Category Archives: Vegan/Vegan-Friendly

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.


Braised Celery & Potatoes

You guys, did you know that celery is, like, a real vegetable? That you can cook? As the main ingredient in a dish and not some tiny, background component? And it would be delicious? You did? Well, I didn’t until just now!

I still had a heap of veggie box celery left over after my Waldorf Salad efforts, and not having much of an idea what to do with it, I Googled “celery recipes” for inspiration. At the bottom of the page amongst the oh-so-helpful search suggestions was the phrase “braised celery recipes” and that was all I needed.  I may have even clicked on that phrase and flicked through a couple of the recipes, but I already knew what I was going to do.

The thing about braising celery is that it changes everything. There’s no bitterness, no stringiness, no aching jaw after all that crunchy.  Rather it melts into a tender, sweet-yet-deeply-savory deliciousness. I can’t quite explain it. You’ll just have to make it for yourself.

Braised Celery & Potatoes

Olive oil
1/2 bunch celery
4 medium potatoes (I like Dutch Cream)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
1-2 cups vegetable stock
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Handful of chopped parsley

Wash the celery and chop into 1-inch lengths.  Heat a slug of olive oil in a large pan and cook the celery over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch chunks.  Add them to the pan along with a pinch of salt and cook a further 5 minutes.  Everything should colour up slightly.

Add the garlic and stir through, then pour in the wine and stir, scraping the bottom to get all the bits up.  Allow it to reduce a bit.  Add 1 cup of stock, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally.  Keep an eye on the liquid levels and add more if it’s getting dry before the potatoes are cooked.  The dish is done when the the potatoes are tender and almost all the liquid is gone, leaving a glossy coat all over everything.

Stir through the lemon juice and parsley.  Have a taste and season with salt and pepper.  Spoon out into big bowls, grab a fork, and get to know your celery in a whole new way.

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.

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:
Broccoli or other greens

For the garnishes:
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.

Monk Bodhi Dharma – Breakfast Degustation

Monk Bodhi Dharma seems to be the one southside cafe all the northsiders get excited for.  Personally I like it well enough, but I don’t think it’s the best my neighbourhood has to offer – I’d put Carlisle St favourites Batch and Las Chicas both ahead of MBD.

It’s exciting to have a veg-only venue, and one that has plenty of vegan options, but I still have a few complaints.  The first is that the blocks of wood they use for seats are damn uncomfortable.  It’s true I have a spectacular arse, but I’ve eaten there with svelte friends who found the accommodations equally uncomfortable.  That said, I love the fit out, and find the use of the tiny space endlessly fascinating.

The second is that I think the food is overpriced – $15 for beans and rice is, frankly, a bit much.  The third is that I find the meals, while always flavoursome and hearty, sometimes lack one element that would bring them together and lift them above what I usually make at home – a bit more protein, say, or a little creamyness; perhaps some yoghurt to cool the spiciness.  I certainly wouldn’t apply this to all the dishes – the corn hotcakes are perfection – but I’ve eaten a few almost-but-not-quite -perfect dishes, too.

Complaints aside, I am very fond of MBD, and it’s on semi-regular rotation for breakfast out (if I ever make it past Batch, that is).  And I was *super excited* when I booked a table for the Breakfast Degustation way back at the beginning of December last year.

The MBD Breako Dego (as I took to calling it) is 100% vegan and consists of three courses plus chocolates and coffee for $40.  I opted to pay the extra $10 for fancy coffees to go along with the courses.

The coffees (all pourovers) were amazing – hardly surprising given coffee is one of MBD’s great strengths.  They know their coffee, have a variety of different beans on offer, and are happy to make recommendations.  As much as I love coffee I’m happy to admit my ignorance once things get past a certain level, but I appreciate the knowledge that goes into the selections.

The first course was ‘summer vegetables with tomato water and horseradish vinaigrette’.

This consisted of thin slices of squash, heirloom radishes, tomato, herbs, and peaches in a light broth.  It was a beautiful dish, though I thought there was just a touch too much olive oil, which overwhelmed the delicacy of it.

Next up withs a ‘king oyster muchroom and avocado carpaccio with grated summer truffle, drizzpled with jalepeno oil & served with fresh bread’.

Now I love king oyster mushrooms, and I love avocado, so this dish was always going to be a win.  The jalepeno oil added a gentle heat and complexity to this delicious dish.  My only complaint was that there wasn’t more of it – but any tummy rumbles were kept at bay by the two fresh bread rolls served alongside.

I love bread, too, and having both the seedy grainy and the crusty sourdough was excellent.  Some good butter would have made these perfect, but I guess that would’ve spoiled the vegan-ness (Nutelex, perhaps?).

The last ‘proper’ course was a ‘sweet potato and coconut breakfast custard on a macadamia and ginger cookie crumble, served with Cointreau caramel and a balsamic tamarillo reduction.

This was truly spectacular!  The sweet potato custard tasted exactly like pumpkin pie, the crumble had a good ginger spike, the caramel was sweet but not over sweet, but the true genius of the dish is the balsamic tamarillo reduction.  Those dark smears on the plate had an incredible intensity of flavour – sweet and tangy and caramelised and lively and truly amazing.  I wanted to lick the plate, and probably would have were we not seated at the communal table with eight or so other Dego diners.

The final course was a selection of handmade organic vegan chocolates.

Look, they have gold on top!  These were amazing.  I’m actually not always a huge fan of dark chocolate (I realise this makes me a complete failure as a foodie snob), but these didn’t have the harsh bitterness that I sometimes object too.  They were smooth and moderately sweet, and intensely flavoured with orange and cocoa.

The breakfast degustation was a pretty spectacular start to the day, and I left feeling perfectly satisfied but not stuffed.  It was a highly enjoyable experience, and I’d probably go back next time I have $50 to spare on breakfast.

Monk Bodhi Dharma
Rear, 202 Carlisle St, Balaclava (next to Safeway)Ph: (03) 9534 7250
Breakfast Degustation: $40 + $10 for matching coffees

Dear Gretel

I’m sorry I haven’t written you in a while.  Things have been busy around here.  You already know I’m working on a thesis, but have I told you I’m about to start tutoring as well?  It’s true, I am!  I’m both excited and terrified, and more than a little mystified as to why anyone would entrust me with the shaping of impressionable young minds. (My plans are all coming together!  Soon I will take over the world!  Mwuahahahahaha.)  Ahem.

Yes, things have been busy, but I’ve still been cooking and eating, oh yes.  Many, many delicious things. I just haven’t been writing them up.  I could say it’s because my old camera, which was gifted to me when the flash stopped working, finally died and I’ve been forced to resort to phone photos.  But we both know my photography was never what you’d call good to begin with, and actually, I often get better photos with the camera phone anyway.

No, dear Gretel, the real reason I haven’t written in so long is Masterchef.  Yes, I have been watching it.  On any given evening you may find me in front of the tv with a glass of wine in one hand and a twitter stream full of #masterchef snark in the other.  Oh, I love it!  But I’m also a little ashamed of just how much that show has been influencing my cooking.  I like to think I’m somehow above it all.  Above the product placement, the food porn, the emotionally manipulative editing. But then Kylie Kwong makes this eggplant dish full of chilli and coriander and buckets of oil* and, well, I’m sure I’ve told you how much I love eggplant.  I couldn’t help myself!  I didn’t mean to go to the website, or download the recipe, or try to cook like a masterchef cooks.  But it was eggplant! I’m sure you understand.

I wish the eggplant was all I had to confess.  But I also made the Salt & Pepper Tofu that was in the same episode.  Salt and pepper tofu is one of my favourite things ever, and oh my, this was good.  The mushrooms that go with it? Well, they were disgusting…ly good.  Sweet and gingery and soy-sauced and delicious.

Not satisfied with having sullied my kitchen once, I decided to make the whole thing again a week later for dinner with one of my favourite new friends (Hi, Sam!).  This time I left out the mushrooms, but added yet another Masterchef-inspired recipe, Chinese Money Bags.  I altered all these recipes a fair bit (I used spring roll pastry rather than rice paper for the money bags, for example, and seriously reduced the amount of oil in the eggplant).  I also remembered to take poor-quality camera phone pictures to show you, so here they are:

Delicious, crispy parcels of mushroom and tofu goodness.

This photo is all wrong in terms of priorities.  Rice in the forground, delicious eggplant on the left, steamed greens on the right (not a Masterchef recipe, this is a Michael & Cindy recipe), and salt and pepper tofu behind that.

I am sorry about the photos, and if we do indeed ‘eat with our eyes’ as everyone on Masterchef keeps insisting, then I suggest cooking up these dishes yourself and looking at them in the (non)flesh, rather than through the my phone.  Mostly I suggest cooking up these dishes yourself and eating them with your mouth, because that sounds like much more fun.  Especially when there’s chilli involved.


*Actually way too much oil for me, and I love oily eggplant.  I cut it down significantly the second time I made it.