Thursday, June 30, 2011

Refried beans and a cake with balls

A cake with balls??? No, this isn't a typo in the title of this post, as you can see this cake does have balls. I felt it was necessary to put this photo at the top of the post to prove that I wasn't being rude. The title popped into my head and gave me a chuckle so I decided to stick with it.

It was the man's birthday earlier this week and due to his infatuation with my rum balls, choc-mint balls and jaffa balls, I had an idea a while ago to bake him a chocolate cake and adorn it with chocolately balls of different varieties. I decided to try the chocolate cake and frosting from The Joy of Vegan Baking; these recipes are detailed in the samples on the author Colleen Patrick Gordeau's website.

This cake was lovely and moist although I think the man would have been even more impressed if he was presented with one enormous jaffa or choc-mint ball!

As we are going out for dinner on the weekend with family, the man was happy to dine at home on his birthday night so I allowed him to choose whatever he would like to eat. It was no surprise to me that he selected Mexican as the cuisine although I wasn't expecting refried beans to be his request.

Naturally I decided to use my beloved Viva Vegan for the recipes and selected the standard refried beans, cilantro-lime rice, cashew crema, guacamole and winter salsa. The winter salsa uses tinned tomatoes and is a variation on the fresh tomato salsa recipe which I hadn't noticed before. Terry's explanation for this recipe variation sums up how I feel about tomatoes right now. Every time I stroll past tomatoes at the fruit & veg shop or supermarket I feel disgusted with the price and disappointed with the lack of quality so I keep on walking.

Once again, it was another successful Mexican night thanks to Viva Vegan and the man was happy with his choice. As I am such a thoughtful wife, I also made something special for dinner the night before his big day so he could have the leftovers for a tasty birthday lunch. This will have to wait until next post. For now, I will leave you with this easy peasy but tasty tomato salsa that works so well when you don't have any fresh tomatoes on hand. 

Winter Salsa (Adapted from Viva Vegan)

1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes
10 slices jalapeno peppers, diced
1 shallot, diced
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt

Drain some of the liquid from the tinned tomatoes and place them into a bowl. Stir through the other ingredients and refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

VOTM - Cauliflower

When my idea for VOTM was developing in May and began with a post about about my love for brussel sprouts, I knew straight away which vegetable was going to feature next - cauliflower. It is a vegetable that many people (including myself until recently) primarily associate topped with a bechamel and cheese sauce and then baked in the oven. Although it may be rather tasty in this fashion, my love for this vegetable has intensified since I have been experimenting further...

A couple of the recipes that I began my cauliflower exploration with were Ashley's Pan-Roasted Cauliflower and the Red and White Cauliflower bake from Vegan Yum Yum. The combination of cauliflower with mustard, lemon, pine nuts and spring onions is so tasty and moreish, which makes Ashley's recipe a keeper and this has become one of my favorite ways to serve cauliflower as a side dish. The VYY red and white cauliflower bake is a very popular menu item at home with both the man and son being huge fans.

Carla's roast vegie cheezy pie and the Lentil, vegetable and quinoa stew from Fat Free Vegan that I blogged about recently have all been repeated several times. Although cauliflower is not the main ingredient, it is an essential inclusion in my book. Something that hasn't been made again yet is my Creamy cauliflower and tofu bacon soup although this will definitely get another showing as it was so delicious and disappeared in a flash. 

When I looked through my bookmarks of recipes to cook I was astounded at the quantity and diversity of cauliflower recipes that have been stowed away. Spicy dishes such as Vegan Dad's Tandoori Cauliflower, 101 Cookbook's Spicy Cauliflower with Sesame and Robin Robertson's Gobi Manchurian have all caught my eye. Some more unusual but intriguing things I would like to try are Cauliflower Couscous from Where's the Beef and Ground "Meat" from Diet, Dessert and Dogs.

Some other reasons behind this VOTM concept were not explored in my initial post. One is for a chance to discuss a seasonal vegetable and the many methods and recipes in which I like to enjoy it which is also an opportunity to share some blogging community spirit around. Another objective is to share a basic but hopefully interesting side dish that could otherwise miss out on being posted. So here is my recipe for this month, a simple side dish that was invented one evening and loved so much that it has been repeated countless times and is always greeted with a smile. 

It's a simple stir-fry that makes use of two or three vegetables which are totally interchangeable. Sometimes it can be broccoli and cauliflower florets, other times brussel sprouts, carrots and this time around I even used a choko! We enjoyed these stir-fried vegies with lemony roasted potatoes from Veganomicon (aka. lemony snickets around here) which were posted about here and Cindy's awesome vegan sausage rolls that we never seem to get enough of!

I make this side dish when I'm not really in the mood for roasted vegies or feel like adding a bit of spice to a meal. My latest trick has been to serve these stir-fried vegies alongside some lemony snickets when I'm trying something new out on the troops. That way if they aren't keen on my latest experiment at least they will be thoroughly satisfied with the other parts of their meal.

Mixed vegetable stir-fry with garlic and chilli

1 tablespoon peanut oil
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced into strips
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
2 small carrots, julienned
1 choko, peeled and cut into strips
1-2 tablespoons vegan oyster mushroom sauce

Heat a tablespoon of peanut oil in a wok over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the garlic and chilli flakes and stir-fry for about 10 seconds. Add the cauliflower, carrots and choko and stir-fry for about a minute. Stir through the vegan oyster mushroom sauce and stir-fry for a couple more minutes. Remove from the heat and serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

His and hers comfort soups

The man was a little under the weather last weekend so I kindly offered to make him some soup. He was keen for some smoky tomato soup although I managed to talk him out of it as the quality and price of fresh tomatoes at the moment is terrible. My line of questioning mustn't have been clear enough or his responses were marred by his clogged up head because the soup I produced on Saturday was not what he wanted at all. Instead of making his comfort soup, I somehow managed to make my own!

Apart from feeling lousy, I find the most frustrating thing about colds is losing your sense of taste. Food that usually would be palatable becomes bland and unappetising, so I normally make meals loaded with garlic, chillies and spices. My favourite curried lentil soup includes these components and has the added bonus of being a cinch to prepare, with about 10 minutes of initial prep work required and no blending at the end. 

On Sunday, I had to make amends as the man was not impressed with my comfort soup (never mind, son and I were more than happy with it). After further probing, he indicated that he wanted a smooth pureed vegetable soup that you could drink from a mug if desired. His idea of comfort soup = boring soup to me! That's probably why he wanted it so badly as I haven't made a soup like this for such a long time. I loaded it full of vegies and he even agreed to some celery which is something I usually omit from recipes as he isn't a big fan. 

The man was much happier with this soup and has been devouring it for days. I'll keep this soup in mind for next time he is unwell...

Curried red lentil soup (Adapted from Curry & Chilli Cookbook)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1 1/2 cups red lentils
6 cups vegetable stock
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoon coriander leaves, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and fry the onion over medium heat for 5 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and mustard seeds fry for another minute. Add the turmeric, curry powder, garam masala, coriander, cumin and chilli powder and cook for a minute then stir through the lentils so they are coated with the spices.

Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered for about 40 minutes until the lentils have broken down completely. Stir through the lemon juice and coriander leaves and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Mixed vegetable soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, chopped
1 onion, diced
4 large cloves garlic, chopped 
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
200g pumpkin, chopped into chunks
2 small potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 zucchini, chopped 
6 cups vegetable stock
3 tablespoons fresh parsley
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and fry the leek and onion over medium heat for 5 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Keep adding the vegetables to the pot as you chop them and then pour in the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

Add the parsley to the pot and process the soup in batches in a blender. Return the blended soup to the pot, reheat and season with salt and pepper.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Viva Enchiladas

Mexican food has always been a popular cuisine at my abode, although throughout my cooking experiences, enchiladas have been a missing element. Tacos, nachos, burritos, quesadillas, baked tortillas and bowls of chilli have made their way into my accommodating belly but never enchiladas, until a few weeks ago...

Enchilada recipes that I had seen in the past didn't seem exciting or interesting enough to bother with. When I purchased Viva Vegan there were too many other intriguing Latin American meals that stood out and the enchilada recipe went by unnoticed. This fantastic book has had such a good workout and most of the recipes initially bookmarked have had a trial so it was a nice surprise when I stumbled across the Potato-Chickpea enchiladas with Green Tomatillo sauce and Pine Nut crema.  

Terry suggests that the tomatillo sauce, pine nut crema and potato chickpea filling can be made in advance. There are several parts to the recipe which can make it rather time consuming and I was thankful for this advice. It is feasible to make the whole recipe on a lazy Sunday afternoon, however, the pre-planning is highly beneficial for a faster weeknight meal. Fresh tomatillos are called for in the recipe which are something that I have never seen, however I purchased a tin of tomatillos a while ago from Casa Iberica so these were used instead.

We all loved the enchiladas and gave credit to the tomatillos for making the flavour so distinctive. It was the first time we had tried tomatillos which have quite a tart taste. The left-overs were equally delicious the next day.

The following week I made another batch of enchiladas using a variation from Viva Vegan. This batch had a seitan, potato and silverbeet filling with a ancho chile sauce. They were also delicious and I wasn't sure which ones came out on top until I repeated the tomatillo enchiladas again. Surprisingly it was unanimous that we all slightly preferred the tomatillo enchiladas over the ancho chile ones!

Prior to venturing into the enchilada world, I found a short video of Terry Hope Romero making the potato chickpea enchiladas with tomatillo sauce. The recipe was also posted on this site and as it is quite a long one, I'm not going to re-write it as the changes I made were very minor.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thai "Chicken" Basil stir-fry

Back in October 2000, the man and I embarked on our first overseas trip together to Thailand. Nothing had been booked apart from our flights but I knew exactly where we were heading for the duration of our time. The ultimate highlight was our 2 night stay in Khao Sok national park, a stunning rainforest in Southern Thailand slightly off the beaten track, which meant that it wasn't over populated with tourists like most of the islands are. 

Our accommodation was a little village comprising of basic huts and a couple of tree houses. We were fortunate to secure one of the tree houses as a couple happened to be leaving just as we arrived. It was the perfect set-up. A tree house in the rainforest right next to the flowing Khao Sok river, which felt a bit rugged at nighttime when the jungle came to life and was full of so many unique sounds like gibbons calling. 

The greater surprise was the atmosphere in the communal area where the backpackers socialised when they weren't out and about exploring the beauty of the rainforest. The tourists were mainly European; lots of Brits, Germans, French and Norwegians and there was one chirpy Brit in particular that we became rather friendly with. We were intrigued when one of the lovely ladies that ran the place asked our friend if he was hungry and if he would like the "usual" with a cheeky grin on her face. Apparently he had been eating it for breakfast, lunch (when not out on a tour) and dinner while he had been staying there! We both decided to follow his recommendation and were also totally hooked.  

It was such a simple dish loaded with garlic, chillies, fish sauce, soy sauce, chicken (we were omnivores back then) and vegies but it was the aniseed taste of the thai basil throughout that made it so unique. We longed for authentic Thai food after we returned to Australia and were unable to find anything like this meal at restaurants. When I did manage to track down thai basil down at a local asian supermarket I was able to replicate the dish to a decent standard so it became a regular until we gave up eating meat.  

Upon sorting through my freezer contents recently, I came across a packet of Fry's chicken-style strips that had been bought so long ago they were getting pretty close to the best before date. We do enjoy a Fry's "chicken" schnitzel topped with a tomato sauce and cheezly every now and again when time is short and have tried a few of other products in the Fry's range but not the strips.  
I decided to put these strips to use in a stir-fry like the one we used to have and hope that they would be a good stand-in. The meal was cooked almost identically to the way it used to be done with the exception of the "chicken" strips. The directions instructed that they were to be cooked in a wok for 5 minutes with some oil and not defrosted first. 

Dinner was sensational! I'm not sure that I loved the "chicken" strips, they were quite good although I may prefer to use some tofu instead next time. The balance of the salty sauces with a touch of sugar and the aniseed bite of the thai basil was perfect. Even the man who used to become a little tired with my thai basil fascination thoroughly enjoyed it. 

I would have liked to include some of our photos from Khao Sok but they were taken in pre-digital camera days and our scanner is on the blink. :( 

Thai "Chicken" Basil stir-fry

2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 packet Fry's "chicken" stir-fry strips
4 cloves garlic, sliced into strips
2 birds-eye chillies, finely sliced
1 carrot, chopped thinly
1 red capsicum, sliced into thin strips
6 button mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch pak choy, stems and leaves chopped separately
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegan oyster mushroom sauce
2 teaspoons raw sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 large bunch thai basil leaves

Heat a tablespoon of peanut in a wok on the highest temperature and stir-fry the frozen "chicken" strips for about 5 minutes. Remove the strips from the wok.

Add the other tablespoon of peanut oil to the wok, stir-fry the garlic and chillies for about 15 seconds then add the carrot, red capsicum, mushrooms and pak choy stems. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes then add the chicken strips, soy sauce, vegan oyster mushroom sauce, sugar, water, pak choy leaves and thai basil leaves. Stir-fry until the pak choy and thai basil leaves have just wilted. Turn off the heat and serve immediately with brown (or white) rice.    

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Quinoa, lentil and vegetable stew

When Susan V of the Fat Free Kitchen blog posted this delicious sounding lentil and vegetable stew last October I made it straight away (with a few tweaks) and loved it. It was full of flavour and extremely simple to prepare so I repeated it a few times last year. 

The first time I made it, the man thought it was a little bit like soup which he is quite partial to at lunchtime but doesn't really fancy for dinner. To combat the soupy texture I increased the amount of quinoa to soak up the juices and give it some more bulk.

It is a lovely warming meal for nights like we have been experiencing in Melbourne this week. The vegetables in the recipe below were what I had on hand, however, mushrooms, broccoli and spinach are some others that have also blended in well. Even my son commented that it is a perfect winter meal as it really warms up your belly. 

Quinoa, lentil and vegetable stew (Adapted from Fat Free Vegan)

1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 heaped teaspoon oregano
1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes
4 cups vegetable stock
200g pumpkin, chopped into bite-sized pieces
200g cauliflower, chopped into small florets
1 carrot, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 x 400g tin brown lentils 
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well
5 large silverbeet leaves, washed well and shredded 
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot, add the onion and cook until it softens. Add the garlic and fry for another minute. Stir through the smoked paprika, cumin and oregano until fragrant then add the tinned tomatoes and vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Add the pumpkin, cauliflower, carrots and zucchini as you chop them and then add the tin of lentils with their juices and quinoa. Simmer, covered for about 15-20 minutes until the vegetables and quinoa are almost tender then stir through the silverbeet and cook for another couple of minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.  

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award

A while ago Johanna handed me a stylish blogger award which was a real highlight in my short blogging existence. I was so excited and extremely gracious to receive such an award (of which I had no idea even existed) although a part of me didn't feel like a worthy recipient. There are so many food blogs around with exceptional standards in all areas of cooking, writing and photography. My little blog feels quite the opposite of stylish at times, although it is still early days and there is always room for improvement!

The way the award is supposed to work is for me to pass it onto some other bloggers that I admire (with the exception of the person who presented it to me) as well as posting seven random facts about myself. So without further ado here are the stylish bloggers I am presenting with this award.

Where's the beef?
Cindy and Michael deserve this award based solely on the merits of their awesome vegan sausage rolls which I make on at least a once a month basis. There is way more to these guys than sausage rolls which is shown throughout the diverse array of recipes within their 1000+ post history.Their frequent eating out experiences are always coherently written up so it can be handy to drop by and check out their reviews before settling on a place to dine in Melbourne.    

Vaishali's blog is full of tasty Indian recipes as well as plenty of other cuisines from around the world. Her writing style, photography and taste in food all resonate with me (as well as her love for dogs, particularly 3 legged ones ;-)). Vaishali posted a recipe for Tofu Pakoras this week which look fantastic and I will definitely be giving them a try soon.  

Eat me delicious
Ashley states that baking is her passion and indeed she does post some delicious looking sweets although I haven't tried any yet. All of the recipes I have enjoyed making from Ashley's blog have been savoury items; most recently was this sensational Curried Chickpea soup - highly recommended.

The Tropical Vegan
Teresa's blog is one that I haven't been following for a long time but have been enjoying immensely. I love reading about her life and eats in Far North Queensland which is one of my favorite regions in Australia. Teresa is also a fellow lover of Ethiopian food judging from one of her recent posts.  

Our Veggie Kitchen
Matt is about the only male vegan blogger that I follow apart from VeganDad (there seems to be a serious lack of male vegan bloggers out there). He predominantly features his own recipes and the ones I have tried have been fantastic. Matt's chipotle ranch dressing was very popular last summer as it is the perfect condiment to spice up a usually boring sandwich.   

And here are seven random facts about me...
  1. My omnivorous life was only left behind about three years ago when my husband suggested we try vegetarianism and after quite a long period of transition I decided to go vegan last November. I am planning to write a more detailed post about this soon.
  2. I used to find it amusing that when my son turns 21 I will have just turned 40! As he is getting close to turning 18, I'm not sure it’s that funny anymore. So scary how time flies!
  3. Although not well-travelled I am a bit of a geography nerd and have always loved maps. My son has followed in my footsteps and we often have capital city quizzes for fun.
  4.  I wanted to be a vet throughout my whole childhood and adolescence. Every time we visit our vet these days however, I think about how hard it must be to be for vets to euthanise animals and deal with negligent pet owners and don't think it would have been the right career choice for me after all.
  5. Dill is about the only herb that I try to steer clear of in cooking. I have disliked everything I have made whenever I have used fresh or dried dill. Thyme is a conundrum as I love it fresh but find it can be unpleasant and overpowering when dried. I adjust heaps of recipes that use dried thyme by reducing the amount, using fresh thyme or replacing it with another herb.
  6. My employer has allowed me to work from home for the last 18 months which has a lot of pros associated with it. After commuting from the SE suburbs into the city for many years, it is a blessing to wake up in the morning, have a shower, make breakfast and a coffee and be at work immediately without wasting time and energy on our overcrowded public transport system. And of course, it leaves a lot more time for cooking!
  7. Many years ago, I met Boy George in a hotel lift whilst wagging school with some friends. Don't ask me why we were riding around in hotel elevator, the intent was certainly not to meet Boy George. He was quite a pleasant guy and rather concerned that we would get caught wagging as we were dressed in school uniform. From memory, we got away with it that day...
I would like to wrap this post up by thanking the lovely Johanna for giving me this award. She has been a fantastic supporter and frequently comments on my posts for which I am very grateful. It has been such a rewarding experience to join the blogosphere this year after being a blog reader for some time and I have been overwhelmed with the sense of spirit and support that exists within this community.