Wednesday 28 October 2015

Shu Restaurant: vegan degustation

It is not often that a Chinese restaurant prompts me (or anyone) to vacuum the car but that was the end result of a vegan degustation dinner at Shu Restaurant in Collingwood.  I hasten to add that I was not vacuuming up the food on offer.  It was too good for such treatment.  Shu specialises in innovative Shichuan cuisine and indeed this was unlike any Chinese food I had had before.  It was a special invitation-only dinner for a group of bloggers and foodie friends of Shu.  This post to sing its praises is well overdue.

We arrived at Shu on a cold wet night in August for this Christmas in July degustation.  Shu is an interesting place with great attention to detail and a preference for recycled materials.  The drinks were in beakers, the chopstick holders are recycled, one part of the wall was covered in old vinyl records and a coloured light show went on while we ate.  The light was not in my favour but I encourage you to check out more photos and reflections on the night by Veganopoulous and Cates Cates who were far more punctual than me in posting about the meal.

The proprietor, Shu, greeted us warmly when we arrived.  I mentioned I was not into really spicy foods and he reassured me I would be fine.  Mostly I was.  I arrived with Faye from Veganopoulous and we sat with a couple who were regulars and connoisseurs. When I tasted the cocktail that was set before me I was a little startled at how alcoholic it tasted and gave it a miss, given that I was driving and only occasionally drink alcohol.  I was a bit sad to avoid it as it was pretty and seemed interesting.

Our first selection was a tasting plate of Chilled and Raw dishes.  From left to right above: Cucumber, seaweed and soybean skin with spicy tahini and roasted pumpkin seeds; Silken tofu with beans, sprouts and pickled chilli relish; and Daikon roll of enoki mushroom, Asian herbs and lettuce in spicy soy sauce.

My favourite of the three was the cucumber, seaweed and soybean skin.  The silky creamy mixture melted in my mouth while the seeds added a pleasing crunchy contrast.  The daikon roll of enoki mushrooms was spectacular to look at but a mystery as to how to eat it in polite company.  I used my fingers, which perhaps was not the most dignified way to eat it.  I liked the soft silken tofu and crunchy sprouts but was took busy avoiding the spicy sauce to appreciate it fully.

Next came the Hot Dian Xin selection.  It was a slightly more substantial tasting plate of Steamed tofu pocket stuffed with preserved mustard greens and peanuts, Pan fried shiitaki and cabbage wonton with pickled chilli jam and Chinese vinegar; and Crispy beetroot and wood ear roll with a green chilli dip.

One of my favourite dishes of the night was the Beetroot and wood ear roll.  I enjoy spring rolls but the filling is all a bit sameish.  Beetroot and mushroom gave such novel and delicious filling.  I found the tofu pockets filling a bit gritty and was not a huge fan.  I loved the wonton.  The home made wrappers were noticeably more prominent and satisfying in texture and flavour than the regular wrappers I am used to and it was a lovely filling.

Then started a round of Sharing Plates.  We started with a Pan roasted eggplant rolls with pickled vegetables and roasted cashews.  All the food was styled with flair and I loved how these were presented on a long platter.  Sadly these were not so much my thing.  They were nice but were something I would have enjoyed as part of a platter rather than on their own.  And they were a bit too spicy for my palate.

Alongside the eggplant rolls were the Home Town noodles.  I ate these separately from the eggplant rolls and was surprised that they were cool rather than warm.  These noodles were served with a light seasoning and sesame seeds.  It all sounds rather dull but they were beautifully done and I could have slurped more of these.  They had a lovely cooling effect after the spicy eggplant rolls.

I am not a huge mushroom fan and was rightly wary of the Mixed Asian mushrooms, ginger and fennel stir fried in a sweet soy sauce.  While I enjoyed the opportunity to try a far greater variety of mushrooms than I normally would, I found the dish had too many mushrooms for my liking.

I was far more appreciative of the Crunchy coleslaw tossed with seeds and nuts with a Sichuan pepper infused soy sauce.  It was refreshing albeit a little spicy.

I regret that I don't have a photos worth sharing of the Wok fried seasonal vegetables with dried chilli and Sichuan pepper.  I have had such bad experiences of Chinese vegetables covered in an MSG goo that I was so delighted in how fresh and nicely flavoured these vegies tasted.  It was one of my stand-out dishes of the night.

Our final sharing plate was the Crispy tofu and grilled beanshoots in preserved Pixian bean paste.  The tofu had crispy edges while being meltingly soft inside and was lovely.

Finally we were served a Raw avocado cheesecake with blackberry syrup and toasted coconut chips.  This was a really nice light dessert at the end of a large meal.  It was lightly sweetened with a pleasing tang to it.  The talking point was the jellied fruit cubes.  In my notes I have written "lychee and agar cubes???" and can only surmised that this was what a guest surmised.  It was a stunning and memorable end to a great dinner.
The degustation introduced me to Asian food in a new and exciting way.  There was far more spice than I am used to but it was done well and I coped - mostly!  All the dishes were quite light and I was full but not stuffed to the gills at the end.  I would definitely return for a meal and recommend it to others.

You might remember that I started the post talking about vacuuming the car.  At the end of the meal I offered Cindy and Michael a lift home.  When I took out the child seats I was horrified at the crumbly mess beneath them.  I covered it up with a rug and vacuumed the car soon after.

Disclosure: I was invited to Shu by the proprietor and paid by the honest box at the end of the meal.  I was not obliged to write a positive review and all opinions are my own.

Shu Restaurant
147 Johnston Street, Collingwood
(03) 9090 7878
Open: Wed - Sun: 6pm - 10.30pm

Shu Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday 25 October 2015

Hedgehog, Neighbourhood House open day, and Darebin Music Feast

There are some recipes I love because they taste great.  Then there are others where the taste goes deeper than flavours and burrows into the memory with a nostalgia that calls forth another time.  Hedgehog is one of those special recipes for me.  I have been eating it and making it since I can remember.

So when I was recently asked to bring a traditional recipe to a food swap, hedgehog was one of the first recipes that sprang to mind.  I have a recipe from my mum that I love.  Yet my mum often doesn't stick to one recipe.  She follows the same recipe for a while, then alters it or tries a new version, then returns to her favourite recipe.  I don't think she would mind that I have - ahem - four other hedgehog recipes since starting this blog.

Who would have guessed there could be so many variations on this plain old slice.  Almost as many as there are names.  Others know this sort of slice as tiffin, biscuit cake or fridge cake.  I guess the main thing is that it is no bake and must have chocolate and chopped biscuits in it.  I know others suggest using any variety of plain biscuits but for me it is always Marie biscuits.

As well as being in love with hedgehog, I cannot resist anything with condensed milk in it.  Hence my need to try both Lucy and Lauren's recent hedgehog recipes with condensed milk in them.  I merged them, using lots of melted chocolate like Lucy but coconut rather than sultanas like Lauren.  Always coconut.  That is why I even sprinkled some on top.

I highly advise against making this with small children just before they are heading to bed.  Yet I just wasn't organised enough to make it earlier.  The park had been just too much fun!

The hedgehog was destined for our local neighbourhood house open day that was held today.  I also made cheese stars (a bit like this) so that Sylvia has something to eat that is not sweet.  As it was, they had vegetarian sausages at the bbq so it wasn't as bad as I feared.  Though Sylvia was very taken with the cake stall.  Yes, my food ended up on the cake stall table as I had not realised it was different from the food swap.

Did I mention that the hedgehog tasted amazing.  Much richer than my regular one.  Chocolatey and gooey and very sweet.  Not for the faint-hearted.  At one stage I thought my hedgehog was not selling much.  Then I returned to the cake stall and it had disappeared.  Apparently someone (with very good taste) bought the rest of the slice that had not been sold.  Then I felt sorry for everyone else, except me because I was clever enough to leave a few pieces home for us!

The open day was a great success with a lovely relaxed vibe.  I sung with a singing group I have had one rehearsal with.  A friend did face painting.  Sylvia and her friend did some craft activities.  There was more music, an AGM, sewing activities, the sandpit.  As always I find the neighbourhood house a welcoming and generous place to be.

We would have stayed longer but E had another gig on.  He was playing in the Darebin Music Feast with his ukulele group.  I found the Music Feast a really interesting and creative place to be.  The ukulele gig started with a few uke players down the High Street in Northcote and members of the group and other ukulele groups were stationed along the way to join in as they walked up to the Town Hall.  This was a really fun start.

Once at the town hall, they played a high energy gig in the forecourt that was a great crowd pleaser.  My dad came along too and really enjoyed it.  While the morning had been cool and windy, by the afternoon it was quite warm.  A little bit too warm actually.

As the gig finished my dad, Sylvia and I headed to the very cute Little Box Brownie caravan for cool drinks.  Well they had cool drinks and I had a slice of brownie.  Very good brownie.  Rich, moist and a little crumbly.  I was pleased to enjoy the offerings of a local blogger.

Before we could sit and relax, we were invited along to a show in a lift.  Who could resist such a quirky idea!  So it was just me, E, Sylvia and my dad in the audience for the show!  Not a big lift.  The performer was quite odd in an entertaining way.  We all found ourselves singing along to Cats are Forever and watching a slide slow of cats.

Then we listened to another band in the Town Hall as we sat outside in the shade relaxing.  There were a few food trucks there but by then we had eaten our full.

As we left, we caught the end of an opera performance from the balcony of the town hall.  I love a festival that constantly surprises and delights.

Northcote is the sort of suburb where there is quite a bit of street art.  This was my favourite piece of street art that I saw while we were there.

Making the hedgehog had required a trip to the supermarket.  So I was organised enough to plan tonight's dinner last night.  I made the Isa Does It pizza bowl with kale, rice, veg sausages, tomato cashew sauce and olives.  Like everything else I have tried from this cookbook, it was fantastic.  I really needed some good food after eating out all day and this was perfect.  Though I was glad to have a piece of hedgehog leftover for dessert!

I am sending this to Create Make Bake and Bake, Play, Smile for Fabulous Foodie Fridays #75, and to Karen and Janie for their Bonfire Night/Halloween edition of Tea Time Treats.

More hedgehog recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Hedgehog (mum's recipe)
Hedgehog fudge with dried cherries
Prince William's fridge cake (posh hedgehog)
Steph's vegan hedgehog (v)
Walnut hedgehog (v) 

Adapted from Bake Play Smile and Create Bake Make

250g marie biscuits*
130g butter (I used margarine)*
130g dark chocolate*
1/2 cup condensed milk (about half a 400g tin)*
1/2 cup shredded coconut

200g milk chocolate*
50g dark chocolate*
handful of dessicated coconut

Crush marie biscuits in a paper bag so that the chunks about 1cm wide or less.  Melt butter and chocolate together.  Stir in condensed milk and coconut.  Spread into lined slice tin (18 x 28 cm).  Chill in fridge for about 30 minutes or more.  For the topping, melt milk chocolate and dark chocolate together.  Spread over the slice.  Sprinkle with coconut.  Chill until firm.  Remove from fridge about 20 minutes before cutting and slice into square.

NOTES: This could easily be made vegan by using vegan biscuits (such as Nice biscuits), vegan margarine, vegan chocolate and vegan condensed milk.  For the topping it might be a matter of using dark chocolate and some coconut oil if you can't find vegan milk chocolate.  If you don't live in Australia and have trouble finding Marie biscuits, you can use tea biscuits, digestives, shortbread, graham crackers or whatever plain crisp biscuit (cookie) you love.

Update September 2016 - made this with a 72% chocolate that was so rich and dark that I added a few tablespoons of golden syrup.  It was still very rich but in a good way.

On the Stereo:
The very best of Peter Allen

Friday 23 October 2015

Honey parsnip cake and a bee swarm

A couple of weeks ago I was just leaving home when a neighbour alerted me to a bee swarm in a tree by her unit.  The bees had been so thick in the air when she got home that she had to wait for it to settle before getting in her front door.  The swam resting in the tree (see my photo below) was very alive with bees crawling over it and looked like something out of a science fiction film.

Apparently our body corporate was sending someone over but he didn't appear before the weekend.  We assumed it would be an exterminator.  I read online and found that local bee keepers could take the swams away with no harm to the bees.  So I rang a local shop called Bee Sustainable who were very helpful in directing me to a local bee keeper.  I felt very proud of my work.  However as soon as the bee keeper arrived the swam flew off into the air with a deafening buzzing and disappeared over the roof tops.  It was a very odd experience.

While reading online about bee keepers, I was pleased to read the Beechworth honey is one of the brands that are Australian produced.  This is the honey we have at the moment.  Strange all the incidental knowledge you pick up in while trying to keep a house in order.  As you have probably gathered from the title of this post, I had great plans for my Beechworth honey.

Cakelaw does an amazing job at keeping up with interesting cake recipes in newspapers and sharing them on her Laws of the Kitchen blog.  She recently posted a Honey Carrot Cake that Dan Lepard had devised.  Of all the bookmarked recipes and cookbooks of recipes in my life, this one rose to the top of the pile.  It was a most intriguing recipe with apple, tahini, spices and cocoa. 

When it came to baking the cake, it was the parsnips rather than my carrots that needed using up.  And I have always wanted to bake a parsnip cake.  I also made a few small changes to the spices, used cranberries rather than sultanas and didn't douse it in honey and cream cheese frosting when it came out of the oven.  I had hoped to use up some cream cheese in the frosting but by the time I made the cake E had eaten too much of it.  There wasn't enough enough to make with yoghurt in this frosting.  So I just spread it on a few slices instead.

This is not a neat delicate cake for maiden aunts.  No.  It is a moist cake that produces slices which are a little crumbly but you don't mind because they are so dense with flavour and cranberries and charisma.  If cakes have charisma!  I loved it.  If you want to really impress guests with the cake, go the whole hog and douse it in honey and cream cheese frosting.  But for a quiet moment with a cuppa, this cake is delicious by itself or with a lick of butter.  Whichever way you eat it, this honey parsnip cake is bound to please.

I am sending this cake to Veggie Desserts, Michelle Utterly Scrummy and Fuss Free Helen for Extra Veg and to Create Make Bake and Mrs D Plus 3 for Fabulous Foodie Fridays #74.

More vegetable cakes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Avocado pound cake with cream cheese frosting
Chocolate beetroot brownies
Chocolate carrot cake
Kale cake (v)
Mashed potato chocolate cake
Moist and nutty carrot cake
Spicy pumpkin tea cake

Honey parsnip cake
Adapted from Dan Lepard via Laws of the Kitchen

125ml neutral oil (I used rice bran)
175g honey
50g tahini
2 eggs
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cocoa
200g grated parsnip
1 small apple, peeled and grated
40g glace ginger, finely chopped
150g dried cranberries
175g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 160C.  Grease and line a loaf tin.  (Mine is 13x22cm but Dan suggested a 10 cup loaf tin.)

Combine oil honey and tahini in a large mixing bowl.  Mix in eggs, mixed spice and cocoa.  Stir in parsnip, apple, ginger and cranberries.  Finally mix in flour and baking powder.

Scrape the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the middle.

Serving suggestions: Dan suggested brushing the hot cake with warmed honey and topping with a cream cheese frosting.  I preferred serving slices with butter or cream cheese spread over it.  A drizzle of honey or jam could be added to this if it wasn't sweet enough.

On the stereo:
In Blood Memory: Jen Cloher