Friday, 4 April 2014

Creamy Potato & Leek Casserole

To be perfectly honest, I've never really had an interest in casseroles (making them, at least): I've always been very stove-top based (maybe because my interest in cooking started with Japanese and Chinese cooking?). So I'm not entirely sure why I'm suddenly taken with them. Maybe roasting potatoes is a gateway to all manner of oven cooking?

Regardless, I had a leek that was desperately in need of use the other day and, of course, my trusty "reduced!" baby red potatoes, and decided, rather than bother with making a soup (as was my original thought), I'd fashion it into a casserole. If it's possible, this is even easier than a soup, though of course it is more dry (and quite a bit more rich!).

Creamy Potato & Leek Casserole
Preheat oven to 220C.

Cut 1kg roasting potatoes into 1-2cm cubes/chunks and place them on the bottom of a baking dish. Over the top of this, evenly distribute:
4 cloves of garlic, crushed and sliced (not minced)
leaves stripped from 4 sprigs fresh thyme or rosemary
(if using rosemary, roughly chop the leaves)
1 brown onion, thinly sliced
1 leek, greens trimmed, halved, washed and thinly sliced (if you're new to leeks, here's a quick guide on how to prepare them)

Don't mix the vegetables together. Over the top of this, pour 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, spreading it evenly. Measure out 1/4 cup vegan butter or margarine (I use Nuttelex olive); scoop little pieces and place them across the top of the vegetables (they will melt into the mix in the oven). (Alternatively, melt together the oil and margarine and pour this mix over the vegetables).

Give the dish a good sprinkling of salt and a few good cracks of pepper, then place in the oven for 30 minutes.

While it's cooking, use either a blender or a stick blender to make the cream. If using a stick blender (much easier for clean up), place all ingredients in a tall container (one is usually included in the pack with stick blenders, otherwise improvise!). Regardless of the method, combine:
1/2 cup vegetable stock (I used homemade stock, which is quite rich and concentrated, so if using stock cubes or powder, consider using slightly greater ratio of cube/powder to water than you may otherwise)
1/2 cup soy milk
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
295-300g silken tofu
(I use Morinaga silken tofu, which comes in (debatably) 297g packs)
1tsp salt

A hearty pinch each of white pepper and nutritional yeast flakes 
Blend until completely smooth. DON'T TASTE IT, especially if you're an omnivore; just trust me that it will taste good in the casserole!

When the 30 minutes is up, remove the casserole from the oven and pour the cream over the top. Mix everything together so the cream is spread evenly through the whole mix. Return the casserole to the oven for a further 25 minutes. Allow the casserole to rest for 5-10 minutes once it's out of the oven, then enjoy!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Music Review: Vanessa Carlton - Rabbits on the Run

"Do you know a love like a bullet in the chest?"

Since being an adult, so rarely do I hear an album that speaks to my very soul, cutting through the layers of soul sclerosis that we all harden our hearts with. Rabbits on the Run is one of those rare albums that succeeds in tearing off the layers, to delicately whittle its way into your heart.

You may remember Vanessa Carlton as the talented, earnest, bright and eager songwriter of “A Thousand Miles” fame. Well, let me tell you, things have changed. What hasn’t changed, however, is the magic at the still-beating heart essence of the work. This is real, proper MUSIC, and it's time to put the teenage girl preconceptions aside (and if you had them to begin with, look in the mirror and tell yourself that you're not cool enough to judge over and over again, until you start to believe it).

Nothing is overdone on this record. This isn't Kate Bush's "The Red Shoes" where everything was chucked at the bones of the song until they resembled a sonic panic attack/high-end screwdriver lobotomy. Recorded with old fashioned style, the magnetism of the tape has transferred and holds all of the mystery and emotion present in the room during recording.

Minimalism abounds. Everything has its space. The echoes, the musicianship, and production work together beautifully to paint the sonic cars that you and I inhabit on our journeys forward through life - often starting out with another and finding ourselves at some point alone on the journey, alone on a desert highway. 

The lyrics are oh so quotable, and breathtaking in their simplicity and ability to cut through you with microsurgical precision. Even when cynicism and sneering would be our protagonist’s easy way out, she shrugs and tells him she understands what he did, offering a comforting phrase to the “him” that most would enjoy tearing to pieces.

This is the kind of music Lana Del Rey would love to make - stripped of layers of pretension, and instead replaced by unquestionable talent and a way of crafting clothes for the songs that don't distract you, but instead tell you just a little more. Mist carefully settling in the atmosphere. Words carefully wrought, encircling you and telling your own story whilst telling her own. Spell-casting stories and lonely travels.

Expertly sequenced by the legend and friend/mentor of Vanessa, Ms Stevie Nicks herself, this album is a gorgeous, lush, honest, low-key emotional journey from start to finish. A concept mood piece, without any of the overwrought guff to take away from the music.

Seek this album out. It’s tricky to find, but available online and in highly recommended deluxe version with bonus acoustic live versions & behind the scenes videos on iTunes.

I’ll say this rarely - but if you don’t like this album - you don’t like me.

P.S. Here's a bonus photo of Stevie Nicks being held by Bill Murray at the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscars After Party. Because, duh, they're fabulous.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Perfect Roast Potatoes and Decadent Casserole

In an effort to save money, I've made an effort to go to Woolworths close to a nearby university as it always has vegetables "reduced to clear" (apparently students don't eat vegetables?). Anyway, it's working out really well for me; mushrooms, corn, greens, tomatoes... I haven't paid full price for a vegetable in weeks.

As luck would have it, the other week one of the clearance vegetables was baby red potatoes. With no idea of what I'd do with them, I bought them, and arrived at home determined to roast them. But, as crazy as it sounds, I'd never really roasted a potato (pretty much every other vegetable, but never potatoes). After a cursory look at a few websites, I decided to just throw myself into it and see how it turned out (they were ridiculous cheap, after all!)

The result was (not to sound full of myself but) the most delicious roast potatoes I've ever eaten. Looking at the recipe below, I'm sure you're thinking "Yeah, well with THAT much fat, how could it not be delicious". And you know what; it is. Ridiculously delicious. It's also obscenely easy.

Perfect Roast Potatoes
Preheat the oven to 220C.

Halve or quarter 1kg baby red or other roasting potatoes into approximately 2-3cm cubes. Place them into a large casserole dish; they should completely cover the bottom in a single layer and have very little to no space between them.

In a microwave safe bowl (or, if you don't have a microwave, a small saucepan) add 1/2 cup non-dairy buttery spread (I used Nuttelex Olive), 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 6 cloves crushed garlic, and 5-6 sprigs of roughly chopped fresh rosemary or oregano (or a mix). Microwave this for 30 seconds until the spread has melted; microwave slightly longer if needed (if in a saucepan, warm the mix over a medium heat until the spread has melted, removing the saucepan from the heat at the first sign of bubbles). Add a few splashes (about 1-2tsp) roasted sesame oil and mix again.

Pour this mix over the potatoes; use a spoon to distribute the mix evenly (make sure the garlic cloves and herbs are spread out in the mix). Give a few cracks of black pepper and a good sprinkling of salt over the top.

Once the oven is preheated, place the casserole in the oven and roast for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir the mix again (give another crack of pepper and salt if desired), and then return to the oven for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes until cool enough to eat straight from the dish.

With some leftover of these potatoes, I started experimenting with using the leftover potatoes (and fat) in some fry-ups, but ended up returning to the trusted casserole for my final experiment. I had some leftover bread from a visit to Flour & Chocolate, so decided to use that up as well, along with some other vegetables from my clearance haul. The result is an extremely delicious, and very rich, casserole. Though it may seem small, this is certainly not the sort of dish that you need to go back for seconds of! I simply ate it from the bowl, but it could be nice served on some freshly toasted bread as a sort-of bruschetta/crostoni, or with some simply grilled vegetables (asparagus, charred greens, green beans, etc) as a side as a simply and casual yet impressive main.

Potato, Bread and Chickpea Casserole
Preheat the oven to 220C.

Halve of quarter 500g baby red or other roasting potato into approximately 2-3cm cubes. Place them in a large casserole dish. Cut up a stale bread roll approximately the size of a shoe (I used a ciabatta roll, approximately 20x5x3cm) and one mushroom into 1-2cm cubes and also add them to the dish. Quarter a handful of small (cherry, grape or similar) tomatoes (I used a "tomato medley", which included a mix of red, yellow, and streaked green tomatoes; the mix of colours looks great and the subtly different tastes add wonderful layer to the flavour, though any small tomatoes will do!) and add them to the dish. Finally, add 1.5 cups / 1 can / 420g cooked chickpeas and 1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced (roughly break up the slices into individual strands/layers).

In a microwave safe bowl (or, if you don't have a microwave, a small saucepan) add 1/2 cup non-dairy buttery spread (I used Nuttelex Olive), 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 6 cloves crushed garlic, and 5-6 sprigs of roughly chopped fresh rosemary or oregano (or a mix). Microwave this for 30 seconds until the spread has melted; microwave slightly longer if needed (if in a saucepan, warm the mix over a medium heat until the spread has melted, removing the saucepan from the heat at the first sign of bubbles).
Add a few splashes (about 1-2tsp) roasted sesame oil and mix again.

Pour this mix over the casserole mix; use a spoon to distribute the mix evenly (make sure the garlic cloves and herbs are spread out in the mix). Give a couple of splashes of red wine, few cracks of black pepper and a good sprinkling of salt over the top. Once the oven is preheated, place the casserole in the oven and roast for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and scatter one or two handfuls of greens over the top (I used baby kale, which is quite large, but for baby spinach or other small greens, you may want to use a little more).

Stir greens into the mix until well-coated, give another few cracks of pepper and a sprinkle of salt, and then return to the oven for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes until cool enough to eat.

I have a few posts floating around that I'm just waiting for the inspiration to finish, so hopefully I'll see you again sooner rather than later!

Monday, 20 January 2014

2013: Year Wrap Up

It has been, to say the least, a crazy year. Matt quit his job to join me working at The Green Edge, and now we run the kitchen (oh gosh how did this happen); Delicious, Regardless continues to go strong; and suddenly it's 2014! After the Beyoncé fiasco (lol who would release an album that close to the end of the year OH WAIT), I thought it would be best to wait until 2013 was well and truly done before doing my End Of Year list and, some two weeks later, I've finally got around to it.

So: what awesome things happened in 2013?

Artisan Soy Food Makers Appeared Out Of Nowhere
Seemingly out of nowhere, and within a matter of months, I became aware of local miso makers Sasakani Kobo and local tempeh makers Totally Tempeh and I had to wonder WHERE HAVE THEY BEEN ALL MY LIFE. None of that pasty pastured "miso" from the supermarket, nor that beige, vaguely sinister tempeh product; this was the real deal.

With the new year, both are continuing to go strong. Totally Tempeh now offers conventional (non-organic, non-GMO) and organic tempeh, with plans to introduce a marinated tempeh. Sasakani Kobo are taking a short break, but will be restarting their Miso Making Classes from March; and if you just can't wait, you can also book in an individual class with Mayumi!

We also learned (behind everyone else in SEQ, apparently!) about Healthy Pulse, incredible, fresh tofu made on the Gold Coast. Their tofus are available at Genki Mart, and are served at Saké.

Read about our experience at Sasakani Kobo's Miso Club, and about our first time trying Totally Tempeh.

Brisbane's Raw Revolution
Despite the very sad end of Raw & Peace's Northey Street Markets stall (I still dream of that caramel cream cake! (and that they'll give up on Bali and RETURN TO ME)), Brisbane's appetite for raw food continues to grow. Orawgi opened up in Wooloongabba in the middle of the year, follow a couple of months later by 48 Degrees in Windsor (opened by none other than my own sister!). We have both been extremely impressed with the food at both of these places, and look forward to seeing what they come up with this year!

Veganism Is Nearly Popular!
It seems that Brisbane's vegans are finally dining out, and restaurants have responded in a pretty incredible way. Urbane started their Vegan Dinners, to much acclaim from veg and omnivores alike (and our sources tell us that Urbane has some very exciting things planned for 2014!), restaurants of all shapes and sizes are feature vegan items / menus or are happy to accommodate people (we had a great meal at Bacchus, who, rather than simply veganising their vegetarian degustation, came up with an entirely new (and quite wonderful) menu; Cabiria surprised and delighted me with their menu (crepes!); Mondo Organics also fed us a wonderful meal, which inspired the Vegan and Vegetarian Society of Queensland to go there for one of their monthly dinner!).

Our meal at Mondo Organics
With the announcement that the people behind Gerard's Bistro are launching a charcuterie-focused bar featuring vegan meats, I'm sure the trend will only continue in 2014.

Read about our first dinner at Urbane, our lunch at Mondo Organics, and my experience at Cabiria. We will eventually get around to writing up the review of Bacchus and posting it!

But The Winner Is... (we're all winners!)
Without a doubt my favourite place to eat in 2013 was Colle Rosso. Their pizza was an absolute revelation when I first tried it, and every time I eat it (the amount of times which I cannot even count), I am reminded that there is still good in this world and gosh it tastes amazing. I was very pleased to join them for the opening of their new location, L'angolo Bistrò at Hamilton, which continues their excellent standard in a more relaxed setting. I'm already looking forward to returning many times in 2014.

Read my slightly over-the-top but completely true love letter to Colle Rosso.

Unfortunately, I was less able to support my cookbook addiction last year, but thankfully we were lucky enough to test some amazing cookbooks. My two picks from last year are undoubtedly Fran Costigan's "Vegan Chocolate" (make the chocolate truffle; seriously. You will never look back because you will be so huge from eating them all because they're so delicious) and Julie Hasson's "Vegan Pizza". We were cooking pizza pretty much every night for about a month and we didn't get sick of it because IT WAS ALL SO DELICIOUS. Dreena Burton also followed up the fantastic "Let Them Eat Vegan" with her "Plant Powered 15" eBook; only 15 recipes but GOSH what recipes! Despite how natural and wholesome they are, I could pretty much live on the Sticky Almond Blondies. And oh my gosh, Macnificent; if you're obsessed with her Mac Oh Geez, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Honourable mentions go to Brian L Patton/The Sexy Vegan's "Happy Hour At Home" (because he makes the sort of food I want to eat all the time forever) and Tamasin Noyes' "Grills Gone Vegan" (because I haven't had a chance to make anything from it apart from THE GREATEST Buffalo sauce I've ever eaten).

2013 was a great year for songs, not so much a great year for albums, but it did serve up some surprises. Beyoncé dropped her new eponymous album completely out of the blue just as everyone had pretty much written off anything else happening in 2013; Boards of Canada released their first album in 8 years; Lorde appeared apparently out of nowhere and jumped straight to the top of the charts and Best Of 2013 lists; Miley Cyrus finally committed Hannah Montana to death by twerking and actually made a pretty decent pop album out of it... and somewhere in the middle of this, I actually did listen to more than pop music. Maybe we should talk about that.

2013's Bests
M.I.A. - "Y.A.L.A."
I couldn't pick between this and "MATANGI", but I think I could put this on repeat and listen to it forever. Recovering from the rather mixed bag of /\/\/\Y/\ (MAYA), and one album delay after another, M.I.A. put out an album that, while perhaps not as consistently good as her two first albums, contains some of the best tracks of 2013. Let's hope she doesn't threaten to quit music again, because she may just be more important to pop music than we thought.

Woodkid - "Run Boy Run"
Who knew that the director of Lana Del Rey's "Blue Jeans" and "Born To Die" would make an album next? Even more, who suspected it would actually be really good? I probably played this album non-stop for about a month, but it was this song that got me into it, and it's this song that I will continue to return to: smiling and crying, it's what I do best.

Tricky - False Idols
One wouldn't be wrong for imagining Tricky's career as a series of diminishing returns, but at some point in the mid-00s, he seemed to turn things around and, since 2008's Knowle West Boy things have been looking up for the Tricky Kid. False Idols signifies an artist finally happy to stop fighting the "trip hop" label he has been trying to escape since his first album. The result is his best album since 1998's Angels With Dirty Faces. Pick tracks: "Valentine", "Tribal Drums", "Does It", "Passion Of The Christ".

Moderat - "Last Time"
Is it unfortunately that the best track on Moderat's (long delayed, but well worth the wait) second album was relegated to a deluxe edition bonus track. Thankfully, it is getting a well-deserved single release. Unfortunately, they won't be coming to Australia on their upcoming tour. Boo.

Lorde - "Tennis Court" / "400 Lux"
As much as I enjoyed "Royals" when it first came out, I would've been very happy if Pure Heroine had simply been these two tracks on repeat. Perhaps she should stop Single White Female-ing Lana Del Rey, perhaps she still has a lot of growth in music to go, but these two tracks show she is well on her way. Here's to an even better sophomore release.

Kanye West - Yeezus
I really hate to echo every other Best Of 2013 list, and I also really wish Kanye West were less good at what he does because, to be honest, he seems like a bit of a prick BUT UNFORTUNATELY he's really good at it, and seems to only be getting better at it. Thankfully free of the obscenely long featured artists lists that (in my opinion) plagued My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Yeezus is minimal and streamlined, from the (lack of) artwork to the precise production on all 10 tracks. Despite covering a range of genres and themes, it all feels like one cohesive work (though I wouldn't be sad if "Bound 2" were taken off...), and "New Slaves" is pretty much the reason rap exists, and it's good to be reminded of that. Pick tracks: "Black Skinhead", "I Am A God", "New Slaves", "Blood On The Leaves".

HK119 - "Snowblind"
I was ridiculously excited for HK119's new album, and discovering Christoffer Berg (the producer of Fever Ray) produced it pretty much put me over the edge. While the album is enjoyable as a whole, "Snowblind", the first single off the album, is certainly the standout.

Janelle Monáe - "Givin Em What They Love"
As much as I wasn't enamoured with the the rest of The Electric Lady, this track kills it, in every way possible. Monáe's soulful voice over Prince's (I'm sorry but there's no other word) undeniably funky guitar... You don't know what you should do, but you know it would be right.

Agnes Obel - Aventine
I loved "Riverside" from Obel's debut Philharmonics, but the rest of the album never clicked with me, so it took me a while to listen to her second album. When I finally did, I could not stop listening. From the first track, you are drawn into a world of beautiful pathos, Obel's haunting voice just out of your reaching, pulling you in further and further... In a year of mostly disappointing albums, the planets aligned perfectly for Obel. Don't let the sparse arrangements and delicate piano fool you: this is an album that quietly demands your full attention, and when it lets you go, you will be back for more. Pick Tracks: "Fuel To Fire", "Smoke & Mirrors"

Adalita - All Day Venus
Someone give her a damn ARIA already. For everything. Adalita (along with Nick Cave) may be Australia's last hope for rock music, and this album certainly cements that. Forgoing the softer sound (but not the sentimentality) of her debut solo album, All Day Venus finally gets Adalita back to rock, where she belongs. It took me a few months to get into this album, but once I was in, I couldn't stop listening. She's performing at Laneway on January 31, so if you're going, make sure you see her. Pick Tracks: "Annihilate Baby", "All Day Venus", "He Wrote", "Heavy Cut". (sample is available here)

Honourable Mentions
A$AP Rocky - "Long Live A$AP". I don't want to say he's the Kanye of trap, because Kanye is the Kanye of everything but... he's the Kanye of trap.

Annie - "Invisible". Steering clear of the bubblegum pop of the rest of the A&R EP, this dark track gives me hope for Annie's much delayed third album.

Beyoncé - "Haunted". I don't think Beyoncé has ever had a great album, but she's had some great songs, and this is one of them. (Preview here)

Britney Spears - "Perfume". Among the best pop songs of 2013, it's a relief to hear Britney sing without that sex kitten purr that so often mars her songs.

Charli XCX - "Grins". A moment of pure ecstasy in an otherwise uneven album.

Sleigh Bells - "Bitter Rivals". What I've missed from Sleigh Bells; it's a shame about the rest of the album.

And finally, I am ashamed to admit that I only just found out about this, but quite possibly the greatest thing from 2013 is "Cinderoncé", Cinderella told using Beyoncé songs.

And with that, I wish you all a very Happy (and extremely belated) New Year! Thank you for your support; all the best for 2014!

- James

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Recipe: Quick & Filling Weeknight One-Pot Vegan Mexican-style Chilli (Aussie Friendly!)

So I've been ordering takeaway a lot lately. Now that I'm working in a commercial kitchen preparing food for everyone else, I'm finding that my "cooking for myself" mojo has gone right out the window. During the week I live on experimental potential menu items, and bite sized morsels of *anything* that I can slap on the grill, eat quickly and go about my day (how do they do it? how do gas-fired grills make EVERYTHING taste incredible?!)

Tonight, I was determined to ignore my intense desire to visit my local Indian restaurant (Taj Bengal in Ashgrove - it's incredible. The best Indian food in Brisbane I've come across), but I wanted something thick, hearty, smoky and delicious - like their famous spinach dhal. I wanted to eat as fast as possible and was looking through Isa Chandra Moskowitz' new book, Isa Does It, and saw an easy recipe for a thai lentil curry that reminded me of a sweet potato lentil chilli by Dreena Burton that I made a million times as new vegan. 

You know how it is when you're hungry - you start cooking and chopping to save time before you've even checked the pantry. It wasn't too far in to the process that I realised I had almost nothing I needed to make the/any curry, least of all curry paste or coconut milk (for curry, they're really non-negotiable ingredients)... So I turned this into a mexican chilli, and boy, it was delicious. Fast, easy, minimal mess, and it sure hit the hunger spot. It also reminded me of why I love cooking - the flavours you can achieve at home with minimal effort that you so rarely get when dining out. Sometimes you need a reminder that you can't make something awesome in just as much time as it takes to get in the car and pickup takeaway.

This is thick and "hearty" (gosh I hate that word - why does it always remind me of gross canned soup?) due to the addition of both black beans *and* tofu. I don't feel satisfied with a meal if I'm just eating one or the other - combine them for extraaaaa awessssomeeeneessssss!

Don't be put off by the list of ingredients - this recipe requires minimal effort, but a few spices to make it extra tasty. You're chopping a few things, and pouring/shaking/splashing a few other things in the saucepan. Easy.

One Pot Vegan Mexican-Style Chilli

Preheat a 4 litre (/quart) or larger saucepan/stockpot over medium heat.
2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
1 large red onion, diced
2 red capsicum (bell peppers), chopped
Approx 300g pre-seasoned extra firm/pressed tofu, cubed - I used teriyaki flavour (don't get too hung up on what flavour it is - it'll take on the other flavours of the dish)
1 teaspoon of salt.
Saute for approximately 10 minutes, until the onion is sweet and soft, and the tofu beginning to brown.

1 cup of red lentils, rinsed
2 cans of diced tomatoes (or approx 5 medium tomatoes, diced)
1 teaspoon garlic powder (or two large cloves garlic - I realise they're not interchangeable, but I like the different flavour of garlic powder, and I didn't want garlic all over my hands tonight - that's not quick - or fun).
4 cups water
2 cubes vegetable stock (enough or 4 cups of water)
approx 500g sweet potato, sliced and diced into 1 and 1/2 cm wedges
approx 200g potato, prepared as per sweet potato
1 cup of fresh or frozen corn.
2 cups of frozen or canned blackbeans (I have black beans in the freezer at all times, if you're using canned - add them ten minutes or so later, after rinsing, so they don't end up as sludge).
1 to 1 and 1/2 tablespoons "mexican chilli" powder (I use "Masterfoods" brand. American chilli powders are far, far less spicy than Australian varieties, so add this to your taste)
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, ground
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
3 medium size zucchini, sliced lengthwise and cut into half cm half-moons.
a dash of your favourite hot sauce (tabasco chipotle, if you have it!)

Increase heat to high simmer, cover with a lid, and cook for approximately 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so (scraping the bottom to ensure the lentils aren't sticking), until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender and cooked through. Remove lid, taste for seasoning and spice intensity, then cook for an additional 5 minutes (replace the lid, on an angle, if the pot is splashing), to thicken the sauce.

Serve in deep bowls. No need for rice or a grain - this chilli should be thick, like a super-stew. Enjoy!

By the way - after being a little underwhelmed with the last few of Isa's books, I can't recommend "Isa Does It" enough. It's absolutely beautiful. The recipes are practical, fast, easy, informative and inspiring.  The book itself is packed full of photos, and beautifully laid out. Just add "Let Them Eat Vegan" by Dreena Burton, "Vegan Diner" by Julie Hasson, "Nonna's Italian Kitchen" by Bryanna Clark Grogan and "The Urban Vegan" by Dynise Balcavage, and you've got pretty much all your awesome vegan cooking bases covered.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Give Up Coffee in October to support those with mental illnesses: Back to Blogging (for a good cause!)

Well hello there! I guess I should really start this by saying: I'm sorry. I wish I could say it won't happen again, but it probably will. The last two or three months have been an absolute insane whirlwind of whirling and winding (?) and we've barely had two seconds to breathe, let alone... well, blog.

Anyway, that's all for another time. We certainly have lots to share, and I have thought, more than a couple of times, "I should blog about that". Alas, I haven't. Thankfully, we have now been given a reason to blog and hopefully it'll give us the kick we need to do it a bit more regularly!

A few weeks ago we received an email about an initiative by Brisbane-based Group 61, a community group that supports those who have become isolated from society by their mental illness. Group 61 was started 12 years ago by John Fox: when visiting a young man, Damon, as part of a Neighbourhood Watch patrol, he was horrified at the conditions that Damon was living in, and how he had become completely disconnected from society as a consequence of his mental illness. John began visiting Damon regularly, helping him clean out his apartment and taking him to coffee. Over the course of a few years, Damon improved dramatically, to the point where he is now studying at university (where he mostly receives distinctions).

Group 61 was founded to support others in a similar situation to what Damon was in through a simple act: volunteers simply take their Friend for a weekly outing (whether it's a cup of coffee, a picnic or a trip to the beach). Such a small thing that can make such a difference to someone suffering from a mental illness.

There are now over 100 volunteers, but there are many more Friends on the listing waiting for a volunteer (and with 1 in 5 Australians affected by mental illness, the list can only grow!). It costs around $200 to support each volunteer-Friend relationship every year: that $200 goes straight towards outings.

And this is where we come in! 3 years ago, in order to support the growing network of volunteers and Friends, Group 61 started up their Coffee Break initiative. The principle is simple: donate your daily coffee (OK, coffees) to someone in need. Forgoing your caffeine fix can help a volunteer start a conversation with someone who has become isolated by a mental illness, and help them get their life back on track.

If you're ready to take the plunge, you can register here for a coffee-free October. If you can't imagine a whole month without coffee, you can sponsor a friend who has gone coffee-less, or you can make a general donation to support Group 61 here.

We all know someone who has been affected by mental illness: someone has to start the conversation, and what better way to do it than over coffee?

You can learn more about Group 61 in the video below, and by reading through the Coffee Break website. You can also find them on facebook.

In the meantime, help us come up with some tips for those giving up coffee in the comments! To be honest, Matt's idea is to switch to energy drinks or No-Doz caffeine pills (because we believe in Health), and mine is to switch to energy shots (those weird jel thingies that athletes eat (eat? is it food?)). But more helpfully:
  • take the time to form a relationship with tea: a good quality tea may seem expensive to begin with ($20 for a tiny little bag?!), but considering a tablespoon will get you a whole pot of tea, you can stretch that tiny bag out for a few weeks, even a few months! (and you'll still get a reasonable caffeine hit)
  • eat all the cake. Why have coffee and cake when you could have TWO SLICES OF CAKE?! (OK, maybe that belongs with our earlier suggestions...)
  • take this as a chance to start up other healthy habits: start the day with a walk, rather than a coffee; eat a good breakfast (which will keep you going better than a caffeine high); etc. I think I'd probably have more suggestions in this if I followed my own advice...
And, I'm rather embarrassed to say, that's my suggestions exhausted! (or lie to your friends/family/self and just tell them you've given up coffee but sneak an occasional flat white on the side whilst still donating: this is for charity, afterall!)

We will be back in the not-too-distant future (hopefully next week!) with a new blog post and should be returning to moderately regular programming soon!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Colle Rosso Ristorante Italiano, Red Hill

Pizza is a food that I've always wanted to like but never really connected with. I love making it at home, but for that one or two times that you made THAT AWESOME PIZZA, the rest are just kind of... good. Pizzas in restaurants are often either completely flavourless once you remove the cheese, regardless of how much else is left on the pizza (it's a great test of the quality of their ingredients: cheese masks a multitude of sins), and don't even get me started on takeaway (though Matt is still trying to convince me that Eagle Boys make a great vegetarian pizza!).

The only other place that I really enjoy pizza is at Vinnies in Newmarket (get the vegetarian pizza and the pepperoni pizza without pepperoni and cheese but with mushrooms and caramelised onion (honestly, delicious)), and I thought that would be the end of it. Then, about 6 months ago, we were taken to the recently opened Colle Rosso in Red Hill by Natascha.

Matt ordered the margarita pizza and I sighed: hurrah for tomato and basil. I imagined I would be hungrily scrounging for something to eat later that night. When the pizzas were ready, I was not disappointed in my disappointment: a great disk of tan pizza base and red sauce, with a few basil leaves on top. Oh well, the show must go on. I sighed again (I sigh a lot because my life is so bitterly disappointing), and took a bite of a piece.


I think I nearly choked in shock. HOW CAN IT BE SO DELICIOUS.

Between the two of us, the pizza disappeared very quickly (perhaps a little too quickly), and it was all I could do to not run back and order another one or five.

Since that evening, we have returned many times, always for takeaway pizza. But, though I had raved to my family about it, they'd never been there, so I decided that that should be rectified, and decided to go there for my birthday.

My favourite: parmigiana (senza formaggio)

Mum and my sister are wheat-free, and both were very pleased to discover they had a gluten free pizza base. Mum and I both got pizza (I got the eggplant parmigiana) and we all shared a bottle of the house white. Of course, my pizza was absolutely stunning (and nice to have it warm and on a plate rather than takeaway, as I'd always had before!) but I had nothing on Mum. She looked like all her Christmases had come at once and instead of having to rush around and cook she was just able to get massages and lie by the pool reading.

Any wheat- or gluten-free person will tell you that buying pizza out is not much of an option: there's either no gluten-free base, or it's like cracker. Not the case at Colle Rosso! Despite not being a big eater, Mum polished off 3/4 of the pizza before finally my sister managed to grab a piece and try it for herself. Both agreed it was the best gluten free base they'd ever tasted (and didn't taste gluten free). Unfortunately, the gluten-free base contains egg so isn't appropriate for gleegans or egg-allergic gluten-free-ers.

We then moved onto dessert. Unfortunately, the only vegan dessert option is sorbet, but there are a number of gluten-free options. I asked if anything else was dairy- and egg-free, but it seems that the "egg-free" part was missed and I ended up with zabaione gelato. Thankfully, it was accompanied by a a sparkler and a delightful rendition of Happy Birthday by the staff.

I ended the evening with the best espresso martini I have had in Brisbane (and I have had a lot of them).

Needless to say, my family returned just a couple of weeks later (and I'm sure will again very soon).

Colle Rosso has quite an extensive menu, covering pizza, pasta, antipasti and quite a range of desserts. Gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian items (or items that can be made gluten- or dairy-free) are marked on the menu. Some pasta (linguini and gnocchi) and all pizza (except calzone) are available gluten-free (though I believe all pasta, gluten-free or not, contains egg): gluten-free pizza is an extra $4, gluten-free pasta (where available) is an extra $3. If you are getting pizza, don't be afraid to ask for it without the cheese: as much as you may not believe me, the pizza base and sauce are delicious enough to eat by themselves and only need minimal accompaniment. Their take-away menu includes all of their pizzas, a few of their pasta dishes, three salads, and a kids menu.

Their drinks menu includes a good wine list, about half of which are available by the glass, a solid cocktail list (all I've tried have been excellent), a number of spirits, as well as variety of non-alcoholic drinks (including tea and coffee).

As always, staff were extremely friendly and helpful. I imagine it would get quite noisy on busy nights, but it's been quiet when we've been there.

No matter where you are in Brisbane, Colle Rosso is well worth the trek (and if you live inner-West/-North, you have NO EXCUSE, especially since it's open every night). Truly exceptional and authentic (in very sense of the word) food.

Colle Rosso Ristorante Italiano
191 Musgrave Road, Red Hill
3369 7417 |

Mon-Thurs, Sat-Sun: 5pm - 10pm
Friday: 12pm - 10pm

Colle Rosso has plenty of inside seating, and though we made a reservation, there were plenty of free tables (we went on a Monday night, so if you're looking to try it, go then, when it's quiet!). There is only limited parking out the front, but if you turn down Storie Street (right beside Colle Rosso) there is parking out the back (entry either by walking back up Storie St or up the stairs). Bathrooms are downstairs so are not wheelchair accessible.

Colle Rosso has been reviewed on Brisbane Devoured and Eat, Drink + Be Kerry, and has been reviewed a number of times on Yelp and Urbanspoon. It is also featured in the Queensland Good Food Guide 2013 and on the Good Food website.

Colle Rosso Ristorante Italiano on Urbanspoon