Monday, February 28, 2011

Planet VeGMeL week - Round up

This week couldn't be complete without writing up a summary and explaining in greater detail what it has been about. Katie Carrot wrote a post recently about how she felt she was failing at her blog and only a month into starting mine I noted that my posting frequency was dropping off slowly and steadily down to about twice a week. I wanted to keep my momentum going strong so I wrote down some goals and ideas and put one of them into action straight away - Planet VeGMeL week.

I have been enjoying reading and cooking from blogs (local and abroad) for a few years now and a part of me yearned to start my own whilst another part told me all the reasons why I shouldn't. You have never really enjoyed writing, especially something that will be read by others, you don't have a decent camera and know nothing about food photography, you don't have the time, and so on... So although I had wanted to do do this for such a long time, the things that really pushed me into it were my new kitchen and recently having converted from vegetarian to vegan.

When veganise this was started, I wasn't very organised and there were no goals or plans for what I was doing. The most difficult and time consuming thing for me is the writing component, this was another reason for putting Planet VeGMeL week into action immediately as I thought that the constant posting over a week would help me out in this regard. My food photos are another area that I want to work on improving, so another one of my goals is to upgrade my camera in the future and look into a short course in photography, hopefully with an emphasis on food. Does anyone have any advice/experience about this?  

I'm pleased to say that the week went really well, it gave me the opportunity to make a lot of recipes that had been stored up for some time and keep the posting going on a daily basis. On the first day, I had a sudden fear of things that could go wrong throughout the week. 
Thankfully there were no cooking disasters and there wasn't a single recipe that I disliked. Apart from a minor memory card hiccup and not being able to taste properly due to a cold for the first 3-4 days, the week went fairly smoothly. 

The stand-out recipes of the week which are most likely to be repeated and in no particular order were Spanikopita from Easy as Vegan Pie, Char Kueh Teow from Vegan about Town, Lentil Tacos from Where's the Beef and Lemon Tofu "Chicken" from In the Mood for Noodles. It was such an enjoyable week cooking from all of your blogs and trying something new every night. Cindy commented that there is more than enough on VeGMeL for an energetic blogger to do a whole month of posts and I totally agree with her on that!!!

That's it for now, I'll be back very soon with some of my own recipes to share... 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Planet VeGMeL week (Part 7) - In the Mood for Noodles Lemon Tofu "Chicken"

When I came up with the idea of Planet VeGMeL week, Lemon Tofu "Chicken" from In the Mood for Noodles became an immediate inclusion as I had been longing to try it for ages. I wanted to end the week with a bang which is why it was saved for last.

Deep-frying and shallow frying is something I don't partake in often. I'm sure my boys wouldn't mind if I did more of it, however I try to make healthy meals more often than not. My past experience with frying tofu hasn't been ideal with bits of oil spluttering over me but after tonight I'm putting that down to not using a wok (as I never had room in my previous kitchen for one) and not pressing enough moisture out of the tofu.

As the tofu needed to be cooked in batches plus I wanted to stir-fry some greens to have with it, I decided to cook the tofu first and leave it in a warm oven. My fear was that the tofu might lose it crispiness however the greens only took a few minutes to complete and the tofu came out with pretty much the same delicious crunchiness.

The tofu tasted fantastic with the lemony sauce over the top, after I finished the plate of food in the photo I stuffed myself full of more until I was ready to burst as it was soooo good. The greens are pak choy with crispy shallots and toasted sesame seeds from Veganomicon which were previously posted here.

Now that I have completed Planet VeGMeL week and cooked some fantastic meals from the featured blogs, I'll post a quick summary tomorrow to round it up!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Planet VeGMeL week (Part 6) - Vicki Vegan Eggplant Gratin

Part of my inspiration for Planet VeGMeL week was based upon the Vegan MoFo month of blogging and Vicki Vegan was a blog that I enjoyed reading a lot last during this period. There were a few recipes that Vicki posted within her A-Z of dishes that I bookmarked to cook at a later date and never got around to it so this was a perfect time to select one and the dish that appealed to me the most was Eggplant Gratin.

Eggplant was never part of my childhood and I don't think it made much of an impression on me the first time I ate it as an adult. A few good eggplant experiences later had me hooked and now I can't seem to get enough of it!

The eggplant gratin was very simple to put together and there was only adjustment made to the recipe. I didn't have any fresh basil on hand but there was still some of my last batch of pesto in the fridge so this was added to the sauce instead. As there were other items baking in the oven, I felt the temperature needed to be bumped up a bit but this still didn't result in the silky smooth eggplant I was hoping for. Perhaps my slices were too thick or maybe I should have covered the baking dish for a while.

Nonetheless, the gratin was tasty and the meal was completed with some Lemony Roasted Potatoes from Veganomicon, roasted pumpkin and steamed broccoli.

Well this week has gone by rather quickly and only one more blogger to go tomorrow. I'm quite excited about this one, tune in tomorrow to find out all about it!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Planet VeGMeL week (Part 5) - Where's the Beef Lentil Tacos

Where's the Beef was a definite on my list for Planet VeGMeL week and probably led me to the most difficult decision for this week as Cindy and Michael have racked up so many delicious recipes over their years of blogging. I chopped and changed my mind so many times and finally asked the man what he felt like tonight, the response of Mexican was fairly typical so I went with the Lentil Tacos which features on their Where's the Best list.

As tempted as I may have been to add some tomatoes to the mix, I decided to stay true to the recipe and use some salsa as a topping instead. The thing I didn't use was a taco seasoning mix as I haven't bothered with these for a while and more recently have been using the K's recipe or or a slight alteration of the one she posted on her blog. The spiced lentils were a piece of cake to throw together, perfect for a Friday evening when take-away is usually on the cards. I was feeling too lazy to make my own salsa, instead opting to use a store bought one, however I did have the energy to make a simple guacamole.

After tasting the spiced lentils, I decided against adding chipotle chillies to the vegan sour cream as the taco mix gave the lentils a decent amount of heat. I like the idea of smoky chipotles in the sour cream and will definitely try it another day. This was a deliciously easy dinner and perfect for the end of the week when you are feeling a bit weary.

There are so many other recipes that I still must try from Where's the Beef and a couple of other favourites I have loved to date are Vegan Sausage Rolls which get a look in almost every month and Asparagus stir-fry which I must make again now I have a proper wok. Cindy and Michael have also led me to some fantastic recipes in Viva Vegan that I may not have otherwise selected.

Only 2 days are remaining of Planet VeGMeL week...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Planet VeGMeL week (Part 4) - Vegan About Town Char Kueh Teow

My eye has been on Steph's Char Kueh Teow from Vegan About Town for quite some time after having success with her Mee Goreng recipe ages ago. For several years, our household take-away favourite has been Malaysian food and noodles normally make up at least one of the meals ordered. The man has always preferred Mee Goreng and the son Char Kueh Teow, I quite like both of them in different ways and Singapore Noodles can be pretty tasty too.

Tonight was an exciting night of firsts for me. I mentioned cutting down our orange tree to make way for our house extension 
in this post which turned out to be an extremely drawn out painful project. I could write a lengthy essay about this but this is a food blog not a renovation nightmare blog! Only yesterday we were given the green light to use our rangehood for cooking after a final inspection from an electrician. This was very exciting news for me! 

Last weekend, the man and I went wok shopping. He had surprised me by taking it upon himself to do some research into the best types of woks to buy and how to season them properly. Prior to breaking it in with food, I had been instructed to go through the seasoning process of applying a thin coating of oil to the wok, heating it on a low flame until the oil started to smoke, waiting for it to cool and wiping it down with paper towels. This process had to be repeated several times.

Then it was time to cook some noodles. I went against Steph's advice a little and changed a few of the ingredients around but I did take on board not to overload the dish with veggies and let the noodles be the star. Beanshoots don't really do it for me so these were omitted instead I added in some shiitake mushrooms, and pak choy instead of kai lan as that's what needed to be used up in the fridge.

My plan was to either fry up some tofu cubes or crumble the tofu in like Steph, however I remembered that there were a few Vegan Brunch mini tofu omlettes in the fridge so these were sliced up and added to the noodles towards the end of the cooking time. The omlettes were a great vegan stand-in for eggs in this dish and would also work well in a Nasi Goreng, so if you are interested in the recipe I have previously posted it here.  

I am very pleased to say that I loved this recipe as did the others, the chillies used were quite spicy which didn't bother me at all but I may have to use one instead of two in the future. My new wok worked extremely well, this is the first real wok I have owned and it will be treasured and used very often.

Planet VeGMeL week is over the half way mark now and there are only 3 days remaining...

Planet VeGMeL week (Part 3) - Around the World Vegan Arancini

I love the concept of Keira's Around the World Vegan blog as I thoroughly enjoy exploring food from other countries around the world. Although I have only attempted one of Keira's recipes so far which was home-made cannelloni, it was truly delicious and gave me an introduction and some confidence in pasta making. 

Something that has been on my radar to try for quite some time is making Arancini (Risotto Balls) which Keira recently posted about so this was my selection for Day 3 of Planet VeGMeL week. Initially, my plan was to make a fairly plain risotto in order to keep the rolling simple but I changed my mind and added some home-made pesto for extra flavour and a bit of spinach that needed using up. Rolling the balls was a little time intensive and messy but not beyond me and I knew that cheezly would be popular so I stuffed a little cube inside each ball. The arancini were oven-baked rather than fried as I prefer to use this method wherever possible.

I pondered about what to serve the arancini with, there was something I could remember reading about recently which was a bit like an Italian version of ratatouille with some different ingredients but rather than being a hot dish it was served at room temperature. A quick google search showed that it was Caponata I was thinking of, a Sicilian eggplant salad. After looking at a few recipes that had varying components, I went to my cookbooks and found a recipe in Vegan Planet that I settled upon. There were a few reasons for this choice, the first being that Vegan Planet hasn't had a lot of love recently, the second was that all ingredients could be found at home and finally the recipe sounded like it was a good combination of elements.

The arancini were lovely and crunchy with a delicious centre oozing with cheezly and caponata was the perfect accompaniment. The caponata was made up of onions, garlic, eggplant, red capsicum, tomatoes, red wine vinegar, capers, sugar, parsley and seasoned with salt and pepper. I'm sure I will make both of these dishes in the future so perhaps I'll post a caponata recipe some other time as recipe posting was not supposed to be part of this week.

Day 4 may need to involve something spicy. I think I know what's next on the agenda but I'll keep it quiet for now...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Planet VeGMeL week (Part 2) - Easy as Vegan Pie Spanikopita

Carla's blog has been one of my favourites on Planet VeGMeL for quite some time. The photography is always stunning and the recipes simple to follow but very tasty. A few of the Easy as Vegan Pie recipes that have been big hits are Roast Vegie Cheesy Pie, Lentil Stew, Roasted Cauliflower and Caramelised Onion Tart and some of the Yotam Ottolenghi salads.

Carla's spanikopita pie has been on my list to try for quite some time and the main reason it hasn't been done yet is due to a previous filo/phyllo mishap on my first spanakopita attempt. At the time I swore that spanakopita or any other recipe requiring filo would never be made again despite it being devoured and adored. That was some time ago now so it was time to face my filo fears and have my first attempt at a vegan spanakopita.

During the construction of this pie I realised that my former filo woes were probably magnified by the fact that I didn't have a proper pie dish at the time. My recollections of that last disaster were trying to line filo sheets in a loaf pan and that was no mean feat. I made a couple of minor additions which was to fry an onion and the garlic (I doubled the quantity) prior to adding them to the tofu/spinach mixture. By the 30 minute mark, the top of the pie looked ready however peeking through the holes in the bottom of the pie tin showed that the bottom layer of pastry wasn't equally cooked. This made me decide to move the pie dish to the lower rack of the oven for the last 10 minutes of baking.

The spanikopita was served with a Greek Country salad (minus the feta) from Stephanie Alexander's The Cooks Companion. For someone whose taste is currently impaired, this pie was surprisingly flavoursome. Another big thumbs up from me for Carla's pies!!!

Fingers crossed my taste buds are getting back to normal for day 3 of Planet VeGMel week...

Planet VeGMeL week (Part 1) - GGG Walnut and rice nutroast with a mashed potato crust

Several times I have attempted to recall the first time that my recipe searching brought me to a blog on Planet VeGMeL and I'm almost certain it was when I was searching for a nut roast recipe a couple of years ago. I was totally amazed with the variety of recipes when I stumbled across Johanna's nut roast round up and it was quite a tough decision to pick one to try from the list. If my memory serves me right it was the cheesy nut roast that I selected and thoroughly enjoyed on more than one occasion.

Johanna's posts are always an enjoyable read, full of colourful photos and inventive recipes. Some other recipes I have tried from GGG are Zucchini Koftas (which became when our favourite zucchini recipe a year ago when I had an enormous supply in my garden), Mushroom and chocolate risotto, Mexicali Pie and more recently a veganised version of Broccoli Burgers. There are still plenty of recipes I have bookmarked to try including Haggis, Pea Pate, Chickpea, lemon and mint soup plus many more.

Through GGG I have also discovered other bloggers around the world that I now read regularly and enjoy recipes from such as Lisa's Vegetarian Kitchen, Eat me delicious, Diet, dessert and dogs and Fat Free Vegan.

As the first recipe that brought me to VeGMeL was a nut roast I decided one of Joanna's nut roasts would a perfect way to kick off my Planet VeGMeL week. After some deliberation I selected the walnut and rice nut roast, the mashed potato topping was the selling point as I had a feeling it would fare well with my audience.

This was a fairly straight forward meal to bake especially given my walnuts were already shelled, unlike Johanna. There were a few ingredients that needed to be modified in order to make it vegan so the eggs were replaced with a flax seed and water mix and the milk and butter in the mashed potatoes were subbed with soy milk and nutritional yeast. The other minor addition I made was to add a couple of cloves of crushed garlic to the onions when they were almost ready. I was a little concerned with the consistency of the filling as it was quite sloppy and I don't have a 20cm square tin so it was placed into a 24cm round Pyrex dish instead. When it came to serving, it still wasn't as robust as I would have liked, but I did find that it had firmed up lot more by the time I went back for a second helping.

The Nut Roast was served with Mushroom Gravy from Veganomicon and some roasted carrots and steamed broccoli. The nut roast was a very hearty filling meal and the mushroom gravy was a nice complimentary partner although some other people were more interested in trying it with tomato sauce. It probably wasn't my favourite nut roast I have tried however my taste buds have been dampened somewhat due to an annoying case of the sniffles.

During the day I had some thoughts about this week of cooking and the ways it could backfire and realised that it may not be easy after all. For starters, what if I totally stuffed up the recipe and then had to take a photo and blog about something that hadn't worked. And the other more pressing concern I had was, what if I don't like the recipes that I make as the last thing I was intending to do with this week of blogging was to post a negative review about someone's recipe. One thing I didn't anticipate was the issue that just happened which was technology based. The memory card for my camera has been a little flaky recently and it chose last night to cease working. Just as I was finishing off my post and about to upload a photo. How typical!!! So I decided to hold off publishing until my technology woes were rectified and the post was complete with picture in tow.

This week of blogging may not turn out to be quite as easy as I first thought, however I will remain committed to seeing it through to completion... Who's up next?

Quick update: The man didn't try this until lunchtime today and really loved it so I must try this again when I have my full senses back!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pizza and the week ahead

When pizza was mentioned as a potential dinner option I was presented with an interesting topping idea by hubby who shall from now on be referred to as "the man". He suggested that my gnocchi pasta sauce would taste nice on a pizza and I thought to myself it could work actually and decided to give it a shot. There was a bit of confusion between me and the man as he didn't just mean the sauce as the topping but some gnocchi as well. There just wasn't enough time to pull this off in a timely manner but it might get a guernsey one day.

The first pizza had a layer of tomato pizza sauce with garlic and herbs, red onion, mushrooms, red capsicum, chorizo, cheezly and a drizzle of Veganomicon BBQ sauce and the second pizza had a batch of my creamy pesto pasta sauce and some cheezly. Both pizza were very tasty however my favourite tonight was the creamy pesto pasta sauce pizza. The bases tonight weren't the best I have made so I won't bother posting the recipe used. 

In other news, I have decided to set myself a little challenge for this week in an attempt to keep my blogging momentum going and in doing so will be paying homage to some of the Planet VeGMeL bloggers who have inspired me over the last couple of years. My simple rules for the week are that I will make something from a Planet VeGMeL blog every day that I haven't cooked before. I figure that this won't be a terribly time consuming task from a blogging point of view as I won't need to write up the recipes. Tomorrow will mark the first day of Planet VeGMeL week, I'm still wondering who should be first on my hit list??? Stay tuned...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gnocchi with a veganised pasta sauce

A couple of weeks ago when I blogged about home-made cannelloni, I realised later that I had told a fib. It wasn't an intentional lie but I mentioned that I hadn't attempted home-made pasta before which wasn't true at all! Gnocchi is the one type of pasta I have had past experience with making and as it has been a while since my last batch, it was on the menu tonight.

When I looked up the old recipe that had always worked for me in the past, I was delighted to find it was already vegan. On previous occasions when I had gone to the trouble of making gnocchi from scratch, I would normally serve it with a basic napoli sauce loaded with fresh basil. Other times when I would purchase ready-made gnocchi, there was a sauce that I made up which we all used to love. There was one slight problem with this now, it's not vegan as it used to be made with cream and parmesan cheese so I decided it was time to have a go at veganising it and making it taste as close to the vegetarian equivalent as possible.

I had some thoughts on how to achieve this and apart from playing with the quantities of certain ingredients, it all went according to plan. The result was delicious, the gnocchi was just as soft and perfect as always and the sauce turned out tasting almost identical to my previous concoction. It was quite a rich and very filling dinner which will definitely be repeated in the future. 

Creamy pesto pasta sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 spring onions, sliced
2 cloves crushed garlic
8 mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons vegan pesto (home-made is best)
4 tablespoons tofutti cream cheese
4 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 cup soy milk (add more for a thinner sauce)
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, drained of excess oil
100g baby spinach leaves

Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, add the spring onions and cook for a couple of minutes or until starting to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds.

Mix the mushrooms though and cook until softened and their juices are released. Continue to cook until most of the mushroom juices have evaporated.

Add the vegan pesto, tofutti cream cheese, nutritional yeast flakes, soy milk and sun-dried tomates and stir for a couple of minutes until heated through.

Stir through the baby spinach leaves until just wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Viva Chorizo Sausages (and some Paella)

The best thing to come out of Viva Vegan for our household so far is the Chorizo Sausage recipe. All three of us were blown away by how tasty and spicy these snags are, they are without a doubt the best vegan sausages we have eaten. After initially trialling the recipe late last year, I made sure that we always had a supply in the fridge until my gluten flour supply ran out and the local health food store was out of of stock for several weeks...

It was a joyous Saturday morning at the health food store when my eyes zoomed in on the spot that had been empty and saw that gluten flour was back in stock. I greedily snatched up more bags than I would normally purchase as I wanted to make damn sure that I didn't run out again! Although there was a busy day of house painting ahead, I still managed to squeeze in some time to a cook up a batch of chorizo. There were no if or buts about this, I simply had to make them as they taste best when prepared a day in advance and it was essential that they were a part of our Sunday brunch.

I was torn between using them in muffins as I had done last month or a tofu scramble and decided to go with the latter. The scramble was a fry-up of red onion, garlic, mushrooms, kidney beans, spinach, chorizo, nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, cumin, soy sauce, pepper and of course tofu. This turned out to be a very tasty scramble, with lovely smoky flavours and subtle spiciness from the chorizo.

Only last week I sent the chorizo recipe to my sister and gave her a few suggestions on different ways to use it - one of which was paella. I'm not sure how I came up with this suggestion as I haven't tried using it in paella before, in fact I have only ever cooked and eaten paella on one other occasion. My son surprised me when I last made paella with arborio rice as he enjoyed it however he doesn't like risotto and his reason is that he doesn't like that kind of rice. Go figure that one out!

So paella was to be on the menu and I decided to wing it with my own ingredients and method. I consulted a few varying recipes on the web and my cookbooks, none of which had the complete combination that already seemed to have been formulated in my mind. There were some handy tips around and interesting information about paella combinations that originate from differing regions in Spain.

The paella was quite successful, however next time I might add a little more chorizo. The roasted eggplant and capsicum worked really well with the smoked paprika and chorizo, and the squeeze of lemon was the perfect finishing touch. The chickpeas were a last minute thought and addition and I would use them again too. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it and there are plenty of left-overs for lunch today!

Chorizo Seitan Sausages (From Terry Hope Romero's Viva Vegan, modified slightly)

1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
4 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 2/3 cups gluten flour
1/4 cup chickpea flour
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
4 teaspoons smoked paprika
4 teaspoons chipotle chilli powder
3 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 180C.

In a small bowl, whisk together the stock, tomato paste, olive oil, vinegar and garlic.

In a large bowl, combine the gluten flour, besan, nutritional yeast flakes, smoked paprika, chilli powder, oregano, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper and form a well in the centre.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the well and stir with a spatula until mixed thoroughly. Knead the dough for 3 minutes to develop the gluten, let it rest for 10 minutes then knead again for another 2 minutes.

Divide the dough into equal pieces. If you want to make large sausages for slicing up and adding to meals divide into 6 pieces or for modest sized snags that fit nicely into a piece of bread divide into 10-12 pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a sausage shape and wrap in aluminium foil, fairly securely but with enough room for the sausage to expand a little whilst cooking. Twist the foil at each end. Repeat for each sausage.

Place the foil covered sausages directly onto the middle rack of the oven and bake for 35 minutes. Allow the sausages to cool for at least 40 minutes before using. For best texture and flavour, chill overnight. They keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge or can be frozen for longer periods.

Cook whole sausages on a BBQ or in a frying pan with a little bit of oil or slice sausages into rounds and cook in a frying pan with some oil until lightly browned.

Vegie Paella with Chorizo

1 medium eggplant
2 small red capsicums, seeded, membrane removed and each one cut in quarters
Olive oil spray
10 saffron threads
Boiling water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves crushed garlic
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
3 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
150g mushrooms, sliced
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme leaves
750mls (3 cups) vegetable stock
1/4 quantity chorizo recipe above, sliced
1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen peas
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh chopped parsley, to serve
lemon wedges, to serve

Preheat oven to 200C. Dice the eggplant into 2cm cubes, place into a large dish in a single layer, sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for 20-30 minutes. Pat the eggplant dry with paper towels, then place on a roasting tray lined with baking paper. Spray the eggplant with olive oil spray,  add the capsicum to the tray and bake for about 20-30 minutes or until softened. When the capsicum has cooled, peel off the skin and chop into bite sized pieces.

With a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron threads to a powder then add a small amount of boiling water and mix well.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large bottomed saucepan (or paella pan if you have one), fry the onion until softened then add the garlic and cook for a minute longer. Add the rice and saffron/water mixture and stir until the rice is evenly coated. Mix through the tomatoes, mushrooms, smoked paprika, lemon thyme and vegetable stock, bring to the boil then reduce the heat slightly. After 10 minutes of rapid cooking, reduce the heat again. Do not stir during this time.

In a medium frying pan, add some olive oil or olive oil spray and fry the chorizo slices on each side until browned.

After 20 minutes of cooking the rice, test a little to see if it is cooked. When the rice is ready, stir through the eggplant, capsicum, chorizo, chickpeas and peas and cook for a minute until the peas have thawed. A crust should have developed on the bottom of the pan.

Serve with parsley and a squeeze of lemon.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Lemony Roasted Potatoes, BBQ Baked Tofu plus more for a birthday dinner

About a week prior to my son's birthday I asked him some very important questions, and they had nothing to do with presents! What would you like to eat for your birthday dinner? What sort of cake would you like me to make for you?

A little bit of thought went into the dinner and as there was no immediate definitive response I encouraged him to look through the expanding index of meals I have cooked. BBQ Baked Tofu became the first request, followed by Lemony Roasted Potatoes and also my sister's roasted vegie mix. The cake was a no brainer - plain chocolate.

BBQ Baked Tofu was a cinch as there is still an ample supply of home-made BBQ sauce from a couple of weeks ago. The roasted vegie mix that has been featuring lately is diced beetroot, sweet potato, red capsicum and red onion cooked with olive oil and salt. This was introduced to us at Christmas time with extra additions such as a tin of chickpeas tossed through the vegies at the end and fried haloumi for the non-vegans. I was a little disappointed with this last night as my beetroot weren't as juicy as they have been on previous occasions which made an impact on the final result.

After purchasing Veganomicon, Lemony Roasted Potatoes was a recipe that I initially bookmarked. On several evenings whilst preparing dinner and intending to make this, I either got the timing of preparing this with other dishes wrong or had more than enough food for the night so I didn't bother. Until about a week ago... I re-tried the Chickpea cutlets from Veganomicon which are just OK for me but not really a stand-out (and that's after trying them baked and fried). After flicking to the recipe and noticing that they pair well with Lemony Roasted Potatoes, I decided to give these babies a go. I must admit that I was a little tentative about making them after the Green Pea and Lemon risotto failure a few weeks back as lemon flavours around here can be a hit or miss. Goes to show that you should keep trying new things though as hubby and son both loved them as did I!

So this being the second time around making these tasty spuds, I made a couple of minor adjustments to the recipe. Both times I have halved the amounts as it's plenty for the 3 of us. This time I omitted the stock as there seems to be enough marinade without it and also upped the salt quantity slightly to compensate. I tried to keep a close eye on cooking times for recording purposes as the recipe seems to understate these and also increased the oven temperature a little.

The finished plate above consisted of BBQ Baked Tofu, Lemony Roasted Potatoes, roasted beetroot, sweet potato, capsicum and red onion and some steamed spinach with home-made pesto tossed through. To sum it up, this was another delicious dinner with differing elements that worked well together and was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

I have mentioned before that I'm not really much of a sweets person and haven't done a lot of baking over the past few years. From memory, the catalyst was two failed birthday cakes in two successive years. That was enough to dampen my confidence in this department, until recently...

The attitude I have adopted of late is to try out as many new things as possible, broaden the range of vegetables I use whilst keeping them seasonal, and face my cooking fears so the latter has meant that cake/muffin baking has been back. This simple vegan chocolate cake popped up in my google search and turned out pretty well, nice and moist from the olive oil but not too rich and heavy. 

Birthday dinner was a success - phew!!!

Lemony Roasted Potatoes (Adapted from Veganomicon)

3 medium-sized potatoes (about 600g)
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves crushed garlic
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon tomato paste (or sauce)
Ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 200F. Peel the potatoes and chop into wedges.

Combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, oregano, salt, tomato paste and pepper in a large baking dish. The dish should be large enough to hold the potatoes in a single layer. Mix the potatoes though the sauce ensuring they get a good coating. Cover the baking dish with foil, place in the oven and cook for 45 minutes or until the potatoes are becoming tender. During this period, remove the dish from the oven a few times to give the potatoes a good stir.

Uncover the dish and bake for a final 20-30 minutes until the sauce has evaporated and the potatoes are browning on their edges.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tofu Chicharrone Nachos (and a missing cat)

This post has certainly been a long time coming! My life has been a bit chaotic over the past week which started when our cat went missing for 2.5 days. After frantically searching and calling for him we resorted to a mailbox drop in the hope that someone in the neighbourhood would give us news of where our dear friend was. A couple of hours after dropping off leaflets, poor Monty turned up looking and smelling awful. We had no alternative but to take him to an emergency 24 hour vet which probably saved his life as it turned out that he had a severe Urinary Tract Infection caused by an E-coli bacteria. Days later (and plenty of dollars too) he has almost fully recovered so life can continue to go on...

When Michael posted Tofu Chicharrones from Viva Vegan last week, they went straight to the top of my "Make Now" list. It's fantastic when bloggers give recipes from cookbooks on your shelf a glowing review and add their comments about making the recipe (in this case what was most helpful was upping the amount of marinade as the tofu really soaks it up). When the cookbook in question has a limited number of pics in the centre, seeing someone else's photo of their finished result can give you that extra incentive to try it out.

Michael and Cindy served their chicharrones in a healthy fashion which looked delicious and appeared to be a wise move, however as my boys had been nacho deprived for a very long time I decided to reward them with a calorie and fat-laden dinner. I generally cook quite healthy meals, opting to cut back on oil when a recipe calls for an excessive amount to be used and prefer to bake rather than fry. It was rather frustrating but not surprising that they both rated it as their favourite dinner I have cooked lately.

I flicked through Viva Vegan to see what else could be incorporated into this meal and decided to make the Simple Latin Tomato Sauce and the Cashew Crema for our vegan sour cream. When making nachos I usually make a tomato, kidney bean and vegie chunky hot salsa for one of the toppings but I couldn't find anything similar in Viva Vegan. The Latin tomato sauce recipe sounded like it could fit in so I decided to make this with a few changes. The main alterations I made were 2 cobs of corn kernels, a diced red capsicum, a bit of chipotle chilli powder and some tomato paste to thicken up the sauce.

The Cashew Crema was a big hit amongst us all too! My previous home-made vegan sour cream attempts have been tofu based and aren't too bad but this cashew crema tore the others to shreds.

My completed plate of Nachos consisted of a layer of corn chips topped with some melted cheezly, the tomato sauce and tofu chicharrones with cashew crema and guacamole on the side. Yum!!!

The left-over chicharrones were used in a tofu scramble and they worked really well here too. Didn't get a pic of this so you'll have to take my word for it ;-)

Simple Latin Tomato Sauce (Adapted from Viva Vegan)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 minced garlic cloves
1 small brown onion, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons died oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chipotle chilli powder
1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes
2 cobs corn, kernels
1 red capsicum, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until sizzling, then add the onion and fry for about 5 minutes until the onion becomes golden and transparent.

Stir in the oregano, cumin and chipotle chilli powder and fry for 30 seconds or until becoming fragrant. Pour in the tin of tomatoes, tomato paste, corn kernels and capsicum and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables have softened.

Add the lime juice, season with salt and pepper to taste and remove from the heat.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Eggplant Chickpea Curry and a Red Lentil Dhal

It's been a distracting day as my mind has been caught up with the impending Cyclone Yasi due to hit tropical North Queensland later tonight. Last night's dinner was a huge success however rather than writing it up I would rather post tonight's and dedicate it to my sister and husband who are bunkered down in Cairns as I know they enjoy a curry.

When Susan posted a curry recipe with roasted eggplant, capsicum and chickpeas this week I immediately made plans to cook it this week. As the eggplant was roasted first, I thought why not roast the capsicum as well. The next question was what to pair it with which was an easy answer for me - dhal!

Dhal has been a favourite of mine for so many years and I have tried so many varieties using different lentils, beans and split peas. I'm not sure that I have a preference for one recipe over another and usually alternate between which one I cook (when I'm not trying new ones). Tonight I decided to go with the first dhal I ever cooked although I have modified both the ingredients and cooking method over the years.

The eggplant curry was nice however I would like to try it again using the pre-roasted eggplants but I may change the spice blend around a little next time.

My thoughts tonight are with my sister, brother-in-law and some close friends in Cairns with young children (as well as the rest of the people in far North Queensland). I hope to hear good news from my family and friends tomorrow...

Red Lentil Dhal (Adapted from Curry & Chilli Cookbook)

1 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained
2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 large green chilli, seeded and finely choppped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 tomatoes, chopped
Salt, to taste
50-100g fresh spinach leaves

Place the lentils, turmeric and stock in a medium sized saucepan, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Stir occasionally, and add more water if the lentils are sticking to the bottom.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the onion and cook for a few minutes until softened. Add the garlic, chilli, coriander and cumin and cook, stirring for a minute until fragrant. Stir through the chopped tomatoes and cook for a few minutes until the tomatoes are beginning to soften.

Stir the onion & tomato mixture through the lentils, season to taste and mix in the spinach leaves until wilted.

Choc-Orange Muffins

When the batch of rum balls from a couple of weeks ago finally ran out it was time to make something else for the sweet tooths in the house. Muffins are something I have been baking a bit lately as they are larger than a cupcake, which is more satisfying for hungry boys and it doesn't seem to matter if you go the extra mile and finish them off with icing if you are pressed for time. Some of my recent muffins varieties have included Lemon Cranberry, Orange Cranberry as well as a favourite Chocolate Orange cake recipe that has also been converted into muffins. This is a lovely light recipe that doesn't make you feel too guilty about consuming them as there are no added fats (only sugar), and the light flavour of orange combined with chocolate is delicious.

Whilst preparing the mixture, I was thinking about the first time that I baked this cake after discovering it on Susan's blog - this was my first visit of many to her popular blog. It was mid last year and I was searching for something to bake for hubby's birthday and both chocolate and oranges had been in mind. Why oranges? Hang on a sec, there was even more behind the discovery of this recipe. Which lead me to a moment of sadness as I realised the first time I made this cake was the last time I was to utilise oranges from the prolific tree in our backyard...

The dear old tree used to be situated next to our shed and it was quite traumatic to pull it down to make way for our house extension. It wasn't our only backyard casualty however it was was the hardest to deal with. For years we had been provided with a bounty of oranges every winter and the tree had asked for so little in return. Very rarely was it watered, fed or maintained but it was so well established that it would keep on producing nonetheless. I'm sure that whenever I bake these muffins or the cake in the future I will always cherish the memory of our tree...

I tracked down a picture taken of the old darling on her last day alive :(

Choc-Orange Muffins (Adapted from Susan)
Makes 18-20 muffins

1 1/2 cups white flour
1 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
1 1/2 cups raw sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder (This was an addition to make them rise more as per other muffin recipes)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup soy milk (Susan uses soy yoghurt which I never have on hand, soy milk works fine for me)
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons grated orange zest

1 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 teaspoons orange juice (more as required)

Preheat oven to 180C.

Place the white flour, wholemeal flour, raw sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cocoa, and cinnamon in a large bowl and mix until combined. Mix the soy milk, vanilla essence, balsamic vinegar, water, orange juice and zest in a smaller bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and beat by hand or with a mixer on low speed until well combined.

Place muffin sized papers in a muffin tray and fill each paper about 3/4 full. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a small skewer comes out clean.

For the icing, place a cup of icing sugar in a bowl. Add a teaspoon of vanilla essence and 2 teaspoons of orange juice. Mix until combined and add additional orange juice slowly until the icing reaches a smooth consistency.