Recipe: Winter Tuna Salad with Fennel, Orange and Hazelnuts

I love salads, but it feels weird to buy tomatoes and capsicums and cucumbers and other summer vegetables when it’s freezing cold outside and probably pouring with rain, too.  So as the year changes, I start swapping out my summer greens and vegetables for more wintry fare – red cabbage, apples, celery, citrus fruits, fennel, kale, and lots of nuts and legumes.

This is a recent lunchbox favourite of mine, making the most of the cooler weather and the beautiful things that are in season even now, when the idea of getting out into the garden isn’t terribly inviting.  I think I even prefer this to my summer tuna salad – I like the acidity of the orange and the earthy flavour of the hazelnuts and chickpeas, and even fennel has started to grow on me.

But mostly I’m posting this recipe because it made my office-mate envious last time I brought it in for lunch, which is a good indicator in my book!

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1/4 red onion
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 x 125 g tin chickpeas
1 small or half large fennel bulb
1 orange
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts
2 handfuls baby spinach, rocket or parsley, or a combination of both (or any other likely winter greens that aren’t too bitter)
1 x 90g tin tuna packed in olive oil

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Flemington Farmers’ Market

My current nocturnal tendencies (which are driving me absolutely nuts, incidentally) are making it very difficult to get to the farmers’ markets of late, but Sunday was a choir Sunday, which means that one has to get up early anyway… at which point, one would clearly be a fool *not* to take the opportunity to replenish one’s supply of farmers’ market goodies.

Sunday marketing means a return to Flemington for us – we have not yet investigated the charms of the Substation Market in Newport, though I certainly have my eye on it (and also on Bundoora Park for next week, since I’ve heard rumours that Gumtree Pies are there monthly).  And this is rather lovely, as we get to visit old friends – and meet the odd non-market friend, too – as well as investigating the new stalls.

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Recipe: Fruit Mince Filo Cigars

Last weekend, I was invited to a Yule celebration at the home of one of my friends from work.  It was an amazingly fun evening (I think I could become addicted to the werewolf card game, even though I’m fairly terrible at it), and also notable for the incredible quantities of potatoes and cream that found their way onto the menu.  This is, perhaps, inevitable when the host and half the guests are French, and are, moreover, from places like Normandy and Burgundy, where potatoes and dairy products are pretty big stuff.  (I am informed that they do not believe in vegetables in these regions.  Other than potatoes.)

So we had roast lamb, and we had roast potatoes, and roast sweet potatoes, and we had pommes dauphines and we had gratin dauphinoise. And there was quiche, too.  I decided that *some* sort of non-potato vegetable wouldn’t go astray, so my offering was ratatouille.  (Which, actually, I was a bit nervous about actually calling ratatouille in front of a group of French people, as I have no idea what an authentic ratatouille is like, but apparently it was acceptable).

For dessert, since we clearly had not had enough cream yet, there were crèmes brulées (we got to blow-torch our brulées at the table, which instantly elevates this dinner party to the best one I have ever attended.  Also, possibly, the most dangerous one, since the blow-torch came out after the second glass of wine for most people at the table, and when you consider that many of the guests have a tendency to gesture a lot with their hands, you will understand why this was a little alarming…), and also waffles with nuttella and whipped cream.  I had considered once again taking the high path and bringing something with actual fruit in it, but the whole Yule / Christmas in Winter spirit overwhelmed me, and it was absolutely necessary to bring something involving spices, brandy and fruit mince.

Which is when I thought of these little cigars.

I actually made these for the first time after Christmas last year, when I realised I had a bit of fruit mince leftover from my mince pies, and also some filo pastry leftover from turning my Christmas chook into handheld chicken and pumpkin filo pies, and decided to combine the two.

They were amazing – astonishingly rich on the inside, but with a lovely, light, crisp pastry that made them a delight to bite into.  Also, they are surprisingly easy to make, which is a bonus.  And fantastic when dipped in double cream.  Which is not vegan, but a good cashew cream might actually be even better.

Of course, I had no idea what proportions of anything I’d used, so I figured I’d save the recipe until I had a bit more time.  Which was why I was half an hour late to the dinner party – it turned out that I didn’t, really, have that much time after all…

It was still worth it, though.  And after all those potatoes, a dessert that was low on the whole pastry/cake/pudding side of things and high on the rich, dried fruit side of things wasn’t a bad match at all.

(Though I suspect a fruit salad, while less Christmassy, would have been even better…)

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1 quantity of Easy Fruit Mince, made with cocoa butter instead of butter for vegan goodness.
1 handful each of dried cherries, chopped dried apricots, and chopped dried figs.

1 packet of filo pastry from the fridge section.  Please, not the freezer section.  I cannot stress this highly enough.  If you buy your filo pastry from the fridge, it will come out as lovely, soft, fine, layers of pastry, like fabric that roll like a dream.  If you buy it from the freezer and defrost it, it will come out like paper.  Old, crackling, crumbling paper.  And it will stick to itself and it will break when you try to unroll it and then you will end up with little flakes of pastry everywhere and nothing to roll your fruit mince in, and you will be very sad and you will wish you had taken my advice.  Which is good advice.  Seriously, get your filo from the fridge, or don’t bother.  I don’t want you to be sad, and I’m sure you don’t want that either.
Olive oil spray

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Anyone Can Cook Fabulous Vegetarian Food: Vegan Christmas in July

Oh, I am excited about this one.   So excited that I am bringing this allegedly monthly challenge back from yet another hiatus when Life got the better of me.  I know it’s not quite July yet, but let’s face it – the wintry weather has set in.

We don’t really have holly in Melbourne, but if we did, it would have berries on it.  And while it isn’t snowing here, I understand they are having a pretty good ski season up in the Victorian Alps.  Meanwhile, we have the wind wuthering around our house, the weather is cold and dark, and when one goes out in it, it rains.  Sideways.

This may not sound appealing to you, but I actually love Melbourne winters.  Partly, it’s perversity – nobody else seems to love this weather, so I do, wholeheartedly.  (In return, Melbourne very kindly gives me good weather for any events I hold outside, even if the weather has been utterly unpromising up until that point.  We have a very good relationship, Melbourne and I.)

But mostly, it’s because this is such fantastic baking weather. Continue reading

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Recipe: Sweet potato and chickpea curry with roast cauliflower

This was one of those recipes you make up as you go along which then turns out to be rather good, so you sit down straight after dinner to hastily reconstruct what you did before you forget it.  It does use several spice mixes, I’m afraid, because that’s what I do when I’m cooking things that I don’t plan to turn into my own recipes… and of course, there are only two photos, because photographing my food at multiple points in the cooking process is really not something I do unless I’m planning to blog about it – which I wasn’t this time!

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1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas if you have a pressure cooker, or 2 tins cooked
1-2 tbsp virgin coconut oil
1 large brown onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves
2 red chillis
2 tsp ginger puree
1 finger-sized piece of turmeric, peeled and grate
2 big sweet potatoes – about 1.5 kg, I think – peeled and cubed
2 cups of water
2 tsp Spice Fusion Thai curry blend (contains coriander, cumin, chilli, turmeric, ginger, pepper, cloves, fennel, cardamom and white pepper)
1/2 a cauliflower
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tsp Gewürzhaus tandoori masala
basmati or jasmine rice,  yoghurt, to serve

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One last shameless plug for Live Below the Line

Just a quick reminder for those who might have been thinking of sponsoring me for Live Below the Line but didn’t have the resources at the time that sponsorship closes in seven days’ time (i.e., the end of the financial year).  Astonishingly, I’m still at number 20 on the leaderboard, and as a matter of personal pride I’d like to stay there… Also, it would be nice to get up to my target of $3,000 (and for WEHI to overtake KPMG, for that matter – my evil competitive side likes the idea that I could single-handedly overtake a firm that has four people doing the challenge…) (also, medical research is 100% cooler than auditing, and I feel our scores need to reflect this).

If you have no idea what I’m talking about with all of this, look to the left of this post, or follow this link for the index page to all my Living Below the Line blog posts.

Or don’t, and that’s fine, too.  I realise that I have been shamelessly begging for donations left, right, and center, and I quite understand if people are over the whole thing!

(Disclosure statement: by being in the top 100, I am in fact in the running for a couple of prizes, so yes, there is a personal benefit to me.  However, in all honesty, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be kicked out of the top 100 in the next week.  Still, it would be fun to stay in the top 20 if I can.  )

Review: Smith and Daughters

My poor neglected blog!  Have you noticed that when one gets sick for a couple of weeks, it can then take at least a month to get back on track – first one has to catch up with the things that are late, then with the things that are urgent, and then with everything else, and all the time the world keeps moving and one’s assignments need to be completed and rebuttals need to be read and one is running like a madwoman in a hamster wheel from which there is no escape.

(I was in this conversation today about school mottoes and how my school motto used to be ‘Ohne Hast, Ohne Rast’ – without haste, without rest.  Which is basically the hamster wheel motto.  Admittedly, they changed the motto before I got there, but my inner hamster knows what is really going on here.)

But enough with the digressions!  Let us instead move on to the happy, happy fact that my brother took me to Smith and Daughters last Wednesday for a belated birthday present, and it was *fantastic*.

Smith and Daughters, for those of you who don’t know, is a vegan restaurant that has recently opened in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.  The menu is Spanish and Latin American, and the food is frankly amazing.  We’ve been there twice, always with omnivore friends, and everyone has loved it.  And this is because there is *much* to love.

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Recipe: Allergy-Friendly Chocolate Birthday Cupcakes with Tofu Mousse and Scream de Menthe

I made these cakes for a Big Number Birthday yesterday.  The brief was that they had to be gluten-free, low-FODMAP and vegan, which does, in combination, take a lot of the fun out of things – but fortunately, nuts were allowed, giving me a bit more leeway in terms of flavour and texture.  They are based on my insanely spicy Chocolate Chilli Cupcakes with Smoky Chipotle Mousse.  This time, instead of insane heat, I went with insane alcohol levels. 

Apparently, there’s just something about these cupcakes that brings out the insanity in me… 

I have no idea why he filling is called Scream de Menthe, but for some reason there is no other possible title for it.  None whatsoever.  Some things just are, and one cannot deny them.  I suspect it has something to do with the positively poisonous green colour and the undeniably alarming alcohol and sugar content.

The really important thing to know here is that these cupcakes were yummy.  And alcoholic.  And should probably be kept out of reach of children…

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1 cup cashews (raw, or at least, not toasted)
1 1/3 cups almond milk + 30 ml for the mousse
1 1/2 tsp white vinegar (or cider vinegar, if you are less worried about FODMAPs)
2/3 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup sunflower oil
3/4 cups rice flour
1/4 cup almond meal
1/2 cup tapioca flour
2/3 tsp xanthum gum
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp bicarb of soda
pinch of salt
3/4 cup crème de menthe
225 g dark chocolate
250 g silken tofu
30 ml crème de cacao

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Recipe: Two-ingredient chocolate tahini shortbread that is also wildly allergy-friendly!

I admit it.  I’m a MasterChef addict.  I don’t know why I am, because most of the time it drives me right up the wall – in fact, this year I’ve managed to avoid the addiction up until this week, when the depressing effects of a chest infection left me vulnerable to mindless TV-watching.

Anyway, last night, they had this MasterClass, and in one of the ads they talked about Matt’s recipes with only two ingredients – and then they showed a picture of biscuit dough and I went, oh yes, obviously peanut butter and flour.  Which, actually, it wasn’t.  The two-ingredient recipe was a different one.  But it seemed to me that the principle was nonetheless sound. 

After all, your basic shortbread biscuit only has three ingredients – butter, flour and sugar – so if you start with something like my beloved chocolate tahini, which contains both fat and sugar, you really shouldn’t need anything except flour to make a biscuit recipe out of it.

And guess what?  You don’t. These biscuits have a lovely, sesame-chocolate flavour and a slightly dry, gritty texture from the rice flour and grainy tahini, but they are also surprisingly tender.  They absolutely cry out for a glass of milk or a cup of tea, but there’s nothing wrong with that. 

So herewith – the simplest biscuit recipe of all time.  Two ingredients in equal proportions, and vegan, gluten-free and low-fructose to boot.  What could be simpler? 

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200 g rice flour
200 g chocolate tahini
Optional extra: cinnamon sugar, to coat

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Three-day menu for a sick week

Whee! I am still coughing like Mimi and wanting to sleep 18 hours a day like the cats, but I am also doped up to the gills on antibiotics and codeine syrup, which means that I’m also feeling alarmingly happy.  Apparently, I have the sort of brain chemistry that just *loves* opiates.

Since I’m also feeling exceptionally happy and clever about my food cunning while sick, I am going to share my menu with you…

(It’s not vegetarian.  Sorry.  But I had this lovely, free-range chicken, you see…) Continue reading

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