Thursday 31 July 2014

Honeyed beer and barley stew

Sometimes a blog post does not come easily.  So let me just tell you how it is.  I am drinking Camomile Honey and Vanilla Tea as I look for words to begin and thinking how much I love honey.  Sourdough bread is in the oven.  Fresh bread is one of my favourite things.  And I look at my notes and remember what a fun day we had in the school holidays when I made this stew.  A stew filled with happy memories deserves a place on the blog.

The day didn't begin well.  Sylvia rose at 6am and put on the Frozen CD.  Nooooooo!  We went swimming.  Yessssssss!  We met Sylvia's school friend and her little sister at the pool.  They joined us and a couple of other little kids that we know who were taking lessons.  It was a fun time splashing about.  I was complimented by an old lady on 'how wonderful you young mums are taking the kids to the pool'.  ('Moi?')  Followed by lunch at Zaatar where Sylvia actually now eats the zaatar pizza with not too much scraping off the zaatar.  Then a play in the park where the kids had fun scrambling up a tree and watching the ducks.

Later I felt good about my little victories.  I finally sold our Ikea Trofast wardrobe (sob - I did love it but there is no room) after discussions with 3 potential buyers and 3 cancelled pick-ups.  I sewed up a coat pocket that was torn in an anxious moment!  I bravely fished out a 'black hissing thing' from under the coffee table (it was a piece of lego, Sylvia!).  I sorted the collar on the cat who had managed to lose her old collar and slip out of her new one.  I even used up lots of vegies from the farmers market in the stew.

I love the pretty striped choggia beetroot but never know what to do with it.  (Any ideas are welcome!)  Initially I had hoped to make a chunky beetroot soup I love but add barley.  Then I sort of got influenced by a beer and barley recipe I wanted to make but had no Worcestershire sauce on hand.  I winged it.  And it was very good.  Much better than a honey and cider stew I made some years ago by adapting a meaty recipe.  I left potato out of this stew so that I could put it in the freezer.  (Actually I think that might be what is in the mysterious tubs!)

In looking at the recipe it seems a lot of stock powder.  You might need to reduce to taste.  I found that it needed quite a bit of seasoning.  However I think this is the reason I added honey.  Vegans could add other sweeteners to taste but I found that a little honey went a long way.  Barley made the stew very thick but it was packed with plenty of vegies that add flavour and nutrition.

The stew was even better for being served with a hunk of fresh seeded soda bread.  I was not sure it was quite cooked in the middle but even so it was a treat.  I had the bread ready for Sylvia's dinner but the stew took longer.  I waited until she was in bed and ate it listening to the Wonderland soundtrack.  Good music and a sleeping child are every bit as lovely as good stew with fresh bread.

I will end with a note about the choggia beetroot that I bought at Coburg Farmers Market.  I had hoped some of the stripes would show through in the final stew.  You can see in the photos that there is not a hint of beetroots pink hues.  The beetroot stripes lost their colour and became the faintest of shadows.  However I was pleased that E actually said how much he enjoyed the beetroot in the stew.

I am sending this stew to Elizabeth's Kitchen for her Shop Local event that challenges bloggers to feature locally sourced ingredients.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: Savoury sandwich ideas
Two years ago: Irish No Knead Bread
Three years ago: Apple Spice Cake
Four years ago: Lentil quinoa balls and fun links
Five years ago: Bizarre gnocchi and strange crumble
Six years ago: Paella with thanks
Seven years ago: Mushroom Yoghurt Pie with Spinach Crust

Honeyed beer and barley stew
An original recipe inspired by me (Green Gourmet Giraffe) and Vegan Eats
Serves 6-8

1-2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup beer
5 cups water
1 heaped cup dried barley
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large turnip or swede, peeled and chopped
1 large parsnip, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
3 medium beetroot, chopped choggia or golden are best
2 leeks, chopped
8-10 button mushrooms, sliced
6 tsp stock powder
2 bay leaves
few springs parlsley, finely chopped, plus extra to garnish
1 tsp salt flakes, or to taste
few stalks fresh thyme
400g tin of  lima beans, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1-2 tsp honey
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil over low heat in a stockpot and fry onion and garlic for a few minutes until translucent.  Add beer, water, barley, lentils, remaining vegies, stock powder, bay leaves, parsley, salt and thyme.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring regularly.  Add lima beans, vinegar, honey and black pepper.  Cook for another 5 minutes until warmed through.  Garnish with parsley.

On the Stereo:
(Michael Winterbottom's) Wonderland soundtrack: Michael Nyman

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Grovedale Hotel, Gertrude St Projection Festival, Open House Melbourne etc

I mentioned that I was tired on Sunday morning.  By that stage of the weekend I had already eaten out at the Grovedale Hotel and Federation Square, visited Newtown Farmers Market, looked over Treasury Buildings as part of Open House Melbourne,  and viewed the lights at the Gertrude Street Projection Festival, as well as spending time in Geelong (out of town) with family.  So here is a little more information of what I got up to.

On Friday night we drove down to Geelong after Sylvia had finished school.  We had a family birthday dinner at the Grovedale Hotel (236-236-258 Torquay Road, Grovedale tel: 03 5243 2814). It was my first visit but I think other family who live down that way have been there before.  We were greeted with a huge urn of flowers and some fancy modern gates.  Portofino's restaurant is very modern and well lit with none of the clutter that you might associate with traditional pubs. 

At first glance I was not overly impressed by the menu which only had a vegie stack offered for vegetarians.  I have had too many bad vegie stacks to ever be enthused at the prospect.  Then I saw there was a pumpkin gnocchi with basil and cashew pesto, ratatouille and roast tomato vinaigrette.  I was delighted to have a gnocchi that wasn't just rich and stodgy.  Packed with a generous amount of vegies, this gnocchi was very filling and full of flavour.

The hotel catered well to children with a kid''s menu - as usual it doesn't really cater to vegetarian kids.  Sylvia is happy with a bowl of chips (but I try to give her some decent food beforehand to balance out her meal).  For dessert, she had the frog in a pond - a chocolate frog in a pond of green.  I loved it when I was young just as much as she does now.

I was impressed that although dessert orders were taken all at once, the kids' desserts arrived first.  Generally the service was friendly and thoughtful.  When not eating chips and chocolate frogs, Sylvia had a lovely time in the kids play area (see her cousin Stella at play in the top photo).

The dessert menu presented a tyranny of choice.  I ordered the chocolate and Baileys tart with double thick cream, almond brittle and fresh strawberries.  It was good - beautifully presented - but I was not keen on it being served on a slick of cream.  (I was the one in my family who never liked cream on any dessert!)  I enjoyed the tart but would have liked it more gooey and less set.  It was very rich - perfect for sharing.

And share we did.  I think I most loved my brother in law John's sticky date pudding because it was warm and sticky and soft and perfect for a winter evening.  I also was very taken with the white chocolate and vanilla cheesecake with honey and macadamia sauce.  My sister Susie had enjoyed it before because it is gluten free and loved it enough to recommend it and order it.  It was indeed a marvellous soft creamy cheesecake but very sweet.

My mum found the whole menu hard to choose from because it offered so much temptation.  Though she wanted many of the dessert options she couldn't pass up "3 ways with passionfruit - pavlova, sorbet and natural".  I think I heard some oohs and aahs from her direction but I got too overwhelmed at wandering spoons and desserts being passed about and didn't taste any.  The other dessert that I didn't taste was Erica's lemon meringue pie.  It looked magnificent and disappeared quickly so I guess it appealed to those who like such desserts.  (Not me!)

Grovedale Hotel
258 Torquay Road, Grovedale, Geelong
Tel: 03 5243 2814

Click to add a blog post for Grovedale Hotel on Zomato

We stayed the night in Geelong and on Saturday morning, made a flying visit to the Newtown Farmers Market (on the corner of Shannon Avenue and West Fyan Rd).  My mum and I just bought a few bits and pieces before she had to meet a friend for coffee.  I headed back to my folks' place where Sylvia was playing with her cousin Ashy.  It was very cute that they were doing drawings for each other.  Ashy's big brother Cooper came over later and played hangman with me.

My dad and I had planned to go to Melbourne for Open House and the light displays.  I have visited buildings for Open House Melbourne over the last two years.  A few buildings seemed to have dropped off the list this year but there were still ones that interested me.  By the time we got back to the city, we were too late to queue anywhere and decided to go to the Old Treasury Building.  I visited back in 2008 and enjoyed it enough to return.

This imposing building was completed in 1862 to store gold from the gold rush.  I don't remember it being quite so busy last time but I do remember the grandeur of the upstairs rooms and the simplicity of the caretaker's family's rooms downstairs.  Sylvia plonked Dolly on a chair upstairs.  My dad and I were amused to see people passing by with quizzical looks.

I particularly love the green cooker downstairs which you can see in my food history post.  Possibly Sylvia's greatest curiosity was kept for the caretaker's section when she wanted to see a toilet.  We pointed out the below pot. She was suitably amused.

Both upstairs and downstairs also houses some interesting displays about Melbourne's history.  It was so busy and Sylvia was thirsty so we didn't get much of a chance to stop and read.  We did stand on the display of gold bars.  (It has a glass floor over the gold!)  The Old Treasury Building is regularly open as a museum.  I must head back when it is quieter and I have more time.

Once we left Old Treasury Building, we did have time because we had decided to wait to see the lights both in the city and in Gertrude Street after 6pm when it grew dark.  While we waited, we sat in the Atrium at Federation Square and had a burger and chips at Beer DeLuxe.  Yet again Sylvia ate chips.  I had a delicious lentil burger with tomato, lettuce, cheese, beetroot and pineapple.  I was surprised that their section that served coffees and ice creams closed at 5.30.  That scuppered our plans of a coffee for my dad and an ice cream for Sylvia.  (Her screams were loud enough to be heard around the world!)

My dad and I were hoping to see the Paint the Town Red light display in the city.  Apparently over 45 buildings are lit red at 6pm in a show of support during the international AIDS 2014 conference.  This was our second journey into the city to see the lights and both times I was disappointed.  The Arts Centre spire (above) was red but my dad and I couldn't work out if St Paul's Cathedral was lit red.  Fed Square and the Town Hall definitely weren't red (though Town Hall was last weekend).  Fortunately we had Sylvia with us and she just loved all the regular lights in the city.

My dad left us then to get his train home.  Sylvia found a shop selling ice creams which cheered her up no end!  With an ice cream in hand (hurrah for cold weather preventing them melting too quickly) we drove to see the Gertrude Street Projection Festival.  These were brilliant.  Different patterns and pictures were projected onto the Atherton high rise towers.  Across the road a pub on the corner of Napier St was lit up with white fairy lights.

We stood on the street corner watching the projections.  The pub projections were actually interactive.  A few people were using their phone to make little dots race about and chase the fairy lights.  The miracles of modern technology!  I really liked the friendly vibes of people standing around on the corner. 

I would have spent more time walking along Gertrude St and then back to the Wilde cafe at the corner of Napier St for a mulled wine but it was Sylvia's second late night and we had to get home.  We drove home singing Frozen songs and feeling very tired.

The projection festival has finished but there is information about other city projects in this article or check out the Melbourne Public Art Program.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Gluten free grain free almond meal pancakes

Grain free is the new gluten free.  Once it was enough not to have gluten but now a lot of people follow a paleo diet.  Not me.  I am just a vegetarian with the right recipe at the right time.  Vitasoy sent me Pete Evans' Healthy Every Day cookbook recently.  I have had my eye on the Almond and Berry pancakes for a while.  This morning Sylvia wanted pancakes but there were no bananas for our usual pancakes.  The moment had come.

It has been a big weekend so I can vouch for these being fairly easy once I worked out what frothy eggs looked like.  The recipe is not one I would make often as I rarely make anything with more than 3 eggs.  And I am a bit unreasonably cross at the recipe because I was tired enough to drop my lovely salt hog while grabbing it for a pinch of salt.  Argh!  I cut a few corners in serving mine with plum and raspberry jam rather than berries and honey.

As can be the case with gluten free baking, the pancakes were quite fragile when cooking.  They firmed up as they cooled.  They weren't at all fluffy like regular pancakes.  The best way I can describe the texture is like a flourless orange and almond cake.  Light and a little fragile when hot and quite sturdy when cooled.  Sylvia was not a fan but E and I enjoyed them.

The recipe suggested it would serve 2 but they were so dense that together we only got through almost 2 thirds.  Even so I was not too fussed about lunch when I headed off to a school working bee in the late morning.  I was still full from the pancakes.  We finally had lunch at 2.30.  I guess all the raking up the leaves finally caught up with me.  So while I can't see these pancakes being a regular, I would make them again, especially if we have gluten free guests for brunch.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: Mustardy cabbage pasta bake
Two years ago: MLLA Chickpea pizza base
Three years ago: Pumpkin cake for Dolly's tea party
Four years ago: Turkish Fig Pudding
Five years ago: Balancing Soup and Scones
Six years ago: Tabouli from the Tree
Seven years ago: Lasagne and the Boy Wizard

Gluten Free Almond Pancakes
lightly adapted from Pete Evan's Healthy Every Day
Makes about 12 medium pancakes - serves 3-4

4 eggs
1/2 cup soy milk
2 tbsp honey
200g almond meal
1 1/2 tbsp coconut flour
2 tsp baking powder
dash of cinnamon
pinch of salt
butter or margarine or coconut oil to grease frypan

Whisk eggs in a medium bowl for a few minutes until frothy.   Mix in milk and honey and give a good stir so that most of the honey dissolves.  Place the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and pour in the egg mixture.  Stir to make a thick mixture (more like a loose paste than a regular pancake batter).

Heat a heavy bottomed frypan over medium heat.  Grease by rubbing about half a teaspoon of butter over the frypan (I used margarine).  Drop dessertspoonfuls of mixture onto the pan and spread a little with the back of the spoon.  Fry a few minutes until the mixture is a bit dry and when you check the other side it is golden brown.  Fry on the other side about a minute.  Eat warm with sweet topping of choice.  I liked jam.  E liked maple syrup.  Or cool to room temperature and eat for snacks with jam or honey.

On the Stereo:
American Roots, vol 2: Various Artists

Disclosure statement:  I received the cookbook free of charge as part of a giveaway.  All opinions are my own.

Thursday 24 July 2014

Christmas in July smoky cheese and barley nut roast

Sylvia started it.  I love to celebrate Christmas in July but had no plans this year.  We had a quiet weekend at home to try and throw off our colds when Sylvia found the Christmas CDs and books.  (Must hide better next time!)  So began the craziness.  I told her we could play carols and watch a Christmas DVD and I would make Christmas dinner.  Why not when, baby, it's cold outside!

For those unfamiliar with Christmas in July, it is truly delightful in Melbourne to celebrate Christmas in the middle of winter and indulge in a decadent festive meal.  (Of course it is not about presents!)  We are feeling very wintery lately.  Sylvia is insisting on turning her calendar to August for the snowman picture.  We even have had snow in the hills outside Melbourne.  And I keep hearing wind and rain outside even when there is none.  You see, I have had an ear infection for the past week that is playing havoc with my hearing.

We needed a tree!  I wasn't committed enough to drag out Christmas decorations.  Instead we had a quick craft episode with a few rolls of colourful washi tape.  With a bit of guidance, Sylvia created a picture of a Christmas tree to put on the wall.  Her tree had bananas and the star at the top was sticking out its tongue! 

More effort on a Christmas tree was kept for our gingerbread tree.  We have a graduated set of 5 star biscuit cutters that we have used on another gingerbread Christmas tree.  Last time we used a gingerless gingerbread that was appropriate to our friend's intolerances.  On the weekend we used my favourite gingerbread recipe.  It has never let me down.  We smooshed together the stars with green icing.  Then Sylvia decorated it with Christmas sprinkles.

For the Christmas dinner, it seemed obvious to make a nut roast.  As those who know my blog will be aware, I love nut roasts and make them frequently.  I had some pearl barley and split peas in want of using.  I googled and found ideas.  In particular, a Jamie Oliver Cranberry and Pistachio Nut Roast.  It appealed because it suggested I could use barley instead of rice in the risotto base.  (The recipe omitted to note that it would take longer to cook barley than rice!)

I have decided my recipe is different enough to Jamie's to claim it as original because I made so many changes.  The main one is that I couldn't find fresh cranberries to top the nut roast.  They are rare in Melbourne at the best of times and I didn't have the energy to hunt them out.  I only went to the shops because I needed another course of antibiotics.  Our local shops don't sell wild mushrooms so I used portabello and button.  I used whiskey instead of wine, smoked vintage cheese instead of cheddar, walnuts instead of pistachios.  Even my breadcrumbs were different as I had kept leftover seasoned crumbs and cornflakes from some tofu nuggets.

Jamie says to leave out the eggs and cheese to make the nut roast vegan.  I would try mixing through a little tofu.  My nut roast took a lot of its flavour from the smoked vintage cheese.  To veganise this nut roast, I would add some smoked paprika and additional seasonings.  In fact the nut roast was so hearty that a small amount would suffice and it would serve quite a lot of people if need be.

I had promised Sylvia a Christmas dinner so it was a proper roast dinner with roast potatoes and pumpkin, brussels sprouts, gravy and cranberry sauce.  I had some miso lentil grave (from Isa Does It) in the freezer.  It was ok but a bit thick and intense for a nut roast.  The cranberry sauce worked well in lieu of freshly cooked cranberries.  The nut roast was so flavoursome that it needed the sweetness to cut through the seasoning.

And there were sprouts.  There are always sprouts in a traditional British Christmas.  I hated brussel sprouts as a child.  E hated brussel sprouts when I met him.  Yet both of us have come to love them.  More surprising is that Sylvia loves them.  She eats them first in her dinner because they are her favourite thing.  When I ran out this week she was demanding that I buy her more sprouts.  Am I alone in thinking this is odd behaviour in a child!  Not that am complaining.  Even so, it seemed ironic that I didn't cook all the sprouts that I bought for the meal and wished I had.  They were really good!

I dug out our tartan table runner and Christmas dishes.  Sylvia decided that dinner must be by candlelight.  She loves roast potatoes but was less impressed by a small piece of nut roast.  In fact the best thing she had to say for it was that if she ate enough cranberry sauce she couldn't taste the nut roast.  I suspect it was the candles and carols rather than the nut roast that made her exclaim that it was the best night ever. 

And Sylvia loved the gingerbread Christmas tree.  She was very excited when it was time for dessert.  This was an easy and yet impressive way to finish our Christmas dinner.  And it made a festive touch to the table.  I enjoyed the gingerbread but I was so full from main course that it was a bit wasted on me. 

As a meat eater I once loved the leftover meat after Christmas dinner, and as a vegetarian I now love the leftover nut roast.  The following day we had plenty of nut roast.   Did I mention that I baked oat and seed sourdough bread around preparing for our Christmas in July!  It meant that I could eat wonderful leftover nut roast sandwiches.  Actually I overdid the cranberry sauce and roasted pumpkin in the sandwich.  It need a little less sweet flavours but with spinach and grated carrot was still lovely.  I also made some rice and nut roast, a bit like this recipe (without stuffing it in peppers).

And the next day I could photograph the nut roast in daylight.  Natural light for blog photograph seems very limited at the time of year.  For those in the Northern Hemisphere experiencing long summer days (or as The Age newspaper recently said, Britons experiencing a (sort of) heatwave), you probably don't feel very Christmassy at all.  Perhaps reading this post, you are feeling just the way that we do Down Under when it comes to Christmas in December: too hot to think about Christmas and finding it hard to feel in synch with those wintery weather that are the hallmark of the festivities.  For us, it felt just like right.  But even better without the annoying commercialism.  This is the sort of Christmas I wish for all year round!

I am sending this nut roast to:

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: Christmas in July - Chocolate Shortbread and Sovereign Hill
Two years ago: Celery and blue cheese soup and Open House Melbourne
Three years ago: Mulled wine and chocolate cake
Four years ago: Christmas in July Cupcakes
Five years ago: Pudding, Parties and Plate Smashers
Six years ago: Miss Marple’s Tea Room – cosy charm
Seven years ago: Hubert the Hog’s Head

Smoky cheese and barley nut roast
An original Green Gourmet Giraffe recipe inspired by Jamie Oliver
Serves 6 to 8

2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
150g pearl barley
1/4 cup whiskey
3 1/2 cups boiling water
1 tsp stock powder
200g mushrooms, diced
100g walnuts, crushed with a fork
100g almond meal
150ml breadcrumbs
125g smoked vintage cheddar
black pepper, to taste
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 190 C.  Grease and line a loaf tin (mine is 22 x 13cm and was full to the brim with the

Heat between 1 and 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium saucepan.  Fry celery and onions over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes until soft. Stir in garlic for a minute or so.  Add pearl barley and fry for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Deglaze with whisky and the stir in the 2 - 3 cups of boiling water and the vegetable stock.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about 40 minutes or until the pearl barley is just cooked and most of the water is absorbed.  Add more boiling water as required.  (I originally added 2 and 1/2 cups of water and then added another cup when it was absorbed and not yet cooked.) 

Meanwhile fry mushrooms in 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes until soft and most of the juices have evaporated. (If you don't get to do this until your barley is cooked, you can do this in the same saucepan once barley is transferred to the mixing bowl.)

While the barley and mushrooms are cooking, prepare remaining ingredients and add to a large mixing bowl.  Add pearl barley mixture and mushrooms once cooked and stir together until well mixed.

Spoon mixture into the prepared loaf tin.  Smooth the top of it with the back of a spoon.  Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Turn halfway through the baking and check if it needs to be covered in foil.  My oven refuses to burn anything (except the odd chip) but I know others are more powerful.  I baked mine for 40 minutes at 200 C and it was a bit soft so longer would be better.

Allow to rest for at least 10 to 15 minutes.  Turn out onto a serving tray.  You can make this a day ahead and keep on a serving tray covered in foil (once cooled) and reheat (covered in foil) on the day.  Serve with lots of roast vegies, greens and gravy or anyway you want.  I highly recommend some cranberry sauce.

On the Stereo:
White Christmas: Bing Crosby

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Shortbread like Ena Baxter made it

When I started blogging back in 2007 I was having a lovely time  experimenting with new flavours and ideas.  It was only later I realised that I had forgotten to include the basics.  I just took them for granted.  Perhaps that is why I have posted a recipe for dark chocolate and cranberry shorrtbread and spiced chocolate shortbread but until today I have not posted a basic shortbread recipe. 

It might also be that I find regular shortbread to be quite dull.  Maybe it was not always so.  I blame my current disdain for shortbread on the months I spent working in a quiet office in Edinburgh.  Most of my days there were spent gossiping and raiding the stocks of Walkers shortbread.  However, I live with E who loves it with a passion that betrays his Scottish upbringing.  Our little girl loves shortbread too. 

Now bring in my sister in law HH who lives in Edinburgh and is thoughtful and generous at choosing presents.  A few years back she sent me this present pack.  A book of baking recipes, a woollen rose and Ena Baxter's Scottish Cookbook.  I particularly loved the cookbook as it was one that belonged to E's mum.  Ena Baxter is one of the famous Baxters family that make lovely soups and preserves.  I was lucky enough to visit Fochabers in Scotland where their main factory is.  Sadly it was too snowy to visit their Highland Village

The cookbook is full of traditional recipes.  Most of the dinner recipes are meat.  I have spent more time looking at the baking chapters.  It is written for women who are skilled in the art of baking and don't need precision when it comes to cake tins, amounts of ingredients or baking times.  I consider myself a competent cook and yet I find this sort of recipe challenging.  I have tried the treacle scones once or twice and not got the (unspecified) amount of milk right.

Earlier this year I tried Ena Baxter's shortbread.  The recipe didn't give a size of tin or nor the time to bake it.  I had to try it twice to feel like I had it right.  The first time I didn't fill the whole of the lamington tin because it seemed too thin.  The shortbread was golden brown around the edges but in the middle it was too pale, dense and soft rather than sandy and crumbly.

Don't get me wrong.  It was edible.  Which was just as well.  I had made it for a school lunch on Harmony Day.  This is a day for children to wear their national dress and bring food from their family's country.  Sylvia wore a tartan skirt and a t-shirt with the Scottish saltire on it.  I had to pin them to fit with a safety pin or two.

It surprised me that Sylvia did not know what a safety pin was.  I grew up helping changing my siblings' cloth nappies that were held together with safety pins.  I guess they just don't feel safe enough for kids any more.  Well I guess I did stick the safety pin into them occasionally.  Oops!

Incidentally I was quite surprised at an article in The Age newspaper on racism damaging children recently which said that one-off multicultural events "can do more harm than good and reinforce rather than challenge negative attitudes and beliefs".  I wonder how this plays out at Sylvia's school where there is a lot of diversity in the children's backgrounds.  Today I heard about a nutrition presentation at the school where a child asked if the puppet presenter was fasting for Ramadan.

But I digress.  Back to the shortbread.  I tried again.  This time I spread it thinner, cooked it until I knew the colour seemed more evenly golden brown.  It was much better.  Cooked right through.  Sandy and crumble.  Sylvia had been a bit wary about the first batch but gobbled up the second.  And I think Ena would have been pleased that I am learning not just by cookbooks but also by learning from doing.

E's mother would also be delighted that I am using her cookbook to feed her son and granddaughter (and myself) a traditional biscuit that has been eaten for many generations in Scotland.  So while plain old shortbread is not my favourite thing to eat, it is embedded in our family and can make me feel quite sentimental  Which is a good reminder of why the simple foods are sometimes the most important to us.

I am sending this to Cates Cates for the Christmas in July theme this month for Anyone Can Cook Vegetarian Food.  While shortbread can be enjoyed all year round, it is also a traditional festive treat and great for gifts..

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: Carrot dinner rolls
Two years ago: RRC Show us your Cookbooks
Three years ago: MLLA Chickpea, potato and tomato stew
Four years ago: Syrup cake, shoes and chooks
Five years ago: Pear and Walnut Chutney
Six years ago: Chickpea cutlets and gluten strings
Seven years ago: Mulled Apple Juice for a Midwinter Birthday

From Edna Baxter's Scottish Cookbook
Makes about 54 small squares

250g plain white flour
125g rice flour
125g sugar
250g butter

Preheat oven to 160 C or 325 F.  Line a lamington or swiss roll tray with baking paper (mine is 31 x 24cm).

Use your hands (or pastry cutters) to rub butter into flours and sugar until thoroughly incorporated.  The mixture will be soft lumps.  Tip the mixture into into the prepared tray and use the back of a spoon or your hands to press it down firmly, evenly and flat.  It might seem thin but thin is good.  Mark squares (or fingers) by running a knife through the shortbread dough.  Use a fork to poke holes in each piece.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown.  Cool in the tray and then cut into squares or fingers as marked.

On the Stereo:
White chalk: P J Harvey 

Sunday 20 July 2014

Sourdough banana oat pancakes

It was a cool autumn morning with a banana to use up.  That calls for banana oat pancakes.  This is my easy way of using up smelly old bananas and pleasing Sylvia.  I hadn't been baking much sourdough bread.  I don't like to discard the starter so I just feed it up and find a purpose.  Usually that is flatbreads.  I thought I would try tossing it into the pancakes.

Most of the pancakes were small but I made a large one at the end when I had had enough of frying.  However, they fried quite quickly and soon we had a plate piled with pancakes.  They were a bit flatter than my usual version and also not overly sweet.

I had stewed some plums the night before.  This meant the pancakes were fancier than the usual lemon and sugar or maple syrup.  I had a pile of three pancakes with plums and vanilla yoghurt.  It was scrumptious.  Then I had seconds.  And was very full.

Now we were ready for the day.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: Healthy banana bread and kids making do
Two years ago: WW Tofu nut balls and princesses
Three years ago: CC Vegetarian Moussaka
Four years ago: Fish and chips – reflections of a vegetarian
Five years ago: SHF Apricot sponge – by any other name
Six years ago: Vegetarian Cassoulet
Seven years ago: Mushroom Yoghurt Pie with Spinach Crust

Sourdough banana oat pancakes
Adapted from our favourite banana oat pancakes
Serves 4 to 6

30g butter
2 tsp golden syrup (or other sweetener)
1 banana, mashed
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder
butter, for frying

Melt butter.  Mix in golden syrup and banana, then egg.  Mix sourdough starter, oats and baking powder.  (My batter was thickish and quick blobby rather than a pouring consistency.)

Heat a frypan over medium heat.  Melt a little butter (about 1/2 tsp) in the frypan and use the back of a spoon to spread it about evenly.  Drop dessertspoons of batter into the frypan.  (Or two spoonfuls for a slightly bigger pancake.) Fry a few minutes until bubbles appear.  Flip over and fry another minute or two until the other side is golden brown.  Serve warm with your choice of toppings.

On the Stereo:
Talking with the Taxman about Poetry: Billy Bragg

Thursday 17 July 2014

5:2 diet - vegetarian meal plans, reflections and recipes

Late last year I started the 5:2 diet. I was impressed by Michael Mosley's Eat Fast and Live Longer BBC tv program, Horizon.  It argued that eating 500 calories (or 600 calories if you are male) 2 days a week and eating whatever you want for the remaining 5 days has many health benefits, as well as aiding weight loss. I have been surprised at how much I liked it. Yet starting the diet was hard because I couldn't find vegetarian meal plans. So here are a few reflections, recipes and meal plans for anyone who is interested in the diet.

Disclaimer: I am not a trained health professional. I am merely sharing my experiences. I have discussed this diet with my doctor and I recommend doing so before starting the diet, especially if you have any risk factors. It is not recommended for people with eating disorders.


I started out religiously counting calories, and it was hard at the end of each day. As my stomach demanded food, I would dream of the piles of food I would devour the next day. Strangely enough, when the next day came I wasn't that hungry and didn't gorge myself as I had expected. While there is much talk about 'fasting', it is not a starvation diet.  The longer I do the diet, the easier I find it. Though you still might find me a little more grumpy than usual on the evening of a fast day.

I really like the light feeling of eating less food on a fast day. It has also made me cut back on the amount of cooking and groceries we buy.  This diet is not for everyone and it has its critics.  (I like to believe it is good for my health but it seems the research is still in its early days.)  However I like that I have lost a little weight and this has been with no extra cost, no signing up, and no foods I must or mustn't eat.

Having done this diet for months, I find that I don't always calorie count now. I follow a fairly similar eating pattern of porridge for breakfast; rice cakes or bread with a spread and salad for lunch; perhaps some fruit or miso soup for snacks; and a soup of vegies and legumes for dinner. Mostly good simple food. On occasion I have had cake for lunch but I don't recommend it.  Nor do health professionals who recommend good nutrition both on fast and non-fast days.  Here are a few notes on what works and doesn't work for me:

The 5:2 diet works fine when:
  • Drinking lots of water and herbal tea
  • I eat lots of vegies to give plenty of interest to a meal
  • Child free day (school holidays are challenging)
  • Shopping for food (surprisingly doesn't bother me)
  • Busy (eg focused on work) so that time flies
  • I take snacks with me when out and about
  • If I meet friends it is just for a coffee and I have herbal tea
  • I don't eat lots of sweet and salty foods that stimulate my appetite

The 5:2 diet is not easy when:
  • I am eating out
  • I have a headache and/or am sick
  • I do lots of exercise
  • I am photographing tempting food for blog
  • I am baking and storing freshly baked goods around the house
  • If I don't have a good idea of what food I will eat (preparation helps)
  • Christmas and Easter or other big celebrations present me with lots of good food


When I first started, I found it useful to keep a food diary to keep a running total of my calories.  I used calories lists from Tinned Tomatoes and Lavender and Lovage as well as searching online. 

After a while I didn't need snacks as much and found myself making slightly higher calorie soups for dinner.  I still keep a good supply of rice cakes, cuppa soup, miso soup, fruit and herbal tea for light snacks if I need them. And I find a homemade vegie stock helps give extra flavour to soups.

NB I don't get too hung up on getting the calories precise so if they are slightly out that is fine.  (Fro example: my notes say that a small apple is 52 cal and a large one is 95 cal so I may allocate different calories depending on the size.)  It is about reducing calories rather than precision.

Here are a few sample days of my food diary:

Hearty tomato noodle soup - 125 C

Week 1 Day 1

Breakfast Porridge 127 cal
Morning tea Half apple 42 cal
Lunch Hearty tomato noodle soup (from a box)         125 cal
Afternoon tea 3 cherry tomatoes 12 cal
Dinner Italian butter beans
A few vegies
140 cal
10 cal
Supper Half apple
1 pistachio
42 cal
4 cal
Total 502 cal

Rice cakes with peanut butter and tomato, and fried asparagus - 92 C

Week 7 Day 1

Breakfast Porridge 127 cal
Morning tea Half apple 47 cal
Lunch 1 thin rice cake with 1 tsp peanut butter         
1/2 tomato
4 asparagus spears
fried in 1/2 tsp oil with pinch of salt
58 cal
13 cal
11 cal
10 cal
Afternoon tea Happy cow cheese wedge 35 cal
Dinner Broccoli soup 153 cal
Supper Rice cake with vegemite
1 almond
40 cal
12 cal
496 cal

Curried red lentil and dried apricot soup - 141 C

Week 9 Day 1

Breakfast Porridge 127 cal
Morning tea Nectarine 39 cal
Lunch 1 rice cake with hummus
1/4 tomato
1 rice cake with vegemite
60 cal
13 cal
40 cal
Afternoon tea n/a
Dinner Curried red lentil and dried apricot soup     141 cal
Supper 1/2 nectarine 15 cal
445 cal

Sweet potato and red lentil soup - 129 C

Week 13 Day 1

Breakfast Smoothie 147 cal
Morning tea n/a
Lunch Cuppa noodle soup (packaged) 125 cal
Afternoon tea bit of rice cracker
bit of peach
7 cal
7 cal
Dinner Sweet potato and red lentil soup              129 cal
Supper Rice cake 35 cal
440 cal

Nashi pears - 127 C and packam pears - 80 C

6 months later(I had given up noting the week number)
Breakfast1 rice cake and peanut butter49 cal
Morning tean/a
Lunch1 slice sourdough bread
2 tsp hummus
132 cal
15 cal
Afternoon tea1 (260g) nashi pear127 cal
DinnerBeetroot and kidney bean soup181 cal
504 cal


Based on this microwave porridge
serves 1

1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup soy milk
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp honey

Mix all ingredients in a small heat proof mixing bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes. Stir and cheek consistency. Microwave another 1-2 minutes depending on how thick you like your porridge. When it is thickened and oats are cooked, serve hot. 127 calories per serving.

Serves 2

1/2 banana
1 ripe peach*
1 ripe plum*
10 raspberries
1/2 cup soy milk
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp chia seeds
ice blocks, optional

Place everything in a large jug and blend until smooth with a hand held blender (or use a blender jug if you have one). Pour into two glasses and enjoy. 147 calories per serving.

*Variation: I have also made this smoothie with 1/4 cup of blueberries instead of the plum and the peach. It worked out at 122 calories per serving.

Italian butter beans - 140 C
Italian butter beans
From BBC Good Food
Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
400g tin diced tomatoes
2 tsp sugar
2 x 400g tins butter beans, rinsed and drained
small bunch basil, chopped

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and fry the garlic for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, sugar and seasoning. Tip in the beans and a splash of water. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the basil and serve. 140 calories per serving.

Sweet potato and red lentil soup
A lighter version of this soup
Serves 4

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
1 celery stick, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 cup red lentils
1 sweet potato (mine weighed 233g), chopped*
5 cups water
2 tsp stock powder
pinch salt

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Fry onion, garlic, celery and carrot until soft. Add remaining ingredients and check seasoning. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes or until potato is soft and lentils cooked. Puree and serve. 129 calories per serving.

*Note: you could bake the sweet potato until soft. It will make the flavour more intense in the soup but it is not necessary if you don't have time.

Variation: I have also made this soup with 1/2 tsp olive oil, 50g silverbeet, 30g mushrooms, 35g kale, 2 tbsp tomato paste and not pureed it. This was really delicious and 139 calories per serving.

Asparagus and chickpea salad - 133 C
Asparagus and chickpea salad
serves 2

1 bunch asparagus
1/2 x 400g tin of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 medium red pepper, chopped
5 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp cider vinegar

Trim and roughly chop asparagus. Lightly steam and cool under cold water. Drain. Mix with remaining ingredients. Season to taste. 133 calories per serving.

Smoky kidney bean soup
Adapted from Lavender and Lovage
Serves 4

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion
2 carrots, chopped
100g button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
125g butternut pumpkin (or squash), chopped
400g tin kidney beans, rinsed and drained
400g  tin diced tomatoes
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried oregano
good shake of cayenne powder
2 cups vegie stock
nutritional yeast flakes to serve, optional

Fry onion in olive oil for a few minutes until translucent.  Add carrots, mushrooms and garlic.  Fry 5 to 10 minutes until vegies soften. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about 20-30 minutes until carrots and pumpkin are soft when pierced with a fork.  Serve with nutritional yeast flakes if desired.  142 calories per serving.  (149 calories per serving if you scatter each serving with 1 tbsp of nutritional yeast flakes.)

Smoky kidney bean soup - 142 C
Other recipes on my blog that I have used on the 5:2 diet:


Blogs that have 5:2 recipes and low calorie recipes (mostly vegetarian) :

A few recipes by these bloggers:

Broccoli and celery soup - 111 cal per serve - Tinned Tomatoes
Celery and leek soup - 80 cal per serve - Lavender and Lovage
Mulligatawny soup - 215 cal per serve - Lavender and Lovage

Reflections by others:

I am sending the Smoky Kidney Bean Soup to Lisa's Kitchen for No Croutons Required, a monthly event held with Jac of Tinned Tomatoes for bloggers to share vegetarian soups and salads.  This monthly event would also be a great place to look for 5:2 diet meal ideas.