Thursday, March 27, 2014

Stealthy yellow couscous

March 25, 2014

This dish's monochromatic tones belie its varied textures and flavours. Once your eyes adjust to the yellow you might notice turmeric-tinted couscous, soft chickpeas, golden almond flakes, dried apricot gems and sliced savoury sausage. You'd have to dig in for a taste to pick up the garlic, paprika and lemon.

Unusually, my feature need-to-use-this-up ingredient of the night was a jar of homemade vegetable stock. But I had almost everything else for Veggie num num's recipe in the pantry and the herb garden too - I needed only to jot the chickpeas and sausages onto my shopping list. With a little preparatory measuring and chopping this comes together very easily; without it there's a risk you'll get caught with spices and/or garlic burning in a frypan while you mince that last clove and drain the chickpeas. (Ahem.)

There's not a lot of fresh vegetable matter here so I'd recommend a big green side salad before calling this a meal. Alternatively you could break up the shades of yellow by tossing in some spinach, capsicum and tomato.

Stealthy yellow couscous
(slightly adapted from Veggie num num)

1 1/2 cups couscous
2 cups vegetable stock
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 x 400g cans chickpeas, drained (could be reduced to 1)
1/4 cup dried apricots, diced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped (I'd use more next time)
1 wedge preserved lemon, flesh removed and skin finely chopped
1 lemon, zest & juice
1/4 cup flaked almonds
300g veg*n sausages
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

Place the couscous in a large heatproof bowl. Pour the stock into a small saucepan on medium heat. When the stock is hot, pour three-quarters of it over the couscous and stir it all a little with a fork. The couscous should absorb the liquid is just a few minutes.

Make sure all the ingredients are ready to go: mince the garlic, measure out the spices, drain the chickpeas, dice the apricots, parsley and preserved lemon, zest and juice the fresh lemon.

Dry-roast the almonds in a large frypan, being careful not to burn them. When they're golden and fragrant, set them aside in a bowl then return the frypan to the heat.

Fry the sausages until they're crisp and golden, then remove them from the pan and slice them diagonally.

Return the pan to a lower heat, and warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in it. Add the spices and cook them for about a minute. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the chickpeas and remaining stock to the pan, bringing it to the boil and evaporating off some of the liquid. Add the apricots and preserved lemon to the pan, then after another couple of minutes stir through the sausage slices. Remove it all from the heat and set it aside a moment.

Fluff up the couscous with a fork. Pour in the lemon juice and remaining olive oil and stir it through. Fold in the lemon zest, parsley and almonds. Sprinkle over lots of salt and pepper. Fold in the sausage and chickpea mixture and serve.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Smith & Daughters II

March 23, 2014

We had a brilliant time at the launch of Smith & Daughters and figured we shouldn't waste any time heading back and seeing how it stacked up when we weren't being plied with free cocktails. The opening weekend seemed like a big hit - we squeezed in on Sunday night but things were busy, busy, busy. The menu is sizable, meaning we were able to piece together a whole meal without doubling up on anything we'd eaten during the preview night. We got the ball rolling with some outstanding cocktails - a gangster horchata for Cindy (cognac, house-made horchata, espresso, orange liqueur and a splash of bitters, $16) and an old Cuban for me (dark rum, fresh lime & mint, topped with champagne and a splash of bitters, $16).

We mostly worked our way through the small dishes, starting with a slice of the tortilla (hearty potato and onion Spanish omelette, served with garlic aioli, $7).

This is a dish we've enjoyed non-vegan versions of elsewhere, and Smith & Daughters do a pretty fine job of taking an eggy dish and cranking out an excellent vegan rendition. 

Next up came patatas con chorizo (S & D's signature house-made chorizo sauteed with crisp cubed potatoes and spicy Spanish sauce, $15).

We couldn't figure out what the chorizo was made out of - I thought it had a bit of a TVP vibe, while Cindy thought it might have been built around black beans and mushrooms. Either way, it blended nicely with the potatoes and an extra dollop of hot sauce. It wasn't a world changing dish, but it was a solid contribution to the meal.

We also tried a sample of the tacos (1 for $6, 3 for $14), taking one of each of the three flavours on offer: spicy chorizo and potato, jackfruit carnitas and mushroom, nopales and sweet grilled corn.

The potato and chorizo actually worked much better as a taco filling than on its own - it was great on these fresh tortillas. In fact, all the tacos were excellent - the jackfruit carnitas were spicy and had a great meaty texture and the mushroom based filling was tangy and fresh (we think it's the same filling as you get in the tamales).

Our final dish was the warm hearts of palm salad (lightly fried hearts of palm served with a spicy Brazilian salsa, $14).

We were hoping this would provide a burst of freshness to offset all the delicious fried things we'd been enjoying - the salsa served that purpose, but the hearts of palm were surprisingly fritter-y, with a light batter and a soft middle. It was excellent.

We couldn't walk away without another shot at the desserts. First of all we went back for a second taste of the tarta de chocolate Azteca (served with avocado icecream, $14). It was just as good as we remembered - the avocado icecream offset its richness with some smooth coolness, but it's really all about the spicy, jammy tart.

We also tried the one dessert we hadn't had a taste of - a Mexican flan (a sweet Mexican custard, made with almond milk, cinnamon and topped with burnt caramel, $12).

I didn't mind this - the custard had a rich flavour and I thought there was a hint of something boozy in the syrup. It was okay, but at $12 it wasn't great value and not a patch on the chocolate tart.

Our second visit to Smith & Daughters was nearly as successful as our first - the staff were incredibly lovely, but were run off their feet with the crowd, slowing things down a bit. The food was great, with the tacos, heart of palm salad and omelette particular highlights (plus the chocolate tart of course). The one weakness of the Smith & Daughters menu is the lack of some salads or fresh veggie dishes to cut through the richness - it's the kind of place you visit to really indulge. Similarly, you're not going to head there for a budget meal - we spent about $75 on food alone, which is more than you'll wind up racking up at Yong or The Fox. But it's worth it - if you're up for splashing out, you really can't go too far wrong here - there's a hip, slightly up-market vibe that no other veggie place in Melbourne can match, loads of imaginative, tasty dishes and a drinks menu that will knock your socks off.

You can read our summary of the restaurant launch here, along with lots of write-ups of the same event on omni blogs: Foodie About Town, Eat And Be Merry, For Tomorrow We Die(t), Gastrology, Petit Miamx and Melbourne Din(n)ing Blog.

Smith & Daughters
175 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
9939 3293
dinner menu, alcoholic drinks, non-alcoholic drinks (although the facebook page is really a bit more useful)

Accessibility: The entry is flat and narrow and the tables are pretty crowded. The interior was loud and dimly lit. Toilets were located up several steps, were gendered and of standard dimension. There's full table service.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Cherry-pistachio icecream slices

February 11-March 21, 2014

This recipe has been waiting more than a month for its moment on our blog. The dessert was intended for lunch with friends at our house; a lunch I had to cancel due to illness. Some of this dessert made its way to our friends' table a week or two later and now, finally, here's the rest. 

It's nothing mind-boggling, just gussied-up vanilla icecream set in a loaf tin. I whisked in some rosewater, then layered it with small spoonfuls of black cherry jam and pistachios. I probably would have served it with a little chocolate Persian fairy floss, after a meal of roasted eggplants and green quinoa, but it's a very nice nice little diversion on its own too.

Cherry-pistachio icecream slices
(using this recipe as an icecream guide)

250mL milk
2 eggs
80g castor sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
300mL single cream
2 teaspoons rosewater
2 tablespoons cherry jam
3 tablespoons pistachios

In a saucepan over low to medium heat, bring the milk not quite to the boil and then set it aside. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Add the hot milk, still whisking.

Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and set it over low heat, whisking, until it thickens a little. Turn off the heat and add the cream, still whisking continually. Cool the mixture and then store it in the fridge until completely cold, at least an hour.

Whisk the rosewater into the icecream mixture and then churn it in an icecream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Line a small loaf tin with baking paper. Drop in a couple spatulas-worth of whipped icecream into it, then dot it with small spoons of cherry jam and a few pistachios. Continue layering icecream, jam and pistachios until they're all used up. Cover the tin with foil and freeze the icecream until firm, at least four hours.

When you want to serve the icecream, retrieve it from the freezer and pull the loaf and paper out of the tin. Wet a large sharp knife and slice thick pieces, placing them on plates or in bowls.

Friday, March 21, 2014

En Izakaya

March 19, 2014

We noticed En Izakaya while wandering Carlisle St a few years ago and made a mental note to come back one day. That day finally came this week as we celebrated some friends' upcoming move to the neighbourhood.

En's vegetarian options ran a little shorter than we remembered, and the vegan options shorter still. Nevertheless, our waiter cottoned on to our needs very quickly, steering us past the egg and mayonnaise and a dish that concealed fish stock.

The options that fit were fab. We started with a soba noodle salad ($12) with abundant fresh green leaves, cucumber, zucchini and tomato, all dressed in a killer wasabi & white miso vinaigrette.

The dumplings ($12) weren't the gyoza we expected: rather, starchy balls of sweet potato, carrot and mushroom in deep-fried batter. Your eyes don't deceive you - we ordered three plates of these!

The final kicker was this row of seared tofu and baked eggplant ($13) smothered in thick, sweet miso. Each molten mouthful was painfully delicious - I couldn't wait for it to cool down.

This is fairly fancy Japanese bar food with prices to match. While En's menu isn't designed with vegos in mind, what little we can order hits the high notes.

En Izakaya has generated consistently positive blog posts since it opened in 2009, from 1001 Dinners 1001 Nights, Expounder with Cheese, doublecooked, One Fat Cow and Asian Restaurants in Melbourne; only :: GOINGKOOKIES in MELBOURNE :: has been unimpressed.

En Izakaya
277 Carlisle St, Balaclava
9525 8886
menu 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Accessibility: We think En has a flat entry. Tables are densely packed but there is a clear corridor through the centre of the seating area. We received full table service and didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Plum & poppy seed muffins

March 16, 2014

The local fruit shop still has crates of stone fruit but they're clearly a little past their best - some a bit wrinkled, others speckled with brown, the odd bruise. It's a nice time to bake them instead of gobbling the fruit fresh.

I picked up a few plums for afternoon-snack muffins with this VeganYumYum recipe in mind. Sure, it's intended for peaches, but I was in the mood for a more sour-skinned twang. I tinkered with the flour too, going for a mix of plain and wholemeal wheat flours, and added some poppy seeds. So now they're a less fussy version of these.

The muffins are a little delicate to handle as they're nearly more fruit than muffin, and the batter remains a bit soggy where it makes contact with the plum pieces. But I love the riot of colour, from purple skin through to orange flesh, and the clash of sweet and sour and cakey crumbs.

Plum & poppy seed muffins
(adapted from a recipe on VeganYumYum)

1 cup plain flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons poppy seeds 
1 cup soymilk
1 tabelespoon lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 plums, chopped

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a muffin tray.

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Stir through the sugar and poppy seeds.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the soymilk, lemon juice, oil and vanilla.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir them together until just barely combined (don't worry if there are some lumps). Stir through three-quarters of the chopped plums, then spoon the mixture into the muffin cups. Arrange the remaining chopped plums on top of the muffins.

Bake the muffins for 15-20 minutes, until a metal skewer piercing a muffin comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool in the tray for at least 5 minutes before removing them.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Smith & Daughters

March 14, 2014

We're big fans of Shannon Martinez's vegan cheffery and over the past few years have followed her food from the East Brunswick Club to Gasometer, South and then across the river to the Sweetwater Inn. We were thrilled to discover that she'd be opening Smith & Daughters on Brunswick St, in collaboration with Mo Wyse. Last night we were privileged to attend their First Taste Feast by special invitation.

Smith & Daughters takes a left turn from the pubby/American diner food that Martinez has offered these last few years. This is a Spanish/Latin American tapas bar and restaurant, and it's hip as all hell. Bluestone walls and sturdy wooden furniture are decorated with modern fixtures, a collage of vintage prints, candles and Roman Catholic tokens.

The menu is all vegan (including the drinks list!) and, although they're not specifically marked, offers lots of gluten-free options. You could easily build a meal from the small plates ($7-16) like guacamole and tortilla chips, patatas con chorizo and hearts of palm salad or focus on a big plate ($16-35) of paella, tacos or pasta. We received a taste of both menus and some desserts besides.

Our first course was a cup of oyster mushroom and white bean ceviche ($16 for unknown portion size) - actually dominated by gently pickled tomato and onion slivers - with starchy fried plantain chips on the side.

Next we sampled some stunning salty tuna and green pea croquettes ($7 each) with a dab of caper aioli and squeeze of lemon - these had a couple of the mock meat noobs near us completely flummoxed.

The rustic presentation of the tamales ($7 each) belied a fancy filling of mushrooms, nopales (prickly pear) and grilled corn.

We were treated to small bowls of the 'big plate' pazole ($18 for unknown portion size), a thick Colombian hominy soup topped with sauteed oyster mushrooms, pickled cabbage, a dollop of guacamole and a thick tortilla chip.

The chiles rellenos (to be served with red rice, $18) has to be tasted to be believed. The enormous, mild pepper is stuffed with a rich filling of chipotle cream cheese and chorizo, then battered and fried to a crisp, and topped with tomatillo sauce. I'd recommend sharing this fella with a friend or even two.

Shannon's biggest performance of the night was to cook a pan of her fourth-generation-family-recipe paella for the seventy or more of us (you can order it for a few as two people for $35). The plump rice is fragrant with saffron and studded with peas, calamari, prawns and sausage.

Mo sent us on our way with samples of their sweets - warm sugar-dusted, quince-stuffed Spanish donuts ($12 for unknown quantity) and a glorious tarta de chocolate Azteca (to be served with avocado icecream for $14) - sweet layers of biscuit, jam and chocolate with a warm chilli finish.

Melbourne has not yet seen a veg restaurant of Smith & Daughters' calibre. It's a sophisticated venue with a rare, plant-based take on Spanish and Latin American food. Mock meats are used judiciously to support (and not distract from) local and organic produce, and there are enough mock-free dishes to build a banquet if you prefer. This is rich, special-occasion food and we'd recommend budgeting around $40-50 per person plus drinks. 

We are deeply impressed by Shannon and Mo's new venture and can't wait to go back - doors open to the public next Friday March 21.


Smith & Daughters
175 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
9939 3293
menus: first look feast, dinner menu, alcoholic drinks,
non-alcoholic drinks, brunch & late night

Accessibility: The entry is flat and narrow; we're unsure of the standard table arrangements but they were very crowded on this night. The interior was loud and dimly lit. Toilets were located up several steps, were gendered and of standard dimension. We expect that there'll be full table service.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Téta Mona

March 12, 2014

I've been badgering Cindy to visit Téta Mona ever since I saw their posters pop up a few months ago around Brunswick. Teta Mona is named after the grandmother of the brothers who run things - they're aiming to recreate the kind of food she used to cook for them and serve it up to the Brunswick masses. They seem to have struck a chord - it's just a few months after they opened and things are already heaving. We turned up at 7 on a Wednesday to find everything except the big communal table booked up.

The space is bright and modern - polished wood floors, high ceilings and big windows give everything an open, airy feel. The open kitchen runs along the side of the restaurant, so there's plenty of hustle and bustle, especially once the tables start filling up. They're just running with a BYO licence for now, so we sampled their non-boozy drinks: a home made lemonade for me and a rosewater crush for Cindy ($4 a pop).

The lemonade was tangy and not overly sweet, but I was jealous of Cindy's frozen red drink, which looked incredible. As you'd expect from the colour of it, it was very sweet.

The menu is divided into three sections: zghiir (small, $8 each), wasat (medium, $13.50 each) and kbiir (large, $17.50 each). Vegetarian options are labelled, although there's some confusion about the meaning of vegan, with dishes clearly containing yoghurt getting marked with a 'v'. There are plenty of vegan options - it just pays to order carefully. The wait staff were pretty helpful too, letting us know which dishes were able to be done gluten-free (most of them, if you dropped the bread).

We got a bit carried away, ordering two of the small plates, two medium and one large between three of us. The small plates were probably my highlights - loubiye khadra (sauteed green beans in onion, garlic and chilli sauce) and foule madam (fava beans, tomato, lemon and parsley salad). Both were much more than the sum of their parts - the beans in particular managing to balance the chilli and garlic perfectly.

The first medium plate was the arnabeet wa beethnjaan tahini (pan-fried eggplant and cauliflower with tahini and bread). This was a solid dish as well - the eggplant had a nice crisp to the skin around tender, well-seasoned flesh, while the cauliflower was soft and golden-fried.

We also had to try their falafel, served with pickles, bread and tahini. They were excellent little balls - loaded with herbs and crispy on the outside without being all dry in the middle. The pickles were great as well.

By this time we were all filling up a bit (warning: they bring bread out with every dish - it's probably smart not to try to eat it all) and kind of regretting our one large dish, the kousa meshi (zucchini stuffed with wild brown rice in a rich bean and tomato sauce with yoghurt). Luckily, it was delicious - the sauce was hearty and tasty, and the stuffed zucchinis had soaked it up and gone all soft and saucy. It was far too filling for this point in the meal and we fell a bit short of polishing it all off, but that's more a mark of our over-enthusiastic ordering than any shortcomings in the dish.

Téta Mona is a welcome addition to the neighbourhood - the staff are friendly, the menu very veg-friendly and the food top notch. It's not going to overtake Mankoushe in our affections, but it's a very worthy contender.

There've been a couple of positive blog reviews for Téta Mona - see Elesbury Corner Store and Little Chef Meals.

Téta Mona
100a Lygon Street, Brunswick East
9380 6680
current menu: one, two

Accessibility: There's a small step up as you come in. Tables are pretty densely packed, but there's a corridor running up beside the kitchen towards the courtyard (which we didn't venture out to explore). They took our order at the table and we paid at a high counter (although I'm sure they'd take payment at the table if you were patient). We didn't visit the toilets.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Syrupy grilled peaches with cashew cream

March 9, 2014

So happy was I with our grilled figs and cashew cream that I tried another version for a picnic with Another Outspoken Female and the Significant Eater. This time I picked up late season just-starting-to-wrinkle peaches, slathered them in a syrup based on apple-raspberry juice, and spiked my cashew cream with lemon zest.

I didn't quite achieve the deep berry flavour I'd envisaged and the lemon zest faded into the background, but the peaches were golden and tender while the cream was fluffy and flecked with vanilla. I can definitely recommend grilled fruit and cashew cream as a light dessert that's simple to prepare and difficult to ruin, infinitely adaptable and handily bike-transportable.

Syrupy grilled peaches with cashew cream
(the next iteration of this grilled fig recipe)

1/2 cup cashews
1/3 cup soymilk
zest of 1 lemon (I only used half and wished for more)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
350mL apple & raspberry juice
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons Cointreau
4 large peaches

Cover the cashews in water and soak them overnight. Drain the cashews and blend them with the soymilk, lemon zest, vanilla and salt, until they're completely smooth.

In a small saucepan, stir together the fruit juice, sugar and Cointreau over medium heat. Continue to simmer this sauce until it has reduced by half, around 5-10 minutes.

Slice the peaches in half and remove their stones. Arrange the peach halves in a heat-proof flat dish (I used a pie dish) and gently pour over the syrup. Place the dish under a grill until the peaches are warm and starting to brown; turn them over and give them a couple of extra minutes on their second side. Serve two halves per person with a spoonful of syrup and big dollop of cashew cream.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Sweetwater Inn III

January 2016: The Sweetwater Inn closed in October 2015, although there are promises that they'll reopen somewhere else in the not-too-distant future. 

March 8, 2014

We found ourselves in South Yarra on Saturday and took the opportunity to revisit The Sweetwater Inn. We got there pretty early and found things pumping along - the outdoor area was full, the bar loaded and every spare table was reserved. Luckily, they could offer us a corner seat provided we could eat and move on in a couple of hours. We were in.

The menu has changed since our last visit - the pie floater is sadly departed, as is the ham steak. The BBQ prawns remain, as do the fish and chips and the rissole sandwich, alongside the two new dishes that we sampled. First up the smoked BBQ chicken, char-grilled and basted with a BBQ glaze ($18). The chicken was very similar to the mock-meat that the Cornish Arms base their parmas around, but the glaze kicked things up a notch and the tangy bbq sauce was smoky and delicious. Each main comes with two sides (choose from chips, coleslaw, potato salad and garden salad) - we both loved the cup o' chips, which were perfectly crispy.

Our second main was the pulled mushroom blend lamb roll, a shredded mock lamb coated in a sticky BBQ beetroot sauce with coleslaw on soft damper bun ($15 - there's a double version for $20 too).

This reminded me of the lamb that Madame K use in their massman curry - it's quite a meaty rendition, with the stringiness of the 'pulled' version adding slightly off-putting realism. It was pretty great, although it's a bit much to be paying $15 for a smallish mock-meat roll.

The Sweetwater Inn do the Americana/Australiana combo pretty well - there's loads of hot sauce varieties, lots of kitschy decorations (including stuffed birds and bull horns, which might put some people off) and a menu full of classic mock-meat based dishes. The staff are lovely and the range of booze impressive (their own Sweetwater Lager is a pretty decent beer option), but it's busy, noisy and a bit on the pricey side. We're Sweetwater enthusiasts, but with the Cornish Arms much more conveniently located we'll probably stick to our current schedule of a couple of visits a year.

You can read about our previous visits to the Sweetwater Inn here and here. Since then the vegan menu has had a good write-up Vegan Bullsh*t (twice!) and positive reviews from The Mob Review, Four Seasons of Food, Confessions of a Glutton and Fig and Walnut.

The Sweetwater Inn
1/60 Bray St, South Yarra
0402 532 578

Accessibility: There are three steps up as you enter. Things are reasonably well spread out, with seating a mix of high stools, low chairs and kegs. This time we bought drinks at the high bar, ordered food at our table, and returned to the bar to pay. We didn't visit the toilets.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Edamame & walnut sushi

March 4, 2014

Johanna promised that this was a recipe for jaded sushi lovers. But I reckon it's been a year since we last rolled our own sushi at home (case in point: we had no idea where the sushi mats were stored in our 7-month-old kitchen) and I've rarely eaten it out in the interim, so I was probably easily pleased.

This is certainly a pleasing alternative to the usual run of avocado and cucumber in vegetarian sushi rolls - a sweet and salty, protein rich medley of walnuts, edamame and sesame seeds. I decided to team it with some julienned carrot, oblivious to but happily in sync with the original recipe.

We struggled a little to reclaim our rolling technique after our accidental sushi hiatus but formed three large edible-if-mishapen hand rolls - a lovely late-summer dinner.

Edamame & walnut sushi filling
(a recipe from Green Gourmet Giraffe,
where it's credited to Food and Wine)

1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup walnuts
1/2 cup edamame
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
3 teaspoons tamari
1/2 carrot

Prepare the basic nori roll recipe. While the rice is cooling, place the sesame seeds in a frypan and heat them for a few minutes until toasted. Remove them from the pan and return it to the heat.

Pour the oil into the pan and add the walnuts. Toss and toast the walnuts for a few minutes, until crisp and fragrant. Add the edamame, maple syrup and tamari. Keep stirring it all as it cooks until the sauce thickens, around 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and sprinkle over the sesame seeds, allowing it all to cool down for a few minutes.

Julienne the carrot. Arrange the carrots and edamame-walnuts as filling in the sushi.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Grilled figs with orange cashew cream

March 3, 2014

We've got a little spice grinder attachment for our blender blade, and it's helped me turn out some really smooth cashew-based cream sauces in the last year. With figs currently, briefly in season I figured I'd transfer this trick to dessert and tinker with the ricotta-stuffed fig recipe I made this time last year.

It took more soy milk than I expected to form the cashew cream - I think the blender just needed a larger volume of ingredients to reach the blades, and thankfully the cream was still thick enough to dollop onto the fig halves. It even coloured up a little under the grill, just like the ricotta I'd used previously.

I think the star of this recipe is the Cointreau-spiked orange syrup, and I didn't make quite enough this time around. I'd recommend doubling the orange juice for sure; double the Cointreau too if you dare.

Grilled figs with orange cashew cream
(adapted from this recipe)

1/2 cup cashews, soaked overnight
1/3 cup soymilk
juice and zest of 1 orange (I'd juice two oranges next time)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon Cointreau
4 fresh figs

Cover the cashews in water and soak them overnight. Drain the cashews and blend them with the soymilk, orange zest, vanilla and salt, until they're completely smooth.

In a small saucepan, stir together the orange juice, sugar and Cointreau over medium heat. Continue to simmer this sauce until it has reduced by half, around 5-10 minutes.

Slice the figs in half and spoon the cashew mixture onto their cut sides. Arrange the figs cream-side-up in a heat-proof flat dish (I use a pie dish) and gently pour over the orange syrup. Place the dish under a grill until the figs are warm and the cream is a little golden, then serve two or more halves per person with a spoonful of syrup.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


March 1, 2014

I stocked up on vegan caramel cans in the last weeks of Radical Grocery's trading, but spotting more at The Cruelty Free Shop reassured me that I needn't hoard them any longer. I broke one out to fill these alfajores, assembling and sharing them 'round while watching movies with friends. 

Alfajores are a Spanish/Latin American sweet and I think this Viva Vegan! recipe most resembles the Peruvian style: flat, round biscuits sandwiched together with dulce de leche. Romero offers chopped almonds round the edge as an optional extra, but I thought pistachios would be fun instead. Her biscuit recipe is gorgeous and easy to work with, yielding neat white shortbread biscuits fragrant with lemon, vanilla and dark rum. They're a little dry on their own, but would be nice with a cup of tea and are truly magical once they meet the caramel and nuts.

(based on a recipe in Terry Hope Romero's Viva Vegan!)

3/4 cup margarine
2/3 cup icing sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 cups plain flour
2/3 cup cornflour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
generous pinch of salt
1 tablespoon soymilk
1 tablespoon dark rum
340g can vegan caramel
1/2 cup pistachios, roughly chopped

Place the margarine in a large bowl and sift over the icing sugar. Beat them together until well-mixed and fluffy with an electric mixer. Scrape the mixture from the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla and lemon zest, and beat it all some more. Sift in the flour, cornflour, baking powder and salt and beat it all together, starting on a low setting, until the mixture is crumbly. Pour over the soymilk and rum and beat the mixture a final time to form a cohesive dough. Turn the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, wrap it up and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat an oven to 160°C and line 1-2 baking trays with paper. Set out a large sheet of baking paper on a bench, break off half of the biscuit dough and place it on the paper. Fold over half of the paper and roll the dough to about 5mm thick. Use a 4cm diameter round biscuit cutter (or a small glass, perhaps?) to cut out biscuits and arrange them on the baking trays. Repeat with the remaining dough, roll up any scraps and keep going. Bake the biscuits for 12-14 minutes - you don't want them to go golden, so pull them out as soon as you notice a hint of colour on any of them. Let the biscuits cool for 5 minutes on the tray before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Place a spoonful of caramel onto the centre of a biscuit, and sandwich it with another biscuit. Roll the edges with pistachios, I pressed most of them in by hand. Repeat with the remaining biscuits and serve ASAP.

Monday, March 03, 2014

A sweet little potato bake

February 28, 2014

While Michael was in Sydney I subsisted largely on leftovers and scones (not to mention terrible TV - I'd vowed to save up True Detective for his return). But I made sure to buy some fresh vegetables on my way home and cook us something nice for Michael's dinnertime arrival on Friday.

I gave this simple sweet potato bake a go - it's the vegan variation on a recipe posted a couple of years ago on The Stone Soup. Sweet potato rounds are layered up and baked in a sauce of coconut cream and peanut butter, creating a rich casserole that smells of satay. The top-most layer of potatoes were crispy (make a wide, shallow bake for more of these!), while underneath was soft, starchy and very sweet. 

The recipe could do with a little more bite than the few chilli flakes I used - I like Jules' suggestion of adding a tablespoon of red curry paste - and we achieved it after baking by sprinkling over some savoury fried shallots. We finished the half-quantity described below that very night with a side of green salad, while talking over the top of True Detective about the week we'd had.

A sweet little potato bake
(slightly adapted from a recipe on The Stone Soup,
where a dairy-laden version is credited to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall)

165mL (small) can coconut cream
70g (~3 tablespoons) crunchy peanut butter
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
generous pinch chilli flakes
500g sweet potato
salt and pepper

Preheat an oven to 180°C.

In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut cream and peanut butter. Stir in the garlic and chilli flakes, plus salt and pepper.

Trim any bits you don't want to eat off the sweet potato, and slice the rest of it into thin rounds. Layer the rounds in a small baking tray, intermittently pouring in portions of the peanut-coconut mixture as you go.

Cover the baking tray with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for a further 20-30 minutes, until the sweet potato is cooked through and brown on top.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Mad Hatter Cupcakery

Update 31/12/2014: Mad Hatter Cupcakery has closed down.

February 27-28, 2014

I had a work jaunt to Sydney and found myself staying within walking distance of the Mad Hatter Cupcakery, a newly opened vegan bakery in Darlinghurst. I'm not a huge connoisseur of cupcakes, but Rosalie's post had got me excited to sample the vegan pastry offerings on my walk to work.

It's a cute little shop with a couple of tables and a few stools at a high counter - I imagine most of the business is in takeaways. I think the menu gradually expands through the day as owner Jessica keeps baking - on the first morning I arrived before the croissants were ready and had to make do with a scroll ($4).

It was very sweet and quite cakey -not quite the crumbly pastry I was hoping for, but still warm and delicious, with the cinnamon and sugar working their magic. I went back the next day to try my luck again and managed to turn up at the right moment to grab a freshly baked croissant ($4).

This was a bit more pastry-ish, but still heavier and more cake-like than I want from a croissant - it's clearly a challenge to reproduce flaky pastry without butter and Mad Hatter is doing an okay job of it, but it won't fool a non-vegan. Mad Hatter is a lovely addition to Sydney's veg scene, providing a similar service to Crumbs or Mr Nice Guy in Melbourne. Some of the stuff on their Facebook page looks incredible, so you're probably better off turning up a bit later in the day when the full range is available.

The rave review on quinces and kale alerted me to this place's existence, while Little Vegan Bear, gemsandplains and Vegan in Sydney have all enjoyed the previous incarnations of Mad Hatter at the Glebe Markets or Broadway shopping centre.

Mad Hatter Cupcakery
24 Flinders St, Darlinghurst
0403 314 690
basic pastries $4, cupcakes $3

Accessibility: There's a very small step on entry into a reasonably spacious interior. You order and pay at a high counter and have the option of low tables or high benches to sit at. I didn't visit the toilets.