Recipe: Vegan Choc-Cross Buns with Tahini and Apricots

I take Easter, and particularly Good Friday, very seriously.  It’s not just because of the sheer number of professional commitments I have around Easter (and Good Friday is pretty much the peak of these, as I tend to have a late service on Thursday evening, then help lead the Way of the Cross procession through the city all morning on the Friday, before settling in for an afternoon service somewhere – Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday are relaxing by comparison!), or even just about the religious aspect, though this is important to me, too. 

In fact, these days I have a personal Good Friday ritual that involves fish and chips and a re-watching of the really good 1971 Jesus Christ Superstar film – because I spend so much of Easter feverishly keeping track of how many more rounds of chant I need to do, or where in the pew sheet I am, or how to make that hymn scan in Italian, or concentrating feverishly on using my voice efficiently so that it actually lasts through four days of epic singing, that there really isn’t much room for personal religious observance.  I’m too busy concentrating on doing my job right!  And that’s totally fine, but I then need something that will let me stop and contemplate the season, and it turns out that JCSS is great for that.  Especially this year, when I’ve spent so much time living in Passion land, between St Matthew, and the readings this week, and listening to the St John Passion sent to me by my pen-friend’s mother.

I just got totally distracted from what I was going to say, which is that for me, Good Friday is also sort of a birthday.  I was born on Good Friday in 1976, so I tend to view the entire Easter Weekend as fair game for birthday gatherings, if there is no time on the day itself.  And the first thing my mother ate after I was born was a hot cross bun, so I am undoubtedly pre-disposed by the conditions of my birth to take hot cross buns seriously, too!

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Anyway, after doing the Hot Cross Bun class at Gewürzhaus, I was consumed with the need to make hot cross buns, repeatedly.  And when I saw the recipe for the choc-chip kind (which I actually view as Not Proper Hot Cross Buns, but never mind that), I was immediately seized by the conviction that these needed to be veganised.  Of course, I then got totally overwhelmed by singing commitments, but yesterday’s afternoon service, in addition to being long, was also fairly inaudible from the organ loft, and so I found my brain turning to recipe design.  As one does.  In particular, I could not help thinking that chocolate tahini would make an amazing substitute for all the butter and eggs that one normally finds in hot cross buns.  Oh yes, indeed.  And since there is at least one vegan in the choir I’m singing with tonight, this is clearly exactly the right time to unleash vegan chocolate hot cross buns on the world!  

Happy Easter to you, if you celebrate it.  As for me, I’ll be singing…

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Recipe: Absurdly Cute Meringue Easter Bunnies

This is yet another one of those recipes that happens when I decide to make lemon curd, and then have to figure out something to do with all the egg whites.  I was just going to do plain meringues, but then for some reason my brain (which is not usually a particularly visual organ) came up with this image of stylised bunnies.  I drew the design on a piece of paper to see if it actually looked bunny-like outside my brain, and it did!  After that, it was just a matter of figuring out what colour to make the paws and ears, and how to do little bunny-like faces…

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Your Shopping List (for 12 bunnies, which is what I would have had if I hadn’t managed to stuff up on separating one of my eggs)

4 egg whites (use the yolks for lemon curd, or maybe a huge batch of mayonnaise)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/3 cups of caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
food colourings and flavours to taste – I used rose, violet and orange essences. 
coloured mini choc chips, or silver cachous, or other decorations for faces.
several piping bags, if you don’t already own them – you will probably need one for each colour, unless you are much bigger on washing up than I am

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Farmers’ Market Post: Return to Coburg Farmers’ Market

I am back, having survived the St Matthew’s Passion with my vocal chords intact!  It was a glorious, glorious thing, and I am itching to sing it again and also to learn all the soprano and alto arias and maybe sing them one day, and *also* I have the biggest music crush ever on Andrew Goodwin, the brilliant tenor who played our Evangelist.  He has absolutely the most superb tenor voice I’ve ever heard – he just floats over those top notes so easily and gently, but he can also be wonderfully dramatic in the sections where this is called for.  Swoon.  Being in Choir Two, I was able to appreciate this from pleasingly close quarters.  Though not as close as the altos.  Another reason I should have sung alto.  Yes, I am a very sad case.  But a voice like that doesn’t come along every day, and he seemed like a thoroughly lovely human being, too.

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(And that was the sound of me losing several minutes to looking up said tenor on YouTube and listening to the sadly small number of his recordings I was able to find. No CDs yet, alas…)

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(Also, the Palm Sunday service I was at read the entire text of Matthew 26 to 27, which is basically the text of the St Matthew Passion, with different readers being different characters and the congregation doing all the crowd responses.  It was all I could do not to burst into song.  In German.  Because it turns out that somewhere along the way I memorised all the German crowd bits.  Oh dear…)

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I have even more singing ahead of me, with Easter coming up next weekend, but this is probably not why you are here, so maybe I should consider getting to the point of this post, which is that Andrew and I actually managed to get back to the Coburg Farmers’ Market this weekend, for the first time in over a month.  We did manage a flying visit to Flemington last week, but there was no time to write about it afterwards, what with choir followed by Bach.  Due to singing, work, and the resulting extreme levels of exhaustion, I’ve been having to resort to the local greengrocer, and sometimes even the supermarket, for my fruit and veg for about the last six weeks, and it’s really not the same.  In the meantime, Melbourne has moved from high summer into quite definite autumn, with more varieties of apple than I can poke a stick at, and nuts of all kinds, as well as the last of the corn, eggplants, beans, capsicums, and even a tomato or two.

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Anyone Can Cook Fabulous Vegetarian Food: Easter Inspirations!

So apparently the Tofu Challenge turned out to be kind of an April Fool’s joke on my part, since I never did manage to create a tofu recipe (though I did cook with tofu *three whole times*, so at least I achieved that much in my pathway towards vegetarian enlightenment).

But it’s a new month, which means it’s time for a new challenge, and since my singing diary tells me that Easter (and laryngitis) is fast approaching…

The APril 2014 theme is Easter  Inspirations

(because God is love, and food is love, and I don’t think I’d better continue on to the logical conclusion of that thought or nobody will ever let me sing in their church again, but meanwhile my brain has moved on and is considering an entirely new series of heresies about transubstantiation and this is what happens when I’m doing too much singing and not enough sleeping.)

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Recipe: Sweet and Sour Roasted Root Vegetables with Lemon Myrtle and Quinces

I’ve been singing all weekend.  In fact, I’m beginning to feel like the Mystery Chorister, I’m doing so much church music in so many different venues at present.  I’m also learning a lot about architectural styles of different denominations around Melbourne, which are alarmingly consistent at times.  Something tells me that there just weren’t too many church architects / interior designers out there…

Anyway, after being out from 8am until 6:30pm today singing, I wanted to make something simple for dinner – the plan was for roast vegetables with gribiche sauce and a broccoli salad.  But then gribiche seemed a bit too much like hard work, and then I wondered how quinces would roast with all those sweetish root vegetables, and then I had a probably unwise epiphany about lemon myrtle, and the next thing I knew, the menu had changed utterly in personality.  The gribiche got replaced by a garlicky cannelini bean mash, so that we could pretend that there was some protein in the meal.  And the vegetables?  Well, they are actually rather nice.  I was worried that the vegetables would be too sweet, but they really aren’t, and I love the way the quince has sort of camouflaged itself, so you pick up something that looks like a sweet potato, and find that it is actually mildly sweet and perfumed and fruity – a stealth quince!  Yum.  

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Your Shopping List

1 large beetroot
1 quince
2 small onions
2 small potatoes
8 smallish carrots
2 small-medium parsnips
1 gigantic or two small sweet potatoes
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp dried lemon myrtle
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
olive oil
salt
pepper
 

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Recipe: End of Summer Harvest Polenta

My garden is almost ready to bed down for the winter.  The zucchini, pumpkin and melon vines have shrivelled to nothing, the rocket has bolted, and this evening I went out to pull up my basil plants, pick the last of my tomatoes, and harvest a final handful of tiny capsicums, and five corn cobs ranging in size from medium-small to positively miniature.

Last harvest of the summer

Last harvest of the summer

If I have time in between my intensive Easter singing schedule (new personal best this year, with five services over four days, not counting Palm Sunday services and the Saint Matthew’s Passion I’m singing in on April 5-6), it will soon be time to weed and dig and compost and maybe put in some winter vegetables that will give nutrients back to the ground.

But in the meantime, it’s time to celebrate the dying summer with this beautiful feast from my garden! 

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This polenta has it all – it’s soft and creamy, with a little crunch from the fresh corn and plenty of smokey heat from the chipotle pepper (it’s smokey outside, too, which is probably why chipotle pepper seemed so irresistible to me).  To accompany it, I’ve slow-roasted my tomato harvest, turned my basil and parsley into a creamy purée with cannelini beans, olive oil and lemon juice, and sautéed up a lot of capsicums and onions to add some crunch.

Gorgeous.

Also, a quick announcement before I give you the recipe itself – as you may have gathered, I will be singing the Saint Matthew Passion with the Melbourne Bach Choir at the start of April.  It’s going to be a rather gorgeous – and enormous! – performance, with three large choirs (I’m in Choir 2, which spends a lot of time interjecting with questions and interrupting arias with gratuitous chorales and choruses), an orchestra, and six soloists.  If you like serious Baroque Oratorio, I recommend it (and you can buy tickets here). 

Anyway, the unfortunate side-effect of all this glorious music is that I will be out at rehearsals every night next week until quite late… which means I am unlikely to be cooking *or* blogging much over the next ten days or so.  I shall try to pop in to say hello, but if I don’t, you know why…

Your Shopping List

For the tomatoes
600 g tomatoes, preferably randomly sized and coloured and from your garden!
olive oil
salt, pepper

For the polenta

1 cup polenta
4 cups water
salt, pepper
1 chipotle chilli in adobo
150 g fresh corn kernels
25 g butter
1/3 cup cheese
For the puree
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh parsley leaves
400g tinned cannelini beans, drained
50 g pistachios
juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper
For the rest
olive oil
2 onions
6 long sweet peppers, multicoloured

 

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Review: Hot Cross Buns (and other Easter goodies) at Gewürzhaus

I am indulging in a lot of cooking classes of late, mostly because it’s how I reward myself for surviving grants and associated work chaos.  And, coming home from this very relaxed and low-key class, I found myself reflecting on the different sorts of classes I do.  There are the ones I do through Savour or through William Angliss, which are aimed at would-be professionals (and the odd professional looking to upgrade his or her skills), and they are fast-paced, and mentally taxing, and one takes home products that look as though they were made in a professional kitchen.  One learns a lot of new techniques, but, at least in my case, one usually returns home with several things not really mastered to the level that the course aims for.  And honestly, that’s fine – these are useful courses, and I’m not by any means a professional.

Then there are the courses I do through places like Gewürzhaus or the Whimsical Cakehouse, which are aimed at people who like cooking and want to spend a few hours in a kitchen learning to do a few new things that they aren’t quite game to figure out at home – play with new spices, learn a bit of cake decorating or some traditional recipes, make enriched yeasted breads.  These are much more relaxed and sociable, and I, at least, tend to come home feeling pretty confident that I can make all those recipes in my kitchen.

Needless to say, I enjoy doing both kinds, and I enjoy even more bringing home the goodies I get to make…all2

Today’s course, ‘One a Penny, Two a Penny – Hot Cross Buns and European Easter Treats’, falls at the easy / relaxing end of the scale.  Very low key, and a lovely way to spend an afternoon at the end of another long week.  Under the guidance of Ina Low, we spent the afternoon making Hot Cross Buns, Tsoureki, and Torta Pasqualina, discussing different ways to dye eggs and how yeast works, and hearing about German Easter traditions, and how different (and disappointing) Easter is in Australia – when one hasn’t spent months and months in the cold and the dark waiting for the spring.

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We clearly need a big festival in October, though I suspect that Melbourne really doesn’t get cold enough to count.

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Recipe: Stuffed zucchini on roasted tomatoes

I was originally going to post this to my Tomatoes challenge, but then grant season got the better of me and nothing happened at all.  And now I have a Tofu challenge in play, and I have no idea what I’m going to do with that.  But right now, I’m working on the backlog of recipes that I created and scribbled down onto random pieces of paper in February (in fact, what I scribble down is a list of ingredients and quantities, trusting myself to remember the method, which is a bit of a gamble if the piece of paper then gets knocked off the desk by a cat, and batted under a couch, and then only found many weeks later), since this blog has been very nearly a recipre-free zone of late.

Anyway.  Zucchini flower season is almost over for us in Australia, but for once, I can give the Europeans and Americans a thrill by posting something that is about to come into season for a change!  I am constitutionally incapable of not buying zucchini flowers when I see them, which means that I then have to instantly re-jig any menu plans I’ve made, as zucchini flowers must be used the day you buy them, or at the very most, the day after.  In all probability, there are better ways to cook them – in fact, I am constantly being exhorted by farmers to try deep-frying them, stuffed or un-stuffed, in tempura batter, but since deep-frying is the one un-healthy culinary habit that I do not have, I am reluctant to learn it, even if tempura zucchini flowers does sound amazing.  God, that sentence was dreadful.  Sorry. 

Anyway, since I eschew the deep-fryer, my preferred option for zucchini flowers has always been to stuff them with a herby spinach and ricotta mix, and then bake them either in a simple tomato sauce or on a bed of roasting tomatoes. So far, nobody has complained at the lack of deep-frying, so here, for your delectation, is the recipe I normally use.  I apologise for the poor photographs – the light in my kitchen isn’t very good for photography.  I promise you, these zucchini flowers taste amazing, however they may look in these photos.

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Your Shopping List

12 zucchini flowers, preferable with the little zucchini still attached
1 kg assorted beautiful tomatoes
salt, pepper
1 tsp brown sugar
olive oil
2 tsp vinegar
oregano, to taste
150 g frozen spinach, defrosted (or a bunch of fresh)
300 g ricotta
50 g parmesan
a handful each of mint and basil leaves, chopped finely
nutmeg, pepper
1 egg
 
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Recipe: Miniature Pumpkins stuffed with Spiced Split Pea and Rhubarb Stew

This post is brought to you by Farmhouse Direct – or rather, by the fact that I have been too exhausted of late to contemplate getting up early to go to the market on a Saturday morning.  But I can’t come at buying most of my veg from the supermarket, either, so instead I hopped online, looked for fruit and veg, filtered my search for Victorian Farmers, and then went to see what was available.

What was available was boxes of produce from Vegie Bunch – huge bunches of rhubarb, mixed boxes of cucumbers, beetroot, carrots, garlic and potatoes, and boxes of tiny Jack Be Little pumpkins that could only be described as adorable.  I got some of everything, and it arrived on my doorstep on, I think, Thursday morning.

(And then I had to find places to put all of it, because none of this produce is small or self-effacing…)

Anyway, we had friends around to dinner on Friday, and what with it being Lent, I’m vegetarian – but what with it also being me having people around to dinner, it was absolutely necessary to make something spectacular. The Green Kitchen have a recipe for a split pea and rhubarb stew, for which I actually had most of the ingredients, and I thought it might be fun to stuff this into teeny tiny pumpkins and serve them roast potatoes, tomatoes from my garden, and a lot of tzatziki.

It was *amazingly* good, and I wouldn’t have thought to write it up, because the stew recipe was adapted from the Green Kitchen, until my friend asked if I was going to photograph the pumpkins, at which point I considered the recipe, considered how many ingredients and methods I’d changed, and realised that this was probably actually quite legit to write about.  Also, the tzatziki absolutely makes this dish, and that was definitely my idea.

Of course, this means that there are only photos of the finished product, but I’m hoping that the finished product is cute enough that you won’t mind.  Also, be warned – these little tiny pumpkins look like they will be a light meal, but this is just how they draw you in – we all managed to finish what was on our plates, but it was a near thing.  These babies are filling, and I think that with a few more baby pumpkins I could have easily fed ten to twelve people rather than the four I was actually cooking for.  I certainly had enough stuffing to fill more pumpkins…

Also, I apologise for the spice mixes – I didn’t have all the spices the recipe suggested, and I did have all these luscious spice mixes hanging around that seemed to fit the profile, so I used those instead.  Because sometimes, one wants to use one’s beautiful spice mixes.  I’m figuring that most of you probably do have some random Middle Eastern and chilli spice mixes lurking around your kitchen – here’s your opportunity to use them!

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Your Shopping List

8 Jack Be Little Pumpkins, or other miniature pumpkins suitable for stuffing
3 tbsp virgin coconut oil
2 tsp of a good chilli con carne or similar spice mix, one which is heavy on both chilli and cumin
1 1/2 tbsp of a good middle eastern sweet spice mix such as ras el hanout or a turkish spice mix – you want something that has cardamom, cinnamon and the like, but also a little bit of savoury bite and heat to it. 
1/2 tsp ginger
1 large onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, crushed,
500 g orange sweet potatoes
300 g carrots
5 sticks rhubarb
1 red apples
150 g yellow split peas
2 Lebanese cucumbers
500 g Greek yoghurt
a small bunch of mint
salt, pepper, olive oil
 
 

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Recipe: Gluten-free orange and cardamom wafers

These were going to be cut-out biscuits for the Ovarian Cancer fundraising Morning Teal, but first I wanted to make them without egg, for my friend who can’t eat eggs, and then I thought I’d make them gluten-free, for my friend who can’t eat gluten and by the time I was done inventing a new gluten-free flour and messing with the recipe as is my wont, my beautiful ribbon and dinosaur-shaped biscuits spread all over the biscuit tray and ran together until they looked like mis-shapen brandy snaps – thin, a little bit flexible while hot, and generally wafer-like.

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They were also really yummy, which was almost adding insult to injury, at this point.  I decided to cut the next batch into circles, and sandwich them together with blue curaçao icing, for the purposes of the morning tea, and they were pretty good like that, but secretly I knew that my ugly biscuits had a much better fate before them – they were made to go with ice-cream or whipped cream and fruit.

So that’s what I did with them for dessert the following night, and I was right – they were great with icecream.  And they will be even better with whipped cream, if I can find the right configuration for them.

If I were making them again, I’d plan to shape them into baskets over the back of a glass or something similar – they really have that sort of personality.  Then again, this recipe makes about a hundred wafers, so maybe not.  I’d probably go mad.  You can certainly halve this recipe – the reason I’ve made it so large is to make the gluten-free flour mix manageable.  But you can make the mix, pull out 250 g of it and set the rest aside for gluten-free cupcakes (which is what I did with the rest of it), if you prefer.

All dressed up for Morning Teal

All dressed up for Morning Teal

Your shopping list

1 1/2 cups rice flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/3 cup arrowroot or tapioca flour
1/3 cup cornflour
1/3 cup potato flour
1/2 cup cornmeal (polenta)
440 g caster sugar
440 g butter, softened
zest of two oranges
2 tsp ground cardamom seed
1 tsp bicarb of soda
pinch of salt

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