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

Monday, 3 June 2013

Open Day at Red Bay Brewery: DIY Microbrew with Professional Supervision & Equipment

A couple of Saturdays ago, I attended Red Bay Brewery's Open Day. We were invited by Scott and Mayumi (of Sasakani Kobo), but unfortunately they were unable to go and Matt was being lazy, so I went with my friend Rachael.

We got the train to Cleveland and walked down to the brewery, about 5 minutes from the station. Positioned in a commercial estate, the Brewery is a large warehouse: one half is full of storage tanks, the other half was full of people milling around, already trying the beers. We paid our $5 entry fee, received our glasses, and went off to try some ourselves.

While they had about 8 beers and two ciders to try on the day, only the ciders were vegan, so while Rachael imbibed the beers, I alternated between the Pear Cider (quite tart, and not to my tastes, but I imagine it could grow on me) and the Thai Ginger Beer (wonderfully punchy ginger, with a nice kick of chilli at the end). I was impressed to note that every tap was sponsored by another local business (the owners of which I'm sure were among those gathered there!).

The crowd at the open day (from:

To be honest, I hadn't really investigated the brewery before I went, but over the course of the next few hours I noticed that this wasn't just a local microbrewery: it's a DIY brewery, where you can make your own beers, using commercial equipment in a commercial environment with the assistance of a professional. No messing around with finding the right yeast and hops and the right recipe (OK, I know I'm not one to talk about "Home fermentation is dangerous", but I haven't had anything explode! Yet...): you simply pick one of the 230 different beers in their catalogue, make a booking, get the batch started (under Jeffrey's supervision), leave it in their capable hands for 2-3 weeks, and then come back for your very own "homebrew" (but without bottles exploding in your basement/shed).

If you're not sure that you're quite ready to do your own homebrew just yet, they always have the Four Men Lite, Hands Ice Lite, My Mexican or Lager, Skinny Goat or Pale Ale, the English Bitter, the Golden Ale Gluten-Free Beer, and the ciders and Ginger Beer available "off the rack". Otherwise, several of their beers are available at The Burrow (stocks their Golden Ale and Ginger Beer), JamJar (stocks their Zed Brew), Brew (CBD) & Little Brew (Paddington) (unfortunately I was not able to contact them to check which they stock), and Gyoza Bar ANN (stocks the Green Tea Beer and Golden Ale).*

While their ciders (including ginger beer) are all vegan, any of their beers can be made vegan upon request, and can also be made wheat-free. All of their ciders are also gluten-free, and for those looking for a gluten-free beer, they also have their Gluten-Free Golden Ale (I have yet to try it, but apparently ain't beer but tastes like it). Best of all, all of their beers are made without chemicals or preservatives (which means you'll need to clear out that spare fridge to store your beer, as it must be refridgerated).

They also sell and rent a variety of beer-related paraphernalia, including kegs, fridge door taps, and gas cylinders.

I will certainly be most excited to attend the next Red Bay Brewery Open Day (keep an eye on twitter and I'll be sure to share the info here when I know about the next), and in the meantime I look forward to brewing up a batch of my own beer (which will certainly be worthy of its own post!)

Red Bay Brewery
7/77 Shore St West, Cleveland QLD 4163 
3488 2739 

Thankfully, Red Bay Brewery is only about a 5 minute walk from the Cleveland train station, so you needn't fear driving there and sampling too many to drive back home (it is a bit of a ride, though (I think it took about an hour from Roma Street), so take a book!). If you're driving, there's parking in the complex.

*Is is possible that selections will change in future: this is accurate at time of publication.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Baking & Frying Tofu, Part 2 of: "Treat Me Right", The Tofu Story (with recipe!)

Welcome to Part 2 of our exploration of tofu and what to do with it. Hopefully you're been following along (come on guys, there's only one other part to read), but in case you haven't, the PREVIOUS episode concerned why people say they don't like tofu, the types of tofu and my tofu buying recommendations. If you haven't read it, you may want to give it a quick glance-over (or even a slow, considered read, followed by thoughtful comments and thanks) before starting here. Otherwise, if you've already read it or, like me, HATE reading instruction manuals, dive on in!

Without a doubt, one of the easiest things to do with tofu is to just season and bake it. Isn't that the easiest way to prepare anything?

Though you can technically bake any tofu, baking tofu is essentially "quick marinating" it: rather than leaving it in the fridge overnight or for a few days, you chuck it in the oven and all the molecules get all excited and jump around and... yeah, I'm not a scientist. Anyway, as such, it is best to use firm (or harder) tofu for baking tofu, as anything softer than that won't soak up (and hold) the marinade.

Rather than attempting my own recipe, I am deferring to Dreena Burton, whose Cumin Lime Tofu (from her third book, "eat, drink and be vegan" (which is actually my Mum's all-time favourite cookbook ever)) is one of my favourite dishes.

I will admit that I was very skeptical when I first read Dreena's recipe for this: "won't it taste like tofu? Won't it be soggy?"

Oh me of little faith.

It's essentially a matter of making the marinade in the baking dish, mixing it up, coating the tofu (which doesn't even have to be pressed!), and baking it. If you're still not quite accustomed to tofu (though the rather bold marinade does disguise it somewhat), use a good quality tofu to ensure that there's as little taste as possible (and what taste there is is delicious!). This is also a good one for making a large batch of and then storing the leftovers in the fridge for lunch or throwing in a stirfry or salad the next day.

The slices; covered in marinade; after the first 15 minutes; and DONE!

Cumin-Lime Tofu
This is another very simple tofu dish that yields bold, baked-in flavors. The lime juice, cumin, and touch of cayenne are in every bite, and the addition of pumpkin seeds adds just the right amount of crunch.

Makes 4 servings, about 24 squares.

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 1/2 -2 tbsp agave syrup
1 1/2 tbsp tamari
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp curry powder
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 pkg (12 oz/350g) firm or extra firm tofu, cut in half lengthwise then sliced into 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick squares, and patted to remove excess moisture 
2-3 tbsp raw or pre-roasted pumpkin seeds (or pistachios, lightly chopped)

Preheat oven to 375 F/190 C. In an 8 x 12 baking dish, combine all ingredients except tofu and pumpkin seeds stir to mix well. Add tofu and turn to coat each side.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, turn tofu slices, sprinkle on pumpkin seeds and return to oven to bake for another 13-15 minutes, until tofu has soaked up most of the marinade. Serve warm, pouring any remaining marinade/spices over tofu.

I made this the other night and had it in a wrap with sauteed broccoli, homemade salsa, and a tart cashew & pepita cream. It was super delicious. Otherwise, you can just have it on sandwiches, with a side of veggies for dinner, chopped up and fried up with other veggies for breakfast, etc etc. If you don't eat it all in one go, wait until it's cooled then put it in a container and store in the fridge for a day or two. It becomes a little tough in the fridge, but it's still super tasty.

Fried Tofu
The other very simple way of preparing tofu is to simply fry it. You also don't need to press it for this because the heat of the pan will dry out the tofu. If you have fresh tofu, it will often crisp up by itself, but I love to coat the slices in cornstarch (just put the slices in a bowl, add cornstarch, and toss to coat), which gives them a lovely, crispy coating.

The sliced tofu (use a larger bowl, srsly); with cornstarch; beginning to fry, and fried!

Simply cut the tofu up (I'd recommend quite thin slices, around half a centimetre), give it a bit of a dab to dry it slightly, heat up a little oil (enough to lightly grease the bottom of the pan, or add about 1mm if you've coated it with cornstarch, so the thin edges are cooked) in a frying pan, and then add in the slices. Fry until browned on one side and then flip. This is great to do before adding the tofu to curries or satays, because it holds its shape and adds something chewy and crispy to the mix. Or, just coat with teriyaki sauce and enjoy!

The Urban Vegan also has instructions for dry-frying tofu, which is completely oil- and added-fat-free (but does require pressing), which you can find here. I will discuss pressing in the next part of this series.

And the journey continues! But not for another week or so. See you then.

I'll tag all of these posts "thetofustory", so if you want to see all of them together, just click on that label.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Vegan Tasting Menu and Mondo Organics, West End

I'm very suspicious of fine dining. Yes, we've had some amazing experiences, but just as often we have been met with disappointment. Thankfully, over the last couple of years, we have seen not only a broader number of restaurants show greater willingness to provide veg options in their restaurants, but also a number of restaurants and cafes (especially the latter) adding veg options to their standard menu (hurrah for not having to phone ahead!)

It's early days yet, though, and fine dining in Brisbane is still finding its way with veg food: we have never been told "No, we don't serve vegans" (as if we're some sort of disease-ridden sub-citizens), but sometimes... we wish they had. We have actually spent a little too much money trying to get vegan options on menus and to get chefs to experiment with them, and I really hope that comes back to us one day in the form of a massive benevolent wombat who bestows psychic gifts upon us and grants us a Free 1 Million Year Frolicking Pass in his Giant Acreage In The Sky (vegans: you owe us).

But until then...

After the fantastic Good Food Guide 2013 launch (ok, the next evening, after the alcohol had worn off), I was reading through the guide and noticed a "top 5 veg eats" section, and decided it would be good to put this to the test. We'd already been to three of the restaurants (though we'll certainly go back and reassess them), so we decided to start with one we'd never been to: Mondo Organics in West End. I sent an email asking if they'd be able to do a vegan tasting menu (they have an omni tasting menu as part of their regular menu), and was told that, if I could give a few days notice on my booking, we most certainly could.

We picked a Sunday, and decided to have a leisurely lunch (Matt was, after Sarah's birthday drinks, thankfully hungover, and as such was happy to be propped in a corner and just enjoy the various dishes as they came to our table).

Mondo Organics comes across as a yuppified wooden shack at the quiet end of West End: worn wooden slats cross over windows meet earth-toned, rendered walls; natural light shines through the gaps, illuminating your meal; all the while, a gentle stone fountain bubbles in the corner. Far from the hustle and bustle of Boundary Street, the only sounds are the occasional rumble of a bus, and the raucous laughter of fellow diners (which only appears about an hour into lunch, as the wine bottles slowly empty...).

We arrived a little later than we'd planned and found the restaurant empty: we were calmly directed to our table and waited for the meal to begin. I always associate dining with rush: "Quick, our booking is for 12 and it's already 11:50!"; quickly making your way through a restaurant to your table and hurriedly placing your order; fighting for the attention of the waitstaff with that much louder table opposite. Not at Mondo. It's difficult to tell whether it was the day or the fact that we were alone in the restaurant until our second course arrived, but I felt absolutely serene.

The waiter serving us was a little shy to begin with, but halfway into our second course offered us each a glass of Muscato (which she said always helped her when she had a hangover, with which Matt was suffering (though gladly sitting!)) and was extremely polite and helpful. With each course, she described the dish without hesitation, and answered any questions we had (we didn't have many).

Vegan tasting menu at Mondo Organics (courses in chronological order, L-R, from top left)
Our menu began with a caponata of eggplant, pine nuts, and capsicum, served on bread toasted in olive oil. Wonderful simple flavours, elegantly presented. The second course was a salad of heirloom tomatoes, frisse and fennel. The fennel was lovely, as were the tomatoes, but ultimately it was a salad, and was very quickly forgotten.

The third course, and without a doubt the favourite of us both, was confit endive, cauliflower and mushroom. I ate all the cauliflower first (one of my least favourite vegetables, though not unpleasant in this dish), and then took my first bite of one of the mushrooms: gorgeous, buttery, just a little bit sweet. I was in love, until it was surpassed by the endive: crisp on the edges, delicate at the centre, and perfectly seasoned. I think we both stopped after our first bite and look at each other in awe, savouring the delicate taste as it lingered on our palettes. And then, of course, I ate the rest all too quickly and, sadly, it was gone (though I cast a furtive look around and quickly scraped the bowl with my finger to get every last drop of the juices!)

The fourth course was Jerusalem artichokes, sauteed potato, zucchini and kale with a salsa verde. This was one of the few times where I was disappointed that I'd saved so much potato til last: though beautifully crisp on the outside, the centre was bland and quite dry beside the very flavourful dish. The Jerusalem artichoke, on the other hand, was stunning, and I wish there had been more! The kale was also perfectly cooked, and made me realise that as well as being delicious, the dish was also nourishing (hey, we think about these things!).

Finally, and all too soon, we moved onto the dessert courses. The first was a coconut pudding with fresh strawberries, dehydrated strawberries and rhubarb. I have only had rhubarb one other time (also in a dessert, albeit pureed), and unfortunately this dish brought home why it is such an unpopular vegetable. I dutifully finished mine (Matt was defeated by his) so I could enjoy the rest of the dish. The coconut pudding was lovely and soft, and slightly sweet, pairing beautifully with the strawberries.

The second dessert course consisted of caramelised bananas with poached quince, a quince jelly (made from the poaching water), and an caramel-almond powder. I found the almond powder a tad bitter, but the lingering taste was wonderfully caramel-y, and worked well with the other elements. The quince jelly was (oddly) my favourite element, though the banana was also moreish.

All in all, despite our disappointment with some elements, our lunch at Mondo was among my favourite meals that I've had in a long time. The calm environment, the slow (but not labouring) progression through the courses; I believe I could've happily sat there and continued the meal for another hour or two. And when we received our bill, we were pleasantly surprised to see we had been charged according to the meal we had received: rather than the $80 for the omni tasting menu (which had 8 courses), we were charged for our 6 course meal ($60 each). Again, I cannot tell you the number of times when we have received a (let's be honest) inferior meal but been charged the price for the omnivore meal. Finally, all the staff who served us were helpful and friendly.

We have heard some mixed reports from other veg people about their experiences with Mondo, but, for us, it was an absolutely wonderful experience, certainly deserving of its recognition in the Good Food Guide. I will happily return in future.

Mondo Organics' regular tasting menu is not vegetarian, so if you are vegetarian or vegan, make sure you let them know when you book (give about 3-5 days notice so they can plan your menu). Their full menu contains a number of vegetarian options, and most dishes are gluten-free, wheat-free and dairy-free, or can be made gluten-, wheat- or dairy-free (vegan items or items that can be made vegan are not marked, so best to ask what will be available when booking). As well as being open for lunch and dinner, they are open for breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 8.30 - 11.30am.

Mondo Organics, 166 Hardgrave Road, West End
3844 1132,
Dinner: 6pm-Late (Wed-Saturday); Lunch: 12pm-3pm (Fri-Sun); Breakfast: 8.30-11.30am (Sat & Sun)

1 down, 4 to go! We'll continue to FORCE ourselves to visit these other restaurants for your reading pleasure and culinary edification, so please keep an eye on here, or look at our tag gfg2013top5veg to see all of the posts (and check out the tag on twitter, and we'll endeavour to use it).

Mondo Organics on Urbanspoon

Monday, 6 May 2013

"Treat Me Right", The Tofu Story, Part 1: Introductions

Food dislike seems to have three causes: traumatic experience, genuine dislike, and ignorance.

OH, CONTROVERSIAL. Bringin' out the "i" word.

The first of these is pretty easy to understand. I, for example, do not like raw celery because, when I was much younger (as I'm sure happened to many of us), I tried to eat a celery stick and I bit of a chunk and tried to swallow, but a strand of it kept half of it in my mouth while the other bit started to go down my throat and... well, it wasn't pleasant.

Genuine dislike is that kind of indefinable territory that plagues all arts: "I can appreciate it, but it's just not for me". This is where "personal taste" comes in to play but, unfortunately, it can be very easily mixed up with ignorance (where people play their ignorance disguised as personal taste).

Which brings us to ignorance. This is an extremely broad category, ranging from "I had a vegan biscuit once and it was awful THEREFORE ALL VEGAN FOOD IS BAD (and therefore I live on meat, eggs, milk and nothing else..?)", to "I heard from a friend that their sister-in-law's cousin heard from their husband that his naturopath that him shouldn't eat that because a study conducted on rat livers in 1947 showed that it might be dangerous, so I don't eat it."

Because the latter is about an entirely different sort of ignorance that internet is (sadly) greatly responsible for, I will leave that alone for the moment and focus on the former type of ignorance.

For the sake of sensibility, I'm excluding "universally horrible", in which I'd include dirt and other... dirt-like things, because that's beyond taste (rather like Passion Pop).

I notice that, at a close second to "vegan food", the most common case of food-dislike-ignorance (FDI?) is tofu. The amount of times people say "Oh is there tofu in this? Because I don't eat tofu." (NO IT'S A PIZZA WE DON'T JUST PUT TOFU ON EVERYTHING OH MY GOSH), or "I used tofu in place of pork at home once in the 80s and it was really bland", or "I've never actually eaten tofu, but I hear that vegetarians eat it, and so it must be gross because I hate vegetables lol".

The crazy thing is, tofu is quite possibly one of the most versatile ingredients out there, not only because it comes in so many different forms, but because it is, to a great extent, a protein rich blank canvas on which all manner of flavours can be painted. Furthermore, just as that gross supermarket tempeh pales (ha) in comparison to fresh tempeh, so too supermarket tempeh (having sat on the shelf for goodness knows how long) cannot possible be compared to fresh tofu, with its subtle sweetness and umami richness (and no, you can't just substitute any old cheap tofu and expect it to taste the same).

So, because I'm a vegetarian and therefore I Know What To Do With Tofu, I am here to give you a chance to patch things up with tofu and try again for, if not a friendship, at least a comfortable acquaintance. In order to make this more comprehensive, I will spread it out into a series (oh!) of posts, which will discuss different aspects of tofu usage:
  • Part 1: Introductions, in which I discuss the different types of tofu, and what brands to buy, and where to buy them (you're actually reading this right now)
  • Part 2: Baking & Frying Tofu, in which we discover the absolute easiest ways of preparing tofu
  • Part 3: Freezing, Boiling & Pressing Tofu, in which I explore the magic that happens when you put tofu in the freezer or in a pot of boiling water, and what to do with it once you have a block of frozen/boiled tofu
  • Part 4: Crumbling Tofu, in which the art of crumbling tofu leads to two very different, but equally delicious, preparations
  • Part 5: Some Final Notes On Tofu, in which we explore some other preparations of tofu, discover how to use the "bits" left behind by tofu making (okara), and also briefly explore non-soy tofu (Burmese tofu)
Hopefully you can join in on the series, asking questions, providing suggestions and corrections, and (hopefully) learning as well!

Until then, let us begin!

The Types of Tofu
If you're using a recipe, it will probably tell you what type of tofu to use, so stick with that. Don't go using extra firm when it asks for silken, or vice-versa.

If you're not using a recipe, it's important to know what you're going to be doing with it, so you can select the right type of tofu to get the job done. One of the greatest challenges is that there are some differences in what "firm" means depending on the maker, but get to know the brands available in your supermarkets and Asian grocery stores, and eventually you'll get used to which brand and style is best for which purpose.

Refrigerated tofu: in the packet, out of the packet, not resisting to the knife, and the clean slice inside the block

Silken: the texture of a soft-boiled egg or a panna cotta, silken tofu can be used to replace eggs (in some cases: e.g. in baked goods, in quiche, with some extra ingredients added, etc), can be blended with other ingredients to make a mousse or custard, or can be used to make a soft tofu scramble. Unlike other tofu styles, silken tofu is not make by pressing the curds (so almost no whey is lost) and is usually set in the container in which it is sold. It is very delicate and will fall apart under little strain. Because silken tofu is almost always set in the contain in which it is sold, the tofu will be moulded to the shape of that container (whereas other tofus will have some space around them as they are pressed and then placed in the container they're bought in). There are two kinds:
  • Tetrapack (usually either Morinaga (in Australia) or Morinu (USA)): shelf stable for up to six months (if unopened), has very little taste, so perfect for creamy desserts, or other applications where you want no "tofu" flavour to come through. Usually, this will be sold on the shelves in the Asian food section, and not in the fridge with the other tofu. While it is available either as "firm" or "soft", most recipes I've seen call for "firm", and I've never seen the "soft" kind available in in Australian supermarket. To ensure as little flavour as possible comes through, blend/process until it's smooth, then add other ingredients.
  • Fresh / refrigerated: sold in the refrigerated section of the supermarket with the other tofu, this has some flavour (the more fresh ones especially), so is appropriate for dishes where you do want the tofu to stand out a little more. Always choose the fresher one (not always more expensive! I recommend some brands at the end of the post), or stick to the tetrapack variety: I find the cheaper brands often have an unpleasant taste and can sometimes have a grainy texture.
Soft tofu: broken in half (curds very visible), under the pressure of the knife, and a clean cut (curds also visible)

Soft: pressed for the shortest time, soft tofu holds its shape better than silken tofu, but is still quite delicate. It doesn't take much pressure to break a block and, when broken, the curds are very visible. Squeeze too hard, and the block will essentially fall apart. This is best to use in dishes such as curries or soups where they merely sit in a sauce or broth (e.g. in miso soup). This is the type most often used in Asian restaurants (especially salt and pepper tofu, though sometimes silken is used).

Medium: this elusive type of tofu seems to be assigned to tofu that is halfway between "firm" and "soft". As I've said before (and will say again), though, there's so much variation in what is considered "firm" and what is considered "soft" that this is a really grey area. Furthermore, I'm not sure that I've ever seen "medium" tofu in a supermarket in Australia, though I believe I may have seen it mentioned in some books (I could just be making that up, though). If you do see it, give it a squeeze and see where it falls on the hardness scale and then decide what to do with it.

Firm tofu: very tight curds, clean cut.

Firm/Extra Firm: these are probably the most-used types of tofu in Western food. The difference between "firm" and "extra firm" will change by brand: some "firm" tofu will be closer to soft tofu (some brands will call this "medium"), while others will be almost indistinguishable from extra firm. Again, get to know your brands. (Extra)Firm tofu crumbles very well: if you try to "snap" a block in half, both halves will hold their shape, with the bumpy curds apparent at the break point.

Different brands of firm tofu will often quite differ in texture: even two brands that are as hard as each other may have slightly different textures. Some brands are quite dry (great for crumbling), others are slightly grainy, others are more elastic. Becoming familiar with different brands will help decide which brand of firm tofu is best for what you're doing.

Pressed tofu: the "domed square", no bend under knife pressure, split open, and a clean slice with some gaps from the curds visible (the green was because I was also chopping basil, not because I used mouldy tofu! Which I don't.)

Pressed: this is the hardest of all types of tofu. It is almost dry (but inside is quite smooth and elastic in texture), and holds its shape even under much stress. It is the least likely to be found in grocery stores; you will most likely have to go to an Asian supermarket, where it can be found in the refrigerated section. Earth Source are one of the few brands I have seen that make a pressed tofu, so if a local store stocks Earth Source, ask if they can get in their pressed tofu. The curds are barely visible (if at all), and you can nearly bend a block back on itself before it breaks. It is easily recognisable by its "domed square" appearance.

Tofu Buying Guide
It can be extremely confusing buying tofu, as every supermarket seems to carry different brands (especially now that Woolworths has replaced all other brands with their own "Macro" brand, which I'm yet to try, though I hear good reports), but keep an eye out of the different types above written on the label, and eventually you'll become familiar with the different brands.

For most preparations, buying cheaper tofu won't really matter, because the taste will be disguised in the sauce or marinade. When taste is important, though, for example when making simply "fresh" dishes (the kind that use uncooked tofu with a touch of soy sauce, for example, or tofu in a simple broth), quality is an imperative. Thankfully, this does not always translate to price. If you become familiar with your local supermarket, you may find a good quality tofu there, otherwise try health food stores, specialty stores, and Asian supermarkets. Many Asian supermarkets will have fresh tofu available in their fridges, and often this will be much better quality than any you will find in a supermarket (because it's fresher).

The three brands in Australia that are fantastic and reasonably widely available are Blue Lotus, Healthy Pulse, and Earth Source (all of which I've discussed in previous posts). All of these are high quality, aren't grainy, and taste fantastic. Blue Lotus is available in many supermarkets (or ask them to get it in if they don't have it), and they also make an absolutely stunning smoked tofu (and really need a new website). Healthy Pulse (the tofu used at Brisbane's Sake restaurant) is made on the Gold Coast and is the freshest you are likely to find in a shop, though it isn't available in a huge amount of places (in Brisbane, it's available at Genki Mart in Alderley, but I'm not sure of other retailers). They also sell okara, which can sometimes be difficult to find. Earth Source is biodynamic and is also one of the few makers of pressed tofu that I've found outside of Asian supermarkets.

Alternatively, make your own (either use fresh soy milk sold in Asian supermarkets (check the label to make sure there's no sugar added) or make your own soy milk (follow the link for stove-top instructions; scroll up for microwave instructions)).
Coagulating soy milk, homemade soft tofu and homemade firm tofu.
The next few posts will be on how to prepare tofu, so please stay tuned (and chime in with your own tofu taming tricks below!)

I'll tag all of these posts "thetofustory", so if you want to see all of them together, just click on that label.

UPDATE: It should be noted that there are also several other kinds of tofu that I haven't outlined above, namely tofu that has already undergone some other process (e.g. fermenting or frying), or which has been made with different ingredients added (e.g. premarinated tofu, or "fancy" tofu (where you place vegetables between the curds before pressing the tofu, so they are sandwiched inside the block (I just like using the word "fancy")). I will briefly discuss these in the final post, just so we have all our bases covered!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Quick Breakfast Fry-Up of Ridiculous Tastiness

As much as I love recipe books, when it comes to cooking breakfast, I always just throw in whatever and hope it turns out delicious. While leftovers often get thrown into lunchboxes, dinner, or the bin, making a big breakfast fry-up is a great way of using them: that way, they're right at the front (so probably only from last night!), rather than languishing at the back before they're eventually discovered, unrecognisable, several months later.

The other day, there was a heap of hummus left over from a dip platter that we'd made and, rather than letting it languish (as I knew it would), I decided I'd use it in breakfast. If I do say so myself, it was DELICIOUS. The following day I made it again and it was (to my surprise) just as delicious. I don't know where the magic is in this dish but, believe me, it's in there.

I would highly recommend making up a big batch of seitan on the weekend and have it in the fridge to use over the week (or make up a really big batch and keep it in the freezer so you can use it over a couple of weeks), otherwise use a store-bought seitan that you like: you may have to add in a few herbs and spices, so adjust to taste. If you don't have hummus left over, whip up a quick batch and add the kochujang directly into it when making it, or make up a big batch and keep it in the fridge and use it bit-by-bit over the week.

To save washing up, you can make the sauce and serve the dish in the same bowl (which may also be the bowl that the hummus was originally served in!)

Quick Breakfast Fry-Up
What You'll Need
Frying pan
Fork, for stirring (and eating)
Bowl (for making sauce and serving)

1/2-3/4 cup hummus (the best recipe for hummus ever is Dreena Burton's Creamy Hummus from "Vive le Vegan")
1/2-2 tablespoons kochujang (spicy Korean miso, also spelled "gochujang"; I used Sasakani Kobo's excellent kochujang, but you can also buy commercial kochujang at Asian supermarkets. Alternatively, you can use miso with a few pinches of chilli flakes or chilli powder).
Coconut oil, for frying
around 1/2 cup chopped seitan (my favourite recipe is Julie Hasson's Italian Sausage Cutlets from "Vegan Diner"; if you use that recipe, use one patty/sausage, chopped)
1 large portobello or flat mushroom, diced
1 tomato, diced
1/4 red capsicum, diced (optional)
1/4-1/2 cup greens of choice, roughly chopped

Now That You're Ready
1. Add enough water to the hummus to make it runny, like a thick sauce (add a little, then mix with a fork, then repeat until it's thin enough to drip). Add in about 1 tablespoon of kochujang (or miso and chilli flakes). Break up the lump with the fork then stir it in until it is dissolved in. Taste, and add more kochujang if you'd like it a little spicier (I always do). Set aside.

2. Add a good whack of coconut oil (around 2-3 tablespoons) to the frying pan and, when it becomes hot, add in the seitan. Fry for a minute or two. When it starts to brown on one side, flip it over and add in the diced mushrooms. Fry them together, shaking the pan to ensure they don't get stuck in the one spot until the mushrooms begin to soften and brown (the mushrooms will soak up a lot of the coconut oil, so the pan will be near dry). Tip them out of the pan and into the bowl with the sauce.

3. Return the frypan to the stove and add in the tomatoes and (optional) capsicum. Cook them (shaking the pan occasionally) until they begin to soften, then add in the greens. Pour in about 1/4 cup of water into the pan: this will help the tomatoes dissolve a little and also steam the greens.

4. When the greens become bright green and the water is nearly dissolved, tip the sauce (with the seitan and mushrooms) back into the pan and lower the heat a little; you just want to warm up the sauce. As soon as it begins to bubble, it's ready: tip into the bowl and enjoy!

It ain't pretty, but it sure is tasty!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Quick & Easy, Rich Italian-Inspired Meal-Sauce Recipe (An 70s album, a 90s indie film & a hotdog)

After a long day in the sun, traversing the West End markets, hitting the pavements of the city in search of endless music stores (and finally coming upon what I sought - a brilliant, haunting 1978 album by Carly Simon, called "Boys in the Trees" - and at $5.98 at JB Hi Fi, who could complain), I came home, with the same feeling that I'd had when I set out: a desire to languish in the sun. But who could last in this heat and humidity? Certainly not me. I found my way to a spot right underneath the air conditioner.

This evening I really wanted pizza - but, that old chestnut many vegans are familiar with popped up: unless we're talking in strictly authentic terms (minimalist toppings, fresh ingredients, and heavenly, slow-risen base), no pizza is ever as good as what I can make at home.

With The Green Edge moving, and having a 30% off sale, I'd picked up one of the few vegan meats I enjoy - Redwood Chicken, and was longing for a way to combine it with some of the mushrooms I bought this morning at the markets, while using up some of the antipasti I had jarred and bottled in the fridge. I'm lucky that I have some great stand-by herbs in the garden outside, also.

Let's be honest, I felt like pizza (don't I always?), but I didn't feel like the long oven time, the flour everywhere, the rising, and the other fun that really is essential for good pizza. So I decided to make a saucier version of what I wanted in a pizza: something savoury, meaty, rich, saucy, oily, and lip-smacking. And I wanted it all in one skillet/frypan.

Here is what I made. Ultimately, you could have this over pasta (or even rice... if you're that way inclined). I think it's hearty and saucy enough that it's almost too delicious on its own. This is pretty free form - adapt to your tastes. Apologies, as always, for the complete lack of food styling/food photography skills. I'm just a dude, in many ways.

Rich Italian Inspired Meal-Sauce:

Heat some oil in a pan (I'm trying to be arguably virtuous and use coconut oil, but good quality olive would be more traditional).

2 onions, diced
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
1 & 1/2 cups vegan protein (tempeh, seitan, vegan meat)
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
Approx 800g good quality canned tomatoes
Scant 1/4 cup red wine
Approximately 3/4 cup chopped antipasti, depending on pungency (kalamata olives, grilled marinated eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, etc)
1 Tablespoon Chopped fresh basil and oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)

Sauté Onions, until translucent.
Add mushrooms, and saute until their liquid is released, and they are soft and lightly browned.
Sprinkle some salt, to taste.
Add protein (i.e. tempeh, seitan, or vegan meats such as: sausage, chicken, or pork) and brown.
Push the ingredients to the side of the pan, heat some more oil on the clear space.
Add garlic to the oil. Fry for 30 seconds.
Add tomatoes.
Add salt, to taste, and simmer for approximately 5 minutes.
Increase heat to high.
Add red wine (a sweeter variety is perfect), and cook to evaporate the alcohol off and to reduce and intensify the sauce for a couple of minutes.
Add chopped antipasti: I used kalamata olives, grilled marinated eggplant, and sun-dried tomatoes, in descending proportions.
Simmer for 10 minutes.
Add chopped fresh basil and oregano (if you're using dried herbs, use 1 teaspoon and add at the beginning, when the tomatoes are first added).
Simmer five more minutes, or until sauce is at desired reduction and thickness. I like it quite thick, not liquid, but coating. Beware, the thicker it is - the more concentrated the flavour.

Season to taste, and serve. If you have creamy cashew cheese nearby, a dollop on top is lovely, alongside a couple of fresh basil leaves.

Enjoy, either alone, or with pasta, or bread.

I watched the film "To Die For" while I ate this - a 90s indie thriller by Gus Van Sant, starring Nicole Kidman (back when she had a personality and an ability to move her face to portray emotions), as what I can only describe as Lana Del Rey, before the fall of the American Dream. Also starring were a young Casey Affleck, a young Joaquin Phoenix (all the vegans!), and Matt Dillon. Worth a watch for the insight into some people's insanely ambitious drive towards success, and adoration being used to twist and manipulate, but far from excellent. It's sad that we're so accustomed to insanely soul-less young people these days (they do saturate our media culture, after all), that when we see similar stories now, they're far from shocking. Some of the pop stars of today could give Nicole Kidman's character a run for her money, on a daily basis.

Vegan with the lot, from 5 Dogs Gourmet Hotdogs in Fortitude Valley. The facon isn't to my tastes, but the bizarre combination of sauerkraut, jalapeno, cheese & olives with german ketchup and hot dog were a winner for me, all wrapped in a soft bun.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Locally Made Miso Tasting Experience at Sasakani Kobo's Miso Club

I'm a little bit in love with fermented foods. I think most people think about fermented foods as this freaky, rarely eaten subcategory of foods, made and consumed only as part of some ancient feasting ritual. But think about it: cheese, wine, tempeh, soy sauce, vodka, yogurt (not to mention many breads)... all fermented, and all delicious! We're surrounded by fermented foods, and rarely give it a thought.

Admittedly, by the time many of these foods reach us, they may as well not be: they're pasteurised, or stored for so long that the culture just gives up and dies. But it certainly makes eating "fresh" fermented foods (or "alive" ones) a really incredible (and all too rare) experience.

I heard about Sasakani Kobo Organic Miso when they dropped some samples into The Green Edge. I emailed them to find out more about them and, as luck would have it, they were having one of their Miso Club events on the coming Sunday. I quickly booked two places for Matt and I, and waited with much anticipation for Sunday to arrive.

When we arrived, we were greeted by Scott, and were invited into the living room to meet Mayumi, the brains behind Sasakani Kobo's miso, and the other attendee. Due to the size of their living room, the meeting was limited to four people (the fourth person was unable to attend).

Sasakani Kobo (the name, and the logo they have employed) are in fact that of the natto and tempeh shop started in the mid-1940s by Mayumi's grandfather in Japan. A great lover of fermented foods, he traveled to Indonesia to learn how to make tempeh, though it did not seem to appeal to Japanese people back then. He continued to make natto until two years before he passed away in 1996.

All of the equipment was locked up in a small workshop behind Mayumi's grandparents house and, essentially, abandoned. Then, just a few years ago, Mayumi and Scott, visiting Mayumi's Aunt (who now lives in the house), decided to rescue what was left of the business. They took some material, and her grandfather's research and recipes, back with them to Australia and began to make their own fermented foods.

After two years of experimentation and a number of test batches (no mean feat, considering that most batches must ferment for at least 6 months!), they decided to start sharing their love of miso with others, and Miso Club was born.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect (other than miso!) from Miso Club, so I was delighted to discover that it this was no simple tasting: this is a full-on, miso-loving experience.

Mayumi began the "meeting" by explaining the various types of miso, while we sipped on cold brewed, Australian-grown sencha. I was very surprised to discover that hatcho miso (miso made only with soybeans), while the "default miso" here in the West, is rather uncommon in Japan, and is only used around the centre of Honshu, while areas to the North generally use Rice miso, and further West/South generally use Barley miso. She then briefly outlined the nutritional benefits, and how miso is made.

From top, clockwise: Barley miso, mixed miso (young), miso spread (tahini & miso), herbed miso, Korean miso (kochujang), mixed miso (mature), rice miso, brown rice miso
We were then presented with a plate of 8 different samples of miso (all made by Mayumi and Scott). Five of these were "plain" miso (white rice, brown rice, barley, and a mature and a young "mixed miso" (made with a combination of rice and barley)), while the other 3 were flavoured misos (Korean miso, or gochujang / kochujang, a herbed miso, and a miso spread (tahini and miso)). As well as being unpasturised, Mayumi also does not process the miso, so pieces of rice or barley give it some texture. Furthermore, apart from some of the ingredients in the kochujang, all of the misos are made with locally grown/harvested, certified organic ingredients.

My only previous experience with miso has been with the prepacked kind available at Coles or Woolworths, so I cannot even describe how unprepared I was for trying all these different types. Each had such an incredibly distinct flavour, full of wonderfully rich umami: sweet, and yet earthy. I was too embarrassed to go back for seconds (though it was very tempting!). I did manage to sneak seconds of the kochujang, though (the one we have at home from an Asian grocery store has high fructose corn syrup as the second ingredient; needless to say, they are incomparable).

The kochujang was my favourite, followed very closely by the brown rice miso and then the young mixed miso: Matt's were the mature mixed miso, the white rice miso, and the miso and tahini spread.

We then moved to the kitchen. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Mayumi also loves tofu, and talked us through several different brands and styles, including one made locally on the Gold Coast by Healthy Pulse (available at Genki Mart). Following this, we were treated to a full demonstration of how to make each of the dishes we were to have for lunch, all of which (of course) featured miso in some way.

Before we knew it, it was time to eat. We were presented with three dishes: chilled fresh tofu with "colourful toppings", peanut and tofu nibbles (wrapped in mulberry leaves), and buckwheat soba noodles with creamy miso sauce (topped with chopped vegetables and toasted nori).

Chilled tofu with "colourful toppings" (wasabi, ginger, and perilla)

Baked peanuts and tofu wrapped in raspberry leaf

Soba noodles topped with vegetables, nori, and a creamy miso sauce)
Everything was absolutely wonderful: a perfect balance of agedness (from the miso) and freshness (from... well, everything else!), with the beautiful simplicity of Japanese-style presentation. I think I went back for thirds of the soba noodles (and nearly licked my bowl clean to get every last bit of the delicious sauce).

Just before dessert, Mayumi disappeared for a moment, and returned to the table bearing container of some curious-looking brown beans. Ah ha! Scott and Mayumi had been threateni... um, promising to share some fresh natto with me over email, and here it was at least! I had heard the horror stories about natto (as most have), so I was extremely anxious to try/about trying it. Though I was the only want to seemed to want to, finally the other two relented and we were each given small bowls of the strange, sticky beans.

We all looked nervously at each other, then took a small spoonful.

I'm sure Scott has some horrific photo somewhere of the look that took over my face. I think my thoughts were something like: "Murky... no caramel... carob? WHAT'S THAT oh just more beans... sticky sticky WHAT IS THIS?!?"

I have eaten some interesting things, but natto certainly takes the top spot. I'm certainly glad that my first experience was with the home-made kind, not the strange (overly goopy, by the looks of them) ones from Asian supermarkets. While I'm not sure that I would pick it off a menu, it was nothing like the stories I'd heard ("oh my gosh it was so SLIMY and STICKY and I could barely eat it"): instead, it was creamy (the tough soybeans reduced to a smooth paste by the strong starter) and had carob-y notes. Certainly something you have to experience at least once!

At last, it was time for dessert: a green tea ice cream. A tad icy, the creamy coconut milk gave the green tea richness (rather than (as with many such ice creams) blasting the delicate flavour away with too much sugar).

As a testament to the whole afternoon, the "meeting" ended up going two hours over time, simply because we couldn't stop chatting!

Mayumi and Scott hope that running these events will allow them to grow Sasakani Kobo (and so have their miso available for sale in the not-too-distant future) but, also, to allow people to experience miso at its finest.

No matter who you are, I have one word for you: GO. It was an afternoon of education, delicious food, wonderful company, and absolutely outstanding miso. The next event, on April 14, will be a miso making demonstration. Email them now to book a place so you don't miso out (because I will fight tooth and nail for my place!). Their contact details are below.

If miso making doesn't sound like your thing and you'd rather experience a regular miso club meeting (as described above), there will be another in June (but email them now to get on the list!)

In order to be notified about future Miso Club events, either email Scott and Mayumi [sasakanikobo (at) gmail (dot) com], or follow MisoScotto on twitter and DM him your details to be added to the list.