Monday, November 28, 2011

tacos with a little leftover love

”Never underestimate how much assistance, how much satisfaction, how much comfort, how much soul and transcendence there might be in a well-made taco and a cold bottle of beer.”

Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

Tacos, cheap as chips and so simple even a child can throw one together, seem to be the new “it” girl in town. From the stupidly cheap, to tad underwhelming and coolest of the cool, I’m predicting a Mexican summer in Melbourne.

Unlike spending your night queuing on the stairs of last year’s hippest restaurant, it’s more fun and easy to make tacos at home.

With a little homemade salsa anything tastes good. Leftovers can be transformed with the addition of salsa, lettuce and avocado into a Mexican inspired feast.

Sure, there have been times when I’ve sourced the best taco shells, cooked refried beans from scratch, lovingly made kick-ass guacamole and forked out for horrendously expensive/only just edible dairy-free “cheese”. But take it from me; a little leftover chili beans and a few minutes spent chopping while the supermarket-bought shells heat in the oven works just as well. Add sunshine or a warm spring evening to dine outside and you can’t fail.

You can even throw together a quick after work bit of leftover love for tasty and easy solo dining.

Simple leftover-magic tacos for one

(multiplies easily for more)

Simple tomato salsa

A couple of ripe tomatoes, diced

1 tablespoon of fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped

1 chili to taste, finely chopped

A decent squeeze of fresh lime or lemon juice

A pinch of salt

Mix together in a small bowl.


Protein – take your pick leftover beans (or refried from scratch), a can of fish, some smoked tofu cut into strips or for the carnivores leftover roast chicken or turkey (hey Christmas is coming!)

Shredded lettuce – use something crunchy like cos or the humble iceberg.

Avocado – halve, remove from the shell and stone and simply slice. Squeeze some lemon or lime juice over the cut fruit to stop discolouring.

If you must – get some super-hot Mexican sauce to add a few more drops of spice but I tend to make my fresh salsa hot enough to not need it. For those with children or who dine with the heat averse, the sauce isn’t a bad idea but watch out, the hot one really will burn your mouth!

Warm the taco shells in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes or as directed on the packet. Put in twice as many as you think you’ll eat. Believe me, there are never enough once you get started.

Assemble at your leisure, it’s a messy job but sometimes the best food is the kind that gets your hands dirty.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

a subversive plot

Today I discovered a new geeky pin-up boy and worked on a subversive plot.

Thanks to Mark Bittman's thanksgiving piece in the NY Times, I give you my latest food/gardening/political heart throb, Roger Dorian and his inspiring TED Talk.

But now it's time to go back to my subversive 9 square metre plot.

Seasonal garden update

Spring finds me still hanging onto the last of my winter cavolo nero and rainbow chard. Both attempting to bolt and go to seed.

It's still a thrill to come home from work and pick a carrot to munch on while I cook dinner.

The parsnips have been a good experiment. But the true revelation was eating them raw, young and tender. Who ever new a parsnip could taste so good?

The coriander disappointingly yielded no seeds this year. I'd raised them from seeds saved from last years abundance, planted in the same spot but alas the bolt began but fizzled, seedless. Anyone know why?

The parsley is bushy but not for long.

But the sorrel continues to be a star - fresh as a citrusy salad green or tossed through an omelette, I'm thoroughly addicted to the stuff.

New season kids on the block

So shoot me for harking back to the same old, but it aint summer without the trusty Tommy Toe tomatoes.

I've added an heirloom "Burnley Surecrop" to see how it goes.

There's eggplant in the spot closest to the barbecue. I regretted forgetting to plant some last year. Looking forward to that one quick move from garden, chopping board to grill this summer.

Lastly, there's a lot of strawberries - some fruiting already but between the cat covering them up in a frenzied feline OCD manner and the birds (must get some netting) I've only managed to salvage one so far.

I need to say farewell to the winter greens and plant some summer leafies. Such a small inner city plot will never fully feed me but it does cut my weekly organic veggie shop down by half.

And there's the buzz of being part of a global, subversive plot!

Oh and I still haven't covered the blue board, stopped the back shed from falling down and otherwise beautified my backyard. I prefer focusing on the beauty of green, growing things instead.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

giving your fare share

Originally posted on my other blog but sometimes food and politics intersect.

This week I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of StreetSmart’s grant recipients. We got to see behind the scenes at The Social Studio and break (injera) bread with Marcus and Kelly from FareShare.

I’d heard of Fareshare, largely through @msmadwoman’s singles cooking for a cause events, but knew little of the logistics behind this burgeoning organization. These guys turn industrial quantities of donated ingredients into (correct me if I got the number wrong Marcus) half a million meals a year.

200,000 people in Victoria are classified as food insecure, regularly missing meals because they can’t afford to eat. While much of the food and labour is donated, the out of pocket cost of turning a pallet of just-within-sell-by-date-chicken into chicken pies is about 50 cents a meal. That’s the culinary equivalent of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Which got me thinking. Having been a victim of Westpac taking over my handpicked non-big-four bank twice now, I’m still choking on the $90 million they’ve spent to rebadge the recently acquired St George Bank back into (the previously raided and closed) Bank of Melbourne. While banks like Westpac are known for their corporate philanthropy, such as releasing staff to do voluntary work for a few days a year (in places like the FareShare kitchen) I’d have preferred they spent the money buying 180 million extra meals for disadvantaged locals.

While we’d like to think these grassroots organizations would love us to volunteer our time, in reality they’d prefer our (and the corporates) money. See the contact details below if you’d like to share the love this season.

Streetsmart: If you aren’t eating out at any participating restaurants this festive season, you can donate directly

FareShare: donate online every buck buys two meals.

The Social Studio: provides a variety of ways you can contribute to helping refugees start a new life, from having a coffee at the café or buying a new frock, to donating directly.

M.A.D Woman: has a range of innovative fundraising events for everyone (not just singles).

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

eating for a cause

Six weeks to Christmas means just one thing.


Or this year, DineSmart. Same great organisation, same concept (just add a couple of bucks to the bill at participating eateries), only a minor name change due to the expansion of their fund raising arms.

These guys were the first to introduce the concept to Australia and while some bigger organisations have muscled in on the action, I like DineSmart because of their support of small, local community groups that wouldn't always qualify for other funding.

(Do I need an excuse to brunch at Miss Marmalade? No I don't, I'll just be donating to a good cause!)

DineSmart gives 100% of the money raised through DineSmart to grassroots organisations, it doesn't get gobbled up in administration costs like the big guys.

It also supports wonderful places like The Social Studio (and their Cutting Table Cafe in Collingwood.

Helping them buy essential items like sewing machines.

So refugees can be nurtured through off campus education.

Sounds familiar? Previous StreetSmart posts:

Streetsmart 2010 (the one with that Sydney sight that made my jaw drop)

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At the library I tend to gravitate to the new glossy cookbooks on display. Call me shallow but this kind of window shopping means I can actually take the product home for a limited time with no buyers remorse if it turns out to be all front and no back, so to speak.

Cook: A Year in the Kitchen with Britain's Favourite Chefs put out by The Observer is something way too meaty to consider purchasing but was happy to take it home for a ride purely due to the name "Ottolenghi" on the cover.

Over a rather delicious late lunch, I sat outside and began flicking through the pictures.

Then I came to this.

Would you eat such a manky looking avocado?

Would you include a photo of such a poor specimen in your blog, unless it was a post on manky fruit porn or to accompany a post like this?

Just as a blighted wedge of avocado can turn me off my breakfast, such poor styling can let down a cookbook.

Or am I just shallow?

Cook: A Year in the Kitchen with Britain's Favourite Chefs

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

scented vegan truffles: a sensory experience

Scent: orange, vanilla, coconut, chocolate.

Texture: silky, melt in your mouth.

Flavour: see scent…all that and more.

Sound: can you hear the groans of pleasure, followed by, “holly f*ck give me more”?

For those who thought vegan food was all mung beans and healthy goodness, I give you the most luscious morsel to have graced my senses in living memory.

Vegan truffle redux
(Quantities for an experimental batch of about 20 truffles)

300 gm organic coconut oil
The rind of one organic orange
1 –2 vanilla pods
600 gm good quality dark chocolate (I used an organic 70% block of couverture)

Add coconut oil to a small pot. In this part of the world, it’ll be solid rather than free flowing. Wash and dry your orange. I used a Valencia as it was the freshest around at this end of the citrus season. As you’re using the skin of a highly sprayed crop, it’s worth buying organic. Carefully peel or zest the orange, avoiding the pith. Split your vanilla pod(s) open. Add the peel and vanilla to the coconut oil and melt over a low heat. Once melted cover with a lid, turn off the heat and leave to infuse in a warm place for about 24 hours. You should have a heavenly scented oil that after some time solidifies again.

The next day, or whenever the mood takes you (you can store the infused oil in the fridge for a couple of weeks if need be), chop your chocolate finely then whiz in the food processor. After a few blitzes if should be the consistency of breadcrumbs. Now heat the oil til it melts, strain through a sieve and pour onto the chocolate in the food processor bowl. A couple more whizzes and you’ll have a divine smelling, melted chocolate mixture. Poor into a tub, cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours, til solid.

Now comes the fun part. The melon-baller method is a lot less messy than rolling with your hands (read my previous effort if you’d prefer the rustic version). Set out some good quality cocoa powder in a bowl, grab the melon-baller and a couple of teaspoons and get ready to go. On a warm day you may need to do this in batches if the mixture starts sticking to the baller. Just pop the truffle mix back in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Scoop some truffle mix, dunk it in the cocoa and toss it around with a couple of teaspoons, til coated. Repeat…again and again and again…


a real food photographer would dust them with more cocoa to cover the teaspoon marks and arrange them on a pretty plate…but hell, life is too short to play with chocolate on such a hot day

Cook's notes

While my previous vegan truffles were moreish, the infused coconut oil version took them to a whole new level.

Obviously you can have fun infusing the coconut oil with your favourite flavour combinations. I’d originally chosen cardamom instead of vanilla but they were old and had lost too much of their essential oils.

Go easy. These are so rich. Savour the flavour, aroma and texture. More than one or two in a sitting could leave you feeling a little queasy.

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Monday, November 07, 2011

watermelon salad and the summer of love

My golden rule for cookbook buying these days is that I have to actually cook from it in the first week or two of ownership. Otherwise after that initial flick through it tends to be cast aside, relegated to mere food porn. I guess like the real thing, being a spectator’s one thing but it’s a heck of a lot more fun to participate.

In New Zealand I made an impulse purchase of Heidi Swanson’s lovely new cookbook. The current generous exchange rate always makes me feel so rich whenever I go home and was happy to spend some it in a local, independent bookstore.

As a longtime fan of 101 Cookbooks I knew it wouldn’t be hard to find something to cook within the critical timeframe. With eat.drink.picnic promising a stellar 30c day, the watermelon salad was a no brainer.

Did I take photos? No, in the rush to head off to the gardens I forgot. But it’s a simple dish – watermelon balls (note to self: must improve balling technique), toasted pistachios, slivered dates, a squeeze of lime and a dash of rosewater. Next time round I’ll throw caution to the wind and add more lime and roses and toss in some fresh mint.

The picnic was one of the best I’ve been to for ages. Perfect weather, a great mix of people (old and new acquaintances, all delightful), pétanque, vegan desserts (oh how I love to be able to eat a dairy-free dessert) and a delightful location. With the annual Village event next door providing some enjoyable music, by 5 pm our little pocket of Edinburgh Gardens was covered with so many blissed out park goers that it looked like The Summer of Love.

Thanks so much to everyone who turned up (and sorry if any shy souls arrived and couldn’t find us, like a blind date I should have been wearing a pink carnation in my lapel). I really want to make Michael’s vegan caeser with Black Ruby’s stunning GF bread, Carla’s I can’t believe it’s not pate and Johanna’s vegan nutella fudge*. The Significant Eater is determined to buy me an ice cream maker to recreate Kristy’s balsamic strawberry ice cream.

Notable mention also goes to Claire’s wonderful prawns and Ed’s proseco. Not that I’m picking favourites, just two days after a 5 hour feast this is the best my mind could muster. Surely a good sign that it was an excellent day,

Super Natural Every Day: Well-Loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen

P.S. Some random thoughts while writing this post

Independent stores – books, locally made clothes, food…are awesome. If you have to buy things for Christmas, it’s nice to support the little guys.

We must have more picnics! There’s talk of a bloggers end of year “break up” at Barefoot Bowls. (Though Christmas may be loosely translated to early in the New Year).

We need to make all food related gatherings, whether it be friends, family or food lovers, as inclusive as possible. That doesn’t mean 100% gleegan but it’d be nice is half of it is. Everything was delicious.

Summer of Love? Yes please.

I really don’t watch porn (or not in the past two decades at least!)

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

attention Melbourne foodbloggers: eat.drink.picnic

The weather forecast for Saturday is 30c, perfect for a picnic.

This is an open invite to all Melbourne Food bloggers who aren't heading north to #2 in Sydney, to come and picnic with other bloggers in sunny Nth Fitzroy, this Saturday.

This has been publicized through the Melbourne Food Bloggers group on Facebook but as not everyone has joined as yet, thought it'd be good to give a heads up here.

5th November @12.30.

An opportunity to share homemade food, chat about eating, drinking and blogging and hopefully soak up some summer sun. Celebrate spring and include a fresh veggie dish to share. (To clarrify - this isn't a vego only event, just hoping that omnis can be inclusive and include a veg-friendly dish in their basket).

North Fitzroy, comment/email me for exact location.

Don't forget a rug and sunblock, loved ones/families welcome.

Perfect for a picnic (and price of caulis willing) I'll be whipping up some of this. Over five years since I first made it, I'm utterly addicted to this dip and make it at least twice a month.

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