Tuesday 29 March 2011

CC Healthy Choc Chip Cookies

Six hours after my new oven was installed I was taking a tray of freshly baked choc chip cookies from the oven. My old oven has always been a bit slow to cook anything. This new one is fan forced so I was quite impatient to try it out.

The renovations hadn't finished so Sylvia and I made them on the floor. We both loved the novelty of a light in the new oven. She had fun turning the light on and off and on and off and so on. The cookies cooked quickly and tasted wonderful. Everyone in the house loves them. Sylvia told me "I love chocolate". Well, who doesn't (except Nicki G!).

I found the recipe in a favourite cookbook: In search of the perfect chocolate chip cookie by Gwen Steege. I highly recommend it to any choc chip cookie aficionado. Who would have thought that there were so many recipes for the humble choc chip cookie! They are from contestants from around the USA who entered a national competition to find the best recipe.

The book starts with the story of how choc chip cookies were invented by Ruth Wakefield of the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts, USA. If you want to read about the history of the choc chip cookie, you could also visit Louise's post on Choc Chip Cookie Week (starting 13 March).

The latest Cookbook Challenge theme is American (ahem, I am slightly behind with this theme). I have given some thought to what is an American recipe but when I decided to make choc chip cookies, it seemed obvious. The dust jacket of the Gwen Steege book actually calls them " a uniquely American passion".

I find that the book's recipes make heaps so I often put a bag of them in the freezer. They are great thawed in the microwave. On this occasion I halved the recipe and made a few small changes - no nuts, less sugar, more choc chips. D. Michael Pitalo, who sent in the recipe, describes these cookies or biscuits as hard and crisp. Bearing this in mind, it is best to only cook them until just brown rather than a pleasing golden brown. This might be said of most choc chip cookies.

The cookies are best warm from the oven. Sylvia has learnt this lesson young and I had to shoo her away to stop her burning her little fingers on hot melting choc chips. After a short wait, we sampled and were very happy indeed. I love my new oven.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Index of Favourites
This time three years ago: Easter Nut Roast

Granola Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from The search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, p 104
makes about 3 dozen cookies
  • 125g softened butter
  • 3/4 cup castor sugar
  • 1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup plain flour (I used half wholemeal and half white)
  • 1 tsp bicarb soda (baking soda)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup corn flakes
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup dark choc chips
Cream butter and sugars (I did this by hand). Stir in vanilla and egg until well mixed. Gradually mix in flour, bicarb, baking powder, salt, oats, flakes, coconut and choc chips. The mixture will be quite stiff but I didn't mix with my hands as the recipe suggested.

Drop spoonfuls onto a greased or lined baking tray (I have silicone mats) and shape a little with your hands to flatten slightly. Bake at 180 C (or 160 C in fan forced oven) for 10-15 minutes - I think 12 minutes would have been about right.

Cool on baking tray a few minutes and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. We have kept most of ours in the freezer and microwaved when we want one as I don't think they would last well many days.

On the Stereo:
Workers Playtime: Billy Bragg

Sunday 27 March 2011

New Kitchen, Old Stuff

Finally our kitchen renovations have finished so I am going to take a bit of time to tell you about them. When I moved into our home over 4 years ago I loved the 1960s kitchen. It was compact but had lots of storage space. No fancy dishwasher or double sink for us. I only wanted to change two things: the benchtop that some idiot painted with oil paint and the dodgy old fan above the oven that would fall down every now and again. Then a friend suggested we move the bench against the wall.

Here is the old kitchen with the bench and overhead display cabinet that is reminiscent of the kitchen we had when I was a child.

At first I resisted the idea of moving the bench but I grew to dislike the awkward corner where our table sat. Too close to the heater in winter and unbearably dark in summer. It took a while but over a year ago we started looking into getting the bench moved. I didn't want to remodel the whole kitchen. However I found it was harder to make changes within an existing kitchen than to just take it out and start again. Harder still was even getting quotes from builders - one never got back to us, another said his mother was sick but finally we got a reasonable quote.

We were told the work would start in the first week of January but there were delays in getting supplies. The work finally started in the first week of March. We were told it would be three days of work. Three weeks later it is now finished. Now we are in the midst of unpacking the boxes.

It felt terrible but it hasn't really been a great hardship - especially when we turn on the news and see devastation and heartbreak. We still had a functioning kitchen for most of the time - sink, pantry, oven and fridge. Except when the builder discovered he didn't have the right attachments for the new oven. He turned off the gas - which meant no hot water - left the oven unplugged and then didn't come back for a few days. There were a few baths run with the help of the boiling water from the kettle.

We are not the first to find how unreliable builders can be. It is hard to know if it is laziness or overcommitment. I suspect the latter. Whichever it was, we were frustrated to find, again and again, that we would be promised tomorrow or next week, only to be hit with another flimsy excuse. Our builder was willing to work with our requests but his time-keeping was just hopeless.

It is no fun living in a state of suspension. We were constantly trying to clear our things away from the builders fallout only to find he was not turning up. I had to dig into boxes regularly for bits and pieces I hadn't intended to part with for more than a few days. Sylvia has had her bedroom full of boxes for weeks, we have had the microwave on a table crammed between two couches and the new oven sat out in the backyard under a tarp far longer than we expected.

Eating also had its challenges during the temporary lack of bench space and stuff. We had many more takeaways than usual, I got to know the ready-made meals section of the supermarket, and perishables wilted in the fridge. I tried to make simple soups and smoothies to ward off the feeling of not eating as much fruit and veg as usual. My mum helped out with a beetroot and goats cheese tart (Sylvia loved the pastry but wouldn't eat the "jam".)

I have spent the last few days unpacking my boxes and thinking about how much meaning there is in all my stuff. Here is a sample of the memories that come flooding back as I unpack:
  • the lucky kitchen hen my older sister bought me when I first moved into a share house
  • two college ball glasses complete with crest
  • a celtic patterned bowl that a friend saw at our wedding party and exclaimed: this is made by the woman my wife left me for
  • an elegant green decanter that had a set of port glasses which were wiped out when a housemate walked into our glasses cabinet
  • the bowl I bought in Israel at the traditional site of the loaves and the fishes miracle
  • the stylish crystal bowl I got from my nan for my 21st birthday
  • a pretty little spice grinder my mum bought me in Turkey
  • a pair of Waterford crystal champagne flutes that my aunt and uncle gave us for our wedding
  • a pottery bowl that E and I bought while on holiday in the Isle of Arran, Scotland
  • the Worcester millennium bowl that E's mother gave us the year we were married
  • Christmas napkin rings we picked up in the Castle Warehouse in Peebles when E's parents lived there
  • a small floral plate from my grandmother's house that I was given when she died last year
  • the candelabra that has seen many dinner parties
  • the retro sugar and milk set I bought at a trash and treasure on Smith Street in Fitzroy but rarely use
I don't use any of it as much as I would like but I love being able to bring it out for a celebration or just to make an ordinary meal into an occasion. Much of this stuff has been seen on the blog at one time or another and will be again.

Meanwhile here is the new kitchen. When I showed my family this photo they laughed at the empty bench because it is just not us. Be assured it is now restored to its normal clutter as we sort out our boxes.

It feels like we now have the best of both worlds. We still have our 1960s kitchen, but with a modern open plan feel to it. I love having the table in the middle of the kitchen. A friend said it was like a farmhouse kitchen. It brings to mind some of the friendly kitchens in my former student houses. We have a new oven that should make baking and roasting far easier if my initial experience is anything to go by. Above the stove is a great little set of shelves (see photo at top of post). Perfect for knick-knacks and spices.

Here is the view from the other side. You can see our customary clutter on the fridge.

Sylvia loves the new kitchen. I am constantly dragging her away from playing with the light switch on the oven and hauling her off the table. Today she discovered how easy it is to drag a chair to the bench. Oh dear!

It is not all a battle of wits. I also am able to sit at the table and prepare food while Sylvia sits beside me. She feels more involved in the cooking. When I drained water from a saucepan of potatoes yesterday, she told me to do it at the table. Apparently that is where everything happens now!

We are still unpacking and adjusting to the new configuration. Already we are enjoying it. Yesterday we sat at the table and ate breakfast while spreading the newspaper in front of us. That could never have happened in our old kitchen. Life feels good!

More about my kitchen in Kitchen Notes.

Update September 2013 - The kitchen is looking slightly different since we got a new kitchen table and chairs.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Steamed Vegetarian Dumplings

Inspired by my recent visit to the Shanghai Noodle House in Little Chinatown, I bought geegaw wrappers in the supermarket to make dumplings. I wanted those wrappers. Even though there was only one packet left and it had a rip in it, I was compelled to buy it.

The rip in the packet of wrappers meant I needed to use it quickly. All I needed was some cabbage. I set to making dumplings as soon as I bought a wombak cabbage and my new oven was functioning (even though the renovations are not yet finished - but there is some hope it wont be long).

I love how varied dumplings can be. In the UK they are little balls of dough simmered in a hearty stew, in Italy they are stylish chunks gnocchi or ravioli in pasta sauce, in Jewish culture, they are matzo balls in chicken broth, in Austria they are baked and stuffed and can be sweet concoctions, in Poland they are little parcels of pierogi with lots of creamy sauce, in India they are spicy koftas in gravy. There is even a potato dumpling museum in Germany - I want to go there!

No matter what they are, dumplings are always comforting. I don't make them enough. But I do love finding recipes to inspire me. I have recently been checking out recipes on Where's the Beef and Leading the Good Life which helped me mould the contents of my vegetable crisper into dumplings.

I steamed them, partly because it is easy and forgiving. I sat with Sylvia while the dumplings steamed. It was her bedtime but she was unsettled and needed lots of attention. As we sat, the timer rang and it took me some time to get out to turn off the hotplate but the dumplings were fine. That was the second batch. I steamed the first batch, hoping Sylvia might enjoy one or two. She liked nibbling at the edges of the wrappers but one she got to the filling she spat it out. It was a little spicy for me but E found it just right.

I wasn't quite sure how to serve them. By the time I had made them I served them plain. I figured they had enough veg and seasoning but, really, I was too tired. In an ideal world I might have made a dipping sauce and even some salad to serve with them. Maybe next time.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Eat Drink Blog Conference - notes and reflections
This time three years ago: BBD #08 Hot Cross Buns

Steamed Vegetarian Dumplings
with inspiration from Where's the Beef* and Leading the Good Life
makes 30 dumplings (serves 2 without side dishes)
  • 30 geegaw wrappers*
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
  • kernels of half a cob of corn
  • 4 large leaves of wombak cabbage, finely chopped
  • 1 cup cauliflower, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 5 button mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 spring onion, finely chopped
  • 110g firm tofu, either marinated or plain, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 2 tsp dry sherry
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp chilli paste
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
*For gluten free wrappers, you can follow Michael's recipe at the above link. Thanks Cindy for the reminder of this recipe. And use a GF soy sauce such as tamari.

Heat oil in frypan and place in vegetables as you chop them in the order listed. Once all vegetables are in the pan, fry until vegetables are soft. Add tofu and seasonings and stir until all liquid is absorbed.

Before stuffing dumplings, prepare your work space. Have a large flat surface to place prepared dumplings, a tea towel to cover the prepared dumplings, a small bowl or mug of water, and a pile of wrappers.

To assemble: Peel a wrapper off, place it in the palm of your hand and place one or two teaspoonfuls in the middle. Dip a finger in the water and dampen half of the edges. Fold over and seal well.

Heat water in the bottom of a steamer. Line steamer with baking paper and arrange dumplings on it. Place lid on and steam dumplings for 15 minutes. If you are caught up when the timer rings and you can't get to it, so long as you have put a generous amount of water in the bottom of the steamer, it will be fine. When they are done, I lifted the dumplings on the paper, gently pulled each off the paper (because mine were a little crowed) and arranged them nicely.

On the stereo:
Dunkle Walder: Strydewolf

Tuesday 22 March 2011

WHB Peach crumble

I've decided peach crumble recipes are like taxis. You see they everywhere but when you want one they are thin on the ground. I often admire stone fruit recipes but don't cook them often because I prefer to eat fresh stone fruit. Recently I found some peaches in the supermarket that were a bit grungy so I decided it was time for some baking.

When I decided to make a crumble, I couldn't find the right recipe. The best I could find was Heidi's Plum and Peach Crisp. I fiddled with the recipe to make it barely sweet and topped with chunky crumble, full of nuts, coconut and oats, that was more akin to muesli than dessert.

Sylvia hadn't been happy in her swimming lesson that morning and came home in a grumpy mood. She needed attention. I chose distraction. Much of our bench space had disappeared into the black hole of renovations. I washed the peaches and sat on the floor with Sylvia while I chopped them. I'd bought them for baking because I didn't fancy eating them fresh. Ironically as we prepared the crumble, Sylvia and I had a lovely time eating chunks of peaches.

I made the crumble in the afternoon so Sylvia could have some after dinner. It seemed a good way to get some extra nutrition. She enjoyed the crumble topping but wouldn't eat the cooked peaches. I was surprised and wonder if she will embrace baked fruit desserts in the coming winter the way she did last year. E wasn't keen on it either.

That left me with a lot of crumble. I enjoyed it over quite a few nights, also having a small bowlful for the occasional snack. I was disappointed that the peaches weren't soft and falling apart. Perhaps they weren't quite as ripe as intended by the recipe, though I cooked it almost twice as long as Heidi stipulated. I have seen some recipes directing to cook the peaches for some time before adding the crumble and I think I may do this next time.

I was interested in Heidi's method of stirring melted butter and yoghurt into the dry ingredients, rather than rubbing cold butter in. The topping was not as crisp as I like but it had lots of good stuff in it. I would not claim it is my favourite crumble but I am pleased to have finally made a peach crumble. I had no problem with having to eat most of it myself. Now I look forward to more experiments.

I am sending the crumble to Cinzia of Cindystar for Weekend Herb Blogging #276, the event coordinated by Haalo and founded by Kalyn.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Flat pack chocolate chip cookies
This time three years ago: St Patrick, Soup and a Shamrock

Peach crumble
serves about 6
loosely adapted from 101 Cookbooks
  • 6-8 ripe peaches
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp malt syrup
  • 1 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup wholemeal flour
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped brazil nuts
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • big pinch of salt (I didn't do this)
  • 2, 1/2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp plain yogurt

Preheat the oven to 200 C or 400F.

Cut the peaches into bite-sized pieces (about 1 inch) and place in a casserole dish. Mix together honey, malt syrup and cornflour in a small bowl and stir into the peaches in the dish. If your peaches are not ripe and soft, I suggest placing this dish in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, though I didn't do this.

To make the topping combine the oats, flour, coconut, nuts, sugar, cinnamon and salt together in a medium bowl. Stir in the butter, and the yogurt and mix until combined into a thick dough-like batter. Sprinkle over the peach mixture.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes until the crumble is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature. Keeps well for a few days in the fridge.

On the stereo:
Greatest Hits: John Denver

Sunday 20 March 2011

Simple soup and cakey cashew cookies

Sylvia has some strange ideas about the world. She loves pockets but thinks they are any opening in her clothes where she can stuff some trinket - any trouser legs, cleavage or waistband will do. She loves to ask me "have oo got a pocket?" and usually has something to put in it.

Anyone in a pram is a "baby" even if bigger than her. Any female is a little girl. I don't know what women at tram stops think when Sylvia says "dere's a liddle giiiiiirl". (She must be a contender for the longest vowels entry in the Guiness Book of Records).

She also loves "sugar" on her cereal. Not the sweet granules that you and I know. Her concept of sugar is any finely ground cereal either at the bottom of the packet or which she crumbles. She loves to sprinkle "sugar" over her bowl of cornflakes and mini wheats.

I wonder where she gets this idea of sugar. Neither E nor I sprinkle sugar over our cereal. In fact I try and keep the sugar in her food to a minimum. I don't always succeed but I do my best. This week, for example, I made some choc chip cookies that were high in protein and low in added sugar. The main sweetness comes from the choc chips because the small amount of maple syrup I added to the batter don't make it terribly sweet.

The biscuits were a batch of cashew choc chips cookies that I found on Kim's Affairs of Living, though hers were a bit more fancy. The recipe is quite similiar to the GF peanut butter choc chip cookies that I made last year. The cashew version were cakey while my peanut butter version was chewy. The main difference, apart from using cashew nut butter rather than peanut butter, was that I used 2 tablespoons of maple syrup rather than a cup of brown sugar.

It leads me to ask was it just the lack of sugar that made such a difference to the texture. I once made a cake and forgot to add sugar. When I remembered to add the sugar to the batter I was surprised at just how much the texture changed. I probably prefer the peanut butter chewiness but I quite enjoyed the cakey cashew cookies. I was surprised how nut butter and egg can replicate the texture of butter, flour and egg.

While E wasn't so keen on these biscuits, Sylvia and I have been enjoying them for snacks. I feel like they give her a little protein boost, even if she needs some choc chips to wash the nutrients down. Though she still needs to learn that you must put them in your mouth rather than crumbling them over the couch for maximum benefit. Grrrr! The bikkies also gave me a tad extra protein because I made them on a night that I made soup.

The simple tomato soup comes from the lovely Lucy of Nourish Me. I have had my eye on it for a long time. The time to make it finally came this week with our kitchen being quite minimal due to renovations. It smelled amazing and smoky as it cooked but needed a little seasoning at the end. I have come a long way from days of disliking eating tomatoes by themselves.

I also added creme fraiche rather than yoghurt at the end simply due to the novelty of finding it in the supermarket, and I added basil because my mum gave me some. Lucy sieved her soup and I appreciate why she did it but I don't even know where the sieve is. (You can see I value my hand held blender far more than a sieve when packing up kitchen implements.) I think sieving would make a more velvety texture but even so it was a lovely simple soup. Below is what I did.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Sydney - a gaytime and some lessons
This time three years ago: Mulligatawny and dubious traditions

Simple Tomato Soup
Adapted from Nourish Me
serves 2 people as a main
  • 1kg of tomatoes, about 7-8 good sized tomatoes, chopped
  • glug of olive oil
  • glug of good whisky (I used E's Talisker but don't tell his dad)
  • shake of chilli powder, smoked paprika
  • salt to taste
  • 125 cream fraiche
  • handful basil
Place chopped tomatoes, olive oil and whisky in a large saucepan and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes. I found that this gave the kitchen a wonderful smoky aroma. Season lightly with chilli powder, smoked paprika and salt. Stir in creme fraiche and basil. Blend with a hand held blender. Sieve if desired for a smoother soup.

Cashew Choc Chip Cookies
adapted from Affairs of Living
  • 1 cup smooth cashew butter
  • 2 eggs (Kim used duck eggs but mine were plain old chicken eggs)
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup, or other natural liquid sweetener like honey or brown rice syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • shake of ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped cashews, lightly toasted (I didn't use)
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 180 C or 350F and line baking trays with baking paper or grease.

In a large bowl, use a spoon to cream together cashew butter, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon and baking soda. Check sweetness is ok. Stir in egg until smooth. Add cashews (if using) and chocolate chips and stir until just combined.

Spoon tablespoonfuls of batter onto prepared trays. Mine didn't spread so the shape I dropped onto the cookie sheet was the shape that ended up in the cookies. Bake for 10-13 minutes until golden brown (mine looked like meringues - I presume because there wasn't much sugar in the batter). Kim says she baked hers until they didn't seem so soft so maybe if I had baked mine longer the texture might have been a bit more chewy.

Cool a few minutes and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Lasts well for 3 days.

On the Stereo:
Back to Basics: Billy Bragg

Saturday 19 March 2011

Shanghai Noodle House - dumplings on the run

Last week my mum looked after Sylvia while E and I had a night on the town. We had dinner at the Shanghai Noodle House before going to see Joanna Newsom. When I started the blog we would go out to dinner in the city regularly but these days it is a rare occasion. It was finally an opportunity to eat dumplings in Little China Town.

Initially I thought I would choose The Camy Shanghai Dumpling and Noodles Restaurant. I had originally seen it on Where's the Beef back in 2007 and still not made it there. But I then saw comments that the nearby Shanghai Noodle House was quieter and had fried dumplings. So that is why we headed up one of the city's laneways on a pleasant night last week.

This is Chinese food but not as I have ever seen it in restaurants before. (In fact we got a menu in our post box last night and I checked but no dumplings were on offer.) I have been to the Flower Drum and eaten yum cha in Melbourne's China Town years ago but nothing has really enthused me like this meal. It wasn't perfect. The ambience was cheap and cheerful plastic tables lit by bright fluorescent lights. I particularly liked the colourful handmade specials board.

I had to order a plate of dumplings and couldn't resist the fried ones. The menu is the antidote to fancy menus that list every ingredient. "Vegetarian dumpling" tells you nothing about the filling except that it isn't meat. In fact I am not quite sure what was in them - I would guess maybe some mushrooms, greens and water chestnuts. The crisp bottoms of the dumplings were a delight and I enjoyed the chunkiness of the filling.

E chose a bowl of steamed dumplings with peanut sauce and noodles. The peanut sauce was unlike any that we had eaten before: slightly spicy and salty but not as rich as the ones I am used to. I loved the thick white noodles. I am not sure if we were meant to stir it a bit more but the peanut sauce soon ran out and we ate the last of the noodles with a soy sauce marinade at the bottom of the bowl. It may have been our only protein of the night but I am not sure.

Our meal was carbohydrate-heavy so I am pleased to show you (below) that there were some bright greens in our meal. This is one of the vegetarian steamed buns. I was curious to try them after making a batch with my friend Yaz late last year. I loved the green filling which I think had a slight sweetness to it and I think there were mushrooms in there too.

If I came back I would be tempted to try a soup, if the stock was vegetarian. It is a better way to get a few vegetables with the dumplings. We did have a few hiccups with my clumsiness with a cup of water demonstrating that the serviettes were quite flimsy for wiping up spills, and our bill being added up wrongly ($28 at first and then $21 when re-counted). However it was half the price of takeaway meals we have had lately. I am very satisfied to find some Chinese food that I love and plan to try making some dumplings at home soon.

I also am pleased that we were able to eat quickly and make our way to the Melbourne Recital Centre to see Joanna Newsom. We arrived just as the support act started. It was just as well that we were seated at the start because Ryan Francesconi, in introducing his act, implored us to think about the Japanese earthquake and "you know what, don't even clap, it's not about me". He forgot it was a proper concert where they open the doors after each song to let latecomers in. After a while he said we had better clap because he realised the latecomers were waiting for their cue.

Joanna Newsom, singer-songwriter, indie-folk singer, harpist, pianist, accompanied by guitar, violin, trumbone and drums, was amazing. She took great joy in performing, her breathy-girlie voice packed an astonishing power, and the backing band added wonderful texture. An uplifting performance in a beautiful space. You may not get the chance to see Joanna Newsom but if you are local and get the chance to see the gorgeous new Melbourne Recital Centre, I highly recommend it - preceded by dumplings in China town, of course.

Shanghai Noodle House
2/242 Little Bourke St
(enter via Tattersalls Lane)
Melbourne CBD
Tel: 03 9662 9380

Thursday 17 March 2011

WHB St Pat's Day Cabbage and Quicklinks

Happy St Patrick's Day. Today I present you with a good bog Irish dish to celebrate! Last year I decided I would have loose themes for each weekday dinner. It didn't work. Mondays however have become our bangers and mash night. E can help with vegetarian sausages under the grill and preparing potatoes. I have my little burst of creativity with experimenting with vegies and flavours in the mash. Sylvia often will eat some of it. It is the genesis of some of my simpler dishes that I don't often post. Today's seemed worth capturing.

This week Monday fell on a Tuesday due to the Labour Day public holiday. I had an old quarter of cabbage. I was tempted by colcannon. But I love fried cabbage. So I threw it in the frypan, intending to serve it alongside the mash. In the end there wasn't much potato so I just tossed them together with some garlic and parmesan. Served with vegetarian sausages and steamed green broccoli, is was a success.

Cabbage and potato are so central to the traditional Irish cuisine (as I should know, coming from Anglo-Irish stock). Parmesan is not but I know the Irish love their cheese. If I had had any facon left I would have thrown that in too. Even so, I am confident this would go down well in Ireland on St Patrick's or any other day. E thought it would also make a good neofolk dish, if that is your preference!

I had hoped I might have made a nut roast for my Neb at Nut Roast II blog event for today but our kitchen is still a mess with renovations. It is still functional but less so than usual. I have lots of ideas for nut roasts to make as soon as the kitchen is back to normal. To participate in the event, go to the announcement and/or the rules. You have until 5 May to send me a nut roast.

Instead of a nut roast as an accompaniment to the cabbage and potato dish, I thought I would serve up a few quicklinks that have interested me lately:
  • Say Goodbye to Vegan Junkfood - an interesting reflection by Vegan Hope on vegan diets, processed foods and health - this post could also apply to vegetarian diets!
  • America's New Top 10 Sandwiches ... Veganised - Namely Mary asked food bloggers to come up with vegan alternatives to the top 10 sandwiches - hmmm maybe not the best link to follow the above one
  • Nigella Lawson Masterclass at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival - if you didn't get to see Nigella's masterclass, reading Lorraine (aka Not Quite Nigella)'s post about it is almost as good as being there. (She also has a write up on the fascinating jellymongers.)
  • Why Food Matters - nice post by Ruth Reichl about why food is still important in our disaster-ridden world
  • Learn to Turn off the Internet - timely piece by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian about how the internet has changed our way of thinking - "What the internet has done, say the dissenters, is damage our ability to concentrate for sustained periods. Being connected meant being constantly tempted to look away, to hop from the text in front of you to another, newer one."
I am sending the cabbage and potato dish to Chris of Mele Cotte for Weekend Herb Blogging #275, the event coordinated by Haalo and founded by Kalyn.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:

This time last year: Paddy’s day cabbage and smoked tofu
This time three years ago: Pie with filo roses

Cabbage and potato with parmesan
serves 2-3 as a side dish

2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cabbage (I used a drum cabbage)
2 cloves, garlic
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Cook chopped potatoes for about 15 minutes or until just soft. Drain and set aside. Heat oil in a large non-stick frypan over medium heat and fry onion for a few minutes until translucent. Add cabbage and garlic. Cook until cabbage is soft and starting to brown. This took me 20-30 minutes. Add potatoes and cook for a few minutes so they are heated through. Remove from heat and stir in parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

On the Stereo:
Christy Moore

Wednesday 16 March 2011

NCR Adzuki bean soup and firsts

Sylvia going through a spate of firsts - first sticking plaster (bandaid), first reaction to an insect bite, first grazed knees, first bruise from a drawer falling on her foot (and I hope the last), first grown up jigsaw without the knobs, first time turning on the microwave (when I key in the time), first time putting the key in the car keyhole (with my guidance), first time blowing a kiss, first piggy back, first kiddies television program at home.

The television program we chose for her was The Clangers. It is an old BBC children's series about pink knitted characters who make funny noises. Sylvia was vaguely interested but not won over. She had a quick look but she had important things to do - puzzles and putting dolly in her little cot. When she did watch the screen she mostly wanted to stand close enough to touch it. The part that she enjoyed most was the soup dragon who dishes out soup to the Clangers.

Last week in our house, I was the soup dragon dishing out Adzuki and Vegetable Soup to E and me. I spent an evening simmering the beans - three hours and they were still not soft. In desperation I blitzed them with the hand held blender. I came back the next day expecting to throw it out but it somehow was rather edible. The soup - served with a dollop of yoghurt, parsley and a slice of challah - was a hearty flavoursome sludge. Worth dragging my stockpot out of the bedroom in the middle of kitchen renovations.

So you see I had an adzuki bean crisis. It is not a bean with which I am familiar. When I started to look I found them nowhere to be seen and I finally found "seda" beans from El Savador in Casa Iberica.

I am a little unsure what to do with the rest of the bag. Why did the beans seem inedible on the night of cooking and quite tasty the second night? Did they soften overnight? Was 8-12 hours enough soaking for the beans? Does it make a difference to simmer the beans with stock powder? Should I throw them out? Do I have time to experiment further? Since then I have found adzuki beans in Min Phat Grocery at the Queen Vic Market. Next time I might try these - because I need a stash for facon.

I am sending this soup to Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen for No Croutons Required , the vegetarian soup and salad blog event that she runs with Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes. Lisa chose whole adzuki beans or mung beans for this month. (NB I would have taken a photo of the soup with whole beans but I despaired of the beans cooking and lost my confidence in it.)

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Bread pudding and smoothies for vegie kids
This time three years ago: WHB: In Search of the Nectarine

Adzuki beans and vegetable soup
adapted from Entertaining with Cranks
serves 4 as a main course

1 cup dried adzuki beans
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1/4 tsp ground cumin
dash chilli powder
10 cups water, or as needed
1 tin diced tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 tsp vegetable stock powder
1-2 leeks, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
dash of smoke paprika
handful of chopped parsley
yoghurt and extra parsley, to serve

Soak adzuki beans overnight. Drain.

Heat olive oil in a stockpot and fry onion for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and fry for 1 minute. Then add cumin powder and dash of chilli powder. Fry 1 minute. Add water, tomato paste and stock powder. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 1 hour or until beans are almost cooked.

Add leeks, carrot, celery and smoke paprika. Boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes or until beans are cooked and vegetables are soft (I think I did 2 hours and still wasn't happy). If desired, blend using a hand held blender. (This helped when I felt beans weren't soft enough.) Check seasoning and adjust to taste.

To serve stir through parsley and ladle into soup bowls. Spoon a generous dollop of yoghurt into each bowl and sprinkle with a bit of additional parsley.

On the stereo:
Have one on me: Joanna Newsom

Monday 14 March 2011

SOS Facon (vegetarian bacon)

Before I became a vegetarian, one of the last meats I used to eat was bacon. I liked the flavour, though I found it strong as I ate less and less meat, but I also liked it because it was a garnish rather than a lump of meat. After trialing home made and shop bought vegetarian bacon (fondly known as facon in my house), I have finally found a facon to love.

It's not that I miss bacon terribly. I gradually learnt that bacon wasn't the only source of that seductive smoky flavour. Smoked tofu, smoked cheese, smoked paprika all make their way into my cooking. In fact I now often find myself needing a shake of smoked paprika in many savoury dishes. I suspect liquid smoke would be in my pantry too if it was easier to find here.

Yet occasionally I also want the crispy, chewy texture of bacon - without the fleshiness. I've tried tofu and tempeh bacon (or facon) since becoming vegetarian but they were never crisp and chewy enough. I've tried the fluorescent pink slices of facon from a packet and they seem packed with lots of nasty flavourings and just taste too like bacon.

Last year I discovered a new facon recipe, thanks to Sarah from The Ordinary Vegetarian. It is a matter of soaking buckwheat groats and adzuki beans, adding lots of flavour and grinding them into a paste that is baked into "rashers". The recipe is one of those that initially seems impossible. It seems the mixture will never become a paste and then that it will never spread into the tin or hold together but it does. It is surprisingly easy to make. And it lasts for many meals.

I first tried this recipe in December with my friend Yaz. It seemed to take ages to blend and Yaz added some extra spices because he thought it too bland. But the result was outstanding. It was just amazing to encounter such a tasty version of vegetarian bacon that held its shape so well. I vowed to make it again soon.

It can take some time to get around to even my most favourite recipes. With a new food processor and Sylvia's birthday coming up, I finally made it again a few weeks back. Making it seemed like an exercise in kitchen archeology. I really wanted to add sage and liquid smoke. I know they were there. The liquid smoke was last seen in Sylvia's hands and could be anywhere. I can't think where the sage went. I looked. I founds a lime that had turned to black powder right at the bottom of my fruit bowl, a tube of baby food that we bought for Sylvia in Scotland in 2009, and was surprised to count the number of bags of sesame seeds I have inadvertently bought. All I could do was add more smoked paprika and find a few dried out sage leaves in the bottom of the fridge. Maybe next time I will be better prepared.

E commented on the pleasing cooking smells while I baked the facon. He is a meat eater who loves a rasher of bacon so that was promising. The result is a rasher that stays together but needs to be fried to really hold its shape and give the right texture. The texture can be a wee bit nubbly but gets more chewy when fried. It even burns just like bacon! More importantly, it is also full of protein and flavour.

One advantage over true bacon is that there is very little fat in the actual facon. I have found that vegetarian faux meats don't release lots of oil like meats of the flesh. This means that you have control over how much fat you want to add when cooking. A mere spray is enough but a generous slurp is lovely.

Once I had my facon, the challenge was to think about how to use it. I had already successfully added it to pasta and to cheese and tomato sandwiches when I made it the first time (NB Sarah's facon, tomato and avocado sounds equally good). You may have noticed it popping up in a couple of recent recipes. It went very well in my Artichoke Muffins and on the Fast Track Pizza.

I was surprised that it took a bit of digging through memories and recipes to find ideas on what to make with facon. It seems I am so used to not using it that I have wiped it from my culinary thoughts. But I do have fond memories of my mum making meals with bacon or ham. Split pea soup, baked potatoes, potato salad, zucchini slice, in fried potatoes or fried cabbage, and in a quiche. In fact one of my most nostalgic moments recently was frying onions and facon while making the lentil and potato filling for pancakes. The smell from my childhood was just amazing. And yet it was different. It was full of the right flavour without also smelling of flesh.

I saw a recipe for fried rice with bacon in the Saturday Age newspaper (5 March 2011) and made my own version, which was fantastic. I am now considering the other recipes I have passed by because they include bacon. I am planning to try maple syrup and facon on pancakes, scrambled tofu and facon, and maybe add some facon to a cassoulet or baked beans. The possibilities are endless.

In my new-found enthusiasm for facon, I have searched for ideas for my next batch and listed them below. I have divided them into vegetarian recipes and non-vegetarian recipes because I need to be aware of the issue I mentioned above of how much extra fat is needed depending on if a recipe uses bacon or facon. I have also included some recipes that I have blogged.

In my searches I have also found that others have successfully made facon out of coconut, eggplant, mushrooms and gluten flour. It seems we vegetarians and vegans have a healthy thirst for a good smoky crispy chewy facon recipe!

Facon recipes from my blog:
Facon recipes from around the web:
Bacon Recipes (that I would like to make vegetarian):
I am sending this to Ricki and Kim for their SoS Challenge, their event to encourage savoury and sweet dishes made with a featured ingredient each month. The theme for march is adzuki beans. I was pleased to see Kim's list of alternative names for the bean as mine came by the name of "seda beans" but still seemed to do the trick.

Facon (a.k.a. Amazing Homemade Vegan Bacon)
adapted from No Meat Athlete via The Ordinary Vegetarian
  • 1/2 cup dried adzuki beans, or other small red beans
  • 1/3 cup whole grain buckwheat groats (not buckwheat flour)
  • 2 tsp onion granules
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp rubbed sage
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs
  • 1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke (I had none and used an extra 1/2 tsp smoked parika)
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1-1/2 tbsp tamari
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional - I used this)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp beetroot powder (optional for colour)
Soak the beans and groats overnight in the same bowl. Drain and place in the food processor. Blend roughly and add remaining ingredients. Blend to make a paste. This takes a while and a bit of scrapping down the sides. A little texture is fine (see my photo towards the top).

Preheat the oven to 200 C or 400 F. Line a lamington tin (30 x 20 cm or 13 x 9 inch) with baking paper - making sure the paper overhangs the sides to help you get it out - and then oil the baking paper. Spread the mixture into the tin. It will seem very thin but that is good - it is meant to be. Bake for 10 minutes. The top will be dry and slightly browned but not crisp.

Cool for 10 minutes. Remove from tin using the baking paper overhang like handles and lay on a flat surface where you can chop. Cut into 24 pieces (see mine in photo towards the top of the post) or any size you desire. At this point it is a little fragile. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 weeks or store in the freezer. It can be cooked straight from fridge or freezer. To eat, fry in a little oil spray or oil or spray and crisp up under the grill (broiler).

On the Stereo:
Paranoia in Hi-Fi: Nurse with Wound