Monday, July 26, 2010

Breakfast sandwich.

I have never, ever been a fan of bacon, even when I was nowhere near  vegetarian.  It's greasy and chewy and overall not nice, in my opinion.  I have eaten veggie bacon about once, at university, and it was chemically-tasting and the texture was just ...odd.  And I think that the veggie rashers for sale in Townsville have eggwhite in them (though I've never really checked closely).  And I've never made tempeh bacon -- we rarely buy tempeh, and don't have key ingredients like liquid smoke -- so I haven't had a vegan version of the crispy pig strips in years.

However, I do miss me a good breakfast sandwich.  Breakfast (or rather, brunch) has long been my favourite meal because I love the blending of sweet and savoury.  Andy is a bit of a breakfast grinch, and believes that sweet and savoury should rarely meet -- particularly not in his breakfast.

So when he was in Thailand a few weeks ago, I took the opportunity to sweet'n'savoury-it-up.

I marinated a few thinly sliced pieces of tofu in a mixture of soy sauce, brown sugar, cider vinegar and olive oil.  Then I cooked them in my cast iron pan until they were pretty crunchy.  Layered on toast with the ripest red market tomato, and slightly obscene amount of avocado, this was the perfect combination of sweet and salty.

I have recreated this simple marinade a few times since then, and Andy loves it, too -- for dinner at least.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tempeh and Eggplant

A few weeks ago (I'm very behind on posting) I was home alone and happened upon a reduced to clear package of tempeh.  I grabbed it, because I love tempeh but we rarely ever eat it.  I also had an eggplant on hand and wanted a way to combine the two, and in my searches I came across a recipe for tempeh and eggplant pot pies by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.  I looked at it, was intrigued, but didn't write it down.

But I think that my version of this was actually quite similar, despite the fact that I didn't follow any recipe.  I flavoured my tempeh and eggplant with fennel seeds, capers, balsamic vinegar and tomatoes.  This was a beautiful combination, deep and hearty and a bit sophisticated.

For my topping, I made the biscuit recipe from the brunch chapter of Vegan with a Vengeance, with the addition of more soymilk to make it spreadable.

I made the filling in my wonderful cast iron pan and then spread the biscuit dough on top and popped the whole thing in the oven.

This was so good I wanted to eat the whole pan in one go, but it was so filling that I got about 6 meals from it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Americana

Although I'm from the USA, I have never been patriotic.  I cringe whenever I hear a US president say something about his 'best country on earth', or 'God bless America'.  I think it was a fine country to live in, but I just can't manage to get teary-eyed over the star spangled banner -- not even close.  Even when I lived there, the 4th of July was probably my least favourite holiday.  Sure, it was a day off, but it was during the summer, so between school and the kind of jobs I had when I lived there, that was never an issue.  I think fireworks are loud and not that exciting.

I realise I'm a grinch, which is why I surprised myself on July 3rd this year, when I thought 'Oh, tomorrow is the 4th.  Maybe we should have hotdogs'.  I think the real reason is that I had been toying with the idea of making vegan hot dogs for a while, but just hadn't gotten round to it.  In any case, I went off googling and came up with this recipe.  They were pretty easy to make, and following one of the suggestions in the comments, I steamed them in the pressure cooker which took less than 10 minutes.

But unlike in America, where the 4th of July is a summer holiday with cookouts and beach visits, it is winter here.  And while Townsville is warm, it still feels like winter.  So instead of hot dogs in buns with salads, we winterised this most American of meals.  We covered our hotdogs in a warm, fluffy blanket.

Basically, I wrapped them in pizza dough, with a bit of tomato sauce (ketchup) and vegan cheese inside.  Since we had the oven on to bake these, we had roasted potatoes, and spicy baked beans on the side.

I didn't feel any more love towards the USA than I ever do while eating this meal, but it was yummy anyways.  Regardless, you should make those hotdogs because they are easy to do, ridiculously cheap, and taste like hotdogs, with no scary ingredients.

And of course, I just had to make apple pie for dessert.  But again, I winterised this, following the recipe for Gingerbread Apple Crumble Pie (or something similarly titled) from Vegan with a Vengeance except with a splash of brandy mixed in with the apples.

This was really yummy, but the filling was so juicy, even with a generous dose of cornflour mixed in, that the bottom crust was pretty soggy.

The only thing that would have made this meal feel more 4th of July for me is corn on the cob, because that was a summertime staple when I grew up.  In my new family, corn on the cob is still very popular.
video

Friday, July 16, 2010

Going West.

Last weekend Townsville was taken over with a 3-day V8 Supercar race.  That is not something that particularly excites Andy and I, and although we live a good few kilometres from the track, we could hear the engines running all weekend.  To get a few good hours of peace, we headed out of town in a direction we haven't yet been -- west.


View Larger Map

Charters Towers is a small country town about 130 kms from Townsville with a big past.  In the second half of the 1800s it was Queensland's second largest city thanks to its prolific gold mines.  Today, the mines are still there but the wealth belongs to mining magnates, and Charters Towers is now a little town of 8,000 people with lots of fancy old buildings and a cute little shopping strip.

The most exciting part of the day for me came early, when we stopped in at Salvo's (second hand clothing store) and I found two good dresses, one for $5 and one for $1.  But when I got to the register, I was told it was $3 for a bag of clothes, so she would consider the dresses one bag.  Two dresses for $3!  It had me considering whether it is worth it to drive an hour to do all my second-hand shopping from now on...

After that, we had a look at the history on offer in CT.  There is an old Stock Exchange Arcade, where no one buys or sells shares any longer (though there was a cute bookshop).

And then we drove up Towers Hill to the lookout, where we were greeted with an expanse of flat, dry outback, punctuated with the odd hill.

On the Townsville side of CT, there is a big park with a public swimming pool, a rotunda, and lots of picnic areas.  But the reason we stopped is because we noticed most of the trees in this park were absolutely covered with bats.  Big, flying foxes that were squealing and stinking up the place.  There were probably thousands of them gathered in this one park.

Here's a little video of the bats flying around.  You can vaguely hear their squealing in the background (along with our intelligent conversation about being turned into a vampire, or catching hendra virus).

video

On the way home, we stopped off at the Burdekin River.  It isn't very deep at the moment, but it is wide.

And in the wet season, it has some serious floods.  There is a dam not far below this spot on the river, which is used to irrigate a huge area of farming land south of Townsville, where many of Australia's tomatoes and capsicums and mangoes (among other things) are grown.  The trees, which all lean heavily downstream, are indicative of the power of the water that sometimes flows in this river.

Charters Towers was a pretty cool little town, but Andy is still a fan of the coast so I don't think we'll be spending much time in the outback in future.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Milking.

Andy and I recently ordered a soymilk maker, and we have been busy milking ever since.

We ordered a SoyLove from Nature's Wonderland, pretty much only because the seeming favourite of the blogworld, the SoyQuick Premier, is no longer for sale in Australia (which is a shame, because it sounds pretty magical).  The SoyLove has a basket, into which you put the beans or grains for milking, and a big basin of water.  It simply heats the water, cooking the beans, and then grinds them so finely that they make their way out of the fine mesh basket and into the liquid, becoming milk.  The whole thing takes 30 minutes.

We are still new to this and are still working out recipes, but our favourites so far involve soy beans, some almonds, and something else fatty like coconut or sesame seeds.  As we progress with our milking skills, I will post recipes on this blog.

One of the exciting side-features of a soymilk maker is the ability to make tofu.  You simply make a watery batch of soymilk, and add coagulant.  The milk separates into curds & whey (Miss Muppet would appreciate that).

Then you simply scoop out the curds.

Put them into a tofu press (which came free with our SoyLove) lined with cheesecloth.

And press.

For firm tofu, press some more. 

When you take it out, it will be nice and compact.

Perfect for marinating and baking.

The other side effect of the soymilk maker is okara.  This is the highly nutritious soybean pulp that you strain out of the milk (which I didn't even realise you had to do at first, since it isn't in the shonky Korean-translated instructions.  That first batch was a *thick* 1.5 litres).  We had the bright idea to experiment with okara recipes, without actually following recipes.  This was a bad idea.  I made okara meatballs by adding gluten flour and some flavourings, and they were mushy-chewy-stringy and not nice at all.  Matt Preston would have thrown it on the ground, but when the ad break finished he still wouldn't have had anything nice to say about it.

However, Andy added a bunch of okara to some burrito filling, which made it creamy but didn't add any kind of flavour or grainy texture.

We have since copied several okara recipes from various blogs and I will let you know how we go as we try them out.

We haven't found a perfect batch of soymilk yet, but at less than 50 cents for a 1.5 litre batch, we are going to keep experimenting until we find one that Andy finds acceptable in tea.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Travel Meals.

Andy and I are perhaps a bit strange, but when we go on holidays we don't really see it as a chance to eat out (February 2010 Sydney trip excepted). 

For instance, last year we went to Port Douglas and made full use of the communal BBQ.  In 2008 we headed to Mission Beach with no intentions of eating out.  Part of our reasoning is that we rarely eat out anyways -- it's just not something we love doing.  Part of the reasoning is that we are frugal/thrifty/tightasses.  And part of the reasoning is that our holiday destinations are not always very vegan-friendly.  Luckily for us, there is a lot of accommodation in North Queensland for self-caterers.

On our recent fortnight in Far North Queensland, we ate a total of four meals in restaurants (not including our breakfasts at the Daintree Eco Lodge, but including our two dinners there).  We had sandwiches in Port Douglas for lunch one day, and veggie burgers in Cape Trib another day.  Otherwise, we took care of our own meals.

We often choose our accommodation based on a few factors.  First, the presence of a spa bath.
The spa bath on the balcony at Daintree Eco Lodge.

The indoor spa bath at Mt Quincan Crater Retreat.
Second, king sized beds.
The giant bed at Daintree Eco Lodge.

In the tablelands, heaters and/or fireplaces were a key ingredient.
This fireplace at Mt Quincan swivelled!  We could point it at the bed or the couch!

And finally, kitchens.  Then we get creative about what to bring up, and what to buy once we're at our location, to ensure that we have tasty, healthy, and varied meals.  A big batch of black bean burgers lasted us most of the week at the caravan park with our parents, supplemented by a pasta meal.  When we moved on to the honeymoon, we still had a few burgers left.  They went really well with local brussels sprouts and potatoes.

We brought up a box of felafel mix, which we ate with the rest of the brussels sprouts and some local broccoli.

Upon checking in to our honeymoon accommodation, we were greeted with a fresh loaf of bread, which we enjoyed with olive oil and balsamic.
Look! You can see into the crater in this photo.  It's the grassy marsh in the background.

The other things we brought up were pancakes -- mix the dry ingredients in a jar and then just combine with soy milk and veggie oil when you want to cook them; dhal -- dry ingredients and spices combined, then mix with a tin of tomatoes and some water, and serve over rice; seitan mix -- gluten flour and veggie stock/herbs in a jar, mixed with water and tomato sauce, then boiled (we would have BBQed but unfortunately didn't have access) and served with local veggies; and easy-peasy pasta.  Cooking in another kitchen isn't always the easiest, but it is our preference.

(That said, there is one very vegan friendly option in the Tablelands, Nick's Swiss Italian Restaurant in Yungaburra, which even has soy ice cream available.  By the time we made it to Yungaburra, though, we couldn't be bothered leaving our super-nice accommodation.)