Sunday, July 31, 2011

Black Sapotes are totes awesome.

Back in October 2007 I posted about the delicious tropical fruit, the Black Sapote.  At the risk of being repetitive, I'm going to do another post about this fab fruit -- it was nearly 4 years ago, and I have new things to say this time anyways! In October 2007, and for maybe a year or more, Andy and I were going through a phase where we bought them nearly every week.  Then, for some reason, we stopped buying them.  Until a few weeks ago, when I saw a basket of $1 sapotes at the market, and I said, "We're getting one".  Andy picked a big one, but then the stall-holder pulled out an even BIGGER one from the back of her truck.  So we bought two.

I put it next to a gift card, so you can see how big they are.

Black Sapotes are hard and green when you buy them.  You can't buy them much riper than this, because they are too delicate -- even picking them up can be tricky, so transporting them ain't gonna happen. Look at what happens to the bottom when they go ripe -- the weight of the fruit pushes down, and the bottom goes super flat.
Just ignore all the mess in the background.

You can slow the ripening process by putting firm sapotes in the fridge until a few days before you want them to ripen.  Then, once you bring them back to room temperature, they finish ripening and away you go.
The big one ripened much quicker than the littlie.

Black Sapote also makes a yummy port, so if you're ever in Far North Queensland you should treat yourself to a tasting at Shannonvale Tropical Fruit Winery.

Black Sapote is, as I said in 2007, also known as the Chocolate Pudding Fruit.  However, they don't really taste all that chocolatey.  If you think really hard about it, you can faintly taste a bit of chocolate, but that may just be imagined.  It's hard to say.  What they do taste like is yummy - sort of persimmony, which is unsurprising since the two fruits are in the same family.

So what things can you do with a Black Sapote?  This is what we've done recently...

1) In a pie. Scoop the flesh, separating out the seeds.  Mash or blend it up with a splash of Cointreau. 

Pour into a pre-baked Granola Nut Crust (the best recipe from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, in my opinion).  Chill, and eat.
This was actually a bit of a fail, because I didn't mix anything, like agar, into the fruit to make it set.  So instead, I put it in the freezer.

2) In ice cream.  I made an easy-pants custard with coconut milk simmered with a cinnamon stick, and then a bit of corn flour.  Once it cooled, I blended in the flesh of a Black Sapote, took out the cinnamon, and churned it in the ice cream maker.  Cinnamon + Sapote = a super yummy flavour combo.

3) With a spoon.  Still the easiest, and possibly the best way to eat sapote -- straight up.

Have you ever tried a Black Sapote?  Were you convinced of their chocolate-likeness, or a skeptic like me?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Getting Stuffed

Back to school... the semester started again on Monday, along with other things to keep me busy, which is why I have neglected my blog this week.  But for the next 6 weeks, I will be less busy than Andy, so it's time for me to take the cooking & cleaning responsibilities back on while he finishes his PhD!  Here's an easy-pants dinner that is healthy and tasty (and which was alluded to in an earlier post, elliciting requests for a recipe).

Stuffed Chokoes

Step 1: get a choko.  Choose a nice firm one.

Cut it in half, lengthwise.  

Put it in a bowl of water, or under running water, straight away.  This will wash away the sap, or latex, or whatever it is that makes your hands sticky for days.

Put the chokoes into a steamer basket cut-side down, and steam them for about 15 minutes, flipping them over 2/3s of the way through the cooking time.

While the chokoes steam away, you can start to get your stuffing together.  Crush up a healthy teaspoon of dried wakame seaweed. Mix this with about 2 teaspoons of nori flakes (or 2 teaspoons of cut up nori sheets -- kitchen scissors are easiest for cutting up nori!).

Cut a slice of bread or two into small pieces.

Grate a carrot.

Mix the seaweed, bread, and carrot in a bowl.  Then add a teaspoon each of paprika, stock powder, and celery seeds.  Alternatively, you can ditch the stock and use celery salt in it's place.  Or use, you know, real celery.  Put some kind of herb in, preferably fresh.  In this batch, we added fresh thyme.  Parsley and oregano also work well.

When your chokoes are cooked -- they should be only just tender, but still very firm (mushy chokoes are not so pleasant) -- let them cool.  If you try to scoop the insides when they are hot, you will probably break the choko a bit, like I did here.  That's okay - just not so pretty.  When they have cooled off, scoop out the flesh with a spoon, being sure to leave a thick enough edge all the way around.  As you scoop, some watery stuff will pool into the choko.  Pour this into the stuffing bowl.

Chop up the choko flesh, and add it to the stuffing mix.  Also add a splash of olive oil, and check your choko shells to see if they need to be drained off again.  If you've got most of the liquid from the chokoes, the stuffing is probably wet enough.  If not, add water, a teaspoon at a time, until it is just moist. Taste it, and adjust the seasonings to your liking.

Put the stuffing into the choko shells.  

 Use your hands to pack the stuffing in tightly - you can really fill these up pretty full!

Put them in the oven -- they can go at pretty much any temperature, if you adjust the time accordingly.  But if you want some guidance, try 180 (350F) for 20 to 30 minutes.  The top of the stuffing should get crunchy, but the choko should still be tender and non-mushy.

Eat.  Here, with sweet potatoes, seitand, and beetroot.

Altogether, you can put this dish together with ~10 minutes of hands-on time, and if you make the stuffing while the chokoes cook and/or cool, it can be a pretty efficient meal.  And the stuffing recipe is really easy to vary, so it doesn't need to get boring -- though chokoes and seaweed are a very yummy combination, and seaweed is good for you, so this is our most common choko-stuffing recipe.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Tropical Vegan Home: Happiness = Colour!

I've read a few blog posts recently about happiness -- The Little One is back(!!) with a post about her happiness project,  and Wayfaring Chocolatarian Hannah discusses various forms of happiness, such as goblins and cake. These posts are a good reminder to me that I need to be happy!  I have been, for the past few years, sometimes obnoxiously optimistic and upbeat and happy, but succumbed a bit to the drudgery of my first few months of actual work.  But I'm determined to be a happy person again, and one of the things that makes me happy is bright colours.

A little while ago, I was starting to feel pretty down on our current rental unit.  Probably because we've lived here for 4 full years now, and it was just starting to feel a bit samey-samey.  And because we rent.  This means that we can't paint walls, install shelves, and our real estate even gets funny about hooks getting put into the walls.  In addition to the limitations to personalisation, we have never been able to sign a lease for longer than 12 months, so there is always a chance that we'll be moving out "soon".  As a result of that, we have resisted accumulating much furniture, because we (well, Andy) don't want to have to move much stuff.  So anyways, the off-white walls, tiles, and ceiling started to feel oppressive and I had to do something about it!

Also, our bookshelf was a bit overflowing.  I had several trips of bringing anything remotely work-related to my shelves at uni, but we still had stacks of books on top.

So, when I saw a freecycle ad for a bookshelf, I said OMGYESPLZ!  I was a little bit meh to find that it was white, but thought that would be easy to overcome.  Originally intended for the spare room, this shelf ended up finding a home in the kitchen, instead, housing some cookbooks, and Nacho's food space.

And after a few weeks, some painting of previously-white goods, and some getting my craft on, these shelves provided an opportunity for some colour.

Only, this didn't solve the problem of our over-stuffed bookshelf, because none of those stacked on top made it to this one.  But a few weeks later someone was selling two small shelves for only $10 (not each! for the pair!), so we finally got some more breathing room for our books.

Another easy-pants way of splashing some brightly-coloured cheer around involved yarn, and crocheting, which I enjoy - so this project had a double-happiness factor.  I covered over our white throw-pillow with a straight-forward granny square.

It's double-sided, so we can swap it around depending on our mood.

And we pushed some thumb-tacks into previously-existing holes to spead out our collection of trinkets -- a Welsh love spoon, from my trip to Conwy in 2009, a cowry-shell turtle that a friend brought back from Micronesia, and our wedding hand-fasting cords, made of PNG shell money.

So overall, I'm feeling happier with the space.  And less antsy to change things and move to a house (though still a little antsy for those things).

The irony is that the lease we've just signed is only for 6 months -- at our own request -- so we currently have the least certainty since moving in back in 2007!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tropical Vegetables

I've mentioned recently how happy I am that Townsville is in its best veggie-growing season at the moment.  Andy and I have drastically slowed in our consumption of things like seitan, because we've just been eating veggies and more veggies for our meals.

One of the veggies that we pick up every now and again is the choko.  These are known in different parts of the world as chayotes, mirlitons, chow chows, pear squashes, and the list goes on.  Our most favourite way of cooking is to stuff it with a bready, seaweedy mixture and bake it for a while, so it's still tender-crisp.  I've tried making it a few different ways, though, so it's not the same thing over and over.  What we've discovered is that Andy likes choko best when it's just under-cooked -- overcooked it goes mushy and reminds him of those yellow button-squashes which he refers to as "those disgusting yellow shit things".  I don't mind them mushy, but definitely prefer them on the crunchy side, where they are more like a cucumber in texture.

One way we cooked them was to slice thinly and saute in lemon juice, garlic, and parsley.  We had these with mashed potatoes and crumbed seitan.  These were a little too undercooked, or else a little too thickly sliced, because they took a lot of jaw-effort to eat.  But they tasted good, and gave us a good idea of how good sauteed chokoes can be.

And, despite our previous experience with undercooked choko, I recently decided to try out a raw choko recipe.  The cookbook Tropical Vegan has a recipe for Cucumber and Chayote Slaw, which I followed somewhat.  It's more of a salad than a slaw, and it was good.  Very thinly sliced choko (put it in a bowl of water while peeling to avoid getting latexy hands), thin slices of cucumber, chunks of pineapple, and some spicy flavours mixed together into a surprisingly nice salad.

The thing about this salad, though, was that although it was tasty and nice to eat, it didn't make either of us want to go back for more.  So it sat in the fridge for a few days until we decided we had to finish off the leftovers before they spoiled.  In the future, I'll make a half-batch, or make this when we're having people over and are more likely to finish in one go.

Served with lentil loaf, roasted beetroot, roasted carrot, and corn.  Yes, we eat on a christmas plate year round.

My plans for the future (when we have a house, with a garden, of course) are to grow chokoes, since they go well here and can be used in lots of different ways.  But for now, we'll keep experimenting with what we buy from the market.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Meat Pie

As an Australian, Andy loves meat pie.  I've never had a non-vegan meat pie, but I think we've made some pretty yummy renditions since I've lived here.  There's something not just delicious, but also comforting, about food wrapped in puff pastry.

So when I was perusing the testing blog for Carla's newest cookbook, and I noticed "Australasian Meat Pie", I knew we had to make it.

And it was glorious.  The filling was so thick and lovely -- our last few attempts at pie have been a bit, erm, runny.  So when you cut them, the filling runs out in a soupy puddle.  So this thick, gorgeous pie filling was exactly what Andy had in mind.

To up the Aussie street-cred, we served with beetroot (as well as roasty potatoes and corn on the cob).

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Itchy Feet

After living in Australia for five years, it's probably time I head home for a visit.  Andy and I have been meaning to get home, but between expensive flights, and teaching/fieldwork schedules, it hasn't happened yet.  Then we decided to go for a few weeks in October.  Then, Andy got accepted to present at a conference. In Scotland. The week before we were planning to head to NY. It took a bit of negotiating, but finally we agreed on a very exciting, somewhat whirlwind, Round the World trip.

For those of you who are Facebook friends, this is old news.  But, our itinerary looks like this:

5 days in Hong Kong
4 days in Switzerland, with possible day trips to Austria and/or Liechtenstein
5 days in Scotland - an overnight in Edinburgh, and then on to Aberdeen where the conference is
3 days in Dublin
5 or so days in New York City
1 or 2 days in Philadelphia
3 or 4 days in Washington, DC
Then to visit my parents, in Upstate NY.  From there, we'll probably get out to Niagara Falls, at Andy's request, and maybe venture onwards to Toronto for a few days, before trekking back to St Lawrence uni, where I did my undergrad degree.

Because this is a work trip for Andy, there are certain parts that are non-negotiable in terms of times and locations.  But, if anyone has any recommendations for things we should do, or places we should eat, in any of these locations, please please leave me a comment!

The leg in Hong Kong is what inspired us to snag two sets of chop sticks from Andy's parents' closet when we were visiting.  Until that week, I had never, ever, in my life, successfully eaten with chop sticks.  I had tried a few times, and all were miserable failures.  But somehow, Andy's mum's description of how to use them just worked for me, and after playing around and grabbing random things for a few hours, I was able to eat with them.  We're still practicing regularly, so we don't look like clowns when we get to Hong Kong.

And if simply reading this post gives you itchy feet, the tickets are pretty reasonable - we got this one from RoundAbout Travel.  We've got a stack of travel guidebooks out of the library and can't wait for September to come!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Orange Cranberry Granola

One of the reasons we timed our trip to Eden when we did was to coincide with Andy's mum's birthday.  Sure, it was mainly because that was when the biggest gap in teaching and meetings was happening, but the timing was lucky.

For a gift, we brought down some beautiful (if I say so myself) granola.

It was orange-cranberry, with pecans.

It was a bit more work than the usual granola I make for myself, but it makes a lot (so there was lots of leftovers that stayed in Townsville and became my breakfast).

Here's the recipe.

1 orange
6 T. oil
1 1/2 c. fairly wet okara (which of course is the byproduct of soymilk making - if you don't have okara, you could probably use soy yogurt, soy milk, or even tofu blended up with some milk...)

6 cups rolled oats
3/4 c. pecans, roughly broken up
1 1/2 c. other stuff - in this batch, I used rice flakes, shredded coconut, and processed bran sticks
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 packet of dried cranberries (maybe 1 1/2 to 2 cups?)

A few days before you want to make the granola, carefully peel the orange zest from the orange.  Try to avoid getting much white stuff.  Put the peels into a jar, pour the oil over, and cover it tightly and let it sit and get orangey for a week, or less if you're impatient.  But just don't skip this step, since it makes all the difference between meh-granola, and holy shit this is good-granola.  Squeeze your peel-less orange, or eat it and use another one when you need the juice.  I got 3/4 c. of juice from my orange, which is perfect.  You might need more than one orange, or perhaps less.  If you squeeze a few days before you make the granola, freeze the orange juice and just defrost it when needed.

Once your oil smells sufficiently orangey, make your granola.  In a jug or small bowl, combine the okara, orange juice, and oil (you can strain out the zest, or leave them in - we left them in).

In a large bowl, mix up your oats, nuts, other stuff, salt, and brown sugar.  Try to mix until the brown sugar clumps are all pretty well broken up.  Then pour in the wet stuff, and mix it all together really well.  Probably use your hands.  Once all your dry ingredients are no longer dry, mix in the cranberries.

If you have a dehydrator, spread the granola onto the sheets, and dry at 52C(125F) for 4 hours, spinning the trays around every hour.

If you don't, cook it like regular granola -- at 160C(320F), stirring every 15 minutes, for about an hour.

Either way, cook it until it's crunchy.  Then let it cool on the trays before putting it into an airtight container.