yourself at a loose end over a Toronto weekend.

A song sparrow doing what it does best

By the time I'd walked all the way to the end of the park and back I had numb fingers and was starting to get hungry again. So I pulled out my veg map (The Toronto Vegetarian Association leaves piles of vegetarian directories around the place - I found mine in a bookstore - which include great little maps of most of the veg restaurants in the inner city) and headed for Sadie's Diner just off Queen Street West.

This place fully embraced the diner aesthetic and had a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere (this was probably due to the lateness of my lunch - by 2:30pm there weren't too many other customers about). The weekend menu here is all about brunch and is a mix of vegetarian and vegan dishes. I went for the vegan brekkie burrito, which seems like their signature dish ($10 + $3 for a side of guacamole).

The chunky home fries were completely unmentioned on the menu - I get the impression that in North America you're just supposed to assume that your breakfast will come with a side of fried potato. I wasn't complaining. The burrito itself was a solid effort - a mix of rice, vegan cheese, tofu and chilli packed expertly into a tortilla. It was a much less messy proposition than the Trippy Taco alternative, but was a bit milder in flavour as well - luckily hot sauce seems to be a staple condiment, so I could give it the little kick I thought it needed. This place seemed like a pretty reliable veggie brunch option - they offer vegan French toast, more huevos and vegan-huevos dishes and a few other bits and pieces. The service was efficient if a little stand-offish, and they were happy to leave me sitting reading while I rested my feet for the walk home. Plus they've got a great wall of Pez dispensers!

The jet-lag was kicking in pretty hard by now, so I slunk back to the hotel to crash out for a while. By the time dinner rolled around I was still stuffed from all the spuds and too tuckered out to venture very far away from the hotel. Luckily, there's a veg restaurant right next door! 

Commensal is a very plain buffet-style place, where you load your plate up and pay based on weight. There are eight or so hot dishes, heaps of salads and some soups to choose from. 

For about $10 I got a decent sized plate filled with salad and a few pieces of the ginger tofu. 

I had high hopes for the tofu, but it was a bit lacking in flavour. Still, the salads were just what my body needed after a day of airline food followed by two big beany breakfasts. They were fresh and tasty and were a healthy way to end the day. Commensal has absolutely no atmosphere to speak of - you go there to load up on food and then you leave. But if that's what you're after (and it was for me) then it does a good job of it - I wouldn't put it on my must-visit list for Toronto but it'll fulfil a need for a lazy, healthy lunch or dinner around the middle of town. They have plenty of clearly labelled vegan and gluten-free options as well.

So my first full day in Toronto was a success - some great birding and three pretty decent meals. Toronto has loads of vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants and I managed to sneak a few more meals around meetings, so stay tuned for more soon!

A quick poke around the web turned up lots of bloggers raving about Lady Marmalade - check out some recent reviews at Lick My Spoon, Food Pr0n, lace and lemondrops, Food  should be yummy, Where Jess Ate, Amy's Food Adventures, Henry's Highchair, Eat Here Next, Relish and Quaff, Yours Edibly and Run Eat Read. /L/ was a bit less impressed.

Similarly, there's much love for Sadie's Diner. See: koshersamurai, Chronicles of a Hungry Man, Vegan Butthole Explosion, Veggie Tales, Vegan Band Dude, Ate by Ate and highheeledherbivore, although Until We Eat Again, Iliana's Palette and Drawn and Devoured were all a bit disappointed by the lack of flavour in some of the dishes.

Commensal has less blogger enthusiasm - I could only find a fairly mixed review from Eat Here Next and a more positive write-up from yuzulife.

Lady Marmalade
898 Queen Street East, Leslieville
647 351 7645
Veggie breakfasts: $7.50 - $11.50 (plus tax and tips)

Sadie's Diner
504 Adelaide Street West, Fashion District
416 777 2343
Veggie brunch dishes: $5 - $12 (plus tax and tips)

655 Bay Street, Toronto
416 596 9364
Pay by weight - $10 - $15 gets you a good sized meal

Accessibility: All three of these places had reasonable accessibility - no more than a small step on entry and reasonably spacious interiors (although Lady Marmalade gets a bit tight as it fills up). At Lady Marmalade and Sadie's you do all your ordering and payment at the table, while Commensal you pay at a low counter. The buffet at Commensal is about waist high. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012


April 21, 2012
Eight years ago, Cindy and I spent some time in the U.S. living with a vegetarian couple - I decided to go veg for the duration of the trip to see whether I was up to it and, before we knew it, Cindy and I were both enjoying the smugness of being meat-free. One of the key moments that tipped us into sticking with it happened in Toronto, when we stumbled onto high-end veg place Fressen. It was veg food like we'd never realised it could be and has become one of our fondest food memories. So it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I used some free time on a work trip in Toronto to revisit. Could Fressen possibly be as good as we remembered? Was it only so impressive because we were such naive vegos? Or is it truly a veg dining Mecca?

Well, good news everybody: it's still great! To be fair, we've definitely eaten fancier food, but Fressen does a similar thing to Shakahari in Melbourne or (the sadly departed) Sirens in Hobart - high quality, well-presented, slightly pricey veg meals.

It's a pretty popular place - all the tables were booked or full. Luckily they squeezed me in at the bar and left me with the menu. Which. is. massive. Seventeen appetisers and ten mains, most of which are gluten-free and all of which are vegan. I had a tough time trying to figure out what to eat - this is the kind of place where you want a biggish group so you can get a taste of heaps of dishes. Alas I was forced to choose just one appetiser and one main.

I kicked things off with the spinach blini (warm avocado and corn salsa sandwiched between fluffy herbed poppy seed and spinach blinis, $9).

What a start! The blinis were puffy, soft and delicious and the salsa mix was a bit tangy and a bit sweet and rich with charred corn pieces and creamy avocado chunks. Amazing.

For my main I was tempted by the grilled black bean seitan but eventually settled on the battered tempeh (herb battered and fried tempeh, topped with a mango coriander salsa and served with fresh sautéed vegetables and roasted potatoes, $16).

This didn't quite measure up to the blinis but it was still a massive and delicious meal. The mango/coriander salsa tasted pretty great but was a bit too liquidy. The tempeh crust was perfect though - crispy and lightly flavoured, housing some excellent tempeh chunks. The veggies were good too and there were loads of them. It was a big meal - way too much on top of the starter for me to check out the dessert menu (which is a shame, because dessert was one of our favourite 2004 Fressen memories).

Fressen is wonderful. The service is lovely - friendly and helpful but happy to leave me quietly reading my book at the bar. The vibe is nice too - moody lighting, polished wood tables and a buzzy (but not deafening) atmosphere. I've got a tough choice for the rest of this week - do I go back or do I explore all the other options that Toronto has to offer? I'm not sure I can wait another eight years for more Fressen.

Fressen's been around forever, and I don't really know the Toronto blog scene, but a quick search turned up a bunch of very positive reviews in the last year - check out Vegan Band Dude, MeShell in Your City, Might Good Eats, Frank Vs Veganism, One Healthy Munchkin and Might Good Eats for (mostly) positive reviews. Lisa from vegan culinary crusade recommended Fressen to me when I put the call out on Twitter for Toronto tips and also has a short review of their (sadly no longer operational) weekend brunch.

478 Queen Street West, Toronto
416 504 5127 (if you're going on a weekend it's probably wise to book)
Cold tapas 3 dishes for $15, Appetisers $9, Mains $16 (although the combination of GST and tipping means you end up paying a fair bit more than those prices - I've no idea why they list pre-tax prices everywhere, but they do)

Accessibility: Fressen has a small step as you go in and is dim and fairly crowded. There's another couple of steps between the bar area and the front room. I didn't check out the toilets, but I think they're somewhere above these steps (see MeShell's comment below). Ordering and payment happens at the table (or bar in my case).

Friday, April 27, 2012

Quince & gorgonzola salad

April 21, 2012
This is definitely a sister salad to the fig & goat's curd one I made earlier this month - Ottolenghi expertly teams a limited-time-only fruit with fancy cheese and lots of green leaves. Truth be told, I'd been secretly waiting for J to announce quince time for a couple of months. Just for this salad.

Quinces typically get poached slowly in lots of sugar but here also peppercorns, bay leaves, orange zest, lemon juice and red wine - lovely. This ensures the quince segments retain a little bite and they're beautifully teamed with a pungent, creamy gorgonzola. Lots of greens and some pistachios keep it all from being too rich.

The poaching juices are ingeniously used in the salad dressing, but there are plenty more to enjoy after this salad's finished. I still haven't decided what to do with mine - any suggestions?

Quince & gorgonzola salad
(very slightly adapted from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty)

400mL water
300g castor sugar
15 black peppercorns
4 strips of orange zest
2 bay leaves
juice of 1/2 lemon
200mL red wine
2 medium quinces
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
80g mixed leaves
120g gorgonzola
60g pistachios
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 140°C.

In a medium saucepan, stir together the water, castor sugar, peppercorns, orange zest, bay leaves, lemon juice and red wine. Gently warm them until the sugar has dissolved, then take them off the heat.

Peel and core the quinces, adding these scraps to the saucepan of syrup. Slice the quince into segments and add them to the syrup. Transfer the quinces and syrup to a casserole dish, cover it up and bake for about 2 hours. When the quince segments are completely tender, remove them from the oven and set them aside to cool.

To make the salad's dressing, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, oil, 4 tablespoons of the cooking liquid and salt and pepper to taste.

Set up the salad by layering the greens and quinces on a plate, interspersing them with teaspoons of gorgonzola and sprinklings of pistachios. Spoon the dressing over the top.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Country quincefest

April 21-22, 2012
While I'm not envious of her commute, it's not difficult to work out why my friend J moved out to the country - she has a lovely home and an even lovelier garden. Her quince tree's been bearing (some) fruit and she invited a few of us over for a weekend of preparing, eating and celebrating them. Many quince recipes require involve gentle cooking over the course of hours, so we lolled contently in her kitchen area for most of our visit, rising occasionally to check the oven or stove, chop or fry a little something.
The quince eating began with quince paste cooked last year teamed with cheese and crackers.

My major contribution was this Ottolenghi salad featuring poached quinces - I'll post more about it tomorrow.

We used the leftover poaching liquid as a syrup for a little haloumi. 'Twas a terrific combination of sweet, sour and salty.

For a vegetarian main J dug up a tagine recipe with eggplant, chickpeas and quinces. Here the quinces weren't sweetened and they lent a pleasing hint of sourness.

We finished up with a baking triumph from GG. Cooked upside down, it used leftover poached quince from last year's harvest and paired it with a lemon zest-spiked, super-tender butter cake from Annie's Garden to Table.

... Except that we weren't quite finished! Amongst it all we'd poached three more small quinces in anticipation of breakfast. I think these were the most complex and interesting quinces of all. Their poaching liquid simmered down to a sweet jelly glaze, and inside the colour shifted from crimson through a sunset of orange, sweet and velvety through to tangy and pear-gritty. We ate them with French toast.

While J's quince harvest was far smaller than last year's we really made the most of it. If you can track some of these fruits down I'd highly recommend a meditative or social afternoon in your kitchen, simmering and stirring something sweet, sour and special.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Phat Brats

12/12/2014: Fitzroyalty reports that Phat Brats is now closed.

April 20, 2012

All of a sudden Melbourne's gone mad for hot dogs - Grandstand and Walkers have been around for a while, but Snag Stand, Le Sausage and Massive Wieners are all new additions, and Lord of the Fries have recently joined the party (Broadsheet have a fancy snag rundown with a few other places I've never heard of). And now there's Phat Brats, recently opened in the premises of the old Kebab Factory. They're shooting for a similar up-market vibe as Snag Stand - all organic ingredients and fancy fillings. It's a big menu - about a dozen different combos, plus fries and trimmings. There are a a couple of veggie dogs (although neither are vegan or gluten free) and they're happy for you to sub the veggie sausages into any of the other flavour combos. We decided to try one of each and split a serve of the veggie chilli fries between us.

The chilli fries ($7) came out first - a bowl of perfectly crispy spuds, slathered in beans, chilli sauce, jalapenos and sour cream. The chips themselves were amazing - some of the best I've had - but the toppings were a bit on the hot side. Cindy was completely overpowered by the sauce and, while I could eat it, I thought it detracted a bit from the delciousness of the fries. Be warned.

The first hot-dog was the pumpkin ricotta & tarragon veggie dog with mild mustard, shaved fennel, sour cream and spring onions ($8.50). This is no replication of a typical hot dog - the sausage itself was okay, but the whole package was a bit on the bland side.

The second dog made up for it though - a black bean, lentil & veggie dog with raw slaw, shredded beetroot, cheese sauce and green pickle relish ($8.50).

This was more like it  - the dog was hearty and flavourful and the toppings were an excellent combination of junky and delicious. Still, I reckon next time we go there I'll use this sausage to make a classic hot-dog - sometimes you just want mustard, onions, and tomato sauce rather than fancy relishes and grated beetroot. 

Phat Brats does the gourmet hot dog pretty well, but its lack of vegan options and our generally low-class tastes mean that we're probably more likely to find ourselves across the road at LotF having one of their unashamedly straightforward dogs.

Two Munch, Elle Bambi Diaries and Peach Water (sponsored) were fans, while Gourmet Chick tried them out at The People's Market and was a bit unenthused.
Phat Brats
320 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
9384 1303
veg snacks and dogs $5-8.50 (coming soon apparently - at this stage it doesn't even have the address/phone number on it)

Accessibility: Phat Brats has a step-free entryway and is pretty spacious inside. You order and pay at a middling counter. The toilets are on the same level and not too cramped.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Casa Ciuccio

Edit 11/04/2017: Fitzroyalty reports that Casa Ciuccio is now closed.

Gertrude St grub
April 20, 2012
Michael keeps a keen eye on the Gertrude St goings-on, including the construction and opening of Casa Ciuccio. After a week or so of negotiation, we set up a completely unnecessary and rather extravagant Friday lunch there with Mike and Jo.

Casa Ciuccio comes from the people behind Bar Lourinha and boasts its own coal pit. It's hardly surprising, then, that the menu's not really designed for vegos - 3 of the 13 snack-sized items are flesh free, before things get really meaty with 9 dishes from the grill or coal pit; there are four further vegetable plates as well as cheese and desserts.

We started off with cheese-stuffed figs ($5 each), which I'd spied at a neighbouring table and envied. They were fresh, sweet and fabulous.

The zucchini, eggplant and labneh ($15) similarly offered a pleasing combination of tender fresh produce and complementary curd.

The cos leaves, sweet lime and radish ($16) had a nice bittersweet crunch.

Marginally heartier were the green beans in sugo ($15).

I was not leaving without dessert(s). The wide, shallow dulce de leche cream pot ($12) allowed for a maximum sprinkling of peanut praline, which I appreciated.

The stars, though, were these buñuelos ($12), warm doughnuts studded with melting chocolate sitting atop a hazelnut sauce.

We received flawless service throughout our visit and the front room was a lovely place to pass a couple of (!) weekday hours. And while we enjoyed everything we ate, I don't think this was worth $40pp. It's clear that the veg-friendly dishes are intended to accompany the meats and they don't really pass as a meal themselves. The one lentil dish on the menu includes morcilla - that's probably a signal that I should seek my legumes and meat-free fine dining elsewhere.

Casa Ciuccio
15 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
8488 8150
veg morsels $4-16

Accessibility: From memory, I think there's a small step on entry. Tables in the front room are quite well spaced, some at standard height and some at bar height with stools (we didn't get a good look at the back room or courtyard). There's full table service. We didn't visit the toilets.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Herb crumbed pumpkin wedges

April 18, 2012
When a pumpkin turned up in our vege box, I got a hankering for my grandmother's scones. Once that was dealt with we still had three-quarters of the orange beast to eat! Ottolenghi's Plenty came to the rescue, with a relatively simple embellishment on roast pumpkin that cleared up our supply in just two meals. Breadcrumbs, chopped herbs and grated cheese pressed into the surface add a bit of texture and savouriness to a vegetable that can otherwise disintegrate to sweet mush in the oven.

With the recommended dollop of dill sour cream on top, I think these would make a lovely autumn entrée (does anyone out there make entrées at home?). We heaped up a big side salad and called it dinner, though I think these would fare even better as a main with some couscous or quinoa.

Herb crumbed pumpkin wedges
(a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty)

Preheat an oven to 190°C. Slice a pumpkin (or fraction thereof!) into thin wedges (keep the skin on) and lie them across a paper-lined baking dish. Spray or brush them lightly with vegetable oil.

In a small-medium bowl, mix together grated parmesan, breadcrumbs, lots of finely chopped parsley and a little finely chopped thyme, some crushed garlic and grated lemon zest. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the pumpkin wedges, pressing it in gently, and bake the wedges for about 30 minutes, until the pumpkin is tender.

While the pumpkin is baking, finely chop a little dill and stir it into some sour cream, adding salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the sour cream onto or next to the pumpkin wedges, to serve.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wild mushroom tacos & summer corn salad

April 16, 2012

Cindy and I had planned a Sunday cooking extravaganza with Lisa, Lucy and Gill making delicious treats from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day, but everyone else fell ill or double-booked themselves, so we were on our own. We'd done our shopping already, so on Monday night we went ahead with a cut-down version, making wild mushroom tacos from the cookbook and a corn salad from Heidi's blog.

The mushroom tacos are super simple (especially if you lazily use packet tortillas). Just buy yourself some fancy wild mushrooms (we got some slippery jacks and pine mushrooms from the markets, plus some basic field mushrooms) and fry them up with onion, garlic and chilli. Sprinkle them with Mexican oregano and serve in the tortillas with a sprinkle of parmesan on top. Earthy and delicious.

The corn salad is similarly straightforward, and its crunchy tartness worked perfectly with the heartier mushrooms. These were both excellent recipes - simple combinations of a few ingredients and flavours that you can whip up after work without too much trouble.

Summer corn salad
(adapted slightly from a recipe from 101 Cookbooks)

4 cobs corn, shucked with the kernels shaved off the cob
A small handful of chives, sliced finely
1 1/2 cups of toasted pepitas and sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon of Mexican oregano

1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons sunflower oil

Stir the corn kernels and chives together in a bowl.

Mix the lemon juice, salt and sugar together in a separate bowl. Drizzle in the sunflower oil, whisking like crazy until everything all comes together.

Add the seeds and the dressing to the corn and toss, making sure everything is nicely coated.

Sprinkle the oregano over the top, toss and serve.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

L'atelier de Monsieur Truffe III

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

April 14, 2012
Michael and I psyched ourselves up for some Saturday errands with breakfast at Monsieur Truffe's Brunswick outpost, L'atelier. While they were doing a good trade, we were a little surprised to see them at less than full capacity - we slipped straight into a table for two.

There's good news on the menu front! Vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan adaptable options are all marked on the menu. These include tapioca and poached quince with fruit and nut crumble, a couple of hearty salads and the 'full vegie' breakfast that Michael ordered ($16.50).

Since Michael's not one for tomato, he requested that it be replaced with some extra avocado. Either the chef didn't follow through, or the usual serving of avocado is truely meagre! There wasn't a lot to go around here. This was good, though seasoned unevenly - Michael found himself spearing some of the super-salty spinach onto every forkful to smooth it out.

I tried the granola ($12), a chewy, toasted concoction with great depth of flavour from hazelnuts, dried figs, cocoa nibs (!) and a sprinkling of dark chocolate chips (!!!). Boy, it gave my jaw a work-out though.

While the front of house staff were terrific, the most notable feature of this visit was the waaaaiiiiiting. Our food took a very long time to arrive, and our hot drinks even longer! I ended up cancelling my tea entirely. I can't imagine how they cope when every seat is occupied. Hopefully they'll work out a more efficient groove, but we couldn't help wishing we'd just stuck to Monsieur Truffe's superlative and quick-to-the-table croissants.

You can read about our previous visits to L'atelier here and here. Since then it's received high praise on Ballroom Blintz, Köstlich, fitzroyalty and foodwithfrank. Reviews are more mixed at lunchosaurus and Fresh Bread.

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

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tempeh & mushroom pasta

April 10, 2012
It's that time of year again! We've wound back our clocks, the evenings are cooler, we tend to cook ugly brown stews and I photograph them poorly at night. Sorry about that. At least these meals still taste great.

I saw this tempeh and mushroom pasta recipe on Vegan About Town last year (where Steph [or maybe D?] managed to photograph it more attractively), and when I gave it a go recently I equally referred to the source recipe at Seitan Is My Motor. I chose to slice the tempeh into bite-size pieces rather than chop it down to a mince, and I had fewer mushrooms than the recipe (and I) would prefer. The tempeh is flavoured with soy sauce, which is surprisingly good with pasta, but I wish I'd added it to the pan later so that its saltiness spread to the mushrooms as well.

This is a very minor complaint (and is easily solved next time). The creamy sauce, made mostly of walnuts blended into soy milk, brings everything together very well. And it doesn't taste of soy at all. I only started to tire of this dish an eensy bit on the fourth consecutive day of eating it. It's a rare meal that sustains my enthusiasm that long.

Tempeh & mushroom pasta
(adapted very slightly from recipes
at Seitan Is My Motor & Vegan About Town)

400g tempeh
250g button mushrooms (but use up to 600g!)
1 cup walnuts
4 cloves garlic
1 cup soy milk
300g linguine or other pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon chives, chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons thyme
salt and pepper

Boil a big pot of water for the pasta. Slice the tempeh and mushrooms into bite-sized pieces.

Grind the walnuts and garlic as finely as possible in a food processor, and gradually add the soy milk to form a creamy sauce.

By this time, your water should be boiling - get your pasta into it and cook as directed on the packet.

In a large frypan, heat up the olive oil and add the tempeh pieces. Fry the tempeh, stirring occasionally, until it's beginning to brown - this will probably take at least 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook further until they're tender. Is your pasta ready? If so, go and drain that.

Pour the soy sauce over the tempeh and mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes, allowing the flavour to absorb into the tempeh and shrooms. Pour over the walnut sauce and stir it through. Stir in the chives, paprika and thyme, then salt and pepper to taste. When the sauce is thick and creamy, add the pasta, gently stirring the mixture until the pasta is well-coated in sauce. Serve straight away.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fig & goat's curd salad

April 9-10, 2012
I've been conscious for the last few weeks that figs are in their short season, and anxious to make this Ottolenghi recipe with them at home. The fabulous fig salad we enjoyed at the Newmarket Hotel extended my sense of urgency to Michael and we made sure we were all set for it before the Easter weekend completely disappeared.

The idea isn't too complicated - a bed of mixed green leaves, juicy sweet figs, tangy goat's curd and an even tangier dressing of mustard and pomegranate molasses. Ottolenghi thins the dressing out with a lot of olive oil and coats the leaves in it. This approach didn't have quite the bite I was after (and our cheese was pretty tame too) so on my second attempt I skipped the olive oil, added just a drop of water to loosen up the molasses and dripped my punchier dressing across the entire plate. That did the trick.

I wasn't scrupulously loyal to the original quantities so I'm keeping them vague in my recipe below. The most important thing is to get the freshest, ripest, finest quality produce possible - there's nothing much extra here to flatter them.

Fig & goat's curd salad
(based on a recipe appearing in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty)

Scatter handfuls of mixed green leaves and torn basil over a plate. Slice fresh figs longways into quarters and arrange them on top of the greens. Dot the plate with teaspoonfuls of fresh goat's curd and snip over a few chives.

In a cup, whisk together a small amount of Dijon mustard with at least double the quantity of pomegranate molasses. Add salt and pepper to taste, and whisk in a little water or olive oil to thin the dressing out. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mad Raven Pizza Deluxe

April 8, 2012
We worked off our yum-cha binge bushwalking through Bunyip State Forest (which is really lovely by the way). By the time we were done, we'd all somehow mustered up enough hunger to want dinner on the drive back.

Lucky for us, Cindy remembered our friend Erin randomly raving to us about a pizza shop in Kallista. Some quick googling and map-checking and we'd decided that Mad Raven Pizza Deluxe was the venue in question and that it was basically on our drive home. Sorted.

Mad Raven is a very small restaurant - basically three tables inside and a couple on the street (for which it was far too cold). Despite clearly being a takeaway focussed place, they've managed to make the inside inviting and warm, so it's well worth booking a table if you feel like dining out up that way. We snagged one of the two booths and settled down to peruse the menu. Mad Raven has a dedicated veg menu with ten pizzas to choose from, plus a note saying that vegan and gluten-free versions are readily available.

After some debate, we decided that two pizzas would be enough for the three of us to share (I'll admit that I was pushing for three pizzas and that I was wrong - two was plenty). We started with The French Goat (in the background, with macadamia and basil pesto, red wine caramelised onion, soft-rind French goats cheese and paprika, $23). The pizza bases are sourdough and fall somewhere between trendy thin crust and old-school pan. Either way, they're delicious and the toppings on this ensured a satisfying pizza - the onions were soft and caramelised, the cheese had some decent flavour without being overpowering and the pesto was great.

However, it paled in comparison with the brilliance of our other pizza, the mushy love (foreground, with mozzarella, tomato, slow cooked porcini and field mushrooms, onions, feta, spring onions and white truffle oil, $23). This was simply amazing - bursting with the mushroom and truffle oil flavours with the salty feta providing a bit of cut through. I'm not sure how the mushrooms were prepared - they were clearly slow-cooked in something delicious because they were to die for. Possibly my favourite pizza of all time.

At $23 a pop you're paying for gourmet pizzas, but these easily fit that bill and were well worth the price. Service was efficient and friendly, and the little room was cosy and warm and decorated with lots of wonderful photos of the local wildlife. Mad Raven is a gem tucked up in the hills - if only they'd deliver to Carlton.

We're not the first to sing Mad Raven's praises - check out The Belly Rules Blog and Vintage Cookbooks for earlier raves.

Mad Raven Pizza Deluxe
78 Monbulk Road, Kallista
9755 2911
Veg pizzas $14-23
Website (facebook page)

Accessibility: Accessing the shopping strip that houses Mad Raven includes a couple of steps. The interior is quite small. We ordered our meals at the table and paid at a high counter. Unisex toilets are behind the counter, through the kitchen and are pretty basic.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Vegie Hut II

April 8, 2012
We had a fairly unconventional Easter Sunday, heading out east with our mate Michael for walks and eats. We hit Box Hill's Vegie Hut first for yum cha.

While it isn't quite so glamorous as Sydney's Bodhi in the Park, there's much to love about Vegie Hut. The yum cha plates are still just $4.20 each, the same price this restaurant was charging when we first visited in 2008. And all-vegetarian yum cha (I can choose anything, ANYTHING from the menu!) is always a luxury. Many seem to appreciate it - though the photo above shows a few empty tables 10 minutes after opening, Vegie Hut rapidly fills and reservations are advisable.

Congee is complimentary with multiple orders from the yum cha menu - warm, salty and gently filling, I can see why it's a sick-day comfort food for so many.

I was actually hoping that the 'soup dumpling' would be dumplings filled with soup (made famous in Melbourne by HuTong) but it's served the other way round. Less of a marvel, but still quite tasty.

I was quite insistent that there would be BBQ mock-pork buns.  Sweet-savoury and freshly steamed, we all loved them and ordered seconds. Thirds, to ensure that we each had a equal number, was tempting.

The steamed ribs in black bean sauce aren't very rib-like, but the dish is really all about the silky, savoury sauce. 

The grilled dumplings also warranted a second round. As well as crispy-fried edges, they had a fetching gingery kick to them. 

We cut all the richness as best we could with steamed choy-sum in vegie-oyster sauce.

While there's no shortage of mock meat in Melbourne's inner city, a trek out for yum cha is always a treat. There's just nothing quite like a BBQ mock-pork bun... its *ahem* non-veg namesake aside.

You can read about our first visit to Vegie Hut here. Since then, their yum cha has been blogged and loved by veg*ns at The Fairest Feed and Vegan About Town (twice). Vicki Vegan was less impressed by the banquet, while the a la carte options are reviewed favourably at Black Bunny Carousel. Positive accounts also appear on omni blogs Spatula, Spoon and Saturday, Fooodgasm and Foodies N Places.

Vegie Hut
984 Whitehorse Road, Box Hill
9898 2287
yum cha plates $4.20 each

Accessibility: Vegie Hut has a few steps on entry and a high density of tables. There's full table service. We didn't visit the toilets.