Saturday, April 30, 2016

Gingerbread layer cake

April 25-27, 2016

I've had a jar of molasses in the cupboard for a while, and I've spent that time trawling for suitable recipes and excuses to bake with it. It's taken a few months to get it into this gingerbread layer cake, baked to share with our cat-sitter and friend, Tash.

The recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen - I know that Deb Perelman is a bit of a perfectionist with her recipes, and I like that she takes understated, realistic food photos in her own small home kitchen. (They're still a good deal prettier than mine, I know.) I trust her to bake a good cake.

In fact, I think I just entrusted her with baking my first layer cake. The batter was pretty well-behaved; with oil and not butter for the fat, it didn't even need creaming with an electric beater. It just called for a bit of patience as I baked and cooled the three layers, one at a time, late on a Monday night. I whipped up the mascarpone cream on Wednesday morning and stacked up my cake with care, ignoring Perelman's cranberry garnish entirely.

For a vegan version, I'd recommend replacing the eggs with ground flax seeds in the cake batter. I'm not sure how best to replicate the whipped dairy cream, but I reckon coconut cream or yoghurt is the best bet.

Here the cake and cream have a surprisingly light texture. With a cup of molasses, a cup of brown sugar and a cup of white sugar in the cake batter, it's as sweet as Kimmy Schmidt. It's also got Kimmy's brutal aftertaste, a heated, malty mix of molasses, stout and ginger that depends on the triple-layered whipped cream to remain palatable. A small slice goes a very long way (and here it differs from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, because I polished that off in just a few days).

Gingerbread layer cake
(a recipe from Smitten Kitchen)

1 cup stout
1 cup molasses
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of ground cardamom
spray oil for greasing cake tin

mascarpone cream
500mL cream
1/2 cup icing sugar
120g mascarpone

Place the stout and molasses in a large saucepan and bring them to the boil. Turn off the heat and whisk in the bicarb soda - the mixture will froth up but hopefully be contained by your large saucepan. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Trace and cut out three pieces of baking paper to fit the base of a springform cake tin. Line the tin with just one of them, and lightly spray the tin inside with oil.

Place the sugars in a large bowl and whisk in the oil. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until smooth. Whisk in the cooled stout-molasses mixture until smooth. Sift over the remaining cake ingredients, and stir them into the batter until just combined.

Pour one third of the cake batter into the tin and bake it until it passes the skewer test, about 20 minutes. Allow it to rest in the tin for 5 minutes before gently turning the cake onto a cooling rack. Repeat twice more with the remaining cake batter to form three cake layers.

To make the mascarpone cream, pour the cream into a large bowl and sift over the icing sugar. Whip the cream with an electric beater until soft peaks form. Add the mascarpone and whip it into the cream until well combined.

To assemble the cake, carefully transfer one cake layer to a serving plate. Pour a generous cup of the mascarpone cream onto the centre of the cake, spreading it out but leaving about an inch cake border. Transfer a second cake layer onto the top; its weight will push the cream out towards the edge. Repeat the process with another generous cup of cream and the final cake layer. Make the top layer of cream thick and wavy and spread it right to the edge of the cake.

Refrigerate the cake for at least an hour before slicing and serving, with any extra mascarpone cream on the side.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Stockholm, week 1

April 16-22, 2016

I'm spending a couple of months in Stockholm for work - a good excuse to add another country to our restaurant review map. Most of my meals out so far have been lunches, with work colleagues picking out some highlights around the centre of town and me doing a bit of weekend exploring further afield. The food scene seems very veg-friendly - everywhere I've gone has had prominent vego/vegan options, and there are a decent number of totally vegetarian places.

I had my first meal of the trip at Hermitage (Stora Nygatan 11, Gamla Stan), a vego restaurant that Cindy and I visited way back in 2006. Its buffet-style lunch of old-fashioned vego food powered me up for a big day of walking, with a mock-meat and chickpea stew, a big chunk of vegetarian lasagne, potato salad, bread, rice and some hummus. For 120kr (~$20) with a coffee, this is pretty decent value for money as far as Stockholm lunches go. I went back for seconds to make sure I really got my money's worth.

On Sunday I met up with a friend for lunch at the nearby Chutney (Katarina Bangata, Södermalm) a place I visited on my last trip. They do a 98kr lunch set, with a choice of four dishes plus salads, bread and coffee.

My nasi goreng was excellent, with a rich peanutty sauce accompanying it and a few tasty chunks of mock meat to mix up the texture. This is right around the corner from where I'm staying, so it's going to get some more visits.

I started work on Monday and quickly fell into a lunch routine with colleagues - they go out every day and have a strong selection of local options. First up was Maxos (Scheelegatan 13, Kungsholmen), probably my favourite place so far - it's basically a felafel bar, but the vibe is a bit nicer than that implies and the food they serve up is brilliant. I had the combo (95kr), which is the best way to sample all the great salads and sides on offer with the felafel.

After work on Wednesday I went for a birding walk in a nature reserve near where I'm staying, turning up some decent birds and stunning natural scenery. I stumbled out of the forest starving and stumbled straight into Max, a burger chain (I went to the one at Lugnets Alle 22, Hammarbyhöjden), to see if they could feed me.

Amazingly, there were tons of options, with the highlight being the vegan bbq sandwich (based on Oumph!, a Swedish mock-meat). For 75kr (~$12) I got an excellent burger, some so-so fries and a coke. There's nothing fancy about this place, but it's super convenient and impressively veg-friendly.

Another lunch highlight was Minh Mat (Odengatan 94, Vasaparken) a popular Vietnamese joint. They do a limited lunch menu of three dishes per day, with at least one vegan option. Thursday is banh xeo day, and the vego version didn't disappoint - chunks of tofu and fragrant salad in a crispy-fried rice batter pancake shell. 

The final meal of my first week was at the nearby Ringen shopping centre, in the recently opened upmarket food court. There are street food stalls from lots of famous restauranteurs, including The Plant (inside Ringen, Götgatan 132, Södermalm), supposedly Sweden's first vegan fast-food place. I tried the Hammer Burger, with a pulled-mushroom based pattie, chilli mayo, pickles, and a side of mini boiled potatoes with impossibly creamy mayo (115kr [~$18] or 145kr [~$23] with a beer). This was really impressive - it's another option very close to my apartment, so it's sure to feature again in the coming weeks.

I'm really enjoying exploring Stockholm - there's tons of good veggie food and the city itself is stunningly beautiful (especially when the sun comes out). I'll post semi-regular food round-ups here, but anyone interested in more of the scenery/bird life should head on over to my instagram page.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Smith & Daughters VII

April 10 & 12, 2016

We're regular Smith & Daughters visitors and, as you can see up top, this is our seventh blog post about the restaurant. Yet our last post is from more than a year ago! Here's a run-down of the current, very-limited-time-only 2nd birthday menu.

The weekend brunch menu takes its inspiration from American diner food, and with the help of Nat & Ben we were well across it. Michael was drawn in by the Brekkie Hot Dog ($15), piled up with tofu scramble, cheese, onion, bacon and BBQ sauce. It's an excellent vegan hot dog, to be sure, but one that taught me I'm not up to weiners and BBQ sauce this early in the day.

Nat was most enamoured with the mac n cheese ($14), carby and creamy and garnished with just a sprinkle of paprika.

My surprise highlight was the hash ($16). The jalapenos and avocado of their long-standing Mexican hash are replaced here with bacon, onion and kale; the same corn, cheese sauce and starchy foundation of fried potatoes stuck around.

How did that hash outperform the sweet stuff? There were two very, very promising contenders there. The first was this Black Forest Pancake Stack ($17). The pancakes had a lovely fluffy texture but weren't as chocolatey as they looked, although the garnishing ring of sauce fixed that right up.

The Fruit LoopWaffles ($17) were multi-coloured mayhem, crispy and spread with jammy blueberries, sandwiched with vegan cream and mousse, then scattered with the eponymous Froot Loops. It was fun to take on, but a reminder to us adults that the six-coloured cereal barely generates one-and-a-half dimensions of flavour. (The first dimension is, of course, sugar.)

Two short days later we headed back in with Steph & Hayley for dinner. This menu is a greatest hits tour through Shannon Martinez's years cheffing around Melbourne at the East Brunswick Club, Gasometer Hotel, South & Sweetwater Inn (uh, yeah, we're fans). We kicked off with cocktails - a gin-spiked raspberry lemonade/peach sweet iced tea Arnold Palmer ($17) for Michael, and a potently citrussy Sour Puss ($17) for me.

Our nostalgia was drawn in too many directions and it was tough to choose just two stomachs worth of food. Michael and I started by halving the Gasometer-era Southern Fried Chicken & Waffles ($19). They were mercifully smaller but even tastier than I remembered, with the waffles slathered in caramelised maple bacon butter and a deceptively light spiced batter on the mock chicken.

The Sweetwater Inn-style Fish & Chips ($16) was, by comparison, enormous. The mock fish, too, might've been flakier and more delicately beer-battered than in their first incarnation; the chips were very good, but not quite Gasometer-good.

By this time I was ill-equipped to take on the Gasometer-throwback Crispy Fried Pickles ($10) that Michael insisted on. They would've been at their best with that Sour Puss cocktail and without the two major meals in between, interfering.

Though we were really very full, I convinced my co-diners that one dessert between the four of us wasn't really a big commitment at all. We revisited the East Brunswick Club's Choc Peanut Butter Cheesecake ($15). In 2009 I described it as 'a super-rich slab of salty-sweet heaven, best shared with a fellow connoisseur'. It still is.

Smith & Daughters' 2nd birthday menu is an over-the-top celebration of a very special vegan restaurant, and the chef behind it. They've just announced an upcoming cookbook, and we can't wait to see what they dream up next.


You also can read about one, two, three, four, five, six of our previous visits to Smith & Daughters. The flash-back faves menu has also appeared on A Melbourne Vegan Eats.

Since our last blog post, Smith & Daughters has received positive coverage on veg blogs Vegetarian Life Australia, Veganeers, Veganopoulous and Vegan Miam. It's also won fans on omni blogs Filled with Food, The Melbourne Fussy Eater, The Melbourne Glutton, DAMMIT JANET I LOVE FOOD, Sweet and Sour Fork, Cup of Three and Food Fable. Only Zinc Moon has had a tough time, seemingly due to a food allergy.


Smith & Daughters
175 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
9939 3293
brunch, dinner, drinks
facebook page

Accessibility: The entry is flat and narrow and the tables are pretty crowded. The interior is dimly lit and loud at night. Toilets were located up several steps, were gendered and of standard dimension. We ordered at the table and paid at a high counter.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Roasted pear & gorgonzola salad

April 10, 2016

We were overdue for a home-cooked meal in general, a healthy one in particular and, I thought, another go at the Community cookbook. Once I saw the recipe for roasted pear (in season!) and gorgonzola (delicious year-round!) salad I didn't look any further.

A look in the cupboard and the shops took me a little off recipe. I added a whole head of cauliflower to the recipe for some extra golden-edged substance. Most of the pears in our neighbourhood were rock-hard and not ready for dinner, but Michael found a few nashi pears at Pachamama that were worth a shot. The white wine (not white balsamic) vinegar and black lentils in the pantry would surely do the job. Sage leaves were plentiful but didn't fry to a crisp as they were supposed to.

The ingredient proportions didn't quite add up (too, too many lentils and not quite enough dressing) but it was easy to portion out our own plates and make plans for the leftovers later. The salad was everything I had anticipated - layers of savoury, earthy green and brown with episodes of pungency and sweetness.

Roasted pear & gorgonzola salad
(adapted from a recipe in Hetty McKinnon's Community)

250g lentils (we used black but puy or green might be better)
1 head cauliflower
~1 kg pears (McKinnon suggests 6 Packhams, we used about 8 nashi pears)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons caster sugar
30g butter
1 cup sage leaves
2 cups rocket leaves
200g gorgonzola
salt and pepper

Preheat an oven to 200°C.

Place the lentils in a saucepan and cover them with water. Bring them to the boil, then simmer them until tender (this can take 15-40 minutes depending on the type).

Chop the cauliflower into bite-sized florets and place them in a baking tray. Drizzle over 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle over salt and pepper. Bake the cauliflower until tender, and golden around the edges, about 25 minutes.

While the cauliflower is baking, slice the pear into 4-8 pieces each and remove the cores. Place the pear wedges in a baking tray. Drizzle over 2 tablespoons olive oil, the vinegar and sugar. Bake the pears until cooked through but still holding their shape, about 20 minutes.

Melt the butter in a frying pan until it's frothing and add the sage leaves. Fry the leaves until they're crispy, then turn off the heat.

Now it's time to assemble everything! Layer up the rocket, cauliflower and pears (including the pears' roasting juices). Drain the lentils and spoon them over the top. Crumble over the gorgonzola and sprinkle on the sage leaves (and any still-melted butter in the pan).

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Water Drop Tea House
@ Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery

Cheap Eats 2006, a decade on

March 29, 2016

Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery is one of the two biggest oversights highlighted in our Cheap Eats project spreadsheet - it's a vegetarian eatery that's been open the entire decade we've lived in Melbourne, yet we've never visited and blogged it until now. I put this down to the dining hall's opening hours, which are restricted to weekday lunch times and therefore quite inaccessible to us non-city workers.

My workplace issued me with an Easter Tuesday off this year, and I used it to sneak in and give the gallery tea house a go at long last. It was quiet, almost hushed, and I had no trouble getting a four-seated table to myself.

The menu is much longer than I'd expect for such an unassuming operation. The appetisers alone run to twenty mostly deep-fried options, and then there are several dozen more stir-fries, tossed noodles, noodles and noddle soups. Most dishes involve mock meat, with a few centred around tofu or mushrooms instead. Each day of the week has its own set of three bento specials, and there's a range of hot and cold teas. I enjoyed an iced kumquat tea ($4), which had the syrupy sweetness of cordial and a contrasting pithy aftertaste.

At my late arrival time, two of the Tuesday bento choices were sold out; I didn't mind ordering the remaining nasi lemak ($12). It arrived quite swiftly and contained (clockwise from top left): lots of tangy pickled vegetables; a spicy mock beef rendang with potatoes, carrot and generous gravy; firm tofu with a chilli dipping sauce; steamed rice, mock anchovies, cashews and diced cucumber. It was all fun to graze on, and I was especially delighted to see the mushroom-based mock anchovies that we first discovered at Vincent last year.

This eatery's reputation has waxed and waned over the years. I don't think it serves the best mock meat in Melbourne, but my bento box was pleasant, varied and very reasonably priced. The venue's greatest appeal is as a quiet, comfortable respite from the bustling city workday outside.


Most veg bloggers are very fond of this tea house, see praise on Veganopoulous (twice), vegan bullsh*t, easy as vegan pie, Nouveau Potato, and two contrasting posts on Miss T: Princess Vegan.


Water Drop Tea House
Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery
141 Queen St, Melbourne CBD
9642 2388
menu 1, 2
facebook page

Acessibility: The entry from the street is wide and includes about ten stairs (and I didn't see an alternative approach). The floor inside is flat, tables are low and chairs have backs, with furniture well-spaced. I ordered at the table and paid at a high counter, and didn't visit the toilets.