Friday, August 31, 2012

Deconstructed shepherds pie

Deconstructed seems to be a buzz-word in the foodie arena these days. I'm not usually the type of person to keep up with the latest trendy terms yet it seemed to be the perfect description for a dinner we had recently. I had been hunting around for a recipe that used silverbeet (aka. swiss chard) and lentils and then threw in pie as an extra search term for good measure. A recipe for a lentil and swiss chard shepherds pie with onion gravy that Joanne from Eats Well With Others had posted sounded interesting although the recipe was calling out for me to deconstruct it.

Shepherds or cottage pies are very popular at home with everyone but me! I make them fairly regularly to please the boys even though they never really enthuse me. I don't mind these pies on the the night but there are always leftovers and the mashed potato topping tastes pretty awful when it's not freshly made in my opinion. When I discovered this recipe I thought to myself why bother going to the trouble of constructing and baking the pie when the individual components could just as easily be served on their own. The beauty of this idea was that I could make enough mashed potatoes to serve on the night without there being a need for any leftover spuds.

Joanne mentioned that the onion gravy was the highlight of the dish which had grabbed my attention. My gravy making endeavours often end up in the garbage and then the packet mix comes out to ease my frustration. Even though I subbed in dried thyme for fresh, I was very pleased that this turned out to be one of the nicest gravies I have made from scratch. This onion gravy is a recipe I will definitely come back to again and am looking forward to trying with fresh thyme!

Another minor change I made to the process was to utilise the stems of the silverbeet and cook them and the leaves in with the lentils rather than cooking the silverbeet leaves separately and dirtying another pan. The overall meal was hearty and satisfying and I was happy to have leftovers of the lentils and silverbeet and onion gravy and no mashed spuds for a change. Perhaps I won't bother with a fully baked shepherds/cottage pie in the future, deconstructed pies of this kind could be here to stay!

Deconstructed lentil and silverbeet shepherds pie with onion gravy
(Adapted from Eats Well With Others, originally from The Meatlover's Meatless Cookbook)

Wine braised lentils and silverbeet

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 French shallots, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, diced
½ teaspoon dried thyme (or use 1 spring of fresh thyme)
½ cup puy lentils (or use brown/green lentils)
2 tablespoons red wine
¾ - 1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt
400g silverbeet, stalks diced and leaves roughly chopped

Heat the olive oil in a deep sided frying pan on medium heat, add the shallots, garlic, carrot and thyme and fry for about 5 minutes or until slightly softened. Stir through the lentils followed by the red wine and increase the heat to cook off the wine. Pour in ¾ cup of water, bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Add more water if the lentils are drying out during this time. In the last 10 minutes of cooking, add the silverbeet stalks. When the lentils are tender, add the salt, stir through the silverbeet leaves and cook for a couple of minutes until just wilted.

Onion Gravy

3 tablespoons dairy-free margarine
2 large onions, sliced into thin half moons
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or use 2 sprigs of fresh thyme)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon cornflour mixed with 1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon salt
pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce

Melt the dairy free margarine in a large frying pan over medium-low heat. Stir though the onions and thyme and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook for 5 minutes. Pour in the water and increase the heat to an active simmer. After the liquid has reduced by half, stir through the cornflour/water mixture and turn the heat to low. Cook for another 5 minutes then season with salt, sugar and soy sauce.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

700g potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups water
1 tablespoon dairy-free margarine
couple of splashes of soy milk

Place the potatoes in a saucepan with the garlic, salt and water. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Drain the potatoes in a colander. If you have a potato ricer, press the potatoes and the garlic through a potato ricer into a large bowl. Stir through the dairy free margarine and a few splashes of soy milk. Alternatively use a potato masher to mash the potatoes, garlic, dairy free margarine and soy milk together.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Perfect pizza

On weeknights I tend to cook relatively healthy meals most of the time which means I don't mind having a splurge on something a little less healthy on the weekends. Pizza and calzones are examples of the more indulgent meals that we enjoy on these occasions. Last weekend I had a vague plan to make pizza and wanted to use up some beetroots so I made another batch of beetroot pepperoni on Friday night.

The following day I noticed our freezer was half full of mock meat from a shopping expedition to Vincent Vegetarian Food over six months ago and realised that I had never tried any of these mock meat products on pizza before. A further scrummage in the fridge revealed some other interesting leftovers I'd forgotten that had potential pizza toppings written all over them - tofu bacon and tempeh burgers. The original plan of a beetroot pepperoni pizza was transforming into a vegan meat lovers pizza before I knew it which sounded even more interesting!

After layering the pizza base with tomato paste, chopped onions and garlic, on went the mushrooms, beetroot pepperoni and tofu bacon. Next up was the "chicken" mock meat, chopped up tempeh burgers, a drizzle of BBQ sauce, followed by a layer of cheezly. This was the tastiest and most delicious vegan pizza that I've made and we all enjoyed it so much. Even though it didn't have the healthiest toppings, it's not a combination I can see happening around here again unless of course I'm graced with the same leftover ingredients at the same time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Four ways with bratwursts

Over the past month we have become smitten with bratwursts, vegan ones of course! My interest in bratwursts began when Joey of Flicking the V's posted about a tasty sounding European stew she had made based on a recipe in The Guardian. A few months later Cindy and Michael of where's the beef wrote a post from their travels in Berlin that gave me a severe case of food envy. They had eaten doner kebabs where the seitan was cooked on a spit and currywurst. I had never heard of currywurst previously but vegan sausages covered with a curry ketchup sauce sounded pretty darn tasty to me.

Now that there were two recipes using bratwurst I was keen on trying, a decent vegan bratwurst recipe was all that I needed. Mihl of Seitan is my Motor came through with the goods in a single post, a currywurst recipe plus seitan bratwurst. The seitan was a little different to others I have made as it included tofu in the mixture, I've seen plenty that incorporate mashed beans but never tofu and my eyes brightened even more when I noticed that it called for smoked tofu! I'm not fond of mashing things to put into seitan as the texture of the dough can be uneven and harder to work with so I chose to whizz the tofu up in my blender with some water instead. The smoked tofu gave the bratwursts a wonderful aroma as well as adding to the flavour.

The bratwurst stew recipe from The Guardian was full of many elements that we usually enjoy although I don't recall pairing mustard with sun-dried tomatoes before. This was a very hearty meal and apart from using finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes rather than a paste, vegan sausages and vegan chicken stock, I didn't change a thing about it. Stews don't usually get my gents enthused although anything with seitan is usually popular so we all enjoyed this meal.

Next up on the cooking agenda was currywurst and chips. It's not meant to be the healthiest of meals and is usually served with fried chips. I lightened it up by serving the saucy sausages with some oven baked potato fries and peas on the side. The currywurst sauce was rather spicy using only a pinch of cayenne so perhaps the curry powder I used gave it some extra heat. This meal was another household success!

A few weeks after the batch of sausages were used up, the man asked if I could make bratwursts for a special request. He was keen to have one of these sausages in a hot dog roll loaded with fried onions, vegan cheese, ketchup and american mustard. This turned out to be a wonderful idea and it was perfect for a quick, not so healthy dinner on a Friday night. I wasn't in the mood to style the hot dog nicely which is why I don't have a photo of this.

I was out of smoked tofu when the second batch of bratwursts were made so I used plain tofu instead and added smoked paprika to the dry ingredient mix which worked out fine. A recipe for bratwurst stroganoff from landed in my rss reader just after I had made the batch and given the perfection of the timing, I had to give it a try. When I read the ingredient list I smirked a little as it was so far from being vegan yet I had bits of leftover cashew cream, tofu bacon in the fridge and of course the seitan sausages to stand in for the animal based products. The man adored my recent attempt at tempeh stroganoff although the young man and I weren't as keen on it so it was great that we all loved this version equally.

All of these recipes were very quick to prepare as the seitan had been prepared at least a day in advance.  Next time I make a batch it will be difficult to decide which way to serve these bratwursts as these 4 ways were all fantastic.

Seitan bratwurst (Adapted from seitan is my motor)
Makes 8 large sausages

2 cups gluten flour
4 tablespoons chickpea flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
4 teaspoons dried marjoram
2 teaspoons onion flakes
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons smoked paprika (if not using smoked tofu)
130g firm tofu (use smoked if possible)
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
400ml cold water

Combine the gluten flour, chickpea flour, nutritional yeast, marjoram, onion flakes, salt, pepper and smoked paprika (if using) together in a large bowl. Place the tofu, garlic and water in a blender and process until no lumps remain. Pour the contents of the blender into the bowl and mix everything together thoroughly.  Knead the dough until it becomes smooth then allow it to rest for 5 minutes.

Briefly knead for 30 seconds then divide the dough into 8 equal sized pieces. Roll each piece into a thin sausage shape, place it in a piece of aluminium foil and wrap it up securely. It's important that there is some room for the sausages to expand whilst cooking so don't wrap them too tightly otherwise they may burst out of the foil.

Place the sausages into a steamer and cook for 30 minutes or cook in the oven at 180C for 30 minutes. Allow them to cool completely then refrigerate overnight before using in recipes.

Currywurst (Adapted from seitan is my motor)

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 seitan bratwurst sausages, cut into 2cm pieces
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons curry powder
pinch cayenne pepper

Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat and add the sausages. Cook until lightly browned then flip over and cook on the other side until browned.

Mix the ketchup, water, soy sauce, curry powder and cayenne pepper together in a small saucepan and cook on a low heat for 1 minute.

Serve the fried sausages topped with the curry ketchup sauce and chips on the side.

Sausage stroganoff (Adapted from

olive oil spray
4 seitan bratwurst sausages, cut into 2cm pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, sliced into thin half moons
3 cloves garlic, minced
350g mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon paprika
¼ cup tomato paste
1 cup vegan beef or vegetable stock (I used Massel beef stock)
8 slices pre-cooked tofu bacon, chopped
¼ cup cashew cream
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
salt and pepper

Heat a deep sided frying pan over medium heat and spray lightly with olive oil. Cook the sausages until lightly browned on one side then flip over and brown lightly on the other side. Transfer the cooked sausages to a plate.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan, add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir through the garlic for a minute, then add the mushrooms and cook until they are soft and beginning to release liquid. Add the paprika, tomato paste, beef/vegetable stock, pre-cooked sausages and tofu bacon and stir thoroughly. Allow it to cook until bubbling then stir though the cashew cream and dill. Season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A series of scrambles (part 2)

The man and I have been holiday deprived for what feels like forever and with a new pup in our care the situation wasn't looking like it was about to change any time soon. Our compromise was to find some pet friendly accommodation and head off for a 5 day long weekend for a bit of relaxation time. We found a suitable cottage for us in Johanna Beach, 30 minutes out of Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road which was a small pocket in that region we had yet to explore.

When it comes to holidaying I like to be prepared when it comes to food. On this occasion I spent all of my time and energy organising meals that the young man could reheat with minimal fuss as he wasn't coming away with us. As we were going to be self catering during the trip it felt like I was relocating most of the kitchen although I did try to be strict and limit our supplies to a few tins of beans, rice, bread, a couple of dried herbs and spices, tofu, soy milk and of course, plenty of fresh fruit and veg. The food I ended up cooking was fairly simple yet it all tasted great. Some of the meals we enjoyed were a thrown together tofu and vegetable curry which lasted a couple of nights, chorizo sausages in hot dog rolls and fried onions, sandwiches for lunches and one of our favourite tofu scrambles.

This Mediterranean styled scramble isn't one of the young man's favourite versions as he detests olives and isn't very fond of sun-dried tomatoes so it was the perfect time for the man and I to have another fix. It was originally made up on a night when there was a household of adolescent males over eating pizza and watching a football game so I wanted to throw something quick together for the two of us. At the time I wasn't sure if I would be able to replicate the meal as I hadn't taken notes or measured anything but it's pretty much worked out the same on a couple of subsequent occasions. I love the flavours of oregano, basil pesto, olives and sun-dried tomatoes in this scramble and the mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach all blend in nicely.

Ollie seemed to enjoy his holiday just as much as we did and loved going to the beach and having his first swim. We also managed to see a few sights like the 12 Apostles and glow worms at night in Melba Gully. It wasn't the longest break but it was wonderful to wind down and recharge our batteries for a bit. Now to catch up on all of those blog posts I've missed reading lately!

This is the second part of my scramble series. Click here to read about my Mexican inspired scramble.

Mediterranean tofu scramble

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small brown onion, sliced into thin half moons
2 cloves garlic, minced
250g mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
350g firm tofu
2 medium tomatoes, diced
15-20 kalamata olives, cut into halves
50g sun-dried tomato slices, drained of excess oil
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
2 teaspoons basil pesto
75g baby spinach leaves
3 spring onions, sliced (optional)
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and fry the onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir through the garlic for a minute then add the mushrooms and cook until soft. Crumble in the tofu followed by the oregano and stir until everything is combined.

 Add the tomatoes, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, water, salt and basil pesto and allow to cook until the tomatoes are soft and almost all of the liquid has evaporated. Stir through the spinach and spring onions (if using) and serve immediately with some freshly cracked black pepper when the spinach has just wilted.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Borscht and pretzels

Borscht has been on my cooking to-do list for such a long time. I'm not quite sure why I wanted to try it so badly, was it the brilliant colour calling out to me or an opportunity to build up my repertoire of beetroot recipes? Certain things about borscht didn't really appeal to me, like serving it cold. Chilled soups are something I'm yet to get my head around and muster the guts to try, perhaps on a hot summer day when it makes a bit more sense. Warm hearty soups are what I need in the middle of winter in Melbourne.

I had been eyeing off a borscht recipe in World Vegetarian Classics for ages yet it seemed a bit too chunky for my liking. A few weeks ago Johanna posted a version that was mostly blended, I preferred the sound of this texture so I used both sources for inspiration and came up with something in between the two. Cashew based creams have been my preferred replacement for dairy sour cream for ages but as there was some silken tofu that needed to be used quickly I whizzed up a tofu/cashew cream to serve with the soup instead.

After sampling pretzels at Gasometer recently, I was keen to give them a try at home and tracked down a recipe on Peas and Thank You. This seemed like the perfect occasion to make them! I was playing a dangerous game by serving soup for dinner (which is generally frowned upon) and thought that some freshly baked pretzels might win me back some brownie points.

Mama Pea's recipe was written using a stand mixer with a dough hook which I don't own so I changed the process around to suit a traditional kneading method and used my prior bread making knowledge and judgement at times. After the dough had been kneaded, rested, rolled out and shaped, the pretzels had to be boiled for 30 seconds prior to baking. This is similar to a step I've read about in bagel recipes. The only problem was that I forgot to add bicarbonate of soda to the boiling water which is supposed to give the pretzels their shine and colour!

Similar to Gasometer's pretzels, I topped mine with coarse sea salt and caraway seeds and served them with vegan mustard butter - a mixture of dairy free margarine and seeded mustard. The boys weren't very keen on the soup but they loved their pretzels. Borscht isn't going to become one of my favourite soups but I did enjoy it's earthy flavour and was happy to eat the leftovers for lunches. On the other hand the pretzels were an absolute highlight that I'll definitely have to make again, perhaps a little shinier next time.     

Borscht - Beetroot soup with kidney beans and cabbage (Adapted from Green Gourmet Giraffe and World Vegetarian Classics)

1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
3 medium (500g) beetroot, diced
1 large (200g) potato, diced
1 large (200g) carrot, diced
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 x 400g tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
¼ small head green cabbage, finely shredded
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
300g silken tofu
½ cup cashews
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
Finely chopped fresh dill, for garnish
Freshly cracked black pepper

Place the onion, garlic, beetroot, potato, carrots, water and salt in a stockpot and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.

Meanwhile place the tofu, cashews, lemon juice and salt in a blender and process until no chunks of cashews remain. Transfer the contents to a bowl and refrigerate. Rinse out the blender.

After the soup has simmered for an hour, transfer batches to the blender and process until smooth. Return the blended soup to the stockpot and reheat gently. Add the kidney beans, cabbage and red wine vinegar and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the cabbage has just softened. Serve garnished with the tofu/cashew cream, dill and freshly cracked black pepper.

Pretzels (Adapted from Peas and Thank You)
Makes 4 large pretzels

1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons raw sugar
1 teaspoon dried yeast
¾ cup lukewarm water
2 ½ cups plain flour
2 tablespoon dairy free margarine, melted
10 cups water
2/3 cup bicarbonate of soda (I forgot to add it this time!)
Coarsely ground sea salt
½-1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Dissolve the salt and sugar in a jug containing ¾ cup lukewarm water and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes or until the yeast starts to look foamy.

Place the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the contents of the jug into the well, followed by the margarine and mix the ingredients with your hands to form a rough dough. Turn the dough out onto a clean floured bench and knead for at least 5 minutes or until the dough is soft and supple. Rest the dough in an oiled bowl covered with a tea towel for 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

Cut the dough into 4 equal sized pieces. Roll each piece of dough out into long thin strands using your hands, each piece should be approximately 60cm long. Shape each piece of dough into a pretzel knot and press the knots together gently so they do come apart during the boiling process.

Preheat oven to 230C. Bring 10 cups of water plus 2/3 cup bicarbonate of soda to the boil and line an oven tray with baking paper (I didn't use baking paper and one of the pretzels stuck to the oiled tray so I would highly recommended using it). Gently lower a pretzel into the boiling water and allow to cook for 30 seconds. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon and place on the oven tray. Repeat for the other 3 pretzels.

Bake the pretzels in the oven for 12-14 minutes until golden brown.