Friday, June 27, 2008

June 20, 2008: Friday Featre Food - Laksa Me

Cindy's been agitating for a visit to Laksa Me for some time - there's been plenty of good press for it and the affordable, speedy Asian food it promised seemed perfect for a pre-theatre bite. It's tucked away on trendy Liverpool Street in the city, and would be pretty easy to walk straight past. There's nothing too slick about the inside either - it's all clearly aimed at being low-key and minimalist, with lots of concrete and bare tables. We had no problems wandering in and getting a table at 6:45 on a Friday and, despite a couple of decent-sized groups turning up, it didn't look like bookings would be worth worrying about.

The menu is pretty substantial, but the vego options aren't super abundant: there's a few starters, a curry, a laksa and a pad thai - not a bad list, but not a huge range either. We started with one of the starters each: a vegetarian triangle (Wok tossed shredded daikon, crunchy yam bean and Asian chives, folded in Chinese white pastry, pan fried and served with caramelised dark sweet soy sauce) and a crisp tofu parcel (Bean thread noodles wok tossed with Chinese mushroom, carrot and gingko nut; and then carefully wrapped in paper-thin tofu "skin, deep-fried till crisp. Served with salted plum sauce). The tofu parcel was the star - a beautiful combination of textures and flavours, and the first time I've really enjoyed the salty-plum idea (which, to my palate at least, works much better as a sauce than as a drink). The vegie triangle was nice, but wasn't as memorable.

If Cindy has been paying attention to Harriet at This is Vegan Melbourne, she probably wouldn't have ordered the laksa. As it was, we both felt that we had to try the eponymous dish, and ordered the Vegetarian 'skinny' laksa (A Laksa that is not just vegetarian, it is also low in cholesterol too. Thin Rice Vermicelli pack with baby spinach, enoki and oyster mushroom, crisp tofu puff and deep fried eggplant in a light tangy Laksa stock). It's worth restressing Harriet's point: this is one hot laksa. The spiciness of the sauce proved too much for Cindy, and she resorted to carefully fishing out the noodles and vegies and trying to avoid too much of the spicy soup. I was happier with the spice levels (although any hotter and it really would have been overpowering), and really enjoyed the top layer of the dish - beautifully crisp tofu, delicious chunks of eggplant and some wonderful greens. Unfortunately, as you dug below the surface, the fillings kind of dried up and it was all noodles and soup. Which wasn't a huge problem - the soup was rich and spicy, and the noodles were nicely cooked, but it was just a bit lacking in interest. Not bad for $10 though.

I'm not sure we'll hurry back to Laksa Me - the spice levels were too demanding for Cindy, and the payoff for me wasn't enough to make it worth the return visit. Still, Harriet's recommendation of the pad thai might just revive Cindy's enthusiasm.

Address: 16 Liverpool Street, Melbourne
Ph: 9639 9985
Price: Starters $2.50-$4.00 a piece, noodles $10, mains $18
Licensed (and BYO, with $10 corkage)
Website: http://www.laksame.com/

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

June 17, 2008: Mushroom and eggplant stew

Our Oxfam 'World in Your Kitchen' calendar has been relatively successful so far. The focus is really on simple recipes, with relatively few ingredients that take less than half an hour to throw together, which is ideal for a lazy workday dinner. June's treat was from Ghana: mushroom and eggplant stew. I was a bit skeptical of this recipe - it seemed to be relying entirely on onion and a pinch of chili to flavour up the vegies. I ended up adding in a few teaspoons of garam masala towards the end of the cooking to boost the taste a bit.

It turned out to be a hearty, warming mush for a winter's evening. The extra spices were probably necessary - I think it would have been too bland for me otherwise. I'm not sure I'll rush back to make it again, but it was simple and reasonably tasty - full of chunky mushroom bits swimming in a mashed up eggplant sauce, with crispy onion bits providing the only textural interest. We opted to serve it on top of some quinoa, which worked pretty well - you really need something to soak up the liquid.

Mushroom and Eggplant Stew

1 eggplant, diced
225g mushrooms, sliced
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, sliced
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
150ml vegie stock (you can use the liquid you boil the eggplant in if you want to)
oil
salt
2 teaspoons garam masala

Boil the eggplant pieces for 10 minutes or so until they soften up and then drain them (keeping the boiling water if you're using it for stock). Mash it up into a coarse mush.

In the meantime, saute the onion in oil for five minutes and then add the mushrooms, tomatoes, chili and salt. Fry the mix for 10 minutes or so until the mushrooms and tomato have softened.

Now stir in the mashed eggplant and stock and simmer for at least 10 minutes while your quinoa/rice is cooking. Stir in the garam masala about a minute before you want to serve it all up.

Monday, June 23, 2008

June 15, 2008: Satay burger sauce

As a feeble excuse to blog those chickpea cutlets again, here's a satay burger sauce recipe. It's ultra-thick for minimum drippage, sweet and crunchy. However, ours came up short on the heat level - I just didn't add enough red chilli flakes. I think a 'lil fresh red chilli would really liven this up next time.

The recipe comes from a list of Award-Winning Veggie Burger Recipes, taken from Vegetarian Voice magazine (though I found it at Yeah, That "Vegan" Shit). That's a recipe list we'd do well to work our way through, isn't it? Maybe it'll develop into a series of themed posts. It'll be difficult to tear myself away from those chickpea cutlets, though - this time I tried one of Lisa's adaptations, using crushed Vita Brits instead of breadcrumbs. I didn't detect any difference in the patties and this is the more convenient approach in this household - when Michael's not sampling Melbourne's cafe-poached eggs he's inhaling a bucketful of Vita Brits and muesli, so they're always, always on hand.

Satay Burger Sauce

Finely dice/mince 1 small onion, 1 clove of garlic and 1 red chilli. Heat 2 teaspoons of sesame oil in a saucepan and saute the onion, garlic and chilli until the onion is translucent. Stir in 1 cup of natural crunchy peanut butter until it has melted. Add 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce (we just used soy sauce and a splash of rice wine vinegar), 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 1/4 cup water, 1 teaspoon tomato paste, 1 teaspoon tahini and salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer for ten minutes, then serve over your favourite burger recipe.

Monday, June 16, 2008

June 15, 2008: North Island Cafe


Our ongoing dynasty of inner-North breakfasts took in another stop last weekend. A reasonably new place tucked away on Scotchmer Street near Dench Bakery (which, shamefully, we've yet to blog). Our Fitzroy informants Mike and Jo put us on to the place and the joined us, along with Kerrie and Daniel for a Sunday morning sampling. Things start pretty slowly on the North Island - we got there at 9:30 and there was only one other person there. It was pumping by the time we left though, so it'd be wise to turn up before 10:30 when North Fitzroy wakes up.

The menu is chock full of vegie options - from $4 bagel 'n' jam to $9.50 slow-roasted tomatoes. Cindy (along with Jo and Daniel) couldn't resist the bombay toast, served with blueberry compote, pear and orange blossom cream. Just look at it up there - all slathered in orange-blossom cream and soaked in berries and sauce. The toast was thick and rich without being as greasy as French toast can be. The pear was just the icing on the cake. The toasty, creamy cake.


I typically opted for a savoury meal: lemon and herb roasted field mushrooms with rocket, pesto and fetta served on some toasted Turkish bread. The mushrooms were cooked to perfection, the pesto was full of flavour without being overpowering and contrasted perfectly with the fetta. This was a fine, fine breakfast - even without eggs! Who'd have thought?

I should mention the coffee too: rich and strong without being harsh - one of the better ones I've had.

The only negative of the whole morning was the timing of the meals - the three of us who ordered savouries got ours long before the Bombay toast arrived. In fact, I think I'd basically finished my mushies by the time Cindy was starting on her sweets. It's a ridiculously small kitchen, so it's understandable - maybe it's better to turn up in smaller groups.

Address: 111 Scotchmer St, North Fitzroy 3068
Ph: 9486 8864
Price: $4 - $9.50

June 14, 2008: Markov Place III

I didn't expect to blog Markov Place again - not because I don't go there, but because I tend to order the same things each time. But on Saturday night, while celebrating Yung's birthday and making the most of Carlton before she moves away, Michael and I branched out. Placing my faith firmly in the restorative power of cocktails, I kicked off the evening with a vodka, pear and cardamom concoction and was duly rewarded with a cool but comfortingly spicy beverage.

Markov is currently offering plates of vegetarian paella to share. Studded with broad beans, baby green beans, grape tomatoes and goats curd, it's a nourishing meal. You need a minimum of two people to order, and you'll be charged $25 per person. Lovely as it was, this seems a little expensive for what's offered: while Michael and I were well fed, three girls further down the table received the same portion to share between them and were charged, yes, $75.

If nothing else that ensured room for dessert, a first for me at Markov! I chose the honeycomb parfait ($11), an incredibly buttery iced dessert with an intense flavour of honey, from both within the parfait and from the adornments. The twirly wafer offered a welcome bit of crunch, though no refuge from the sweetness.

For the other desserters four plates of the chocolate pudding were brought out ($11 each), each one shared amongst at least two people. Though it looked like a fairly standard dessert, these elicited multiple little moans around the table. The molten chocolate pudding had that adult, bittersweet bite and the icecream was also of high quality. Perhaps the modest paella proportions were a blessing in disguise!

(You can read about our previous visits to Markov Place here and here.)

Coming soon: Meatless Blog Meet

The next bloggers' meet-up, set for July 26, introduces a few new elements that make it particularly appealing to me:

it adjoins a market,

it's north side,

and

it's most definitely veg-friendly!

The plan is to meet at Lentil As Anything at the Abbotsford Convent at 12:30 for lunch. (I'm told that Abbotsford is the best of the Lentils, so can't wait to give it a shot.) The stayers can then retire to Handsome Steve's House of Refreshment, and decide for themselves whether Steve and his house are all they're pitched to be.

Lest you feel timid or wary about meeting crazies from teh Internets, I can assure you that you won't find a friendlier or funnier bunch of food fanatics. Trust me, I've checked 'em out myself - twice.

So come join us! I'll be the nondescript gal with the mushroom brooch. Michael will be tall, ginger-haired and affable. He always is.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

June 13, 2008: Cafe Vue - Friday Cocktail Night

I'm not the superstitious type at all, but my Friday the 13th was looking pretty unlucky. I was sent to Canberra for the day by my boss, to present a project I knew nothing about to a group of suits I'd never met. My flight home should have been just early enough for me to take a taxi straight from the airport to a much-anticipated reservation for Cafe Vue's Friday cocktail night.

I first read about Cafe Vue's cocktail nights on Melbourne Gastronome. Five cocktails and five small plates for $75, and at one of Melbourne's most prestigious eating empires! It was mystifyingly good value for (admittedly a lot of) money and as I perused their website, I was a little disappointed that "vegetarian option available" wasn't discreetly printed anywhere. A couple of days after mentioning it on Claire's blog, she sent me a private message assuring me that they did indeed offer a vegetarian option - hooray! We eagerly set a date with Jo-Lyn and Mike for cocktail craziness, long before my boss even mentioned our nation's capital.

And so on Friday afternoon I arrived at Canberra airport, ready for my homeward journey, more than an hour early. My notes were written up quickly enough and I had plenty of time to watch the light change outside as planes to and from Sydney were delayed and cancelled. Eventually these delays flowed on to other flights, with mine shifting back 20 minutes. By the time it boarded, 20 minutes had stretched to 40 minutes. The unhappy inner monologue began: I'd gotten up at 5am, taken on a job no-one wanted, even while under unusually high pressure to complete my own work, and my reward was missing out on this special dinner I'd been so looking forward to. By the time my plane navigated its way through Melbourne's fog I was 80 minutes late and resolving to go home instead. I would surely have missed two or three dishes by the time I made it to the city and what was the point? I was tired and cranky. I called Michael and he insisted that I should come for whatever dishes were left - we would have to foot the bill regardless of whether or not I showed.

Thank goodness I did. The staff had shifted our service to the end of their rounds to accommodate me. My three dining companions had ordered some extra early drinks and were lingering over their first cocktail when I arrived. Before I'd finished my second potty-mouthed sentence about my day, a DIY martini was set before me. In the glass - chilled rye vodka. On the side - pipettes of cold water and French dry vermouth for the experimental development of one's own ideal ratio. A green olive or lemon rind to finish. "You have no idea how much I need this," I said gratefully to the waiter. He looked me up and down and replied, "I think I do".

And vegos, you wanna know something really cool? At Friday cocktail night, we get our food direct from the Vue de Monde kitchen. Omnivores don't.

The first such plate was this King Brown risotto, with cep air and tarragon emulsion. This double-barrelled mushroom hit - so intense and earthy, with the strength to match the potent martini. Tasted separately, the tarragon emulsion had a complementary flavour but I otherwise lost it in the mix.

Boy, that martini hit the spot! By the time my second plate arrived, my tension had melted and my grudges vanished. Vue de Monde was clearly making the most of mushroom season, serving us cep mushroom broth with horseradish air and a cep tuille. The broth was incredibly viscous and rich, surely containing some kind of thickening agent. In comparison the tuille was crisp and paper thin, like a sliver of golden filo pastry, though it was composed primarily of mushroom! The perfect counterbalance of textures. The horseradish didn't make much of an impression.

Providing an acidity to cut through the rich broth was the "About Thyme" cocktail. Terrible name, incredible cocktail! Cytrus vodka, honey, thyme sugar syrup, orange and lemon juice, soda and ice. The thyme wasn't apparent to start, but bruising the sprigs a little added a whole new dimension to this drink.

Our next plate contained dehydrated tomato, parmesan mousse, bean sprouts, black olive oil and and crisp brioche crumbs. Always a fan of pairing tomato with cheese, I was delighted by this take on some of my favourite flavours. I also heretically compared the parmesan mousse to my guiltiest pleasure of last week.

The accompanying cocktail was the Rye Flip, or "Sultana Bran in a glass", as the bartender joked. Rye vodka, whiskey, sherry, muscat and a whole egg whipped to a froth, with an ornamental coffee bean floating in the centre. It was a sweet and creamy concoction that I enjoyed more on its own rather than in combination with the tomato-and-cheese plate.

Our final savoury course was a plate of smoked vegetables, presented with a covering dish to contain the smoke rising from a piece of coconut charcoal. Amazing! Also appearing were meltingly soft baby beetroots, cauliflower cous cous and some super-smoky babaganoush. While it reminded me of dishes we've previously eaten at Interlude and Attica, Vue de Monde had something new to offer, with the charcoal being completely edible.

With our smoky veges we slurped Belebu-Rharb Sours. I could taste the bitter orange and orange blossom water separately and distinctly, and there was also lemon and lime juice and a frothed egg white in the mix. Though they're not scrawled in my notes, I'm sure that rhubarb and pomegranate were also somehow involved.

Dessert arrived without a beverage, and nor did it need one. This warm honey macaroon with white chocolate parfait, exclaimed Jo-Lyn, will "change your life". The textures were just dreamy - the macaroon was soft and tender and chewy and just a little crisp in all the right places, while the parfait was silky smooth. It was shockingly sweet.

Like a second dessert, the final cocktail was a Caraway Shrub - port steeped in berries and then refortified with vodka. It was to be sipped in turns with a meringue-like caraway foam. Lovely.

It became fairly clear as the night went on that a particular brand of vodka was sponsoring proceedings in some way. The deal was sealed with a take-home miniature bottle of said vodka and glossy flip-book of vodka-based cocktail recipes for each of us. This arrangement might go some way to explaining why we're requested to pay so little for so much.

Though my day could have finished with bad luck and a mighty bad mood on my part, Cafe Vue compensated several times over - I've not felt quite so jubilant and grateful (and yes, quite so under the influence) in some time. I made a point to thank the staff for accommodating my shameful lateness and left a sizable tip. Maybe they've a good motivation for offering all that vodka after all!

Address: 430 Little Collins St, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9691 3899
Fully licensed
Price: Friday night cocktails $75 per person
Website: http://www.vuedemonde.com.au/cafe-vue.aspx

June 12, 2008: Hotel Lincoln II

It's been almost a year since our last visit to the Hotel Lincoln and this time it proved to be a cosy and convenient environment for dinner with Marty and Mike. The bar is popular and the adjoining dining area also fills up, though the tables are generously spaced. A peek down the corridor reveals more tables, these covered with white linen.

The menu changes seasonally, though the proportion of vegetarian options remains fairly constant - dahl and naan ($13) appears on the bar menu, while the restaurant offers one meat-free entree and one main.

I picked the entree: chestnut and mascarpone ravioli with sherry mushrooms ($15), and additionally ordered a side salad. This was a larger portion than I expected, given Michael's little entree last time, but I relished every mouthful of the rich sauce and potent mushrooms. Though this would have been filling enough on its own, the lightly dressed green salad was a good choice for balance.

This is Michael's main, the vegetarian plate ($23.50): cummin spiced carrots, green leeks and sauce gribiche, mushroom and chestnut pithivier. Though it was all very tasty, the fancy name and serving size didn't quite seem worth it - certainly not $8.50 more than my delectable pasta.

One thing does seem to have changed since last year - Hotel Lincoln now has its own website!

June 11, 2008: Spaghetti and bombballs


Cindy and I have been quite taken with our soy bombs - we've made and enjoyed the repeatedly. Each time, Cindy has made some muttered comment about using the soy bombs as meatballs in a spaghetti 'n' meatball style dish. We decided it was worth giving the idea a crack, and Cindy drummed up this bolognese recipe from More to Love Vegan. Cindy's a little overwhelmed with work at the moment, so I took on the cooking duties - my first attempt at making these little balls myself. Just to complicate things, I decided to find out whether these bombs would work baked as well as fried.

I won't run through the whole recipe again - we've blogged it before here. Basically I followed all the steps up until the frying, and baked them in a preheated (180 degree) oven instead of plopping them in the frypan. They probably had about half an hour all up, with numerous stops to rotate them about. Baking them probably leaves you with slightly drier bombs than frying does, but you're also saving yourself a decent amount of oil. It's your choice really.

Then it was time for the bolognese - I followed Buttons' directions to the letter - only substituting some chilli flakes for the fresh chillies she'd used (and dropping the tempeh of course - its place being taken here by the soy bombs). It's a pretty great sauce recipe - the sun-dried tomato, chilli and artichokes fight it out for flavour dominance, but they end up sharing themselves around in a delicious taste compromise. All that was left to do was some speedily-boiled spaghetti and we were good to go. Pour the bolognese over the soy bombs (or delicately submerge them in the sauce, depending on how many pots you want to use), and scoop them up onto a pile of spaghetti. Gold!

Friday, June 06, 2008

June 3, 2008: Caramelised onion and fennel tart

I'm not sure that the picture above does justice to this savoury tart, though caramelised onions are rarely pretty things. However, I've learned what a mellow delicacy they are and am no longer repelled by their appearance. Nor should you be - this tart is a perfect light autumn meal with a short list of ingredients and straight-forward preparation. Just toss together a salad of green leaves while it's in the oven and you're done!

The recipe belongs to Dayna, with her perpetual Vegan Visitors, and you can check it out on her blog. Though she recommends that it can be served warm or chilled, I'd urge you to to enjoy it fresh. Puff pastry is never quite the same at any other time, though I must admit that the onions took on the most intriguing blue tinge a day later!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

June 1, 2008: Pumpkin spelt muffins II

After a year-long hiatus, I had another shot at these pumpkin and spelt muffins. And I made some changes:
  • I had a bottle of pear juice concentrate at the ready to substitute for the tedious hour and a half taken to reduce a litre of apple juice to syrup;
  • Since the pear juice now lacked an opportunity to be infused with peppercorns, cinnamon sticks and coriander seeds, I blended in 1/4 teaspoon of each of these spices, ground;
  • I folded in chopped 86% cocoa chocolate.
Adding minimally-sweetened chocolate to these soft, sticky muffins had just the effect I had hoped for. These muffins feel completely indulgent, break up my workday afternoon, and are a superior choice to the overpriced chocolate bars in the neighbouring food court.

June 1, 2008: Tokyo treats - Meiji 86% cacao

Even though this Tokyo treat wasn't completely new to me, I expected it to be an intense experience. Chocolate with 86% cocoa is bitter. But good bitter. These miniature, individually wrapped portions are just the right size for a cocoa jolt.

However, I had a particular job in mind for most of these. Their assignment will be revealed in my next post.