Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Soft Foods

I have a tendency to deny that anything is wrong with me until it is really, really wrong. Like in 2010, when my appendix burst on a Monday morning and I didn't actually seek medical attention until Friday morning. The result is pretty much always worse than if it was dealt with promptly - after my appendix was removed I should have been out of hospital within a day, but I had to stay for a few while I was hooked in to antibiotics.

I've done it again, with a much less intrusive body part this time. I have bad teeth - not in a crooked sense, but in a cavity sense. I maintain good dental hygiene, but I grew up without fluoridated water and probably ate too much sugar as a child. I also didn't go to the dentist for several years, because last time I went the dentist was judgmental and mean.

I finally decided to bite the bullet, find a nice dentist, and get everything fixed. But between the first assessment appointment and my first fixing appointment, I got a terrible tooth ache. Enough to keep me awake 2 nights in a row. I had to get one of my wisdom teeth removed.

I had a few days of eating completely smooth things - pretty much exclusively pumpkin soup and smoothies. But after the anaesthetic wore off, I really craved something that I could chew. I don't know why - maybe the action makes it feel more like eating, and thus more satisfying. But these are some of the soft meals we came up with.



 A chickpea & sweet potato tart, adapted from a recipe in Let them eat Vegan! This had a head of broccoli blended through it to maximise nutrition and flavour while minimising chunky bites. This meal served two dinners, since we only ate half on the first night (with potatoes). Here it is on the second go, served with some terrible looking "leftover fritters". Andy mixed up some leftover rice, leftover pumpkin soup, and leftover ful (like a dhal, but made with fava beans), and some frozen peas, and made them into patties. They were soft, rather than crunchy, and with small bites were very easy to eat.


 Bangers and mash is another easy to eat meal. The veggie sausages we used are quite soft on their own, and again cutting them into small bites made them even easier to eat. And mashed potatoes are one of my ultimate comfort foods. On top, Andy whizzed together some hummus and pesto to make a gravy-like sauce.



 For breakfast, I switched from drinkable smoothies to spoon-worthy ice creams. This one is simply a few frozen bananas, some frozen blueberries, and a scoop of tahini. Blended all together in the food processor, it was a yummy but really very healthy soft serve.

My new (nice) dentist is recommending that I have my other wisdom teeth removed in the near future, so I'll be on the lookout for more of these soft but not smooth recipes. Any suggestions?

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Townsville's Vegan Revolution part 2: Degusting

Townsville is coming ahead in leaps and bounds when it comes to veganism. Early this year I discovered the fabulous breakfast options at relish. Last week, we moved on to fine dining.

Vegans in Townsville have raved about A touch of Salt before, but Andy and I rarely go out for dinner, so I hadn't got there yet. But when they advertised a 5 course vegetarian degustation dinner, I jumped at the chance. 
From A touch of salt's Facebook page

At $95 each, it was an awful lot more than we ever spend on food, but it seemed comparable to other degustations I have seen. And for 5 courses with 5 glasses of wine, I thought it would be worthwhile. I checked (and double checked) that there would be vegan options, and then we headed in to the city for dinner.

On arrival, we were greeted with a vegan prosecco - a nice and bubbly way to start the evening. As the waiter filled our flutes a second time, I mentioned again that we were after vegan meals. She said "the whole menu is vegan!". Which made me wonder if she was a little clueless, or if the feta I saw mentioned was actually made of tofu or something else. 

As it turned out, the entire menu wasn't vegan, but there were vegan options for each course. After our first two glasses of prosecco, we had another vegan white wine, and then the first course came out. 


Cubes of tofu were marinated in tamari, shiitake and and kombu, then tempura battered. The batter was so crispy and the tofu it encased was full of flavour. The marinade was turned into a gel on the side, and served up with more shiitake mushrooms, some leaves, and cauliflower. Underneath it all were some slices of peach. I hate peaches, so after trying a bite I gave these to Andy. Blergh.

Another glass of white wine came out, maybe a reisling (I can't remember much about the varieties, because I am a wine philistine), followed by the second course.
Touch of Salt degustation - corn bread

 Seared corn bread with capsicum, herbs and lemon. The chef said he made the corn bread not with polenta, but with pureed corn. It was a bit chewier than a typical corn bread, but in a nice way. This course was the one with feta, which was just left off the vegan plates. It's a bit of a shame that they didn't put something in its place, but the dish was still good overall. The green puree was basil and mint, and was a really good accompaniment to the corn bread, as was the little dot of lemon puree.

After this course the chef came out, with his brother and father - A Touch of Salt is owned and run by the Brine family. I made the connection with the restaurant's name halfway through dinner, after a few glasses of wine made my thinking clearer I guess!

Then the waiters came out with red wine, a shiraz of some kind. Andy and I are both not huge fans of red wine, but this was mild and quite nice. And it went really very well with the third course.
Touch of Salt degustation - kumara and pumpkin

 This was a little gallette of purple sweet potato and pumpkin, topped with amaranth greens and crispy little sweet potato shreds (we thought they were red cabbage at first. This was sitting in a bed of 'white gazpacho', which was creamy and rich. The grapes were a good tart garnish to go with the sweet but savoury gallette.

The next glass of wine was another red, this one a GSM. It was really bitey and we didn't like it so much that neither of us drank ours. The meal it came with, though, was a different story.
Touch of Salt degustation - mushroom wellington

 A mushroom and smoked eggplant wellington with beetroot pave. Though Andy and I both loved the tofu tempura in course 1 with a vengeance, as a whole dish we both thought this was the standout of the meal. The mushroom was meaty, the pastry was flaky, and the butter bean puree was like a beautiful creamy gravy. The dot of orange puree went best with the beetroot pave.

The dessert wine was super sweet, and was quite a nice way to finish off the meal. The dessert it accompanied was also sweet, though almost on the verge of too sweet.
Tough of Salt degustation - dessert

 The menu announced a carrot and coconut weiss bar, but this must have contained something not vegan. A few minutes after everyone else got theirs, Andy and I were presented with a very different looking dish. A ramekin held two caramel rice beignets, little sweet fritters. These sat in a soup of carrot puree, with a puddle of coconut yogurt underneath. The puree was like baby food + a whole lot of sugar. The dessert was good, but after the first four courses I was expecting something a bit more sophisticated with a bit more going on flavour-wise.

Overall, we loved the whole meal and both thought it was well worth the money and the effort of going out in the evening, and all the way into the city (I'm poking fun at our homebody-ness here!). Each dish was full of a variety of flavours that played off each other perfectly. And none of it was like anything we cook at home, which is a win when going out to eat. Plus, we now have a place to suggest when Andy's parents visit and want to go somewhere nice for dinner.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Chutney x A LOT

A few weeks ago when we went to the market, our mango people told us that was their last week for the season. So we bought double our usual and went home to make chutney. This wasn't something we had really thought through very carefully, the results of which I will reveal as I go through my chutney tale.

In the past we have used a chutney recipe that requires soaking overnight. This was Sunday morning and we had to work on Monday, so that wasn't going to work. I did a quick search, and found a recipe from Not Quite Nigella that looked do-able, so we used that as our guide.

Her recipe called for 1 kilo of mango flesh, or about 2 large mangoes. We obviously wanted to make a larger batch to use up plenty of mangoes, so we started cutting and scooping them into a bowl on the scale. About 15 mangoes later, we were at 3 kilos - so I think the original estimate of 2 mangoes = 1 kilo of flesh is just not right.

We put the firmest mango cheeks through the shredder blade on the food processor, and chopped up the softer, riper cheeks. We popped this all into our big stockpot, and then realised we had almost no space for anything else. Wah-wahhh.

And because we tripled the recipe, we had nowhere near enough brown sugar, or raisins. We had no onions. We scraped in with just enough cider vinegar. But we realised that Andy would need to go to the shops. He had wanted to run to Bunnings for some seeds anyways, so, perfect.

Because I was expecting Andy back in about 30 minutes, I put everything that we had into a bowl and mixed it all up. Then I put it into two pots to start to simmer, to allow the sugar which we did have to dissolve a bit. Then I cleaned up - chopped up the mango skins so they would compost a bit quicker, gave a few of the seeds to Tika, who loves to suck the flesh off them, and wiped so much mango juice off of every surface. I even did all the dishes.

Mango chutney in progress

Over an hour later, I was beginning to wonder if Andy got lost or sucked into some sort of space-time vortex. He sort of did - in Townsville on Sundays, shops don't open until 11am, and he left the house a touch before 10. So although he spent plenty of time in Bunnings, he still had to wait outside the grocery store for it to open.

But eventually he did make it home. By that time the chutney had simmered down enough to fit back into the one pot. We added the onions and the last few bits and pieces, plus a whack of chilli sauce because it was so sweet, cooked it properly, and then got ready to can it.

Day 8 - 9 litres of chutney

We ended up with 13 and a half jars of this stuff - about 9 litres worth of chutney. The full ones we processed properly and put them away to last us throughout the year. But for dinner that night it seemed appropriate to have the little half jar with some curry.

I made chappatis, sag paneer (spinach and tofu curry), and we had some leftover dhal, with brown rice and, at the front, our chutney.

Chutney dinner

Sure, it was an epic process, but the memories of scooping 15 mangoes, stirring a simmering pot of chutney, and cleaning up all the sticky mess will fade as we enjoy our spoils for the next few months!

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Green Curry

Remember when I made curry paste?

Well, we finally used it in a curry. It was quite mild - probably due to the painstaking time I spent de-seeding the green chillies. It tasted very lime-y, which is good and tangy.

Thai Green Curry

The curry had tofu sticks and carrots (bought), sweet potato, eggplants, cowpeas, eggplant, sweet potato shoots and hibiscus spinach (all from the garden). We served it on brown rice and topped it with some crunchy shallots. And from-scratch curry becomes an easy weeknight meal.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Milking Oats

Much less grope-y than milking goats.

After more than three years of busy service to us, our soy milk maker has pretty much carked it (see my posts on it here and here). We looked at getting new ones, but the idea of choosing was a bit overwhelming and we have put it at the back of our minds. (But if you're in Australia and can recommend a good brand or model, we would be happy to take suggestions.)

Instead, we've been making oat milk. It's no substitute for bought-milk in tea, but it does the trick on a bowl of cereal. Here's what we do:
Oat milk
We get two of these jugs of milk, plus about 2 cups of pulp from each batch.
Combine 1 1/2 cups of rolled oats, 1 tsp of desiccated coconut, and 1 tsp of raw sugar in a jug. Add 1 litre of water, and let it soak for about 30 minutes. Then blend it all up - I use a stick blender - for a few minutes. Pour this through a fine strainer and scoop out the thick oat pulp. Pour it into containers, and then I add enough water to fill the jugs - our typical batch is about 2.5 litres of oat milk. You can add less if you prefer it thicker. The milk lasts in the fridge for about a week.

But what to do with the 2 cups or so of sticky, wet oat pulp that comes along with the milk? You could throw it away, or compost it, or feed it to the dog. But we've been playing around with adding it to things. We've mixed it into lentil loafs and burgers, but it makes them go a bit gluey in texture.

More successful were these nutella brownie bites - 200 grams of hazlenuts whizzed up in the food processor, then a cup of dates, half a cup of oat pulp, and 1/4 cup of cocoa powder. They were a bit wetter than they should have been, but the oat pulp was a good way of cutting through the sweetness of the dates that sometimes overwhelms raw balls.
Nutella brownie bites
I pushed some into silicon cupcake liners, and made some into balls.
Oat pulp is also a pretty fab addition to baking. I made some banana-oat muffins and bread, using oat pulp in place of half the mashed bananas. I don't know the nutrition content, but I'm sure it adds a boatload of fibre and cuts down a little on the (natural, and not bad-for-you) sugar in the bananas.
Sunday baking
The banana-oat things are in the background of our Sunday lunch of veggie sausages wrapped in bread dough. 

What is your favourite kind of milk to make? What do you do with the leftover pulp?




Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Garden Party

Since work has gotten busy again (evidenced by my paltry posting), the last thing I want to do is spend hours in the grocery store. I'm still happy to hang out in the kitchen for hours, but something about fighting the crowds under artificial lights as terrible music floats through the air just doesn't appeal to me! So while we are of course still shopping for things we need, we have been making serious use of the garden whenever we can.
Here's our garden looking particularly lush after 200 mm of rain.

I'm not sure if you can make out the mulched garden bed in the middle right-hand side. It used to have a big cherry tomato, some dying kale, and a fruitless watermelon. Andy decided to clear the bed, put some compost in and let it rest for a few weeks before we plant again. So we harvested all the cherry tomatoes and made spaghetti.

Cherry tomatoes, olive oil, basil and garlic. Yummm.
With some lentil balls, in the background.

Our eggplant bushes fruit prolifically, and the skinny fruits are delicious cooked on the BBQ in a mixture of soy sauce, chilli and brown sugar. On the side, some malabar spinach - a tropical vine that grows well in the humidity. (And some no-fu love loaf.)


 Our basil plants are another fast-grower, and we have made a few batches of pesto. Unlike last year, now that I have a grown-up-sized food processor, pesto is a snap.

It might seem from this post that we eat an awful lot of pasta. That is correct.
Pesto pasta with eggplants and olives.

We've also, though, taken to making bowls of whatever we can gather, plus what we have from the markets. In this peanut-lentil stew, we have eggplants, cowpeas (aka black-eyed peas, but when they are still green in the pod), and garlic chives from the garden, plus some sweet potatoes from the market and a tin of tomatoes. Served over rice, with a big squirt of sriracha, this was a delicious rainy-day meal.

The garden has also thrown up some curry-related delights. On Sunday I picked a big handful of green chillies, some lemon grass, and some lime leaves, and blended them up with dried spices to make 6 dinners' worth of curry paste - green and jalfrezi - to have throughout the next few weeks. I filled the jars just a little, with one meal's worth of curry paste, so that we can store them in the freezer until we're ready.

We haven't yet tried one of these in an actual curry, but I prefer them to store-bought because it means I don't have to go to the store!


Friday, January 31, 2014

Storming the Freezer

Last night a cyclone crossed the coast. For the first part of the week, it looked like it was coming pretty much straight at Townsville. I have lived here for nearly 7 years, and while I'm not a local nor a meteorologist, I have seen several cyclones heading straight for Townsville that end up going elsewhere when push comes to shove. So we got prepared by cleaning up the back yard but didn't get too worked up. Good thing, too, because it ended up heading 200kms south of us, and we saw less than 40mm of rain at our house.

One of the things we figured out during Cyclone Yasi, which is rarely given out in official advice, is to eat anything precious from the freezer, so that if the power goes out for a few days you don't have to throw it away. So this week we had a few freezer based dinners. We still have rather a lot in there, but now there is plenty of space for a new batch of ice cream...

We tried some Fry's vegan burgers, which were good but not worth full price. They were delicious with some cherry tomatoes, cooked down with olive oil and garlic.


Here we have tofu (from the freezer) marinated with teriyaki and chilli sauce, spring rolls (from the freezer), BBQ pineapple, and fried rice with capsicum (from the freezer) and eggplant, green beans, cherry tomatoes, sweet potato shoots and baby kale (all from the garden).


When our mulberry tree gets ripe fruit on it, we pick them and stick them in a container in the freezer, till we have enough for something yummy. This container spent an overnight with some oats to become a yummy breakfast.

And for lunch I brought a chickpea naan roll to work, inspired by Joey's link to Dan Lepard's recipe - but with a slightly different filling.

None of this made a massive dent in the freezer stash - we still have about 15 naan rolls, a few boxes of Fry's, a bag of frozen capsicum, 6 blocks of tofu, and other random things. But if any more cyclones form in the coming months, at least we've made a start!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cocktail Bar

Tell me: is there much better than a cold, refreshing beverage in dessert form? There may well be - in fact, I'm certain there are many things that are much, much better. But after sweating it out around the house on Saturday and Sunday, waiting for the rain which didn't come, biting into this cool, tangy Mojito Slice was pretty much as good as I could ask for. And afterwards, the rain started, so it was doubly good.


This slice can thank a recipe for Mojito Bars from Betty Goes Vegan for its inspiration. I fully intended to make that recipe. But the thought of having the oven on for 40 to 50 minutes was repulsive, and my mind quickly turned to Kari's vegan lemon slice recipe. I had made them before so I knew the recipe was a keeper, and was sure it would hold up to a few alterations. So this recipe is really Kari's, as I've done little but change the flavours. But they sure are good flavours. I thought at first the base would work as a no-bake option, but on pressing it into the pan I decided to bear the oven for 10 minutes, and I'm glad I did.

Mojito Slice

1 c. oats
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. vegan butter

1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. corn flour
1 c. sugar
up to 1 c. water
3 Tbsp. white rum
1 Tbsp. fresh mint, finely chopped
zest and juice from 2 or 3 limes

Line a slice pan with baking paper and heat the oven to 180 (350F). In a food processor or mini chopper, whizz up the oats and sugar until they look like coarse flour. Add the butter, and let the processor run until it's fully incorporated. You could add water if it looks really crumbly, but I didn't need to. Press it into the lined pan, using wet hands to keep the mix from being sticky. Bake it for 10 minutes and then let it cool while you make the topping.

In a measuring jug, combine the rum, mint and lime zest. Juice the limes into the jug. I used one large, juicy lime and 2 small, kinda dry limes. All up, it should come to about 1/2 cup of juice and rum combined. If you have more than 1/2 cup, use a bit less water in the next step.

In a small saucepan, whisk together the flour, corn flour and sugar. Slowly add the water and whisk until smooth. Bring it up to a boil, whisking constantly, and then turn the heat to low and cook it for a few minutes - up to 5. It will get really thick, but soon you will add more liquid, so no need to worry. Whisk in the lime juice mixture with the pan over the heat, then when everything is incorporated take it off the heat. Pour this over the cooked base. Refrigerate the whole thing for a while - overnight is best, really. Keep it chilled until you're ready to eat it, and remember that the alcohol doesn't really cook off!



Saturday, January 18, 2014

Vegan Carbonara

As I promised at the very end of last year, I have made another batch of Carbonara so I can post the recipe here.

Carbonara is one of those dishes that a lot of people seem to love, but I had never even heard of before I went vegan. So I have no reference point to compare it to. But somewhere along the way I picked up the key ingredients - egg yolks, bacon, cream and pasta. Not super vegan friendly? Think again.

We had some Vegg in the freezer (we blend up the whole packet and freeze in smaller jars), and some imitation bacon bits (fully vegan) that my mum sent over as a birthday present. So the food miles for this are not small! It's not an every week kind of meal, but it is easy, and fast, filling, and really delicious. And unlike chicken's eggs, the Vegg won't "scramble" if you leave it on the heat for too long, so there is less multi-tasking with the vegan version of Carbonara.


Vegan Carbonara

1 Tbsp. olive or coconut oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
300 grams of mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 Tbsp. vegan bacon bits
1/2 c. prepared Vegg
100 mL coconut cream, soy milk or other non-dairy substitute
400 grams of pasta
parsley, salt and pepper, nutritional yeast, and more bacon bits for sprinkling

Heat the oil in a frying pan over pretty high (not quite the highest) heat. Saute the mushrooms until they are soft and the liquid has evaporated from them. The high heat helps evaporation to happen faster, so your mushrooms brown instead of boiling in their weird mushroom water. Stir in the garlic and bacon bits and mix it all around for a minute. Add Vegg and soy milk and turn the heat to low and leave it, stirring every now and then, while your pasta cooks. Boil water (boiling in the kettle is more efficient than the stove, I hear), cook spaghetti or other pasta until it is al dente, or mushy if that's your thing. Drain, dump it into the pan with the sauce, and stir it all up. If it's a bit claggy, throw in some more soy milk. It should be creamy and saucy and good. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with parsley, nutritional yeast, and moar bacon bits.

It's worthing getting some Vegg for this - which reminds me, I need to order some more. I honestly will probably never attempt a vegan poached egg again, but Vegg makes a rocking carbonara.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Townsville's vegan revolution: Part 1

Before I went vegan, I loved going out for breakfast. So much so that whenever I went to diners that offered breakfast after 11am, I would usually choose a morning meal no matter the time of day. I almost always ordered french toast, but sometimes pancakes or waffles. Generally sweet things!

Upon going vegan, I had to shift my breakfast-excursions to savoury. In small diners I would order toast or a bagel with home fries and whatever veggie was around, and then usually construct myself a vegan breakfast sandwich. As I was a university student, these breakfast-excursions usually involved a hangover, and the greasy starches quite suited the circumstances, perhaps in a way that sweet breakfast would not.

I still love going out for breakfast, but in Townsville the options are pretty limited. When we do go out, I almost always have to put together a plate of sides - toast, baked beans, mushrooms (if they're not cooked in butter), spinach or avocado. It's pretty satisfying usually. The last time I went out for breakfast, though, was with Andy and some friends, and we didn't realise it was Father's Day until we were out. Our first few attempts were thwarted by completely booked-out cafes. We eventually found a spot at one, I tried to order the vegetarian breakfast with no eggs but was told that customers are not allowed to go off-script. So I ordered the usual sides, but when the baked beans came out they had sausage mixed in. So I was a bit traumatised, and we hadn't been out for breakfast since.

Fast forward to a few days ago. On a local food-related Facebook groups, there was a discussion about vegan breakfasts that brought a new(?) cafe called relish. to my attention. The owner said she had vegan granola, oats, and the plate-of-sides. I clicked "Like" on their page, and put the information away for the future.

The next day, relish. posted this on their Facebook page.

This is fairly revolutionary. Though Townsville is a city of 200,000 or so, the vegan options here are more limited than you would expect. Andy's small hometown of 5,000 in southern NSW has more vegan options. As you can imagine, it is mighty exciting to see a cafe write the word vegan anywhere on a menu, and to advertise it so blatantly. So I mentioned it to Andy and said "Let's go!!". And he said (surprisingly), "Okay, how bout tomorrow?".

And so, this morning, vegan waffles were had.

They came with two sides, so I got the mushrooms and baked beans. Perhaps not the most typical accompaniments to sweet waffles, but I didn't feel like waffles + toast. Everything was good! The mushrooms tasted a touch like vinegar, which is a flavour I love but rarely add to mushrooms when we make them. The baked beans were sweeter and more barbequey than most Aussie breakfast baked beans I've had. And the waffles were crunchy and went nicely with the berries & pomegranate syrup I ordered with them. Relish, if you read this, you should absolutely make them a permanent menu item! And/or veganise those cornmeal pancakes, because I would totally be all over that.

I will definitely come back here - in fact, when it's a bit cooler, it will be a lovely bike ride destination. I noticed bike parking around the side. Most of the tables are outside, and there are plenty of them. There was a cute but really cheeky and persistent sparrow who hung out on our table and really had no fear of humans. They have, in the style of American diners, bottomless drip coffee for $4 with any meal. It's a tad pricey, but I thought it was good value for money (but we almost never go out to eat, so maybe in comparison to other places it's not even pricey?). Loads of gluten free options.

Relish. also has two vegan-isable burgers on their lunch menu, but who needs lunch when they have all-day breakfast with vegan waffles?!

Relish. Cafe
2 Kingsway Place
Next door to Townsville Bulletin office on Flinders St West (across from Fletcher St)
Monday & Tuesday 6.30am - 2.30pm; Wednesday - Friday 6.30am - 3.30pm; Weekends & Holidays 7.30am - 3pm