Thursday, December 10, 2020

Gluten-free butterless pecan turtle bars

December 5-6, 2020


I've been back adjusting my butter pecan turtle bar recipe again! This time round it was to share with our book club, who were meeting up for an end-of-year celebration - in person for the first time since last February. I wanted to improve on the vegan caramel I attempted a month ago, and try introducing gluten-free flour to the base.

First, the easy bit: Orgran gluten-free flour was a simple substitution. If anything, the base came together more easily than with plain flour. The slice had that tell-tale sandiness that can give away gluten-free baked goods, and didn't quite support the toppings with the same strength. I'll continue to use plain flour when I can, and go ahead with this swap if it'll benefit the group I'm sharing with.

Second, the caramel. To replace the thin liquid of my last batch, I transferred across the thicker formulation from this caramel slice, using a can of Pandaroo coconut condensed milk. It was abundant and oozy! Mildly flavoured, holding together better when refrigerated, an improvement on my last batch but still not developing the chewiness I like best.

I guess a hybrid caramel is in order. If I try half a can of condensed milk and throw in some brown sugar, I'm hoping I'll be on my way to a more deeply coloured and flavoured, chewy-set caramel to match the original non-vegan recipe.


Thursday, December 03, 2020

Blueberry & cream cheese crostata

 November 28-29, 2020


For the first time in more than a year, our Ottolenghi cooking club met in person and shared food together. In a common pattern for our club, I volunteered for dessert duty early and with enthusiasm. The most appetising, picnic-friendly recipe I could find was this blueberry and cream cheese crostata, which was published online to coincide with Fourth of July festivities.

It starts with a shortcrust pastry that's very heavy on the butter - I found that it absorbed the full quantity of flour without including any of the water in the recipe. I'm a devotee of food-processed shortcrusts but I washed my hands thoroughly and dug in as directed here - it worked out fine, though I'm not confident it was worth the extra messiness. The dough was sticky and challenging to handle on a hot day, and I'm glad it was always intended to look a little rough around the edges.

The shortcrust pastry is topped with a cheesecakey layer, tangy with lots of lime juice and zest, and then macerated and slightly mashed blueberries. I was supposed to hold over a little zest and icing sugar for a last-minute garnish but that was more fuss than I could stretch to, and I don't think any of us missed it.

This crostata was a big success with the club - the pastry was crumbly and toasty, and the cream cheese and blueberry layers played back and forth with richness and freshness, sourness and sweetness. I would definitely make this again, especially for a picnic setting, and I can't help wondering how a vegan adaptation might go.

Blueberry & cream cheese crostata
(slightly adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi in The Guardian)

100g plain flour
50g wholemeal flour
30g icing sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
145g butter, cold
65mL water, ice-cold (I didn't use this)
extra flour, for working the dough
milk, for brushing

cream cheese filling
200g cream cheese, at room temperature
50g icing sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
3-4 limes, to make 1 tablespoon zest and 1 tablespoon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

blueberry topping
200g blueberries
20g icing sugar

Prepare the pastry dough in a large bowl. Sift together the flours, sugar and salt. Chop the butter into 1.5cm cubes and squish it into the flour. Ottolenghi recommends leaving butter chunks intact, then using the water to bring the dough together. I ended up rubbing the butter through until all of the flour was incorporated, not including any water at all.

Scatter the flour over a work surface and a rolling pin. Roll the dough out into a 30cm x 20cm rectangle, fold the shorter sides into the centre and roll gently over them. Repeat folding in sides and rolling over the pastry twice more. Wrap the pastry in plastic and refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes (I left mine overnight).

Beat together the cream cheese filling in a medium bowl: start with the cream cheese, sift over the icing sugar and cornflour, and add the lime zest, juice and the vanilla. Beat thoroughly, until smooth.

In a small-medium bowl, sift the icing sugar over the blueberries and stir them together. Partially crush the blueberries with a fork, leaving some whole.

Lightly flour a long sheet of baking paper; unwrap the pastry and place it on the paper. Roll the dough out - Ottolenghi aims for a 32 cm-diameter circle, and I went for an oval that I could fit onto my baking tray. Transfer the paper and pastry onto a baking sheet. Spoon the cream cheese filling into the centre of the pastry, spreading it out but leaving a 1-2 cm border of pastry free around the edges. Dot the blueberry mixture across the cream cheese.

Use a knife to make 2 cm deep cuts in the pastry border at 8 cm intervals. Gently fold each pastry section over and inwards, so that they slightly overlap and form a thick edge. Refrigerate the crostata on its tray for 30 minutes.

Preheat an oven to 230°C. Brush the edges of the pastry with milk, and bake the crosata for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 180°C and bake for a further 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden and cooked through. After letting it rest on the tray for 5 minutes, transfer it to a biscuit rack to keep the pastry as crisp as possible. Allow it to cool for another 30 minutes or more before serving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Green Acre Pizza

November 19, 2020


During lockdown, we developed a comforting habit of once-a-week takeaway/delivery from a small rotation of local businesses. Among them is Green Acre Pizza, which opened just a few months ago. Green Acre are doing their best to offer environmentally friendly foods and business practices, and that includes lots of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly options. There are gluten-free pizza bases on offer too.

Photographed above is our standard order, which happily stretches across a dinner, a lunch and a bonus snack for us two. First, there's a vegan pepperoni pizza (top left, $21) which also features generous dollops of dairy-free mozzarella, shredded radicchio, and a few dabs of chilli jam. Next, there's a knock-out pumpkin pizza (top right, $21) that has transformed my experience of vegetable-based pizzas: the pumpkin is bite-sized and tender, and it's complemented by excellent dairy-free feta and caramelised onions, but I think its secret magic might be the subtle scattering of sage and crushed pistachios.

On the side we get a house salad ($13; beware the honey dressing, vegans!), which never looks as fancy as their promotional photos but it still solid. The other notable treat on Green Acre's menu is their cauliflower chips (bottom right, $12), which are barely crispy but still darn good with a slather of chipotle aioli.

The bases have that stretchy, slightly charred character of a good wood-fired pizza, and I think the high-quality vegan cheeses really make a difference. It's high time we extend ourselves to some of the other topping combinations - there's mushrooms, potatoes, greens and olives to be explored.

Green Acre Pizza
328 Victoria St, Brunswick
9381 5763

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Hotel Spencer

November 5, 2020


Most of Melbourne is revelling in the relaxation of lockdown rules and eagerly returning to pubs, cafes and restaurants. Our mate Jess swiftly organised us a table for four at the Spencer Hotel, which serves one of his favourite vegan burgers. In light of current spacing rules, we had the entire front bar to ourselves (with other tables in use in the dining room and out on the footpath) and full table service.

The menu covers familiar ground: for the omnivores there's steak and chips, fish and chips, a parma, bangers and mash, pulled pork and Southern chicken burgers, and hot wings. The vegetarian burger looks like a rich one with mushrooms, potato and four kinds of cheese. For vegans, there's a hearty-looking bistro salad and one-to-two burgers. I'm hedging because the beef-style Smokehouse burger wasn't available and I'm not sure if they're bringing it back. Most importantly, Jess' favourite Faux' Boy ($20) was still on offer and it was all we wanted.

Cute as the pun may be this seems a very loose tribute to the Louisiana po' boy, which is commonly filled with seafood, but can be made with other meats. It features two filling pieces of battered mock-chicken, slaw, and plenty of sauce. The menu lists three condiments - cheezy bacon sauce, chipotle aioli, and jalapeno salsa - but they mostly just melded into a pleasant and slightly drippy mix. Vegans usually miss out on the 'brioche bun' nonsense that's saturated Melbourne, but the fluffy potato bun here is a worthy analogue and it contrasts well with the chicken. It steers this burger away from being a gluten-brick, which I've sometimes struggled with in other pubs.

Hotel Spencer's chips are great, there are sauces aplenty at the table, and we felt well looked after in these times of distanced-dining. While other bloggers mention it as a convenient stop-off before a show at Festival Hall, we'll have to find another excuse to revisit given that gigs are still a ways off and FH has been bought by Hillsong.



Hotel Spencer has clocked up a few reviews, all positive, and most around 5 years old, see GastrologyEat & Be Merrylive life love cakeConsider the SauceParma Daze and Gastronomical Ramblings.

Hotel Spencer
475 Spencer St, West Melbourne
9329 9116
menu 1, 2

Accessibility: Oof, I am out of practice with this! There was a step up on entry, and medium-spaced furniture inside. We received full table service, but this might shift to ordering and/or payment at a high bar as the pandemic eases. The toilets were gendered.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Butterless pecan turtle bars

 October 31, 2020


Just a couple of weeks after making butter pecan turtle bars for a Zoom hang-out, we're back in a position to make and share such treats with others. This week I had cause to try a vegan version - it was a simple substitute of margarine for butter, and careful selection of dairy-free chocolate chips.

I was well prepared for the powdery texture of the biscuit base that so worried me before, but hit a new obstacle with the caramel. There seemed to be less of it in general, and when I poured it across the slice, it seemed to vanish! As you can see from the cross-sectional view above, much of the caramel soaked into the biscuit base. All the sweetness stays, of course, but the chewy caramel texture I loved so much last time around is really lacking here.

I'm really quite puzzled. I wonder if I might try using a different vegan fat and have better results - a simple vegetable oil, or perhaps some coconut cream. Is it possible that I didn't bring the sugar to the right temperature? Hmm. I'll have to bring this slice back into semi-regular rotation to figure it out.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Spanish baked beans

October 20, 2020


I've been keeping my cooking pretty simple lately... few new recipes and no big projects. How simple? Well, making beans on toast has been the biggest deal of the past couple of weeks. When you do it the Smith & Deli way, there's cooking dried beans (never our forte!), a couple of veges, lots of dried spices and even a burst of capers. But mostly there's a lot of slow simmering.

That slow simmer really mellows everything out. The beans, a bit floury on their own, became soft and comforting. The fennel, vinegar and capers lost all their bite. I couldn't pick out any of the spices distinctly, though they contributed to the overall flavour. Our big pot of beans lasted for days. We made an effort to buy some fresh bread to eat with it, then garnished it in different permutations based on what else needed eating: a spoonful of sour cream, a vege sausage on the side, or a fried egg on top. These beans served us well every time.

Spanish baked beans
(slightly adapted from a recipe in 
Shannon Martinez & Mo Wyse's Smith & Deli-icious)

375g dried white beans
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup olive oil
1 brown onion, chopped
1 red capsicum, chopped
1 fennel bulb, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
400g can diced tomatoes
500mL vegetable stock
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon capers
pepper, to taste

Soak the beans overnight in water. Drain the beans, and place them in a large saucepan with lots of fresh water. Add the bay leaf and pop on a lid. Bring the beans to the boil until just cooked. Drain the beans.

While the beans are cooking, prepare the sauce. Choose a big saucepan or a deep frypan, and use it to heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, capsicum and fennel, gently cooking them until they're soft. Stir through the garlic and thyme, cooking for a further minute. Add the paprika, chilli, cumin, salt and tomato paste, stirring and cooking for a minute. Add the white wine vinegar, dice tomatoes, stock, brown sugar, and capers, stirring some more. Turn down the heat and gently simmer the sauce for 30 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf from the beans, then combine them with the sauce in whichever of the two pans can fit it all. Simmer it all for another 30-60 minutes. Add pepper to taste before serving.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Butter pecan turtle bars

October 10, 2020


This is a rerun of a recipe that I first baked in 2006, but didn't record in full here. Butter pecan turtle bars were a household favourite for several years before eventually fading from our recipe rotation. We revived them this month when our pandemic-times weekly online Quiz Club marked its six-month anniversary with a chocolate theme. 

It looks like the source website has had a transformation from Southern Food to The Spruce Eats in that time, and to their credit they've effectively set up URL redirection and updated their photos. The recipe remains pretty simple: blend a biscuit base in a food processor and press it into a dish, spread over pecans, caramel and bake, then layer on chocolate chips while it's still warm. We've not yet made this slice vegan or gluten-free, but the necessary substitutes are clear and seem likely to produce a good result. 

The biscuit base was more powdery than I remembered, but it melded into a cohesive, crisp layer during its bake. The combination of pecans and caramel was even better then I remembered - gooey in that first quiz-time slice, and chewy-fudgy when properly set later in the week. I liked this slice best when paired with a glass of milk, and I've vowed not to leave it unbaked for so many years again.

Butter pecan turtle bars
(slightly adapted from a recipe on The Spruce Eats)

2 cups plain flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter

1 1/2 cups pecans
2/3 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a medium-large tray with baking paper.

Place all the base ingredients in a food processor, and blend until well mixed. (For me, the mixture was still very powdery - it turned out OK!) Turn the mixture out into the tray, and use the back of a dessert spoon to spread it out evenly and press it down firmly. Spread the pecans out across the base.

Melt the butter for the topping in a small saucepan, and add the brown sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until bubbling. Allow this caramel to boil for a minute, then take it off the heat and pour it across the pecans. 

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the caramel is bubbling and the base edges are light brown. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the slice as soon as it comes out of the oven. Allow the slice to cool to room temperature before slicing and serving.

Monday, October 05, 2020

A Singaporean 'fish' curry

 September 26, 2020


I took a walk through Fitzroy last month, and made a point of finishing at Vincent's Marketplace. This was a chance to stock up on mock meats and other vegan treats we can't access during our regular weekly shop. Since then we've been munching on novel chocolates, rationing out mock-salami on pizzas, and feasting on BBQ sauce stir-fries. I also picked up a Vegan Mould Fish (pictured below). It's not an appetising name, but I figured out that it refers to the whole-fish shape that the mock has been moulded into.


Before I get to the recipe, let me tell you that this is a great mock fish. It's made primarily of bean curd skin layers, with a sheet of nori on one side. It's as tender and flaky as mock fish gets - I've not had anything like it since White Lotus closed. For this recipe I decided to pre-fry it a little, to give it a crisp golden skin and prevent it from disintegrating during cooking.

Now, to the recipe proper. This is a fish curry recipe that's included in the same LNY zine as the crispy skin 'duck' we recently enjoyed. I've just realised that Steph posted this fish recipe on her blog at that time, too, but it was my recent flick through the zine that reminded me of it. I remember eating this curry at that LNY picnic and trying to mop up as much curry sauce as I could with the spring onion pancakes Michael brought along. It's a beautifully flexible recipe and I'm including it below, with Steph and Liz's permission, as it appears in the zine (if you need a plain text version, you can find that on Steph's blog).


In this incarnation, we used:
  • spring onion for the 'onion thing', because we had leftovers from another recipe
  • Vincent's Nyonya curry powder, which we keep a good supply of,
  • chilli flakes, because we were freshly out of chilli oil, and
  • a generous handful of French beans, to round this up to a meal with rice.
There's every chance we'll adjust future batches for whatever's convenient on the day. The recipe would be feasible for cooking on a weeknight if you had thawed mock fish on hand and it was a pleasant, almost meditative activity for a Sunday evening with a podcast. Our lightly simmered curry was colourful and fragrant, rich with coconut milk and flaky bean curd, warmly spiced with only a low chilli heat. We enjoyed one round of smug lunchtime leftovers.


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Ginger & treacle cake

September 20, 2020

I keep circling back to cream cheese in my pandemic baking. It was what had me pulling up this 2008 VeganYumYum recipe from the depths of my bookmarks (never mind that I already baked another gingerbread cake a couple of months ago!).

The original recipe was made for Christmas, constructed as pretty layered individual serves with fluted clouds of piped icing. I just wanted a single, simple cake and I deferred the layering decision until after it was baked, ultimately deeming it too flat to be bothered with. However, the flavour was anything but flat! Even as I replaced the recommended molasses with a jar of treacle I had on hand, the cake retained a dark, minerally taste. I strategically baked the cake only until it just passed the skewer test, and it was exactly as dense and damp as I was aiming for.

It's just too bad that my vegan cream cheese icing flopped. It's my second setting failure with the Made With Plants brand, and I might have to give it up. I just don't get it! It's near-solid in the tub, I whip it with margarine and sugar and no liquids and even store it in the fridge for days... it's sloppy, and a bit curdled-looking. Boo. I halved the sugar in this icing recipe and it was still too sweet for me, so I need a whole new plan for crowning this cake in future. Suggestions welcome!


Ginger & treacle cake
(slightly adapted from VeganYumYum)

1 cup treacle or molasses
2/3 cup hot water
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg replacer (I used Orgran)
2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

250g vegan cream cheese (I used Made With Plants and it didn't work)
1/4 cup margarine
250g icing sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
zest of 1 lemon

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a springform cake tin with paper and grease it.

In a small-medium bowl, whisk together the treacle/molasses and hot water, then set them aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg replacer. Gradually beat in half the treacle/molasses mixture until well mixed. Sift over the flour, ginger, cinnamon, salt and bicarbonate of soda, and beat slowly to combine. Gently beat in the remaining treacle/molasses mixture until everything is well combined. 

Pour the cake batter into the cake tin and bake until a skewer poked into the cake comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Allow the cake to cool.

Beat together all of the icing ingredients until smooth, then spread the icing generously on top of the cake.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Jaen Jumah

September 12, 2020

We discovered Jaen Jumah via Dani Valent's excellent list of businesses being run by people on temporary visas, who have been more or less abandoned in terms of government support during the pandemic this year. Jaen Jumah offers vegan or meaty Balinese food - you order on Wednesday and the food is dropped off on the weekend for you to reheat and eat. And it's incredible.

The go-to dish is the nasi campur pepes tahu, a cute little box that comes with a bit of everything: spiced tofu cooked in banana leaf, a jackfruit and seaweed skewer, crunchy/sticky tempeh and beans, spicy salad and rice ($14). It's such a wonderful meal. I want to basically name check every part of it - the spicy tofu is incredible, the jackfruit skewer just ridiculously good and the tempeh is possibly the best tempeh dish in Melbourne? Maybe? There are a couple of lovely sambals too if you want to kick the spice levels up (although the baseline level is already quite spicy). We ordered extra serves of the skewers ($6 for 3) and tempeh ($5 for a small takeaway container full) and it kept us in lunches for a few extra days. 

This is such a great business - we've already pushed a bunch of friends into ordering from Jaen Jumah and they've all been completely stoked. We'll be going back again and again. 

Jaen Jumah
delivery only, order online
9077 1335

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.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Quick carrot dal

August 13, 2020

I put a call out on twitter for dal recipes and, among many excellent recommendations, Kylie Maslen suggested this carrot dal from Anna Jones, via the Guardian. It's an odd recipe, loaded up with carrots so that it's heavier on the vegetables than on the lentils. But it works - the curry leaves and spices give it a rich, complex flavour and the grated carrot and red lentils actually work surprisingly well together as the bulking agents. The little pickle on top is fresh and zesty too - definitely worth the small amount of extra effort. We served it with a few treats from our local Indian grocery - paratha and samosas - and didn't even bother with rice. It still fed us for days.

Quick carrot dal
(very slightly adapted from Anna Jones' Guardian column)

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
1 red onion, peeled and grated
vegetable oil
small bunch of curry leaves
1 green chilli, sliced finely
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
200g red lentils
400ml coconut milk
400ml veggie stock
5 carrots, grated
2 large handfuls of spinach leaves
1/2 bunch of coriander leaves

juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
1 green chilli, sliced finely
1 small bunch of radishes, grated
1 tablespoon nigella seeds
1/2 a bunch of coriander leaves
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
pinch of salt

Heat some oil in a large pot and throw in the garlic, onion, chilli and ginger. Cook for about 10 minutes on low heat until everything is nice and soft.

Meanwhile, pound the curry leaves, cumin and coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle. Add them to the pot with the mustard seeds, turmeric and cinnamon. Stir together and then cook for a few minutes. 

Add the lentils, coconut milk, stock and carrots to the pot, bring to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes. It'll feel like there's too much carrot at this point, but it will cook down nicely in the end. Simmer for about half an hour.

While the dal is cooking, make the pickle by stirring together all the ingredients in a small bowl.

Kill the heat on the dal and stir through the coriander and the spinach until it all wilts. Serve on rice or bread, with a generous scoop of pickle on top.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Gulab jamun

August 1, 2020

While browsing the pantry last week, I was reminded that we had most of a can of milk powder. (I bought it back in April to make rosmalai.) Milk powder isn't something we regularly use at all... as I searched the blog and my memory for other dishes that make use of it I came across a batch of biscuits, White Christmas slice, and a 15-year-old recollection of that one time I tried making gulab jamun.

My understanding is that gulab jamun is most traditionally prepared using a dense dairy product called khoya or mawa. There are also lots of recipes based on milk powder instead, and plenty of people who recommend packet mixes like Gits. It's the milk powder version that appears in the High Days and Holidays chapter of Mridula Baljekar's The Low-Fat Indian Vegetarian Cookbook, and that's the recipe I made back in 2005. I remembered it being stressful - probably because I was catering for at least 10 people, and because it was messy and uncomfortable to deep-fry so many dumplings in my Queensland kitchen. This week I felt ready to take it on again.

The recipe below uses the overall quantities from the original recipe, but I adapted it this week to accommodate the larger amount of milk powder I had to use up. Somewhere along the way my dough ended up with a cake batter texture rather than a rollable dough, so I've included notes to add the milk a bit at a time and not use it all if it's not needed. Thankfully I got my batch to a rollable state by leaving it on the bench to dry out a bit, and then dusting my hands in flour to prevent the dough from sticking.

I expected the deep-frying to be a hassle, but it went just fine. The dough balls needed a little prod to stop them sticking to the bottom of the pan, but after that they expanded and rose to the surface, and happily bobbed about while I gently turned them to even out their browning. The sugar syrup soaking brings a second phase of expansion, and my gulab juman ended up bigger than golf balls! I'll have to start smaller if I ever do this again.

My other stand-out memory from making this recipe 15 years ago is that I overdid the rosewater, so I toned it down here. Maybe my tastes have changed, but I think I could've used more! Mridula Baljekar serves her gulab jamun with rosewater whipped cream, but I think they're already plenty rich and fancy on their own.

Gulab jamun
(slightly adapted from Mridula Baljekar's The Low-fat Indian Vegetarian Cookbook)

3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon saffron threads
350g sugar
4 cups water
1 tablespoon rosewater
175g milk powder
90g semolina
2 teaspoons plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking powder
40g ghee
oil for deep frying

Heat 2 tablespoons of the milk and soak the saffron threads in it. Set aside to infuse.

Place the sugar and water in a large saucepan and set them over medium-high heat. Bring everything to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and simmer for 6-8 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the rosewater. Allow it to cool down a bit and transfer the syrup to a very large serving or storage container.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the milk powder, semolina, flour, cardamom and baking powder. Melt the ghee and stir it into these dry ingredients. Add the saffron and the milk it was infusing. Pour small quantities of the remaining milk into the mixture to form a soft dough (don't use all the milk if you don't need to!). Knead the dough until smooth.

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Break off scant tablespoons of the dough and roll them in your hands to form a smooth ball, then drop the balls into the oil. Lightly flouring your hands may help if the dough is sticky. Also, be careful not to overcrowd the dumplings in the oil because they will expand! Use a fork or similar to gently scrape the dumplings off the pan if they stick to the bottom - if they're not stuck, they'll soon float to the surface. I also used the fork to turn the dumplings and try to even out their frying. When the balls are dark brown on the outside, use a slotted spoon to retrieve them and drain off as much oil as you can before dropping them into the sugar syrup. Repeat the dough-rolling and dumpling-frying until all the dough is finished. 

Allow the dumplings to soak in the syrup for at least 2 hours before serving.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Gingerbread with lemony apples & crème fraîche

July 25, 2020

Our Ottolenghi Cooking Club met online for dinner over the weekend. This mode of meeting is suboptimal in one important way - we can't share each other's foods and therefore try six or more dishes! It was still such a pleasure to chat to everyone, and to marvel at the chocoflan that our host spent all afternoon preparing.

For our part, we cooked our dishes a day early and ate them as reheated leftovers. For the main course, Michael revisited the over-the-top lasagne with four kinds of mushroom and five kinds of cheese. For dessert, I decided upon this Sweet recipe. It's a tall, warm gingerbread cake served with apples and crème fraîche.

The cake is simply put together, and doesn't require an electric beater. It's intended to include pieces of stem ginger, which is a new ingredient to me. I didn't have the energy to make my own, and substituted uncrystallised ginger instead - it sank to the bottom of the cake, but provided the right boost of flavour. In the apple recipe, I traded dark rum for the intended brandy to use what we had on hand. The apples ended up tasting more strongly of lemon juice than liquor anyway, so I've performed a substitute on their name too.

This recipe is just as filling and comforting as I'd hoped, and looks a little special without being excessive. The cake would also make for a fine unpretentious afternoon tea without all the trimmings.

Gingerbread with lemony apples & crème fraîche
(very slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's Sweet)

300g treacle or molasses
100g brown sugar
120g caster sugar
220g butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 eggs
zest of 1 orange
400g plain flour
1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
300mL boiling water
100g stem ginger (I used 100g uncrystallised ginger), roughly chopped into 1/2 cm pieces

lemony apples
5 golden delicious or pink lady apples
50g butter
120g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest of 1 lemon
50mL brandy or dark rum
50mL lemon juice
pinch of salt

400g crème fraîche

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Choose a cake tin - options include a 20cm square or round springform tin, or a 23cm bundt tin. Grease/flour a bundt; line a springform tin with paper, going up beyond the height of the sides, and grease it too.

In a large bowl, whisk together the treacle/molasses, brown sugar, caster sugar, and melted butter. Check that it's not too warm from the butter, then whisk in the eggs and orange zest. Sift over the flour, bicarb soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt, and stir to combine. Pour over the just-boiled water and whisk thoroughly to combine. Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 50 minutes, until the cake passes the skewer test. (I think I baked mine for 60 minutes.) Allow the cake to cool for at least 10 minutes before it is transferred to a serving plate.

During the second half of the baking or while the cake is cooling, peel and core the apples and cut them into 1-1.5 cm slices. Set a large frypan over high heat and add the apples. Cook them, tossing them around every couple minutes, until they're golden. Transfer the apples to a bowl and return the frypan to the heat, turning it down to medium. Melt the butter in the frypan, then add the sugar, vanilla and lemon zest, stirring well. Add the apples back into the pan, stirring to coat them in the sugar mixture. Add the brandy/rum, lemon juice and salt, and cook until the sauce is thick.

Serve the cake in warm slices with spoonfuls of apple and crème fraîche on the side.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Sicilian fennel & parmesan dumplings in tomato sauce

July 18, 2020

We've been getting big fennel bulbs in our veggie boxes pretty regularly this winter, which has challenged us to shift away from our regular stable of meals a bit. We've made a fennel and walnut pie and a fennel-quinoa salad and this week we dived into another new dish: Ottolenghi's fennel and parmesan dumplings in tomato sauce. Even in work-from-home times, this is a weekend dish - there are quite a few different processes and the whole thing is the kind of fiddly that nobody's got the energy for on a work day.

Luckily, the result is something really, really good. The cooked down fennel is rich and almost sweet, with the parmesan cutting through with some sharpness. The sauce is a pretty simple tomato sauce, but it works perfectly with these dumplings. If you can bring yourself to deal with the faffing involved, you'll be richly rewarded.

Sicilian fennel & parmesan dumplings in tomato sauce
(slightly adapted from an Ottolenghi recipe via his Guardian column)

1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and diced finely
1/3 cup currants
1/4 cup pine nuts, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
breadcrumbs from 2 slices of bread (we used 2 crushed Weetbix and it worked fine)
50g parmesan, finely grated
grated zest of 2 lemons
2 eggs, beaten
30g dill, finely chopped
20g basil, finely chopped
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, diced finely
~250g tomatoes (the original recipe specifies cherry tomatoes, but we just used regular sized ones chopped up a bit)
180ml passata (we used jar sauce, the lazy option)
1 tablespoon caster sugar
10g basil leaves, finely chopped

Cook the fennel in a big pot of boiling water for fifteen minutes. Add the currants and cook for five more minutes and then drain everything into a colander or sieve. Transfer the mix to something like muslin (we use a clean Chux wipe) and squeeze out as much liquid as you can - you'll squeeze out heaps. The less moisture left in the mix, the better your chances of your dumplings staying together later on. Refrigerate your mixture until it's cold.

Stir the rest of the dumpling ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate that mixture as well.

Now you can make your sauce. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic, onion and a good sprinkle of salt. Cook for five minutes, stirring regularly, until the onion has started to go golden. Add the tomatoes and cook for another three minutes, until they've softened. Pour in the passata and stir through the caster sugar and basil, plus 3/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer and then turn the heat down, gently cooking it all for 20 minutes. 

Leave the sauce to cool for a bit and then stick-blend it all until it's smooth. Now it's dumpling time.

Combine the two sets of dumpling ingredients into one big bowl and mix everything together thoroughly. Use your hands to form it into eight equally sized dumplings - they'll be pretty big. Compress them as best you can - a couple of ours fell apart during the frying phase and the tighter you can pack them the more resilient they'll be. 

Heat your veggie oil in a frying pan and, when it's hot, gently place the dumplings in the pan. Fry for about 8 minutes, turning regularly to get it all nice and golden - you'll have to be super gentle, because they'll want to fall apart. Once they're cooked, gently combine them with your tomato sauce - try to get them all coated in it (again, be careful not to disintegrate them). Heat everything up to a light simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes and then serve! We ate our with pearl couscous, but any kind of carb-y accompaniment would do I think (they'd actually make for an amazing meatball sub filling!).

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Mum's orange cake

July 18, 2020

A month ago I made an orange cake. It was a really great cake, but it also had me feeling a bit wistful for the orange cake that my mum would occasionally make as a treat. Although it certainly felt special to us, Mum's cake wasn't anything over-the-top, simply baked in a rectangular tin and sprinkled with icing sugar. I remember it having a distinctive lightweight but rich texture.

Mum emailed me a photo of her recipe, which is actually from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook. Both oranges and eggs are turning up regularly in our Local Drop deliveries, so I was ready to bake it for myself within days. The only notable variation on your standard cake baking here is that the eggs are separated and the whites are whipped to form stiff peaks before being folded into the batter - that must be where that light texture came from!

My cake was almost as good as I remember Mum making it, although it was a bit crustier than hers. While I have a fairly regular-looking loaf pan, I recall Mum using a longer, narrower tin with a smaller cross-section. I'd guess that this allows her to bake it for less time, and this makes for a more lightly coloured and barely-crusted cake.

While all this butter and eggs clearly isn't vegan-friendly, I wonder if this cake style would lend itself well to some aquafaba adaptation. Maybe that's the direction my orange cake-baking needs to take next.

Mum's orange cake
(actually from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook,
with a small flour conversion from me)

2 eggs, separated
113g butter, at room temperature
grated rind and juice of 1 orange
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 cup plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
icing sugar, for serving

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Prepare a loaf or ring cake tin with oil, butter, flour and/or baking paper.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.

In a separate medium bowl, cream together the butter, orange rind and sugar. Beat in the egg yolks. Sift in the flour, baking powder and sugar, then the orange juice, until well combined. Fold in the egg whites.

Pour the cake batter into the cake tin and bake for 35-40 minutes. Allow it to cool slightly, and sift over some icing sugar to serve.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Lemon self-saucing pudding

July 12, 2020

We had quite the weekend of food preparation and sharing! On Saturday I made huge batches of sausage rolls, cauliflower salad and ginger biscuits; on Sunday I cycled half the bounty across to some friends with a new baby. Meanwhile, Michael received over a dozen lemons in what was otherwise a book exchange, and a neighbour left freshly-baked focaccia by our door.

By the time the lemons arrived I'd spent enough hours away from the kitchen to begin plotting their use. How about some cordial? And I've got some vegan lemon curd recipes tucked away. What if Michael tried preserving some? Oh, and then there's lemon delicious pudding, which I was sure that Leigh Drew had included in Veganissimo!. (She had.) I had to browse through my online recipes, and I found a lemon self-saucing pudding among them too. Funnily enough, it was an earlier version of Leigh Drew's recipe.

The Veganissimo! and online sources for Leigh Drew's lemon self-saucing pudding are not identical. I liked that the online version used custard powder (which I have and rarely use), and I noticed that the Veganissimo! version makes use of cornflour and a pinch of turmeric instead. I'm also noticing now that the Veganissimo! recipe has extra baking powder and some flaxseed meal, which I'd imagine makes for a puffier, spongier pudding.

That said, I have no complaints about the puffiness of the online recipe - it was custard yellow and cakey, with a thick sauce. Leigh mentioned online that her intention here was to recreate a family recipe, and it fits with my sense of family comfort foods too.

Lemon self-saucing pudding

1 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons custard powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons margarine
1 cup soymilk

dry topping
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons custard powder

wet topping
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup boiling water

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Grease a small, high-walled casserole or baking dish.

In a medium-large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and custard powder. Stir in the sugar and lemon zest. Melt the margarine over the stove or in a microwave, and whisk in the soymilk. Pour this liquid into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour the batter into the baking dish.

In a small-medium bowl, stir together the dry topping ingredients. Sprinkle them over the pudding batter.

In a heat-proof bowl, stir together the wet topping ingredients. Gently pour them over the pudding. Bake the pudding for around 35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cake is spongey. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Red velvet cookie sandwiches

June 27, 2020

Red velvet cakes don't turn up too often around here, much less red velvet cookies. I think the main appeal for me is actually the cream cheese icing that they typically come along with, and there's plenty of that in the centre of these cookie sandwiches from Crazy Vegan Kitchen. I wondered if I could enjoy a vegan version as much as a dairy-based one. The answer is yes, and better still it doesn't even require soaking and grinding my own cashews.

I don't really enjoy the flavour of Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese, and it's currently scarce on the local supermarket shelves anyway. Instead I tried Made With Plants for the first time and liked it more - it's made from both cashews and tofu, and the soy flavour is subtler. It has that velvety, not-completely-smooth texture that many cashew-based cheeses and sauces do. That texture had the icing looking a bit sloppy and curdled when I first whipped it up, but it settled right down after I assembled and refrigerated the cookie sandwiches overnight.

As for the cookies themselves, they're full of red food colouring so I'd recommend taking care of your clothing and cooking tools as you bake! I got a bit lazy about sifting my dry ingredients and, while it wasn't disastrous, I reckon it's worth it to avoid clumps of cocoa and bicarb soda. These cookies rise and spread a lot as they bake, and retain a light, cakey texture after they've cooled.

The first cookie sandwiches we ate, just after I'd iced them, were just fine. But as the recipe author Amrita promised, they really come into their own after some time in the fridge. Not only does the icing firm up, but it melds with the cookies, the bicarb soda mellows, and the small dose of cocoa low-key complements the cream cheese. There's more going on than just that bold splash of artificial colour.

Red velvet cookie sandwiches
(slightly adapted from a recipe on Crazy Vegan Kitchen)

125g margarine
1/4 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
1/3 cup soymilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons red food colouring (I believe Queen Pillar Box Red is vegan!)
1 1/2 cups plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

220g vegan cream cheese (I tried this one and liked it!)
55g margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour

In a large bowl, beat together the margarine and sugars until fluffy. Stir together the cornflour and soymilk in a mug until the cornflour is dissolved, then beat the mixture into the margarine bowl. Beat in the vanilla and red food colouring. Sift over the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda, and salt; beat until just combined. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, ideally overnight.

When the dough is ready, prepare a baking tray or two by lining them with paper and spraying them with oil. Preheat an oven to 175°C.

Retrieve the cookie dough from the fridge and scoop tablespoons of the dough onto the baking tray(s), leaving lots of space between them to spread. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool completely. Match them up into pairs of similar shape and size.

To make the filling, beat together the cream cheese, margarine and vanilla until fluffy. Sift in the icing sugar and cornflour and beat everything together until well combined. Spoon the filling onto one half of each cookie pair and gently sandwich the second cookie on top. These cookie sandwiches are at their best after they've had a day stored in the fridge in an airtight container.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Rachel Ama's peanut stew

June 27, 2019

This stew has been popping up on my social media a bit lately - it seems like it's kind of the recipe of the moment, replacing Alice Roman's famous (and slightly probbo) 'The Stew'. Versions of this seem to be a staple in a number of West African countries, and this vegan version is really great. It's a very simple recipe - whiz up the sauce ingredients and then cook everything in a big pot. I was a bit too trusting of the recipe - make sure your sweet potato is cooked through before you add in your greens. Ours was still way too firm when I added them, which meant that the spinach and herbs kind of cooked down to mush by the time it was actually ready. Luckily it still tasted fantastic. We served it up with quinoa, but it would go equally well with rice, couscous or even straight up.

The key is in the complex spice paste. We toned things down by using regular supermarket red chillies rather than the hotter Scotch bonnets in the recipe (if only because we couldn't easily find them). I was a bit frustrated by how I mucked up the timing, but it was great - we'll definitely make this one again.

Rachel Ama's peanut stew
(slightly adapted from this recipe by Rachel Ama)

spice paste
2 onions, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1 red chilli, seeded and roughly chopped

2 tablespoons peanut oil
500g sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
400g tin black-eyed beans (we couldn't find them easily, so just used mixed beans)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
400g tin chopped tomatoes
500ml veggie stock
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter
200g spinach leaves
juice of a lemon
small bunch of coriander, stems removed, roughly chopped
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
salt and pepper

Pop all the spice paste ingredients in a food processor and whiz to a smooth paste.

Heat up the peanut oil in a big pot over medium heat and then scrape in the spice paste, cooking for 10 minutes or so. Add more oil if things dry out.

Add the sweet potato, beans and tomato paste - stir thoroughly to combine with the paste mix. Once it's all combined, add the stock, canned tomatoes and peanut butter. 

Cover the pot, reduce the heat a bit and simmer everything until the sweet potato is tender (the recipe says 25 minutes, but it took us closer to 40).

Once the sweet potatoes are cooked, kill the heat and stir in the spinach, coriander, chilli and lemon juice. Once the greens have wilted, check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.