Saturday 31 October 2009

Purple Pleasures, Purple Dinner

A few weekends back I was visiting family and I was talking to my niece about my green post. When Quin was little she loved asking everyone their favourite colour and so she is quite aware that I love purple as much as I love green. Do a purple post, she suggested. She took my camera and set off taking some purple photos. Here is her purple arrangement.

We went looking for more purple. My mum often has irises in a vase:

Grace helped by pointing out some purple flowers in the garden:

Then we had a photo of Quin’s leggings, Ella’s top and Maddy’s bracelet.

My parents had been to Europe recently and contributed a photo of purple flowers at Kensington Palace:

I got home and started looking around for purple. We have a big purple sofa but other than that, we have splashes of purple, which are considerably less than the swathes of green. Purple books:

Purple bits and pieces, mainly from around the kitchen:

Sylvia’s purple clothes:

A purple design on a baby blanket (stitched by my high school teacher Mrs M whose passion for literature lingers with me even today):

I thought I might find a purple house on my walks around the neighbourhood but it was not to be. I looked and looked but was lucky to find a fencepost and a letterbox:

There were many purple flowers in gardens. I had hope of finding deep purple roses but finally had to settle for a pale mauve one:

I did find a purple picnic table at the Railway Hotel:

And some purple grafitti on the wall:

I came to the conclusion that there is not enough purple in our lives. It is all around us but only in small patches of colour. I want more. More purple beetroot burgers. More purple plum chutney. more purple blueberry soup. More purple cherry salsa. So I had to add to the purple recipes.

I wasn’t sure what purple food to feature until I came across a purple cauliflower at La Manna Fresh. It is a rare joy to find such an oddity. In fact, I haven’t seen one since my first blog event post very early in my blogging when I couldn’t for the life of me work out how to focus my camera properly. I had to buy it and all the other purple food I could.

Unfortunately due to the season, I was unable to find some fine purple discoveries over the past few years but you can see photos in older posts featuring or purple congo potatoes or purple asparagus or dried dragonfruit. Given time, I might even blog with purple basil and purple butter lettuce. In the below photo you can see my purple haul of cauliflower, beetroot, sweet potato, aubergine, cabbage, onion, garlic, potatoes, passionfruit, blueberries and beetroot chips.

My head was spinning with ideas. Dips. Stirfries. Soup. The first night I made cauliflower falafels that were a little too salty and not quite purple enough, despite purple ingredients such as purple corn flour, pomegranate molasses and red onion. I also made a dairy-free tahini sauce based on Tofu for Two’s sauce and added beetroot dip but it just ended up pink.

I wanted some really really purple food. Finally I settled on Fran’s recommendation of trying Cauliflower Rice. It was the perfect way to feature some of the purple cauliflower, which became an even deeper purple when cooked. (Alternatively I had considered a purple cauliflower mash.) With the view of keeping it simple, I then took my purple cabbage – it reminds me a bit of Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream – and fried it up with lots of butter and salt. I roasted some beetroot and eggplant to add to the purple vegetables.

For the ultimate purple meal, I piled purple cauliflower rice, fried purple cabbage, roasted beetroot, roasted eggplant, falafel in layers on my plate. I finished it off with some tofu sauce that I would like to think is a very pale purple. It was dark, intense and full of butter and salt. I loved it. E was not so keen. We had leftovers that went into a purple soup the next day with some potatoes, sweet potato, lentils and water.

Not content with the purple falafel fry-up and soup, I also made a purple juice, which was delicious. It was unusual for me to strain it. I don’t have a fancy elecronic juicer and usually just puree with a hand held blender in a tall jug but this was too seedy and pulpy and I found using the bottom of a glass rather than a spoon helped the juice get through the strainer quicker.

I am dedicating this post to Quin who I know will love it. If you too have a passion for purple, I can highly recommend these dishes!

Cauliflower Falafels
Serves 4

  • ¼ purple cauliflower, chopped and steamed
  • ½ bunch parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp purple corn flour
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • red onion, chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1-3 tsp pomegranate molasses*
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tin chickpeas
  • 1-3 tsp tamari*
  • black sesame seeds and oil spray for baking

Note: I used 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses and 1 tsp tamari but the falafels were a little sweet and needed more seasoning. It was ok as the cabbage, cauliflower and sauce were quite salty. However, I suggest checking the taste and gradually adding teaspoons of both pomegranate molasses and tamari.

Place all ingredients except black sesame seeds and oil spray into the food processor and blend to make a paste. Line a baking tray with baking paper and drop teaspoonfuls onto tray. Use damp fingers to shape as round balls. Spray with oil spray and sprinkle with black sesame seeds. Bake for 30 min at 230 C.

Tahini Sauce:
Adapted from Tofu for Two
serves 4-6

  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • cup nutritional yeast
  • 70 g tofu (optional)
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp agave syrup (or sugar)
  • 2 tbsp beetroot dip (or additional 1 tsp agave syrup)
  • juice of 1 small lemon
  • cup water

Place all ingredients in food processor and blend til combined to make thickened sauce. I added more water than Heikki because I wanted it to be a pouring consistency but add the water gradually until you have your desired consistency.

Cauliflower Rice
Adapted from a book my sister has (I will get name soon)
Serves 4

  • ¾ purple cauliflower
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ red onion finely chopped
  • ½ tsp salt

Roughly chop cauliflower, then blitz in food processor til finely chopped. It will look a little like rice. Melt butter in large frypan over low to medium heat. Lightly fry onion and garlic for a couple of minutes. Add cauliflower and fry for about 5-8 minutes til cooked. If you are using purple cauliflower you will notice it changing colour when cooked.

Fried Cabbage
Serves 4

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • ½ red onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • ½ purple cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste (it was quite salty)

Fry onion and garlic in butter and oil for a couple of minutes in a large frypan. Add the remaining ingredients and fry over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or until cabbage is cooked and a little crispy around the edges.

Dukkah Roasted Eggplants and Beetroot
Serves 2

  • 2 japanese eggplants, diced
  • 1 beetroot diced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 heaped tsp dukkah

Toss eggplants and beetroot with oil and dukkah in a roasting dish. Roast for 50-60 minutes at 230 C until dark and soft.

Purple Passionate Pine Pom Juice
Makes about 2 glasses

  • ½ pineapple, trimmed and chopped
  • pulp of 1 passionfruit
  • arils of ¾ pomegranate
  • ½ punnet (60g) blueberries

Blend till mushy. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, using the bottom of a glass or other objects to push the juice through quickly. Discard the pulp left behind in sieve. Drink the juice and enjoy!

On the stereo:
Vauxhall and I: Morrissey

Friday 30 October 2009

The joy of mouldy soy cheese and other quirky notes

Yesterday felt like summer had arrived, albeit a wee bit early. The sun shone brightly and I felt every bit and more of the day’s high of 30 C in the car. I was delighted to find the first peaches of the season in the supermarket. We bought Sylvia baby sun cream and she wore her cupcake parade summer pajamas for the first time. One of the gardens we passed on a walk was even growing dolls. You wouldn't believe me if you didn't see this photo!

While at the supermarket there was yet another sign of Americans colonising our lives. Huge orange Halloween pumpkins, the likes of which I have never seen before in Australia. What really outraged me was that they cost a whopping $24 per pumpkin compared to the large wedges of our own Jap, Kent and Queensland Blue pumpkins that we usually buy for $2 or $3 per kilo. I am curious but not a sucker. I had a good laugh at the price with an old guy and a woman with her daughter. ‘I bet they don’t even taste good’ said the old bloke. Even more exciting shopping was found in the amazing range of Herbies Spices at Two Prickly Pears (253 Lygon Street, Carlton).

Sylvia didn’t like her stewed peach – maybe it wasn’t ripe and sweet enough as she screwed up her face at the taste – and I had made some dry hedgehog when hurrying yesterday. Peach puree, chopped hedgehog, yoghurt and fruit salad were a delicious combination – if I had been posh I would have layered them in parfait glasses but when alone, it is easy to have snacks so messy that photos aren't advisable.

For lunch a few days ago I had taken out the dodgy soy cheese (which had casein) to use it up in a sandwich with coleslaw. It had a big patch of mould on it. Straight into the bin. I looked around and had a bit of tofu so I mixed it with nutritional yeast flakes, mustard, mayo and miso. What a delicious discovery! It made me glad the horrid plastic soy cheese was mouldy.

The cheese spread is not a hard cheese for melting on toast under the grill or for grating but after my attempts to find a decent dairy free cheese, I much prefer this one. I suspect it would be a good vegan/dairy free cheese like ricotta or cream cheese to be used in lasagna, crumbled over pasta or stews, used in a tart or maybe with a bit of pesto it would make a nice dip. (Lucy suggests cashew goat’s cheese and Ricki has an almond feta cheese that looks interesting.)

I have now had it on my sandwiches 3 days in a row because it was so good. Today a friend Jane came over and I made her salad sandwiches and fruit salad. It felt very healthy. A litmus test of how well stocked my fridge is, is whether I can make a good salad sandwich. If you are looking for ideas, I can highly recommend avocado, coleslaw, fried vegie sausages, sliced tomato and this cheese spread. Delicious and easy, it is just the thing if you need energy to deal with a baby who will not sleep.

Vegan Cheesy Sandwich Spread
for about 3 sandwiches

150g firm tofu
2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
1 tbsp mayonnaise (can be soy mayonnaise)
1½ tsp white miso
1 tsp seeded mustard

Use a fork to mash tofu in a small bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix to combine. Great in a sandwich with tomato and coleslaw.

On the Stereo:
Wonderland Soundtrack: Michael Nyman

Thursday 29 October 2009

Snags, coleslaw and Julie/Julia

This week I finished reading Julie ad Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell. Now that it is a major motion picture you probably know it. If not, it is the story of blogger Julie Powell who cooked all the recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. While I am not that interested by the cooking, I understand some of the all night cooking adventures and long suffering partner waiting patiently for dinner. Indeed, that has been my story this week.

I was really interested to hear about the experiences of another blogger but her experiences in 2002 suggest that blogging has changed quite a bit today. Honestly, if she was a food blogger today I would be unlikely to visit her blog regularly. Her attitude to meat – liver is sexy, isn’t it funny killing lobsters, and her embrace of marrow, aspic and offal – just isn’t something I can enjoy.

I have never been a great fan of French food because it is full of meat, cream and butter. Not at all my thing. As for Julia Child, I find it interesting to read American bloggers talk about how significant she was in changing the face of cooking in America. She has barely rated a mention in Australian cooking history so she brings no nostalgic value for me.

I could identify with some of Julie Powell's blogging stories. The late dinners, the kitchen groaning under piles of dishes and the enjoyment of comments. I even felt a little comforted that she had disasters even worse than mine, such as a maggot colony in her kitchen. But there were no mention of photography. In fact, I wanted to see photographs throughout the book because that is important with food blogging. I also found that she talked about her blog readers (or bleaders) but never about visiting other blogs. She presents blogging as a performance rather than a communal activity. Maybe this has changed as blogging has developed.

One other element of blogging that was missing, due to her focus on one cookbook, was the tyranny of choice. So many great recipes, so many interesting variations. This week I have had to make difficult decisions over coleslaw and vegetarian sausages, both of which have many interesting version.

It started with cabbage and carrots on sale. I decided to make coleslaw. Normally I would chop just a bit of the cabbage but I have a new mandolin slicer and thought I would try that. It was so easy before I knew it I had sliced up half a cabbage. I had so much that I thought I would take advantage of the opportunity to try two dressings. Both were great in their own way.

I had intended to dig out some coleslaw recipes but was too overwhelmed because everyone has their own variation. Instead I winged it using what was in the fridge, the pantry and the herb garden. After all, although I don’t tend to make it often, I have made coleslaw enough not to really need a recipe. One coleslaw had an Asian style dressing with crunchy peanuts and spicy ginger and cayenne. The other was more Western style with the sweet cranberries as foil for the tangy mustard.

The first night I thought it would be a nice quick meal to whip up but it was after 8.30 that I served it. Alongside it were Apricot and Orange Glazed Tofu and leftover Lentil Salad. But I kept thinking how much I associate coleslaw with barbeques so Michael’s Chorizo Sausages came to mind.

I have talked before about how much I love vegie sausages. The idea of being able to easily produce my own appealed. I first wanted to try this gluten flour method very soon after starting blogging when I discovered the Seitan O’ Greatness from the PPK Forums. Then I saw the vegan irish sausages on Fat Free Vegan Kitchen which were adapted from Julie Hasson’s spicy Italian sausages. I wanted to try all three recipes but barely had time for one. So you see the dilemma bloggers facing like me with all the blogosphere plus oodles of cookbooks.

I followed Michael’s recipe, which came from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s latest cookbook, Vegan Brunch. They had a lot of spice so I reduced it considerably and added black pepper and fennel a la Julie (Julie Hasson, not Julie Powell). With a little more tweaking, they were finished. Sounds simple? Not when you are ready to eat and you realize the sausages need to steam for 40 minutes and then be fried. And everything takes longer with a baby. Not to mention the garlic crusher breaking mid-crush!

One reason I haven’t made these gluten sausages is my dislike of seitan and hence a suspicion of any food containing too much of it. The sausages were full of flavour, though not overly spicy, but they had a little of rubberiness of gluten. Truth be told, I think I preferred the Mushroom Chestnut and Couscous Sausages I made last year. I might have liked the gluten sausages more if I had managed to make them thinner. I did like the way they crisped up when fried, though I am still to try them under the grill, which is my usual way.

But the fried sausage slices, coleslaw, tomato and cannellini bean salad, and smoky spicy crackers was quite an impressive meal. Food bloggers might take their time over dinner but we do eat well.

Now I just need to think about how to use the other 6-8 sausages in the fridge. Sausage curry, anyone? Some other ideas below for cooking with vegetarian sausages:

Chorizo sausages
adapted from Vegan Brunch via Where’s the Beef
makes 8-10 sausages

1 cup cooked pinto beans (I used tinned cannellini beans), rinsed and drained
2 cups vegie stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ cup nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon dry rubbed sage
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, roughly ground
1 teaspoon black pepper, ground
½ teaspoon cayenne
½ tsp smoked paprika
2½ cups gluten flour

Mash the beans in a large bowl and add the other ingredients in the order listed. Cindy had gluten flour halfway up the list but I think I would prefer to put it in last because it went all rubbery before I finished adding the ingredients. Stir everything well. I ended up using my hands and sort of kneading it in the bowl.

Prepare the steamer so it is ready for the sausages. To steam them all at once you will need a large one. I used my pasta insert in my stockpot to steam them.

Tear off 8-10 sheets of aluminium foil which are about 15 to 20 cm wide. Using your hands pull off a small amount of dough and roll into a rough sausage shape. Place lengthwise along the foil and then roll up tightly in foil. Squish foil at each end (but I found if I twisted it, it broke) so it looks like a Christmas bon bon. Place in the steamer and seam for about 40 minutes.

Unwrap to use and store in fridge for a week or so. I image they will freeze but haven’t tried it. Great sliced and fried.

Two Types of Coleslaw
serves 6-8

½ savoy cabbage, finely sliced
2 large carrots, finely grated
1 medium green capsicum, finely sliced
2 spring onions, finely sliced

For cranberry and mustard coleslaw:
¼ cup mayonnaise (or mixture of mayonnaise and yoghurt)
1 tsp seeded mustard
juice of ¾ lime
½ clove garlic, crushed
¼ cup dried cranberries
handful parsley, chopped

For spicy peanut and lime coleslaw
1 tbsp soy mayonnaise
½ garlic clove, crushed
½ tsp finely grated ginger
handful chopped peanuts
handful mint, chopped
juice of half a lime
dash cayenne

Mix cabbage, carrots, capsicum and spring onions. Place two thirds of mixture in large salad bowl and mix with cranberry and mustard ingredients. Place the remaining third of vegetable mixture in a medium salad bowl and mix with peanut and line ingredients. Will keep for a few days in the fridge but may need extra mayonnaise and/or yoghurt after being kept in the fridge as it gets drier when it sits overnight.

On the stereo:
The Best of Focus: Focus

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Spring vegetable and lentil chowder

It was a leisurely weekend with very little cooking. On Friday E has bought me a Smiths compilation album. It was on the stereo a lot over the weekend. “Heaven knows I am miserable now”, I sang along, reliving my student days while I fed Sylvia her breakfast. She just laughed.

After all our spring rain, we had plenty of sunshine. Saturday found us indulging in some leisurely reading in the backyard in the sun with Sylvia on some foam mats and rugs. Zinc basked in the sun. It was a day for drying washing, hunting out sun hats and watching the bees humming about the flowers on the lemon tree. Not a lot of time for cooking dinner.

I had to make up a puree for Sylvia so I extended this into our dinner. Just lots of vegetables that were extremely sweet before adding seasoning. It wasn’t great until I offloaded some unsatisfactory garlic and herb cheezly (vegan cheese) into it, which made it thick and tasty. You can substitute cheddar or parmesan if you don’t have unwanted cheezly but the chowder will be more gloopy, rich and full of cheese strings . I tried a spoonful of soyatoo soy cream but it was so sweet that I wouldn't recommend it.

On Sunday it was the last day of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. There has been very little energy for browsing the program in our house and even had we wanted to see some shows, they would have been sold out before we managed to think about tickets. Determined to see a festival show, we headed out to the Peter Greenaway’s light and sound show interpretation of Leonardo’s The Last Supper in the North Melbourne Town Hall. This was an intense experience with insistent cellos and vocals on the soundtrack and fast flowing changes in the way the picture was viewed through use of light. I particularly liked the close ups of flecks of paint on the canvas that were a veritable nanno landscape.

Consistent with our inability to organize ourselves to go out lately, was our unfortunately timing with the nearby Auction Rooms café where I wanted a bite to eat. It closed just as we arrived. So we went up the road to The Urban Burger. My burger was ok but a little heavy on the sauce and light on vegetables. E really enjoyed his beefy burger and the burger meister was charmed by Sylvia. I wasn’t too concerned about the lack of vegetables because I knew I had a chowder full of vegetables waiting for me at home. It was even better the second night.

Spring vegetable and lentil chowder
Serves 4-6 and 2 cups of baby food

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1kg thin carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • kernels of 3 ears of corn
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 4 cups water
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • generous dash of smoked paprika
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 2 small bunches of asparagus, chopped
  • large handful of parsley, chopped
  • 150g grated garlic and herb cheezly, to serve (or your choice of cheese)
  • 2 tbsp chives, to serve

Place onion and ½ cup of water in large stockpot and bring to boil. Simmer gently while chopping carrots and potato. Add carrots and potato and 3 cups of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes (I simmered for about 15 minutes but I don’t think it was necessary to do it so long). Add sweet potato, corn and lentils. Simmer an additional 5 minutes.

If you are also making baby food, scoop 2 cups of soup into a separate saucepan, add ½ cup water and simmer another 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Blend and store in small serves in the freezer (I use iceblock trays). If there are no babies to cater for, just keep on making the soup without removing any of this puree.

Add vegetable stock, salt, cayenne, smoked paprika, garlic and zucchini to the stockpot. Simmer 5 minutes. Add asparagus and simmer another 5 minutes. Stir in parsley and cheezly or cheese. Serve in bowl with chives sprinkled on top.

On the Stereo:
The Sound of The Smiths:
The Smith

Monday 26 October 2009

Pumpkin bread pudding for interesting times

E says that the road from Melbourne to Geelong is one of the most boring sights in the world. Well, you probably have heard of the Chinese curse, ‘may you live in interesting times.’ Likewise I can tell you that boring is sometimes kinder than interesting. I visited family in Geelong on Friday and on the way down and back there were interesting events that I would not recommend to anyone.

The event on the way there did not effect me much directly. It was a road accident that was so freaky it shakes your confidence in the world. A motorist stopped to help someone who had broken down and as he returned to his car he was hit and killed by a wheel flying off a passing truck. I am sure this is hard for his family to make sense of such random misfortune and I have been thinking of them. I heard about it just after I left and the reports said that the Princes Freeway was closed so I went via the suburbs to avoid it, which added quite a bit to my travel time.

We had a lovely time at my parents’ place. Friday was the birthday of my sister, my uncle and my grandmother. Susie and my grandmother were there and we have a roast dinner and sponge cake to celebrate. Sylvia had her dinner there next to her big cousin, Cooper. Fortunately my parents have two high chairs for the babies to sit in. It was a gorgeous sunny day and we were able to sit in the garden amidst an explosion of colour in the flower beds.

Unfortunately sunshine means that if you put on your parking lights on the car by accident it will be difficult to notice. By the time my brother told me I needed to turn off the lights they had been on for a few hours. So when I was tired and ready to go home with Sylvia settled in her car seat, I turned on the engine and found the battery was dead.

Ironically I had looked at my overdue bill for our roadside assistance scheme before leaving and thought surely I wont need to call on them today. But call, I did. Fortunately they didn’t quibble over a few days overdue payment and they didn’t take too long to arrive. My dad went out to meet them. Finally I went out to check how it was going and the car had gone. For a brief moment I thought my luck really was out today. Minutes later my dad drove it up to the house because he was giving the re-charged battery a burl.

I was tired driving home but was heartened by the thought of leftover pumpkin and chocolate bread pudding waiting for me in the fridge. It had been a long time coming. I went for coffee at Andre’s on Sunday with my friend Heather and bought a loaf of day old fruit bread. It seemed destined for bread pudding so I roasted some pumpkin for that purpose on Monday night and finally made the pudding on Thursday.

Now while life can be cruelly random, it can also be kind to us. I sometimes am amazed at how many food blogs are out there and it seems like good luck to chance upon some which have lots of recipes I want to try. Two of these are Ricki’s Diet, Dessert and Dogs and Meeta’s What’s for Lunch Honey. Some months ago I bookmarked Ricki’s healthy recipe for Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Warm Caramel Sauce and Meeta’s decadent Roasted Pumpkin and Chocolate Bread Pudding.

I took the chocolate and spices from Meeta but left out the eggs, cream and butter. I took the oats and soy milk from Ricki but didn’t feel the need or have the energy to add the warm caramel sauce. I used maple syrup which seemed so much nicer and appropriate than sugar. The result was a delicious Pumpkin and Chocolate Bread Pudding that was both healthy and decadent. The pumpkin sauce was a thick and comforting custard that could be eaten by itself but was even better with swirls of melting chocolate. The dense sourdough bread with generous studs of walnuts and dried fruit was lovely soaked in the sauce.

I can’t tell you enough just how fantastic this pudding was. I was shocked that E was not keen on it, even with a dollop of Soyatoo slag cream - he didn't like the nuts and dried fruit. I was also a little pleased because I wanted to just eat and eat it. But it did make a lot so I took a little slab of it down to my mum in Geelong to try. I was very glad to have discovered Ricki and Meeta’s blogs when I ate this pudding, especially on Friday night when I got home tired and in need of comfort. It was just what I needed.

I would not have discovered these blogs without blog events so I want to continue to the sharing. Mansi of Food and Fun Café is holding a recipe contest called A Sweet Celebration, which focuses on sweets and desserts. Her criteria for judging is originality, presentation, serving and measurement details, virtual taste & overall appeal. I didn’t do too well with presentation – as usual – but this pumpkin and chocolate bread pudding is so good that I am sending it to Mansi.

Pumpkin and chocolate bread pudding
adapted from Diet Dessert and Dogs and What’s for Lunch Honey
serves 6-8

1 kg pumpkin, peeled, trimmed and diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
cup rolled oats (not quick or instant)
2 cups soy milk (or other milk)
cup maple syrup
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
teaspoon ground allspice
1 medium loaf of stale sourdough fruit bread*
100g dark chocolate, chopped (I used one with 70% cocoa solids)

*You can use any bread if you don’t have a fruit bread. Meeta used challah. Ricki used yeast free pumpkin bread. If you want this gluten free you could use gluten free bread and use cornflour instead of oats or GF oats. If you want this vegan, make sure your bread is vegan. If you don’t use fruit bread, I can recommend a handful of walnuts and cranberries in the pumpkin sauce.

Toss pumpkin and oil in a large roasting dish. Roast at 220 C for 30-45 minutes until pumpkin is soft. At this stage you can put pumpkin in fridge for up to 3 days if preparing in advance (or coping with a small baby). NB once pureed, the pumpkin makes about 2 cups.

Using a food processor or a hand held blender puree pumpkin, milk, rolled oats, maple syrup and spices. (I tried this in my 1 litre jug and it was too small so I had to find a bigger container.) Slice the bread thickly and chop into quarters. Roughly chop the chocolate.

Grease a 22-23cm square ceramic or glass baking dish. Spread about a quarter of the pumpkin sauce on the bottom of the dish. Layer bread, chocolate, pumpkin, bread, chocolate, pumpkin, bread, chocolate, pumpkin. The top layer will be pumpkin and the sauce should coat each layer well. Sit for 20-30 minutes to allow the pumpkin sauce to soak into the bread.

While pudding rests, preheat oven to 180 C or 350 F degrees. Bake for about 50 minutes until the top is lightly browned and puffed. Sit for at least 10 minutes before serving. I prefer mine plain but others might like it served with cream or caramel sauce. Leftovers, if you are lucky enough to have any, can be reheated in the microwave.

On the stereo:
Right Here … A Go Betweens Tribute: Various Artists

Saturday 24 October 2009

Vegan feta crackers for sleepless nights

It’s been a good week for food but not for Sylvia sleeping. I have cooked stuff that I have had in my head for too long. Much experimentation. Some good. Some bad.

I wish I wasn’t finishing off my pumpkin bread pudding as I write because it is superb. The wonderful memory of velvety nettle soup lingers on my tongue. I still have visions of my vibrant purple dinner. But I am a bit unsure about the gluten free gingerbread and am ready to throw out the poppy seed cupcakes. Most of these will appear on the blog soon, provided I can find time.

Today I wanted to tell you about how when babies don’t sleep it can drive you (to) crackers. Great vegan crackers! My idea of heaven this week is to lie in bed eating my tofu crackers and pumpkin bread pudding, reading a good book and drifting off into a long deep sleep.

Sylvia has been great at sleeping while we sleep until just recently when she has started to wake in the night. I saw the nurse for her 8 month check up yesterday and we discussed all sorts of reasons for this. The most likely seems to be that she is teething. A few people have suggested I try cutting dairy out of my diet, not just to help her sleeping but also for her dry skin.

I understand the sense of cutting out dairy. The introduction of lots of new foods as she starts solids is quite a strain on her little system as well as my varied diet that she consumes through the breast milk. Others have said it wouldn’t make much difference. Contradictory advice seems par for the course with caring for a baby. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try going dairy-free for a week or two.

It wasn’t as easy as I expected. In the past I have enjoyed some vegan baking – once to the extent that my housemate got tired of it and left a note on the fridge saying ‘let the wild soy run free’! I don’t like eggy or creamy food very much but I love my cheese and yoghurt. On a couple of occasions I found myself eating cheese without even realising it. I had thought I could find some cheese substitutes but I haven’t found anything to love.

I’ve been to Radical Grocery (347 Sydney Rd, Brunswick). I’ve tried different vegan cheeses. I was surprised to find that the first soy cheese I bought was only lactose free but still had casein in it. It tasted like Kraft slices (or Velveeta). The tofutti cheese was so full of ingredients it didn’t look too healthy and the cheezly that I tried was dry. We bought soyatoo cream (which is called slag cream in our house because the German translation is Soya Schlag Crème) and was shocked at how sweet it was – more like that horrible synthetic cream in a can than anything out of a cow. E likes it. He also likes the soy milk we have bought. The dairy substitutes didn't thrill me but I loved the Lara Bars and fudge.

My dislike of vegan faux cheese is no surprise given that I have never been a fan of faux meat as a vegetarian. But what I have liked in the past are vegan cheese sauces such as this one, that are made out of ingredients such as tofu, nutritional yeast flakes, mustard, and tahini. So I decided to try reworking a recent feta and pepper cracker recipe that I loved.

The crackers are adapted from a Feta and Cumin Crackers recipe from Lisa’s Kitchen. I liked the idea of rubbing the feta and oil into the flour rather than using butter. They were quite bready rather than light and crisp like I expect of crackers (or dry biscuits). They are lovely plain or with some dips. I tried using tofu and nutritional yeast flakes rather than feta because I thought it would give the right texture and cheesy saltiness. I also added some pesto from La Manna Fresh (403-407 Sydney Rd, Brunswick) that I was pleased to find is vegan. The vegan crackers were as good as the feta ones, even better, E said.

I made a double quantity because I was optimistic about this recipe. I wished for even more. They were eaten quickly and with enjoyment. We ate them with nettle soup, E took some to work and shared them with colleagues, I took them to a friends’ house, I took some down to my parents’ place, and I even found myself snacking on one in the middle of the night after getting up to settle Sylvia.

This experience has made me think about a vegan diet. Niki has an interesting post on cheese from a vegan perspective. Kathryn directed me to an interesting article, ‘Against Meat’ by Jonathan Safran Foer in the New York Times (7 Oct 2009), which describes being vegetarian simply as not hurting animals. At a gut level, I feel right about being vegetarian – I had the upsetting experience of finding out that when our pet lambs had ‘gone to greener pastures’ we had eaten them. But I lived with chooks in the backyard and regularly visited dairy farms as a child and never felt these animals were being treated badly. I respect those who are vegan but I am not about to veganise my diet. However, I think I will try and reduce my dairy intake.

In thinking about being vegan, I have wondered about if a breastfed baby is a vegan. I had a look on the web and couldn’t find an answer. I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on this.

I am giving both feta and tofu crackers recipes and am sending the tofu crackers to Yasmeen who is holding an event called Health Nut Challenge 2: guilt free snacks. I think these fit the bill in more ways than one!

Feta Cheese and Pepper Crackers
adapted from Lisa’s Kitchen
makes about 3 dozen

1 cup of wholemeal flour
½ cup white bread flour
¼ cup buckwheat flour
½ teaspoon baking powder (Lisa used bicarb of soda)
100g feta cheese, crumbled
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
¾-1 tsp pepperberry, ground (or black pepper)
¾ cup milk

Place the flours, baking powder, salt, pepper, olive oil and feta in a large bowl and rub together with your fingers to combine. Make a well in the centre and pour in the milk. Stir to combine and knead briefly to form a ball. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and place in freezer for roughly 30 minutes if you are in a hurry or in the fridge for at least 45 minutes.

I found the dough quite soft once cool but still fine to work with if you are generous in dusting it with flour. Divide the dough in half. Roll out a portion of dough on a floured surface until it is about 0.5 cm thick. Use a scone cutter or glass to cut out rounds or shapes of your choice. Roll out the extra dough and repeat. Place crackers on baking tray lined with baking paper. Prick with a fork.

Bake the crackers in a preheated 180 C or 350 F degree oven for about 25 minutes until they are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Tofu and Pesto Crackers
makes about 6 dozen

2 cups of wholemeal flour
1 cup white bread flour
½ cup buckwheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
350g firm tofu, crumbled
8 tbsp (120ml) vegan pesto
6 tbsp (90ml) olive oil
6 tbsp (90ml) nutritional yeast flakes
2 tsp sea salt (maybe 1 tsp would be enough)
1 cup soy milk

Place the flours, baking powder, salt, nutritional yeast flakes, pesto, olive oil and tofu in a large bowl and rub together with your fingers to combine. Make a well in the centre and pour in the milk. Stir to combine and knead briefly to form a ball. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and place in freezer for roughly 30 minutes if you are in a hurry or in the fridge for at least 45 minutes. I left some of this dough in the fridge for 48 hours and it was ok although a little tougher than the fresh batch.

I found the dough quite soft once cool but still fine to work with but dust with lots of flour. Divide the dough into four portions. Roll out a portion of dough on a floured surface until it is about 0.5 cm thick. Use a scone cutter or glass to cut out rounds or shapes of your choice. Roll out the extra portions and repeat. Place crackers on baking tray lined with baking paper. Prick with a fork. (NB I forgot to prick the second batch and they puffed up a little.)

Bake the crackers in a preheated 180 C or 350 F degree oven for about 25-30 minutes until they are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Update 10.10.10: I made these today and only had about 6tbsp of pesto so I added a little pumpkin instead of the last few tbsp of pesto - worked well! Sylvia loves them!

On the stereo
Classic Steve Winwood – Steve Winwood