Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mango & coconut splice blocks

December 18-19, 2015

On the weekend before Christmas, our friends put on a yum cha feast. I was originally planning to bring along some mango coconut splice jellies but with the temperature approaching 40 degrees I decided to put them on ice.

For a vegan and gluten-free crowd, I adapted a recipe that my grandmother and Mum both made in years gone by. The original blends canned mangoes and sugar syrup, then layers them with dairy cream. I couldn't help noticing that canned mangoes are stored in sugar syrup, and so just used that in the fruity layer. I replaced the dairy cream with coconut cream, natch.

I couldn't find a perfectly level spot in the freezer to store my splice blocks, so the ratio of mango to coconut varied from one end of the container to the other. I didn't mind in the least! They're dense and full of ice crystals, but sweet and soothing in the summer heat. You'd struggle to put a dainty spoon through them, and I've been content to eat them with sticky fingers on many afternoons.

Mango & coconut splice blocks
(adapted from a family recipe, transcribed below)

3 x 425g can mangoes including the syrup they're stored in 
juice of half a lemon
pinch of salt
1 x 400mL can coconut cream

Line a large baking tray or rectangular lidded container with foil.

Place the mangoes and their syrup and the lemon juice in a food processor or blender. Blend them until very smooth. Place 1 cup of the mango puree in a bowl; stir the salt and coconut cream into this puree. Pour the coconut mixture into the foil-lined tray and freeze it until firm, around 4 hours.

Pour the remaining mango puree over the frozen coconut layer and freeze again until firm, at least 4 more hours. Cut the slice into blocks and serve on a saucer or wrapped in paper.

Frozen mango bars
(a recipe inherited from my grandmother and Mum)

1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/4 cups water
3 x 425g cans sliced mangoes, drained
300mL thickened cream

Combine sugar and water, stir over low heat until dissolved. Boil for 5 minutes or until slightly thickened. Cool.

Blend mangoes, syrup and juice until smooth. Combine 1 cup mango mixture with cream. Line lamington pan with foil, pour in cream mixture. Freeze until firm. Pour remaining mixture over frozen cream. Freeze several hours until firm. Cut into squares.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Wide Open Road V

December 19, 2015

It would be fair to say that we're regulars at Wide Open Road (they know Michael by name and coffee order these days). Our most recent visit was an early Saturday morning forecast to be a scorcher, so Michael flipped his coffee to their cold brew with condensed milk on the side ($5).

He turned up the heat with a generous dose of chilli sauce on a plate of corn, black bean and smoked mozzarella tortillas with chipotle lime creme fraiche and fried eggs ($16.50).

I took on the current French toast option, a refreshing take on the summer pudding ($16.50), featuring: barely-battered brioche stuffed with juicy berries; pistachios, lemon curd and freeze-dried berries to drag the bread through; and a moussey block of vanilla yoghurt semi-freddo. This dish gracefully hurdles the high bar that Wide Open Road has been maintaining for years. Here's hoping it sticks around all summer long.

The current menu holds clearly marked gluten-free options (including Michael's tortillas above) and vegan options on the chia pudding, fancy toast and a lunchtime Moroccan salad.


You can read about one, two, three, four of our previous visits on the blog. Since that last post it's received positive coverage on BLK's Food Blog, frenchtoastandindiepop and MELBOURNE VITA (where I first saw that French toast!).


Wide Open Road
274 Barkly St, Brunswick
9387 6079
menu: food, drinks, specials

Accessibility: Tables outside are on a sloping footpath and there are a couple of steps up on entry. There's a fair bit of space inside, although they manage to squeeze plenty of tables in there. There's full table service. The toilets are tucked away out the back, are gendered and fully accessible.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pesto-scrambled tofu with cherry tomatoes

December 12, 2015

Cindy's birthday festival wasn't over after our fancy Brae dinner - we had speedy dumplings at Shanghai Street on Friday night and then I got cracking on a Saturday morning breakfast. I returned to Vegan Brunch, opting for our go-to potato-based side dish, muffin-tray hash browns combined with something new: pesto-tofu scramble with cherry tomatoes.

I'm sure you could take the easy option and buy some pesto, but Isa's recipe is super simple and adds just the right amount of oily basil goodness to the scram. Even a tomato-hater like me found the cooked-down cherry tomatoes added nice bursts of colour and flavour. We had a long debate on Facebook recently where most commenters agreed that there was no cafe-cooked scrambled tofu that measured up to what you can make at home and I think, despite how much I enjoyed Green Park's offering, this dish proves them right - nobody's selling scrambled tofu this good, so stay home one Sunday morning and whip this up. You won't be disappointed.

Pesto scrambled tofu with cherry tomatoes
(based on a recipe from Isa Chandra's Vegan Brunch)

1 garlic clove, peeled
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 bunch basil leaves (~ 2 loosely packed cups)
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small brown onion, thinly sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves, minced
500g firm tofu, moisture squeezed out as best you can
salt and pepper

Whiz up the pine nuts, garlic, basil and salt in a food processor until everything is chopped finely.

With the food processor running, slowly pour in the oil, water and vinegar. Keep blending until you've got a nice smooth pesto.

Gently heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan up and slow-fry the onion for 5-10 minutes until it's nice and soft.

Add the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes, until they get all crinkly and start giving up their juices. Stir in the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds.

Crumble the tofu right into the pan in chunky pieces. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly. 

Stir in the pesto, season with salt and pepper and cook for another couple of minutes.

Serve, ideally with hash browns you've had baking the whole time.

Monday, December 21, 2015


December 10, 2015

For my birthday this year Michael organised a surprise overnight trip to Birregurra, primarily so that we could eat at Brae. This high-end restaurant seems to have no trouble luring guests from Melbourne and even further afield thanks to the reputation of head chef Dan Hunter - even with sneaky preparation around 2 months in advance, Michael was only able to secure a weeknight booking.

The menu draws from local produce, some of it grown on site, and is a set number of courses. Having mentioned our vegetarianism on booking, the staff had this menu poised for us to peruse, asking that we alert them to any extra allergies or ingredients we wished to avoid. It listed 14 dishes - 6 appetisers, 5 main plates, 2 desserts and 1 petit four - at $160 per person, and included options for matched wines ($120 per person, which Michael ordered) or matched non-alcoholic beverages ($60 per person, my preference).

All of the appetisers could be eaten by hand, and it released me to enjoy the whole meal without worry of formality or handling the cutlery correctly. Asparagus spears were more crunchy than tender and seasoned with olive powder; summer blossoms decorated flax seed crackers but didn't offer much flavour; crumbly pastry shells held the freshest raw peas.

Nasturtium leaves wrapped up lively little parcels of barbecued corn and tamarind, garnished with native finger lime 'caviar'. My photo doesn't do justice to the succulent ice plant, coated in crystals of freeze-dried sake. A wedge of butter lettuce heart was dotted with rich goat's curd, and rice paper was fried into a bubbly cracker and seasoned with mountain pepper.

To drink with these appetisers, I was served a sprightly riff on champagne made of jasmine, tonic and pink grapefruit with more finger lime bursts.

Only after these appetisers were we offered bread. Brae bread is memorable, with the flour milled on site and the dough baked in a wood-fired oven out back. It has a thick, charred crust, and the centre is equal parts fluffy and substantial. The accompanying butter is airily whipped and tempting to scoop on by the tablespoonful.

Act 2 began with a wedge of avocado clothed in a milk skin, flavoured with corn, herbs and sesame. A cucumber and lime soda kept it light and summery.

Stepping up the richness, we had little potatoes in a comté (cheese) and amontillado (sherry) sauce topped with an egg yolk and paper-thin zucchini blossoms.

The accompanying kale and apple juice, served with a salted hazelnut praline rim, confirmed that I'll never get into green juice.

This dish of warm ricotta, nettles, mushrooms and brassicas dialled down the fat in favour of depth, with a mushroom-based broth and intensely flavoured, dehyrdrated mushrooms and green leaves that I plucked at with my fingers. It was well teamed with a cup of oolong tea.

My next two dishes came with more tea, this one their own smoky blend of Jin Mao Hou and toasted wild rice. I first drank it with a meltingly tender eggplant piece lacquered with white miso, served with dried grains and cured kelp.

Our final savoury plate looked a little lighter but still packed some punch. Barbecued tofu was suspended between silken and firm textures, and served with little Otway shiitake mushrooms and a black garlic puree. I was most taken with the fermented cabbage, which must have been dehydrated to attain such a papery texture.

The first palate-cleansing dessert layered powdered milk and dried milk skin with mandarin and a honeycomb made distinctively with honey rather than just caramelised sugar. My paired mocktail mimicked these sweet and tangy flavours with pineapple and coconut rimmed with orange sherbert.

The second dessert, named 'parsnip and apple', is something of a signature dish. The parsnip is roasted into a thick sweet cone, like a hardier brandy snap, and holds piped custard; the plate is dotted with dehydrated apple wedges. It was elevated by the paired tangy pink lady and chamomile juice, perhaps the best reason for ordering the non-alcoholic beverages.

Happy with my pink lady glass, I declined the offer of tea or coffee. Our petit fours were stout cookies of pistachio, rhubarb and preserved blackberry (mercifully lacking the blood that binds together the omnivorous version!).

Brae presented us with a spectacular meal, made all the sweeter for being a surprise gift. The courses are numerous and varied, and I left satisfied but not bloated. I found the food to be fresh and elegant, employing high-end tricks without descending into gimmickry. The paired beverages were expensive but enjoyable. Service was attentive, friendly, and very knowledgeable across the board. It all made for a very memorable trip out of town.



4285 Cape Otway Rd, Birregurra
5236 2226

Accessibility: They've put some thought into it. There are wheelchair marked carparks connected to the restaurant by flat paths with gentle inclines. The entry is wide and flat, and tables are generously spaced throughout the restaurant. We received full table service. Toilets are gendered and accessible.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Green Park Dining

December 5, 2015

Green Park took over the old St Ali space just off the bike path about a year ago, and we've been a bit slow to check it out properly (although we did swing by for a special dessert degustation late last year). I scoped the brekkie menu in its early days and didn't see much exciting for vegos, so we've been focussing our attentions elsewhere. I stopped off to grab a drink one afternoon recently and spotted an array of veggie (and vegan!) dishes on the menu, which necessitated a speedy return.

We turned up nice and early on a Saturday morning - between the playground, bike path and lovely outdoor tables, Green Park gets rammed on a sunny weekend. Even at 8a.m. things were pretty hectic, with kids roaming about and lots of people loading up on coffee. The menu is well stocked with vego options these days, and we were particularly impressed that they've got sweet and savoury vegan dishes.

I tried out the scrambled tofu (with broccolini, kale, onions, vadouvan and toast, $14).

Is this the best scrambled tofu in Melbourne? It's competitive anyway - better than Little River and Healthy Planet, which are the other two I've tried recently. The vadouvan spice mix gives everything a warm, smoky undertone, while the fresh greens and soft onions keep the textures nice and varied. I'd serve it with two slices of toast if I was in charge, but that's a pretty minor quibble about an excellent brekkie.

Cindy tried vegan sweet option - coconut milk pannacotta with watermelon, strawberry, mango, basil and poppy ($12).

It's a beautifully presented dish, with teeny basil leaves, little dots of mango and delicate sprinkles of poppy seeds making it look like abstract art. Luckily, it's tasty as well - the smooth coconut pannacotta covered a layer of vanilla and the fruit was nice and fresh. It's not a lot of food - Cindy was satisfied enough at the time, but you'll need to schedule in some morning tea to get you through until lunch time.

Breakfast at Green Park is a lovely experience - it's such a beautiful space that it would be worth a visit even if the food was mediocre. Luckily, it's not, and the coffee and service hit high standards as well. We'll be back.

Green Park Dining
815 Nicholson St, Carlton North (behind the bike shop, along the bike path a bit)
9380 5499
menu, drinks
facebook page

Accessibility: There's a flat entry and a reasonably spacious interior. Toilets are non-gendered and super accessible. We ordered at the table and paid at a lowish counter.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Thea Tea Shop

December 4, 2015

I recently visited Adelaide for work. Inevitably my time was scheduled to be indoors eating catered food, but I set aside an extra half-day at the end to stroll the Adelaide Botanic Garden and lunch at Thea Tea Shop. This cafe has conceptual counterparts in most Australian capital cities, serving mock meat meals and bubble tea to cityworkers at lunchtime.

Their paper menu comes with a pencil to tick off and place your order, spanning a couple of dozen tea flavours with optional pearls or jelly, about eight self-contained rice or noodle dishes and a scattering of snacks. The food is very vegan-friendly but lacks obvious gluten-free options; some drinks contain milk or honey.

My crispy hainan style rice ($11) featured a crunchy-crumbed gluten cutlet, ball, salad of corn, cabbage and mushrooms, and a battered ball begging to be dipped into the dish of salty-soy sauce.

I liked that my dine-in passionfruit tea ($3.90) with jelly ($0.50) was served in a reusable cup; it was sweet just a little tangy.

Though my meal didn't stand out strongly from other vegetarian tea houses around Australia, the setting did. The staff were particularly friendly and helpful (noticing that I'd included the wrong table number on my order long before I did), and the venue had a few extra-accessible features. And I'm always glad to access a low-key vegetarian lunch for one in an unfamiliar city.


Other blog accounts of Thea Tea Shop are generally positive, see Hot Chocolate: Dark Desires, G Nine Three, meatandaveg and The Chopping Board. The exception is The Ordinary Smile.

Thea Tea Shop
110 Gawler Place, Adelaide
(08) 8232 7988
menu, daily specials
facebook page

Accessibility: There are four steps up and an alternative wheelchair lift on entry, and spacious furniture arrangement. I ordered and paid at a low-ish counter. Toilets are gendered but roomy and labelled wheelchair-accessible; I also noticed a baby change table in the ladies'.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Pecan pie

November 28-29, 2015

Our Thanksgiving hosts listed some suggested contributions in advance of the feast, and I predictably pounced on the dessert pie option. I reckoned I'd be able to cater to the vegan and gluten-free invitees; unfortunately they ended up declining for various reasons, but I forged on with a vegan recipe regardless.

The recipe comes from Hell Yeah It's Vegan!, which confidently touts it as the best pecan pie. I liked that it used apple puree and arrowroot in the filling, trusted that corn syrup would give a glossy sheen, and was intrigued by the crumbled crackers that presumably add substance to the filling.

Crackerless, I blended up some breadcrumbs instead and noticed a few staying stubbornly lumpy in the caramel filling. Speaking of which, gosh this filling was sweet. The bulk of it is caster sugar, corn syrup and apple puree, which start out pale and crystalline, but bake into a very chewy brown binder. This pie was almost a praline. With an ultra-crumbly crust it wasn't much of a looker, but the pecans toasted up nicely, and a dollop of coconut yoghurt went a long way in toning down the sweetness.

The household dessert tradition is a pumpkin cheesecake, tall and creamy. Meanwhile, the talk of the tables was the pistachio pudding 'salad', stoking much nostalgia for the American attendees and winning a few new fans.

Pecan pie
(slightly adapted from Hell Yeah It's Vegan!)

1 1/4 cups plain flour
pinch of salt
2/3 cup margarine

1/2 tablespoon margarine
200g pecans
 2/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 tablespoons apple puree
3 tablespoons arrowroot
pinch of salt

Place all the pastry ingredients in a food processor and blend them together until well mixed. They may form a dough on their own; if not, add a tablespoon or two of iced water and continue processing until doughy. Turn the mixture onto a sheet of plastic wrap and bring it together into a ball; wrap it all up and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but perhaps even overnight.

Preheat an oven to 220°C.

Retrieve the pastry and unwrap it on a bench, but keep the wrap there. Place another piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough ball and roll the pastry flat to fit a pie dish.  When it's big enough, pull off the top plastic sheet and gently flip the pastry into that pie dish. Remove the second plastic sheet, and trim and patch the pastry as needed. Prick holes in the pastry with a fork, line it with pie weights (baking paper filled with dried chickpeas, in my case), and bake for just 5 minutes.

When the pastry is done, take it out of the oven and set it aside. Remove the pie weights. Turn the oven down to 160°C.

Begin on the filling. Melt the margarine in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the pecans, stirring them until they're lightly toasted and fragrant. Turn off the heat.

Place the remaining filling ingredients in a food processor and blend them until they are thoroughly combined and as smooth as possible. Pour this mixture into a saucepan and bring it to the boil, stirring regularly. Continue stirring for two minutes of boiling before turning off the heat. Stir in the pecans, then pour it all into the pie crust. Smooth over the top and even it out as best you can. Bake the pie for 50 minutes. Allow it to cool to room temperature for at least an hour before slicing and serving.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Thanksgiving green bean salad

November 29, 2015

We were lucky enough to be invited to a friend's big Thanksgiving shindig on Sunday. She's an expat American and goes all out each year, with a massive meal and loads of lovely guests. To make catering for twenty-something people possible, Thanksgiving was potluck-style, with everyone chipping in side dishes, booze, sweets etc. Cindy claimed a dessert slot (post coming soon), so I settled for something savoury.

Cindy pointed me in the direction of Heidi Swanson's veggie thanksgiving roundup and I picked out this super simple green bean salad. It's stupidly easy to make - five ingredients (including salt and oil!), a bit of chopping and 5-10 minutes of cooking and you're done. The recipe below is what you'd do if you were going to serve it up straight away. Because we were cooking it earlier and taking it to lunch, I didn't put the beans in the frying pan, but blanched them separately for a minute and then cooled them down, before combining them with the dill and leek later to avoid over-cooking.

It was an excellent addition to the heaving table of food at the shindig - the dill is the most powerful flavour, with the caramelised leek and crispy beans combining perfectly. A scoop of these alongside a plateful of Tofurkey, mashed potatoes, peas, roast veggies, pasta salad and tamales completely converted me to a Thanksgiving traditionalist.

Green bean salad
(adapted from a recipe on 101 Cookbooks)

4 leeks, white parts, washed and sliced finely
1 small bunch of dill
400g green beans, trimmed and sliced into 3cm pieces
Olive oil

Heat a decent splash of olive oil in a frying pan and stir in the leeks, cooking for 10 minutes until they've browned up a bit and softened. Stir them regularly, but not constantly.

Throw in the dill and the beans and cook for another two minutes. If you're not serving the salad straight away, then don't throw the beans in the frying pan - instead blanch them in boiling water for a minute, drain them and run them under cold water so that they keep their snap. You can combine them with the leek and dill later.

Season generously with salt and serve immediately.