Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Loving this week {January 2013}

I am linking this into cityhippyfarmgirl's 'loving this week' post for January. Her 'loving' posts are about the little moments in your days and weeks that have tickled your heart.

Here are my recent loves for January.

Agapanthus on my walk to work.

Pink smoothies from frozen watermelon (also pineapple, rockmelon, banana and almond milk).

Les Misérables, again! With Mr Bite! 

Who ever knew that would happen? 

After much convincing, Mr B accepted this might be one musical he really should see. I watched it a second time with acute awareness of all the things he might not like (but still loved it myself), so was relieved when he gave it a 7.5 / 10 rating. The earlier scenes were deemed "slow", but the latter half with barricade excitement made the film scrape through as acceptable overall.

Groupon present deliveries, thanks to the Groupon voucher I won late last year from Cassandra at Food is my Friend (thanks again Cass!).

My new items include a cake / icing decorating set (complete with letter stencils) and a measuring bowl that does volume as well as weight.

The best vanilla frozen yoghurt ever.

This isn't vegan, but it is really, really good. It has the tartness of natural yoghurt with the sweetness of vanilla, and it is hands down the best 'hard' frozen yoghurt (not soft serve) that I've had.

Lemon juice in water.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to catch on to this. I'm not concerned with the putative health benefits, but love it for the taste!

What are you loving this week?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Australia Day and vegan Vegemite scrolls

Australia Day fireworks

Australia Day itself was on Saturday, but as today is the associated public holiday, I figure this post is not so very late. It sounds like those of you in Australia celebrated Saturday in a variety of enjoyable ways. The comments on my previous post, and blog posts from others, make reference to barbecues, the Triple J Hottest 100 count down, beach trips, and time with family and friends.

We didn't do anything particular on Australia Day, but did watch the evening fireworks from a nearby primary school. We had hoped to view the fireworks from the top of the school playground's climbing frame, which would have given a great view over houses and through trees. Unfortunately, others had the same idea (next year we will get there early!) so we viewed from the highest point of the school grounds instead.

Despite our lack of celebration, I have been thinking lately about what Australia means to me. This is partially due to our planned departure to England reaching the distant horizon (about 12 - 16 months away) and partially, I think, just due to age. Despite my proclaimed love of England and dislike of the Australian heat, I am Australian more than I am English and there is plenty I love about this country too.

Australia in different forms

One of the things that comes to mind most, when I consider what Australia is to me, is diversity. This is true of the landscape, the climate, the people and customs, the food, the art and music, and anything else you care to consider. It couldn't really be any other way. We are largely a country of immigrants, from the time that European settlers arrived to disrupt the previous Indigenous culture, to the current day where Indigenous Australian, European Australian, Asian Australian, American Australian and many other hybrids co-exist (albeit not always peacefully) and contribute in different ways to what Australia is. 

For most of us, our sense of a country is linked to our particular memories of that country. I grew up in Australia, and so my formative memories are largely childhood ones. Swimming in summer, walking amongst Eucalyptus trees, backyard barbecues, icey poles at the school canteen, trips to the zoo, family bike rides, playing outside, climbing trees...they all link in to what Australia is to me. I would love to hear your list too, or for those of you not in Australia, what your own country means to you. There are so many ways to define a country and what it means.

Something I think most Australians consider their own, even if they don't like it, is vegemite. I have written about vegemite before, along with differences between it and marmite and promite. When Johanna posted a recipe for cheeseymite (vegemite and cheese) scones last week, I decided I wanted a non-cheese version to be part of my Australia Day long weekend.

Cheese and vegemite is actually one of the few combinations where I can acknowledge a role for cheese. It is a combination I ate on occasion in my childhood and teenage years, and the combination of the two in cheeseymite scrolls is one I both understand and support. I just don't want much of the cheese in mine.

Given this, I decided to make vegemite scrolls with nutritional yeast in the filling. Nutritional yeast can be used to make a cheese-like sauce (see here for a lovely article on how and why), but I find it also works well in place of cheese in savoury recipes. It doesn't taste quite like cheese (if it did, presumably I wouldn't like it so much) but it fills in for it quite happily.

The result was a scroll with a scone-like texture, plenty of vegemite within, and great depth of flavour from the nutritional yeast. You could even say there was a hint of cheesiness. In all, I will most certainly be making these again.

Vegemite scrolls
Makes 8 - 10 scrolls

Print recipe

2 cups self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
Pinch of salt
40g non-dairy spread (I used Nuttelex)
1 cup non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened almond)
2 tbsp vegemite
1 tbsp nutritional yeast (or more to taste)

Preheat your oven to 220'C.

In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt and then rub in the non-dairy spread with your fingers. 

Make a slight well in the middle of the flour mixture, then add the milk. Mix through with a knife until well combined. 

Place a sheet of non-stick baking paper on your kitchen bench (the baking paper should be slightly larger in size than a regular baking tray). Sprinkle generously with flour, then transfer the scroll mixture to the baking paper.

Knead the mixture briefly, then shape the dough into a long rectangle ~1 cm thick. Spread the vegemite in the middle of the rectangle, covering as much of the surface as possible. Sprinkle the nutritional yeast over the vegemite.

Roll the scroll up using the longer side; I rolled the back side up, then the front side, and joined them in the middle. Flip over before baking if necessary, to hold the roll together.

Transfer the baking paper with your scroll to a baking tray, and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool before slicing to serve.

If you like cheese, I recommend trying Johanna's version of these in scone form. If cheese isn't your thing, or you are vegan, I will happily promote these as delicious in their own cheese-free way.

For other reflections on Australian food, see my October 2011 post (which also refers to posts by others on the topic).

If you are Australian, what does Australia mean to you? If you aren't, what does your own country mean?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Vegan caramel apple cake, for my Mum's birthday

Since I was about 10, I have taken great pleasure in making my Mum's birthday cakes. When I lived at home, I also enjoyed preparing a birthday breakfast, usually including summer fruit (given the timing of her birthday) and homemade muffins. I dropped the breakfast efforts when I moved out of home, and my sister has helpfully taken up the breakfast baton now. The cake, though, remains firmly in my domain.

Caramel apple cake

As a child, my Mum invested a lot of effort in our birthday cakes. The flavour didn't vary much - usually chocolate or vanilla - but the style and decorations were informed by our requests and the ideas in the Australian Women's Weekly birthday cake book. With hindsight and an adult grasp of the difficulty level, I am particularly impressed by the years she made me a cake castle, swimming pool (with jelly filling), piano, and house. Trains, space ships and boats appeared for my brother, and many animals were made for my sister.

Given these impressive efforts in our childhood, taking charge of my Mum's cake is no trifling matter. I want to create something that she'll enjoy as much as we enjoyed our childhood creations. For my Mum, this doesn't mean fancy shapes or decorations, but flavours that she can get excited about.

Usually, I tackle this challenge with a fruit-based cake. By this I do not mean a Christmas-style fruit cake, but a cake involving fruit. She has had several raspberry varieties, as well as lemon and blueberry. As a child, I remember following a recipe that included soaked dried pears and peaches. Last year, she had peach and vanilla.

This year, it was caramel apple.

The recipe I adapted was Martha Stewart's caramelized apple spice cake. My adaptations included using non-dairy spread instead of butter, egg replacer instead of eggs, soy yoghurt instead of sour cream, apple cider vinegar instead of apple cider, and omitting the pecans. There were several other more minor changes too. It could have gone horribly wrong. To my relief, it instead went delightfully right.

Around the cake, we enjoyed a family barbecue with protein options that ranged from steak and sausages, to fish, to tofu. When paired with two salad options and baked potatoes, it was a meal that catered to everyone's tastes simply and beautifully.

After trying small pieces of the tofu steaks I prepared (marinated in about 1 tbsp each of soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, lime juice and coriander puree, before being barbecued), my Mum, sister and brother also remarked that tofu could - surprise! - be enjoyable. Given that my brother and sister ate their tofu alongside steaks of the traditional variety, I call that a win.

More generally, I would call the whole evening a win. There was good food, good company, and celebration at its heart. I hope my Mum agreed.

Vegan caramel apple cake
Filled with apples and notes of caramel and brown sugar, no one will guess this cake is vegan.
Makes 2 round cakes, compiled into 1 large cake; serves 12-16.

Apple mixture
5 tbsp non-dairy spread (~1/3 cup; I used Nuttelex)
1 tsp vanilla
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and grated
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup apple sauce
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Dry cake mixture
3 3/4 cups plain flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Wet cake mixture
12 tbsp non-dairy spread (~3/4 cup; I used Nuttelex)
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
Egg replacer to the equivalent of 4 eggs (I used commercial egg replacer [Orgran brand] and would recommend this over a chia or flax egg, although they may also work)
1/2 cup plain or vanilla soy yoghurt

1 cup non-dairy spread (I used nuttelex)
2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp non-dairy milk (I used almond)

Preheat oven to 170'C and grease two 20-cm (8-inch) round cake pans (I used one that was 20 cm and one that was slightly smaller).

For the apple mixture, combine the 5 tbsp non-dairy spread and vanilla in a large saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is lightly browned. Add in the apples, cider and 1 cup sugar. Increase heat to medium-high and leave for approximately 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and leave for a further 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the dry cake ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices).

In a large bowl, beat together the 12 tbsp non-dairy spread, 1 1/2 cups white sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar. Beat on medium speed for approximately 5 minutes, until pale and fluffy. Then add the egg replacer and beat to combine.

Add approximately one-third of the flour mixture to the large bowl, then beat to mix in. Add half of the yoghurt to the large bowl, then beat to mix in. Repeat for the remaining flour mixture and yoghurt, beating after each addition. Fold in the apple mixture from the saucepan.

Divide the batter between the two cake tins. Bake for 50 - 65 minutes, until tops are dark golden brown and a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean. (Note - the original recipe suggests 55 - 65 minutes of cooking time. I checked mine at 52 minutes and they were done and just starting to overcook on the edges, so I recommend checking at the 50 minute mark.)

Allow the cakes to cool slightly in their pans, before transferring to a wire rack. 

To make the icing, combine all ingredients in a large bowl and beat on medium-high speed until fluffy and well-combined, approximately 5 minutes. Ice the bottom cake, then add the top cake and ice.

I decorated the cake with chocolate-covered pretzels, which were not vegan.

Who do you make birthday cakes for?

Also, Happy Australia Day to my fellow Australians, whatever the day means to you!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chipotle tofu steaks with cauliflower rice

This dish is really a hybrid between last year's teriyaki tofu steaks (which were also served with cauliflower rice) and my more recent black eyed beans with chipotle mango sauce.

Please don't ask me to choose which of the three meals I like best.

It's probably enough to say that I could eat all of them on a constant rotation.

This is another meal that is really simple to prepare. Moreover, you can vary the spice quota, use a grain base instead of cauliflower (I think bulgar would work beautifully), and adjust the vegetables to taste and convenience. In all, it is as easy as one-two-eat.

Chipotle tofu steaks with cauliflower rice
Vegan, easy, delicious
Serves 2

350g (1 block) firm tofu
2 chipotle peppers with 2 tsp adobo sauce (or to taste)
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp tomato sauce
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 four thick 'steaks'. If you're using a 350g tofu block, 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 me).

While the tofu is pressing, finely chop the chipotle peppers and then combine the peppers, adobo sauce, rice vinegar, soy sauce, maple syrup and tomato sauce in a bowl or jar. Whisk to combine.

Place your tofu steaks in a shallow baking dish and cover with the chipotle marinade mixture. Allow to marinate for at least 15 minutes.

To make the cauliflower rice, process the cauliflower in a food processor until crumbly and rice-like in appearance.

When the tofu has marinated, heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Cook the tofu steaks for ~10 minutes, turning every few minutes, until crispy. Retain a few tablespoons of the chipotle marinade if possible. Remove the tofu from the pan and allow to stand.

Add the carrot and capsicum to the non-stick pan, along with any remaining chipotle marinade. Stir fry for ~5 minutes.  Then reduce the heat to low-medium and add the cauliflower rice and mix through. Return the tofu steaks to the pan and keep on very low heat for a further 3 - 5 minutes. 

Why did it take me until age 25 to discover tofu?

I am submitting this to Ricki's Wellness Weekend 24th to 28th January 2013, and Healthy Vegan Friday 27co-hosted by Gabby and Carrie.

What meal are you loving this week?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Les Misérables, gratitude, anxiety, and more gratitude*

On Sunday afternoon, I saw Les Misérables the movie. I had seen it performed when I was a child, in a production that came to Perth and was performed in our outdoor quarry amphitheater  My memories of that performance are a little hazy, but the power of the story and music have remained with me since. I went on to read the book as a teenager, which provided me with background (and extra words) to the musical.

There is a lot written on the movie Les Misérables, and I don't intend to try and repeat it here. I will simply say that I loved it. Adored it, even. I was swept up in the story, the music and the emotion from start to finish. I thought the acting was incredible. Les Misérables has joined Love Actually and Black Swan in my favourite movie list.

Irrelevant photo #1. Bottlebrush atop Reabold Hill, Perth.

I also left the cinema determined to remember how fortunate I am. I have not experienced crippling poverty, known what it is to lack basic necessities, slept on the streets, been beaten or imprisoned, had a child I couldn't support, or lost people I love to war or revolution. The movie opened my eyes to what I already know, but am prone to forgetting when life gets busy or difficult or tiring: I am lucky in my life. And even when my life is busy or difficult or tiring, it is still easier than some people's lives.

This renewed vigor and thankfulness lasted, oh, about 4 hours. By Sunday evening I was worrying about work-related matters, and I proceeded to start the new week more anxious than I have been for some time. My efforts to remind myself of my good fortune were swept away by an internal panic button that decided this was the week it wanted to be pressed.

Irrelevant photo #2. Kalamunda National Park, Perth hills. No panic here.

I am a little unimpressed with myself.

In an effort to re-capture some of that post-movie gratitude, I focused today on finding 5 small things for which I was thankful. As it turns out, I found 6 by midday.

Here is my list.
  1. A husband who, last night, made me laugh until I cried.
  2. A cool breeze on my morning run; being able to run injury-free; and being moderately distracted from my thought processes when running (this is a 3 in 1 special).
  3. My morning coffee with unsweetened almond milk. Perfection.
  4. My workplace having functional air conditioning after 2 weeks without it.
  5. Multiple books on my bedside table, patiently waiting until I choose to sink into them (incorporating birthday and Christmas titles as well as Lonely Planet library loans).
  6. Daydreaming of a camper van and expansive distances in the Northern Territory and Queensland.

Irrelevant photo #3. Ladder to nowhere.

For similar thoughts on daily happiness, see Lisa's blog Blithe Moments.

Do you find yourself slipping back to complacency after trying to be mindful of good fortune or similar? Please tell me it isn't just me...

* Alternative post titles included "Why Les Misérables changed my life for four hours", "Why I need to watch Les Misérables daily".

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Margaret River Chocolate Factory Dark Grape Chocolate and Dark Chilli Chocolate

You may remember that on our trip to Dunsborough late last year, we visited the Margaret River Chocolate Company.

This visit, it must be said, was largely driven by me. I don't think anyone else minded visiting, but I don't think they felt a driving need to visit either.

I felt a driving need. This is in spite of the Margaret River Chocolate Company opening a Perth-based store last year. I could probably visit that store weekly if I so desired, but, inexplicably, I have yet to set foot inside it. Instead, I retain huge amounts of affection for the Margaret River shop that is four hours away. 

On this occasion, my purchases were a milk chocolate bar with macadamia nuts, a white chocolate bar with cookies and cream, red grape dark chocolate, and chilli dark chocolate. Lest you think I have suddenly turned to milk or white chocolate consumption, those two bars were for my siblings. 

I can't comment on these...

My own purchases made me very happy indeed. I hadn't seen the red grape variety before, and the concept of a grape-flavoured chocolate has captured my imagination and is refusing to let go, even now. I doubted that this bar would actually taste of grape, but the inclusion of polyphenol on the ingredient list (an antioxidant found in wine) was enough to  convince me to buy it.

Other than polyphenol, this block has a simple ingredient list. My one complaint about the company is that they don't list cocoa percentages on their packaging. I didn't think to ask about cocoa percents when I was there, and I thus can't comment on them now. Whatever they are, though, there are no milk products in either of the dark blocks I bought, and that is a big win in my book.

Taste wise, the grape chocolate was a sweet dark chocolate. If I was guessing, I would place the cocoa percentage in the 50 - 60% range. I could have eaten the block in a single sitting, and there is none of the bitterness that accompanies some higher cocoa blocks. 

As anticipated, there was no detectable grape taste. Nonetheless, this block tasted different to any chocolate I've had before. I want to refer to sweet redcurrants, but that isn't entirely accurate. Perhaps redcurrants mixed with vanilla mixed with raspberries (just a bit) mixed with a subtle, tiny hint of spice, mixed with maple syrup. The combination made my mouth sing.

Mr Bite was in agreement, but I liked this so much I only let him have two squares.

I have a private goal of trying every dark chilli chocolate that I encounter (and a good many of the milk ones too), so I was delighted to pick this chilli block up on our visit. 

I am always a little excited when trying a new chilli chocolate. There is the possibility of disappointment, of course. Some blocks carry so little chilli that you are left wondering if you got a dud, one without any chilli powder at all. At the opposite end of the scale, some blocks are liable to make you splutter and sneeze and madly grab for some water after your first bite.

This block sits happily between the two. The chilli was most definitely present, and there is a warmth that kicks in at first taste. This builds over time to something closer to hot than warm, but it never reaches a point where you want the heat to stop. Instead, if you are like me, you want to keep eating in order to keep the experience going.

As with the grape chocolate, this is a sweet dark chocolate and I don't think the cocoa percentage would be above 60%. Whilst I like darker cocoa blocks most of the time, in this case the sweetness mixed with the chilli and vanilla to give a wonderful result.

Neither of these blocks are exotic, and they do not venture too far away from traditional flavour combinations. At the same time, the quality of the chocolate and the balance of the ingredients makes them very different to more 'typical' or readily available brands.

I may have to start visiting that Perth store after all.

What was the last chocolate you tried that made your mouth sing, metaphorically or otherwise?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Strawberry oat squares with coconut flour


I think I am gradually getting used to coconut flour. I have learnt not to use it as the sole or main flour when baking. I have definitely learnt that it is a dangerous when combined with purple carrots. And I have learnt that it works rather spectacularly in no-bake chocolate brownies with avocado.

I didn't like these squares as much as I liked the brownie bites, but I did enjoy them nonetheless. They are very low in sugar; free of wheat, dairy and eggs; and incorporate sesame seeds as well as oats and coconut flour. They are crumbly, but in an appropriate way - crumbly on top, but holding together underneath.

I think the only thing I'd change if making them again is the fruit filling. Strawberry was fine, but it lacked punch. I think raspberries would have more zing and lift this slice from enjoyable to wonderful.

For now, here is the strawberry version I made last weekend. I have listed possible variations at the end, and if you are catering to 'regular' tastes I would advise increasing the sweetener. I liked the reduction in sweetness for a change, but the taste was different to commercial oat bars or squares.

Strawberry oat squares with coconut flour
Vegan and wheat free
Makes 16 squares

For the filling
1 punnet (250g) fresh strawberries, washed, stems removed and cut in half
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp coconut flour
1 tsp vanilla

For the base and topping
1/2 cup + 1/2 cup rolled oats, divided
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup coconut flour
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 - 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (or milk of choice)
1 tbsp + 1 tbsp maple syrup, divided

Preheat your oven to 180'C and line a square baking dish with baking paper.

Place the filling ingredients in a medium saucepan and roughly mash the strawberries. Bring the mixture to the boil. Reduce heat immediately and simmer for approximately 10 minutes, uncovered and stirring regularly, until the mixture thickens. Set the filling aside while you prepare the base and topping.

In a food processor, process half of the oats (1/2 cup) and the sesame seeds until finely processed. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add the remaining oats, coconut flour, vanilla, baking powder, cinnamon, milk and 1 tbsp maple syrup. Mix well.

Transfer approximately two-thirds of the oat mixture into the bottom of your lined baking dish. Press down firmly.

Pour the filling over the base and smooth out evenly. Cover with the remaining oat mixture, and then drizzle the remaining 1 tbsp maple syrup across the top.

Bake for 25 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool before cutting into squares. 

First oat layer

Strawberry filling

Oat topping, drizzled with maple syrup


And sliced

I enjoyed these more when eaten from the refrigerator, but am aware that might be a climate-specific preference. They certainly paired well with a cup of tea, and made for an enjoyable mid-afternoon snack most days this week.

As for possible variations? As noted, I would probably use raspberries (defrosted from frozen) instead of strawberries next time. If you want a sweeter product, I would recommend adding 1 - 2 tbsp maple syrup or brown sugar to the filling, and using 2 - 4 tbsp syrup or sugar in the oat mixture. If you don't have or don't like coconut flour, you can of course use regular flour instead.

Submitted to Healthy Vegan Friday 26co-hosted by Gabby and Carrie.

Have you had any recent experiments with coconut flour (or other non-wheat flours)? I have no problem with wheat / gluten so my experimenting is more for the fun of it than anything else.