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.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016


October 22, 2016

That beautiful Persian love cake left me with half a tub of soy yoghurt... and I thought it tasted awful! Like silken tofu flavoured with vanilla and a pinch of sugar. No way was I eating that for breakfast. I thumbed through my cookbooks and found another yoghurt cake to bake it into.

This basbousa recipe comes from the Moroccan Soup Bar cookbook. It's a cake I recall eating there and at other Middle Eastern restaurants, served in small dense diamonds and saturated with sugar syrup. I suspect the printed version hasn't been thoroughly tested - for starters, it would have you preheat your oven to 375°C! I assumed this was the temperature in Fahrenheit, and converted back to a more feasible 190°C.

The intended ingredient quantities are a bit of a mystery, too. My cake batter was too runny to press, roll or cut as directed. Even so, I was glad I ran my knife through it to trace diamond shapes before it baked - they were a handy guide when it was actually time to eat! I had about double the almonds and syrup that I thought I needed, and I've adjusted the quantities accordingly in my write-up below. (I've been drinking my leftover syrup a tablespoon at a time in soda water.)

Actually, I suspect the full quantity of syrup does make for an authentic basbousa - I'm just content to make mine a little drier and less sweet than standard. It was a cake we could steal small pieces of for a full week without perceiving that it was stale. I'm most enamoured of its dense semolina-and-coconut crumb, and the subtle citrus. And I love the sticky brown caramelised edges, even though they're drier still. 

(slightly adapted from Hana Assifiri's Moroccan Soup Bar)

1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup yoghurt (mine was soy-based)
280g butter
2 cups fine semolina
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1/2 cup caster sugar
100g blanched almonds

1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon orange blossom water

Preheat an oven to 190°C. Lightly grease a large baking dish or rectangular cake tin.

Sift the baking powder and soda into the yoghurt and stir to combine. Allow the yoghurt to sit and expand until it's doubled in size, about 20 minutes.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, and then turn off the heat. Stir in the semolina, coconut and sugar. Add the yoghurt and stir everything together thoroughly. Pour the cake batter into the baking dish and smooth over the top. Use a sharp knife to 'cut' the batter into diamond shapes. Place an almond at the centre of each diamond. Bake the cake until golden, about 30 minutes.

While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Place the sugar, water and zests into a small-medium saucepan and bring them to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the syrup for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the orange blossom water. Let the syrup sit at room temperature.

When the cake is baked, pour the syrup over it. Turn off the oven, but put the syrup-soaking cake back in to caramelise in the ambient heat for 5-10 minutes. After that time is up, let the cake cool to room temperature. (It's not traditional, but it's also pretty tasty when warm!)

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Small Axe Kitchen

October 15 & 22, 2016

Having lived in Carlton for 7 years, we've seen the best and the worst of Italian restaurants. Some fabulous pizzas, some fluffy gnocchi, some heavy and regrettable gnocchi, a couple of yawn-worthy mushroom risottos, and one or two plates of simple, fresh pesto pasta. Comfort food when it's done well, and often shared with friends, but nothing vegan-friendly.

So I didn't pay attention to the first couple of Small Axe Kitchen reviews I saw online - what could this Sicilian restaurant be doing that would lure me away from Ray across the street?  Their primary novelty is reported to be a dish of breakfast pasta that includes cured pork cheek. Welp, Veganopoulous set me straight. Small Axe Kitchen has all sorts of veg-friendly food for lunch and brunch. 

Gluten-free folks have plenty to choose from, too! The menu's scattered with vs, vgns and gfs that make it easy to scan... although there's a risk of scanning right past the unmarked grilled brioche with pistachio granita, espresso mousse, torrone and blood orange jelly.

We made our first visit for brunch with a couple of twitter mates. All the vegos' eyes were drawn to one dish and Hayley made it hers - it's a bowl of soft polenta with broad beans, peas, nettle, mint and lemon ($17.50), which is vegan unless you request slow cooked egg ($3; Hayley did). I don't think she'll mind me telling you that she squeaked and guffawed and reveled in this dish - it's a real winner.

I requested the vegan option on the citrus salad ($13.50). It meant I missed out on a ricotta-based 'spelt pudding' but was still treated to beautiful discs of orange, blood orange and grapefruit, pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, a spiced sugar syrup, and rosemary leaves suspended in more sugar. I filled up on a very good soy chai latte and had room for a late lunch.

Michael's plate looked like a mini-Ottolenghi feast of cute little smoked eggplant halves, almond hummus, tahini mayo, pita bread, pomegranate seeds and fresh greens ($18.50). It was sufficiently spectacular that he didn't look enviously at Hayley's plate until his was finished.

It's one of the reasons we were back exactly a week later (you can see Michael's soft polenta and broad beans in the background of the above photo). This time round I ordered the warm chestnut rice pudding ($15.50), which was a lovely comfort on an atrocious 13-degrees-and-hail spring day. On its own the vegan-friendly rice pudding is a bit watery, but it's perfectly balanced once you've got a bit of almond, fig or prune on the spoon.

Small Axe Kitchen is an unexpected vegan-friendly gem, expertly balancing comfort foods and fresh produce in dish after dish (... though I've got a hunch that grilled brioche might tip the ratio carbwards). I reckon their outdoor seating will be one of the most sought-after spots in Melbourne when the sun finally agrees to stick around.

We first read about Small Axe Kitchen on Veganopoulous - she's tried just about all the dishes we have. It has also received praise on blogs I'm So Hungree and Whatever Floats Your Bloat.

Small Axe Kitchen
281 Victoria St, Brunswick
9939 6061
food, drinks

Accessibility: There's a small step on entry (and perhaps a flatter entry through the garden side). Tables are densely packed with a clear corridor through the middle. Tables outside have small backless stools, high benches in the front room have tall backless stools, and tables in the back room have ordinary backed chairs (see photos above). We ordered at our table and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Za'atar-roasted carrots with kale, freekeh & blood-orange maple dressing

October 20, 2016

Cindy and I wanted a substantial salad to accompany a few bits and pieces that we had to finish off in the fridge. I turned to Community, deciding that this mix of carrots, kale and freekeh would do the trick. It's certainly substantial: a kilo of carrots plus the kale and freekeh meant that we were eating this over about 6 meals. So it was lucky that it was so good - the dressing (we subbed in orange and grapefruit for the blood orange) was sweet and tangy, but the salad was delicious enough even without it. It's tempting to skip the hazelnut roasting and crushing, but they crunch they add was definitely worth the effort.

We haven't had anything disappointing from Community and this continued our run - a reasonably simple salad with a nice mix of flavours that tastes just as good as leftovers a day or two later.

Za'atar-roasted carrots with kale, freekeh and blood-orange maple dressing
(adapted from a recipe in Hetty McKinnon's Community)

~1kg of carrots, sliced into 5-8cm chunks
1 red onion, finely sliced
1 tablespoon za'atar
Juice of 1 small lemon
1 cup freekeh grains, rinsed
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 bunch kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
1 small bunch parsley, chopped
1/2 cup hazelnuts, roasted, skinned and roughly crushed
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Juice of 1 orange and 1 grapefruit (or 2 blood oranges if you can find them)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Small bunch of dill, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 220°C.

Lay out the carrot pieces in a couple of baking trays, drizzle over three-quarters of the oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Pop them in the oven to roast.

Add the onion to the oven trays after about 15 minutes and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. Take the carrots out and pour over the lemon juice and sprinkle on the za'atar.

Cook the freekeh as per instructions. 

Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan and add the garlic and kale, season with heaps of salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes until the leaves have wilted nicely.

Whisk together all the dressing ingredients, adjusting the seasoning to taste.

Stir together the freekeh, carrots and kale, plus half the parsley. Serve with a splash of the dressing and a garnish of parsley and hazelnuts, plus some more za'atar if you want it.