Monday, January 31, 2011

Ginger, Lime, and Tahini?

In my testing for Carla's One Dish Wonders cookbook, I have seen a few recipes that I look at, read the ingredients list, and think, "Really?"  But I've tried a few of those recipes, despite my scepticism, and have been pleasantly surprised.

Case in point: Lime, ginger and tahini sauce.  Lime and ginger together makes sense to me.  But adding tahini into the mix just sounded like crazy talk.  But Andy and I felt like a stir fry, and we had all the ingredients, so we gave it a go.  And I'm glad I did - the ingredients come together in a magical way that makes it taste like peanut sauce, but also not like peanut sauce.  It's tangy and zippy and tart and morish.  And the other ingredients cover up the chalky taste that tahini often leaves in my mouth when I eat it (yeah, I don't *love* tahini, shock!).

On its own, it was a little thick for our stir frying needs - so we added a bit of ginger beer to thin it out (and for an excuse to drink the rest of the bottle) and mixed it through our noodles and veggies.

Another great recipe from One Dish Wonders!

Sunday, January 30, 2011


I guess I spoke too soon about the lovely weather Townsville has had this year...

Update:  I spoke too soon about speaking too soon.  The cyclone actually headed south of us, and although it was a windy Sunday, we barely even got any rain.

We'll be keeping an eye on the weather, though, because Yasi, the cyclone following in Anthony's wake, looks like she is a little bit angry...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

High & Dry

I think most people in the world have heard about the floods in Queensland (some great/awful photos here) - and a few of you have asked me what it's like in Townsville.  Although Brisbane's floods are what put our state on the international map this year, a fair chunk of our huge state has been affected: an area about the size of Texas, or a bit bigger.  Luckily for me, though, the flooding didn't start until about 500kms south of Townsville.

In fact, it's been one of the dryest wet seasons I've seen - I am unsure of how the actual amount of rain compares to most years, but what I mean is that we haven't had much steady rain.  This year has actually been pretty pleasant, with a shower or storm in the day that goes away fairly quickly, and often some more overnight rain.  Otherwise, we've had really blue, sunny days since shortly after Christmas.  Sure, it's humid, but we've missed the usual (in my 5 years here) pattern of solid, unrelenting rain that lasts for a week or two, interspersed with a few sunny, hot days every now and again.  The results of the normal rainy season are loads of mould, ridiculous humidity, bike paths that stay flooded for weeks, and an inability to do any laundry unless you own a clothes dryer.  So I've really appreciated this wet season, at least so far.  After that xmas-NYE week, the bike path hasn't been flooded at all, and the river has dropped heaps compared to then as well (remember my photos here?).

This was all meant to be a very brief intro-segue into my post about our food dehydrator, but it's turned out to be far more substantial than I intended.  And I can't remember how I was going to smoothly transition (something about being dry and drying food....), so here's an abrupt change of topic.

We got a food dehydrator a few months ago.  It's an Excalibur, and it has five trays, and it's a bit big for the kitchen so it lives on top of the washing machine.

Since we've gotten it, we've tried out a few things - mangoes (so good, and much better than storebought), pawpaw (aka papaya - not so nice), mushrooms, capsicum, carrots, kiwi, apples, and rockmelon (canteloupe).  And also lightly salted pumpkin seeds, which are totally yum.  And granola, which is approximately 13 times better than oven-granola.

But today I'm going to talk bananas.  I tried making banana chips almost straightaway, by putting thinly slice bananas into the dehydrator.  They were gross.  They were pretty ripe, and the dehydrating resulted in a sickly-sweet flavour and a chewy texture - not what I was expecting.

Fast forward to a few weekends ago, when a friend from uni gifted me with some bananas from her garden.  Being home alone, I decided to experiment a bit further.  I was being generous - if I found a good way to dehydrate bananas, I could help my friend with all of her excess crops.  Pretty nice of me, no?  So I googled banana chips, and discovered that the delicious, crunchy treats are deep fried.  I didn't want to give up, though, so I tried tossing my banana slices in oil and golden syrup before dehydrating, hoping it would crisp them up.

Well, no luck.  They were more pleasant than the first batch, but still not that good.

So banana chips are a no-go.  But all is not lost - I discovered the joys of fruit leather.  I tried three varieties: Banana with lime

Banana with mixed (frozen) berries

And banana with peanut butter and a dash of cinnamon.

The idea behind fruit leather is pretty simple.  Just blend up fruit, spread it onto the trays, and dehydrate.  All three came out pretty well, though the berry version stuck.  I don't know whether I spread it too thinly, overdried it, or the berry chunks weren't blended well enough, but I had to fight to get little strips off the sheet.  The others, though, peeled off smoothly and stayed in one big, beautiful sheet.  I rolled up, and cut into pieces, and have been snacking on banana fruit leather since then.

I still can't for the life of me remember the awesome idea I had to link these two ideas together - it came to me while I was riding home, but it's left me since then.  So, um, I like my dehydrator, and I also like how dry this wet season has been.  And I can now generously offer to take bananas from anyone who has too many!  I'll even give ya back some fruit leather...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Handy Woman

Last weekend after filling up the washing machine with laundry, chucking in the laundry balls, and turning on the machine, I was met with an obnoxious beeping noise and "E90" instead of the usual filling-with-water-and-washing-my-clothes that I expect from any good washing machine.

Home alone, I didn't have anyone nearby to say "fix it!" to.  So I had to figure it out for myself, which I was dreading - I don't have a knack for anything mechanical, and I had no idea where to even start.  So if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, you can follow my lead.

 The tools of my trade.

1. Open the hall closet where (along with just about everything else) the appliance booklets are stored.  Have a quick glance but get tired of looking for them.  Shut the hall closet and open the internet.  Google your appliance name and download the book.

2. Eagerly read through the book, only to find that it doesn't identify the error you're experiencing.  Arg!

3. Google your appliance name and E90.  Read the comments about how sucky your brand of washing machine is; discover that the fix is pretty easy.  All it will take is finding the blue wires that go into the control panel, wiggling them around and spraying with WD40, and wiggling them around again.

4. Go look at washing machine.  See no blue wires, because obviously they are inside the machine; see no way to actually get into the machine.  Take out the deterget tray, find two screws.  Think they might be the answer.

5. Return to hall closet, look for screwdrivers.  Look, and look, and look.  Eventually get a chair to stand on and find them shoved into the back of the top shelf, thanks to your 6'6 husband who forgets that not everyone can see that shelf so easily.

6. Unscrew the only two screws you can see on the whole washing machine.  Try to pry off the front panel.  Fail.  Wonder how on earth everyone else on the internet just automatically knows how to take apart a washing machine.

7. Return to internet.  Post query - how the hell do I even get to the wires?!  Thankfully get almost immediate response, slap self on forehead for not thinking to look at the back of the washing machine (in my defense, it is really, super duper heavy and the back is hard to see).  Struggle with moving washing machine by yourself.  Eventually succeed, finding a massive pile of dirt underneath the washing machine, thanks to a few hundred industrious ants. 

8. Look at screws at the back of the washing machine, which your screw drivers are not capable of removing.  Return to hall cupboard, stand on chair, and search through the mess of tools; find a set of spanners.  Struggle with those, but eventually succeed in removing the top of the washing machine.

9. Return to the internet, double check what you need to do.  Locate blue bundle of wires going into the control panel.  Try to reach them through the tiny and sharp-edged opening you can see them through.  Try to poke them with a pen.  Realise that's a bad idea - even if you succeed in  getting them unhooked, how will you get them back on?

10. Return to the internet.  Follow up helpful response with another stupid question.  While waiting for a reply, vacuum ant-dirt and clean masses of spiderwebs from behind washing machine.  Get reply - just take off the control panel.  Wonder why helpful post-er can't sense your frustration and lack of knowledge about just how to remove control panel.  Refrain from posting another stupid question and instead go study the washing machine for clues.

11. Find two more screws, which are also not screwdriver-able.  Try spanners, which don't work because of the confined space.  Get leatherman, remove screws.  Struggle for 10 minutes with the control panel, but eventually succeed in removing it - though without any knowledge of how you've done it, and thus, an inability to replicate this feat in the future. 

12. Wiggle wires, spray WD40.  Fight with wires to click back into place again.  Eventually, finally, thankfully, succeed.  Turn on washing machine to find the E90 and the beeping is gone!

13. Struggle to re-attach control panel; eventually decide it's too much trouble and it's close enough.  Screw top back on.  Feel sweaty, but pretty chuffed with yourself for fixing the washing machine - and all the while wearing a dress, no less. Bask in the green light of success.

14. Realise this is not that big a deal, really, but write a blog post about it anyways!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mint Slice

Did you see Vaala's recent post about her veganised mint slice?  I took one look and immediately said "I want".  Of course, she posted this recipe on Boxing Day, when we still had all kinds of food and sweets and ice cream in the house, so it seemed like a bad idea to add another sugary concoction to the house.

Well, we finished all of those sweets.  And I had a look in every supermarket we went to for a few weeks, trying to get ahold of some peppermint essence.  Amazingly, there was none.  At all.  I could have gotten peppermint essential oil and used a lot less of it, but instead we got a few packs of candy canes, reduced to 50 cents after Christmas.

I knew from previous hot chocolate experience that candy canes melt pretty easily, and infuse their peppermintyness into the liquid they melt into.  The only trouble was that Vaala's delicious-looking recipe only has a tablespoon of liquid.  So I scouted around the internet and found a non-vegan recipe that used half a cup of cream, so I adopted that for my filling layer.  The result was a bit pinker than Vaala's version, but it was delicious.

The first step is to mix up and bake the base, and I would suggest doubling the recipe for that - just so you can eat lots of the dough before it is cooked!  I had a teeny taste and it was so morish that I found myself wanting to eat the whole batch before it went in the oven!

125g margarine, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup cocoa
1 cup shredded coconut

Heat oven to 180, line a slice tin with baking paperCream together the margarine and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in the rest of the ingredients until just combined and then press into the prepared baking tin.  Try not to eat all of the dough, unless you've prepared by making more than you need. Bake for about 15-20 minutes. Let cool.

While the base was in the oven, I got to work on making some minty soy milk.  
4 regular sized candy canes (I'll probably use 6 when I make this again)
1/2 c. soy milk (or whatever milk you fancy)

Break up candy canes roughly and put into a small saucepan with soy milk.  Heat over low heat until the candy canes are fully melted - your milk should be nice and pink, and super pepperminty.  Let this cool off before you use it.

1/2 c. vegan butter
3 1/2 to 4 c. icing sugar
3 T. candy cane milk

To make the filling, you could mix up the ingredients using some kind of electric beater, just like you're making icing.  I don't have one, so I mixed it all by hand - stir up the butter with a fork to soften it, and then add the icing sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing until it's fully incorporated.  When you've added 3 c. of icing sugar, stir in the pepperminty milk.  Add the remaining icing sugar until it's thick enough that you're getting a sore hand - it can be slightly sticky still.  Spread on top of the cooled base and chill.

Then make the topping.  Again, I deviated from Vaala's recipe slightly due to a lack of supplies in my house.

100 g. dark chocolate
remaining candy cane milk

In a bowl over a simmering bowl of water, stir the chocolate and milk until the chocolate melts.  Pour this over the pink minty layer, spread it out, and chill until the chocolate is set.  Then, do your best not to eat the whole tray of mint slice in one sitting.

Thanks Vaala for a delicious recipe!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Summer, summer, summertime.

In my head, I am singing the song from the opening of Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style, just to give you a glimpse of how strange I am.

But I really am going to talk about summer.  As you may be aware, Andy and I are kind of, um, obsessed with mango season.  This year we mainly missed out, though, which was terribly disappointing.  The first Bowen mangoes were for sale the day before Andy left for PNG.  I was still home for a week, so we bought a tray.  Of course, they didn't ripen until just before I left, so I put them in the dehydrator and they turned out well, and we were looking forward to getting lots more mangoes when we came home and stockpiling dried mango.

Then we came home.  We went to the market, and got a big bucket of Bowen mangoes for $8.  We dried some, but also ate lots.  For other aussies, these are sold as Kensington Pride outside of North Queensland, and they are one of the best varieties of mango around, I think.  That week, as we chowed down on our bucket of mangoes, we got loads of rain.  When we got to the market the following Sunday, empty bucket just waiting to be filled, there was not one Bowen mango in sight.  What?!  We asked a few growers and they said the crop had been lost in the weather.  So we got some nam doc mai mangoes instead.  And that was the end of Bowen mango season.  1 tray, 1 bucket - a pretty pathetic year, compared to our usual effort!

However, this post isn't just a whinge about our lack of mangoes.  We did try a new (to us) asian variety.  I can't remember the name, which is an indication of how memorable it was.  They took almost two weeks to ripen, and even then they were only semi ripe.  Whether they were picked too early, or that's just how that variety of mangoes is, it was not good.  But as the saying goes, when life hands you green mangoes, make green mango salad.

That's what we did.  With peanuts, and a sweet-lime-soy dressing, and cucumber and shredded carrot, and kaffir lime leaves and lemon myrtle.  It was really yummy, actually.  And we had it with a mixture of peanut noodles + zoodles (zucchini shredded into noodle-ish strips).  It was a good summery meal.  It's just a shame it was one of the only mango meals we got all year.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bao - Steamed Buns

In my last post I showed a few photos of the seitan-filled steamed buns that Andy and I had on new year's eve.  Someone has asked for the recipe, so here it is.  It comes from a VegNews magazine, but I've just had a quick flip through and can't find it again so I'm not sure which issue.  Lucky for me, the recipe is online already.

I'll post it as we made it, but keep in mind a few notes.  First, this recipe makes 12 buns, but they are HUGE.  2 is enough to fully fill me up for dinner, with nothing else on the side.  When I make these again, I think I'll divide the dough into 18 or even 24 balls and make more, smaller dumplings.  Alternatively, the recipe could easily be cut in half.  But I'm reluctant to do that, because these freeze really well and make a great easy-meal.  Just pull them out of the freezer 30-60 minutes before steaming, or add an extra 5 minutes to the steaming time if you put them in frozen (but they'll be less fluffy if you do this - I know because I just ate two of our NYE buns for dinner tonight).  Finally, the filling is obviously variable - we have made these once by closely-ish following the VegNews recipe, but this time we just mixed up a filling we liked.  Soon I want to try red bean- and/or lotus-paste inside.  So without further ado, the recipe...

Steamed Buns

1/4 c. sugar
1 3/4 c. warm water
1 T. yeast
6 1/2 c. plain white flour
2 T. vegan butter
baking powder, for dusting

In a jug, dissolve sugar in warm water.  Give it a swirl and tip in the yeast and let this sit for 10 minutes.  It should get nice and foamy (if not, get new yeast!).  While the yeast is... yeasting... put flour into a very big bowl.  Add vegan butter and rub it in with your fingertips until it's fully incorporated.  The recipe says "until it resembles small beads" but mine never took on that appearance.  And given the ratio of flour:butter, I don't really see how it could - but hey, maybe in a cooler place it's possible, or maybe I just stuffed it up.  Regardless, I just rubbed in the butter until there were no clumps of butter left.  Dump in the yeasty sugar-water and mix this up.  You'll need to use your hands.  My dough was pretty dry and the flour wouldn't all incorporate, so I dumped it onto the counter and kneaded with wet hands, rewetting my hands every few minutes until the flour was all mixed in.  Then continue kneading for a few minutes, until the dough is smooth, shiny, and stretchy.  Form this into a ball, put it back in the bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let it rise for 90 minutes to 2 hours (use the shorter time if it's stinking hot, like it is here). 

While the dough is doing its thang, put together whatever filling suits your fancy.  You can have a look at VegNews's suggestion, but this is what we did:

2 c. mark-style seitan, minced up
~1/4 c. BBQ sauce
1 tsp. dried chilli flakes
1/2 c. peanut sauce
1 tomato, chopped

Cook the seitan in a frying pan until it's getting a little brown, stir in the chilli flakes and tomato, and then add the BBQ and peanut sauces.  Stir it around, and turn off the heat.  Set aside until you're ready to assemble your buns.

Divide the risen dough into 12 and form into balls.  Dust with baking powder and roll into 6 inch circles (make these smaller if you make more than 12 dumplings with this recipe, of course).  Put a scoop of filling in the centre of each circle, then pull up the sides.  I sort of made a pentagon-shape, and then gathered and twisted so the dough folds all headed in the same direction.  Pinch & twist at the top to make sure the dumpling is sealed.  Put each bun onto a little square of baking paper, and put them into the fridge until you're ready to cook.

Boil a little water in a pot, place a few buns into a steamer basket (but beware: they swell a bit, so don't overcrowd the steamer), and put the steamer into the pot.  Turn the burner down to medium low, so it's gently boiling, cover, and steam for 15 minutes.  Then eat, and try not to burn your mouth.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A new year

Before it gets too late into 2011, I thought I should share some snippets from our post-Christmas holiday.  Although we had planned on doing a bit of work between xmas and NYE, Andy and I ended up doing nothing of the sort.  Instead, we read books (novels! not work-related books!) and watched movies.  There was sporadic rain, but we got long enough breaks to do a bit of adventuring.

We went on a bike ride up to Aplin's Weir and watched the water rush over.
We tried to venture further, but found the path and the river had become closely acquainted.
I got a bit of a muddy back, but it was good to get out between the storms.

On another day we went to Pallarenda, my favourite of Townsville's two beaches.  I had never actually seen the shark enclosure before - but there was still no swimming, because the shark enclosure isn't stinger-proof.

Then we stopped in at Rowes Bay for some hot chips!

On yet another day, we biked in the other direction, to the railway bridge at Oonoonba. 

As you can see, the river was still *pretty* full.  A few days later we took a walk to the Bowen Road bridge and the river had dropped by at least 2 metres.  I didn't take the camera with us, but it was pretty crazy how quickly it fell!  And good for me, because it means that the path to uni is bike-able once again and I don't have to worry about getting lost in annoying suburbs with curvy streets and endless cul-de-sacs.  But anyways.

When New Year's Eve arrived, we celebrated with a feast.  Rice paper rolls, all full of raw veggies and tofu...

And steamed dumplings, fill with BBQ seitan filling.  They don't look that pretty, but they were light and fluffy and very tasty.

After dinner, our NYE was fairly mundane - some sparkling wine, some ginger beer, a few phone calls (to use up some bonus credit, of course), a trip to the street where we were able to see one of Townsville's fireworks from the 8pm display, and then The Truth About Cats and Dogs on telly. Given how much we had eaten, we were pretty sleepy, but we managed to stay up until midnight. 

Maybe it wasn't what most people consider a fun way to spend a big party night, but at least it was in keeping with the very low-key nature of our week!

Friday, January 07, 2011

The age of asparagus

In early December, Australian-grown asparagus was really cheap for a few weeks, so Andy and I ate lots and lots of the stuff.  You'll also notice that these are mainly stove-top dishes, a shift from our heavy oven-use over the winter.

Glazed in lemon-garlic, and served on top of lemon-seitan, with some eggplant bharta-ish on the side.

Tucked away behind eggplant patties, a shape-variation on the eggplant balls that radioactive vegan posted about.  Also served with sauteed mushrooms, and garlic bread.

Sauteed with onions and served up with a seitan schnitzel (and some zucchini schnitzels, to make use of the leftover batter and crumbs).  The schnitzels had a bit of kaffir lime mixed into the crumbs, for a zingy, summery take on the classic.

Andy reckons it was barely distinguishable from a meat schnitzel.

As soon as the temperatures drop down to a near-chilly 28, though, we get our roasted veggies on.  Roasted asparagus, carrots, green beans & cherry tomatoes, went really well with a super-dilly salad, and mustard seitan.

And asparagus roasted with the last of the semi-ripened tomatoes from our now dead cherry tomato bush.  Served up with a kidney bean patty, and a huge heap of Spiced Potato Wedges - the recipe for these is our favourite yet from our testing of One Dish Wonders.

I *love* asparagus, so I was pretty sad to see the waning of the age of asparagus just before Christmas.  On the bright side, it will dawn again!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Giving & Getting

Although I'm a supporter of the ideas behind Buy Nothing Christmas, I still like to partake in the gift exchange surrounding the December holiday time.  What can I say, I'm part-anthropologist - gifts and rituals are our bread & butter.

The obvious solution is to give homemade, and preferably edible gifts. This year, I decided to make little bags of spiced nuts to give to the people Andy and I find enjoyable.  It was pretty easy to put together, and cheap (but shh... don't tell the people I gifted!)

I got a big bag of peanuts, and smaller bags of cashews, almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds and pepitas from the asian grocery store, so they were not very expensive.

I mixed the nuts with a good drizzle of olive oil, a spoonful of golden syrup, and a generous pile of the Ethiopian spice mix Berbere, freshly ground for the purpose. 

Mix it all up, spread into a baking tray, and cook at 180 for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10.  Once they're toasted, and then cooled, I scooped them into little clear-plastic gift bags we got from the craft store (our pack of 25 cost $2.50, and contained 37 baggies - score!).

Tied off with pretty cords and adorned with a bow, they were ready to go.

My friends must know how much I love edible gifts, because the things we received in the annual gift exchange were pretty delicious.  My supervisor had a similar idea with spiced nuts, hers flavoured with chilli and garam masala.  And my wonderful friend Mel shared some fantastic cookies, all yummy with spices and macadamia nuts and white chocolate.

 I'm always looking for new ideas for homemade gifts - what are your faves to give or receive?