Search This Blog


Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Strawberry & rose sundaes

October 1-2, 2015

When a date for our most recent Ottolenghi feast was announced, I swiftly staked a claim on dessert. Promising icecream served my cause well. There was still the matter of which icecream. In addition to the rich halva sundae from Plenty More (bzzzzt - already done) there are several online options, from a dense rocky road experience to a tropical coconut scoop served with roasted pineapple in the new NOPI book.

Ultimately, I leaned on those gorgeous strawberries doing the rounds right now. They're the major component of NOPI's strawberry and rose mess, blended up into a sorbet and also diced up fresh. Then there's a cacophony of sweet, sour, perfumed, creamy and crunchy supplied by mascarpone and crème fraîche, pomegranate seeds and syrups, meringues and dried rose petals.

The flavours and textures in my version were flawed but forgiving. The cream and the syrup were very runny, and didn't taste much of the rosewater or sumac they made use of. I seized on  Ottolenghi's permission to buy ready-made meringues, and they were homogeneously, crisply dry. The sorbet was soft and frothy (I credit the corn syrup) and quick to melt. It mattered little, with everyone eagerly spooning into their share, saving the sorbet from its impending liquid doom. I took only my coveted new jar of dried rose petals home with me.

I can imagine making the strawberry sorbet, and perhaps even the entire dessert, again. It's pretty and tasty and flexible, and it survived half an hour's travel by bike. It could even be the recipe that inspires me to try aquafaba meringue-making as I attempt a vegan version.

Strawberry & rose sundaes
(slightly adapted from a Yotam Ottolenghi & Ramael Scully recipe
published in the Guardian)

strawberry sorbet
200g strawberries
1/4 cup water
40g caster sugar
40g icing sugar
30g corn syrup/liquid glucose

creamy layer
200g mascarpone
340g crème fraîche
2 tablespoons icing sugar
2 teaspoons rosewater

2 tablespoons boiling water
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon sumac

macerated strawberries
200g strawberries
2 teaspoons icing sugar

45g meringues
1 pomegranate
2 teaspoons dried rose petals

Prepare the sorbet a day in advance. Wash and hull the strawberries, then blend them to a smooth puree. Pour them into a small-medium saucepan and add all the remaining sorbet ingredients. Stir them over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool a while on the bench, then refrigerate it to chill completely. Churn the sorbet in an icecream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the icecream to a container and freeze it completely, at least 4 hours.

Make the creamy layer by whisking together the mascarpone and crème fraîche in a bowl. Sift over the icing sugar and stir it in too. Whisk in the rosewater, then refrigerate the mixture until it's time to serve the dessert.

For the syrup, place the boiling water and sugar in a glass jar and swish them around until the sugar is dissolved. Add the pomegranate molasses and sumac, and whisk or shake everything together until well combined. Set the syrup aside until serving time.

Macerate the strawberries by washing and hulling them. Sift over the icing sugar and stir it through the strawberries. Allow them to sit for at least 15 minutes, until they're bright and glossy.

Remove the seeds from the pomegranate by whatever means works for you - I tend to tear at it over a bowl of water and discard the pith and membrane as I go.

Assembly will take about 5 minutes before serving. Divide the creamy mixture evenly among 6-8 glasses or bowls. Drop in the strawberries. Gently place a scoop of sorbet in each dish. Break up the meringues and arrange them in each glass. Drizzle over some syrup. Sprinkle over the pomegranate seeds and dried rose petals. Done!

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Spring Salad

September 2, 2015

September saw the fifth meeting of our Ottolenghi potluck gang after a few months off, with a vaguely spring-themed dinner to take advantage of Victoria's newest public holiday. (The wonders of our previous meals can be seen in various degrees of blurriness here, here, here and here.)

As always it was an incredible spread, featuring stuffed onions, muhammara, stuffed peppers, rosemary savoury bread pudding, carrot & mungbean salad, green salad plus the spring salad featured in this post and an incredible dessert that Cindy will post about in a day or two.

I was inspired by Melbourne's burst of warm weather to go for a very spring-themed dish, a simple salad making use of asparagus and broad beans that are both at their peak right now. I altered a couple of things, frying the shallot gently rather than using it raw and bafflingly failing to buy nigella seeds. It was reasonably straightforward by Ottolenghi standards and added some freshness and variety to our meal - the sesame oil was pretty dominant flavour-wise, so you might consider going a bit heavier on the lemon juice and chilli.

Ottolenghi has many show-stopping salads, and this is a more unassuming effort - it's a worthy contribution to a big table of food, but it's probably never going to be the star of the show.

Spring Salad
(very slightly adapted from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty More)

2 small bunches asparagus, trimmed and sliced at an angle into 4-5 pieces each
200g green beans, trimmed
300g broad beans (if you're using fresh, you'll need ~1.5kg of pods)
50g baby spinach leaves
1 shallot, finely sliced
1 red chilli, finely sliced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon black and white sesame seeds, toasted
(the original recipe also includes 1 teaspoon nigella seeds, which I forgot to include)

In a small frying pan heat up 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and fry the diced shallot for 5 minutes or so, until it's nicely softened. Set it aside for later.

Fill a bowl with iced water to cool the veggies once they're blanched.

Bring a large saucepan of water to boil and throw in the asparagus, blanching for 3 minutes and then extracting them with a slotted spoon and dumping them in the iced water. Pop the beans in to blanch for 4 minutes and then throw them in the iced water as well. Add the broad beans into the boiling water and blanch them for 2 minutes and throw them in the cold water as well.

Drain the veggies and set the asparagus and beans aside to dry. Pop the broad beans out of their little protective shells and then combine them with the other veggies (including the spinach) in a large bowl.

Stir through the shallots, the chilli, sesame oil, the rest of the olive oil, the lemon juice, the sesame seeds and the salt and serve.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink

September 27, 2015

Since we moved from Carlton to Brunswick a couple of years ago, there seems to have been a bit of a foodie renaissance around the Lygon/Elgin corner - there's Heart Attack & Vine (which we've at least managed to visit), Milk the Cow, Pidapipo, Nora, the fancying up of Percy's into The Roving Marrow  and today's topic, The Vertue of the Coffee Drink (those who favour simpler pleasures will be relieved to know that the trusty Intersection Cafe is holding its own among all these upmarket upstarts).

A couple of things to get out of the way. Firstly, the unwieldy (and frankly pretty terrible) name at least has a nice back-story, taken from an ad for London's first coffeehouse way back in 1652. Secondly, the location is as hilariously Melbourne as it could be - an old stable, down an unpromising alleyway lined with dumpsters beside a petrol station. It takes some finding.

Once you find the door, the atmosphere changes quickly from grimy and weird, to airy and lovely - lots of natural light, fancy coffee making equipment on display (they roast their own) and a tremendously alluring sweets cabinet (that we somehow resisted). The menu is at the unconventional spectrum, with ingredients like amaranth, thyme pastry and verbena buttermilk pudding dotted throughout. There are a couple of salads (heirloom veggies or amaranth & quiona) and an oat and coconut porridge that can be veganised, plus a few other veggie dishes.

I had an excellent flat white, while Cindy weighed up the dirty chai (chai with an espresso shot), but settled on the Mork hot chocolate ($4), which hit the spot (although nothing measures up to the Msr Truffe version they serve at East Elevation. They have lots of interesting coffee options on the drinks menu. Next time I'll try out the 'Coffee 3 Ways' - three different preparations of the same bean (espresso, long black and EK shot, $11).

Food-wise, I couldn't go past the chickpea chips, with poached eggs, charred zucchini, cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan and baby basil ($18).

It always takes me a moment to readjust after someone serves up a savoury breakfast without toast - it's so standard that I don't even notice when there's no mention of it in the description of a dish. I didn't really miss it here though, with the crispy-on-the-outside chickpea chips absorbent enough to soak up the eggy bits. The zucchini and tomatoes were okay, but the chips and the eggs were the stars of this dish.

Cindy ordered the oat and coconut porridge, with goji berries, raspberry compote, toasted coconut, and cacao nibs ($14).

This was a visually stunning meal, with the mix of colours and shapes arranged on the plain porridge like some sort of abstract art.  It reminded Cindy of the high-end porridge she had at Pilgrim in Hobart, but fell a bit short of that standard - a bit more fruit would have helped to liven things up.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink is a welcome addition to Carlton's breakfast scene - the menu is fresh and interesting, the food is prepared and presented beautifully, the coffee's great and the staff were friendly and effective. It's definitely at the more expensive/more pretentious end of the spectrum, but it does a decent job of delivering food that justifies the prices.
, with only Ichigo Shortcake being anything less than wowed. 
The Vertue of the Coffee Drink
8 Raffa Place, Carlton (tucked in beside the Shell service station on the corner of Lygon and Elgin)
8060 6987

Accessibility: Once you make your way down the little alley and find the cafe, it's super accessible - there's a flat entry, a reasonably spacious interior and fully accessible, unisex toilets.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mango coconut splice jellies

September 25-26, 2015

I didn't eat many desserts, as such, on our holiday in Vietnam earlier this year. I did drink lots of sweet and colourful beverages, though, and I picked up a slim recipe book of Tropical Desserts at the airport with our last remaining dong. This jelly recipe is adapted from that book - the original includes veg-friendly agar-agar as the setting agent, but uses dairy cream for the white layer. Coconut cream was an easy substitute that readily took on a pandan infusion. I've had good and bad experiences with agar-agar, and this was definitely a good one. The jelly set hard and fast, creating neat mango and coconut layers that sliced smoothly and were firm enough to serve as finger food.

Served alongside Vietnamese-style coffees on soy condensed milk, they were the perfect end to an epic lunch. My holiday companions teamed up to concoct a cơm chay-style buffet of rice, mock meats, pickles, rolls, savoury doughnuts, and other assorted sprinklings. (Props to Vincent Vegetarian Food and Minh Phat for great supplies.) We had little trouble finding a dozen folks to help us eat it (and still, Michael and I face a week of makeshift banh mis stuffed with the leftovers). Lucky for us, there remains a small supply of the jellies to ration out too.

Mango coconut splice jellies
(adapted from Devagi Sanmugam's Tropical Desserts)

mango layer
300g mango flesh (I got mine from 1 1/2 small cans)
500mL syrup from canned mangos
2 tablespoons agar-agar powder
150g caster sugar
a drop of lemon essence

coconut layer
400mL can coconut cream
600mL water
2 tablespoons agar-agar powder
250g caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 pandan leaves

Get out a large, rectangular tray to set the jelly in. Optionally spray it with oil to prevent sticking.

Blend together the mango and syrup until smooth.  Transfer them to a saucepan and stir in the agar-agar over medium heat. Bring the mixture to the boil, and stir it constantly for 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar and lemon essence until completed dissolved. Pour the mango jelly mixture into the tray and refrigerate it for at least 15 minutes.

Clean out the saucepan and use it to whisk together the coconut cream and water. Stir in the agar-agar powder, sugar and salt and set it over medium heat. Knot the pandan leaves and add them to the mixture to diffuse their flavour. Bring the mixture to the boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Discard the pandan leaves and pour the coconut mixture on top of the mango layer in the tray. Refrigerate the layered jelly for at least an hour before serving. Slice it into small squares.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


September 18-20, 2015

We ducked off to Lorne for a spring long-weekend, managing to luck out with a ridiculously lovely few days of sunshine. We spent most of the time wandering the beach and the lookout tracks, reading books and eating our way through some of the treats that the town has to offer. 

We stumbled across Mexican Republic (which strangely has no website - here's the Zomato page) on our walk up to our accommodation and headed back for an early dinner.

It's a cute little place with a handful of booths and a couple of outside tables. The menu is reasonably veg-friendly, although you'd need to ask for some alterations to get anything vegan. We kicked things off with a mojito ($15) and a citrus margarita ($12), which were boozy and refreshing. Cindy ordered one of the smokey bean tacos (with goats cheese, black beans, corn and smokey salsa, $8) alongside some charred street corn (butter, cheese, chipotle mayo and lime, $6). She was particularly impressed by the well-charred corn, while the $8 taco was a decent if expensive bite.

I ordered the smokey burrito (black beans, quinoa, guacamole, smokey tomato and corn salsa, goats cheese, cabbage, pickled onion and chipotle mayo, $16). Quinoa is kind of a weird burrito filling, but it does a good job of replacing the regular rice option while adding a bit of a crunchy texture. The rest of the fillings were decent as well, but it needed some hot sauce to liven things up a bit and was a bit over-priced at $16 (to be fair, everything seemed a little bit pricier in Lorne than in Melbourne).

We got up super early the next morning to check out the sunrise from Teddy's Lookout (photos in the slideshow below) and wandered down to the main street afterwards to scope out our brekkie options. The early crowds were at Moon's Espresso, and the menu was enticing enough to lure us in to join them.

The menu is pretty eggy - there is a simple toast dish with hummus, avo, basil and tomato ($14) that seemed vegan, but that was about it. I was starving and ordered the biggest dish I could - the Mushington D.C. - a brilliant combo of sauteed mushrooms with goats cheese, dukka, spinach and poached eggs on toast ($17). Cindy had the more modest fruit toast with butter ($8), which was a solid rendition of a pretty straightforward dish. 

We snacked at home and then went for an early dinner at the highly regarded Pizza Pizza. The tiny little shopfront cranks out high quality pizzas - the only seating for now is at the outdoor tables, although there was some work going on in the building next door to add in some indoor seating.

Pizza Pizza feels straight outta Brunswick - crispy, perfectly cooked bases, with an interesting selection of toppings. We split a Pizza for Nelly (napoli sauce, mozzarella, capers, olives, sun-dried tomato and caramelised onions, $16.50) and a Spinner (napoli sauce, mozzarella, spinach, roast pumpkin, feta and pine nuts, $16.50). These were truly excellent pizzas - definitely worth a visit (or a takeaway down at the beach).

On Sunday we grabbed a late brunch at the Swing Bridge Cafe and Boathouse, a cute little cafe perfectly situated by the bridge over the Erskine River. It's a popular spot, bathed in sunlight, with the surrounding picnic tables included in the cafe's service area.

It's a small menu, with nothing obviously vegan. I ordered the 'weeds' - slow poached eggs on sourdough, with smashed avocado, goats cheese, coriander and kale ($17). The super slow poached eggs are pretty gooey - I don't mind them, but they're an acquired taste. The rest of this was ace though, with the kale letting me pretend that I was having a healthy weekend. Cindy grabbed one of the sweets - an apple crumble muffin - with a strawberry smoothie ($8). The smoothie didn't really burst with fresh strawberries, with the unripe banana base overwhelming it all a bit. The muffin was okay - not loaded with apple, but warm, sweet and strudel-ly.

Our final meal of the weekend was at The Bottle of Milk, a specialty burger place with branches in Lorne and Torquay. The menu's got five veggie burger options - three of which can easily be made vegan.  

We had the tofu burger (foreground, marinated grilled tofu with tomato, onion, carrot, lettuce, mayo, chillie paste and satay sauce, $14) and the hot lentil (background, housemade lentil patty with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, carrot, mayo, chilli and lemon yoghurt) plus a serve of fries ($6.50) with bbq sauce ($1). I was really impressed by my lentil burger - an excellent patty, with some zingy condiments and fresh salad. The tofu burger worked well too - marinated tofu at non-vego is often pretty bland, so we were impressed that The Bottle of Milk seemed to know what they were doing. 

We had a lovely weekend in Lorne - the weather was perfect, the setting was stunning and the food was pretty top notch.