Friday, 29 November 2013


It's getting hot. For real. I'm sick of it already - but here's what we've been eating:

Rice vermicelli on bottom, boiled then chilled in cold water. Salad veg chopped up fine. Spring onions. Kalbi tofu (firm - the soft kind is better). Spring rolls. Pepper "steak" from Global Green. Mix it all up and dress it however you like - we like vegetarian fish sauce, a little soy and a bit of sesame oil. Yum.

What do you guys eat when it's hot? 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Red Velvet Cupcakes and Braised Daikon (One Sucks and One Doesn't)

After going to Fina's and Fuji Mart (I adore Asian supermarkets), I headed home super inspired and wanting to cook. I'd had this recipe playing in my brain for a couple of days. I'm a sucker for caramelized anything, and one of my current cooking goals has been to find more "meaty" type things that aren't tofu or mock meats, because I fall back on it awfully often. It's the easiest thing - peel, cut, simmer. So, before I did it, I made cupcakes.

I Googled for this recipe and I really wish I hadn't. It was this one here. The problem is that it's incredibly vague and doesn't give a finished quantity, or a lot of basic hints. I need to make better choices with this kind of thing.

The batter, while adding in the liquids, looked a lot like raw mince. Disturbing.

M-mmm, cream cheese skin!

Frosting looked pretty cute. Aaaaaand then it split. I used Kingland cream cheese for the first time and didn't really enjoy the flavour, so that was an additional level of fail.

Glorped into a (pink!) baking tray, it still looked good! They rose puffily after I checked them around 10 minutes in and looked great.

And then I opened the door at the fifteen minute mark, and they'd sunk spectacularly. Hard and crusty edges and totally concave. Sad times.

Fortunately, I still had the braised daikon to play with. Daikon is not a particularly attractive thing - great long thing the size of your arm. All you do is peel and slice, prep-wise. (This is half a radish - I think I grabbed one of the smaller ones.) 

Layer carefully in the bottom of your pot - no overlaps! 

Pour in just enough water to cover, then add your mirin and soy sauce (I used garlic soy because it's my favourite condiment ever) and then bring to a simmer. I also chucked in a couple of spring onions because they needed using, but it's totally not necessary. These simmer for approx. 40 minutes, or until all of the liquid is gone. 

 At the end, you end up with something glorious. The flavours condense and caramelize, and the outside goes sticky-crispy, and the insides are soft with just an itty bit of chew. They're perfect. I don't have words to describe. I bought daikon seeds online after I ate these. I julienned some veggies, tossed them in a little fish sauce and the remains of the caramelising liquid and chucked it into a crunchy white baguette:

Scallop strips. (Not mine.)

Big chunks! (Mine.)
 This was so good. And so simple. And you can enjoy them cold! I can see them working well in so many things - topping rice and noodle salads, in sandwiches of all kinds, as "scallops". (Apparently adding a strip of kombu to the braising liquid achieves the sea-like flavour really well - so if you were a fish fan pre-veg, you could totally follow scallop recipes. The texture seems fitting.) Either way, they're brilliant and I look forward to playing with the recipe more!

Fina's Vegetarian Cafe, Richmond

After being lazy at WVD and not lining up for a Vietnamese pancake, I remembered Fina's existed, and I hauled my butt out to Richmond accordingly. (We've been meaning to go for over a year now.. oops.)

The cafe is bright and cheery and the first thing that strikes you is the big fat cake counter:

Fresh fruit and veg for juices, coconuts, and a whole lot of probably-not-vegan baked goods. I had a good look but didn't bother asking. Spot the cornflake crackles (or honey joys, or whatever you call them) in the middle! That made me smile. Not something you see commercially very often.

Big ol' drinks menu. Again, quite a bit of this isn't vegan, I think.

We snagged the last indoor table and deliberated for a fair while. Our waiter was incredibly cheery and reassured us that all the food was veganisable and not to worry. Awesome. We ended up going for the spring roll noodle salad, $9.50, and the vietnamese pancake, $10.50.

The first thing to come out was a big pile of lettuce and mint with a spicy chili dipping sauce. We were pretty confused, because it was about five minutes between this and our other food. No big deal, though! Just more time to talk.

Here is the spring roll salad. It comes basically unflavoured, so you need to take advantage of the sauces on each table and the dipping sauces and mix your own.. but I like that. We're wusses when it comes to spice, so ours ended up being a little spicy fish sauce and a fair bit of soy. 

This was a fantastic meal for a warm day. Cool, crunchy and covered in peanuts: my favourite things. I like when you can go out for lunch and walk out feeling refreshed, as opposed to clutching your stomach. It's a good feeling.

 Then my vietnamese pancake came out, and the coconut milk smell was.. not that pleasant, but I hoed into it anyway.

This just wasn't my thing. The coconut milk flavour is very strong and the pancake is slightly rubbery - the batter is full of mushroom and mock ham and that makes it make a bit more sense, but I still left most of it. If you like coconut milk, though, you'll love this - it's crispy and full of veggies. I'll probably do exactly the same thing at home with a vegan omelette now that the weather is warming up.

I really enjoyed Fina's. The prices are fantastic ($25 for two meals and the vegetarian roll I snagged on the way out), the service was fast and cheery and the cafe itself is bright and fun. I left satisfied and thinking two things: I'll be back soon, and that I really need to get a mint plant.

We wandered back down to Prahran, had a big wander through the market and picked up a Mister Nice Guy red velvet in a perfect tiny box, $4.50:

It was delicious. It also spurned an epic cupcake fail on my part that night. Sigh.

The vegetarian roll was also brilliant. They're chock-full of julienned veggies, coriander, boiled (marinated??) peanuts, and a tasty, flaky mock meat. I have no idea what it is, but the proportions were pretty much perfect and it was maybe the best sandwich I've had ever.
(Side note: I am not generally a sandwich person. I think that sort of skews my ratings here. But either way, this was damn tasty)

Gore shot - I think it's faux-chicken strips, maybe soy-based?

Fina's! Go! And stay tuned - posting a simple but incredibly brilliant recipe very shortly.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Gettin' Figgy With It: WVD and New Pana Chocolate Flavour

World Vegan Day! Who went?!!?
Sign near the tram stop.

We got in at 10:30 and it was already disgustingly crowded and too hot in the room. Sigh. We did a round of the hall and checked out the Pana booth: 

The only free space in the place.

Pana are very generous with their samples (and their WVD deals)! It makes me like them all the more. We tried the new flavours, Fig and Wild Orange and Sour Cherry and Vanilla - both are amaaazing. Bought three bars of each. Excellent decision.

After stocking up on Notza at the Radical booth (it appears they've reduced the amount and added more packaging - sad), we decided to grab a pre-lunch snack. These are the satay skewers and spring rolls from Enlightened, $5/3:

Both were tasty as heck. I'm always a fan of deep fried because I refuse to do it at home (oil smell.. blegh). I must experiment with making my own satay with mock nuggets. The spring rolls have that sweetness that Chan House's have too - is it some kind of white mock meat? I have no idea. But it's so tasty. I must make it to Enlightened sometime, I think.

Gore shot! Cannot for the life of me work out what this stuff IS exactly.

Walked around again and scoped out the goods:

More yums. (I really wanted a Vietnamese pancake from Fina's, but there was a 20-minute wait at 11 am. Nope.) These are veggie balls from Gopal's, with a tomato chutney. $5:

Tasty tasty. I've never actually been to Gopal's. If they have these on the menu, clearly I should. 

People escaping from the nasty crowds.

I love WVD and I love that it's gotten so popular, but it seems like this year was so badly planned. Looking at the Facebook, it seems that everyone overheated, the security guards were surly and not many people ate as much as they wanted to. (Tragedy.) So that kind of sucks - I hope they're able to accommodate the crowds better next year. I definitely would have done some actual shopping had it not been so hot and crowded in the hall. 

Here's what I ended up bringing home:

Yoyo from A Caterpillar's Dream, $3. This was really good and I wished I'd bought several.

Cinnabun from Mister Nice Guy, $4.50. My mother ate this and said it was a bit dry - don't know if that's because it was baked in advance or they just do a dry, bready bun. Keep in mind we're gigantic fans of the Vegan Yum Yum recipe, which is terribly soft and decadent and generally bad for you, so this could just be bias.

The ambiguously named "meat roll" from Vegie2Go, $7.95:


Honestly, this was mediocre. The inners had that pasty texture that you get from over-processing lentils - I'm guessing it was a TVP-lentil mush mix. I don't really know, but I think the DIY kind with nuts and oats are better tasting and have a better texture. 

 I had it with some (better tasting than they look, I swear) wedges with my current favourite seasoning:

1 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. salt, generous dashes to taste of yellow mustard seeds, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and hot paprika.

 And then I got stuck into my Fig and Wild Orange Pana bar:

See that? That's a big ol' chunk of dried fig there. See that crack in the bar? More fig. Pana just keeps getting more and more awesome with their flavours. Unf. I'm hungry now.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Gnocchi, The Sadistic Way

Sometimes I get an urge to do something totally stupid or labour intensive in the kitchen (actually, this is almost always what motivates me to cook.). I picked up some organic tomato soup on a whim from NQR, then remembered I am almost never in the mood for soup. What can I do with good quality tomato soup? Reduce it down, make sauce. What can I do with sauce? Gnocchi. Let's make gnocchi. Okay!

First of all: sauce. You can see the ingredients of the soup I have below (if you're into tomato soup, this is very very nice!). Into a pan with fried garlic, lots of herbs and some generous seasoning. Reduced down. Easy. Set aside.

Now: gnocchi. Complete and utter pain in the ass, but so worth it. I went by's recipe, which has a whopping two ingredients: 4 biggish spuds, 1 1/3 cup flour. You will need to salt generously as well, though.

Wash your spuds and boil whole so you don't get water in them - ~20 mins or so:

 Some mass boil action and my soup starting to reduce:

This is around the time it got irritating and I stopped photographing. Peel your spuds (easy), then mash as much as you can. But you need a ricer or a sieve to make a perfect mash. I do not have a ricer. I sieved the whole damn thing. It took forever and my arm hurt after. But the resulting potato was... wow. Perfectly soft and fluffy with nothing added to it and not at all mushy. I will probably do it for mash again, even though it sucked, because the result was just so awesome. Very hard to stop myself from just eating it instead.. but then I wouldn't have been able to make this post. It all works out.

Potato, flour, add a generous amount of salt to your bowl. Mix and knead till you get a soft dough, then cut into whatever shapes you fancy. Mine started off as soft blobs, but were rolled and frozen after this picture.

The best part? These fry from frozen beautifully. Lightly (very lightly) oil a pan and chuck them in. No effort whatsoever, and they taste like eating a cloud. In a good way. If you have a ricer, do it and freeze portions - it's the ultimate comforting food. If you only have a good mesh sieve, do it anyway. Utterly brilliant. I must make pasta more often!