Saturday, October 22, 2011

Yo Gabba Gabba - again!

As my boys' birthdays are less than a week apart we have a combined birthday party. My way of overcompensating for this is to produce 2 birthday cakes. My youngest son turned 2 and like his older brother, has a penchant for all things Gabba. Having already pulled Brobee out of the bag last year, I decided to go for another character this time around - Toodee. The icing is a combination of butter cream (the darker blue) and ready-made fondant (the lighter blue and the white eyes and fangs). Toodee's eyes are completed with black spots, outline and eyelashes all cut from liquorice strap. Her mouth is also cut from liquorice strap. The cake itself is lemon butter cake - tangy and delicious and a nice alternative to the chocolate Peppa Pig cake.

Peppa Pig

After I made the Brobee cake for my eldest son's 3rd birthday, he got in early with an order for his 4th. He wanted Peppa Pig. Like a good mother, I obliged! Once again, I used Nigella Lawson's Sour Cream Chocolate Cake recipe (1.5 times the original as I made this in a large lamington tin - 33 x 22.9 .5.1 cm)). The icing is a combination of butter cream (the blue background) and ready-made fondant (Peppa's pink head, tail, pinker cheek and white eyes). Peppa's eyes are completed with chocolate buttons. Her arms and legs are made from musk sticks and her feet have been cut from liquorice strap. The outline and Peppa's dress are made from sliced red snakes. It was a hit (hurray!).

Eggplant pasta

Eggplant is one of those vegetables that divides people. I wonder how many who claim to hate it ate it undercooked - a sin that produces a squeaky, chewy and unpalatable result. Eggplant is delicious fried but given its propensity to soak up liquid like a sponge, this is not the healthiest mode of regular consumption. I like to bake a whole eggplant in the oven, imparting a smoky flavour and a creamy consistency that melts into this pulpy, tasty pasta sauce. The eggplant squeamish need never know!

Eggplant pasta
Serves 4
1 large eggplant, pierced a few times all over with a fork
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 gloves of garlic, minced
1 small red chilli, minced (deseeding or including at all - optional)
2 x 400g tins Italian tomatoes, chopped
1 large handful Kalamata olives, halved and pitted
1 heaped tablespoon capers, drained and chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons fresh continental parsley, chopped
400g penne (or other variety short pasta)
Fresh parmesan, grated, to serve

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Place eggplant on baking paper on a tray and bake for 1 hour, turning at 15 minute intervals. Leave to cool while preparing other ingredients.

Heat oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sautee for 5 minutes or until transparent. Add garlic (and chilli, if using) and sautee 1-2 minutes longer. Add tomatoes with their juice and 1 can of water. Turn up heat to high until mixture is boiling.

Meanwhile, cut the top off the cooked eggplant and halve it lengthwise, removing skin and scraping out soft flesh and juices with knife. Roughly chop the flesh. Add eggplant, olives and capers (if using) and cook until mixture is thick and pulpy (about 10 to 15 minutes - ie the same amount of time it takes to cook the pasta).

Cook pasta in salted, boiling water according to packet directions (penne takes around 12 minutes). Drain and add to the sauce together with the parsley. Mix until combined and turn off the heat.

Serve in bowls with a generous sprinkling of fresh, grated parmesan.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sweet potato, roast garlic and rosemary soup

The cooler weather finds me yearning for comfort food and fewer dishes are more comforting and warming than a big bowl of soup. This is my favourite soup because it looks great, tastes delicious and, given that all the cooking is done on a baking tray in the oven with minimal preparation, it practically makes itself. Accompany with some crusty sourdough, a savoury roll or slice for a hearty winter meal.

Sweet potato, roast garlic and rosemary soup

Serves 4-6

2-3 large/medium sweet potatoes (approx 1.5kg)
5-8 garlic cloves
1 large, good quality vegetable stock cube (I use Swiss Nature Organic Vegetable Stock Cubes)
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Using a knife, cut an 'x' into the ends of the sweet potatoes. Place them on a baking paper lined tray and bake in their skins for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, wrap the garlic cloves (leaving skins on) in some foil. When the 40 minutes is up, add the garlic to the baking tray with the sweet potatoes and bake for 20 minutes more. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10-15 minutes.

Fill the kettle and boil some water. Remove the skins from the sweet potatoes and garlic cloves - they should slip off easily. In a large saucepan, place the soft, cooked flesh of the sweet potatoes, garlic cloves, rosemary, crumbled stock cube and enough boiling water to cover (1.5-2 litres). Mix gently with a wooden spoon until stock cube is dissolved. Using a stick blender, blend the contents of the saucepan until smooth, adding more boiled water if required, until desired consistency is reached. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Me on a plate"?

I find competitive cookery terribly compelling. As such, I'm a devoted fan of Masterchef Australia, which commenced its third season yesterday. Vegetarian contestants have participated in previous seasons but none have lasted long. This is unsurprising given the animal-protein-centric nature of most of the challenges, including one of my favourites, the Mystery Box, where the contestants must each conjure up a gourmet dish from set ingredients.

This year I have set myself the challenge of coming up with appealing vegetarian dishes for each weekly Mystery Box - something I have always done in my head while watching previous seasons. These represent what I would try to cook if I were a contestant facing the Mystery Box challenge (leaving aside the pressure and challenge of executing my menu). So here goes:

Week 1: Most popular Australian supermarket items.

From the look of the dishes, these included:

mince, onions, potatoes, truss tomatoes, lettuce, eggs, bacon, peas, garlic, mushrooms, vegetable stock, lemons, fresh mint, flour (pantry item?), butter (pantry item?), olive oil (pantry item?).

I would have attempted one of the following:
  • potato pancakes with caramelised onions/onion jam (not sure if sugar is allowed)
  • lemon, mint, pea soup with mushroom ravioli
  • spanish omelette with fire roasted tomato salsa
  • potato-stuffed pierogi in lemon brown butter sauce
and it would have blown the judges' collective palates (in a delicious, vegetarian way)!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Slow-roasted tomatoes

I'll often make these when I pick up a 1 kg bag of cheap, nearly overripe tomatoes. I prefer to use Romas, as they have more flesh and less seeds. These tomatoes are a great accompaniment to a cooked breakfast (like eggs, mushrooms and haloumi, or corn fritters with avocado and spinach).

Slow-roasted tomatoes

1 kg ripe (and overripe) Roma tomatoes, halved lengthways (quartered, if very large)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
Sea salt and pepper
Olive oil, to drizzle (1-2 tablespoons)
Splash of balsamic vinegar (1-2 teaspoons; optional)

Preheat oven to 120 degrees Celsius/250 degrees Farenheit (see Note below).

Place halves (or quarters) cut-side up on a baking tray lined with baking paper and sprinkle over the garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Drizzle lightly with olive oil (and if desired, balsamic vinegar). Place tray in the oven.

Roast the tomatoes for 3 or 4 hours (see Note below), depending on the size of the cut pieces and how dried you like them.

Note. The slow roasting at a low temperature caramelises and semi-dries the tomatoes, intensifying their flavour. However, if you want these for breakfast, pump up the heat to 160 degrees Celsius and roast the tomatoes for about an hour. The result is still very tasty!

You can also use dried herbs (in smaller quantities) if fresh are unavailable.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Vegetate on this: haloumi with red lentil, tomato & spinach dhal

My partner marvels at my ability to devour a cookbook or food magazine from cover to cover in mere minutes, whether vegetarian or not. I am a devoted fan of delicious. magazine, which does great food porn. They include vegetarian recipes in every edition, but even their non-vegetarian recipes lend themselves to this way of eating with some minor tweaking. As this recipe shows, just because it isn't vegetarian, doesn't mean you can't make it so (see the Chef's tip at the end).

Here's what my version looks like - this is one's on high rotation on my family table. I find I use slightly less stock (700mL) and garam masala (1 heaped teaspoon). The dhal is tasty by itself on rice (in fact, we do this for the kids so we can keep all the haloumi for ourselves, ba ha!).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Yo Gabba Gabba!

My boys love Yo Gabba Gabba! (as do we) so for their birthday party last year, I made my 3 year old son a Brobee cake. In the lead up to the baking I got very technical with the pattern, researching various images of Brobee available on the web and planning to do some serious scaling and sculpturing to render a close likeness of the character. The day before the party, exhausted sanity prevailed and I edited my original idea into this rectangular cake. The icing is butter cream icing coloured with green food colouring, the furry stripes consist of shredded coconut laced even more heavily with the green food colouring, the mouth is raspberry liquorice, the eyes white fondant icing topped with giant chocolate buttons and the outlines are thin, peeled strips of black liquorice strap. For the cake itself I used Nigella Lawson's Sour Cream Chocolate Cake recipe (1.5 times the original as I made this in a large lamington tin - 33 x 22.9 .5.1 cm). I was very happy with the result, as were my boys.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Yulli's Bar

Yulli's on Urbanspoon
On the weekend, my partner and I had the rare opportunity to venture out while my mum babysat in order to celebrate our 9 year anniversary. We had tickets to a show at Enmore Theatre but we were on the lookout for somewhere new to try for drinks and an early dinner. On the strength of a recommendation in a recent Sydney Morning Herald article on vegetarian fine dining, we thought we'd give Yulli's Bar a try.

Yulli's is a small, boutique beer and wine bar with an exclusively vegetarian menu located opposite the Clock Hotel in Surry Hills. The draught beer and cider come from NSW microbreweries and the extensive wine list predominantly features NSW wineries. Being beer lovers at heart, we sampled many and particularly enjoyed the Wicked Elf Witbier from Little Brewing Company, Port Macquarie. The food was awesome! The menu consists of share platters and mains. We opted to share and found by the end of a few beers and four dishes, we were very full indeed! The mixed chip plate was a great partner to the delicious beer, featuring crunchy onion rings, taro, sweet potato, lotus root and beetroot chips as well as a variety of condiments (rosemary salt, mint raita and tomato sauce - I am a sucker for condiments). One of the specials of the day that we thoroughly enjoyed was shitake mushroom wontons with a spicy plum sauce. We also devoured panfried haloumi and steamed leek and ginger dumplings. The food was beautifully presented and the service was very friendly and fast.

Perhaps it was the beer, the food and the love of a good man with whom I was celebrating a relationship milestone that rendered me misty-eyed and full of gratitude as we left Yulli's that evening. I know that a big part of that feeling came from realising I had found a place that really spoke to my sense of self: the beer-loving vegetarian.

Here's their lunch and dinner menu.

Oh, and Lloyd Cole was great too!