Friday, January 31, 2014

Storming the Freezer

Last night a cyclone crossed the coast. For the first part of the week, it looked like it was coming pretty much straight at Townsville. I have lived here for nearly 7 years, and while I'm not a local nor a meteorologist, I have seen several cyclones heading straight for Townsville that end up going elsewhere when push comes to shove. So we got prepared by cleaning up the back yard but didn't get too worked up. Good thing, too, because it ended up heading 200kms south of us, and we saw less than 40mm of rain at our house.

One of the things we figured out during Cyclone Yasi, which is rarely given out in official advice, is to eat anything precious from the freezer, so that if the power goes out for a few days you don't have to throw it away. So this week we had a few freezer based dinners. We still have rather a lot in there, but now there is plenty of space for a new batch of ice cream...

We tried some Fry's vegan burgers, which were good but not worth full price. They were delicious with some cherry tomatoes, cooked down with olive oil and garlic.

Here we have tofu (from the freezer) marinated with teriyaki and chilli sauce, spring rolls (from the freezer), BBQ pineapple, and fried rice with capsicum (from the freezer) and eggplant, green beans, cherry tomatoes, sweet potato shoots and baby kale (all from the garden).

When our mulberry tree gets ripe fruit on it, we pick them and stick them in a container in the freezer, till we have enough for something yummy. This container spent an overnight with some oats to become a yummy breakfast.

And for lunch I brought a chickpea naan roll to work, inspired by Joey's link to Dan Lepard's recipe - but with a slightly different filling.

None of this made a massive dent in the freezer stash - we still have about 15 naan rolls, a few boxes of Fry's, a bag of frozen capsicum, 6 blocks of tofu, and other random things. But if any more cyclones form in the coming months, at least we've made a start!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cocktail Bar

Tell me: is there much better than a cold, refreshing beverage in dessert form? There may well be - in fact, I'm certain there are many things that are much, much better. But after sweating it out around the house on Saturday and Sunday, waiting for the rain which didn't come, biting into this cool, tangy Mojito Slice was pretty much as good as I could ask for. And afterwards, the rain started, so it was doubly good.

This slice can thank a recipe for Mojito Bars from Betty Goes Vegan for its inspiration. I fully intended to make that recipe. But the thought of having the oven on for 40 to 50 minutes was repulsive, and my mind quickly turned to Kari's vegan lemon slice recipe. I had made them before so I knew the recipe was a keeper, and was sure it would hold up to a few alterations. So this recipe is really Kari's, as I've done little but change the flavours. But they sure are good flavours. I thought at first the base would work as a no-bake option, but on pressing it into the pan I decided to bear the oven for 10 minutes, and I'm glad I did.

Mojito Slice

1 c. oats
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. vegan butter

1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. corn flour
1 c. sugar
up to 1 c. water
3 Tbsp. white rum
1 Tbsp. fresh mint, finely chopped
zest and juice from 2 or 3 limes

Line a slice pan with baking paper and heat the oven to 180 (350F). In a food processor or mini chopper, whizz up the oats and sugar until they look like coarse flour. Add the butter, and let the processor run until it's fully incorporated. You could add water if it looks really crumbly, but I didn't need to. Press it into the lined pan, using wet hands to keep the mix from being sticky. Bake it for 10 minutes and then let it cool while you make the topping.

In a measuring jug, combine the rum, mint and lime zest. Juice the limes into the jug. I used one large, juicy lime and 2 small, kinda dry limes. All up, it should come to about 1/2 cup of juice and rum combined. If you have more than 1/2 cup, use a bit less water in the next step.

In a small saucepan, whisk together the flour, corn flour and sugar. Slowly add the water and whisk until smooth. Bring it up to a boil, whisking constantly, and then turn the heat to low and cook it for a few minutes - up to 5. It will get really thick, but soon you will add more liquid, so no need to worry. Whisk in the lime juice mixture with the pan over the heat, then when everything is incorporated take it off the heat. Pour this over the cooked base. Refrigerate the whole thing for a while - overnight is best, really. Keep it chilled until you're ready to eat it, and remember that the alcohol doesn't really cook off!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Vegan Carbonara

As I promised at the very end of last year, I have made another batch of Carbonara so I can post the recipe here.

Carbonara is one of those dishes that a lot of people seem to love, but I had never even heard of before I went vegan. So I have no reference point to compare it to. But somewhere along the way I picked up the key ingredients - egg yolks, bacon, cream and pasta. Not super vegan friendly? Think again.

We had some Vegg in the freezer (we blend up the whole packet and freeze in smaller jars), and some imitation bacon bits (fully vegan) that my mum sent over as a birthday present. So the food miles for this are not small! It's not an every week kind of meal, but it is easy, and fast, filling, and really delicious. And unlike chicken's eggs, the Vegg won't "scramble" if you leave it on the heat for too long, so there is less multi-tasking with the vegan version of Carbonara.

Vegan Carbonara

1 Tbsp. olive or coconut oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
300 grams of mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 Tbsp. vegan bacon bits
1/2 c. prepared Vegg
100 mL coconut cream, soy milk or other non-dairy substitute
400 grams of pasta
parsley, salt and pepper, nutritional yeast, and more bacon bits for sprinkling

Heat the oil in a frying pan over pretty high (not quite the highest) heat. Saute the mushrooms until they are soft and the liquid has evaporated from them. The high heat helps evaporation to happen faster, so your mushrooms brown instead of boiling in their weird mushroom water. Stir in the garlic and bacon bits and mix it all around for a minute. Add Vegg and soy milk and turn the heat to low and leave it, stirring every now and then, while your pasta cooks. Boil water (boiling in the kettle is more efficient than the stove, I hear), cook spaghetti or other pasta until it is al dente, or mushy if that's your thing. Drain, dump it into the pan with the sauce, and stir it all up. If it's a bit claggy, throw in some more soy milk. It should be creamy and saucy and good. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with parsley, nutritional yeast, and moar bacon bits.

It's worthing getting some Vegg for this - which reminds me, I need to order some more. I honestly will probably never attempt a vegan poached egg again, but Vegg makes a rocking carbonara.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Townsville's vegan revolution: Part 1

Before I went vegan, I loved going out for breakfast. So much so that whenever I went to diners that offered breakfast after 11am, I would usually choose a morning meal no matter the time of day. I almost always ordered french toast, but sometimes pancakes or waffles. Generally sweet things!

Upon going vegan, I had to shift my breakfast-excursions to savoury. In small diners I would order toast or a bagel with home fries and whatever veggie was around, and then usually construct myself a vegan breakfast sandwich. As I was a university student, these breakfast-excursions usually involved a hangover, and the greasy starches quite suited the circumstances, perhaps in a way that sweet breakfast would not.

I still love going out for breakfast, but in Townsville the options are pretty limited. When we do go out, I almost always have to put together a plate of sides - toast, baked beans, mushrooms (if they're not cooked in butter), spinach or avocado. It's pretty satisfying usually. The last time I went out for breakfast, though, was with Andy and some friends, and we didn't realise it was Father's Day until we were out. Our first few attempts were thwarted by completely booked-out cafes. We eventually found a spot at one, I tried to order the vegetarian breakfast with no eggs but was told that customers are not allowed to go off-script. So I ordered the usual sides, but when the baked beans came out they had sausage mixed in. So I was a bit traumatised, and we hadn't been out for breakfast since.

Fast forward to a few days ago. On a local food-related Facebook groups, there was a discussion about vegan breakfasts that brought a new(?) cafe called relish. to my attention. The owner said she had vegan granola, oats, and the plate-of-sides. I clicked "Like" on their page, and put the information away for the future.

The next day, relish. posted this on their Facebook page.

This is fairly revolutionary. Though Townsville is a city of 200,000 or so, the vegan options here are more limited than you would expect. Andy's small hometown of 5,000 in southern NSW has more vegan options. As you can imagine, it is mighty exciting to see a cafe write the word vegan anywhere on a menu, and to advertise it so blatantly. So I mentioned it to Andy and said "Let's go!!". And he said (surprisingly), "Okay, how bout tomorrow?".

And so, this morning, vegan waffles were had.

They came with two sides, so I got the mushrooms and baked beans. Perhaps not the most typical accompaniments to sweet waffles, but I didn't feel like waffles + toast. Everything was good! The mushrooms tasted a touch like vinegar, which is a flavour I love but rarely add to mushrooms when we make them. The baked beans were sweeter and more barbequey than most Aussie breakfast baked beans I've had. And the waffles were crunchy and went nicely with the berries & pomegranate syrup I ordered with them. Relish, if you read this, you should absolutely make them a permanent menu item! And/or veganise those cornmeal pancakes, because I would totally be all over that.

I will definitely come back here - in fact, when it's a bit cooler, it will be a lovely bike ride destination. I noticed bike parking around the side. Most of the tables are outside, and there are plenty of them. There was a cute but really cheeky and persistent sparrow who hung out on our table and really had no fear of humans. They have, in the style of American diners, bottomless drip coffee for $4 with any meal. It's a tad pricey, but I thought it was good value for money (but we almost never go out to eat, so maybe in comparison to other places it's not even pricey?). Loads of gluten free options.

Relish. also has two vegan-isable burgers on their lunch menu, but who needs lunch when they have all-day breakfast with vegan waffles?!

Relish. Cafe
2 Kingsway Place
Next door to Townsville Bulletin office on Flinders St West (across from Fletcher St)
Monday & Tuesday 6.30am - 2.30pm; Wednesday - Friday 6.30am - 3.30pm; Weekends & Holidays 7.30am - 3pm

Monday, January 06, 2014


While North America is getting buried under piles of snow, and shivering through below-zero temperatures, we Queenslanders are sweating our butts off. It's a heat wave here, much worse for others than for us in Townsville. I actually quite like summers in Townsville. Though it's hot and humid, it's steady. You can be pretty sure that the temperature will never really get above 34. Most of the time. But still, I'll take this over 49 degrees any day! For non-celsiusers, that's 120 degrees F!!
From weatherzone

But just because it's hotter somewhere else doesn't make 33+ days pleasant to deal with! We have ways of coping - for example, setting up a kitteh-fan that Nacho lays in front of.

Another method is cooking barely. Sure, raw foods would make the most sense on the hottest days. But growing vegetables in North Queensland in the summer is pretty limited, so we would have to do our shopping at the supermarkets and pay lots of money. So we get what we can locally, eat some things from the garden and the freezer, and look for reduced-to-clear items at the shops.

And so this dinner was born, requiring very little time in the kitchen. Lime & mustard tofu with okra, garlic bread, and salad (in the background). The tofu was reduced to clear at Woolworths. It's the "momen" tofu, the kind that is firm but jiggly. The garlic bread was also reduced to clear, as was the baby cos lettuce that formed the base of the salad. The okra, and the other salad ingredients - cherry tomatoes, basil, and some green beans - come from the garden. We cooked it all on the BBQ, for minimum-effort-cooking.

Lime & Mustard Tofu

500 grams firm tofu
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. lime juice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. mustard - I used half dijon and half whole grain
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Slice the tofu into 1cm slabs and put them in a baking tray or shallow dish. Whisk together all the other ingredients. Pour over the tofu. Let it marinate for an hour or more. Cook in the pan with the sauce on the BBQ over medium-high heat for about 20 minutes, checking to see if you need to add a bit of water to keep the sauce from burning. Or bake at 190 (375F) for 20 to 25 minutes. Or, take it out of the marinade and cook it straight on the grill or in a skillet for a few minutes on each side.

Saturday, January 04, 2014


Those of you who follow The Tropical Vegan on Facebook will know that, for my birthday in November, Andy got me a food processor.
For my birthday, I had my heart set on a cherry pie (with hippo crust decor, obvi). I nearly bought cherry pie filling from USA Foods, then saw the recipe for cherry pie in Pies and Tarts with Heart so decided to make my own.

BIG MISTAKE. Frozen cherries in Australia are NOT the sour cherries that make cherry pie so delicious. It was good pie, but it wasn't cherry pie, not really. My craving continues. 

It's a Cuisinart, which he found on sale through some online place, and I don't know how much it costed because it was a gift! But I do know that I love it. It has made possible some dishes we couldn't really do before, and made lots easier plenty of things we did in other ways. (Like massive batches of pesto... in a mini chopper!)

Here I will just brag about one meal, in which just about every ingredient went through the processor - because if you're gonna use it, you might as well use it, right? Washing it all up feels less onerous that way.

Step one: chop a red onion, some garlic, and a head of broccoli in the processor until they're pretty finely chopped, then saute.

 Put it into a pie crust. I should have really made my own, which is easy now with a food processor, but I wasn't organised enough to get my ingredients into the freezer to be really cold, and it's so hot in Townsville at the moment this is kind of crucial. Plus we're trying to empty out our freezer a tad so we can defrost it, so I used bought pastry.

Then put some tofu and a few other things into the processor and, as Jamie Oliver would say, "wazz it up". (He really drives me crazy, but I still watch his show. Some of his recipes are actually good, too!) I used Dynise's recipe for quiche from her pie book.

Pour the custard over the filling, then pop it on the BBQ. I've mentioned 'baking' on the BBQ a few times, but here is what I mean. We have a trivet to keep things away from the direct heat a bit. The temperature needs to be a bit lower than the recipe calls for - this pie got up to the called-for 200 for maybe 5 minutes but still managed to burn a tiny bit on the bottom. 
We have the middle sized Weber Q with the high lid and temp gauge. Good size for baking!

While the quiche is cooking, put the shredder blade on the processor and push some potatoes through.

Mix it all up with some flour and other stuff - we used the recipe for Baked Latkes from Betty Goes Vegan - and form into patties. Put them on a baking tray (along with two okras, if your garden is producing in a very slow manner, like ours...) and when the quiche is done, put these on the BBQ. They took 15 or 20 minutes, and I flipped once.

The quiche needs to rest for 20 minutes, so this works out perfectly.

The quiche turned out really well - it set beautifully but wasn't claggy, like some recipes can be.

The latkes were crunchy on the outside and soft inside. I think using a food processor makes it much easier to make hash brown-type potato recipes -- when shredding by hand, the potatoes seem to let off a lot more liquid than they do when machine-shredded.

And it's dinner time! This was a very little effort meal, and all cooked outside - perfect for the heat wave we're going through.

And for dessert, something I food processed on an earlier day - chocolate mousse tart. The food processor makes it so much easier to crush gingernut biscuits for the crust, and the mousse was silky and smooth. It was just four ingredients, too - 6 tablespoons of soy milk, 200 grams of chocolate, 250 grams of silken tofu and 400mL of coconut milk. After melting together the soy milk and chocolate (which was practically melted after sitting on the counter for an hour), wazz it up with the tofu and coconut milk. Andy thought I did it wrong, because the mixture was so runny, but after a few hours in the fridge, it becomes a rich, velvetty mousse.

This is probably the best birthday present Andy's ever got me, and he has enjoyed the products of it as much as I have!

Thursday, January 02, 2014


On our recent trip to Tasmania (post 1, 2 and 3) we stayed in an apartment we found on AirBnB with a full kitchen. Or - mostly full. There was no chopping board, nor was there a colander. But there was a gravy boat, so... It came with a big container of tea bags, instant coffee (blech) and sugar satchets, and we found a pepper grinder (but no salt). Otherwise, the cupboards were bare.

I thought I should do a blog post on self-catering holidays, since it is our favourite way to travel. I enjoy eating out quite a lot, and Andy likes it less, but we both don't love to do it for the entire holiday. Since we flew to Tasmania, we couldn't bring our own food, so we got a bit creative. The week's meals costed more than a week of eating at home would, but much less than eating out all the time. They were a bit carb heavy, but we did so much walking we needed all the fuel. I was going to go all detailed about what we bought and how we did it, but I kind of can't remember now, and it would get boring, so I'll just list the meals instead!

Our first meal was mushroom pasta - reduced-to-clear mushrooms sauteed in Nuttelex, mixed with a jar of sauce, and that's that. I didn't take a photo, because it was nothing special.

The next morning for breakfast we had porridge, made with little packets of sugar from the tea canister, and flavoured with peanut butter. It wasn't great! We bought raisins to make the porridge more tasty the rest of the trip.

At the Salamanca Markets on Saturday, we bought some dukkah, a lemon, and a big cauliflower. For dinner that night, we sauteed half the cauliflower in lemon juice and butter, and then mixed it with pasta and dukkah. It looked like beige mush but was really quite tasty.

On Sunday we went to the Farm Gate markets and got some more fresh produce - another small cauliflower, some baby bok choy, purple carrots, fresh garlic, broad beans and potatoes.
Purple carrots with a yellow middle.
Broad beans take time to prepare, but they're worth it.
Our veggies needed some pepping up after the day at the brewery.

So we had a Sunday Roast - potatoes, cauliflower, garlic and carrot, with some fresh broad beans, gently blanched, and reduced-to-clear vegan aioli.

For breakfast one morning, we had the remaining mushrooms with a block of tofu and some garlic, perfect with toast.

One night we had chilli beans on toast - a tin of kidney beans, a tin of tomatoes, come cauliflower and garlic mixed with one of those instant-sauce packets for "chilli con carne".

Another day we had sloppy peanut noodles with tofu, garlic, cauliflower and bok choy. For this we used a bottle of "singapore satay sauce" from the "ethnic foods" aisle, topped up with extra peanut butter, obviously. I ate so much and it was so good.

And one night we had reduced-to-clear kale sauteed up with some garlic, a jar of chickpeas, and the rest of the aioli as a sauce.

 With some yummy bread on the side.

 My main advice for self-catering holidays is to plan ahead a bit, but not too far - if you buy food for every meal at the start of the trip, you might waste a lot if you decide to eat out, or you have a late lunch and don't feel all that hungry for a big dinner. Choose things that can do multiple tasks, like peanut butter for satay, and for porridge, and for toast. Rely more on convenience foods, but pair them with gorgeous local produce whenever you can!

Do you like to self-cater on holidays? What are your tips?