Monday, May 18, 2020

Kaiserschmarren mit Zwetschgenröster

March 10, 2019 & May 2, 2020

In the Lab Farewell Cookbook, Edith introduced me to a traditional Austrian treat that's found in restaurants, and that she and her mum also make at home. Kaiserschmarren is simple and appealing, a pancake that's shredded into bite-sized pieces, showered in icing sugar, and served with plum compote. Apparently you can eat it any time of the day, as a main or a dessert, and I gave it a shot for a weekend brunch with our online quiz club.

Making the pancake was a boost to my kitchen confidence! I'm often put off by the process of separating eggs, whipping whites, and gently folding everything together. But I pulled it off for a recent cake, and I was ready to go again here. Making and flipping a huge pancake is another task that gets me nervous, but this one puffed up beautifully and held together as long as I needed it to. This probably doesn't even matter, since it's all shredded up before serving, but I was mighty pleased to watch it cook so neatly. As an added bonus, the shredding stage gives you a chance to cook through any runny bits of batter that might still be hiding right in the centre of the pancake. It's almost a failproof technique!

Edith mentioned but didn't include a plum compote recipe, so I did a little searching and found this one on Cinnamon & Coriander. It's got a mulled wine style to it, and adds depth and contrast to the cloud-like pancake pieces. The leftover plums made their way onto my yoghurt-and-granola breakfasts.

(a recipe shared by Edith in the Lab Farewell Cookbook,
and credited to Kronen Zeitung Koch Buch)

150g plain flour
30g sugar
generous pinch of salt
3 eggs, separated
milk, as needed
icing sugar, to serve

In a medium-large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the egg yolks, and whisk in enough milk to form a thick dough.

In a separate medium bowl, beat the egg whites until they form peaks. Fold the egg whites into the pancake batter.

Heat substantial layer of oil (Edith says a finger thick; I did maybe 5mm) in a cast-iron frypan. Pour in the batter; allow it to cook until the pancake is bubbling on top and browning underneath. Flip the pancake to cook on the other side. Don't panic if it's a messy flip! When the pancake is cooked through, it's time to rip it into little pieces with two forks.

Transfer the pancake pieces to a plate and sift over some icing sugar just before serving.

(slightly adapted from a recipe on Cinnamon & Coriander)

60g sugar
600g (about 6 large) plums
300mL red wine
juice of 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon vanilla-infused white rum

Place the sugar in a medium-large saucepan over even, medium heat until the sugar is melted and turning golden brown. While the sugar is melting, wash the plums, slice them into halves and remove their stones. When the sugar is golden brown, carefully add the red wine and cinnamon stick. (For me, the red wine hissed a lot and the sugar seized up - don't worry too much about this.) After letting the mixture cook for about a minute, add the orange juice and plums. Cook the plums, stirring regularly, until they're tender and the sauce has thickened a little. I took about 20 minutes on a low bubble for mine, because I was happy for the plums to collapse. Turn off the heat and stir in the rum. Allow the compote to cool to room temperature and store it in the fridge.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Fully loaded cornbread

April 30, 2020

When I was planning dinner around a Georgian kidney bean salad, I was on the look-out for something vege-filled and cheesy, with a plan for bread on the side. As I flicked through the brunch section Ottolenghi's Simple, our neighbourhood groupchat lit up with offers of corn and coriander, and this cornbread recipe appeared as the ideal dish to cover all bases. 

We claimed our neighbours' veges and I figured out we could crank up the cornbread quantity by 50%, plenty to send a small-sized loaf back to them in thanks. (I've just included the standard recipe quantity below.) It's an ostentatious recipe, with charred corn plus green flecks of spring onion, coriander and jalapeño in a dough heavy with sour cream. Then it's loaded further with toppings: red onion, two kinds of cheese, jalapeño rings and (if you can find them - I couldn't) nigella seeds.

The one hitch during preparation was that as soon as the polenta hit the sour cream, it turned cement-like and very difficult to mix. Stirring didn't get any easier as I attempted to introduce the dry ingredients, herbs and veges. In the method below, I've reordered the process as an attempt to make things easier next time.

I was thrilled with the final product, and proud to share it. The cornbread was so tender, and tasty, and varied from mouthful to mouthful, savoury and sweet with a little kick of chilli. Cornbread typically goes stale fast, so we made sure to reheat our leftovers and were just an enamoured of them as the wedges that we cut that first time out of the oven. 

Fully loaded cornbread
(very slightly adapted from a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's Simple)

the kernels from 2 cobs corn
140g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne
50g brown sugar
180g polenta
salt and pepper
360g sour cream
2 eggs
120mL olive oil
4 spring onions, roughly chopped
10g coriander leaves, chopped
2 fresh jalapeño chillis, 1 finely chopped and 1 sliced into rounds
100g feta, crumbled
100g sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

Preheat an oven to 170°C. Line a high-walled baking dish (around 28cm square) with paper, and spray it with oil.

Set a dry frypan over medium-high heat. Add the corn kernels and fry them, stirring occasionally, until charred on some sides. Set them aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb soda, cumin and cayenne. Stir through the sugar, polenta, plus salt and pepper.

In a second medium-sized bowl, whisk together the sour cream, eggs and olive oil. Pour it into the dry ingredients and stir everything together until combined. Fold in the spring onions, coriander leaves, finely chopped jalapeño, and toasted corn kernels.

Turn the cornbread dough into the baking dish and spread it out as evenly as you can. Scatter over the jalapeño rounds, feta, cheddar and onion. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature, and be sure to reheat any leftovers as cornbread goes stale fast.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Georgian kidney bean salad

April 30, 2020

Yung was one of my longer-serving colleagues in the Lab, and (along with Cassie) a key organiser of the annual culinary competition. We've been talking about and sharing food for over a decade, and I was confident that the unassuming kidney bean salad she submitted to the Lab Farewell Cookbook would be something special.

I'll come clean straight up and admit that I used canned and not dried kidney beans for the job. As I read through the recipe I was tempted to use ready-ground spices, too, but that would have been a mistake. The freshly toasted coriander, fennel and fenugreek brought a lot of life to this dish! There's also plenty more flavour to be had from three fresh herbs and a dousing of wine vinegar. This dish could easily be shared between two people for one meal, and I'll likely double all quantities to ensure generous leftovers in future.

We asked Yung what she likes to serve alongside her Georgian kidney bean salad, and her recommendations had my mouth watering: 
...we often have it as part of  a meal w other salad-y dishes like grilled eggplant rolls stuffed w labneh & roast capsicum or grilled zucchini topped with feta & and a drizzle of balsamic & olive oil or roast fennel topped w grated cheese. But always some good bread to accompany it.
A pattern of grilled/roasted vegetables with cheese, and bread on the side. We didn't end up researching more recipes from Georgia; instead I reinterpreted these features and made a cornbread stuffed with vegetables and herbs, and topped with cheese (recipe up next!).

Georgian kidney bean salad
(a recipe shared by Yung in the Lab Farewell Cookbook;
she adapted it from Olia Hercules' Mamushka)

200g dried red kidney beans (or 400g can kidney beans, drained and rinsed)
1 small-medium onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
salt & pepper
1-2 tablespoons dill
1-2 tablespoons parsley leaves, chopped
1-2 tablespoons coriander leaves and stem, chopped
2 tablespoons sunflower oil

If you're using dried kidney beans, cover them in at least 8cm of water and soak them overnight. Drain the beans, put them in a saucepan and cover them in fresh cold water. Bring the beans to a boil, then simmer them for 35-50 minutes, until they achieve your preferred texture. Drain the beans.

Place the coriander, fennel and fenugreek seeds in a dry frypan and toast them over medium heat until fragrant. Transfer them to a mortar, add 1/4 teaspoon rock salt, and crush the spices to a powder with a pestle.

Heat the sunflower oil in a frypan over medium heat. Add the onions and fry them until they're soft and caramelised, at least 15 minutes. Add the cooked beans, pepper to taste, and the ground spices, stirring everything thoroughly.

Transfer the beans and onions to a serving bowl, and add the sugar, salt and wine vinegar to taste. When you're happy with the flavour balance in the dressing, stir through the fresh dill, parsley and coriander. Serve warm or cold.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Flourless chocolate cake

April 25, 2020

Yes, it's more cake from the Lab Farewell Cookbook! And it's another classic style of recipe that's worth having in one's repertoire: a gluten-free chocolate cake shared by Bron. 

The preparation and final product both reminded me of brownies as much as cake. The batter builds up from melted butter and chocolate in a saucepan, fills out with almond meal instead of flour, and develops a distinctive elasticity when the eggs get mixed in. The egg yolks, anyway... the spot where this differs from a brownie is when you skip the baking powder, separate the eggs, and fold in puffy whipped whites at the end. It's a neat way to deal with what's otherwise a very dense batter.

I most appreciated Bron's advice on baking time: 
undercooked = creamy mousse, overcooked = cakey. Can't go wrong!
Since I like my baked goods closer to fudgy than cakey, I picked the minimum cooking time of 55 minutes. By my assessment, this generated a texture right on the boundary between fudgy and cakey. I'll be tempted to try a 45-50 minute bake next time round to see just how fudgy this can get!

Bron's other excellent parting advice was to serve this cake with thick cream or yoghurt, and some strawberries. I did, and they set it off perfectly.

Flourless chocolate cake
(a recipe shared by Bron in the Lab Farewell Cookbook,
where it's credited to Sue Shepherd's Irresistibles for the Irritable)

1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup water
150g butter
150g dark chocolate
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 1/4 cups almond meal
4 eggs, separated

Preheat an oven to 150°C. Line a 22cm springform cake pan with baking paper, and grease it.

Set a medium saucepan over low heat, and add the cocoa, water, butter and chocolate. Continue cooking and occasionally stirring until everything is melted and smooth. Turn off the heat and whisk in the sugar, almond meal, and egg yolks. (I didn't get going with the egg separations until after I turned off the heat, which gave everything a little time to cool down.) Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large bowl. 

Place the egg whites in a small-medium bowl and beat them with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. Gently fold half the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then follow up with the second half. Pour the cake batter into the cake pan.

Bake the cake for 55-65 minutes, and allow it to cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes. Serve with plain yoghurt or thick cream, and strawberries.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Dolla's (husband's) cheesecake

April 18-19, 2020

This Lab Farewell Cookbook recipe is one I was guaranteed to love: it's a classic, unbaked cheesecake. It comes from Dolla, who famously doesn't like to cook, but has shared food from other family members at the annual Lab Culinary Competition. I have fond memories of her mum's felafel and dolmades, and this cheesecake is her husband's specialty.

I'm posting the full recipe quantity below, but I actually halved it this time around. My half-quant still generated about six servings to take us through the week, and I was able to assemble them in some cute little tins I received for my birthday last year. The biscuit crumb base should be ground finer than you can see pictured above; sadly our food processor conked out while I was preparing this recipe, and I finished the job clumsily with a pestle and mixing bowl. (I reckon my usual baking paper-and-rolling pin approach would beat it.)

The filling is so simple and so effective; just cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, and lemon juice. It's creamy and tangy, and it sets firmly without being gelatinous. I couldn't get hold of fresh blueberries that I was happy with, so I had some fun trying my hand at the candied lemon topping.

Dolla's (husband's) cheesecake
(a recipe shared by Dolla in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

200g milk coffee biscuits
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
160g butter

2 x 250g blocks Philadelphia cream cheese, at room temperature
2 x 395g cans sweetened condensed milk
juice from 4 lemons

topping option 1
400g blueberries

topping option 2
finely sliced rind of 2 lemons
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup caster sugar

Line a 22cm springform cake pan with paper and spray it with oil.

Grind the biscuits and cinnamon in a food processor until they form fine crumbs (mine, photographed above, were too coarse). Melt the butter in a small saucepan and pour it into the food processor, blitzing further to thoroughly combine. Press the crumbs into the cake pan, forming a wall up the sides of the pan as well as covering the base completely. Refrigerate the base.

Use a food processor or electric beater to thoroughly combine the cream cheese, condensed milk and lemon juice, until they are completely combined and smooth. Pour the filling over the base and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, ideally overnight.

For topping option 1, place the blueberries on the top of the cheesecake when it's ready to serve.

For topping option 2, remove as much pith and pulp as you can from the lemon rind. Place the rind, water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring them to the boil, allowing the syrup to thicken. Arrange the rind and syrup over the cheesecake when it's ready to serve.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Pearl couscous salad

April 18, 2020

With this Lab Farewell Cookbook salad recipe, Cassie nailed our cooking style! It's made substantial with couscous, green and leafy with mint, studded with nuts, and shimmering with Ottolenghi's favourite ingredient, the pomegranate seed.

Still, it's not a repeat on any of our usual recipes. It's years since we bought pearl-sized couscous, and I enjoyed its bubble tea-type chewiness. I didn't realise that we're outside pomegranate season, so the fruit was a bit paler than it should be. Cassie has since advised me that you can buy pomegranate seeds frozen, so I'll be more attentive and keep that option to hand in future.

This is the kind of dish that's great as a dinner-time side, leftover on its own for lunch, or as a potluck contribution. I can imagine its flashes of green and red looking very festive as part of a Christmas spread. This time round, the two of us paced it out over a few days in tandem with a roasted cauliflower, grape and cheddar salad.

Pearl couscous salad
(a recipe shared by Cassie in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup pearl couscous
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
pinch of ground allspice
juice of 1 lemon
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup pistachios, toasted
small bunch mint, leave picked and stems discarded
seeds of 1 pomegranate

In a medium-large saucepan, bring the stock to the boil and add the couscous. Cook until couscous is soft (timing can vary a lot depending on its size; check the packet for guidance). Drain, if the water is not all absorbed. Stir half of the oil into the couscous, and set it aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

Place the remaining oil, pomegranate molasses, allspice, lemon juice and spring onions in a jar. Screw on the lid and shake the jar vigorously, until the dressing is emulsified.

In a large bowl, stir together the couscous, dressing and remaining ingredients. You may like to set a few pistachios and pomegranate seeds aside to sprinkle over the top.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Sémola con vino

April 2, 2020

I've been using these lock-down weeks to methodically work through the dessert recipes in the Lab Farewell Cookbook, and it has been a treat. This pudding from Linda is something I'd already had the good fortune to taste at a past Lab Culinary Competition. She explained that it's a typical Chilean dessert, with quantities chosen by eye and lots of flexibility as to how runny or firmly set you prepare each layer.

I proceeded with a little caution because I recalled this being a rich dessert. Since there's only two of us at home, I decided to quarter the quantity and serve it in cups rather than making an entire flan. I ended up wishing I'd made a little more. (The recipe below shows the regular quantity, and I'd estimate that it would make around 8 serves.)

The texture of this pudding is velvety smooth, and its flavour has a two-tone contrast of milky-mild semolina, steeped with cinnamon, up against a darkly fruity red wine sauce. I thought it looked pretty in individual glasses, and I think I'd choose this serving style again even if I was making enough for a larger group.

Sémola con vino
(a recipe shared by Linda in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

1 cup semolina
1 L full cream milk
500 mL red wine
3-4 tablespoons cornflour
sugar, to taste
cinnamon stick
~5 cloves
piece of orange or lemon peel

Choose your serving dish: you could use a flan dish, a baking tray or individual bowls or cups.

Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the cinnamon stick, adding a little sugar to taste. Bring the milk up to a simmer, then whisk in the semolina and stir it regularly. When the semolina has thickened, pour it into your serving dish(es) and allow it to set.

Pour the wine into a clean saucepan, leaving half a cup aside. Mix the cornflour into that half a cup, until there are no lumps left. Add the cloves, orange peel and a little sugar to the wine in the saucepan and bring it all to a simmer. Gradually stir in the cornflour, continuing to stir as the mixture thickens. Pour the wine over the semolina and allow it to set before serving. Eat within 3-4 days.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Sweet yoghurt plait bread

March 29, 2020

A lot of folks in lock-down have been baking bread, and our local supermarket has been consistently cleared of yeast. We had a couple of sachets and some bread flour in reserve at home from our irregular pizza making, so I could go right ahead with my own autumn plan for sweet yoghurt plait bread.

This is yet another recipe from the Lab Farewell Cookbook, and it comes from my long-time colleague Victoria. The bread is really a lightly sweet bun, spiced with cinnamon, studded with dried figs and smothered in a thick lemon icing. With all the proving and plaiting it's a solid afternoon's work, but I was ready for it, even pulling out the heavy old mixmaster with the dough hook. 

I'm not sure that I've ever plaited dough before, but it was easier than I expected! Any imperfections are slightly magnified during proving, then hidden again by icing and slicing. The one slight alteration I made was to use a bit less lemon juice when icing the second loaf - I love the tanginess, but the extra liquid means that most of the icing runs off the bun.

The loaves are sticky stunners, both whole and sliced. I made sure to show off a piece in my workplace's weekly morning tea skype session.

Sweet yoghurt plait bread
(a recipe shared by Victoria in the Lab Farewell Cookbook,
where it's credited to Jane Lawson's Spice Market)

650g white bread flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons (9g) instant dried yeast
2 eggs, lightly beaten
250g yoghurt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
60g unsalted butter, chopped and at room temperature
1/2 cup dried figs, chopped

1 egg
2 tablespoons milk

3 cups icing sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice

Set up an electric mixer with a bowl and dough hook, or a large bowl (with a wooden spoon and strong arms at the ready!). Stir together 600g of the flour with the cinnamon, yeast and salt.

Very gently heat the milk in a small saucepan to just barely more than lukewarm. Take it off the heat, then whisk in the eggs, yoghurt and honey. Pour this mixture into the flour bowl. If you're using a stand mixer, mix for 3 minutes at the lowest speed. Add the butter and figs, and mix for a further 10 minutes at medium speed, until you have a smooth and elastic dough (mine was very sticky, and I added a bit more flour). If you're mixing by hand, work through the ingredients in the same order and turn the dough onto a clean surface and knead it for 10 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl and drop the dough into it, tossing it around to coat it in the oil. Cover the bowl and leave it in a warm place to rise for 1.5-2 hours, or until it has doubled in volume. Gently punch the dough and turn the dough onto a clean, floured surface. Divide the dough into 6 equal-sized portions, and roll each one into a length of about 30cm. Plait together three lengths at a time to form two loaves, and tuck the ends underneath. Place the loaves on lightly greased baking trays, cover them with damp cloths, and allow them to rise for a further 30 minutes. Use this time to preheat an oven to 220°C.

Make the glaze by whisking together the egg and milk in a mug; brush it over the tops of the loaves. Bake the loaves for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 180°C and bake for 20 minutes more. The bread should be golden on top. Allow the loaves to cool.

When the loaves are cool, whisk together the icing sugar and lemon juice to form the icing. Drizzle it over the loaves and allow it to set before slicing and serving.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


March 28, 2020

One of the terrific little surprises in my Lab Farewell Cookbook was that the compilers tracked down my friend and mentor Louisa for a recipe. Louisa and I were officemates over a decade ago, and we're still in touch even though neither of us has been employed in that office for years.

Louisa knows my tastes well, and shared a simple cookie recipe that's gluten-free and includes a vegan option. Louisa explained that Almendrados are a traditional Jewish recipe eaten during the Passover week. They're are made mostly from almonds and sugar, bound together with an egg (or potentially tofu!) and flavoured with lemon.

My one early COVID-lockdown panic-buy was a big bag of raw almonds, so I blanched some of them myself to make these cookies. (It's easy to do, but a bit tedious to pinch the skins off 2 cups of soggy almonds.) Since they don't contain any baking powder, these cookies don't puff up or spread at all during baking: whatever shape you form the dough in is roughly how they'll look.

They're crackly with sugar on the outside, tender in the centre, with a meringue-level sweetness but an almond-based chewiness. I found that the (not so Spanish!) lemon myrtle popped up in some mouthfuls more than others. These have been just the right little treat to nibble mid-afternoon, with a cup of tea, as we've been working from home.

(a recipe shared by Louisa in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

2 cups blanched almonds, plus ~30 extra to decorate
1 cup sugar
1 egg or 1/4 cup silken tofu
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon ground lemon myrtle

In a food processor, thoroughly grind the 2 cups of blanched almonds to a coarse powder. Add 3/4 cup sugar, egg/tofu, lemon zest and lemon myrtle, and pulse until a dough is formed. Cover the dough in a bowl and refrigerate it for at least 12 hours.

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray or two with paper.

Line up the dough bowl, a smaller bowl with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and the lined trays. Take scant tablespoons of the dough, roll them into balls with your hands, and roll the balls in the sugar. Place the dough balls on the baking tray and press a whole almond into the top of each one.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to go golden and are still soft on the inside.

Thursday, April 16, 2020


March 7, 2020

It's a long time since I've tried my hand at any South Asian desserts, and I welcomed the chance to learn about rosmalai. My colleague Anwar included this recipe in the Lab Farewell Cookbook, and explained to me that this style of rosmalai preparation is specific to the Cumilla district of Bangladesh. It is a recipe for the dairy lovers; made with large quantities of milk powder and fresh milk, sweetened with plenty of sugar and spiced distinctively with cardamom.

The milk powder-based dumplings were not difficult to make, but I should probably have spent a little more time kneading their dough before I dropped them into the sweetened warm milk. Anwar explained that the aim is for smooth, shiny dough that just barely holds together into small balls. 

I couldn't believe how quickly they expanded into spongey dumplings! There's abundant extra milk to serve them with, and they're very comforting both served warm on the spot, and cooled as leftovers. Based on Anwar's photos, it looks like rosmalai are usually garnished with pistachios and almonds. I didn't have any on hand and brightened up my serve with a little candied citrus peel instead.

(a recipe shared by Anwar in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

1 1/2 cups milk powder
1 teaspoon plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ghee
6-7 cardamom pods
1.5L milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
salt, to taste

In a medium-large bowl, mix together 1 cup of the milk powder, the flour, baking powder and ground cardamom. (Consider adding a pinch of salt in future.) Mix through the ghee (I used a fork to distribute it through the dry ingredients).

Crush the cardamom pods. In a large saucepan over low heat, stir together 1L of the milk, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the cardamom pods. Stir it to dissolve the sugar and leave it on a low, warm setting while you prepare the dough.

Thoroughly beat the egg, and add half of it to the bowl of dry ingredients. Stir the egg through, and continue adding more as needed to form a dough. Gently knead the dough. Take generous teaspoonfuls of the dough, roll them into balls and drop the balls into the saucepan of milk. When they're all in, cover the saucepan and let the dumplings cook on that low heat for about 10 minutes. They'll triple in size, look spongy, and float.

While the dumplings are cooking, get out a second saucepan and heat together the remaining 1/2 cup milk powder, 500mL milk and 1/4 cup sugar, until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat.

When the dumplings are cooked, pour in the second saucepan of sweet milk. Allow everything to cool down before served. I garnished mine with a little candied citrus peel, but I'd use pistachios or flaked almonds if I had them on hand.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Gazpacho & Tortilla Española

March 1, 2020

My Spanish colleagues kindly contributed a couple of traditional recipes to The Lab Cookbook, and I made them both on a Sunday afternoon. Guru & José shared their method for making a Spanish tortilla, while Esti and Luis illustrated a recipe for gazpacho. 

I was especially keen to try the gazpacho while the weather was warm and tomatoes were in season. The method is easy: simply blend everything together and strain it! My strained soup was silky-smooth, but I'd also be tempted to make this unstrained in the future (the prep would be even easier and feel a smidge less wasteful). It was so summery and refreshing, with the flavours of capsicum and cucumber complementing the principal tomato.

The Spanish tortilla seemed like a suitable side dish to add a bit of heft to our meal. The ingredients are short and simple - potatoes, onion, eggs, olive oil - but it takes time (and a lot of olive oil!) to cook the potatoes and then some care to form the omelette. I cooked the potatoes and onion in advance to minimise dinner-time stress, and we heartily enjoyed the result: it's dense, rich, works well both warm and at room temperature, and it extends to several meals.

Both recipes used simple ingredients, yet challenged me to take on new approaches in my kitchen that I wouldn't have otherwise. Better yet, there's a high chance I'll revisit both.

Tortilla Española
(a recipe shared by Guru & José in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

1 kg potatoes
1 onion
5 eggs
salt, to taste
extra-virgin olive oil (lots!)

Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly; peel and roughly chop the onion.

Heat a generous amount of oil in a frypan over moderate heat; you need enough to completely cover the potatoes. Fry the potatoes and onions until the potatoes are tender (I did mine in a small cast-iron pan in several batches). Strain the oil from the potatoes and onion, and place the potatoes and onion in a large bowl. (I strained and reserved the oil for future cooking.)

Thoroughly beat the eggs, then pour them over the potatoes and onion. Add salt, and gently stir everything together.

Heat a little oil in a small pan, and tip in the omelette mixture. Cook it over a moderate heat, using a spatula to shape the omelette into a thick cake. When the base is very well cooked, invert the omelette onto a dinner plate and slide it back into the pan to cook on the other side. You can invert it again a couple more times - if it's not too delicate, this might help with the shaping.

Slide the omelette onto a plate to serve warm, or at room temperature.

(a recipe shared by Esti & Luis in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

1 kg tomatoes
1 green capsicum
1 cucumber
2 cloves garlic
50mL olive oil
50g bread
1 cup water
30mL balsamic vinegar

Roughly chop the tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber and garlic and place them in a blender. Pour in the remaining ingredients and blend until as smooth as possible. Strain the liquid and discard the solids. Serve the liquid gazpacho cool, garnished with croutons. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Brunsli chocolate cookies

March 1, 2020

We went to a barbecue in the summer, and one of the other guests brought two plates of plain-looking vegan cookies that, once tasted, we all went wild for. It turned out that they were both Ottolenghi recipes that we could easily access ourselves, veganised with the use of powdered egg replacer. These Brunsli chocolate cookies, for example, appear in Ottolenghi's book Simple.

When I found the recipe I noticed that these chocolate cookies are not just vegan-friendly, they're also low-key gluten-free, made mostly of ground almonds and sugar. The original recipe calls for granulated sugar and icing sugar, but I used up some demerara sugar that had been in our pantry a while. I ground up my own almonds, and I think this led to me needing a bit more egg replacer to bind the dough than I would have if I'd bought almond meal.

Traditionally, I think these cookies are cut into star shapes, but I chose a variety of circle sizes. The little ones had a higher proportion of crunchy border, while the large ones had more room for the soft chewiness of a brownie. They were all a bit sandy-textured from the demerara sugar. Chinese 5-spice and orange zest are the secret ingredients, bringing complexity to the chocolate flavour without being individually detectable. I took some of the cookies over to a friend for her birthday, and she was just as taken with them as we were at that barbecue.

Brunsli chocolate cookies
(slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Simple)

270g ground almonds
250g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
40g icing sugar
40g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Orgran egg replacer mixed into 1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl, stir together the ground almonds and caster sugar. Sift over the icing sugar and cocoa powder, then stir in the orange zest, Chinese 5-spice and salt until well combined. Using an electric mixer, beat in the egg replacer and vanilla. You're aiming for a firm, slightly sticky dough that will just barely hold together; I added a bit of extra egg replacer to get there. Drop the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, form a big flat ball of it, and pop it in the fridge for at least an hour.

Preheat an oven to 170°C. Line two baking trays with paper.

Prepare a sparkling-clean bench or roll out some more baking paper. Unwrap the biscuit dough, drop it on your work surface, and roll it out to 1.5 cm thick. Use your choice of biscuit cutters to cut shapes from the dough and place them on the baking trays. Roll out the leftover over dough again to make more shapes. When all the dough is used up, you can sprinkle some extra sugar over the biscuits (I didn't bother).

Bake the biscuits for around 12 minutes, until their bottoms are crisp but their centres are still soft.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Brother Bon

February 26, 2020

Loving Hut Northcote has had a makeover, and now goes by Brother Bon. While the distinctive yellow signage has been replaced by a more relaxed teal, there's some continuity in the staff and the menu. I stopped in strategically for a workday lunch between city meetings and an afternoon back in my suburban office.

The all-vegan menu is thoroughly marked with information about what's free of garlic/onion, gluten, nuts, soy and chilli. The variety is overwhelming: there are dozens of dishes to choose from; some light and vege-filled, and others based on mock meat with a side of chips. There are traditional dishes from across Asia like dumplings, rice paper rolls, fried noodles and pho, as well as surprise combinations such as 'big mak' cheeseburger baos and a Southern fried chicken banh mi. These are interspersed with breakfast dishes, burgers and desserts. 

I was in the mood to start small, so I chose the crispy chicken bao ($15, pictured top) to eat on the spot. I took my time breaking apart the steamed bao and filling them with super-crispy, mayo-drizzled mock chicken and finely-shredded slaw; there was plenty of filling to go around. It was everything I was anticipating.

On my way out, I picked up a La Panella-style caramel slice ($5, pictured above) to enjoy at my desk for afternoon tea.

Now that we're all housebound, Brother Bon is offering takeaway and delivery services to a number of northside suburbs. The breakfasts will have to wait a long while, but we're excited to try more of their dinner menu later this week!

Brother Bon
377-379 High St, Northcote
9077 1335
menu page 1, page 2

Accessibility: The front door is very wide and slides, floors are flat and tables are moderately spaced. I ordered at the table and paid at a low-ish counter. We haven't visited the toilets, but I previously spotted a disability-labelled unisex toilet down a wide corridor at the back of the building.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

New Day Nights @ New Day Rising

February 9, 2020

We're long-time fans of New Day Rising's day-time bagel-focussed offerings, but in the last few months we've fallen in love with their semi-regular New Day Nights events. Run by our old pal Pip, these are three-course vegan meals for $50 including a drink, and this particular one was a bushfire relief fundraiser. We've been to a handful of these, but the most recent was so bloody good that we figured it was time for a quick blog post. They're charming nights - the cafe only seats about 15 people, so it's cosy and friendly and there's always a lovely buzz. And the food! My goodness.

Pip kicked us off with vegan goats cheese, peach and thyme toasts - like a burst of summer in your mouth.

The main course was spectacular too: grilled polenta with blistered tomatoes and basil. Pip always tracks down wonderful produce and finds ways to really let it shine. This was so simple, but we were all giddy at its quality.

It came with a nice fresh salad of mixed leaves and radishes with a simple dressing.

Dessert was another late-summer classic: fresh fig, fig leaf panna cotta and walnut praline. Truly incredible.

It feels weird to write about this perfect meal a few weeks later. This was in that short sweet spot, between the worst of the fires and the dawning realisation that Covid-19 was going to hit hard. We were joined by a couple of friends and had a wonderful meal and a balmy ride home - feels like forever ago. Hopefully Pip will start these up again once all this has passed - keep an eye on New Day Rising's Instagram for updates.

You can read about our earlier visits to New Day Rising here, here, here and here.


New Day Rising
221d Blyth St, Brunswick East
menu (this changes every time)
instagram page

Accessibility: A small step up on entry into a fairly crowded interior. You order at the table and just pay whoever you can grab by the coffee machine. The bathroom is accessed from outside somewhere - we've not checked it out.

Monday, March 23, 2020


February 5, 2020

Cindy and I met up for dinner in Carlton, after I went to the launch of Laura McPhee-Browne's very fine book. We took the opportunity to try out Taquito, the newest Mexican place that has taken up the old Markov Place venue on Drummond Street. It's fancyish Mexican, with fancyish booze - the kind of place where you can drop $50 without even trying. The menu is vegan-friendly and they're on top of all kinds of dietary restrictions. 

I stuck with one of their tap beers, but Cindy couldn't resist a housemade horchata ($7), a milky, rice drink with vanilla, cinnamon and a few other spices. She loved it.

We kicked off with a smoked and pickled cauliflower tostada with black garlic and pinenut salsa ($12). This was predictably fantastic - black garlic can really be guaranteed to take any dish to the highest level. 

We followed up with a vegan taco flight ($23 for 4). The selection is pretty changeable I think - ours included a sweet potato option, black beans and battered cauliflower - all were really excellent.

We finished off with a plate of the excellent buffalo milk cheese curds topped with pickled watermelon and peanut salsa macha ($14).

Sadly this review is being written many weeks late, so my memory is pretty sketchy - mostly I have remember feeling very positive about the whole experience. The staff were super friendly, the atmosphere was humming and the food was excellent. It's a strange time to write restaurant reviews - so many places are going to struggle through this period. Taquito are doing their best to keep things going, with takeaway and spaced out tables - grab a bunch of tacos and eat them in the park if you can.


350 Drummond Street, Carlton
0450 651 247

Accessibility: There's a step as you come in the Drummond Street entry - we didn't check out the entryway off the cobbled laneway at the back. There's a mix of low and high seating and full table service. We didn't visit the bathrooms.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Gingerbread waffles

January 11, 2020

We took a break for a week in January, and spent much of it renting a huge house in the country with a bunch of friends. We watched movies, did jigsaws, read books, and (of course) shared meals. I volunteered to make waffles for breakfast one morning and thought wistfully of some gingerbread ones I had years ago at a cafe. I started researching recipes online, thinking that I'd splice them with a Vegan Brunch recipe for something to suit our group's dietary requirements.

I should have started with Vegan Brunch, because it turns out there's a gingerbread waffle recipe sitting right there for the making! (Now that I'm blogging it's clear I should have checked here even earlier, because apparently I've made this recipe before! This blog so often now outperforms my own memory.) 

These waffles are really nice without quite being a knock-out. They're crisp on the outside and soft in the middle, maybe a touch spongy when I'm looking for cakey. For all their molasses, fresh ginger and spices, their flavour isn't as strong or as complex as I was looking for - I'd happily increase and further diversify those flavourings. The waffles are excellent vessels for berries and coconut yoghurt. I was delighted to watch one tablemate meticulously place one blueberry in each waffle indentation, then carefully douse the lot in maple syrup.

Gingerbread waffles
(a recipe from Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz;
this quantity of batter made 8 waffles)

2 cups almond or other vegan milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons grated ginger
2 1/4 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
oil spray

Preheat your waffle iron.

In a mixing bowl, thoroughly whisk together the milk, vinegar, oil, molasses, brown sugar, and vanilla. Stir in the grated ginger. Sift in the remaining ingredients (except for the spray oil!), and stir well until smooth.

When the waffle iron is ready, spray it thoroughly with oil, and pour in the waffle batter in batches, cooking as directed by the appliance manufacturer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


January 16, 2020

When we shared dinner with friends at Theodore's, the staff recommended to us "a new wine bar over at the intersection of Brunswick Rd and Lygon St". Its name is Faye, and we all agreed that we should make it our next meeting spot. (A photographer at The Age chose the same evening to capture it, and captured our table in the process.)

Faye's entry and signage is set back a little from the street, but not hard to find if you're actively seeking it out. The same goes for dishes suiting special dietary requirements: while chicken hearts, ox tongue, pasta and cheeses featured prominently across the menu, the staff helped us cobble together a set of dishes that ensured the vegetarians, dairy-allergic and gluten-intolerant among us all had plenty to eat.

For me, y'all know that my tests of a restaurant come early (non-alcoholic drinks) and late (dessert). Faye ticked off the first one with Soda #1 ($7) appearing at the end of the cocktail menu. It's a mix of fig leaf whey fermented strawberry soda garnished generously with mint and lemon; more carbonated and lightly flavoured than a kombucha by my reckoning.

The mark of a fancy dining experience, we were served bread and spreadably-soft butter, with gluten-free and dairy-free alternatives for those who needed them.

A couple of us were keen on silverbeet and fontina croquettes ($8 each), their thick crust and rich filling offset by strips of asparagus and apple.

A salad of fig leaf ricotta, heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers ($18) was an excellent mid-summer choice. The chef kindly portioned out precisely one beetroot slice per person ($17) and the diary eaters among us carefully shared the thick caramelised yoghurt they were served with.

We also shared two heavier mains. The eggplant ($28) was one of the most popular dishes of the night, flavoured with black garlic and supported by plenty of braised lentils and Otway shiitake mushrooms. The prospect of sourdough pasta ($26) was intriguing and it proved to be my favourite savoury dish of the night, served in a nest with salted ricotta, then teamed with big chunks of smoked zucchini.

There was enough stomach room around the table to have us cover the dessert menu ($10 each)! The dairy-free option (bottom right) was a very pink and tangy bowl of rhubarb sorbet, fermented strawberry (probably the solid partner to my soda's cordial?), and vermouth. We also sampled pineapple icecream with long pepper and coconut (bottom left), flowering gum icecream with smoked mango (top left), and white balsamic icecream with semi-dried plums and chocolate (top right). It's rare to see such an inventive dessert menu, and having a chance to try the lot was even more fun than any single dish.

Faye was a fun and fancy night out, and we were well attended to by the staff. It looks like the kind of place that will rotate its menu regularly - we're hopeful that they'll continue to cater imaginatively and with friendly consideration of their customers' dietary requirements.


Shop 1/22-30 Lygon St, Brunswick East
9943 3050
food, drinks

Accessibility: Both step and ramp access is available from the street. Tables are low, chairs have back support, and furniture is medium-spaced. We didn't visit the toilets.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

where's the best in 2019?

The wonderful house-made mock chicken at This Borderland

Summer is over, and we've only just wrapped up our 2019 posts! The end of the year was tough, and I'm choosier than ever about when and what to add here. Still, there's been time now to sift through a long year, update our navigation pages, and pick some highlights.

First up: we're sad to see some faves shut their doors, including Fitzroy eateries Munsterhaus and Billy & Lucy, veg-friendly pubs The Rev and The Snug, and the legendary Sizzle Plate makers, Dosa Plaza.

The dish so good, I once embroidered it

Of course, there's always something new to try around Melbourne. We don't hit the hotspots as fast or as comprehensively as we used to, but we're adding 14 more eateries to our honour roll. The Carringbush Hotel is a welcome new addition to the pub scene: we've lunched in the beer garden, held book club there, and competed in their trivia nights. We love having Kevabs and Samba's Jhol Momo in the neighbourhood for cheap, nourishing food when we're not in the mood to cook. Theodore's is a bit fancier, but we've treated ourselves there, too, under the same conditions - we have always felt well looked after by the staff and the veges they serve.

Sure, I'm recommending the veges... but aren't Theodore's pretzels pretty?

We've both been commuting (mostly cycling) to jobs in the north-eastern suburbs in 2019, and so we're eating more often in Preston and the surrounding suburbs. We're very fond of the mock chicken at This Borderland (pictured up top), so much so that I chose it for my birthday dinner. We've also made multiple stops in to Mesob and to Taxiboat. I've had a summer of great icecreams, primarily from Cuppa Turca and Billy van Creamy, which are both along our cycle path.

One of the numerous banh mi businesses we visited in Hoi An

Our most distant meals were had in Hoi An. We spent a fabulous week there in September; walking, swimming and cycling, taking a cooking class and visiting local landmarks, finding numerous vegetarian restaurants, and eating all the banh mi we could find. I drank a lot of coffee.

You can pickle green tea leaves?! Just one of the things I've learned from the Lab Farewell Cookbook

In our own kitchen, the menu has revolved around a special new cookbook. No, it's not the latest Ottolenghi or Moskowitz release; it's a one-of-a-kind compendium of recipes given to me by the colleagues I left when I switched jobs early in the year. It's been such a privilege to experience recipes that are important to them - because they're impressive at dinner parties or reliable on work nights, because they're beloved family recipes or something that reminds them of their country of origin. I made 24 of these recipes in 2019 and my goal this year is to complete every remaining recipe in the book at least once. It's the number one reason you can expect this blog to keep kickin' on in 2020.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Cuppa Turca

December 25, 2019

We had a misplaced hunch that Black Waffle would be open on Christmas day, and it was Cuppa Turca that instead sated our mid-afternoon hankering for icecream. This High St cafe serves a rare range of Turkish desserts, including dondurma/ice cream. (Here's a nice SBS Food article covering the cafe's inception.)

The texture of dondurma is more substantial and less frothy than the icecreams usually scooped in Australia, with a bit of chew and stretch about it. Cuppa Turca rotate their flavours and we've found that about a third of them tend to be vegan and coconut-based. They're not just falling back on the usual fruit flavours when they go dairy-free: the cup above boasts Turkish delight and dark chocolate ($6.80), and we saw black tahini among the options too.


Cuppa Turca has also received positive coverage on TOT: HOT OR NOT.

Cuppa Turca
244 High St, Northcote
9489 3114
facebook page

Accessibility: We think there's a gentle incline rather than a step on entry. We ordered and paid at a high counter. Interior furniture is reasonable crowded. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Asparagus & ricotta tart with miso & black garlic

December 24, 2019

I decided to whip up a Christmas Eve feast for Cindy and I to enjoy - three Ottolenghi dishes and a sunny evening make for a pretty great way to mark the start of our holidays. I went for cumin-spiced beet salad with yoghurt and preserved lemon, roast butternut with lentils and gorgonzola (both from Simple) and this asparagus and ricotta tart with miso and black garlic from his Guardian column.

It was a spectacular meal - easily worth all the effort that went into it. The tart was the pick of the bunch, with a delightfully savoury miso/ricotta base and the sweet, vinegary punch of blended up black garlic on top. We took leftovers of this to a Christmas potluck and it was a smash!

Asparagus & ricotta tart with miso & black garlic
(from Yotam Ottolenghi's Guardian column)

150g ricotta
2 egg yolks
25g parmesan, grated
1 tablespoon white miso
salt and pepper
5 cloves black garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 sheet puff pastry
250g baby asparagus stalks
sprinkle of chilli flakes

Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.

Stir together the ricotta, the egg yolks, parmesan, miso and seasoning in a small bowl.

Blitz the black garlic in a small food processor with the balsamic and the olive oil - it should be a thickish paste.

Lay the puff pastry out on a greased baking tray and poke it with a fork a few times.

Spread the ricotta mix across the pastry, leaving a border of about 1cm or so around the edge. Lay the asparagus across the top, all facing the same way.

Bake the tart for 25 minutes or so, until the pastry is golden brown. Spoon over the black garlic mix and sprinkle with the chilli flakes. Slice into squares and serve. 

Saturday, February 15, 2020


December 20, 2019

On our first visit to Theodore's, we really put them to the test - we were a big group booking, toting a teeny baby and all its accoutrements, with a mix of dietary requirements, and it was still 40 degrees at 6pm. They vastly exceeded our expectations under these temper-fraying conditions.

I arrived first, took a moment to wash up in the bathroom, and then sat down to a house-made soda ($5). The flavour of the day was orange, it was perfectly juicy and icy, and I ordered one or two more before our dinner was done.

The menu is a short, single page of fresh and slightly fancy plates that evolve with the seasons. There weren't any dietary markers, but the key ingredients were clear and the staff confidently guided us through where the dairy and gluten would be. As a group, we agreed to try everything that was vegetarian.

Our waiter offered us a glimpse into their daytime menu, mentioning that they had just two of that morning's baked pretzels left ($10 each). It was a pleasure to clear their stock.

The salad of heirloom tomatoes, peaches, ricotta and shiso ($16) confirmed me as a first-visit fan of this restaurant. It was exactly what I wanted to eat in this unyielding heat. (They were also kind enough to separate the ricotta on the side of the plate closest to our dairy-free diner.)

A table-wide favourite was the North African spiced cous cous ($13) a complex bowl with broccoli, tea-soaked raisins, pepitas, and thoughtfully separated dressing of sumac tahini yoghurt.

There were chips ($9). Chips are great in just about any setting and weather.

This plate of white bean dip, crudites and crackers was a special, off-menu, gluten-free option. It was just as special as the dishes they'd planned ahead.

Asparagus is another summer night classic and they served it here with more effort and flavour than I often see, adding radicchio, tamarind, chilli and almond ($18).

Our final shared plate was one of nicola potatoes ($16), served with miso roasted onion and brown butter. While they were very good, arriving at the tail-end of a mid-summer dinner wasn't their best setting.

Theodore's had me at house-made soda and tomato-peach salad, yet their best feature proved to be their staff. We received exceptionally friendly and informative service throughout our visit, including checks on what the baby and his parents might need, and tips on other restaurants and bars they like in the neighbourhood. Instead of pushing their own dessert menu on us, they cheerfully recommended a gelato shop with dairy-free options a few blocks away. This approach established a welcoming, neighbourhood feel that we'll be drawn back to.


Theodore's has received positive coverage on messy veggiesmamma knows north, and Gastrology.

4 Saxon St, Brunswick
9380 2446
food, drinks

Accessibility: There's a shallow ramp on entry. Most tables are densely packed booths, but there's a bit of room for a pram around the free-standing tables, and the staff are very welcoming of children (our group had a newborn among us). We ordered at the table and paid at a high bar. We can't remember the toilets, although we think they're individual cubicles.