Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What I enjoyed this month: July 2012

July has been an eventful month.

My grandfather died. Mel allowed me to experience the delights of liquid smoke and 'real' tofu bacon (still enjoying it!). We went outdoor ice skating and cycled 30km. The Olympics started. I discovered celeriac (still in love) and went on a lemon kick.

As July ends, the dawn of August also brings us rather close to our wedding date. One. month. tomorrow.


Here are some memories and experiences from July (mostly food-related it would seem) that I haven't yet spoken about...

Baby spinach, strawberries and (raw) tofu. Surprisingly, amazingly good.

I made these vegan chocolate cupcakes and added sprinkles to some and frozen berries to others. Both additions worked very well indeed. I now want to add sprinkles to everything.

I don't like brussels sprouts, but for some inexplicable reason they were calling to me this month. I roasted them in salt and vinegar, and may now be an occasional brussels sprout eater.

Can you guess what is in this smoothie?

Or more specifically, what is giving the smoothie its colour?

Hint: It's not strawberries.

In addition to wedding plans, our travel plans for September are coming together rather nicely. You may remember that one of my (our) 2012 aspirations was a trip to Europe, around a conference I hoped to attend in Portugal in late September.

As it turns out, this trip will now be our honeymoon, which is as nice an outcome as I could ever have hoped for.

We will have a week in Spain, based in Madrid; just over a week in Portugal, with 3 days in Lisbon and 5 days in Porto (the latter being for my work conference); and 10 days in England, where we will spend 4 nights in London and then make a trip north that encompasses York, Durham and Birmingham. We had originally hoped to see Morocco, but security concerns mean that we have put that idea aside for now.

All in all, it is rather exciting - and I suspect that August will pass very quickly indeed!

What has your July involved? And do you have any recommendations for us in Madrid, Lisbon or Porto?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lemon quinoa and lemon tofu

Remember when I made those lemon-cashew-sesame truffle balls?

Also known as recipe one of three lemon recipes?

Today, we have recipes two and three.

I hope your taste buds are lemon ready.

Recipe two, lemon quinoa, isn't really a recipe at all. In fact, this is one of those dishes that would be perfect for a dinner party (presuming your guests like quinoa). The ratio between effort and output is very favourable indeed, and you end up with a dish that looks and tastes delightful with hardly any preparation required.

Simply cook 2/3 cup quinoa in 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1 cup water. Add 1 small zucchini, roughly chopped, about 5 minutes before the quinoa is ready. Easy.

Recipe three, lemon tofu, requires a little more effort but is still quite easy to throw together.

As a disclaimer of sorts, this dish didn't fully match  my expectations. My expectations were crispy tofu pieces with a strong lemon flavour, similar to the lemon chicken one might get in a Chinese restaurant. I never liked lemon chicken much, but a tofu version was calling to me.

As it turns out, the tofu here wasn't particularly crispy and the lemon flavours were subtle rather than strong. I also realised after starting that my fresh ginger was, well, no longer fresh. This meant that I used dried ginger, which is not the same thing at all. 

Despite all of that, I still enjoyed the tofu. Frying it would rectify the crispy issue, if desired, and the flavour could be intensified by marinating the tofu for longer before cooking. Checking your ginger supplies before starting would be a sensible thing too.

I sweetened this with palm sugar, which I bought a month or so back but am still experimenting with. Palm sugar comes from the sap of palm trees, and is thus different to coconut sugar, which comes from the sap of flowers from coconut palms. The two sugars are quite similar in appearance, though, and can be used in similar ways. Palm sugar generally comes in solid lumps that require grating or chopping before use, and is similar-ish to brown sugar in taste.

I think this would go well with Asian greens, such as bok choi or gai lan. However, in my disorganised state, we didn't have any of those. I used carrots and water chestnuts instead, which worked well, but if I make this again I will use bok choi as well as fresh ginger.

Lemon tofu
Inspired by lemon chicken with a nod to this recipe and this recipe
Serves 3

I made this without ginger and with carrot instead of bok choi, but I am listing what I would do in future

1 packet (350g) firm tofu, drained, sliced and pressed
1/2 cup lemon juice (the juice of 1 medium lemon)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped
2 tbsp cornflour
2 tsp palm sugar, roughly chopped
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 small onion or 2 shallots, diced
1/2 cup water chestnuts (or vegetables of choice)
2 bok choi, chopped (or vegetables of choice)
Oil, to taste

Rice, to serve

While your tofu is pressing, combine the lemon juice, soy sauce, ginger, cornflour, palm sugar and vegetable stock in a small saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until approaching boiling point. When nearly boiling, reduce the heat and continue stirring for another 2 - 3 minutes, until the sauce thickens.

Set the sauce aside and allow to cool until just warm.

Marinate the tofu in the lemon sauce for at least 30 minutes (preferably for longer).

When the tofu is nearly ready, heat oil in a non-stick pan and saute the onion until just soft. Add the tofu and cook until golden, turning occasionally. The crispiness will depend on how much oil you use.

Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside while you cook the vegetables. The tofu will crisp up on standing. When the vegetables are cooked, return the tofu to the pan and heat through for 5 - 10 minutes.

Do you enjoy lemon chicken / lemon tofu dishes? Prior to this, it had been years since I ate a lemon-focused main dish, but I am now keen to try this again with the ginger and bok choi additions.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fortnightly Fitness Fridays - A jumbo bike ride

I was rather delighted to discover how many of you share my startling, jumpy tendencies. Next time I get a fright from my water bottle, I will almost feel normal! And who knew so many partners moved stealthily about the house?

Today, I'm moving back into the fortnightly fitness Friday theme - skipped last fortnight because there were more pressing matters on my mind. It feels appropriate to return today, with the 2012 Olympic games officially kicking off this evening. I am extraordinarily excited. I am also looking forward to the media (hopefully) moving on from their pre-games dribble, which has seemed to revolve around athlete spats and minor administrative challenges. I can't even bring myself to talk about the Liesel Jones weight debate, which is so ridiculous it is almost sickening. Clearly the media is ready for the sport to start too.

It's not quite at Olympic standards, but my focus today is on a bike ride that, for us, was on a mammoth scale.

Some of you probably ride 30km on a regular basis, and do it in well under 2 hours to boot. For me, though,  it is rather a long way.

In Perth, there is a freeway (motorway) north and a freeway south. Both freeway stretches have accompanying train lines, and also cycle paths that either run alongside the freeway or are parallel to it not far off. Lycra clad cyclists routinely ride 'to the end of the freeway and back' as a casual start to their Saturday morning. 

We're not lycra clad cyclists, but for some time we have planned to catch the train along the northern freeway stretch and then cycle back in again.

A fortnight ago, we did it, helped along by clear skies, cool temperatures, and an afternoon with nowhere we needed to be.

This was the weekend after my grandfather died, and it was exactly the activity I needed. The sunshine on my back, wind on my face, and delight in navigating 30km on our own steam was a lovely reminder of how enjoyable life can be, and how much I value activity and movement.

We got lost once (it turns out following a cycle path isn't always as straightforward as you'd think), encountered a few steep hills, rode through bushland as well as alongside cars, and stopped for a break at the 20km (ish) mark.

It wasn't a speedy ride, but it was a wonderful one.

Mr Bite doesn't know it yet, but I'm now setting my sights on doing the same thing on the southern freeway stretch...and that's 50km.

Have you enjoyed any out of the ordinary activities lately?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Things that scare me

I don't consider myself a scared person. Anxious, yes. I can worry wholeheartedly, work myself up over small things, interpret innocent comments in a self-critical way, and become nervous at any opportunity (although all of these things are less pronounced in my adult years than they were in my adolescence, thank goodness). But scared, well, it isn't what comes to mind when I think of myself.


I startle easily.

Today, I thought I'd share some of the things that make me jump, quietly shriek, or otherwise take fright in a rather obvious manner.

For variety, I'm throwing in some phone photographed food too. I seem to have rather a lot of such photos and my computer is starting to groan when I add more images to the ever-expanding 'phone photographs' folder.

Apple with chocolate avocado pudding, weetbix  crunch bites,
and cherries from America that I couldn't resist buying despite the air miles.

Things that startle me

Mr Bite appearing in the kitchen when I think he's upstairs.

Mr Bite appearing upstairs when I think he's downstairs.

My water bottle on my desk out of the corner of my eye. (I thought it was a person. I appreciate this is illogical. Logic and fright aren't firm friends.)

The cord for the kitchen blind, swinging into my line of vision.

This looks like a mess. It tasted delicious.
Sweet potato with  a sundried tomato & olive veggie sausage. 

Unexpected irregularity in the ground when I'm running. Or walking. My feet don't adjust well to unexpected changes in the ground beneath them.

A feather flying into my head.

Mr Bite waiting behind me whilst I am hand washing, resulting in a person in the laundry mirror when I look up.

Any TV show featuring suspense. Not necessarily horror, just suspense.

Spot the chocolate coconut milk drink

Grasshoppers hopping at me. We have had a family colony of grasshoppers in and around our house lately, so this has been a regular occurrence.

Balloons bursting. Or any similar noise.

The statue of a woman that has recently appeared in my neighbour's garage, and is just visible from our kitchen window. I sense that this statue and I are going to have a tumultuous relationship.

Seaweed hitting me in the sea.

My new work cup. It has a lid and a built  in strainer. I like it very much.

Perhaps, on reflection, I should re-think my belief that I'm not a scared person.

Tell me - what gives you a fright? I haven't listed it here, but I am also hopeless in horror movies and am even a bit daunted by horror-themed books.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Apple scroll bread

A little while ago, I made raisin bread after being inspired by the bread episode on River Cottage.

My bread making may have hit 'pause' (it's been a month since any bread came out of my oven...), but I did follow the raisin loaf with an apple variety. This isn't particularly surprising when you consider how many of my baking recipes feature apple (10, prior to this loaf). Apple is one of those fruits that I like in almost any form, but there is something quite decadent about it when baked.

In this instance, adding apple made this loaf a cross between a bread and a scroll, at least in terms of the eating experience. The apple pieces are scattered throughout to provide sweet, soft, gems of tastiness that turn bread from 'everyday staple' to 'exciting afternoon treat'.

Given that I rarely eat bread in its 'everyday staple' form, for me it elevated it from "too boring to bother with" (give me wrap bread, rice, quinoa or mashed celeriac any day) to "why, hello there!".

Figuratively, you understand. Talking to bread might be a stretch too far, even for me.

Apple scroll bread
More of a bread than a scroll, but delicious whatever you choose to call it.

Makes 2 loaves - you could divide the dough and make two different bread varieties.

Inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Everyday episode on bread.

400g strong white baker's flour
300g wholemeal flour
10g salt
1 sachet (7g) instant yeast
450ml warm water
1 tbsp mixed spice or cinnamon
2 tbsp sweetened apple sauce

2 small/medium apples or 1 large apple, peeled and diced

Plain flour, extra, for dusting


Put the flours, salt and yeast into a mixing bowl. Pour in the warm water and mix to a dough. Turn out on to a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 - 10 minutes.

Put the dough into a large mixing bowl that has been sprayed with oil spray. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for 1.5 - 2 hours, until risen to approximately double the original size.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead again, knocking out the air, for about 5 minutes. Divide into two loaves and shape into flat, oval pieces approximately 1 inch thick.

Place 1 tbsp apple sauce, 1/2 tbsp mixed spice (or cinnamon), and half of your diced apple on each dough piece. Place the apple in a line down the centre, leaving at least an inch between the apple and each edge. If you have too much apple, you can keep some and sprinkle it on the top of your loaf later.

Roll the dough up from the short end, to form a rough ball. Top with any spare apple pieces.

Place the loaves on baking trays lined with baking paper, cover, and leave for a further 1 - 1.5 hours, until risen to approximately double their original size.

While the loaves are rising, preheat the oven to 190'C. When risen, bake the loaves for 35 - 40 minutes, until golden and they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Rolled out dough

Rolled up with apple inside

After baking

And ready to eat

This was quite incredible straight out of the oven, but was also enjoyable half a week later (I stored the bread in the fridge after the first few days). I tended to eat it plain, as a snack or as a side to lunch, but it would go with certain spreads too. Honey and almond butter come to mind. I believe cheese is meant to go well with apple, so that may work too, if you are one for cheese.

All in all, quite a satisfying product. On looking back at these photos, I may even be tempted to return to bread making once again!

Interested in the health benefits of apples? Here is a comprehensive round-up!

Do you like baking with apple? Or have you made any bread varieties yourself lately?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Winter festival outdoor ice skating, and Jus Burgers vegan tempeh burger

Last Thursday evening, exciting things happened.

Before we get to them, however, I want to give you some context for the excitement.

First up: ice skating.

Phone + dusk + movement...I apologise for the photo quality here

I discovered ice skating as a teenager, when it replaced roller skating (first) and roller blading (second) as the cool, sociable, gliding-related activity of choice.

There are a few guarantees around ice skating, at least if you're an adolescent with minimal coordination and a propensity to numb extremities:
  1. It will be cold. You will start off wearing many, many clothes, including gloves and a scarf and beanie. After 45 minutes you will be slightly warm. After an hour you will be hot, too hot, uncomfortably hot, but you will be trapped in clothes (oh so many clothes) that are hard to remove mid-ice rink. 
  2. At some point, you will gain confidence that isn't entirely warranted. You may try to speed up, glide on one leg, do some fancy footwork, or spin around.
  3. Following (2), you will probably fall over.
  4. Ice is cold. And hard. And wet.
  5. If you are prone to blisters (and you are), you will end up with blisters on at least one of your feet. It is possible that you will end up with the most dramatic blisters of your life, which persist for a ridiculously long period of time after the ice skating outing.
  6. Despite all of the above, you will have a wonderful, dazzling, invigorating time, which is worth the slightly exorbitant cost. This is especially true if you visit on a hot summer day.

As this list might suggest, I enjoyed my teenage ice skating (all six or so times that it happened). However, I always had a sense that it could be just slightly better. This is because Perth's ice skating rink is located in a semi-industrial area, far from any public transport links, in what is effectively a shed with serious cooling capacity.

I longed for an outdoor ice rink.

You may imagine the thrill, therefore, when I heard that an outdoor ice rink would be set up in Perth this winter.

Outdoor ice skating rink! In Perth!

Truly, it was thrill on a Most Significant Scale. 

The rink came to Perth as part of the Winter Festival, which has rotated through Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne before concluding in Perth. The Perth rink has been based in Fremantle, which has featured before due to its vegan and raw food opportunities.

In truth, I'm starting to think that Fremantle is a rather magical place. A raw food cafe, fresh produce markets, vegan delights, a recent large ferris wheel (that we have yet to try out), and now ice skating? Magic, I tell you.

Adjoining the ice rink was the super-charged ferris wheel...

When I heard about the outdoor ice skating, I proclaimed to Mr Bite that we would be going. I am very grateful to him for humouring me in my excitement and not only taking me, but seeming to enjoy it too. I had a fantastic time, even if the cost was a bit excessive (although we found a 25% off voucher by googling for one!) and small children sometimes presented serious obstacles.

Trendy orange ice skates.

The night didn't end there though. There were two lots of excitement on Thursday.

After ice skating, we went to the Fremantle branch of Jus Burgers.

Jus Burgers is a Perth-based burger chain with a similar philosophy to Grill'd healthy burgers (which we have visited before). They use organic, local meat for the meat burgers; have a range of vegetarian options, including two vegan possibilities; and offer gluten-free burger buns for those in need. In Perth, there are stores in Fremantle, Leederville, Subiaco and Northbridge, and there is now a store in Melbourne too, on Chapel Street in South Yarra.

I have been wanting to visit Jus Burgers for months, and was keen to try the vegan tempeh burger ($14). This includes a "marinated chickpea and sunflower tempeh pattie" with salad (lettuce, tomato and onion) and a choice of one additional Jus topping, such as avocado, mushroom, or roast pepper.

Vegan tempeh burger, with mushroom

I had my burger with mushroom and discovered on ordering - take note - that you have to ask for the burger to be served without aioli if you want it to be vegan. I think that advertising something as vegan should mean that it comes without non-vegan sauces as the default, but there you go. Fortunately I checked and all was well. The burgers usually include both aioli and tomato relish, and the relish is vegan (and tasty).

The other vegan option is to combine four vegan-friendly Jus toppings ($11), such as field mushroom, roast peppers, tahini and balsamic onions, amongst other possible combinations.

Mr Bite had the Mozzarella Chicken burger ($14), which includes a grilled free range chicken pattie, mozzarella cheese, pesto, and the standard salad (lettuce, tomato, onion) and sauces (aioli and relish).

Mozzarella chicken burger

We both enjoyed our burgers, and they tasted 'real' - fresh, with high-quality ingredients, plenty of flavour, and a nice balance of fillings, sauce and bread. We did agree, however, that our experiences with Grill'd were just slightly better. Whilst I loved having a vegan burger pattie, it was a little dry and 'ho-hum' if eaten without accompanying mushroom or relish. The field mushroom burger I have had at Grill'd is a bit more enjoyable overall, although combining four vegetable toppings at Jus Burgers may provide a similar result.

These points aside, we were very happy with our dinner. Combined with the ice skating outing, it was a wonderful Thursday night all up.

Do you enjoy ice skating? 
Or have you had another sort of wonderful day / evening lately?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lemon-cashew-sesame truffle balls

I have a bit of a thing for lemons at the moment.

This has nothing to do with our own lemon tree, which is still too young to be producing fruit (or at least that's the story I'm sticking to, given that we don't have any fruit). Others' lemon trees, however, seem to be producing enough fruit to share. There have been lemons at work, at my parent's house, and at my other work. As a result, ultimately there have been lemons at my house.

A fortnight ago I took three lemons home. I spent a week looking at them. They sat in the fruit bowl and looked back. Eventually I stopped asking them what they wanted to be (they weren't very communicative) and decided their fate for them. One lemon went to truffle balls, one lemon went to a dinner dish, and one lemon went to a side dish.

For today, we have the truffle balls. You may be able to deduce that more lemon recipes will be coming soon.

Let's focus on one thing at a time though. After all, these lemon-cashew-sesame balls deserve full attention. They are delicate, truffle-like, and might make you shut your eyes as you eat them. (Or maybe that is just me.) They go well with tea, and could justifiably be eaten at just about any time of day.

I'm pretty taken with them.

As a bonus, they are vegan, low in sugar, almost raw, and have an ingredient list that packs a healthy punch.

Also, you can have fun licking the bowl.

Lemon-cashew-sesame truffle balls
Inspired by lemon
Makes about 20 balls
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup oats
2 tbsp lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon (~1 tsp grated lemon rind)
1 1/2 - 2 tbsp agave (I used 1 1/2 tbsp, which gave a just sweet result)
1 - 2 tbsp water (I used 2 tbsp)

Place the cashews, sesame seeds and oats in a food processor and process until fine and starting to clump together.

Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and agave and process briefly to combine. Add the water gradually, whilst processing, until the mixture is smooth.

Roll into small balls and set in the fridge for a few hours. Store in the fridge (they taste 'duller' when frozen).

The flavours of these come through in stages. Lemon, first, delicate but definitely present. Then the sesame, combining with the lemon to allude just slightly to tahini. The cashew comes through last, lifting the flavours and bringing them together in a very pleasing way.

The result is slightly sweet. Very moreish. Soft yet chewy.

Highly recommended.

How is the lemon situation at your house?

Submitted to Rikki's Wellness Weekend.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ugly fruit and vegetables: custard apple and celeriac (plus celeriac mash)

I am still enjoying new fruit and vegetable discoveries. Indeed, it's rather lovely knowing that the discoveries are likely to continue almost indefinitely, given how many varieties are out there.

In saying that, my latest 'new discoveries' are a bit unappealing from the outside.

The custard apple (top) is attractive in a unique, spiky sort of way, but celeriac (bottom)...well, it is clearly in the root vegetable family. I think it's best to leave it at that.

Neither of these products are entirely new, at least in the sense that I have known about them for some time. However, I only got around to actually buying and trying them this week. I did this with the expectation of liking the custard apple and finding the celeriac a bit bland, akin to a parsnip or turnip.

Expectations aren't always correct.

The custard apple was very sweet, even to my sweet tooth, and I was not a fan of the texture. It reminded me of eating fish, which is not generally what I look for in a fruit. I also found the black seeds a bit off-putting.

All in all, this may be the first and last custard apple I eat. However, if you are keen to try them yourself, custard apples are high in Vitamin C and also provide potassium and magnesium, and of course natural sweetness.

The celeriac, in contrast, was subtly sweet in a most pleasing way. I knew it was related to celery but hadn't expected it to taste of celery. It does. It's rather wonderful, especially as it is so bland to look at.

My previous knowledge of celeriac came from Lisa's post on celeriac mashed potato at Bake Bike Blog, and the feature on celeriac in Coles' current August magazine. It is rare that my reading of supermarket magazines proves useful, so this was a nice exception, even if my celeriac didn't actually come from Coles.

Lisa and Coles both led me to believe that mashed celeriac may be a good thing. I can't remember the last time I had mashed potato, but mashed celeriac seemed like something worth trying - and now that I've had it, I can attest that to be true.

It was slightly sweet, with celery tones that defy the fluffy texture, and made quite a wonderful side dish. I added nutritional yeast and smoked paprika for extra flavour, and paired the mash with some tinned Mexican chilli beans, resulting in a vegetable based dinner that was just perfect for winter.

I am not sure how well it would stand in for traditional mashed potato (which is richer and thicker), but if you're after an alternative and can look past the odd exterior - well, celeriac may be your vegetable.

Celeriac mash

Serves 2 as a side dish

1 celeriac, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/4 - 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place the celeriac in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. This should leave the celeriac soft.

Drain the celeriac and mash using a masher or fork. Add the nutritional yeast and paprika and mix through. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Celeriac, you are much better than parsnip or turnip.

You are also surprisingly high in Vitamin K, which Wikipedia tells me is good for bone health - so I'll take that as a bonus.

Percentages in this table are percents of
Recommended Daily Intake as per US guidelines

Have you tried any new fruits or vegetables lately? Or are you a fan of custard apple or celeriac?