Sunday, November 29, 2009

Asian grocery goodness...

On Monday, I typed the final paragraphs into my conclusion chapter, leaving me with .... a complete first draft. It was like a beacon of light shone down on me, and a chorus was singing in the distance. In the life of a PhD student, a complete draft is A Big Deal. I've spent just under three years so far working on this, first researching my face off and then writing for months on end. Now my drafts are up with my supervisors, which means a short reprieve before revisions start with a vengeance. There's plenty of work I could do in the meantime, but I basked in the moment and took both Tuesday and Friday off from uni.

So on Tuesday, I headed up to the Asian grocery shop, something I've been meaning to do for weeks, and stocked up on some supplies.

I often complain that in Townsville we lack many of the luxurious ingredients that city dwellers and North Americans take advantage of without a second thought. Things like more than one brand of store-bought veggie burger, vegan cheese, and vegan restaurant food. But for all my complaining, my basic needs are met -- the Asian grocery store carries lots of vegan staple foods.

My recent trip saw me purchase about 7 kilos of food, which made riding home a bit arduous but totally worth it.

I got: sesame seeds, azuki beans, tapioca pearls, dried shiitake mushrooms, miso paste, cannellini beans, ground cumin, loose leaf green tea, sumac, chickpea flour, gluten flour, and stinky tofu. Of the products which are available in the mainstream grocery stores, these are much cheaper -- because the Asian grocers buy in bulk and pack most things themselves. They have tons of spices and dried herbs, rice of all varieties, beans, nuts, seeds, tinned mock meat, and noodles galore. They've also got a fair bit of fresh produce, including lots of fruit and veg that you can't get in the supermarket. In short, I love it there.

The other thing I bought on Tuesday which had made it to the fridge by picture-time was a block of fresh tempeh. At $5.50 a cake, it ain't cheap, but it's approximately 12,403 times better than the tempeh we can get in the supermarket.

For me, tempeh and peanut sauce were made for each other, so I stir-fried my tempeh with broccoli and carrots and smothered everything in a curried peanut sauce.

The fresh tempeh was firm and textured, with a deep, almost mushroom-y flavour. Served with bulgur, this was a great post-yoga meal because it was so ridiculously quick to throw together.

Note to Townsvillains - I shop at the Asian grocery store in Aitkenvale. I've been to the Hermit Park shop once and wasn't super impressed, and since I'm a creature of habit I'm happy to stick with the one I know and love.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Another use for eggplant.

One of the great features of Urban Vegan's new cookbook is the Italian recipes. They are quick, full of fresh ingredients, and fairly simple to put together, letting fresh herbs and good olive oil shine as flavours.

You can check out my other attempts at UV's recipes here, but take a look at this yummy spaghetti dish. Spaghetti alle Melanzane translates as 'spaghetti with eggplant', and the simpleness of the title belies how delicious the meal is.

The flavour comes mostly from cooking the eggplant for a ridiculously long time before adding the rest of the ingredients. Although this was on the stove for nearly an hour, it was an hour I spent mostly out of the kitchen, returning every few minutes for a stir.

If you haven't got this cookbook yet, well, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Hey, Aussie vegans, I'll be spending a week in Sydney in December, and I have a grant to pay for my food - yippee! So, I'm looking for restaurant suggestions. My accommodation is in Kirribilli, and I'll be spending most of my daytimes at Macquarie University. Aside from the conference dinner, there are no meals included with the conference, so if you have any recommendations I would love to hear them!

Also, is anyone interested in a meet-up of some kind? Perhaps for a Saturday morning brunch that I have drooled over on so many other blogs, before I fly back to Townsville?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Soup Weather

It's pretty much summer again here in Townsville, which means gorgeous blue skies, a bit more humidity and 30+ temperatures--which I love. But in the past few weeks we have had several 'unseasonably cool' days, some with rain. I realise that my perceptions of cold days are what others would consider balmy, but a high of 26 during the day is my idea of soup weather. Or at least, I realised it's the closest I'll get to soup weather for several months, so I may as well take advantage of it.

Soup weather + spring vegetables coming from the southern states = Potato-Asparagus Soup, from Vegan with a Vengeance.

This is a really satisfying recipe. It's thick and rich, but without any soy or even much fat. The creaminess comes from a potato, which gets blended. And the flavour comes almost solely from two very delious ingredients: asparagus (from Victoria) and dill (from my garden).

I think I was even wearing sweatpants while I made this.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Ice Queen.

That was the not-so-endearing nickname given to me in high school by a group of girls who wanted to date my boyfriend. The relationship didn't last longer than a year, but these days I'm embracing the name. Let me explain.

Regular readers of this blog probably know that I am, shall we say, frugal. I am also comfortable describing myself as a tight-ass, a miser, a penny-pincher, etc. I have a hard time buying things that are not on special, and those reduced-to-clear stickers on grocery store shelves set my heart aflutter.

But this kind of lifestyle has the potential to stifle a diet full of variety. When your grocery focus is on sale items, you end up with a glut of one or two things for a few weeks, and then you wave goodbye to that item until it is in season again. Part of eating cheaply and locally is getting used to that. But, there is a partial remedy--become an Ice Queen (or, king).

It is amazing what you can get away with freezing for later. Yesterday I saw broccoli for $3 a kilo, so I got four heads and chopped them up, popped them in a plastic bag and stuck them straight into the freezer. I regularly freeze baked goods, and you can't keep bread for more than two days here without freezing it--the humidity means it goes mouldy very quickly. Vegetable stock, pumpkin (cooked and raw), capsicums, fruit, bread crumbs, minced herbs, beans--all are stored in our freezer.

I recently experimented with lemons, which we got 6-for-$1 from the markets. I know you can freeze the juice for later use, but I was curious about the zest. Before juicing, I zested all the lemons and filled up a few jars, and yesterday I used some of the frozen zest with good results. Now there's no need to ever leave fresh zest out of recipes.

Life would be much easier if we had a big chest freezer, but since we rent a small unit, we are confined to our little top freezer, but with a bit of planning it's amazing what you can squeeze in.
My freezer a year ago-- ice cream, tater tots, roasted pumpkin, fresh noodles, minced coriander, chopped broccoli, seitan, broadbeans, pressure-cooked beans, tofu, puff pastry, chopped spinach, diced carrots, coffee, pizza dough, bread rolls, and green peas.

My freezer this year -- bananas, ice cream green peas, raw pumpkin, capsicum, leftover chilli, leftover baked beans, jars of beans, lemon juice and zest, muffins, puff pastry, and a space for a loaf of bread.

A few tips:

Before you freeze, prepare everything. Chop vegetables, peel bananas, slice bread, etc. In terms of packing, there are two options. One is to wrap things in single-use sizes, for instance freezing lemon juice in ice cube trays or keeping chopped veggies in sandwich bags. The other is to put them into one big bag and take out a little bit as you need it. To do this successfully, close the bag off loosely for the first few hours, so that your veggies or baked goods don't freeze into one big clump. For things like stock, beans, hummus, pesto and bread crumbs, use empty jam jars--just make sure to leave a bit of space for liquids to expand as they freeze. Try not to leave anything for longer than three months, so you're eating it fresh and also to make room for your next batch of freezer items.

So embrace your inner Ice Queen and enjoy good-as-fresh, homemade food even when it's not exactly in season.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Polenta Pie

This dinner is a few weeks old, but I really liked the way it looked so I'm posting regardless of my failed timeliness.

About two months ago, Andy or I made a pumpkin pasta that was fairly meh. It didn't taste bad, just... meh. Instead of trying to suffer through leftovers straightaway, we put a tupperware in the freezer to revisit at a later date.

When that later date came around, Andy was struck by a lightning bolt of creativity and took over the reincarnation of the pumpkin pasta. He cooked up a batch of polenta, spreading most into a pie pan, thus making a thick crust. In went the pasta, all pumpkin-y and punctuated by broccoli and chickpeas. On top, he crumbled the remaining polenta, which had set too much to spread as a proper crust. That looked fairly good, but he upped the ante with sauce swirls and olives.

This all went into the oven, and a little while later we chowed down on a much prettier version of a pumpkin pasta fail. The result was marginally better than the first time, in my opinion, though Andy quite liked it. I loved the top part, where the pasta met the olives and sauce. But I am not really a fan of polenta. Still, I am a fan of having beautiful dinners created for me, so I'm not complaining!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bananas, part two.

Continuing on from my last post, I have the final installment of my fresh bananas. There are still a bunch in the freezer, but I will use those up a bit more gradually.

For a vegan picnic in the park (which was lovely and full of loads of delicious desserts), I made a batch of Banana Split Pudding Brownies from Vegan with a Vengeance. These were really good, the sweet banana topping offset the rich chocolate layer. As I cut these, I worried they might be too cakey, but when I bit in I found that my fears were unfounded. These were thick and densely fudgey, and the batter was delicious.

And finally, I cut into my Banana-Peanut Butter Pie. This is strikingly similar to the recipe from Vegan Planet for Banana-Swirl Cheesecake, but I have changed it up a bit so I will post here. It is ridiculously easy, but it had a few omni friends raving.

Banana Peanut Butter Pie

1 package vegan gingernut biscuits
5-6 Tablespoons vegan margarine
2 x 300 gram packs of silken firm tofu
8 ripe lady finger bananas (roughly 4 large)
1/2 c. peanut butter
1 T. sugar
handful vegan chocolate chips

Heat oven to 180 (350f). Crush biscuits with a mortar and pestle, or a food processor, until they are fine crumbs. Using your hands, mix in margarine until all the crumbs are incorporated. Press this mix into a lightly oiled springform pan, using your hands and the bottom of a cup to pack it down, and up the sides.

In a medium bowl, blend bananas with one pack of silken tofu until smooth.

In another medium bowl, blend peanut butter, sugar, and one pack of silken tofu until smooth.

Bake empty crust for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, pour in banana mixture. Next, pour in peanut butter mixture, spreading evenly across the top. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Return to oven, bake for 45 minutes. Pie should no longer be wobbly. Turn oven off and leave pie in the hot oven for 30 more minutes, then remove and cool fully.
This isn't even that bad for you. There is almost no added sugar, lots of healthy tofu, and loads of fruit. So eat without guilt!