Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Potluck success.

I attended my first potluck on Sunday & I had a fantastic time! The food was all delicious & I loved how generous everyone was. Thanks to Kristy, we also have photos to prove it.

I made the Mocha Peanut Fudge. It was the first time I had made it & I actually found it a little bit too rich, but other people seemed to like it. Here's another photo of some of the fudge that may not have made it to the potluck :-)It's not one of my recipes, you can thank Alice over at Vegan Zest for Life for this one.

I also made one of my favourite salads - Asparagus & Risoni. It's a lovely spring salad that's really quick & easy, recipe below.

Asparagus & Risoni Salad
  • 250g risoni
  • 2 bunches asparagus, ends snapped off
  • 2 cups peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, picked, washed & finely chopped (I only ever use 1/2 a bunch, but if you love parsley, feel free to use the whole bunch)
  • 1 large lemon
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to season
Cook risoni 8mins, until al dente. Drain, place in a large bowl & drizzle with a little oil to prevent sticking.

Peel & blanch asparagus in boiling salted water 2mins – remove with a slotted spoon & put in iced water to stop the cooking. Drain & slice thinly on an angle.

Repeat the blanching process for peas, blanching just 30secs. Add asparagus, peas & chopped parsley to risoni.

Finely grate lemon rind & juice the lemon. Add to salad & season well with salt, pepper & a generous drizzle of oil just before serving.

A couple of things became clear when I was making the food for the potluck:
  1. I needed a double-boiler. I was using a plastic mixing bowl that didn't quite slot into the saucepan properly & there were a couple of times when I nearly lost a complete bowl of fudge.
  2. I needed a citrus juicer. I had the top of one, but not the bottom. And the top doesn't fit neatly into any of my containers or bowls, so it's really difficult to juice things.
After the potluck, I made a quick pit-stop at David Jones in the city - I have a voucher to use up. A lot of the kitchen stuff was 40% off until Sunday, so I wanted to pick something up before the sale ended. Here are my new goodies - a lovely Esteele double-boiler (that happens to fit perfectly into my existing large saucepan) & a cute little juicer.

Oh, and I've decided to participate in Vegan MoFo this year - I hope I can find enough to write about!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The joys of Thornbury

First to get the confusing part out of the way. Pearl Oyster is a cafe at 114 Miller St, Thornbury. Don't believe the 2011 Australian Veg Food Guide which tells you that it is at 238 High St, Thornbury. If you go to High St you won't find anything like this awesome cafe at that address.

Now, the back-story. Last weekend, I woke pretty early & felt like going somewhere different for Sunday breakfast. I already know that most of the cafes in the Australian Veg Food Guide don't open on Sunday mornings, but I double-checked anyway. The closest I could find was Pearl Oyster which opened at 12pm, which I thought was way too late for breakfast... right? D was fast asleep though, so I decided to read for a little while. I ended up reading for a long while, and before I knew it, it was 11.30am & suddenly Pearl Oyster was a possibility!

I had a feeling we had been there before & I wasn't wrong - when we pulled up out the front we both experienced deja vu (this was after I had established through lots of Internet searching that it was in fact on Miller St, not High St). I was excited though - I only had fond memories of enjoying the sunshine & excellent service in their back courtyard. This time the weather wasn't so sunny, so we were promptly seated inside & delivered perfect coffees.As other reviewers have pointed out, they have quite a few vegan options on the menu, including tofutti cream cheese. I took full advantage of this & ordered the Avocado, Cream Cheese, Tomato Chutney & Rocket Baguette, substituting Tofutti for the dairy variety.This really hit the spot - it was fresh, creamy & easy to eat. D chose some kind of omelette - I think it had spinach, chilli & crispy fried spring onions. He enjoyed it, which is the main thing.I really recommend Pearl Oyster - even though their opening hours are a little restricted (***EDIT*** - see hours below, clarified by Bella, one of the chefs - not so restricted after all!), it's worth the effort to get there. The service is friendly & fast & the food is fresh, delicious & a little bit different.

Here's something to get your mouth watering - we couldn't possibly visit Thornbury & not pay a visit to La Panella. We've been there a few times before, but because we live so far away it's been quite a while. That's probably a good thing, considering the range of calorie & fat-laden vegan desserts they have!

This time we picked up about 10 cold sausage rolls for D's lunch - $1.50 each (I will never get over how cheap this place is)! Plus a cream-filled eclair for my dessert on the way home.Look at that cream! This actually didn't taste that great - there wasn't enough sugar in the cream & it was a little bit bland.

And because I'm a sucker for icing, I also got a strawberry-jam filled donut for later. It only lasted until after dinner that night - happy to report that there was no shortage of sugar in this one!Pearl Oyster
114 Miller St, Thornbury
**EDITED** Mon,Wed-Sat 8am-4:30pm; Sun 9am-4pm

La Panella
465 High St, Thornbury
Mon-Fri 6am-6pm; Sat 6am-5pm; Sun 6am-4pm

Monday, October 18, 2010

Curried Barley with Vegetables

Here's a nice healthy dinner for you - a little wintery, but hey, after Melbourne's weather the last few days that's what I'm feeling like.

I had a pumpkin, some broccoli & potatoes to use so when I saw this recipe I was a little excited - no substitutions necessary! Once I tasted it I knew it needed a little more flavour though - I think using vegetable stock instead of water would probably do the trick. Chickpeas would also make a nice protein addition if you were in the mood.

Curried Barley with Vegetables
  • 1 ½ cups pearl barley
  • 1-2 TBS Nuttelex or other dairy-free margarine
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled & cubed
  • 375g pumpkin, cubed
  • 4 cups water (or vegetable stock - see my note above)
  • 250g green vegetables, cut into bite-sized chunks (I used broccoli)
  • Salt, to taste
Rinse barley under cold water until water runs clear, drain. Heat Nuttelex in a large saucepan, add onions & stir until golden, about 3mins. Add garlic, curry powder & garam masala & stir 1min.

Add barley, potatoes, pumpkin & water/stock. Cover, bring to the boil, then reduce heat & simmer 10mins.

Add green vegetables, cover again & simmer a further 10mins, until vegetables & barley are tender. Season to taste with salt.

This will serve between 4-6 people, depending how hungry they are, so adjust the amounts if you're cooking for 2. It was simple, filling & tasty - 3 of my prerequisites for a good meal.

Freestyle Espresso

I discovered a new cafe on Saturday. It was about 2.30 & I was heading from the Altona job to the South Melbourne job & needed to squeeze in a late lunch somewhere. The office is very close to the market but I've already sampled most of the cafes in the immediate area & was feeling like something a bit different. Then I remembered that my boss had told me about a new cafe that had just opened up in a laneway street opposite us. That cafe is Freestyle Espresso & it is brand new - only open 1 month.I knew as soon as I walked in that I was onto a winner. The cafe is light & airy yet funky at the same time. There was great music playing, a mouth-watering display of sandwiches & cakes on display & an all-round good vibe. I approached the counter & was greeted by a super-friendly waiter. Then for the scariest part for any vegan trying a new cafe for the first time - the menu. It isn't extensive & there isn't a whole lot of vegan options on there, but my eye was drawn to the Crushed Avocado & Roast Cherry Tomato on Toast with Lemon Zest. It happened to be just what I felt like so I didn't even ask about the possibility of veganising the other dishes. The staff are really friendly though & I'm sure they would be happy to adjust.I sat down & looked around - I noticed in the corner some shelves with sauces/chutneys/jams etc for sale. I didn't have much time to soak up the atmosphere because my soy latte appeared quickly & it was perfect - creamy & smooth - it disappeared in no time. My meal came out before I'd finished my coffee & looked so cute with the tomatoes still on their stem!I know this is a pretty standard dish in most cafes these days but Freestyle have made a couple of changes to make their version something special. Hidden in all that fresh avocado is tiny pieces of spanish onion, lemon zest & fresh parsley - just enough to add little bursts of flavour that perfectly complemented each other. The tomatoes were perfectly cooked & were super-fresh - very sweet & very delicious.

Freestyle reminds me of the laneway cafes in the CBD - with a bit more space. I really wish it could be kept a secret so that I can keep enjoying it, but know that it will be over-run in no time, which is also good I guess - it's nice to see people trying so hard succeed.

Freestyle Espresso
6 Union St, South Melbourne
7 days, 8am-4pm

Sunday, October 17, 2010

'Tuna Salad' 2 ways

I've just worked 7 days in a row & can't believe I have a week of posts to catch up on again! I'm looking at photos from last Sunday & it's like a lifetime ago.

Last Sunday was such a beautiful sunny day that I was in the mood for salad by dinner time. Since The Vegan Table is like my bible these days, I immediately started flicking through it, looking for inspiration. I didn't get very far in when I came across the 'Better-Than-Tuna Salad'. It's a combination of flaky chickpeas, vegan mayo, capsicum, carrot, celery & walnuts. I had never eaten tuna salad before I was vegetarian so I can't compare to the cruelty-ful version, but I can say that this salad was delicious! It's also another versatile one - as long as the chickpeas & mayo are in there, I'm sure you could add & subtract ingredients to cater for what you have on hand. The salad is crunchy & creamy at the same time & also quite delicately flavoured. The mayo plays an important role - the brand I used wasn't fantastic (it was a sunflower oil one I saw in the organic grocer), so make sure you use a nice one to get the most out of this recipe. I'd recommend Kingland - it's the closest to the original version.The next night the salad was recycled because I was feeling lazy - here it is with some lettuce on corn tortillas, with a re-heated & squashed chickpea & mushroom sausage (that I cooked ages ago) on top. Of course, there's also the obligatory tomato sauce, because I'm a firm believer that it goes with everything (kind of like lemon). There was nothing particularly special about this dinner - it was just a functional meal to get the necessary nutrients in at the end of a long day.I may as well squeeze in a dessert while I'm at it. I made these fruit balls on Monday night as well I think (my memory is failing me). They're a version of these Apricot & Walnut Balls. I didn't have enough walnuts or apricots, so used about 1 cup of walnuts, almonds, cashews & brazil nuts; and 1 cup of mixed dried apricots & dates (soaked in hot water for 10mins). I threw the whole lot into the food processor with a dash of lemon juice & about 1tsp of agave nectar & processed until smooth. The mix was quite soft, which made it difficult to roll in the coconut - but they firmed up pretty well after an hour or so in the fridge.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday breakfast in 4 parts

Step 1 - Get yourself a copy of The 4-Ingredient Vegan. There's a copy at Melbourne Library Service - I know because I asked them to buy it. Once you have the book - flip to the recipe for the Morning Muffin Sandwich & cook the tofu as described - it's delicious & super easy - basically just fry some tofu slices in Nuttelex with Nutritional Yeast flakes, salt & pepper until nice & golden. Toast some muffin halves & lay the tofu slices on the bottom halves.
Step 2 - As per the instructions in the recipe, wilt some fresh or frozen spinach - I used rainbow chard. Pile it on top of the tofu.
Step 3 - Get a copy of The Vegan Table (also available at Melbourne Library Service) & whip up the Vegan Hollandaise Sauce. Spoon a decent amount of the sauce over the spinach.
Step 4 - Place the remaining toasted muffin halves on top & devour!This was a truly awesome breakfast, the most satisfying I've had in a while. The hollandaise sauce was a little thick - the recipe requires using a saucepan & then moving it all to a blender, but I found this took too long which meant the sauce cooled down & thickened up (plus it's really hard to get out of the blender). Next time I'll just make the sauce all in the saucepan & use a good whisk. I'm also really glad I added the hollandaise - the muffins would have been too dry otherwise.

A vegan breakfast at Empire

After reading here and here about Empire Cafe's new vegan menu I knew where I was heading on Saturday morning! I dragged D out of bed early & we made the trek across town, arriving just after they had opened.

It was very exciting to have a whole menu to choose from - it doesn't happen very often. I was in a savoury mood, and even though the ham & cheese toastie from the lunch menu sounds awesome, I decided on the 'Spanish Eggs without the Eggs'. This was described as beans in a napoli sauce, topped with herbed mushrooms, crumbled vegan cheese & served with ciabatta toast. D went with the 'Eggs with 3 sides' - choosing Hash Browns, Avocado & Tomato as his sides.My meal was huge! The beans & mushrooms were swimming in a massive bowl of napoli sauce that also hid lots of lovely chunks of vegan cheese (cheezly I think?). The sauce was full of flavour - though very rich for that time of the morning. I couldn't finish it all. Which was a shame, because I had been eying off the vegan cupcakes on the counter but just couldn't do it after such a huge breakfast.

Unfortunately there was a hiccup with D's meal - his eggs came out served with bacon & tomato, instead of hash browns, avocado & tomato. He was a little upset - but sent it back & a few minutes later was happy again, commenting that his breakfast was also delicious & a good size for a change.

Service is friendly & efficient & though the prices are higher than others in the area, the portion sizes make up for it. The coffee is strong, but not outstanding - it's all about the food.

Empire Cafe Gallery
295 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
Open for breakfast & lunch (possibly closed Tuesdays?)

After breakfast we made a quick trip to the CERES market for some fresh veg & just enjoyed wandering around in the sunshine for a little while. Then it was on to my next mission for the day - herbs. I basically kill all plants that I come into contact with, but I'm determined to at least try to have some fresh herbs on hand this summer. So we drove back across town to Poyntons in Essendon. I have heard about this nursery before - it sounded lovely & it was! We spent a nice half hour or so wandering through the plants, soaking up some more of that wonderful sunshine. Finally, I had to make a choice - you can see below Rosemary on the left, Italian Parsley in the middle & Mint on the right.
Don't they look lovely! I'm heading back soon to pick up Basil & Coriander, then my herb garden will be complete.

Coffee Trial Day 4 - Exprezzo

This was the last cafe I tried for my trial & it probably has the worst name. It looks pretty new (& I couldn't find any information about them online so I think they must be). They have done a nice job on the decorating - the inside is very inviting with warm colours, chandelier lighting & colourful prints on the walls. They also play real music which is a huge plus.It's the smallest of the cafes I visited but there is still plenty of space inside plus a few sunny seats outside. On a side-note - as much as I love the feeling of discovering a new 'hole-in-the-wall' cafe in Melbourne's laneways, sometimes I prefer to know that I'll be able to get a seat. None of the truly great cafes in the CBD stay secret for very long which means that unless you can get there at dawn to stake out your place, you'll be moving on to find somewhere bigger. So I have really enjoyed trialling all these cafes where I know I'll always be able to find a quiet corner to hide away.
The coffee? Unfortunately not good. It's very hot, but also very bitter. A soy latte in a mug is $3.80 ($3.50 normal size).Same old story with the menu - a few choices for vegetarians but nothing for vegans. I'm sure they would be happy to whip up some toast or a sandwich if you asked - the staff are very friendly. The few times I have been to Exprezzo they have been very quiet - even when I went at lunch time. The location probably isn't ideal - opposite the station, but possibly a little too far from the main shopping strip to attract passing pedestrian traffic. I hope they survive because they are doing so much right.
92 Railway St South, Altona

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Coffee Trial Day 3 - Melissa Cakes

This cafe is the closest to my new place of work, so I have been there quite a few times now, even though I prefer the coffee elsewhere. Melissa Cakes definitely has the least atmosphere of all the cafes I visited. It's a big space - with heaps of indoor & outdoor seating. There isn't much in the way of decorating & they have the radio blaring all day (not sure which station - something commercial with a poorer music selection than Triple M).The staff are pretty friendly, but service can be pretty hit & miss. On the mornings I have been there they tend to have long chats with the locals (and each other), rather than worry about the queue of people - which can get quite long. I've been there around mid-afternoon a couple of times & it was much faster - different staff, I guess.
My regular order is a soy latte in a mug which is $3.80 - this is a photo of a normal size which was $3.50. The coffee is average - very hot & very strong but not too bitter. It's better than Artichoke, but not as good as Creme. It suffers from the too-much-froth syndrome like all the others.
The menu is deli-style - OK for vegetarians but vegan options would be the ol' toast with sides for breakfast or a salad sandwich for lunch. I got excited when I saw some gluten & dairy free cakes for sale - unfortunately they still have eggs in them though - so not vegan :-(

Melissa Cakes
34 Pier St, Altona
7 days, 6am-11.30pm

Friday, October 8, 2010


I need some help again!

I'm thinking about giving up some more of my (already quite stretched) time by doing some non-professional volunteering. I already work 2 jobs & volunteer on two committees for my professional association, but I feel like I'd to do something more personal. I'm still not sure I'll be able to manage it, but the thought is growing.

I'm trying to decide between Friends of the Earth (Melbourne) & Vegetarian Victoria. Does anyone have experience working or volunteering with either organisation & can you offer any advice? I'm completely open to your sales pitches :-)


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Coffee Trial Day 2 - Artichoke Deli

I went to write up the rest of my reviews on Wednesday morning only to discover I had somehow deleted all the notes I had made on my phone - so frustrating! So I've had to go back & start again... but that's what I'm like, always happy to suffer for the cause :-)

The name of this cafe is really appealing (who doesn't love artichokes?) & the logo - which you can just about make out in this photo - is pretty too - it's a very versatile vegetable! It's also repeated on the wallpaper inside - so I'm thinking they probably got the wallpaper first & adapted the logo from there.The interior is inviting - really bright with lots of seating options. One downfall is the music (or lack of). The Artichoke Deli, like many other cafes in Altona, chooses to play the (commercial) radio rather than music, which kind of destroys the atmosphere. Yesterday morning it was Triple M & it was loud. I don't know about you but I just can't deal with Eddie McGuire at 8am.

It's a pretty big cafe, but it gets busy, so you might find it difficult to find a seat at times - particularly on Tuesday, which is market day. There's just the one table outside & it's a nice sunny spot, so I think it will get nabbed pretty quickly as the weather continues to warm up.The service is friendly & efficient but the menu is similar to the others - OK for vegetarians but not much for vegans. As the name implies it's a deli-style cafe so you can get the normal things like quiche & pasties & sandwiches. Breakfast would definitely be limited to toast with sides & for lunch the best option would be a salad sandwich.

The coffee isn't great - I've had a couple of passable ones, but yesterday it was so strong & bitter I almost couldn't finish it. My soy latte in a mug was $3.80 - the one in the photo is a normal-sized soy latte I had last week which was $3.50 I think.Artichoke Deli
Mon-Fri 8am-5pm, Sat 8am-4pm
71 Pier St, Altona

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Coffee Trial Day 1 - Creme Lounge

OK, it's time to stop putting off these reviews. I recently started a new job in Altona. Before I even took the job I scoped out the local coffee options because it's VERY important to me to have somewhere nice for my morning coffee :-)

But I needed a more structured approach (I am a librarian after all - research & structure are my lifeblood). So, over the last couple of weeks I have been working my through the cafes of Altona trying to find the best coffee. I'll say this straight up - Altona is not the most vegan friendly town. I haven't had a meal in any of these cafes, though I have checked the menus in each & come to the conclusion that the only way to eat in any of them would be to stick with the basic sides (boring!) or make significant alterations to the dishes - something I hate doing.

Day 1 was Creme Lounge. (Apologies in advance for the photos in all these reviews - it's the curse of the phone camera again)This is definitely the 'trendiest' of all the cafes I visited. It has a nice atmosphere inside (quite dark), with lots of timber furniture & soft music playing. It's huge so no worries about not getting a table & there's also plenty of outdoor seating. At the back of the cafe is a bakery - Holy Bread - which I haven't tried, but would no doubt be a good place to get a baguette or sourdough loaf. The breakfast & lunch menus are both long with quite a few vegetarian options, but nothing vegan (you could always do the toast with sides for breakfast or chips with a salad for lunch).

Creme has had a number of bad reviews, but I haven't experienced anything like what has been described (though my experience is quite limited considering I haven't eaten there). The staff are friendly enough & service is quick. The outdoor seating also provides a nice a sunny spot in the morning.Now - the important part - the coffee. My soy latte in a mug was $4.30 (the most expensive of the cafes I tried). It was creamy, slightly bitter & warm but not hot, so you can't sit on it for a long time unless you enjoy cold coffee. What you can't tell from the photo is the amount of froth on top - at last 2cm worth - which was a common problem everywhere I went. I'm starting to think I should order a cappuccino instead - at least I'll get some cocoa to enjoy with my froth :-)

Creme Lounge
60 Pier St, Altona
7 days, 7am-10pm

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A spring take on the weekly lunches

Well, we had to wait until October, but we're finally starting to see some blue skies & sunshine in Melbourne. This means I'm changing my weekly lunch from a stew to a salad (I actually changed last week but was rewarded with a miserable cold & rainy day so I'm ignoring that). This week I chose wholemeal cous cous as my grain base (the one thing I find it difficult to get enough servings of is grains, so I always try to make sure my lunch includes them). To the cous cous I added a can of chickpeas, a couple of stalks of finely sliced celery, a grated carrot, 1/2 a finely diced red capsicum, 1/2 cup mung bean sprouts, 1/4 cup frozen peas, 1/4 cup frozen corn & a slurp each of olive oil, balsamic vinegar & lemon juice. I added some salt & pepper for good measure & there you have it - a healthy & filling lunch for the week in about 10 minutes!D's lunch is some delicious Spinach & 'Cheese' Rolls which I saw here. How do I know they're delicious I hear you ask? Well, I might have tested one or two - you know, just to make sure I wasn't giving D dodgy food :-) These taste just like the ones I used to buy from the local bakery before I was vegan. Using the Tofutti also makes these really easy to make, although you could probably substitute a tofu 'ricotta' with equally good results.

Breakfast food for dinner

I was all out of inspiration on Thursday night but was also desperate for a quick & healthy dinner. Staring into the fridge I saw a selection of fresh veges & a block of tofu. Now, I've only ever eaten scrambled tofu for breakfast - over toast - as a kind of substitute for scrambled eggs (a much healthier & tastier alternative!). I figured it would be easy enough to bring the dish into the evening with the addition of a whole lot of vegetables & some stronger flavourings. Here's what I came up with - D & I both devoured it so it must have been delicious :-)Scrambled Tofu with Attitude
  • 1 block firm tofu, rinsed & dried (you can press it if you have the time)
  • 1 leek, finely sliced (you could use onion)
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red capsicum, finely sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, finely diced
  • 2 handfuls baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup mung bean sprouts (optional - I just added them because they came with my veg delivery & I don't know what else to do with them!)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp minced chili (I used the jar stuff, you could also use powder or flakes)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1-2 TBS soy sauce, to taste
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
Crumble the tofu into a bowl. Heat a little oil in a large frypan & add the leek, carrot, celery, capsicum & garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, about 5mins. Add the tofu & all the flavourings & cook another few minutes. Add the remaining vegetables & cook until the spinach has just wilted & most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Here's a photo of my breakfast this morning - D is away again so I can freely indulge my sweet tooth :-) This is the 'Fast & Fabulous French Toast' from The Vegan Table.I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book! Everything I have made from it has worked out so well! This french toast really was fast & fabulous & super simple to make. It's just soy milk, no tofu (which is good because my local supermarkets don't stock silken tofu so I rarely have any in the fridge). I warmed a handful of frozen blueberries with a teaspoon of agave syrup to serve this with - they added just the right touch of tartness to the sweetness of the toast & maple syrup.