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.