Tuesday, 4 August 2015

In My Kitchen August 2015 (recipe testing and apple pie)

August seems to find me busier offline than ever.  Which means my blogging energy is on the wane.  Don't worry!  I am not about to give it up!  I just am finding it tough with not enough natural light in a cold dark winter in the first year that it is really mattering to me since I started blogging.  I have borrowed a light box from my brother but need to find time to work out how to use it.  I am still trying to sort out the space issues with photos on my computer, as well as being kept busy with a whole host of other activities.  Including recipe testing which is taking some of my blogging energy.  Then there are the recipes that just aren't ready for a full post!  Like the apple pie that needs further work.

Let me start this month's peek into my kitchen with a taster of my recipe testing.  I was so excited that one of the recipes for the cookbook by Leigh Drew that I got to test was a batch of vegan cheeseymite scrolls.  They were so good.  Sylvia ate one when it was warm and then refused to eat them once cooled on the grounds that they were "too vegany".  I was so in love with them I could have cried when they were all gone.

I was intrigued at a Kraft version of Nutella.  We all loved it.  E thought it superior to Nutella.  I found that it could be eaten from the spoon.  Sylvia was impressed at adding it to a smoothie.

Recipe testing has had me looking out all sorts of equipment I don't usually use.  I have purchased a new frypan that can go from stovetop to oven.  However I didn't buy pie tins because I have this motley assortment of pin tins from my late maternal grandmother.  I photographed them with a 20cm cake tin beside them to show just how little and cute they are.

Lime spiders are a Christmas tradition in my family.  So when I saw this lime spider soft drink sentimentality gave way to pester power and I bought it for Sylvia to share with her friends at our Christmas in July lunch.  I had a small taste and it was just sweet lemonade without any of the fun or fizz of a spider. 

Another disappointment in the kitchen was this vegetarian jelly.  I am not a huge fan of jelly but Sylvia loves it.  So during a kitchen clear out I found this packet that was best by 2010.  I mixed it up and it never set properly.  Unfortunately because it was so many years out of date I am not sure if that was the problem and I wonder if I should buy more to check.  Sylvia loved eating the swampy jelly and would be happy to test taste!

Not all has been awry in my kitchen.  This packet of Sakata Roast Tomato and Balsamic rice crackers was bought on the recommendation of Kari in her July In My Kitchen post.  We consume a lot of rice crackers here, mostly seaweed.  Kari said that these are her favourite so I wanted to try them.  Sylvia and I were most impressed.  They are part salt and vinegar and part bbq and 100% delicious.

I am not a connoisseur of olive oil.  I love the stuff but don't use a lot in recipes.  However I do love to support a local company.  So while I was entertained by the label on this bottle, the clincher was that the company's address was close to where I live.  Then I was disappointed to read their website and find it full of marketing guff without any real information about the company.  I am yet to open the bottle so I can't tell you much more about the actual oil but it does have a cute photo on the label!

A few weeks ago I had a friend of Sylvia's over and made this tart while they played.  It was a triumph of leftovers.  Pastry that was clogging the freezer, the remainder of a vegan cheese sauce, some cherry tomatoes on the turn, and some leftover sun dried tomato butter.  I fried the tomatoes in the butter til soft and most of the liquid was absorbed and baked them on the cheese and pastry.  It was delicious and was a good snack for the kids.  I think Sylvia preferred the crusts!

It is the time of year when fresh fruit is not at its best (though I bought 3 punnets of strawberries for $6 today) so we have been having lots of smoothies.  I really enjoyed this peach nectar in a smoothie with banana, orange, strawberries, passionfruit and soy milk.

On the weekend I made overnight sourdough bread but it was too cold for it to rise enough to be ready to bake by lunchtime.  Instead I bought some zaatar pizzas from Zaatar on the way home and filled mine with hummus and vegies.  E had Sriracha on his which is his new favourite hot sauce.  The price of the pizzas has risen from $1 to $1.30 but it still makes for a cheap and delicious lunch.

Finally I want to reflect on our meal on Saturday night.  I thought I would make something simple for the main course so I could make apple pie.  It still took me from 4.30 to 7.30 to make dinner.  To be fair, I did spend time speaking to my mum on the phone, getting Sylvia's dinner, breaking the sugar container, and generally organising other things around the house while I made dinner.  There is no such thing as making dinner with no distractions at my house.

Above is a capsicum that I chargrilled over the gas flame because it seemed quicker than roasting it.  I was following a recipe from Ottolenghi for Marinated peppers with pecorino.  I wasn't too impressed with this dish because the marinade was too garlicky.  However I changed so much - chargrilling, no watercress, less cheese and less herbs - that I don't hold Ottolenghi responsible.  I still have some marinated peppers to use in another dish.

I had some shortcrust pastry in the freezer so I decided a pie would be easy as stewing them is pretty straight forward.  However chopping up the apples took quite a while.  I stewed up about 8 granny smith apples (give or take what Sylvia could swipe from the chopping board) with 1/4 cup castor sugar, 1 tbsp brown sugar, a shake of cinnamon and juice of half a lemon.  I cooked them until mostly soft and they then cooked to a lovely soft filling in the pie, though I wondered if they should have had held their shape.

I had decided to serve the marinated peppers with fresh bread, brussels sprouts and tofu besan omelet.  The omelet was meant to be a matter of quickly whizzing up ingredients but as I used a firm tofu instead of a soft one, I found myself having to add lots of milk to reach the right creamy consistency.  Then there was more mixture than usual and it stuck to the bottom of the frypan.  Usually my omelet slides out like a golden disc but this one was a mess on the plate.  It still tasted lovely and the leftovers were eaten in a sandwich and then on mee goreng.  In hindsight scrambled besan would have been quicker.

For dessert we had a slice of apple pie.  The filling was lovely but the pastry was not quite right.  I think part of the problem was that I was using supermarket pastry rather than making my own.  I had some pastry scraps that I rolled out but you can see they were still quite thick on the bottom.  I prebaked the bottom for about 10 minutes which shrunk from the edges and then I couldn't pinch together the top and bottom around the edges.  Brushing the top with milk and sprinkling with sugar was good as the pastry was not sweet.  I baked it for about 40 minutes at 180 C which I think was right and might have been ok if I had not prebaked the bottom.  More experiments are required.  (Hence my recipe notes here to refer back to.)

I had asked E to buy ice cream for the pie because I knew he and Sylvia would like this.  He was in a rush and bought chocolate orange ice cream.  It wasn't what I would have chosen but they enjoyed it.

I am sending this post to Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for her In My Kitchen event.  Head over to join in (by 10th of each month) and/or check out what is happening in other bloggers' kitchens. Celia usually has the links to other In My Kitchen posts on her side bar but she has some other pressing issues this month and has asked us to scroll down the comments to find links.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Don Don, ACMI and Blur

Last year I met with some former colleagues for lunch at Don Don.  I think I might have been there many years ago with some friends from our travels who absolutely raved about the place.  Since then E and I have been there for a few quick and cheap dinners before going out, the last one being last week before seeing Blur.

Before Sylvia was born, we were fans of Gopals for its quick and cheap food.  If you don't want any choice about your meal then Don Don is every bit as quick and cheap, maybe more.  I have been enjoying it but it is not all vegetarian like Gopals.  The menu is small.  Vegetarians have a choice of tofu curry don, soba salad and miso soup.  I have stuck with the tofu curry don which is a bargain at $5.90. 

It is indeed cheap and cheerful with plastic bowls and spoons.  The tofu curry don consists of lots of rice and Japanese curry sauce with tofu, a token vegetable (I have had zucchini and cauliflower) and some pickled vegies.  The meal is pretty basic and not as generous with vegies as I would prefer.  But for the price it is a decent feed.

After dinner we had enough time to go to ACMI Cafe for coffee and cake.  It is some time since we have been there.  When Sylvia was a baby and went where we went, we visited quite a bit.  (Unlike these days when we go where she goes!)  So I couldn't help looking out at the highchairs and space for strollers to see that it is still very child friendly.  I suspect that Sylvia would love the booths that are new since our last visit.

E had a coffee with a very nice biscuit.  The range of herbal teas was too limited for my tastes so I had a ginger beer with a slice of warm chocolate mud cake with lots of lovely gooey ganache on top.

The main event was the Blur concert at the Rod Laver Arena.  I didn't take a lot of notice of Blur when they were at the height of their fame but I have great memories of dancing to their music in nightclubs and of spending time with friends in London who were the sort of fans who lived for backstage passes to Blur gigs.  The band is also a sentimental favourite because one of the CDs that E bought when we were first going out was a Blur EP.

When E and I left the concert we turned to one another and said, wow that was so much better that I expected.  It was a fantastic concert.  Even sitting up the back, we were immersed in the energy of this amazing band, though shielding our eyes from the intense light show at times.  Their songs are beautiful and moody and cheeky and fun.  The band members are such fascinating people.  (Did you know that the drummer is a practicing criminal lawyer, a computer animator and a political activist?)  It was their first gig in Melbourne for 18 years and I am so glad we were there because who knows when their next gig will be.

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Friday, 31 July 2015

Paneer tikka masala and Spinach and chickpea curry

It was the end of a busy week during the school holidays.  I was late making dinner, E was late home and Sylvia was late to watch her film.  She bore it well, ate beans on toast while I chopped and fried and stirred.  She complained about the noise of the paneer frying and then snuggled up with us on the couch to watch How to train your dragon.

I had been meaning to make the Paneer Tikka Masala for some time.  At the start of the week I had made dahl to eat with the masala.  It took me a week to find time to make the masala so fortunately we had the big pot of dahl to tide us.  By the end of the week I still had some left. It made a fine accompaniment to the masala.

The masala seemed to last a long time.  I made a cauliflower in spicy peanut gravy (with cashews instead of peanuts and peas instead of the leafy greens) that I had made years ago and it was really nice but very grey.  I made the sauce in my high speed blender which made it smoother than my previous attempt. 

A night or two later I made another curry with spinach and chickpeas.  The recipe methodology needed some slight tweaking to work for me so.  However it was a great simple fast recipe that I hope to make again.  I particularly like that it uses lots of chickpeas for those on the aquafaba bandwagon.

I was very pleased to have three curries to serve together.  I love lots of curries but only manage to make them on different nights.  However by the time I had eaten the spinach and chickpea curry over a few nights I had had my fill of curries.  I blended the leftovers with some vegies to make a very good soup.

I am sending the Paneer tikka masala to Gluten Free Fridays and the Spinach and chickpea curry to Healthy Vegan Fridays.

More curries from Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Banana Curry (gf, v)
Beetroot, Greens and Chickpea Curry (gf. v)
Chana Masala (gf, v)
Chickpea and potato curry with mango chutney (gf, v)
Chickpeas and paneer in a spicy creamy cashew gravy (gf)
Spicy pea curry (gf, v)
Watermelon Curry (gf, v)

Paneer Tikka Masala
Slightly adapted from Ivy, Phyllis and Me
Serves 6

4-5 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons of sweet paprika
1 tablespoon of ground coriander
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of chilli paste
3-4 tablespoons of Greek yoghurt
400g tin of tomatoes or 3 fresh large tomatoes
500ml vegetable stock (or less)
600g paneer cheese, cut into cubes
1 tsp of salt

Brown onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan.  Stir the ginger and garlic in for 1 minute.  Stir in the spices to make a paste.  Gradually stir in the yoghurt and then then tin of tomatoes.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the stock and simmer uncovered for 25 minutes.  It should reduce thought mine didn't that much.  (However once it had sat for an hour or two it thickened a lot.)

While tomato mixture is simmering, fry paneer in remaining oil over medium high heat until golden brown.  I did this in two batches.

Mix tomato mixture, fried paneer and salt.  Cook another 2 to 3 minutes and serve with rice or naan bread.

Spinach and chickpea curry
Adapted from BBC Good Food
Serves 4-6

1 tsp oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tbsp mild curry paste (I used Rogan Josh)
400g tin of tomatoes
2 x 400g cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
250g baby spinach
squeeze lemon juice
basmati rice, to serve

Fry the onion in oil until soft.  Stir in curry paste for a minute or two.  Add tomatoes and chickpeas.  Cook on medium to medium high for about 5 minutes until thicken slightly. Add spinach and cover for about a minute or two until it is wilting.  Stir in seasoning and lemon juice.  Serve with rice.

On the stereo:
Melt: Straightjacket Fits

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

N.Tran Bakery and a day out in Prahran

I had a fun trip to Prahran with a friend last week.  Carmen had invited me to along to a library session on Twitter.  The day was looking promising when we found a parking spot easily.  That is quite an achievement around Chapel Street.

The information session was interesting and makes me think maybe I will open a Twitter account when I have some time.  Though perhaps the most fascinating moments were when an old guy on roller blades turned up at the doorway of the session just to watch and looking at the swastikas in the library tiles on the way out.  (The building was no doubt built before Hitler sullied the swastika.)

We enjoyed looking up at all the wonderful old buildings.  And browsing in some of the shops beneath.

I enjoyed checking out some street art nearby.  It is great to get out in a different part of Melbourne from my usual inner North. 

Then we had lunch at N.Tran Bakery.  I had the vegetarian salad roll with tofu (banh mi).  It was freshly made and filled with lovely vegies and tasty slices of tofu.  My only regret was that I ordered the standard salad and didn't think to ask for some beetroot in it.  Carmen had the rice paper rolls which were huge.

We had been lucky to order before the rush arrived but as we ate in store we were amazed that it got quite busy.  We paid Prahran prices ($7) but it was a really good lunch.  Satisfied we got in the car to go home and got terribly lost when we missed a turn and found ourselves exploring many no through roads by Southbank.  Luckily we were happy to chat as we drove - or perhaps this was why we got lost in the first place.  Next time we will listen to the GPS.

N.Tran Bakery
263 Chapel Street, Prahran
03 9525 0889

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Sunday, 26 July 2015

Chocolate coconut nirvana slice

So according to The Age newspaper, Melbourne is the world capital of food allergies.  I can confirm that this makes contributing food to social gatherings challenging.  My nieces and nephews present a challenging picture.  We now have a dairy allergy as well as vegetarian, peanut allergy, and celiac (as well as general nut allergies on the other side of the world).  So when we gathered for my brother's birthday on the weekend I decided I would make something sweet to please everyone but it seemed my energy levels weren't quite up to it.

I am still dealing with too many photos cluttering up my hard drive, spending evenings doing silly things like looking for a car key only to find it had fallen in a shoe, and testing recipes that have been labelled by Sylvia as 'too vegany'.  So I decided I would make something on Saturday morning before her gymnastics class.  However upon checking my recipe for home made soy condensed milk I found that it would take a good hour plus need cooling time.  By the time I read this, I had started making condensed milk with coconut for a nirvana slice.

It all got too much and I opened a tin of dairy condensed milk so that I could get the slice cooked in time.  It was still warm when I loaded it into the car.  We arrived at my parents' place after everyone else had eaten lunch and were ready for the birthday cake.  We were too ravenous to be polite and wait til the cake was over to eat our dinner.  It was so chaotic that I never took out my camera until slice had been served and some leftovers had been given to other members of the family.

I really liked this slice though I agree with Sylvia that the almonds were not so successful in it.  It was similar to this one and this one.  I would like to try it again with home made condensed milk.  Then it would be both gluten free and vegan.

The recipe on Gluten Free Goddess called for biscuit crumbs.  I happened to have a 65g packet of Freelicious tea biscuits and used ground up corn cakes for the rest of the bulk.  I quite like the sound of the Nirvana bars at The Vegan Project that use ground almonds and oats instead of biscuits, and coconut milk and maple syrup instead of condensed milk.  Many more experiments are required.

And the coconut condensed milk I was making actually turned out really well.  I gave it to my sister whose little girl is having reaction to dairy.  Hopefully she will get some use out of it.  I am going to experiment more with it as I have a particular fondness for condensed milk in all forms.

I am sending this post to Carole's Food on Friday which is celebrating all things coconut this week.

More condensed milk recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Choc chip cookies
Chocolate caramel slice 
Creamy strawberry icy poles
Mock turtle slice
Vegan 'nutella' fudge

Chocolate coconut nirvana slice
Adapted from Gluten Free Goddess

1/2 cup butter or vegan margarine
1 1/2 cups gluten-free biscuit crumbs*
1 generous cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup coconut (I used dessicated)*
1 cup almonds, chopped and roasted
1 x 400g tin (about 1 cup) condensed milk*

Preheat oven to 180 C and line a swiss roll tin with baking paper.  Melt butter and pour into prepared tin.  Spoon over biscuit crumbs, mix with butter and pat with the back of a spoon to evenly cover the pan.  Scatter with nuts, coconut and chocolate.  Pour condensed milk over the rest of the ingredients.  I stirred them a little to make sure they were mixed.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until puffed and golden brown on top.  Cool in tray and then cut into squares or bars.

*NOTES: I used a mixture of ground tea biscuits and corn cakes for the biscuit crumbs (nb in America these are called cookie crumbs).  I used dairy condensed milk but the Gluten Free Goddess made it with coconut condensed milk so I am sure a vegan one would work here too.  I hope to try it some day.  The Gluten Free Goddess called for coconut flakes but I only had dessicated coconut - will try it with flakes when I have some.

On the Stereo:
Reading, Writing and Arithmetic: The Sundays

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Catch up eating out 2014-2015

It is an embarrassingly long time since I last shared a catch up of random photos of cafes for which I haven't had time to write a full post.  It seems my computer is full up with photos so it seems a good opportunity to dig deep into the shadows (and my memory) and bring some of these old photos into the light. 

These cafes are either places I wanted more visits before I write about it, places I have already written about or places for which I didn't have much information or time for a full post. 

It is so long since I did a catch up that this meal from the Cornershop (9 Ballarat St, Yarraville) was from summer in 2013-2014.  I quite liked the zucchini and mint fritters with cumin yoghurt, sumac and pinenuts.  Sylvia had hand cut potato chips which were really good.  It was a really lovely space to eat in but my memories are a bit blurry.

I love visiting bakeries and have so many photos that here is a collage of some of the great baking I have been eating. 
  • Far left and far right middle: The chocolate muffin from Green Refectory Cafe (Sydney Rd Brunswick) was amazingly good and I also really liked the pie but can't find any notes of what was in it.  
  • Middle top: Yummy tofu and pumpkin pie from Melbourne University food cooperative.
  • Middle bottom: Vanilla slice from O'Hea's Bakery (203-205 O'Hea St, Coburg).  I have friends who swear this is the best vanilla slice.  It was a bit rich for me but pretty good.
  • Far right top: Pumpkin and polenta muffin from Sugardough (Lygon Street, Brunswick).  I just love their savoury muffins either on the go or in the cafe with a good book.
  • Far right bottom: Cheese, spinach and sundried tomato muffin with pepper from Dench Bakery (109 Scotchmer St, Fitzroy North).  Another delicious savoury muffin. 

This mint and chocolate ice cream from Brunettis (Lygon St, Carlton) was enjoyed in summer,  That seems a long long time ago.  If memory serves me right, it was actually for Sylvia but I can't remember the occasion.

A recent meal was this cauliflower. tomato and mushroom soup at the Brunswick Flour Mill (341 Sydney Rd., Brunswick).  I really liked the wooden table and chairs with old advertisements on the walls.  This cafe has lots of bakery pies and cakes as well as a cafe menu.  I really loved this soup and would return to try other food.

I went to a birthday dinner at the Clarendon Hotel (378 Latrobe Terrace, Newtown) in Geelong back in 2014.  I enjoyed the vegetarian lasagna and the golden chips but it was your average pub grub rather than anything fancy.  It was a dark cold night and we were glad the kids could play in the indoor area and there was lots of room for us to sit.  However we had a long wait for dinner and I was surprised to find some of the kids has to wait ages, which meant tears and meltdowns. 

I went to New Day Rising (221D Blyth St, Brunswick East) recently for another of their amazing CLTs.  For the uninitiated, that is the coconut bacon, lettuce and tomato bagels.  It is such a cute tiny cafe and I enjoyed reading a magazine and gazing out the window while I ate but first I had to find a place to get cash because there is no EFTPOS or credit cards accepted there.

One of our regular places to see movies is the Cinema Nova.  Quite some time ago, E and I had a meal at the Cinema Nova Bar (380 Lygon Street, Carlton) before a movie.  I had the pizza with tomato and basil sauces.  I liked it but found that this criss cross of sauces looked good but was a bit much sauce for me.  The menu seemed quite snacky but upon checking the recent menu I would like to try it again because there are quite a few vegetarian options and it is so convenient.

Another long ago meal that has almost receded in the mists of time is this pumpkin soup at a cute little cafe in the city called Le Petite Bourke. It was ok but pretty light for lunch, even with a bread roll.  Sylvia had a croissant with cheese.  As I remember the vegetarian options were not extensive but I think the menu was fairly small anyway. 

On another trip to Cinema Nova, we had dinner at Sea Salt (364 Lygon St, Carlton) before the movie. While this is fancier than the traditional fish and chip shop, I like that there is the option of burgers and sushi for vegetarians.  I had a vegetarian burger with chips and it was great.  This was back in summer when we could sit outside on a balmy evening and chat to other people at the communal table.

When the Emporium shopping centre opened in the CBD last year, E, Sylvia and I went to the food hall for lunch after a movie.  Because the centre was so new, a stall was giving away free green tea ice cream.  I can't remember where it was but the ice cream was really good and the colour was amazing.

I had the superfood salad at Miss Marmalade (126 Union St, Brunswick) when I had lunch there with my mum last August.  This is the time of year when I feel the lack of seasonal fresh fruit and vegies.  So I really loved this fresh hearty healthy salad of quinoa, lentils, barley, greens, almonds on yoghurt flatbread with harissa, truffle pecorino, white bean hummus and pomegranate.  It is a really beautiful cafe and I was surprised to see that the back room was very child friendly with books and toys.

We haven't been to Batman Market (Gafney St, Coburg) for ages but last year we went there and I really enjoyed the broad bean pea arancini with cabbage salad.  Meanwhile Sylvia and E were more excited to eat a cronut.  We must go back and check how the market is going.

I am always on the look out for a good vegetarian pho.  This one at CERES Merri Table Cafe (East Brunswick) was nice but quite light on vegies. I had been tossing up between the pho and the zucchini fritter sandwich.  I recently tried the sandwich and it was not that impressive.  However other foods that people around me have had there recently such as roast potatoes and Dr Marty's crumpets have been really good.  I also really like their little sweet snacks for kids such as the chocolate covered dried banana that Sylvia enjoyed.  However I prefer a pie at the market cafe and I long for them to open the cafe by the old train that closed over a year ago for refurbishment.

Lastly I was really impressed by this pancake about a year ago at what I thought was from St Ali North (815 Nicholson St, Carlton North).  I had gone to meet a friend and found I got my times confused so instead I went to read the paper and enjoy these pancakes with rhubarb, meringues, and pistachio.  (I didn't take notes of the actual name).  However when I thought about returning there another time it was named Green Park.  

So maybe others don't have the chance to eat this lovely pancake again.  However it was so pretty and delicious that I still want to share.  And note in the photo that at the time, The Age newspaper was featuring the shame of our refugee situation.  It seems that things have only got worse since then.  But politics aside, I am truly spoiled to live in a town that offers so much good food that I can't keep up with the places I visit.

NOTE: there aren't many vegan meals here as they were featured in my Vegan eating out in Melbourne post late last year.  I also have other places that I am still hoping to find time to write about!