Sunday, 28 September 2008

Pudla – for when your team lets you down!

My baby don’t care for golf or tennis
He says that football is just a menace
(from My Baby Just Cares for Me - June Hutton version)

We are not really terribly interested in sport in this house. I don’t think we watched a bit of the Olympics this year (apart from that on the news). Sport on the television is usually just a nuisance – it often means other shows we want to watch disappear. And I often don’t have a clue who is winning whatever tournament is flavour of the month.

When it comes to Aussie Rules Football, I don’t usually know what is happening. E and I have been known to play chess while the AFL Grand Final is on. When I was younger I was a keen Geelong supporter but they let me down too often and I found other interests. Now if you ask me my AFL team, I will confess to being a fair-weather fan - ie if they win I might be interested. So last year I was amazed to slowly notice that Geelong were on an incredible winning streak. They even went on to win the Grand Final in 2007 (for the first time in my lifetime). This year they entered the Grand Final with an impressive record of winning all but one game this season. The odds looked promising for back to back premierships.

I had promised E that if Geelong won yesterday I would make cupcakes iced in their colours – blue and white. He finally thought sport might have some worth. But the team spirit that I knew and loved in my youth returned to haunt me and yet again Geelong let me down and lost. So there were no cupcakes. Blue is a terribly unnatural colour to bake with, anyway.

So last night, not having been out to the shops and being in need of some hope, I turned back to a favourite colour – green! I remembered Lucy’s pudla which she said were for folk like me who didn’t want to leave the house to forage for dinner. Happily I did have all ingredients on hand – chickpea flour, frozen peas, spring onions!

Lucy says these quick and easy fried snacks are part of the cuisine from Gujarat in Western India and suggests eating them hot out of the pan. They are free of eggs, dairy, gluten, nuts and soy! They were particularly tasty with the addition of green peas and spring onions. I omitted the ginger so mine were even less spicy than Lucy’s. A quick search of the internet shows that these little beauties are flexible enough to take on different flavours and textures.

I am not exactly sure what to compare them to. Lucy said they have been compared to crepes but this is not quite right. They lack the lightness imparted by eggs and milk. The texture is more like unleavened bread but with a subtle spicy chickpea flavour. But they are cooked in puddles on a frypan and flipped over in a similar way. The result is floppy and stackable!

I halved the recipe which suited the two of us. We did have a few leftover which still tasted good the next morning but they are best fresh and hot. They would probably pair nicely with a curry or a salad.

We ate ours with a spicy tomato chutney and a sort of mock fish-cum-rosti I made to use up root vegetables and potatoes. Delicious! By the time I had finished I had forgotten that Geelong has lost another Grand Final. But I will be happy when they win the next one!

Pudla (chickpea pancakes) with Spring Onions and Green Peas
(adapted from Madhur Jaffrey via Nourish Me)
Serves 1-2

½ cup of frozen, shelled green peas
1 cup of chickpea flour (besan/gram)
½ teaspoon of ground cumin
pinch of ground turmeric
pinch of cayenne powder
½ teaspoon of sea salt
1 cup of water
handful of parsley, finely chopped
squeeze of lemon juice
4 spring onions, finely sliced
olive oil spray, for frying

Cook peas – I put them in the microwave for 30-60 seconds or you can boil and drain them. Crush with a fork or potato masher. Set aside.

Place chickpea flour, spices and salt in a small bowl. Make a well and slowly whisk in water so that the mixture is smooth and (virtually) lump free. Add peas, parsley, lemon juice and spring onions. Stir well and set aside at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Heat heavy bottomed non-stick frying pan over medium heat and spray lightly with olive oil. I was a bit unclear if they were to be small or large so I dropped a couple of dessertspoonfuls into three or four corners of the frypan and did them small – I think you could do them larger if so desired. Cook about 2 minutes or until golden brown – you can see they bubble a little and the mixture dries a little like pancakes to give you a clue as to when they are ready to flip. Cook another 1-2 minutes on the other side.

Serve with chutney, relish, or yoghurt. Or just eat hot straight from the frypan!

On the stereo:
Banter: a Candle Records Collection: Various Artists

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Fridge Door Confessions

Wendy from A Wee Bit of Cooking has a quirky event on at the moment calling for pictures of our fridge doors. I am looking forward to joining her having a ‘nosey at other people’s fridge doors’ in the round up tomorrow. And I couldn’t resist sending her a photo despite the cluttered state of our fridge door.

Our fridge is so crowded that it is even filling up on the sides. Both E and I seem to accumulate clutter – don’t ask me how! And our fridge door is not immune. I have included a picture of the fridge (right) which shows that there is not much unused space on our fridge door. Apart from magnets, the door is filled with the likes of our shopping list, bills, dentist reminders, postcards, newspaper clippings, photos, business cards and takeaway menus.

I have done a little shuffling and photographed a close-up (top) for Wendy with some choice pieces. There will be no surprise to see a few giraffes there and I have left in a few freebie magnets that find their way here.

The DJ cat postcard was found on our last trip to Edinburgh – still makes us laugh! Quite a few of the magnets come from Scotland. The bagpiping angel from the Thistle Chapel at St Giles Cathedral reminds me of my time volunteering there.

Quite a few magnets are souvenirs of trips we have made. The tiki magnet I bought in New Zealand had to be included because E is going through a tiki phase. I quite like the New York magnet which was bought in 1999 and has the Twin Towers in the background. We love checking the thermometer on the Darwin fridge magnet (with the crocodile) when it gets hot.

Finally one of my very favourite magnets has to be the one that says, ‘if it’s a man’s world, let him clean it’. Always gives me a smile.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Hobart Highlights

Before we headed to Hobart a few weeks ago, capital of Tasmania, we were told by friends about it being haunted, cold and small. It was cold and small (population 200,000) but we never got to do the ghost tour because it was cancelled on the cold and quiet night we chose in September.

We did hear whispers of hauntings but to E’s disappointment, no sightings! However as one of the oldest cities in Australia (settled in 1803) and a former convict settlement, Hobart does seem to be a place of history and ghosts. We were even told there might be a ghost in our B&B but we never confirmed it. We stayed in the historic suburb of Battery Point which was conveniently central so we had a view of the harbour from our attic room and a short walk to the city and Salamanca where we spent most time.

Without ghosts bothering us we had a relaxing time strolling around cafes and museums with the occasional harbour cruise, bus tour and botanical gardens walk. E discovered his favourite music shop ever (Music without Frontiers) in Collins Street in the City. But you want to know about the food, right? Beforehand I checked out posts reflecting on AOF and Cindy and Michael’s recent visits. So I appreciated their recommendations for Jackman and McRoss, Sirens, and Machine. Our favourite discovery was Tricycle Café & Bar.

The first thing we had to check out was the famous Salamanca Market on Saturday morning. It does take some time to browse its long row of stalls selling handcrafts, knits, books, CDs, souvenirs, bric-a-brac, produce, fudge and jam etc etc. We left with some fine goodies including fortified raspberry wine, fudge, chilli jam, nougat and bread. (NB We saw many of the goods from the market in stores during our next few days in Hobart.)

It took long enough that we needed a few nourishing breaks. My favourite find at the market may well have been the Olliebollen. Just the name is lots of fun. They are dutch donuts with raisins (and no holes) which were delicious freshly fried and tossed in cinnamon sugar. I also couldn’t resist a little tub of fresh strawberries. But for lunch I was persuaded to try the eggplant kebabs at the award winning Taste of Persia. They were surprisingly superb. The eggplant is cut up small, cooked and tossed in a rich gravy. It is served in pita bread with hummus, lettuce and tomato. Highly recommended.

Although Cromwell Cottage B&B served a cooked breakfast each morning (see dining room photo at the bottom of the post) we took the opportunity to sleep in and go out for brunch on a few mornings. Of course we had to sample the wares at the Hobart institution, Jackman and McRoss (57-59 Hampden Rd, Battery Point, 03 6223 3186) and headed there one morning. I had a tasty risotto cake with eggplant, red capsicum and spinach on top. E enjoyed his pie but was black affronted by the staff when he asked for the name of the CD and was told that it was in a locked office and they didn’t have time to check it. Attitude was not a highlight but I loved the cheese berry tart that we shared. The pairing of smooth cream cheese filling and tart berries was sublime. I would return just for the sweet treats.

But I was taken aback when I asked for some toast with it. I was told they didn’t serve toast, only bread rolls. It seemed odd that we couldn’t sample the bread at a bakery café but many other cafes in Hobart seemed to serve their bread. Having said this, the rye bread roll was warm and soft inside and very pleasing. We even brought a bread roll to snack on in our room with excellent Bruny Island C2 cheese from the Wursthaus deli but unfortunately we only had a teaspoon to chop with - not conducive to slicing up a loaf of bread.

We thought that the Shipwrights Arms (29 Trumpeter Street, Battery Point , 03 6223 5551) was the pub some friends had recommend so we headed there for dinner one night. Unfortunately we didn’t get a seat in the older part of the pub. Maybe they spotted me as a vegetarian. The website boldly claims No Pokies, No TAB, No Tofu, No Keno, No Pool Table, No Live Music, No Bok Choy!!! So it wasn’t that surprising that there was no vegetarian dish on the menu but luckily the soup was vegetarian that day so I was saved from chips and salad. Upon checking the website later I found that I was unlucky we went on Sunday night as the menu on other nights seems to have a few vegetarian dishes.

I forgave these quirks because the soup I had was a wonderfully fresh tasting tomato and vegetable soup with a few noodles. I paired it with a focaccia with pesto and cheese which was so rich that I couldn’t finish it. My favourite thing about the Shipwrights Arms was the chaise lounge in the door which seemed just right to lie on and groan after a large meal. I think every restaurant should have one!

Another morning that we ventured out for brunch, E was keen to try Machine (12 Salamanca Square, Salamanca, 03 6224 9922). It is a funky laundrette-cum-café with washing machines in a little separate partition. The main area is the café which is decorated with bright blue and orange vinyl. The menu is vegetarian-friendly menu so I felt spoilt for choice.

I chose the parmesan, caramelised onion and spinach pancakes with tomato pickle oil and had a side serve of mushrooms. The pancakes were substantial and delicious. But the mushrooms were some of the best cooked ever with a salty crisp fried caps. If I could cook mushrooms like this I would eat them on toast 7 days a week! E was similarly delighted with his machine packed roti bread with scrambled eggs and chilli jam. He had a side of sausages but both of us felt our side serves were unnecessary because the portions were very generous.

On our last night we finally had dinner at the vegetarian restaurant, Sirens (6 Victoria Street, Hobart, 03 6234 2634), which I had been eager to visit since reading Cindy’s rave reviews. She was not exaggerating. The restaurant is divided into wholesome and decadent sections by beaded Moorish arches. Pine tables and chairs with potted plants are on one side and soft maroon chairs and drapes on the other. The menu was full of fascinating dishes.

We started by sharing a starter of fried haloumi with lemon. For the main, E had the sautéed smoked tofu with spicy cashew, coriander and lemon myrtle pesto and broccolini. I chose the saimono (broth) with taro and mushroom dumplings, marinated wakame, black and white rice balls, pickled walnuts, daikon, and dengaku tofu. When our orders arrived I was a little jealous of E’s pile of green broccolini and artfully arranged slabs of tofu. I thought maybe he would baulk at the bed of bean sprouts but his sauce was so tasty he happily lapped them up. Mine was arrayed like a tasting plate of small nibbles. It was full of intriguingly unusual tastes which I enjoyed immensely but it lacked vegetables and colour.

I wasn’t too concerned, however that my meal didn’t leave me stuffed to the gills as I had been intrigued by a dessert which I think I remembered Cindy swooning over. It was a vegan dark chocolate mousse cake with an orange and rose geranium sauce. I actually thought it more like a tart with a nutty base but it was indeed worthy of superlatives. The mousse was light and melting but not to rich. I usually avoid mousses because I am not keen on eggs but this was something I can’t wait to try making. I checked with the staff who told me it was made with tofu. E chose a vegan shortbread with rose scented cream. It was more cakey than short but he enjoyed it. I was happy to have a little help with the splendid mousse. Sirens was surely one of the gems of Hobart and we were very glad to have sampled its food and ambience.

It was on our final day that E made a fine discovery in one of the Salamanca alleyways - Tricycle Café & Bar (Salamanca Arts Centre, 77 Salamanca Place, Salamanca, (03) 6223 7228). The counter is a cosy red area with a few tables and chairs plus an interesting clutter of tricycles, mirrors, photos and shelves of vinyl records. The ‘foyer’ area of the arcade where we sat is blindingly light in comparison with large arty chandeliers and a piano. Quirky.

The staff were accommodating when I asked for a different sandwich filling to the menu. E chose the chilli beans with avocado while I had a vintage cheese, spinach, onion jam and avocado sandwich. What was fantastic about the meal was the superb sourdough bread. I would go as far as to say it was the best bread we encountered in Hobart. We also shared a piece of parsnip cake which was lovely but I would have preferred a cream cheese icing rather than butter icing. E was delighted with the icing so I guess you can’t please everyone.

As this post is already long enough, I will just briefly mention a few other places where we dined. Da Angelo Italian restaurant in Hampden Road, Battery Point had a standard Italian pasta and pizza menu but the food and serves was excellent. I loved my falafel at Zest, the cafe at the State Library of Tasmania, after being fascinated by the display of history rooms at the library. Ecohaven was a relaxed retreat in the city and provided a friendly quick bite. I mention the Botanic Gardens restaurant not because the food was good or bad but because it seemed inappropriate to have a proper restaurant as the only indoor option – most displeasing on a cold day when we just wanted a quick snack. And I had a rather nice pumpkin gnocchi at the Woolstore.Hotel in the city.

All in all, the finest experiences in Hobart were probably found in the cafes and restaurants. A perfect place for lazy days filled with good food.

Update July 2011 - I have heard the sad news that Sirens has closed!  What a shame!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

NCR: Spring Strawberry Soup

E and I celebrated our wedding anniversary last weekend. Having spent more than enough time eating out in Hobart until a few days before, both of us fancied a special dinner at home.

It was a perfect spring day. The mercury reached a pleasant 23 C. The warmth of the sun was welcome after a chilly Melbourne winter. After huddling inside by the heater for months we sat with the weekend newspaper in the backyard much to the delight of Zinc our cat. Even our struggling lime tree was proudly displaying new growth. Just the sort of day that inspires me to buy a loaf of excellent Sugardough bread, a bundle of nice vegies and head home to make fresh salad sandwiches to eat in the sunny backyard with Zinc sunworshipping nearby. Dinner was planned to reflect this fine weather.

I was glad of the leftover filling from my burritos the previous night. This made dinner that little bit easier. I halved and scooped out two medium zucchini and stuffed them with the filling and baked them about 30-40 minutes. I served these with roast potatoes, spring vegetables (broccoli, peas and asparagus) and a simple avocado sauce. Delicious!

But it was the soup that was to be the piece de resistance. When Holler and Lisa announced that the theme for their No Croutons Required event in September was to be fruit in a soup or salad, I decided to dig out a recipe for Strawberry Soup I had scribbled down in the library months ago. I’ve wanted to make a fruit soup for some time but never like the idea of tapioca or cornstarch in these soups and was attracted to this soup because it had neither. Even better, it had many of my favourite summer fruits.

Making this soup at the start of spring meant that much of the fruit in the recipe has not yet come into season … sigh! So I went to my favourite green grocer in Carlton where I was able to purchase Australian strawberries, raspberries and passionfruit. A fresh nectarine was a bigger challenge at this time of year, so I opened a tin of unsweetened peaches which had been loitering in the pantry.

The recipe called for marscapone but I have been intrigued by Ricki’s Chilled Peach Soup with Cashew Coconut Cream. Full of confidence I tried to make a simple cashew cream. The result was a horrid sweet watery substance with ground cashews in it. It was so disgusting I threw it out. I think my food processor let me down by not incorporating the cashews into the liquid properly. Maybe another time I will try it with cashew nut butter and see if that is any more successful. Or maybe I am just not meant to enjoy cashew cream any more than I enjoy any milk whether it comes from a cow or a soy bean.

So by the time my cashew cream failed I had no marscapone on hand. Nor did I remember to get mint for the soup. So what I had was pureed strawberries, fruit and a little sugar. As a lover of smoothies, I found it wonderful – velvety, refreshing and cleansing. Simon Rimmer in The Accidental Vegetarian describes it as ‘like a good snog’. The addition of passionfruit is a stroke of genius for the contrasts of its tart flavour and seedy texture against the smooth sweetness of the soup. In fact it was so good I even considered the possibility of pureeing the whole lot and serving it as a smoothie.

E doesn’t like smoothies. He doesn’t like chilled soup. He is not that keen on fruit. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that he wasn’t at all keen on the soup. In fact, I happily ate most of his. Bit of a shame on our wedding anniversary but I know he loved the first course. Besides he has his little pleasures. He got to choose the music! He also got some enjoyment from discussion of how much it looked like an alien lifeform in a sci-fi movie! So I don't think he really missed out. But maybe there will be a dessert for E coming up soon.

Even if E is not a fan, I hope to try this soup again before autumn blows around again. I can think of others who would love this soup. It would be fantastic in the height of summer which will be with us all too soon. In the blogosphere, I am sure Holler and Lisa will love it and send it their way for No Croutons Required.

Strawberry Soup
(adapted from The Accidental Vegetarian)
Serves 2-4

500g strawberries, hulled
1½ tbsp castor sugar
½ cup apple juice (or dessert wine)
4-5 pieces of tinned unsweetened peaches (or 1 ripe), diced
125g raspberries
Pulp of 2 passionfruit
Marscapone (or cashew cream) and mint leaves to serve (optional)

Blend strawberries and sieve (discard seeds). Mix puree with remaining ingredients. Chill until ready to serve. Serve with marscapone and mint leaves or serve as is. Tastes great the next day too.

On the Stereo:
With my little ukulele in my hand: Various Artists

Thursday, 18 September 2008

A bloody tale of burritos and beans

I made burritos last weekend and they had more than their fair share of drama. There was blood. There was a dizzy spell. And there was love.

It started innocently enough with a request for burritos from E. I obliged by hunting out a recipe for Burritos with Spinach, Artichokes, Barbecued Red Bell Pepper and Fetta Cheese from my Complete Vegetarian Barbecue Cookbook. But I felt incapable of following this recipe and followed my own whims. Admittedly I didn’t have much energy for multi-tasking and kept forgetting I was roasting, boiling or frying things.

But it was when the end was in sight that I really lost my concentration. I just had to open a can of beans and toss them into the mix but in my rush I got my thumb caught between the jagged edge of the tin and the inside of the tin. Ouch! E was chatting away to my dad on the phone and I was yelling at him to get off the phone – now!

Once I managed to extract my thumb it kept bleeding and so we headed off to the bathroom for dettol antiseptic, bandages to soak up the blood and a dizzy moment sitting on the edge of the bath. Thankfully we weren’t expecting guests like last time I did this and the bleeding eased up. But I was a bit shaken as I am not good with blood (it’s no coincidence that I am vegetarian and usually keep blood away from my dinner)! I am sure many fellow food bloggers have their minor dramas in the kitchen like this (although one of my silliest scars is from trying to chop up a Christmas tree for the bin with a carving knife – never again!)

It is times like this I am especially grateful to have E about. Regular readers will know that my partner E doesn’t cook. But he can rise to the occasion when I need him. Under my instruction he assembled the burritos. He might have felt all thumbs but I wouldn’t have minded the use of mine. I did manage to take a dodgy photo to prove he really can do it when he needs to. And he still did the dishes! Now that is love!

It was a bit of a relief to sit down and eat the burritos after all the drama. They were lovely and surprisingly filling. One and a half each was too much. In an ideal world I would have served them with avocado or a simple guacamole but didn’t get myself organised to get a ripe avocado. So we had yoghurt and some tomato salsa.

My thumb was not as bad as it felt and looked at first. But I made a salad with beetroot the next day and got beetroot juice in the cut which has made sure it looks quite impressive.

I have tweaked the recipe to serve 6 but if your household is small like ours you might want to just serve 2 or 3 and be creative with the remaining filling and tortillas. I used the remaining filling for stuffing zucchinis – more about that later. My leftover tortillas were used for cheese and banana burritos which were interesting but not quite blogworthy (maybe another time).

I feel I should learn from this experience. It is yet another reason that tinned beans aren’t necessarily better and that I should get myself organised to soak and simmer the dried stuff. However, Lucy of Nourish Me doesn’t mind how I cook my beans. She is requesting leguminous dishes for My Legume Love Affair which she is hosting this month (deadline 28 September). So I am sending these burritos to her for the event which was started by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook.

Spinach, pumpkin and bean burritos
Serves 6

400g butternut pumpkin (half a small one)
Olive oil for roasting and frying (or oil from marinated artichokes)
⅓ cup long grain white rice (I used basmati)
½ red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 mild green chilli, finely chopped
Zest and juice of ½ a lime
Pinch salt
150g baby spinach, roughly chopped
170g jar of artichokes, drained and chopped
4 sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1 cup grated tasty cheese**
400g tin of cannelini beans, drained
6 large tortillas*
Plain yoghurt** and/or guacamole to serve

* To make gluten free use corn tortillas
** To make vegan omit cheese and yoghurt or use soy cheese and soy yoghurt

Peel, deseed and chop pumpkin. Toss with drizzle of olive oil and seasoning in a roasting dish. Roast in 200 C oven for 30-40 minutes or until soft and cooked.

Cook rice in boiling water for about 12 minutes or til cooked. Drain.

Make salsa by mixing ¼ of the red onion, ½ chilli, 1 clove of garlic, juice of lime, salt and tomatoes in a small bowl. Set aside.

Fry remainder of red onion in large non stick frypan in about 1 tsp of olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add 1 clove garlic and baby spinach and fry about 2 minutes or until spinach begins to wilt. Stir in artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, lime zest, cheese, beans, roast pumpkin and rice til all combined.

Divide the mixture between tortillas and fold over four edges of each tortilla to make an envelope that will encase mixture. Place in lightly greased roasting dish seam side down and cover with foil. Bake at 180 C for about 15 minutes. (Or cook under the grill or on a frypan til lightly browned). Serve with salsa and yoghurt and/or guacamole.

On the Stereo:
Ultra-Lounge / Tiki Sampler – Various Artists

Sunday, 14 September 2008

PPN: Soy bombs with two tomato sauces

On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese
I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed
It rolled off the table and onto the floor
And then my poor meatball rolled out of the door
So if you ever have spaghetti all covered with cheese
Hold onto your meatballs and don’t ever sneeze


We sang this song with great gusto at primary school. It was sung to the tune of On Top of Old Snowy. Imagine a class of little kids yelling out the last line with more concern for loudness than tune. That was my class.

This seems like a song of simpler times when our main concerns were hygiene. Lactose-free and gluten-free diets were virtually unheard of. I can’t remember anyone being vegetarian or vegan at the time. Though, I might have quite happily taken up a vegetarian diet to avoid having to eat meat if I had thought it possible.

More recently when I saw Cindy making soy bombs, I was amused by the name and enticed by her enthusiasm for them. I subsequently saw Frances and AOF enjoy versions of them. I noticed that Frances used egg to bind them and I understand because mine were on the crumbly side and one or two collapsed in the frypan. While they seemed fine finger food for entertaining, I fancied serving them on top of spaghetti and this song kept running through my mind. Try singing it with soy bomb instead of meatball - it works!

If I was going to serve them on spaghetti, I also needed a sauce to serve with them. I found a recipe for a roasted tomato sauce from Cranks Fast Food (by Nadine Abenseur) that I had scribbled down months ago and decided to try it. Its simplicity attracted me.

Although I had notes to say the tomato sauce served 2 people, I think it would easily serve four. The sauce was delicious but the spaghetti was a little drowned under the generous helping. The soy balls had great flavour and texture but a little went a long way. I served some broccoli on the side which was just as well because otherwise dinner would have been a bit intense.

After we had finished eating I remembered that I had forgotten to serve it ‘all covered with cheese’. More respectful to the vegan nature of the soy bombs but this song had given me visions that were not realised.

A couple of nights later we still had lots of soy bombs left and it was the day before I headed off to Hobart and needed to empty the fridge. I emptied the fridge and made another roasted tomato sauce that I loved. I enjoyed it more because it had more variety of vegetables and hence more flavour. But it was every bit as simple as the previous sauce, even easier because there was no pureeing. I even had some sauce and a soy ball leftover for a small meal the following night before heading off into the world of airplane catering. When will airlines learn that food can taste this good!

I am sending this post to Psychgrad of Equal Opportunity Kitchen who is hosting this week’s Presto Pasta Nights, the event which was started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast.

Soy Bombs
(adapted from Post Punk Kitchen via Where’s the Beef?)
Makes about 18 balls – enough for 6 servings with pasta

375g firm tofu, crumbled
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted peanut butter
3/8 cup breadcrumbs
fresh basil or other chopped herbs (I didn’t use)
plain flour for coating bombs
about 1/3 cup vegetable oil for frying

Mix all ingredients (except flour and oil). Roll into balls of about 3cm diameter (I found mine a little on the crumbly side). Place flour in a bowl and toss balls in flour to coat.

Pour oil into a non-stick frypan (about 2mm deep) and heat to not quite smoking. Try one soy bomb and if it sizzles add the remaining bombs (if not heat the oil more). Turn with tongs after a minute or two and then turn fairly frequently til browned all over. Mine absorbed most of the oil. Drain on kitchen paper.

Alternately you can bake the soy bombs for 20-30 minutes but according to Cindy’s partner in the kitchen, Michael, they will be drier.

Serve with spaghetti and tomato sauce (see recipes below) or as finger food.

Roasted tomato sauce
(adapted from Cranks Fast Food)
Serves 3-4

500g ripe tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Sea salt, black pepper
Sugar (optional)
Fresh basil or teaspoon of pesto

Place all ingredients except basil or pesto in a roasting dish. Roast at 230 C for about 20 minutes. Blend and stir in basil or pesto. Serve over pasta.

Roasted tomato capsicum and cauliflower sauce
Serves 3-4

4 tomatoes, diced
½ cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 red capsicum, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Pinch salt
Olive oil for roasting
½ cup chopped kalamata olives
2-4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1-2 tbsp finely chopped chives

Toss tomatoes, cauliflower, capsicum, and garlic with salt and a drizzle of oil. Roast for 40 minutes in oven at 220 C. Stir in olives. Serve on pasta, scatter with cheese and chives.

On the Stereo:

Exodus: Bob Marley

In Search of the Green Smoothie

After some experimentation I finally arrived at a green smoothie to love this morning. Just the thing to cope with E playing samples of cats singing Christmas carols on the web (I kid you not - meowy christmas anyone?).

This year I have become a bit of a whiz at whipping up a smoothie at home on a lazy weekend morning – thanks to finally finding the right jug for my stick blender. But early this year before I found that perfect jug, I began to dream of a green smoothie. It started when Ricki posted her mystery smoothie with spinach in it. All I could think was ‘mmm…green’ despite her suggestion that you hide the green with other colours.

We have a book of Juices and Smoothies which I consulted for more ideas on green. There seems nothing that can't be put in a smoothie but I was after taste as well as colour. While I draw the line at cabbage, brussels sprouts and cucumber, I was tempted by broccoli. But it was kiwi fruit that lodged itself in my imagination. My smoothie had to have kiwi fruit.

Then I saw Holler’s Raspberry Carrot and Basil Smoothie which had blended apples rather than apple juice. So my first attempt at a smoothie was kiwi fruit, spinach and grated apples. It was a brilliant green, tasted quite nice but was too slushy for my liking. So I tried a variation of my favourite smoothie – kiwi fruit, banana and apple juice. Tasted great but was a disappointingly pale green.

Lately there have been a few interesting posts with lots of good suggestions for finding your way out of the smoothie rut. Check out the ideas and comments on posts by Cassie, Clotilde and Sophie if you would like some novel ideas. My smoothie rut is that I like to add banana for creaminess. Then I saw Sophie’s suggestion of using avocado and my mind saw the green possibilities.

My challenge with avocados is finding one that is ripe at the same time you want to eat it. I bought a ripe one yesterday but had too much other good food about to have room for smoothies. So this morning I tried my smoothie with kiwi fruit, avocado, apple juice and spinach. I initially only put in half a cup of juice but the avocado really does thicken it up, so I added more juice and the smoothie I drank was a little thinner than the photo shows (yes my photo is on a new teatowel from my recent Hobart trip). But it tasted so good and was such a pleasing colour.

I highly recommend this smoothie if you want green colour and good taste. It is not overly sweet but was sweet enough for me. I am won over by kiwi fruit in smoothies – they are both sweet and tart and I love the texture of the seeds in the smoothie. The avocado makes it amazingly smooth and thick. The spinach is not noticeable but adds a bit of iron which I can always do with. And the apple juice thins it down and adds that extra sweetness that it needs. Lastly, it is very filling. I feel like I don’t need to eat again today. But my excuse for drinking it all is that it needed to be had fresh and E wouldn’t even try it. His loss!

Kiwi Fruit, Avocado and Spinach Smoothie
Serves 2-3

1 kiwi fruit, peeled and roughly chopped
½ avocado, peeled and roughly chopped
A handful of baby spinach leaves
1 cup (250ml) apple juice, or more as required

Place all ingredients in blender or use hand held blender and blend till smooth. Add more apple juice if you need to thin it down a little.

On the Stereo:
Cara Dillon: Cara Dillon

Saturday, 13 September 2008

A not-so-nasty pasty

I was having fun making cookies a few weekends back, so it wasn’t till I started to think about tea that I realised I had forgotten to go to the supermarket. A packet of spinach in the fridge needed using. I had seen a few interesting ideas for using spinach in pastry – Cassie’s Spinach and Artichoke Filo Pastries and Philippa O’s Spinach and Tofeta Triangles. But I hadn’t got organised enough to shop for the necessary ingredients and was left to raid the pantry.

This meant no ready rolled pastry to fall back on. Fortunately, seeing Yaz in the afternoon prompted me to remember a crusty hot water pastry recipe he had given me some weeks ago. I can’t tell you the source because he has had it in his recipe notebook for years. But it worked well and there was no rubbing butter into flour, no cooling in the fridge and no blind baking. The only problem is the need for asbestos hands to handle the hot dough if you don’t let it cool a little.

The pastry recipe suggested pasties and I was happy to follow the advice. Traditional stories of pasties focus on Cornish miners encasing their meat and veg in pastry as an early form of convenience food (but more environmentally kind than our modern plastic and polystyrene packaging). However, when I think of pasties, I think of their place in my life.

The first thought that came to mind as I made them was the insult ‘nasty pasty’ which is similar to calling someone a mean bean! I don’t know where it comes from but I do wonder if this is why Rob Clarkson chose to sing his anti-love song about ‘A Can of Lemonade and a Pastie’. Quite rightly the final lyrics are ‘with sauce’.

In our country, people like to talk a lot about the great Australian pie with sauce but in my childhood we had both pies (known fondly as ‘plasma pies’) and pasties. Always served with tomato sauce (known fondly as ‘dead horse’). We often had to choose between pies and pasties when eating out at a milk bar, when presented with a plate of party-sized pies and pasties at a kiddy party and when making our lunch order at school.

I thought this might be a good time to tell you about lunch orders. We hear so much about school dinners and school canteens these days but I don’t hear about lunch orders. Perhaps it is a thing of the past. In primary school I went to a small school in the country where we didn’t have anything so fancy as a canteen. Instead we put in lunch orders to a local milk bar. A milk bar is like a cross between a corner store in the UK and a drugstore in the USA.

Each morning at school if we were lucky enough to have a lunch order, we would place our order and some money (my memories are hazy enough to be unsure how we paid – maybe we put in a paper bag or an envelope) in a basket. Usually it would be a pie or pastie, a bag of chips (crisps) and a can of lemonade. The orders were picked up in the morning and the basket reappeared at lunch time with the food as ordered. If you forgot to put your order in, you had to catch the people from the milk bar and ask them to make a special trip for you. Anyway, I often had pasties with my lunch order. Even then I suspect I prefer the less meaty alternative.

Pasties that I have today are quite different to the meat, potato and carrot ones our local milk bars sold. The filling I made for these recent pasties was inspired by what I could find and was delicious. The bulk of the filling was spinach and potato, with corn and sun dried tomato for extra moisture, and garlic flakes and parmesan for extra flavour. The remainder of filling ended up in a curry but could be used in lots of stews. The pastry was quite crisp on the outside but pleasing – with sauce, of course!

Spinach and Potato pasties

Crusty hot water pastry (makes 4):
2 ½ cups (400g) flour (I did half white, half wholemeal)
½ tsp salt
125g butter
150ml hot water
1 egg, for glazing pastry

Filling (enough for 6 pasties):
2 medium potatoes, diced – 15 min
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped – 5-10 min
1 tsp garlic flakes, crumbled
130g baby spinach, shredded
125g tin of corn kernels, drained
¼ cup sun dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
25g parmesan cheese

To make pastry: Place butter and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat. Add flour and salt and stir to combine so the mixture is quite crumbly but moist. Use your hands to bring together into a dough and knead for 1-2 minutes til just smooth – do not overwork. (Note: this dough is really hot so you might need to leave it a little while to cook if you don’t have asbestos hands. I have put this first as I think next time I might prepare the filling while the pastry cools a bit.)

To make the filling: Place potatoes in water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or till soft. Fry the onion in olive oil for about 5-7 minutes on low heat in a frypan until soft. Add garlic and spinach and stir for 1-2 minutes over heat till spinach is starting to wilt. Remove frypan from heat. Add corn, sun dried tomatoes and cheese and stir to combine.

To assemble: Cut warm pastry into four pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and use a rolling pin to roll into a 20cm circle. (My circles are always quite ragged – maybe you are meant to trim them to make them round?) Place 2-3 dessertspoonfuls of filling into middle of each circle. Use water or beaten egg to moisten the edges of the pastry. Fold over pastry and pinch to seal pasty. Place on a greased oven tray and use beaten egg to glaze pasties.

To cook: Bake pasties in the oven at 200 C for 10 minutes and then reduce heat to 180 C and bake an additional 30 minutes til pasties are golden brown.

Serve with tomato sauce. A side salad or steamed vegies are optional.

On the stereo:
This is Hardcore: Pulp

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Choc chip and cherry cookies

We’re just home from holiday. It’s been a while since I posted here. I meant to post before our break but time and technology were against me. I have been building up a backlog of posts so will now try and get a few written up, including a post on our culinary highlights in Hobart.

And what better holiday food to post from my backlog than choc chip cookies. I haven’t done much baking lately but when a friend arrives with a bag of chocolate chips and a desire to bake choc chip cookies, it is hard to resist. I didn't grow up baking choc chip cookies. We occasionally had some from the shops but my mum's biscuit baking prowess lay elsewhere. The first time I remember having fresh baked choc chop cookies was when I shared a house with Yarrow and he had a recipe for Mrs Field's Cookies. I was amazed, little knowing the wealth of choc chip recipes out there.

These days I possess a ridiculous amount of choc chip recipes as Yaz well knows. He brought the chocolate and inspiration but asked me for a recipe. We perused a few cookbooks in the backyard but ended up with my favourite source of choc chip cookie recipes – Gwen Steege’s In Search of the Perfect Choc Chip Cookie. This book comes from a competition for choc chip cookie recipes. I have usually looked here for the unusual recipe rather than the prize winning recipes but Yarrow appreciates the elegance of a simple recipe. So we chose one of the prize winning recipes which is quite traditional. My contribution was the suggestion that we add oats for texture and some of my precious stash of unsweetened dried cherries for contrast.

It is always interesting to cook with others. It never ceases to amaze me what different approaches we all have. Yaz has a better sense than me of when the cookies are cooked. My inclination was to return them to the oven but he wisely counselled it was time to let them cool. The downside of cooking with others is that I feel an unreliable reporter of the method. I neither gave my full attention nor took full responsibility for the baking. We chatted, he stirred, I found ingredients in the pantry, he measured. I think the method I have written is close enough for jazz. But I was a little approximate with number of cookies as we had sampled too many (and Yaz taken some home) before I started to tally them up. In addition, I think the cookies were bigger than I usually make.

But despite all my disclaimers, I highly recommend choc chip cookies with unsweetened dried cherries. The tartness of the cherries against the intense dark chocolate is a heavenly marriage.

Choc chip and dried cherry cookies
(adapted from Chocolate Chip Cookies I, p 34 in In Search of the Perfect Choc Chip Cookie)
Makes about 18-20 cookies

1 cup plus 2 tbsp flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
125g butter or margarine
6 tbsp caster sugar
6 tbsp brown sugar
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup dark chocolate chips
¼-½ cup rolled oats
¼-½ dried unsweetened cherries

Cream butter. Add sugars. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt. Stir in oats, choc chips and cherries. Drop spoonfuls onto a lined baking tray with room for them to spread. Bake about 10-12 minutes at 180 C till just cooked (ie slightly browning on the edges but still almost uncooked in the middle). I usually cool on a wire rack – but ours were fine cooling on the tray.

On the Stereo:
Born Sandy Devotional: the Triffids