“Tacos, breads and Good Times in Fitzroy North”: El Chino

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I have a soft spot for El Chino. Cute and kitsch, it’s a Mexican cafe but also a bakery! A party of two worlds, customers can indulge in a slow-cooked pulled pork taco and an almond croissant in one visit. Food envy and FOMO vibes, be gone!

Over brunch and lunch, the menu offers a range of ‘just-enough’ and ‘manly’ meals. Nachos, tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and tostadas are available in drooling options such as slow-cooked pork, pan-fried prawns, and even sunny-side up eggs with avo and beans … Traditional horchata, mexican hot chocolate, and granita are also on offer. Bakery items to eat in or take away include a changing selection of home-tasting dense breads, doughnuts, and pastries.

The staff are also the loveliest, in a soft and open Northcote-kind-of-way. Good times indeed, in Fitzroy North.

214 St Georges Road, North Fitzroy, VIC 3068

https://www.facebook.com/elchinomexican

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Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Plenty’: Mushroom and Herb Polenta

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My sisters bought me Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty for my birthday this year and I finally cooked from it last week. Plenty is a compilation of the most delightful recipes, which happen to not include meat. In the book’s introduction, Ottolenghi makes the point that he is not vegetarian, but the drive behind his vegetarian interest is the increased availability of old and new vegetables, and the ethical growing and sourcing of them.

This has given birth to an array of unique and delightful recipes which appeal to both carnivorous and herbivorous palates, without seeming to lack in “meat”. The deep and interesting flavour and texture combinations are also highly influenced by his European upbringing in the Middle East. A mingling of cultures that has clearly brought forth amazing results.

Well, it was finally time to try cooking from this cook book. And last week provided the perfect occasion. I’d invited a friend over for lunch, but only remembered days prior, that my friend’s father was a Parisian chef. No pressure! I had to find a dish to impress. And it had to be vegetarian. And I knew I would be short on time that day. As it turned out, Ottolenghi’s Plenty had a recipe that ticked all these boxes: Mushroom and Herb Polenta. It took about 40 minutes all up to make – and my friend loved it! Plenty, definitely a home-entertaining winner.

Recipe: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2006/dec/16/foodanddrink.recipes1

Camembert and Broccolini Frittatas

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So I went to my first Victorian farm party on the weekend. A barbecue was on the menu, however I’d been trying – very, very hard to remain vegetarian for Lent. But I was determined not to announce this at the party – I didn’t want to appear precious! Nevertheless, I wanted to bring a substitute that was more interesting and substantial than a salad, something that I would enjoy. So the decision was made: camembert and broccolini frittatas. Here’s the recipe …

Camembert and Broccolini Frittatas

Small bunch broccolini, chopped into bite size chunks

6 eggs

300mL cream

2 spring onions, chopped

1T tarragon, chopped

1t rosemary, chopped

handful of grated parmesan

salt and pepper

100g camembert, sliced into 12 pieces

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C fan bake.
  2. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin.
  3. Steam or microwave the broccolini until al dente.
  4. Whisk eggs in a large bowl. Then whisk in the cream.
  5. Stir in the spring onions, tarragon, rosemary, and parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the muffin tin.
  7. Top each frittata with a slice of camembert.
  8. Bake about 18 minutes, or until set.

When ready, remove from the oven, cool slightly, and turn out to serve. New tip for tricky removal of frittatas from non-stick bakeware: Use a silicon spatula to scoop your cooked treats out. This will help preserve your bakeware, and your baked treats!

 

Shittake Risotto

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In anticipation of a busy week ahead, I decided to make a set of pull-out freezer meals. I’d also accumulated ingredients from weeks of past dinner makings. These ingredients looked rather risotto-ish …

Tired of my usual veg option (mushroom), I zhuzhed up the dish with shittake mushrooms. And the help of some young asparagus.

Not a bad effort for ‘making it up as you go along’. And as it turns out, shittake risotto tastes better the day after it’s made!

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Shittake Risotto

1T rice bran oil

half an onion

4 garlic cloves, crushed

2c arborio rice

1c white wine

6c vegetable stock

2c shittake mushrooms, sliced

1 bunch asparagus, sliced into 1-2cm pieces

100g light cheese, grated

zest of half a lemon

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large frypan.
  2. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent.
  3. Add rice. Stir to coat the grains with oil.
  4. Next add the white wine and stir until the liquid has reduced.
  5. Then add a cup of the stock and stir over medium heat until the liquid in the pan has reduced. Repeat this step with the remaining stock until the rice is half cooked.
  6. Next add the mushrooms and stir to distribute them through the rice mixture. Then continue to add the remaining stock until the the rice is almost tender enough to eat.
  7. Next, add the asparagus and cook briefly. The asparagus should still be bright green and firm to the bite when you serve the risotto. If the rice is still uncooked and the liquid has reduced, add more stock and keep cooking the rice until it’s done.
  8. Remove the pan from the heat and stir through cheese and lemon rind.

Coconut, Pumpkin, and Carrot Soup

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I’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to cook with coconut oil. I love coconut and it seems to be the superfood ‘flavour of the month’. Proselytising many (women at least), it’s being hailed as a mega-electrolyte source, an age-defying elixir, and of course, an aid to weight loss.

Back to coconut oil … I had some carrots in the fridge and so decided to make pumpkin carrot soup. Hence the (coconut oil) opportunity. I would sauté the vegetables in coconut oil and then also add coconut milk, to produce a rich coconut flavour. I would also add ginger and, at the end, chilli flakes and lime. Sounding Thai? I hoped so!

To get the vegetables to liquids ratio right, I sought guidance from Jamie’s Pumpkin and Ginger soup recipe.

Here’s what my recipe ended up looking like:

Coconut, Pumpkin, and Carrot Soup

1T coconut oil

1kg pumpkin

250g carrots

large thumb of grated ginger

1L vegetable stock

200mL coconut milk

chilli flakes to taste

salt and pepper

half a lime

Method

  1. Cut pumpkin and carrots into chunks.
  2. Heat coconut oil in a large pot and sauté pumpkin and carrots.
  3. Add ginger, vegetable stock, coconut milk, and chilli flakes.
  4. Bring mixture to the boil and then simmer for 40 minutes until vegetables are tender enough to mash or process.
  5. Mash or process soup mixture, to develop a texture to your liking (smooth or chunky).
  6. Season with salt and pepper and add a squeeze of lime before serving.

Innocent Bystander

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Every now and then I need a bush or a beach fix. A tree or a sea top-up.

Recently, a kind soul introduced me to the Yarra Valley. As expected, there was mountains, there was trees, and there was food.

On that note, our tour included Healesville’s Innocent Bystander. The space is stunning and provides plenty of indoor activities to keep you busy on a rainy day: wine and cheese tasting counters, an artisan bakery, and a full restaurant menu.

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Because it was a particularly stormy day, we had already eaten well into the Yarra. So on this occasion, we were in just for dessert. I ordered the flourless chocolate cake and, portion to price, it was of Vegie Bar standards. The cake itself was an indulgence in chocolate – I am a chocolate overeater but I was completely beaten by this slice of cake. Even after sharing it around, I had to leave a few bites behind!

I loved meeting the Yarra and will be keen to stay in touch.

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336 Maroondah Hwy, Healesville, VIC 3777

http://www.innocentbystander.com.au

Quick Low-fat Mushroom Lasagne with White Wine and Lemon Ricotta

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Coming up with ways to use left-over wine is one of my favourite dilemmas. “Left-over” wine? Yes.

Regardless of how it’s neglected, I’ll always take the opportunity to enrich a meal with it. In this case, it was white wine and I decided to make a low-fat mushroom lasagne with it.

When making ‘skinny’ meals, I work extra hard to ensure they’re full of flavour. Why make healthy-eating torture? The wine would add depth and flavour to the mushrooms; and the low-calorie ‘creamy’ partner would be a low-fat ricotta. For lift and complexity, I also added lemon zest to the ricotta.

As usual, I researched the net for mushroom ricotta lasagne recipes, before deciding on how I would shape my own recipe. I based my initial structure on the BBC’s GoodFood Quick Mushroom & Lasagne recipe:

My key changes to the recipe were:

  • Adding white wine to the mushrooms
  • Adding lemon rind to the ricotta
  • Sautéeing the onions and mushrooms in a tablespoon of butter, for a hint of traditional comfort

Quick Low-fat Mushroom Lasagne with White Wine and Lemon Ricotta

1 T butter

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 small onion, diced

250g white button mushrooms, sliced

250mL white wine

pepper to taste

100g baby spinach

500g light ricotta cheese

grated rind of one lemon

6 fresh lasagne sheets

50g grated parmesan

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200˚C /180˚C fan bake.
  2. Prepare a 19cm x 28cm baking dish with cooking spray.
  3. Melt butter in a large frying pan and sauté garlic and onion until onion is soft.
  4. Add mushrooms and cook until soft.
  5. Add white wine and cook until liquid has reduced to a small sauce. Season with cracked pepper.
  6. Add spinach and cook until just wilted.
  7. In a medium-sized bowl, combine ricotta and lemon rind.
  8. Line the baking dish with two sheets of lasagne, followed by the mushroom mixture. Add another layer of lasagne, then the ricotta. Sprinkle half of the parmesan over the ricotta. Finish with a final layer of lasagne, followed by the remaining parmesan.
  9. Bake for 35 minutes, until the top is golden and the lasagne is cooked through.