Thursday, October 28, 2021

Theodore's II

October 27, 2021


After several months in lockdown, I could think of few better ways to celebrate loosening restrictions than an outdoor meal at Theodore's. It's been a tough run for a restaurant that opened in late 2019, but their quality service and community spirit has always shone through as brightly as their food. We first visited with a huge crew on a hot night, and I just couldn't get their summer tomato salad out of my mind. Throughout our longest lockdown, we ordered vege boxes, other groceries and a Saturday night meal delivery from them, and when that was over I was able to share a milestone birthday banquet there with friends.

This year, we've had less luck: we booked a birthday dinner for Michael in May, but the first date and two reschedules were all scuppered by a series of lockdowns. We've stopped by for takeaway pretzels and fancy sandwiches. This Wednesday was their first night reopening as a restaurant, and it was forecast to be the warmest, sunniest day of the week, so we walked over early and nabbed one of their outdoor walk-in tables. At last!


The first positive impression that the Theodore's team made with me was with their house-made cordials. I picked a mixed citrus one this time, which was lovely, and wished I had the appetite to double down with a kiwi one. They've also expanded their range of non-alcoholic drinks to Sobah beers and a locally made gin.


We ate as broadly as we could across the vegetarian options on their street menu. This smoked tofu dip ($14) became an instant favourite, served with big vege crisps and radishes.


The goats cheese tart ($16) was also a lot of fun - the dense, creamy wedge of cheese was served with a Jatz crumb, more crackers on the side, and enough herbs and pickled beetroot slices to break up the richness.


The fried potatoes with Turkish chilli aioli ($10) were also as fabulous as they looked! We chose them over the house bread - we later spied it at another table and it looked like a worthy carb rival. 


Our final savoury dish was mercifully a bit lighter: lettuce cups layered with a vegan lemon crema, baked carrots, olives and a seed mix ($12). 


Dessert ($14) was an ultra-creamy bavarois with gingernut crust and blood orange, that the staff said was their play on key lime pie. (A funny coincidence that I've been playing with lime pie and ginger desserts at home lately too!)


Theodore's regularly change up their menu, and they're offering only set menus for their reserved tables. (They have a top-notch record accommodating dietary requirements, especially with advance notice.) While there's no guarantee you or we will eat any of these specific dishes on a future visit, I always enter with confidence that it will be a special meal.

You can read about our first visit to Theodore's here.

4 Saxon St, Brunswick 
9380 2446 

 Accessibility: On this night, we ate out on the (slightly uneven) street, where furniture was generously spaced, at standard height, and the chairs had backs. We signed in at the door, then ordered and paid at our table. For indoor diners: 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 (we've visited with a newborn among our party before). 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Ginger caramel slice

October 16, 2021


I bought a back-up jar of coconut condensed milk when I was shopping for the lime pie, and it only took a week before I decided to work it into some caramel slice. I always use a decade-long favourite recipe from Steph and Johanna, and this time around I made three adjustments to the caramel layer:
  1. I used a can of coconut condensed milk instead of soy condensed milk,
  2. I used treacle instead of golden syrup, and
  3. I added 1 1/2 tablespoons of ground ginger to the mixture.
There were a few flecks of ground ginger that I couldn't stir smooth in the caramel, and I wondered if I should have strained the mixture before pouring it onto the base. 

Everything seemed to sort itself out during the bake... this slice was magnificent. The caramel was a bit runnier than usual - due either to the coconut/soy switch or to undercooking - but it had the consistency and colour of the caramel you'd find in a Mars bar or Twix. The flavour was much stronger, like gingerbread! For some (including me as a kid), this is probably sullying a classic, but Michael and I are instant fans of this easy-to-make spin-off flavour. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Frozen lime pie

October 10, 2021


This is my second vegan pie mishap of our current lockdown. The first one didn't make it to the blog - it was a lemon tart with a lovely shortcrust and a cornflour-thickened curd that absolutely would not set. 

This time I was in the mood for something involving limes and condensed milk, and key lime pie popped up during my recipe browsing. I flicked between a taste recipe that used condensed milk and an Isa recipe that didn't use eggs, picking out the ingredients and techniques that most appealed to me. I wasn't all that keen on using agar, and hoped that a larger quantity of arrowroot might do the job instead. That didn't work out, and I was stuck with my second un-set tart of the season.

I decided to fall back on a trick that worked once last year: I froze my pie. It was set within a couple of hours, and a bit strange to cut, but an excellent texture to eat. The filling remained soft and creamy, not at all icy, and with a sweet-sour balance that suited me. I've been sprinkling toasted coconut on it and considering it close enough to a success. I might even like this frozen version better than I would a room temperature lime pie. Still: I really would like to figure out a nicely set citrussy vegan tart.

Frozen lime pie
(a recipe inspired by taste's key lime pie

pie crust
150g plain sweet biscuits (I used digestives)
75g margarine

1/3 cup soy milk
3 tablespoons arrowroot (would increase this to 4-5 if attempting an unfrozen pie)
320g can sweet condensed coconut milk
1/2 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon grated lime zest

toasted shredded coconut

Crush the biscuits between baking paper sheets, using a rolling pin, and pour the crumbs into a bowl. Melt the margarine in a saucepan, and stir it through the biscuit crumbs. Press the mixture into a pie dish and refrigerate.

Whisk the arrowroot into the soy milk, in a small-medium saucepan. Stir in the condensed milk and set the mixture over medium heat. Cook, stirring regularly, until thickened. The condensed milk probably already feels thick, but you'll eventually notice your spoon dragging through arrowroot thickness on the bottom of the saucepan, and then notice a similar thickness permeating through the whole mixture. Turn off the heat and stir in the lime juice and zest. Pour the mixture into the pie crust and freeze or refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours.

Serve slices with a sprinkle of toasted shredded coconut.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Plain Jane Pizza n Shakes

October 9, 2021


What a relief it is to be back sitting outdoors! We asked our mate Lisa if she'd like to be our accompanying vaccinated household for picnic dinner this week. We had Merri Clan burgers in mind, but we didn't check their news properly and they were closed. Lisa and Michael agreed to try Plain Jane Pizza n Shakes while I nursed my disappointment, and by the time our order was ready I was just as keen for it as they were.

Plain Jane has abundant, well-marked vegan options across their omni menu. (Gluten-free bases are available for an extra $4, but other options aren't explicitly marked.) Pizza toppings are thoughtful combinations of veges, with mock cheese and mock sausage appearing on a couple. Our group was split in our favourites of the day - I liked the Sizzling Sausage ($20 large), with its mock meat chunks and melty-but-not-cloying fior di latte. Michael and Lisa were more fond of the Pocket Rocket ($20 large), which deftly balanced pumpkin, walnuts and a balsamic glaze and had no need for cheese at all. A foil-wrapped loaf of soft, buttery garlic bread ($4) was actually the first to be finished.


We had a nice pause in the afternoon sun before sharing around a vegan nutella calzone ($14). The dough was softer and lighter than I expected, similar to eating a bakery bun. But it was our fourth doughy dish, and we were all full and eager for a gentle cycle home afterwards.

Plain Jane also offers vegan options on many of their fancy shakes, including Oreo and peanut butter caramel flavours - I might consider swapping out the dessert calzone for one of them at a future Preston picnic.

Plain Jane Pizza n Shakes
Shop 14D, 18 Gilbert Rd, Preston
9480 1919

Accessbility: Plain Jane has a small lip on the door. Inside we stood at a high counter in a narrow passage to order, pay and pick up our order.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Chargrilled cauliflower with fried butter beans
& pumpkin hummus

September 25, 2021


The long weekend rolled around and I had basically nothing planned. To occupy myself on Saturday I decided to cook the day away, picking out two dishes from Hetty McKinnon's Community to set us up for a week of veggie-heavy eating. These two dishes took up a good chunk of the afternoon - there's chopping and cooking and blending and boiling and it was a lovely meditative way to spend the day. I won't reproduce the recipe for the peas and mint with quinoa, feta and almonds here, but it's a lovely fresh spring dish - bursting with crispy greens and crunchy almonds, with the salty feta adding a bit of richness.

I paired it with char-grilled cauliflower with fried beans and pumpkin hummus. Pumpkin hummus is a pretty fancy name for what is basically some mashed pumpkin with tahini and yoghurt in it, but I'm more than willing to forgive the misnomer in light of how wonderful the dish is. The pumpkin mash combines its natural sweetness with tahini tang and some warmth from the cumin, while the charred cauliflower and fried beans are rich and a touch smoky. A bit of crunch from the pumpkin seeds on top and you can't go wrong. It makes a whole ton of food as well - this has been feeding us all week. It's a weekend project, but it's worth it.

Chargrilled cauliflower with fried butter beans and pumpkin hummus
(from Community by Hetty McKinnon)

~2kg of cauliflower, cut into florets
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 cans butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 cup coriander leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup lightly toasted pumpkin seeds
salt and pepper

pumpkin hummus
750g butternut pumpkin, peeled and diced into 2cm cubes
2 tablespoons tahini
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons yoghurt
salt and pepper

Start by making the pumpkin hummus. Pop the pumpkin cubes in a large saucepan with a few tablespoons of water and a teaspoon of salt. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water if the pot dries out. Once the pumpkin is basically falling apart, take it off the heat and leave to cool.

Mash up the pumpkin and stir through the tahini, garlic, salt, olive oil, cumin and lemon juice - it should easily mash up into a thick paste. Stir through the yoghurt and add salt, pepper and more lemon juice to taste. Set aside the hummus and get to work on the rest!

Mix the cauliflower florets with half of the olive oil and salt. The recipe has the cauliflower barbecued, but in our little kitchen we just popped it in a very hot cast iron pan in batches. Cook over very high heat, about three minutes on each side until it's nicely charred - we did it in three batches.

Heat the rest of the oil in your pan over medium heat - throw in the garlic, cumin, coriander and a shake of salt, cooking for 20 seconds before adding the beans. Stir to coat and cook over high heat for 5 minutes or so, trying to get a bit of crisp on.

Stir the beans in with the cauliflower and add the fresh parsley and coriander. Lay out a few spoonfuls of the pumpkin hummus and top with the cauliflower mix and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds to serve.