Anyone Can Cook Fabulous Vegetarian Food: Zucchini Zeitgeist and Merry Marrows

Ah, February.  The season of smoky heat and bushfires (she says, looking dubiously out the window at the pouring rain), of nights too humid for sleep, of days that are long but growing just a little shorter, of children going back to school, of marrows taking over the garden.

I am a terrible gardener, and perhaps this is why I have never managed to succumb to a total zucchini invasion.  My zucchini plants grow filmy white on their leaves, and then they shrivel up, and my zucchinis themselves, while delicious, never reach the apocalyptic numbers I dream of, nor the intimidating size one so frequently hears of.  I do not find myself building zucchini ziggurats or succumbing to squash samurai, nor am I menaced by marrow marauders or carnivorous courgettes.

Which is a rather sad, really.

So I make up for it by buying way too many zucchini at the markets, so that I, too, can face the challenge of what to do with this abundance.  Except that it isn’t a very good challenge, because I have loads of ideas, and nowhere near enough zucchini to do them justice.

I’m sure you do, too.

The February 2015 theme is
Zucchinis and marrows

(Because I can’t possibly be the only person out there who sees a three kilo marrow as a golden opportunity)

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Recipe: Scrambled Tofu with Cajun Spices

Three quarters of the way through the month and it’s probably time I actually created a recipe for my Anyone Can Cook Vegetarian Food challenge.  And in fact, I did create this recipe, several days ago – I’m just having trouble getting around to posting it. I’m running a big event at work next week and am being a bit overwhelmed not so much by the workload as by the slightly terrifying levels of enthusiasm and competitiveness being demonstrated by those around me. 

The number of questions I’ve been getting about exactly how things will work and precisely how I will prevent cheating – including the Graphics department expressing an alarming level of concern about people forging voting tokens (and I’m not at *all* worried that it’s the people who design all the images, drawings, posters etc who have forgery on their minds…) is… well, let’s just say that I’m beginning to wonder if my trust in my colleagues is misplaced and I should be appointing scrutineers.  And maybe the Electoral Commission, to supervise.

(Still, given that my biggest worry a few weeks ago was that nobody would participate, overwhelming enthusiasm is a fairly nice problem to have.  I am beginning to feel a little bit like a kindergarten teacher, however.)

Anyway.  This is indeed a lovely, quick recipe to make – and it’s tofu, which is a product I’m normally terrified of, so it’s slightly amazing, even to me, that this recipe has been getting onto my weeknight roster.  To me, this tastes like a nice, spicy version of scrambled eggs.  (Andrew tells me it tastes nothing like scrambled eggs. He’s wrong, but since he hates eggs, and likes this recipe, I’m not going to complain…)  Like scrambled eggs, it’s a good, fast recipe to put together on a hot day.

I like to serve this with corn chips, which saves any extra cooking and is also yummy.  But it’s pretty nice on it’s own, or you could stuff it into a burrito for a vegan version of breakfast burritos…

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Your shopping list

250 g soft tofu
4 spring onions (scallions)
2 capsicums, one red and one green
1-2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Cajun spice mix
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, or 1 tsp ground chipotle pepper
½ tsp turmeric
250 g cherry tomatoes
small handful of fresh coriander (optional – leave it out if you hate coriander)
½ cup grated cheese or vegan cheeze (cheddar, mozzarella, or a combination of cheeses)
corn chips or bread to serve

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Recipe: Accidental Teff Gingerbread Brownies

I freely admit, this recipe did not start off as brownies.  I had been given some Teff flour, originally with bread in mind, but my wrist ganglion won’t really let me knead dough at present, so that was just not going to happen.  So then I  was planning to make cookies, on the generally sound principle that when experimenting with a new kind of flour, cookies are a fairly safe bet (they are small enough to maintain structural integrity even with a fairly non-sticky flour).

But then I realised that I kept on using things in measures of 1/3 cup, and I got all excited about making a recipe based on everything going in 1/3 cup measures and had to keep going come hell or high water… and then I realised that this recipe wanted a bit of a gingerbread personality, which means treacle instead of sugar, and then with oil replacing the butter (and I still don’t know why I did that, given that I then went and replaced the egg with yoghurt, so it isn’t like this recipe is dairy-free in any case), the whole batter started looking very cake-batter-ish, and indeed, soon took on that shiny texture I associate with brownies.

I know when I can argue with a recipe, and I know when a recipe is going its own way.  This recipe knew what it wanted, and I did not have the strength of will to stop it.

The result?  Well, it’s somewhere between brownie and cake.  Teff flour, it turns out, has quite a distinct flavour – wholemeal and nutty and something else I can’t quite identify.  It is also a little on the powdery side, though the denseness and moistness in the cake rescue it somewhat.

But do you know what’s really weird about this brownie? It tastes like a rum and raisin brownie with walnuts, despite containing none of those ingredients.  Bizarre.  Don’t get me wrong – the flavours are lovely.  They just aren’t the ones I was trying to put into the cake…

As culinary experiments go, I think it’s a success.  Though if I were writing this up as a paper, I’d probably fudge my initial aims and hypothesis a bit, to match my results.

(Come to think of it, I wrote more than one history paper as a student where I had to go back and re-write my introduction once I was done, because during the course of writing, I had argued myself around to a completely different point of view.  So perhaps this brownie is actually an essay about Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Stranger things have happened.)

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1 1/3 cups Teff flour
1/3 cup almond meal
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp gingerbread spice (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg)
1/4 tsp dried orange peel powder (optional, or use zest of one orange)
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup yoghurt
1/3 cup treacle
1/3 cup chopped dried apricots
1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate
1/3 cup chopped glacé ginger

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Recipe: Sweet Potato Dip

This is just a simple little recipe for using up leftover baked sweet potatoes that takes about five minutes to make.  Maybe other people don’t have leftover baked sweet potatoes, but I tend to make baked sweet potatoes fairly often, and I find it very hard to judge how much we will want to eat…

The flavours are vaguely Middle-Eastern, and this dip is good as part of a mezze spread.  We had it with little lebanese sausages, tabouleh, hummus, pink coleslaw, and maybe a little bread.  It would work beautifully with turkish bread, tabbouleh and haloumi, or, indeed, with marinated and grilled meat, fish, veggie sausages, felafel, tofu or portobello mushrooms. 

It’s just a nice little thing to round out a meal with a little more vegetable and carbohydrate, and it makes me happy.

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Your shopping list

280 g baked sweet potatoes, at room temperature
1 spring onion
1 tsp pomegranate molasses
1/4 tsp ground cumin
salt to taste
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Angelique’s Banana Bread

This is a gluten-free banana cake I put together for a friend of mine.  It’s a nice, easy cake to put together, and good for afternoon tea, as it’s solid, but not too sweet.

I must admit, I had my doubts about this cake initially.  You see, I used quinoa flour, and I used a different brand from usual (McKenzies, if you’re wondering), and it turns out that this particular brand has quite a strong taste.  I could still detect it in the final, baked recipe, which was annoying.  But in fact, it grew on me pretty fast, and I actually rather like it.  Though not enough to use the same brand next time.

Looking around, it turns out that quite a lot of people don’t like quinoa flour.  If this is you, don’t despair – more rice flour would work.  Alternatively, I note several food writers suggest ‘heat treating’ or toasting quinoa flour before use – apparently the trick is to spread out your quinoa flour on a baking sheet and bake it at 100°C for two hours.  I’ll be doing this next time – quinoa is a useful flour because of its high-protein ways, and this is an advantage worth keeping.

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Your Shopping List

2 over-ripe bananas
3 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup (approximately one drained tin) crushed pineapple
1/3 cup tightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp gingerbread spice mix, mixed spice, or ginger
1 cup rice flour
1 cup quinoa flour
1 cup almond meal
2 tsp baking powder

For the icing:
250 g light cream cheese, softened
zest of 1 lemon
2 1/2 cups icing sugar

 

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Flemington Farmers’ Market – Berries, vegetable mandalas, and a little present for you!

Hooray!  The new year has started and it’s back to the farmers’ markets for us, just in time for all those lovely tomatoes and long peppers and the last of the season’s apricots (already?  How did this happen?).

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Saturday was too hot for anything, and I wasn’t able to figure out whether any farmers’ markets were even on (not all of them start directly after New Years), but Flemington sent me an email promising berries and stone fruit, and that was good enough for me.

A symbolic representation of Saturday's weather.

A symbolic representation of Saturday’s weather.

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Recipe: Chocolate Crackles with the Lot (but Vegan!)

These chocolate crackles really don’t deserve to be as good as they are.  They came about because I had a New Year’s Eve party to go to, and I’m constitutionally incapable of going to a party without bringing dessert – but I didn’t have anything obvious to bring.  What I did have was half a block of copha, a bit of tahini, some chocolate, a big handful of random glacé fruit and a whole box of lollies leftover from various Christmas festivities.  I also had a strong desire not to actually cook, and a rather messy kitchen with both cocoa and icing sugar still left out on the counter after previous baking events.

Everyone knows that chocolate crackles are what Copha (refined coconut oil, for those of you who didn’t grow up with the Aussie tradition of chocolate crackles and honey joys at every birthday party) is for.   And I have always preferred my chocolate crackles with actual chocolate in them.  And surely chocolate crackles could only be improved by a whole lot of random mix-ins?

As for the tahini – well, I didn’t really have enough Copha for the amount of mix-ins I wanted to use.  But I wasn’t going to buy more Copha, because it really is only for chocolate crackles (and, as it turns out, Lebkuchen, which is why I had it in the first place).  I didn’t want to make the crackles richer with butter – I may not be vegan, but if I’ve got a recipe that is perfectly vegan and tasty to begin with, I draw the line at gratuitously un-veganising it – and I was a bit worried that they would be ridiculously sweet.  Tahini is a useful sort of fat, and really quite profoundly bitter, at least to my palate, so it seemed like a good counterbalance to the whole ridiculous mess.

And as it turns out, it was.  This recipe may look like a complete disaster but it actually balances quite well.  And I’ve just realised it isn’t vegan after all, because of my choice of lollies, but since you can make it with whatever lollies you have in the house, I’m still calling it vegan, because it really is as vegan as you want it to be.  A note for the gluten-free – Rice Bubbles are not, in fact, gluten-free, but you can buy annoyingly pricey gluten-free puffed rice cereal that would work perfectly well here.  Since I had nobody gluten-free to cater for, I didn’t bother this time.

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Your Shopping List (or Fridge Dive, depending how you want to play it)

125 g copha
50 g tahini
110 g dark chocolate
3 tbsp cocoa
2/3 cup icing sugar
150 g mixed lollies – I used jaffas, smarties, chopped up jelly snakes, and jelly bellies.  None of these are vegan.  But there is no reason you couldn’t use any vegan lollies you have in the house – I have it on good authority that Skittles and Toffee Apples are fair game, as are a lot of dark chocolate-dipped fruit and nuts, and I know there are plenty of stores that sell specifically vegan lollies, too.  You could also just add 150 g of other mix-ins of your choice.
175 g chopped glacé fruit – I used a mixture of glacé cherries, ginger, apricots and peaches, but any kind would do.
4 cups rice bubbles

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In My Kitchen January 2015 – Post-Christmas Edition

I’m delighted to join Celia’s monthly In My Kitchen blogaround.  This is a monthly peek into the kitchens of food bloggers around the world, and all too often an opportunity to see what fascinating kitchen gadgets and cookbooks I ought to be putting onto my wishlist…

In my kitchen this month I have all sorts of goodies leftover from Christmas!  I’ll start with this rather extraordinary beer, given to me by two of my lovely scientists at work.

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(Note the beautiful seal on the bottle.  Yellow lab tape – the sure sign a scientist was involved…)

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It purports to be banana bread beer, and to have actual bananas in it.  I have not yet dared to try it.  I suspect it will actually be quite good – bananas are very sweet, and I usually find beer too bitter, so this might be the mix that makes beer drinkable.  I suspect I’m going to be keeping this one aside for Eurovision consumption, however – it looks fascinating, but I just don’t drink enough for it to be worth opening the bottle when there’s nobody around to help me drink it!

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Anybody can cook Fabulous Vegetarian Food: 15-Minute Wonders

Am I the only one looking at the weather forecast for the next few days and whimpering?  I am not a fan of the summer.  True, we get all the most fabulous stone fruit and berries and tomatoes and eggplants and other gorgeous crops – but the price we pay is high.  High on the thermometer.  And really, where is the fun in having gorgeous, seasonal ingredients in the kitchen if it’s too hot to cook them?

So this month’s challenge is really twofold – to use beautiful, summery ingredients to make a meal, while minimising the amount of time spent with the stove running.  Or to be precise…

The January 2015 theme is
15-Minute Wonders

(Because I can’t stand the heat – but I can’t seem to stay out of the kitchen, either…)

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The Statutory New Year’s Eve Post

Well, 2014 certainly got away from me.  There’s no doubt about that.  Not that it wasn’t an excellent year in many respects, but I certainly felt as though I was holding it by the tail of its shirt and running along trying to keep up.

There were definitely highlights.  Travelling to Europe was amazing, as well it might be, and it also had both its culinary highlights and culinary lowlights.  The passionfruit and mango caramels at Jacques Genin remain one of the most beautiful things I have ever put in my mouth.  The sour cream porridge at Ersgard… well, let’s call that one an acquired taste and move on.

I loved doing the Live Below the Line challenge in May, both because of the opportunity to reflect on the challenges of food poverty and because it was actually quite reassuring to see how far I’ve come since I last lived with food insecurity.  I never, ever want to find myself in that place again – but it was nice to realise that my food-related survival skills are actually pretty good these days.  I don’t think I – or anyone – could truly live healthily on such a tiny budget for long, but I could certainly do a better job than my student-self managed!

I discovered some truly amazing cookbooks this year, including my favourite cake cookbook of all time, and I think I fed the entire floor – as well as the electoral office where Andrew worked – with Herman the German cakes for about a month back in November.  Herman has now finished his time in my kitchen, but his many offspring live on in the homes of numerous friends and colleagues.  Apparently, my constant neglect of Herman provided some pretty intense natural selection for vigorous and hardy strains, and his tendency to escape and rampage across kitchen benches alarmed several of my friends.  He has even survived a conversion to a vegan, gluten-free diet, which suggests a decidedly strong constitution.

Looking back at my New Year’s Aspirations from last year… well, they were lovely, but it’s a good thing they weren’t resolutions, because I really didn’t get very far with them.  Work, politics, travel, and, pleasingly, quite a bit of singing work rather got in the way.  Still, they are nice things to aspire to, so I’m going to put them out there again, and hope for the best for 2015!

  • Resurrect the Vegetarian Food Challenge.  Starting tomorrow! (And if anyone has an itch to run this challenge for me one month, please, comment below and we will talk.  I am evidently not capable of running twelve of these in a year…)
  • Participate in at least one food blog challenge a month.  I like meeting fellow food bloggers!
  • Plan and eat vegan meals more often.  I have huge numbers of these recipes – why do I never do anything with them?
  • Actually invite my fellow food bloggers to hang out and do food stuff.  This shouldn’t be scary.  Why is it scary?  (Why are people scary?  Who knows?)
  • The aspiration that dares not speak its name.  Still too big and exciting to even admit to thinking about publicly yet, because I don’t know if I can do it.  Especially while running eight events at work and having a wrist operation at some point in addition to all my regular commitments.  But I shall not forget it, for all that!

To this I think I will also add:

  • Re-do the pantry challenge.  My pantry is getting entirely out of hand again, and must be tamed.
  • Do the Live Below the Line Challenge, or another food justice related challenge next year.

But they are still only aspirations and not resolutions, so if I don’t manage to do all of them every time, it’s OK.  Really.

Once again, I’m going to make a gallery for 2014 showing two favourite recipes for each month – one of mine, and one from another blog.  While I’ve been awfully quiet and antisocial on other blogs this year, I always love reading what people are up to, and what fascinating recipes they’ve come up with (or how often they have eaten at Smith and Daughters recently, not looking at anyone, Cindy and Michael…) (Actually, that was another highlight for the year – if you like Latin-American inspired food and haven’t been to Smith and Daughters yet, you certainly should.  It’s one of my favourite places to go in Melbourne.).

I hope you will, too.  And I hope that 2015 brings you everything you most wish for.

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