Monday, August 29, 2005

Eating for a good cause

Last week on Wednesday, An and I were walking through Union house on our way to our fave coffee place, when I saw a table run by some liberal-arts-hippy-politically-minded-and-op-shop-clothed types, raising money for West Timor, covered in wholesome looking cakes. One cake in particular caught my eye, "Vegan Sponge Cake"... So I walked up to the table...

Me: Did you guys make these cakes?
Nice rosy cheeked girl: Yes we did!
Me: Who made the vegan sponge cake?
Same girl: Oh that was me.
Me: How do you make a vegan sponge cake?
Girl: Well you just use a lot of baking powder to make it rise, because you can't use eggs, and um... it's got flour, sugar, and oil in it. And I put a layer of jam in it to make it sweeter.
Me: Oh I see!
Girl: Are you interested in West Timor?
Me: ER no... looking around embarassedly... I work as a cook... and I just wanted to see these cakes - they all look really good.

Then the nice girl went into a spiel about the state of West Timor, the problems they're having over there, what we can do to help etc. I'm sorry to say I tuned out a bit, but if you're interested I suppose you could always use Google it.

Onto the cakes... An and I each spent $5, all in a good (I'm told) cause. I got a lemon and coconut muffin and a piece of sponge cake. An also got a spiece of sponge cake, and a slice of apple cake. Armed with our cake, we headed down to our coffee place...

Lemon and Coconut Muffin
Vegan Sponge Cake

The sponge cake. Well... it's not exactly a "sponge" cake, is it? It's really very flat, not airy at all, and had a gritty, rather than smooth texture. I mean, it had a pleasant enough taste, but having been expecting something sponge-like, I felt a bit cheated, for want of a better phrase. I have nothing against vegenism, or vegetarianism, (in fact, I adore vegetarian food - bring on the lentils!), but what I don't like is restricted food masquerading as ordinary food, and tasting weird. There are some vegan cakes that work, wonderfully, as they are (e.g. lemon and ginger muffins or the jaffa mocha cake at the Co-Op, 2nd floor union house), and some that just don't work without eggs, milk or butter (case in point being the sponge cake). It was also very, very sweet. An liked it, but after my first couple of mouthfuls I was buzzing on all the sugar.

Now onto the lemon muffin - this was fantastic!! I actually have no idea what's in this, apart from the slice of lemon on top (and I do believe Seville oranges would be lovely here too), and the desiccated coconut inside. Fragrant and delicious, with a good texture too.

Vegan Sponge in background, apple cake in front

The apple cake (in the front of the two photos above) was the most cakey-looking one of the lot. The texture was great (I can't remember if this one was actually vegan or not, the lovely texture makes it look suspiciously buttery), and the person who'd made this sprinkled a thick layer of raw sugar over the top - but it had a weird taste. Actually, come to think of it, they probably used some horrid vegetarian margarine product for the topping. That's where the weird taste came from!

Conclusion - the lemon and coconut muffins were fab, the others were a bit on the low side of ordinary. For me, a person with (thankfully) no dietary restrictions, I think it's a bit pointless to have inferior tasting substitutes for ordinary cakes, when I could eat the original version and enjoy it so much more. However, I'd never deride food simply because it is restricted in some way, and I'm up for trying anything, especially if it's a bit unusual. My motto is, "if it tastes good, bring it on". So more vegan muffins, please!!

You know, the only way anyone is ever going to get me to become politically involved at uni is to lure me with food... what clever hippies.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Breakfast at the Pancake Parlour

Yesterday morning I met my friend Robbie at Pancake Parlour in South Yarra for breakfast. He had an "IT", which you can just see in the background - two buttermilk pancakes with hot buttered walnuts and bananas and a scoop of ice-cream.

And for me... seeing as I'm back to bacon... I had a Buckleberry Pancake.

This is a buckwheat and blueberry pancake, with crisp bacon and two free-range scrambled eggs. This white thing on the pancake is whipped butter - I didn't eat it and just left it on the side. I did pour some maple-flavoured syrup (real maple syrup costs extra, whereas the maple-flavoured syrup is given to you in jugs on the table) on the bacon. I've read about this strange combination many times before, especially in reference to Canada, and have always wanted to try it. It's a flavour sensation! The salty bacon, the sweet, sweet syrup. DROOL!

(And due to the incredible fattening-ness of this dish, for the next few weeks I think I'd better stick to fruit salads for breakfast... *sigh*)

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Essential Ingredient, #2

I just came back from The Essential Ingredient, and having spent a whopping $218.82, I am now an Essential Ingredient VIP customer!! Which means that I get 6% off all full-priced goods for two years. Schweeeeet!

Here's what I bought...

Italian 00 type flour, $4.21
Marlux Pepper Mill, 14cm, $36.00
Saffron Powder, 2gm, $14.70
Buckwheat Flour, 500gm, $3.98
Non-Stick Flan-tin with removable base, 20cm, $16.10
2-Handled Earthenware Paella dish, $22.95
1 tin unsweetened chestnut Puree, $9.36
Juniper Berries, 40g, $5.95
Dried Morels, 15gm, $18.60
3 packets vacuum-packed chestnuts, 200gm, $10.50 each
Vialone Naro Ferro Rice, 1kg, $11.35
Crystallised Violets, $17.28
Stem-ginger in Syrup, 300gm, $6.95
Dark Muscovado Sugar, 500g, $4.40
Light Muscovado Sugar, 500g, $4.24
Clement Faugier Tinned Chestnuts, 435g, $11.25

Damn straight. I'm now just waiting for my card to arrive in the mail...

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Essential Ingredient

There was an article in the latest issue of Delicious magazine, entitled "Reality Checkout".

"Finding the ingredients for some recipes can be harder than cooking the dish, as Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, of London's River Café, discovered when they tried to rustle up two of their recipes from the shelves of Laura Barton's local supermarket."

The author, Laura Barton, says, "my mantra remains firm: what they don't stock at the supermarket, I don't want to know about". So in the article, Laura goes to the supermarket, with the illustrious Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray in tow, trying to make a couple of recipes from River Café Two Easy - Smoked Eel with Samphire and Spaghetti with Raw Tomato and Rocket - only using ingredients available at the supermarket. Naturally, the smoked eel dish fails miserably.

Um... ok? So what was the point of the article? Yeah, I get it, some ingredients are hard to find at the supermarket. I personally have spent many hours searching around various markets, delis, butchers and bakeries around Melbourne searching for ingredients I've so avidly read about in my beloved cookbooks. Because I am so interested in food, I'm happy to spend an afternoon idly wondering around a market, or down a foodie street, looking and inspecting the products. I love learning about new foods, new ways of preparing and serving them, (which is the whole point of How to Eat project). I think it's great that food writers are trying to get people to experience new food, to experiment with new ingredients and so on.

But on the other hand, I understand that not everyone is as gimpily food-crazed as myself. Some people, such as the author of this article, think of food as - gasp! - only fuel. (Which actually makes me wonder why they printed the article in a foodie magazine.) So if that's your approach to food, why are you bothering with a cookbook from River Café? And then complaining about the exoticness of the ingredients? I mean, if you aren't willing to put the effort in to make something exciting and different, then just leave the fancy-pants recipes (e.g. River Café, Teage Ezard, Nobu etc) at home, and go pick up a fucking Women's Weekly cookbook! (I shudder at the thought). Mm! Chicken schnitzels and pork stirfries all around!

Even though I understand that many people aren't passionate about food, I do think it's a bit sad. Saying that food is just fuel, and that it's only worth getting it at the supermarket is akin to saying, "Any song not played on a commercial radio station is not worth listening to", or "If an item of clothing isn't sold at Target, I'm not buying it!", or "I only watch Hollywood films shown at the local multiplex. If there actually are any films made overseas or by independent companies, I don't want to hear about it!" HRMPH! Sad, sad, sad. You are missing out, peoples!

Speaking of sourcing ingredients...

Last week, I went to Prahran Market to pick up some pheasant. (I did ring in advance, to check if they had it in stock - I've had bad experiences with trying to get unusual meats before). Incidentally, Prahran Market is on Commercial Road, one of the gay areas of Melbourne, and just down the road from one of my favourite clubs, The Exchange Hotel. I can't believe it's been so long since I've been to the market.

But when I was there, I came across the most fabulous store I'd ever been to, The Essential Ingredient. This enormous store had every food product I'd ever read about in my Nigella and my Jamie books, and in Delicious, Vogue Entertaining and Travel and Australian Gourmet Traveller, but had never been able to find. Juniper berries, vacuum-packed chestnuts, stem-ginger, muscovado sugar, puy lentils, tagines, different types of chocolate, cream, cheeses... even non stick brioche pans! (Read here for my horrendous experience searching for one of these for my mum's birthday this year.) I was walking around in awe, with the hugest grin on my face. I was like a kid in a candy store. Or a food-nerd in the coolest food store in the whole world. You may think I'm lame, but I don't care - it was like all my Christmasses had come at once. I've read about The Essential Ingredient before in my food magazines, but never actually made my way down there. I have no idea why.

You know, you can become a VIP shopper there if you simply spend more than $200 in one transaction on full-priced goods. Becoming a VIP shopper gives you 6% off full priced goods for two years. How good is that?! And trust me, I could spend $200 there easily. No sweat.

Hah! My stressed out days of searching fruitlessly for ingredients all across Melbourne are over!!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Chocolate Malteaser Cake II

Last night a bunch of us had dinner at Nyonya on Lygon Street, to celebrate my friend Adriana's graduation.

I made a Chocolate Malteaser Cake for her, as it is her favourite of all the chocolate cakes I've ever made (and I have made a lot, hehe!). She tells me she loves the malty taste.

Malteaser Cake, Adriana & I

Now, about the cake itself - I also love its malty taste (courtesy of delicious Horlicks) and light texture (baking powder and bicarb), but this time it turned out a bit dry around the edges. I think I had it in the oven slightly too long. Also, the quantity of icing, as specified by the recipe, barely covers the cake, so the first time I made it, I had to add a second round of malteasers to fill in the gaps. This time, I just made more icing, but still added a second crown of malteasers, because it makes it look more impressive.

It went down well, especially for the lovely Bernard who had two slices.

Previous Posts on this Cake

  • Chocolate Malteaser Cake
  • Chocolate Malteaser Cake - The Verdicts