Monday, January 23, 2006

smooth operator

The cool change has come, but the house is still hot. Fitful sleep punctuated by a fan whirring and a cat skipping in and out of the bedroom window, I awoke groggy and dry. The fruit bowl had been picked over. The mangoes used up yesterday in a spectacular breakfast of wholemeal pancakes*, maple syrup and slices of juicy, ripe mango. The heat had begun to knock the expensive white peaches around (I was saving them for a work morning treat) and the lady finger bananas were ‘eat now’ ripe. It all spoke of the perfect, morning liquid meal.

Fruit smoothie

(per person)
1 lady finger banana
1 peeled peach (nectarines would taste almost as good), sliced
A splash (1-2 tsp) pomegranate molasses
Milk of choice (for me, malt free soy)
Ice if desired

Place ingredients in a beaker or jug and whiz with hand blender (I love my kitchen magic wand!). Sit in the garden under the grape vine and sip.

*Wholemeal pancakes
1 cup organic, wholemeal flour
2 organic eggs
Enough soymilk to make a pourable batter

Blend ingredients in food processor til smooth. Allow the batter to sit for 15 minutes. Heat a medium sized non-stick fry pan, add butter, turn heat down so it is hot but won’t burn. Ladle in some batter and swirl around pan. When the mixture bubbles on top, flip and you will find a browned under belly. Remove from pan when cooked, add a small knob of butter and a generous amount of good quality maple syrup. You may form a stack of them if desired. Top with slices of mango. Consume with the finest black coffee available.

The pancakes are more a flapjack than a crepe. The wholemeal flour is not too dense and the combination with the soy made it taste almost coconuty.

And yes, I use butter but don’t eat cow’s milk. Something about extracting the whey (protein?) makes butter digestible to me, but not other dairy foods.

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Gyoza, gyoza, my queendom for gyoza

Luscious, hot, tasty parcels.
Fried on the bottom, soft on top.
Plunged into a salty, tangy dipping sauce.

Some days only a gyoza (or twelve) will do the job.

They are the simplest and ultimately flexible food to make. They also never fail to impress the pants off visitors, yet can be made without fuss and cooked in a moment.

My first foray into gyoza was with a simple cabbage filling. I had tasted them at a sadly now defunct home style Japanese café in Carlton and after a bit of questioning figured out how to make them. Once mastered, I was on the hunt for The Ultimate Vegetarian Gyoza, and I think I found it.

Fresh shitake mushrooms (or 50:50 shitake and portabello)*
Spring/green onion*
Crushed garlic and root ginger*
A splash or two of tamari

Process ingredients together so the mixture is still a bit chunky but not too smooth. Moisten with tamari (soy sauce if need be).

Take a package of gyoza wrappers. (These are available in the refrigerator of most Asian grocery stores. Unless I am making further batches in the next few days I freeze those I don’t use.)

Put a wrapper in your hand and place a teaspoon of mixture in one half of the circle. Run a little water around the edge. Fold in half and gently pinch together. You can make them plain like I have, or do some fancier pinching work if you are out to impress. If you are making a big batch, or preparing them ahead of time, place a damp tea towel over the prepared gyoza to stop from drying out.

Heat up a fry pan and add some vegetable oil (I tend to use Melrose raw sesame oil). Place in a semi circle around the pan, close together without over lapping. Mine takes up to 14 gyoza at a time. Cook on medium-high 1-3 minutes til the bottoms are getting brown. Add 1/3-1/2 cup of water and place a lid on the pan. Turn the heat down a bit and simmer for about 3 minutes. If any water is left by that time, take the lid off til evaporated.

Dipping sauce
1-2 tablespoons tamari
1-2 tablespoons rice vinegar
a few shakes of chilli oil (from Asian stores, this stuff is hot, so add it a drop or two at a time and taste).

You now have these wondrous pillows of goodness, soft on top and a little crunchy on the bottom. Dip in the sauce and devour.

showing the top (soft side) and bottom (fried)

Thursday’s cauliflower gyoza
I had a craving bad, but couldn’t get any fresh shitake and didn’t want to use dried ones. I was roasting some cauliflower and a leftover leek (to go with some pan-fried blue eye for dinner) and blended a little of the roasted vegetables with garlic and tamari to use as a filling. A very tasty and interesting variation.

But perhaps next time they could morph into…Vegan Ravioli. Many vegans use gyoza wrappers as an egg free pasta replacement. In this case use two wrappers to make large round ravioli, taking about 2 teaspoons of mixture each. I imagine roasted rather than fresh garlic would go better for this being both a mellower a flavour and adding a little moisture, and sea salt and pepper instead of tamari. Cook in boiling water for a couple of minutes til they float to the surface and serve with a napoli sauce.

* a note on quantities: A little goes a long way, as you only need a teaspoon of filling each. I use the small mini blender attachment on my magic Braun hand blender, unless cooking for more than 4-6 people.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

When the Big Breakfast goes bad

I knew it was not a good omen when a smiley face stared back at me from my breakfast. Nowhere on the menu did it say you would have a lump of something that may or may not have been a potato in it’s former life, moulded into a generic figure, sprayed with chemicals, fried and frozen, then reheated to leave a lingering taste of rancid fat – as part of the dish.

This was meant to be an item I knew well – 2 poached eggs, spinach, mushroom, tomato and hollandaise on a potato pancake. The latter, a rosti like creation taking up most the plate, was absent only to be replaced by Mr Smiley and two of those awful hash brown ‘bricks’ reminiscent of a mcbreakfast.

Poached eggs are one of those deceptively simple dishes, but done properly are a sign the chef mastered at least the first semester of cooking school. This one sadly hadn’t. Irregularly shaped, roughly textured, rubbery white with barely cooked yolk leaving a soggy imprint of the white sliced toast (another sorry substitution). The spinach from the freezer bulk catering pack, the hollandaise from a big plastic tub and the mushrooms from a can, none bearing any resemblance to a legend in the breakfast world, adored over the years. At least the tomatoes and garnishing herbs were fresh.

This local café had appeared strangely quiet in recent months. It had long since been sold, twice, since the enthusiastic first owners who had created their niche in a tough town of eat streets had moved on. I love my neighbourhood and always give new ventures a go, anything to keep out the creep of the faceless chains, but I won’t be sad when this one closes, as it inevitably will.

Fortunately I didn’t risk the coffee.

All that was missing was a cheery “have a nice day” on the way out, but the waitress, no doubt staring down the barrel of unemployment, looked far too sad for that.

Update: This was a review of "Eat" a cafe in Rathdowne Street, North Carlton. It seems that other locals voted with their feet and eventually the cafe closed. It is now the home of Gerald's breakfast but better service and great tapas.


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