Thursday, 24 July 2014

Christmas in July smoky cheese and barley nut roast

Sylvia started it.  I love to celebrate Christmas in July but had no plans this year.  We had a quiet weekend at home to try and throw off our colds when Sylvia found the Christmas CDs and books.  (Must hide better next time!)  So began the craziness.  I told her we could play carols and watch a Christmas DVD and I would make Christmas dinner.  Why not when, baby, it's cold outside!

For those unfamiliar with Christmas in July, it is truly delightful in Melbourne to celebrate Christmas in the middle of winter and indulge in a decadent festive meal.  (Of course it is not about presents!)  We are feeling very wintery lately.  Sylvia is insisting on turning her calendar to August for the snowman picture.  We even have had snow in the hills outside Melbourne.  And I keep hearing wind and rain outside even when there is none.  You see, I have had an ear infection for the past week that is playing havoc with my hearing.

We needed a tree!  I wasn't committed enough to drag out Christmas decorations.  Instead we had a quick craft episode with a few rolls of colourful washi tape.  With a bit of guidance, Sylvia created a picture of a Christmas tree to put on the wall.  Her tree had bananas and the star at the top was sticking out its tongue! 

More effort on a Christmas tree was kept for our gingerbread tree.  We have a graduated set of 5 star biscuit cutters that we have used on another gingerbread Christmas tree.  Last time we used a gingerless gingerbread that was appropriate to our friend's intolerances.  On the weekend we used my favourite gingerbread recipe.  It has never let me down.  We smooshed together the stars with green icing.  Then Sylvia decorated it with Christmas sprinkles.

For the Christmas dinner, it seemed obvious to make a nut roast.  As those who know my blog will be aware, I love nut roasts and make them frequently.  I had some pearl barley and split peas in want of using.  I googled and found ideas.  In particular, a Jamie Oliver Cranberry and Pistachio Nut Roast.  It appealed because it suggested I could use barley instead of rice in the risotto base.  (The recipe omitted to note that it would take longer to cook barley than rice!)

I have decided my recipe is different enough to Jamie's to claim it as original because I made so many changes.  The main one is that I couldn't find fresh cranberries to top the nut roast.  They are rare in Melbourne at the best of times and I didn't have the energy to hunt them out.  I only went to the shops because I needed another course of antibiotics.  Our local shops don't sell wild mushrooms so I used portabello and button.  I used whiskey instead of wine, smoked vintage cheese instead of cheddar, walnuts instead of pistachios.  Even my breadcrumbs were different as I had kept leftover seasoned crumbs and cornflakes from some tofu nuggets.

Jamie says to leave out the eggs and cheese to make the nut roast vegan.  I would try mixing through a little tofu.  My nut roast took a lot of its flavour from the smoked vintage cheese.  To veganise this nut roast, I would add some smoked paprika and additional seasonings.  In fact the nut roast was so hearty that a small amount would suffice and it would serve quite a lot of people if need be.

I had promised Sylvia a Christmas dinner so it was a proper roast dinner with roast potatoes and pumpkin, brussels sprouts, gravy and cranberry sauce.  I had some miso lentil grave (from Isa Does It) in the freezer.  It was ok but a bit thick and intense for a nut roast.  The cranberry sauce worked well in lieu of freshly cooked cranberries.  The nut roast was so flavoursome that it needed the sweetness to cut through the seasoning.

And there were sprouts.  There are always sprouts in a traditional British Christmas.  I hated brussel sprouts as a child.  E hated brussel sprouts when I met him.  Yet both of us have come to love them.  More surprising is that Sylvia loves them.  She eats them first in her dinner because they are her favourite thing.  When I ran out this week she was demanding that I buy her more sprouts.  Am I alone in thinking this is odd behaviour in a child!  Not that am complaining.  Even so, it seemed ironic that I didn't cook all the sprouts that I bought for the meal and wished I had.  They were really good!

I dug out our tartan table runner and Christmas dishes.  Sylvia decided that dinner must be by candlelight.  She loves roast potatoes but was less impressed by a small piece of nut roast.  In fact the best thing she had to say for it was that if she ate enough cranberry sauce she couldn't taste the nut roast.  I suspect it was the candles and carols rather than the nut roast that made her exclaim that it was the best night ever. 

And Sylvia loved the gingerbread Christmas tree.  She was very excited when it was time for dessert.  This was an easy and yet impressive way to finish our Christmas dinner.  And it made a festive touch to the table.  I enjoyed the gingerbread but I was so full from main course that it was a bit wasted on me. 

As a meat eater I once loved the leftover meat after Christmas dinner, and as a vegetarian I now love the leftover nut roast.  The following day we had plenty of nut roast.   Did I mention that I baked oat and seed sourdough bread around preparing for our Christmas in July!  It meant that I could eat wonderful leftover nut roast sandwiches.  Actually I overdid the cranberry sauce and roasted pumpkin in the sandwich.  It need a little less sweet flavours but with spinach and grated carrot was still lovely.  I also made some rice and nut roast, a bit like this recipe (without stuffing it in peppers).

And the next day I could photograph the nut roast in daylight.  Natural light for blog photograph seems very limited at the time of year.  For those in the Northern Hemisphere experiencing long summer days (or as The Age newspaper recently said, Britons experiencing a (sort of) heatwave), you probably don't feel very Christmassy at all.  Perhaps reading this post, you are feeling just the way that we do Down Under when it comes to Christmas in December: too hot to think about Christmas and finding it hard to feel in synch with those wintery weather that are the hallmark of the festivities.  For us, it felt just like right.  But even better without the annoying commercialism.  This is the sort of Christmas I wish for all year round!

I am sending this nut roast to:

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: Christmas in July - Chocolate Shortbread and Sovereign Hill
Two years ago: Celery and blue cheese soup and Open House Melbourne
Three years ago: Mulled wine and chocolate cake
Four years ago: Christmas in July Cupcakes
Five years ago: Pudding, Parties and Plate Smashers
Six years ago: Miss Marple’s Tea Room – cosy charm
Seven years ago: Hubert the Hog’s Head

Smoky cheese and barley nut roast
An original Green Gourmet Giraffe recipe inspired by Jamie Oliver
Serves 6 to 8

2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
150g pearl barley
1/4 cup whiskey
3 1/2 cups boiling water
1 tsp stock powder
200g mushrooms, diced
100g walnuts, crushed with a fork
100g almond meal
150ml breadcrumbs
125g smoked vintage cheddar
black pepper, to taste
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 190 C.  Grease and line a loaf tin (mine is 22 x 13cm and was full to the brim with the

Heat between 1 and 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium saucepan.  Fry celery and onions over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes until soft. Stir in garlic for a minute or so.  Add pearl barley and fry for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Deglaze with whisky and the stir in the 2 - 3 cups of boiling water and the vegetable stock.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about 40 minutes or until the pearl barley is just cooked and most of the water is absorbed.  Add more boiling water as required.  (I originally added 2 and 1/2 cups of water and then added another cup when it was absorbed and not yet cooked.) 

Meanwhile fry mushrooms in 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes until soft and most of the juices have evaporated. (If you don't get to do this until your barley is cooked, you can do this in the same saucepan once barley is transferred to the mixing bowl.)

While the barley and mushrooms are cooking, prepare remaining ingredients and add to a large mixing bowl.  Add pearl barley mixture and mushrooms once cooked and stir together until well mixed.

Spoon mixture into the prepared loaf tin.  Smooth the top of it with the back of a spoon.  Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Turn halfway through the baking and check if it needs to be covered in foil.  My oven refuses to burn anything (except the odd chip) but I know others are more powerful.  I baked mine for 40 minutes at 200 C and it was a bit soft so longer would be better.

Allow to rest for at least 10 to 15 minutes.  Turn out onto a serving tray.  You can make this a day ahead and keep on a serving tray covered in foil (once cooled) and reheat (covered in foil) on the day.  Serve with lots of roast vegies, greens and gravy or anyway you want.  I highly recommend some cranberry sauce.

On the Stereo:
White Christmas: Bing Crosby

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Shortbread like Ena Baxter made it

When I started blogging back in 2007 I was having a lovely time  experimenting with new flavours and ideas.  It was only later I realised that I had forgotten to include the basics.  I just took them for granted.  Perhaps that is why I have posted a recipe for dark chocolate and cranberry shorrtbread and spiced chocolate shortbread but until today I have not posted a basic shortbread recipe. 

It might also be that I find regular shortbread to be quite dull.  Maybe it was not always so.  I blame my current disdain for shortbread on the months I spent working in a quiet office in Edinburgh.  Most of my days there were spent gossiping and raiding the stocks of Walkers shortbread.  However, I live with E who loves it with a passion that betrays his Scottish upbringing.  Our little girl loves shortbread too. 

Now bring in my sister in law HH who lives in Edinburgh and is thoughtful and generous at choosing presents.  A few years back she sent me this present pack.  A book of baking recipes, a woollen rose and Ena Baxter's Scottish Cookbook.  I particularly loved the cookbook as it was one that belonged to E's mum.  Ena Baxter is one of the famous Baxters family that make lovely soups and preserves.  I was lucky enough to visit Fochabers in Scotland where their main factory is.  Sadly it was too snowy to visit their Highland Village

The cookbook is full of traditional recipes.  Most of the dinner recipes are meat.  I have spent more time looking at the baking chapters.  It is written for women who are skilled in the art of baking and don't need precision when it comes to cake tins, amounts of ingredients or baking times.  I consider myself a competent cook and yet I find this sort of recipe challenging.  I have tried the treacle scones once or twice and not got the (unspecified) amount of milk right.

Earlier this year I tried Ena Baxter's shortbread.  The recipe didn't give a size of tin or nor the time to bake it.  I had to try it twice to feel like I had it right.  The first time I didn't fill the whole of the lamington tin because it seemed too thin.  The shortbread was golden brown around the edges but in the middle it was too pale, dense and soft rather than sandy and crumbly.

Don't get me wrong.  It was edible.  Which was just as well.  I had made it for a school lunch on Harmony Day.  This is a day for children to wear their national dress and bring food from their family's country.  Sylvia wore a tartan skirt and a t-shirt with the Scottish saltire on it.  I had to pin them to fit with a safety pin or two.

It surprised me that Sylvia did not know what a safety pin was.  I grew up helping changing my siblings' cloth nappies that were held together with safety pins.  I guess they just don't feel safe enough for kids any more.  Well I guess I did stick the safety pin into them occasionally.  Oops!

Incidentally I was quite surprised at an article in The Age newspaper on racism damaging children recently which said that one-off multicultural events "can do more harm than good and reinforce rather than challenge negative attitudes and beliefs".  I wonder how this plays out at Sylvia's school where there is a lot of diversity in the children's backgrounds.  Today I heard about a nutrition presentation at the school where a child asked if the puppet presenter was fasting for Ramadan.

But I digress.  Back to the shortbread.  I tried again.  This time I spread it thinner, cooked it until I knew the colour seemed more evenly golden brown.  It was much better.  Cooked right through.  Sandy and crumble.  Sylvia had been a bit wary about the first batch but gobbled up the second.  And I think Ena would have been pleased that I am learning not just by cookbooks but also by learning from doing.

E's mother would also be delighted that I am using her cookbook to feed her son and granddaughter (and myself) a traditional biscuit that has been eaten for many generations in Scotland.  So while plain old shortbread is not my favourite thing to eat, it is embedded in our family and can make me feel quite sentimental  Which is a good reminder of why the simple foods are sometimes the most important to us.

I am sending this to Cates Cates for the Christmas in July theme this month for Anyone Can Cook Vegetarian Food.  While shortbread can be enjoyed all year round, it is also a traditional festive treat and great for gifts..

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: Carrot dinner rolls
Two years ago: RRC Show us your Cookbooks
Three years ago: MLLA Chickpea, potato and tomato stew
Four years ago: Syrup cake, shoes and chooks
Five years ago: Pear and Walnut Chutney
Six years ago: Chickpea cutlets and gluten strings
Seven years ago: Mulled Apple Juice for a Midwinter Birthday

From Edna Baxter's Scottish Cookbook
Makes about 54 small squares

250g plain white flour
125g rice flour
125g sugar
250g butter

Preheat oven to 160 C or 325 F.  Line a lamington or swiss roll tray with baking paper (mine is 31 x 24cm).

Use your hands (or pastry cutters) to rub butter into flours and sugar until thoroughly incorporated.  The mixture will be soft lumps.  Tip the mixture into into the prepared tray and use the back of a spoon or your hands to press it down firmly, evenly and flat.  It might seem thin but thin is good.  Mark squares (or fingers) by running a knife through the shortbread dough.  Use a fork to poke holes in each piece.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown.  Cool in the tray and then cut into squares or fingers as marked.

On the Stereo:
White chalk: P J Harvey 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Sourdough banana oat pancakes

It was a cool autumn morning with a banana to use up.  That calls for banana oat pancakes.  This is my easy way of using up smelly old bananas and pleasing Sylvia.  I hadn't been baking much sourdough bread.  I don't like to discard the starter so I just feed it up and find a purpose.  Usually that is flatbreads.  I thought I would try tossing it into the pancakes.

Most of the pancakes were small but I made a large one at the end when I had had enough of frying.  However, they fried quite quickly and soon we had a plate piled with pancakes.  They were a bit flatter than my usual version and also not overly sweet.

I had stewed some plums the night before.  This meant the pancakes were fancier than the usual lemon and sugar or maple syrup.  I had a pile of three pancakes with plums and vanilla yoghurt.  It was scrumptious.  Then I had seconds.  And was very full.

Now we were ready for the day.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: Healthy banana bread and kids making do
Two years ago: WW Tofu nut balls and princesses
Three years ago: CC Vegetarian Moussaka
Four years ago: Fish and chips – reflections of a vegetarian
Five years ago: SHF Apricot sponge – by any other name
Six years ago: Vegetarian Cassoulet
Seven years ago: Mushroom Yoghurt Pie with Spinach Crust

Sourdough banana oat pancakes
Adapted from our favourite banana oat pancakes
Serves 4 to 6

30g butter
2 tsp golden syrup (or other sweetener)
1 banana, mashed
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder
butter, for frying

Melt butter.  Mix in golden syrup and banana, then egg.  Mix sourdough starter, oats and baking powder.  (My batter was thickish and quick blobby rather than a pouring consistency.)

Heat a frypan over medium heat.  Melt a little butter (about 1/2 tsp) in the frypan and use the back of a spoon to spread it about evenly.  Drop dessertspoons of batter into the frypan.  (Or two spoonfuls for a slightly bigger pancake.) Fry a few minutes until bubbles appear.  Flip over and fry another minute or two until the other side is golden brown.  Serve warm with your choice of toppings.

On the Stereo:
Talking with the Taxman about Poetry: Billy Bragg

Thursday, 17 July 2014

5:2 diet - vegetarian meal plans, reflections and recipes

Late last year I started the 5:2 diet. I was impressed by Michael Mosley's Eat Fast and Live Longer BBC tv program, Horizon.  It argued that eating 500 calories (or 600 calories if you are male) 2 days a week and eating whatever you want for the remaining 5 days has many health benefits, as well as aiding weight loss. I have been surprised at how much I liked it. Yet starting the diet was hard because I couldn't find vegetarian meal plans. So here are a few reflections, recipes and meal plans for anyone who is interested in the diet.

Disclaimer: I am not a trained health professional. I am merely sharing my experiences. I have discussed this diet with my doctor and I recommend doing so before starting the diet, especially if you have any risk factors. It is not recommended for people with eating disorders.


I started out religiously counting calories, and it was hard at the end of each day. As my stomach demanded food, I would dream of the piles of food I would devour the next day. Strangely enough, when the next day came I wasn't that hungry and didn't gorge myself as I had expected. While there is much talk about 'fasting', it is not a starvation diet.  The longer I do the diet, the easier I find it. Though you still might find me a little more grumpy than usual on the evening of a fast day.

I really like the light feeling of eating less food on a fast day. It has also made me cut back on the amount of cooking and groceries we buy.  This diet is not for everyone and it has its critics.  (I like to believe it is good for my health but it seems the research is still in its early days.)  However I like that I have lost a little weight and this has been with no extra cost, no signing up, and no foods I must or mustn't eat.

Having done this diet for months, I find that I don't always calorie count now. I follow a fairly similar eating pattern of porridge for breakfast; rice cakes or bread with a spread and salad for lunch; perhaps some fruit or miso soup for snacks; and a soup of vegies and legumes for dinner. Mostly good simple food. On occasion I have had cake for lunch but I don't recommend it.  Nor do health professionals who recommend good nutrition both on fast and non-fast days.  Here are a few notes on what works and doesn't work for me:

The 5:2 diet works fine when:
  • Drinking lots of water and herbal tea
  • I eat lots of vegies to give plenty of interest to a meal
  • Child free day (school holidays are challenging)
  • Shopping for food (surprisingly doesn't bother me)
  • Busy so that time flies
  • I take snacks with me when out and about
  • If I meet friends it is just for a coffee and I have herbal tea
  • I don't eat lots of sweet and salty foods that stimulate my appetite

The 5:2 diet is not easy when:
  • I am eating out
  • I have a headache and/or am sick
  • I do lots of exercise
  • I am photographing tempting food for blog
  • I am baking and storing freshly baked goods around the house
  • If I don't have a good idea of what food I will eat (preparation helps)
  • Christmas and Easter or other big celebrations present me with lots of good food


When I first started, I found it useful to keep a food diary to keep a running total of my calories.  I used calories lists from Tinned Tomatoes and Lavender and Lovage as well as searching online.  Here are a few sample days.

After a while I didn't need snacks as much and found myself making slightly higher calorie soups for dinner.  I still keep a good supply of rice cakes, cuppa soup, miso soup, fruit and herbal tea for light snacks if I need them. And I find a homemade vegie stock helps give extra flavour to soups.

NB I don't get too hung up on getting the calories precise so if they are slightly out that is fine.  (Fro example: my notes say that a small apple is 52 cal and a large one is 95 cal so I may allocate different calories depending on the size.)  It is about reducing calories rather than precision.

Hearty tomato noodle soup - 125 C

Week 1 Day 1

Breakfast Porridge 127 cal
Morning tea Half apple 42 cal
Lunch Hearty tomato noodle soup (from a box)         125 cal
Afternoon tea 3 cherry tomatoes 12 cal
Dinner Italian butter beans
A few vegies
140 cal
10 cal
Supper Half apple
1 pistachio
42 cal
4 cal
Total 502 cal

Rice cakes with peanut butter and tomato, and fried asparagus - 92 C

Week 7 Day 1

Breakfast Porridge 127 cal
Morning tea Half apple 47 cal
Lunch 1 thin rice cake with 1 tsp peanut butter         
1/2 tomato
4 asparagus spears
fried in 1/2 tsp oil with pinch of salt
58 cal
13 cal
11 cal
10 cal
Afternoon tea Happy cow cheese wedge 35 cal
Dinner Broccoli soup 153 cal
Supper Rice cake with vegemite
1 almond
40 cal
12 cal
496 cal

Curried red lentil and dried apricot soup - 141 C

Week 9 Day 1

Breakfast Porridge 127 cal
Morning tea Nectarine 39 cal
Lunch 1 ricecake with hummus
1/4 tomato
1 ricecake with vegemite
60 cal
13 cal
40 cal
Afternoon tea n/a
Dinner Curried red lentil and dried apricot soup     141 cal
Supper 1/2 Nectarine 15 cal
445 cal

Sweet potato and red lentil soup - 129 C

Week 13 Day 1

Breakfast Smoothie 147 cal
Morning tea n/a
Lunch Cuppa noodle soup (packaged) 125 cal
Afternoon tea bit of rice cracker
bit of peach
7 cal
7 cal
Dinner Sweet potato and red lentil soup              129 cal
Supper Rice cake 35 cal
440 cal

Nashi pears - 127 C and packam pears - 80 C

6 months later(I had given up noting the week number)
Breakfast1 rice cake and peanut butter49 cal
Morning tean/a
Lunch1 slice sourdough bread
2 tsp hummus
132 cal
15 cal
Afternoon tea1 (260g) nashi pear127 cal
DinnerBeetroot and kidney bean soup181 cal
504 cal


Based on this microwave porridge
serves 1

1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup soy milk
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp honey

Mix all ingredients in a small heat proof mixing bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes. Stir and cheek consistency. Microwave another 1-2 minutes depending on how thick you like your porridge. When it is thickened and oats are cooked, serve hot. 127 calories per serving.

Serves 2

1/2 banana
1 ripe peach*
1 ripe plum*
10 raspberries
1/2 cup soy milk
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp chia seeds
ice blocks, optional

Place everything in a large jug and blend until smooth with a hand held blender (or use a blender jug if you have one). Pour into two glasses and enjoy. 147 calories per serving.

*Variation: I have also made this smoothie with 1/4 cup of blueberries instead of the plum and the peach. It worked out at 122 calories per serving.

Italian butter beans - 140 C
Italian butter beans
From BBC Good Food
Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
400g tin diced tomatoes
2 tsp sugar
2 x 400g tins butter beans, rinsed and drained
small bunch basil, chopped

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and fry the garlic for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, sugar and seasoning. Tip in the beans and a splash of water. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the basil and serve. 140 calories per serving.

Sweet potato and red lentil soup
A lighter version of this soup
Serves 4

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
1 celery stick, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 cup red lentils
1 sweet potato (mine weighed 233g), chopped*
5 cups water
2 tsp stock powder
pinch salt

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Fry onion, garlic, celery and carrot until soft. Add remaining ingredients and check seasoning. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes or until potato is soft and lentils cooked. Puree and serve. 129 calories per serving.

*Note: you could bake the sweet potato until soft. It will make the flavour more intense in the soup but it is not necessary if you don't have time.

Variation: I have also made this soup with 1/2 tsp olive oil, 50g silverbeet, 30g mushrooms, 35g kale, 2 tbsp tomato paste and not pureed it. This was really delicious and 139 calories per serving.

Asparagus and chickpea salad - 133 C
Asparagus and chickpea salad
serves 2

1 bunch asparagus
1/2 x 400g tin of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 medium red pepper, chopped
5 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp cider vinegar

Trim and roughly chop asparagus. Lightly steam and cool under cold water. Drain. Mix with remaining ingredients. Season to taste. 133 calories per serving.

Smoky kidney bean soup
Adapted from Lavender and Lovage
Serves 4

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion
2 carrots, chopped
100g button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
125g butternut pumpkin (or squash), chopped
400g tin kidney beans, rinsed and drained
400g  tin diced tomatoes
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried oregano
good shake of cayenne powder
2 cups vegie stock
nutritional yeast flakes to serve, optional

Fry onion in olive oil for a few minutes until translucent.  Add carrots, mushrooms and garlic.  Fry 5 to 10 minutes until vegies soften. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about 20-30 minutes until carrots and pumpkin are soft when pierced with a fork.  Serve with nutritional yeast flakes if desired.  142 calories per serving.  (149 calories per serving if you scatter each serving with 1 tbsp of nutritional yeast flakes.)

Smoky kidney bean soup - 142 C
Other recipes on my blog that I have used on the 5:2 diet:


Blogs that have 5:2 recipes and low calorie recipes (mostly vegetarian) :

Reflections by others:

I am sending the Smoky Kidney Bean Soup to Lisa's Kitchen for No Croutons Required, a monthly event held with Jac of Tinned Tomatoes for bloggers to share vegetarian soups and salads.  This monthly event would also be a great place to look for 5:2 diet meal ideas.

    Tuesday, 15 July 2014

    Cuban Beer-Infused Black Beans

    As soon as I saw Janet's Cuban Beer-Infused Black Beans recipe I was sold.  We had beer in the house that I earmarked for the recipe, limes on the tree (most went into limeade), poblano chillis that bemused me, and a love of spicy bean stews.

    Janet highly recommend the roasted hatch chillis in the recipe that she made but I have never found there here in Melbourne.  However for a short time, our local Coles supermarket had a huge range of chilli peppers.  I bought some poblano chillis on a whim.  I was wooed by the lovely deep green glossy skins.  It was a relief when I got home and looked them up on Wikipedia to read that it is quite mild, with only an odd rogue spicy one.  Finally I have met a chilli pepper I can love.  Sadly it was just a passing phase of Coles and I haven't seen them again.

    It has been a long time since I made a "chilli non carne" (aka chilli con carne without meat!).  When I was first blogging chilli non carne was the basis of every Mexican dish I made.  Since then I have tried it in many ways - with cocoa, carob, dried apricots, bulgar wheat, hominy, silverbeet and of course a mole sauce.  More recently I have used rapid refried beans in tacos and nachos because it is so quick.  But it lacks the soupy comfort factor of a good chilli non carne.

    This recipes is actually a Cuban recipe and probably not technically a chilli non carne.  However it is similar enough to be closely associated with it in my mind.  I love it with its creamy coconut milk sauce and depth of flavour.  It seemed very soupy so I added extra tomato paste and simmer it an extra 10 minutes.  I also worried that the soy sauce would overwhelm the other flavours but it didn't dominate once simmered.  We ate it with tortillas, tangy silverbeet and cheese.  Leftover were a delight.

    I made these beans a couple of months ago.  It was on a serendipitous weekend.  I decided to go to Fairfield Farmers Market and we were passing Sylvia's kinder friends on the way home so we dropped in.  The following day we caught up with one of her school friends (A) and went to the park.  While another school friend (D) turned up who had been on an overseas trip.  The little girls were delighted to catch up and huddled under one of the large oak trees doing secret little girls business while the parents all caught up.  Eating a good bean stew was an excellent end to a lovely weekend.

    Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
    One year ago: Dolly's birthday cake
    Two years ago: NCR Oranges history, trivia and a salad
    Three years ago: Easey Cheesey Scones
    Four years ago: Nutella Blondies
    Five years ago: Sour Skon
    Six years ago: Pumpkin soup and history
    Seven years ago: Eight plus eight - recycling tags!

    Cuban Beer-Infused Black Beans
    Adapted from Meatless All Day via the taste space
    Serves 4

    1 tbsp rice bran oil (or other neutral oil)
    1 small onion, chopped
    2 baby carrots, peeled and diced
    1 red capsicum, finely chopped
    2 fresh poblano chilli peppers, diced
    3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
    1/2 tsp ground cumin
    4 tbsp tomato paste
    1/3 cup beer
    1 cup light coconut milk
    1/4 cup water 
    2 x 400g tins (3 cups) black beans, rinsed and drained
    3 tbsp fresh lime juice
    2 tsp soy sauce
    1 tsp stock powder

    Fry onion and carrots in oil over medium heat for a few minutes while you chop the capsicum and chillis.  Stir in capsicum and chillis and fry for about 5 to 10 minutes.  The vegetables should be softening.  Add the garlic and cumin and stir for about a minute.  Stir in the tomato paste until it starts to brown.  Deglaze with the beer for a minute or two.  Add remaining ingredients.  Simmer uncovered for 15 to 25 minutes until mixture has thickened and flavours meld.

    On the Stereo:
    Blue: Joni Mitchell

    Sunday, 13 July 2014

    Waterfront Kitchen, 2 Little Birds cafe and Zen Bakery, Geelong

    With some birthdays and school holidays, we have spent a bit of time recently eating out in Geelong.  In most cases I have been pleasantly surprised at the vegetarian options.  Over the past decade, Geelong has developed some cosmopolitan eating spaces, especially in Pakington Street and the waterfront.  Today I will share with you a couple of snacks at small cafes in the suburb of Belmont and an impressive lunch at Deakin University's Waterfront Kitchen.

    Let's start with our lunch at Zen Bsakery in Belmont.  This is a nice space with a fairly basic menu of sandwiches, foccaccias and pies and pasties.   I enjoyed a vegetable pastie but barely made a dint on the huge dish of chutney.  Sylvia's order went awry and she was given a vegemite and cheese sandwich rather than a toasted cheese sandwich.  She loved the white bread and wanted some of the cute flower shaped biscuits.  Zen also sells loaves of sourdough bread but I wasn't sure what bread was at my parents' house.

    My family has raved to me about 2 little birds so I was pleased when my sister Fran suggested afternoon tea there.  It is far bigger than the small door off Roslyn Road would suggest.  Inside the door is a shop area selling clothes, homewares and jewellery.  Through the back is a gorgeous cafe.  A large table sits under a huge chandelier in the middle of the room, while around the sides are tables and benches with cushions and quirky touches like a ceramic cow's head on the wall.

    The cakes were really interesting.  Sylvia immediately decided upon the raw strawberry cheesecake ($8.50) and I had trouble deciding between the raw hazelnut chocolate cheesecake and the gluten free dairy free chocolate cake ($6.50).  I went for the latter and loved it.  (I was curious to know what nuts or flour was used!)  Sylvia wasn't keen on her cheesecake.  I liked hers but it was quite rich and not quite as smooth as I expected.  The sweet potato and lentil soup also sounded great.  It was good to catch up with Fran and Paul, and Sylvia had a lovely time with her cousins, Stella and Grace.

    The next day after a fun swim with more of Sylvia's cousins, my dad took us to the Waterfront Kitchen at Deakin University's waterfront campus.  It is housed in the old Dalgety's warehouse (top photo) between the city shopping precinct and Corio Bay.  I remember going to a National Celtic Festival there in 2000, presumably before Deakin took it over.

    The cafe is spacious with high ceilings hung with white cloths.  I assume these are to dampen the sound, given that it was not that noisy considering how crowded it was when we arrived.  (The below photo was taken at the end of the meal.)

    There is a cafeteria service and a waiter service area.  Sylvia had chips, as usual.  My dad chose soup from the cafeteria but I was tempted by the pumpkin fajitas ($18.90) on the menu.  My dad's soup arrived last and he thought it might have been forgotten as it wasn't piping hot.  However it was nice that there was no problem about serving us from both areas.  And he enjoyed his soup.

    My fajitas had chipotle roasted pumpkin and mexican rice on two corn tortillas, topped with corn chips, cheese, peppers, onions and sour cream, with some guacamole on the side.  The pumpkins weren't large chunks with some chipotle powder on them but not as tasty as I had hoped.  The meal as a whole, though, was very filling, interesting and satisfying.

    I am always fascinated by university buildings and I think it is great that the cafe opens this old warehouse to the public.  There are also some spaces to just sit and read or relax.  Geelong, like Melbourne, has moved towards a greater appreciation of its waterfront recently.  If the weather was fine, I think I would enjoy sitting outside the cafe and looking across the road to the Bay.

    I was quite full after my meal.  Sylvia and my dad were up for an ice cream despite the cold weather.  We walked across the road to the ice cream van and bought chocolate covered soft serve ice creams. Even in the chilly afternoon the soft serve melted quicker than Sylvia cold eat it.

    There is a great playground opposite the Waterfront Kitchen.  Young boys were scrambling up to the top of a pyramid rope climbing frame.  Sylvia preferred the water dragon and the swings.

    I really like the little memorial to the Poppykettle.  It was a book that everyone seemed to know in Geelong when I was young though I can't remember if I ever read it.  I think I liked the name and the little people.  As an adult I find it quite fascinating that they are Peruvians.

    We parked at the edge of Cunningham Pier.  This pier dates back to the 1850s but in recent times has been the home to New Year's Even celebrations, Smorgy's restaurants and planning proposals.  I know the name there but don't think I have ever ventured down the pier.

    Finally we also wandered past some of the iconic bollards that give the waterfront colour and history.  They are always a delight to stumble across.  In fact the Geelong of today delights me far more than the Geelong that I knew as a child.  Even despite all the job losses with the closure of Ford and Alcoa, there is still a lot of vitality about the place.

    Zen Bakery
    153 High Street, Belmont
    Tel: (03) 5244 1488

    2 Little Birds
    46B Roslyn Road, Belmont
    Tel: (03) 5241 2726

    Waterfront Kitchen
    Deakin University Waterfront Campus
    Western Beach Road, Geelong
    Tel: (03) 5227 8641
    Waterfront Kitchen on Urbanspoon

    Thursday, 10 July 2014

    Pot Pie with Lattice

    It was the lattice that sold Chez Cayenne's broccoli cheese pot pie to me.   It looked so pretty.  Yet I didn't have the broccoli or the desire to use vegan cheese.  Instead I used vegies that were on hand and made a vegan cheese sauce with cashews and nutritional yeast flakes, based on the Vegan Yum Yum Hurry Up Alfredo cheese sauce that I love.  I felt all thumbs with the lattice but I was proud and E wanted seconds. 

    I made the pie on a wet night on which I remembered why you don't awkwardly balance a saucepan of water on a piece of tofu to squeeze out the water; on which I had to battle with a child who wanted to play with my strips of puff pastry; and on which a keen buyer came to test ride my worn old bike in the rain and purchase it for a pittance.

    My sauce seemed much drier than Chez Cayenne's.  I think it was not as creamy as traditional pot pies, which are not something I grew up eating.  The sauce worked fine but I wonder about using more milk in future.  I also would have loved some green in it but I ran out of time.  (Green peas would be an easy addition,)  I did manage to use some tofu that had been the freezer for months.  I haven't frozen and thawed tofu before but it did make a big difference.  It was far more chewy and meaty that regular tofu.

    The pie was ready late.  We ate it after Sylvia had eaten her dinner.  It was worth a bit of effort.  This was great comfort food.  Pastry, cheese sauce and potatoes.  Yet a bit lighter than a traditional cheesy pie. I even made a lattice pastry topping by weaving the pastry in and out of the strips as I laid it.  I am not sure it was the easiest way to do it.  No matter.  What matters is that it was pretty - and tasty too!

    I am sending this to Jacqueline for Bookmarked Recipes.

    Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
    One year ago: PP Cheeseless Cheese Sauce, Birthdays and Boyd
    Two years ago: Patatas Bravas and Spanish memories
    Three years ago: Mulled wine and chocolate cake
    Four years ago: Rhubarb and apple sponge pudding
    Five years ago: Breakfast Burritos – My Way!
    Six years ago: Miss Marple’s Tea Room – cosy charm
    Seven years ago: Full Moon Cupcakes

    Pot Pie with Lattice
    Adapted from Chez Cayenne and Green Gourmet Giraffe
    Serves 4

    Cheese sauce:
    1/2 cup soy milk (or more*)
    1/3 cup raw unsalted cashews - soaked a few hours
    1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
    1 tbsp vegan margarine
    1 tbsp tahini
    1 tbsp tamari (soy sauce)
    1 tbsp lemon juice
    2 tsp seeded mustard
    1/2 tsp smoked paprika
    1 shake cayenne pepper
    1 clove of garlic, crushed
    black pepper, to taste

    To assemble pie:
    200-300g tofu, frozen and defrosted
    1 potato, diced
    1 carrot, diced
    1/2 butternut pumpkin, diced, roasted in oil, garlic, smoked paprika and salt til soft
    2 spring onions, thinly sliced
    handful of parsley, finely chopped
    1 sheet of puff pastry, approximately
    soy milk to glaze pastry

    Preheat oven to 200 C.  Grease a medium square or rectangular casserole dish.

    Squeeze as much water out of the tofu as possible.  I wrapped mine in a tea towel and pressed it under a saucepan on a colander.

    To make the cheese sauce, blend all ingredients.  (*I think I would use 1 cup of milk because the sauce thickens once mixed with the rest of the filling.)

    Simmer the potato for 10 minutes and then add the carrot and simmer for another 2 minutes.  Check vegies are cooked but not mushy.

    Meanwhile to make the filling, crumble the pressed tofu into a large bowl.  Add roasted pumpkin, spring onions, parsley and mix well together.  Once potatoes and carrots are cooked, stir into mixture and then stir in the cheese sauce.

    Tip the filling into the greased casserole dish.  Cover with puff pastry.  If you want to be fancy, cut the puff pastry into 1 inch wide strips and starting at one corner, lay down a strip at a time, lifting up strips to weave them in and out.  Brush with soy milk.

    Bake for 30 to 50 minutes or until puff pastry is golden brown.  (I started baking mine at 180 C and thought it too low but if your pastry is burning then you could turn down the heat to 180 C.)

    On the stereo:
    Live in Concert: The Whitlams and the Sydney Symphony (freebie in The Weekend Australian)