Thursday, January 24, 2013

ice blocks three ways

Icy poles, Popsicles, ice lollies, iceblocks…call them what you like. But as the thermometer rises through the 30’s and tips over into 40plusridiculousdegresscelcius, something cooling and delicious is much appreciated.

The top three icy treats in my freezer this summer have been:

1. The coolest kid on the block 

Uber-healthy and refreshingly savoury.

3 apples (or 2 cups pure apple juice)
1 large Lebanese cucumber
1 lemon, skin and pith removed (or the juice of 1 lemon)
Handful of fresh mint

Depending on your equipment, there are two easy ways to make these ice blocks. Either put all ingredients through a juicer, or substitute fresh apples for apple juice and combine the ingredients in a food processor or blender. The blended ones have more texture than the pure juice.

Juice or whiz ingredients together, pour into moulds and freeze.

2. Minty-mango

Heaven on a stick.

1 mango, flesh
1 orange, juice
1 lime, juice
Handful of fresh mint, chopped

Mash the mango and combine with the citrus juice and mint.

Pour into moulds and freeze.

1. Queensland special

Where both pineapple and sugar are a natural part of life.

Half a large pineapple, juiced
Equal quantity of simple sugar syrup (1 part sugar: 1 part water)
Juice of 1 lemon or lime.

Combine, mould, freeze.

The mango is my favourite and I can’t get enough of them on these warm evenings. If food-related guilt is your thing, these ice blocks have none of it.

Surprisingly the Significant Eater, Mr Health Himself and Born Again Vegan, disliked the healthiest ones and named the Queensland special his favourite.

But I’m sticking to the pure fruit variety, for as long as the cheap mangoes last.   

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

polenta three ways

Nineteen years ago I lived in a little art deco apartment, complete with original electric wiring and gas cooker. I managed to convince the real estate agent that if the dodgy wiring blew up my precious laptop my insurance company would sue them, heralding three weeks of a young electrician turning up every morning at 7.30 and disappearing again at 8 am, returning sometime after I’d gone to work, to make calls on my phone and do goodness knows what with my underwear drawer (I kid you not). I was not so lucky in my request to replace the stove. The kitchen featured a Stone Age burner built into the wall at shoulder height and a small square box of an oven perched beside it.

Strangely under such ergonomically unfriendly conditions I fell in love with polenta. Transforming the gritty cornmeal into smooth, creamy yellow goodness required up to 45 minutes of stirring, in a kitchen sized for a giant rather than a person of hobbit-like proportions.

After a year of whipping up polenta-based marvels, with a move to a modern and entirely more appropriately sized kitchen I promptly forgot about it. Eighteen years passed until I cooked it again. And now everything has changed. Instant polenta, with a mere 3 minutes of stirring, is my new best friend. Perhaps it’s a matter of time dimming my memory but there’s no discernable difference in taste or texture. This has been the Summer of Polenta. I hope it will be yours as well, as it’s dairy-free, vegan and fructose malabsorption-friendly.

 To cook polenta 

This recipe is for firm polenta that can be used as flan base or an alternative for bready nibbles. Soft polenta is cooked in a more water or stock to stop it becoming firm.

1 part instant polenta
3 parts salted water or vegetable stock

Bring salted water or stock to the boil in a large pot. Pour in the instant polenta in a steady stream and stir for three minutes over a low heat until thick. Be careful, if the heat is too high the lava-like mixture will splash and burn. Once cooked quickly transfer to an oiled baking tray or dish to set. If you’re tardy the mixture becomes too firm to wrangle.

Leave the polenta to set in the fridge or cool place for at least an hour. Overnight is fine if you want to prepare a meal in advance.

To use as a base for a flan 1 cup of polenta to 3 cups of salted water is perfect.
For squares, add a 500 gm packet of instant polenta to 1.5 litres of vegetable stock for more flavour.


It's fine to leave the base simple for a flan, so it doesn't compete with the topping.

For squares, it’s all about the polenta, so take your pick of fresh basil leaves (whole or shredded), sundries tomatoes, olives, marinated mushrooms or whatever tickles your fancy. Quickly stir in your extras when the polenta is cooked, before pouring into the pan to set.

Polenta flan

I never know what to call this, so apologies to flan aficionados for misusing the term. This is simply a thick polenta base served with a substantial topping.

Set the polenta in an oiled flan/quiche dish, smooth out the surface with a knife or spatula and allow to set for at least an hour. I make a base that’s usually around 3cm high but it can be thicker or thinner depending on what you prefer.

Prepare your favourite vegetable topping. I make a variation on ratatouille, sans capsicum because of my aversion, with lashings of garlic and onion, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and olives.

To serve heat the polenta in a medium oven for about 15 minutes. Warm the ratatouille on the stove. Pour topping over the base to serve and cut into wedges.

For those wanting something less juicy and more pizza-ish, try topping the base with roasted vegetables, olives and cheese (regular, soft sheep’s milk or dairy-free alternative) and bake in a hot oven for 15 – 20 minutes.

Barbecued polenta squares

Cook polenta in salted water. Once cooked take off the heat and quickly stir through an extra with a robust flavour, like chopped sun dried tomatoes. Set in a large oiled baking dish.

Cut into squares, rectangles, diamonds or triangles and barbecue on a hot grill until crispy on both sides. Serve hot.

Basil polenta with tapenade

Cook a 500 gm packet of instant polenta in 1.5 litres of good quality vegetable stock. Once cooked, take off the heat and stir in a bunch of shredded fresh basil. Pour into a large oiled baking dish and leave to set for an hour or more.

To grill – this slightly unorthodox method works well. Crank oven up to the highest setting. Make sure your oven rack is as clean as possible. Cut the polenta while still in the baking dish into squares (or desired shape). Place the rack on top of the dish and carefully flip it over so the polenta squares fall neatly onto the rack. Place in hot oven for 10 - 15 minutes. My oven tends to make them crisper on the bottom, which I like.

When cool, top with tapenade or your favourite dip.


I combine about 12 Kalamata olives (buy whole olives but remove stones first), add a similar amount of raw walnuts, 1 – 2 cloves of garlic and a little olive oil in a mini-blender. If you have fresh thyme on hand add a small sprig or reserve a leaf or two of basil when preparing the base. Add a grind or two of black pepper if you like it but it doesn’t need any more salt. Blend 'til smooth but slightly chunky.

Polenta cooked any of these ways makes great leftovers for lunch the next day. It can be made a day in advance for a big gatherings and transports well to picnics.

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Monday, January 07, 2013

What a (mostly) vegan Christmas and festive feast look like

Marieke blogged recently about what a vegan Christmas looks like, so I thought I’d add ours to the blogosphere as well.

This year we had nine at the table – this included two vegans, two pescaterians and two who only ate meat (and vegetables didn’t grace their plates). Quite a challenge when it came to writing a menu. The omni end of the table was (literally) fleshed out with a roast chook, barbecued turkey sausages, ham and prawns.

Now onto the good stuff.

Vegan Christmas lunch

Eggplant rolls, via my Russian odyssey earlier in the year 
Tofu/vegetable kebabs (barbecued)
Potato salad
Garden salad

Fruit platter
Tony Chiodo’s carrot, cardamom and coconut cake (ours looked so much better than the one in this photo. The SE’s mum came up trumps with this surprise dessert).

There was polenta with sundried tomatoes set and ready to go on the barbecue if we needed more but the table was full, with enough leftovers to feed a couple of friends who turned up for dinner.

A couple of days later, friends put on a thoughtful and utterly luxurious vegan feast, cooking all day from Jerusalem. What a treat. I wish I’d taken photos and annotated the whole thing but the conversation and Compari got the better of me. Who’d have thought I’d finally become grown up enough to enjoy Campari and soda, and effectively kid myself that the bitterness of the aperitif meant that it was indeed good for my health and so I should have two, if not three, before dinner.

Everything they cooked was fabulous but a couple of stunners stood out and are already earmarked for the vegan festivities later in the year.

Medjara - who knew that rice and lentils could taste this good? Also the visual treat of orange roasted sweet potatoes plated with purple figs. 

What rocked your table this festive season?

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