Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Green Acre Pizza

November 19, 2020


During lockdown, we developed a comforting habit of once-a-week takeaway/delivery from a small rotation of local businesses. Among them is Green Acre Pizza, which opened just a few months ago. Green Acre are doing their best to offer environmentally friendly foods and business practices, and that includes lots of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly options. There are gluten-free pizza bases on offer too.

Photographed above is our standard order, which happily stretches across a dinner, a lunch and a bonus snack for us two. First, there's a vegan pepperoni pizza (top left, $21) which also features generous dollops of dairy-free mozzarella, shredded radicchio, and a few dabs of chilli jam. Next, there's a knock-out pumpkin pizza (top right, $21) that has transformed my experience of vegetable-based pizzas: the pumpkin is bite-sized and tender, and it's complemented by excellent dairy-free feta and caramelised onions, but I think its secret magic might be the subtle scattering of sage and crushed pistachios.

On the side we get a house salad ($13; beware the honey dressing, vegans!), which never looks as fancy as their promotional photos but it still solid. The other notable treat on Green Acre's menu is their cauliflower chips (bottom right, $12), which are barely crispy but still darn good with a slather of chipotle aioli.

The bases have that stretchy, slightly charred character of a good wood-fired pizza, and I think the high-quality vegan cheeses really make a difference. It's high time we extend ourselves to some of the other topping combinations - there's mushrooms, potatoes, greens and olives to be explored.

Green Acre Pizza
328 Victoria St, Brunswick
9381 5763

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Hotel Spencer

November 5, 2020


Most of Melbourne is revelling in the relaxation of lockdown rules and eagerly returning to pubs, cafes and restaurants. Our mate Jess swiftly organised us a table for four at the Spencer Hotel, which serves one of his favourite vegan burgers. In light of current spacing rules, we had the entire front bar to ourselves (with other tables in use in the dining room and out on the footpath) and full table service.

The menu covers familiar ground: for the omnivores there's steak and chips, fish and chips, a parma, bangers and mash, pulled pork and Southern chicken burgers, and hot wings. The vegetarian burger looks like a rich one with mushrooms, potato and four kinds of cheese. For vegans, there's a hearty-looking bistro salad and one-to-two burgers. I'm hedging because the beef-style Smokehouse burger wasn't available and I'm not sure if they're bringing it back. Most importantly, Jess' favourite Faux' Boy ($20) was still on offer and it was all we wanted.

Cute as the pun may be this seems a very loose tribute to the Louisiana po' boy, which is commonly filled with seafood, but can be made with other meats. It features two filling pieces of battered mock-chicken, slaw, and plenty of sauce. The menu lists three condiments - cheezy bacon sauce, chipotle aioli, and jalapeno salsa - but they mostly just melded into a pleasant and slightly drippy mix. Vegans usually miss out on the 'brioche bun' nonsense that's saturated Melbourne, but the fluffy potato bun here is a worthy analogue and it contrasts well with the chicken. It steers this burger away from being a gluten-brick, which I've sometimes struggled with in other pubs.

Hotel Spencer's chips are great, there are sauces aplenty at the table, and we felt well looked after in these times of distanced-dining. While other bloggers mention it as a convenient stop-off before a show at Festival Hall, we'll have to find another excuse to revisit given that gigs are still a ways off and FH has been bought by Hillsong.



Hotel Spencer has clocked up a few reviews, all positive, and most around 5 years old, see GastrologyEat & Be Merrylive life love cakeConsider the SauceParma Daze and Gastronomical Ramblings.

Hotel Spencer
475 Spencer St, West Melbourne
9329 9116
menu 1, 2

Accessibility: Oof, I am out of practice with this! There was a step up on entry, and medium-spaced furniture inside. We received full table service, but this might shift to ordering and/or payment at a high bar as the pandemic eases. The toilets were gendered.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Butterless pecan turtle bars

 October 31, 2020


Just a couple of weeks after making butter pecan turtle bars for a Zoom hang-out, we're back in a position to make and share such treats with others. This week I had cause to try a vegan version - it was a simple substitute of margarine for butter, and careful selection of dairy-free chocolate chips.

I was well prepared for the powdery texture of the biscuit base that so worried me before, but hit a new obstacle with the caramel. There seemed to be less of it in general, and when I poured it across the slice, it seemed to vanish! As you can see from the cross-sectional view above, much of the caramel soaked into the biscuit base. All the sweetness stays, of course, but the chewy caramel texture I loved so much last time around is really lacking here.

I'm really quite puzzled. I wonder if I might try using a different vegan fat and have better results - a simple vegetable oil, or perhaps some coconut cream. Is it possible that I didn't bring the sugar to the right temperature? Hmm. I'll have to bring this slice back into semi-regular rotation to figure it out.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Spanish baked beans

October 20, 2020


I've been keeping my cooking pretty simple lately... few new recipes and no big projects. How simple? Well, making beans on toast has been the biggest deal of the past couple of weeks. When you do it the Smith & Deli way, there's cooking dried beans (never our forte!), a couple of veges, lots of dried spices and even a burst of capers. But mostly there's a lot of slow simmering.

That slow simmer really mellows everything out. The beans, a bit floury on their own, became soft and comforting. The fennel, vinegar and capers lost all their bite. I couldn't pick out any of the spices distinctly, though they contributed to the overall flavour. Our big pot of beans lasted for days. We made an effort to buy some fresh bread to eat with it, then garnished it in different permutations based on what else needed eating: a spoonful of sour cream, a vege sausage on the side, or a fried egg on top. These beans served us well every time.

Spanish baked beans
(slightly adapted from a recipe in 
Shannon Martinez & Mo Wyse's Smith & Deli-icious)

375g dried white beans
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup olive oil
1 brown onion, chopped
1 red capsicum, chopped
1 fennel bulb, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
400g can diced tomatoes
500mL vegetable stock
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon capers
pepper, to taste

Soak the beans overnight in water. Drain the beans, and place them in a large saucepan with lots of fresh water. Add the bay leaf and pop on a lid. Bring the beans to the boil until just cooked. Drain the beans.

While the beans are cooking, prepare the sauce. Choose a big saucepan or a deep frypan, and use it to heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, capsicum and fennel, gently cooking them until they're soft. Stir through the garlic and thyme, cooking for a further minute. Add the paprika, chilli, cumin, salt and tomato paste, stirring and cooking for a minute. Add the white wine vinegar, dice tomatoes, stock, brown sugar, and capers, stirring some more. Turn down the heat and gently simmer the sauce for 30 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf from the beans, then combine them with the sauce in whichever of the two pans can fit it all. Simmer it all for another 30-60 minutes. Add pepper to taste before serving.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Butter pecan turtle bars

October 10, 2020


This is a rerun of a recipe that I first baked in 2006, but didn't record in full here. Butter pecan turtle bars were a household favourite for several years before eventually fading from our recipe rotation. We revived them this month when our pandemic-times weekly online Quiz Club marked its six-month anniversary with a chocolate theme. 

It looks like the source website has had a transformation from Southern Food to The Spruce Eats in that time, and to their credit they've effectively set up URL redirection and updated their photos. The recipe remains pretty simple: blend a biscuit base in a food processor and press it into a dish, spread over pecans, caramel and bake, then layer on chocolate chips while it's still warm. We've not yet made this slice vegan or gluten-free, but the necessary substitutes are clear and seem likely to produce a good result. 

The biscuit base was more powdery than I remembered, but it melded into a cohesive, crisp layer during its bake. The combination of pecans and caramel was even better then I remembered - gooey in that first quiz-time slice, and chewy-fudgy when properly set later in the week. I liked this slice best when paired with a glass of milk, and I've vowed not to leave it unbaked for so many years again.

Butter pecan turtle bars
(slightly adapted from a recipe on The Spruce Eats)

2 cups plain flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter

1 1/2 cups pecans
2/3 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

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

Place all the base ingredients in a food processor, and blend until well mixed. (For me, the mixture was still very powdery - it turned out OK!) Turn the mixture out into the tray, and use the back of a dessert spoon to spread it out evenly and press it down firmly. Spread the pecans out across the base.

Melt the butter for the topping in a small saucepan, and add the brown sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until bubbling. Allow this caramel to boil for a minute, then take it off the heat and pour it across the pecans. 

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the caramel is bubbling and the base edges are light brown. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the slice as soon as it comes out of the oven. Allow the slice to cool to room temperature before slicing and serving.