Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lemon and Sage Burgers

These patties are a little bit gourmet, in as much as burgers ever can be classy. They're also quick and easy - we had them on a Friday night for dinner, which is usually our laziest night in the kitchen. A bit of forethought is required, unless you use canned beans. The inclusion of lemon was inspired by a bag of Myer Lemons grown by a friend of mine. We happened to have a roasted eggplant in the fridge waiting to be used -- you see, our eggplants remain in high-intensity fruit-production mode, so sometimes we'll throw a whole one on the barbie to use later in the week -- so we turned it into a really nice condiment that really complemented the flavours of the burger.

Lemon and Sage White Bean Burgers

2 cups of cooked cannellini beans, drained
1/4 c. olive oil
juice from 1 lemon
1 tsp. dried sage
1/2 c. polenta (corn meal)
1/2 to 1 c. gluten flour
salt & pepper

I cooked my beans on the weekend and put them in a container with the olive oil, lemon juice and sage, and left them to 'marinate' in the fridge all week. If you're using tinned beans, or just haven't planned ahead, just mix them all in a bowl. When you're ready to make the patties, mash the beans with the olive oil, lemon juice and sage until most of the beans are broken up. Stir in the polenta, and salt and pepper to taste. Then mix in 1/2 c. of gluten flour. Knead for a few minutes, adding more gluten flour if they feel soft. The dough should be pretty sturdy, because these were nice, firm burgers. Form into patties.

Cook on the BBQ, or in a frying pan, or in the oven. We did ours on the barbie, over very low heat. The delicate flavours in these wouldn't taste very good charred, I think, so cook until just lightly browned.

Eggplant mayonnaise
1 medium eggplant, roasted and then cut into chunks.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. vegan mayo (like Praise 99% fat free, which we used)
salt & pepper

In a blender, food processor or mini chopper, blend up the eggplant chunks with the olive oil and lemon juice until it is pretty smooth. Add vegan mayo and whiz it through to mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

We had our burgers on bread rolls with the eggplant mayo, some malabar spinach from the garden, and cucumber.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Baby Cooking

Not cooking babies - cooking for someone with a baby.

My gorgeous friend S gave birth to a beautiful boy 5 weeks ago. But she is moving overseas with her partner and baby in April - so they have been getting rid of stuff, rather than accumulating it. Rather than giving them baby-related gifts, I read on Offbeat Families that one of the best things you can do is bring food, so the new parents don't have to worry about cooking.

After googling what foods to avoid while breastfeeding, thinking about transportability, and taking into account reheating options (no microwave, too hot for oven), I came up with these two good meals and a dessert - all of which I made double of, so we could eat, too.

A quinoa pilaf type thingie, with green peas, grated carrot, green beans and toasted almonds is full of protein, fibre and flavour. Some quickly sauteed mushrooms were served on the side, because I remembered (luckily) my friend's partner doesn't like them. And a braised lentil thingie added Andy's most important virtue of a meal: sauciness. I had planned to do this with puy lentils, but I made this when the flooding was on south of us, and apparently there was a run on green lentils at the supermarket. So I used brown. They were good and gravy-ey.

I put this into an aluminium foil tray, which they could heat in the oven if they wanted to, but this food was good cold. Andy and I ate it at room temperature the night we made it - with our mushrooms mixed in, and with broccoli added (apparently broccoli-flavoured breast milk can give babies wind. The things I'm learning!).

For dessert, I made sweet rice with mango. I only realised after soaking my rice that it was sushi rice, rather than sticky rice, but I forged ahead. The result was less than excellent, but better than good. For my friend, I packed the rice into a container, the coconut sauce in a jar, and the mangoes whole, so they could construct the dessert when they wanted it.

The other meal was more casseroley. I called it "eggplant thing with polenta" ... it had eggplant (obvi), grated sweet potato, white beans, some green olives, tomato, and spices like cumin and coriander. For my friends, I put this into a loaf tin and topped with polenta, casserole style. Again, they could reheat in the oven or eat cold. (We also gave them a chocolate cake to go with it, because - chocolate cake).

For our own dinner, we put the polenta into bowls and topped with the eggplant.

This was yummy - a nice change from our usual food, a good way to use up some of the million eggplants coming from the garden, and nicely portable.

I will probably do this a few more times before my friends move overseas, so give me ideas - what are your favourite meals to cook and give?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Pizza. On the BBQ.

Andy and I love pizza. Since I perfected a crust recipe several years ago (below), Andy has requested pizza aroundabout once a week. We have had some really excellent successes in our time - roasted garlic + nutrtitional yeast "cheesy garlic bread", gourmet-style antipasto pizzas, vegan bacon and pineapple pizzas - but we've recently reached new heights in the pizza stakes.

Enter the BBQ.

I had read, several years ago, an article about cooking pizza on the grill like this. The article talked about putting the dough straight on the grill plate, cooking it briefly, then flipping over to top as the other side of the dough cooked. This could work, but we haven't tried it yet, and I don't know how it would go on a Weber (which cooks hotter than most BBQs).

When Andy's parents parked their caravan in our back yard last May, they bought a pizza stone for their Weber, and we tried it out with pre-purchased crusts. They were good, and friends who have pizza stones say they are really excellent. But our trepidation around pizza stones is that they are rather small, and we like our pizzas rather... large. I suppose we could make many smaller pizzas, but they can only cook one at a time, and also what if the dough is floppy?

Our method is much simpler, and probably means that we still have higher heights to reach. But for now, it's blown our minds enough that we're happy here. Our method involves making the pizza on the pan, like we always have, but cooking it on the Weber, raised up on a trivet (because going straight on the grill would be too direct a heat and would burn the base).

The result is a crispy crunchy base with a still-fluffy crust ring around the edge of the pizza. The whole thing gets a slightly smoky, BBQ flavour. And it only takes 8-10 minutes per pizza, on low heat.
BBQ sauce, fresh pineapple, and vegan bacon bits, with a few mushrooms.

I suppose the most revolutionary aspect of this pizza-making method is that it lets us have pizza in the summer without heating up the house. On a really hot, North Queensland day, you can imagine how important this is. It even encourages us to eat outside, something we normally only do when we have people over.
Pesto, Mushroom and Tomato pizza

Pizza Dough
1 cup of water (usually, + 1 or 2 Tbsp., but play it by feel)
2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. sugar
3 c. flour
3 Tbsp. gluten flour
2 and 1/2 tsp. yeast

We make this in the bread maker, just whacking everything in and letting it go, adding a splish splash of water when it looks dry. If you don't have a bread maker, do this in the normal way of making bread. Mix up the water, salt, olive oil, sugar and yeast. Mix the flour and gluten flour together and then mix the dry into the wet with a wooden spoon. When it gets too stiff, mix with your hands, and knead the dough for 10 minutes until it becomes stretchy and smooth. As you knead, add more flour if it is too wet; if it's too dry I like to get my hands wet and knead in more water that way. When it looks like nice dough, put it in an oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise for 60-90 minutes.

At the end of the dough cycle or when the dough has risen in the bowl, punch it down, drop it on the bench, and knead by hand for a minute. Divide it in half (or more, if you want smaller pizzas), form into smooth balls (tuck the rough bits in at the bottom until it's pretty smooth), and let rest on the bench, covered with a tea towel, until you're ready to roll out the pizzas (up to 2 hours, but we usually go 30-60 minutes).

Friday, February 08, 2013

Fitness Friday: Eating for Exercise

I'm stealing the idea for Fitness Fridays from Kari.

My 2013 resolutions included some fitness goals. I have been travelling fairly well - I've done push-ups every week, pretty much always cycle to work, and run a few times a week. But all this exercise makes me really hungry. And I'm doing it to be fit, rather than to lose weight, so I haven't been cutting calories. But I was not really very strategic about my eating until fairly recently. Reading Bianca's posts about the Thrive Forward cleanse got me thinking about it. I signed up for the site, but didn't participate really. What it gave me, instead, was some ideas about the most efficient ways to fuel myself.

So now, I pop a Direct Fuel Bite before my run. I shape them into balls and store in the fridge, so I can grab one quickly as I blearily put on my shoes and get Tika's lead so very early in the morning. Before discovering Direct Fuel Bites, I ate nothing before running. These are made with dates and coconut oil (and I add crystallised ginger to mine, which is yummy), and supposedly the glucose in the dates gets turned into fuel pretty much immediately, and the fatty acids from the coconut oil are another source of quick energy. I do notice a difference - I feel less tired by the end of my (still short) run.

Straight after my run, I drink plenty of water while one of us gets breakfast together. I tend to have granola with soy milk, which is fairly high in protein thanks to okara, seeds & nuts, simple carbs thanks to dried fruit, and complex carbs thanks to oats and other grains. So I get an immediate re-fuel, as well as more long-term, low-GI energy. To make it more filling, I usually top with chia goo (1 tsp. of chia seeds with about 1 Tbsp. of hot water, let sit for 3 or 4 minutes) and fresh fruit if we have any.

Or I have a smoothie. I make mine filling by including oats, which I soak in a bit of water or soy milk in the blender jug overnight. In addition to that, I either have peanut butter & banana, or tropical fruit (whatever is on hand) with almond meal for protein.

But even with a filling breakfast, I get hungry again in the mid-morning. Andy and I try to keep bananas around for morning tea, and if I'm really starving I'll have my banana with a rice cake and almond butter, which I keep in my office for hunger-related emergencies.

If, for some reason, we don't have bananas (or other snack fruit) on hand, we put a batch of muffins in the freezer. They stay super fresh, and thaw out by the time we're hungry for little lunch. Since beginning to exercise more consistently, I have tried to maximise the nutrition in these snacks. This recipe for banana muffins that I made last week isn't the healthiest ever - I used white flour and sugar - but they are high in protein, oil-free, and most importantly, delicious. The recipe is very loosely based on Dynise's Blueberry-Banana Bread from Urban Vegan, but only very loosely.

High-Protein Banana Muffins

2 tsp. chia seeds
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. bicarb soda
1 1/2 c. plain flour
1/4 c. quinoa flakes
3/4 c. sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. rum
1/2 c. wet okara (or sub yogurt, or mashed silken tofu)
3 large bananas, mashed
1/3 c. soy milk
3/4 c. chopped nuts (I used half macadamia, half walnuts)

In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. In a separate, smaller bowl, mix up the mashed bananas with the rum, okara and soy milk. Add this to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. Spoon into lightly oiled muffin cups and bake at 180 for 28-30 minutes. Let them cool in the pan for a minute or two, and then carefully take them out. Cool fully on a rack, and then (if you want to keep them super fresh for up to a month) put them in a bag and freeze. Take out one muffin at least 30 minutes before you want to eat it.

I'm still, really, an exercise novice. I'm no endurance athlete, and I run in a week what a lot of people do in a day. But even a little bit of proper exercise is super duper good for you, especially when it's matched with good, nutritious food.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Meal Planning: Week 2

Look at me: back at work for less than a month and I've already fallen off the regular-blogging wagon. Obviously I'm no good at multi-tasking, so you can see why I need at least a semi-structured meal plan!

Our second week of meal-planning began with the best of intentions. We would go to the market, get whatever produce looked good and was cheap, and then plan a week's worth of meals. But on Sunday morning we woke to find Tika in a bit of discomfort and sporting a huge belly. The night before, I left the dog food bag open, and she helped herself. So we skipped the market, instead staying home to keep an eye on her (also, it was hot).

So I thought about what we had on hand, and started flicking through some cookbooks, but I only got through two before I had so many ideas. Week 2's meal plan became our Week of Urban Vegan. Her cookbooks tend to be my faves anyways, so I wasn't surprised to find a big list of possibilities. Here is the plan that I wrote, based on some input (and some resistance) from Andy:
  • Esther's Baked Falafel (Celebrate Vegan p.107), or Chickpea Chilli Burgers (Urban Vegan, p.48) - early in the week, so Andy could have leftovers on his lunch-time sandwiches
  • Black Bean and Bulgur Tacos (UV, p.83) - on Tuesday or Wednesday, so the lettuce was still fresh.
  • Pumpkin risotto with sage and sundried tomatoes (UV, p.152)
  • Spicy Seitan 'Wings' (Celebrate, p.165)
  • Spaghetti alle Melanzane (UV, p.91)
  • Pumpkin-Daal Soup (UV, p.54)
There were others I could have chosen, but there are only so many days in a week! At this point, Andy got a little nervous that my meal-planning would become inflexible, so we agreed that this was just a guide - a list of recipes that we could use if we didn't know what to make, but if we felt inspired to do something else that was cool too.

Here is how it turned out.

On Sunday, while soaking beans for the week, I decided to turn some overripe bananas into muffins. I used the recipe for Blueberry-Banana Bread (UV, p.24) as a guide, but changed it up heaps, so I will post the new recipe another time. These were high in protein, and super yummy, the perfect morning tea snack for a week without fruit (on account of not going to the markets).

Sunday night's dinner was a mash-up of the two chickpea patty recipes. I couldn't decide, and then I did, but then I changed my mind. So the flavouring is falafel, but I added oats as per the burger recipe to bulk the patties up. They were a little dry, so not very well suited to BBQing, but they were delicious with BBQ potatoes, beetroot and corn.

Monday night we had eggplant pasta, basically following the recipe for "alle Melanzane" but adding a jar of pesto (because our freezer is so full of it!), and using penne pasta.

Up until now, our meals for Week 2 looked strikingly similar to Week 1, with a few minor variations. Andy would have preferred to keep this up, but Tuesday is where I took a more serious detour. Instead of our normal tomatoey Mexican meals, I made Dynise's Black Bean and Bulgur filling, with the addition of some corn, which we ate burrito-style. I thought they were delicious, and a great change. Andy likes what he likes, and thought these were just okay.

On Wednesday, we got a break from the sticky, hot weather - instead, it was 25 degrees and we got 200mm of rain. I felt like something warm and snuggly, so flicked through the two cookbooks and decided to make an afternoon snack of Milk Pudding (Halvaye Shir), a Persian sweet (Celebrate, p.10). Except I didn't follow the recipe well - I used different spices, vanilla instead of rosewater, and walnuts instead of pistachios. It was very yummy, anyways.

Then for dinner, we went off-plan in favour of something hearty and warm - Mesir Wat with Chappatis.

Thursday was still a little on the cool side, so rather than BBQ-ising Dynise's seitan wing recipe, we followed the original recipe and baked them in the oven. I think of them as nuggets, more so than wings, but whatever you call them they are fantastic (with oven-baked potatoes).

On Friday, we fell into old habits (not necessarily bad habits...) and threw some gnocchi and jarred tomato sauce together and called it dinner. It did the job, got us through the week, and made a dent in the big pile of gnocchi taking up space in our freezer. So Week 2 was a little similar to Week 1, a little creative, and still flexible. A success, even if not a resounding one!