Archive for April, 2007

Roast Fennel and Orange Salad with a citrus vinaigrette
(it tastes way better than it looks)

Zucchini batons with a polenta-herb crumb served with a saffron aïoli dipping sauce

Everyone knows that anything, well, almost anything fried is delicious so it’s without saying that dinner was absolutely fabulous tonight. I don’t think Will and I have actually sat down and had dinner together since January or February so on my unexpected day off I organised 5-course meal: Zucchini Batons with Saffron-Aïoli (adapted from a dish a chef once made for me because I was vegetarian), Roast Fennel and Orange Salad with a Citrus Vinaigrette (adapted Vegie Food), Pumpkin and Mint Ravioli (a disaster due to temperamental store bought pasta dough), a cheese plate with Maggie Beer’s quince paste, a Pont L’Eveque and fresh Asiago with savoury biscuits and sliced baguette, and finally a white chocolate pudding cake — which is waiting to be baked as I type. To wash everything down neatly, we opened a bottle of Peter Lehman Semillon.

The zucchini batons and the salad were by far the best parts of the meal, but the salad from Vegie Food was outstanding. The faint hint of aniseed from the fennel and the refreshing burst of citrus from the chilled orange segments was a surprisingly tasty combination:

Roasted Fennel and Orange Salad (serves 2)

4 baby fennel bulbs
2.5 tablespoons olive oil
1 orange
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon of roughly chopped mint, no stems
1/2 tablespoons of roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Trim the fronds (the frilly green leaves) from the top of the fennel and set aside. Remove the stalks and cut a slice off the base of each fennel by 5 mm. Slice each bulb in half lengthwise, then slice each half into three. Arrange on a baking tray, drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Use your hands to evenly coat them with oil and seasoning. Grill the fennel until caramelised, turning twice during cooking. Allow to cool and toss through the mint and parsley.

2. Segment the orange over a bowl to catch any juices. Squeeze any juice remaining in the “membranes” into the bowl as well. Whisk 2 tablespoons of oil together with the orange and lemon juice until more or less emulsified. Season with a bit of salt to taste.

3. To assemble the salad on each plate, place the fennel in the center of each plate to form a small mound. Arrange the orange segments over the mound. Spoon the dressing around the edges of the plate and drizzle a bit over the salad. Use a few of the reserved fronds to garnish.

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I fell in love with the unique taste of olive oil in Spain, but only at the every end of my 3 years in Spain. I remember my father always had it drizzled over his salad with a bit of white vinegar. I tasted it once, in secret of course, and I wanted nothing to do with it. One of the first few days in my off-campus (university-owned) apartment, I was set up in the kitchen, ravenously hungry from who knows what and about to cook myself some potato product that looked charmingly round (“Oh look, globe-shaped potato product, let’s eat this for lunch”, I said to myself in the supermarket). Upon extracting the potato balls from the oil and letting them sit on a pile of kitchen towels, I popped on into my mouth and just as quickly spit it out. I had mistakenly purchased olive oil instead of standard vegetable oil and found the new flavour quite unpleasant on my poor undeveloped palate.

It was my first year away from home and my first year cooking food for myself as new vegetarian. I’ll be honest, I lived on cheese sandwiches, tortilla (española) sandwiches, chips, candy and pasta for the first two years in Spain. That sounds absolutely horrendous to me know, but back then I never dreamt of buying a cookbook or eating tapas in the bars. Every time I browsed over the selection of tapas in the bars I could never decipher one greasy pool of food from the one sitting right next to it, plus, most of it didn’t look vegetarian, which is why I lived mostly on potatoes. It wasn’t until I left Spain at the end of two years and spent a year and a half in America, that I learnt about Spanish cooking and began to cook with olive oil and never looked back.

I’ve been back to Spain twice since then and it was during my time living in the southern tip of Spain, Seville to be exact, that I began to appreciate the vegetarian-unfriendliness of Spain and how to work around it to get what I wanted. I went out for tapas, drank sangria by the litre, dowsed myself with tinto de verano when it was hot — I was like everyone else, for once. There was no longer a need to stuff my face with hot chips.

Some weeks ago I borrowed a book titled Shaha: A Chef’s Journey through Lebanon and Syria along with Moro Cookbook. The cuisines of the Muslim- Mediterranean all share so much in common. For some reason, I like to throw Italy in there as well — there is a focus on simply cooked food and good ingredients.

On a previous Dirty Tuesday I posted photos of Manoushi Bread, which is a Syrian/Lebanese bread similar Italian pizza, but with chewier tendencies and an all-together different vibe. It’s typically not loaded up with toppings and sent to the oven to cook until crisp. These fantastic little rounds of bread cook up in about 3 minutes and taste best just out of the oven, although they can be reheated under the grill for a minute or two.

Manoushi Bread (makes 12 rounds) adapted from Saha: A Chef’s Journey Through Lebanon and Syria

355 g plain white flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp sugar
175 ml – 200 ml warm water

1. Sift the flour, yeast and salt into a bowl. Dissolve the sugar in the water.
2. Slowly add the water while using one hand to mix. The dough should be on the stickier side, but you should be able to form a ball and knead it until smooth. This should take between 5 and 10 minutes.
3. Roll the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and leave to rise for 2 hours. While the dough is rising, prepare the toppings for your bread. Less is more in this case as the bread itself imparts it’s own delicious flavours.
4. Divide dough into 12 pieces and form into balls on a lightly floured surface. Preheat oven to highest temperature if you’re using a baking stone or 230-40º C if using a baking tray and set balls aside until ready to use. Roll out the balls into rounds and top. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Try caramelised onions and feta or minced sun dried tomatoes and Granda Padana cheese (or a proper Parmesan if you’re not that strict with your vegetarian diet)
5. Bake for 3 minutes, cool only slightly and enjoy.

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Will and I finally made it out to Macro Wholefoods in Richmond. It was nice, but definitely not like the Wholefoods I came to love in America. It’s the only type of supermarket I actually like being the size of small town. I found most products to be unaffordably expensive; I think I’ll just stick to the Vic Market — it’s closer. While we were in Richmond, we stopped by Tofu International, which was a place I considered seeking employment during my stint of unemployment back in January. I’d never actually been to Bridge Road in Richmond, so seeing this little shop was actually quite comforting.

This food establishment is a bit on the cozy side and offers food options that are all vegetarian. The range of food wasn’t extensive nor was it particularly mind-blowing. It was exactly what I expected from a food shop named Tofu International. It’s a neat little place to get some healthy vegetarian fare while shopping in the area and people watch whilst doing so. There are 3 options: small, regular and large plates. The small portion is a typical tapa-sized bowl and the medium is perfect for a hungry stomach or to satisfy two “I’m not really hungry, but I could eat” stomachs. The medium plate was $13.00 and with each size plate one can choose any of the dishes available behind the counter. We settled on a Chinese tofu dish, an apricot-flavoured cous cous salad, saffron roasted potatoes and a broccoli and mushroom option. The tofu dish was by far the best served with a light ginger-soy consomme, although, one can never really go wrong with roasted potatoes, especially if they are to be enjoyed with lashings of a mysteriously flavoured tofu dip. There are also various souvlaki options available.

At $13.00 a plate I probably wouldn’t make this place a “favourite”, but it’s definitely worth giving this little relaxed environment a shot when you’re ravenously hungry after outlet shopping.

Tofu International
78 Bridge Rd
Richmond 3121 VIC

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It’s been a lazy morning. This is my first Monday off since November and it feels so luxurious to be able to wake up late and not really have much to do during the day. Will requested French Toast for breakfast; I was going to make eggs Florentine. I thought about making pancakes, but later decided on the French Toast as it didn’t require going to the supermarket to get the eggs and lemon required for the eggs Florentine. Once again, tofu has surprised me with it’s versatility. This is simply the best recipe for French Toast…and it’s vegan:

Monday French Toast

1 pkg of silken firm tofu
15 ml vanilla extract
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon
1/2 pinch of salt
1 tsp olive oil, or any other oil you have on hand
100-150 ml of vanilla soy milk
6 slices wholemeal bread (I used soy and linseed for texture

1. Toast your bread. Set aside.
2. Blend all of the ingredients in a blender and transfer to a bowl.
3. Heat an oiled fry pan over medium heat and dip your toast into the batter ensuring that both sides are covered.
4. Place in the fry pan and cook each side for 1-2 minutes until golden brown.
5. Keep warm in an 180ºC oven until ready to eat. Enjoy with icing sugar and/or honey.

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