Saturday, 26 December 2015

Christmas 2015

Christmas isn't really a thing for me or my immediate family. There was some observance when I was a child in the form of pagan decorations (tree, candles etc, largely influenced by my mother's formative years in Germany) but no interest in turkeys, bread sauce and brussels sprouts. 

Once I started cooking as an adolescent, I took some interest in making vast fruited cakes, lovingly fed with brandy for weeks and covered in homemade marzipan and royal icing; enormous loaves of stollen; fragrant fruity, boozy mince pies with orange-scented pastry. 

No longer doing a boring job, which forced me into cooking as a means of relaxation and a sense of feeling useful, complex cookery is somewhat less important to me. Hence my infrequent updates (though I have a small backlog of brunching).

Nonetheless, I felt I should do something a bit different this year, and so it was that I investigated the possibility of a vegan Christmas roast.

I thought of nut roasts, but I also wanted to have a go at doing a tofurkey. Unable to decide, I incorporated the bits I liked of the former into the stuffing for the latter.

And so we have this - salad, braised red cabbage with figs and raspberry vinegar, steamed snow peas and broccolini, roasted sweet potato, tofurkey with chestnut stuffing, gravy. 

Tofurkey as follows.

Put something heavy (I used a bottle of sparkling wine) on top of a 450g packet of firm tofu, or use whatever method you like to press it.

Put about 10g of dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl and cover with hot water; leave for 20 minutes.

Saute 200g sliced chestnut mushrooms; season. 

Put a tin of unsweetened chestnut puree into a food processor with fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, a tablespoon of yeast extract (I use Mighty Mite, loathing Kraft), pepper. Blitz. Add the cooked mushrooms and porcini. Pulse so that it is partly amalgamated but there are still mushroom bits. Add a tablespoon or so of ground linseed and mix well, then stir in 50g dried cranberries. 

Line a small (450g) loaf tin with baking paper.

Drain off the liquid from the pressed tofu. Crumble the tofu into a mixing bowl. You want it very well crumbled, i.e. like breadcrumbs. Add 2 tbs nutritional yeast, a tonne of dried herbs, salt and pepper. If you have Massel chicken stock powder, use that (I didn't). 

Use about 2/3rds of the tofu to line the bottom and sides of the loaf tin. Press it down firmly. Fill with the stuffing mixture. Use the rest of the tofu to cover the top. Bake until cooked. My mother's awful oven has to be set at 200˚C and required about an hour and a half before it was done, but a normal oven will probably be more efficient. 

Give it a few minutes to cool, then slice with a sharp, preferably serrated, knife. 

Firms up well in the fridge later. I am looking forward to leftovers. 

Note that this probably isn't conventional stuffing. I can't remember eating stuffing but I get the impression it is usually quite dry - I didn't use breadcrumbs or similar, so mine is more moussey. It is probably misleading to call my mixture stuffing in that sense, but it works nonetheless.

As an emergency I used Orgran gluten-free vegan gravy mix, which I would NOT recommend in future. Make something less weird and salty! 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Feast of Merit

It's been a long time since proper brunch happened. The last few months have been hectic and exhausting, at least compared with the beginning of the year, with both revue rehearsals and shows coinciding with an unexpectedly time-consuming hospital rotation.

I had a break from veganism, and discovered that I don't like cheese and yogurt as much as I thought I did, and am more or less returning to a completely plant-based diet (though I am going to squeeze a trip to Messina soon so I can convince myself I don't really like gelato either).

Meanwhile, Spring is coming in fits and starts, and today was a glorious opportunity to break out the SPF50 for a bike ride south of the river to celebrate a friend's birthday.

The location was Feast of Merit, which I have had bookmarked in my "To Eat" folder since it opened, ticking both gastronomic and ethical boxes (profits go to YGAP).

The menu is middle east-inspired, which works so perfectly in Melbourne whatever the season and the dietary requirements of the diners. Indeed, I was torn between a sweetish, breakfasty thing or a more lunchy savoury thing - that is, muesli versus two of their salads (available for vegans today were the roast pumpkin and chickpea, and broccoli and hummus).

Having foregone muesli on previous occasions because it was too cold, I had to get my fix. The menu lists this as "Ginger, barberry and macadamia Yousli, spiced almond milk, seasonal fruit - Uncrystallised ginger, dry roasted macadamias, pistachios, organic puffed amaranth, toasted coconut flakes, barberries, organic currants, activated buckinis, raw buckwheat, raw cinnamon."

I was slightly put off by the thought of the ginger - I use it copiously in stir fries, and am addicted to the pickled stuff, but don't particularly like it in a sweeter context. And, when it came to eating it, I was mildly alarmed by its presence. Similarly, the spiced almond milk was initially quite overbearing. However, these elements were mitigated by the muesli itself, and I appreciated the macadamias and pistachios, as well as the poached fruit. (Reminding me that I have a bunch of rhubarb in my fridge that has yet to be dealt with.)

When I saw the salads that others in the group ordered, I had a pang of food envy, but I wasn't disappointed by my choice. A good effort, and good feelings all round.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Supermarkets and superficiality

There has been a very half-hearted attempt in Australia, following a half-hearted attempt in the UK and slightly less half-hearted in Europe, to embrace fruit and veg that don’t fit some weird Photoshopped Platonic ideal. Woolworths, which is otherwise open to criticism for their unimpressive and extortionate offerings, is pretending to be responsible by selling slightly knobbly tomatoes etc in “The Odd Bunch” packaging (the packaging is a big fail: too much plastic) for only slightly-inflated prices. Other groups are apparently trying to educate the public that just because it looks weird doesn’t mean it tastes funny (or vice versa).

Anyone who eats a reasonable amount of fresh food and hates the duopoly has probably cottoned on to shopping at greengrocers and markets, where the apples are far from round, the cucumbers bendy, and the carrots range from friendly to obscene.

I particularly like selecting the most unusual looking carrots from my preferred organic greengrocers, and I know I am not the only one. Personally, I will take whatever laughs I can get.

I also have no qualms about a mango with a spot or two, an aubergine with bruises (since they get cooked into tenderness anyway), or a bunch of kale with the odd yellowed leaf. In many cases, these things are either removable or can be cooked into oblivion. In the case of ripe fruit, I chop it up and keep it in the freezer, as an alternative to Hepatitis A berries in my smoothies.

Be confident.

One of my local organic shops sells random selections of slightly tired fruit and veg, with the invocation to "Embrace the Ugly". I am more than happy to do so as this is virtually the only way organic food is affordable on a student budget. Less depressingly, it also forces me to try different things and cook different foods, though I was too intimidated by the basket that had a couple of artichokes in it.

I think that it’s a pity that the variety and spontaneity of organic* shapes are so derided, be it our food, our trees being lopped to accommodate man-made structures, our animals being selectively bred for peculiar and unhealthy novel characteristics, et cetera.

It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to draw parallels with the pursuit of perfection in humans (career, status, appearance). We live in a ridiculous, superficial, easily-manipulated era.

*this time, not in the sense of an agricultural practice.

Saturday, 30 May 2015


At some point during a rash "tidy up" of my bookmarks folder, I realise I must have managed to delete all of my recipe bookmarks, which I had compiled and categorised over some ten years and three computers.

After a moment of horror, I relaxed.

It's bad enough that I have had to place a moratorium on buying cookery books because of my inability to actually follow a recipe, but the hundreds of blogs etc I had bookmarked were just another reminder of my failure to Do Things.

Technically, I have backups on an external hard drive, and technically I am sure I could restore my bookmarks, but I think I will liberate myself from another troubling sense of obligation.

Well, until I see another weird and wonderful use of chickpeas, that is.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Mini Pumpkins, Daiya

I wasn't sure whether the mini pumpkins that appeared in the supermarket were worth bothering with, as too often novelty items end up being a one-time experiment never to be repeated when the results disappoint.

That said, I have a completely normal streak of neophilia, and any new fruit or vegetable usually finds its way home eventually.

Though nothing compared with Sydney, the weather in Melbourne was nasty enough to justify having the oven on for a while, and so I decided to make use of one of the two mini pumpkins that had sat in my fridge for over a week.

I cut the top off, with much more ease than most pumpkins, and left the seeds in (as far as I am concerned, they are a bonus not waste) before roasting at 180˚C for a little over an hour.

I also recently got my mitts on some Daiya pepper jack "cheese", which I used to fill the cavity of the pumpkin and gave it another five minutes in the oven.

Though I am completely unconvinced by the hype about the Daiya, this "cheese" filling worked well. The whole thing cooks to a sweetly caramelised, soft consistency, and all is edible except for the tough stem. This also means there is a marked advantage over normal sized pumpkins, which require a) tedious and dangerous hacking; b) can be less consistently delicious when cooked.

With some broccoli and parsnip sautéed in coconut oil, garlic etc, this was a lovely autumn treat for dinner.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Quince and Pepita Cake

My grandmother’s semi-wild garden has a number of fruit trees, yielding fabulous pesticide-free Fuji apples, pears, and a profuse number of quinces.

Writers wax lyrical about the quince’s perfume, recommending leaving them in a bowl for visual and olfactory pleasure, but I find that this is more a constant reminder that Something Must Be Done with the damn things. They keep for quite a while at room temperature, but not forever, and it has been known for knobbly blighters to decompose while I work myself up to addressing them.

The main problem is that they must be cooked for aeons. Yes, one can go down the route of a long, slow roast, as preferred by Maggie Beer and avowed by Nigella Lawson, but this requires an oven that is trustworthy enough to be left on and some psychic ease in letting fossil-fuelled electricity flow for several hours.

Since neither of these conditions apply to me, and I am impatient, I opt for a pressure cooker. This means that the worst I have to contend with is a) washing the pressure cooker and b) cutting the quinces. Rather than raise the risk of slicing a digit off, I opt for cutting them in half, leaving the cores in, and then poaching. The cores are much more easily removed afterwards. Nor do I bother removing the skin, as this is perfectly edible when cooked but can be slipped off easily if not desired.

This is how I deal with quinces:

Take 4 quince, scrubbed to remove the downy covering, and cut in half. Put in the pressure cooker.

Add 4-6 cardamom pods, crushed to allow the seeds out, and 2 star anise. Add enough water just to cover. Seal the pressure cooker, bring it to full pressure then turn the heat down (it should stay at full pressure) for 30-45 minutes. When the time’s up, turn off the heat and allow to cool. When it’s cool enough, the pressure cooker will be ready to open. 

The quinces will be soft, and red. Once cool enough to handle, it is a trivial matter to remove the cores and then do what you want with them. Some of mine have been reserved for eating with muesli, the rest for the following cake.

Note that no sugar is added - they are still a little sharp, but cooking does bring out natural sweetness. I think it is unnecessary to add sugar to the poaching liquid, and very messy.

The poaching liquid can be strained and kept - either as it is, or cooked with sugar to make a syrup

And so to the cake.

This is vegan and gluten free; those who do not share my scepticism about alternative sweeteners (namely that rice malt syrup is ok) may also class it as low sugar.

  • 5 cooked quince, cored and chopped; quince poaching liquid.
  • 2 tbs ground linseed/flaxseed, mixed with 6 tbs water - leave for several minutes to gel 
  • Combine and mix well:
    • 1 cup banana flour
    • 1 cup millet flour
    • 3/4 cup tapioca starch
    • 2 heaped tsp baking powder
    • 3 tsp spices (I used a Gewürtzhaus mix, the name of which I have forgotten; they are all excellent)
    • 1 tsp vanilla powder or vanilla extract
    • 100g pepitas/pumpkin seeds
  • Combine: 
    • 1/2 cup apple sauce
    • 40g coconut oil (melted if the ambient temperature isn’t high enough)
    • 100g rice malt syrup
Then, add the wet ingredients to the linseed mix. Add this to the dry ingredients. Add the chopped quince. Add enough quince poaching liquid to make a thick batter. Put in an 8” springform tin, greased and lined if necessary, and bake at 180˚C for 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

The usual caveats about liquid amounts and cooking time apply - adjust as necessary.

Monday, 13 April 2015


Come on, The Guardian, you're years behind the curve on this one!

I have yet to try the pulled pork method, but I can vouch for a jackfruit bourguignon. Take onions, brown in oil. Add diced carrot. Add drained, ripped-up jackfruit, some wine (I used a pinot noir), tomato paste, Massel "beef" stock. Thyme and bay leaves. Cook for c. 30 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms, give it another 5-10 minutes.

I promise that the precise quantities don't really matter. Especially when you drink the rest of the wine.

Saturday, 28 March 2015


I managed to take off my hair-shirt last year, and permitted myself a (short) Holiday in Berlin (listening to Frank Zappa the entire time). Sadly for my extremities, this was in December and I spent the whole time cold and wet. Happily for my brain, I consumed All Of The Culture (Wittgenstein graffiti!!), and a fair amount of the food.

Indeed, my selection of hotel was premised entirely on it being located at the midpoint between the main museums and galleries, and the hipster district, Kreuzberg; the hipsterishness being verified by the concentration of vegan cafes.

On my first night, I trekked down to the main part of Kreuzberg, where I found a Kaisers, and on the way home the very excellent LPG Biomarkt. This doesn’t sell gas for your car, but is a gigantic organic/healthfoods shop. This provided me with the means for a somewhat cobbled together dinner, but no less delicious.

 You can’t get much more echt than real bread, wurst, and a bloody big gherkin. 

Interestingly, though the wurst was completely vegan, it tasted eerily like the (animal) wurst I had in Germany as a child. Spooky verisimilitude.
At the bottom left there is a doughnut; I was foolishly trying to photograph this with one hand while trying to not get the whole thing completely soaked by the continuous rain. 
Other eats in Berlin involved pretzels (surprisingly no better than the good ones in Melbourne), sufganiyot (it was hanukkah at the time, so I went to a vegan-friendly Jewish bakery; also conveniently this was a Berliner. Two birds, one stone!) and vegan Currywurst, wolfed on the most miserably cold day of all. And lots of bread. Bread bread bread. I paid the price for this, but it was probably worth it. 

Currywurst. I..e mock meat, dusted with curry powder, and covered in sauce. Not entirely convinced that this counts as a regional delicacy.
I also had the only good coffee of my entire 2 months outside of Australia in Berlin, courtesy of Five Elephant. Unsurprisingly, the young woman who served me was from Melbourne. Natürlich!

Though I was on a mission to visit Veganz in Prenzlauer Berg, there were Veganz concessions in branches of Kaisers, and other supermarkets (Aldi, REWE) had pretty decent selections of vegan food. I got some organic vegan pate at Aldi, for instance, which was something ridiculous like one euro. Top marks for the bio soja drink in a glass bottle, too. 
Classy glassy. Even plant milk tastes better in glass.
Vegan mecca

 I did make it to Veganz, and came out with more German “meats”, and vegan chocolate (white chocolate with cherries; “milk” chocolate with peanut butter). It was hectic, busy, and my browsing was somewhat hampered. Quite possibly they never have quiet times, a la Terra Madre. 

I wasn't completely enraptured by Berlin, probably because I spent more time in the Big City bits (i.e.  too much like any big city) than I wanted. Next time I will explore Kreuzberg, Neuköln and Prenzlauer Berg properly. I would also recommend going with another person, because that way more stomachs = more food to try.