Friday, December 29, 2017

Rhubarb & strawberry crumble cake

December 11, 2017

Regular readers will be well aware that Cindy is the baker and sweet-tooth in this food-blog duo. It's rare for me to take on a cake, but I decided to give it a shot for Cindy's birthday. I grabbed her a copy of Ottolenghi's new dessert book as part of her present and we picked out this recipe for me to attempt. 

It's a little involved, but not beyond my fairly limited skill level. Things took a terrifying turn when I dropped the cake as I was putting it back in the oven for its final 10 minutes under foil, but I managed to patch things up enough to present to Cindy without too much shame. Even better, it tasted terrific - a fairly plain cake with a gorgeous layer of sweet fruit topped with sugary crumble. You've gotta put aside a good chunk of time for this one - 70 minutes baking plus a good half hour of prep (more if you're me), but it's definitely worth it. We're excited to try more goodies from this new book - this really set a high benchmark.

Rhubarb & strawberry crumble cake
(from Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh)

120g unsalted butter, melted
150g brown sugar
190g plain flour
30g dessicated coconut
1/4 teaspoon salt

3 sticks of rhubarb, cut into 1cm slices
250g strawberries, hulled and sliced into 0.5cm pieces
25g brown sugar
30g cornflour
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
1/3 teaspoon salt

185g plain flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
160g unsalted butter, cubed
220g icing sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla paste

Preheat the oven to 200°C and lightly grease and line a 23cm springform tin. Combine all the crumble ingredients in a large bowl and stir everything together well. You want quite a chunky texture. Put the crumble aside.

Combine all the ingredients for the fruit in another bowl, mix well and set aside.

For the cake: Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a small bowl and set aside.

Place the butter and icing sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer for about 3 minutes until it's light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one.

Add the vanilla paste and the sifted dry ingredients and beat some more to combine everything. 

Pour the cake mix into the prepared tin and smooth out the surface with the back of a spoon. Add the fruit mixture on top and then sprinkle evenly with the crumble mixture (I had heaps of crumble leftover, which came in handy when I needed to patch up my mistakes later).

Pop the cake in the oven and bake. Check after 50 minutes and if the crumble is getting too dark cover the whole thing with foil. Pop it back in the oven (without dropping it!) and bake for a further 20 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

Leave the cake to cool before removing it from the tin and serving. We had it straight up, but it'd go well with yoghurt or cream.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Fan's Notes III

Edit 02/01/2021: A Fan's Notes is now closed, but its owner runs Ballard's.

December 9, 2017

We're not exactly regulars at A Fan's Notes but we've enjoyed the couple of meals we've had there, and a retrospective facebook post got a few of us worried that the venue's Friday night vegan degustations might not make it to 2018. Rosalie rounded us up a booking for the 2017 highlights menu, and we were delighted to learn that it was simply the final degustation of the year and we could (and should!) all come back for another round of 5 courses for $50 in a month or two. Phew!

With that happy thought in mind, we took in some terrific little dishes. Number 1 was a fave: a smear of sour fermented chilli mayo mopped up with cornflake-crumbed oyster mushroom with a cluster of pickled shimiji mushrooms on the side.

Second, we enjoyed a fancy, green potato salad, where the baby potato was also pickled, spiced up further with horseradish, then served with watercress and avocado.

The beetroot 'pastrami' was silky and smoky but really not at all meat-like; it was garnished with a potato puree and lighter, fresher carrot, cucumber and dill.

The final savoury course was gumbo, an adept use of okra! Jalapeno cream only added to the warmth of the stew, and the best bit was hiding underneath - a scoop of rice with a crispy side usually found at the bottom of a bibimbap bowl.

For dessert, we received scoops of biscotti-crumbed cheesecake, served with blueberries and herbs. I couldn't detect the Earl Grey or pumpkin flavours promised, but the mock-cheese was still terrific and worked well with the mellow blueberries and the candied lemon bits stirred through them. I initially pushed aside the herbs, but that was a mistake - they added a lovely extra dimension to this plate! More tangy than 'green' in flavour, I think it was lemon balm.

The portions were just enough - I finished feeling satisfied but not overfull, and very pleased at the fancy feed we'd received for $50. There are cheaper meal deals during the week, with vegan options available on A Fan's Notes' burger and parma nights. These seem more in keeping with the atmosphere - the manager-chef has made this establishment his lounge room, and has clearly identified it as a dive bar. As I took photos on a well-lit summer night, I cursed the stubbornly-closed black curtains and wondered how many potential customers walk right by without finding out what feasts lie within.


The very same meal has already been blogged on quinces and kale. We've been to A Fan's Notes for the breakfast and the degustation before.

Since those visits The Plus Ones have enjoyed the vegan degustation, ParmaDaze has admired the parma, and there's an interesting interview with the manager-chef on Inner Circle.


A Fan's Notes
787 Nicholson St, Carlton North
9943 8373
our menu (it changes every fortnight)
facebook page

Accessibility: There's a flat entry way to a slightly crowded interior. We ordered at the table and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Melon salad with jalapeno-pickled pineapple

December 6, 2017

The Smith & Daughters Cookbook describes this fruit salad as a misunderstood menu item, met with indifference by most and then obsessed over by a rare few. I'm one of the weirdos who went wild for it in the restaurant, and it's become my most-made dish from the cookbook.

While the bulk of the salad is three kinds of mild-mannered melon, it's the sour, spicy jalapeno-pickled pineapple that bucks against all preconceptions. It's the counterbalance to those cloying rock- and honeydew melons I always needed but never knew how to ask for. They're fruits I've never previously sought out at the shops; now I've bought them five times in the past year!

Its creators explain that this salad is intended to sit right by the main meal, but that's not quite how I prefer it. I think of it more as a palate cleanser. I thought myself a genius when I served it alongside a corn chip tasting last autumn, and there are probably other rich, crunchy appetisers it would pair gloriously with. Earlier this month I took it to a friend's taco night and it was a bright, light end to the meal, when most people had already piled up one or two more tortillas than they really needed. It's not a conventional dessert, but it's pretty adept at replacing it mid-summer.

I have tinkered a little, but not a lot, with the recipe. I skip the garlic in the pickle brine, I use a dried bay leaf instead of a fresh one, and I use or omit the coriander stems depending on whether I already have them. I cut the fruit into whatever shape I feel like, and I find that the pineapple cores are completely edible once pickled.

This fruit salad has one last peculiarity you'd best prepare for - it doesn't mellow, but only gets more fiery with time!

Melon salad with jalapeno-pickled pineapple
(slightly adapted from Shannon Martinez & Mo Wyse's Smith & Daughters Cookbook)

1/2 pineapple
2 jalapenos
1/2 honeydew melon
1/4 watermelon
1/2 rockmelon
handful of mint leaves

pickle brine
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup caster sugar
juice and zest of 1 orange
juice and zest of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
small handful coriander stems (optional)
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns

Prepare the pickles 3-24 hours ahead of serving. Place all of the brine ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring them to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the brine until the sugar is completely dissolved. Turn off the heat and allow the flavours to infuse at room temperature for 15 minutes. During that time, slice the skin from the pineapple, slice the flesh into thin half-rounds and then into triangular segments. Slice the jalapenos into thin rings.

Place the pineapple and jalapeno pieces into a bowl or large jar, and pour over the brine. Cover and let it all pickle for up to 24 hours (I store it in the fridge, although the original recipe doesn't mention this).

When it's time to serve, remove the rinds and seeds from the melons and arrange them on a platter or place them in a large bowl. Scoop the pineapple and jalapeno pieces out of the brine and add them to the fruit salad; sprinkle over a little salt, add the mint leaves and a little of the brine. If you're serving everything in a bowl, fold everything together gently.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Revisiting Sydney favourites

November 30 & December 2, 2017

I arrived in Sydney right on dinner time Thursday night, and I was eager to treat myself to a fun meal after a week of mediocre catering. I was just a couple of blocks from Yulli's, where I perched at the bar and caught up on their menu. It's changed a good deal and might be better than ever! I was certainly enamoured with the naan pocket ($17.50), served with beer-battered fries and stuffed with a cluster of crispy-fried enoki mushrooms, haloumi slices, pickled cabbage, lettuce, fresh herbs and aioli.

I wandered strategically past Gelato Messina on my way back to my accommodation, and found there wasn't much of a queue in spite of the warm weather. I took a successful punt on a scoop of the special Breakfast of Champions ($5) - the cereal milk gelato was rather subtle, but I loved the sticky-chewy swirls of Milo and crushed honey joys.

Yum cha at Bodhi in the Park is always a treat, and this visit was the perfect intersection of conditions. The weather was gorgeous and we scored a table outside under the trees by a couple of wily ibis; the staff were engaged and helpful; the plates were varied and scrumptious! Fluffy mock chicken buns, dumplings dredged through sauce, crispy rolls stuffed with mock prawns, sauteed greens, cups and cups of tea, all finished with a shared glass of pandan sago with coconut milk and palm sugar syrup poured at the table. The bill here is always a little heftier than I expect (almost $90 this time), but I've not regretted it yet.

We visited Another Outspoken Female and her Significant Eater on Saturday night, and we shared a delightful meal for the second time at the all-vegan Gigi pizzeria. They generously let us pick our preferred pizzas, and we chose:

  • the Patate ($24) with both thin-sliced and smashed chunky potatoes, garlic, rosemary, and dabs of black truffle pate,
  • the Funghi e Radicchio ($22) with Swiss brown mushrooms, garlic, Vegusto blue cheese and roasted walnuts under a scattering of radicchio leaves and parsley,
  • the Cavolo ($22) spread with cauliflower puree and topped with artichokes, pine nuts, capers, currants, garlic and parsley,
  • Rucola, mele e cannella ($14), a salad of rocket, radicchio, roasted apple pistachio, cinnamon, olive oil, salt and lemon zest.

It's a remarkable and remarkably popular restaurant, with a completely different approach to Melbourne's vegan pizzeria, Red Sparrow.

This little escape to Sydney felt long overdue! We certainly crammed in as many eats as we could - it's always exciting to check out what's new, and I've now caught myself feeling nostalgic as I re-re-revisit stayers like Bodhi.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Shift Eatery & Green Mushroom

December 1 & 3, 2017

I arrived in Sydney just in time to meet up with Cindy for lunch at Shift Eatery, Sydney's answer to Smith and Deli. It's more a sit-down place than S & D, but the menu is working similar territory - lots of sandwiches and toasties, plus some salads and a cabinet full of sweets. It's all vegan and it's pretty popular, we were lucky to sneak a table before the lunchtime rush hit.

Cindy ordered the 'nothing fishy' sandwich ($12), made from chickpea and artichoke 'tuna', with house made aoili, greens and tomato. Cindy described it as a healthy version of Smith and Deli's Free Willy 2, which is a bit of a back-handed compliment (it probably didn't help that she filled up on her chilled iced chocolate with macadamia milk and 50% cocoa chocolate, $5). I ordered the 'Reuben's brother, Steve', a combo of corned beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, cheddar cheese and gherkins ($16). I was very impressed with this - loads of mock meat piled up with great accompaniments and toasted to perfection.

We took a couple of Treat Dreams sweets away for later and they were brilliant - their chocolate bars are available from Cruelty Free Shops we're keeping an eye out for a Melbourne pop-up soon.

We were enthusiastic enough to head back to grab a wrapped lunch on our way to the airport. We decided that untoasted sandwiches were the most likely to travel well, so I grabbed the smoked tofu (minus the pineapple, but with greens, slaw, lime tahini sauce, tomato, chipotle and mix sprouts, $14) and Cindy picked up the 'join the club' - chicken schnitzel, turkey slices, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado and house made aioli ($16).

These were both spectacular. Shift are really delivering some solid Sydney lunches. It'll be a regular stop on our future Sydney jaunts.


We headed to Glebe for dinner, following some Twitter advice to check out Green Mushroom, an all-vegan Indian restaurant. We were a bit overwhelmed by the menu, which ran to something like 8 pages and spanned all manner of classic Indian dishes along with a couple of random pasta options. We were tempted by the mock lamb options and the palak tofu, but in the end had to restrain ourselves to just a couple of dishes.

We combined the eggplant and potato masala ($18.95) with a veggie and tofu biryani ($16.95) and a serve of the excellent vegan garlic naan ($3.50). The eggplant and potato dish was wonderful, with the eggplant surprisingly out-shining the potato. The biryani had a good spicy kick and a nice mix of veggies and tofu throughout. 

Prices seem a little bit excessive for Indian food, but the portions are generous (we couldn't eat all of this between the two of us) and the service was great. It'd be a fun place to take a big group to - there are so many dishes to try! It's pretty ace to have an Indian restaurant where vegans don't have to worry about ghee sneaking into things too.

It was great to check out a couple of new (to us anyway) all-vegan places in Sydney. They'll likely make it onto our repeat-visit list... that's coming up in our final Sydney post.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Breakfast in Surry Hills

December 1 & 3, 2017

At the start of this month, both Michael and I had work commitments in New South Wales, allowing us a stealthy weekend stopover in Sydney. We booked a little apartment in Surry Hills and soaked up the sun.

The Urban List had a handy recent article on the neighbourhood's best breakfasts, and we tried two of them. I visited Gratia before Michael arrived. It's a social enterprise that hosts community events and donates its profits to charities, some of which customers can vote for. The menu is short but appetising - eggs on toast, fruits, fritters and a pancake, with sandwiches and salads at lunch time and some vegan-friendly goodies on display at the counter.

I took a seat in their small, pretty courtyard and ate the avocado toast ($14); it was lined with tahini, sprinkled with sesame seeds and pea leaves, and very well seasoned.

Shenkin came with an additional recommendation from a shop manager I met on Friday morning. The first Shenkin opened a decade ago in Erskineville and now five outlets dot the inner city. The breakfast menu adds Tel Aviv twists to dishes we're used to seeing: the avocado toast comes with artichoke hearts and za'atar, muesli is served with tahini and rosewater-infused yoghurt, and waffles are sprinkled with halva.

I took on the Tamar Pancakes ($18.50, above left) and found the flavours on point but the proportions out of whack. Just one big cakey disc would have been plenty, and I was pining for more strawberry and banana slices. Vanilla creme and date molasses were terrific garnishes.

Michael wasn't quite sure how to handle the Malawach special ($19, above right), but he relished every bite! It centred around a roti-like pastry and a boiled egg, upon which he tipped numerous condiments: hummus, grated tomato, spicy coriander harissa and tahini.

These were fun ways to start our days, and of course we ate plenty more besides. Michael will cover a couple of the newer vegetarian cafes in his next post.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Mock fish sambal goreng with coconut greens

November 19. 2017

This is a slightly involved but deeply rewarding meal that Michael and I teamed up on, on a quiet Sunday. We were clearly feeling a little nostalgic for the holiday we had in Bali a couple of months ago!

The meal centres on a mock fish sambal goreng recipe from Sri Owen's Indonesian Food, a cookbook that long pre-dates our holiday. It's not intended to be vegetarian, but I glibly replaced the fish and shrimp paste with vegan imitations. I also subbed in a little almond meal for a couple of candlenuts in the spice paste, and was pretty generous with my use of tamarind concentrate and coconut milk. The spice paste is designed to be tangy and complex, and the sauce rich and runny. It was largely a success, and we reveled in drenching our salty 'fish' pieces and steamed rice in it. Nevertheless, I'll try reducing the coconut milk quantity next time, because it came close to smothering a really great spice paste.

Our accompaniment comes straight from our holiday cooking class, a flexible blanched-greens-and-coconut salad. It's robust to haphazard treatment, even benefiting from a bit of bruising to release the makrut lime flavour, and a bit of time at rest before being served. Sprinkling the fried shallots on just as it's being served guarantees it'll feel fancy.

Michael cheerfully gloated his way through the leftovers, packed for lunch, while I was committed to catering at a work function. I reckon we'll both have the appetite to make more of this soon.

Mock fish sambal goreng
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Sri Owen's Indonesian Food)

spice paste/bumbu
4 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
3 large red chillies, stem and seeds removed then roughly chopped
1 teaspoon mock shrimp paste
1 generous teaspoon almond meal
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon fresh galangal, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons liquid tamarind concentrate
2 tablespoons coconut milk

other sauce ingredients
850mL coconut milk
5cm stem lemongrass
2 makrut lime leaves
3 small tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon peanut oil
250g mock cod fillet, sliced into bite-sized pieces

Place the spice paste ingredients in a spice grinder or food processor and blend until smooth.

Set a medium-large saucepan over medium heat and add in the spice paste, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk, lemongrass and lime leaves, and bring everything to the boil. Turn down the heat to medium and cook, stirring regularly, for 50 minutes. Add the tomatoes and salt, and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Set the sauce aside.

Heat the peanut oil in a frypan over medium heat, and fry the mock fish until lightly browned on at least one side. Pour over the sauce and cook for 5 minutes, season to taste. Serve with steamed rice and coconut kailan.

Coconut greens
(slightly adapted from a recipe shared at Casa Luna Cooking School)

1 cup grated coconut
1 large bunch kailan or other green vegetable
2 tablespoons sambal
3 makrut lime leaves, shredded finely
1 tablespoon fried shallots
salt, to taste

Preheat an oven to 150°C. Place the coconut in a dry tray and gently roast it for up to 30 minutes; check and stir it every five minutes and remove it when it starts becoming golden (gold is great, but don't risk burning it!).

While the coconut is roasting, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Trim the stems from the kailan and chop it into large pieces. When the water is boiling, blanch the kailan for abotu 2 minutes, then drain.

In a medium large bowl, stir together all the ingredients, including the roast coconut and kailan. You can be a bit rough, allowing the ingredients to bruise and the flavours to mingle.