Wyndham Cache Cafe

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Wyndham Cache Cafe, 1 K Ave, Werribee South. Phone: 9742 1526

The first official day of spring is supposedly later in the week, but it sure feels like today should be so anointed.

The sky is mostly blue, studded with big, white fluffy clouds.

The sun is shining and for the first time in a long while – too long – I am not rugged up in the heaviest jumper I can lay my hands on.

Perfect, in other words, for a relaxed spin to a location I think of as one of the west’s country sojourn’s when you don’t really want to go bush.

It’s possible to get a country vibe going from the western suburbs with relative ease and in short time – think the wonderful Point Cook Homestead, for instance, or TeaPot Cottage Cafe at Werribee South.

Wyndham Cache is a rather quirky and charming – in its own way – cafe/restaurant about a kilometre past the turnoff for Werribee Mansion.

An outgrowth of a long-established polutry business on the same site, it does breakfast and lunch seven days a week and dinner on Fridays.

The ambiance seems to show the influence of the joint’s association with a small business of another, eggy variety entirely, with two sets of electric doors leading through to a rather clinical canteen-style dining room, its severity leavened by lovely country vibe service and a plentitude of photos depicting historic people, places, buildings and scenes from the area.

The menu ranges from wraps, sandwiches such as BLT ($14.50) and four salads at about $16 up to mains starting at $17.50 for the wagyu burger and going on to the likes of  pan-fried salmon ($22.50) and steaks for $25.

It’s a clever menu.

Unfortunately, in the rolled-dice gamble that is table-for-one dining I come up empty-handed.

There’s reasons why I very rarely order a steak sanger – and this one ($16.50) now joins that list.

Regulation white sliced bread, routine cheese slice, OK caramelised onions, some rocket and a tiny portion of meat – it’s mightily underwhelming.

It’s about what I would expect from a corner takeaway establishment for significantly less.

But the chips are good and hot, and I gobble each and every one.

That I have been lumbered with such a mediocre lunch is galling, because I see other tables with what appear to be fine meals – fish and chips, antipasto platters and even the dreaded and much over-rated wraps all look good.

And it’s hard to believe the burger – at just $1 more – could be so shabby.

Oh well – still worth a return trip with son in tow.

Check out the full menus at the Wyndham Cache website.

Wyndham Cache Cafe on Urbanspoon

Early heads-up: Combined FFB/CTS Spring Picnic …

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In its two years and counting, Team Consider The Sauce has enjoyed eating with, meeting and getting to know a variety of characters.

Inevitably and happily, a goodly number of them have been food bloggers or folks otherwise deeply involved in cyber foodiness.

We’ve even met some of them at a couple of blogger picnics and other outings.

As cherished and revered, though, are the many regular visitors who have left so very many entertaining, supportive and enlightening comments.

We’ve met a few of them, too!

And we love sharing a vision and purpose with Lauren aka Ms Baklover of Footscray Food Blog fame, whose advice and support has been invaluable.

So … we’ve decided to arrange a combined FFB/CTS Spring Picnic.

This will be held to coincide with the Yarraville Farmers Market in Yarraville Gardens on Saturday, October 27.

The market runs from 8am-noon, so we’re provisionally planning on picnic time being 10am until … whenever.

This way, we can all relax and enjoy meeting folks without the hassles and angst that go with arranging a more formal restaurant-based gathering.

And if you don’t want to bring your own eats, there’ll be goodies available from the market, as will coffee.

There’s a barbecue, toilets and a playground for the kids.

Stay tuned for further details, but get it in your diaries!

Biryani House

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Biryani House, 339 King St, West Melbourne. Phone: 9329 4323

Things change, bringing new routines and vistas.

Some work in Media House, requiring a two-minute walk from Southern Cross Station after a breezy 15-minute train ride.

Long may it last …

Another employment prospect requiring visits to the North Melbourne, West Melbourne, Vic Market area.

These may not qualify as western suburbs territory, but getting to them sure feels a lot more like nicking down to the neighbourhood shops than would getting to anywhere near Spring St, so I’m not complaining.

And, of course, there’s a lot of ever-changing foodiness going and worth exploring.

Business beckons, but before I heed its call I head across Flagstaff Gardens for a place on the CTS hit list.

I’ve long ago made my peace with the seeming fact that restaurant biryani is not perhaps always – if ever – what biryani should be.

I don’t care about tiresome debates about authenticity, and really like – for instance – the biryani at Indi Hots in Footscray.

And I have high hopes of a good rice meal at a place named after the dish is specialises in.

It’s a cheerful CBD cafe-style eatery that attracts a wide range of workers from nearby offices and workplaces. A lot of them are Indian and the service is brisk.

I’m surprised – maybe even a little shocked and dismayed – to be presented my chicken biryani ($9.90) minus any curry gravy.

It’s explained to me they’ve run out of the gravy specifically made for biryanis, but that I’m welcome to an equivalent pot of sauce from one of the bain marie curries.

That’s cool by me, and in fact the sauce from the chicken madras is just right for the job, with a nice, rich texture and flavour and nowhere near as fiery as its name suggests.

The raita is good, too, in that lovely, runny way that is commonplace with restaurant biryani.

The rice is more of a uniform yellow than is the norm, which is a mix of yellow and white grains. And it’s bit more moist than usual.

But it’s fine, redolent of the expected perfume of cinnamon and cardamon.

The chicken is a single maryland from a very small bird, but happily there’s enough flesh for a satisfying lunch and the meat comes from the bones with ease.

Heat levels in my biryani are typically rather high, but not overly so.

Just as good a bet here seem to be the regular curries served in combos ranging from $6.90 up to $8.50.

For the lower price you can get a single meat curry or two vegetable curries and rice – quite a deal considering the heaping size of the serves I see around me.

The paneer and peas is very popular.

Biryani House on Urbanspoon

Baba ghanouj

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For a year or more, Bennie has been getting cranky about the tiresome state of his school lunches and more particularly the regular inclusion of rolls of various kinds stuffed with all sorts.

Can’t say I blame him – I find them tiresome, too.

So for the best part of this year, I’ve been including dips and pita bread.

I fell out of the habit of making dips a long time ago, so we’ve been shamelessly buying them. That’s down to laziness mostly, but also we’re blenderless.

Our bought dips – hummus and baba ghanouj mainly – have ranged from good to barely passable to really nasty.

Interestingly, the quality of the dip seems to have had little to do with how much or how little we pay for them.

But this pre-bought dip routine is stopping – right here, right now.

It’s ridiculous.

Besides, you don’t need a blender – in fact, in the case of baba ghanouj, you really want that chunky, unblended texture.

And getting back in to the routine of dip-making fits right in with our current fascination with Middle Eastern food.

This recipe – with a few minor tweaks – is straight from the pages of Nawal Nasrallah’s fabulous Iraqi cookbook, Delights From The Garden Of Eden.

It’s easy and hassle-free!

INGREDIENTS

1 large eggplant

1/4 cup tahini

1/4 cup yogurt

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 medium garlic cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

METHOD

1. Pre-heat oven to a hot 225C.

2. Pre-heat skillet under low heat.

3. Puncture eggplant all over several times, so steam can escape and it doesn’t explode.

4. Place eggplant on a foil-lined oven tray and put in hot oven for about 45 minutes.

5. Gently roast cumin seeds in skillet until a deep tan, then grind to a fine powder in mortar and pestle.

6. When eggplant is done – it’ll be all wrinkly – turn off oven and let eggplant cool.

7. When cool enough to handle, discard skin and place pulp in a colander so it can drain.

8. Place eggplant pulp in a bowl and mash with a  fork.

9. Mix in tahini and yogurt.

10. Mix in salt and ground cumin.

11. Mix in lemon juice.

12. Finely grate garlic cloves and mix into baba ghanouj.

13. Store in fridge for at least an hour before using.

Al Sharouk Woodfired Oven

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Al Sharouk Woodfired Oven, 544-546 Mahoneys Rd, Campbellfield. Phone: 9359 5773

On a previous, mid-week visit to Al Sharouk with Bennie and Nat, we’d been greeted by a well-stuffed Middle East-style grocery but little by way of eat-in food – or, at least, none that tempted us sufficiently to linger.

Second time around, and flying solo, my desires are a little different.

Lunch, a meal, for sure – but I’m also seeking some specialised Middle East ingredients.

This is so I can roll up my sleeves and get cooking some of the marvellous recipes in Delights From The Garden Of Eden by Nawal Nasrallah, an epic Iraqi cookbook I received in the mail a few days earlier.

This tome – packed with recipes for mostly home-style Iraqi food, countless anecdotes and much food history going back several thousand years – has been secured on the no-doubt righteous recommendation by Annia Ciezadlo in her cool book Day Of Honey.

I feel sure Delights From The Garden Of Eden will be the cause of many, many future years of pleasurable reading and cooking.

But I feel nonplussed as I step through the door of Al Sharouk and discover … that it is now all restaurant and no grocery.

Oh well – I take an upbeat, half-full approach and thoroughly enjoy my lunch and talking with Al Sharouk proprietor Martin.

He’s an Iraqi Christian who moved to Australia more than three decades ago, although his Campbellfield eat shop has been open for just nine months.

It’s no surprise, then, he knows all about the ingredients I seek – baharat, a spice mix that is a sort-of Iraqi equivalent of garam masala; and noomi basrah, which are dried limes.

Martin reckons I should have little trouble securing them from the likes of Al-alamy in Coburg or International Foods in Altona.

As he’s expressed an interest in having a quick look at my new book, I scarper back to my car as he’s knocking my lunch together.

There’s a range of salads and dips on display. Pies and pizzas from the mighty wood-fired oven are available, too.

But I quickly zero in on the two stews available – one a pale number with lamb shanks, the other more of a tomato-based effort with lamb on the bone and chickpeas.

I go for the latter, which turns out to be a variation on Iraqi stews called tashreeb. These are traditionally served on a base of flat bread.

But I’m plenty happy to have mine with Martin’s rice, which he calls an Iraqi biryani.

It’s beaut and studded with peanuts, peas, currants and – most appropriately – the dried limes called noomi basrah, which impart of sublime tartness. Think of something along the lines of a mild Indian lime pickle.

This is very homely food much to my liking – the rice riches work well with the tashreeb chickpeas, and I even get a silky, tender whole onion.

But that’s not all – my single piece of lamb is superbly, predictably tender and toothsome.

Martin has two kinds of chooks getting the heat treatment from his spit pit – the first lot are whole stuffed birds referred to in Delights From The Garden Of Eden as Pregnant Chicken; the second are butterflied birds in lemon and garlic.

I buy a half animal of the latter to take home, but wish I’d gone with a whole of the former – they look so plump and sexy, and are likely a fine bargain at $12.

Other than that, I forget to check prices – suffice to say Al Sharouk is a genuine cheap eats haven, as my lamb rice lunch, a can of soft drink and half a chook to go come to $22.

It’s been cool meet Martin and enjoy some of the kind of food I soon hope to be cooking my own self.

Al Sharouk Woodfired Oven on Urbanspoon

Incident on a train

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Missed this weeks Epicure section in The Age.

No biggie, but still …

Rude as it may seem, I couldn’t help but glance at the copy a passenger next to me on the train from work was reading.

My eye was caught by a long single column of responses by readers to a question about what are the top signs you’ve entered a Bad Restaurant.

Top of the list was … flat-screen televisions.

What?

What kind of parallel universe is that?

In our world, wall-mounted flat-screen TVs are a harbinger of delicious food on the way.

South American soccer games, Viet song and dance extravaganzas, Bollywood epics and – recently for me – even Fox News (sound off, thankfully) in a Foostcray Ethiopian place.

What could be better?

I even had the temerity to voice these opinions to the Epicure lady.

She seemed bemused I’d been surreptitiously reading her newspaper – but that’s better than snarky.

As we neared a station and she prepared to depart the train, she even presented me with her “pre-loved” copy of Epicure, God bless her.

I asked her where she lived; locally, obviously.

So I gave her a Consider The Sauce business card.

I hope she checks us out.

The Shed @ Terindah Estate

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The Shed @ Terindah Estate, 90 McAdams Lane, Bellarine. Phone: 5251 5536

Scooting down the freeway, Geelong-bound, I am almost giggling with the joy of it.

This is quite different from the sometimes frenetic trips that until so very recently saw me making this journey for work purposes.

Because we are not headed specifically for that city, but through it instead for a lunch date on the Bellarine Peninsula.

I’ve roped in Brother Kurt for the experience and we’ll be meeting my pal and former Geelong Advertiser colleague Jane at Terindah Estate.

The catering, food and function aspects of the property have recently been assumed by Rue Cler Market, and it is as that outfit’s guests that we will be having lunch (full disclosure below).

Kurt and I are so busy playing catch-ups that carefully selected CD choices barely register and in what seems like mere minutes we are trundling down bumpy, rustic McAdams Lane, turning right into the grounds of Terindah Estate instead of left into Jack Rabbit Winery.

Unsurprisingly, the place is beautiful, the centre’s buildings looking out on vines and fields rolling gently down to the bay, the Melbourne CBD skyline visible on one side of the panorama, the You Yangs peeking through the trees on the other.

The place undeniably has an air of new business arrangements being bedded down.

So much so, we wonder if these folks have been a bit hasty in inviting a blogger and his mates down for a feed, especially when we lay eyes on the very succinct blackboard men.

Happily, our lunch more than makes up for menu brevity with class and quality.

We three make ourselves at home in a corner table of the vast, bright and airy dining area before mulling our lunch choices as sourdough, focaccia and olive oil are placed before us. 

Our first foray into Shed tucker is a sublime delight and triumph – the produce plate is not your typical antipasto platter.

That they sell it for $14 makes it a preposterous bargain.

Its contents are all locally sourced, fresh as can be and uniformly superb.

Smoky, tangy discs of Otways chorizo.

Tomato relish.

Creamy chevre.

Sweet, oh-so-tender steamed mussels.

Baby vegetables – spring onions, carrots, turnips – that manage the lovely trick of being both profoundly and lightly pickled, meaning the original flavour of the vegetables can be enjoyed.

Calamari strips, supremely unchewy and tender, and equally skillfully pickled.

Brilliant!

An adjacent table for two has received an identical plate of goodies, so it’s not like we have been given favourable treatment. Just saying …

As we await our main course, unbidden we are presented with a lovely blue cheese and potato pizza ($14).

This simple affair goes a long way toward blunting my cynicism about the cost/benefits of thin-crust Italian-style pizzas.

Blue cheese very flavoursome but not overbearing, slices of purple congo spud evincing real potato taste, base not particularly thin but fresh, crusty and easy on the fang.

Kurt and I both choose the bay whiting with fennel salad ($22).

The fish is delicate of texture and taste, and very good.

The whiting works well with the fennel, but I am less convinced about the somewhat strident addition of grapefruit segments.

It’s a very spartan meal – another element or some more obvious salad dressing would’ve been welcome.

Jane likes her mushroom gnocchi ($18) – they’re roly poly, tanned and slightly crispy on the exterior, almost molten inside, and the way is smoothed with more of the chevre that graced our entree plate.

Kurt gleefully works his way through much of the wine list – he expresses fondness most of all for the chardonnay – with details provided by property owner Peter Slattery.

Jane enjoys her sticky date pudding ($6).

By this point, I’m fully full, so opt out of the dessert stakes – but I do nick a spoonful, just for review purposes.

The pudding is light and fresh, and the sauce is, well, super sticky.

The Shed @ Terindah Estate shapes as a handy, relaxing and affordable option in the fiercely competitive Bellarine winery scene.

The September 2 Father’s Day deal – $40 for adults, $10 for kids – looks like a great deal, for instance. Check out the Terindah Facebook page for details.

And certainly, I’d return in a heartbeat for another shot at the terrific $14 produce platter.

It’s been a hoot to catch up on the goss with Jane, but she’s off on other business.

Kurt’s happy to kick back, enjoy the moment and talk with the staff.

After a good cafe latte, I go for a ramble around the grounds, even making it right down to the bay beach.

Eventually, to the strains of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ classic third album, we zip across the peninsula to Point Lonsdale, where we dwell for a while watching a ship enter through the heads and seals frolicking in the surf.

After swinging through Ocean Grove, we head home with some raunchy, classic and wisecracking southern soul from Joe Tex for company.

What a cracking day we’ve had – thanks to all concerned!

Our meal at The Shed @ Terindah Estate was provided free of charge by the owner in return for a story on Consider The Sauce. With the exception of pizza noted above, neither staff nor management knew what we were going to order. The Shed @ Terindah Estate has not been given any editorial control of this post.

Charitable Vegetarian Restaurant

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Charitable Vegetarian Restaurant (Quan Chay Tu Thien), Shop 11 Alfrieda St, St Albans. Phone 0435 397 129

Mock duck, vegan ham, vegan crispy chicken?

I’ve always been a bit sniffy about the concept of “pretend meat”, even if it is a venerable Asian tradition.

We love, eat and cook quite a range of non-meat food, especially Indian at home.

But I’ve long held that if we are to do without meat, then let’s not pretend … so to speak.

I now suspect my ambivalence about mock meat has had quite a lot to do with the fact the Chinese food is not way up high on our list of favoured cuisines – and it’s with Chinese cooking that I most associate these kind of products.

Because I find that when they are matched with Vietnamese food, my whole outlook is transformed.

I am intrigued and tickled pink as I take in the menu at Charitable Vegetarian Restaurant.

Pho, rice paper rolls, vermicelli, “beef” stew, crispy “chicken rice – the menu is packed with Vietnamese staples done in ways that are completely free of meat and seafood.

But whatever broadening of my mind that is transpiring here, I play it safe by ordering a dish that looks like it’ll be a very close cousin of its non-vegetarian version – bun bi cha gio (8.50).

Instead of shredded pork, there’s shredded tofu.

The spring rolls are much more genteel and smooth of interior than I expect, with none of the crunch and texture of nuts or mushrooms I had foreseen.

There’s lettuce, grated carrot, mint, peanuts and bean sprouts, of course, along with the vermicelli, and the accompanying chilli sauce adds a good seasoning kick.

It doesn’t quite have the same flavour kick of the various meaty versions, but a degree of subtlety is only to be expected.

But it’s a nice change, even if a certain mealiness becomes more apparent as I near the end.

It’s big serve and I don’t quite leave my bowl clean.

It’s not until later that realise there’s been no onion or vinegary tang. Perhaps the spiritual and philosophical outlook of the place prevents it, though I notice there are menu items that include garlic.

I’m very interested in this place in general and what’s in those spring rolls in particular.

But I find the robed and smiling staff are no more adept at English than I am at Vietnamese.

So we’re at a stalemate until I gently accost a customer seeking a takeaway lunch, and discover that, yes, she speaks English and will be only too happy to help out.

The spring rolls contain, I am told, nothing more than vegetables and tofu.

The restaurant has been open since late July.

It’s a Buddhist establishment, basically – as the name indicates – being run as a charity, with all the cooking done by monks and nuns.

My lovely translator, Mo, tells me she herself is Buddhist, as are her parents.

She says that while younger generations of Vietnamese are less likely to embrace such spiritual or food traditions, among older generations she believes adherence may be even higher than 20 per cent.

I’m excited about the idea of exploring the menu further – there’s Singapore fried noodles, some good-looking salads, steamboats, straightahead vegetable dishes such as sauteed pumpkin leaves and a whole lot more (see full menu below).

If anyone tries it, please let us know your hits and misses!

There seems every chance Charitable Vegetarian Restaurant will become a magnet for vegetarians, not only from the western suburbs but from all over Melbourne.

Thanks, Mo, for being so gracious about being asked to provide translation aid!

Sweet Rice again …

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Sweet Rice, 102 Millers Rd, Altona North. Phone: 9315 3691

Having enjoyed our debut meal at Sweet Rice in Altona, with Consider The Sauce buddy Keri for company, we are keen to return to explore the menu further.

Truth is, yours truly dominated the ordering procedure on that visit, and not all that skillfully, either … we ended up with a lovely meal that was nevertheless dominated by fried items.

This time around, we’re joined by our lovely next door neighbours, Rob and Ming.

I am determined to order the green mango fish – for the simple reason it’s been tipped as the menu highlight by Andy of Krapow, which specialises in Thai food.

That’s good enough for me!

Other than that, I tell Ming and Rob, I plan to take  strictly hands-off approach – they can figure it out with Bennie.

So that’s what we do … and we have fine old time.

No entrees, five mains including a salad, rice.

The quantities and quality are all pretty much spot on, and our choices arrive in as quick time as can be expected..

Grilled beef salad ($9.90) has exactly the sort of zingy flavour, without much by way of a chilli hit, we are expecting.

But in other ways this dish puzzles us, as we are all used to Thai salads being made of much more finely chopped ingredients, or with meat that is finely shredded or comes in a crumbly mince form.

Here, the beef is simply larger slices of wok-cooked meat and the vegetables are equally large pieces of lettuce, cherry tomatoes and onion slices.

Nice, though.

Red curry chicken ($9) is smooth and creamy, with plenty of chicken and vegetables, including cherry tomatoes, capsicum and juilenned bamboo shoots.

But it seems almost shockingly mild in its seasoning levels.

Nice, too, but is this another case of an eatery catering to suburban takeaway expectations, perceived or otherwise?

Green mango fish ($12.90) – thanks, Andy! – is the big flavour hit of the night, even winning favour with the usually fish-hating Bennie.

A more than adequate array of crispy-battered and finely cooked fish fillets (we forget to ask what kind) are buried beneath a cheerful wig of mango strands, onion, chilli rings and coriander.

There’s a big lemon hit and everyone is happy.

You’ll be unsurprised to know that sweet and sour pork ($9, top photo) is a Bennie nomination.

But you may be surprised, as we are, that this dish – a Thai twist on a Chinese cliche – goes down a treat.

There’s little by way of sweet or sour, but the sticky sauce goes well with the light, ungreasy and nicely chewy battered pork pieces.

Prawns with chilli and basil sauce ($10.50) provides, at long last, the spice hit for which we have seemingly been yearning.

Indeed, the chilli levels are a bit too high for Bennie, but it’s all good and there’s plenty of prawns.

Oddly enough, I must have been suffering from chilli deprivation, because the remnants of the red curry chicken taste better after a run-in with high spice levels.

We’ve enjoyed a really nice meal that has never really reached stellar heights but that for sure places Sweet Rice in a niche significantly above your average suburban Thai restaurants.

Matched with incredible prices – our dinner for four, including three soft drinks, just barely tops $60 – and it’s easy and right to classify Sweet Rice as a true gem.

Thanks to Rob and Ming for the company and lending us their tastebuds!

Sweet Rice on Urbanspoon

Pan-toasted ham and cheese sandwich

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Because toasted sandwiches are merely an irregular snack/meal for us, when we do them we like to do them right.

That usually means a good loaf of bread – most commonly some sort of ciabatta loaf.

Good cheddar, too, and ham – but not too good of either.

We tart ours up with onion rings and Dijon mustard, but others’ mileage will vary.

We’ve tried other ingredients, such as tomato, but enough is enough. The tomato was a soggy overload.

In this case, we used a Zeally Bay hightop loaf.

So because the rectangular slices had less surface area than we’re familiar with AND because these sandwiches were going to be the mainstay of our evening meal, I sliced the bread quite thick.

The pan heat is a very variable matter and all down to the kind of bread, its thickness and the depth and number of ingredients.

You want it hot enough to cook your sangers a toasty brown and melt the cheese to goo without taking all night about it.

And without burning the bread.

It’s a balancing act.

Such is life …

Because we don’t have one of those fancy toasted-sanger machines, and we actually like doing them by hand, the layering process becomes important – cheese on last so it gets the heat treatment first.

These sandwiches were a lot more filling than they looked.

 INGREDIENTS

1 loaf of good bread

2 slices of good ham per sandwich

good cheddar

onion slices (optional)

Dijon or other mustard (optional)

METHOD

1. Pre-heat pan on low-medium heat.

2. Slice four slices of bread.

3. Arrange ham on two slices, then the onion slices.

4. Slather mustard on the other slices.

5. Place cheese slices on the onion.

6. Place mustard-slathered bread on the cheese.

7. Butter top of sandwiches.

8. Holding sandwiches firmly so innards don’t cascade to the floor, put them in the pre-hated pan buttered side down.

9. Toast sandwiches, checking regularly to make sure they’re not burning.

10. When nice and toasty on the bottom, butter the top slices of bread and flip the sandwiches with care.

11. Cook and check until done, giving them a blast of higher heat right at the end.

12. Cut sandwiches in half and serve with garnish such as pickled onion, pickled cucumbers or olives.

Luna 1878 – Vic Market at night

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Luna 1878 Night Market, Victoria Market

A normal school week requires quite a degree of discipline for us to survive with aplomb.

School, work, school and work lunches, homework, two rugby practices, dinners to be cooked, sufficient sleep to be had, alarms to be set, breakfasts to produced – there’s a lot going on.

But it takes only a slight shift in emphasis, especially in winter, for a nice, tidy routine to become bleak drudgery.

So, of course, we are adamant about taking the occasional opportunity to throw off the shackles and hit the town.

Thus it is we find ourselves happily skipping towards Victoria Market with food and fun on our minds.

There’s been night markets going on here for several years, but this is our first outing – well, our first as  a team anyway; Bennie attended a few years back in the company of others.

The night festival setting is superb and lovely.

The lighting, the gloom, the excited chatter of the punters, the rain pounding on the roof – and most of all the swirling of numerous cooking aromas cooped in by the roof – all contribute to a profoundly glamourous, sophisticated vibe.

We know full well that such a dynamic can distort and inflame the appetite adrenaline and that we’ll probably order a lot of stuff that will fall short of outstanding. And that, in some cases, similar and much better food can be had for significantly less just a few blocks away.

But we don’t let that transgress on our fun as we enjoy a couple of hours of what seems like rather naughty pleasure.

There’s a meatball stall with amazing giant woks of bubbling balls. There’s a Polish stall doing pierogi and the like. There’s wine and beer and even mulled wine.

But the dominant theme seems to be overtly carnivorous, what with American-style BBQ, Argentinian BBQ and Spanish, Sicilian and Colombian stalls all cooking up a storm to a meat beat.

The biggest thrill of the night comes as Bennie spies the ribs at the BBQ stand.

“That’s what I want!” he says with enthusiasm.

They’re also doing pulled pork, but ribs it is – in what, AFAIK, is Bennie’s first taste of this style of food.

At a price of $14 for five ribs plus coleslaw, they’re not cheap but they are good and tender and tasty. And we wangle a sixth rib so we can share equally.

Bennie absolutely loves them, just sharpening my anticipation of the pleasure that will be experienced when I eventually take him to the other side of town for a splash-up meal at Big Boy BBQ.

Calling the rather scraggly and mostly undressed cabbage and carrot strips “coleslaw” is a bit of stretch, though.

Our friends from La Morenita are in attendance, doing chorizo and empanadas and more, but we choose to move on to the less familiar.

We have a $5 plate each of Colombian marinated chicken-on-a-skewer, three cassava balls and a dab of whipped avocado.

The chicken is superb, the cassava nicely chewy, a little bit bitter and very filling.

There’s two back-to-back Asian stalls, one with a Viet flavour, the other Malaysian.

From the former, Bennie grabs and gobbles a small serve of chicken ribs – $5 for four.

From the latter, I secure what is called Sarawak laksa for $10.

It’s a thinnish and nicely spicy broth. There’s a heap of goodies, including lots of rolled-up segments of omelette, but sadly the plentiful and handsome-looking prawns are tasteless.

All the while, Bennie has been agog at the tantalising array of sugary stuff available.

He finally settles on a bretzel from Kingsville’s Bretzel.biz.

His choice is chocolate-filled, topped with nuts and slathered with more chocolate … and he loves every mouthful.

And seemingly every one of those mouthfuls is recorded by a keen photographer who takes a fancy to the spectacle of Boy Eating Dough With Extras.

Appetites finally sated, we wander about for a while enjoying the sights and sounds and smells.

But we head home happy well before the more formal musical entertainment of the evening commences.

After all, it is a school night.

Luna 1878 night markets at Victoria Market will be held on August 22 and 29.

Beatrix

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Beatrix, 688 Queensberry St, North Melbourne. Phone: 9090 7301

Like so many people, I have mixed feelings about Facebook.

On a macro level, some of the politics, ethics and sneakiness just plain creep me out.

On a micro level, I’d have to say it’s a fabulous tool.

Tool being the operative word.

It’s there to be used, in my book. If you want to use it, that is.

If you don’t … um, then don’t.

And please, let’s have no more lame-o opinion pieces about FB, social media and the end of the world as we know it … written by people, I’m pretty sure, who are as fixated and rude in the use of their mobile devices as those they criticise.

I’m delighted with the way my use of Facebook has evolved into a multi-pronged, life-enhancing … tool.

I’ve “liked” a slew of western suburbs organisations that hip me to all sorts of events, festivals and happenings that I would otherwise be blissfully unaware of.

Likewise, I’m always up to speed on the special events, menu changes, specials, news and sometimes whacko humour (Hi, Adam!) from a wide range of eateries and food suppliers.

Thus, while the initial inspiration for a visit to North Melbourne cafe Beatrix has most certainly been a drool-encrusted post by Ms Bakover at Footscray Food Blog, what gets me in the car and headed that way is the joint’s fabulous Facebook activity.

Each day, the Beatrix folks post details of that day’s goodies, particularly their sandwiches. This is Facebook newsfeed of seriously seductive proportions.

The sandwiches are small in number – just two a day – but packed with allure.

As I joyfully discover, that allure is of real and magnificent substance.

It’s a tiny but chic place, but as I am reliably early, finding a seat at the window counter is no problem. By the time I leave, it’s considerably more crowded.

The day’s heavier, richer offering involves sardines. Tempting for sure, but I go for the lighter, cheaper and unmeated option.

The Ricotta (large $12, small $10.50) is described as “Simply warmed That’s Amore ricotta, caramelised onion, radicicchio and black olive”.

My large sandwich is perfection is every way.

The bread is fresh and warm, yet happily minus the sometimes gum-shredding factor that often comes with ciabatta loaves.

The sweet onions are the perfect foil for the astringency of the sparingly used olives and the bitterness of the leaves.

The ricotta is smooth and creamy – more about texture than flavour, and given the other protagonists, that’s perfection, too.

It’s a super sandwich and experience.

If this is taking the science and craft of sandwich-making, and doing so with a small but rotating list of superb ingredients, and turning them into an artform, then all I can say is: Bravo!

The cakes here looking killing, too. Maybe next time with Bennie for company – he’ll love the place for sure.

And maybe the go here for paired-up dining is what I’ve seen a couple do today – a large sandwich and a slice of cake, shared.

Meanwhile, tomorrow there’ll be another unrelenting Facebook missive from Beatrix; and another one the day after that; and so on.

There is, it seems, no escape.

Except maybe clicking on “unlike”.

As if …

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Gulati’s

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Gulati’s, 23 Harrington Square, Altona. Phone: 9315 9655

The process of stumbling upon Gulati’s had been an unusual one.

Reading online news stories about a shocking, brutal incidence of urban violence, on one level my mind had been in something akin to shock.

On another, it had been asking questions: “Book shop? Harrington Square? Altona? What?”

Some quick twiddling with Google maps soon verified the whereabouts of an Altona nook on which we’d never laid eyes.

More quick twiddling – this time with street view – allowed me to play cyber rubbernecker.

Ambling around the square with my mouse, I soon gazed upon the book shop in question.

And right next door – Oh, yes! – was an Indian restaurant.

A few weeks later, and I am standing in the car park of Harrington Square, a medium-to-small suburban shopping precinct.

Book shop? Check. Indian restaurant? Check.

Even better, on the other side of the eatery is a Thai joint, while another of Indian persuasion lies across the square.

Gulati’s itself is quite different from the cheap eats/takeaway shack I had in my mind’s eye.

In fact, it’s quite chic and a pleasant space to spend some time in.

Gawd – there’s even cloth napkins!

(This is usually taken by us a symbol of fine dining …)

This means I’ll be spending more than had been anticipated when setting out on my eat-and-run Saturday night adventure.

But what the hey – I figure a low-key Kenny treat is definitely in order.

The service is friendly but a little on the slow side to begin with – but that’s OK; it is early in the evening.

Gulati’s is pretty much a straight-up suburban Indian eatery with all the usuals, including tandoori goodies, and none of your dosas or Indo-Chinese options.

Meat/fish mains cost $12, vegetable mains $9.50.

I break my own “plain naan only” rule by ordering onion kulcha ($3) and am really happy to have done so.

The small onions pieces add a sweetness and complexity to a very good piece of bread that has a nice chewiness to it.

Machere jhol ($12), described as “fish cooked with eggplant – a taste of Bengal”, is marvellous.

There’s a goodly number of small, boneless and firm but beautifully cooked cutlets of what I subsequently discover is rockling mixing it with tender, delicious chunks of eggplant.

I later discover online numerous versions of this Bengali recipe, but there are so many variations I find it hard to discern any single theme.

And none that I find include the mustard seeds that provide such a fine pop and texture to the lovely and apparently unoily curry gravy of my dish.

My plain rice ($2.50) is OK, the raita ($3) thick and creamy and with scant cucumber quotient.

As I wrap up a most enjoyable dinner, Gulati’s has become companionably busy with locals.

I envy them having this place as a local.

In the meantime, I’ll have to return on another day to peruse the book shop.

Given the scarcity of book shops in the west, I’m excited by the prospect

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Book review: Day of Honey

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Day of Honey by Annia Ciezadlo (Simon and Schuster)

A review copy of this book was handed my way by a mate at my previous place of employment.

He figured it would tick almost all my boxes.

And why wouldn’t he?

It’s about food, it’s about writing, it’s about – more precisely – Middle Eastern food.

And it’s about international and current affairs, and the turbulence and conflicts and joy that accompany them, something I find endlessly fascinating, although I have rarely let that interest intrude on Consider The Sauce.

Truth is that while I stay on top of such things, they often leave me feeling down.

So why did Day of Honey sit around the house unloved and gathering dust for several months?

Why did I pick it up, read a few pages then discard it several times?

Why did it take only the most desperate boredom with every other available reading resource at hand before this book got its hooks into me?

A couple of reasons at least, I think …

One was the simple fear of confronting the horrors of the Middle East in a too-real account.

Reading about the Middle East’s trial and tribulations in news stories in newspaper and magazines or online is one thing.

There’s a certain dryness there that insulates us from the realities, brutal or otherwise.

Reading on-the-ground accounts of happenings in Baghdad and Beirut written by a gifted and eloquent writer is quite another.

I wasn’t at all sure I was up for it.

Another reason, one that was completely irrational given the nature of the subject, was that I feared the book would have a foodie-light veneer, making it a sort of Under The Beirut Sky.

About that, I turned out to be very wrong.

Once I started reading in earnest, this turned into a joyous page-turner.

I knew the author had me when she writes:

“The Mesopotamians baked a lot of their bread in a tinuru, a cylindrical clay oven with an open top and diabolically hot radiant heat inside. They rolled the dough into little round pats and left them for the gluten to relax. Then they flattened them into pancakes and slapped them onto the oven’s scorching inside walls, where they bubbled into chewy flatbreads.”

Hey, that sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Ciezadlo continues:

“Thousands of years later, Iraqis still make bread exactly this way at neighborhood bakeries … The Akkadian tinuru lives on as the Arabic tanoor, the Iranian tanura and the South Asian tandoor. Next time you order chicken tandoori at an Indian restaurant, chew on this: you are speaking a word that human mouths have been pronouncing, in one form or another, for at least four thousand years.”

Day of Honey follows the journey of Ciezadlo and her Lebanese husband Mohamad as they ply their journalistic/media trade in Baghdad and Beirut in the early-to-late 2000s.

If I skip going into any detail about the exact locations and conflicts they are involved in, it is simply because in many ways they are the background detail of the book’s major themes.

For this is a book, primarily, about people. Or more exactly, about people and how they deal with war.

And as Ciezadlo reveals, they do this largely through food.

There is a good deal of violence in the book, particularly towards the end.

But the author covers it in quite a dispassionate way, and always in the context of the people she loves, friends and family.

She simply lays out the absurdly sectarian nature of so much of life and politics and conflict in the Middle East without ever losing track of her focus.

That leaves her – and us – to revel in the food, its rituals and fabulous cast of characters who are by turns droll, hilarious, romantic, inspirational and more.

Particularly beguiling is her ongoing portrait of her mother-in-law, Umm Hassane. I’m tempted to describe her incredible and maddening wiles as “adorable” or some such, but then I don’t have to put up with her!

Through Day of Honey, I have had some of my beliefs about the Middle East buttressed.

But in many ways, I have had others shaken.

Mainly to the extent that what we read and hear about the region in the media is appallingly superficial or little more than window dressing and spin of various kinds.

Mostly, though, the book has emphasised for me how fortunate I am to be living in a part of the world where I am so free to participate in and enjoy food, food rituals and traditions, and the people who keep them alive.

And in one vivid account of a meal, Ciezadlo makes me believe more than ever that in the likes of Abbout Falafel House, Al-Alamy and so many more we have a genuine, life-affirming way of being part of what really is the greatest story ever told.

There are very many lovely examples of food anecdotes, recipes, lore and history.

At its end, the book includes more than a dozen recipes of food featured in its pages.

A lot of them seem sufficiently complex to deter me from attempting them.

But happily, the one that most intrigues – a simple Lebanese dish of onions, potatoes and eggs called Batata wa Bayd Mfarakeh – is the subject of a short video on the author’s website.

Unsurprisingly, what she creates there looks not at all like I imagined it would!

Day of Honey is a terrific book and I look forward to reading future posts on the author’s Facebook page for revealing and uplifting insights on Middle Eastern food, culture, people and – yes – politics.

Pete’s Charcoal Stop

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Pete’s Charcoal Stop, 562 Mt Alexander Rd, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9375 1169

Charcoal chicken shops = coleslaw and chips.

That’s the pretty much hard-and-fast rule for at least one half of the Consider The Sauce team.

So what am I doing breaking with such entrenched tradition?

I’d been alerted to the merits of this chicken shop several months previously by someone who knows about such important matters.

I’d stuck my nose in at the weekend for a look-see … and discovered that this particular business has a distinct Mediterranean flavour.

There’s dolmades and dips and more.

The takeaway menu lists mousaka, pastistio and spanakopita.

So I go with the flow …

And order some of scrumptious-seeming potato segments residing in tasty- juices instead of chips to go with my half-chook.

And Greek salad instead of ‘slaw.

The spuds are beautifully cooked, but I confess to expecting more by way of lemon/oregano zing. Still, a nice change.

The salad is good, the vegetables are fresh and there’s quite a lot of dressing but not much seasoning.

The bird itself is tender through and through – something that can’t often be said of such places, especially when it comes to the often-dry breast meat.

My chicken is a good roast half-bird – that is, it’s minus the crinkly, crunchy, blackened and pungent/salty skin.

My meal – including a can of soft drink – clocks in at a fine $14.

I suspect next time here I’ll revert to chips/coleslaw type.

I know that if I lived nearby, this would be a far-too-regular haunt.

It has the vibe that tells me it’s run by people who know exactly what they’re about when it comes to charcoal chicken, kebabs and burgers.

Tasty Music: This Week’s Top 10

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A while ago now, yours truly hosted a weekly radio show that went uninterrupted except for holiday time for about 20 years.

It went, over the years, from guitar grunge to country, blues and other roots art forms through New Orleans and South Louisiana of all kinds to jazz and back to country, western swing and the Grateful Dead, with often many of those styles overlapping within a single show.

One thing I did reasonably regularly was whole shows of food songs.

It was a breeze and SO much fun!

I don’t think about food and food songs so much these days, but I still love me some finger-lickin’ tunes.

So this here is what tickles my fancy this week; it’s a moveable feast, so to speak, so ask me again next week and you’ll likely get a whole different list. (A pity I couldn’t nail Jasper’s BBQ by Frankie “Halpint” Jaxon, though!)

First up, Mr Sauve himself …

No.2 is some slinky Memphis funk. Doesn’t sound like a food tune, does it? Slim Jenkin’s Joint was a soul food joint down the road from the Stax studio.

Next up, some kick-ass R&B from South Louisiana.

And now, how about some more of that Southern Hospitality from the fabulous Cliff Bruner and His Texas Wanderers with the great Moon Mullican on piano and vox? And Bob Dunn on steel!

Andre Williams has two legendary food songs – just room for one here:

OK, time for one from the greatest New Orleans musician of them all … May Alix helping out on vocals!

Lyrics don’t get any more profound than on this offering from Stovepipe and David Crockett …

But this one from Jim Jackson is outstanding and moving, too …

Of course, we’re a multi-faith institution here at CTS:

Not sure about eating these, but it’s a cool-rocking tune from Eddie Lockjaw Davis:

Oasis Bakery

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Oasis Bakery, 993 North Rd, Murrumbeena. Phone: 9570 1122

Stumbling across Oasis Bakery a few weeks before, while cruising around prior to meeting a pal for lunch nearby, had been a wonderful surprise.

Far less surprise had been subsequently discovering that while this place is new to me, it is very popular and has been documented rather widely.

I’m returning for several reasons – a Sunday drive, to have some lunch, to do some shopping.

Some of the online comments I have read conclude the place has lost some of its allure since a remake.

I have no knowledge of its previous look and/or configuration, so am happy with the now.

Oasis Bakery comes across as something of a Middle Eastern version of a combined Brunetti’s of Carlton and A.Bongiovanni & Son of Seddon.

There’s a cafe dining area at the front, but Sunday lunchtime seating is at a premium.

There are also quite a few long-legged tables, but these are without stools, as that particular seating apparently contravened regulations, so is gone for the meantime. I’m happy enough to eat my lunch while standing for 10 minutes, as a number of other “overflow customers” are doing.

Lunch first, shopping second.

Ordering is done at a fast food franchise-style counter, and customers are issued with one of those buzzer doodads that vibrate when your meal is ready.

I bypass the various wraps and lovely looking salads, the sizable range of pizzas, and all the hot dishes except one – the lamb okra.

This is the second time in a week I have ordered a dish with okra, and I do much better this time.

My lamb/okra stew is rather plain and mild in the seasoning department, but is delicious in its own way.

The lamb is tasty, but is in sliced rather than chunk form.

There’s tomato, onion, garlic (I think), while delightfully crunchy texture comes from pine nuts and (I later discover) slivered almonds.

Then there’s the plentiful okra.

I love okra.

So I love the unctuous nature of my stew … one man’s unctuous is another man’s slime.

It’s all served up in an earthenware plate on a solid bed of rice.

It’s a good-sized serve, a splendid lunch and worth every cent of the $13 I pay for it.

Immediate appetite satisfied, it’s on to some equally enjoyable shopping.

As far as I can tell, about half of the Oasis Bakery grocery section is stocked with lines that is some way, specific or more generally, could described as of a Middle eastern bent.

The rest, be they luxury lines or staples, are the sort of thing that could be found in any good-quality food hall/grocery.

There’s an entire of wall dried fruit and nuts.

Adjacent, there’s an eye-popping range of different grains and pulses.

Some things it gladdens my heart to see, even if I refrain from indulging this time out – such as this line of “traditional Russian pasta”.

But I hone right in on the Lebanese-style pies Bennie and I have already enjoyed.

These are a little pricier than we are used to paying, but they’re worth it – the fillings are more plentiful, for starters.

These spinach and walnut pies are a good buy, though – a bag of four for $12.

As well as delightful crunch from the walnuts, they’ve got a sublime flavour whack from lemon and mint.

Excellent!

The lamb and pine nut jobs are pricier at $10 for a two-pack, but the filling is magic and there’s quite a lot of it.

I’ve had little luck in buying a commercial brand of turshi to replicate at home the quality turnip pickles we routinely have in restaurants.

The Oasis Bakery house brand goes a long way towards delighting.

It’s not restaurant quality, but it’s pretty good – and not mushy.

The Oasis range of dips and salads looks outstanding, but Bennie and I found the hummus to be both bland and bitter, so this time I make do with a tub of spiced labneh.

It’s treat time!

This orange-flavvoured Turkish delight is all class – delicious, fresh, chewy.

It won’t last long!

And, of course, my Oasis shopping endeavours are not complete without topping up on that basic Middle Eastern staple – Spongebob bikkies!

Sad to say, Oasis will not become a regular for us – the drive is too far.

But on the other hand, a drive around the bay on a nice day is just the ticket – and those Lebanese pies are definitely worth the journey.

Oasis Bakery also runs cooking demonstrations – check out the website here.

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New York Minute update …

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New York Minute, 491 Mount Alexander Rd, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9043 1838

Just a couple of weeks after first visiting New York Minute, word is out that the full menu line-up is of offer.

It’s time to return to check out their list of American-style sandwiches.

Saturday lunchtime becomes a cheery social occasion, with yours truly joined by foodie-all-over-town Nat Stockley, Ms Baklover of Footscray Food Blog and her girls.

My Brisket On A Roll makes a nice lunch, but it’s not something I’ll order again.

The cold beef is OK and accompanied by a Picalilli-style pickle; the advertised cheese seems to have made no appearance.

The chips are something else again – and a big step up from that first visit, going from satisfactory to near-sensational.

They’re hot, crispy but tender inside – it’s a good thing Ms Baklover relents and orders a big bowl for her brood, or we could’ve had a riot on our hands.

She and Nat both order the Pulled Pork Roll with “creamy coleslaw and smoky BBQ sauce” (top photo).

Their sandwiches look damn fine to me and I’m envious.

But thy both mention a sweetness in the sauce that becomes tiresome as their meals unfold.

The girls share the Philly Cheese Steak, which I foolishly don’t nail with a usable photograph.

Somewhat to my surprise, as we are organising our departure, Ms Baklover opines that it has been the best of the lot; so that’ll be my lot next time out.

I suspect New York Minute may struggle to impress ardent and picky fans of such American-style sandwiches.

But I’m not complaining after splitting while having paid a mere $14 for sandwich, terrific chips and a a full-size can of that Coca Cola stuff.

See earlier story and menu here.

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Marinated cauliflower salad

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So I’ve bought a cauliflower from Sunshine Fresh Food Market – solely on the basis that they look so very fine, especially for “outside” produce, and the price ($1.45) is so right.

Now what?

I think about roasting chopped up cauliflower with oliveoilsaltpepper.

But then I remember there’s a sensational marinated salad recipe in one of my cajun cookbooks.

This salad is a sensation.

So zingy and colourful!

It keeps for ages and will even work super, I reckon, in a sandwich with, say, some pastrami or mortadella.

I plane to find out with this new batch.

I have tweaked the recipe to the extent of halving the high-powered quantities of onion, garlic, black pepper and vinegar.

INGREDIENTS

1 cauliflower

1 red capsicum

1 yellow capsicum

2 celery sticks

1/2 red onion

2 large cloves garlic

1/2 cup virgin olive oil

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

salt to taste

METHOD

1. Bring large pot of water to the boil.

2. While waiting for water to boil, chop cauliflower – including the stalks – into bite-size pieces.

3. Put all the cauliflower in the boiling water and cook for about five minutes – until al dente is best.

4. While cauliflower cooks, chop all the other vegetables and put into bowl; garlic finely, the rest chunky.

5. When cauliflower is done, drain and then rinse in cold water. Let sit for a while so it cools down.

6. Put cauliflower in bowl with the other vegetables.

7. Add salt and pepper; mix.

8. Add olive oil; mix

9. Add red wine vinegar; mix.

10. Cover tightly with cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

The day after I knocked this batch together, I had some with my purchases from Oasis Bakery earlier in the day:

New lunchtime vistas of foodiness

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The coffee/food joint on the ground floor of Media House, on the corner of Spencer and Collins streets, is called Espresso Hub.

Some of my new colleagues – some of whom are also old colleagues – are unstinting in their negativity in assessing the food available there.

But today I had a sensational rice salad – herbs, cashews, peas, red onion. Gosh, it was yummo.

But my large serve of salad came with another – spinach leaves, pumpkin, beetroot, bocconcini, roast capsicum – that was nowhere near as good.

Worse, I wasn’t paying too much attention, so failed to notice that my server placed the salads one on top of the other – instead of side by side.

Sheesh! Why would anyone do that?

The coffee however is barely OK and I will be seeking a worthy alternative.

Across the road, Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe is crazy crammed each and every lunchtime so I have yet to give it a go.

The dark, cool laneway it is part of has a couple of cafes, an interesting looking F&C place, an old-school barber who has already shorn my copious locks.

And a divey looking Chinese place called Wonderful Garden that boasts it has “The best Chinese food in town”.

I wonder if it’s true?

In Southern Cross Station, there’s Mad Mex, which I have tried – Guzman Y Gomez Mexican Taqueria at Highpoint is better.