Friday, 29 February 2008

Queen Victoria Market - day and night

Two dollar kilos a dollar
Hett two!
Dollar bag! Dollar bag!
Dollar bag the banana
Kay Cardell, Cries of the Victoria Market)
If I had to pick a favourite market, it would probably be the Queen Victoria Market. It is on the corner of Elizabeth and Victoria Streets at the edge of Melbourne’s Central Business District, and about 10 minutes walk from work. It is a market that I have been going to since I was a kid, that we shopped at when I lived in share houses and where I still shop when I get the opportunity. I thought I would tell you about the market during the day and during the summer night markets which have opened in the last few years.

The market was built in 1878 over part of Melbourne’s 1837-1854 cemetery. When the market expanded in the 1920s there were vigourous protests at the desecration of pioneer graves. In the 1970s the plans to demolish the market in the name of progress were passionately opposed. Today Melbourne has a thriving central colourful market with a huge indoor deli section and sheds full of fresh fruit and vegetables, sheds of cheap clothes and gifts, and the smelly meat and fish market that I always avoid.

By day, the deli, fruit and vegetable stalls open on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturdays. If you enter from Elizabeth Street you will first come through the indoor deli section full of counters of cheeses, olives, dips, breads, cakes, nuts etc. There are usually little tables of cheese tasting which helps you confront the endless cheese displays. I can recommend the watsonia cheddar and I have a soft spot for the colac cheese that we used to buy from the factory when I was a child. In the deli I often buy dense chewy loaves of sourdough and sometimes dips and falafels. One stalls sells divine olives stuffed with pesto. A great place to prepare for a picnic.

If you are hungry there is the falafel shop, some greasy takeaways and – if you eat meat – the best bratwurst sausage I ever had before I went vegetarian. You can get all sorts of cakes – as a student, friends of mine would come here just for the poppyseed scrolls. I recommend the bee-sting cake, especially if you have someone to share it with. There are tables and chairs outside the bratwurst shop where you can eat or be further tempted by the wonderful cheese and asparagus filled croissants of Le Croissants Les Halles. It is a lively place to sit and eat. If you can find a seat it is worth putting up with the buskers of questionable talent.

Colourful rows of all manner of fruit and vegetables assault your senses as you exit the deli towards Peel Street. On a hot day, the air is fragant with the smell of ripening fruit and vegetables. It is so different from the supermarket. Instead of asking questions of a spotty boy who is only concerned about pocket money for his itunes, you can discuss vegetables with people who care. If you gasp at the prices you can compare with other stalls to either find something cheaper or realize that it is a reasonable price. If you don’t like the size of the zucchinis or the state of the apples or what you want isn’t there, you move on to another stall. But when you get overwhelmed by the abundance of good food, it is good to have some favourite stalls to return to.

Walking about the fruit and vegetable sheds gives a good idea of what is suddenly trendy (kiwiberries), what is in season (fresh figs, mangos) and what is still only occasionally available because it is still considered exotic or odd (pomegranates, persimmons, dragonfruit, white carrots). Occasionally curiosity is a curse - as the prickly pears proved when I picked them up to inspect! And if you can’t decide there is the friendly rivalry between the stallholders who cry out for your custom – 'cheap as chips', 'very sweet cherries', 'dollar strawberries'.

A must-visit at the market is the hot jam donut van. I have been queuing since I was a child. We would get a big bag to share among the family. They have to be eaten hot as you stroll around the market. The crispy golden donuts are covered in sugar and have a soft yeasty interior and a surprise filling of hot jam that would dribble over your clothes and burn your tongue. I once went with friends who chose to go to the churros van instead which I found hard to understand. I still find the jam donuts hard to resist, even when the queues snake away from the van. These are the best jam donuts in the world.

The shop by the market I probably use the most, is Min Phat Asian Supermarket on Therry Street. It has every sort of noodle, flour, rice, dumpling, spice, sauce, dried legume I could need. In fact, it is full of lots of things I don’t need but I dream of cooking.

The market by day can be busy, especially on a Saturday morning. Shoppers and their trolleys crowd the aisles and are liable to stop suddenly when their attention is attracted by a pile of rosy apples, perfectly arranged green beans or glossy eggplants. But I can’t help joining the rabble, filling bags with produce, exchanging pleasantries with friendly stallholders, tasting cheeses and leaving with far more than I ever intended to buy.

By night, the Vic Market is a different place. I have been there on a ghost tour and it does have a spooky abandoned feel. But recently, some bright spark started a night market on Wednesdays. A few shed which are usually filled with general merchandise have food stalls down the side offering dinner, and the large space is filled with plastic tables and chairs and handcraft stalls.

This Wednesday was the last night market of summer and I managed to get along with E and my family. We were lucky to find a table because it was so busy. When I got my food, it took me forever to make my way through the crowd back to our table. My mum loves to share food and so I managed to eat my way through a selection of excellent dishes, without having to queue at every stall. Of course, I didn’t fancy my brother-in-law Steve’s crocodile burger, nor Andy and Erica’s sausages.

I didn’t get the proper names of a lot of dishes due to the crazy pace of the place. We started with some Ethiopian curries and a flat spongy bread. The curries were quite mild dahls – very mushy and comforting. Next was the vegie curry man’s Monsoon Wedding platter of vegie curry, rice, roti and two pakodas. This was very spicy but tasty. I liked watching them making the pakodas which were fried wedges of vegetables. Then I got two sweetcorn hotcakes (gluten-free) with tomato salsa, minted yoghurt sauce and guacamole. Delicious. Then came the sweets. We had to share some of the ubiquitous Dutch poffertjes (which Fran hadn’t tried but fell in love with).

Finally my dad and Andy went to the honey dumpling stall to get dumplings with chocolate sauce. Three bowls between the 8 of us was more than enough by this stage. They were golden fried balls with melted milk chocolate sauce over them. Absolutely delicious but we all decided we would prefer the jam donuts. (So you see my love of the jam donuts really is genetic!)

Once we were satiated by the food we wandered around the stalls. There were handbags, jewellery, clothes, African handcrafts, laughing witches to hang from the ceiling, dresses of vintage silk, bowls made of recycled magazines, tarot card readings, and fairy wings. Quiet different to the daytime wares. The atmosphere is festive with everyone relaxing as the night darkens and the stalls are lit up. Beers are carried about and people dance to the live music. We arrived home with a stash of baklava and fudge.

I am sending this post to A Scientist in the Kitchen for her event To Market To Market, which asks bloggers to share information about the markets where they love to shop for food.

Queen Victoria Market
Corner Elizabeth and Victoria Streets, Melbourne
Open Tues, Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun
Check website for opening times
Tel: (03) 9320 5822

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

If music be the food...

When I was young, it was a treat for my dad to sing us songs at bedtime. One song went ‘My little girl, pink and white as peaches and cream.’ At school we had lots of song about food – I’m a Green Pea, On Top of Spaghetti, Mrs Murphy’s Chowder, Fish and Chips and Vinegar, Peanut Butter (sticks to the top of your mouth). We even did the actions to Oranges and Lemons – chippety chop, chippety chop, the last man’s head head head…off! Then on the television, Cookie Monster sang C is for Cookie. And the most popular song for primary school talent quests was the Village People's Milkshake.

So when Ellie Says Opa invited bloggers to write about food that relates to music, I thought it would there would be oodles of songs, albums and band names that related to food. But I was surprised at how few there were and I started to make a list in hope of inspiration. I asked E if I should check every one of our CDs and he said no. Probably wise, given at last count there were over 800. But both of us have spent time checking over CDs for my brainstorm. Finally, he asked when was this going to stop.

Tonight I haven’t time to write up a food post so I thought I would have a bit of fun and post the list of the bands and song titles related to food. Quite a lot are in our CD collection but not all. I have had a quick look on the web and found a bit of help from the Guardian’s Top 10 Songs about Food and a useful discussion thread on edible song titles. Given all our CDs and the resources on the web, this is not a huge list. (I did omit a lot of drinking titles and stick to titles with food in them rather than Food Glorious Food and Eat It.)

I then looked for album covers with food on them. Again, it was slim pickings. The Velvet Underground's banana is a classic. I unfortunately don’t have copies of Pulp’s Freshly Squeezed, Belle and Sebastian’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress or The Rolling Stones’ Let it Bleed. All these have foodie covers, so I chose an esoteric album with a foodie title instead (below) with a pretty cover.

But I am aghast at so little food in music. It doesn’t seem right to someone like me who eats most meals with something on the stereo (check out About Me Part 1 if you want to know more about my On the Stereo that I put at the bottom of most recipe posts). I think we need more food in music. But for now, hope you enjoy the list. Let me know what you think I missed out. And stay tuned for my entry to Ellie Says Opa’s Eat to the Beat event.

Breast Secreting Cake
Fiona Apple
Hot Chocolate
Icecream Hands
The Jam
The Lemonheads
The Marmalade
My Friend the Chocolate Cake
Pearl Jam
The Plums
Smashing Pumpkins
Tangerine Dream
Wild Pumpkins at Midnight

American Pie – Don McLean
Blueberry Hill – Fats Domino
Bread and Roses – Victorian Trade Union Choir
A Can of Lemonade and a Pastie – Rob Clarkson
Candy Girl – Babybird
The Candyman – Gene Wilder
Cheeseburger – Gang of Four
Chocolate Cake – Crowded House
Chocolate City - Parliament
Chocolate Girl – Deacon Blue
Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Clementine Jam – The Grateful Dead
Cornflake Girl – Tori Amos
Corn Riggs - Magnet
Cream Puff War – The Grateful Dead
Crunchy Granola Suite – Neil Diamond
Eli’s Pork Chop – Little Sonny
Fish, Chips and Sweat - Funkadelic
Flute Salad – Gong
The Good Ship Lollypop – Shirley Temple
Halva – Cluster
Hamburger Lady – Throbbing Gristle
Honey Honey – ABBA
How to Make Gravy – Paul Kelly
Icecream for Crow – Captain Beefheart
Icecream Man – Van Halen
Judge Fudge – Happy Mondays
Mama Düül and her Sauerkraut Band Start Up – Amon Düül
Mashed Potato – the Wiggles
Milk and Honey – Sandy Denny
New Potato Caboose – The Grateful Dead
Pass the Peas – the JBs
Peaches – Stranglers
Peaches on Regalia – Frank Zappa
Pineapple Head – Crowded House
Pour Some Sugar on Me – Def Leppard
Pretty Hot Corn Girl – The Drunk, the Monk and the Spunk
Raspberry Beret - Prince
Roast Fish and Cornbread – Lee Perry
Savoy Truffle – The Beatles
She Cooks Me Cabbage – Captain Jack Dupreee
She Don’t Like Jelly – Flaming Lips
Soup - Can
Strawberry Fields Forever – The BeatlesSugar Sugar – The Archies
Tangerine – Led Zeppelin
Too Many Sandwiches – Stereophonics
Why Don’t You Eat Carrots? - Faust

And finally, my favourite band Pulp has a great song for the end of the meal. It begins: ‘I am not Jesus, but I have the same initials, I am the man who stays at home and does the dishes.’ Or if you are our cat Zinc you just obstruct serious blogging at the end of the meal!

On the Stereo:
Jazz for Dining – Various Artists

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Nigel’s leek and potato soup

Last week I made a velvety soup from Nigella. This week is Nigel’s turn. I found a leek and potato soup in The Kitchen Diaries that he describes as 'a velvety soup for a clear cold day'. It is not winter but it is cool weather for summer. The soup attracted me because it is a way of using up parmesan rinds. I have been trying to use more fresh parmesan lately – it does make a difference – and have managed to accumulate 2 rinds of parmesan. Now I had read about using it in soup but once I have the rinds I couldn’t find these recipes until Nigel’s presented itself.

I also have had an attempt at making my own vegetable stock. I had such success with my ginger broth last week that I was willing have a go at cooking and discarding vegetables. I mean, imagine how many vegetables are discarded to make up my tin of stock powder – they do use vegetables for that, don’t they?

On Sunday night I felt like a domestic goddess making casserole, muesli and stock! The stock was much less painless that some of my other encounters with stock. I once threw out a pot of stock my mum had made in the mistaken belief that it was dirty water soaking in the pot. She wasn’t happy. I was even less happy the time many years ago when I tried to make chicken stock and had a carcass with the neck flopping about to remind me I was handling a corpse. I was almost sick. Thankfully, I became vegetarian soon after and so never was tempted to repeat the experience. But I will be happy to make vegetable stock again, particularly if I need to use up vegetables like I did this weekend.

The soup was not quite as velvety as Nigella’s but it was very good. The leek and potato soups that I have had in the past have been very pale coloured and heavy with milk and cream. The recipe appealed because it didn’t have any added dairy apart from the parmesan rinds. It was more substantial and the colour of split pea soup, but tasty. E liked it so much he sang about it accompanied by his ukulele. He told me it was quite different to his mother’s soup which was watery with chunks of potatoes and leeks in it. I’ve never been a big fan of watery leek and potato soup. I liked that my soup was smooth without being too heavy.

The parmesan rinds amazed me how they went all soft and gooey. Nigel says to just scrape off the gooey cheese which sounds domestic goddess til you are faced with boiling hot cheese rinds. But once they cooled a little I found I could nibble more cheese off. I reckon this is the closest I have come to gnawing meat off a bone since I went vegetarian. So I was most pleased to have that experience without having some animal’s leg in my mouth (perish the thought)!

In a strange coincidence, the episode of the Mighty Boosh that we watched after tea had a very silly song with lyrics claiming ‘cheese is a kind of meat’. Well it is only to be expected from a show where you play on a pipe to summon the locksmith, get rescued from the jungle by mod wolves on scooters and the zoo is saved by grated cheese. (Hope I haven’t spoilt it for anyone.) Just shows what a difference cheese can make to anyone’s life.

I haven’t raved much about potatoes in the post but this is a great potato recipe. So I am sending this soup to DK at Culinary Bazaar where Yet Another Potato Fe(a)st is being held to celebrate the International Year of the Potato.

Nigel’s Leek and Potato Soup
(from the Kitchen Diaries)
Serves 4-6

3 good sized leeks
40g butter (or thereabouts)
3 decent sized potatoes
1.5 litres of light stock or water (see stock recipe below)
2 parmesan rinds
Handful parsley
1 tsp of salt and pepper mix (or season to taste)
Extra grated parmesan cheese

Wash and cut leeks into chunks. I wash them by cutting them in half lengthwise. Melt butter in a large stockpot. Tip leeks into stockpot, cover and cook gently for 10-20 minutes, until softened. Cut potato into chunks and add to stockpot. Cover and cook with leeks for 5 minutes.

Add stock or water, seasoning and parmesan rinds. Simmer 30-40 minutes. Remove parmesan rinds, scraping the gooey bits of cheese back into the soup (I had to hold it on a chopping board with a fork to scrape at the hot cheese rinds with a spoon. Maybe a knife would have been better for scraping.)

Add parsley and blend til smooth. Check seasoning – Nigel says you might need to be generous with seasoning but I wasn’t overly. Serve hot with a spoonful of cheese in each bowl and a good grinding of pepper.

Light Vegetable Stock
makes about 1.5 litres

1 onion
2 stalks celery
4 small carrots
½ leek
3 large garlic cloves
3 sprigs parsley
3 springs thyme
3 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
1.5 litre water

Place everything into a big stockpot. Bring to the boil and simmer 1 hour. Strain and discard vegetables. Keep stock in fridge for a week or freezer for a couple of months.

On the stereo:
Gather in the mushrooms: the British acid folk underground 1968-1974 – Various Artists

Monday, 25 February 2008

WBB Microwave Muesli

When I lived in a student household many years ago, we went through a phase of making our own muesli. We started following the recipe religiously and then began to throw in whatever we pleased. What made it hard was that we started to use a sweetner (malt extract?) that was very hard when cool and then got runny when warmed. It was not very sweet and probably came from the university food co-op. But it was so hard to work with that it took the joy out of cooking.

I have eaten muesli many times since then – when trying to eat well and lose weight, when not well and unable to eat much else for breakfast, and when trying to find a replacement for our beloved Alpen which is not available in Australia (unless you buy it at ridiculously inflated export prices from a British shop).

I have been seeing muesli on blogs lately and decided to dig out the recipe we made as students. We must have eaten quite a bit of it because I had upsized all the quantities in pen beside the ingredients list. Then I remembered why we loved it. When I moved into that household they didn’t have a microwave and I did. So it was a bit of novelty to be microwaving anything. Now I like the idea of muesli you can make without having the oven on, especially in summer.

But I also remembered why we started experimenting. It is a good recipe but like most muesli recipes, it can accommodate any whim or abundance. Of course I checked out some bloggers’ recipes for some inspiration. Wendy used flaxseeds and lots of sweet spices, Monika used flaked coconut and agave nectar (and she told me no when I wondered if I could used olive oil), Ricki used sunflower seeds and tahini. Tahini? To bind it and help form clusters. Maybe this replaces the oil? Sounds interesting but I gave the tahini a miss as I am not interested in clusters. In fact my recipe instructs me to break up clusters, which I am happy to do (although I feel a bit like a stern school teacher breaking up the fun!)

So the next question was: why did all my fellow bloggers call it granola. Were the clusters typical of granola rather than muesli? Over to see if Wikipedia can tell me if granola is the same this as muesli. According to Wiki, muesli is untoasted (‘dry’) or soaked (‘fresh’). Now, as someone who doesn’t like porridge, the idea of soaking oats is anathema to me, no matter how trendy it might be. Whereas, they say, granola is baked til crunchy. But I have always called that toasted muesli. Maybe it is because the name is no longer trademarked except in Australia.

As usual, Wiki answers one question and then I find all other interesting facts. Granola was revived in the 1960s and associated with the hippie movement. It even made an appearance at the Woodstock Music Festival. It is even slang to refer to hippies. Is this why Neil Diamond called his song Crunchy Granola Suite! Apparently conservatives in the USA occasionally called the left-leaning, granola to indicate they are mostly ‘fruit, nuts and flakes’.

I will still call mine muesli as I always have. I like it with stewed fruit, fruit juice or yoghurt, but never milk. This muesli is so good I am finding myself just snacking on a small dry bowl of it. It is crispy, crunchy, not too sweet and has explosions of tart fruit. One of my delights is using dragonfruit which is purple and seedy. You’ll find out where I got it soon. I also managed to use up some green dyed coconut that has sat in my pantry too long. Who would have believed I could get purple and green into muesli! Any grains, nuts, seeds and dried fruit can be used, so long as the quantities are roughly adhered to.

I am sending this to Suganya from Tasty Palettes who is hosting this month’s Weekend Breakfast Blogging. The theme is healthy eats and there will be an interesting round-up if her idly and sambar is any indication – check out the beautiful photos of the idly plates.

Microwave Muesli
(adapted from Alison Holst)

½ cup agave nectar
¼ cup oil (not olive)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp salt
3 cups rolled oats
½ cup coconut, shredded or dessicated
½ cup wheatgerm
⅛ cup flaxseed
⅛ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup chopped nuts (I used toasted hazelnuts)
½ cup dragon fruit, chopped (or figs)
½ cup apricots, chopped
½ cup sultanas

Put agave, oil, cinnamon, vanilla and salt in a small microwave proof bowl. Place in the microwave for about 2 minutes on High or until starting to bubble. Meantime combine oats, wheatgerm, coconut, and seeds in a shallow microwave dish (I thought we always used a mixing bowl). I didn’t include the nuts because they were already toasted but if not toasted they should be added at this point. When liquid is heated pour into oat mixture and mix.

Place oat mixture in microwave on High for 4 minutes. Stir well. Now microwave for 1 minute at a time and stir after each minute for about 4-10 minutes (I did 5 minutes) until golden brown. Stir in nuts and fruit. Cool. Break up if necessary. Stir in an airtight container when cold.

On the Stereo:
A warm and yeasty corner: Appendix out

Sunday, 24 February 2008

HoTM #12 Prune and Bean Casserole

This month Heart of the Matter is being hosted by Michelle of The Accidental Scientist and she has asked us to cook a heart-healthy stew or casserole. Michelle kindly gives some information on the difference between a soup and stew which is very useful to me, given that I often make ‘soups’ that E tells me a spoon could stand up in. She says stews have larger pieces than soup, thicker liquid and more likely to be eaten as a main course. Sounds like my soups!

But I wanted to make a stew or casserole that was different to my usual chunky soups. Unfortunately, it is not really the season in Melbourne to want thick warming stews. I love cassoulet which has gently cooked in the oven or Scotch barley stew in winter but not in summer, even if the weather is mercifully below average temperatures. But mostly I think of meat when I think of casseroles and stews. My mum used to make lots of them when I was a child. Vegetarian meals don’t need the tenderizing that meat needs and I only have one recipe that requires 10 hours of slow cooking (I must dig it out one of these days!).

The recipe I chose is one that I put in my notebooks over 15 years ago in pre-vegetarian days. This spicy prune and bean casserole fascinated me in the days when I was less and less interested in curry chicken, beef stews and sausage casseroles. It still appeals to me as being a little different. I hope it will appeal to Michelle for its health benefits - both prunes and beans contain high levels of fibre and iron.

This casserole is dark and mysterious, sweet and spicy, rich and intense. By itself it is a bit overwhelming. But served with brown rice and some vegetables it is wonderful. I made a salad of pumpkin and sugar snap peas with a tahini salad dressing from Kathryn at Lime and Lycopene (1 tbsp tahini, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 2 tsp tamari, 2 tsp mustard). The salty bitter taste of the dressing worked well with the sweetness of the salad. But next time I hope the vegetables in the fridge that need to be used are more appropriate – like pumpkin and broccoli. Nevertheless, it is nice to revisit this casserole and to feel pleased to have taken down this recipe so many years ago.

Spicy Prune and Bean Casserole
Serves 4

1 tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp finely chopped chilli or chilli paste
½ tsp cumin
125g button mushrooms, roughly sliced
440g tin of kidney beans, drained
100g pitted prunes, halved
2 tsp tomato paste
440g tin tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste (I used ½ tsp salt and pepper mixture)
⅓ cup water

Heat oil in a medium size saucepan and fry onions over low heat about 5 minutes or until soft. Add garlic, chilli and cumin and fry an additional 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add mushrooms and stir another 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Bring to the boil. Cover and cook over low heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check seasoning (it gets sweetened as the prunes cook). Serve with wholemeal rice and bread and vegetables.

On the Stereo:
Strange Folk: 19 strange and beautiful tracks celebrating four decades of Twisted Folk – Various Artists

PPN #52 Gyoza and Salad

Last year Lucy of Nourish Me made gyoza which she described as ‘soft and pillowy on top; crunchy and golden on the bottom. And scented with that lime? Pretty sexy stuff.’ This was a recipe crying out to be made. This was a recipe that was hard to resist with wanton wrappers in the house. This recipe was delicious.

I love wantons. But I don’t usually have them when eating out because they are mostly filled with meat. So I am delighted to find how easy it is make them at home. First a superb soup and now gorgeous gzoyas. A far cry from my previous experience of making steamed dumplings with wrappers that were sticky and ripped easily.

Lucy had a neat trick of frying her gzoyas on one side and then steaming them. My gzoyas surprised me with the speed in which they fried and I only managed to flip them and fry them on the other side. Which tasted fine, albeit apparently not traditional. They were not completed fried and retained a texture which was crispy and soft.

The filling was soft with tofu and mushrooms, and fragrant with kaffir lime leaves and ginger. I gave it a good burl in the food processor, having learnt from Cindy that it was wise not to cut corners with this recipe.

Both Cindy and Lucy served these little lovelies with dipping sauce. I didn’t get organized enough to make a dipping sauce but did manage a Thai-style salad. (I think I was inspired by my Vina Bar noodle dish last week.) Now some of you might think dipping sauce is easier than a salad. But I had to have some veggies. I would like to try the dipping sauce some time and these are good enough to make again (and again and again). I think they would make a lovely starter as they were quite light.

Curious about gyoza, I did a quick bit of research on the web. Also known as Japanese potstickers, they are popular in Japan and came from China in about the 17th Century or the 1940s depending on which website you read! There are gyoza moulds to easily give them the traditional shape (unlike mine), gyoza museums and gyoza restaurants. The most common filling seems to be pork. But I have now discovered other vegetarian recipes (at and myrecipes) to try out and realised they should be moon-shaped and fastened with pleats. So maybe next time I will get the shape right and have a Japanese salad to accompany them. I’m learning.

I have checked out a few other bloggers who have made gyoza. Another Outspoken Female at Confessions of a Food Nazi has made cauliflower gyoza. Susan at Fat Free Vegan has made them with a sweet fruit filling. I also found a recipe from ABC Darwin for roasted pumpkin and blue cheese gyoza – so I am pleased to see my memory of eating these at Mindl Beach Markets in Darwin is not just a flight of fantasy. And Ellie of Kitchen Wench gives helpful visual instructions on how to prepare dumplings.

I am sending this recipe to Ruth at Once Upon a Feast for Presto Pasta Nights. I particularly wanted to send something this week because for the past year Ruth has been putting up a round up of pasta posts sent to her from across the blogosphere every week. Congratulations on PPN’s first birthday!

Gyoza with mushrooms and lime leaves
(from Nourish Me)
makes 20 (if you do them like me – 12 if you are Lucy)

- 75g of fresh mushrooms (Swiss brown [cremini] or shiitake)
- 75g of tofu, drained and blotted with kitchen paper
- 2 Kaffir lime leaves, spines discarded and leaves finely shredded
- 1 small red chilli, deseeded and chopped (I used half)
- 1 x 2cm (1 inch) of ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 spring onions, white and tender greens, chopped
- 1 tablespoon of tamari
- 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil

To assemble:
- 12 wonton or gow gee wrappers (preferably round but I used 20 square ones)
- 1-2 tablespoons light olive oil
- ½ cup of water

Dipping Sauce:
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 tablespoon of tamari
- 1 tablespoon of water
- 2 teaspoons of fish sauce (nam pla - optional)
- 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds, toasted

Roughly chop the mushrooms (Lucy said to de-stalk but I didn’t). Place filling ingredients in a food processor and blend to a smooth paste.

Place wanton wrapper on flat surface (or in your hand) and place a generous teaspoon of the stuffing in the centre and spread a little but leave at least 1cm on the edges. Have a small glass or bowl of water beside you as you work. Dip your finger in the water and run it over the edges of the wrapper. Fold wrapper in half and pinch the edges together so there are no airbubbles in the dumpling. Flatten dumpling a little (I found this helpful for frying them). Repeat with remaining wrappers until all the filling is done. If you have leftovers they can be frozen at this stage.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based frying pan. When hot, add your gyozas in one layer. Fry over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or until golden underneath. They fry quickly so don’t get distracted. I flipped them and fried the other side for another 2-3 minutes but traditionally they are steamed after frying one side.

If you are a traditionalist and more used to fying than me then you should add water to the frypan when gyoza are fried gold on one side. Be very careful and stand back because it will bubble and spit. Cover pan, reduce heat and steam about 3 minutes. If there’s any water left at the end, take off the lid and let it evaporate. They will be soft and translucent when ready.

To make the dipping sauce, mix everything together in a small serving bowl.

Serve hot gyoza with dipping sauce.

Thai-Style Vegetable Salad with Noodles
(adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook)
Serves 2

- 25g rice vermicelli noodles (or cooked potato)
- small bunch of asparagus, finely chopped
- handful of bean sprouts
- 2 carrots, grated
- handful of snow peas, trimmed and thinly sliced diagonally
- ½ green capsicum, finely sliced
- 1 spring onion, finely sliced
- handful of baby spinach, finely sliced
- chopped mint, basil and coriander (I only used mint)

*The ingredients in this salad can be altered easily to suit what you have available and what you love. Other optional salad ingredients that I didn’t use include: crisp lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, tofu, mung bean sprouts, and potato chips!
*I tried using more noodles and it wasn't as good!

Dressing (serves 4 but keeps in the fridge):
3 tbsp unmolested crunchy peanut butter
½ cup boiling water
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp agave nectar (or honey)
1 tsp soy sauce (or to taste)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ red pepper finely chopped (or to taste)
1 tsp lime juice (½ a lime)

To make dressing, place all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk vigourously. Cook vermicelli noodles. (I put mine in a bowl of boiling water gave them 1-2 minutes in the microwave and then let them sit about 5 minutes til soft and drained them.) Place all salad ingredients in a large shallow bowl. Mollie suggests placing them artistically and drizzling the dressing on top. I just tossed the salad with the dressing. Garnish with herbs and lime wedges if desired.

On the stereo
Songs for the young at heart: Various Artists

Saturday, 23 February 2008

FF #3 Dip and muffins from the pantry

Eating out Loud is holding an event called Food Fight and this month the theme is Pantry Raid. Allen has asked bloggers to take a photo of our pantry and then share a recipe made with key ingredients from the pantry.

So I was making a lentil pate the other night that drew from my pantry. I thought that it would go with some chickpea muffins that I was making. Well the pate and the muffins did not go together (although E loved the muffins with leftover Lentil and Chestnut Soup). Then I finally looked at my photo of the pantry this morning and thought, what a mess!

So there I was writing a meme about me in my last post and trying to avoid sharing too many fashion disasters and bad habits, and then my pantry reveals all. You can run but you can’t hide! Well Ricki is not the only one who isn’t fussy about clear desks and frequently washed floors! We often have to clear space on the table to find room to eat dinner. I even have to clear cookbooks on the chair so our cat can sit on the chair beside me as I blog sometimes. (Although today she has been sitting on a Nigella cookbook from the library which has found its way to the chair – do you think they would mind?)

So you can see that my pantry is not uniform rows of neatly labelled jars but it is well used. When we bought our place18 months ago it seemed a luxury to have a pantry. My mum has always had a walk-in pantry (perfect hiding place for the nieces) but I have lived in a series of inadequate kitchens without pantries (and in one house we had to keep the fridge in the bathroom). Yet I still don’t have enough space. I could blame my recent interest in gluten free foods, which has expanded my world of grains and flours, or I could blame blogging which makes me try things I might otherwise not bother with. But it is really just my nature to accumulate and hoard clutter. I hate to throw out but I just don’t see that it is priority to order all the bits and pieces which land in my lap. I’d prefer to spend the time cooking or blogging.

In Darwin last week, a taxi driver told us about what he would put aside to survive in the event of a cyclone. I like to think of our kitchen as a cooking survival kit. It feels that things in the fridge are perishables that might get smelly or wilt if left too long. I know it is a mistaken belief, but I love to think that pantry goods could last forever. No pressure to use them immediately (eg a packet of pasta and a jar of pasta sauce will always be there waiting for the night you can’t face cooking.)

Despite the mess, I mostly have a place for everything. I have shelves for flours, sugars and grains, tins, spices, bottles (and one for the recyling). E’s staples are Walkers shortbread, crisps and chocolate. He makes impulse purchases like Cheerios -for the Golden Compass freebie - and plain-wrap pot noodles. I tend to regularly buy tinned tomatoes, tinned legumes, nuts, dried fruit and vitawheat biscuits. My impulse purchases are more gourmet than E - a jar of fennel seeds or a tin of pureed chestnuts. Then there are the puy lentils that I bought last year and have intended to use in pate for months and months. Like I said, the beauty of the pantry is that most things in it will wait.

So I finally made the lentil and walnut pate from Post Punk Kitchen which I originally saw on Urban Vegan. It had appealed to me for it’s simplicity and for having ingredients that I had available. I put the lentils on to cook while I made dinner and finally got around to blending everything at 11.15pm. I was finished by 11.30. Perfect for a night when I get caught up blogging.

The pate was quite nice, although not the pate of my dreams. I never was a big fan of pate when I ate meat but I still like the idea that I can find a nice vegetarian version without boiled eggs. I have another recipe I probably prefer which has tofu, green beans and walnuts. But this one seems more straightforward. So now I have almost 3 cups of pate and wondering what to do with it. I went to the Slow Food City Marketplace this afternoon and talked to the woman with the meat pates who suggested roasting pumpkin, covering it in pate and wrapping it in pastry and then baking it again. Sounds great! More simple was buying toasting up some Irrewarra seeded sourdough and spreading it with pate and nectarine chutney (from the Slow Food market).

I made some muffins to serve with soup, but had hoped they would be a good accompaniment to the pate. These were the sort of muffins that didn’t need butter and were almost quiche-like because they had quite a bit of vegetable in them. They also used chickpea flour rather than wheat flour which gave quite a distinctive taste. We enjoyed these and I have added the recipe because they are a useful gluten free alternative. If you make them, you should expect lots of flavour (without any vegetables standing out) but do not expect that they will taste like a wheat muffin. And don’t make my mistake of expecting they will be good with pate.

Lentil Walnut Pate
(From Post Punk Kitchen)

1 cup French "puy" lentils
1 cup whole walnuts
2 small cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoon lime juice (or lemon juice)
½-1 sea salt (or to taste)

- Place lentils in a saucepan with at least 2 cups boiling water. Cook at a rapid boil for 10 minutes and then cover and gently simmer for 30 minutes or til soft. Drain.
- Place walnuts in the blender to finely grind. Then add remaining ingredients and blend well. Check seasoning.

Tip: try taking to lunch in a little tub with some bread and vegetables for dipping.

Chickpea Muffins
(from Diana Linfoot’s More Muffin Magic)
Makes 10-12

½ cup pumpkin puree (approx 150g mashed)
2 eggs
½ cup cheddar cheese, grated
3 spring onions, finely sliced
½ cup finely chopped spinach or cooked green peas (optional)
½ to 1 tsp curry powder (optional, I used ¼ tsp tumeric)
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper
1½ cup chickpea flour
3 tsp baking powder

Place all ingredients except flour and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl. Stir well. Add flour and baking powder and stir til just combined (it makes quite a stiff batter). Spoon into greased muffin tray (or into a muffin tray lined with paper cups). Bake in 200 C oven for 25-30 minutes.

On the stereo:
The Wickerman original soundtrack: Various Artists

About Me Me Me Me

There seems to have been a lot of tagging going on lately. I have been tagged by Lisa Rene from Little Bits for 5 facts about myself, and I was tagged by Katie from Apple and Spice for a longer meme. I decided to ditch the 5 favourite toys (because I was struck dumb by the tyranny of choice) at the end of this meme in favour of Ricki’s 5 things about memory which took my fancy because memory fascinates me too.

Finally I received a award from Holler for having an Excellent blog which is not a tag but rates a mention for her kind words. I intend to return to this at a later date when I would like to write about some excellent blogs that have inspired me but for now I’d just like to thank Holler.

Five Facts about Me
- As a child, I had a duck called Lisa
- I sang Brahms requiem with a choir in London
- I was a volunteer tour guide at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh (sort of pictured in the distance)
- My siblings and I created a shopping centre in our cubbyhut when I was little
- Our car is 20 years old this year and is called Snowflake after a pegacorn

What was I doing 10 years ago?
I was living in London and working at website at BBC Television Centre. This website was the precursor to the website and had been established the previous year. I was told that every staff member was temporary or seconded so if it didn’t work then the BBC wouldn’t lose money. The office buzzed with excitement at the new venture and it was a great time to be there. I loved the encouragement to surf the web and share ideas with staff. Wonder if this attitude persists at!

What was I doing 1 year ago?
We went to Thailand last February for the wedding of my brother Andy to Erica. Seems 10 years ago. It was a fantastic holiday. The wedding on the beach was very romantic and Phucket was gorgeous. We visited a temple, rode an elephant, and snorkeled at the Phi Phi Islands (pictured - and that is not me in the photo!). Felt much more adventurous than my average holiday. Andy and Erica organized us a wonderful hotel with a pool where I could swim laps in the morning and drink cocktails in the evening.

Five snacks I enjoy:
- Seasonal fruit – a few weeks ago it was cherries, at the moment it is grapes, and soon it will be apples
- Chocolate chip cookies – or anything with chocolate
- Corn on the cob
- Vitawheat biscuits with promite and cheese
- Leftovers on toast – particularly risotto, dahl or mashed potato

Five things I would do if I were a millionaire:
- Buy a Scottish island
- Run a retreat for writers, artists, cookery classes, and family and friends
- Set up a publishing company
- Own a pet giraffe
- Donate donate donate

Five bad habits:
- Scribbling recipes from books in bookshops without buying the books
- Falling asleep on the couch when watching dvds with E
- Not reading recipes properly when I am cooking
- Buying more cookbooks than my bookshelves can handle
- Blogging late at night

Five things I like doing:
- Sitting in our garden with E and Zinc
- Swimming laps at the local pool
- Riding my bike
- Going to a movie alone in the middle of the day
- Sharing food at picnics

Five things I wish to never wear again:
- White veil – my first holy communion – probably looked ok when I was 8 years old but I don’t think I need to revisit
- Stretch denim jeans – it was forgiveable in the 1980s because I was too young to know better but never again over these hips!
- High waisted trousers – I do not have the figure or the height for this kind of fashion
- White dress with puffy sleeves and a hooped skirt – blushing debutante with romantic visions!
- Paisley bowtie – trying to be different at university balls

Five things about memory:
-In high school I memorised epic Australian poem The Man From Snowy River by Banjo Patterson and recited it to the class in return for a box of Roses chocolates. It just shows that I will do anything for chocolate.
- In my student days, my friend Kathleen and I loved going to see Rob Clarkson perform. While walking down the street at night during a holiday to Perth (Western Australia) we were able to remember and sing all the lyrics to the six songs from his EP called Beautiful Girls and Beautiful Boys.
- A friend of mine once visited me in a share house and when introduced to my housemate he said 'I don't believe we have met'. She replied, 'That's what you said last time we met'. The odd thing is that he still takes great delight in remembering a story of how he forgot. Isn't it odd what we remember and what we forget?
-I memorised the lyrics of lots of great folk and revolutionary songs when I was in the Victorian Trade Union Choir many years ago. One of my favourite songs was Bread and Roses. I don’t remember them any more.
- I remember meeting E – at an interview for a share house in Edinburgh. I mention this because last week I heard that couples who remember meeting are more likely to stay together. But who does this research and does it really mean anything?

I will not tag anyone but will welcome hearing from anyone who feels inspired to take up the baton of any or all of the three tags I have incorporated in my answers.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Vina Bar: one of Lygon Street’s best

This week E and I had dinner at the Vina Bar. It is a small unpretentious Vietnamese restaurant in Lygon Street in Carlton near my workplace and Cinema Nova, one of the best independent cinemas this side of the river.

Lygon Street is traditionally a street of Italian eateries and some days I just don’t feel like pizza and pasta and I glaze over at all the meaty offerings. Being inner city and close the University of Melbourne means that the street has many interesting shops and cafes and bookstores (even if one megabookstore opened in an aggressive marketing move). It also means it was one of the first café strips in Melbourne that I discovered (no prizes for guessing where I studied).

The Lygon Street that I discovered over a decade ago was quite different. Readings bookstore was a poky warren of shelves further up the street than where it is today. Some fool had decided to open a MacDonalds which never lasted (and this should be a warning to aggressive megabookstores). There was no Cinema Nova but the now defunct Carlton Movie House showed an excellent selection of older movies – A Clockwork Orange and Betty Blue seemed to screen regularly. There was a great continental cake shop near the corner of Grattan Street where I had a tantrum as a teenager when I got a chocolate éclair with custard rather than cream – I was an unsophisticated kid from the country. Brunettis was about a third of the size and always crowded. Thresherman's was a lot smaller too. And one of the first places I ate was at Genevieves was on Faraday Street (close enough to be considered Lygon Street) which is now closed. I feel old as I recall all the changes. Sigh!

But lots of places are still about and remind me of the old days – Jimmy Watsons, Trotters, Papa Ginos, The University Café, King & Godfreys, Ti Amo, Brunettis, Thresherman's Bakery and the greasy takeaway on the corner of Elgin Street (but I am not sure if it is still called Twins). I have known Lygon Street long enough to fall in love with it, fall out of love and then rediscover it. Is it any surprise that one of my favourite places to eat in Melbourne is in Lygon Street, albeit one of the ‘newcomers’!

The Vina Bar is a small place with wooden tables and chairs. It has tables and chairs on the pavement which often I prefer to the poky inside tables. Eating outside in Lygon Street is great for people watching. The street buzzes on a balmy summer night. The outdoor tables fill with gossiping hungry groups helping themselves to large wedges of pizza. Couples stroll along with gelati in hand. Waiters stand at cafe doorways. The weather was hot and humid this week when we got to the Vina Bar so we sought the cool air-conditioned indoors.

The place has its quirks. They only take cash payments and they don’t sell alcohol (but I think they do BYO). To go to the toilet you have to walk through the kitchen which is reassuringly neat and clean.

The menu has a good offering of vegetarian food: rice paper rolls, spring rolls, noodles, curries, Vietnamese pancakes. Unfortunately the noodle soups don’t have a vegetarian stock. I have been there regularly enough (both with work colleagues and with E) that I have tried all the dishes that interest me and now, like putting on a comfortable old pair of slippers, I just go straight for my favourite meal.

I love the rice vermicelli with spring rolls. It is a large bowl filled with noodles, tofu and vegetables, with some chopped up crunchy deep fried spring rolls, and garnished with crushed peanuts and rice powder. On the side is a small bowl of dipping sauce – more soy sauce than chilli – I usually tip some over the noodles. The vermicelli mixture always feels nourishing with the spring rolls being a bit of a treat. It never ceases to satisfy me.

Update August 2009 - Sadly the Vina Bar had closed - I will miss it terribly.

Vina Bar
253 Lygon Street
tel: 03 9347 2510

Crabapple Cupcakes: cute as a button

I have discovered the Crabapple Cupcake Bakery at the Prahran Market. They make divine cupcakes to drool over. In fact you can even buy the book if you want to try your hand at baking such lavish creations. But if, like me, you dislike making icing and don’t have piping equipment then you can purchase them ready-made. Oh joy!

The market is full of wonderful fresh fruit, deli counters, organic stalls, gourmet potatoes, pomegranate juices and the nut shop. But I am irresistibly drawn to these gorgeous cupcakes. The shop is worth viewing even if you aren’t tempted like me. It seems odd in a big austere wharehouse to come across a dainty pastel coloured shop but that is what you will find – pale pink walls, elegant white metal tables and chairs, displays of cake stands and plates and a glass display cabinet of every sort of cupcake you could ever imagine.

I can’t resist a chocolate cupcake and would recommend the raspberry mudcake which I bought on my last visit. But just a few days ago I was there and got just plain mudcake which was luscious – soft and rich with a gooey chocolate frosting. I bought E a rose petal one because he prefers plain buttercake. It was cute as a button with a little pink icing rose on top, but he asked if it had perfume in it (actually he said it tasted like the inside of a tart’s handbag!) and it was very sweet. I suspect it might have had rosewater in it. He still was very happy with me when I gave him a cute pink iced cupcake.

What a find! Luckily it is over the other side of town from me so I can’t go running there too often. I will still dream of creating such sugary fantasies myself but until then I know where to find cupcake heaven.

Update 8/7/2008 - I keep hearing rumours that Crapapple Cupcake Bakery is now closed. It seems to be true. Many comments I have seen are negative but I am sad they have closed even if I rarely visited because it is over the other side of town from me. Check out the comments at Syrup and Tang for more info.

Update 28/12/2008 - I was at Prahran Market yesterday and surprised and pleased to see the bakery open again (its name has changed slightly to something like Crabapple Cupcake Bakery and Supplies). When I expressed surprise they were open again, I was told they had only closed for renovations.

Crabapple Cupcake Bakery
Shop 6, Prahran Market
163 Commercial Road,
South Yarra, VIC, 3141

ph: (03) 9827 8116
fax: (03) 9827 8117

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

WCC # 25 Velvet Soup from Nigellaland

For the Weekend Cookbook Challenge (a blog event created by Sara of I like to cook, and hosted this month by Ani of Foodie Chickie) Ani has asked us to cook something from Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks. As a fan of Nigella, I was only too happy to rise to this challenge.

Nigella, the first lady of British cooking, Mrs Beeton for the noughties, the thinking person's cook, seductive, posh, eloquent, playfully ironic, enthusiastic, bossy, curvy, gorgeous and unashamedly carnivorous. I love her style but cringe a little at her love of meat. I love the passion she exudes on her television shows. Her writing is every bit as sensuous and entertaining as her shows (especially when you can visualise her tossing her hair or dipping her finger in a sauce after watching her in action).

When How to Eat came out, I bought a copy once I found it half-price. I read the book from cover to cover with much pleasure. Her eloquent prose has the friendly and relaxed feel of sitting around the kitchen table. I learnt from her as much I have from friends and family. Her writing is such a delight to read.

So when I looked through How to Eat, while thinking about what to cook for the WCC, I was shocked to find that I hadn’t cooked from it at all (aside from the odd piece of inspiration). It is not that there aren’t dishes that tempt me but most of the meals have meat at the centre and vegetables at the side. The other problem I found was that it isn’t a book that is easy to flick through to find recipes, particularly when so many are meat. There are times that I wish all the vegetarian recipes were clumped together in omnivore cookbooks so I don’t need to wade through all the meat recipes which are of no interest to me.

The other Nigella book that I own is, of course, the legendary How to be a Domestic Goddess. Unlike How to Eat, I haven’t read it from cover to cover but I often flick through the book and drool over the recipes. I have made quite a few recipes (store cupboard chocolate orange cake, dense chocolate loaf cake, millionaire shortbread, Norwegian mountain loaf, potato bread, pizza) and there are many others I drool over in hope. The photos are gorgeous and glorious. I find the sections much easier to navigate in this book. What's not to love about a cookbook with such a wonderful section devoted to chocolate!

I have also spent some time browsing Nigella cookbooks in shops and libraries. A few months ago I borrowed Nigella Bites from the library and was not very impressed at all. Too much meat and not much I really wanted to cook. But this week, in the interests of research, I borrowed Forever Summer from the library and have found lots to tempt me. In fact it is one of those loans that I don't really want to return.

As I have said above, I really like Nigella’s attitude. Her generosity in Forever Summer makes me fall in love with her all over again. I always love a cookbook writer who encourages readers to fiddle with recipes. But I was impressed with her discussion of sharing recipes: ‘cooking isn’t about suspicious guarding of closely kept secrets but is a matter of sharing, passing on, the almost gossipy dissemination of habits and practices; recipes that are considered high level security documents are not recipes that survive.’

Nigella also appreciates her history. She often dips into her grandmothers’ recipes and draws on many culinary traditions. She is committed to ensuring continuity in food traditions but presents them with common sense and an empathy for the busy modern women. I am reassured when she says that stock powder is fine and it is not necessary to make my own stock. She wants us to enjoy the feeling of being domestic goddesses of the past without feeling overburdened by household chores. I think this is why she is so successful.

So to be asked to cook a Nigella recipe is a pleasure. Making a decision about which one is a dilemma. I have been very attracted to cooking a recipe from Forever Summer or Domestic Goddess because there are so many I want to make. But I felt that the nature of this challenge is to take out cookbooks I might not otherwise make. So I decided it was time to cook from How to Eat.

I chose a simple lentil and chestnut soup. I have been interested in cooking with chestnuts but like Nigella peeling chestnuts gives me a nervous breakdown (once was enough for me to never do it again). If only cooked chestnuts were easier to buy. I have finally found a few places that sell them, so I was keen to find a chestnut recipe that made it worthwhile paying $12 for a tin (I have found them cheaper since then I am glad to say). Chestnuts seem as British as Nigella so it seemed a fitting recipe.

The tinned chestnuts were odd looking but they added a depth of taste and a sweetness to the soup. Nigella suggested serving the soup with cold leftovers. I served it with a salad (fresh corn, cherry tomatoes, baby spinach, basil and raspberry vinegar) because I felt it was too rich to eat alone. E would have been quite content to eat it with toast. The soup took very little energy and I simmered it about half the time that she suggested in her recipe. The comforting puree was as velvety as promised. I like to think it was the colour of a teddy bear but E says it was the colour of mud. But it tasted good enough to see why Nigella hankered after the recipe after tasting it in a restaurant.

Lentil and Chestnut Soup
(adapted from Nigella’s How to Eat)
Serves 4-6

1 onion
½ leek
1 carrot
1 stick of celery
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp oil/butter
225g red lentils
1½ litres of vegetable stock
225 g cooked chestnuts (I used a drained 400g tin of whole chestnuts)
Parsley and cream to serve (optional)

Roughly chop vegetables and stir over medium heat for 6-8 minutes in a large saucepan. You will know when they are done because they will have softened and be giving out a wonderful aroma. Add lentils and stir. Stir in the stock (or water and stock powder). Bring to boil and simmer about 15-20 minutes. Add chestnuts and simmer a further 15-20 minutes. Blend until smooth. Add water if you want it thinner. If desired, serve with a dollop of cream and some finely chopped parsley.

On the Stereo:
Here til here is there: an introduction to: the Incredible String Band

Monday, 18 February 2008

Wanton Dumplings in Ginger Broth

After a week in Darwin, I was so happy to be back in my kitchen last night. I needed temple food. This is a Nigella term that I like. She talks about the approach to satisfy our vanity rather than health needs in How to Eat. But it is also about counteracting a bout of eating out in places that are mean-fisted with their vegetables. I think temple food would be my version of detox if I was more into self-discipline or self-denial.

I had been craving a bowl of miso soup full of vegetables and tofu but I also wanted to make a special soup for Lisa and Holler’s new blog event, No Croutons Required. They challenge bloggers to make a vegetarian soup that the most carnivorous diner would drool over. And I’ve been wanting to make more recipes from Denis Cotter’s Wild Garlic, Gooseberries and Me…

I have been meaning to make broth-based soup for a while now. I have admired other bloggers making broth soups like Lucy’s Zucchini in Broth with Cornmeal and Cheese Dumplings and Vegetarian Chicken Passover Soup, Culinary Bazaar’s Vegetarian Vietnamese Pho Soup and Andrea’s Vegetarian Stock that she uses in French Onion Soup. These soups all depend on a well-flavoured broth.

The soup I fancied is one Denis called ‘Sprouting Broccoli and Oyster Mushrooms in Ginger Broth with Pumpkin and Macadamia Dumplings’. What a mouthful! Fortunately I tweaked it to suit my tastes so I can simplify the name without guilt. I find oyster mushrooms too flaccid and I am suspicious of anything named after seafood, so I substituted swiss browns. I did away with the coriander and the macadamias and to add some carrot for some colour. I also used less oil and less soy sauce.

I couldn’t claim this soup would convert meat-and-potato carnivores but the adventurous will be thrilled. E was not so keen on it because he doesn't like watery soups. I loved it. The broth was wonderfully spicy thanks to my wee ginger man (check out the photos – E wanted to try and sell him on E-Bay because he was so adorable). The sweetness of the pumpkin in the dumplings was just right in the salty spicy broth. And I had plenty of vegetables. I loved the crisp green broccolini but E thought it underdone.

This was the soup I needed. It treated my body like a temple and fed my soul.

Update 1 March 2008:
There were 71 soups submitted to Lisa and Holler's No Croutons Required event. Amazingly, they had a vote on the best soup and I was the winner. Well the credit really goes to Denis Cotter because it is his recipe, but I still consider it an honour to be singled out among such wonderful soups. Please go to the impressive round-up to see all the other tempting soups sent to Lisa for the event.

Wanton Dumplings in Ginger Broth
(adapted from Wild Garlic, Gooseberries and Me…)
Serves 2 very hungry people or 4 as starter or light meal

- 1.75 litres water
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 2 celery sticks, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves
- 85g fresh ginger, sliced
- 1 fresh chilli, sliced
- 1 handful fresh parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- 75ml soy sauce

- 100g pumpkin flesh diced
- 1-2 tbsp chopped macadamias (or other nuts - I used walnuts)
- Finely grated zest of ½ lemon (I used less)
- ½ tsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp chopped basil (or 2 tsp chopped coriander)
- 8-12 wanton wrappers (approx)

Vegetables to serve:
- 350g (2 small bunches) broccolini or sprouting broccoli, roughly sliced
- 100g swiss brown mushrooms, roughly sliced
- 1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
- 1-2 spring onions, roughly sliced

Begin by preparing the broth: Place all ingredients except soy sauce into a large stockpot. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Add soy sauce and sit for another 20 minutes. Strain.

While the stock is simmering, make the dumplings: Steam or microwave pumpkin. Mash and add nuts, lemon zest, lemon juice, and basil. Stir to combine. To make the first dumpling, place wanton wrapper on clean flat surface. Place a teaspoon of the pumpkin mixture in the middle. Have a small dish of water beside you and use your fingers (or a brush) to moisten the edges. Bring two opposite corners up together and then bring the remaining two corners up so the four corners meet together like a pyramid – press the edges together to eliminate any air from the dumpling parcel. (Tip: it is easiest to handle if your fingers are dry). Repeat with remaining wrappers til all the mixture has been used up. (But these dumplings don't last well overnight so try to only make what you need.)

To prepare the vegetables, Denis suggests frying them in a little oil. I chose to steam the broccolini and carrots in the microwave til just done. I poured a ladle full of broth into a large saucepan and ‘stirfried’ the spring onions and mushrooms for a few minutes til starting to wilt. Then I added the broccolini and carrots.

While you are preparing the vegetables, gently heat broth and place the dumplings in the broth for about 2 minutes (they don’t take long at all, even when mine had dried out a little).

To serve the soup, place the vegetables in the bottom of a bowl. Spoon the dumplings on top of the vegetables. Ladle the broth into the bowl.

Note: I had a little broth leftover because I had to water down the strong tasting broth. The soup doesn't keep so well overnight but I will see if the leftover broth can be used up in another soup.

Update: since writing this post, I have found that dumplings can be made ahead of time, placed in the freezer on a tray to freeze. Once frozen, they can be put in a bag and kept in the freezer. They can be steamed or heated in broth directly from the freezer.

On the Stereo:
What we did on our holidays: an introduction to…: Fairport Convention

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Darwin Days

We arrived home from Darwin last night and I am glad to be able to cook again in my own kitchen. It is good to get away for a break. I was there for business meetings but managed some leisure as well with E. Highlights were swimming in the hotel pool beneath palm trees at night, feeding the fish at Aquascene, and browsing at Parap Market.

But it is the wet season which means the weather is hot, humid and wet. The frequent heavy monsoonal downpours made the outdoors a little less welcoming and the rain was very noisy during our planning meeting. I had the odd experience of a faceless face-to-face meeting when the hotel where the meeting was held had a power cut which plunged us into darkness. It was also a great historic day to be there on Wednesday when our Prime Minister Rudd formally apologised to the Stolen Generations (Indigenous people who were taken from their families in a bid to assimilate them into European families and destroy the Aboriginal culture).

Working in an organisation with an office in Darwin means that I have been visiting this tropical city regularly over the past few years. It is a place where the steak reigns supreme and a decent vegetarian meal can be hard to find. I have experienced the good (Cornucopia Café at the Museum, Mindl Beach Markets, Thailicious, PeeWees, The Wharf), the bad (‘vegetarian soup with chicken wantons’ at Casuarina Plaza, overpriced hotel breakfasts, Darwin Hospital café) and the ugly (plastic palm trees, homophobic taxi drivers with mental health problems, my hair going frizzy in the humidity). So here is a list of some of the good places we have been during this visit (with apologies that lighting and weather were not always conducive to photos).

Moorish Café (37 Knuckey Street, tel: 08 8981 0010)
I went here last year and it was so quiet. Last week it was buzzing with groups chatting over some fine tapas. We had basil bread with dukkah and oil, beetroot tsatsiki with warm pitta bread, haloumi and salsa on toast, patatas bravas, pumpkin with pinenuts, fetta and a pomegranate dressing (and E had some meat dishes he enjoyed). All were delicious and I could have eaten more of every dish. However, at the end, we were satisfied with our meal.

The service was good, given that it was a busy night. We weren’t without a dish for long, but I would have liked our dishes all served together rather than in dribs and drabs. I also liked the ambience of coloured lights, candles and small earthenware bowls. But I decided not to hang around for chocolate cake, even though I remember it fondly from my last visit.

Banyan Tree Café (69 Mitchell Street, tel: 08 8981 8577)
I discovered the Banyan Tree some years ago when trying to avoid overpriced hotel breakfasts. I appreciate that the hotel breakfast buffet is a matter of convenience, especially when rushing to business meetings. But as a vegetarian who just wants beans on toast, I get annoyed at paying one-price-fits-all for all the eggs, bacon, sausages etc that I will never eat. Even worse, on this trip, was when I asked for beans on toast to be delivered to my room (while I watched Rudd's apology) and got toast on a saucer, beans in a bowl and only a knife to eat these with. Is it any wonder I prefer an honest no-nonsense greasy spoon cafe!

The Banyan Tree is not fancy but it is friendly. It is a greasy spoon café that does good basic food for a reasonable price. Beans on toast will set you back $5.50. E could get a fry-up for under $10. The tables are covered in checked blue and white table cloths and decorated with vases of flowers. If you are lucky, you might find a copy of the Northern Territory News to read with their intriguing headlines (Naked Biffo, Thief Lord Mayor to Face Jail, Body found in Freezer).

Mitchelli’s Pizza Café (11 Mitchell Street, tel 08 8941 7500)
The Mitchelli’s Pizza Café claims to be the best pizza in Darwin. I am always a little wary of such self-aggrandisements, but I think there might be some truth to it. E had a yen to have pizza for dinner in Darwin and it took some searching.

The first night we went to another Italian place and said we didn’t have much time before going to see a film. We were told that pasta was faster than pizza. I have eaten their pizza before but would never have pasta there again. My pesto sauce was yellow and creamy - more reminiscent of bodily fluids than the green sauce I love. Even worse, was that it was served in a foil takeaway container with a plastic fork. I had never realised before how hard it is to swirl spaghetti on a plastic fork. (Happily, the film of the Kite Runner was very good so the evening wasn’t wasted altogether). After the spaghetti nightmare, I couldn’t face returning to this café for pizza.

We went to another pizza place a couple of nights later, only to be sat between the toilets and an annoyingly loud table. The menu wasn’t at all inspiring and we left without ordering.

So we found ourselves at Mitchelli’s which I had initially dismissed due to its lack of ambience – plastic chairs and tables lit by fluorescent lights. We were pleasantly surprised by the food. The vegetarian pizza was not the usual combination of tomato sauce, capsicum, mushrooms and olives. It was much better – sundried tomato, artichoke, onion, mushroom, broccoli, snowpeas, capsicum and fetta. This is the sort of ambitious combination that can be done badly but Mitchelli’s did it perfectly. I was delighted to have a delicious pizza piled with well cooked vegetables.

Speakers Corner Cafe (Ground Floor, Parliament House, 15 Esplanade, 08 8981 4833)
I remember Speakers Corner Café fondly from a visit to the Northern Territory a few years ago that included a three day trip through Kakadu National Park. It was so hot and humid that it was a relief to return to Darwin and sit at the outside tables and chairs looking out over green lawns, terracotta pots of flowers and the harbour, and enjoying the cool air of the sea breeze.

This week, we walked along the Esplanade to Parliament House, where the café is based. It was a rare period of brilliant sunshine and I looked forward to sitting on th Speaker Corner terrace with a drink. But as we got closer, we could see grey clouds gathering over the sea. By the time we arrived at Parliament House, the palm trees outside were being battered by the wind and there was rain in the air (as you can see in my photo). We purchased our drinks and sat outside under the verandah watching the torrential downpour until the rain sought us out and drove us indoors.

I can't remember if I have eaten at Speakers Corner and cannot vouch for how vegetarian-friendly it is but I think they make up decent salad sandwiches. But it is a pleasant place to have a drink if the weather is kind. Even if you don’t want a drink, it is worthwhile having a look inside Parliament House to look at the beautiful Indigenous paintings that make up the Meeting Place Mural, read the historic displays and visit the library. Parliament House is one of my favourite buildings in Darwin. It was built in 1992 and has a stark white beauty. I love civic buildings that are proudly modern rather than apologetic reproductions of historic buildings.

Garam Masala (Darwin Central Hotel, 21 Knuckey St, tel: 08 8944 9120)
We went to Garam Masala on a recommendation. I fancied an Indian dinner and it seemed an interesting place to eat. The first night it was booked out, so we booked and returned the next night. The service and the ambience were very good. The menu is interesting, if a little overpriced.

I naively ordered beetroot poriyal with channa dahl, chillis and curry leaves. I enjoyed the texture of grated beetroot studded with the occasional channa dahl. But my first mouthful left me gasping at the spiciness. E tasted it and said it was twice as spicy as his chicken curry. I had to pick through the grated beetroot and curry leaves to take out all the chillis – by the end of my meal there was quite a pile. I know that there are people who enjoy this much chilli but not me. Even with rice, roti and drowned in raita, it was far too hot for me. I would probably go back but only if I felt assertive enough to discuss the spiciness with the staff.

Parap Market (Parap Village Shopping Precinct off Parap Road, tel: 0438 882 373 or 08 8942 0805)
One of the best places to eat in Darwin is at the markets. We went to Parap Markets which are held on Saturday mornings (but I can also recommend the Nightcliff Markets on Sunday mornings and Mindl Beach Markets on Thursday nights in the dry season). There is a fine array of stalls selling crafts, soaps, hammocks, clothes, jewellery and artwork. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. And the food is fantastic.

Much of the food is of the South East Asian cuisine. Many stalls have bain maries filled with spring rolls, dim sims, fried rice, rice balls, fried tofu, sticky rice cakes. Tubs of noodles and bean sprouts are piled high waiting for orders for laksa soup. You can get fresh green paw paw salad made in front of you. Even the fruit is different to what I might expect at a Melbourne market. Stall holders sell fresh local tropical fruit - bananas, mango, pawpaw, dragonfruit (pictured) and rambutans.

We were there for breakfast which is too early for deep fried foods, so we headed to the crepe stall where I had a magnificent wholemeal crepe filled with cheese, salsa and avocado. Watching the crepes being made is wonderful entertainment. We also managed to buy some souvenirs – incense, clothes and presents. But the find of the market was the heavenly raspberry, boysenberry, cherry and apple juice. When E tasted mine, he suggested we share another one but it was too good for him to offer much to me!

Honorary mentions go to Bamar Café (Cavenagh Street) and Simply Foods (Smith Street Mall) for their lovely – and much needed – salads.

Lastly, I particularly dislike airplane and airport food. My all time low was a slab of plain tofu sandwiched between bread and butter on an Ansett domestic flight many years ago. Last year, Qantas went into competition for the worst airplane food ever by handing out bars of rice bubbles in a sweet goo as a vegetarian and gluten free snack. It felt insulting to be offered these overly processed and sweet snacks.

I was pleased on the flight to Darwin this week that the food seemed to have improved. We had roasted chickpeas for a light snack and then I was pleasantly surprised to be given delicious small gluten free cakes made from quinoa flour, bananas and raspberries. Maybe there is hope! Now if only they could offer some decent vegetarian food in the airports…