Friday, February 29, 2008

February 29, 2008: Tokyo treats

After some food and chatter, Matt revealed the gifts he'd been carrying around for us over the past few days. There was an enormous graphic novel for Michael and pretty decorated origami paper for me. Then, to my surprise, there was more! One by one, Matt revealed shiny package after shiny package - samples of all kinds of junk food.

He explained that he wanted to show us something from his everyday life that was different, and I knew what he meant. When I spent a semester studying in upstate New York I loved slowly browsing the supermarket on my own, marvelling at the bright and unfamiliar convenience foods. (There were nine brands of breakfast cereal that included marshmallows! Nine!) This gift was perfect, especially given the high ratio of chocolate to other stuff.

I won't go through them all in detail now - they'll get a post each as we gradually eat them, and I think they deserve a tag of their own!

February 29, 2008: Chili

Cindy and I must have watched at least one episode of Nigella's slightly creepy cooking show, because we chased down her chili con carne recipe for future reference. The visit of my brother on a quick detour from his life in Japan was a good enough excuse to have a crack at it ourselves.

Obviously we had to make some changes: the recipe seemed designed to feed about thirty people, so we cut things right down; out went the ground beef and in came some TVP; and we decided to change the plan from the cornbread topping, to our trusty cornbread muffins. I think the main reasons we got a bit excited by Nigella's chili were the preponderance of spices and the addition of cocoa to the mix. We were expecting something a bit more exciting than our previous efforts, with a more complex set of flavours. Unfortunately, the cocoa was barely discernible and the combo of spices really didn't add much to our simpler Moosewood recipe. It wasn't bad by any means, but it didn't really improve on our previous efforts and was thus a little on the disappointing side. Having said that, when Matt finally arrived at 10ish he wasted no time in wolfing down a spicy bowl of tomato-y mush. And he looked pretty happy with it.

Our recipe really did end up quite different from Nigella's, so I'll reproduce it here.

Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 finely chopped onions
5 dried chillies, crushed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
10 cardamom pods, bruised
2 red capsicums, finely chopped
2 cups tvp, rehydrated with 2 cups of hot water
800 grams canned, crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon cocoa
400g canned kidney beans

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion and garlic for about five minutes, until it softens.

Add all the spices and stir everything together thoroughly.

Add the capsicum and the TVP and fry for a few minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes, the tomato paste and stir everything together. If the mix doesn't look saucy enough, thin it out with a little water.

Bring the pot to the boil, and sprinkle in the cocoa. Add the beans, stir everything together and then simmer for as long you need to make the cornbread.

February 29, 2008: Oyster Little Bourke

Update 31/12/2014: Oyster Little Bourke was rejigged into a new restaurant Mezzo Bar & Grill in 2010.

Thanks to Jo-Lyn's enthusiasm, this year we took advantage of the Food & Wine Festival's Restaurant Express. For the duration of the festival, many of the city's top restaurants offer a two-course lunch with a glass of wine for only $30 per person! I was most pleased to read on the website that every one of these set menus would include a vegetarian option. This promise was backed up by Oyster's staff when Jo-Lyn phoned to make our reservation there. Melbourne Foodie Jon! thoroughly enjoyed the more carnivorous end of Oyster's set menu earlier in the week so we entered with some anticipation.

When Michael, Jo-Lyn, Mike and I arrived at our table the day's lunch special options were already printed and set out for our perusal. All of the entrees and mains involved meat but, as he placed our napkins on our laps with a flourish, the front-of-house manager assured us that there was a vegetarian risotto available to us, incorporating gorgonzola and caramelised almonds - yummo! I had seen the "gorgonzola dolce risotto, caramelized almonds, grape vincotto" on their online a la carte menu and was looking forward to it.

However, the waiter who took our order was less confident. When Michael requested the vegetarian option he responded, "So that's the fish, then?" Uh, no. Michael wanted the vegetarian risotto, and so did I. And this is what we got...

It was filling, and it was quite tasty. But there was no gorgonzola or caramelised almond about it, so we were both a bit disappointed. On the other side of the table, Jo-Lyn was relishing her gnocchi with some kind of meat ragout and fish-skeptic Mike was impressed by the piscean option.

Next up was dessert for Mike, Michael and I. However, Jo-Lyn had ordered an entree and a main for her two courses and it was strange to see her digging into an enormous pork chop while the two Michaels were presented with their cute little copper pots of tiramisu. This dessert was the highlight of the meal, one of the best renditions I've tasted.

I had the trio of sorbets - chocolate, vanilla and raspberry. They were... just good, y'know? On a par with what I'd buy from a gelateria on Lygon St.

It was great to experience one of Melbourne's swankier restaurants at a budget price, but it should come as little surprise that a restaurant named Oyster has an inconsistent ability to cater to vegetarians. While the tiramisu was memorable, I don't think I'll be pulling my wallet out for the full a la carte treatment any time soon.

Address: 35 Little Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9650 0988
Fully licensed
Price: lunchtime festival special $30
Website: www.oysterlittlebourke.com.au

February 27, 2008: Mushroom souffle


Q:
So, what do you get after dropping a soy bomb?

A: A mushroom cloud!

And here it is in song...





If you're after something edible, I don't think there's anything that says 'cloud' quite so much as whipped egg whites. So how about a mushroom souffle? This is another dish that I didn't actually have a recipe for, so I relied on Google again and chose this one from "That's My Home" Recipes. It's a little sparse on the details, so I'll rewrite the recipe below as I cooked it.

Souffles have a reputation for being difficult, and by the time I'd sauteed my veges, whipped the egg whites and washed a dirty baking tray, I must admit I was feeling a little 'difficult' myself. But I got them into the oven, where they dutifully rose to the occasion. After about 10 minutes out of the oven they'd sunk again, but even these withdrawn souffles retained an airy, cloud-like texture beneath the cheesy crust. Michael loved them, and I liked them well enough. I dug the mushrooms and cheese, but the dominant egg flavour just doesn't work for me.

This probably isn't something I'll try again - I just couldn't resist sharing with you the punchline to my little joke!


Mushroom souffle

1/2 a large onion, finely diced
2 cups mushrooms, chopped
a splash of oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2/3 cup milk
4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Saute the onion and mushrooms in a splash of oil until softened. (I like mine really well done, but go for what you usually like.) Turn off the heat and set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Add the milk and increase the heat a little, stirring until thickened. Stir in the mushrooms and onions. When the mixture has cooled a bit, stir in the egg yolks.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold them gently into the rest of the mixture. Grease a large baking dish or 6-8 ramekins and gently pour in the souffle mixture to 3/4 full. Sprinkle over the cheese. Bake for 20-30 minutes at 190 degrees C.

February 25, 2008: Soy bombs

My mind's been ticking over ever since Elly announced the Eat to the Beat! blog event. I love a theme, and I knew I could meld meals and music since I count Fiona Apple, Cake and Custard among my favourite music-makers. There are lots of songs out there likening loves to sweet treats, but Warrant's tune Sweet Cherry Pie really isn't to my taste. Ben Lee is more my style, but listening to the lyrics of Cigarettes Will Kill You, I couldn't fathom what he was suggesting I make! (Though clearly it was not to be served up with cake... listen for yourself using the player at the end of this post and tell me what you think is cooking.) Perhaps, like Talking Heads, I was destined to Stay Hungry.

Then, channelling the Eels, Michael chipped in with "Whatever happened to soy bomb?" The lyrics of this song are rather bleak and not at all related to food, but I liked the idea of soy bombs for dinner. A google search for tofu balls turned up a pleasant-looking recipe from Post-Punk Kitchen and I figured I'd give it a go. I wasn't that wrapped with the meatballs-and-spaghetti-style serving suggestion, but latched onto a commenter's use of sweet chilli sauce for dipping. We'd be having our soy bombs with sweet chilli and salad.

I was impressed with how easily the mixture came together into balls (I have a checkered history when it comes to vege burgers, balls and the like) and they smelled pretty good too. As I fried up the second pan-full, I idly picked up one from the first batch and took a bite. Holy mother of tofu! These are incredible! I couldn't get over the fact that they do actually kind of taste like pork-mince meatballs. The flavour was so much more than the ingredients that went in. I madly posed and photographed them, frying up a third pan-full before Michael arrived home. Exhausted from his netball game, I barely let him sit down before stuffing one into his mouth. "Don't look at the recipe - just taste it! Aren't these great? Guess what went into them!"

He was moderately impressed at that time, but over the course of the evening as we worked our way through more (now with salad), neither of us could stop with our exclamations. "Mmmm! So good! And such simple ingredients! I'd definitely make these for guests." The only thing I noticed after eating copious numbers of these is that they were a bit salty, probably because the peanut butter I used had added salt. So if your peanut butter also includes salt, consider reducing the amount of soy sauce by a bit.

So try 'em. And try this small collection of foodie rock'n'roll as you mix, roll and fry.












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Three other tasty tunes I wish I'd been able to add:
  • How To Make Gravy by Paul Kelly
  • Milk by Garbage
  • Pumpkin Soup by Kate Nash (you can listen to this one on her myspace page!)
Finally, before I give this fantastically simple and simply fantastic recipe, I've got a riddle for you:

What do you get after dropping a soy bomb?

The answer is the name of another foodie song in my CD collection, and will be revealed in the next post.


Soy bombs

500g extra firm tofu
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce (less if your peanut butter includes salt)
3 tablespoons peanut butter
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
fresh basil, roughly chopped/ripped (or another herb of your choice)
~1/2 cup plain flour
~1/3 cup vegetable oil

Crumble the tofu into a large bowl. Add the onion, soy sauce, peanut butter, breadcrumbs and basil; combine thoroughly. Roll the mixture into balls about 3cm in diameter and lightly coat them in flour.

Pour vege oil into a non-stick frypan so that it's about 2mm deep. Heat the oil until not quite smoking and add a tofu ball - it should sizzle in the oil. Once it does begin to sizzle, add more balls to the pan, turning them after a minute or two to develop an even crust. When they're done, transfer to absorbent paper and continue with the remaining balls.

Eat right out of the pan, or dipped in sweet chilli sauce, or with spaghetti and tomato sauce, or on a sandwich. I bet you can find other ways to enjoy these too!

February 24, 2008: Rocky-ish road

My chocolate clusters went square this week - instead of dropping my fruit, nut and chocolate mixture into little mounds, I pressed it into the bottom of a foil-lined loaf pan. In designing this flavour combination, I took inspiration from rocky road - dried cherries, Turkish delight, roasted hazelnuts, coconut and rice bubbles. Marshmallows are noticeably absent, I know - I'm really not into them.

These were good, but not as great as I'd hoped. The cherries were deliciously sour, but they overwhelmed the Turkish delight and smoky hazelnuts. Still, it'll be no chore finishing off the block!

February 23, 2008: Caramelised Tofu


Cindy was quite taken with this recipe when she saw it on 101 Cookbooks, and we set aside Sunday evening to give it a crack ourselves. We made a few small changes to Heidi's recipe, substituting some fried Asian greens for her brussel sprouts, almonds for her pecans, and adding some quinoa on the side.

The tofu's the main event though - surprisingly sweet for the fairly small dash of sugar in the recipe and augmented brilliantly by the crunchy almonds. The garlic played its role as well, taking some of the focus off the sugary taste. Our greens and quinoa turned the meal into a Shakahari worthy affair (although we didn't make it quite as photogenic as they would have), for surprisingly little effort. This probably only took thirty minutes or so to put together, and would easily fit into a school-night schedule. Throw in the super nutritional value (tofu, greens and quinoa!), and you've got yourself a pretty special recipe. It's even vegan!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

February 23, 2008: Aix creperie

Michael and I hit the Taste of Slow Food Festival stalls a little before lunch on Saturday. I'd intentionally eaten a light breakfast, remembering the array of foods we gobbled down at last year's Flour Festival. Unfortunately for us the stalls were looking a lot fewer and a lot meatier this year. Michael bought a coffee and, uninspired, we plotted an alternative city lunch. We batted around a couple of ideas before Michael suggested Aix creperie, and I knew immediately it was just what I wanted.

Aix (how does one pronounce that?) is in glamourously grungy Centre Place, just a few doors down from the Jungle Juice Bar. This alleyway is a place to perch at an outdoor table and people-watch, or stick your nose in a serious book and be watched as you nonchalantly get your caffeine and nicotine fixes. While Michael had his second shot of caffeine, and I contented myself with watching the parade.

Aix already has its share of admirers (Serenity Later, Simon and the Age have all reviewed it) and I can see why. It's charmingly cosy and allows you to pretend you're in Paris for just a few moments. There's a display case bursting with baguettes (most of them meaty) and a range of crepes (more veg-friendly) for less than $10 each. I want-want-wanted a sweet one but it was lunch time, so I ordered a filling of field mushrooms, taleggio cheese and spinach ($7.50). I was very pleased with how dark and flavoursome the mushies were.

Michael went for a filling of goats cheese, red peppers, spinach and thyme (also $7.50). The sweet roasted peppers smelled lovely, but I had no chance of a bite before Michael polished it all off.

Aix well and truly salvaged what would otherwise have been a disappointing outing. I'm keen to return for a sweet crepe or three, but it's a bit out of the way of our usual activities. If nothing else, our irregular patronage will give you a better chance of snagging a vacant seat - there aren't that many to go around!

Address: 24 Centre Place, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9662 2667
Allegedly BYO
Price: veg crepes $4.50-$7.50

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

February 18, 2008: De Orchid


Cindy and I have blogged previously about our quest for an excellent Indian place. We've had a few successes, but mostly the local Indian places have been reasonably priced, reasonably tasty, slightly dull - nothing to really inspire our loyalty. Especially not when it comes to take away.

J-Wow told us that Spicy Junction on Johnston Street was worth checking out, so I wandered past on the way home to order something to take home and enjoy. The menu looked quite impressive, with loads of vego options, but they were inexplicably closed. Luckily I had a fallback plan - I'd wandered up Rathdowne Street on my way home one evening and stumbled across De Orchid, an Indian place about a block from our house that had completely passed us by. Luckily they were open and their menu was equally veg-friendly. We ordered three curries (to make sure we scored some leftovers for lunch the next day): Saag Paneer, Baingan Bharta and Malai Kofta - two old favourites and an eggplant curry that we'd tried once on our travels overseas and loved. We threw in a naan bread and some rice as well, making a pretty substantial load for me to bring home.

De Orchid delivered probably the best cheap Indian we've had in Melbourne: all three curries were impressive (and impressively creamy - it's probably best not to know any nutritional information about them), the bread was laced with garlic and cooked perfectly and the rice was... well the rice was just rice. The spice levels were about perfect for me, which meant they were probably a tad on the hot side for Cindy, but she still enjoyed her meal immensely - particularly the Baingan Bharta, which we have to try to make ourselves one day. The saag paneer was pretty good as well - rich and tasty, with a fairly generous scattering of paneer bits and the malai kofta, while a little on the saucy side, was not undelicious.

So, an unassuming local Indian place with nothing in particular to recommend it, takes the lead in our quest for a good local curry shop. We'll still give Spicy Junction a go, but it'll have to be very good to overtake De Orchid.

Update 4/9/09: After being 'temporarily' closed for nigh on a year, De Orchid has recently reopened. My first impressions: things have gone down hill - but we'll probably give them another chance and write a proper review.

Update 10/2/10: It appears that De Orchid is no more at this address. There's an Indian restaurant with a different name in its place, and we've not yet tried it. It's unclear whether the De Orchid has changed names, changed locations or disappeared entirely.

Address: 174 Rathdowne Street, Carlton
Ph: 9349 2626
BYO only (at least at the moment - I think there was a liquor licence application in the window)
Price: Veg curries: $8-$9

February 18, 2008: Smart blondies

I've spent the last week at work collaborating with two Brisbane-based smarties, Eve and Will. We've been sharing a fun, challenging and very nerdy project and best of all, they're just cool people to hang out with. There've been outings to Kake Di Hatti and Markov Place, and when it was revealed that it was Will's birthday on Wednesday, I packed him a gift of cherry and vanilla icecream.

To welcome them to the lab on Monday I gathered all my local colleagues for afternoon tea and supplied trays of brownies and blondies. The brownies were Nigella's cream cheese variety, a recipe Michael has twice previously made to great acclaim. As for the blondies, these were an entirely new baking experience for me and I knew that Kitchen Wench would have the goods: white chocolate and walnut blondies with salted caramel topping. They are almost as over-the-top as the name suggests and at least as tasty. Most importantly the quantities Ellie gave yielded a sizable tray-full, because over twenty people turned up for a taste! Over the course of half an hour, much chatter and a few laughs, all that remained was one little blondie square to wrap up and take home to Michael. Oh, and about half the caramel topping, which I had packed separately and used sparingly. It found its way onto pancakes with pears on the weekend.

This recipe has been adapted at every step from the source, Sherry Yard, via David Lebovitz, Chubby Hubby and Kitchen Wench. Here's what I did.


Smart blondies

cake
170g butter, softened
1/3 cup raw sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon honey
1 generous teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
150g walnuts, roughly chopped
120g white chocolate chips

topping
60g butter
100g raw sugar
2/3 cup cream
1/3 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 scant teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C. Line a medium to large baking tray with baking paper and grease the inside (I use a canola spray).

Cream together the butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the honey and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add it to the butter mixture in batches, beating on low speed as you go. Stir in the walnuts and white chocolate.

Pour the batter into the prepared tray and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Once the blondie tray is out of the oven and cooling, prepare the sauce! In a large saucepan on medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the sugar and stir frequently, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is a deep golden brown, just starting to smoke.

This is where things get a little scary. Protect your hands and arms with a shirt and gloves, then whisk in half the cream. It'll spatter about and you don't want to wear molten sugar. Stir in the rest of the cream, as well as the vanilla and salt. Allow it to cool a little.

[At this stage I packed up the blondies and caramel separately to take them to work. (Kind, patient Michael even walked with me to carry the second tray!) It only took 10 seconds in the microwave to get the caramel back to its gooey state.]

Poke holes in the blondie with a skewer, then pour over as much caramel sauce as you want. I only used about half of it. Slice and serve to the people that are no doubt surrounding you and drooling by this stage!

February 16, 2008: CERES cafe

After the bright lights and late dining of Friday night, we decided to show Michael's mum Robyn and her partner Rob a more sunny, leisurely side of Melbourne on Saturday morning: CERES. This community space is an oasis in urban Melbourne, a quiet and leafy refuge to share with not just other adults, but children, pet dogs, a handful of farm animals and some wildlife. But before we took a stroll through the site, we hit the cafe for breakfast.

The menu here is as organic and locally-sourced as the cafe managers can prepare - as you might expect it's rather veg-friendly too. I reckon Michael's choice, pictured above, must be one of the most luscious-looking breakfasts we've had here in Melbourne, no? It's Verity's Baked Eggs ($14): the eggs come with fetta, spinach pesto, fresh beetroot, mint, parsley, pine nuts and sourdough toast. Even I, the egg-skeptic, would have a go at these! Robyn confirmed that the creamy scrambled ones were also excellent.

Having eaten a bit of fruit at home I felt I could justify a small but naughty order, picking out the sour cherry and chocolate muffin ($4.50) from the specials board and a dandelion latte ($3.50). The muffin tasted as good as it sounds and I liked the mild, milky drink a lot - I'll keep an eye out for it in preference to chai when I'm eating something sweet. As we ate, my eyes occasionally returned to the specials board, and I noticed any number of tempting vego options for lunch.

We felt welcome to take our time with our food and linger over second coffees, just soaking up the atmosphere and watching several young families celebrate a child's birthday at a neighbouring table. The cafe was much more crowded the first time we visited, and I guess it was the grey sky that kept some locals away and allowed us this breathing room.

Eventually it was time to move on, and we took a tour through the vege patches that lead up to the markets. We bought some fruit to snack on later - the grapes looked set to burst with colour and flavour! - and I was most pleased to buy a fantastic new handmade bag after several months of listless shopping. (It's just the right size to fit my 'blog tools'; a camera, mini-tripod and notebook.)

As we walked back past the pond and out the gate, I was struck by how lucky we are to have CERES so close by and how relaxed I felt after our couple of hours there. I promised myself that a lot less time will pass before I'm back again.

Address: corner of Roberts and Stewart Sts, Brunswick East
Ph: 9387 2609
Licensed
Price: veg breakfasts ~$4-14
Website: www.ceres.org.au

February 15, 2008: Brunetti X

After dinner at Shakahari, we led our guests across the road to Brunetti for dessert. They were appropriately wowed by its extent, so Michael and I made relatively fast orders and hunted down a table as they browsed. With a huge (and delicious) meal under my belt, I didn't find it too difficult to limit myself to two small Tartufo al caffe ($1.40 each). Their two-toned chocolate coating was pleasant, but the interior coffee cream was dry and powdery.

Michael chose a French custard tart with cherries ($5.30). He enjoyed it well enough, but it was a typically unremarkable Brunetti dessert.

You can read our full catalogue of Brunetti experiences here.

February 15, 2008: Shakahari III

My mum and her partner Rob joined us for a weekend all the way down here in Melbourne and we took it upon ourselves to show them some of our favourite places. Our first focus was dinner on Friday night. When we've entertained other rellies, we've generally taken them to places that offer a good selection of non-vego food as well as stuff that we like. Our last guests complained and insisted that we should take people out for vego delights in the future. Mum and Rob were the lucky first recipients of this new policy, and it was hard to think of a better place to take them than Shakahari - probably Melbourne's best vegetarian restaurant.

I think the menu was a little intimidating - tofu, quinoa, seitan, soy grits: these are not things that crop up on too many non-specialty menus. Cindy and I recommended the avocado rolls to start things off - they'd impressed us mightily on a previous visit and didn't disappoint this time.

They really are fantastic. Mum and Rob opted for entree-sized mains after we promised them a post-dinner dessert trip to Brunetti, but Cindy and I couldn't resist the main-sized options. Despite the relatively small menu (about 7-8 mains), Shakahari retains its appeal by switching things around with the seasons. Every time we've visited there've been new options to choose from.

Cindy went for Croquette Madam Fang ($17.50), patties made up of a combination of yam, spuds, soy grits, macadamia nuts, schezuan turnip, green beans and coriander (it's hard to believe that there were that many ingredients in these little discs), served up with a tangy cumquat chilli sauce, some bean curd bits, broccoli and kim chi. Cindy raved about the sauce, and her enthusiasm was backed up by her performance: finishing her entire plate before I'd got through my main - something that's probably happened three times since we started this blog. It looked outstanding, but I was too slow to taste it for myself.

I ordered a pasta - something I rarely do. Usually the vego pastas that places are offer are fairly uninspiring and seem like dishes that Cindy and I could knock up ourselves at least as well. I knew I could rely on Shakahari to deliver something a bit more interesting with their rustichella linguini ($18.50). This came with basil almond pesto, grilled mushrooms of at least three varieties and reduced oregano tomatoes. And it was divine. The pesto was the key and it was amongst the most pesto-riffic I've tasted. Even the tomatoes which, given my tomato issues, were a risky inclusion, came through with the goods - reduced to such a mush that my texture-based problems were minimised and the herby flavour could shine through.

Shakahari continues to excel - it remains the only 'fine-dining' style vego place in Melbourne, but it doesn't just rest on its laurels, the food is always fresh and interesting and the service is always outstanding. I can't recommend it enough. Although it is better on a weeknight when it's not quite so full: the noise really bounces around off the brick walls.

Read about our other visits to Shakahari here and here.

February 14, 2008: Vege2Go

Vege2go opened in Brunswick less than a fortnight ago with a disproportionate amount of internet buzz. Their shiny website, myspace and Facebook presence (?!), and tendency to leave bloggers crazy-enthusiastic comments no doubt helped. Consequently they've already been reviewed by Kiki, UM and FoodieFi. We don't have a lot to add, but here's a few notes.

The Good:
  • A bright, happy interior with all meals on display and incredibly friendly, helpful people who'll serve them to you.
  • Fast and cheap - a full stomach will only cost you $10 and 5 minutes of waiting.
  • It's the most nutritious-looking fast food I've seen in yonks - a rainbow of beautiful salads and no glistening oil in the hotbox.
  • Pesto mushrooms.
  • All vegetarian, with a number of gluten-free and vegan options.
  • Pesto mushrooms.
  • Did I mention the pesto mushrooms?
The Bad:
  • Foods that have been loitering in a display case inevitably don't have the greatest texture. For example, my calzone was reheated in a sandwich press and as a result had a hard, chewy crust.
  • The flourless chocolate cake really lacked flavour. What was all that brown, if not cocoa?
The Ugly:
  • While Vege2go touts its dedication to vegetarianism and the contribution this makes to sustainability, we had to rely on plastic cutlery even while eating in. (We got real plates, though, and a real fork for dessert - weird, huh?) This also necessitated a hands-on approach to devouring the calzone.
Vege2go offers the kind of food we like to make at home, and I think we'll be better off continuing to make it at home. However it's an excellent alternative the multitude of fast foods out there and on that basis I'm hoping they'll make a killing (erm, so to speak).

Address: 452 Lygon St, Brunswick East
Ph: 9384 6200
Unlicensed
Price: vege meal $8.95-$13.95
Website: www.vege2go.com.au

February 13, 2008: Cherry & vanilla ice cream

So I have a new and completely inessential appliance...

It's my second ice cream maker.

The first one churned out many, many batches of sweet cold goodness. But it's not been looking good lately, with the few scratches on the inner metal wall developing into potholes. My decision to update proved to be a good one, three times over. First, I found a very similar model for $10 less than I paid for my original churner seven years ago. Even better, it's much much quieter. Finally, I pulled out my old canister when I got home and found that one of the potholes was seeping a clear, viscous liquid. Ewww. That should not be getting churned into my dessert.

So instead this batch of cherry and vanilla ice cream went into my new clean machine. I used the vanilla component of this raspberry ripple ice cream recipe - it's now my favourite base and conveniently uses whole eggs! - and just dabbed it with teaspoons of sour cherry jam as I poured it into a box. The result is rather special, with my new churner giving lighter, softer ice cream than I've made for a few years.

Now I have an extra reason for hoping summer will stick around a little longer.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

February 13, 2008: White gazpacho

So I was after a light weeknight dinner, with greens and grapes in the fridge leftover from eating this salad on the previous night. Enter a white gazpacho recipe from Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once. But its name and temperature were going to be a hard sell with Michael. I innocently suggested we try a "garlicky bread soup", he agreed, and we split the shopping. He wasn't thrilled when he discovered we'd be eating a cold soup that didn't contain any veges. But what did he think when he tasted it?

The white gazpacho was weird. But good. But weird. But GOOD. I could really see the attraction of serving it small in shot glasses as Haalo did - the fresh garlic is really punchy, too punchy to eat by the bowlful for me. (However Michael will eat garlic in almost any dosage...) I'd love some toned-down roasted garlic for the big-bowl version. The fresh greens and grapes were a great side, and they started me thinking about how this recipe might be transformed into a salad dressing.

Curious? You can get the recipe for yourself at Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once.

February 11, 2008: Bollywood banquet

We decided to make the final round of our SBS inspired Bollywood meals a bit special, and invited a gang of people around to enjoy Dhoom, an unintentionally hilarious 'fast paced motorcycle-robbery drama'. The movie was a hit (particularly the boat chase) and fortunately the food we'd prepared measured up.

As we were entertaining a few people, we needed to make sure we picked recipes that easily scaled up to feed 8 rather than 2 and were guaranteed to be delicious. Luckily, we have just the recipes: palak paneer and spiced chickpeas, both from our Mondo Organics Indian cooking class. We've made these trusty recipes many times, and they never disappoint. Cindy capped things off with a reprise of her Indian mango rice pudding, which cooled everyone down as Dhoom hotted up.

Now we've just got to figure out what to cook when we hire out Dhoom 2.

Friday, February 15, 2008

February 10, 2008: Sugardough II

Sunday morning was time to bike it to Brunswick for some groceries (Michael will show you why in his next post), and we stopped off first at Sugardough for breakfast. It's been a while since we last visited - over a year, in fact! - and it's been renovated a little since then. The indoor seated area has been extended to accommodate perhaps 8-12 more people and the pretty dessert display I photographed last time has stretched proportionally. It still has that style of a tea party with charmingly mismatched cups, but it isn't overly twee. The cakes and pastries look real and homemade and just a little bit lop-sided.

The breakfast menu is short but appetising. The two dishes featuring eggs come with pork products, so instead Michael ordered poached pears and mascarpone on toasted ciabatta ($7.50), an excellent combination of sweet, creamy and chewy with a tangy twang.


Things got even more decadent with my two enormous slices of toasted brioche with nutella ($4.80). The brioche was appropriately buttery and they really didn't skimp on the hazelnut spread. This was so gratifyingly rich that I couldn't finish my second slice (though I did quietly scrape most of the nutella off it!).

There is muesli on the menu if you're after something more restrained, but why should you be when you're in a bakery? And even though Sugardough comes up short for a savoury vego breakfast, we are entirely spoiled for choice at lunch time. Pasties, soup, sandwiches and multiple kinds of quiche and frittata all come in meatless varieties - just be sure to save room for dessert.

(You can read about our previous visit to Sugardough here.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

February 9, 2008: Cafe Zum Zum



It's taken us a shamefully long time to make our way to Cafe Zum Zum - a place that gets both three stars and a giant 'V' in the Cheap Eats Guide and is all of 800m from our house. For some reason everything fell into place on Saturday and we finally made our way there. Not without a short detour via Zucca, another semi-fancy place on Rathdowne Street starting with 'z'. When will Cindy learn not to trust me when I tell her, "I know where I'm going."? Thankfully it was only a short detour and, once I'd recovered from my confusion, we mosied north along Rathdowne until we stumbled onto the correct venue.

Cafe Zum Zum is quite small and quite popular, meaning disorganised people like us turning up without a booking on a Saturday night are taking a fairly big risk. We were able to get away with just a fifteen minute delay while a prime footpath table was vacated for us, but for future reference: make a booking! A perusal of the entree side of the menu demonstrated how they'd earned their Cheap Eats 'V' - more than half of the dishes were vego. The mains were less veg-friendly, with just a tempting sounding tagine scattered amidst the lamb and seafood. Cindy convinced me not to order the tagine (which wasn't easy - it had pickled chillies in it!) and we instead decided to share four of the entrees between the two of us. We were tossing up between three and four, but the waitress reckoned that three would fall short. Either she's a big eater or she suckered us in - three would have done the job perfectly. Anyway, choosing four meant we got to sample a bit more of the menu, and walking away with your belt straining is a small price to pay for a more complete experience.

Things started off in the pleasing light of a summer's evening with our first two dishes: Sambousik (feta and mint pastries) and fatteh (warm chickpea salad mixed with yoghurt and tahini dressing, servied with toasted Arabic bread).

The little pastries were an exquisite start to the meal, somehow managing to seem light and almost healthy, despite being made of little more than pastry and cheese. The pastry was the key I think - crisp and airy without any dense sogginess. The cheese and mint mixture was light as well, crumbling in your mouth perfectly. A good start.

The fatteh was almost as good. It's reminiscent of the famous Moroccan Soup Bar chickpea thing, but the dressing's a bit runnier and it has a nice layer of fresh tomato and parsley on the top. There are some fantastic little chips of crisply fried bread scattered throughout and some less crispy pita triangles on the side. I'm not sure it quite tops the Morrocan Soup Bar's effort, but it certainly comes close.

Unfortunately as the night went on, the sun went down, and we were left sitting under some fairly unappealing blue-coloured fluoro lighting (similar to the lights in public toilets that are meant to make it difficult to inject drugs). While the lighting doesn't really kill the mood, it certainly kills the photos, and we ended up only able to salvage a decent picture of one of our last two dishes. We'd ordered the Felafel (with tahina sauce) and the Portabello Mushrooms (sauteed with coriander, capsicum and pomegranate essence).

The felafel came out first, smothered in tahini and dusted with paprika. The felafel balls were impressive, but were topped by the thick, strongly flavoured tahina sauce. The whole dish was another winner, and it was at this point that both Cindy and I started to fill up. Which was unfortunate, because the bulkiest dish was yet to come.

The mushrooms were too dark to be pictured in the fading light, and were a bit too dense for us to really enjoy on top of the rest of our meal. The flavour was interesting - much sweeter than I expected, with the pomegranate and capsicum quite influential. It's hard to know whether it was just our fullness at work, but these were probably the only disappointment of the night. I'd have quite enjoyed them as a smaller side dish with something else accompanying them, but on their own they ended up being quite hard work. Still, they weren't bad by any means, just not up to the standard of what had come before.

We were too full to sample the dessert menu, but I enjoyed a well made coffee before we strolled back towards home. So once again, The Cheap Eats Guide comes up with the goods - Cafe Zum Zum is well worth a visit, and easily outstrips Abla's as the local Mediterranean restaurant of choice (for vegos anyway). I'm keen to return and try the tagine, and I wouldn't be surprised if Cindy fancied the panfried haloumi cheese with zaatar. We'll keep you posted.

Address: 645 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North
Ph: 9348 0455
BYO wine only (they have a small wine list and a few beers available)
Price: Starters: $9.50-$13.00, vego main: $18.50

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

February 8, 2008: Nachos, Cindy-style

On Friday we had a nerdy night in, eating nachos on the couch while watching Dr Who on DVD. While half the point is to be slothful and self-indulgent, I don't think that nachos need to be a complete guilt trip. Chips and cheese are essential of course, but I like to fill out the middle with refried beans and chopped veges. It takes a little longer than the version I usually encounter at pubs - consisting of supermarket salsa, oily cheese and sour cream - but you can still prepare it within 30 minutes and I reckon you'll be far more satisfied with the result. To speed things up a little, you can layer up the diced veges raw rather than pre-cooking them.

This would be delicious with home-made salsa, but that would make it even more time consuming. Instead Michael picked out the Chilli Factory's capsicum salsa to serve on the side.

Nachos, Cindy-style

1 red capsicum
1 medium zucchini
~6 mushrooms
a splash of olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
750g can kidney beans (or black beans, if you can find them), drained
a few shakes of powdered garlic
a few grinds of pepper
200g packet corn chips
1 cup grated cheese
salsa, to serve
sour cream or avocado, to serve (I know you want both, but you don't need that much fat. Really!)

Finely dice the capsicum, zucchini and mushrooms. Heat the oil in a large frypan and cook the capsicum over medium heat until soft. Add the zucchini and mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes. Stir in the minced garlic and cook for one last minute, then transfer the veges to a plate or bowl.

Throw the beans into the frypan and stir them around for a minute. Add half a cup of water, and give them a bit of a mash. Stir and mash and add extra water to get a consistency that you like - I like a bit of texture to remain, so I don't mash too much. Stir through the powdered garlic and pepper, then take them off the heat.

Get yourself a baking tray with walls about 2 inches high. Spread the chips in a layer over the bottom of it. Next layer the beans over the chips, then the veges on top of the beans. Finally, sprinkle over the cheese.

Put your nachos under the grill until the cheese melts, about 5-10 minutes. Keep a close eye on them because the time required is highly sensitive to the distance to the grill element and its temperature.

Serve with salsa, sour cream or avocado, forks and napkins.

Monday, February 11, 2008

February 4, 2008: The East Brunswick Club

Edit 22/05/2012: The EBC has now closed, but most of the menu has migrated to The Cornish Arms.
We had another shot at a vege dog little more than 24 hours later, on Monday night. At this time, we'd arranged to meet up with Mike and Jo-Lyn, Tracy and Lee and Daniel for the East Brunwick Club's weekly special of free pool, $10 jugs and $10 hot dogs. Ten bucks is arguably a fair bit to ask for a hot dog, but as you can see they come with chips and salad. There are a few different varieties as well - cheese kransky, not-so-American chilli, old skool, Greek style and, most importantly, the Not-Dog.

So, how'd it measure up?
  • Chips: satisfactory, though not awesome. To be fair, though, the bowl of chips we ordered earlier were excellent so there's obviously some fluctuation.
  • Salad: great.
  • Frank: one standard-size, exactly what we were looking for yesterday.
  • Toppings: no sign of the promised "garlic mushrooms, roasted vegetables and melted imported Vegan cheese", just ketchup'n'mustard. The condiments were fine, but seriously - what gives?
  • Bun: fancy sourdough. Cool for a gourmet sandwich, but impractically chewy here.
The vege dog of choice clearly still resides at Bowl of Soul. But it's worth noting that the East Brunswick Club offers a number of other veg*n-friendly meals on their standard menu, including a $17 vegan 'chicken' parma. It cannot go untested! (Nor has it, really - Harriet and Kristy already love it.)

Address: 280 Lygon St, East Brunswick
Ph: 9388 2777
Licensed
Price: not-dogs $10, other veg mains $10-17
Website: www.eastbrunswickclub.com

Saturday, February 09, 2008

February 3, 2008: Khatti mithi masoor dal plus leeks in chickpea flour with sweet red pepper


The Indian food is coming thick and fast at the moment with thematically appropriate meals for SBS's weekly Bollywood movies. This week the movie was Devdas, the most lavish and expensive Bollywood film of all time (full disclosure: it's also one of the longest and we're still getting through it on tape). To match, I went for a lavish meal: dal from our Oxfam calendar and a vegie dish from Mridula Baljekar's trusty low-fat Indian vegetarian cookbook.

The dal was nice and simple and was meant to be sour, sweet and hot. To be honest it was mostly sour (tamarind puree) and tangy (ginger), but that's probably mostly due to my lax measurements. Despite not quite measuring up on the 'hot' front, this was one of the better dal recipes we've come across - maybe not quite up to these standards, but then there's no can of coconut milk in this one to fill us up with creamy, fatty goodness. Anyway, this was basically all about the ginger and tamarind flavours, and from my point of view, that can only be a good thing.

The second dish for the night was much more complicated. While I was getting all the ingredients together, I realised I had no real idea of what this dish was even supposed to look like, let alone how it would taste. Indeed, even after I'd got about three-quarters of the way through preparing this, I thought it was going to be a complete failure. The thing to remember is: leeks shrink. A wok overflowing with leeky bits and looking pretty uninspiring, quickly became a dense and tasty mush of leek with generous splashes of capsicum-provided colour livening things up. Lucky. It's hard to describe how this turned out, it was kind of chewy and full of spicy flavours, with the leek flavour notable but not as overpowering as I'd feared. It worked really well as a side to the dal, but might be a bit much on its own.

It's worth noting that it works really, really well as filling in a pastry, as Cindy demonstrated a few days later.


So, the recipes:

Khatti mithi masoor dal

225g red lentils
8 cloves of garlic
2.5cm piece of fresh ginger (I think I used something roughly twice this size)
2 dried chillies
1.5 teaspoons cumin seeds
1.5 teaspoons tamarind concentrate
1 tablespoon brown sugar
400ml water
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped

Put the lentils and the water in a pot and bring to the boil. Add turmeric and a dash of salt and simmer for 10 minutes or so.

Grind the garlic cloves, ginger, chillies and cumin seeds to a rough paste in a mortar and pestle.

Heat a little ghee or oil in a frying pan and add the spice paste. Fry for a minute or so (stirring) with a splash of water if things start to stick.

Stir the fried spice paste into the lentil mush along with the tamarind and sugar. Stir well and simmer until the dal has reached the consistency you like. We like it pretty mushy, so I simmered for maybe 15 minutes. You could get away with just a couple of minutes if you liked your lentils to retain a bit more texture.

When it's ready to go, stir through the coriander and serve it up.


Leeks in chickpea flour with sweet red pepper

4 leeks (seriously - I was sure this was going to be too many, but remember: they shrink!)
1 red capsicum
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
10 fenugreek seeds
8 cloves of garlic, peeled and chrused
1 dried red chilli, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves
3/4 cup chickpea flour (besan), sifted.

Trim the green bits and the roughest root sections off the leeks and slice them in half longways. Wash them thoroughly and then chop them finely.

Remove the seeds from the capsicum and chop it into 1 inch strips.

Heat the oil in a wok and add the mustard seeds. As soon as they pop, lower the heat and add the cumin and fenugreek seeds, plus the garlic. Stir-fry for about a minute.

Add the crushed chilli, the leeks, capsicum and salt. Increase the heat and stir-fry the whole lot for at least five minutes. It took us a bit longer because there was too much food mass for our wok - maybe 10 minutes.

Add the coriander and a splash of water and then sprinkle in the chickpea flour, stirring it evenly through the vegetables. Cook for another minute or so, stirring well.


We love our legumes, but none could be more devoted than Susan, the Well-Seasoned Cook! She's hosting a beany blog event this month, called My Legume Love Affair. Make sure to visit her website later this week for many more delicious dishes.

Friday, February 08, 2008

February 3, 2008: Walker's Doughnuts

This little piece of Americana is perched right next door to where's the beef? favourite, Lord of the Fries. Most obviously, Walker's sells doughnuts, and you can read reviews of them at Tummy Rumbles and Mmm... doughnuts. And while I'm not a soda connoisseur myself, some of you might also be interested to know that Walker's drinks fridge includes cans of Dr Pepper, and well as cherry and vanilla-injected Coke and Pepsi products.

But, as you can see from the picture, we were there for the hot dogs, because Walker's will substitute a vegan frank into any of their ketchup'n'mustard-laden menu items at your request. (However I doubt there are many folks out there ordering a Double Bacon Big Boy in the tofu model.) You're looking at Michael's New York Onion Relish ($4.95), topped with spicy onion relish, cheese and mustard. My Veg-o-rama Deluxe ($4.75) just had ketchup and mustard. We thought the toppings and buns were fine and they generously put two standard tofu franks into each serve. But the franks themselves were bad news; greyish, plastic-y and lukewarm. (I reckon the Sanitarium ones I've prepared at home are better.) It mattered little to Michael, with his bountiful toppings, but I was disappointed.

Props to Walker's for being so vege-friendly - shame about the execution though. Back to the burger for me!

Address: Shop 9/2 Elizabeth St, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9662 2254
Price: veg hot dogs $4.75-5.10

February 3, 2008: Butterfly Cafe

Update 31/12/2014: Butterfly Cafe is closed, replaced by Roasted Coffee Bar

After months of vague intentions and a fulsome recommendations from Hayley, we finally made our way out to Camberwell to check out the Sunday Rotary market. On the way, we swung by the Butterfly Cafe, as recommended by Claire, the Melbourne Gastronome. It's a nice little cafe, with some attractive outdoor tables and cute interior decorations. The menu is just a blackboard in the corner and it's all counter-ordering and casualness. The vego menu options were pretty limited: eggs florentine, porridge, fruit salad and the couple of toast-based treats that we went for.

I had the mushrooms, fetta and thyme on toast ($12), which was pleasant enough without really winning me over. The toast was thick and grainy, and everything on top was cooked impressively enough, it was just a little on the small side and a tad uninteresting. I reckon for $8 it would have been a huge success, but there are some pretty good brekkies around for $12 and this didn't quite cut it.

Cindy had the avocado and tomato salad, also on thick chunks of toast. It all looked pretty good to me (except for my tomato issues) - generous slatherings of avocado and huge tomato quarters and a few leaves of basil leaves seasoned with a splash of lemon juice. It was all very tasty, but like me, Cindy was hungry again much sooner than after our usual bought breakfast feasts. So, we were agreed: the food here was fine, but the servings a little small and the choices not particularly inspiring. Still, they are working out of a kitchen the size of a phonebox, so asking for dozens of options is probably a little demanding.

The post-breakfast market visit was a roaring success: it was nice to see second hand goods selling for genuinely second hand prices - not a $10 used book to be found.

Address: 25 Cookson St, Camberwell
Ph: 9882 1649
Price: $5-12