Thursday, May 31, 2007

May 31, 2007: Leftover makeover - spiced chickpea pastries

On Wednesday night, Michael whipped up a long-time household favourite, spiced chickpeas and stir-fried sweetcorn. On Thursday night I stretched them it to another meal, using the chickpeas as a filling for pastry parcels and serving the sweetcorn on the side, along with some wilted baby spinach leaves. This leftover makeover is prepared almost as often as the original dish!

May 27-28, 2007: Baked passionfruit cheesecake

For a couple of years, I let Michael pick his birthday cake from the Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book (a timeless classic for all ages and almost thirty years old!). Then the train cake almost undid me with stress and I restricted Michael to less imaginatively shaped and more grown-up birthday desserts. This year's selection was the passionfruit cheesecake from Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess. After canned passionfruit pulp let my yo-yos down, I made sure there was time for a trip to the Queen Vic Markets on Sunday morning for the fresh stuff. It was well worth it, though if I made this again I'd probably double the lime juice for even more tang. Otherwise it's just what you'd want and expect from a baked cheesecake: a buttery biscuit base and dense, smooth and rich cake. A little goes a long way, and a lot would make a filling but very naughty dinner (oops, did I say that out loud or just think it?).

This cake needs a bit of prep before you really get cooking and I only got one out of three right. If you're going to give this a go, make sure:
1. You make it a day early. It sets well in the fridge and is easier to serve when it's firm.
2. You've got a roasting dish bigger than your cheesecake tin. This baby gets a water bath as it bakes.
3. You take the cream cheese out of the fridge an hour early to soften. I beat too little while it was cold and didn't get it quite smooth enough. Once the batter was done I ended up straining it to get the clumps out. It turned out fine, but it's sure a nuisance to do (thanks to birthday boy for patiently pouring while I strained).

The recipe makes 8-10 serves and far from tiring of it, Michael gave me an excited thank-you every night the leftovers came out for the rest of the week. Even so, it'll be a while before I allow myself another week-long cheesecake binge.

Baked passionfruit cheesecake

600g cream cheese
150g digestive biscuits
50g butter
9 passionfruit
125g castor sugar
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
200mL double cream
juice of 1/2 a lime (use a whole lime if you like)

Take the cream cheese out of the fridge an hour early to soften.

When the cheese is ready, preheat the oven to 170 deg C. Line a springform tin with foil and make sure it's a thorough job - I used two pieces. Crush the biscuits - I put them, four at a time, between two layers of baking paper and smooshed them with a rolling pin. Transfer the crushed biscuits to a small mixing bowl. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then stir it into the biscuits. (Don't worry if the mix looks a little dry.) Pour the base mixture into the cake tin and gently press it evenly across the bottom of the tin with the back of a spoon.

Scoop six of the passionfruits into a food processor and take 'em for a spin. Strain out the seeds. Hopefully you'll have about 100mL of passionfruit juice remaining. Put the cream cheese into a large mixing bowl and beat it until smooth. (Do it properly, otherwise you'll end up with lumpy bits in the batter. And have to strain the goop later like I did.) Next beat in the sugar, then the eggs and yolks one at a time. Get rid of the electric beater and start hand-stirring, adding the cream, the lime and passionfruit juices. Stir until only just combined.

Pour the cheesecake batter into the cake tin and place it in a larger roasting pan. Boil a kettle-full of water and pour it into the roasting pan, so that it goes half-way up the springform tin. Carry it carefully to the oven and bake it for about an hour until it's set and has browned a little around the edges. Nigella says it should still have "a hint of wobble".

Cool the cake out on the bench for a while, then refrigerate overnight before unmoulding. Scoop the remaining passionfruit over the top to garnish.

May 28, 2007: Laksa

Michael's birthday was actually on Monday and he requested a fairly heavy dessert for the occasion. The dinner decision was left up to me and so I put my mind to finding a meal that would be warming and a bit special yet still leave room for cake. Mindful of Michael's long love of all things curry, I soon realised that laksa could be everything I was looking for. This recipe comes from Kurma Dasa's Vegetarian World Food, a favourite source of inspiration in this house for several years before I became addicted to blogs and bookmarking. There's a lot of chopping, grating and grinding involved but the reward is a huge pot of food (even with the halved quantity I made!), kaleidoscopic with flavours and textures, spices, veges and noodles. On the side were unnecessary but indulgent taro paratha - I've been a fan of the flaky, pastry-like paratha since I first encountered it, but the subtle sweetness of a taro one is new to me and just perfect for a coconut milk curry like this.

Laksa

1/2 cup beans, cut into short lengths
1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
3 dried red chillis
1 1/2 tablespoons oil
1 inch length ginger, peeled and minced
1 inch length galangal, peeled and minced
1 stalk lemongrass, the white inner stem, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup potatoes, cut into cubes
3/4 cup carrot, cut into circles
1 cup vege stock
175g dried rice vermicelli noodles
3/8 cup tamarind puree
1 tablespoon palm sugar
1 teaspoon salt
200g fried tofu, cut into cubes
2 cups coconut milk
To garnish (optional): beansprouts, cucumber cut into matchsticks, lime wedges, sambal oelek (chilli paste)

Steam the beans for ten minutes and drain (or not, if you like them crunchy - I probably won't bother next time).

Roast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and chillis in a small saucepan over low-medium heat for about 5 minutes. Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to grind them to a powder.

Heat the oil in a very large saucepan, then add the ginger and galangal, stir-frying for a few minutes. Add the lemongrass and fry for a further minute. Smells pretty good, huh? Unfortunately dinner's still a fair way off. Add the garlic, give it another minute, then pour in the tomato mush. Cook the tomatoes for 5-10 minutes so that they break down a bit.

Add the roasted spice powder, curry powder, black pepper, potato, carrot and vege stock. Cover and bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 5-10 more minutes, until the veges are at your preferred tenderness.

Cover the noodles with boiling water and let them sit until tender. Drain.

Add the tamarind puree to the curry, then the beans, sugar, salt, tofu and coconut milk. Bring it all to the boil again then take it off the heat. Time to serve up! Put a scoop-full of noodles in each bowl, then ladle the curry over. Garnish and enjoy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

May 27, 2007: Jerusalem artichoke soup

The main reason for our trip to the Queen Vic Markets on Sunday morning was to hunt down Jerusalem artichokes which, it turns out, are neither from Jerusalem or from the artichoke family. Regardless, I'd read that they made a tremendous base for a soup, and some quick googling turned up this recipe at Cook Sister!

We managed to locate some of the 'artichokes' at in the organic section of the markets (I've since noticed that they're everywhere at the moment) and rounded up the rest of the required ingredients. The recipe is pretty simple, although peeling half a kilo of Jerusalem artichokes is a bit painful. Still, once the potato and artichokes are peeled and roughly chopped, it's plain sailing. A bit of frying, some boiling in stock and a quick run through a food processor and you're ready to go.

The end result was a fine soup. The 'artichokes' added a subtle but distinct flavour. It's hard to describe - I wouldn't really compare it to regular artichokes, but can't offer up any better point of comparison. The addition of the brandy was probably unnecessary - I didn't really taste it in the final product and we're now stuck with most of a bottle of very cheap brandy (any ideas on how to use it in cooking would be appreciated), but the cream was a worthwhile addition - smoothing the soup out and adding a bit of richness. Throw in a loaf of walnut and rye bread from one of the QVM bakers, and you've got a comforting and delicious winter meal.

Once again, for those of you who want to try this out, and I recommend that you do, the recipe is here.

May 27, 2007: Invita

Late on Sunday morning, Michael and I walked down to the Queen Vic Markets for some fruit and veg. By the time we'd done a circuit of the delis and a double run of the organic aisle, my appetite was rising and I was keen on lunch. Quick-thinking Michael suggested Invita, a vegetarian cafe I've looked longingly at on at least two previous visits (with a stomach already full of donuts, probably). Their display case is full of soups, salads, pies and patties, all of them looking colourful, fresh and, dare I say it, good for you! (There are also a few sweet treats if it's time for a cuppa.) The menu is mindful of people's various eating quirks and allergies, with a full list of the ingredients in each dish and clear markings of what's vegan and/or gluten free. Above is my corn cake ($10.80, containing onion, capsicum, red kidney beans, corn, cumin, coriander, chilli powder, sweet paprika, rice crumbs, olive oil, avocado, sour cream, sundried tomato and tapioca starch). The extensive list of ingredients couldn't have been combined any better: the thick and slightly crunchy crust gave way to a soft, warm, comforting, wholesome cornmeal interior, dotted with caramelised onion and kidney beans and carrying a surprisingly strong chilli heat. Perfect for a sunny but chilly day. The three generous scoops of salad were great too, bursting with health and dressed lightly and tastefully.

Michael picked out the Shepherd's pie ($11, containing lentils, carrots, pumpkins, celery, onion, cumin, coriander, turmeric, tomato paste, potato, sweet potato, mustard oil, olive oil). He enjoyed the taste but was almost defeated by its volume. Definitely for the hardworking shepherds out there! Invita is a very open, outdoorsy space, perfect for letting the sun and the market atmostphere in and, on this morning, some 'refreshing' breezes. It's inevitable that you'll be sitting in close quarters with some strangers and perhaps overhearing their morning banter. I was bemused that the two groups of customers to use our neighbouring table were in moods ranging from cynical to downright sour. I, meanwhile, felt invigorated by the weather and by the food. Little more than twelve hours after Michael asked, "How will we ever enjoy another meal again after this?" I had my answer: with unpretentious, affordable and healthful food prepared at home and by the likes of Invita.

Address: 76 Therry St, Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne
Ph: 9329 1267
Price: vege lunches ~$8-14
Website:
www.invita.com.au

Sunday, May 27, 2007

May 26, 2007: Three, One, Two


This week brings Michael's birthday and with it, an excuse to splurge on a special meal. After seeing Andrew McConnell judging a charity cook-off last month, we checked out the menu of his Carlton restaurant Three, One, Two and discovered that a vegetarian degustation menu is on offer on Saturday nights. We were both pretty keen for a multi-course meat-free gourmet extravaganza, and my credit card gave its blessing. Unfortunately at 3-4 weeks notice they were all booked out but I optimistically put my name down on a waiting list. I was thrilled to get a call from the restaurant on Thursday: there had been a cancellation and they could fit us in, though we would be dining at the (apparently inferior) chef's table. (For a fleeting moment, I had a bizarre vision of the captain's table on a cruise ship, and wondered what could possibly go on at the chef's table - gritty gossip with McConnell, perhaps sledging Stephen Downes or other celebrity foodies...?) On our arrival we discovered that the chefs' tables are behind the main dining area, sharing a wall with the main kitchen and a room with the two chefs who plate the non-heat-treated dishes. The area is still meticulously decorated and we were very well attended to by the wait staff. I actually enjoyed watching the chefs plate the meals, getting a sneak peek at what might be to come, and I was probably more relaxed here than I might have been in the slightly more formal main dining area.

Michael says: I'm always (i.e. both times) a little uncomfortable settling into a swankier restaurant. The attentive staff and slightly formal air make me feel as though I'm going to say the wrong thing or make a horrible social faux pas (like unfolding my own serviette). Thankfully, the staff don't take things too far and I relaxed into things fairly quickly, helped by the limited choices demanded by the degustation format. Indeed, I put myself completely in the restaurant's hands, opting to sample matched wines with 5 of the courses. Our only choice was whether or not to include the cheese plate in our night's eating. With the whole meal going on Cindy's card, it seemed silly to refuse the cheese for the sake of mere dollars.

Aromatic pumpkin soup with peppers de Padrón

First up were shot glasses filled with pumpkin soup. But not just any old pumpkin soup - the richest, most mouth-watering pumpkin soup I've ever tasted. I think a whole bowl full may have ended up being too much, but this portion size is clearly designed to leave you wanting more. Cindy and I briefly tried to figure out what had been included to produce such a deeply flavoursome soup, but after deciding that a particularly delicious stock was involved, we gave up and just enjoyed it. The soup was served with peppers de Padrón. The waitress told us that they were generally mild and sweet, but that the occasional one was a bit spicy. After a quick google, I've seen them described as "a form of culinary Russian roulette," which probably sums them up better. I chowed down on three of the four on offer, assuring Cindy that they were mild and tasty. Of course the remaining pepper was the 'loaded' one and Cindy bravely bit her lip while our water glasses were being topped up before bursting into a fit of coughing and eye-watering once the waitress had left. It was a tad unfortunate. Unfortunate and funny.


Thankfully the bread and butter turned up at this point and this eased my flaming throat, along with what was probably a glass and a half of water (it was difficult to tell since my glass was never actually less than two thirds full, what with the attentive topping-up).

Heirloom beetroot, horseradish & goats curd
(paired with 2005 Guy Bossard 'Cuvée Classique' Muscadet, Sévre et Maine, France)


This salad is probably the most 'molecular gastronomy' dish I've ever eaten. The beetroot was first most recognisable as a scattering of tiny sliced circles of crimson and yellow, probably roasted and true to their natural texture. Then it appeared as tiny cubes (less than half a centimetre in dimension) of beetroot jelly and third, a couple of ribbons of dehydrated beetroot. Crisp as dried pasta, these were much more thinly sliced and they almost melted on the tongue. Even more astounding was the dehydrated garlic, resting all innocently like a shard of parmesan. Imagine the taste of roasted garlic, squashed and squashed of all moisture and transformed into a ultra-intensively flavoured miniture pane of glass. It was very cool. The goats' curd also received its own little makeover, appearing as a smear of creamy dressing, and then set into two 'bubbles': again creamy on the inside, but with a membrane that allows you to puncture it with your fork or pick it up whole and let it burst in your mouth. What a dazzling array of textures! As you can see, though, it was hardly filling and we were eagerly anticipating the next course once again.

Warm artichoke and mushroom salad with nettle puree
(with 1999 Leo Buring Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia)

The hits just kept coming with this combination of tender artichokes and baby enoki mushrooms, served up warm with a few generous dabs of pureed nettle. The nettle puree was the key - bright green, salty and the perfect partner to the vegies, particularly the artichoke. Again, the small portions meant that the strong nettle puree was gone before it started to get overpowering. To be honest I can't really remember the wine - it was supposed to be warm and honeyish I think, but my focus was really on the food at this point.

Five spice silken tofu
(with 2006 Freemans 'Fortuna' (white blend), Prunevale, Australia)

Things were in full flow at this point, with the first three dishes all hitting the mark. The degree with which we were looking forward to our next course is best summarised by the lack of a photo to accompany this section of the post. I can blame my ongoing wine consumption, but Cindy has no such excuse. I think this was the first of our two 'mains': a cube of tofu coated in five-spice and carefully fried so that there was a crisp outer layer and an almost liquid centre. Accompanying the tofu was a gourmet interpretation of kim chi - shredded cabbage with a slightly vinegary and chilli sauce, along with a citrus-y green puree that we guessed was based around lemongrass. The tofu was tremendous (although not an order of magnitude better than Cindy's efforts) and the dish was made by the combination of spice, vinegar and citrus that added the flavour. The five-spice was a little less present than I had hoped, but this was still a success and had me looking forward to what was to come.

Gnocchi with walnuts, truffle and truffle vinaigrette
(with 2005 Curly Flat Chardonnay, Macedon Ranges, Australia)

Although it was certainly very tasty, this was probably my least favourite dish of the night. My main complaint is that the sauce was unrelentingly thick and cheesy. The gnocchi were good, but not incredible (Mike B, you make lighter, fluffier gnocchi than McConnell's staff!). I couldn't really taste the vinaigrette, but the wafer-thin truffle slice was delicate and delicious. The paired chardonnay was really strong (I'm so not a wine critic, don't you know?) and effectively cut through the dominating cheese. After I'd finished this plate, I was glad that the procession of savouries had peaked because for the first time I could sense that my stomach was filling up.


St Agur with poached quince, toasted walnuts & pain d'épices

I am not a fan of blue cheese. Like olives, I think I can understand what the appeal is for a foodie, yet I can't genuinely enjoy it myself. However, like coffee, I'm now thinking that I could develop quite a taste for it by starting with some really good stuff. This blue cheese was quite strong but also very, very creamy. The sweet quince, tangy sauce and accompanying honey-spiked sauternes taught me just how blue cheese can and should be enjoyed.

Lemon chiboust with vodka granita and poached rhubarb
Those two cheese-heavy dishes must've slowed down my brain function, 'cause again I forgot to take a picture of this course. Imagine a small and sophisticated ice-cream sundae. At the top was the fire-and-ice cleansing of a teaspoonful of vodka granita. Then a few aromatic saffron threads balanced on a single 2-inch cord of poached rhubarb and a whipped flavoured cream. The cream was sweet, but had another subtle note that we didn't recognise, something almost herbal but entirely complementary. Further down was some crunchy, chewy crumbled semolina cake and the 1-inch cube chiboust, a whipped egg-white cream flavoured with lemon zest. This entire dish barely filled the glass to half-way and it was a tart and refreshing follow-up to the gnocchi and cheese courses.

Chocolate ganache with parsnip cream, malt milk chocolate parfait & tarragon
(with 2006 Bress 'The Kindest Cut', Harcourt, Australia)

The big finish was suitably impressive: rich chocolate ganache, malted milk chocolate parfait, some crumbled chocolate, a tiny sprig of tarragon and a drizzle of parsnip cream. It summed up the meal, a smattering of classic stuff done really well (ganache), some slightly interesting twists (frothed milk and parfait) and a few wacky ideas that work really well (parsnip cream and tarragon). The accompanying wine (Bress 'The Kindest Cut') was a great match - sweet without being cloying - as refreshing as it was desserty. It was a fine finale, leaving me completely satisfied without feeling like my stomach was going to explode.

Michael was so non-explosive that he ordered a coffee, and we received these cute little almond biscuits. As he sipped, he asked ruefully and rhetorically, "How will we ever enjoy another meal again after this?" It was probably the chardonnay (or the riesling, or the sauternes...) talking, but I knew what he meant. We'd been treated to a parade of fascinating tastes, textures and arrangements over the course of three hours. Even a fancy three-course meal seemed monotonous and heavy by comparison. We're not really sophisticated connoisseurs of high-end dining, but I think it will take a lot to find my own birthday dinner to match this one. Maybe if I'm lucky Three, One, Two will have a new season vegetarian degustation by then.

Updated (29/6/09): Andrew McConnell has packed up Three, One, Two and opened Cutler and Co on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy.

Address: 312 Drummond St, Carlton
Ph: 9347 3312
Licenced
Price: vegetarian degustation $90-105 per person, matching wines $60 per person
Website: www.threeonetwo.com.au

May 25, 2007: Black Ruby

Between a couple of outings on Thursday evening and a large dollop of forgetfulness, Cindy and I woke up on Friday with nothing in the house for brekkie. I'm a firm believer in the whole 'most important meal of the day' spiel and we decided that we could afford to be a little late for work in order to make sure we had the sustenance we needed to get through the day.

We've been working through a few of the breakfast places around here, but have failed to really dive into the Rathdowne Village strip (with one slightly disappointing exception). Cindy had heard good things about Black Ruby and it was suitably close by so as not to delay our arrivals at our respective workplaces by too much. I resisted the giant sounding vegetarian big breakfast and settled for a couple of fried eggs on toast with a side of mushrooms. It came with a dollop of relish to liven things up and was a pretty satisfactory $10 brekkie without being particularly exciting. Cindy chose the creamy vanilla bean porridge with seasonal fruit and was a tad disappointed. Perhaps naively, we expected 'seasonal fruit' to mean more than a few chopped strawberries. Once she'd polished off the strawberries, there was still three-quarters of a bowl of slightly bland porridge to work through. Not great.

So, two trips to Rathdowne Village and two slightly disappointing breakfasts. I'm pinning my hopes for the entire strip on the Rathdowne Street Foodstore. We'll let you know how it works out.

Address: 344 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North
Ph: 9348 2777
Price: Breakfasts: $8-$15
Licensed and BYO

Saturday, May 26, 2007

May 23-24, 2007: Passionfruit yo-yos

These biscuits have been waiting to be baked in my kitchen for a couple of months. First, ilingc posted a slightly different recipe for yo-yos, and I was reminded of the fruit-free and tooth-achingly sweet ones that my Mum baked when I was a kid. (I think Mum's recipe came from the Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union Cookery Book, and I'm pretty sure that she still makes the occasional batch for my brother.) Then the March edition of Australian Gourmet Traveller got a few more bloggers enthusiastically baking passionfruit yo-yos with white chocolate and passionfruit ganache. This was even more appealing to me, maintaining the buttery shortbread I love while replacing the too-sugary icing with one of my most favourite foods (and words) in the world: ganache. The inclusion of some sour passionfruit juice would surely be the icing on the... erm... biscuit, no?

The best excuse for baking came in the form of an invitation to dinner from my colleague and just-down-the-street neighbour, Mich. Mich isn't a big fan of cocoa so I plotted a batch of these buttery beauties to take over for dessert. They didn't receive a huge reception on the night: Mich had already prepared a tasty and comforting baked vege casserole with dumplings and most of her housemates were too full or too busy to stick around for dessert. Of the box of 10 biscuits, three were eaten and politely enjoyed (and one of those by me!). But the next day, when Mich returned the lunchbox to me, she told me that only one biscuit had remained in the box by breakfast time! I guess her housemates regained their appetites overnight.

My first attempt at yo-yos wasn't perfect, and there are a few things I'll have to work on next time:
  • I like really crumbly, buttery shortbread and these turned out a teensy bit chalky. Michael actually loved the leftover ones he sampled, but I don't think my search for the ultimate shortbread stops here. It's possible that I overworked the dough of an excellent recipe, too.
  • I overcooked the biscuits just a tad, for fear of not cooking them through. They still taste awesome when they start going golden, but this might be affecting the texture and it certainly doesn't look as genteel.
  • I resorted to canned passionfruit pulp over fresh fruit, due to time and shopping constraints. Turns out that canned passionfruit is suspended in sugar syrup, and at best contains 55% fruit. Lame, huh? Consquently there was little to no tang in these biscuits. That's a short-cutting lesson learned for me.
For the recipe, just go and visit Kitchen Wench. Hers is the post I relied upon.

Friday, May 25, 2007

May 22, 2007: Max Brenner


With room left in our stomachs and schedule, Michael and I made our first visit to the Max Brenner chocolate shop in the QV building. This week winter has hit hard for us sensitive Queenslanders and we were keen to snag a seat inside and comfort ourselves with hot chocolate. Much as I love chocolate, I've been in no rush to visit Max Brenner: other chocolate lovers I'm acquainted with, both in the blogosphere and in person, have been fairly indifferent to Max Brenner's brand. And it really is a brand. The alcove of gifts is horrendously overpriced and the website is highly pretentious, in my humble opinion. Nevertheless, the eat-in options are in a comparable price range to Koko Black and other similar chocolatiers around Melbourne. The desserts (in the $7 - 13 range) looked very solidly chocolatey and more than I could handle straight after dinner.

Above is Michael's hot chocolate with orange zest in the Max Brenner patented "hug mug". The mug is a novel idea, but it didn't make up for the weakness of chocolate in Michael's eyes. There was creamy milkiness and a pleasant citrus fragrance, but not enough cocoa to go around. I ordered an even more convoluted take on the hot chocolate, the suckao ($5.50). Here the drink is deconstructed into a small jug of cool milk, a saucer of chocolate buds, and a ceramic setup reminiscent of an oil burner. The method behind this madness is that the milk and chocolate are heated over a tealight candle, with the stirrer also acting as a straw for sipping the resulting hot chocolate. I found the metal straw surprisingly agreeable and our waiter let me know that I could have as many refills of milk as I wished. (Personally I'd prefer a less cute milk jug that might hold more than 70mL of liquid, but that wasn't my most accommodating waiter's fault.) It was a fun and properly chocolatey amusement, but not superior in taste (and certainly not in serving size) than a less imaginative hot chocolate from, say, Koko Black.

My first Max Brenner experience was entirely consistent with the opinions I'd gathered of it beforehand: pleasant but, for all its gimickry, underwhelming. Fortunately, I can speak far better of the proceeding gig. Tim Rogers, a long-time idol of mine, was in fine rambling form on this Tuesday evening and it was a treat to see him in the intimate surrounds of the Bennetts Lane Jazz Club. It's a rare occasion that my dessert is outshone by a subsequent and more pleasing dish!


Address: 25-27 Red Cape Lane, Level 2, QV Square, 210 Lonsdale Street Melbourne
Ph: 9663 6000
Price: hot chocolates ~$5-10
Website: www.maxbrenner.com

May 22, 2007: Breizoz II


With another weeknight gig on the menu, Michael and I returned to Breizoz to sample the savoury crepes (or galettes, as the locals call them). The menu recommends enjoying a galette with cider, and a specially imported one at that ($15.50 per 750mL bottle). Who were we to argue? The traditional brew was a delicate balance of sweet and tart.


We agreed to share two galettes: cheese and leek (from the specials board, ~$12) and mushroom ($8). Another successful balancing act here: the crepes are equal parts crisp and tender, the fillings somewhat salty and fatty but not too much so. We finish feeling filled, but only just - a larger appetite would necessitate two galettes, or at least a diversion to the sweet crepe menu.


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

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

May 21, 2007: Gertrude Street Grub - Bangla Curry Cafe and Sweets

Update, January 24 2013: Bangla Curry Cafe has closed.


Monday brought with it our first real taste of winter for the year and prompted me to venture a little further than usual in search of a suitably warming workday lunch. Bangla Curry Cafe does a daily lunch special: curry, naan, rice and pappadum for $10.95, and it seemed the easiest option. Unfortunately, the special is limited to only a handful of curries - just dal or mixed vegie curry for vegetarians. I opted for the mixed vegie curry - the usual array of potato, peas, cauliflower and mushrooms in a spicey and slightly sweet curry sauce. The bread and rice were fairly standard fare - it was all hearty and warming, but a little on the mediocre side when Fitzroy has so much else to offer (e.g. another leftover-less day today found me returning to Newtown S.C., where the tomato, vegetable and lentil soup was divine).

The thing that sets Bangla apart from the multitude of other Indian places around is the array of sweets on offer at the counter - burfi, jamun, ladoo, halwa and many others. Unfortunately I'm not a huge fan of Indian sweets - perhaps it's worth getting Cindy to drop by one day.

Address: 199 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Ph: 94171877
BYO
Price: Vegie curries: $7-$9, rice/bread etc: $1-$4
Website: http://www.helloindia.com.au/vic/p1.php?accnum=106&currpage=1

Sunday, May 20, 2007

May 19, 2007: Mushroom Manwich


Three reasons why this meal was destined to appear on our table this week:



3. Paul and Freya's Burger Ballyhoo blog event!


One reason why you need to try them RIGHT NOW:

They're freakin' awesome. Washed down with an imported ale, this is posh pub grub in your own home with an unlimited supply of paper napkins to wipe that saucy grin off your face.



Here's the rundown on creating your own not-steak sandwich...

The 'steak'
Get yourself one or two massive portabello mushrooms per person. Brush both sides with a bit of balsamic vinegar, then oven bake or barbeque until tender, brushing occasionally with more balsamic. It'll take less than 15 minutes.

The sauce
Ange's garlic crème recipe over here. You only need a half quantity for 2-4 burgers. The fresh garlic gives it lots of bite: roast your own for a sweeter, wussier version.

The onions
Slow-cook onion rings (half an onion per person) on low heat for as long as you can resist eating them, at least half an hour. Splash a teensy bit of balsamic on and inhale those smoky fumes of caramelisation. Thank the Lord that the word caramel applies even to vegetables!

The bun
You know what you like - choose your own. We had ciabatta rolls.

The salad
Thick sliced tomato and green leaves of your choice.

The sides
More green leaves. Potato wedges, baked in a smidge of olive oil until tender, lightly salted. More garlic crème for dipping those wedges.


If you are crazy enough to have not yet left your seat to make your own manwich, then let me direct you to one more excellent burger/chip combo that will dance in your mouth like Aishwarya Rai: eastern vegetarian burgers with spiced potatoes.

Now go and get burgering!

May 19, 2007: Dessert Pesto


Here's my new invention on a stay-inside Saturday afternoon - dessert pesto. This is not much more than a blended version of the chocolate clusters I recently made, with a bit of cream cheese to bind it together in a spreadable consistency. It's not quite as chocolatey as it looks: the blended dried cherries also added a rich dark taste, texture and colour. I spread it on plain dry (but slightly sweet) biscuits and was in afternoon tea heaven. It was really just an experimental attempt at using up my last small portions of pistachios and dried cherries, but I can see myself pushing this idea further with other fruit and nut combinations: dried apricot and almond, maybe, or dried apple and cashew with white chocolate...?

Dessert pesto

Throw about 2 dessertspoon-fulls of dried cherries in a blender and pulse until mushy. Add an equal volume of pistachios and pulse briefly to break them up a bit. Next add about 20g of dark cooking chocolate and pulse again. Finally, add 1 dessertspoon-full of cream cheese and pulse until just combined. Transfer to a small serving dish and enjoy with plain biscuits.

May 19, 2007: Bo De Trai

After months of vague intentions, Cindy and I finally made the trip to Footscray on Saturday to explore Melourne's mulitcultural heartland. It was an odd kind of day - quite sunny and warm when we left Carlton, but cloudy and windy by the time the bus pulled up in Footscray. The change in the weather really enhanced the feeling that we'd travelled a lot further than five kilometres. After a quick wander through the Little Saigon market, which is filled with unidentifiable fruits and vegetables, Vietnamese hawkers and lots and lots of people, we decided to take a break from the crowds and find some lunch. There are a handful of impressive looking Ethiopian restaurants dotted around the suburb, but Cindy was determined to enjoy some Vietnamese food. Unfortunately, Vietnamese restaurants tend not to be the most vegetarian friendly places in town - the description of the beef pho in the window at Hung Vuong included the words: blood, tendon, offal and pizzle - meaning that we couldn't just wander into one of the dozens of bustling places that we strolled past. Luckily, our Cheap Eats guide came to the rescue - recommending Bố Dế Trai, a restaurant that combines Vietnamese cooking with Buddhist vegetarian ethics.

Emphasising how meat-based Vietnamese food tends to be, the menu was at least 50% faux-meat, with fake abalone, snapper, squid, chicken, duck, pork and lamb on offer (no pizzle though, unfortunately). Despite having spent the week munching our way through gluten pieces and TVP, Cindy and I were both keen to have a crack at some more imitation meat. She went with shredded imitation pork skin served with rice vermicelli and shredded greens. It looked a bit dry to me, but came with a little bowl of sauce that livened things up.

I was going to avoid faux-meat, but there was an article from The Age stuck to the wall advocating the imitation claypot lamb and I was unable to resist. It was a fine choice - a huge hotpot filled to bursting with vegies, crispy 'skin' bits and chunks of tender 'lamb'. The sauce was mild and flavoursome, loaded up with Chinese five spice and light on the chilli. It ended up being too much for me - it really would have sufficed as a lunch-sized meal for both of us - and, as delicious as it was, it's probably put me off any more faux-meat for a few weeks at least.


Which was unfortunate, as our next stop was Vincent's Vegetarian Food, an Asian grocery specialising in faux-meat products. We had a quick browse through the freezer sections, spotting eel, lobster, oysters, fish, beef, ham, pork, chicken, bacon and lamb, and grabbing a few bits and pieces for the (reasonably distant) future. Three cup chicken was something we used to buy fairly regularly from an Asian supermarket in Brisbane and turn into satay dinners, so we grabbed a packet of it. For the sake of variety, we also picked up some vegie sesame fillets (which look a little like the fake-fish of a few weeks ago), some roast 'chicken', a packet of taro paratha and, just because we spotted it, some agar agar (a non-animal based alternative to gelatine).

Loaded down with lunch and a backpack full of fake-meat, it was time to jump back on the bus and return to the more familiar surrounds of the inner-North. Still, it's nice to know that the tastes, sounds and smells of Vietnam are just a 20 minute bus ride away.

Bố Dế Trai
Address: 94 Hopkins Street, Footscray
Ph: 9689 9909
BYO
Price: $5 - $13

Vincent's Vegetarian Food
Address: 353 Barkley Street, Footscray
Ph: 9687 0808
Website: http://www.vincentvegetarianfood.com/

Saturday, May 19, 2007

May 16, 2007: Mushroom paprikash (without dumplings)


My new favourite food blog is Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit, written by the sass-tastic Lindyloo. When I should be concentrating only on my work, I have been sneaking peaks at her archives, checking out the awsome vegan food she and her feller create each weekend, and enjoying her casual and entertaining prose. It was only a matter of time (less than a week, actually) before I'd be trying out one of her recipes, and in this autumn weather it was the hearty mushroom paprikash that I gravitated towards. I've rarely eaten and never prepared savoury dumplings before, so I was keen to have a go at them (as if mushrooms in paprika-spiked gravy wasn't enticing enough!). Unfortunately my dumplings were an absolute disaster! That unmarked jar of flour in the cupboard was always going to be a risk: I could see that it was probably wholemeal, and in hindsight I suspect that it was also self-raising. My innocent-looking dough balls fizzed to almost nothing in the boiling water, and boiled over onto the stove. The paprikash was still delicious without them, for dinner and then reheated and stuffed into a bread roll for lunch the next day.

I'm ashamed to admit that even with these incredible vegan recipes in front of me, I still lazily subbed some dairy (butter, sour cream and milk). I really need to seek and trial some of the vegan alternatives lurking around the supermarket, I know that at least some of them are there! I did, however, trial Sanitarium Tender (wheat gluten, aka seitan) Pieces for the first time. They're canned chunks of imitation red meat packed with a bit of gravy, not as rubbery as some mock meats but rather bland in taste. They suited this dish but really aren't necessary- fleshy mushroom chunks and soft onion loops are more flavoursome and can certainly hold their own.

Mushroom Paprikash

1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons flour
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, sliced into rings
3 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 tablespoons paprika
a shake of chilli powder (if the paprika is sweet)
7 cups mushrooms, chopped into large chunks
1 vegetable stock cube, dissolved in 1 cup of hot water
1 x 415g can wheat gluten pieces (optional)

Combine the sour cream, flour, pepper and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pot, and cook the onions and garlic for a couple of minutes. Add the paprika and chilli and cook for a minute more, slathering it all over the onions. Add the mushrooms and get them coated in orange-spiced goodness too. Add the stock, bring to the boil, and then simmer for about 20 minutes.

Stir through the sour cream mixture and the seitan, if you're using it. Cook further just until heated through. Serve with pasta, bread or dumplings (if you're more skilled than I) - steamed green beans proved to be an excellent sidekick.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

May 14, 2007: Mexican mock meat (and more!)


This is a hodge-podge of a Mexican-inspired meal that evolved from a number of ingredients that Michael and I have picked up over the last few months. Remember the crazy-rich dulce de leche I bought from Casa Iberica a while ago? On the same visit I found a little tetra-pack of tomatillo broth, while Michael got keen on dried black beans. Michael transformed those little black pellets into the refried bean mush above, and I set to work on a taco thing. The broth was more like a thick sauce, so it became the main binding for our taco filling. Substance and spice came from some TVP mince, finely chopped onion and the Spanish Creole Adobo spice mix we bought at the Food & Wine Festival (containing "spices including cumin, smoked and sweet paprikas, chilli, garlic"). This would have been a pretty tasty taco if we'd stopped there, but the wow! ingredient for me was the Old Time Bakery organic corn tortillas we got from Macro Wholefoods in Richmond. These have a wholesome and filling taste and texture that leaves the processed brands at Safeway for dead. Now I want a packet of these preservative-free wonders in my pantry at all times! The meal was completed with a dollop of the salsa I bought at the Allergy Block Open Day, and a handful of salad. If you're interested in recreating any of this at home, here's a haphazard guide:

Re-fried black beans
Soak the dried beans in water for 2-4 hours. Drain, then simmer in fresh water for about 1 1/2 hours, until tender. Drain again, then follow Michael's previous recipe for refried beans.

Tacos
Rehydrate a cup of dried TVP mince in a cup of hot water and leave for about 10 minutes. Finely chop a small onion, grate about a cup of cheese and prepare a side salad while you wait. Heat a bit of vegetable oil in a frypan, then add the onion and fry for a few minutes, until soft. Add the TVP and stir it around to combine it with the onion and heat it through. Add a couple of teaspoons of taco spice mix and stir to coat the mincy mix in flavour. Pour in about 1 1/2 cups of broth and simmer for 5 minutes.

Briefly heat some tortillas in a dry frypan or a microwave to soften them. Spoon a layer of the taco mince on half of the tortilla and top with grated cheese. Fold over and serve with a side salad and salsa.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

May 11, 2007: Citrus Peanut Noodles


Friday night's dinner was taken from one of my favourite food blogs, 28 Cooks. Fiber posted this recipe for Citrus Peanut Noodles on Tuesday - within hours I'd bookmarked it; a day later I had the ingredients; three days from posting it was on our table! We doubled the sauce recipe so that we had plenty of flavour to coat some sugar snap peas, julienned zucchini and carrot as well as the noodles. We actually ate it warm on Friday night, but it proved to be just as tasty cold for a picnic lunch on Saturday. There's still more to be enjoyed as a work lunch on Monday! The sauce is very much like a light satay so you know it'll get your tastebuds jumping. Even better, the orange zest adds something entirely new: aromatic, sweet and a little bit tangy.

Citrus Peanut Noodles

250g noodles
1 carrot
1 zucchini
1 1/2 cups sugar snap peas
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons sesame oil
4 teaspoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons chilli sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
zest and juice of two oranges
4 teaspoons minced ginger
2 tablespoons peanut butter
a good handful of coriander leaves, rinsed and chopped

Cook the noodles until tender, then drain. Chop the carrot and zucchini into matchsticks, get those fibrous little strings off the peas, then briefly stir-fry them all with the garlic. Combine the sesame oil, soy sauce, chilli sauce, lime juice, orange zest and juice, ginger and peanut butter in a food processor until smooth.

Get a hefty bowl and gently combine the lot: noodle, veges, sauce and coriander leaves. Serve with pretty salad tongs and a big appetite!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

May 11, 2007: Gertrude Street Grub - The Builders Arms Hotel

It's been a while since a Gertrude Street Grub post. The last few times I've bought lunch I've either forgotten to bring the camera with me or been too keen to revisit TrippyTaco to chase up somewhere new to blog. Things fell into place on Friday though - the leftover supply dried up on the only day of the week that The Builders Arms is open for lunch. From the outside, The Builders Arms is a pretty average looking pub - a few tables on the street and a fairly grimy looking public bar - but if you wander through the door at the back of the public bar, you find yourself in a bizarrely garish pink restaurant. It was too much for me, so I ordered quickly and scurried back to one of the outside tables where the illusion of an old-fashioned pub could be maintained. The menu is a few steps from standard pub fare, with a vaguely Middle Eastern feel - tagines, Turkish meatballs, haloumi etc. There aren't dozens of vegetarian options, but there are enough: a dhal, some sort of artichoke empanada, vegie skewers and a few smaller bits and pieces.

I went for a plate of nibbles: ouzo marinated olives, Moroccan split pea dip, Turkish bread and a few slivers of crunchy cucumber ($14). It was a fine combination - the dip in particular holding all the flavours and textures together. It was a bit of an oily choice for a workday lunch, but the cucumber cut through it all a little and helped me pretend I was being healthy. The prices here are a little prohibitive by my standards, but my commitment to documenting the Gertrude Street scene (and my predilection for olives) meant that it was worth stopping in at least once.

Address: 211 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
Ph: 9419 0818
Licensed (it is a pub after all)
Prices: Vego mains: $12-$18

Thursday, May 10, 2007

May 6, 2007: Fruit crumble


I don't eat enough fruit. A fresh, seasonal piece of fruit is a wonderful thing but I haven't fully developed my ability to select and promptly eat it. It's not that I haven't tried - probably once a month, I'll pick out a cheap bag of whatever's at its peak or just one or two pieces of something exotic I've never tried before. Either way, at least two pieces of fruit will loiter for a week or more before I guiltily dispose of them (most guiltily if I only bought two pieces of fruit in the first place). Last winter I took up fruit crumbles in a more creative bid to eat my fruit. You may snort that fruit crumble defeats my nutritional purpose, but this is a dual attack of getting more fruit and less after-dinner chocolate into me. Moreover, I've developed some junk-limiting rules for my homemade crumbles:

1. There will be much more fruit than crumble;
2. The layer of fruit may have a touch of lemon juice or spice added, but no additional sugar;
3. There will be oats and nuts in the crumble;
4. Crumble will not be accompanied by cream or ice cream. A dollop of yoghurt is permitted if yoghurt already resides in the house. Otherwise a small glass of milk serves the food-combining issue sufficiently.

On this night I probably only deserved 2 - 3 out of four points for maintaining the spirit of the rules. That's a teensy weensy spoon of mascarpone you see, but I promise that it was in the fridge already, and not bought especially for this purpose! And yeah, I went a bit overboard with the crumble.

Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini fame is quite the crumble lover, and has a number of recipes for it on her blog. I like to use her ingredient weights as a guide, altering the fruit, nuts, spice, sugar and flour type from batch to batch. (Pictured above is spiceless apple, pear and almond rendition.) Rather than rubbing the ingredients together by hand, I take the fast and furious approach of the food processor, which has the nuts, oats and butter melding together most agreeably.

Fruit crumble

At least four serves of fruit (a 'serve' being an apple, a pear, a couple of plums, etc)
a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of spice (optional)
50g flour
50g oats
50g sugar
50g butter
25g nuts

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Peel, de-seed and otherwise prepare your fruit, then cut it into chunks. Throw it into a small to medium-sized baking dish. Stir through some lemon juice and/or spice if you want it.

Put the flour, oats and sugar into a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine them. Cut the butter into cubes and add it to the mix, processing a bit longer this time. When you've got the fine breadcrumb look, add the nuts and process until it looks like biscuit dough (some remaining nutty chunks are good). Alternatively, process to the biscuit dough stage after adding the butter and then stir the whole nuts in. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the fruit. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the crumbly crust begins to brown.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

May 6, 2007: Celeriac and Worcestershire soup

Our weekend was pretty unhealthy: there was leftover lasagne, a repeat visit to Ume Nomiya and, worst of all for our waistlines: impossibly cheesey (but delicious) Indian. To make amends, I was keen for something reasonably healthy on Sunday evening. Calling once again on Cindy's list of other blogs' recipes (I think we've almost stopped using our recipe books altogether), I settled on celeriac and worcestershire soup from stonesoup. Most of the soup recipes Cindy's tagged involve cream and, while there's a bit of milk in this one, I figured it would at least start to repair the damage done over the weekend.

I'd never cooked with celeriac before, but it was all pretty straightforward (I followed the recipe to the letter, so follow the link for details). Everything just gets cooked up in a pot, spun through the food processor and served up, with the sauce left until the end to provide some colour to a pretty plain-looking mush. The food processor struggled a little to completely liquify the celeriac, and we were left with something approaching the consistency of baby food. Which was fine when it was straight from the pot, but was less appetising as leftovers the next day. The real problem with the leftovers may have been my idiotic failure to add the sauce to the mix - it really does add a lot to the sweet celeriac flavour.

May 5, 2007: Bala Da Dhaba

Regular readers (both of you!) might have spotted a recent comment from Dmargster, having a friendly dig at our attachment to the inner north and naming their favourite local (Ripponlea) Indian restaurant in the process. With swift service that would hands-down beat our local, we paid a visit to Ripponlea a mere four days later! On our free and easy Saturday night, we mapped out an excursion to the south side for dinner at Bala Da Dhaba, followed by a movie at the Classic Theatre.

I'm the kind of girl who would prefer that 'my local' is my lazy-glutton-night Indian or Thai restaurant around the corner rather than any watering hole. Thus, I was quite chuffed that Dmargster shared this kind of affection for Bala Da Dhaba and it had just the unpretentious atmosphere I'd want from my local. Picture a dated brick building with disposable paper tablecloths over the real ones, vinyl padded chairs and scattered Indian paraphernalia on the walls. The most striking feature is a small windowed room where two of the kitchen staff prepare and cook naan and meat at the tandoori oven. Michael and I were seated up against the window into their oven-space and I attempted to take a couple of sly photos. Unfortunately I failed to turn off the flash, yielding a bright reflection off the glass and the attention of the guys at the oven. I shyly took one or two more flashless pics (all blurry - sorry!) and tucked my camera away, my cheeks burning as hot as the bricks that were shielding our legs from the oven. It was still pretty fun to see the huge skewers of orange meat descend into the black depths, and the fast, skillful rolling and cooking of the dough balls into charred, fluffy bread.

There are about a dozen vegetarian dishes on the menu, and it's also worth noting that Bala Da Dhaba has a page of specials (somewhat unusual for an Indian restaurant, I think). This is where Michael chose his Paneer Akbari from ($12.90, pictured above) . I decided to test the restaurant's baseline with one of my favourite dishes, the Malai Kofta ($9.40). Of course we also had to test the labours of our neighbours and we requested a garlic naan too ($3).


It was fortunate that we had the oven to entertain us for a bit, because the service was pretty slapdash. Menus were proffered only after I made eye contact with the head waiter, and our bottle of water and complimentary pappadums arrived after our orders were taken and the drinks arrived. But the mains were served very quickly after that, taking only about 10 minutes. Michael's Paneer Akbari was huge, though not quite as huge as it looks - it was served in a dish ~3 cm deep and kept warm by concealed tealight candles. He thoroughly enjoyed the sweet, tomato-y gravy and quite frankly, ate a lot more than he should have. (I think I can say that because he groaned all the way to the cinema!) The kofta balls were submerged in a similarly sweet and delicious gravy, the kofta were on the tough side of tender but more importantly were studded with cashew pieces. Finally, take a look at that naan - have you ever seen a naan smothered in so much garlic ghee? It was quite the treat - really, our entire meal was an exercise in exotic junk food, but it was a satisfying one. You'll have to look elsewhere for a measured review of their cheese-less dishes!

Bala Da Dhaba is probably not the kind of restaurant to repeatedly cross town for, but it has the comforting, scattered atmosphere and smiling staff I'd want at my local. I'd be pretty pleased with myself on the day that my regular custom resulted in a nod of recognition at the door.

Address: 56-58 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea
Ph: 9523 8683
Licensed and BYO
Price: veg mains $8.90-$12.90, rice and bread extra

Sunday, May 06, 2007

May 2, 2007: Vegetarian Lasagne


I've tried a few different recipes for lasagne, and have struggled to find one that we enjoy through the inevitable five days of leftovers. While we were up in Queensland recently, Anne (the wife of Cindy's Dad) served up a delicious effort and Cindy was switched on enough to ask her where she'd found the recipe. Turns out the Internet was the inspiration, as it so often is. Armed with a link to the recipe, an unenthusiastic Cindy and a backpack full of vegies, I decided to give it a shot for Wednesday night's meal.

It's an exhausting process: peeling, chopping and roasting a kilo of vegies, cooking up the tomato sauce, making the cheese sauce, assembling and the cooking. You need to have a couple of spare hours before hunger will kick in, otherwise you'll end up reaching for the snacks while the tray is still in the oven. Luckily, the results were worth it: the roasted vegies were tender, the pesto-based sauce tasty and the cheese sauce gooily unhealthy. Mmmmm...cheesy. There's still a little bit sitting in the fridge, but we've each had dinner and two lunches out of it so far without getting too fed up, which is high praise indeed.

Friday, May 04, 2007

May 1, 2007: 'Fish' with tamarind sauce


On a weekend trip to Piedemontes, I noticed and picked up a box of Lamyong vegetarian chunky fish: a soy-based product with a seaweed 'skin'. My mind spun instantly to our recent meal at the White Lotus, and Michael needed little convincing that we could attempt this dish at home. So it was on to the internet, with a swift selection of this recipe. A quick scan of the ingredients indicates what an intense sauce this is: salty (soy sauce), sweet (brown sugar), hot (red chilli) and sour (the eponymous tamarind) hit your taste buds in roughly that order. (And then the garlic lingers...) Only a sparing dollop is needed if you're to have any hope of tasting the fish underneath! Some simple steamed rice and veges are the most advisable side. The faux fish was akin to the slightly rubbery (but otherwise delicious) faux chicken I'm accustomed to and didn't quite live up to the fragile texture of the layered bean curd at the White Lotus. However the potent sauce could well become a stir-fry fixture in this kitchen.

Tamarind sauce

2 red chillis, or up to your tolerance
1 shallot
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon oil
1 tablespoon tamarind puree
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar (I might try palm sugar instead sometime)

Roughly chop the chillis and shallots, mince the garlic. Mush them up in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle. Heat the oil in a saucepan, then add the spice mix and stir it around as it sizzles and those pungent aromas are released (careful of the chilli!). Add the tamarind puree, soy sauce and sugar and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat. Add water, to your desired potency and texture, and keep warm until serving.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

April 29, 2007: Urban Burger


After watching the likes of John Lethlean scoff down mushroomy macro dumplings and Elvis Presley sandwiches, Michael and I were ready for a rock'n'roll dinner of our own. We didn't have to wander too far along Swan St for Urban Burger to present itself as a fast, affordable and appetising option. This is Maccas for yuppies in the vein of Grill'd and Burger Republic, and boasts the 2006 Leader Business Award for best takeaway restaurant in Melbourne. Meat-lovers have 10 beef and 8 chicken burgers to choose from, while vegos have four appetising options of their own: one with tofu, another featuring portabello mushroom, a vegan one with beans and lentils, and finally one with grilled eggplant.

These $9 burgers are enormous, on the same scale as those at Burger Republic. The menu describes the buns as a "sour dough wholemeal blend", but they tasted like the more typical doughy white flour roll to me. Their size makes them unwieldy and I had a serious filling escape and juice running down my hands, but the vibrant combination of ingredients was easily worth that discomfort: my Port Melbourne burger boasted a marinated portabello mushroom, roasted red capsicum, rocket, red onion, pesto and aioli. Michael was similarly pleased with his Vegan Vibe: a patty of red kidney beans, lentils, coriander and chilli teamed with avocado, salad, relish and the optional non-vegan aioli. Naturally there was also a shared serve of chips, with more aioli. They had a satisfying crunch but were a bit dry, falling well behind my Grill'd sample and, from memory, probably not up to the Burger Republic ones either.

Urban Burger absolutely hit the spot, and I'd happily revisit them for some more fancy fast food. However it falls a bit short of the where's the beef? award for best Melbourne takeaway.

Address: 174 Swan St, Richmond
Ph: 9429 9822
Unlicensed
Price: vege burgers $8.80, chips $3
Website: www.urbanburger.com.au

April 29, 2007: The Good Shepherd's Circus Pie Classic

I love rock and roll and I love food. If only there was some way to combine the two. Oh wait, there is! Sunday evening's entertainment, billed as "A Rock 'n' Roll Cook Off for Charity", was a kind of Iron Chef for Melbourne's indie rock elite. Devised as a fund raiser for Good Shepherd Youth and Family Service, the event pulled together Melbourne musicians, media personalities and food journalists for a surreal evening of fun at The Corner Hotel.

The basic structure of the evening involved four teams of five 'celebrities' each, two savoury cook-offs and a dessert challenge between two heat winners to find out whose cuisine reigned supreme. But the basic structure doesn't do justice to the chaotic, noisy and hilarious evening.

We arrived to a moderately busy band room, with the two stages set up: a small one scattered with amps, mics and drum kits and a big one with a makeshift kitchen, overhead mirrors to give the crowd a good view of the action and a clever apron collage for wallpaper.

After a food-themed D.J. set (my personal highlight: Cherry Pie by Warrant), Helen Razer (our cough-medicine addled host for the evening) took control, introducing her fellow commentators: Clem Bastow (Inpress, The Age etc) and Matt Preston (Epicure, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival). The rules were explained: each heat would pit two teams against each other for half an hour's fiercely competitive cooking producing at least three courses for judging. All of which had to contain... the secret ingredient.

To get the first heat underway, Helen introduced the first two teams, pitting a vegan-friendly Team 1 (Lindsay 'The Doctor' MacDougall and Macromantics plus three non-vegans) against Team 2, ably led by Lisa Miller with support from members of Mach Pelican, Dallas Crane and The Meanies. After a moment of well-orchestrated suspense, the secret ingredient for battle #1 was revealed: mushrooms!

As the cooking got underway, Little Red burst into some sort of amalgam of The Strokes and The Jackson Five. Our attention was divided between the band and the kitchen, but the mention of dumplings from Team 1 caught it and had me cheering on Macromantics and the gang. The alarm went off and, after some frantic plating, the dishes were ready to be served up to the judges: John Lethlean from The Age, Cath Claringbold from Mecca Bah and Andrew McConnell from Three One Two).

I imagine it's some time since these three gourmets ate food prepared in such a haphazard manner, but they gamely tucked into their feasts. From Team 1: shitake sweet soy stir-fry, Macro-dumpings and chocolate shitake surprise, while from Team 2: a suite of dishes dubbed 'Blitzkrieg Wok' including a mushroom penne and a couple of other dishes lost to the mists of time. According to the judges, team 1 produced both the best dish (Macro-dumplings) and most inedible effort (choc-shitake surprise). Unfortunately for them, the 'surprise' was enough to cost them the match, with the judges unanimously pronouncing Lisa Miller's Team 2 the winners of heat 1.

A brief pause for to let everyone get their breath back (and to allow the kitchen-roadies some cleaning time) followed, with Joelistics from TZU providing the music. Heat 2 followed, and out came the big guns of rock 'n' roll cooking: Team 3 was led by Dan Kelly, whose pre-rock career-path included a stint cooking at Claypots, while Team 4 boasted Rebecca Barnard - formerly of Rebecca's Empire and a cooking spot on JJJ. The secret ingredient for heat #2: the less veg-friendly chicken.


This time when the cooking started we moved across to the rock stage to experience SixFtHick - terrifying Brisbane rockers who have no respect for the comfortable line between the audience and the performers. Fronted by brothers Ben and Geoff Corbett, the show was chock full of insanity: prowling, screaming and kicking their way through short, sharp bursts of rock. As the clock ran down on heat #2, the 'Hick wound things up with a Queensland cocktail: a stubby tipped into a cowboy boot, shaken and poured down audience members' throats from on high.

I'm not sure how people cope with a full SixFtHick show - after thirty minutes I was ready to get away from the frightening world of rock and back to the gentle art of cookery. The judges, starting to show some alcohol-influenced wear and tear (I don't think food critics and chefs usually have access to a rider), dived into their second round of rock 'n' roll dishes. Team 4 were up first, with Rebecca taking charge. They came up with some sort of gyoza, a chicken-based pizza and something known as Spazzy-surprise (named after team member Ally Spazzy).

Team 3 produced four courses: Ming Dynasty chicken, Marvin the chicken sandwich, chicken with Dan Kelly Sauce and, in a decision that cost them the heat, Bog Log III's boobscotch whiskey chicken with a human breast-milk sauce. The judges were a little disappointed by Dan Kelly's effort given his pedigree, but the breast-milk flavoured chicken was the real problem for team 3 - with all of the judges disgusted both by the concept and by the taste. Despite Bob Log's disappointing performance in the kitchen, he got my vote for wittiest apron, proudly wearing the slogan, "Got more time for misbehavin', since I started microwavin'".

So Rebecca Barnard's Team 4 advanced to the dessert-themed final against Lisa Miller's Team 2. The final was a fifteen minute affair, with each team producing sweet treats based on the secret ingredient, bizarrely presented by a Devo-inspired helper, BANANAS!

Despite my anti-banana agenda, the dessert round was the highlight in terms of sheer cooking action: Andy and Scott from The Living End came up with chocolate bumholes: cored banana slices filled with a Mars bar mush.

In addition, Team 4 came up with two more dishes: maple leaf rag (bananas caremalised in maple syrup) and Elvis Presley's favourite, fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches. In comparision, Team 2 expended all their energy on one dish: banana filled crepes. While all this was going on, The Wayfaring Strangers were dancing around the music stage wearing little more than aprons and strategically places tongs. The judges traipsed out for the final time and hoed into the various dessert plates. Team 2 looked the favourites just through sheer number of dishes and, when the final scores were announced they were victorious, taking home the inaugural Golden Wok (see above).

This long and rambling post has barely begun to cover just how action-packed the whole evening was - the most fun I've had in ages. The whole idea is quintessentially Melbourne: rock 'n' roll and food mushed together into a chaotic mess where suddenly it makes perfect sense for John Lethlean and SixFtHick to be sharing a bill. And, of course, the whole thing was for a good cause - everyone involved donated their time and a good chunk of the money raised will end up helping young disadvantaged Melbourne-ites. Foodie entertainment can't get much better than that.