Monday, August 29, 2016

Banana & strawberry cupcakes

August 21-22, 2016

My job is now split over two campuses - I've got some lovely new officemates and we've all moved into a newly refurbished workroom together. Our supervisor invited the rest of the department around for an office-warming morning tea, and our team all agreed to bring along snacks to share.

I first baked a tray of gluten-free, vegan caramel slice to ensure that most special-diet bases were covered. Then I moved onto using up some bananas in a cupcake recipe that I've had bookmarked for 8 years. With eggs and vegetable oil and fresh strawberries folded through perhaps it's more of a muffin recipe, except that the 'muffins' are spread with cream cheese frosting. I slathered the frosting on generously with a knife (no piping for me), and added some sprinkles on top for decoration. I had almost a cup of leftover frosting, which I enjoyed eating with fresh strawberries over the following week.

I like the flavour combination of sweet bananas and strawberries offset with a little tanginess from lemon zest and cream cheese. It was very popular with my colleagues too!

Banana & strawberry cupcakes
(slightly adapted from a recipe on Vanilla Garlic)

3 cups plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
generous pinch salt
3 small bananas, peeled
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
3/4 cup sunflower oil
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 cup strawberries, chopped

1/2 cup butter, softened
250g cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons milk

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Place cupcake papers in a cupcake tray.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate large bowl, mash the bananas and the vanilla together. Crack the eggs in one at a time and whisk them through. Whisk in the oil and lemon zest until well combined. Gradually stir in the flour mixture, and then fold in the strawberries.

Spoon the cake batter into the cupcake papers to three-quarters full. (I made 16 cupcakes, and so used up the mixture over two separate baking batches.) Bake the cupcakes until a skewer comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Allow the cupcakes to cool before frosting them. This is a good time to take the butter and cream cheese out of the fridge to soften.

With an electric beater, whip together the butter, cream cheese and vanilla until fluffy. Sift and beat in the icing sugar, half a cup at a time until well mixed and fluffy. Beat in a little milk if the frosting looks too stiff to spread. Use a knife to spread the cooled cupcakes generously with frosting. Store cupcakes in the fridge, but allow them half an hour on the bench before eating.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Thai barbecue seitan sandwiches

August 20, 2016

We had a pretty quiet weekend lined up, so I decided it was time to get stuck into one of the many intriguing but complicated recipes in Street Vegan, my birthday present from Cindy. The sandwiches section of the book is filled with amazing combos, all of which require a fair amount of effort. After much debate, we settled on these rolls filled with Thai barbecue seitan ribs, pickled onions and smoky, roasted peanuts.

There are a lot of elements to these but they're all relatively simple and standalone, which means you can make them whenever you've got time - you could easily prepare the nuts, onions and sauce well ahead of eating, which would make the actual assembly trivially easy. 

We doubled the ribs component of these to make sure we had leftovers, but even then we wound up with a disproportionate amount of the barbecue sauce - don't be afraid to tweak the quantities a bit to balance things out. 

The end results were spectacular: the ribs themselves were probably a little bit on the soft side (don't be afraid to add even more gluten flour than specified in the recipe below), but that meant they soaked up the sauce very effectively, making for a tangy, smoky sandwich filling. The pickled onions and nuts added more zingy flavour and a bit of crunch - these are some impressive goddamn sandwiches. We had the leftover ribs with the barbecue sauce and some roast veggies, which worked superbly as well.

Thai barbecue seitan sandwiches
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Adam Sobel's Street Vegan)

pickled basil & onions
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 bunch of Thai basil leaves
1 large red onion, sliced

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegars, salt, mustard seeds and sugar and bring the mix to a boil. Stir in the basil and onion. Once the mixture has come back to the boil, cover the saucepan and kill the heat. After 20 minutes or so, transfer the cooled mixture to a sealable container and set aside.

smoked chile-roasted peanuts
1 cup roasted, salted peanuts
1.5 tablespoons agave nectar (or maple syrup)
1.5 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line an oiled baking tray. In a bowl, thoroughly combine all the ingredients. Spread the seasoned nuts onto the baking tray and roast for 8-10 minutes, until the liquid has dried up.

Thai barbecue sauce
1 cup lime juice
1 cup olive oil
1 stalk lemongrass, stripped and chopped into large chunks
1 tablespoon minced galangal
1/4 bunch of Thai basil leaves
1/2 cup coriander leaves
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and stemmed
3 tablespoons tamari
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup tomato paste

Put the lime juice into a medium saucepan and add in the lemongrass, galangal, Thai basil, jalapeno, cayenne pepper, tamari and the ground and fresh coriander. Bring the mix to the boil and then kill the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Pour the mixture into a blender or food processor, along with the tomato paste and olive oil and blend until smooth.

seitan ribs
500g firm tofu
6 tablespoons tamari
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1.5 cups gluten flour (our seitan was still very soft, consider adding more)
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
2 tablespoons ground coriander
oil for frying

In a food processor, puree the tofu, onion, garlic, carrot and celery together until smooth - this took at least five minutes of blending for me, but it will depend on your equipment I guess.

In a medium bowl, combine the gluten flour with the paprika, cumin, coriander and curry paste. Mix if the blended tofu mix and knead for a minute or two until you get a reasonably dry and firm dough. Add more gluten flour as needed here - my guess is we added about another 1/4 cup.

On a cutting board, roll the dough out into a flat square - about 20cm X 20cm. Slice the square into ~15 thin strips and then cut them in half.

Heat a generous layer of oil in a frying pan until it's hot and then fry the 'ribs' in batches, turning to brown the outsides, for 5-8 minutes per batch. Top up the oil between batches if required. Pop the fried ribs onto some paper towel as you go to soak up the excess oil.

When you're ready to eat, heat the pre-fried ribs in a pan (we just used half of our batch) and, once they've warmed up nicely, pour in about a cup of the barbecue sauce. Stir everything together gently, so that the ribs get coated in the sauce and cook for a few minutes, until it fries off a bit and things aren't too liquidy.

4 long rolls
1 cup vegan mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
2 cups mixed green leaves

Build the sandwiches!

Start by combining the mayo and Sriracha to make a slightly spicy spread; smear it on the rolls.

Pop some greens on the rolls and then 5-6 seitan ribs. Sprinkle the pickled onion and some peanuts on top and then serve.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Mankoushe IX

August 14, 2016

Though it's still pretty chilly, there are signs that winter is receding - the neighbourhood magnolias are flowering, the magpies look ready to swoop any day now and we've seen 20 degrees again, just the once. It's enough to inspire Michael to get up early for bird-watching, and for me to grab a picnic blanket and meet him for lunch.

Rather than preparing our own spread, we picked up lunchboxes from Mankoushe ($13 each). They'll cater to all manner of special dietary requirements, and the packages were vegan by default on the Sunday that we dropped in. We enjoyed dense little packs of a half-dozen dishes - grainy salads, garlicky sauteed greens, fresh tomatoes and pickley cabbage, nuts folded into a starchy mash, and slightly saucy lentils. Michael ably shovelled up his share with a wooden fork while the sun was still shining; I was slower. The wind picked up, the sun ducked behind a cloud, and I tucked up the last third of my food for later. We escaped the rain, at least. It's still a bit early for picnicking, but perhaps you can find a more sheltered spot to enjoy this splendid takeaway meal. 

You can read about one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight of our previous visits to Mankoushe.

323 Lygon St, Brunswick East
9078 9223
lunchboxes $13

Accessibility: There's a small step up through a narrow-ish entry but everything's more generously spaced once you're in. We ordered and paid for our takeaway at the counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

where's the beef? turns 10

August 23, 2016

Today we celebrate the 10th birthday of this here blog. We started where's the beef? in our first month of living in Melbourne and it's grown into an incredible document of our time in this city - it's threaded with the broadening acceptance and availability of vegetarian foods, the ebbs and flows of food trends, and our own evolving kitchen habits. We've collated some year-by-year highlights below.

Year 1 Being our first year living in Melbourne, we spent our weekends exploring various restaurants, markets and festivals all over the city. Michael started working in Fitzroy and launched the Gertrude St Grub series; Cindy's workplace showed off their home cooking skills.
   Best recipe: spiced chickpeas
   Best restaurants: Three, One, Two, Moroccan Soup Bar

Year 2 Cindy had a slow culinary start because she had her wisdom teeth removed. After that week we got much more sociable, participating in our first food blogger meet-ups. We travelled around Victoria and the world, ticking off Halls Gap, Wilsons Prom & the Mornington Peninsula, then touring the UK. Michael visited Japan for the first time, before Cindy climbed aboard the Chattanooga Choo-Choo.
   Best recipe: we discovered Isa that year, making many soy bombs and chickpea cutlets
   Best restaurants: A Minor Place, Attica

Year 3 Veg*n blogging hit critical mass in Melbourne and we all made friends IRL - there were dinner parties, birthdays, potlucks, festivals, yum cha, pizza nights and even a big group weekend away. I developed my almost-famous vegan sausage roll recipe.
   Best recipe: vegan sausage rolls
   Best restaurants: Hellenic Republic, Monsieur Truffe

Year 4 We explored fancy regional restaurants in Beechworth and Port Fairy before venturing further to Asia, where we ate the freshest tofu of our lives in Kyoto and learned to fry eggs into noodles in Kuala Lumpur. At home we published our 1000th post, joined twitter and tried our hand at a Christmas tofurkey.
   Best recipe: vegan omelettes and hash browns
   Best restaurants: Court Jester (sadly departed), Yong Green Food, Sonido

Year 5  Our travel-eating highlight was an all-blogging all-vegan long weekend in Sydney. In Melbourne, The Fox (one, two, three, four) and The Gasometer (one, two, three, four, five) vied for our veg*n pub-meal affections. Cindy turned 30 and held an ice-cream potluck that is still talked about to this day; less than a month later we discovered Ottolenghi.
   Best recipe: char koay teow
   Best restaurants: Mankoushe

Year 6  We partied through our first MONA FOMA in Hobart, Michael ate vegan poutine in Toronto and together we took in a northern summer in Berlin, Iceland & Norway. Back home we focused on fungi, foraging for our own around Victoria and experimenting with corn smut in the kitchen.
   Best recipe: black pepper tofu
   Best restaurant: New Day Rising

Year 7  In the summer we talked books and foods on the radio, which was a lot of fun. For Melbourne veg*ns more broadly, it was the Summer of South.
   Best recipe: BBQ bao
   Best restaurants: Wide Open Road, Dainty Sichuan

Year 8  Cindy snuck vegan eats around an Auckland conference, Michael found more than pizza and pasta in Turin, and Cindy ate Florida icecream, Denver diner waffles, Baltimore's high-end wholefoods and Native American cuisines in a DC museum. We reunited to tour veg hotspots New York and Portland, then headed home via Tokyo for a special family meal at a forty-plus-year-old Buddhist restaurant. We expanded our online presence by starting a facebook page.
   Best recipe: can't-stop choc-chip cookies (with added rosemary)
   Best restaurants: Smith & Daughters, Shandong Mama

Photo graciously provided by Green Gourmet Giraffe

Year 9  We published our 2000th post and celebrated with a picnic that we remember fondly. Cindy joined a fine dining panel at the Melbourne Writers Festival and attended a range of other food-centred events. We circled around to Tokyo for a third time, Kuala Lumpur for a second, and learned the wonder of cơm chay in Vietnam as a first.
   Best recipe: curried peanut sauce bowl with tofu & kale
   Best restaurant: Trang

Year 10  We both spent decent chunks of this year out of Australia - Michael embraced the working lunch in Stockholm for two months while Cindy learned the secrets of stinky bread-baking in smalltown Pennsylvania. Around our travel we've embarked on a 2006 Cheap Eats Guide project, enjoying a vegan resurgence at Ray. Cindy's rediscovered the joy of jaffles.
   Best recipe: peanut butter & blueberry pie
   Best restaurants: Moroccan Deli-Cacy, Brae


These highlights have reminded us how lucky we are to travel regularly for work and for pleasure, to eat delicious and nutritious foods out and about with friends and every night at home, for the time and money to treat food as a hobby as well as a necessity. We hope never to take that for granted.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Friends of the Earth

Cheap Eats 2006, a decade on

August 13, 2016

Part of the reason we decided to do our Cheap Eats 2006 project was to catch up on some glaring omissions in our near-decade of blogging. Cindy covered off Fo Guang Yuan in April, and this weekend we made our first ever visit to Collingwood vego stalwart Friends of the Earth.

We haven't actively been avoiding it, but the fact that it's taken us so long to visit is probably at least partly due to a suspicion that FOE would serve up worthy but bland vego food. Luckily, that impression was completely wrong - the cafe has a lot more to offer than just lentil stews: there are doughnuts and other sweets, lunch rolls, pizzas and more, along with a seasonal mixed plate. Everything is vegan by default (although there's dairy milk and butter on hand), and they're good at gluten-free options as well. There's a handy selection of veg-friendly groceries, including organic fruit and veggies.

I really wanted to try the baked tofu roll with cashew cheese, slaw, spinach and sesame mayo ($9), but I was hungry enough to tackle the large seasonal plate ($12.50). This is a classic vego buffet plate: rice, salad, a delicious tofu curry - hearty, tasty and healthy. It's a good option.

Cindy wasn't hungry enough to tackle a real lunch, so she ordered a lemon currant scone ($4) and a cup of dandelion tea ($4.50 + $1 for almond milk). The scone was a departure from the classic Australian version, with its triangular shape and dusting of sugar, but Cindy was impressed by it nonetheless. 

There are plenty of lovely-looking vegan sweets to choose from - at least partly provided by Crumbs.

Steph convinced me that I had to try FOE's newest special - a vegan croissant filled with smoked tofu and cashew cheese ($6). I took one home and had a wonderful breakfast the next morning - it's worth a visit to FOE on its own.

We can now personally recommend Friends of the Earth - it's doing much more than the daggy 1980s vego food we were half-expecting, and we really shouldn't have taken a decade to visit. It'll be much less time before we go back.


Friends of the Earth has received pretty limited blog coverage over the years - there are positive write-ups at The Wholefood Mama, Vegan About Town, Veganopoulous, New International Students and MEL: HOT OR NOT.

Friends of the Earth
312 Smith St, Collingwood
9417 4382

Accessibility: FOE has put some thought in - there's a shallow ramp on entry, non-gendered individual but standard-width toilet cubicles on the same level (the wooden floor is a teensy bit uneven) and a low counter for service.