Archive for June, 2007

I’m always dubious when I see things like “Mexican stew”, “Cajun chicken”, mostly because I always imagine people using their pair of kitchen scissors to snip the corner off of a spice packet, empty it into whatever they’re cooking consequently allowing their taste buds to instantly be transported to the streets of New Orleans or the Mexican countryside. One of the specials at my restaurant this week is Jamaican stew, I haven’t tasted it, but I have seen it. It looks a whole lot like a Thai curry — light, creamy and delicious. That 2 second visual experience inspired tomorrow’s lunch, Jamaican-style Lentils & Rice. I say Jamaican-style because I really couldn’t be bothered with facing the drab weather outside today.

Jamaican-style Lentils & Rice – adapted from here – serves 4

200g dried lentils
15o g brown rice
2 cloves of garlic, bruised (mashed)
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp crushed chili flakes
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 g fresh ginger
6 tsp powdered coconut milk
salt and pepper, to taste
1 litre + water

**Combine lentils, water, rice, garlic and ginger in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook for 45-60 minutes or until rice is tender and lentils have lost their bite. In final minutes of cooking remove garlic and ginger and add remaining spices. Season to taste and serve with fresh chopped parsley.

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I went to bed last night determined to cook up a storm today. I regularly have Wednesdays off from work now so I like to use these free days to test whatever recipes have been floating around in my head for the past few days. I had some guava puree that was just screaming to have something done with it, Stephanie Alexander featured some sweet rhubarb recipes in this week’s Epicure and I’ve had a few limes lingering around the depths of my fruit bowl, so I went ahead and tried to base today’s cooking around those items. Alas, it has been raining all day, so I’ve been confined to using items I had on hand: limes and guava puree. I already knew I’d be satisfying my sweet tooth today so I also whipped up Espinacas con Garbanzos (spiced spinach and chickpeas), a typical dish from southern Spain, to counteract the massive amounts of sugar about to enter my body. I somehow ended up baking two vegan pastries: Citrus Tea Cake and Guava-Cinnamon Scrolls. Both taste nearly as good as heaven would taste if it were built from sugar, I reckon.

the fermentation batter

Rolling out the dough

Spreading the guava

Making the “sausage”

Resting scrolls

The finished product

Guava and Cinnamon Scrolls — makes 8 scrolls

fermentation batter —
6 g active dry yeast
125 ml water at 38º C (it should feel slightly warmer than your body)
50 g plain white flour or bakers flour
10 g sugar
**Dissolve the yeast in the water, then add the sugar until dissolved. Sieve the flour over the mixture, cover and allow to ferment for 25-30 minutes until frothy and collapsed.

the scroll dough–
100 g plain white flour or bakers flour
100 g plain wholemeal flour (substitute white flour if preferred)
2 g salt
30 g Nuttelex or other vegan margarine
20 g sugar
the filling–
40 g raw sugar
30 g Nuttelex or other vegan margarine, melted
ground cinnamon
160 g guava puree (optional)
**Combine all dry ingredients and sieve into a bowl. Rub the butter into the mixture until it resembles grains of sand. Make a well in the centre and pour the fermentation batter in it. Using a spatula, carefully fold the dry ingredients into the fermentation batter until thoroughly mixed. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Allow to rise in a warm, draught free place covered with plastic wrap or a moist tea towel for 40 minutes. Knock the dough back to its original size after 40 minutes, then allow to rise for an additional 20. Preheat oven to 210º C.
** Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out into a rectangle until dough is 1cm in thickness. Brush melted butter on surface, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Using a circular motion, use the back of a spoon to spread the guava paste over the entire surface. Roll the rectangle into a sausage from the shortest side and press the edge closed. Cut the roll into 5 cm slices with a serrated knife or a sharp knife and place onto a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper leaving 1-2 cm between each slice. Set aside to rest for 15 minutes then back for 10-15 minutes until the surface in light golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before dusting with pure icing sugar.
**In place of pure icing sugar, mix 1/2 cup of pure icing sugar with 1 tbs of soy milk and drizzle over the scrolls. The scrolls are equally as tasty without the guava filling, just sprinkle slightly more sugar over the dough.

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Our 3 day hiatus from responsibility proved successful. Will and I took a mini holiday, rented a car and went (and ate and drank) where ever our hearts desired. We shopped ’til we dropped at Chadstone, boozed our way through the Mornington Peninsula, dined at the Docklands and nearly bought half of Dan Murphy’s. I really feel rested enough to make it through to my next holiday from school in September, but not quite rested enough to download photos and such.

I was set of having Middle Eastern food for some reason so we headed off to Mecca Bah at Melbourne’s up and coming boardwalk area, New Quay at Docklands. It’d been ages since I’d been down to the area to eat, but the yum cha places I ate at seems to have since closed…

Mecca Bah kind of lacks the individual character and personality that the majority of Melbourne restaurants seem to have, but the interior is sleek, trendy and popular with diners of all ages. You have a great view from anywhere you choose to sit, the waitstaff is attentive, the kitchen seems to run efficiently and the menu is comfortably ‘arabesque’. The menu as a whole isn’t that vegetarian friendly, but the silverbeet rolls (which were unavailable) and fatoush are well worth trying. For entrees we settled on the dips and Turkish bread, which included hummus, tatziki and babaganoush. Nothing spectacular, but the the smokiness and creaminess of the babaganoush was enough to keep me spreading lashings of it the Turkish bread until my main came. For vegetarians, there were only two options: tagine or Turkish pizza. I don’t think the tagine at Mecca Bah could have topped what I had in Morocco, so I opted for the roast pumpkin, feta, chili and pomegranate jam pizza.

I still have visions of pomegranate dancing around in my head; the pizza was that good. It was shaped like a miniature gondola topped with a bit of rocket splashed with balsamic vinegar. The size of it just about sparked a conversation on the ever increasing portion sizes in contemporary eating establishments until I discovered that the base is nearly paper-thin. Every topping was just the right bite-size and eat mouthful was just as good as the last. The slight tartness of the pomegranate jam blew me away with the way it went so well with the saltiness of the feta and the sweetness of the roasted pumpkin. At $15 for the dish, I’d go back again just to have another bite of vegetarian deliciousness.

Thumbs for a fantastic vegetarian option that doesn’t include mushrooms, risotto or a stack of vegetables.

Mecca Bah
55a Newquay Promenade
Docklands, Melbourne (next to Livebait)

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I just happened to pick up the July issue of Super Food Ideas today and found a recipe for Jambalaya. I’ve cooked Jambalaya only once in my life as a home cook and remember it being a rather satisfying dish. As soon as I flipped thought the magazine, I forgot about the Jambalaya and instead focused on what sort of sweets I should bake. I fiddle about the kitchen a bit and then found myself gathering ingredients for a Jambalaya inspired dish based on Spanish rice and Mexican rice. Jambalaya is typically cooked with different types of shellfish and meats, much like a paella, so I added some red beans as a protein substitute. The result was essentially a rather tasty Creole-style Jambalaya. A hearty dish like this one perfectly suits a day like today: cold, foggy and perfectly bleak.

Jambalaya — adapted from Super Food Ideas, July Issue
100 g brown rice
200 g canned red beans, rinsed and drained
45 g onion, finely diced
1 garlic, minced
120 g red capsicum, cut into 4 cm strips
2 tsp tomato puree
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 sweet paprika
1 Massel Chicken-style stock cube
500 ml water

1. Saute the onion and garlic over low heat in the olive oil until lightly browned. Add the rice and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add water, capsicum, beans, tomato puree and spices along with the stock cube and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook over low heat for 40 minutes.
2. Check water levels after 20 minutes and adjust accordingly. Stir infrequently. When the rice is cooked, adjust seasonings. The end result should be like a “dry” soup.
3. Garnish with parsley chiffonade and eat away!

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Lately I’ve been feeling a bit like something in between homesickness and nostalgic. I don’t really have a home — a place I can go to year after year to visit family and feel a sense of belonging even after years of absences — nor is is nostalgia because I definitely didn’t even want to be there when I did live there. I’m speaking mostly about Miami (in America, of course). I only lived there for 2 years of my 25, but each time I go back I find that I miss it a bit more each time I visit. I spent most summers there. As a child Miami meant pastelitos de guayaba, coconut ice cream, sweet biscuits with rainbow sprinkles that tasted a bit much like chemical raising agents, Cuban bread…Miami meant food, sweets and going to our favourite park.

On my last visit in Miami I indulged in many of my childhood favourites, including scarfing down nearly an entire box of pasta de guayaba (guava paste, pictured above) that has a layer of crema de leche as well. Yesterday I suddenly began craving pastelitos de guayaba or guava puff pastries and was determined to have some! Unfortunately I ate them before they could be chased down by the paparazzi to be photographed, but I do have the recipe left behind. Once I took a bite I was instantly transported back to those uncomfortable visits to my aunt’s house where she always greeted us with a box of pastries from the bakery. So. Yum.

Pastelitos de Guayaba

1 can of pink guava fruit
1 tsp lemon juice
100 g Castor sugar
100 ml water
5-6 sheets of puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg, for egg washing

Preheat your oven to 190º C. Open your can of guava fruit and remove the seeds and pulp. Save half of the liquid. Using a food processor or immersion hand blender, blend the fruit shells with the lemon juice and half of the can syrup until you’ve got a smooth paste. Place the paste into a saucepan and simmer for 15-20 minutes over low heat or until the paste has reduced a bit. Allow to cool slightly. Divide each sheet of puff pastry into 3 long strips. Smear a strip of guava paste down the center of one strip leaving space along all edges, moisten the 4 edges and place another strip over the first strip. Lightly press the edges and smooth them out making sure not to squeeze any of the paste out. Repeat the process until you’ve used up all of your puff pastry strips.

Place your strips on a lightly oiled tray, brush with some beaten egg and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. While the pastries are baking, combing the sugar and water and bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minuets to create a simple sugar syrup.

When your pastries are golden brown, brush their surfaces with the simple sugar syrup and bake for an additional 5-6 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool slightly. Slice each strip into 4 squares and enjoy! As a side note the pastries would definitely benefit from using a commercially prepared guava paste or by reducing your canned guava paste down to a thicker consistency to intensify the flavour.

It’s needless to say that during my next trip to Miami I’ll be buying everyone Cuban cooking product I can get my hands on, as this time around my suitcases were already too full with my life’s belongings.

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The arrival of winter means soups, pies and other warm, hearty foods, well, provided you don’t live in the tropics. To fill up before heading off to work with grease laden food at my favourite place of employment I whipped up this clean tasting Asian-style broth — hopefully it’ll keep me from scarfing down chips at the end of my shift!

Asian Vegetable & Noodle Broth — serves 1

500 ml water
2 cm chunk of fresh ginger
the juice of 1/4 of a lime
2-3 springs of fresh coriander, picked, no stems
120 g bok choy, chiffonade (thinly sliced)
60 g of firm tofu, 1 cm cubes
4 g of Asian rice seasoning (Furikake — for rice balls, inari, etc– a mixture of shredded seaweed, sesame seeds, etc.)
22 g rice stick noodles
10 ml light soy sauce
2 ml kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
1 spring onion, cut into 3 portions

Bring the water to a boil along with the ginger root, rice noodles, rice seasoning, soy sauce and kecap manis. Turn down to a simmer and add the tofu, bok choy. Simmer until the noodles are soft and bok choy is tender. Before serving remove spring onion and ginger root. Garnish with fresh coriander and add a squeeze of lime. After finishing the broth you’ll find crunchy toasted sesame seeds and shredded nori at the bottom of your bowl for added texture and interest.

108 calories/3.3 g fat/9.1 g protein/98mg calcium

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I’d been looking forward to the Queen’s Birthday, practically as if it were my very own. The last Monday I had off from school was Easter Monday and I agreed to go into work that day. This time I declined and started the day off with a lovely brunch in the city with Will, our couple friends and another couple that we have recently added to our list of “people we can do social things with”. I had planned on checking out Pushka, but being that it was a proper holiday and all, this little mystery will be kept a mystery until further notices because it was closed. Instead, we headed over to my backup — Caffe Cortilé– which turned out to be one of the couple’s favourite brunch spots.

Caffe Cortilé is snuggled between other cafes on Place Place in the Block Arcade off Little Collins. The place was packed when we walked in, but surprisingly enough when we told the waitress that we were a party of six she led us to the back where there just happened to be an open table for six. As soon as we sat down we were given two carafes of water to sip on while we browsed the menu. Everyone seemed to have ordered more or less the same thing: 3 soy chai lattes for the vegetarians and 3 lattes for the non-vegos and 4 vegetarian breakfasts, 1 eggs Benedict and eggs Florentine sans the hollandaise.

The soy chai latte came with a rather nice layer of foam. It didn’t taste like powder, but I couldn’t be sure they didn’t take the syrup route like Gloria Jeans and Starbucks. It was one tasty chai, though. The vegetarian meal was different that the Melbourne standard, which usually tends to have mushrooms, a poached egg, spinach, avocado and a potato cooked in one form or another. Cortilé’s vego breakfast came nicely presented and showed some imagination on the kitchen’s behalf. Half of an avocado stuffed with feta and lashings of a sweet tomato relish came on bed of “seared” spinach (read: practically raw) perched on mixed seed toast.

Since I work in a kitchen myself and hate it when people make changes to dishes on the menu to suit their own tastes, I hesitated to ask them to hold the mushrooms and replace it with spinach. But I did and they complied with my request. I think mushrooms are an overused vegetable in vegetarian dishes and I don’t like them, so I just HAD to ask them to replace them.

Personally, I think the vegetarian dish could have used an egg or beans or cheese to add some protein the dish. It was quite fatty, although tasty, with cheese stuffed avocado. Either way, the saltiness of the fetta cheese, the sweetness of the relish and the buttery fruity blandness of the avocado went quite well together.

The atmosphere is conducive to having good conversations, they have a great selection of sweets and the inside is chic and trendy. My biggest complaint? The service was really, really slow. But, apparently the food always takes a long time to arrive according to our couple friend who goes there for brunch often. I probably won’t be going back on a regular basis simply because they don’t have Eggs Florentine on the menu, they serve their spinach raw instead of sauteed and the only vegetable in the vegetarian breakfast is mushrooms — I nearly hate mushrooms. I do give them extra points for the creative vegetarian option though.

Caffé Cortilé
30 Block Place
Melbourne (CBD), Victoria

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I could have easily been cosily seated in any tapas bar or restaurant in Madrid on a winter night, but I wasn’t. In fact, I didn’t even have to leave Melbourne to experience a bit of Europe. I’m not talking Gross Florentino or Vue du Monde — I’m talking about the European.

Tucked away on Spring street just around the corner from Bourke street you’ll find a neat little euro-style bistro called the European. The interior is designed like most domestic kitchens you’ll find in most apartments across Spain: long and narrow. As soon as we were all seated and chose a glass of wine — I decided on a red blend from France — our crisp linen serviettes were snapped open and laid on our laps in the most fashionably un-intrusive manner one could imagine. Being a European bistro and all I wasn’t expecting much to be vegetarian, which there wasn’t, but I decided upon the only thing I could short of a salad. I happily ordered the “rotolo of beetroot, pine nuts and goat’s cheese”. At last, a main without mushrooms! While we waited for our order, four serves of fresh sourdough bread and aioli were delivered to our table to share while we chatted. We ordered a serve of pomme frittes to share, which were perfectly tiny julienne strips of potato. They weren’t french fries or chips, they were proper pomme frittes.

When my rotolo came, it was immediate eye candy, even in the dimly lit dinning room. It was a roulade of sorts with a thin, almost strudel-like pastry crust wrapped around rolled layers of goats’ cheese, toasted pine nuts, beetroot puree, its leaves blanched to perfection and –guess what– tiny morsels of an unidentifiable type of mushroom. It was garnished with a lovely herb butter sauce and delicate sprouts. I enjoyed every bit of it and ate the the mushrooms because a)they didn’t taste half bad drenched in butter and b)I wasn’t paying for my meal with my pocket money.

We finished off the meal with two desserts to share, which were a proper Tiramasu with coffee scented macaroons and a chocolate tart with a serve of curiously orange-flavoured ice cream. A piece of heaven in every bit, really.

One fourth of an entree of pommes frittes to share, a vegetarian main, a glass of wine and half of a dessert came to a total of $40. Not bad considering the service was impeccable, the vegetarian main showed some imagination on the chef’s part and the wine list was impressively long and full of wines from every corner of Europe. Not bad, at all on a student budget. I’ll be anxiously awaiting my next chance to eat beetroot.

161 Spring St
Melbourne 3000 VIC <!– [map] –>

Phone: (03) 9654 0811

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