Monday, August 31, 2015

Transformer II

August 22, 2015

We've been intending to revisit Transformer for breakfast or lunch ever since our dinner visit way back in April. Somehow though we've failed, lazily opting for Wide Open Road or finding ourselves at Smith and Daughters instead. So it was with much enthusiasm that we join Steph, Hayley and a big vego crew for a breakfast meet-up early one Saturday morning. The space is just as impressive in the daytime as it was at night - lots of greenery, a beautiful high ceiling and a pretty relaxed vibe. It was surprisingly quiet, actually, given the shit-fight that breakfast in Fitzroy usually entails.

The menu is short - just six dishes, three of which are vegan or veganisable (half of the menu is GF as well). I went with the savoury Indian crumpet with toasted corn, avocado, cherry tomatoes, quinoa, eggplant chutney and coconut yoghurt ($18) but ruined its vegan-ness by taking up the optional poached egg added on top (+$3).

This is the kind of thing that Transformer does so well, with their slightly fancy and original take on vego food. The crumpet is thick and soft, perfect for slathering with chutney, avo, yoghurt or eggy goodness. There's a nice mix of textures and flavours (although the quinoa feels like a slightly pointless addition) and it's a decent sized dish, leaving me pretty stuffed.

Cindy inevitably chose the buckwheat and wild rice hotcakes, with coffee cacao ganache, mascarpone, date syrup and snap-dried mandarin ($18).

This was the visual highlight of the meal and there were strong arguments made around the table that a vegan version of this is a crucial addition to Transformer's menu. The hotcakes were thick and cakey - noticeably gluten-free, but not in a bad way. The trimmings were where things really went up a notch though - the dried mandarins adding tartness and crunch and the impossibly rich ganache making this a breakfast dessert to remember.

Transformer is a winning breakfast option in Fitzroy - it caters well to vegans and coeliacs, getting a table doesn't involve queuing, and the standard of food is high. Prices are similarly high, but I don't think anyone around the table was unimpressed by the price:quality ratio. Coffee is decent without being memorable, and the Barry White-heavy Saturday morning soundtrack was a great way to kick the weekend off. We'll be back.

There has been a steady stream of positive reviews since our first visit - see Gourmet Chick, What's My Scene?, EightHrs, Oh My Goodness, I'm So Hungree, The Baroness of Melbourne and Veganopoulous

99 Rose St, Fitzroy
9419 2022
breakfast menu

Accessibility: The entry is wide and with a shallow ramp. Tables are well spaced, a mix of mid-height tables with booths and backed chairs, plus higher tables with backless bar stools. There's full table service. The toilets are highly accessible - individual unisex cubicles with marked wheelchair and ambulent options.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Flora II

August 21, 2015

Melbourne makes late winter that little less bleak by scheduling in the Melbourne International  Film Festival and Writers Festival (and the Fringe Festival isn't trailing far behind!). We've been attending lots of events and sneaking in some CBD meals around them. Red Pepper and Shandong Mama are faves, Fonda saw us through one dinner and we've also returned to Flora Indian Restaurant, which we first blogged nine long years ago. Its Flinders St location is convenient to Fed Square, they're open 'til 10 or 11pm and they turn around food fast - all good qualities for a festival feed.

Flora is an experience with few frills - choose from flourescent-lit menu boards and pick up your own food, drinks and cutlery. There are no markings for special dietary requirements, although there are plenty of meat-free options. There's also abundant seating, and Bollywood clips to bop along to if you position yourself in view of the TV.

We picked out some mini lassis from the fridge ($3 each; rose on the left and mango on the right). They were thick and yoghurty smooth.

Michael requested an all-veg Large Combo Meal ($11.90) and was treated to three veg curries, daal, rice and a pappadum. They weren't super-spicy but did offer enough diversity, and Michael rapidly cleared his plate.

I grazed on the snacktacular Dosa Meal ($10.90), starting with a too-hot-to-handle steamed iddly, a room temperature sauce-soaked vada, and crunchy masala dosa square. There was even some soooooooper sweet kheer for dessert.

Judged on fast food terms, Flora excels with quick service, a comfortable setting, and a varied menu. We'll continue to rely on it when we've got tickets to something in the city.


You can read about our first visit to Flora here (9 years ago!). Since then, it's received a scattering of blog support. Footscray Food Blog, New International Students and A lost Indian in Melbourne love it, while The Ortolan's Last Meal and Asian Restaurants in Melbourne were reasonably satisfied with their experiences.

Flora Indian Restauran
238 Flinders St, Melbourne
9663 1212
menu 1, 2

Accessibility: The entry is wide and flat, and the tables are well spaced with flexibility to move them around yourself. We ordered, paid and picked up our food at low-ish counters, and helped ourselves to cutlery and water. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


August 19, 2015

We needed a quick dinner before a show in the city on Wednesday night and decided to try out Fonda, tucked up the Parliament end of Flinders Lane. Fonda rode Melbourne's Mamasita-inspired Mexican wave and has since grown from its beginnings in Richmond to four locations across the city. The Flinders Lane one is massive - it was easy to grab a big table at 6pm, but things filled up as we ate and it was pretty hectic by the time we left.

The menu has a decent range of vego options, including a few veganisable dishes. There's a big drinks list too - frozen margaritas, cocktails, hip beers and a short wine list. They also do an array of non-boozy options, including Cindy's choice for the night: horchata ($6). It was a very sweet version of this rice-milk based beverage, but Cindy was happy with it nonetheless.

We started things off sharing around two kinds of chips: the crispy white and blue tortilla crisps with guacamole and pico de gallo ($9)...

and the crunch-cut potato chips with chipotle aoili ($).

Both were excellent, with generous and delicious condiments. The chipotle hot chips in particular were top notch - probably the best dish we had. Cindy ordered the portabello and shitake mushroom quesadilla, served with a fonda salsa ($15).

This was a pretty disappointing dish - the quesadilla fillings were pretty bland, with the mushroom and greens combo not really packing much punch. The salsa helped a lot, but on the whole this dish didn't really inspire (one of our dining companions had the same filling on tacos and was equally bummed out).

I ordered the black bean falafel, with shaved zucchini and cabbage, salsa, pickled carrot and onion and chipotle aioli ($15, this dish would be vegan if you cancelled the aioli I think).

This was much more successful - the falafel were great, and the fillings added some freshness to the burrito and the smokey salsa was great. A few dabs of hot sauce really topped things off. 

Our Fonda experience was pretty mixed - it's a lovely space and the staff were friendly and efficient, but the food was pretty mixed. If you order wisely you could have a wonderful meal, but the prices are high and the quality is varied. It's a handy spot for a quick city dinner, but there is no shortage of those around, so it's probably only worth the trip if you're hanging for something wrapped in a tortilla.



31 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
8686 7300
menu, drinks

Accessibility: Entry is up a staircase. Things are reasonably spacious inside, with a mix of low and high tables. You order and pay at a low counter, and they bring the food out to your table. One of our companions reported that the toilets are fully accessible, so perhaps there is also an alternative entry that we couldn't figure out.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Pan-fried gnocchi & kale

August 17, 2015

I bought a bag of Maria's gnocchi on a whim last time we were at Piedemonte's without any plans for it at all. Our blog archives and my link list held a few recipes, but none of them really grabbed me. I had better luck browsing 101 Cookbooks, where Michael zeroed in on a recipe for pan-fried corona beans and kale containing a small note that Swanson was "confident you could do this preparation with gnocchi... in place of beans".

We bought a small bunch of kale on Monday night and went with it. This is a single pan saute of lightly browned (not boiled!) gnocchi and shredded kale layered with the piquant flavours of walnuts, garlic, lemon and parmesan. It's winter comfort food that's assembled with little fuss, exactly what I needed at the end of an unusually long workday.

Pan-fried gnocchi & kale
(slightly adapted from a recipe at 101 Cookbooks)

small bunch of kale
2 tablespoons olive oil
500g bag frozen potato gnocchi, just barely thawed
1/3 cup walnuts
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Wash the kale, slice off the stems and roughly chop the leaves.

Set a large frying pan over medium heat and pour in the olive oil. When it's hot, add the gnocchi and spread them out evenly across the pan. Give them a couple of still minutes to brown on one side, then toss them to brown on a second side. After a further minute or two, add the kale and a shake of salt, and tossing them through the gnocchi. 

Give the kale a minute or two to wilt, then stir in the walnuts, garlic and nutmeg. Pour in the lemon juice and sprinkle over the zest. When the lemon juice has mostly evaporated, turn off the heat. Serve the gnocchi in bowls and grate the parmesan over the top.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Admiral Cheng-Ho II

August 16, 2015

We had a rare reason to be in Abbotsford on Sunday morning, so we finally returned to Admiral Cheng-Ho for a second visit. Not a great deal has changed since we stopped by in the first week they were open - it's stylish, busy and the menu is all veg (and mostly vegan).

Cheng-Ho takes coffee very seriously, with an array of bean and brew choices - I'm a philistine, and just ordered a straight-up soy flat white. Cindy branched out, with a chai latte - it was a bit disappointing, with the main flavour coming from the dusting of cinnamon on top.

The food menu has changed a little since our first visit, but the basic shtick is the same - the umami mushrooms that we first tried at sister-venue Monk Bodhi Dharma are still an option and there's dishes featuring beans, bircher muesli, avo on toast and chia pudding. The zucchini pancakes from our first visit are gone, replaced with the Crazy Jimbo ($16.50), which I ordered.

It features a couple of discs of slightly dry polenta bread, covered in kale, carrots, broccolini, almond feta and basil cashew cream, and accompanied by avocado, tomato and a tangy beetroot relish. It's a lovely combination of fresh and tasty ingredients. I'm not sure the polenta bread is really a step up from a couple of decent slices of toast, but it's really all about the toppings (and I guess using polenta bread keeps the base dish gluten-free).

Cindy couldn't resist the vegan Northside French toast, with raw vanilla cashew cream, blueberries, strawberries and rhubarb and a raw chocolate sauce ($16.50).

The vegan-ness of the French toast meant that it was a bit light on the batter, which was compensated by the slatherings of chocolate sauce across the three big toast pieces. The fruit and cashew cream were superb, but there wasn't very much of them, meaning the ratio of toast to toppings was a bit high. 

Admiral Cheng-Ho is an excellent option for Melbourne's vegan breakfast-enthusiasts, offering up a much wider array of dishes than most places (with the obvious exception). The food is solid, the coffee excellent and the staff friendly - we really should visit more than once a year.



Admiral Cheng-Ho
325 Johnston St, Abbotsford
9534 7250
menu, drinks

Accessibility: There's a single large step on entry, and a very crowded interior. We ordered at the table and paid at a low counter. The toilet is around the back of the building, requiring you to negotiate some cobblestones and a small step.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tahini rice puff squares

August 15, 2015

Hot on the heels of that cocoa crackles recipe, I've got another melt-and-mix rice bubble treat to share. I stirred this one up in 15 minutes to take along to a crafternoon, where I helped decorate my friend's exciting new recycling venture.

This slice comes from the indolent cook. I replaced the original honey with barley malt syrup for vegan-friendly convenience to good effect. I toasted the rice puffs and walnuts in a pan as directed, but somehow that dulled their fresh crunch, and I wouldn't repeat it.

The slice's dark and glossy finish suggests that this is will be an intensely sweet and chocolatey experience, but actually the flavour is dominated by tahini. It could be a fleeting disappointment, but ultimately it's a nutty, fudgy delight.

Tahini rice puff squares
(slightly adapted from a recipe at the indolent cook)

3 cups brown rice puffs
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped 
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup barley malt syrup
1/4 cup cocoa 

1/4 teaspoon salt

Line a small baking tray with paper.

Place the rice puffs and walnuts in a medium-large saucepan and set them over medium heat. Toss them around frequently until they start smelling toasty and good. Transfer the puffs and nuts into the baking tray to rest.

Combine the remaining ingredients in the saucepan and return the pan to medium heat. Stir the mixture regularly to thoroughly combine the ingredients and prevent burning. When the mixture is smooth, add the puffs and nuts back in and stir thoroughly to combine. Pour the mixture into the tray and smooth it out evenly. I sprayed the back of a spoon with a little oil and used that to press down the sticky, clumpy mixture.

Cover the slice and refrigerate it for at least an hour before cutting it into squares and serving.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Magic Mountain Saloon

August 12, 2015

Cindy and I had a Wednesday night free and decided to freshen up our restaurant game a bit by heading into the city to try somewhere new and buzzy. Magic Mountain Saloon fit the bill - it's run by the people who run hipster-magnets Cookie, The Toff and Revolver and is getting a lot of blog attention (see the link list below). We turned up at 6:45 without a booking and were relegated to a pretty uncomfortable corner of the bar, so the word is clearly out - it's definitely a place you should book for. The venue's split over three levels - the ground floor is restauranty, with tables and a longish bar, the mezzanine is small with a couple more tables and the top level feels more like a bar with some tables - a lot more people hanging out and drinking rather than sitting down for dinner.

It's moodily lit, with a red glow cast over everything and clubby music pumping away at a volume just below 'really annoying'. The staff are friendly and reasonably efficient, and were quick to set us up and offer us drinks. I unadventurously ordered a beer, while Cindy took on the Cuban creaming soda ($5), with vanilla syrup, lime and mint.

The food menu was Chin Chin-esque: a mix of dishes of different sizes and styles that are designed to be shared. There's a reasonable number of vego options - three appetisers, five sides and a couple of bulkier wok dishes. We somehow resisted the lotus root, peanut and pickled turnip dumplings ($14.50), instead opting for the curried rice and mozzarella balls with a coriander and avocado sauce ($12.5) to get things started.

They were a Thai twist on arancini, with a nice curry kick cutting through the rice and cheese. Next up we tried the green papaya, yard beans, tomato, avocado and peanut salad ($17.50).

I quite liked the idea of this - take the classic papaya salad and mix it up with some generous chunks of avocado. That combo really worked, but the whole dish was loaded up with so much chilli that it was hard to really enjoy it.

Finally, we ordered the tofu red curry with eggplant, yard beans and makrut lime leaves ($21.50), with a couple of rotis on the side ($5.50 each). The mix of tofu and veggies in the curry were great, as were the roti breads - the curry sauce was passable, but in contrast to the salad was overly sweet and lacking in spice. Once the chilli burn from the salad passed, this was a bit on the plain side.

We finished up with a split dessert - a coconut and lime panacotta with strawberry and mint compote ($14.50).

This was tangy, smooth and sweet, but it didn't really knock my socks off - I should always order something chocolate-based for dessert I think.

Our dinner at Magic Mountain Saloon was passable - the food was okay, the service was sharp and the vibe was pleasant enough. It's clearly trying to muscle in on the incredibly successful Chin Chin territory (although to be fair, Cookie's been working a similar space for years), but it didn't quite measure up to those standards. I'm interested in trying out their breakfast menu, but I doubt we'll hurry back for dinner.

Magic Mountain Saloon has good reviews, although the high spice factor comes up in quite a few reviews - check out Stuck in Transit, frenchtoastandindiepop, Nom's Adventure, The Baroness of Melbourne, Delightfully Tasty, foodie about town, bonjourchickie, nik-nak castle, Spoonfuls of Wanderlust, The Glutton's Diet, The Everyday Melburnian, The New Fave and kT Eats World. There are some reviews of a freebie breakfast event at Barley Blog, Gastrology, I'm So Hungree and Sweet and Sour Fork.

Magic Mountain Saloon
62 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
9078 0078
menu, soft drinks

Accessibility: There are a couple of steps up on entry and the interior is pretty crowded. There's a mix of bar stools and regular tables and full table service. The gendered bathrooms are located on the third floor - I didn't see a lift anywhere.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Cocoa crackles

August 9, 2015

We were invited to celebrate the first birthday of our youngest friend last weekend. Her party had a rainbow theme, and the savoury food was provided by the wonderful Las Vegan Catering (I ate so much pizza). A week ahead I asked how I could help, and I was enlisted to make chocolate crackles.

Chocolate crackles are always vegan and very nearly gluten-free, but these ones have the 2015 treatment. There's coconut oil instead of copha, of course, and coconut sugar instead of regular icing. I even had gluten-free brown rice puffs on hand instead of Kellogg's bubbles. This version appeals to 2015 me much more than the original recipe - although it's a little crumbly, it's got a stronger cocoa flavour and none of the greasiness of copha.

The party wasn't exclusively new age mama mania - there was plenty of lurid colouring in the vegan-friendly Skittles and the spectacular six-layered rainbow cake prepared by a pro.

Cocoa crackles
(slightly adapted from a recipe at Natural New Age Mum)

125g coconut oil
1/2 cup coconut sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
pinch of salt
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
2 cups brown rice puffs

Melt the coconut oil in a medium-large saucepan. Add the sugar, cocoa and salt, stirring until smooth. Stir in the dessicated coconut and then the rice puffs, until everything is well mixed.

Line a muffin pan with a dozen papers and spoon the crackle mixture out equally between them. Refrigerate the crackles for an hour or more before serving.

Friday, August 14, 2015


August 8, 2015

From Steam Junkies to Addict - I'm not sure I care for cafes naming themselves after compulsions but it seems I'll eat their brunch. Addict has the typical trappings of an inner north cafe - a communal table and drop lights, longnecks for water pitchers and a small queue. Luckily for us, the 10 minute wait estimated by the waiter was more like 2. It was barely enough time to stare hungrily at the doughnut display before we were seated at a sunny window bench.

The Addict menu has abundant Vs and GFs, but doesn't offer much in the way of information or eating for vegans. The coconut & lychee porridge and the citrus-spiked chia pudding might pass muster, but conferring with staff would definitely be needed. By contrast, the vegetarian options are varied and take up half the menu, from buttermilk pancakes to corn fritters and a mega Go Green breakfast.

The Chai Boy Latte's ($4.50) paraphernalia took up most of my table space. For all its name-dropping and bench-hogging it wasn't all that memorable, mildly spiced and only briefly steeped.

The food was a long time coming - even slowpoke Cindy here had sipped the last of her latte before it arrived. Michael ordered the oft-blogged potato hash and mushroom duxelle with roasted field mushroom, a poached egg and caramelised onion ($18). It was compact and quickly consumed, but very rich and dominated by the mushroom flavours. As I continued eating my meal, I caught Michael staring longingly at the corn fritters left by a couple of ladies further along the bench.

Although our friend Will had particularly recommended the pancakes, I passed over them for a blackboard special of cinnamon dusted brioche French toast, date and peanut puree, caramel banana, vanilla mascarpone, sweet and salty nuts, and maple syrup ($17). I was served a whole lot more fried and sugar-rolled brunchtime bang-for-my-buck than Michael was! The brioche was only lightly battered, and dusted to resemble cinnamon doughnuts, the bananas were nearly collapsed under their caramelisation, and the garnished macadamias were deeply toasted. It was spectacularly over the top, and I ate it all.

Michael should not have been surprised that I could manage only a cursory taste of the doughnut we ordered afterwards. It was all Krispy Kreme puff, without cakiness and (to my disappointment) without any tanginess to its berry-tinted icing.

The staff were friendly and capable but there seemed too few of them; we were left waiting for long periods to order and receive food. What the Addict kitchen made was very, very good - fancy but well-composed, a smidge pretentious yet ultimately satisfying.



240 Johnston St, Fitzroy
9415 6420
menu, specials

Accessibility: There's a shallow ramp on entry. Tables inside are standard height and crowded in, with a mix of chairs and stools. We ordered at our table and paid at a medium-high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Chimichurri pumpkin bowl

August 4, 2015

We had a big chunk of pumpkin leftover from our most recent veggie box and, after considering a few old favourites, decided it was time to bust out a new recipe. The bowls in Isa Does It have proven pretty successful so far, so when we discovered this recipe on a scan through the index, we were sold (added bonus: it used up a wilty bunch of coriander also leftover from the veggie box). 

Like the other bowl recipes, there's a fair few components - you're baking pumpkin, cooking pasta, heating up beans and making a spice paste - but none of them are very complicated. The issue is more the mess you leave behind than the difficulty involved in throwing it all together. And the results are definitely worth it - the garlicky chimichurri proving to be a surprisingly perfect accompaniment to the sweet, roasted potato, with the beans and pasta adding some bulk and protein. 

We went back for a second round on this - the spice paste recipe makes much more than you'll need for one dinner - and it worked just as well with roasted carrots as with pumpkin. We've had nothing but good results from Isa Does It and this just adds to my resolution to go pawing through it for more ideas.

Chimichurri pumpkin bowl
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Isa Does It)

~1kg pumpkin, chopped into big chunks (you don't need to peel it)
250g linguine (ours was a quite passable batch of gluten-free linguine leftover from one of Cindy's field trips)
2 cans black beans

2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup pepitas
1 big bunch of parsley, roughly chopped (about 2 cups)
1 small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Pop the pumpkin on a lightly oiled baking tray and bake for 45 minutes or so, until completely soft.

While the pumpkin is baking, make the chimichurri in a food processor. Start by blending up the garlic until it's finely chopped. Add the pepitas and grind them up into small crumbs. Throw in the rest of the ingredients and blend into a thick puree.

Drain the beans and heat them up in a small saucepan

Prepare the linguine as per the instructions - you want it to be the last thing that's ready.

Drain the linguine and stir through 1/2 of the chimichurri paste (the noodles' heat will take the sting out of the garlic).

Assemble your bowls with the pasta, beans and pumpkin, topped with a few extra scoops of chimmichurri and garnished with pepitas.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Kiwi cashew slice

August 2, 2015

Our vege deliveries tell me it's kiwi fruit season, so I bookmarked Emma Galloway's recipe for raw kiwifruit + ginger 'cheesecake' the moment I saw it. With melting oil and maple syrup going on, it's not strictly 100% raw, but it's that little bit more workable.

I blended this one up on a Sunday morning, with some equipment that was distinctly inferior to Galloway's. My food processor struggled to break down the dried dates in the base layer, so mine was rather coarse (pre-soaking the dates might yield better results). It didn't fare much better with the cashews in the filling, even though they'd been soaked overnight - there were soft but discernible flecks of nut throughout the mixture. The food processor was completely incapable of pureeing the sly spinach leaves that colour the third layer, so I transferred this last mixture to my spice grinder for a finer result. I added an extra kiwi fruit, too, to intensify the flavour and work through my fruit stocks that little bit faster.

For all my skepticism, this slice has been lovely. The base was crumbly, but the larger date chunks were like chewy caramel. The topping is smooth and almost fluffy, with a subtle twang of ginger. Some fresh kiwi fruit on top completes a gradient of dense sweetness through lighter creaminess to wake-up juicy sourness. We've snatched snacks of it throughout the week, and I've held some over in the freezer to look forward to later.

Kiwi cashew slice
(very slightly adapted from My Darling Lemon Thyme)

1 1/2 cups dried dates, pits removed and roughly chopped
2/3 cup raw almonds
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted

3 cups raw cashews
3/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons minced ginger
handful of baby spinach leaves
3 kiwi fruits, peeled

extra kiwi fruits to garnish

Cover the cashews with water and soak them overnight. Drain the water.

Line a large slice tin with baking paper. Grind together the base ingredients in a food processor until they resemble coarse crumbs. Press them into the base of the slice tin, using the back of a spoon to smooth it all out.

For the filling, blend together the cashews, coconut oil, lemon juice, maple syrup, vanilla, salt and ginger until very, very smooth. Pour half of the mixture out onto the slice base and smooth it over with a spoon. Place the slice in the freezer while you perform the next step.

Blend the spinach leaves and 3 kiwi fruits into the remaining cashew mixture until it is smooth and green. Retrieve the slice from the freezer and pour the green mixture evenly over the slice. Refrigerate the slice for 5 hours, or freeze it for 2-3 hours. Garnish with fresh kiwi fruit slices when serving.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Gochujang fried cauliflower

August 1, 2015

It's been too long since I last did some extended, just-for-fun weekend cooking! The half a huge head of cauliflower delivered in our recent vege box inspired me to try one of J. Kenji López-Alt's battered-and-fried cauliflower recipes, which he published more than two years ago on Serious Eats.

I'm not in the regular business of battering or deep-frying, but its never quite as bad as I imagine. There's always a bit of dripping, and disposing of the oil isn't great, but it was well worth it for these tender, golden cauliflower bites. This particular batter includes sesame seeds and dessicated coconut. To my surprise they separated from the batter once it hit the oil, floating up to the surface to form a fragile, nutty lace. It was kinda fun and tasty to nibble at, but a hint that I shouldn't bother including these ingredients in the future - I'll just keep some sesame seeds aside for garnishing instead.

The key point of interest and flavour in this recipe is really the gochujang, a smooth Korean spice paste of roasted chillis and fermented soy beans. I'm glad I image-searched this condiment before we went shopping, because we happened upon the distinctive red plastic completely by chance in an unfamiliar shop - it wasn't on a designated shelf and was covered in a fine layer of dust (but was within its expiry date, I was sure to brush off that dust and check!).

The gochujang forms the foundation of a dressing that's warm, tangy, salty and sweet. It clings to the batter, giving the cauliflower a soft, lively coating that eliminates any need for a dipping sauce. It reminded me a bit of the barbecue sauce we've used for years, and I can imagine skipping the batter palaver and dry-frying tofu in it.

Gochujang fried cauliflower
(slightly adapted from a recipe at Serious Eats)

1 head cauliflower
1/2 cup cornflour
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup sesame seeds (would save for garnish instead)
1/3 cup dessicated coconut (would skip entirely)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vodka
large volume of vegetable oil, for deep frying

1/4 cup gochujang
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons water

Chop the head of cauliflower up into bite-sized florets.

In a medium bowl, stir together the cornflour plain flour, baking powder, sesame seeds (if using), and coconut (if using). Whisk in the water to form a smooth batter, then whisk in the vodka until the batter is smooth and runny.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients.

Pour the oil into a saucepan until it's about 6cm deep (we chose a small saucepan so that it wouldn't be too much oil). Set it over medium-high heat.

When a drop of batter sizzles in the hot oil, it's time to get frying. Drop a few pieces of cauliflower into the batter, coat them all over, and shake off any excess batter before gently dropping each floret into the oil. Fry the cauliflower florets in batches, for around 4-6 minutes each, until they're golden. Transfer the cooked florets to absorbent paper and season them with salt. (If you're cooking in many batches, consider transferring the fried cauliflower to a baking tray in a oven on its lowest setting, to keep them warm.)

When all the cauliflower is cooked, toss it gently but thoroughly with the dressing and serve, garnished with an extra sprinkling of sesame seeds.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Steam Junkies

August 1, 2015

Last weekend we headed up to Florence St for a late breakfast before running some errands around Brunswick. We've had half an eye on The Commons for a couple of years - it's a unit block by the railway tracks that has sold itself on its sustainability measures. On an Upfield walk last year we noticed that the ground floor cafe, Steam Junkies, has a few veg options and they've been given a thumbs-up on Green Gourmet Giraffe.

The odds for vegetarians are good, with thirteen of the twenty-two regular menu dishes boasting a V (and almost half the menu including a gluten-free friendly *). Looking beyond the plain toast, though, there's not a lot designed for vegans. Poached eggs and cheeses abound, and there's also a curious preponderance of quinoa.

Michael's plate captured their poached eggs-on-superfoods style, starting with quinoa toast and a mound of garlic sauteed kale and spinach, dotted with dried cranberries, almond flakes and goats curd with a couple of asparagus spears too ($16). His coffee and eggs met with the high standards expected of inner-north cafes, and he liked the way the cranberries broke up the green theme.

Budgeting on a two-meal day, I made my first one a haloumi burger ($13.50). The cheese was rolled in sesame seeds and one of the lightest I've encountered, with barely a squeak to be had, not to mention voluminous! Really, look at it. There was double the cheese this burger needed. But instead of playing haloumi Jenga, I elected to eat this a half at a time, first with the relish-smeared brioche top and second with the tomato, mayo and rocket. The tangy dressings and side salad of rocket, cherry tomatoes, apple and radish were my ideal complements to the cheese, and I capped it all off with a frothy freshly squeezed orange juice ($6).

With its communal table, bike racks and polished concrete floor, Steam Junkies does everything you'd expect of a Brunswick cafe. Their egg-and-quinoa menu is a mite less predictable, and the haloumi burger is unforgettable - they could well have their niche.


Bloggers have been unanimously positive about Steam Junkies - see fellow vegetarian Green Gourmet Giraffe and omnivorous bloggers A Place A Day, makelovetotheworld and CHOMP AND SLURP.

Steam Junkies
1/7-9 Florence St, Brunswick
9973 4309
regular menu, specials
facebook page

Accessibility: The entry is flat and wide with a sliding door. Tables are generously spaced, with a mixture of low backless stools, benches and slightly rickety chairs (a couple of infants' high chairs are also available). We didn't visit the toilets, but observed another customer borrowing a key from staff to access them outside the cafe. We ordered at the table and paid at a low-ish counter.