Sunday 29 November 2009

Ramblers at the Castle in Peebles

On Wednesday we headed down to Peebles where E's parents had lived for almost a decade. It was where we stayed on our last visit to Scotland a few years ago.

For those who don't know it, Peebles is located on the River Tweed among the rolling hills of the Borders only about an hour from Edinburgh. It is a pretty town that has become popular with tourists and commuters.

On the day we were there it was raining cats and dogs but we fortunately borrowed an umbrella from the family friend we were visiting. We also visited quite a few charity shops and gift shops. Unfortunately the new British Heart Foundation charity shop didn't open til yesterday so we missed browsing in there. I imagine there was a stampede when the doors openeed!

I took this photo of the three salmon, which is the symbol of Peebles that can be seen around the town and on the coat of arms of the Burgh of Peebles. The motto translates as Against the Stream They Multiply and refers to salmon in the River Tweed. Peebles has lots of interesting traditions. One that amuses me is the reference to those born in Peebles as Gutterbluids. Those who aren't are known as Stoorifits.

With all the rain and cold, we were in need of warming food. E's family had a soft spot for the Castle Warehouse, which sells a great range of kitchenware, clothes and gifts. We were down that end of town and decided to have lunch at Ramblers Cafe which is located in the shop.

It has a no strollers policy but we parked ours outside and put Sylvia in a highchair. The menu had sandwiches, soup and a specials board had a wild mushroom risotto that sounded interesting. We both chose the Vegetarian Breakfast. You can see in the photo at the top that it is a substantial meal of vegetarian sausages, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, baked beans, fried potato scones, toast, tea and marmalade. (The baby food was not included - we brought it with us for Sylvia.) I opted not to have the egg and was impressed that they asked if I wanted extra sausages instead. I asked for a few more beans. Many places aren't so generous when I ask for no egg.

When the waitresses brought over our plates, they were so hot that cloths were needed to hold them. Before setting the plates down they thoughtfully dragged Sylvia's high chair back so she couldn't reach the hot plates. I really enjoyed my meal. In the last post a few people commented that I should find a good bakery. While I agree the Greggs chain of bakeries is nothing fancy, I had trouble finding the nice sourdough bread that I love when I last lived in Edinburgh but I did grow to appreciate a good fry-up.

I had been eying off the great selection of slices and desserts. The apple toffee brioche on the specials board particularly took my fancy. But I was too full. So I was quite pleased when we got home and E produced a piece of malteser slice that he had purchased when he paid the bill. We had some with our cup of tea after dinner. I enjoyed it but wasn't as impressed as E was. But I do love how pretty it looks.

Ramblers Cafe
Castle Warehouse Cookshop
1 Greenside, Peebles
Tel: (01721) 723636

Thursday 26 November 2009

Edinburgh - arrival and M&S Cafe

Oh, it is lovely to be in Edinburgh again! So now that we have worked out wireless broadband in the apartment, I can share the good, the bad and the ugly about Edinburgh.

The plane food was rather forgettable other than a chocolate and raspberry cake with quinoa flour. We arrived in Edinburgh and Sylvia immediately charmed E's family. They had keys to the apartment where we are staying and we finally collapsed there on Monday night. My in-laws had done a fantastic job of stocking the flat with good food and making it baby-friendly.

I love the Scottish butter label with the wellies.

On our first morning, we headed out to Princes Street where the roadworks greeted us and obscured the view of the castle. You will noticed that the weather is gloomy grey. Sylvia's rain cover on the stroller has been very useful.

But the Scots are great at Christmas decorations and they shimmer brightly on dark days.

I couldn't wait to check out the food hall at Marks and Spencer. They have such wonderful prepackaged food here - on our first night we had a broccoli and stilton tart with crunchy cheddar topping. But I despair of the 'fresh' food. The sign on this shelf says Fresh Produce. It is not at all my idea of fresh. Why all that packaging!

We had lunch at the Marks and Spencer Cafe on Princes Street. E enjoyed chatting to the old dears who loved Sylvia.

The warm cheese scones are superb with lots of cheese through the scone. I also had a salad of pasta, pesto, tomatoes, spinach and pecorino cheese. It was nice but I was disappointed the tomato and basil soup was unavailable. Also much appreciated was the orange and raspberry juice. Delicious!

We still haven't made it to Gregg's Bakery but have drooled over the goodie in the window.

The UK does have a fine appreciation of vegetarians and I couldn't resist a couple of vegetarian cookery magazines. I did manage to avoid a purchase from the "tragic life stories" section of W.H. Smith!

The kids clothes are also great. Here is a little hat we bought for Sylvia. Isn't it so cute! We are off to lunch now so I will tell you about the fry-up at the top of the page another time.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Mexican Lasagne and our Jetset Baby

The suitcases are almost packed and the perishable food in our kitchen is almost gone. By the time you read this we will probably be flying to Scotland. Hence, the cooking in our house lately, has been of the fridge-clearing type. I have tried hard not to be tempted to buy too much food. Instead I have turned my attention to odds and ends that need using.

I found a packet of corn tortillas that I had bought in a moment of enthusiasm and were now past their use by date. It seemed an ideal time to make tortilla stacks. Usually I layer wheat tortillas and chilli non carne, cover with cheese and cook for about 15-20 minutes. But I had some rice leftover from using up boxed curry one at the end of a tiring day. I remembered using rice in my burritos and decided to put it in the tortilla stack and it somehow morphed into a Mexican Lasagne with lots of layers. Perhaps inspired by my recent visit to the Tart ‘n’ Round Café, I made it both gluten free and vegan.

It was a success. Layers of rice and vegetables, tomato sauce, tofu cheese sauce and my attempt at Philippa’s parasalmond, it was a rich and interesting combination of colours, flavours and textures. I didn’t miss either wheat or dairy but it was lighter than a conventional lasagne. However, this is not always a bad thing. In the heatwave that followed making it, I was quite glad of a light main meal for a couple of nights that we could just pop in the microwave.

I am glad it worked because it was my last great cooking project before we go. Since then dinner has been made up of whatever needs using. I made a crustless quiche of mushrooms, spinach and vegie sausages, and have used some sausages and pasta sauce from the freezer.

Before I go, a few more quick notes. Thanks Ashley at Eat Me Delicious for sending me an One Lovely Blog award. I also wanted to comment on two arguements that I have heard recently. One came from a hardened omnivore, Sarah Palin, who said “If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat.” (Check out Jugalbandi’s post for an entertaining commentary on this.) If you believe this then surely you would also think it is ok to eat humans. The other comment from a vegan that seemed to not be thought through was that “we are the only species to drink another animal’s milk”. But if we are just following other species’ examples then surely we wouldn’t farm, wouldn’t cook and would forage for nuts and seeds and occasionally kill other species to eat. Just shows that both omnivores and vegans don’t always think about the implications of their arguments when they justify their diets.

But enough procrastinating! I will leave you with my Mexican Lasagne and return to my suitcases and my jetset baby. I expect this blog to be quiet for a few weeks. I am not quite sure what sort of internet access we will have in Scotland but I imagine we will wont have time for much blogging. I hope however to tell you about some good food in Scotland in the not too distant future.

Mexican Lasagne
Serves 6

Tomato sauce:

  • 2 x 400g tins of diced tomatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 chipotle chilli in adobo sauce, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup lager beer
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste (salt free)
  • 400g tin of kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Rice and vegetable filling:

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • half a bunch of kale, finely sliced
  • 1 spring onion, finely sliced
  • 1 bunch asparagus, thinly chopped
  • 1 small zucchini, finely chopped
  • handful cooked and chopped broccoli florets
  • 5 button mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 400g tin of corn, rinsed and drained (I forgot)
  • 2 cups cooked rice, approximately
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • pinch cayenne powder
  • juice of quarter lemon

Tofu cheese:

  • 350g firm tofu, crumbled
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise (I used soy)
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp white miso
  • 2 tsp mustard
  • ¼ cup soy milk


  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp veg stock powder (optional)
  • 2 tbsp almond meal
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 12 corn tortillas (312g packet)

To make the tomato sauce: put all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes or till sauce thickens slightly, stirring occasionally.

To make the rice and vegetable filling: heat the oil in a large frypan and fry carrot and kale for about 5 minutes over medium heat or til kale is soft enough for you. Add remaining ingredients and fry for another 5 minutes over medium heat.

To make tofu cheese: mix all ingredients in a medium to large bowl using a fork til you have a thick sauce.

To make the parmasalmond: mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. I found mine quite salty, especially on the first night, and would omit the stock powder next time.

To assemble lasagne: layer corn tortillas, rice filling, cheese sauce, tomato sauce, corn tortillas, rice filling, tomato sauce, corn tortillas, cheese sauce, tomato sauce and parmasalmond in a large lightly-greased baking dish (I used my large roasting dish). Bake at 220 C for about 30 minutes till browned and crispy. Can be reheated in the microwave, and it tastes even better after sitting in the fridge for a day or two.

On the stereo:
John Peel: Right Time, Wrong Speed: 1977-1987: Various Artists

Saturday 21 November 2009

Carrot Salad and Pate

I recently found a superb carrot, walnut and cranberry salad in the Vegetarian Times among Thanksgiving recipes. I find it surprising to find a salad in a Thanksgiving menu. It seems more suited to an Aussie summer (or an Aussie spring pretending to be an Aussie summer).

I didn’t have walnut oil or silken tofu so I substituted mayonnaise and olive oil in smaller quantities. I think if you wanted to be quicker you could just substitute mayonnaise for the dressing because the ingredients are about the same. I am not really into creamy salads but the dressing was quickly soaked up by the carrot and just was really flavoursome. Quite tart, which may be because I used mayonnaise rather than tofu.

I loved the addition of walnuts and cranberries, though I might reduce the walnuts next time as they were pretty intense. It is such a simple idea. Why can’t cafes make yummy protein-filled salads like this instead of cramming them with meat. You could eat this salad with a light green salad and some good bread and it would make a satisfying meal. Or it would be excellent in a salad sandwich.

It is a good opportunity to rave about a pate-cum-dip-cum-spread that I found at Radical Grocery recently: Smoked Tofu and Olive Pate (I think the other ingredients were just a bit of lemon juice and capers). We have finished the dip so I can’t tell you who makes it but it was one of those flavours that make you excited to know there are still great innovative combinations waiting to be discovered. It is very good on bread with some of this carrot salad. It reminded me a little of the liverwurst paste we had on sandwiches sometimes when I was a kid (but tasted much much better). E thought it tasted like smoked ham spread and my mum thought it tasted like smoked trout. Try it if you get the chance!

When not piling the salad on top of some smoked tofu and olive dip on bread, I served it alongside falafel that my mum brought over for lunch; for dinner with salad, bread and pate, and tofu burgers; and, after a few days when I discovered the remains in the fridge, I had it with sausage and lentil pasta. Delicious!

Carrot, Walnut and Cranberry Salad
Adapted from Vegetarian Times Nov/Dec 2009
Serves 6-8

  • 2 tbsp (soy) mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp seeded mustard
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • cup cranberries
  • 3 medium carrots, grated
  • 1 cup walnuts toasted and chopped

Mix the mayonnaise, oil, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice and salt in a small bowl. Place the carrots, cranberries and walnuts into a large salad bowl and toss with the mayonnaise dressing till all are combined. Can be left in the fridge for about 3-4 days in an airtight container.

On the Stereo:
Scott Walker sings Jacques Brel

Thursday 19 November 2009

Thanh Nga Nine - Vietnamese vegetarian appreciation

On a sunny Sunday a few weekends ago, we met Yavanna and Chris for lunch on Victoria Street in Richmond. For anyone who doesn’t know the area, there is a heavy concentration of Vietnamese grocers and restaurants along this strip. My family usually goes to Thy Thy but I was interested in trying a new place - Thanh Nga Nine.

I love Asian soups with lots of noodles and exotic flavours but they so often have fish in the stock that I have become too wary to order them. So I was excited when I read AOF extolling the virtues of Thanh Nga Nine, including an appreciation for vegetarian food extending to stock. She referred to an article in the Age newspaper, which I presume is this one with a great story of a family on an odessey of sampling 22 Vietnamese restaurants in Victorian Street over a year.

Thanh Nga Nine is a clean modern restaurant with some traditional touches like a Buddah and Asian fabrics displayed on the walls. For the Collingwood tragics in my family, there is also a signed footy jumper. In one corner is a large fish tank full of a school of fish that darted about too quickly for my camera. I rang a few days earlier and booked a table because I wanted to check it was a baby-friendly place. They had set up a high chair when we arrived and there was room to park the stroller beside the table.

While service was occasionally a bit slow, the staff were most obliging. Tea was available upon arrival but it took a couple of requests to get some water. Finally we were told that it was taking a while to get the ice. The orders seemed to be taken a little quickly for me to fully peruse the menu but that was possibly because I was feeding Sylvia, who mercifully pretended to be a good eater. So I don’t have a good memory for the dishes but wanted to share my experiences.

The vegetarian section of the menu was quite substantial. Some of the starters were the sort you would find anywhere – spring rolls and rice paper rolls. But I was intrigued by the vegetarian mini pancakes. I was also determined to order a noodle soup, which is such a rare pleasure. I think I also might have spied a noodle and vegetable dish like they served at the Vina Bar, my favourite Vietnamese restaurant until its recent sad demise.

I am no fan of faux meat so it was unfortunate that I inadvertently ordered two faux meat dishes. The pancakes were light little pancakes with faux shrimp, what we think was a dab of mung bean paste and a sprinkling of what I think was faux fish seasoning. They were sort of interesting but too fishy for me. Yavanna who was sharing a plate of seafood pancakes with Chris, tasted the vegetarian version and said it didn’t taste as good.

Next my pho soup came and was full of faux meat – little dumplings and slices of some sort of white meat. I took one look and shuddered in horror. Very apologetically I explained that I did not like faux meat and had not realized it was in the soup. They kindly took it away and replaced it with a noodle soup with deep fried tofu, bok choy and bean sprouts. Not enough vegetables for me so I ordered a plate of steamed vegetables on the side, specifying that I wanted carrot and corn and broccoli like in Chris’ dish. I needed colour! Once this arrived I was very happy with my meal. The soup (pho) had a lovely subtle flavour of star anise and I enjoyed it very much with lots of flat noodles.

At the end of the meal, one of the waiters came to ask how our meal was. We said it was great but I talked to him about the faux meat issue. He said they had been considering rewriting their menu to make this clearer. I was impressed that he said his mother had recreated the pancakes for vegetarians because they were so popular. I stressed that I didn’t like faux meat but I know others would appreciate it.

Meanwhile the rest of the dishes were enjoyed. E had a chicken dish with lemongrass and Chris had an impressive spread of lots of seafood and noodles. But the starring dish of the day – for me at least – was Yavanna’s choice of deep fried eggplant. It was soft inside and crispy on the outside, had lots of peanuts and chilli and a delicious marinade but I can’t tell you any more than that. I will tell you to go and order it and taste how good it is for yourself. Even E, who is an avowed enemy of eggplant thought it delicious.

Despite my problems with the faux meat, it was a great meal out. I liked being able to try different dishes than the standard ones and appreciated the attitude of the owners in catering for vegetarians and families. No wonder it was busy. The food was not only delicious but also cheap. We walked away having paid $66 for the four of us for starter and main course. With interesting conversation and Sylvia doing her little dance in the highchair, it was a very pleasant lunch.

Thanh Nga Nine Vietnamese Restaurant
160 Victoria Street Richmond VIC 3121
Tel: 03 9427 7068
Open 7 Days, 10am to 10pm

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Pizza for the Impatient

I did it again! I bought fresh yeast and then was compelled to use it before it lost its zing. I made a great zucchini bread, which I hope to share soon but most of my yeast baking over the last week has been pizza.

Soon after I started blogging, I was amazed to find Katie at Apple and Spice making a yeasted pizza base that went straight into the oven without any proving. I get a little nervous about working with yeast and was impressed with the bold nonchalance with which she treated it. The very idea that I didn’t have to wait for yeast to rise seemed a great innovation. I meant to try it straight away and then I was distracted by other recipes.
I love the idea of waiting around for bread to rise and develop but often I want my loaf now. As the days warm up as we rapidly approach summer, I have less patience for bread. Having yeast to use in hot weather is no fun. Lately we have had days when I couldn’t bear to turn on the oven, and the heat zaps me of energy and motivation. So I have seized upon the cooler days (oh blissful 25 C) to bake. Even then, organizing myself around Sylvia is a bit of a challenge. I have found that Isa’s pizza base is great but you do need some time to do it. So I decided the time was right to try Katie’s pizza.
The first time I tried it, I followed Katie’s instructions and rolled it out as soon as I had mixed the dough. It was amazingly light, thin and unleavened. We had pizza with pesto, tomato, green capsicum, sundried tomato, olives, ricotta cheese and spring onion. I meant to make salad but didn’t manage to get organized. The pizza was quite small and not that filling. I should have known when the dough was about the size of my fist.
The dough was so easy to make that it seemed the ideal opportunity to finally try a dessert pizza. I mixed some honey and raspberries with ricotta and topped it with choc chips. I was pleased that when I left the dough for a short rest and used my hands rather than a rolling pin to stretch it, the pizza base was a little thicker and more bready. The topping was ok but not great. E was not at all enthused.
The next morning I decided to try it again but with cream cheese and nectarines. But when I opened the fridge to look for cream cheese I found some beetroot dip had spilled everywhere and in trying to clean it up I tipped blueberries all over the floor. At the moment Sylvia started crying. The pizza had to wait a few days till I found the time.
The cream cheese and nectarine topping was a great improvement on the ricotta job but I ran out of bread flour and added 1 teaspoon of gluten flour (vital wheat gluten) and some wholemeal flour. It was quite stodgy and I wasn’t sure it was cooked enough in the centre. However, a drizzle of maple syrup made it feel both decadent and suitable for breakfast.
Yesterday I finally found dessert pizza nirvana with a winning combination of cream cheese, chocolate and raspberries. It was creamy and chocolaty with the tart berries studded throughout. I had thought I would need some extra sweetener when it came out of the oven but it was sweet enough. Then after leaving it for about 10 minutes the chocolate was even more melty. Even the pizza cutter tasted good after making its way through that molten mess.
It was so good that E was swooning over it. It took me great self control to save some for dessert and to be nice and leave him some. It was so good that I didn’t care that Sylvia is starting to move about more and is now finding her way into the cat food bowl and our CDs or that Zinc spent the day miaowing at me to let her out even though it is too hot for her sensitive white fur, or that feeding Sylvia is a battle that zaps my energy or that I am behind in the housework as usual. This pizza is far better than a bex and a lie down.
Now I will be tempted to buy more fresh yeast just so I must make more chocolate pizzas. But then again, you don’t need an excuse for pizza that tastes this good and is ready in just over half an hour.

I am sending the chocolate raspberry pizza to Susan at for her weekly Yeast Spotting that continues to inspire me to bake interesting bread.

Katie's Pronto Pizza
adapted from Apple and Spice
Serves 1-2

For the dough
15g fresh yeast (or 7g dried yeast)
½ tsp caster sugar
50ml warm water
1 tbsp (15ml) olive oil
2 tbsp (30ml) milk
125g strong bread flour

Suggested toppings: Pesto, Olives, Semi sun dried tomatoes, Green capsicum, Tomato, Ricotta, Spring onion

Preheat the oven to 190 C. Mix the yeast and sugar in a medium mixing bowl till the yeast is liquid (or if using dried yeast mix with sugar). Add water, oil and milk. Then mix in flour until it comes together into a firm but slightly sticky dough.

Lightly knead for a few minutes on a lightly floured surface until it is smooth. Use a rolling pin to roll out to about 3-4mm thick and place on a baking tray that has been well dusted with polenta (Katie recommends you heat the tray but I didn’t for the savory pizza).

Arrange the toppings on the pizza and bake for 15-20 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

Chocolate and Raspberry Pizza
adapted from Apple and Spice
serves 2-4

15g fresh yeast (or 7g dried yeast)
1 tsp sugar
50ml warm water
1 tbsp (15ml) olive oil
2 tbsp (30ml) milk
2 tsp gluten flour
85g white plain flour
40g wholemeal plain flour
polenta, for sprinkling

2 dessertspoons cream cheese (I used low fat)
100g choc chips*
handful frozen raspberries*

*Alternatively you can replace choc chips and/or raspberries with 2 nectarines thinly sliced and a drizzle of maple syrup (note to self - try it with some sugar crystals sprinkled on the nectarine before cooking).

Mix the yeast and sugar in a medium mixing bowl till the yeast is liquid (or if using dried yeast just mix with sugar). Add water, oil and milk. Then mix in flour until it comes together into a slightly sticky dough. Lightly knead for a few minutes on a lightly floured surface until it is smooth.

Turn on oven and heat to 190 C with a pizza baking stone inside. While oven is heating, let dough rest for 15 minutes in the mixing bowl – I didn’t clean or oil mine – covered by a damp tea towel. This time is quite flexible as I left it for different times depending on what I was doing while it rested.

The dough wont rise much but will puff up a little. Punch it down and press and stretch it gently to be about 5 mm thick, although it will be thicker on the outside which is ok because this part cooks more.

Have your topping ready and take pizza stone from the oven. Sprinkle polenta on the tray (but if you forget that is ok as I found out) and place flat circle of dough on the tray. Spread the cream cheese almost to the edge, scatter choc chips and then raspberries on top.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the edges are golden brown. Sit for at least 5-10 minutes before eating because, speaking from experience, it will melt a bit more once out of the oven and will burn your mouth if you eat it straight away.

On the Stereo:Scott Walker: The Collection

Monday 16 November 2009

Polenta Pizza People

Another weekend, another family birthday. They come thick and fast at this time of year but I am glad this is the last of them before we start the festive season. Today was the 5th birthday of my twin nieces Grace and Ella. I originally had said I would do the cake but as Rabbie Burns says, "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley."

The kiddies party in the park was at 10am, which is not a good time for Sylvia and me. We are not morning people and only managed to get there at 11.30 so it was lucky that my mum and Susie took over cake duties and taking a photo for me. They made the girls two gorgeous Barbie doll cakes with butter cream skirts decorated with glitter icing, icing hearts and shiny silver cachous. By the time we arrived the cakes looked like this:

My sister Fran managed to get in first with Sylvia’s Christmas presents. She had bought her some very cute silver sandals but worried that Sylvia would outgrow them soon so she gave them to her early. Sylvia is not even crawling yet so she doesn't wear shoes generally but I can see why Fran could not resist their charms. Unfortunately the moskitos felt the same way about my blood and kept coming back for more.

After the morning party, the family had a barbecue at home. A simple affair of sausages (with vegie sausages for me) and salad. Due to the heat and various diets, I decided against baking and made little polenta pizzas with faces instead.

I thought they would be good gluten free party food but Grace was not keen on them. Susie, who is also GF, liked them and so did other members of the family. They were quite large for party nibbles and I am not sure how easy it would be to make lots of them. I only got about 8 of them out of three-quarters a cup of polenta. But I would make them again.

After lunch I went for a swim with my 7 year old niece Maddy. She made me feel old when I told her that I remember when the area of Geelong where she lives was just fields and she started talking about dinosaurs. She also was amazed to find my car was 21 years old – ‘I didn’t know cars could last that long’, she said.

While we were playing in the pool, my mum made the Christmas pudding with some dried fruit I had soaked over night for her. I have made the pudding the last few years but this year I have less energy for it so mum helped. I just wish I could have been here to see how she does it, especially how she fits the mixture into a teatowel to boil it. When we got back, the pudding was merrily boiling and Sylvia had been awake for about 6 hours with only a 15 minute powernap but was playing on the rug quite happily. I was glad that she slept soundly in the car on the way home.

To make polenta pizza faces: I made up polenta in the microwave and spread it as thinly as possible in a shallow dish to cool. Then I cut round circles and placed them on baking trays. I spread each circle with some ricotta mixed with a little beetroot powder colouring. This not only represented pink skin but also gave something to hold the features of the face. Eyes were slices of olive with a small piece of cheese inside them, the nose was a thin triangle of carrot and the mouth was sun dried tomato. Then I cut sticks of mozzarella cheese and arranged it as the hair. Other things I might try when doing this again include as capsicum, capers, green olives with pimento in them and grated vegetables for hair. I baked them for about 15 minutes at about 220 C.

They looked cute but I wished that I had baked them with the bottom side up first to make it crispy – as I did with the polenta pizza tart. The bottoms were a little soft for my liking. However, this problem was solved at my parents’ place when we decided to put the pizzas on the barbecue. It warmed them up and the bottoms were brown and crunchy. I don’t have a barbecue but could heat them in a frying pan for a similar effect.

On the stereo:
The Colour of White: Missy Higgins

Sunday 15 November 2009

Tart ‘n’ Round Café: creative liberation

I rang my friend Will to tell him I was concerned about him because we still had his hat that he left at our place months and months ago. These hot days are not ones to be without a hat. Yesterday while Sylvia slept, I drove to over to return Will’s hat. While I was over that way I had suggested we go to Tart ‘n’ Round Cafe in Thornbury High Street for a bite to eat. We strolled there wearing our sunhats.

I have wanted to try Tart ‘n’ Round for a while now since seeing it being raved about by other bloggers. It is a small local business that makes gluten free and vegan wholesale food and now runs a café new café that serves their delicious food. But when I went there I found that I had sampled the Tart ‘n’ Round baking before. I have seen their stall at Carlton Farmers Market and eaten their superb chocolate balls at Fatto a Mano bakery (228 Gertrude St, Fitzroy).

Tart ‘n’ Round has a stylish interior with brick walls, a corrugated iron counter and black shelves for food and crockware displays. I love a place that has lots of food to look at – bread and icecream in the fridge behind the counter; packaged fruit cake, chocolate balls and biscuits in a little corner of edible gifts and treats; and most importantly of all, a tempting dessert display in a glass cabinet. It all looked good.

We sat down to check the menu. While it was not huge, Will , who is a fellow vegetarian, laughed in delight because he could eat it all rather than avoiding all the meat. There were burgers, fritters, pasta, and more. He chose the lentil burger. I swithered between the lasagne and the chickpea salad but chose to taste both.

The service was prompt and friendly. Plates of large colourful meals were soon placed before us. Will had a large lentil burger in a bun with a generous side salad. When I later asked him how the bun was he said he never even noticed it was gluten free. He also had a mango smoothie that he thought quite ordinary but he swooned over the vegan ice cream.

My lasagne was layers of corn noodle, eggplant, pumpkin, mushroom and topped with thick rich tomato sauce. It didn’t taste at all like regular lasagne but I enjoyed the corny taste of the pasta and all the soft melting layers of vegetables. I had requested a half serve of the chickpea salad. It was most satisfying with lots of chickpeas, beans, carrots and avocado swimming in a lovely herby dressing.

Then our attention turned to the desserts. We had a tyranny of choices – biscuits, chocolate balls, tiramisu, lemon meringue pie, flourless chocolate cake, chocolate caramel slice, and even mince tarts. As I said above, I have purchased the crispy chocolate balls elsewhere. I know I should have tried something new but I love the caramel peanut balls so much and after Will’s glowing endorsement of the ice cream I was tempted to have both. (I have just realised that they are like my favourite chokito chocolate bar but better!)

I was convinced to try a warmed slab of the creamy, crunchy, chocolate covered peanut caramel balls with ice cream. It was wonderful but my eyes were bigger than my stomach. The ice cream was indeed incredibly smooth and creamy. But after my huge main course, I just couldn’t finish it. So anyone who claims that gluten free food or vegan food does not fill you up, just try Tart ‘n’ Round. In future I will just have a smaller peanut caramel ball – or maybe two because they are so good. Will enjoyed a hearty serve of tiramisu with ice cream.

Both of us left, pleased to discover a good local cafe. I must remember the take away option as well as eating in. They also sell ice cream in a tub, loaves of my celiac sister’s favourite GF bread, and for the Christmas season there are mince pies, puddings, fruit cake and special festive chocolate balls. So I recommend you try Tart ‘n’ Round if you are seeking vegan food (or either egg free or dairy free), gluten free food or just delicious food made with love and creativity.

Update: just found out the sad news that as of 1 March 2010, Tart n Round cafe is closing. The cafe will be missed but the food will continue to be sold wholesale and be available at other outlets.

Tart ‘n’ Round Café

839 High St, Thornbury 3071
Open: Wednesday-Friday 12.00pm -10.00pm, Saturday/Sunday 9.00am - 10.00pm, Closed Monday & Tuesday except for public holidays
Ph: 03 9480 0818