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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Gingerbread cheezecake

November 21-22, 2015

Paula Deen's website does hold a few memorable dessert recipes but I wasn't confident that my friends at the Celebrity Chef picnic potluck would actually want to eat them, vegan or not. I switched over to the more staid Martha Stewart and picked out a gingerbread cheesecake, ripe for the veganising.

Stewart does have her own fussy way of overdoing it. In this recipe she would have us bake a half-batch of Molasses-Gingerbread Cookie dough, only to blend most of it into crumbs for the cheesecake base. I was not so inclined, particularly given that a packet of crushed LEDA gingernuts would guarantee me a gluten-free as well as vegan dessert.

For the filling, a few containers of Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese and some blended up flax 'eggs' saw me through. I respectfully disagree that Tofutti's product tastes Better Than Cream Cheese, and made sure to increase the molasses and spices to mask it. Some website commenters recommended baking the cheesecake longer for a good set, and I'm glad I followed through; if only I'd remembered to refrigerate it before I went to bed, mine might have held it together a little better!

I'm sure my cheezecake was but a cruelty-free shadow of Stewart's, but it was complimented widely at the picnic. The dry gingernut base softened beautifully, the filling was flecked with flax seeds and had a slight almost-metallic molasses aftertaste.

Gingerbread cheezecake
(adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe)

155g packet gingernuts
4 tablespoons margarine

1/3 cup flax seeds
1 cup water
3 x 227g containers vegan cream cheese
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup molasses
generous shake of salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
zest of 1/2 a lemon

Line a springform tin with baking paper. Preheat an oven to 160°C.

Crush the gingernuts to a coarse powder - I place them a few at a time between baking paper sheets and smash them with a rolling pin. Place the crumbs in a small-medium bowl. Melt the margarine in a small saucepan, then pour it over the gingernut crumbs and stir through. Press the crumbs into the base and partway up the sides of the springform tin.

Grind up the flax seeds and blend them with the water; set aside. Place the cream cheese in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Beat in the caster sugar and vanilla. Thoroughly beat in the flax mixture. Beat in the remaining ingredients until the mixture is very smooth. Pour it into the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 60-90 minutes, until it's set but still a little wobbly in the middle. Allow it to cool on the bench, then refrigerate it for at least 4 hours (preferably overnight) before slicing and serving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cheeseburger puffs

November 22, 2015

We joined a gang of veg*n bloggers and associated hangers-on for a potluck picnic in Edinburgh Gardens this past weekend. The potluck was organised by Steph, who added the fun/complexity of a 'celebrity chef' theme. The easy option would have been to fall back on one of the many crowd-pleasing Ottolenghi or Isa recipes we've made before, but we decided to embrace the spirit of the theme more thoroughly and veganise some unlikely celebrity chef dishes.

Cindy had oodles of fun trawling her way through the slightly terrifying Paula Deen archives, weighing up options like the bacon cheeseburger meatloaf and the banana split brownie pizza - this Guardian rundown outlines just how horrifically unhealthy (and unvegan) Deen's cooking style is. In the end, after weighing up the picnic-appropriateness and veganisability of various mad recipes, we settled on these mini cheeseburger puffs, which basically involve wrapping the fillings of a cheeseburger in puff pastry.

With TVP replacing the the ground beef, Tofutti's American cheese slices filling in admirably for crappy cheddar slices and some squares of mock bacon adding our own special touch, these were a gloriously unhealthy vegan sensation. This is about as far from wholefoods as it gets. They were a huge success though, especially with generous dollops of tomato sauce on top. 

They're a bit fiddly to make - the TVP-based mince doesn't hold together as a burger patty at all, so you have to just scoop up a big spoonful of the mix into the centre of each pastry square (see above). Don't skimp on the homemade seasoning - the TVP is pretty flavourless on its own, so you really need to go crazy with the salt and spices. We made up our own versions of Paula Deen's silly salt and steak seasoning. The quantities below make 24 pastries, so consider halving it if you're not feeding a picnic full of hungry vegans.

The picnic food was all incredible - Johanna has already posted up her dishes, keep an eye on Veganopolous for a full round-up as well.

Mini cheeseburger puffs
(adapted from this Paula Deen recipe)

burger mix
1.5 cups TVP
1.5 cups boiling water
1 small onion, diced

Roughly 5 parts salt, 2 parts pepper, 2 parts garlic powder, 1 part onion powder, cayenne, ground coriander and dill - up to about 2 tablespoons.

toppings etc
1 packet Tofutti American cheese slices -12 slices, quartered into 48 little squares
enough mock ham to make 24 little squares
6 sheets puff pastry

Soak the TVP in the boiling water for 10 minutes or so, until the water is absorbed.

Fry the rehydrated TVP with the onion for about 5 minutes. Stir in the seasoning, then kill the heat and let the mix cool to room temperature.

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. 

Defrost the pastry sheets. Make the puffs up - each one needs one quarter of a sheet of the puff pastry, a tablespoon of the burger mix, two cheese squares and one ham square (see above). 

Fold the four corners of the pastry up to meet in the centre and cover the filling (see photos above). Pinch the corners of the puff pastry squares together and partially along the seams, leaving a few little air holes along the edges.

Bake for 20 minutes, until the pastry is crispy and golden. They're delicious fresh out of the oven, but just as good served later at room temperature.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Urad dal with coconut & coriander

November 15, 2015

We had a few friends around for dinner on Sunday night and decided that an Indian feast was the way to go. We fell back on some old favourites - palak paneer, samosas and kulfi - and included this Ottolenghi-inspired dal as something novel. It uses urad dal - black lentils - which are firmer and hold their shape better than some of the other dals we've used before. The downside to their firmer texture is that they need to be soaked overnight, so you need to be a bit organised.

The recipe is otherwise straightforward - it's a simple one pot meal that just needs a bit of time to get the liquid thickened up. The dal itself is lovely, with the garam masala giving it a nice warmth and depth, but the toppings are what really make this stand out. It's definitely worth tracking down fresh coconut if you can - we found frozen shredded coconut at Mix Supermarket in Brunswick, which was an easy solution. The recipe below makes tons of food - we were eating leftovers all week (with no complaints).

Urad dal with coconut & coriander
(adapted from one of Ottolenghi's recipes from The Guardian)

300g urad dal, soaked overnight
60g ghee
1 brown onion, peeled and chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 whole green chilli, finely chopped
1.5 tablespoons garam masala
800g can crushed tomatoes
200ml coconut milk
juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons black mustard seeds, toasted
100g roughly grated fresh coconut (we found some pre-grated in the freezer at an Asian supermarket)
50g crispy fried shallots
1 bunch coriander, roughly chopped

Drain and rinse the dal and set aside.

Heat the ghee in a large saucepan and then fry the onion for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until its golden and soft.

Add the garlic, ginger, chilli and garam masala and stir-fry it all together for a couple of minutes.

Tip in the tomatoes and cook for another few minutes.

Add the dal, along with a litre of water and a teaspoon of salt. Cover until the mix is simmering and then simmer, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Cook it down until you've got a thick, soupy texture.

Kill the heat and stir in the coconut milk, lime juice and mustard seeds.

Serve, topped generously with the coconut, shallots and coriander.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Fan's Notes

November 14, 2015

We've been angling for a visit to A Fan's Notes since our friend Will talked it up as a super vegan-friendly addition to the strip of cafes on Nicholson Street in Carlton North. We were too early for them a week ago, so we took no chances on Saturday and wandered up for a late lunch.

It's a cluttered little cafe, immediately winning me over with posters of The Chills and The Clean, along with an impressive bookshelf and general scruffy-hipster vibe. The menu is full of vegetarian and vegan options, with five vegan or veganisable dishes (an enchilada and a quesadilla along with the scrambled tofu, bircher and burrito discussed below) and another five vegetarian dishes across the brunch and lunch menus. Coeliacs are also well catered for, with six dishes to choose from.

I was almost lured in by the vegan scrambled tofu, with polenta, asparagus, burnt eggplant, roast peppers and snow peas ($17), but instead went with the vegan option on the black bean burrito, hoping they'd replace the scrambled egg with scrambled tofu. Sadly they don't, but you still get a ludicrously fat burrito, stuffed with a slightly smoky black-bean mix and slathered in avocado, a corn and tomato salsa and accompanied by a pile of crispy kale chips ($17).

There are about forty different hot sauces to choose from as well - you can see the bottle of Tasmanian pepper sauce just in the edge of the picture above. I was deeply impressed by my meal - it's not super complicated, but it's executed well, is a mountain of food and was goddamn delicious. 

The sweet side of the menu is not quite as exciting as the savoury, with Cindy limited to either a vegan bircher, with apple and sweet dukkah ($11), or this slightly terrifying banana French toast, with pistachio cream, smoked sugar and rum syrup ($16 - the original dish has bacon, I'm not sure whether the price changes when it's omitted).

Long-time readers will know my feelings on bananas, and this was pretty much my nightmare: some sort of banana bread, with a soggy cooked banana draped across it. Ugh. Cindy was more accepting of the strong banana flavour and pudding texture, but even she was feeling some order envy as she looked at the varied savoury plates around her. 

A Fan's Notes is a great addition to the Brunswick brunch scene - its vegan-friendly savoury dishes are particularly noteworthy. There's decent coffee, friendly staff and great music on the stereo - we'll definitely be back.

The only previous review of A Fan's Notes that I could dig up was this short and positive write-up at Gluttony Fair.


A Fan's Notes
787 Nicholson St, Carlton North
9943 8373
brunchy, lunchy, drinks
facebook page

Accessibility: There's a flat entry way to a slightly crowded interior. You order at the table and pay at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sweet'n'sour mock pork

November 8, 2015

Sweet and sour pork was a childhood Chinese takeaway staple for me, and I still love the tangy sauce and juicy pineapple pieces just as much as Michael hates them. I occasionally order vegetarian versions around town but I've only just tried making it for myself for the first time. With Michael away on a work trip and the leftovers of a can of pineapple in the fridge, I was surprised how easily it came together.

Some mock pork pieces and canned pineapple chunks were mandatory, of course, and I filled the meal out with red capsicum, snow peas and a carrot cut into half moons. I looked to blog Rasa Malaysia for a sauce recipe - it has a tomato ketchup base, then builds up the sourness with plum sauce (I had homemade plum jam on hand) and rice wine vinegar, saltiness with vegan Worcestershire and oyster sauces, and that trademark texture with a little cornflour. The sauce glistened thickly against the mock pork pieces, but wasn't so abundant as to pool in the bottom of the dish.

This sweet'n'sour mock pork smelled exactly as I remembered it, and I ate it gladly for days with steamed white rice.

Sweet'n'sour mock pork
(adapted from a recipe on Rasa Malaysia)

1 red capsicum
1 carrot
2 handfuls snow peas
1/2 cup canned pineapple pieces

mock meat
450g mock pork pieces
2 tablespoons cornflour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 teaspoons plum sauce or jam
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons vegan oyster sauce
2 teaspoons cornflour
4 tablespoons water

Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces and set them aside.

Make sure the mock pork pieces are thawed and bite-sized. Place them in a container with a well-fitting lid. Sprinkle the cornflour over the mock meat, place the lid on the container and shake it around until the mock meat is evenly coated in the cornflour. Set it aside.

Place all the sauce ingredients in a bowl and stir them until they form a smooth sauce. Set them aside.

Heat vegetable oil in a large frypan or wok. Add the cornflour-coated mock meat pieces and stir-fry them until golden. Add the vegetables and stir-fry them until they're bright and glossy - I did the carrot, snow peas, capsicum and pineapple in stages according to my texture preferences. Pour over the sauce and gently stir it through for no more than two minutes. Serve the sweet'n'sour mock pork over steamed rice.