Vegan Cheese? Yes Please!

While on a recent holiday to Tasmania we popped into a shop selling vegan cheeses for Mr Incredible. They were delicious and he could eat them ALL… the price though was extreme. $20 or so for a small round. Crazy right? Especially when you can make it sooo much cheaper with very little effort at home. Thanks to the blog at Minimalist Baker I’ve adapted the recipe to be quick and simple with the aid of a thermal cooking machine, like the Thermomix (which I love!).  Hooray!!!

Ingredients
  • 2 cups (240 g) raw cashews
  • 2 garlic cloves – slightly crushed with a knife
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder, plus more to taste
  • 1 lemon peel (no white pith)
  • 1 lemons, juiced (1/4 cup)
  • 180 grams water
  • 2 Tbsp  nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp (around 25grams) olive oil
To serve
  • 2 Tbsp (8 g) finely minced fresh dill

Method

  1. Place cashews in a bowl and cover with cool water. Soak for 4 hours on the bench or overnight in the fridge
  2. Once soaked, drain cashews thoroughly and add to thermie. Add minced garlic, garlic powder, lemon zest, lemon juice, water, nutritional yeast, salt and olive oil.
  3. Process speed 5 for 30 seconds, scrape down sides
  4. Then taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding more lemon zest for tartness, nutritional yeast for cheesiness, garlic for zing, or salt for flavour and balance. Depending how large your lemon was, you may need to combat the extra zest with more yeast flakes.
  5. Process on speed 9 for 20 seconds until very creamy and smooth
  6. Drain ingredients through a nut bag/cheese cloth over a bowl and squeeze
  7. While in bag/cloth form the cheese into a “disc.”
  8. Place in refrigerator to set for at least 6 hours, preferably 12, or until excess moisture has been wicked away, and it holds its form when released from the nutbag/cheese cloth.
  9. To serve, unwrap from bag/cheesecloth and gently invert onto a serving platter. Reform with hands or cheesecloth as needed, then coat with chopped herbs and a bit more lemon zest (optional). It is fragile, so handle gently.
  10. Enjoy chilled with crackers or vegetables. Cheese will hold its form for 1-2 hours out of the refrigerator, but best when chilled. Leftovers keep well covered in the refrigerator up to 5 days.
Cooking Notes
*If you’re in a hurry, you can quick-soak the cashews by covering with boiling hot water and letting soak for 1.5 hours. Drain and proceed with recipe as instructed. However, for this recipe long soaking (for 12 hours in cool water) is best because the cashews slowly soften rather than being shocked, yielding a softer, creamier cheese.
*Recipe adapted from Maple Spice and RawMazing.
* Garlic powder and fresh garlic are both used because they offer different flavors (dried is more intense while fragrant, fresh is more intense/spicy).

 

La Tortilleria Tortillas : A shameless (unpaid) plug

As a consumer I try to shop wisely. We don’t have a lot of money in our grocery budget but I also think it’s incredibly important to make ethical decisions and support local businesses. How food is produced matters more to me than how much it costs – and if it’s too expensive I’ll just buy it when it’s heavily discounted and put it in the deep freeze (I’m looking at you organic, grass fed and finished beef and lamb,  organic chicken and sustainably caught fish!), purchase less of it or figure out how to make it myself.

When Mr Incredible was diagnosed as being allergic to wheat though, our grocery bill shot through the roof. So many things I’d done to save a penny here and there were negated with one diagnosis. Sure, we could continue to bake our own bread but a wheat free loaf costs both a lot to make and a lot to buy – especially if you care about taste, texture and ingredients. One of the biggest shocks I got was just how disgusting some of the ingredients that make up mainstream GF food are. I have a habit of reading labels and the amount of times I couldn’t bring myself to buy a GF item are without count… Mr Incredible just missed out 😦

One of the items that’s been difficult for us is wraps. We really like burritos and my mince base usually does us for two meals – burritos one night and Mexican potatoes the next. (It’s here that I should also apologise to my North American readers – we do Mexican a lot less traditionally here most of the time and what I serve up as burritos might be unrecognisable to you!) Regardless, it’s one of those meals were we purchase two different types of wraps. Wheat based and freshly made for us – preservative laden for Mr Incredible who asked me to make an exception on the ingredient rule for this dinner. Which is why, when I came across a demonstration by La Tortillieria in our local grocer the other day I purchased three packs of their incredibly delicious, traditionally made wraps. We’ve gone from these ingredients:

  • Whole Ground Corn treated with lime (54%), Water, Preservative (282, 202), Food Acid (297), Thickener (412, 466), Enzyme (1100)

To these:

  • Corn & Sea Salt

If you’re in Australia and looking for a better option, do yourself a favour and check them out. I do realise they’re probably rather easy to make yourself… but when you can buy them this good I have so much less incentive.

*This blog is unpaid and with no incentive other than hoping enough people buy the product so that it will stay on shelves and I can continue to.

Lunchbox safe: nut, dairy, gluten and sugar free muesli bars – which are delicious too!!

Mr Incredible just got the following text message:

Cooked these. They’re awesome and may not be any left when you get home…. shall I save you one??

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Made with banana as a binder and whatever you have in the cupboard, these muesli bars are incredibly versatile and super duper delicious. In fact, with the fruity undercurrent and chewy texture they remind me a little of the roll-ups I had as a kid. They’re also super easy to make – no electronic equipment required except for the oven. I’ve passed this recipe on to friends who “don’t bake” as they’re really that simple and satisfying.

Thanks to a friend for sharing this incredible idea – we make these almost daily at the moment and each batch is always gobbled up faster than I can believe. I’ve adapted the recipe from Eat Your Greens.

Pick and mix Banana Muesli Bars

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of oats
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • optional 1 tsp vanilla / honey / maple syrup
  • * 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • * 1/2 cup chia seeds
  • * 1/3 cup sultanas
  • * 1/4 cup dried blueberries
  • * 1/2 cup pepitas
  • 3 mashed bananas (to the puree stage)

* These ingredients are interchangeable with what you have in your cupboard – if your school allows nuts you can also add chopped almonds, cashews, walnuts etc.. You also don’t need exact measurements – again, just use what you have and ensure that there’s enough banana to cover the ingredients. To be honest, now I’ve made them so many times I’m not even measuring the ingredients out!

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C (fan-forced oven 180 for non fan-forced).
  2. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-by-9-inch square pan (I use a silicone pan so this isn’t needed)
  3. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients
  4. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas with a fork until they resemble a puree and add the vanilla / honey / maple syrup to this if you want to use it (I find it’s sweet enough without)
  5. Pour the bananas over the oat mixture and stir until all the dry ingredients are evenly moist.
  6. Press mixture evenly and firmly into the bottom of the pan.
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until firm and lightly browned on the edges.
  8. Cut up and place on a cooling rack (they hold quite a lot of moisture so a cooling rack is better than cooling in the pan or on a plate).

 

Cooking notes:

  • You can store them in an airtight container for a couple days, but I recommend wrapping them individually and freezing them in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months if you don’t think you’ll eat them that quickly.
  • Mine were quite thin, If you wanted them thicker like a commercial muesli bar, you might need to add more ingredients and another banana to cover the mix. Try it as it is the first time though – then get your confidence up and experiment.
  • The chia seeds also help to bind the mixture – if you leave these out it might not work as well.
  • These are super easy to make with kids!
  • The more I make these the more I take short cuts and still have success. I now mash the bananas in a bowl first, then just top all the dry ingredients on top and mix it together – less washing and works just as well.

Signs of refreshment: Baking Everyday Oatmeal Bread from Simply in Season

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I think we all have signs that indicate we’re feeling refreshed. For some it might be having the emotional energy to make a phone call, for others it’s winding down enough to sit and read a book, for others still it might be the desire to get out the paint set or get dressed up and go out for dinner. For me I know I’m feeling refreshed when my creativity returns and I bake spontaneously or feel like writing (hello again dear blog and friends of this blog!).

After returning from New Zealand last night, I woke up with a desire to bake some bread. Not just put bread in the machine and then watch it rise in the oven, but really bake. The inspiration for this was my sister-in-law’s incredible loaf that I could have devoured quite selfishly on my own, slathered with butter and munched on with utter delight to my heart’s content. It really was that good. Not just any bread, this was a darker loaf, incredibly moist and filled with goodness. Along with wholewheat flour and oats it contains a healthy serve of molasses, which apparently has the lowest sugar content of any sugar cane product and contains vital vitamins and minerals, such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and selenium (according to Healthline.com).  I also really enjoyed making this with Adventure Girl and Dash. They found the punching  of the dough especially fun!

9780836194944The recipe for this comes from the cookbook I’ll be saving up for next Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind. It’s the sort of cookbook that informs as well as provides incredible recipes and focuses on seasonal food that’s locally grown and ethically produced. Right up my ally. It’s a compilation of different recipes which was refreshing as well. The recipe I’ve featured here for instance is not by the author but the author has given credit to whom contributed as I do below. I also liked how the book focused on seasons but successfully makes the north/south hemisphere divide. Living in the southern hemisphere I often get frustrated with the seasons being sorted by months. While I know I can simply compute that June in America or England (etc) equates to our December, sometimes I do get confused. Also, my brother and his wife are exceptional cooks so any cookbook that they use often is high on my list.

I wonder what signs you have that you’re in a relaxed state of mind? I’d love to hear so feel free to comment below!

Everyday Oatmeal Bread by Janet Steiner (from Simply in Season)

Ingredients and Method (combined as within the original recipe)

Recipe makes two large loaves

1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 cup rolled oats (or whole oats, or 12-grain cereal, etc)
Combine and let stand 30 min.

3/4 cup molasses (or maple syrup)
3 Tbsp butter or oil
2 tsp salt
Stir into oatmeal.

2 cups lukewarm water
1 Tbsp active traditional yeast
Mix in a large bowl until dissolved. Add oatmeal mixture. [Note: do make this a large bowl as it’s what you’ll be using to form your dough in]
6 cups bread or all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
Work in flour to make a medium-soft somewhat sticky dough. Knead 8-10 minutes until smooth. Place in greased bowl and let rise until doubled about 1 hour. Keep covered with damp cloth while rising. Then punch down. Divide into two, and shape into loaves. Embellish tops of loaves with seeds (sesame, sunflower, hemp, etc) if desired. Place in greased loaf pans. Cover and let rise again, about 45 min. Bake in preheated oven at 400 F/200C/180C (fan forced) for 5 minutes and then reduce to 350F/180C/160C ( about 30-35 minutes until they sound hollow when tapped.

Notes:

  • If you’re trying to cut down on carbs this is NOT the recipe for you. The very smell of this bread cooking was enough to make me salivate
  • You can increase the wholewheat flour ratio if you prefer (I used 3 cups wholewheat and 5 cups unbleached white bakers flour)
  • According to other blogs featuring this recipe, it also works well with adding in nuts, seeds and grains or using a grain mix instead of the oatmeal
  • This really is a recipe you can make with kids (at times!). Involving them in the punching of the dough or giving them their own piece to kneed/use like play dough is a fun and contained way of involving them.

 

Preschool: the first step away from home

This week Adventure Girl started preschool. It’s a lovely community pre-school and we had all our eggs in the one basket for where we wanted to send her. We’d been there quite a few times, we’d dropped in unexpectedly, we went to a psychologist talk that they put on for the community, we went to the open day and every single time we had our choice confirmed. Allied health professionals all spoke highly of it, friends who sent their kids there raved over it… and so our choice was made. But it’s all the little things that lead up to the days like this that make you realise your little girl is getting bigger and one day she’ll be walking out the door into her own, separate life. Stopping breastfeeding and her feeding herself, no longer needing the pram when we go out, being able to have a solid conversation with her and enjoy each other’s company. Little by little it’s the every day things that change which creep up on you and hit home when a milestone like this happens.

img_0248She was ready… I was…. not so ready. So the night before I sat down with a glass of wine in a glass I use all too rarely and watched of The West Wing. I zoned out for a time, the back of my mind reflecting on these changes and the next day proudly watched her as she waved good bye to me and started the first day of her formal schooling life. Each day, when she comes home from her two days of preschool, I write in a little book what she’s told me was the best and worst things about her day, any other comments she’s made and what she ate in her lunchbox so I can share these with Mr Incredible when he comes home. This is how I’ll celebrate the little things of her life at this stage… and how I’ll be able to reflect each days on the highs and lows. For the moments that those fail, I might just return to my comfort food.

Adventure Day: Crosslands Walk

I’ve gotten out of the habit of thinking to blog about our Adventure Days. We still have them and we’re planning a lot more. We recently went on a bush walk at Crosslands in Hornsby. This small walk is part of a much larger walk called The Great North Walk which is a 250km walk connecting Sydney to Newcastle. One day we’d love to walk the whole thing but for now, micro-adventures like this one are more our style.

Crosslands is located at the end of Sommerville Road in Hornsby Heights. To get to the start of this walk you need to travel down quite a windy road and then park at the far north end of the carpark. It’s free parking (and entry) with gates opening at sunrise and setting at sunset (there’s a call out fee if you’re locked in so make sure you’re on time!). You can even camp overnight at the reserve but there is a fee involved for this and for more information you can check out Hornsby Council’s website.

At 2km it was our longest Bushwalk, however, as the kids walked the whole way I think I’ll actually take that as a matter of pride. I left the walk thinking that there’s a good business opportunity for someone to teach parents how to bush walk with their kids. I felt I was a bit out of my depth with the “don’t touch that tree – see the spiders” and “let’s not put our fingers down the holes we see, little things live in there that might bite you” and knowing when to let them scramble over rocks and when not to… On the whole I want to be a stand off parent and let the kids adventure/find their limits, however, I also think there’s a responsibility to know how to educate properly and be prepared for what might happen. I’ll be brushing up on my knowledge in these areas before my next walk.
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Pregnancy Rating:
 5 – Until we turned around (we walked up until the track got a little less toddler friendly and then turned around) it was a lovely walk with very little incline
. You could push a pram along the first kilometre or so and getting out in nature like this and the ability to sit by the water is lovely.

Toddler Rating: 4 – Adventure Girl and Dash both really enjoyed their outing and felt a great deal of pride in being able to do it. The walk does go along water though and, as it’s a bush walk there are hazards and creepy crawlies… this is why it got a 4
not a 5.

Older Kid Rating: 5 – You can hike for as long as you want and afterwards even go for a swim!

Not a weeknight family dinner: Ottolenghi’s Beef Stew with pale ale, juniper and prunes

You know when things all come together in your pantry and fridge for a recipe you’ve heard of but never made? It’s brilliant. It’s seeing the brisket, the juniper berries, the beer and going… I think I’ve seen a recipe for this! Yesterday, when I purchased some beef brisket that had been “further reduced for quick sale” the inspiration came to make Ottolenghi’s Beef Stew with pale ale, juniper and prunes. Before I go any further, I’m a massive fan of this chef… I don’t think I’ve ever made anything of his that hasn’t had at least one person (usually everyone) exclaim with delight. It was enough, on a week that I’ve been struggling with a cold, to decide to make a meal that took 4 hours to cook… yup, you heard me right. Four hours. For a weeknight meal with just our little family of four eating it and leftovers for Mr Incredible’s lunches. Crazy right? Yeah. I hear you. When Adventure Girl refused to even taste it (in her defence she was super tired after a huge day and not having a nap) I was rather miffed. However, Mr Incredible loved it and there’s a big part of me hoping for work colleagues to be very jealous of his lunch today.

When I come to a meal like this I have to ask myself, “was it worth it?”. The truthful answer is no. It wasn’t worth it for last night’s dinner. However, should I have some people around one night it’s definitely on my repeat dinners list. For us as a family though, I should have used that brisket for something else or put it in the freezer for another night. Should you be unfamiliar with Ottolenghi please make yourself acquainted with his recipes! I’ll share more of them in weeks to come as the seasons change but his use of ingredients has changed my cooking dramatically, and, as stated above given delight to many of my friends and family.

Beef Stew with pale ale, juniper and prunes by Yotam Ottolenghi

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp juniper berries
  • ½ tsp black peppercorns
  • 4 tsp Flaky sea salt (if I were making this again I’d cut this down to 2-3 as I found the dish slightly  too salty for my taste)
  • 900g beef brisket, cut into 2 pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 500g baby shallots, peeled and left whole
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 5g picked thyme leaves
  • 500ml pale ale
  • 2 tbsp date syrup (40g)
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 600g small waxy potatoes (desiree or charlotte), peeled and cut into 3cm chunks
  • 10 large pitted prunes (about 100g-worth)
    (finely grated zest of ½ lemon 80g soured cream, to serve: I didn’t use these but did serve with yogurt and a cauliflower and cashew mash)

Method

  1. Put the juniper berries and peppercorns in a spice grinder with four (3) teaspoons of salt. Blitz well, then put in a medium-sized bowl, add the two pieces of brisket and, using your hands, mix well until the beef is well coated, then set aside for an hour.
  2. Heat the oven to 160C/320F/gas mark 2½. On a medium-high flame, heat a tablespoon of oil in a 26cm-wide casserole or ovenproof saute pan for which you have a lid, then add the brisket pieces and fry for two to three minutes, turning them over halfway, so they brown on both sides, then lift out the beef on to a plate.
  3. Turn down the heat under the pan to medium and add another tablespoon of oil. Once hot, add the whole shallots and fry for five minutes, stirring frequently, until golden-brown, then add the garlic and thyme, and fry for another minute, just to soften. Stir in the ale, date syrup and mustard, return the brisket to the pot and bring to a boil. Pop on the lid, transfer the casserole to the oven and roast for two hours.
  4. After two hours, turn over the brisket pieces, stir in the potatoes and prunes, cover again and return to the oven for another hour, until the brisket is very tender, the potatoes are cooked and the sauce is thick. Take the pot out of the oven and leave the meat to rest for at least 10 minutes.
  5. To serve, cut each piece of meat into four to six chunks (or even shred it into smaller pieces), then divide the stew between four or six shallow bowls. Sprinkle lemon zest on top and serve with a spoonful of soured cream alongside.

Notes:

  • I served this with a cauliflower and cashew mash along with some plain yogurt
  • As noted, I’d decrease the salt in the beef rub as the whole dish was too salty for me (as Heston Blumenthal notes, salt is essential for bringing out the flavour of the dish but as soon as you can taste the salt, you have too much salt!)
  • I have seen a recipe for this adapted for a slow cooker… I might be interested to try that sometime but my previous slow cooker attempts never quite get the sauce right – it’s never reduced enough and the whole dish is compromised – any tips? Please!