Thursday, July 26, 2018

Sticky fig pudding
with salted caramel & coconut topping

July 8, 2018

Hosting an Ottolenghi Club gathering in our own home is an opportunity to make something that doesn't travel well, and this was at the forefront of my mind as I browsed Sweet. The best wintery contender, I thought, was the sticky fig pudding with salted caramel and coconut topping - it could travel straight from the oven to the table, still warm! 

The prologue to the recipe mentions that it takes inspiration from the sticky date puddings that are so common on Australian and Kiwi menus. My experience of those puddings is that the dates blend completely into the caramelly pudding, while here chopped apples and dried figs offer some gentle, fruity variation in the cakes. Their preparation is no more arduous than for a standard cake - beat together butter and sugar, then an egg, followed by the dry ingredients. I prepped the fruit earlier in the day, then readied the cakes in the hour before our guests arrived, spooning the batter into a paper-lined muffin tray and popping them into the oven as we sat down to eat the main meal.

Muffin trays are the 'inelegant' alternative to the recipe's preferred serving method, something to do with bottomless rings and tulip papers that I'd never even heard of. I wasn't too bothered, and nor were my guests, as they watched me melt together the coconut caramel and bake it onto the cakes after dinner. It was a little messy, but in the best possible way, with the cakes soaking up some of the syrup and any spills setting into a chewier caramel around the edges. The coconut was also toasty and chewy and really the star of the dish, even if it wasn't as pretty as a tulip.

I served one little pudding to each guest, with the choice of cream or icecream on the side. We all had the good fortune of another leftover pudding each to enjoy the next day, and they were still quite lovely at room temperature.

Sticky fig pudding with salted caramel & coconut topping
(from Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh's Sweet)

2 medium Granny Smith apples
200g soft dried figs
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
250mL water
200g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
125g butter, at room temperature
200g caster sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

caramel coconut topping
75g butter
95g brown sugar
60mL double cream
95g coconut flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt

Peel and core the apple, and chop the fruit into 1cm pieces. Remove the tough stalks from the figs and roughly chop the fruit. In a small saucepan, stir together the apple pieces, fig piece, bicarb soda and water. Bring it all to the boil, then simmer it over medium heat for 5 minutes. Stir it occasionally, making sure all the fruit spends some time immersed. When you turn off the heat, the figs should be starting to collapse. Set the saucepan aside to cool to room temperature.

Preheat an oven to 200°C. Line a muffin pan with paper cups (I used 10).

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a second larger bowl, beat together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well incorporated. Gradually beat in the flour mixture and the cooled fig-apple mixture until everything is well combined. Spoon the cake batter into the muffin cups, until they're about three-quarters full. Bake the cakes for about 25 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

During the last 5 minutes of the cakes baking, place all of the topping ingredients in a small-medium saucepan and set them over low-medium heat. Stir them often, until everything is melted and well combined. When the cakes are baked, carefully spoon the topping over each one, and bake them for a further 12 minutes.

Allow the puddings to cool on a bench for 10 minutes before serving, with a dollop of cream or a small scoop of vanilla icecream.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Broccoli & gorgonzola pie

July 8, 2018

We hosted the winter edition of Ottolenghi club this year, giving us the opportunity to bust out something a bit more complicated (we're usually constrained by needing something that will hold up to bike transport). Somehow this indulgent broccoli pie from Plenty has never caught our attention before, and it fit the bill perfectly.

It's a bit of faffing around, especially if you're anxious about pastry (I called in Cindy for the tricky bits), but the effort definitely pays off. I mean it's hard to imagine a pie filled with double cream and fancy cheese is ever going to let you down, but this on really delivers. The gorgonzola is rich, but the baking tones down its pungency a bit and it combines brilliantly with the creamy mustard leek and the chunks of broccoli. I'd definitely recommend splashing out on some more expensive pastry for this one - the beautiful golden crust was a highlight. 

Our guests brought along some excellent accompaniments - the orange and date salad and the barley and pomegranate salad were fresh additions to all the richness of the pie. Stay tuned to see what Cindy made for dessert!

Broccoli & gorgonzola pie
(from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty)

~500g all-butter puff pastry
2 broccoli heads, cut into florets
25g butter
4 leeks, trimmed and sliced
150ml double cream
80ml water
15g chives, chopped
15g tarragon, chopped
3 tablespoons grainy mustard
1 teaspoon salt
black pepper
200g gorgonzola, cut into rough cubes
1 egg, beaten

Ottolenghi says that you can make the filling while the tart is baking, but I found it much easier to do all the filling prep first, so I've rejigged the recipe here - it takes more time, but I would have found the alternative way too stressful.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil and blanch the broccoli for about 2 minutes - you just want them to have gone a tiny bit tender. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the leeks over low heat for 15 minutes, until they've softened right up (but not caramelised). Add the cream,, water, herbs, mustard, salt and some pepper and stir it all together. Take the leek mix off the heat and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Roll out two-thirds of the pastry into a circle big enough to cover a 25cm pie tin (it should be about 2mm thick). Make little holes in the pastry with a fork.

Cover the pastry with greaseproof paper and fill it with baking beans. Bake blind for 15 minutes, until it's light brown. Take the paper and beans out and give it another 5 so that it goes golden. Leave to cool.

Spread the leek mixture over the bottom of your pastry case. Gently press the broccoli florets into the leek mix and then dot with the gorgonzola chunks.

Roll out a lid for your pie with the remaining pastry and then brush the edges of the pie case with the beaten egg before laying the lid on top. Try to make a good seal between the lid and the base, trimming off any excess pastry.

Glaze the lid with more of the beaten egg and bake the pie for 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Friday, July 20, 2018

'Pulled' tofu & turnip burgers

July 8, 2018

We're getting back into a vege box routine, and our most recent one delivered a couple of turnips. We're not in the habit of cooking or eating turnips at all! And yet I had one handy turnip-tagged recipe among my online bookmarks, where it's been waiting patiently for something like five years.

It's a recipe that takes inspiration from pulled pork, which I think is most commonly veganised using jackfruit. Here instead there's grated turnips and tofu, gently sauteed and then simmered in barbecue sauce. Our Vegan Mom Trina didn't specify what barbecue sauce, so we stirred together the Moosewood one we've been making since before we had a blog.

We served our pulled tofu and turnips on soft white bread rolls with a half-quantity of Viva Vegan's classic cabbage salad, and Michael added a squirt of sriracha. I like that this salad's mayo-free and still decently crunchy. You probably noticed that we had some potato gems too - it's the first time we've baked them in many years and they were a fun side.

The recipe included a much larger quantity of tofu than turnip, and the vegetable that got this whole meal started ended up completely lost in the mix. But it was a tasty mix and we happily replayed it several times as leftovers - at home, reheating the filling in the frypan, and packed into sandwiches for work.

'Pulled' tofu & turnip
(slightly adapted from a recipe on Your Vegan Mom)

2 medium turnips
500g very firm tofu
2-3 tablespoons margarine
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup barbecue sauce (we used 1 quantity of this recipe)
1 cup water

Grate the turnip and the tofu, forming them into separate piles.

Set a large frypan over medium-high heat and melt half of the margarine in it. Add the grated turnips to the pan and allow them to cook for a couple minutes at a time without turning them, to give them the best chance of browning. (Mine didn't, they just released a bunch of water).

Move the turnip to the side of the frypan and melt the remaining margarine in the space you've made. Pile the tofu into the frypan, then toss everything together. Again, allow the mixture a couple of minutes at a time without stirring, to give everything a chance to brown (this started working a bit for us).

Stir the barbecue sauce and water together, then pour them into the frypan. Allow the mixture to simmer for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and serve when most of the moisture has evaporated. We piled this onto soft buns with a squeeze of sriracha and a handful of classic cabbage salad, and served potato gems on the side.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Din Tai Fung

July 5, 2018

Cindy and I spent Thursday night at the movies and decided to check out Din Tai Fung for a quick pre-Incredibles meal. Din Tai Fung comes with a lot of hype - the Hong Kong restaurant has had a Michelin Star and they've gradually conquered the world, with branches in the US, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and beyond. The Melbourne outpost opened at Emporium a few years ago to massive queues and lots of enthusiasm (see the blog review list at the bottom of this post). Either the hype has died down a bit or we picked a good time - either way there was no queue when we turned up early on a Thursday evening.

The menu is huge, with a decent number of vego options spread across it. We made our selections, ticked the boxes on the menu form and got stuck in. There's beer, but the non-alcoholic drinks are more interesting - I went for a lemon iced tea ($4.50), while Cindy went for the Thai bubble milk tea ($6.90).

Food-wise we started with two vegetarian buns ($3 each) and a serve of the spicy vegetarian wontons ($11.90). The buns were puffy and soft and filled with a combination of tofu, mushroom and spinach. They were decent, but were outshone by the wontons, little parcels of goodness served in a zingy Sichuan sauce. My dish of the night.

Next up was a serve of the spinach with garlic ($14.90) and the vegetarian dumplings ($10.90). The dumplings were delicately made and filled with the same mix as the buns. The spinach was fine - heavy on the garlic, which is crucial. 

We had a pretty decent meal at Din Tai Fung - the service was super efficient and the food was solid. It falls short of our go-to dumpling place Shandong Mama - their vego dumplings are both more interesting and better value ($15 for 12). Still, Din Tai Fung is a good option if you're looking for a speedy city dinner around Emporium - just be prepared to pay a bit of a surcharge because of the restaurant's reputation.


There are heaps of blog reviews of Din Tai Fun - see Hungry CookieDaisyumAwwum ProductionsBLK's Food BlogJojo and LiliGastrology (freebie), The World Loves Melbourne (freebie), The Dear LuncherThe Penguin EatsMelbourne Culinary Business DistrictThat FoodieShort and StoutEspresso and MatchaBLK's Food BlogFerris Wheel FlightsLife's Little TemptationsThe G BearLet's OmnomLinnie Eats All the FoodMango MacaronsThe Food JoyMelbourne GluttonDelightfully TastyNew International StudentsBarley Blog and MEL: HOT OR NOT for positive write-ups and some more ambivalent reviews on Howie's Melbourne Food BlogThe EpicuristWander Wonder WantonThe New FaveMelbourne Food PaparazzaSweet and Sour ForkWandering MintThe Escort and the ThiefGastronomic Gems and Tian Ming.

Din Tai Fung
Level 4, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale St
9654 1876
menus: one, two

Accessibility: There's a flat entry and a spacious interior. We ordered at the table and paid at a high counter. Toilets are gendered and accessible.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Vegie Mum

July 4, 2018

Note: we arranged this dinner intending to pay our bill in full. We received one entree and a bottle of non-alcoholic sparkling wine without charge during our visit.

We were both excited and wary when Vegie Mum announced that they'd be opening up a second restaurant in Fitzroy. We've had some great meals at the original Doncaster restaurant, but can the Brunswick St restaurant strip really support another veg restaurant, let alone more Buddhist-style mock meat? I swung back entirely to excitement when Steph spontaneously invited me and Danni to share as many dishes as possible with her during their opening week.

The atmosphere was truly celebratory, with the restaurant owner owning the floor all night, red-ribboned good-luck bouquets spilling out of the foyer, and many customers recognised as family, friends, and customers of the Doncaster restaurant. We were treated to a couple of complimentary items, and it's unclear whether they were extended to all diners that night, or a little something extra because Danni let slip that there was a blogger at our table.

The Pei King duck (~$9) was all our idea, though. This wasn't the dense, 5-spice-flavoured duck I'm most accustomed to, but a lighter layered yuba with a delicate crispy skin.

Soon after, the owner cheerfully pressed a bottle of Mango Tango sparkling drink on us and urged us to sample a Chinese salami that the chef has been playing around with. It had the dots of fat that evoke smallgoods, and more of that crispy yuba skin I was keen on, not to mention an impressive carved carrot garnish.

The rest of the meal was our choice. A bowl of Mapo Tofu ($18) was only mildly spicy, with veges rather than a mock mince. By comparison, the Char Kuay Teow ($13) was studded with at least two kinds of mock meat, and the best kind of slippery-smoky noodles.

The restaurant owner and Steph exclaimed together over the Nyonya Fish ($15), and they were justified in doing so. I think, though, that Danni and I were ultimately more excited by the Shanghai sweet and sour pork ribs ($19), picking them off their wooden 'bones' and dragging them through as much sauce as we could.

We'd strategically over-ordered to take leftovers home, and had just enough room to share dessert. The banana fritter ($8) does the job, and is served with dairy-based icecream (though Steph duly informed them about the easy vegan alternatives available just down the street at the Cruelty Free Shop).

And that's the one minor warning: although most of the menu is vegan (and I suspect that it is all vegan adaptable), it's not clearly labelled. Speak up when they're taking your order and there's a good chance all will be well. Coeliacs will probably have a tougher time of it.

We, at least, had a terrific time of it. While I'm sure that first-opening exuberance will calm down over the coming weeks, I'm hopeful that Vegie Mum will establish itself as a welcoming and well-attended veg*n restaurant in this competitive neighbourhood.

You can also read about our first and second visits to the original Vegie Mum in  Doncaster.

Vegie Mum
72 Johnston St, Fitzroy
9417 6688
entrees, soups & 'seafood'; other mains & dessert; banquet menu; drinks

Accessibility: There's a step up on entry. The interior is flat with moderately crowded furniture. We ordered at our table and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

White beans, 'bacon' & leeks on polenta

June 30, 2018

I've been having some dental treatments this month, so I'm treating my mouth with a little extra care and trepidation. There've been soups and smoothies and the odd soothing bowl of ice cream, soft breads and sautes. Eventually I messed up, ordering yoghurt at a cafe that arrived with granola all over it - those deliciously crunchy quinoa clusters easily snapped one of my temporary plastic 'teeth'.

While I walked home early to book an extra repair appointment, Michael shopped for this blessedly gentle meal. It's based on a low key recipe shared by 'kitchen hand' on his long-running blog, What I Cooked Last Night, and it dates all the way back to 2007. A leek is cooked in white wine until very soft, then teamed with (mock, in our case) bacon, a can of white beans and plenty of parsley; it's all piled on top of soft polenta. It's warming, savoury, comforting. Soft enough for my beleaguered mouth, but varied enough in texture and flavour to enjoy in good health too.

White beans, 'bacon' & leeks on polenta
(slightly adapted from a recipe on What I Cooked Last Night)

70g mock bacon
1 large leek
1 can white beans (e.g. canellini, butter, ...)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
3/4 cup parsley, roughly chopped
1L 'chicken' stock
1 cup polenta
3/4 cup parmesan, grated (omit for a vegan version)
salt and pepper

Chop the mock bacon into 1cm squares. Finely slice the leek. Drain the beans.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a frypan and cook the mock bacon until it's dark and a bit crisp. Transfer the mock bacon to a plate. Heat the second tablespoon of oil in the frypan, add the leek and the white wine. Cover the pan and cook the leeks over low heat for 10 minutes.

While the leeks are cooking, bring the stock to a boil in a large saucepan. Gradually whisk the polenta into the stock and, once it's back up to a boil, turn down the heat. Stir the polenta continously as it cooks and thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in the parmesan until it's melted and season to taste. Turn off the heat and put a lid on the polenta to keep it warm.

When the leeks are very soft, take off the lid. Add the drained beans, parsley and 'bacon' to heat them through.

Spoon the polenta into shallow bowls and pile the leek mixture on top to serve.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Kale & leek bake

June 11, 2018

We decided to use the Monday public holiday to cook up something new (you might have noticed that the blog is very heavy on the restaurants these days - we're still cooking, but mostly old favourites). I flipped through the Smith & Daughters cookbook and settled on this kale and leek bake - it seemed perfect for the wintery turn that Melbourne's taken. There's a bit of faffing around - you flavour up some soy milk stock, separately cook the leek and the kale, stir together a cheesy sauce to bind it all together and fry up some chunky garlic bread crumbs for the top. 

It's worth it though - hearty and thick, with an impressive cheesiness for a vegan bake. The crunchy breadcrumbs on top make it and we happily worked our way through the bake for work lunches all week. This will definitely come into our winter rotation. We served it up with this bbq baked tofu recipe, which was another winner - probably a bit more effort than you can really justify when you have so many other great tofu options, but a smoky, spicy treat to go alongside our cheesy bake.

Kale & leek bake
(slightly adapted from Shannon Martinez & Mo Wyse's Smith & Daughters Cookbook)

2 cups soy milk
1 cup veggie stock
3 garlic cloves, two minced and one smashed
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
small bunch parsley chopped (set the stems aside)
4 leeks, halved and cut into 1 cm pieces (set the green ends aside)
80g Nuttelex
olive oil
1 large bunch of kale, stems removed and leaves roughly chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup flour
120g shredded cheese (we use BioCheese because it melts well)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 cups stale bread, cubed

Pour the soy milk and stock into a saucepan and throw in the smashed garlic, fennel seeds, bay leaves, peppercorns, parsley stems and whichever green leek bits you can squeeze in. 

Bring to the boil and then take the mix off the heat and leave it all to infuse for 15 minutes. Strain the liquid into a bowl and throw out the stems, seeds etc.

Heat a tablespoon of the Nuttelex and a glug of olive oil in a frying pan and cook the white leek pieces with a pinch of salt. Give it 10 minutes or so until it's softened completely. Set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Throw in a pinch of salt and the kale leaves. Cook them for 3-4 minutes until they've softened but are still bright green. Drain and refresh under some cold water to stop them from over-cooking.

Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease up a large baking dish.

Melt the rest of the Nuttelex in a frying pan. Add half the crushed garlic plus the thyme and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the flour and stir thoroughly until you get a paste. Cook for another minute or so and then gradually add the infused soy milk stock, whisking to keep it all smooth. Add the shredded cheese and mustard and keep cooking until the cheese is all melted through.

Fry the bread cubes in some olive oil along with the chopped parsley and the rest of the garlic. Cook for a few minutes until the cubes are crispy and lightly golden. Set aside.

Stir the leeks and the kale leaves into the cheesy sauce and then pour the whole mix into your baking tray. Top with the garlic bread cubes and bake for 20 minutes.