Category Archives: Lunch

Mr Nice Guy

I’ve been a big fan of Mr Nice Guy cupcakes since my awesome friend Georgia introduced me to them.  My first Mr Nice Guy was some kind of amazing berry amazingness that was the perfect cupcake – light, moist cake with sweet-but-not-too-sweet flavoursome icing.  So as soon as Cindy & Michael posted about the new Mr Nice Guy Cafe in Brunswick (which happens to be a 10 minute walk from my office) I had to go.  Unfortunately, the cafe isn’t open on Tuesdays, so I had to wait a couple of days…and now it’s taken me a couple of weeks to write this up.

The cafe is at the Noise Bar on Albert St in Brunswick.  It’s full of couches and has a few ‘proper’ tables as well –  a blessing for those of use with a habit of spilling food in our laps.  It’s actually quite a charming space, although pretty quiet – I was the first person there when I walked in at 12:15, but a a couple of other groups came in while I was eating.

Along with the famous cupcakes, Mr Nice Guy also serve vegan tex mex and crepes. I had the quesadilla with vegan sour cream on the side ($2 extra) and it was damn tasty, although I wanted something more from it – a bit of fresh salsa would have made everything amazing.

I went specifically for lunch, but there was also no way I was leaving without a cupcake. I picked the Betty White: chocolate cake with coconut icing and flakes of toasted coconut on top – it’s like a bounty bar in cupcake form.

Betty White
Betty White – the Bounty bar of Vegan Cupcakes

I took my camera along with full intentions of documenting my meal, but I got distracted by the tasty food and forgot all about it until I was paying (I took the cupcake photos once I got back to the office).  As I was fishing for my wallet, the amazing crepe cake below came out, and the owners were trying to figure out how to photograph it with dodgy phone cameras.  I offered to let them use my decent-but-not-very-fancy digital and emailed the photos.  This is the crepe cake:

Crepes layered with lemon cream cheese and glazed with berries.

As a thank you for the camera use, I got a bonus free cupcake! It was gorgeous – rosewater cake with a chocolate icing – so tasty!

Rosewater cupcake with chocolate icing

Bonus Cupcake: Rosewater with chocolate icing

The verdict: great space run with a complete lack of pretence, relaxed service, and tasty, tasty food.  I hope they get the custom they deserve and keep on serving up delicious vegan food to Brunswegians for a long, long, time.

Homemade “Ricotta”

Homemade ricotta on toast

The first thing I have to say is that this isn’t really ricotta.  Ricotta is made from whey, and this is made from whole milk enriched with cream.  It’s like super-rich, lightly salted, fresh homemade paneer.  And it’s delicious.

The second thing I have to say is that I’m totally obsessed with it. I saw the recipe on Smitten Kitchen and I’ve made it three times now.  I kept forgetting to add the salt after the first batch, but I don’t think that takes too much away from it.  Seriously. So good.

The first time I followed Deb’s recipe exactly (opting for the lower cream:milk ratio; no idea why).  It was a little grainier than I’d like, but still delicious.  I mixed the fresh curds with some extra lemon juice and tossed with some just-steamed green beans and toasted almond flakes. Perfection.

The second time I made it to use up dairy products leftover from other recipes (I’m usually a soy kinda girl). I didn’t measure anything, just tipped the leftover milk and cream into a pot and heated it up.  I used leftover yoghurt for the acid, and when it didn’t curdle quite enough, I added a bit of extra lemon juice to get things going.  This was incredibly creamy, sweet, and amazing, and dear Maude I wish I’d measured things so I could repeat it. I scoffed it all with a spoon and you better believe I’m going to experiment with higher cream ratios and yoghurt coagulants until I can reliably reproduce the results.

The third time I made it, I decided to stop mucking around with polite quantities and just go for broke.  I made a-bit-over-double the original recipe with a cream ratio somewhere in between the two previous attempts.  I also miscalculated the acid ratio and used nearly twice the required lemon juice, but it still came out creamy and seriously good.  Better than deli ricotta for about two-thirds the price, and seriously better than supermarket tubs.  I keep sneaking back to the kitchen to eat it by the spoonful as I type.

If you don’t eat the whole lot at once, you have more restraint than me.  You should also transfer it to a plastic container and keep it in the fridge – it will keep for a few days (if it lasts that long).  It will also firm up a bit – mine ended up with a texture and mouthfeel similar to mascarpone.

Hot milk

Heat the milk until it's foamy.

Mmm, curdled

Curdled milk. This is what you want.

Cheesecloth. Ikea curtain. Whatever.

Homemade Ricotta
from Smitten Kitchen

If you’re after a more reasonable amount, you should probably go use Deb’s original recipe – but go for the higher cream content. Despite Deb’s claims, I think it makes a huge difference, but my experiments have not been as scientific as hers.  If you’re after an unreasonably large quantity, use the measures below. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

2L milk
600ml cream
pinch salt
150ml lemon juice (I used 300ml and it worked but had a very pronounced lemon flavour. Maybe have a couple extra lemons on hand in case?)
A couple of good pinches of salt

Combine the milk and cream (and salt! don’t forget the salt!) in a large saucepan.  Place over medium heat.  If you have a candy/deepfry thermometer, heat to 85C (190F).  If you don’t have a thermometer, heat until just below boiling (there will be foamy bubbles on the surface).

Turn off the heat.  Pour in the lemon juice and stir gently – you should see curds start to form.  If that doesn’t happen, add a little more lemon juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, until they do.  Leave to sit for a few minutes.

Place a large colander over a bowl.  Line the colander with cheesecloth (I use the excess length of a sheer curtain from Ikea, washed and cut to size.  You could also use a tea towel, but the closer the weave the longer it will take to drain.)

Allow to drain.  The longer you leave it, the drier it will be.  If you’re making the large quantity, you may need to empty the whey from the bowl every so often.

To eat: Spread on toast. Mix through pasta. Drizzle with olive oil. Drizzle with honey. Serve with fruit. Or tomatoes and basil.  Or just-steamed green beans and toasted almond flakes. Or grilled eggplant or zucchini or asparagus.  Or just grab a spoon and go for it. No judgement here.

Mushroom Bourguinon

One of the things I thought I’d really miss when I first went vegetarian was winter stews – slow-cooked, deeply flavoursome, alcohol-infused, meaty winter stews with thick, rich gravy.  It didn’t take me long to figure out some very satisfying vegetarian alternatives, but this mushroom bourguignon from Smitten Kitchen is one of the best by far.

As Deb says, “most of the things people thought they liked about meat they actually liked about the sauces and braises and spices they were cooked in” and I think this recipe proves that.  It’s rich, indulgent, warm, and comforting.  It’s everything you want it to be.  And it’s very easily veganisable – just replace the butter with olive oil and away you go.  Vegan French food win!

Deb serves her mushrooms over egg noodles, but I had mine with mashed potatoes and I’m calling it perfection. I did eat the leftovers with parpadelle the next day, and that was damn fine, too.  Just pick your favourite carb and get to it.

Mushroom bourguignon on mashed potatoes

Mushroom Bourguignon
Very slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

4 tablespoons Olive oil or olive oil & butter
900g-1kg mushrooms (I used portabellos)
1/2 carrot, finely diced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
Parsley, chopped

Heat a good sploosh of olive oil, or a combination of olive oil and butter, in a large pan.  Cook the mushrooms on high until they colour, but don’t soften.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

Saute the onions, carrots and thyme over medium heat until the onions colour.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the garlic and cook very briefly.

Pour in the wine and stir, scraping the stuck bits off the bottom.  Bring to the boil and allow the liquid to reduce by half.  Stir in the tomato paste and the stock.

Add the mushrooms and any liquid they released, and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Mix the flour with 1 tblsp of butter or oil, then add to the stew.  Simmer over low heat for around 10 minutes, or until the sauce is a thick gravy.  Taste, season if necessary, and spoon over the carbohydrate of your choice.  Top with a good sprinkling of the chopped parsley, pour yourself a nice glass of red, and snuggle up near a heater while you eat.  You’ll wish winter would stay forever.

Waldorf Salad

Celery, you guize!

Celery

Look, it’s so green!  It’s also something I usually have no idea what to do with it when it arrives in my veggie box.

Probably because I used to hate it.

Celery was my most-despised vegetable growing up.  I thought it was bitter and stringy and I absolutely could not understand why anyone would insist on ruining perfectly good food with its presence.  My mother used to try to get me to eat it because of the allegedly magical weigh-loss effects it would have on my fat little body.  But even in those days of self-loathing, I couldn’t bring myself to eat it, no matter what the promised effects.

I grew up and my tastes changed (both in food and the best way to deal with living in a fat-hating culture).  I’d occasionally buy a stick of celery to put into pot of stock, or even a mirepoix. But it wasn’t until the last year or so that I’ve come to actually like the stuff (and even sometimes – shockingly! – crave it).  It’s so deeply associated with diet-culture in my mind, and it’s hard to enjoy any sort of food if you’re eating it as punishment.

Anyway, a lovely bright green half of celery turned up in my veggie box, and since my freezer is full of as much stock as it can hold, I needed to find another way to use it.  Also in my veggie box were some of the crispest, pinkest sweet-tart apples I’ve ever eaten.  The solution was obvious.

Waldorf Salad

I haven’t eaten a whole lot of Waldorf salads in my life (see above re childhood hatred of celery), and what few I have sampled tended to be drowned in overly sweet dressing.  Don’t do that.

This salad is crisp and crunchy. It makes a lot of noise in your mouth. It’s sweet and juicy and tangy and nutty.  It’s in-season. It’s refreshing.  It’s surprisingly satisfying. I want more.

Waldorf Salad
Serves 2

2 red apples (pink ladys are excellent)
3 stalks of celery
A couple of handfuls of walnut pieces
Half a bunch of parsley
Radicchio or other lettuce leaves (optional)

Dressing:
2-4 tblspns mayonaise (I used home-made aioli because I just happened to have some leftover, and the garlic was an excellent addition)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp dijon mustard
salt & pepper

Combine all the  dressing ingredients in a jar, shake vigorously, taste, season and set aside.  You want the dressing to be tangy-but-creamy, thick-enough-to-coat-but-not-too-thick. You know, perfect.

Core the apples and chop into bite-sized pieces.
Finely slice the celery.
Chop the parsley.
Put them all into a bowl with the walnuts.
Pour over enough dressing to lightly coat everything without drowning it.

I hear the done thing is to serve this up on a bed of radicchio leaves, but I just ate it straight from the bowl. And it was delicious.

Warm Carrot & Bean Salad

This is a good salad.  A delicious salad.  A surprisingly hearty salad.  Well, maybe not that surprising, given the beans, but tasty and satisfying nonetheless.  It’s also a simple salad, easy to make and even easier to eat.  Try to leave some leftovers, though, because it’s pretty damn tasty the next day (though I’d recommend gently reheating in order to maximise the tastiness).

The recipe originally comes from 101 Cookbooks, and I made a few changes according to taste and what was in the pantry.  I added a lot more lemon juice because I love the zinginess.  I used two tins of beans, one large butter beans, the other borlotti because that’s what I had.  My carrots weren’t particularly young (but coming from my Greenline veggie box, they were characteristically sweet and delicious).  That is to say, it’s an adaptable salad as well.  Make it with whatever you have.  I promise it will be delicious.

 

Carrot & Bean Salad
from 101 Cookbooks

For the dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
a good pinch of salt
3 shallots, thinly sliced

For the salad:
Olive oil
2-4 carrots, sliced
2 tins of white beans
1 bunch fresh dill, chopped
2 tblspns brown sugar
Sliced almonds (optional)

Mix together the dressing ingredients.  Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary, and set aside.

Put a largish pan over medium head. Add a good glug of olive oil, then add the carrots in a single layer.  Still occasionally until browned and softened.

Toss in the beans and the dill and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until everything is heated through.

Tip the mixture into a large, heat-proof bowl.  Sprinkle with the sugar and about 3/4 of the dressing, and mix gently.  Let it sit for 10minutes or so to absorb the dressing and allow the flavours to mingle.  Add the rest of the dressing if necessary (or keep it aside to liven up any leftovers).  Sprinkle with flaked almonds if you’re using them.

Grab your fork and eat!

Vegan Pho

It’s cold in Melbourne.  I’ve been in the US for the last couple of months, and I’ve returned to a welcome-home dose of tonsilitis.  So I’ve been staying in, rugging up, and eating soup.  Specifically, pho, which is quite possibly the best soup ever invented. Rich and aromatic and spicy and delicious pho.

Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup traditionally made with beef stock and flavoured with cinnamon and star anise. I find a rich mushroom stock to be an excellent veg*n alternative to beef, but if you’re pressed for time or just don’t feel like making stock from scratch, you can use any good vegetable stock.

I wasn’t going to post about it until I remembered to take some photos, but I’ve been talking about it on the twitters and had a few requests for the recipe, so here it is.  Pictures may come later.

Vegan Pho

For the broth:
1 litre of good vegetable stock
1 large onion, quartered
1-2 inch chunk of ginger,
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise pods
3-4 cloves
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce

For substance:
Noodles
Tofu
Broccoli or other greens

For the garnishes:
Chilli
Lime
Coriander or Vietnamese Mint
Bean Shoots

Put a large pot over high heat.

Cut the ginger into 3-4 pieces and whacked with the side of the knife to bruise.  Add the onion and ginger to the pot and cook for around five minutes, until scorched and charred.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the spices. Toast the spices for 1-2 minutes, just until they become aromatic. Be very careful not to burn or everything will be bitter and ruined.

Add the stock, starting with a little at a time.  It will splutter against the hot pan, so be careful.  Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Add 1-2 tablespoons of soy sauce, taste, and add more if you think it needs it.

Meanwhile, prep your other ingredients. Cube and fry the tofu. Prep the noodles according to packet directions. At the last minute, very lightly steam your greens.

Prep the garnishes. Finely chop the chilli, clean and pick the coriander or Vietnamese mint, cut the lime into wedges, and wash and trim the bean shoots.  Put them all in separate dishes ready to serve.

Your broth should be done by now – have a taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Get a big bowl. Fill with noodles. Top with tofu and greens. Ladle over steaming hot pho broth. Serve with the garnishes on the side.  I recommend squeezing a metric tonne of lime juice over everything, but go easy on the chilli because it tends to sink to the bottom and get hotter as you go.

Eat and be happy.

Orange Radish Salad

I’m currently in the US.  I’ve been here for six weeks now, and I’ve been eating while I’ve been here – boy howdy, have I been eating!  I will tell you all about it soon, promise.  But first, a couple of catch-up posts, of the last things I ate before I leaving Melbourne.

Orange & Radish Salad

This salad is good.  It’s juicy and refreshing and sweet and bitter and crunchy and delicious.  The orange is what makes it.  And the radish.  And the onion.

It came about because I was craving radish.  It’s not something I usually crave, but for whatever reason, I was hankering after these bitey little red globes.

Radishes

I also had oranges from my veggie box that needed eating.  Orange and radish.  So good together.

Orange Radish Salad

1 small butter lettuce, or mixed leaves, or whatever leafery you’d like

½ red onion, finely sliced

3-4 small radishes, finely sliced

pinch of salt

2 oranges

¼ cup olive oil

½ tsp mustard

1. Wash the radishes and slice as finely as you can.  Sprinkle with a little salt.

2. Slice the onion as finely as you can.

3. Segment the oranges by taking a sharp knife and cutting as close to the membrane as possible.  Work over a bowl so that you can collect the juice as it drips.  Give the membrane a good squeeze to get all the juice out.

4.  Combine ¼ cup of juice with the olive oil and mustard in a jar.  Seal tightly and shake.  Season to taste.

5. Break the lettuce into bite-size pieces if necessary.

6. Toss all ingredients together with dressing (there will be leftover dressing).

7. Serve as a side salad, or with some good, strong bread for a light meal.