Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2012 in review - don't bang the door on your way out

I’m ready to slam the door on 2012. Really, it’s been a c*nt of a year.

They’ve been three deaths: my mother, my cat (truly my familiar) and an old friend. I rail against the creep of cancer into the lives of peers. It feels like a sniper is picking off so many wonderful women in their forties, leaving behind bewildered men and children whose lives are forever altered.

But back to food.

I think I lost my appetite this year. The paucity of recipes posted would suggest so. My return to the Northern Hemisphere, after over half my lifetime away, smashed the barrier between me and the world and I started seeing again.  But tasting? It took until I got to Russia, the place I feared I’d starve for a week due to my pernickety food intolerances, to wake up my tastebuds. It was a country that brings your senses to life but perhaps that’s partially due to the reptilian brain being activated, so much strangeness in a strange land.

Pleased to report that I’m fully tasting again and loving:

  • Watermelon, even it’s sticky juices dribbling down my chin (which is a big deal for a Virgo).
  • Watermelon and strawberry juice. What’s not to love about a cheery pink juice?
  • Homemade vegan iced chocolate, made with a spicy Aztec powder, spiked with a stick of cassia bark.
  • Juiced apple, cucumber, lemon and mint – transformed into oh-my-goddess-these-are-amazing icy poles. Perfect coolers on a hot day.
  • And wondering what apple, sorrel and cucumber icy poles would be like?
  • Carnival cookies.
  • Smoked tofu, vegetable, chilli and garlic stir fries – my go to meal this season. An oldie but a goodie.
  • So too Asian style coleslaws.

Mourning the end of my last batches of homemade:

  • Vanilla extract (in my grief fog I forget to continue to replenish what I’d believed was an endless jar of vodka soaked vanilla beans)
  • Red chilli preserved in vinegar
  • Mauritian pickles
  • Kimchi

Food trends 

Twelve months ago I looked into my culinary crystal ball and channelled the rise of coconut, macaroons (not macarons for a change) and local honey, with middling degrees of accuracy.

For 2013 – I don’t like what I see. I fear the gourmet-ising of junk food will continue. There’s been hot dogs, burgers and silly little sliders dominating dinning landscape from food trucks and corner pubs, to restaurants that could do so much better.

Why I dislike this trend is that it’s a cheap cop out. The punter fills up on bread, there’s varying degrees of quality and quantity of protein and paltry vegetable content. It requires minimum skill and gains maximum profit.

George Calombaris vows that the ''souvlaki is the new burger” and I don’t doubt it. Sadly I predict the trend will continue ‘til chefs (and their accountants) run out of cheap junk food to glamourize.

Perhaps all this meaty stuff (don’t get me started on the rise of meatballs, schnitzel and other carnivorous old favourites) is a reaction against the increasing vegetarian presence in one food-laden corner of the city. Brunswick Street and environs is becoming a veritable Golden Triangle for those who eschew the flesh (or just want a break from it between burgers). With Madame K, Yong Green, Lord of the Fries and the perennially packed Vegie Bar expanding their eco terrain in the main part of the strip, within spitting distance of Mr Natural, The Moroccan Soup Bar and Trippy Taco. There’s talk of South veganizing Collingwood and already a new vegan café within the Golden Triangle that promises Vegusto toasties in the New Year.

There will be more food trucks, I promise you there will, but will they be slaughtering their own pigs or fermenting their own nut cheese? I don't know.

During 2013 I fear even greater polarization between those who choose either the flesh or the bean. And both will come out victorious in their own sweet way.

How’s your year been? What are you loving at the moment? Do you agree with my food predictions (just between you and me I hope I’m wrong)? Have you got any of your own?

Goodbye 2012 – don’t slam the door on your way out.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Heide’s carnival cookies

Did you notice I don’t have a single biscuit recipe on this blog? There’s a slice, lots of muffins, a handful of desserts and far too many drinks in the sweet treats section. Well today I’m going to remedy that omission and guess what, it’s vegan!

Vegan Schmegan! How can a biscuit without sugar, butter or flour taste any good? 

Oh my goodness, domestic goddess supreme Heidi Swanson’s done it. A dairy-free, gluten-free (it your oats are untainted), egg-free and even (added) sugar-free sweet treat that has people coming back for more. Even the chocolate-vanilla-y aroma of these “cookies” has me salivating.

But first a little nomenclature: Being an Anglo-file, at least where language is concerned, makes me baulk at calling these cookies. Beyond semantics, I tend to pigeonhole a biscuit/cookie as a disc of something sweet and crispy. The carnival cookies (suitably Americanised due to their country of origin) certainly evoke the spirit of a biscuit but are also reminiscent of an unleavened version of my muffins. The banana makes them soft and a little doughy.

Whatever. They passed muster and weren’t ruined by my habitual tweaking. A tad more chocolate on hand than recipe called for, no problem, you can never have too much chocolate in a sweet morsel. Not a huge fan of peanuts? The walnuts substituted nicely. I also ground my own almonds, gave the rolled oats a quick whiz (rather leaving them whole as indicated in the original recipe), popped the corn, passed a cinnamon stick over a fine grater and was a little heavy handed with the remains of my homemade vanilla extract.

The might look a little well done but it's just the chocolate the chocolate that includes chunks and powdery goodness

Carnival cookies

4 small or 3 medium bananas, mashed
1.5 teaspoons natural vanilla essence/extract
60g coconut oil, melted
120 g rolled oats, blitzed for a couple of seconds in a food processor
60 g almonds, blitzed to make almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 tsp good quality ground cinnamon, or half a cinnamon quill finely grated
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
100 g walnuts, lightly crushed but still chunky
180 g chopped dark chocolate (70% plus) or good quality chocolate chips
1 heaped tablespoon popping corn, popped with a little coconut oil (about 20 g of popped corn)

Preheat oven to 180c

To make the popcorn: Heat a large pot with a tight fitting lid. Add a scant teaspoon of coconut oil, throw in the corn kernels and put on the lid. Shake pot every minute or so and let the kernels do their thing. Once the popping has subsided remove from the heat and carefully take off the lid. Allow the popcorn to cool, discarding any unpopped kernels.

In a large bowl combine mashed banana, vanilla and coconut oil. In another bowl assemble the dry ingredients: the oats, almond meal, baking powder cinnamon and salt. I ground everything myself in my powerful mini food-processor, one by one blitzing the oats, almonds and chocolate.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and stir til combined. Gently fold through the chocolate, then the walnuts and lastly the popcorn. The mixture is quite wet but have faith because it will hold together ok.

There is enough mixture to fill two baking sheets. I only have one so cooked them in two batches. The first following Heidi’s instructions to use a heaped tablespoon of dough, shaped into a ball by hand, came out quite large and round, needing about 18 minutes of cooking.

The second tray I used less, barely a level tablespoon of mixture per cookie, rounded to a ball by hand then flattened slightly on the tray. This batch took about 14 minutes to cook in my oven. The smaller size is perfect for a mouthful of something sweet with coffee or a treat. The small mouthfuls have also been a hit impromptu festive gift.

Update January 2013:
I've made a second batch, no measuring this time and all came out fine. Yippee, I so love baking intuitively rather than with the accoutrements of a pseudoscientist (like something out of the Ponds Institute).

Variation: This batch was made with cornflakes leftover from my dad's visit, I subbed them for popcorn. The combo of chocolate, cornflakes and walnuts was reminiscent of Afghan biscuits from my childhood. That's a good thing.

Further variations I'd consider in the future include desicated coconut and dried cherries. Possibly together. With chocolate of course.

This is a wonderfully adaptive recipe and non-vegans love the biscuits equally as much as those eschewing dairy and eggs. A perfect replacement for my (non-vegan) banana-based muffins.

Hate banana? Try some applesauce or a chunky, cooked apple puree. I reckon that would work just as well.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

From Russia with food lust: vegan eggplant and walnut rolls

I drooled over these eggplant rolls stuffed with a tasty walnut filling when we were in St Petersburg and vowed to make them on my return home. And I did, a couple of times already.

Like all my recipes this is taste-as-you-go as far as quantities are concerned. Some garlic and chilli is stronger than others, you might prefer the more authentic addition of vinegar instead of lemon juice (I’m a citrus fiend and it’s my go-to acid flavour) and if you want to go the whole hog find some dried, ground marigold leaves to add for colour.

Great finger food for Christmas and summer drinks.

Tip: the cheats version using pre-grilled eggplant slices makes this a very quick dish to prepare. Eat your heart out Jamie Oliver and your 15 minute meals.

Badrijani nigvzit (eggplant with walnut dip)

2 eggplants (aubergines) or buy pre-grilled eggplant slices
1 cup walnuts
1 tab chopped coriander
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
1/4 tsp ground fenugreek seeds (optional)
3 cloves garlic
Juice 1 lemon (or 1 tab of vinegar)
1/2 - 3/4 tsp chili powder or cayenne pepper (check for heat)
1 tab chopped parsley

If cooking eggplant, cut into 1 centimetre sliced lengthwise. Freshly picked eggplants don’t need salting but if older need to be sprinkled with salt to draw out the bitter juices. Leave for 10 minutes then pat off the juice. Brush eggplants with olive oil and place under a hot grill or even better, a barbecue. They’ll only need a couple of minutes, turn when becoming golden. Alternatively you can buy pre-cooked eggplant slices from some delis and supermarkets. Pat off the excess oil before using.

For the walnut dip, blend (or smash in a mortar and pestle) all the other ingredients. Lastly add the water a tablespoon at a time until you have a smooth paste. You want a dip-like texture but not too runny. Salt to taste. The predominant flavour is garlicky walnuts with a bit of a chili kick at the end. I use Korean red pepper powder left over from kimchi making and it works well. As herbs strengths vary, always taste and adjust the flavour as needed.

Take the grilled eggplant slices and place a heaped teaspoon of walnut dip at one end and roll.

Traditionally the eggplant/walnut rolls are garnished with pomegranate seeds and served as finger foods with drinks.

This recipe is a tasty cross-post. First published on my website.

The full Russian eating experience here (it was easier than I thought).

Update January 2013: These rolls graced the vegan/omni Christmas table in December. There were a couple of alterations and have adjusted the recipe above accordingly.

Firstly, we used a large mortar and pestle to combine the ingredients, the change in texture is subtle. Don't sweat it if you don't have the equipment, mechanical or by hand - both methods do the job.

Secondly, I overcame my fenugreek aversion and  added a few seeds (as many of the recipes suggest), toasting them with coriander seeds and then pounding to a powder. Once again, the change was subtle but worth it.

Thirdly, in cooking another kitchen and someone else's spice shelf. The old packet of chili powder looked innocuous so didn't taste first. Oops, the mix was way hotter. Forgot the cardinal rule of all things chili - add a little and taste before going the whole hog. But in the end, once rolled in the eggplant the heat wasn't overwhelming.

Finally, unless you've got a stash of fresh eggplant in the garden and want to toss the slices on the grill, buying precooked eggplant from the deli was a worthy timesaver on Christmas day. The filling was made the day before and it only took minutes to assemble and serve on the day.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

a tale of two screen grabs

In July The Age declared 

"Food section Epicure here to stay, says Fairfax

Fairfax Media says it has no intention of axing Epicure, saying it would continue to provide strong local content."

In December "Food section Epicure here to stay" - page not found.

Is it just me having trouble navigating the new 'Good Food' section online? It seems so crowded but with so little content.

Update: Viewed on an iPad, the redesign makes sense. But what percentage of Fairfax online readers use that device over a PC or smart phone? Is it worth alienating everyone else with such a clunky design?

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