Friday, July 30, 2010

Pastry heaven

I think Palmiers are one of the clearest memories from my childhood. I remember always choosing the palmiers over all the other goodies in the cabinet at the bakery when Mum would let me have a treat. The ones from my childhood usually had some kind of icing - vanilla or passionfruit - I think this is an Australian bastardisation of the original recipe. I haven't made mine with icing before - the trouble is, I'd have to wait for the palmiers to cool down & then ice them & then wait for the icing to set. Which would all take too long - this recipe is the one I use when I'm need of a quick sugar fix. They definitely don't look much like the French version, but they're yummy & super easy to make.

Anyway, tonight, it was actually D who asked for 'pastries' as we call them, so I'm feeling a little less guilty about so much sugar this early into the weekend :-).

Step 1
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Take 1 Borg's puff pastry sheet & wait for it to thaw out. Fill a small dish with water.Using a pastry brush, brush the thawed-out pastry with a decent amount of water - make sure it covers the edges.

Step 2
Sprinkle about 3TBS of caster sugar over the pastry - I only use raw sugar, which is why it's a little brown. At this point you could add any flavourings you like - e.g. cinnamon or even grated chocolate.

Step 3
Fold the 2 edges of the pastry towards the middle, pressing down firmly as you go. You're now left with 2 long rectangles.

Step 4
Fold each of the rectangles in half length-ways - you should have 2 long rectangles about 1 inch wide.

Step 5
Fold the pastry in half length-ways & press down firmly - now you will have 1 long rectangle about 1 inch wide.

Step 6
Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry into 1/2-1cm widths. The width here is completely up to you. I prefer narrower because that way I end up with more palmiers!

Step 7
Lay the palmiers cut side down on a tray lined with baking paper. Make sure you leave a little bit of room between each for spreading - remember, it's puff pastry so it's going to puff out. Using your fingers, press each one down firmly - don't squash them completely flat.

Step 8
Bake 15-20mins. If you're keen, you could flip them over half-way through. I never bother with this, because I cut them so thinly, they cook through well enough without being flipped.

Ghostbusters = Innovative library marketing

Wow, I don't know how I missed this back in May. This is a fantastic marketing idea! I particularly like watching the reactions of the people in the library - some people are VERY suspicious (I think I would be too) - but it's still hilarious!

Here's the backstory:
Facing Cuts, NYPL turns to Improv Everywhere for Viral Advocacy Video American Libraries Magazine

I think we're really lucky in Australia - we just aren't subject to the same level of funding cuts and certainly aren't seeing whole library systems shut down practically overnight like they are in the US. Maybe it's just a matter of scale - more people = more cuts = greater impact? I'm sure it is also related to funding models - US libraries seem to be me much more reliant on private funding which is bound to cause problems in economic downturns. I don't have the answers and it's way too late in the week to try & analyse now - so just enjoy the video!

Monday, July 26, 2010

How good is cauliflower!

Seriously! I don't know why, but I'm really loving it at the moment. Last night I made 'Spicy Cauliflower & Potatoes' from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook. This was fantastic - so tasty. The spice mix was simple - cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne pepper & salt. The whole lot was sauteed in peanut oil & topped with cumin seeds & garlic fried in peanut oil until crunchy - I think the crunch was what made it so special.I served this with a side of cavalo nero cooked in salted water until soft, then mixed with a dash of olive oil & lemon juice. I saw this serving suggestion on a Jamie Oliver repeat on the weekend - perfect timing!

The meal overall could have done with one extra element (it's the protein thing again), but I was tired & feeling lazy so I just kept it simple.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Experimenting with mango

I bought some dried mango a few a weeks ago, intending to experiment with the Apricot & Walnut balls recipe. I only just got around to it this afternoon. I've never eaten dried mango before - it's delicous! I had to force myself to stop picking pieces out of the packet so I'd have enough to cook with. 1000 Vegan Recipes suggests a mango & cashew combination, but I wanted to try mango & hazelnut. As it turned out, I didn't have enough hazelnuts or cashews so I decided to try a few different combinations.

Left - Almond & Mango; Middle - Hazelnut & Mango; Right - Cashew & Mango.

The recipe also called for 1/3 cup of icing sugar, but I decided to substitute this with some agave syrup and a handful of dates. My favourite is definitely the almond & mango - the flavours balance really well. The cashew & mango is a bit bland while the hazelnut and mango don't go together as well as I'd hoped.

Mango balls
  • 1 cup dried mango, soaked in boiling water for 10mins, then drained
  • 2 cups nuts (I used 1/2 cup hazelnuts, 1/2 cup almonds & 1 cup cashews), toasted separately
  • 4 tsp agave syrup
  • 3/4 cup pitted dates, soaked in boiling water for 10mins, then drained
  • 1/2 cup dessicated coconut
Process the mango with the different nuts separately. Add 1-2 tsp of agave syrup to each batch along with a handful of dates. Process until the nuts are finely ground & the mix forms a ball. Roll tablespoonfuls into balls, toss in coconut and refrigerate 30mins until set.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Craving goodness

I went out 3 nights in a row this week and haven't been eating very well so tonight I really owed my body an infusion of fresh vegetables. I was feeling pretty lazy though, so I just flicked through my recipe books and chose the first easy recipe - cauliflower and broccoli with tomato sauce from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.

This was basically a creamy tomato sauce (cooked exactly the same way as a white sauce, but with tomatoes and onion added). When it was cooking I was highly sceptical - it looked quite strange. But once I put it all together & added a bit of salt & pepper the result was quite delicious. It's supposed to be a side dish, and it would be good with some kind of protein - maybe a soy schnitzel or something. I just feel better now that I've got some fresh goodness inside!This morning I met a girlfriend for breakfast at a new cafe/deli in Seddon - Luca Haus. I wouldn't recommend it for vegans or even vegetarians. The only non-meat option on the menu is the toast - it is from Noisette though, so very nice. There is one vegetarian option on the lunch menu - a korma pie (not vegan). Even the lunch baguettes all have meat - quite a strange thing these days.

The coffee is Jasper - nice and strong but slightly bitter. This is more of a deli/takeaway than a cafe with just one communal table. Nevertheless the atmosphere is lovely and the staff (probably the owners?) are very friendly.

The best thing about having Luca Haus in the west is that they sell Cocoa Rhapsody Chocolate. This is my all-time favourite vegan chocolate - made in Melbourne, organic & fair-trade, how can you go wrong! The only place I've ever seen it is at the St Kilda Veg Out market, which I only manage to get to every few months. I've just checked the new website too - they have lots of stockists now, so I'm a little bit excited. I was very restrained today - only buying a small Dark Nut Cove bar. Speaking of which, it's dessert time now :-)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Culture and tacos

D and I made the trek to Trippy Taco earlier in the week. I was very excited - we haven't been there before, despite the numerous rave reviews from other Melbourne veg blogs. We were going to a concert at Melba Hall (the 'culture' part) and I figured since Trippy Taco is also kind of north-side we could still get there in time.

It took me quite a while to decide what to eat - everything sounded delicious. I decided on something I knew I wouldn't cook at home - the Tacquitos - crispy fried tortillas filled with black beans and lathered in guacamole and salsa. I paid extra for the soy cheese, though next time I wouldn't bother - there was hardly any & I couldn't taste it at all. It also came with a salad. I enjoyed this meal. The standout was definitely the guacamole and salsa - both so fresh and bursting with flavour. One small thing (literally) - the plate they came on was too small. This is something I've noticed at a lot of cafes lately - piling lots of food on small plates. It's frustrating - I don't like it when I can't cut up or scoop my food without performing a delicate balancing trick. Piling too much on the plate just means more mess for the cafe when it ends up on the table or floor instead of in my mouth so I don't really understand it.Apologies for the crappy photos - low lighting & phone camera makes for bad photography.

D had the Tofu Asada Burrito - filled with black beans, spicy tofu, avocado, salsa & cheese. He asked for the hot sauce too but it didn't appear to have any on it. D thought it was OK - big and filling but not particularly tasty. We also shared a bowl of 'trippy fries' and these were great. I kept trying to work out the flavour - kind of smoky, but I didn't think it was paprika. Doesn't matter - they were yummy. I wanted to try dessert because of the note on the menu that said most could be made vegan but alas we ran out of time. My waistline thanked me later :-)

On the plus side - fast service, not rude (not over-the-top friendly, but that's OK), cheap, healthy and pretty tasty food.

On the minus - a bit dirty - there were bits of food stuck to the wall next to our table and the toilet was pretty bad (though I don't think I've ever been into a clean cafe toilet in Fitzroy - maybe it's something to do with converting old terrace houses) and more of a takeaway than cafe atmosphere - I wouldn't go here for a long cosy dinner.

It's the kind of place I wish we had in the west - I'd go there regularly if I could wander down the street and grab a takeaway or a quick lunch but right now it's a bit too far.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A note on customer service

I really really care about good customer service. In fact, it's a big part of the reason I became a librarian in the first place. I love helping people but I hate sales, and I'd been working in retail since age 15, so I I thought libraries would be a good medium-ground - I haven't been proved wrong yet.

Lately I've experienced some really crappy service (personally) and some really oustanding service (professionally), which has prompted to write this.

First the bad:
  • A local cafe near me charges 70c for soy milk in coffee - 70c! The coffee has always been pretty expensive, but I noticed last weekend that they have now pushed the price of soy milk up as well. I won't go there anymore on principle alone - that's just overpriced (especially when the coffee isn't that great to start with). The staff aren't particularly nice (a bit too cool for school) and the space is small and cramped - so a big red cross for them.
  • A city cafe that I go to regularly for morning coffees told me yesterday, when I dared to ask for a coffee to eat in at lunch time, that I couldn't do that if I wasn't having food because they just don't allow that at lunch time. WTF? You're a cafe. Yes, I understand that you're busy at lunch time and you want to make as much money as you can during the lunch rush. But seriously, taking up one seat at your communal table for 15mins while I drink my latte surely won't break the bank. I'll never go there again, even though there's a couple of vegan options on the menu...
  • Supermarkets. I know I'm not alone here and I know the checkout people get paid crappy wages and usually get treated badly as well (my flatmate at Uni was a checkout girl so I've heard the stories). But it doesn't hurt to smile occasionally. I mean, how miserable is your life? I worked in crappy retail jobs to pay my way through Uni and I know it is much more bearable when you make the effort to be nice to people - it gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside - and once a day of warm and fuzzy is usually enough to make the other not-so-nice stuff worthwhile.
  • Also, supermarkets - if I bring my own bags I don't expect to fill them myselves - that's your job. Actually, I think the last point is more the fault of the supermarket management - they all spruik these 'green' policies, but very few enforce them or encourage their staff to.
As I said above, I have worked in the customer service industry since I was 15 and I feel passionately that if you don't like people and you don't care about customer service - GET ANOTHER JOB! There's lots of jobs out there that don't require constant face-to-face contact with people. All I can say is, if I treated my customers like this, I wouldn't have a job, seriously.

So what about the good? I won't go into details, but it was basically simple things - easy things, like:
  • People going out of their way to help me
  • Prompt service
  • An appreciation for the fact that we all need to ask for help sometimes
Rant over.


I had a lightbulb moment yesterday. You may remember that I was trying to work out what my mystery green vegetable was. Well, they say 'ask and you shall receive'. Epicure yesterday had a column Turn over a new leaf about different varieties of green leafy veg. Lo and behold, there was my mystery veg! Which, it turns out, is Cavalo Nero, not Kale as originally thought. Also known as black cabbage or Tuscan cabbage, the article suggests preparing it the same way as Kale. I did some more research and most recipes suggest blanching it for 3-4 mins before cooking, which explains why my first attempt turned out a bit chewy.

I'm happy now, I hate mysteries...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Another quinoa stew

Wow, I've been cooking a lot today! You know something? I'm really enjoying spending more time in the kitchen, but I'm REALLY sick of washing up. Seriously, I'm washing up 2-3 times a day, it sucks! Now I understand why Mum wanted a dishwasher for all those years...

Anyway, this is my lunch for next week - chickpea, quinoa & vegetable stew. Inspired by my previous effort, but using regular quinoa, without the tomatoes, different vegetables & chickpeas as the protein. So, not really the same at all. Just as yummy though, looking forward to lunch tomorrow already :-)

Chickpea, quinoa & vegetable stew
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed & drained
  • 2 carrots, chopped roughly
  • 3 celery sticks, chopped roughly
  • 1cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 cup kale, finely chopped (or whatever greens you have on hand)
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed & drained
  • 3/4 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp each of ground cumin, coriander & hungarian paprika
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Cook the quinoa in boiling water until tender, about 10mins, then drain well. Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a frypan - saute the carrot, celery & ginger over medium heat 5mins. Add the kale & saute another 5mins. Add the chickpeas, stock & spices. Lower the heat & simmer, stirring occasionally, 10mins, until the stock has almost all evaporated. Stir through the quinoa & add salt & pepper to taste.
The fresh ginger gives this a real kick and it's super healthy, score!

A simple banana bread

I had a couple of over-ripe bananas to use and figured banana bread was as good a way to use them as anything else. I was going to freeze it, but I think I'll give it to D for his morning tea this week instead. This is really simple recipe, yet another one that has made it into my big book from somewhere mysterious. The reason I like it is that it's not a 'substitute' one. As in, I don't need to use processed egg replacer or soy milk or Nuttelex. Just easy, healthy, ingredients.

Basic banana bread
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 2 TBS molasses (I used golden syrup)
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/4 tsp bi-carb soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees & grease a loaf tin. Mix the banana, sugar, applesauce, oil & molasses well. Stir in the flour, soda, spices and salt until just combined. Pour the mix into the tin & bake 50mins, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

As you can see I slightly overcooked it - a little brown around the edges :-) The taste? Like you'd expect from banana bread - moist, fairly dense & completely satisfying.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mmm... beetroot and chocolate

True to my word, I made chocolate-beetroot cupcakes tonight using this recipe for inspiration. I did some research about how to convert a cake recipe for cupcakes & basically I just lowered the baking temp about 5 degrees & cut the cooking time by about 1/3 (they took just under 25 mins). I also used 1/2 applesauce & 1/2 oil, because 3/4 cup of oil seemed like a lot. I stuck with the icing recipe, doubling it to make enough for all my cupcakes (LOVE the tip about using beetroot juice to colour it). Right at the end I decided to add 1/4 tsp rosewater which really lifted the flavour.
Here they are waiting to go into the oven - isn't the deep rich chocolate red colour just gorgeous!

Just out of the oven...

And finished with my rose buttercream icing - so pretty!

The verdict? They're yummy, rich & moist. Possibly a bit dense - I think the recipe would work better as a normal cake, as I prefer my cupcakes a bit lighter & fluffier. Didn't stop me eating 3 in a row though :-)

Fakin' bacon & egg muffins

In a half-hearted attempt to reduce my sugar intake (I say half-hearted because I already have plans to make cupcakes tomorrow :-)), I decided to make a savoury breakfast today. D has gone away again, so I had free reign to indulge my own tastes. I picked up some Redwood Bio Rashers (does anyone else think this is a terrible name? I don't find it appetising at all), wholemeal muffins & cheddar-style cheezly.

To replace the egg, I used a recipe I picked up a while ago for vegan omelettes. It relies on besan (chickpea) flour & it's awesome - so simple, easy & super good for you. I quartered the original recipe, because I just wanted two 'egg' sized patties, not two whole omelettes.

Fakin' fried eggs
  • 1/4 cup besan flour
  • 3/8 cup water
  • 1/4 TBS olive oil
  • Heaps of salt & pepper
  • Pinch black salt (completely optional - it adds to the 'egg' flavour, but they taste great without it as well)

Whisk all the ingredients until well combined. You'll probably still have small lumps of flour & it will be really runny - trust me, it firms up quickly when cooked.

Heat 1/2 TBS olive oil in a frypan. When hot, add half the batter. Cook about 1min, until it looks quite firm, then flip & cook another minute. Fold into quarters (or small enough to fit on the muffin).

I layered my muffins with cheezly, 'egg', 'bacon', tomato & tomato sauce - yum!

Perfect Popcorn

This sounds stupidly simple, but I have been trying to make good popcorn for years & I've never really succeeded. And I really love popcorn, so it was becoming an issue for me. I actually gave up trying some time last year & started buying packets of the 'Natural' flavoured microwave popcorn (another ninja vegan product).

I just didn't feel comfortable with this - I really don't like supporting mega-companies (Uncle Tobys are owned by Nestle) & I also don't like eating too much food with artificial flavourings. So I was excited to see a segment on Better Homes & Gardens a few weeks ago on how to make popcorn.

The trick is to use oil (not butter or a mix of the two, as I've previously been advised); and to make sure it's hot enough before you add the kernels. To check this, add a couple of kernels at the start - when they both pop, the oil is ready. I use about 1 TBS of canola oil to 1/2 cup kernels - this makes a huge bowl, enough for 2 or 1 really hungry person. When the popping slows down to 1 or 2 per second, turn the heat off, add dabs of Nuttelex to the popcorn, then put the lid back on & wait for it to melt, about 1min (you can leave this out if you're being healthy). Add salt & enjoy!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tuscan special

I have a really cool recipe app on my i-phone called 'Wholefoods Market'. Some of the reasons I like it are:
  • You can limit to vegan or vegetarian
  • You can specify a course or a category
  • You can easily search for recipes containing an ingredient
  • You can type in what you have on hand and bring up a list
  • You can save favourites
  • Best of all, it's FREE!
I have another free recipe app called 'Vegan YumYum', it isn't nearly as good - I think because there aren't as many recipes in the database.

So, after figuring out that my mystery green leafy vegetable was probably kale, I started searching for recipes. I found heaps of yummy options in Wholefoods, but I settled on one that was actually designed for kids simply called 'Pasta with greens'. Since the app is free I figure I can reproduce, so here it is.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 red onions, chopped (I only had brown onions, so just used 1 big one)
  • 1 red capsicum, cored, seeded & chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 TBS fresh thyme, chopped (I used 1tsp of dried)
  • 450g penne, cooked
  • 8 cups kale, cut in 2-inch wide strips
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 can cannellini beans, rinsed & drained (optional - I added these because I love them!)
Heat 3 TBS of the oil in a large pot. Add the onion, capsicum, bay leaf & thyme - cook 5mins, until the onion starts to brown. Add the kale & garlic & cook another 5mins. Add the beans & stock & cook 2mins. Add the pasta along with remaining oil & salt/pepper to taste.

This was pretty damn delicious & felt oh so healthy to wolf down. I've got enough leftovers to last another 2 meals too. A couple of things I noticed about cooking with kale:
  • It's much tougher than silverbeet or chard
  • It's much easier to peel away from the stem than either of those too
  • It feels a little bit like you're eating... well, roughage (as in, leaves that humans weren't meant to consume). It was yummy, but maybe I didn't cook it for long enough, because even though it had reduced in volume by about 1/2, it was still quite chewy & rough.

P.s. If I'm honest, I have no idea if this is Tuscan or not. But I have a recipe for 'Tuscan white bean soup' that uses cannellini beans, garlic & thyme, so that's the first thing I thought of.

Too tired to cook

Here is an example of one of the healthier meals I eat sometimes when I'm too tired to cook. On Wednesday nights I work my second job after my regular job, so by the time I get home I'm always exhausted, starving & in no mood for food preparation. I've been eating these Indian microwave dinners for a few years now - they're quite good, actually, sometimes even better than some of the local Indian takeaways (and much cheaper). I usually get the Dhal Tadka, but there are lots of other varieties. Not everything is vegan, but the ingredient lists are all simple - no chemical names and numbers, so it's easy to work out what's safe.

I think the dhal has deteriorated in quality though, it used to be thick & creamy, but now it's pretty much like a soup. I always have it with pappadums (good for scooping). I bought these organic Eaternal ones recently. I didn't like them as much as the regular ones I buy from the supermarket, but they did a nice job of scooping up the dhal, so can't complain too much :-)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A fruity dessert

My sweet tooth just will not be tamed at the moment! I'm trying my best to fulfill the cravings with healthier desserts, rather than oreos & skittles (both at the top of the list of my favourite ninja vegan products). Flicking through The Joy of Vegan Baking I found a a recipe for fruit candies that was sugar free. The recipe called for walnuts, dried dates, dried apricots, raisins & coconut. I didn't have quite enough walnuts, so I subsituted some almonds to top up the mix. I also didn't have plain raisins, just a dried fruit mix (which included cranberries & orange peel). I popped everything in the food processor & the poor thing really struggled. I thought the motor might be about to give up forever, but it soldiered on (which is good, because I've had it for about 10 years & really don't want to buy another one). I also added some agave syrup at the last minute, because it wasn't quite sweet enough for me.

These are quite yummy, but not as yummy as the Apricot & Walnut Balls. Definitely healthier though - the apricot balls have about 1/4 cup of sugar in them.

The vegetable delivery arrived late tonight, I was starting to worry that we would starve :-). This week we got:
  • Capsicum
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Ginger
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Beetroot (I'm thinking chocolate & beetroot cupcakes that I can take to work)
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Some weird leafy green vegetable - like silverbeet but kind of crinkly - I have no idea what it is!
Here is a close-up of the leafy green one, I thought it could be kale, as I don't think I ever seen kale before, but I looked up some photos & I'm not so sure. Can anyone help?

Monday, July 12, 2010

More winter warmers

I had actually run out of vegetables yesterday (except for 4 potatoes in the cupboard) so decided to make something simple for my lunch. I picked up a couple of carrots & some celery from the supermarket & decided to make vegetable & barley soup from my Mums recipe. This soup is really easy (there can't be many soups that aren't) & you can use whatever vegetables you have in the fridge. It's healthy too - I really enjoyed it today, left me feeling full all afternoon.

Mums Vegetable & Barley Soup
  • 4 potatoes, peeled & roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled & roughly chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp ginger, crushed
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 1/2 cup green split peas
  • 1/2 cup yellow split peas
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • Bouquet garni, or dried herbs of choice
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Cover the barley & peas with boiling water & stand 30mins. Drain & set aside. Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the vegetables and ginger & cook, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add the barley, peas, stock, herbs & salt/pepper to taste. Bring to the boil, then cover & reduce heat to simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 30mins, until the peas are tender.

That's it! You can add more or less stock, depending on how thick you like your soup. You could also puree the soup in a food processor, but I prefer this with the chunky vegetables.

I got home a little late tonight & wanted something quick & healthy, which is good, because normally I feel like something quick & UNhealthy. I realised I hadn't made my lentil bolognese for ages - it used to be my favourite dinner so I decided to resurrect it. This ticks all the boxes - quick, healthy, filling, yummy, healthy & I could serve it to my non-veg friends.

Lentil Bolognese
  • 1 onion, finely diced (I didn't have an onion, so just used an extra celery stick)
  • 1 carrot, peeled & grated
  • 2 sticks celery, finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/2 cup red lentils, rinsed & drained
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 TBS tomato paste
  • 2 tsp dried marjoram
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Heat some olive oil in a large saucepan & add the onion, carrot, celery & garlic. Saute for 5mins, until softened. Add the remaining ingredients & bring to boil. Reduce heat & simmer, covered, 20mins, until the lentils are tender & the sauce has thickened.

Serve with wholemeal spaghetti for a wholesome meal!

You know what I realised tonight - I'm really enjoying cooking lots again & eating more healthy meals; but I really hate the washing up! Seriously, I'm washing up 2-3 times a day & it sucks, now I understand why Mum wanted a dishwasher for all those years.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Monk Bodhi Dharma - Excellent food, average service

D & I got up early this morning & drove across town to Monk Bodhi Dharma in St Kilda. We have been there once before, just after it opened & had a pleasant breakfast. However, last week I read this review & decided we had to go back. The first time we had tried it, there were only a couple of vegan breakfast options on the menu - the beans & the muesli (or it could have been the porridge). I had the beans & they were nice, but didn't blow me away. When I read that the vegan options had multiplied (plus there is vegan cupcakes), I knew I had to go back.

We arrived just before 9 & it was already pretty full, so we nabbed the last table. Unfortunately it was next to the door & extremely cramped, so it wasn't the most comfortable spot. Plus, every time the door opened I copped a blast of freezing air & an inevitable handbag or elbow to the head. Granted, we chose to sit there, but it does annoy me a little when tables are so squashed together like that.

The couple next to us had walked in about 30 seconds before us & the waitress visited them & pointed out something that wasn't available on the menu. She then threw a couple of menus on our table & walked away without looking at us, so I have no idea what it was that wasn't available. Thankfully, she came back a few minutes later & took our coffee order. The coffee is nice - strong, nutty & hot. D doesn't like it much, but I'm definitely happy with the soy lattes.

After reading the menu & happily noticing that most items now have a 'v' denoting veganisable items, I decided to go with the french toast. Then we waited... and waited. The couple next to us (who had ordered at the same time) got their meal & a second round of coffee, and left. And still we waited. No-one approached us for 40 minutes, then finally, our meals arrived & we ordered a second round of coffee. Now, I don't mind a leisurely Sunday breakfast, but I do get annoyed when I'm ignored (I mean, it would be in their interest to serve us more coffee wouldn't it?); and the fact that our neighbours were served in a fairly timely manner irked me a little as well.

The meals are special, I'll give them that.

I had the french toast - veganised. This came with poached pears, bay leaf syrup & a pistachio-lemon cream cheese (based on tofutti I guess, not really sure). It was divine, perfectly cooked (& a pretty full-on sugar hit for me, especially after last night's pudding). The cream cheese really made the meal.

D had the 'Avo' - avocado, fetta, mint & chilli on sourdough. He thought it was OK, but wasn't a big fan (to be fair - he's used to heavier meals based on eggs or tofu on the weekends).

I noticed that there are quite a few vegan desserts on offer here, but unfortunately there was no way I could go there after such a sweet meal. I can remember seeing 2 types of cupcake (gingerbread & rosewater/pistachio), pecan brownies & chocolate chip cookies.

By the time our meals arrived we only had 15 minutes left on our parking, so we ate quickly & left. Overall, not a relaxing Sunday breakfast, and, while the food is great & the coffee is good, I'm not sure we will drive across town to make a special trip here again.

Decadent Dessert

I bought some dates yesterday, I've never bought them before & had no idea how cheap they are! I remembered a recipe for sticky date pudding that I wanted to try (not sure where it came from), and OH MY GOD... it was amazing! I haven't eaten sticky-date pudding since my pre-vegan days & I'd forgotten how sweet & rich & fulfilling it is. I highly recommend this recipe - it's easy & scrumptious!

Self-saucing sticky date pudding
  • 1 cup finely chopped dried dates
  • 1 1/2 cups SR flour
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 3/4 cup soy milk
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 30g Nuttelex, chopped
Preheat oven to 180 degrees & grease a shallow ovenproof dish (2L or 8cup). Place dates in a heatproof bowl – add boiling water to cover. Stand 10mins, then drain. Sift flour & caster sugar into a bowl – add dates & milk & mix well. Spread into dish.

In a large heatproof jug combine water, brown sugar & Nuttelex – stir until melted. Carefully pour mix over batter. Place dish on oven tray.

Bake 40mins until browned & centre is firm to touch. Stand 5mins before serving.

I only wish I'd had some soy cream or ice-cream to serve this with, that would have taken it to a whole other level.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Same old same old

Dinner time was approaching last night so I opened the fridge & it was looking pretty bare. All that was left in the veg crisper was 2 carrots & an enormous green capsicum left over from the last veg delivery (next one's due on Tuesday). Plus I had 1 huge onion & a block of firm tofu. I couldn't think of anything else to make with this but a stir-fry. This one was pretty similar to the last.

Just finely slice 1 onion, 2 carrots & 1 capsicum. Dice the tofu & fry in a little sesame oil with garlic, ginger & chilli until brown. Add the vegies, fry 2 minutes, then add soy sauce (about 1/4 cup), some vegetable stock (about 1/2 cup), a squeeze of sweet chilli sauce & about 1/2 TBS of lemon juice. Cook another few minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Mix through some noodles (or serve over rice - I really need to get a rice cooker so I don't keep eating everything with noodles!).

It's not a traditional stir-fry in any sense, but it's yummy & a pretty healthy meal for a Friday night; especially when all I feel like doing is collapsing in front of the TV with a pizza or something equally bad for me :-)

P.S. Look what we got at work yesterday - an orange with a little flag stuck in it saying 'Beat the cold this winter! Winter health tips are online now'. We all got one from the OHS committee - what a fantastic marketing idea, I love it!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The simple things

I was really looking forward to dinner tonight - veg sausages with roast potatoes & brussel sprouts. One of my challenges in the latest veg delivery was the sprouts - D hates them & I'm not much of a fan myself. I did some research today & the consensus seemed to be that the best way to serve them was roasted until crispy with olive oil, salt & pepper.

Challenge accepted! I loaded a tray with potatoes, sprouts, olive oil (plus a splash of garlic oil), salt, pepper & rosemary (the rosemary was just on the potatoes).

Baked them at about 200 degrees for 45mins -
so crispy!

Then I got the sausages out of the fridge & disaster struck - they weren't vegan! D had bought them for himself & since he's not vegan, hadn't noticed the 'parmesan' in the title. Anyway, D still cooked them up for himself (Bean Supreme Roast Red Onion & Parmesan for anyone interested).

I was a little upset, but contented myself with the potatoes & sprouts. A very basic dinner, but delicious nonetheless. Sometimes, it really is the simple things. And guess what... D ate all of his sprouts!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Peppermint creams

Look what was waiting for me when I got home today. D had bought me some beautiful flowers. Very sweet... he has his moments :-)
For dessert tonight I made some peppermint creams. This is another recipe that I have picked up along the way somewhere but can't remember where. I made a half-batch because these are super sickly-sweet & I don't have anyone to share them with. A full batch would send me on a sugar high that would last for days.
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp peppermint essence
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 egg white replacer (I use Orgran No-Egg. Follow the directions on the packet, which say to use 1 heaped tsp of powder to 1 TBS of water)
  • Green food colouring (optional)
Sift the sugar into a bowl. Mix the essence, juice & egg white replacer together, then add to the sugar. Mix together with your fingers until a dough starts to form. Add a drop of green food colouring (if using) & continue to mix until the dough comes together. Sprinkle some sugar on a board & on a rolling pin, then roll out the dough to about 1/2cm thick. Cut out shapes, gently lay them on a plate or tray & allow to set for 1hr. If you're in Melbourne in winter, that means just leave them on the kitchen bench. If you're in QLD, you might need to put them in the fridge.

Here are the flowers D bought me in the vase by best friends bought me for my 18th birthday all those years ago...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Apricot & Walnut Balls

While the soup was cooking I decided to try something sweet from 1000 Vegan Recipes. The Apricot & Walnut balls caught my eye because they looked easy & relatively healthy.

These only took about 15mins - including the soaking time for the dried apricots! They taste amazing, but I don't particularly like the vanilla essence - next time I'll substitute agave syrup & see how that works.

The book also suggests some other combinations which look interesting - mango & cashew, pear & pecan or mixed fruit & nuts.

Beetroot, Parsnip & Potato Soup

For my lunch this week I wanted to use the beetroot & parsnip from the vegetable box. I have a recipe for a roast vegetable salad which includes both; but I really prefer hot food at this time of year, so I decided to try & make a soup. I read some of the beetroot soup recipes in my books to get an idea of the types of flavours I could use.

First, I diced an onion, 3 potatoes & 2 parsnips & fried these in a little olive oil.
Then I added 3 cups of vegetable stock & 1tsp of ground cumin & simmered for 20mins.
While this was happening I had a beetroot in roasting in the oven. This is the first time I have roasted a beetroot & it worked really well (just cut the stalks off about 2cm from the base, wrap in foil & roast for 45mins). Look at the purple juice seeping out - what an amazing colour! When the beetroot has cooled a little, remove the skin by rubbing it gently, then dice the flesh roughly.
Add the beetroot to the soup & simmer a further 15mins, until all the vegetables are very tender. Process the soup in a food processor or blender until smooth & return to the hot pan.
Add salt & pepper to taste & a dash of lemon juice. Stir well & enjoy!

Seddon breakfast & carrot muffins

I've been to 2 cafes this weekend - 1 new & 1 old favourite. The new was Apte Cafe in Fairfield. I met the library 'girls' for lunch to farewell C - she is heading to Europe to live for a couple of years, lucky thing. I'm going to miss you :-(.

I wouldn't recommend Apte for vegans, there isn't really anything on the menu that is easily adaptable. I ended up getting the fruit toast with jam (no butter). The toast was huge, easily double the thickness of normal toast, & delicious. The strawberry jam was great too - possibly home-made. Coffee 5/5, service was friendly but very slow (apparently we had been warned to expect a wait though so it may not always be that bad). There is a nice courtyard out the back, a great spot for summer.

Today D had to work so we got up early & headed to one of our local favourites - Le Chien in Seddon. We only ever come here for breakfast as the lunch & dinner menus are not very vegan-friendly. For breakfast I always get the Avocado & Tomato on Sourdough (no butter). It's always delicious, but you get sick of it after a while which is why we tend to travel around a lot so that I can find something interesting. I noticed today that they have added Beans on Toast to the menu; I'll check the vegan credentials of this next time. The ambience is great at Le Chien, as is the service & the coffee (they use Supreme - organic, fair-trade & yummy!)

When D had left for work I set about making some savoury muffins for his morning tea this week. I wanted to use some of the carrots in the fridge, so I went through all of my books until I found the perfect recipe. I chose the Zucchini & Carrot Muffins from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook. I didn't actually have any zucchini, having used them in the pasta bake, so I added walnuts in addition to the pecans already in the recipe. I also added an extra 1/4 cup of soy milk to substitute for the moisture lost from the missing zucchini. I did a straight substitution for the eggs (Orgran No-Egg) & Nuttelex for butter.

These turned out perfectly, though D finds them a bit too nutty (that would be from the extra walnuts I added :-)), but I like the nuttiness. There's also just a hint of the cinnamon & nutmeg, which ensures they aren't too bland.