Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Tahini shortbread cookies

September 12, 2020

For the weekend's lockdown baking, I wanted to keep it low-key. I was trying to remember what the second great Ottolenghi cookie was that we had at that summer barbecue; I was pretty sure it had tahini in it and that the recipe would be available online. I'm not convinced that I actually found the same thing, but these tahini cookies were the closest match to my memory.

In their favour, these cookies are easily made vegan, can be prepared by hand in a single bowl when vegan, and have ingredients that I usually stock. However, I was dredging the bottom of the tahini jar where the oil had separated from the solids, and I didn't successfully smooth out all the lumps in the dough when I was mixing by fork. The extra little pockets of tahini in the finished cookies were pretty fun, like a burst of halva.

Otherwise these are just simple shortbread cookies with a welcome extra flavour, easily baked within an hour and popped in an airtight container to share with a friend or snack on mid-afternoon. Their major rival in my baking repertoire is this recipe, which I'll generally prefer but for the effort of buying macadamias.

Tahini shortbread cookies
(adapted from Welcome Ba(c)kery,
where it's credited to Ottolenghi & Tamimi's Jerusalem)

150g margarine
130g caster sugar
110g tahini
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
270g plain flour

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line baking trays with paper.

In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and sugar - you can use an electric mixer, or simply a fork. Beat in the tahini, vanilla and cinnamon. Ideally the mixture would be smooth, but don't worry if it's difficult to smooth out every last lump of tahini. Sift in the plain flour, and mix well to form a dough.

You're supposed to give the dough a bit of a knead, but I was lazy and went straight to forming biscuit balls. Take generous teaspoons of the dough and form them into spheres 1.5-2 cm in diameter. My dough was a bit crumbly and I found a pressing action using my fingertips a bit more effective than the usual rolling between my palms. Space the dough balls out on the baking trays, and lightly press them down with a fork to slightly flatten them. Bake for 15 minutes, then cool on a tray.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Kylie Kwong's crispy skin duck

August 30, 2020

I bought some of the new-ish Woolies brand mock-duck on a recent grocery trip, without a specific plan for what to do with it. Over the course of a couple days, I remembered the excellent orange duck that our mate Steph has shared with us at one or two Lunar New Year potlucks. I even had her zine tucked away, and sure enough, Kylie Kwong's crispy skin duck appeared on the first page. I wasn't inclined to halve such a good recipe, so I sent Michael back to the supermarket a week later for a second pack of vegan duck.

Spice rubs, hours of marinating and batches of deep-frying are a lot of effort, but I suppose us stage 4-ers have the time, and it really wasn't a bother at all. Our duck turned out a little too salty, and I'll make a more thorough effort to wipe it down after marinating and before chopping. (I might even give it a light rinse, I reckon mock duck can take it!) I used a mixture of two vegan fish sauces that we had stored away - I found the Red Lotus brand much more pungent than the Vincent version (and then there's always the option of making your own).

We served our mock-duck with brown rice and stir-fried green vegetables, confident that the orange sauce had plenty of flavour to extend across the plate. 

Kylie Kwong's crispy skin duck
(as shared by Steph; also available from SBS Food)

1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
2 tablespoons salt
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
250g fruit (ripe blood plums, blood oranges or oranges in order of recommendation)
2/3 cup vegan fish sauce
6 whole star anise
2 cinnamon quills
juice of 2 limes
800g vegan duck
a bunch of plain flour
vegetable oil (we used peanut oil)

Grind together the peppercorns and salt. Rub the salt into the duck, and leave it to marinate for a few hours.

Bring the water and sugar to the boil, and reduce them to a simmer for 5 minutes. Prepare the fruit by removing any stones and chopping into large segments. Add the fruit to the sugar syrup, then add the vegan fish sauce, star anise, and cinnamon. Simmer for several more minutes, then turn off the heat and add the lime juice. 

Gently wipe/rinse the salt off the duck and chop the duck into thick but bite-sized pieces. Toss them in flour (I shake them around in a large lidded bowl) until well coated. Heat a centimetre or two of oil in a frypan, and shallow/deep-fry the duck in batches. I rested mine on absorbent paper towel. 

Serve the duck in a large bowl, with the sauce poured over the top.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Roasted tomato & white bean stew

 August 29, 2020

When I saw Rach's tweet about a white bean stew that had become her 2020 cooking obsession, I immediately added it to our list for the week ahead. It promised the perfect mix: low effort and high reward. And it delivered. This is super easy - you can put it all together in half an hour - and it's really, really good. White beans provide a rich, hearty base, while the tomatoes add a touch of sweetness and the lemon/parley mix some tang. You can boost or reduce the spiciness via how generous you are with the chilli flakes - I'd use a heavy hand, but your tastes may vary. The only downside: the quantities as written don't make enough to give us the days of leftovers we're looking for from a stew. Next time we'll double it.

Roasted tomato & white bean stew
(via this recipe on the New York Times Cooking site)

1 punnet of cherry tomatoes (~300g)
1/4 cup olive oil + 2 tablespoons
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
the leaves from 1 small bunch of parsley
zest of 1 large lemon
1 onion, sliced thinly
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
2 x 400g cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1.5 cups veggie stock
salt and pepper
bread to serve (it would work equally well with quinoa or rice I reckon)

Preheat the oven to 220°C. 

Mix the tomatoes, oil and thyme leaves in a baking tray and roast for 25 minutes, until the tomatoes are collapsing.

In a small bowl, combine the parsley leaves with the lemon zest and set aside.

While the tomatoes are cooking, get to work on your stew. Pop the 2 tablespoons of oil, onion, garlic and chilli flakes in a large pot over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes or so, until everything has softened up nicely.

Throw in the beans and the stock and bring the stew to a simmer. Mash up some of the beans to thicken the stew - the more you mash, the thicker the stew will be. 

Once the tomatoes are ready, thrown them in the stew, along with any juices. Simmer for another 5 minutes and then season with salt and pepper. 

Serve in shallow bowls, topped with a couple of spoonfuls of the parsley and lemon mix. Serve with toasted fresh bread. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Dolla's (husband's) cheesecake
goes vegan, gets frozen

August 22-24, 2020

Speaking of mock dairy, I've been saving up a can of sweetened condensed coconut milk. The last time I used condensed milk was for a cheesecake, and I thought it would be fun to try veganising that recipe. This provided me with an excuse to buy that new-ish vegan cream cheese I like again too.

The last small vegan conversion challenge was choosing a biscuit to crush for the base. I chose Arnott's Nice as a decent analogue of the Milk Coffee biscuits in the original recipe, but I also noticed that Arnott's Gingernuts and Choc Ripple biscuits are vegan. They definitely invite some flavour adaptations to this base recipe, like cookies and cream, or ginger, coconut and lime.

Since we're still not in much of a situation to share food, I halved the recipe again, this time forming it a loaf tin. I bought fresh blueberries to try the topping option I didn't have the first time around. Everything came together well and I refrigerated the cheesecake overnight to set. It didn't set. I switched the cheesecake to the freezer for another day, where it set better than I dared expect! It was colder than planned, of course, but also very creamy, not at all icy, and tangy with lemon juice.

I don't particularly have any bright ideas for setting this cheesecake at room temperature, and I'm in not rush for a solution. The frozen cheesecake is remarkable, and is only going to be more appealing as spring comes our way.

Dolla's (husband's) cheesecake goes vegan, gets frozen
(veganised from this recipe)

200g Nice or other vegan biscuits (e.g. gingernuts or choc ripple)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
160g margaine

2 x 250g vegan cream cheese (I used Made With Plants)
2 x 320g cans vegan sweetened condensed milk (I used Pandaroo)
juice from 4 lemons

topping option 1
400g blueberries

topping option 2
finely sliced rind of 2 lemons
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup caster sugar

Fold the biscuits between two sheets of baking paper and smash them to crumbs with a rolling pin. Pour the crumbs into a bowl and stir through the cinnamon. Melt the margarine in a small saucepan and pour it over the biscuit crumbs, stirring to thoroughly combine. 

If you're able to, reuse the baking paper to line a 22cm springform cake pan, adding extra as needed. Spray the pan with oil. Press the biscuit crumbs into the cake pan, forming a wall up the sides of the pan as well as covering the base completely. Refrigerate the base.

Use a food processor or electric beater to combine the cream cheese, condensed milk and lemon juice, until they are completely mixed and smooth. Pour the filling over the base and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, ideally overnight.

For topping option 1, place the blueberries on the top of the cheesecake when it's ready to serve.

For topping option 2, remove as much pith and pulp as you can from the lemon rind. Place the rind, water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring them to the boil, allowing the syrup to thicken. Arrange the rind and syrup over the cheesecake when it's ready to serve.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Pastitsio / παστίτσιο

August 22, 2020

It's been a long, homely winter and we've been cooking a lot of comfort food, including a couple of tempeh lasagne trays to deliver to friends. It got me thinking about other pasta bakes, and after some internet browsing I got particularly into the idea of trying pastitsio. From there I had a resource much better than the internet - my friend Natalie enthusiastically shared her family's recipe for this Greek dish, including the adaptations her vegetarian mum has been making for decades.

Pastitsio starts with a layer of tubular pasta, seasoned with feta. The pasta is topped with a tomato and beef mince sauce, then covered with bechamel sauce and cheese. The easiest way to make this dish vegetarian is simply to use mock beef mince - Natalie's mum has been known to do this, and I was also happy to make a rare purchase of one of those mince packs that made a big splash in the supermarket meat fridges a year or two ago. With eggs, butter, two kinds of cheese and almost a litre of milk involved, veganising pastitsio is a tougher ask but there are recipes out there and it's only getting easier, the way mock dairy options are proliferating.

While I'm very pleased with my first attempt, I've got some tweaks to make. I straight-up forgot to buy an onion this time around, and also overlooked the bit where you grease your baking tray. The rigatoni I bought were probably a bit too big; I'm interested to find out if there are better options at Mediterranean Wholesalers. Finally, the baking tray I used wasn't quite high-walled enough to achieve the distinct three layers and I've a different one I can try. 

We're currently living in hope of warmer days and loosening lockdown conditions, so I might not get back to it this winter. It'll be good news if I don't, but a comfort for days if we remain housebound.

Pastitsio / παστίτσιο
(based on a recipe from My Greek Dish,
with lots of helpful advice from my friend Natalie)

pasta layer
400g tubular pasta, e.g. penne (my rigatoni was a bit too big)
110g feta
2 egg whites

'meat' sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
800g mock beef mince (I used 2 x 400g boxes of Naturli')
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole clove
salt and pepper, to taste

110g butter
110g flour
900ml milk
100g Kefalotyri or parmesan, grated
pinch of nutmeg
salt, to taste
2 egg yolks

Start by preparing the 'meat' sauce. Pour the olive oil into a very large frypan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until softened. Add the garlic, tomato paste and mock mince. Use a wooden spoon to break up the mince, then continue to cook and stir for about 5 minutes. Pour over the red wine vinegar and chopped tomatoes, stirring everything together. Stir through the sugar, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, clove, salt and pepper. Bring everything to the boil, then pop the lid on and simmer the sauce for 20-30 minutes, until most of the liquid is evaporated. Remove the bay leaf, cinnamon stick and clove (if you can find them all!). Set the meat sauce aside.

Next, prepare the bechamel. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When the butter is completely melted, whisk in the flour. Add the milk to this flour paste, no more than a cup at a time, whisking almost constantly to maintain a smooth sauce. Bring it just up to the boil so that the sauce thickens, stirring all the way, and then turn off the heat. Stir in half of the grated cheese, then the nutmeg and some salt. Whisk in the eggs, going quickly to ensure they don't cook and separate from the sauce. Set the bechamel sauce and the remaining grated cheese aside.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water, for 2-3 minutes less than directed on the packet. Drain the pasta and crumble in the feta cheese, then whisk through the egg white to evenly coat the pasta.

Preheat an oven to 180°C.

Lightly grease a large high-walled baking tray with oil. Spread all of the pasta mixture across the base of the baking tray. Spoon over all of the meat sauce across the top of the pasta, aiming for even coverage. Pour the bechamel over the mock-meat layer as evenly as you can. Sprinkle over the remaining grated cheese. Bake for around 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Allow the pastitsio to rest for 20 minutes before slicing and serving.