Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's vegetable season again!

Summer in Townsville isn't really veggie-friendly.  Most stuff goes out of season, because it is too hot and wet for local crops.  The markets dwindle to things like sweet potatoes, pumpkins, sometimes zucchinis and eggplants.  This summer was worse than usual, thanks to most of Queensland being submerged in some floods and another good chunk of Queensland getting worked by Cyclone Yasi.  Instead of loads of fresh veggies over the summer, Andy and I had a lot of potatoes and not much else -- everything else was from far away, and expensive as a result. 

But now that it's cold, we have been able to buy lots of veggies of all kinds, grown nearby and available very cheaply.  Instead of needing to rely on seitan-centric meals, we've returned to some pretty hardcore veggie-on-veggie meals.  (I realised only after I typed that sentence that it sounds really dirty.  But, I'm gonna let it stay.)  Here are some of the vege-ful meals we've been indulging in...

Beautiful roasted Brussels sprouts, with potatoes and carrots, and a side of baked beans.

Peanut Curry Casserole, a variation on a recipe from Urban Vegan, full of broccoli, fresh tomato, and chickpeas.  On the side, a yummy salad with cos lettuce (also known as romaine), carrot, cucumber, avocado, sunflower seeds and more tomato.

Eggplant parma (topped with a little sprinkle of breadcrumbs, rather than cheese), with Garlic Bread Zucchinis -- these are an Andy original, a garlicky bread-based stuffing inside of little zukes.  And some potato wedges.

And some yummy veggie fried rice, with zucchini, green peas, and carrots.  Coincedentally, shortly after eating this dinner we tuned into MasterChef, where the pressure test involved fried rice.

I'm so happy to have a fridge full of veggies again.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Comfort Food Dinner

When he was sick recently, Andy requested a dinner of baked beans and fried up potatoes -- sort of like brinner, but without anything sweet.  We had some broccoli, so for variety and nutrition, I threw some in with the potatoes.

The baked beans were tomatoey, flavoured with curry powder and mustard seeds, a bit sweet and a tiny bit spicy.  They were chunky, and delicious.  The potatoes were crunchy on the outside and beautifully soft inside, and the broccoli made it feel a bit like a fancy cafe breakfast, instead of just homemade breakfast potatoes.

This brinner hit the spot.  It was exactly what we both wanted.

A fortnight later, Andy requested a repeat.  He wanted exactly the same dinner.  Except we both had a few ideas for how to improve it just slightly.  And I couldn't remember the precise method I used for the beans and potatoes.  So the result was a bit disappointing.  It was probably partially a result of having an unrealistic memory of our excellent, perfect first brinner.  But it was also just not as good.

Note to self: write down the recipe when the meal is good, and remember that 'improvements' usually lead to disappointment.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Confusing Vegetables.

It has been pretty darn chilly here now that winter has arrived - it was 9 degrees celsius this morning!  That's cold.  It makes Andy go into hibernation mode.

It also leads to numerous oven-baked dinners, which is pretty delicious.  Root vegetables always strike me as good cold weather food, so when I saw a box of "Swedes and Turnips" at the market one Sunday I grabbed one and brought it home.

I then set about trying to determine if it is a Swede or a Turnip.  Google confused things even more.  But I think I've figured it out -- a swede is also known as a rutabaga in the US, "neeps" in Scotland, and "turnips" in Ireland.  They're the big ones, and sort of orange.  A turnip, though, is smaller and whiter than a swede.  And I have no idea what they are called in Scotland and Ireland. 

Once I figured out the difference, I had to figure out which vegetable we had.  From the outside, I thought: swede.

Then I peeled it, and it looked very white -- not at all orange fleshed, as google suggested would be the case for a swede.  So I thought: turnip.

Then I chopped it up, and it was a little bit orange.  It also smelled a little bit like a skunk.  At this point, I had no idea what this stupid root was.

Then I boiled it, along with some potatoes, in preparation for baking (this is our favourite way to get potatoes that are fluffy inside and crunchy outside without too much oil).  After boiling it was definitely orange, so I've finally decided that we bought a swede, rather than a turnip.

After roasting, we served it up with some veggie casserole. 

I liked the swede -- mainly because it was something a bit different to usual.  Andy wasn't such a fan.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Product Review - Vegie Roast with Rosemary Mint Glaze

This product is by no means new, but Andy and I have baulked at the $7-ish price tag since they appeared on the shelves a few years ago.  We tend to pass by that area of the supermarket with barely a glance, because we would rather make our own seitan-related products than pay too much for them.  Especially because those Sanitarium roasts look teeny.

However, we love a good bargain.

Last week, Andy was in the shop and found them marked down 66%, to $2.37.  So he bought four.  Never mind that we had never tried them, and they might totally suck.  Even if they were terrible, we would find some use for them in the coming weeks (three went straight into the freezer).
This photo comes from Sanitarium.

I had heard from others that the roasts were yum but for the rosemary mint glaze they come with.  I was a bit surprised to see that "glaze" really meant powder.  But, we decided that we would try the roast following package directions the first time, to properly judge it.  So we coated in oil, and then rolled in the funny orange powder.  Then we popped it in the oven with some potatoes, broccoli, and a stuffed tomato made by Andy.

The results?  Meh.  First of all, the things I had heard about the glaze were true - it is not nice.  Andy, especially, hated it.  It was too sweet, and tasted very artificial.  So, for the remaining three roasts in our freezer, that orange powder will not be part of the meal.

Second, the texture was a bit funny.  It reminded me of that highly processed log of 'chicken loaf' that my parents very occasionally bought from the deli for sandwiches.  It wasn't bad, and Andy kind of dug it, but it bothered me a little.  I kind of prefer single-textured seitan.  Maybe because it reminds me less of meat.  In my opinion, chicken-ish textures are good in small, thin doses -- vegan chicken nuggets or cutlets are okay, but a big log: not so much.

Finally, it was pretty puny.  It purports to be four serves.  I know that Andy and I are greedy gutses, but we ate the whole thing in one meal, with an awful lot of side dishes.  It wouldn't go very far in a 'family roast' setting. Andy ate two thirds of the whole roast in about 6 bites.

In summary, we think this product has potential.  With a different flavour, especially.  We might try slicing it up and frying, instead of roasting.  Or possibly marinating, and wrapping in yuba before roasting.  Andy's opinion is that if he saw those for 50% off, he would buy one, and for 66% off he would stockpile.  My opinion wasn't so favourable, but I didn't hate them.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Getting a head

On a recent excursion into our local grocery shop, I saw cabbages on special for only $2.90 a head.  They were pretty big, so that struck me as a good deal and I asked Andy if he wanted a cabbage.  He said yes, on the condition that I find one "as big as New Zealand".

I picked one of the largest cabbages - not the biggest of the bunch, but the one that felt heaviest, to ensure we got the best value for money.  Out of curiosity, I put it on the scale -- it weighed in at 2.5 kilos.  That's just over 5.5 pounds, which is a lotta cabbage.

So how can two people get through a cabbage the size of New Zealand while it's still fresh?

First up, we shredded a small wedge and mixed it with leftover mashed potatoes, some flour, and a few other ingredients to make bubble and squeak.  We put this mix into the freezer, for an easy weeknight dinner later on.

Later on, we pulled it out for an easy weeknight dinner... but a lot of liquid must have come out of the cabbage in the freezing and thawing process, because the mixture was very sloppy.  Instead of adding some extra flour, Andy tried just dropping spoonfuls onto the baking tray.  The results were not very crispy but had a good flavour.   The messy bubbles&squeaks are in the background behind some cheesy-ish broccoli bake, and next to some wilted ceylon spinach.

Then we used another little bit of it, with brown rice and seaweed, to stuff some chokoes.  (Served with some potatoes and dukkah-crusted eggplant -- that eggplant was also huge, practically the size of Tasmania.)

A good chunk got fried up with sliced potatoes in a dinner that reminded me of something my mum might make.  As a side dish, Andy mixed up some broccoli, sundried tomatoes, olives, and dijon vinaigrette.

Then we discovered Andy's new favourite way to eat cabbage.  Using the basic stir fry sauce from this cashew seitan recipe, this semi-Chinese-ish cabbage was salty and saucy and everything good.  It was far superior to the BBQ seitan ribs we served it alongside.

We were finally left with just under a quarter of our original New Zealand-sized head of cruciferous veggie, which we cut in half and baked.  I put both wedges into a loaf pan, put a little chicken-style stock into the bottom, and drizzled on olive oil, salt and garlic before putting it into the oven.  Then we sprinkled with some garlic chives.  The result was tender yet still textural, and one of my favourite ways to eat cabbage.  Served up with roasted potatoes, baked broccoli and a tiny bit of seitan, just to see how an experimental batch tasted.

And that, my friends, is how two people get through a cabbage the size of New Zealand in a mere five dinners (with some leftovers for lunch).  Take that, cabbage that would dwarf me, if it weren't for what my mum referred to as 'football player's shoulders'.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I'm an iYuppie

A few weeks ago I decided to join the 21st century by purchasing my first mp3 player, which also happens to be my first mobile device that has web access. This is exciting becAuse it means i can do things like go to places with free wifi and post typo riddled blog posts, or videos of my cat earing lemon grass. With background music!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Banishing Seitan

I know I post a lot of seitan-centric meals on this blog.  It's not that Andy and I worship seitan or anything - it's just that we always have some in the freezer, as it's a good way to use up okara, which we produce in droves from making soy milk.  But in reality, we also eat lots of non-gluten based proteins, like lots of beans, and sometimes tofu

As much as I love tofu, our consumption of the white block has dropped dramatically for a few reasons.  First of all, for a few years it was consistently marked down to ridiculously cheap prices at our local Cole's.  Like, every month we were able to purchase it for $5 a kilo, or often cheaper.  We tended to buy every tofu with a reduced sticker on the shelf, filling up our freezer for later consumption.  The only limit to our purchases was that we were usually on foot and literally couldn't carry any more home.  When Wesfarmer's bought out Cole's, they must have put in some efficiency measures, or something, because we haven't seen a reduced-to-clear block of tofu in yonks.  Which is very sad.  And although tofu at regular price is still a pretty good deal, we just can't get over our past - we are always reluctant to pay full price for tofu, so we only buy it every now and then.

For a while we were regularly making our own, which totally rocked my soy-based world.  Homemade tofu is seriously yummy.  But then our stocks of the little salty tofu coagulant started to dwindle.  We keep meaning to order more, but then not ordering more, so in the meantime we have made tofu less and less often.  We're down to one little packet.  Consider this my public note to self that I must purchase more coagulant!

So anyways, when we do have tofu on hand these days, it's difficult to decide what to do with it.  One recipe we keep coming back to is this dijon and lemon baked version that Andy found while wasting time at uni one day many months ago.  I don't know his source, so unfortunately cannot properly attribute (if it's your recipe, let me know!).  We seriously love it, so in the spirit of sharing, I will put it up here for you all - if you try it, let me know what you think.

Dijon-Lemon Baked Tofu

1 block of tofu, cut into 'steaks' or triangles
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. lemon juice
2 T. olive oil
2 T. dijon mustard
1 t. sugar
1 t. basil
1 t. thyme
freshly ground black pepper

In a jug, whisk together all of the ingredients except for tofu.  Give it a little taste and adjust the flavours if it needs it.  Beware - it's a punchy marinade, that makes for a punchy dinner, just how we like it!  Put the tofu into a rectangular glass baking dish and pour the marinade over.  Give it a good shake to cover the tofu evenly.  Marinate for at least an hour, or longer in the fridge if you have the foresight.  Turn the tofu over once in the middle of your marinating time.  Bake at 190 (375F) for about 30 minutes, until the marinade is thick and the tofu is delicious. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cashew Seitan

We've recently had a regular and large stash of broccoli in the fridge, thanks to cheap prices.  We've also recently had some very tiring work days, and come home with no real desire to make a gourmet, three-course menu.  On one of these days, Andy suggested that we have a stir fry - we had seitan to go along with the broccoli.

I also recalled a small jar of cashews that we've had for a few weeks, and I recalled one of my fave dishes from vegan asian-style eateries in the past (like Peace Harmony in Sydney).  I was all "let's have cashew chicken!".  Andy was all "is that going to be any good...?"  Well, duh, of course.

I quickly googled some recipes, looking at a few before settling on the simplest.  Of course I veganised it, and made some other minor tweaks to make it more to our liking.  So I present to you, quick, easy, and delicious Cashew Seitan (or tofu, if gluten makes you ill!).

Excuse the blurry photo - I have to post this despite the shonkiness of my camera skills because it is so good.

2 chicken-style seitan cutlets (we use mark-style seitan)
2 T. soy sauce
1 t. sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small chilli, minced
2 T. lemon juice
3/4 c. chicken-style stock
4 t. corn flour
3 T. vegetable oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 head of broccoli, chopped
1 carrot, cut into match sticks
1 zucchini, cut into match sticks
1 bunch of water spinach (kang kong) or other greenery
1/3 c. cashews

Slice seitan into strips and marinate in soy sauce, sugar, garlic, chilli, lemon juice, and 1 T. oil for at least 20 minutes.  In a jug, whisk together corn flour and stock, and set aside.  In a frying pan or wok, heat remaining 2 T. oil over high-medium heat (on the higher side of medium high, that is).  Cook the onion until it's clear, then add carrots.  Stir for a minute or two.  Add zucchini, stir another minute.  Add broccoli, stir one more minute!  Then, add the seitan and all the marinade.  Stir it around and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add the greens.  Re-whisk the corn flour/stock mixture, then stir this into the stir fry.  Stir it for 1 or 2 minutes, until it's nice and glazy.  Then add the cashews and stir it all up and serve on your best christmas plate with rice.  This served both of us for dinner, with a bit left over for lunch.

Despite his initial scepticism, Andy has quickly become a fan of this stir fry - we have used the basic sauce since in other stir fries.  The only thing he didn't love was the cashews, but that's okay because it meant more for me.

Friday, May 06, 2011


Mostly on this blog, I talk about food.  But today I'm going to talk about the by-product of that food -- poop.  Not human poop, but worm poop.  That shit (ha!) is awesome.

We live in a unit, with a very small, paved back garden.  A compost heap is out of the question in our space, but 90% of our rubbish is fruit & vegetable bits and pieces - carrot ends, soy bean skins, cabbage outer leaves, avocado peels, grape stems, apple cores, and so on.  Throwing that in the regular rubbish seems wasteful, and it makes our regular rubbish smelly, and much more voluminous than it needs to be.  So shortly after we moved into our current place (nearly 4 years ago now, woah) we bought a worm farm.  At the time, the Queensland government gave us 50% cash back, in 'water wise rebates', so it cost us something like $40.

We keep a small plastic container on the kitchen counter where we collect our scraps.

It's not too noticeable, but since it  doesn't have a lid it does sometimes attract ants, or cockroaches (but they are everywhere, anyways, whether or not there is food out in the open).  We've been meaning, for years, to find a bucket with a lid, but Andy is very choosy about how big it should be, and what kind of lid it should have, and we often forget to look for a new container, so we continue to use the plastic trays that they sell spinach and mushrooms and stuff in.

We put all of our fruit and veggie waste into the worm farm, except for onions, garlic, citrus, and avocado seeds.  We also put tea leaves and bags, cardboard, and non-glossy paper.  As long as you don't overfill it, it has no noticeable smell (it's hard to overfill, once you've let the worm population get big enough.  Just take it easy at the beginning).

The "Can O' Worms" we got has three trays for putting stuff in, and by the time you fill up all three, the bottom one is ready to use as dirt in the garden.

The stuff that comes out is very rich, and needs to be mixed with other dirt so that it doesn't become too cakey. 

It is, really, just a bunch of worm poop, so when Andy was up to his elbows in it the other weekend, I made sure to point that fact out.

Mixed in, it is a great seed-raising mix, and a good  general dirt for growing stuff.  This year, we also tried adding some to the top of already-growing plants, to give them a bit of a pep-up. 

Andy watered it in using our high-tech watering can (a plastic bottle with holes poked in it).

From what I have heard, worm farms can be difficult to keep in the tropics.  Between the heat, and the rain, a few of my friends have had mass worm die-offs.  We've never had a problem, for a few reasons.  First, we always keep a bucket underneath the spout.  Any water that comes through the worm farm ends up in the bucket (which you can use as liquid fertilizer!), and therefore doesn't pool up in the worm farm and drown our wriggly friends.  Second, Andy has taken a few special measures to ensure that our worms stay shaded, and in the very wet season, protected from the water.  Behind the worm farm, you can see a black sheet - that provides shade for them, as does a white sheet attached to the clothesline above, which you can't see.  In the very rainy times, we put a big sheet of bubble wrap (anything plastic will work) over the top, to keep out some of the rain.

That, plus their excellent diet, keeps our worms happy and healthy (as far as we can tell).  It's a good symbiotic relationship, it keeps our contribution to the landfills minimal, and it keeps our plants growing.

Who knew poop could be so cool?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Lazy Crafternoons

Now that it's a bit cooler, I have picked up my crocheting again - having it in my lap keeps me warm, instead of making me unbearably hot.  I have a few unfinished projects leftover from last year, but instead of working on those I decided to start fresh!  And we have a few friends who are having babies soon - my vegan friend Matt and his wife Emma, and a colleague of Andy's.  New babies seems like a perfect excuse to crochet adorable things that I love making, but have little use for, myself.

For Andy's marine biologist friend, I made a big, stuffed clown fish.  

It's based on a pattern that I found online -- but was fairly unhappy with and had to make lots of changes, so I won't post the link.  At Andy's request, I made it like Nemo, with a 'special fin'.

For Matt and Emma, I made a farm yard menagerie.

A little pink piggie.

A chicken, who looks a bit like a cockatoo.

And a black sheep, with crazy eyes.

The thing I kind of love about crocheted stuffed toys is the fine line they sit on, between cute, and a little bit creepy.  Kind of like Tim Burton movies.  Now I'm working on a bag, but at the moment it is just a collection of small squares, so I won't post a work in progress photo.  But expect more crochet posts this winter!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Noodles. Oodles of them.

When I was a kid there was a poem that me and my sister *loved*.  I can't remember exactly how it goes; I've found this version by googling but something tells me it's not quite right - for one thing, I'm fairly certain our noodles poem was much longer.

I love noodles. Give me oodles.
Make a mound up to the sun.
Noodles are my favorite foodles.
I eat noodles by the ton. 

Whether or not that is the right poem, the point is that I have always loved noodles.  2-minute noodles, Top Ramen, whatever they are called in your neck of the woods -- we ate them for lunch every weekend and referred to them as "oodles of noodles".  As in, "I'm going to make some oodles of noodles, do you want some?"  Only I can't remember sharing, so that sentence may be wrong.

Although I avoid the heavily processed 2-minute noodles these days, I still love a good noodly meal.

This one is mung bean vermicelli, with shredded carrot and sweet potato (side note: if you haven't tried raw grated sweet potato in salads yet, what are you waiting for?!), green peas, some peanuts, and an asian-ish dressing of soy sauce and sesame oil and sweet chilli.  Yummy but still healthy, and a good weekend lunch.

Slightly less healthy, this is lemon-pepper seitan with a coconut cream sauce.  Some ceylon spinach added some greenery, and mixing this with noodles made it so morish.

And in the more stereotypical range, a veggie stirfry with peanut sauce.  I love peanut sauce so much, and this needed more!

Whenever we eat noodles, Andy tries to make sure I get enough veggies, or seitan, or whatever else is in the meal alongside the noodles -- I think that he thinks he's doing me a favour.  But really, if my bowl was 90% noodles, I would be happy with that.