Thursday, April 24, 2014

Kiwi cocoa crunches

April 19-20, 2014

I brought a few leftovers home from the field, including several boxes of cereal. I wasn't all that excited about finishing the plain cornflakes for breakfast, but damn near thrilled when the internet reminded me that they're a key ingredient in Afghan biscuits.

Apparently these are a New Zealand specialty, and their name has hazy (but very probably racist) origins, so I'm rechristening them Kiwi cocoa crunches. The chocolate-coloured, cornflake-studded biscuits bake crisp and dry, then soften just a little under a spoonful of icing. A walnut on top adds a much-needed touch of bitterness. It turns out they're super-easy to veganise - simply swap butter for margarine.

The biscuit dough was crumbly and one biscuit disintegrated on the tray, but the rest held their own and have proven to be quite robust over subsequent days. I don't remember such visible cornflakes in the batches I've eaten in other homes - perhaps the cornflakes are more often crushed? The recipe made much more icing than I could fit across the batch, and I've reduced the quantities accordingly below.

I've only had fleeting contact with these biscuits over the years and I'm regretting that I didn't get to know them sooner - they're like crispy brother of the brownie.

Kiwi cocoa crunches
(adapted slightly from a recipe on SBS Food)

150g margarine
110g caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
185g plain flour
25g cocoa
60g cornflakes

80g icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon cornflour
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 tablespoon water

walnut pieces, to decorate

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a large baking tray with paper.

In a large bowl, use a fork to beat together the margarine, sugar and salt. Sift in the flour and cocoa, stirring to combine. Stir in the cornflakes and mix thoroughly.

Scoop out tablespoons of the biscuit mixture, roll the into balls and flatten them a little, arranging them on the tray - they'll spread a teensy bit while baking, but not much. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until a crust forms on the outside of the cookies. Set them aside to cool.

Make the icing by sifting together the icing sugar, cornflour and cocoa. Whisk in the water to form a smooth icing, adding more water just a teaspoon at a time if needed.

Spoon teaspoonfuls of the icing on top of the cookies and set the walnuts into it. Give the icing a while to set at room temperature before serving the cookies.

Store them in an airtight container if they don't get eaten immediately.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lolo & Wren

April 20, 2014

We had a very quiet Easter weekend lined up, so we were ready to go when Eliza tweeted us a tip: breakfast at Lolo & Wren in  Brunswick West. It was a place we'd both heard of, but not one that we'd really paid any attention to, failing to notice as Lolo & Wren made it onto the Herald Sun's top 25 Melbourne breakfasts, The Age's guide to Melbourne's best sandwiches and into the upper echelon of The Age's cheap eats guide. Nevertheless, one look at the menu made it clear that we were in good hands: there's banoffee porridge ($12.50), caramelised pear, almond and walnut pancakes with marscapone, rhubarb and blueberry compote, mint and maple syrup ($15.50), a very fancy sounding bruschetta ($18.50) and plenty of other impressive options. There's not a lot on offer for vegans - an adapted version of a haloumi, beans, leek and vegetable escabeche dish ($16.50, and I'm not sure what they do instead of the haloumi) and a patatas bravas side ($9.50).

The cafe itself is a bit out of the way - tucked under a newish apartment block on Albion Street west of Melville Road. It has a very stylish fit-out, mixing a simple clean look with some hip recycled touches, like the communal table and main bar (built out of old wooden pallets). At 9am on Easter Sunday things are pretty quiet, but by the time we left at 10ish there wasn't a spare table to be found - Lolo & Wren have clearly won a devoted following since opening a little over a year ago.

I considered the haloumi dish but decided that I couldn't resist the allure of the sweetcorn and zucchini corn fritters with pepperonata, feta, pebre salsa, chilli jam and avocado ($16.80). 

This was incredibly impressive - the fritters were the perfect balance of crispy exterior and puffy, soft interior served with a lovely mix of accompaniments. The chilli jam offered just a hint of spiciness, while the creamy, salty feta and tangy salsa kept every mouthful interesting. This is a brilliant breakfast - definitely one to make the trip for.

Cindy was drawn to the brioche French toast (with lemon curd, fresh orange, ricotta, candied zest, raspberry compote, baby basil and burnt orange syrup, $15.50).

It looked even better than my dish - a brilliantly presented plate that made me wish I'd gone with a sweet order for once. The lemon curd was a standout, and the berries and orange cut through the richness of the eggy bread and the ricotta. It was another great meal.

Lolo & Wren is a real find - fancyish breakfast dishes at pretty reasonable prices in a lovely setting. The staff were friendly and efficient, the coffee excellent and the menu well stocked with interesting dishes. It's not as conveniently located as some of our other favourites, but it's well worth a visit and will definitely be added to our rotation.



Lolo & Wren
484 Albion St, Brunswick West
9383 3712
menu: one, two

Accessibility: There's a flat entry into an interior that's moderately dense with tables. We ordered at the table and paid at a low-ish counter. We didn't visit the toilets but noticed a wheelchair-accessible sign for them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sweet potato & red curry soup

April 18, 2014

I've somewhat foolishly signed up to do the Oxfram Trailwalker this year - a 100km walk through the Dandenongs over the course of a weekend, inevitably resulting in pain, tears and ruined friendships. Our team decided to make use of the Easter weekend to get a last burst of training in and headed out Warburton way to sample a section of the trail.

Sadly, Melbourne's forecast of 'a few showers' turned out to be more like 'buckets of freezing icy rain,' leaving me wet, cold and cranky on my return home. Luckily, the meal I'd planned for the evening was the perfect antidote - a spicy, thick soup, bursting with flavour and loaded with fresh veggies.

It's another recipe from Isa Does It and had the twin virtues of being pretty simple to make and being able to thaw the ice in my bones. There's a bit of veggie chopping required to get yourself set up, but from then on it's a big one-pot dish that simmers away quietly filling your house with wonderful aromas. The curry paste and coconut milk give everything a very Thai feel, while the root veggies and kale give it a slightly heartier vibe and the lime juice adds a bit of zing. Now I just need to convince Cindy to make this on the weekend of the actual walk - I can't imagine a better dish to come home to.

Sweet potato & red curry soup with rice and kale
(based on a recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Isa Does It)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 brown onion, diced
2 teaspoons salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
3/4 cup jasmine rice
4 cups veggie stock + 2 cups water (use 6 cups of stock if you've got it)
2 tablespoons red curry paste (we use Maesri)
the leaves from 1 bunch of red kale, shredded
half a sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 carrots, diced
400g can coconut milk
juice of 2 limes
1 tablespoon maple syrup
fresh coriander for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a big pot and throw in the onion and one teaspoon of the salt. Cook for five minutes or so, stirring often, until it's softened up.

Add the garlic and ginger and fry for another minute or so.

Tip in the stock and water, the rice, and the rest of the salt and cover. Bring it all to the boil.

Once it's boiled, drop the heat until you get it at a nice low simmer. Throw in the curry paste, kale, sweet potato and carrot and stir everything together thoroughly. Cover and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the coconut milk, lime juice and maple syrup, stir in some of the coriander and kill the heat.

Serve, garnished with remaining coriander.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Food for the field

April 14-17, 2014

Last week my work took me out to the field - wandering woodlands, measuring trees and tracking their embattled offspring in the north-west of Victoria. Our mission was a little vague, but the company was good and the weather was spectacular. We drove and walked and talked and ate together, and I learned a lot along the way.

'We' were a team of seven, making the six-hour drive from Melbourne and setting up camp in an isolated but unexpectedly luxurious lodge. Unable to assist with the driving, I volunteered to manage the food. I've had a bit of practice.

Still, it's not my weekly habit to cater to so many - including meat-eaters, a coeliac and a fellow with a selective nut allergy - and I floundered estimating quantities of bread and milk. At least the meal strategy that I blogged a couple of years ago helped a lot.

I recycled many meal ideas from that last big trip. Cereal and toast, tea and coffee and juice with BYO alcohol. Fruit and muesli bars, trail mix and jelly lollies. I bought ready-made felafel for sandwiches, while others pitched in with extra fruit, allergy-friendly snacks, sliced meat and coeliac-friendly sandwich substitutes.

For dinner we ate lentil tacos (canned, for rapid cooking) with myriad trimmings, then a Thai red curry with tofu, lots of vegetables and steamed rice.

On the last night I pulled out a spice paste I'd prepared earlier and made the eternally awesome Mondo chickpea curry. Instead of serving more rice I gave Lucy's baked polenta a go, doubling the quantity and stirring in half a block of parmesan. This unlikely pairing was a roaring success eaten by an outdoor fire.

On the last morning, I was relegated to toast duty while a colleague fried up eggs, bacon, spinach and mushrooms on the barbecue. As we wolfed it down I thanked everyone for the favours they'd granted that week, hoping that I'd be able to reciprocate one day. While we all interpreted it as an offer of workplace assistance, I'd probably consider a catering role too.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The B.East

April 8, 2014

The opening of B.East in 2012 smacked of the worst kind of hospitality cynicism - Baba, a fancyish Middle Eastern place that we quite enjoyed, was closed down by the owners so they could jump on the Americana/burger bandwagon with the B.East. We checked it out early and were pretty unimpressed - the whole exercise felt a bit half hearted and trendy. Still, it seemed to be a success, with crowds of people there whenever we wandered past. We even revisited at one point to try the tempeh burger they were offering up for vegans, but it was a pretty dull rendition and we'd more or less cast it aside as somewhere we'd never get around to blogging.

At least until Jess McGuire tweeted about how amazing the harissa mock chicken burger was. So we had to make one more trip. We managed to coincide our return with Jess' excellent pop culture trivia (at which we failed pretty dismally), which meant that the whole place was jammed with people and very noisy - it's as much pub as restaurant, and really not somewhere you'd go for a quiet relaxed meal.

The menu's changed a lot since we visited - there's a couple of veggie burgers, a slider, a couple of snacks and a range of fries. I really just wanted to focus on The Morrissey (mock fried chicken, sweet corn relish, lettuce, tomato, jalapeno salsa on rye - vegan, $13), but Cindy thought we should broaden our selection a bit.

We started with a roast pumpkin and blue cheese slider (pumpkin and blue cheese fritter, snowpea tendrils and horseradish aoili, $7). 

This wasn't very memorable - there wasn't the blue cheese richness I was hoping for or any real kick from the horseradish in the aoili. The fritter was fat and fried, so it wasn't a complete disappointment, but I wouldn't order it again.

Instead, I would order The Morrissey.

This was the bomb - the patty was huge and had great crispy batter around fatty mock chicken. The bun was fresh and manageable enough (although the whole thing was too big to really eat neatly) and the sauce was really hot and spicy. Four of our trivia team tried this and everyone was very enthusiastic - definitely one to check out, and not ludicrously priced at $13.

The $13 doesn't get you any fries though - you can pay $3.50 to get a side with your burger or you can do what we did and get a full serve ($6.50 plus $1 if you want a dipping sauce instead of just the table ketchup/mustard). The fries were excellent - super crunchy and salty.

Despite our initial misgivings, the B.East hits the mark pretty solidly for a boozy Tuesday trivia. There are cheap Holgate pints, fantastic fries and one of the best mock chicken burgers around. We just need to study our John Hughes movies and Beyoncé-related trivia before we return.

The B.East
80 Lygon St, Brunswick East
9036 1456

Accessibility: There's a wide entry with a ramp into a pretty crowded interior (at least on trivia nights). It's dimly lit and noisy and you order at a high bar. The toilets are on the same level through a narrowish corridor by the kitchen and are gendered and quite large (although I can't remember seeing a specifically accessible cubicle).