Friday, August 31, 2012

What I enjoyed this month: August 2012


Tomorrow, there will be a wedding.

Something I never thought I'd attend as the bride.

Indeed, five years ago, I would have placed bets on never getting married, if I was a betting sort of person.

Five years ago, I was also convinced that I would never settle down with somebody. 

(I did allow for the possibility that a relationship would work if my partner and I lived in separate houses, or he was a fly in-fly out worker, but other than that - nope. Just couldn't see it.)

That changed five months ago, on a beach in northern Western Australia.

Tomorrow, I will no doubt be nervous. There will probably be worries. The weather. Everyone arriving. Me arriving. Getting my dress on. Not falling over. After reading Lou's post, not burning my hair.

But tomorrow, I will also be happy and I will know that I am very, very lucky. 

To have found the one man I can imagine spending the rest of my life with, and to be confirming that commitment, seems like the single most important thing in the world. 

So whilst August involved a lot, the thing that sticks with me, as I look back, is not really August at all. 

It is the looking ahead to tomorrow, the first day of September, and to what I hope with all my heart will be many days and weeks and months and years ahead.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lentil potato cakes

Thank you for your well wishes on our rapidly approaching wedding day. It feels very surreal but I can see that the remaining time will slip by very quickly!

These lentil potato cakes aren't quite as exciting as an impending wedding, but they are nonetheless enjoyable. Some might argue that they are also more useful. If nothing else - they make a good dinner and great leftovers for workday lunches.

I have called these potato cakes instead of burgers or patties because that is what they are. Potato features in the ingredient list and in the eating experience, and they are softer than burgers as a result. This also allows them to stand alone with quite simple side dishes, and I found that salad was enough to round them out and turn them into a meal.

Given the combination of lentil and potato, these also reminded me of vegetarian shepherd's pie. Indeed, I was going to call them vegetarian shepherd's pie cakes, but that seemed too much of a mouthful. They are reminiscent of that dish, though, but with a bit of an edge from the lime and smoked paprika.

Lentil potato cakes
Makes about 16

2 medium potatoes
1 tsp chia seeds, soaked in 1/4 cup water for at least 15 minutes
1/2 small capsicum, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp lime juice
1 - 2 tsp smoked paprika
1x 425g tin cooked lentils, drained (~1 cup)
1/4 cup plain flour or flour of choice
1/4 cup oats (or more flour)

Peel and roughly chop your potatoes. Add to a large saucepan and cover with water; bring to the boil and then simmer on low heat for ~20 minutes or until tender.

Transfer the cooked potatoes to a large bowl, mash using a fork or masher, and allow to cool slightly. Set your chia seeds to soak in water if they aren't pre-prepared.

Add the soaked chia seeds, chopped capsicum, chopped celery, chopped parsley, grated ginger, lime juice, smoked paprika and lentils to the potato. Mix through and mash ingredients further if needed. Add the flour and oats and stir well to combine.

Allow the mixture to stand in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

When ready to cook, heat your oven to a low temperature (~100'C) and prepare a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Shape the lentil potato mixture into small patties and cook in the pan, for 2 - 3 minutes on each side or until browned. I cooked 3 at a time but this will depend on your pan size.

Keep your cooked potato cakes warm by transfering them from the frying pan to an oven tray and leaving them in the pre-heated oven whilst you cook the remainder of the batch.

Serve with salad.

I had trouble photographing these in our house's sub-optimal evening lighting, so the above picture of leftover cakes (taken on my phone at work) is the best I have to summarise the colours of this dish. The cakes were attractive to look at, when seen in light!, and the combination of ingredients was one I enjoyed.

I have frozen half of the batch so can't yet comment on how they survive the freezing process, but the ones I ate for lunch kept their texture well overnight.

Do you like vegetarian shepherd's pie dishes or potato cakes? It's been years since I ate the former but can see potato cakes staying as a regular part of our meal rotation.

Monday, August 27, 2012

No-bake, vegan, apple crunch squares

It was with a certain amount of joy that I woke up in my own bed yesterday morning. With the Adelaide-based conference out of the way, it has started to dawn on me that our wedding really is in five days. Five days!

A (mostly) home-based Sunday in sunny Perth was just what I needed to adjust from the frenzy last week. The luxury of a day with no outside commitments also, of course, meant that I could spend some time in the kitchen.

At the moment, I really don't need to be baking huge quantities of goods. After the wedding, it is only a week before our one month trip away, and so we are trying to run down food rather than stock up on it. Fortunately, there are some things that can be made quickly and then eaten quickly. These no-bake apple crunch squares are definitely in that category, and have the added bonus of including just three core ingredients.

Interestingly, the resulting squares reminded me of rice bubble bars (the type made with marshmallows) and fruit leather. I appreciate these are quite different products. I can only say that these squares seem to blend the two, with the 'puff' and slight stickiness of rice bubble bars, and the dominant fruit flavour and texture of fruit leather. I made my squares quite thin, which might have added to the fruit leather experience.

These aren't my favourite no bake treats, but that is because apple isn't my favourite dried fruit. They are enjoyable for a change, though, and are lighter than standard dried fruit and nut mixes. Making them as squares instead of balls was also nice for something different.

No-bake apple crunch squares
A apple-flavoured treat that is reminiscent of rice bubble bars and fruit leather strips
Makes 20 squares

1 cup (80g) dried apple rings
1/2 cup (70g) raw cashews
1 cup (15g) puffed cereal (I used Abundant Earth puffed millet)
1 tbsp apple sauce
1 tsp vanilla (optional)

Roughly chop the dried apple. Process the dried apple and cashews in a food processor until well mixed and starting to look crumbly (~ 1 minute).

Add the puffed cereal, apple sauce and vanilla to the food processor and continue processing until the ingredients are well mixed and starting to clump together.

Line a square baking tin (or a loaf tin) with baking paper and press the apple mixture firmly into the tin. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until set. Cut into squares before serving.

You really can't get much simpler than this!

The best thing is, these could also be modified in almost never-ending ways - different dried fruit, different puffed cereal, and different nuts. An apricot and almond version comes to mind as a good pairing. A tablespoon of nut or sesame seed butter would add creaminess if that's your thing. These could also be made in a loaf tin, to make thicker slices, or you could double the ingredients to make higher squares.

All in all, I suspect I'll be seeing more of these sorts of squares in my kitchen in the future.

What did you get up to - or make - over the weekend?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fortnightly Fitness Fridays - Exercise essentials, at home and away

With this post going out from Adelaide, and some longer stretches of travel on my horizon, I thought today would be a good time to reflect on my exercise 'essentials'. These are things that feature almost daily when I'm at home and which come with me when I'm away. There are no gym products or large pieces of equipment here - these are the basics and (I think) suit just about any activity you want to do.

When I'm travelling, my exercise is mostly in the form of running and walking. To keep things varied, I usually do a bit of both, alternate speeds and seek out hills. I always exercise in the morning, and unless I'm checking out of somewhere at 6am, I usually manage to find at least 30 minutes to do so.

Here are the things that feature during that morning time slot.

Running shoes

This is an obvious one, but I'm embarrased to admit that as recently as 5 years ago, I thought I could get the right shoes for my feet by picking them off the shelf with no help. My approach was to buy cross-trainers (not a good stance if I wanted to run in them...), by New Balance (because I'd heard they were a good brand for people who need support in their shoes...), in a nice colour.

It's not surprising I had knee difficulties whenever I tried to run.

4 years ago, I got running shoes fitted at a sports store and have never looked back. I spent 3 years in Mizuno Wave Renegade before switching to my current Brooks Ariel's, and both styles have worked well to balance my over-pronating (rolling in) feet. I replace them yearly and think I'll move back to Mizuno when I get my next pair in another month or so. The Brooks have been good but I found Mizuno to be a slightly better fit.

Cost per wear? Good running shoes are expensive, and prices in Australia are generally higher than in the US or Europe. Prices for supportive shoes also seem to be higher than those for people with well-behaved feet. Thus, my shoes usually cost me close to $250, although I normally manage to get some sort of discount on that. Given I wear them almost every day of the year, the cost works out at around 70c per wear.

Running shorts

I imagine that everyone has a style of shorts that works for them. I like these Everlast ones for three main reasons.

First, they are comfortable. The material is soft and wicks moisture away.

Second, there are two parts to the leg. The outer layer is relatively loose, whilst the inner layer is fitted like bike shorts. This is good if you want to sit down, cycle in them, or do any activity in which your shorts might ride up, but you don't feel comfortable walking around in tight bike shorts.

Third, they have a decent sized pocket on the front left side. It fits house keys, change, and even hotel swipe keys if you squeeze them in.

These days, I mostly wear these for gym work, cross-training, and shorter runs (see below for why). Up until this year I also wore them on long runs, and they remain my favourite choice for long runs when it's very hot.

Cost per wear? I have two pairs of these, one with white trim and one with pink trim. I've had them for 3 years now (!) and I think they cost me $40 each at the outset. Working on the conservative estimate of these being worn for exercise 200 days per year, the cost per wear is down to about 13c at this stage. I'm not sure if Everlast still makes them (I couldn't find them online), so I'll be trying to get a bit more wear of of them yet.

Skins compression tights

These are a recent addition to my list, and 6 months ago I would have called them a luxury and not an essential. However, I am now a convert.

I bought these three-quarter versions of the women's A200 Skins series after reading Liz's review of the tights on Last Chance Training. I'd been debating buying a pair for some time, and Liz's review prompted me to jump in and make the purchase.

These retail for around $110, so they aren't cheap. I had intended to buy just one pair, but about a month after my purchase Rebel Sport had them on sale at 30% off. It seemed too good a discount to pass up and so I added a second pair to my rotation. As it turned out, I ended up with the same colours as my shorts - one with white trim and one with pink trim.

I bought these because I have always experienced swelling in my legs after my long runs. The Skins company claims that their compression fabric improves circulation and thus facilitates muscle recovery and reduces swelling. It may be a placebo effect but I have noticed improvements in my muscles after running since wearing these. The tights are also comfortable, help with temperature control (the fabric wicks moisture effectively), and are one of the few styles of fitted leggings I'm happy to wear for running, cycling and to the gym. 

The only minor disadvantage of these is that the pocket is small and located at the back. It's difficult to get much into it, although I am grateful there's a pocket at all.

Cost per wear? I've only had these for a few months, and given their starting price, the cost per wear is currently at around $4. I expect these to last several years though.

Cap, phone carrier, and Map My Run app

These aren't strictly essential but they do make exercise easier and more enjoyable. 

The cap is an Adidas one I've had for years. It keeps the sun off my face when it's sunny, the rain off my face when it's rainy, and birds from swooping me if I happen to run near a protective mother bird during spring. Irrespective of season, wearing a hat helps to keep my hair contained.

I bought the phone carrier earlier this year after I moved to an Android mobile phone. I think it's designed for iPods as much as for phones, but whatever you put in it, it straps around your upper arm and has a clear plastic front with a fabric back.

I was really thrilled to discover that Map My Run, an online mapping program I've been using for years, has a free app for Android phones. It follows your route via GPS and will upload the details when you get into wifi range. For free! I now wear my phone on most of my runs and on our longer bike rides, and the mapping app is one of my favourite things about having a smart phone.

I am not sure if this app works outside of Australia (I am guessing it would, given it's not designed by an Australian company), but I enjoyed using it in Sydney earlier this year and in Adelaide this morning (thankfully during a break in Adelaide's rain!). It's nice to be able to see the map when I've finished and look at exactly where I went.

Cost per wear? The cap cost me $10 and I think I must be down to 1c per wear by this stage. The phone carrier was $30 and is probably tracking at around $1 per wear.

So there we have it - the things I use just about every day, at home and when away.

On a final, non-exercise note...I went back to Menchie's. Cookies and cream, cake batter, sugar-free peanut butter, and red velvet flavoured soft-serve frozen yoghurt was definitely better than the food on offer at this evening's conference social event. It was also just a tad too sweet, but that has had the benefit of fueling an evening of reading work documents.

What are your exercise essentials?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hello from Adelaide

Do you remember, just last Sunday, how I talked about spring being on the horizon in Perth?

Let me tell you, it's not on the horizon in Adelaide.

Adelaide is cold. And rather wet. And windy. And cold!

View from my hotel room shortly after arriving

On the plus side, Adelaide is just 3 hours flying time from Perth and I got upgraded to a 'deluxe' room.

Adelaide Crowne Plaza hotel

I'm not sure what the difference is relative to the 'standard' room, but this one is nice. It's also dry and warm, which have become key priorities. For those who follow AFL football, it also seems that the Brisbane Lions are staying here ahead of their game in Adelaide on the weekend.

In my time before the end of the day, I braved the rain to re-introduce myself to Adelaide. It's a city I tend to play down in my mind, as being small and dull and without much happening (I think I need to view somewhere in Australia as less populated and less serviced than Perth...), but it's none of those things really. As I discovered on my first adult trip here nearly 10 years ago, it's rather nice.

The city centre has a good mix of architecture...

Adelaide Arcade

Parliament house

...and in an advanced move, instead of green men (to cross roads), red men (to not cross), and flashing red men (finish crossing but don't start), Adelaide has intersections with green men (to cross) and red men (to not cross) and a counting down timer (to judge your dash across the road with careful consideration).

Not all intersections have this but those that did made me very happy indeed. I don't know why this isn't done everywhere!

There are also shops aplenty, and one particular shop that tugged at my heart very insistently.

It was, of course, a food-related shop. At the bottom of the Myer shopping arcarde is a softserve frozen yoghurt shop called Menchie's. It has flavours like marshmallow, red velvet, chocolate chip cookie dough, angel food cake, and chocolate peanut butter, as well as the very necessary natural tart.

I wanted it. I really wanted it. Unfortunately, even for me, frozen yoghurt is not a good match for frozen hands, and so I constrained myself to looking without tasting. If time and weather permit, I may yet return!

Have you explored or re-discovered any new areas lately?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Crumbly strawberry coconut flour muffins

Yesterday, whilst at workplace number one, I started the day by dropping a glass container of coffee on the floor. It shattered.

It turns out that cleaning up glass and coffee granules without a brush or broom is a tricky task indeed.

Overnight, I remembered that yesterday was the birthday of one of my university friends. I'm still feeling terrible about forgetting.

This morning, at workplace number two, I spent some minutes wondering where I'd put my coffee cup. Then I remembered that I dropped it on the floor last week. You guess it - it shattered too.

To this string of events, I could add these coconut flour muffins. They weren't dropped, and I didn't forget anything in their preparation, but they didn't quite turn out as expected. As their name suggests - they were crumbly. If optimal muffin crumbliness is a 3 out of 10, these are probably a 7.

However, whilst these muffins are above average in crumbliness, they are also above average in taste. They taste of strawberries and slightly of coconut, and are sweet enough to taste like a treat without being so sweet that they deserve to be called dessert. They are also light and dense at the same time, in the way that coconut flour manages to be.

In light of this, I'm going to interpret these muffins as a lesson in my coconut flour learning process. I'm sharing them along with my thoughts for future adaptations.

Messiness in the form of muffin crumbs is, after all, a lot better than messiness in the form of coffee or glass all over the floor.

Crumbly strawberry coconut flour muffins

Not quite right in texture, but highly enjoyable in taste
Yields 12 muffins
Vegan and gluten free

1 1/2 punnets strawberries (150g unhulled / 15 medium strawberries)
1 medium banana
1 cup (125g) coconut flour
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup apple sauce
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp water
1 tbsp coconut oil, in liquid form
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp baking soda

In future I would also add: 1 tbsp chia seeds soaked in 1 cup water

Preheat your oven to 180'C and prepare a 12-pan muffin tray.

Hull and roughly chop the strawberries. In a large bowl, roughly mash the berries and the banana. Leave some strawberries relatively whole.

Add the coconut flour, maple syrup, apple sauce, water, coconut oil and vanilla to the strawberry mixture. Mix well to combine.

Add the apple cider vinegar and baking soda to the other ingredients, and mix through.

Divide the batter between 12 muffin trays.

Next time I would press the mixture firmly down into the muffin trays.

Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and firm to the touch. Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan.

I really enjoyed these, but do concede to needing more coconut flour practice. It is quite odd not being able to predict how baked goods will turn out! Most non-vegan coconut flour recipes use rather a lot of eggs, so I am working on the assumption that these needed more binder (thus my thoughts on adding chia). However, if you have any other thoughts or ideas for me - please let me know.

Do you enjoy baking with coconut flour? How about other gluten-free flours? I don't have problems with gluten and am thus quite a novice in this area!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

This weekend

This weekend...

The sun has been shining and the smell of spring is in the air,

things have been growing,

strawberries are featuring,

some computer-based work has been necessary,

but bikes have also been used,

and second hand books have been bought.

Can you guess which are Mr Bite's?

This week...

I have three presentations to write and one to deliver,

there is a paper to finish and a number of reports to edit,

there are meetings galore,

and on Thursday, I fly to Adelaide (South Australia) for a work conference.

Right now...

I am content in spite of the busy-ness,

happy in the knowledge that in two weeks time, I will be married,

and married to a man who is so perfectly wonderful, and so perfectly right,

that he makes work fade into the background even when it is pushing into the foreground.

What has your weekend looked like?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Healthy vegan Fridays: Teriyaki tofu steaks with cauliflower rice

According to my rough, every-other-day posting schedule, this should have gone out yesterday. However, yesterday I was writing work papers and trying to turn a 20 minutes presentation into a 12 minute presentation. Also, I wanted to link this into the healthy vegan Fridays recipe round up.


This is the fourth such Friday, hosted by Shelby at Everyday Vegan Girl, Gabby at the Veggie Nook, and Carrie at Carrie on Vegan. Whilst it's the first I've participated in, I am a fan of the concept and will try to link my relevant recipes in when applicable.

Today's recipe involves some processed ingredients, but also captures much of what I love about vegan dishes. Easy. Incredibly delicious. Fun. Packed full of vegetables. And yes - healthy.

I had my doubts about the cauliflower rice, which was born out of a need to use up cauliflower that I foolishly bought with no recipe plans, in large quantities, without anyone in the house to eat it with me. I don't understand my vegetable purchase decisions sometimes.

As it turns out, the cauliflower rice was a perfect match for this dish, to the extent that I may not have liked it as much with regular rice. The cauliflower base was not only lighter than real rice, allowing the tofu to take pride of place, but seemed more flavoursome than rice would have been. It soaked up the sauce flavours and was really quite incredible to eat.

My only (minor) complaint with this dish is that it was slightly too salty for my low-salt preferring taste buds. I may reduce the soy sauce slightly next time, or if you use reduced sodium soy sauce that would work well.

Such minor changes aside, I will, without a doubt, be making this again!

Teriyaki tofu steaks with cauliflower rice
One of my favourite meals to date for 2012

Teriyaki sauce adapted from the teriyaki tofu in Peas and Thank You (the book)
Serves 3

500g (1 1/2 blocks) firm tofu
1/3 cup soy sauce (I might use a little less next time)
1/3 cup water
2 tbsp mirin (or rice vinegar)
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
3 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cauliflower, roughly chopped into florets and tough stems removed
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
1 medium capsicum, thinly sliced

Slice your tofu into six thick 'steaks'. If you're using regular sized tofu blocks, one block gives four steaks. 

Press the tofu steaks using a tofu press (if you have one) or for at least 15 minutes between tea towels and chopping boards, under a pile of books (if you're like me).

While the tofu is pressing, combine all of the teriyaki sauce ingredients in a bowl or jar and whisk to combine. The mixture will thicken on heating.

Place your tofu steaks in a shallow baking dish and cover with half of the teriyaki sauce mixture. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes. Set the remaining sauce aside.

To make the cauliflower rice, process the cauliflower in a food processor until crumbly and rice-like in appearance. (If you don't have a food processor, you could try mashing it but I haven't tried that. You could also use regular rice.)

When the tofu has marinated, heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Cook the tofu steaks for ~12 minutes, turning every few minutes, until crispy. Remove the tofu from the pan and allow to stand while you cook the vegetables.

Add the carrot and capsicum to the non-stick pan, along with a few tablespoons of the remaining teriyaki sauce. Stir fry for ~5 minutes. Then reduce the heat to low-medium and add the cauliflower rice and the remaining teriyaki sauce. Stir regularly for a further 2-4 minutes.

Return the tofu steaks to the pan to heat through, and then serve.

I think I may be in love with this dish. It could become one of the few recipes that I force myself to follow exactly for re-makes, so I don't deviate off and ruin the result.

It is definitely my favourite way, ever, to eat cauliflower!

Do you enjoy cauliflower rice? What about tofu in large serves, as here?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Random concoctions (or, 4 dishes that don't deserve their own recipe posts)

I know some food bloggers make new dishes more often than not. I can see the appeal of that approach. There are so many new dishes to try, and experimenting with them is fun. At the same time, new dishes often require more preparation time than the familiar ones. They also involve a certain amount of risk, whereas familiar dishes can guarantee an edible dinner.

Needless to say, I don't make new dishes more often than old ones. I probably make one to three new dishes each week, most of which will eventually make it on here. The rest of our meals are faithful standbys, including dishes that are on regular rotation (such as homemade pizza) and those that vary in their precise preparation method or ingredient list but are effectively the same dish at heart (such as rice-based dishes and stir fries).

In my kitchen, there is also a hybrid category of dish. This consists of meals and snacks that don't quite count as new recipes, but aren't really 'old' ones either. Generally, things in this category are extremely easy to prepare. More often than not, they also turn out pretty well.

Here are four examples from the past few months!

Sweet and sour kale.

Purple kale (about 1/2 a large kale bunch)
1 punnet baby corn
1 small carrot, sliced
~2 tsp soy sauce
~1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
~1/2 tbsp nutritional yeast
~1/4 cup tinned pineapple + 1/4 cup pineapple juice

Mix all ingredients, stir fry, and serve. This would be a good base for tofu or beans, and would even work in a wrap. It's also pretty great as a stand alone side dish.

Tofu and brocolli stir fry.

1 batch tofu bacon, made as per Mel's recipe
1 head brocolli, chopped into florets
1 - 1 1/2 cups bean sprouts (I didn't actually measure)
1/4 - 1/2 cup mushrooms, diced

Brown rice, to serve

Stir fry the tofu and then set aside. Stir fry the vegetables in the leftover tofu marinade, until slightly softened but still crisp. Add the tofu back to the pan and leave over low heat for a further 10 minutes. Serve with rice or as desired.

I had this when craving broccoli and it was a perfect match for the craving. So much so that I want it again now on looking at the pictures.

Celeriac fries.

I made these the second time I bought celeriac and the fries went down well with me and with Mr Bite. Simply take 1 celeriac, peeled and sliced; some seasoning (I used smoked paprika and salt); some spray oil; and roast for 45 - 60 minutes in a moderate-hot oven.

Pretty wonderful, even if this photo is not!

Over-day tropical oats.

I rarely make overnight oats, but will throw oats (or other cereal) together in the morning when I have a hectic work day. Sometimes, I don't get a real chance to pause until it's nearly home time, and this is the sort of snack that I can look forward to and then relax into.

This tropical version is lighter and sweeter than milk-based varieties. Simply combine ~1/4 cup rolled oats, ~1/3 cup pineapple juice, tinned pineapple, a handful of strawberries, and ~1/4 cup frozen blueberries in the morning, and then enjoy 6 or so hours later.

It's colourful, too!

What quick and easy meals have come out of your kitchen lately? And tell me - how often do you make new recipes? I'm curious!