Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Pierre Roelofs' Dessert Evening

December 8, 2016

For my birthday dinner out this year I picked a Pierre Roelofs Dessert Evening. We've been following Roelofs' sweet degustations around town a while, from their long tenure at Cafe Rosamond, across the river to Fancy Nance and then just down the street last summer at Green Park Dining. This year he's been serving four-course dessert degustations on Thursday nights at Milkwood in Brunswick East. This arrangement is coming to a close this month, and so we were treated to a 'best of' dessert retrospective on our visit.

These evenings always commence with a dessert tube, and ours was a strip of creme brûlée! We were instructed to steep the amber sugar cap in a beaker of hot water for 4 seconds - this was just enough to loosen it from the tube while preserving its dense caramelly contrast to the rich vanilla custard.

Our second dessert was a medley of flavours and textures - beetroot, mandarin and chocolate took the forms of crumbs, jellies, meringues, fresh fruit pieces and dotted creams. These are ingredients I'd typically associate with winter, but here the effect was light and summer-friendly.

Dessert number three was an excavation: puffed millet sprinkled on raspberry foam, giving way to hibiscus granita and oat crumble. It was all a little too granola-y for me until I made it to the creamy-sweet coconut foundation - then everything made perfect sweet-sour-crunchy-creamy sense.

The final plate was an architectural arrangement of treacle sponge, rich vanilla parfait, fresh blueberries and lemon gel under sheets of lemon wafer. This was another clever balance of rich, dense components (whoa, what a treacle cake!) lifted with lighter elements (fresh fruit and melt-in-the-mouth wafers).

At $55 per person it felt right to reserve this degustation for a special occasion. Plenty of people can't or won't come at that price for less than a full meal (we lined our stomachs with a cheese plate first), but I can't fault any of the dishes we enjoyed. This 'best of' Roelofs experience was definitely the best we've experienced of Roelofs. 


There's also a review of the Milkwood-hosted dessert evenings on Melbourne Patron.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Potatoes & chickpeas with sun-dried mango

December 4, 2016

We had a big hunk of pumpkin leftover from our veggie box and Cindy decided that a big batch of pumpkin flatbreads was the way to go. To accompany it we turned to Mridula Baljekar's Indian Vegetarian Cookbook for ideas, settling on this potato and chickpea curry with sun-dried mango.

There's not too much work involved - you pre-boil the spuds, but otherwise everything just goes in one big pot. We had some sun-dried mango powder (amchoor) on hand from ages ago. I'd really recommend tracking it down for this dish, it really adds something interesting. Otherwise this is a pretty straight-up curry - it probably needs another dish on the side to round out the full meal (we chose a side of spiced coconut spinach). It's good though - a great addition to our weeknight roster (although with the pumpkin bread as well, this was definitely a weekend job).

Potato & chickpea curry
(slightly adapted from Mridula Baljekar's The Low-Frat Indian Vegetarian Cookbook)

2 large potatoes
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 green chillis
6 cloves garlic
1 onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
400mL can crushed tomatoes
400g can chickpeas, drained
2/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon mango powder/amchoor
1/2 teaspoon garam masala

Scrub the potatoes, and chop them into 2cm cubes. Place them in a saucepan, cover them with water, and boil until just tender, about 10 minutes.

Heat the oil in a big saucepan and throw in the ginger, chillies and garlic, stir-frying for 30 seconds or so.

Add in the onion and salt and keep stir-frying, until the onion just starts to brown.

Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric and chilli powder and stir-fry for a jiffy, before tipping in the can of tomatoes. Cook for a few more minutes and then add the chickpeas, potatoes and water.

Cover the saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. 

Whisk the sun-dried mango powder with a couple of tablespoons of water and stir it through the curry mixture.

Kill the heat and stir through the garam masala.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Strawberry & rhubarb poptarts

November 26-27, 2016

I know it means a lot to many women my age, but I have never taken more than a passing interest in Gilmore Girls. Dean vs Jess vs Logan? Choose self-esteem, Rory. Nevertheless, the new season was a big deal for some of my friends, and it was fun to share their fandom for a night. We went all out on themed viewing snacks - coffee, popcorn, marshmallows, cookie dough and home-delivered pizza. Although the Gilmore girls aren't ones to bake, I preferred making my poptarts over the real thing. 

Street Vegan served me well in the poptart stakes once before, and if anything it did even better this second time around. I chose a strawberry-rhubarb filling instead of chocolate, and doubled down with pink icing. My version has more rhubarb and less strawberries than the cookbook version, which does no harm. I had some moments of concern when I poured in the cornflour thickener and the filling seized up into a dense jelly. Thankfully it relaxed into a more appetising jam after the tarts were baked.

I wasn't deeply impressed with the pastry recipe the first time I made it, but I really liked this second batch. I made sure to bake it more thoroughly and liked this crisper, flakier rendition. My pink glaze is loosely inspired by the mango-lemongrass one in Street Vegan, in that I blended lemongrass into it. But instead of mango, I tipped a little leftover tart filling into the blender to make a tangy pink topping. A few coloured sprinkles and we were ready to party like it was 2006.

Even after the success of my first poptart batch, I didn't imagine that I'd return to them again so quickly. But for this occasion, I'm glad that I did - they hit our theme and my taste buds with equal success.

Strawberry & rhubarb poptarts
(adapted from a recipe in Adam Sobel's Street Vegan)

1 punnet strawberries, chopped
2 stalks rhubarb, chopped into 3cm lengths
1/4 cup agave nectar
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons cornflour
2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons cornflour
1/2 cup water
3 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup margarine

tender white middle of 1 lemongrass stalk, chopped
1/2 cup lime juice
generous pinch cardamom
1/2 cup icing sugar
2 tablespoons coloured sprinkles

Place the strawberries and rhubarb into a medium saucepan over medium heat. Saute them, stirring regularly, for a few minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the agave nectar and lime juice and continue to cook, stirring, for a couple more minutes. 

Place the cornflour and water together in a mug and stir them together into a smooth paste. Pour the paste into the fruit filling and stir to combine. Turn off the heat and allow the filling to cool to room temperature (I refrigerated mine overnight).

Place the vinegar, cornflour and water in a medium-large bowl and beat them together with an electric mixer until foamy. On low speed, mix in the flour, salt and margarine until the mixture comes together as a dough. Allow it to rest for at least 15 minutes - I covered my bowl with a lid and refrigerated it for a few hours.

Line 1-2 baking trays with paper and lightly spray them with oil. Preheat an oven to 180°C.

Lightly flour a clean surface and roll out the pastry to 2-5mm thick (I did this in about 3 small batches). Slice the dough into rectangles of the same size - mine were about 6cm x 10cm. Spoon filling into the centre of half of the rectangles, place the other rectangles on top of each filled one, and use a fork to crimp the edges together (see photo above). Set aside 2 tablespoons of the filling for use in the icing.

Place the pastries on the trays and bake them for 20 minutes, until they're a little firm and just starting to go golden. Allow them to cool to room temperature.

Place the reserved fruit filling, lemongrass, lime juice, cardamom and icing sugar into a small food processor or spice grinder. Grind them together into a smooth icing. Spoon the icing over the cooled pastries and scatter over the coloured sprinkles. Allow the icing to set for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Green bean casserole

November 26, 2016

We had the pleasure of joining in on our American friend's Thanksgiving tradition again this year. Our contributions to the table were an unconscious echo of the green bean salad and pie we prepared previously. First, I chose Isa Chandra Moskowitz's new veganisation of the traditional green bean casserole.

To this uninitiated Aussie, it's far preferable to the traditional concoction of canned green beans and cream of mushroom soup. Moskowitz has us make our own tasty gravy of blended cashews, vege stock and nooch. It thickens to bind sauteed green beans, mushrooms and onions. For me, the only misfortune is that the mushrooms infuse the casserole with a dull grey-brown colour that's not exactly appetising. With my host's approval, I sprinkled the top with Malaysian fried shallots - their golden hue helped spruce things up.

For dessert, Michael and I teamed up to make our favourite apple pie. For the one vegan guest in the gang, I tried my hand at apple roses. I took my cues from Green Gourmet Giraffe. The construction was a little easier than I'd feared, but as Johanna had hinted they're tough to cook evenly. The apple petals darken and the pastry outer crisps long before the centre is cooked. My tartlets were pretty but too chewy, and in need of more jam.

And so we pulled off flavour without looks in one dish, and looks without flavour in another. Perhaps next Thanksgiving we can refine these recipes and see them reach their full potential.

Green bean casserole
(slightly adapted from a recipe at Isa Chandra)

1 cup raw cashews
3 cups stock
1/2 cup plain flour
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
500g green beans
2 small onions
4 cups mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/4 cup fried shallots
salt & pepper

Place the cashews in a plastic container with a lid. Cover them with water and soak them for at least 2 hours, and ideally overnight.

Place the cashews in a blender with the stock, flour and yeast flakes. Blend them until they're completely smooth, adjusting the blend speed or switching it off periodically to scrape the sides, as needed.

Trim the beans and chop them into 4cm lengths. Slice the onions into loops. Slice the mushrooms into bite-sized flats. 

Heat the olive oil in a large frypan. Add the beans and onion, sauteing them until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue sauteing until they just start releasing water. Pour in the stock mixture from the blender, then sprinkle over salt and pepper. Cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Preheat oven to 190°C. Spray a large high-walled rectangular baking dish with oil. Pour the bean mixture into the dish and bake for 20-25 minutes, until it's browned and bubbly. Sprinkle over the fried shallots.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Lankan Tucker

November 26, 2016

We've been keen to check out Lankan Tucker since it opened in Brunswick West earlier this year. The location - tucked way down the western end of Albion Street near Lolo & Wren - isn't super convenient, but the combination of breakfast and roti bread was enough to convince us to make the bike ride.

It's a cute little place, with a mix of indoor and outdoor seating and lots of light streaming in. The idea of a place serving up brunchy dishes with a Sri Lankan twist is perfectly targeted at me - I'm generally keen on curry for breakfast and double so if I can somehow combine it with eggs. It's a bit surprising that so few places are doing this - the only other place I can think of is the vegan about town-endorsed Pavlov's Duck.

The menu is long, with a mix of conventional brunch dishes (granola, omelettes, avo smash, etc) and more interesting Sri Lankan-inspired dishes (lots of roti plus interesting snacks like vadai and lunch food like dosa and hoppers). We were too early for the lunch menu so we'll have to come back to explore some more.

I went for the roti riser, a combination of roti bread, veggie curry, coconut sambal, a poached egg and apricot chutney ($17.50). Add on a few spoonfuls of the excellent chilli sauce they had on the table, and I was in heaven. The roti was soft and stretchy, a much better vessel for breakfast than boring old toast, and the combination of the mildly spicy veggie curry and the egg was perfect. Coconut sambal is probably the world's best condiment, so this ticked a lot of boxes for me.

The lack of any really interesting sweet dishes on the menu meant that Cindy went for a slightly less Sri Lankan vibe. She ordered the rolled omelette brekky burger ($17.90), a brioche bun overstuffed with eggs, battered fried mushrooms, a potato rosti, avocado, onion, wilted spinach, tomato and chilli jam. 

This wasn't quite as successful - piled high on a wooden board, it seemed to be presented more for instagram than for eating. The clued-in staff offered Cindy a side plate from the get-go, and she used it to pick off the copious raw onion, enjoy half the toppings piece-by-piece, and eventually dig into her omelette-burger.

I really enjoyed my breakfast at Lankan Tucker - the staff were lovely, the coffee (by Sensory Labs) was excellent and ability to order curry for breakfast highly appreciated. Here's hoping that brunch/curry crossover places are the next big Melbourne food craze.


I couldn't find any non-freebie blog reviews of Lankan Tucker - hopefully it will build a following over the months ahead.

Lankan Tucker
486 Albion St, Brunswick West
9386 8248
all day breakfastbrekky specialsbites & wrapslunch, salads & kids'drinks

Accessibility: Entry is flat and wide and the interior is reasonably spacious. There's a single non-gendered bathroom that's completely accessible and includes a baby change table. We ordered at our table and paid at a low counter.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

The Lincoln

Cheap Eats 2006, a decade on

November 22, 2016

Hotel Lincoln (now called The Lincoln) has had several changes in management in the decade we've known it. This has meant a few makeovers in look and menu, although I think the atmosphere has been pretty consistent. The front bar has the typical Melbourne pub feel, while the dining room out back is much fancier. There have never been more than a couple of vegetarian options available, although we've enjoyed the ones we've had. When we visited as part of a large group recently, we were happy to order their set menu (The Half Lincoln, $45 per person) and let them show us how broad their vegetarian options really were.

The appetisers were light and fun - individual crackers piled with pink pickles, and kelp-salted edamame that kept our hands busy as we chatted.

One of the meal's high points was the shared entree of roasted cauliflower with a medley of buckwheat, pomegranate seeds, currants and mint. The puffed-up crunch of the buckwheat was unexpected and welcome, a switch-around on the Ottolenghi-style grain salads we seek and eat so often.

(Clockwise from top-left:) Asparagus with fried egg mayo and toasted crumbs was a winning side, the triple-cooked cooked could never have gone wrong, and a plate of cos hearts with fresh curd and shallots kept up the right ratio of green. I was skeptical of their teaming lentils with seaweed in the mushroom dish: the result was better than I expected, but not one of the night's favourites.

Dessert was another memorable point: Michael and I shared a feather-light beetroot and chocolate pudding. While it wasn't strongly flavoured, it was served in a pool of perrrrrfect anglaise.

The Lincoln's daily menu didn't much excite us vegos, but they're professionals who delivered a great experience. Staff were enormously accommodating of our group's various dietary requirements and various choices to eat communally via the Half Lincoln and individually a la carte.  The lentil-mushroom dish is the one official vegetarian main currently on menu, but through the Half Lincoln we learned that some of the sides are even better. With cheese and eggs liberally served throughout our meal, it remains to be seen how well they'd cater to vegans.

Staff didn't hinder us from chatting and chair-swapping into the night, even as the rest of the pub emptied out, and were easy-going as we split the last of the bill. I daresay they helped Melbourne make a great impression on our globe-trotting guests of honour, who are usually found fine-dining their way through DC.


You can also read about one, two of our previous visits to Hotel Lincoln. Fellow veg blogger Nouveau Potato was less impressed.


The Lincoln
91 Cardigan St, Carlton
9347 4666

Accessibility: Entry is flat. Indoors is quite crowded with high and low tables with stools and backed seats, respectively. We ordered at our table and paid while standing by the bar (but not across it). We didn't visit the toilets.

Thursday, December 01, 2016


Cheap Eats 2006, a decade on

November 16, 2016

Our Cheap Eats project has mostly been about revisiting places we blogged way back in the day, but we're also using it to visit some long-overlooked Melbourne stalwarts. When we needed a quick dinner up at the Parliament end of the city, it seemed like the perfect excuse to finally visit one of Melbourne's institutions: Pellegrini's. It's been trading on Bourke Street since 1954 and by all reports very little has changed in 62 years - there's a wooden board listing different pasta dishes, scrappily decorated walls and staff chatting away in Italian. 

It's charming enough, but the bar seating is a little awkward in a group of four. The staff were reasonably helpful taking, us through the vego dishes - the choices are pretty simple: pick from one of a handful of pasta options and then choose either pesto or napoli. I ordered the ricotta ravioli with the napoli sauce (~$18). It was fine - very basic and quite old-fashioned food, served without much care for its presentation - but satisfyingly huge and tasty for all of that. 

Cindy went for fettucine with a pesto sauce (~$18). As with the ravioli, this was nothing fancy, but the pasta was fresh, which is the key for such a simple dish. The servings were huge, and the half a white roll we were each served on the side seemed like an unnecessary carb boost. 

I'm not sure how I feel about our Pellegrini's visit. It's obviously a hugely nostalgic experience for many Melbournites, with an unpretentious vibe that seems almost entirely unchanged since Italian food was impossibly exotic. Without that connection though, I'm not sure it really measures up - the food is a little uninspiring and when you're paying nearly $20 for fettucine with some pesto stirred through it, it really needs to be amazing. On the plus side, everything happens super fast - our food turned up almost immediately after we ordered it - so it's good if you want something hearty but you're in a bit of a hurry. The watermelon granitas we all ordered to drink (~$3 each) were tops too. 

Looking over the brief review in our 2006 Cheap Eats Guide it's clear that Pellegrini's have just kept doing their thing over the past decade, right down to the old dude flirting with the women customers. Prices have gone up a bit - from $12-$14 in 2006 to roughly $18 these days, but otherwise they're just doing what they do. It's not somewhere we'll visit often, but I'm still glad it exists.

The rest of our night was spent at the quite wonderful Hush event at Melbourne Music Week - a series of wonderful bands playing short sets around Parliament House. It was pretty special.



66 Bourke St, Melbourne
9662 1885

Accessibility: There's a small step up on entry and a pretty crowded interior. You order and pay at the bar. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Peanut butter-coconut granola

November 14-15, 2016

Granola, fruit and yoghurt has been my default breakfast for quite a while. I usually bake this granola, but I was ready to try something new when I saw a peanut butter granola recipe on stonesoup earlier this month. Like most of the recipes on that blog it's grain-free, with peanuts, flaked coconut and flaked almonds taking the place of my usual rolled oats.

I'm unsure whether my granola had the intended texture. Nuts don't absorb liquids like rolled oats do, so my granola didn't dry out or become more crunchy as it baked (the peanuts and almond were pretty crunchy, nevertheless). A slick of peanut butter and coconut oil remained on the nuts and in the baking tray even as I worried about overbaking it all.

I liked teaming this granola with bananas and almond milk. I learned that peanuts aren't my favourite granola ingredient, but I'll definitely be bringing the peanut butter-binder and coconut flake elements into my granola-baking habits.

Peanut butter-coconut granola
(recipe from stonesoup)

25g coconut oil
100g peanut butter
125g coconut flakes
250g roasted unsalted peanuts
100g flaked almonds

Preheat an oven to 150°C. Line a large baking tray with paper.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the coconut oil. Turn off the heat and stir in the peanut butter until well mixed.

In a medium-large bowl, stir together the the coconut flakes, peanuts and almonds. Pour over the peanut butter mixture and stir everything to combine well. Turn the mixture out onto the lined baking tray and spread it out evenly. 

Bake for 15-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes for even cooking. Allow the granola to cool on the tray before storing.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Molasses & walnut icecream

November 12, 2016

Our tempeh & grits dinner was the core of a three-course Vegan Soul Kitchen meal. We started with Spicy Goobers, peanuts in a spice mix similar to that of the tempeh. For dessert I had this icecream at the ready.

Bryant Terry hit on the same vegan icecream base that I've used for years: coconut milk thickened with arrowroot. He sweetens his primarily with agave nectar, but adds a shot of molasses because it reminds him of his grandmother's desserts. The icecream's other feature is a scattering of candied walnuts. They're an irresistible snack on their own, as well as working well in this icecream - caramelly sweet, crunchy and lightly roasted with the faintest hint of bitterness. The overall effect is very similar to my vegan salted caramel icecream.

The icecream's texture was dreamy on the day of churning, but the leftovers ended up a bit grainier as the week went on. So share this one around and enjoy it all right away, at its peak.

Molasses & walnut icecream
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen)

candied walnuts
1 cup walnuts
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons agave nectar
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar

molasses icecream
2 x 400mL cans coconut milk
2 tablespoons arrowroot
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla
pinch of salt

In a medium bowl, stir the olive oil through the walnuts to evenly coat them. Stir through the agave nectar, and then finally the sugar to evenly coat the nuts.

Line a large baking tray with paper. Set a frypan over medium heat and pour in the walnuts. Stir them regularly as they toast, until they're fragrant and most of the liquid has evaporated. Turn off the heat and spread the nuts out over the baking tray. Allow them to cool to room temperature.

In a mug, stir together 1/4 cup of the coconut milk and the arrowroot until it's all smooth. In a medium-large saucepan, combine the remaining coconut milk, agave nectar, molasses, vanilla and salt. Set it over medium-high heat and stir in the arrowroot-coconut mixture. Keep stirring the mixture to avoid it sticking to the bottom, cooking until it's thickened to coat the back of a spoon - up to 10 minutes. Refrigerate until completely cold, ideally overnight.

Strain the icecream mixture and churn it in an icecream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Add the walnuts in the last couple of minutes of churning. Transfer the icecream to an airtight container and freeze for about 4 hours before serving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Spicy Cajun-Creole tempeh
with creamy cashew grits

November 12, 2016

I was very curious about grits when I read about them in Vegan Soul Kitchen. What's their texture and flavour, and would I ever be able to find them in Australia? I was able to answer the first two questions in Washington DC earlier this year: grits are corn-based and a bit like soft polenta or even mashed potato in their fluffy starchiness, with the velvet grains of a creamy risotto. Last month my friend Erin helped resolve the last question, picking up a box of Quick Grits for me (at the cost of only a few dollars) when she stocked up on Halloween candy at USA Foods.

Although the box cheerfully promised that these cook in 5 minutes, I found that my Quick Grits were also well suited to the near-hour-long simmer included in this recipe of Bryant Terry's. Rather than using butter or cream, Terry enriches his grits with blended cashews. They really round out the texture, providing a creamy and mild foundation for the real flavour bomb: spiced tempeh.

Terry's dish is inspired by the more classic combination of shrimp and grits (which I recall the team selling at that market in DC). In this vegan recipe, Terry has us fry up bite-sized strips of tempeh and coating them in hot and sweet dry spices. They're stirred together with sauteed leeks and fresh cherry tomatoes, which provide a little sweetness and some much-needed juiciness. Two of my dinner companions aren't tomato-lovers, so I served those separately and prepped some of Bryant Terry's rosemary-salted asparagus as well. If I were cooking this purely to please myself, I reckon I'd toss the cherry tomatoes into the saute pan with the leeks for just a couple of minutes, so that they were warmed through and just starting to soften.

This recipe served four people without any leftovers, to our chagrin. It shouldn't be too hard to double (perhaps frying the tempeh in two batches). I reckon we might give that a shot, given how much we loved our first experience of home-made grits.

Spicy Cajun-Creole tempeh with creamy cashew grits
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen)

Spicy Cajun-Creole Tempeh
225g tempeh
4 cups stock
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon white pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil

Creamy cashew grits
1/2 cup cashews
3 1/2 cups water
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 leek
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup stock
3/4 cup grits
1 cup almond milk

Make a small, early start on the grits. In a small bowl or airtight container, soak the cashews in 1/2 cup of the water for at least an hour. Drain the water and reserve the cashews.

Next, focus on the tempeh. Slice the tempeh into pieces about 1cm thick and 3-4cm long. In a large saucepan, mix together the stock and half of the salt and drop in the tempeh pieces. Bring them to the boil, then turn down the heat to simmer the tempeh for 25 minutes. Turn off the heat and take out the tempeh with a slotted spoon; reserve the stock for the grits.

While the tempeh is boiling, find a heat-resistant and airtight container big enough to fit all the tempeh pieces. In the bottom of it, stir together the onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, chilli powder, chilli flakes, cayenne, thyme, oregano, white pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside for later.

While the tempeh is boiling, there's probably also time for preparing the grits further. Blend together the cashews and 1/2 cup fresh water in a food processor or blender, until as smooth and creamy as possible. Set aside.

Slice the cherry tomatoes into halves and place them in a bowl. Stir in the lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt and let the flavours mingle.

Finely slice the tender parts of the leek and discard the rest. Mince the garlic. Set a frypan over low-medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the leeks and saute for 5 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and keep sauteing until everything is tender and fragrant, perhaps another 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Now it's time to get the grits going properly. Bring back that big saucepan of stock. Add the extra cup of stock and 1 cup of water to the stock already in there. Whisk in the grits until there are no lumps, and bring it all to the boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer the grits, stirring regularly,  until they've absorbed most of the liquid, 10-12 minutes. Stir in the almond milk and simmer for a further 10 minutes, still stirring regularly to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan. Stir in the cashew cream and last 1/2 cup water and cook, stirring regularly, for 35-40 minutes. The grits should be soft but not runny, like soft polenta.

While you're simmering the grits, get a frypan on the heat with the tempeh's olive oil. Fry the tempeh until golden brown, turning at least once as it cooks. Turn off the heat and transfer the tempeh to the container full of spices. Pop the lid on and give it a thorough shake, so that the tempeh is coated all over in the spices. Drain the juices off the tomatoes and mix them up with the sauteed leeks and spicy tempeh pieces.

When everything's ready, spoon a big thick puddle of grits onto each plate or bowl, then top with the tempeh mixture.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Date & orange crumble slice

November 12, 2016

After a premature start, some gorgeous, lounge-for-hours picnic weather has finally arrived. A couple of my work colleagues made use of it to celebrate the upcoming birth of their first child. Rather than a more conventional baby shower, a huge group of all genders and ages gathered in a park for a potluck.

We didn't have a lot of time to prepare and cook but it turned out that I had all the ingredients for this date & orange crumble slice posted last year on Lunch Lady. It's the kind of simple, hearty snack that's perfect for the weekday lunchbox. It translated well to the picnic blanket too, since it sliced up easily and could withstand sitting in the sun without melting or going bad.

I made pantry substitutions that also rendered the slice vegan, changing out the honey for golden syrup and the butter for margarine. The oaty base comes together in the food processor and was a little fiddly to press into my baking tray, but it handily doubles as a crumble topping. I was unsure about just dropping whole dates and orange juice onto the base, so I added an extra step of pureeing all of the orange juice with half of the dates. This ended up a tiny bit smoother than my preferred texture so I might hold back a few more whole dates next time. (I've adjusted the proportions below.)

Date & orange crumble slice
(slightly adapted from Lunch Lady)

2 cups dates
1 cup orange juice
zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup golden syrup
90g margarine

Place the dates and orange juice in a saucepan. Bring them to the boil, then turn off the heat. Allow the mixture to cool for a while.

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a small baking tray with paper and lightly spray it with oil.

In a food processor, blend together the remaining ingredients to form a crumbly mixture. Press half of the mixture into the baking tray (use a bit more if you need it to stretch across the base). Set the rest of the mixture aside.

Place about a third of the dates and all of their juice into the food processor and blend them until thick. Stir the puree back into the whole dates, then spread the whole fruity mixture over the base.

Crumble the remaining biscuity mixture over the top of the fruity layer. Bake the slice until browned on top, about 30 minutes.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Tamil Feasts

Edit 02/01/2022: The Tamil team served their last feast in July 2020.    

November 7, 2016

We've been meaning to check out the Tamil Feasts at CERES for months, having heard great things from a few friends and via Moni's rave review. It's a lovely concept - three nights a week a group of Tamil asylum seekers and volunteers take over the community kitchen at CERES and put on a feast. The Tamil guys have all spent years in detention centres and are still waiting for a final decision on their futures. In the meantime they bring their culinary expertise to CERES, raising money for their community and their friends still in detention. More than money raised, the night provides a place for Melbournites to meet asylum seekers, hear their stories and celebrate their culture - it's a lovely idea and the atmosphere on the night we visited was warm and friendly. You pay $30 up front for the food and there's a cash bar on the night with beer, wine and kombucha on offer.

Luckily the food really measures up to all the good vibes. They started us off with this plate of fried onion bhaji and fresh coconut sambal.

They were the perfect start to the meal - the bhaji were fried to perfection, all crispy and delicious, with the coconut sambal taking things to a whole new level. 

The main meals come out thali-style - a metal tray filled with curries, rice, veggies and condiments. Our selections were: eggplant, mushroom and peanut curry, potato and tomato curry, garlic dhal, pumpkin and spinach salad, capsicum and mushroom salad, onion chutney, rice and a papadum.

This was really something - the garlic dhal was probably the stand-out, with rich garlic and mild chilly bringing out the best in the lentil base. The eggplant curry was spicy - right on the edge of Cindy's tolerance, but perfect for me, while the rest of the bits and pieces all hit the spot. The chefs wandered around offering up second (and third) servings, while serving up $5 lunchboxes of leftovers for the next day (BYO tupperware!). 

I went pretty hard on the savouries, so was pretty relieved when the dessert was relatively modest. The payasam is a Tamil sago pudding - very sweet and runny, with plump raisins dotted throughout.

We had such a wonderful night at our Tamil Feast - the food was spectacular, the atmosphere lovely, and it felt great to push back against our country's dreadful treatment of asylum seekers in a very tiny way. The menu changes regularly - Tuesday is an all-vego night, but vegan options are also available on Monday and Friday nights. It's a brilliant night out and we can't recommend it enough - book in and get along!


Thoughts of a Moni and Consider the Sauce have both enjoyed visits to Tamil Feasts, while Decisive Cravings has a nice interview with some of the people who make them happen.

Tamil Feasts
CERES Community Environment Park
Stewart St,
Brunswick East
9389 0100
menu (this changes week to week)

Accessibility: The setup is flexible - they lay out three long tables with chairs and would surely provide specific spaces to fit any accessibility requirements. The toilets are fully accessible. We paid up front for the food and then at a low bar for drinks.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Rum & raisin ricotta cake

November 2, 2016

Michael received some good career news recently! He was out of town at the time, so it was a few days before we could celebrate together. I used that time to plan and bake this congratulatory cake. This recipe's been tucked among my bookmarks for more than five years, and I picked it out because Michael's fond of rum and raisins in desserts.

It might be the least vegan thing I've ever made: there's three kinds of dairy, white chocolate, eggs and honey all whipped in. It's a cheesecake, but it's different to the cheesecakes I'm accustomed to. Instead of a crushed-biscuit base there's a thin layer of plain white breadcrumbs to give the cake some structure. The filling's flavour and texture come mostly from the ricotta; it has that velvetty density of a baked cheesecake but perhaps a little less sweetness. That comes more from boozy raisin bursts.

The cake batter filled my springform pan right up to its rim. As it baked it rose further, like a souffle! (It sank back to rim height again as it cooled.) Almost all of the white chocolate melted into the cake, undetectable. The finished cake isn't pretty - it's pudgy and uneven, with charred rings and bubbles on its surface. But I loved its geological-looking layers and heartiness. This is a feast of a cake.

Rum & raisin ricotta cake
(slightly adapted from green been,
where it's credited to Karen Martini)

55g raisins
50mL dark rum
spray oil
100g (~3 cups) fluffy white breadcrumbs
600g ricotta
55g caster sugar
5 eggs
100g honey, plus 3–4 tablespoons for glazing
200g yoghurt
350g mascarpone
zest of 1 lemon
160g white chocolate, roughly chopped

Place the raisins in a small bowl or airtight container and pour over the rum; allow them to soak for at least an hour, ideally overnight.

Preheat an oven to 170°C. Line a springform cake tin with paper and lightly spray it with oil. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the base and a little up the sides (don't worry if they don't stick much).

In a large food processor, beat together the ricotta and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the honey, yoghurt, mascarpone and lemon zest. Pour one-third of the mixture into the cake tin, then sprinkle over the half of the raisins and white chocolate. Repeat with cake mixture, raisins and white chocolate. Pour in the remaining mixture and smooth over the top.

Bake until set, about 1 1/4 hours. Brush some honey and rum over the top of the cake while it is still warm. Serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Peppermint patsies

October 30, 2016

My mate Natalie hosted a Sunday potluck lunch, for which I attempted to make peppermint patties. I knew there'd be heaps of food and I imagined these as small bites of sweetness we could still enjoy nibbling on after a big meal.

They didn't work out quite as planned. Even though I'd tagged the recipe as vegan, it wasn't at all - still, it was easy enough to replace butter and cream with a small can of coconut milk. This rendered the peppermint fondant much runnier than it should have been. There was no way I could roll, refrigerate and slice it into neat little discs. Instead I pulled out my cupcake pan and layered these out as soft-centred chocolates.

So far so good! They looked cute in green mint-coded papers, with a couple of sprinkles on top. And on first bite they were a heavenly contrast of crackling bittersweet chocolate and oozing sweet peppermint. But they were hefty, a bit too much to take on after burgers and mac'n'cheese (and just an eensy second helping of mac'n'cheese). We all blamed them for our mid-afternoon lethargy.

And so I've named these would-be peppermint patties, peppermint patsies.

Peppermint patsies
(adapted from a recipe at Oh! Nuts,
which I found via she cooks, she gardens)

300-400g dark chocolate
3 cups icing sugar
4 tablespoons coconut milk
2 teaspoons peppermint essence
pinch of salt

Place cupcake papers in a cupcake baking tin.

Gently melt half of the chocolate. Drop a scant tablespoon of liquid chocolate into each cupcake paper. Use a spoon to push the chocolate up the sides of the paper. Make sure the base is covered well with chocolate. Refrigerate the tray for 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the icing sugar and coconut milk until smooth. Stir in the peppermint essence and salt. When the chocolate is set firm, drop 2 teaspoons of the peppermint mixture into the centre of each chocolate. Refrigerate for a further 15-30 minutes.

Gently melt the remainder of the chocolate. Spoon a scant tablespoon of chocolate onto each peppermint layer and smooth it out across the top. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ottolenghi's eggplant cheesecake

October 22-23, 2016

I picked this recipe out of Plenty More with the express purpose of using up some ingredients (cream cheese, eggs, za'atar) but we'd make it again on its own merits. It's kind of a crustless quiche, although the main feature is really a dozen or so melt-in-the-mouth eggplant slices, and the cherry tomatoes nestled among them. 

The egg-and-dairy filling is more of a light, fluffy binder with the odd dot of sharp feta. Fresh oregano leaves and a last-minute sprinkle of za'atar bring some complexity to the flavour - all this savoury 'cheesecake' needs is a simple green salad on the side to make up a pretty warm-weather meal. (You might spy some leftover carrot salad filled out with spinach and tomatoes in the background.)

Eggplant cheesecake
(slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty More,
also published on The Guardian)

2 medium eggplants
1/4 cup olive oil
100g cream cheese
1/4 cup double cream
4 eggs
150g feta
150g cherry tomatoes
10g oregano leaves
2 teaspoons za'atar
salt and black pepper

Preheat an oven to 210°C. Line a large baking tray with paper

Slice the eggplants into 2cm thick rounds and lay them out flat on the baking tray. Drizzle the eggplants with most of the oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Roast them for 40 minutes, until they're soft and golden but not falling apart. Allow them to cool.

Turn the oven down to 170°C. Line a 20cm square baking tin with foil and lightly spray or brush it with a bit of oil.

In a medium-large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and cream with an electric mixer. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Crumble over the feta and beat it in too, but allow the feta to stay a bit lumpy. Mix in a little salt and pepper. Slice the cherry tomatoes into halves.

When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, layer the slices into the foil-lined baking tin. Sit them upright or diagonally, so that they're partially overlapping and not flat and on top of each other (check out my photo above). Arrange the tomato halves in between the eggplants, filling all the gaps. Tear up half of the oregano and sprinkle it over the eggplants and tomatoes. Pour the cheesecake mixture into the tin, gently guiding it to evenly cover the vegetables. Tear up the remaining oregano and sprinkle it over the top. Bake the cheesecake until it's set and golden, 35-40 minutes.

Mix the za'atar up with a tablespoon of olive oil and drizzle it over the top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Shakahari VI

Cheap Eats 2006, a decade on

October 22, 2016

Shakahari is a true stayer of the Melbourne restaurant scene: our decade-spanning Cheap Eats project covers just a fraction of its 44-year tenure in Carlton. We made our first visit within a month of arriving in Melbourne and starting our food blog, and notched up five blog posts by 2008. After that we relegated our revisits to twitter, facebook and our own memories, but veg bloggers easy as vegan pie, vegan about town and In The Mood For Noodles carried the blogging baton for a few years after that (see end of post for a link round-up).

For a long time Shakahari switched its east-meets-west vegetarian menu seasonally, but it seems to have steadied over time. If anything they've improved their vegan and gluten-free selection. Many of our favourites have stuck around, and we were able to revisit them on a Saturday date night in Carlton. The first is the Avocado Magic entree (now $16; then $12 in 2007) - a hefty strip each of avocado and capsicum, rolled up in the thinnest sheet of eggplant before being battered and fried. It's mild and crisp and creamy, and best dredged through its share of coriander sauce.

Michael claimed the Legendary Satay Shakahari (now $21.50; then $17.50 in 2006-2008). The skewers line up smoky seitan cubes, tofu and veges, and the satay is thick, generous and minimally spicy. The sides are mercifully lighter: turmeric rice, blanched green vegetables and bright pickles.

I returned to the Quinoa Croquettes (now $21.50; then $17.50 in 2006-2008). They're mushy-middled with mashed yam, speckled with black quinoa and macadamias, and fried to a brown crisp on the outside. Like the satay, they rely on their sauce (this one sweet and tangy) to fill out the flavour. More steamed greens on the side, and kim chi for the pickle. I like this way with simple vegetables and striking pickles to round out the main dishes.

The Tofu Caramel (now $14.50; then unknown) didn't join the menu until a couple of years later but became an instant classic. It's wobbly and silken and milky - yet again, its salvation is an intensely flavoured sauce. I've come to expect supercharged sweetness from this dish and was delighted that the pistachio toffee is now tempered with ginger!

Service at Shakahari has always been patchy. On this night our table was available for little more than an hour, but they easily whisked us through three courses in that time. The restaurant's greatest weakness has always been its loud, echoing acoustics. When we first encountered Shakahari, it was an all-vegetarian special-occasion restaurant like we'd never encountered in Australia before. The prices seemed steep but they've withstood inflation well. Shakahari now takes a back seat to the flashier Smith & Daughters and Transformer, but it definitely still has its charms.


You can read about one, two, three, four, five of our many past visits to Shakahari. Many veg*n bloggers have some affection for it, see Melbourne Vegan, easy as vegan pie (one, two, three, four, five), vegan about town (one, two, three, four, five, ), In The Mood For Noodles (one, two, three, four, ), Damn right I want a cupcake!Nouveau Potatovegienomnomthe broke vegoFire & Tealittle vegan bear and Green Gourmet Giraffe.


Shakahari Vegetarian Restaurant
201-203 Faraday St, Carlton
9347 3848
entrees, entrees & mains, dessert

Accessibility: There are a couple of steps up on entry, and a couple more between rooms on the inside. Tables are widely spaced. We ordered at our table and paid at a high counter. We haven't visited the toilets in a while.