Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Persian love cake

October 8, 2016

Recently two of our friends got married, and they held a vegan potluck reception. We are enthusiastic potluckers under any conditions, and a wedding celebration predictably set us into overdrive. We brought a double batch of sausage rolls with barbecue sauce, mango & coconut rice salad, mango & coconut splice jellies, and finally, this cake. I'd seen it earlier in the week on Around the World Vegan - I liked that it was already vegan and gluten-free, and I had a stash of rose petals in the pantry that I was keen to make use of. Best of all, a dessert named Persian Love Cake would be perfect for the occasion.

The cake, even though it has two layers, comes together in one bowl without need of an electric mixer. Based on almond meal and polenta, it has a sandy texture but none of the chalkiness that I often notice with commercial gluten-free flour mixes. I'd consider trading some of the polenta for more almond meal if I baked this again, aiming for a softer and probably denser crumb. Keira made both a syrup and an icing for her cake, but instead I tried to combine their best elements into a single glaze flavoured with lime juice and rosewater. It tasted fabulous but its consistency was a bit too thin, and I used up all the icing sugar I had on hand.

It's the pistachios and rose petals that elevate a quite plain-looking cake to an absolute stunner, but they provide complementary flavour as well as good looks. This is a cake that demands it be seen and shared and celebrated, and we did just that.

Persian love cake
(a recipe from Around The World Vegan,
which itself was adapted from CERES)

1 1/3 cups almond meal
1 1/3 cups polenta
1 cup brown sugar
120g margarine
2 tablespoons cornflour
1/3 cup water
250g soy yoghurt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cardamom
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice

1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon rosewater

1/3 cup pistachios
2 tablespoons rose petals

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a cake tin with paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the almond meal, polenta and sugar. Add the margarine and combine it all, using pressing motions with a fork. Press half of this mixture into the base of the cake tin.

Whisk together the cornflour and water in a mug. Pour it into the remaining mixture in the bowl, along with the yoghurt and the spices. Stir everything together until well combined, then pour it into the cake tin. Bake until set and golden, 30-35 minutes. Cool the cake completely to room temperature.

Sift the icing sugar into a small bowl and whisk in the lime juice and rosewater. Spoon the icing over the cooled cake and sprinkle it with pistachios and rose petals.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Grand Trailer Park Taverna

October 4, 2016

Almost every time Cindy and I eat in the CBD we wind up heading to Shandong Mama or Shanghai Street, so we were delighted when Hayley suggested a pre-movie meal at Grand Trailer Park Taverna. Melbourne's obsession with dude-food is getting a bit tiresome, but even the most committed dumpling-heads need a change sometimes. Grand Trailer Park Taverna exploded onto Melbourne's burger scene a few years back, with queues out the door and inordinate amounts of buzz (see the blog round-up below). Things appear to have mellowed slightly, and we had no trouble getting a table early on a Tuesday night.

It's a beautiful setup, with tables nestled inside wooden caravan cut-outs and little cabins, chandeliers on the ceiling and a bright, cheerful vibe. The menu is a glorious paean to junk food, featuring ridiculous boozy milkshakes, a selection of burgers, loads of fried sides and mad dessert dishes like an ice-cream donut sandwich or the menacingly titled 'chocopalypse'. Vegans are basically going to be stuck eating chips and onion rings - it seems a shame that they haven't come up with an option or two burger-wise, but they're clearly focussing on the meaty end of the market.

The drinks menu is fantastic - we couldn't stomach the idea of boozy milkshakes, but the cocktails provided an excellent fallback option - the apple collins ($18) and dark and stormy ($18) pictured above were both superb.

Food-wise, we kicked things off with a mac 'n' cheese croquette each ($4.50). We all expected something small and spherical, so these giant squares of fried came as something of a shock.

A delicious, gooey shock.

There's just the one vego burger on the menu - the Shaquitta (chickpea patty, cheddar cheese, tomato, butter, lettuce, special burger sauce and mustard on a brioche bun, $12.50). We added a serve of the fries ($5.50) and the onion rings ($5.50) to round out the savoury portion of the meal.

The burger was adequate - heavy on the cheese and sauce, which covered for a reasonably unexciting patty. I was moaning about the brioche buns as we ordered, but this one was surprisingly okay - far from the sickly sweet mess that some places serve up. The chips and onion rings were crispy fried and salty, which is a recipe for success (and a second round of drinks).

One of the main reasons we'd ended up at Grand Trailer Park was Cindy and Hayley's shared excitement over the dessert menu. The ridiculousness is typified by the $38 giant waffle stack and the aforementioned chocopalypse (described thusly, "Look. Feel. Hear. Smell. Taste. At the end??? Have a goodnight"), but even the smaller options are a bit mad. We went for a regular waffle stack - a pair of waffles sandwiching Nutella parfait, whipped cream and strawberries all drowning in a Nutella sauce ($10).

I'd over-committed on the savoury round, so I only sampled a teeny bit of this. It was as rich and ridiculous as it looks, but that's what we were there for. This would surely be impossible for anyone to finish on their own, but split a few ways it worked well, with the strawberries providing at least some respite from the choc-creaminess of the rest.

We had fun at Grand Trailer Park Taverna - the staff were friendly and efficient and the vibe of the place was lovely. I imagine things get a bit more hectic on a Friday night, but it was a surprisingly relaxed place for dinner on a Tuesday. The food is junky and the vego options are limited, but it's worth a visit for the ridiculous desserts and great drinks.

Thoughts of a Moni provided a rare review of the vego burger, while there were very positive meaty reviews at Ordinary Girl, Extraordinary Dreamer, For Food's Sake, I'm so Hungree, The Very, Very Hungry Caterpillar, Olive Sundays, New International Students, De-Briefme, Big Picture Stuff, MEL: HOT OR NOT, confessions of a little piggy, Bauble, Bubbles and Bags, Hashtag, The City Walker, Eye Eat, Dang It We Love Food, The Melbourne Glutton, Team Cheeseburger, trading plates, Gastronomical Ramblings, Foodie Melbourne, The Domestic Traveller, Fun Date Ideas, Lips Temptations, BLK's Food Blog, Eve Lovelle, Crushing on Food, Food Comatose, Mango Macarons, Ichigo Shortcake, Melbourne Vita, Kit and Kafoodle, Burgers of Melbourne, Andrew's Food Adventures, Good Food Good Karma, Eat My Words, The Food Society, Eat Like Ushi, delightfully tasty and Foodie About Town.  

The Burger Adventure, Linnie Eats all the Food, Snow Crab Nebula, Journey from Within, DonutSam, Gastronomic Gems and Wandering Mint were all a bit less excited, but nobody was hugely negative about their experiences at Grand Trailer Park.


Grand Trailer Park Taverna
Upstairs at 87 Bourke Street, Melbourne
(03) 9972 3699
food, drinks

Accessibility: The only way in seems to be via a set of stairs, which isn't ideal. Inside, there's a mix of high and regular tables. You order at a high counter and the food is brought to your table. Toilets are gendered and not notably accessible.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Annual lab culinary competition

October 3, 2016

Early October heralds the longest-standing tradition of my workplace - a culinary competition coinciding with the birthday of a beloved colleague. We had more entries and eaters this year than we've seen for a while! I've collated as many dishes as I can in the slideshow above. In the inclusive spirit of the event, it's the one time I allow photos of meat on the blog. 

That said, this might have been the most veg-friendly year yet. Lovely dips, fritters and finger foods... the black bean chipotle burgers were a highlight for me. There were not as many salads as usual, though I did my bit by submitting Ottolenghi's cauliflower, grape & cheddar salad. Sweets were variously fruity, fancy and far from traditional (check out the dumplings!). My own deviation from the norm was a ketchup cake, and it earned me a prize in the 'tastes better than it sounds' category.

The grand prize winner was a new entrant, who made some lovely olive bread sticks. The judges praised the dish for its classic style, superlative flavour and hipster-rustic presentation.


You can also check out competition entries from years 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tofu in lemongrass broth

September 25, 2016

On our return from Western Australia we wanted something quick and healthy to ease ourselves back into the non-holiday routine - this tofu in lemongrass broth was the perfect choice. We've been making it regularly since we first posted about it back in 2008, so we figured it was time to finally put the recipe on here rather than relying on the old post at Nourish Me staying up forever. It's a really simple recipe, but a really great one (it's already featured in our where's the best list!).  It's all about the broth - fragrant and spicy and carrying the simple veggies and tofu to new heights. A great dish for Melbourne's cold spring nights, but only if you're pro-coriander!

Tofu in lemongrass broth
(based on this recipe at Nourish Me)

2 stalks of lemongrass, roughly chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, cut into 2-3 chunks
6-8 makrut lime leaves
1 large bunch of coriander, washed thoroughly, leaves and stalks separated
1.5 cups water
1 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 medium brown onion, sliced finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red chilli, seeded and sliced finely
a big handful of green beans, trimmed and halved
1 small bunch broccolini, chopped up
300g tofu (Lucy uses silken, but we prefer something firmer), cubed
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
200ml coconut milk
fried shallots

Start cooking some rice before you get started on the rest, it all comes together quite quickly.

Put the lemongrass, ginger, lime leaves and coriander stalks in a saucepan with the water and a big pinch of salt. Bring the mix to the boil and then simmer uncovered until the mixture has reduced by half (about 15 minutes). 

Sieve out the bits and pieces and then stir the tamari and sugar into the liquid.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the onions, garlic and chilli, stir-frying for a couple of minutes until they start to soften. Add the beans, broccolini and tofu and keep stir-frying for another few minutes, until the vegies are just cooked. 

Pour in the broth and the coconut milk and simmer for a few more minutes. Stir in all of the coriander leaves and cook for a final minute, until they've wilted down a bit. 

Taste and add more salt if required. Serve over rice, with a generous sprinkling of fried shallots on top.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


September 20-23, 2016

After our time in Perth and Fremantle, we headed down the south coast to spend the rest of the week in sleepy Busselton. We'd imagined a beachy holiday, but WA's weather didn't really oblige. Instead, we had a quiet few days lounging around our apartment reading books and eating treats and generally kicking back. We didn't come to Busselton for the food, but we took our chance to explore what was on offer.

We started off by checking out The Fire Station, a bar and restaurant in a gorgeous old building.

It's cosy inside with a fire going and a steady stream of customers. You can swing by to try the impressive array of craft beer and local wines, or settle in for a meal. We had no trouble getting a table on the two nights that we stopped by, but I'd guess things would get pretty hectic when summer rolled around.

The menu is very gastropub, with a selection of pizzas, pastas and some meatier options. There are enough vego options to go around, but vegans will struggle.

Cindy ordered the pan fried gnocchi with Swiss brown mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, burnt butter, sage & goats cheese ($24).

It was a lovely meal: plump fluffy gnocchi with lots of earthy mushrooms and a few bursts of freshness from the tomatoes. 

I took on one of the vego pizzas, with parsnips, honey, goats cheese and a rocket and horseradish pesto ($22). This was another success - a crisp, light base with an inventive combination of toppings.

The Fire Station really impressed me - it had classy pub food in a charming setting, with friendly staff and a great selection of booze. We stopped by for a drink on one of our other evenings in town just to enjoy the atmosphere - it's definitely worth a visit.


The other noteworthy place we ate at in Busselton was Mana Kai Cafe, an almost-vegetarian place (there's one salmon dish I think) tucked into a little arcade. They're a daytime eatery, with a range of made-to-order breakfast and lunch options, plus a stack of pre-made goodies in the display cases. There are plenty of vegan options. 

We started out by sampling their fancy drinks - a detox juice (celery, mint, parsley, cucumber, kale and pear) for me and a citrus blast (lemon, lime, orange, apple) for Cindy. At $9 a pop these aren't cheap, but they're refreshing and delicious. 

Cindy cobbled together a lunch by combining a savoury muffin ($5) with handcut potato skins with a combo of chutney and garlic yoghurt dressing ($6).

I tested the kitchen out a bit more with the Asian bowl - marinated tempeh, rice noodles, kim chi, carrot, sprouts, corn, red cabbage and greens with a miso and ginger dressing ($15.50).

This was a delight - loaded with fresh vegetables and bursting with flavour thanks to the kim chi and the miso dressing. A perfect counterbalance to all the pizzas I ate over our holiday. 

Mana Kai was heaving on our visit and they seemed to be equally popular with locals and tourists. It's great to see a vego place doing so well outside of the big cities. I'm sure it's a haven for vegan visitors to Busselton. 

We had a nice quiet few days in Busselton, enjoying a day tour around the Margaret River area and sneaking in quite a few visits to the wonderful birdhide on the Vasse River - some photographic highlights are below.