Thursday, August 31, 2006

August 24, 2006: Catering for Carol

We arranged to have Carol over for dinner on this night, to thank her for her generosity during our first couple of weeks in Melbourne. During our time in her house, we noticed her smallish appetite and addiction to avocado and crackers before dinner. Thus we decided to prepare a few rounds of nibbly food instead of an elaborate main meal. During the day Michael made pesto and dukkah in his prized mortar and pestle. (Dukkah is a Middle Eastern spice mix, best mopped up using toasted Turkish bread dipped in olive oil.)

(The recipes are included at the end of the post.) Carol arrived with the un-yuppie contributions of Cheezels and Snack chocolate, and I demolished about two thirds of the Cheezels before I even looked at Michael’s earthy gourmet creations. (Despite the overall tone of this blog, I’m not much of a food snob. My most craved food is probably chips.)

Our after-thought of a main course was an encore performance of the marinated tofu, this time with ginger in the marinade, with some carrots, bok choy and a wedge of lemon on the side.

The original dessert plan was to visit Koko Black, but it was a dreary cold evening and we picked up some treats from Brunetti before Carol arrived instead.

I carefully cut the cherry almond tart and sticky date pudding into thirds, unsure of how to deal with the chocolate cannoli. The sticky data pudding was unusually encased in shortcrust pastry, with a dense date-and-walnut centre and sticky sweet caramel topping. The cherry tart had more shortcrust pastry, an almond meal filling that tasted distinctly of amaretto, a layer of custard, and a few sour cherries and flaked almonds on the top. At this point the dilemma of how to neatly divide the cannoli was superseded by the dilemma of how to fit them into our full stomaches. The solution was to wrap up one cannoli and send it home with Carol, while stashing the other one in the fridge.

Pesto
(we adapted this from Diana’s kitchen. Her recipe has more garlic and uses a food processor instead of a mortar and pestle.)

Ingredients:
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, finely minced

Pummel the basil in the mortar until it’s mushy. Add about a 1/3 of the pine nuts and a clove of garlic and pummel some more. Add about a 1/3 of the parmesan cheese, pummel, and drizzle in some of the olive oil. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, and don’t use all of the oil if you’re happy with the consistency. (Extra oil probably helps preserve the pesto if you’re not going to use it all straight away.) Reduce the garlic further if you want to interact with anyone else for the next 24 hours.

Diana says, “Basil pesto keeps in refrigerator one week, or freeze for a few months.”


Dukkah
(This recipe is copied directly from the Australian magazine, January 28-29 2006)

Ingredients:

65g sesame seeds
30g coriander seeds
15g hazelnuts
2 teaspoons ground cumin
sea salt, to taste

Roast the seeds, nuts and cumin separately in a small dry frying pan over a low heat until fragrant. Don’t let them become too dark. Pound everything together in a mortar and pestle until finely crushed but not pulverised. Mixture should be dry rather than a paste. Season to taste with salt then store in an airtight container until required. Serve with warm fried tortillas or warm pita bread.

Tip: dukkah is also lovely on roasted or grilled vegetables or warm wilted spinach.

August 23, 2006: CINDY WINS BET, CHOCOLATE

Michael bought me this chocolate after he lost a bet against me (he reckoned he could reach the ceiling in our lounge room while standing on a chair). From the top, it looks like some pretty good quality dark chocolate:

From underneath it looks much more interesting:


The label indicates that he bought it from Koko Black, and I’ll certainly be giving them a more extensive review in the future. The chocolate was indeed good quality, with none of the greasy texture that vege-oil chocs have. The candied orange pieces were tart and not too sugary, the almonds didn’t have the strong roasted taste that I love, but this was probably preferable in combination with the orange.


I’ll be pleased if we can stretch this block out to 3 sittings.


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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

August 23, 2006: Mexicana

Given all the spare time I’ve had while waiting to start my new job, I’ve been trying to come up with some vaguely interesting things to cook for dinner. Our discovery of a Spanish/Mexican deli nearby prompted me to scour our recipe books for meals containing black beans and chipotles.

While nothing was quite what I was after, I decided to combine a black bean and sweet potato hash from our Moosewood book with a tortilla stack recipe from one of Kurma’s books. The meal itself was pretty straightforward – sweet potato cubes are cooked up with black beans, onion, garlic and cumin and then served on shallow-fried tortillas with salad and sour cream.

The hash mix was supposed to include jalapenos, but I substituted in some of the sauce that the chipotles (which I’ve just discovered are actually smoked jalapenos – you learn something new every day) came in (called adobo sauce). This gave the whole mix a faint of spicy-smoke flavour – reminiscent of hot salami more than anything else. I foolishly spooned a couple of the chipotles on the top of my meal and was forced slather on the sour cream to counteract the pepper power. The whole meal could probably be made more delicious with the addition of a couple of fatty extras: grated cheese and avocado, but I’d still consider it a success.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

August 20, 2006: Tofu can be tasty!

Tofu's naturally pretty bland and it's not often that I get excited about it. We once went to a get-together where there was some fine barbequed tofu marinated in a tomato-based mix, and tempura-battered silken tofu can be fantastic. (Maybe that's just the deep-fried bit, though.) Tonight we randomly developed a delicious tofu recipe of our own. It isn't deep-fried, but it appeals for the same reason.

1. Gently drain a 500g block of tofu and slice it into large bite-size pieces. I prefer the smooth, slightly jelly-ish texture to the super-firm crumbly for this kind of thing.

2. Marinate the tofu in soy sauce, a bit of rice wine, a squeeze of lemon juice and some ground black pepper, for about half an hour. Turn the tofu pieces occasionally to evenly coat.

3. Let the excess liquid drip off each piece and dust them with flour.

4. Fry ‘em in sesame oil. Turn them over once or twice, gently.

Eat up! We had these with fresh salad:


I reckon they might make a reasonable fish substitute, served with lemon wedges, chips and salad. A bit of ginger in the marinade could inspire an Asian-style meal.

This unexpected success was followed by a mystifying failure. I’ve been muddling my way through fruit crumble without a recipe for a while, producing a variety of tastes and textures, all quite enjoyable. I was sure this crumble mix would be a winner (I tasted more of the uncooked mix than strictly necessary) yet after 10 minutes in the oven I had completely blackened the top and converted our fancy electric oven into a pungent smoke machine. If anyone has any particular advice regarding the use of fan-forced ovens, please send it this way.

Monday, August 28, 2006

August 20, 2006: The Vegie Bar

The Vegie Bar is another popular establishment that we first visited with Krusty and Jason last year. As the name suggests this is an entirely vegetarian restaurant. In the first two minutes that we sat with our menus, we were greeted by two different waiters offering to take our order or at least get us some drinks. I was overwhelmed by the huge list of juices, smoothies, cocktails and hot drinks even before I got a handle on the dozens of options for lunch. I had forgotten how cheap it was! As little as $3.50 for an entrée, and no more that $11.50 for a full meal.

We both drank raspberry lassis, which included apple juice and honey as well as the usual fruit and yoghurt. Michael had a modest and tasty plate of marinated pan-seared tempeh and asian greens. I ordered the mid-priced kofta wrap and received an enormous parcel of roti bread, perhaps the size of a brick. Inside were two crusty tennis ball-sized vege fritters, nutty and roundly spiced, definitely some of the best kofta I’ve ever eaten. They were complemented by fresh salad and a yoghurt dressing. The meal was undoubtedly excellent value, and I would have been prepared to pay the same price for a wrap of half the size that I could hold in my hands.

Address: 378 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Ph: 9417 6935
Licensed
Price: small mains $5.50-8.50, regular mains $10.50-11.50
Website: www.vegiebar.com.au

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

August 18, 2006: Brunetti

After enjoying as much of Michael’s curries as my spice-meter could take, I somehow talked him into a repeat visit to Brunetti for a late-night dessert. Well, late by Brisbane standards: Brunetti has been swarming with people on the nights that we visited at 10:30 and then 11:30, to the point where we were struggling to find a table.

Another attempt to capture immense variety of sweets within:


This time they tempted Michael, too.


He ordered the pear and cheese crumble in the background. I didn’t manage to sneak a bite before he’d gobbled it up, remarking on the richness of the ricotta and restrained sweetness provided only by the fruit.

The main feature is a slice of Opera: almond sponge with alternate layers of chocolate and coffee cream. I wasn’t completely sold on the texture of the cake: sponge that thin seems more like soggy pastry to me. The creams were extravagantly rich and a delight almost until the end, when it was almost too much for me. Another slightly less-than-perfect Brunetti experience than hasn’t diminished my intentions to visit again. And again.

Address: 194 - 204 Faraday Street, Carlton
Ph: 9347 2801
Website: www.brunetti.com.au

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

August 18, 2006: Spiced chickpeas with mixed vegetables in karhi sauce

Having settled in properly to our flat, it was time to really test out the kitchen with a more elaborate menu. I opted for an old standard: spiced chickpeas and a yoghurt-based vege curry. The first stage of making the spiced chickpeas (picked up during our Indian cooking course at Mondo Organics) is making lila masala spice paste, which basically involves turning this:
Into this:

This paste (along with a glob of tomato paste and a few extra spices) is combined with cooked chickpeas to make a big, tasty feast. However, the chickpeas are a bit samey and, given my vast amount of leisure time at the moment, I opted to make a mixed vege curry to provide a bit of contrast. This curry is basically a pile of steamed vegetables thrown into a paste made of yoghurt, chickpea flour and a pile of spices.

Usually, the combination of these two dishes is quite delicious – the spicy, tangy chickpeas moderated by the blander, cooling yoghurt based curry. However, things were somehow reversed: the chilli powder I used in the yoghurt curry was a little more powerful than I anticipated, while the ginger in the chickpea dish wasn’t as potent as usual. The vege curry was a bit overpowering for Cindy unfortunately, but I still enjoyed it all (both for dinner and, repeatedly, as leftover lunches).


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Friday, August 25, 2006

August 14, 2006: Spinach Coconut Soup

This was originally intended to record both our cooking and our dining out adventures, but the lack of kitchen facilities has so far been fairly limiting. After three straight days eating every meal out, Tuesday was my chance to christen our spacious new kitchen with a home-cooked meal. To counter the tail-end of the Melbourne winter, I opted for a hearty soup. The recipe came from our Moosewood recipe book and was billed as a fusion between Asian and Australian cooking. It was a fairly simple unblended soup of leeks, garlic, spinach, rice, lemon juice, coconut milk and vege stock along with a few spices. To make sure it filled us up, I picked up a sourdough baguette from one of the local bakeries.

The lemon juice and coconut milk gave everything a bit of a Thai-style flavour, while the leek, garlic and stock were more reminiscent of a traditional European soup. Even with the rice, the whole thing was a little insubstantial and we managed to polish off a fair chunk of the bread as well.


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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

August 13, 2006

Our second day of sampling the local menus…


Breakfast at the University Café , 257 Lygon St Carlton

The breakfast menu is the standard array of healthy muesli, porridge and fruit, hearty cooked breakfasts, and a couple of sugary sweet options, with prices hovering around $10. I couldn’t detect the promised cinnamon in my ricotta pancakes, but they were light and cakey with a generous serving of stewed apple and rhubarb. The food appeared quickly and our waiter courteously stopped by twice to check whether we needed anything, even though the café was quite busy. Definitely good value, even though the menu doesn’t offer any surprises.
Lunch at Sweet Source, 288 Rathdowne St Carlton North

Naturally the name was enough to reel me in. Even so, we actually visited for lunch and I restricted myself to something savoury. Sweet Source has a tempting array of foccacias, pies and frittatas in the display case, and soup and grilled sandwiches on the menu, all at about $6-10. We arrived late and consequently they had sold out of a number of dishes. Michael’s vegetarian pie was delicious and completely devoured by the time an ordering mistake was resolved and my beetroot and goats’ cheese pastry arrived. Thankfully it was worth the wait, with the sweet beetroot layer concealing an even sweeter, softer layer of caramelised onion. The salad, including fennel, radish and a light poppy seed dressing, was also a winner. I’ll be back for more weekend lunches but next time I might avoid the smoggy Rathdowne St seating, order take-away and sit in the nearby park.


Afternoon treat at Brunetti, 194—204 Faraday St Carlton

Our friends Krusty and Jason introduced us to Brunetti when we visited last December, and I was itching to return. This is a huge, bustling establishment with more cakes and espresso machines than I have ever seen in one building. I ordered the relatively modest Sacher, a chocolate and hazelnut biscuit. The chocolate cream centre was divine, but overall I thought the biscuit was too sugary. There are likely to be many future posts regarding Brunetti as I attempt to document its size, energy and variety, and steadfastly sample its desserts.



Dinner at Los Amates, 34 Johnston St Fitzroy

This Mexican kitchen prides itself on traditional rather than Tex Mex cuisine, and the menu includes several funny commentaries on the authentic way to enjoy their food and drinks. We tried our Mexican beer with salt on the rim of the glass and the juice of a lime. There was a good range of vegetarian appetisers and entrees, and three mains priced from $14-19. Then we hit an option we couldn’t pass up: the vegetarian platter for two.

(A comfortable and warmly lit restaurant means uncolourful photos, unfortunately.) With two salsas, guacamole, and sour cream we were able to spice up or cool down every morsel to our taste. We enjoyed trying preparations that extended beyond the usual burritos but found that the bean, mushroom and mixed vegetable fillings didn’t have distinctly different flavours. We cleaned the platter easily, but I was sufficiently satisfied that I didn’t order a spiced hot chocolate afterwards.

August 12, 2006: Inkari

We made the move to our new Carlton home a few days ahead of our belongings, meaning we were forced to endure the Lygon Street eateries for seven consecutive meals. Our first dinner was at the decidedly un-Italian Inkari – a Latin American restaurant specialising in traditional foods from South and Central America and the Carribean (the manager emphatically informed us that they did not sell nachos). The restaurant itself was quite small, with a few tables spilling out onto the footpath and jazzy South American music keeping our toes tapping while we awaited our meals (there was a band scheduled for 9:30, but we are yet to adjust to the lateness of the meals in Melbourne and were out the door well before they came on).

The vegetarian options were limited Cindy and I both ordered hotpot dishes (the other choices being a spinach tart and a couple of salads). The first, humitas (from Argentina and Chile) was based primarily on corn while the quinoa and potato gratin (from Bolivia and Peru) was, as the name suggests, largely quinoa and potato. Both were enjoyable without being particularly striking.

The real reason to visit Inkari is located on the drinks menu. I enjoyed two Paceňas (a Bolivian beer) over dinner and we all picked something out of the enormous list of hot chocolate options for dessert. Cindy had the Aztec Submarine (pictured), made up of dark chocolate, chilli, vanilla and cinnamon, while I opted for the Inkari (basically the same as Cindy’s with the addition of Grand Marnier and orange zest). The combination of chilli and chocolate is surprisingly delicious, with the chilli faintly stinging the back of your throat while the rest of your mouth is savouring the delicious dark chocolate flavour.

Inkari was a fun place to dine and provides a welcome break from the standard Italian fare that takes up so much of Lygon Street. The limited vego options will probably mean that it will be a while before we return for dinner, but I think I can guarantee that we’ll be having the odd post-dinner hot chocolate in the coming months.

Edit 19/12/07: Sadly, Inkari appears to have closed permanently.
Address: 237 Lygon Street, Carlton
Ph: 9349 5500
Licensed
Price: $12-$14 for veg mains
Website: www.inkari.com.au

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

August 7, 2006: Bhoj

In our first homeless weeks in Melbourne we stayed at the Eltham home of Carol, my aunt. We did our best to provide her with grateful dinners but eventually resorted to Indian take-away. Bhoj Templestowe is a sister restaurant to Bhoj Docklands, which was favourably reviewed in Cheap Eats 2006 and we were further enthused by the low prices. We picked up a huge bag of food, including complimentary pappadums and dal.


I chose an appetiser that I’d never seen before, Sounth Papdi. These were small flour shells with a potato filling, topped with a yoghurt sauce and served cold. The shells and filling were quite bland, but fresh coriander and a tamarind tang to the yoghurt gave the papdi flavour. They were a refreshing change from the hot and heavy samosas I usually order from Indian restaurants.


For dinner, clockwise from centre: palak paneer, malai paneer kofta, vegetable korma, saffron rice and garlic nan. The korma was pleasant and mild, with a discernable taste of almonds that I enjoyed. The malai paneer kofta were just cottage cheese chunks floating in overly sweet sauce, not the fried vegetable and nut balls that I expected. The palak paneer, rarely a pretty dish, was my pick of the curries we chose. The balance of spinach and tomato was just right, and it was pungent with garlic. The garlic nan, however, lacked flavour and was a bit rubbery.

If I were staying in Eltham for the long term I might return to Bhoj to sample a few more dishes, but it probably won’t tempt me away from my new Carlton home. If we want more Indian on Carol’s turf, we’ll check out Ginger Garlic next.

Address: Shop 14, 114 James Street, Templestowe
Ph: 9846 7799
Licensed, BYO wine only
Price: $7-$9.30 for veg mains
Website: www.bhoj.com.au

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Food goes in here.

Another day, another blog. This one marks our interstate move to the food capital of Australia (according to one of my co-workers, anyway). It's intended to document our own cooking successes (and some of our failures), as well as the range of restaurants in our new home city. And it'll all be vegetarian.

Friday, August 04, 2006

7:30pm: Dinner at the Fox Hotel

Hopefully you limited yourself to a single corn-dog or maybe a couple of the tofu strips at the Gasometer because you've still got to find room for dinner! The Fox won our hearts on our first trip and we've blogged it five times in the last 12 months. Inside it mixes a fairly grungy bar area with a slightly more formal dining area.

Outside there's a cramped downstairs courtyard (with a weird kind of table-tennis table) and then a roof-top area that is possibly the best place in Melbourne when the spring sunshine kicks in during the weeks after daylight saving starts.

The menu changes with the seasons and there's always a separate vego menu with masses of delicious meals and snacks to choose from (roughly half of it is usually vegan - it's always on their website, so you can suss out your options beforehand). You probably won't have room for snacks or starters, but they do a decent bowl of chips and some pretty excellent tofu and mushroom gyoza.

There's a long list of vego mains, which Cindy and I have almost worked our way through by now - particular highlights include the marinated tofu with wasabi mayo:

The ludicrously mushroom-heavy veg lasagne:

Salt and pepper tofu strips with papaya salad:

Even their vegie stack won Cindy's approval:
In short, we've never been disappointed by the food at The Fox and we've given them plenty of opportunities to let us down.

They've got a good range of beer on tap, the staff are lovely and you can usually squeeze your way in to a table (although if it's a sunny Friday evening and you want to sit on the roof, you should probably book). Veg-friendly pubs are something that Melbourne does amazingly well - we've gone through a serious East Brunswick Club obsession, we've dragged you into the Gasometer for their amazing vegan junk-food, and we've had plenty of other success stories as well. But The Fox is the one we keep coming back to - grab a good seat, a drink and a menu and enjoy yourself.

6pm: Bar snacks at the Gasometer

In the past few years Melbourne's northside pubs have really got their veg*n act together. Two in particular have become firm favourites - the Fox Hotel and here, the Gasometer. Lucky for you they're within easy walking distance of one another so we can stop by both!

I'm suggesting Gasometer first because they do a nice line in bar snacks. For a while there they had deep-fried olives stuffed with cheese (including a vegan version!), there are usually spicy Buffalo tofu strips about and more recently they've been offering cute little pairs of vego corn dogs, with all the ketchup and mustard you could possibly need on the side. The menu might have changed again by the time you visit but I'm willing to bet there'll be something deep-fried and salty on offer that's way better than pub nachos.


Once you've finished that drink,
we'd best move on to the Fox for dinner.

4:30pm: Something sweet from Monsieur Truffe

It's important to plan one's roaming to include a visit to Monsieur Truffe, my favourite chocolatier. With hard work and an excellent product, Thibault Fregoni has spent the years we've lived in Melbourne working up from a small market stall to a cosy Smith St cafe and most recently a larger second premises that will one day be half chocolate factory!

I can only recommend that you order whatever one thing most takes your fancy - every single morsel I've eaten there has been heavenly, though immensely rich. The hot chocolates are as thick, dark and complex as the solid bars, the croissants are burnished brown and shatter into crisp buttery shards, the cakes are gloriously intense. Pick anything, but Just. Pick. One.


Once you're rested head back north along Smith St,
detouring through any laneways you like.

2pm: Roaming the streets

While setting you out without direction onto the streets doesn't make me much of a tour guide, I maintain that (in good weather) it's one of the best things to do in Fitzroy and Collingwood. As a blow-in from up north, I was charmed early by Melbourne's cobblestones, abundant alleys and cute-as-a-button terrace houses.

I'm now a cyclist and far less fond of the cobblestones, and more familiar with the inadequacies of the kitchens and bathrooms behind those pretty terraced façades. But I still enjoy the architecture when I take the time to look at it and I'm far more game to explore the alleys and admire their accumulated street art than I once was. There's only a small risk of encountering a used syringe or stranger urinating - you're many times more likely to discover other like-minded folks with a camera under their arm, checking out the paste-ups, stencils and murals.

Here's a small gallery of stuff we've seen and loved this year. You'll no doubt see many other great pieces - all but the most elaborate commissioned works typically disintegrate or are pasted or painted over in time. There are also plenty of blogs capturing the local street art regularly, including Fitzroyalty, Vetti: Live in Northcote, Black Mark, Streets of Melbourne and MelbourneStreetArt.com.






































Phew! You must be exhausted.
I know the perfect place to take a break.