Sunday, November 30, 2014

Jamie Oliver inspired gado-gado

Is anyone else enjoying Jamie Oliver's new show, Jamie's Comfort Food? Most of the dishes are a long way off being vegan, and we tend to skip the meat heavy ones, but I love his enthusiasm for food. Plus, even when the recipe isn't one I'd make as is, I often pick up tips for making things easier and/or better.

Gado-gado salad in sweet potato

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Conwy visit + half marathon


Bodnant Gardens, overlooking Snowdonia national park, Wales

Have you been to Wales? Before our weekend away, I hadn't realised how beautiful it is. I spent much of the time we were there breathing in the views and feeling grateful for the clear weather. We had rain when driving across on Saturday, but Sunday and Monday were beautiful days, cool but sunny (in contrast, it rained so much in London that a local road floaded!).

Our baby hire car (a Toyota Aygo)

There was a lot I enjoyed about the trip. We hired a car, which was itself exciting after 6 months without driving. On the drive up, we stopped in Solihull, where Mr Bite grew up and I enjoyed visiting for the first time in 2012. On this visit the town was crowded with early Christmas shoppers, but even so remained attractive.

Take away lunch (cous cous with dried fruit and pecans, and a festive latte)

Then, of course, there was Conwy itself. Sitting on the north coast of Wales, it is a waterside market town that retains its castle and town walls. We arrived too late to see much on Saturday, but even in the darkness the castle was imposing. By sunlight the next day, it was magnificent.

Views from Conwy castle

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Natural Balance Foods - Nākd bars sampler case


I am really looking forward to sharing some photos from our weekend (and my half marathon) away. It was a great trip, with lots of beautiful scenery.

While I'm sorting out photos, though, I am also really pleased to bring you this review of vegan snack bars by Natural Balance Foods. I have mentioned my love of their Nākd bars before, and I also enjoy their Trek protein bars. The company prides itself on using whole foods in a close to natural form, and all of their bars are vegan, wheat free and gluten free.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fitness Fridays - getting back into cycling, and heading off for another half marathon

With our shipment arriving last month, I was reunited with my bike and able to add cycling to my mix of gym-free activities. I was concerned my bike would need to go back into storage as it would be hard to fit in our flat, but fortunately we've hit upon a solution with locking it and covering it in our shared front courtyard. It takes me about 5 minutes to take the cover off and undo the two locks, but at least I can use it!

Clearly an Australian bike photo...

I haven't used my bike much for serious exercise, but I am now cycling to work 3 times a week. When I wrote my August post about giving up a gym membership, I was running 4 times per week and considering going up to 5 times. That mix included a run home from work once per week. That was a novelty at first, but I will confess to getting tired of it quite soon. I am really not an evening / after work exerciser...

I did end up increasing my running to 5 days per week in the lead up to my Ealing half marathon in September. However, I found the higher mileage sparked some niggling pains and also running fatigue. My bike arrived the week after that race, so it was a good time to re-think exercise routines.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Vegan sticky banana pudding

The next time you have some over-ripe bananas to use up, may I suggest this pudding as an alternative to banana bread or banana muffins? It will take you from 'healthy snack' to 'decadent dessert', but I don't think you'll regret the shift.

Better suited to the northern hemisphere autumn than approaching southern summer, this is effectively sticky toffee pudding with banana. It is sticky, and comforting, and very sweet.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Aubergine and pepper spaghetti 'bolognese'

I have made this dish twice in the last month, which is a high hit rate when considering that I usually leave pasta dishes to Mr Bite. The first time I made it with relatively large chunks of aubergine (eggplant), but on my re-run I chopped the vegetables into smaller pieces to give a bolognese type sauce.

As you might guess from the frequency of our eating it, we both really enjoyed this dish. It is a satisfying match for cooler, darker evenings, and a delicious use for aubergine. The meal is not very high in protein, but it does provide a great hit of vegetables. Mr Bite has added cheese to his servings, and you could also increase the protein content with a scattering of pine nuts or slivered almonds.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Chai spiced chocolate truffles

Do you think it's too early to start Christmas themed posts? Usually I reserve anything Christmassy until December, but London is starting to seem rather festive and, if I'm honest, I rather like it.

If you are Christmas inclined, these truffle balls are perfect for the holiday season. However, they are also perfect for anytime, so you don't have to be in the Christmas spirit to enjoy them. These are surprisingly like commercial chocolate truffles, but are fruit and nut based and coated in cocoa powder (and lucuma powder in my pictures) rather than a solid chocolate coating.

The chai flavours here are subtle but enjoyable, and come from brewed black chai tea and extra mixed spice and vanilla. I thought afterwards that some chilli would have been nice too, so if you like chilli chocolate, that could be an enjoyable twist to try. Of course, you could also choose to coat these in solid chocolate if you prefer your truffles that way.

These are best stored in the fridge, but are firm enough to be packaged up in layers if you want to put together gift boxes. They will also stay firm if left at room temperature for a while, so you can put them out for people to nibble on and not worry that they will collapse!

Chai spiced chocolate truffles
Delicately spiced truffle balls that are perfect for the holiday season, or any season
Makes about 24 truffle balls

Allow at least 4 hours for preparation
Food processor required

Author: Bite-Sized Thoughts

1 cup (250ml) strong chai tea, made with hot water and a tea bag or tea leaves (no milk)
1 cup (140g) sultanas or raisins
1 cup (140g) raw almonds
1/2 tsp mixed spice (pumpkin pie spice, or 1/4 tsp each of cinnamon and nutmeg)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup cocoa powder

Cocoa powder or other powders, extra, for coating (I used a mix of cocoa and lucuma)

Allow the chai tea to brew for at least 15 minutes, and then add the sultanas/raisins to the tea mixture and allow to soak for at least 30 minutes. 

Transfer the tea and sultanas/raisins to a food processor along with the almonds. Process until the ingredients are finely ground and starting to clump together (due to the tea, the mixture will be easier to process and quite moist compared to standard fruit/nut truffles).

Add the mixed spice, vanilla and cocoa powder to the food processor and process to incorporate. 

Place the truffle mix in the fridge for approximately 30 minutes to firm up.

When the truffle mix has refrigerated for 30 minutes, place your preferred truffle coatings (cocoa powder / lucuma powder / coconut) in separate small bowls. Use a teaspoon to scoop out small truffle balls, and then roll in your hands to shape. Coat in your powder of choice and set aside. Repeat for the remaining balls.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Tell me - are you in the mood for Christmas yet, or is this just too early (I know Americans still have Thanksgiving to come!)?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Banana-maple muffins with potato and spelt flour

After making potato-based fudge for Vegan MoFo, I knew I wanted to progress to try mashed potato in baked goods too. I decided on muffins, and to add to the fun, muffins without oil or processed sugar. These make use of almond butter and maple syrup, with extra sweetness coming from the banana and some raisins.

As the pictures below show, my muffins have a collapsed look about them. This is entirely my fault. Having made the recipe up, I estimated 15 minutes cooking time but didn't take into account the different consistency that potato gives over flour. The muffins weren't anywhere near cooked at 15 minutes, and opening the oven door interrupted their rising process.

If we overlook the collapsed tops, these muffins came out nicely. I was impressed at the texture, which was similar to a regular muffin but a little moister and a little chewier. There is no discernible taste of potato, and instead the muffins hum of banana, maple syrup, almond butter and vanilla. They are sweet enough, but not too sweet. They are obviously and messily homemade, but I look forward to trying a repeat batch where I keep the oven door shut for the necessary amount of time. I expect that would give a far neater result!

Banana-maple muffins with potato and spelt flour
A twist on standard muffins that is vegan, oil free and refined sugar free
Makes 12 muffins

Author: Bite-Sized Thoughts

1 large potato, weighing about 330g
1/4 cup almond butter
2 medium ripe bananas, roughly mashed
1 cup (250ml) non-dairy milk of choice
1 tbsp (15ml) vanilla
1/4 cup (62ml) maple syrup
1 cup (140g) spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup (70g) sultanas or raisins

Ahead of time, peel and chop the potato and add to a saucepan of boiling water. Simmer until soft, approximately 30 minutes. Allow the potato to cool slightly before preparing the muffins.

When the potato has cooked and cooled, preheat your oven to 160'C (320'F) and prepare a 12 pan muffin tray.

In a large bowl, beat together the cooked potato and almond butter using electric mixers (a blender or food processor would work too). The resulting mixture will be very thick. Add the mashed banana and non-dairy milk and beat to incorporate. Add the vanilla and maple syrup and beat to incorporate.

Stir the spelt flour and baking powder into the muffin mix, and then stir through the sultanas / raisins.

Transfer the mixture to your prepared muffin tray, and bake for approximately 30 minutes, until the muffins are golden and the tops bounce back when touched.

Potato in baking - is it something you have tried?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Homemade chai latte and caramel latte

Until last week, I didn't realise it was so easy to make cafe-esque hot drinks at home. I suspect I'm behind the times and everyone else has been chai latteing and caramel latteing in their kitchen for years. I don't have a coffee maker, but it turns out you don't need one to turn a cup of tea or coffee into something special.

I actually gave up milk in my coffee a few months ago, finding that I quite liked it black and very much liked the convenience of not needing specialist milk at work. Recently, though, autumn weather has made all hot drinks appealing and the (non dairy) milk varieties have drawn me back in.

Home made chai latte

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Gourmet Burger Kitchen - the vegan burger that isn't on their menu

Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) has been on our list of places to try since we visited the UK in 2012. A bit like Zizzi and Pizza Express, it is a chain restaurant that defies traditional fast food expectations. In other words, despite there being 60 stores across the country, the restaurants are attractive, the burgers are handmade, and there is a focus on fresh ingredients.

Packaged up burgers

The GBK franchise was started in 2001 by three New Zealanders. It has grown to include the aforementioned 60 stores, as well as a menu that seems to cover all possible taste preferences. There are four vegetarian burgers on the menu, as well as a wide range of meat options and a variety of sides and salads.

Whilst the chain is very vegetarian friendly, it is quite hard from the website to determine what burgers may be made vegan. There is an ingredient guide that specifies what is egg free, dairy free and vegan, but it provides details for the burgers as made - so, for instance, with mayonnaise. I was pretty sure the vegetarian falafel burger would be vegan with mayonnaise and raita sauces omitted, but needed to ask in store to check.

Opening up

When I did ask, I sparked a 5 minute search process among the staff, as they tried to find details of each specific component of the burger. In the end they took the sensible route of asking the cooks if the falafels were free of dairy and egg. They are, so the burger would indeed be vegan if you left off the mayonnaise and raita (the other ingredients include a vegan sesame seed bun, chilli salsa, onion, tomato and alfalfa sprouts).

I was all set to order the customised falafel burger, but the person serving us then let me know there is a vegan burger not listed on the menu, known as the 'hippy dippy' (!). He couldn't remember the exact details, but knew it was vegan, had aubergine and pineapple, and included a tahini sauce. I happily switched my order to that option.

'Hippy dippy' vegan burger; £7.25

I don't know why the burger isn't listed on the menu, and at the time didn't think to ask. Possibly it isn't available everywhere, but it does seem odd not to highlight it as an option where it is. Whatever the reason, I would encourage you to ask about it if you find yourself at a GBK! It was a fantastic burger, and a nice change from falafel which is more commonly available.

The burger came with a generous amount of aubergine, perfectly grilled, and was rounded out with pineapple, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, and a slightly spicy tahini sauce. It may be my Australian streak, but I am always happy to have pineapple in burgers as well as on pizza,

'Californian' veggie burger; £8.75

Mr Bite ordered the Californian veggie burger, which includes a pan-friend bean patty, cheddar cheese, avocado, mayonnaise, onions, relish and salad. He rated it highly and said he'd be happy to have it again.

We both agreed that Australia's Grill'd burgers remain the best we have had, but GBK provides a great runner up. Probably the only disadvantage is that the burgers aren't great value if you are buying them to take away, as we did. The price is the same to eat in or take home, and as the GBK restaurants are generally attractive and well set up, if you eat the burgers there the cost would seem quite reasonable. As take away, they are on the pricey side although still not exorbitant.

What is your favourite burger option, if you eat burgers?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Pear and banana oat bread

I didn't set out to make this oat bread. I thought I could turn some over-ripe pears and banana into raw oat ball snacks. However, somewhere during my ingredient processing, I decided that balls were unlikely to stick together. I turned the mix into a baked loaf instead. It could have gone horribly wrong, but instead turned out surprisingly well.

Consistent with my love of simple recipes, this is a minimalist bread: there are only 4 ingredients, and 2 of them are fruits. There is no rising time, no raising agent, and no kneading. Effectively, the loaf is porridge turned into bread.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

365 project: October photos

It has just dawned on me that my photo a day challenge is close to being done. I appreciate that two months is still a reasonable amount of time to cover, but after taking 293 photos, I can see myself managing the remaining 61.

Of course, this is largely due to my flexible approach to a photo a day. Increasingly, 7 photos a week is my approach and that is reflected in some of the photo sets for October. Photos 16 to 20 were taken on our recent visit to the Tower of London, the first 'big' tourist attraction we have visited. Now that summer is over and there are fewer tourists around, we are able to start working through our list of more notable 'To See' places. The Tower was fantastic, and we spent over 4 hours touring the various buildings and walking the grounds. The moat filled with poppies, part of WWII commemorations, was amazing too. As an additional bonus, we narrowly missed seeing the Queen!

Another recent outing is featured in photos 21 to 25, taken at Knole Park in Kent. The grounds include Knole House, which we didn't visit on this occasion, and a deer park, which is home to around 400 deer that roam as they wish. Deer aren't something we have in Australia, so I was besotted with every animal we saw and wanted to photograph all of them.

Throughout the photos, you will also see evidence of my love of autumn colours and leaves. At the moment, I don't think a day goes past without me taking joy from trees or fallen leaves or both. It is a beautiful time of year.

1st: Rainbow chard / 2nd: Kent walking / 3rd: Kent sunshine / 4th: Tonbridge castle / 5th: Tonbridge views 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

In my kitchen - November 2014

I am linking this post in to Celia's monthly In My Kitchen event at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.

Ah, November. To me, it signals the start of the end of the year and the justifiable start of Christmas festivities. This year, it also brings shorter days and signs of approaching winter. Northern hemisphere November is novel and more than a little exciting.

There are some signs of the changing season in my kitchen. I still have strawberries in the fridge and tomatoes on the windowsill, but there have also been cravings for porridge, chai spices, and hot hearty meals. 

End of season tomatoes (yes, that is a vase they are in)

There are also some products from Borough Market in my kitchen. I have wanted to visit the market since we stayed near it on our first night in London, way back in June. It lived up to my hopes and expectations.

Pippin and Pearmain apples