Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Loving this week {February 2013} - easy food combinations that taste really good

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

For February, I am focusing on some easy food combinations that I am loving a whole lot right now.

Quinoa with apple stewed in vanilla and cardamom. Sometimes with berries too.

This is top of the list for a reason. I love it cold, at any time of day.

Vanilla soy ice cream with 70% cocoa chocolate scattered on top.

Also vanilla soy ice cream with carob powder mixed through.

In truth, vanilla soy ice cream is going pretty well right now, however it comes.

Sweet potato with puy lentils, lettuce and sweet chilli sauce. I would have used baby spinach leaves, but we were out. Lettuce stood in just fine.

Sweet potato with tahini and nutritional yeast is a pretty good mix too.

And on the topic of tahini, it turns out that fig jam and tahini is an amazing combination, even for someone who doesn't usually eat jam. When spread on crackers or dolloped on oats, wonderful things happen.

Smoothies with cereal sprinkled atop.

And on a final, store-bought note - tofu rice paper rolls, with a side of fruit.

If you took away my cooking rights for a week (and let me pre-cook quinoa, puy lentils and sweet potato...), I might just eat these in constant rotation.

What easy food combinations are you loving right now?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Lindt Excellence Madagascar 70% cocoa chocolate, and Koko Black's 80% dark chocolate

I don't have many words today. It's just not a word-filled afternoon, or at least not a blog-word-filled afternoon. (And no, I have no pre-written post to share. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Today, I don't.)

I can, however, rustle up words for chocolate. Always. Both of these dark chocolate varieties have entered my chocolate rating system as reliable, enjoyable, dairy-free blocks that can be eaten alone, with tea, with coffee, as dessert, as a lunch dessert, as a snack, or just because.

In other words, they are good.

In this Madagascar 70% dark chocolate block, Lindt goes some way towards redeeming themselves for their insistence on including milk products in their 47-50% flavoured 'dark' chocolate range.

The chocolate has a simple, straightforward ingredient list: cocoa mass (70%), cocoa butter, sugar, and vanilla. As the name would suggest, the cocoa comes from Madagascar. I have never been to Madagascar, but my mental images of it (exotic, beautiful, African, tropical, lemurs) come through in the chocolate. Well, not the lemurs. That would be odd.

The vanilla is strong, the flavours warm, the cocoa deep, and the chocolate melt-in-your-mouth.

I like it a lot. Not quite as much as Lindt's 90% cocoa block, but a close runner up.

I have consumed several blocks of this 80% cocoa dark chocolate from Koko Black, but this is the first I have managed to photograph before consumption.

My experiences with the 80% cocoa range are mixed. Sometimes, the chocolate is bitter and boring and plain. Sometimes, it is joyous and deep-slightly-sweet with more flavour than seems possible. This block is definitely in the second category. In fact, there are brownies in this chocolate. I don't know how Koko Black does it, but if you close your eyes as you savour a square...definitely brownies.

Do I like this more than the flavoured Koko Black bars I talked about here? It's a tough call. Would I deem it a better everyday chocolate? Yes. Yes, I would.

What chocolate has featured for you lately? What are your chocolate 'basics'?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Birthdays, outings, and an Asian-inspired chickpea salad

Shadow people walking through glittering lights; Kings Park, Perth.

February is often a busy month. It is the middle of the birthday season that hits a lot of families at this time of year. My brother, Mr Bite's sister-in-law (does that make her my sister-in-law? what if the law is de facto? confusing!) and one of my school friends all had birthday celebrations in the last week.

As I've noted before, it is also the Perth International Arts Festival and we are continuing to see some enjoyable free events. The lights above are currently set up in Kings Park, Perth's main botanical gardens, as are some other light displays around Perth. We went to an outdoor street theatre a week ago where shop fronts were turned over to actors, who played out nine separate scenes over the evening.

My brother's birthday cake (not made by me).

On the birthday side of things, my brother's celebrations provided another opportunity for barbecue-cooked tofu. This time I made tofu bacon, and my sister remarked that it was indeed reminiscent of bacon. She seems to have recently discovered tofu, or at least well prepared tofu, and now happily eats it alongside meat.

Barbecued tofu bacon

Birthday celebrations for our sister-in-law (I'm adopting 'our') were fish and chips at the Kings Park botanical gardens. It is getting dark around 7pm now, instead of the 8pm that characterised mid-summer, so our picnic was a little on the dark side. It didn't matter.

Picnicking at night has certain challenges...

I took along two salads to provide food options for me. One was a basic green salad, which others enjoyed alongside their fish and chips, and the other was an Asian-inspired chickpea salad, which I did ate rather a lot of on the night and have been continuing to enjoy since.

...but enjoyable views; Perth by night.

The chickpea salad was loosely inspired by my recent lunch at The Raw Kitchen Cafe, in the sense that it included coriander and shredded zucchini, apple and carrot. It also included cabbage, soy sauce, a dash of agave nectar, and, of course, chickpeas. I loved it. I have eaten it for at least one meal a day for four days and am a little sad that it is now finished!

If you have need for an easy, make-ahead salad dish that backs protein and vegetables in one, I hope you enjoy it too.

Asian-inspired chickpea salad
Easy to make if you have a food processor, and low fuss even if you don't.
Vegan and high raw.
Serves 4.

1 medium zucchini
1 medium carrot
1/4 white cabbage
1 red apple (I used a Pink Lady variety)
1 bunch coriander, roughly chopped
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp kecap manis (or another of soy sauce and add a little more agave)
1 tsp mirin (rice vinegar)
1 tsp agave (or palm sugar)

If you have a food processor, grate the zucchini, carrot, cabbage and apple using the grater attachment. If you don't have a food processor, finely chop the cabbage and then grate the zucchini, carrot and apple manually.

Place the shredded vegetables and apple, chopped coriander, and chickpeas in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, kecap manis, mirin and agave. Mix to combine and then pour over the salad and stir through.

Serve cold.

What is happening for you this month?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Vegan ginger-vanilla melting moments, for the tricky days

Some days are not good days. Or at least, they start out as good days, but go downhill so suddenly and dramatically that you don't quite know how you got from the start to the middle to the end.

I'm sure you know what I mean. Such is the nature of life, and sometimes the nature of my job, and I am not alone in that. On those days, sometimes the best thing to do is to put one foot in front of the other until you get to the other side.

I am posting these biscuits today because they are the cooking equivalent of climbing into bed, pulling the covers over your head, and shutting out the world around you.

I didn't make them for that purpose, mind you. I actually made them for Valentine's Day, which is a rather more upbeat affair. However, I am sure biscuits can have multiple roles. These are perfect for expressing love, or for metaphorically retreating under the covers, and if you are having a difficult romantic moment they may even be perfect for both.

I adapted these from a recipe for ginger and vanilla cream hearts. The recipe barely needed veganising, with the only substitution being to use Nuttelex (non-dairy spread) instead of butter. I also used slightly more flour than the original recipe called for, because I found the mix too moist to begin with. Lastly, I made some heart-shaped melting moments and some regular-shaped ones.

These aren't really my sort of biscuits, but that is fitting given I made them for Mr Bite. I did like the use of custard powder in the mix, just because it is a new way of baking for me, and I liked that they were egg free. Mr B indicated that the biscuits were good enough to stand alone with no filling, and also enjoyed them filled, so I am calling that an endorsement from him.

Ginger and vanilla melting moments
Makes 1 batch, with the precise number of biscuits depending on how large you make yours.
Lightly adapted from the recipe that can be found here.

180g non-dairy spread (I used Nuttelex)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 2/3 cups plain flour
1/3 cup custard powder
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp baking powder

Ginger-vanilla filling
100g non-dairy spread (I used Nuttelex)
1 cup icing sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp finely chopped crystallised ginger

Beat the 180g non-dairy spread, vanilla and 1/2 cup icing sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the flour, custard powder, ground ginger and baking powder. Beat on low speed to combine.

Roll the dough into a ball and cover in plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 180'C and line 2 oven trays with baking paper. When the dough has chilled, roll it out between two sheets of baking paper to approximately 0.5cm thick. Cut out shapes using a heart cutter, or form small balls using your hands. Place on to prepared trays.

If making hearts, prick the outside edges with a fork to form a dotted pattern. If making small balls, use the back of a fork to press the top of each ball.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool on the tray for a further 5 - 10 minutes; biscuits will set further on cooling. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

When the biscuits are cool, beat all filling ingredients together and then spread between two biscuits. Allow to chill in the fridge for approximately 1 hour before serving. I had filling leftover.

What do you like to make / cook / do when your days are sub-optimal?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Raw Kitchen Cafe, Fremantle - lunch with Mel

On Sunday, I was fortunate to have lunch with Mel from Veganise This! She and her family are currently travelling Western Australia, and we managed to meet up on one of her days in Perth.

This is the first time I have met a blogger friend in person, and there is something quite bizarre about meeting someone face-to-face after communicating online over months and years. There is also something a little intimidating about going to meet a new person you have only communicated with indirectly! As it turned out, Mel is as lovely in person as she is on her blog, and I really enjoyed the few hours we spent together.

When deciding where to go, I suggested Fremantle on the basis of its vegan-friendly cafes and merging of heritage buildings with a slight hippy vibe. It is a worthwhile place to wander if you aren't from Western Australia. We ended up choosing Fremantle's Raw Kitchen Cafe as our lunch destination, which I have mentioned a few times before but never actually eaten lunch at (my previous visits have been for snacks and/or drinks).

We arrived shortly before 12.30pm, to a queue of customers out the door of the cafe. It is a deservedly popular spot and I spent most of our time in the queue trying to decide what I would order. Every time a waitress carried a plate past, I would change my mind to the dish in question. Several bowls of zucchini noodles caught my eye, piled high with noodles under marinara sauce, as did raw nachos, pizza, and falafel balls.

Tarragon Salad on the left, and Thai Papaya Salad on the right.

In the end, I ordered straight from the glass-fronted cabinet within the store, asking for a mix of the Thai Papaya Salad and Tarragon Salad. Mel ordered the raw pizza, with sides of the same salads, and we both ordered coffees with nut milk that had been made in store.

My conversation with Mel would have been enjoyable in its own right, but set against this was a really great lunch. I wanted to dive into this salad bowl. I spent the first few minutes trying to work out what the flavours were, and the rest of the meal trying to work out how they made it taste so good.

Best salad of 2013.

As I couldn't fully decipher the ingredients, and the staff were quite busy on the day we were there, I actually sent an email to ask if they would mind letting me know what was in the salads. I received a helpful reply the next day, and so am able to tell you exactly what made these dishes so good.

The Thai Papaya Salad consisted of green papaya noodles, grated carrots, snow peas, cashews, and fresh coriander, mint and basil, with a dressing of olive oil, Braggs liquid aminos (soy sauce alternative), and various herbs and spices.

Even with the name, which really should have allowed me to work it out, I hadn't realised that it was green papaya that formed the 'noodles' of this salad. I was guessing zucchini, but am now keen to try papaya noodles at home - they were incredible!

The Tarragon Salad had grated beetroot, apple and carrot, walnuts, string beans and sultanas, with a dressing of tarragon, olive oil, cashews, garlic and other herbs and spices. I am guessing that the cashews gave this its slight creaminess, which worked well with the earthy beetroot base.

Despite being busy, our meals were served promptly and the coffees were hot and well made. Mel also reported enjoying her raw vegan pizza, but I will leave discussion of that to her should she wish to review it.

Thank you, Mel, for the opportunity to meet up, and thank you to The Raw Kitchen Cafe for a great lunch and for being so helpful in answering my email enquiry!

Other reviews of The Raw Kitchen can be found at Urban Spoon (our service experience was fine, unlike some of the reviews there).

Have you met any bloggers in person? 
Or eaten green papaya in salad form? 

The Raw Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Jamie Oliver's 15 minute meals: Three we have tried thus far

In addition to our new Leon cookbook, I have been enjoying trialing recipes from Jamie Oliver's 15 minute meals selection. This is the first of his cookbooks I've owned, and I have been approaching the recipes with a healthy dose of realism on the time frame (i.e., I allow 30 minutes to his 15!). So far, the book is proving its worth and the 30 minute allowance is proving realistic.

The first recipe I tried was Koh Samui Salad, or chilli tofu and Thai noodles.

The recipe called for prawns and fish sauce, which I substituted for extra tofu and soy sauce. I also made a few other minor tweaks to the ingredient list, but did retain radishes and fennel - neither of which I have cooked with before. 

It turns out that I don't much like radishes on their own (bitter!), but do enjoy them mixed with other ingredients. It also turns out that I love fennel. Seriously, how did I not know about this vegetable?

My only criticism of this recipe is that it doesn't state whether the dish should be served hot or cold. The fact that it is called a salad, and the nature of the ingredients, suggested cold. The fact that rice noodles were soaked in boiling water suggested hot. As I also stir fried tofu, which was then hot, I decided to heat everything through. This was a mistake, as the dish didn't seem quite right warm, and it was only when eating the leftovers cold  that I fell in love with it. Still, I know now. 

Mr Bite also found this a little spicy, but that could be tweaked to taste by reducing the chilli quota.

The second recipe I made was falafel wraps with grilled vegetables and salsa.

The only catch is that I didn't make the salsa, thinking commercial sauce would suffice instead. It didn't, and we found the falafel to be a bit lacking in flavour. They were okay when eaten in a wrap, but I couldn't get too enthusiastic about them.

Things improved again with the third meal, which was "happy cow" veggie burgers. This time I made the recommended accompaniment of coleslaw with yoghurt and mustard instead of mayonnaise.

I didn't like the coleslaw, consistent with my general dislike of the substance. Mr Bite also found the coleslaw to be less sweet than usual (no doubt due to the yoghurt/mustard mix instead of mayonnaise), and in future I would skip this part of the dish. We did, however, both enjoy the burger patties.

The patties were also delicious cold, which was good for using up the leftovers for lunch the next day.

I haven't reported the recipes for these dishes because I didn't modify them greatly, but for some free samples of Jamie Oliver's recipes you can see his website at Other meals from his 15 Minute Meal cookbook have also been featured by Lisa at Bake Bike Blog.

Have you made any of Jamie's 15 minute meals? Or do you have any of his other cookbooks?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lunchbox challenge: Vegetable-packed stir fried rice with beans

Cate's February challenge for 'Anyone Can Cook Vegetarian Food', over at Cate's Cates, is lunchboxes. When I saw this at the start of the month, I was quite excited. As you might guess from my obsession with small Tupperware-like containers, my personality aligns nicely with lunchboxes. They are organised, structured, and contain food. What more could one want?

It is actually a minor source of regret that I don't have anyone to pack a lunchbox for. Mr Bite makes his own work lunches, and doesn't take a lunchbox per se. Also, he pretty much has the same thing every day. The closest I can get to excitement is baking him biscuits to swap in for the commercial biscuits that he would otherwise take for afternoon tea.

Packing lunch for myself isn't as fun as making up a package for someone else...unless I have a lunchbox challenge to think about, and then it becomes a little more enjoyable.

So, thank you, Cate, for providing me with a lunchbox focus for this month at least!

My lunchbox challenge recipe is a vegetable-packed stir fried rice with peas. To round this out, I packed up a lunchbox with fruit (a plum and a nectarine), raw almonds and goji berries, and some of that vegan pebble road.

The stir fried rice recipe was made up as I went along, so it is fortunate that it turned out as well as it did. There is star anise in the mix. It is easy to make. It is delicious cold. In all, it is perfect to make ahead and then take to work, school, or just have at home for lunch the next day.

Ideally, this would be made using rice that has been cooked ahead and cooled. However, if you're like me, that may not be possible or you may not be organised enough to manage it. I didn't, and this still worked fine.

Vegetable-packed stir fried rice with beans
Makes 2 lunch-sized serves

Print recipe

Generous 1/2 cup uncooked rice
1 star anise flower
~1 tsp olive oil
2 shallots (or spring onions, or 1/2 a brown onion)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 small capsicum, diced
1 small carrot, diced
~1/8 white cabbage, finely chopped or shredded in a food processor
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas, black eyed peas and/or white beans (I used 1/4 cup each of chickpeas and black eyed peas)

Cook the rice according to packet instructions, but with the addition of the star anise to the saucepan. When cooked, set the rice aside to cool (if time permits) or to sit while you cook the vegetables.

Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and saute the onions until tender. Add the capsicum and carrot and stir fry briefly, about 4 minutes. Add the cabbage, soy sauce and rice and mix through well. Stir fry over low heat for a further 3 - 5 minutes. Add the chickpeas / black eyed peas, mix through, and then remove from heat.

This can be served immediately, but is delicious served cold.

Submitted to Cate's February lunchbox challenge for 'Anyone Can Cook Vegetarian Food'. 

Do you make work lunches or packed lunches for anyone else? If so, do you take a lunchbox or just random assortments of food? 

Despite my enjoyment of this challenge, I will confess to my work lunches more usually being of the random assortment variety than the neatly packed lunchbox variety!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Vegan pebble road {chocolate marshmallow slice with dried apricots and biscuits}

When I made up my vegan marshmallows this month, it seemed entirely likely that I would eat the whole batch within a week. I didn't make the marshmallows with a specific purpose in mind, but I did imagine that I'd do more than toss them straight into my mouth.

As it turns out, vegan marshmallows are rather easy to eat a lot of. I don't recall being obsessed with regular marshmallows when I ate products with gelatine, but perhaps absence makes the heart (and mouth) grow fonder.

Fortunately, I was able to reserve some of the marshmallows to make this slice. I have christened it pebble road because it is inspired by rocky road. However, it is really a cross between rocky road, a hedgehog slice and a tiffin slice, as biscuit (cookie) pieces stand in for nuts. Whatever name you apply to it, it is delicious. It is also just as easy to eat as plain marshmallows!

I used dried apricots in the mix after seeing Charlie's recipe for apricot and pistachio rocky road at Hotly Spiced.  If you are after a sophisticated, nutty rocky road treat, I highly recommend her recipe. My version is less sophisticated than Charlie's, but I will still recommend it on grounds of taste!

Vegan pebble road
An easy to make chocolate marshmallow slice with dried apricot and biscuit pieces.
Inspired by Charlie's recipe for apricot and pistachio rocky road at Hotly Spiced.
Vegan and no bake.
Makes about 20 small squares.

90g (6 large) plain wheat biscuits (I used Digestive biscuits; American graham crackers should work)
1 cup vegan marshmallow pieces
1/2 cup dried apricots
60-80g dairy-free dark chocolate (I used 60g Lindt 70% chocolate)
60-80g diary-free milk chocolate (I used 60g Sweet Williams milk chocolate)

Line a square baking dish with grease proof paper.

Place your biscuits in a plastic bag and bash against a hard service to roughly crush. You want biscuit pieces of various sizes. 

Roughly chop the marshmallows and dried apricots into quarters.

Melt your chocolate (dark and milk) on low power in the microwave or over the stove top, stirring regularly.

When the chocolate is melted, add in the crushed biscuits, chopped marshmallows and chopped apricots. Mix to thoroughly combine. Transfer the mixture to your baking dish and press down evenly.

Set in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, and then slice into squares to serve.

I really need to order more vegan marshmallow mix as a matter of priority.

Do you enjoy rocky road? How about chocolate-based slices? They don't usually make me that excited, but this one has proved an exception...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Oat pancakes with peaches and maple syrup, for Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day)

In a remarkable turn of events, we managed to make pancakes in the week leading up to Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day, which is tomorrow. I know this means that we didn't make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, but it does mean that I can post a pancake recipe just in time for it. Given that we make pancakes about once per year, I am rather happy with the timing.

Our pancake eating was prompted by a complete lack of dinner inspiration on my part, a passing whim for pancakes from Mr Bite, and our ability to walk to a Coles supermarket in about 1 minute. We had the pancake conversation, crossed the road to buy eggs for Mr Bite's version, and were back in the kitchen and cooking within 15 minutes.

Oat pancakes with peach and maple syrup

We tend to abandon dinner convention when we make pancakes. After all, if you only have them once a year, why would you waste time (and stomach space) on savoury fillings? Sometimes Mr Bite will start with a savoury tuna-cheese pancake, but I almost always go straight to fruit or sweet varieties. Last week, we snacked on salad vegetables while cooking, and then moved straight on to the equivalent of dessert.

A regular pancake with frozen yoghurt and chocolate syrup

Mr Bite made a tried and tested classic recipe that generated 3 pancakes, which he had with lemon juice and sugar (number 1), jam (number 2), and frozen yoghurt and chocolate syrup (number 3). I made up a recipe that also made 3 pancakes, which I ate in one stack with the pictured peaches and syrup.

I liked mine, he liked his, and we were happily content at the end of the meal. If you make pancakes for Shrove Tuesday tomorrow, I hope you enjoy yours too.

Classic pancakes 
Makes 3 - 4 pancakes to serve 1

110g plain flour (1 cup)
Pinch salt
1 egg
1 1/4 cups milk
Oil, for cooking

Toppings to taste

Combine the flour and salt, make a well in the mixture, and add the egg and milk. Whisk well until fluffy and fully combined. Allow the mixture to rest in the fridge for 15 - 30 minutes.

Heat a non-stick pan over high heat and grease with oil. Add one-third of the mixture to the pan, cook until bubbles appear in the top, flip, and cook on the other side until both sides are golden.

Repeat for the remaining mixture.

Oat pancakes with peaches and maple syrup
Makes 3 pancakes to serve 1

55g plain flour (1/2 cup)
25g oats (1/4 cup)
Pinch salt
2 tsp chia seeds mixed with 1 tbsp water
3/4 cup non-dairy milk (I used almond)
Oil, for cooking

1 large peach and 1 - 2 tbsp maple syrup, to top

Combine the flour, oats and salt, make a well in the mixture, and add the chia seeds in water and non-dairy milk. Whisk well until fluffy and fully combined. Allow the mixture to rest in the fridge for 15 - 30 minutes.

Heat a non-stick pan over high heat and grease with oil. Add one-third of the mixture to the pan, cook until bubbles appear in the top, flip, and cook on the other side until both sides are golden.

Repeat for the remaining mixture.

Serve with sliced peaches and maple syrup.

Will you be eating pancakes tomorrow? What are your favourite ways to eat them?