Thursday, June 30, 2011

An ode to cereal - Part III

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In Part I of this trilogy, I introduced my cereal basics. Oats, Weet-Bix, puffed millet and puffed corn.

In Part II, we moved on to snack cereals. Special K, Cheerios, and wild berry Rice O's.

Part III?

The impulse buys

This is a rotating category. Often the cereals in question are new to the market (I'm a sucker for buying new products, especially if they're cereal). Sometimes they are products I buy more than once, but don't have regularly. Quite often they come in phases. Right now I'm into dried fruit. At times I'm into crunch. Sometimes I want both.

In effect, they're what grabs my fancy as I walk down the cereal aisle and know there is space for another box on my cereal shelf. I do have some criteria when it comes to cereal (mostly around added sugar and the number of ingredients, including chemical sounding ingredients), but there's plenty of space for experimentation.



At the moment, this category includes gluten free Rice Flakes, Weet-Bix Crunch in golden crumble flavour, and Uncle Toby's Plus Sports Lift.

Freedom Foods gluten free Rice Flakes




These flakes are effectively corn flakes, but made with rice. They have 66% rice and are apple juice sweetened, so the ingredient list is short. I expected to like them.

Sadly, I didn't.

I have grown to not dislike them, given I'm trying to avoid wasting a whole box of cereal, but they're definitely an occasional cereal.

As with the wildberry Rice O's I mentioned in my last cereal post, the taste also changes when wet. Not for the better!




Weet-Bix Crunch - golden crumble flavour



These I like. Plain and soggy :P They're my favourite Weet-Bix Crunch flavour.



And yes, it was the 'new' label on the box that drew me in.

These are effectively mini weet-bix with added flavour (and sugar), but they still retain their weet-bix-ness. I liked them more when I first bought them, but they're still good as a semi-regular snack or dessert. And sometimes even breakfast.
















Uncle Toby's Plus Sports Lift



I think I've probably tried the full Plus range. I don't love these cereals, and find them slightly too sweet and a bit unexciting. I'm usually sick of the flavour by the time I finish the box. But they are nice for variety, and I like the mix of grains and dried fruit that this option has.



And there we have it - a snapshot of my cereal collection!

Are any of the ones featured here favourites of yours? Or do you have suggestions for others I should try? :D

[All being well, we'll be between Cradle Mountain and Hobart when this goes out :) ]

Friday, June 24, 2011

Planning and packing

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Are you a planner?

I am. I plan my days, my weeks, my activities, my work projects.

I always have, and whilst I've loosened up a little over the last few years, I will never be a spontaneous, take it as it comes sort of person.

This approach to life also applies to holidays. The idea of going somewhere without pre-booking accommodation, or having a sense of where I will be on each day, leaves me feeling a little lost. I like to know. I'm conscious this may leave me missing out on the fun of spontaneity, and there are many people out there who have a wonderful time by seeing what happens, but I'm just not one of them. Not yet anyway.

Our accommodation for Tasmania was booked months ago, and we have a rough idea of the things we want to do in each location. When I've had longer trips, such as to Europe or my one visit to the US, the planning phase took considerable effort and I almost had a part-time job in Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet reading.

I also plan ahead when it comes to packing. I make lists of what I will take. I consider what I need to have washed and ironed (and not re-worn) before I go.



Which is why I find it frustrating that I never feel organised in the lead up to a holiday! I haven't had many adult holidays, taking leave from a job and shutting up a house, but I haven't yet had a relaxed lead up to one. There are work-related tasks to finish off. The house to clean. Washing to dry. Batteries to charge. Travel-sized shampoo bottles to find.

And I never seem to fit in my case, when it comes to the final packing effort.



At least this time I have an excuse - winter clothes and a ski jacket as carry-on present some objective challenges!


Of course, it's always worth the last-minute rush and things do come together in the end. But I would like to achieve a relaxed holiday lead up eventually.

The last minute un-readiness for this trip means that this will probably be my last post pre-trip (presuming the problematic ash disappears as predicted tonight and flights to Tasmania actually fly on Saturday...).

I'm also leaving my laptop behind, in an effort to avoid working on holiday. My final Ode to Cereal post will go out whilst I'm gone, and perhaps another entry too, but in effect my blog will have a hiatus for the next two weeks.

I hope your fortnight is enjoyable!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Spring-Winter Risotto...and a good Monday

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Four signs it's a good start to the week:

1. You wake feeling better than you have in the last week. And you can talk. Yay! (Thank you for all the well wishes :) )

2. You arrive at work and discover that some kind soul has bought Earl Gray tea for the communal kitchen as well as generic-bland-black tea.

3. Whilst walking upstairs with your tea cup, you hear the cleaner singing his heart out whilst cleaning the bathrooms.

[Starting work early, the cleaner probably thought he was alone in the building. You tiptoe away quickly to avoid shattering that illusion mid-song.]

4. You have left-over Spring-Winter risotto for lunch.

The Spring-Winter Risotto was modified from the Spring Risotto recipe in The Vegan Table (Colleen Patrick-Goudreau), which I bookmarked after receiving the book recently. In truth, it isn't too different to rice dishes I regularly make, but it does call for (appropriately for a risotto) arborio rice. I rarely use this, as I don't tend to have it when I want it, but some pre-planning meant that this time I was properly prepared.

Spring Risotto in The Vegan Table (Colleen Patrick-Goudreau)

The original recipe helpfully states that vegetables can be swapped and changed according to season and preference, which is why my version has been re-christened a Spring-Winter dish. I'm not sure that it's particularly wintery, but it ended up including only a few of the vegetables listed in the original recipe, and adding quite a lot more.

Spring-Winter Risotto
Adapted from The Vegan Table, by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
Serves 3 - 4

Ingredients:
1 bunch spring onions (~10)
1 shallot (or 1/2 regular onion), chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 carrots, thinly sliced or julienned
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
~3/4 cup green beans, chopped
3 - 4 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups arborio rice (uncooked)
1tsp dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional cheese.

Directions:

1. Chop the white parts of the spring onions and reserve ~2tbsp of the green parts, very finely sliced.

2. In the bottom of a large saucepan, saute the white part of the spring onions, the chopped shallot, and the crushed garlic.

3. Meanwhile, steam the carrots, pepper and beans in a steamer over low heat, until crisp. Stand until needed.

4. When the onion and garlic are soft and golden, add 3 cups of stock and the arborio rice. Simmer covered for ~15 minutes. Add the additional cup of stock as required, when the rice thickens.

5. When the rice is cooked, mix through the steamed vegetables and basil. Add salt and pepper to taste (I added pepper).

6. Serve and top with reserved sliced spring onion. Sprinkle with cheese if desired (I gave Mr Bite cheese and he reported that it worked well).



I enjoyed this dish, particularly the taste and texture of the arborio rice. Even without the cheese that's usually involved in regular risotto, the rice was much thicker and creamier than usual, and slightly (pleasantly) chewy. The simple flavourings worked well together and the vegetables retained their texture and taste much more than I associate with rice dishes, due to the steaming.

The only issue I have with the recipe is the lack of protein! With that said, the one tweak I might try in future would be to add a 1/4 cup of pinenuts, as I imagine the flavour and texture of those would complement the risotto nicely.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Vegetable stirfry for health

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Sadly, I think I was a little over-optimistic in my last post. I'm not quite better. My voice has also decided to depart, so conversation is a little challenging.

Fortunately, I have progressed from the fruit / English muffins / soup phase that saw me consume a packet of English muffins in a few days and eat no vegetables outside of soup form. I know, not exactly food for healing.

This stirfry, on the other hand, is.



Vegetable Stirfry for Health

As with most stirfrys, a recipe is almost redundant here. You could throw in any combination of vegetables and flavours you have to hand, and it would probably turn out just as well.


However, I enjoyed it  so much I'm documenting the 'recipe' for posterity.

Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 - 3 if you eat bowlfuls on their own.

1 large onion, diced
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 large capsicum, chopped
Small head of brocolli, cut into florets
3 large mushrooms
1 tin of Asian-style vegetables (baby corn, water chestnuts, bean sprouts)
~1tbsp fresh coriander, chopped (or equivalent dried)
~2tbsp soy sauce
~2tbsp sweet chilli sauce

(I would have included ginger but had run out)

  • Saute onion until slightly golden, then add carrot and capsicum and 1tbsp each of soy & sweet chilli sauce.
  • When carrot is starting to soften, add the brocolli and mushroom.
  • After a few minutes, add the tinned Asian vegetables, the remaining soy & sweet chilli sauce, and the coriander.
  • Cook over medium heat for an additional few minutes, and serve.

Extremely easy, and extremely delicious. Of course, if you were feeling less cold-filled and more motivated, this pairs well with meat or meat alternatives, and rice and/or noodles. We did have it with noodles on the night I made it, but I then ate a bowl plain the next day.


I only wish I'd made more!

Are you a stir fry fan? What's your standard flavour combination?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

To cheer myself up

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I really don't cope well with being sick. I don't mind the actual experience of having a cold (or at least, I mind it, but can live with it easily enough), but I hate, absolutely hate, being stuck at home and unable to do anything.

I am conscious of how pathetic that sounds. I try to remind myself of the people who are much worse off than I am, who are seriously sick, and to pull myself together accordingly. However, I am forced to conclude, time and time again, that I need fresh air, exercise, and a focus to my days. The consequences when those things are not possible are, frankly, not great.

To my immense relief, I am feeling better today, well enough to have made it to work, and to have managed some short, low-key, but nonetheless wonderful exercise.

Yesterday, though, when at home, I was reflecting on recent enjoyable activities in an effort to cheer myself up. I've been meaning to blog about these for a while, so this was really just the motivation I needed.


The Fremantle Chocolate Factory

When Hannah mentioned the Fremantle Chocolate Factory a month or so ago, I was surprised never to have heard of it. Fortunately, I've since discovered that the Fremantle Chocolate Factory is the smaller, less well known cousin of the Margaret River Chocolate Factory, with which I am well acquainted.

Margaret River Chocolate Factory (Source)

As the Fremantle off-shoot is located approximately 20 minutes from Perth, it is somewhat more accessible than the Margaret River Chocolate Factory locations. The original, which is actually in Margaret River, is a 4 hours drive south of Perth. Even for the most ardent chocolate lover, this is a bit far for an afternoon outing. There is also a smaller factory in the Swan Valley, 30 to 40 minutes East of Perth, but even that requires some forethought and planning.

Thus, the Fremantle store seemed worthy of a visit. Fortunately for me, we ended up with some other errands in the Fremantle area, and it wasn't hard to convince Mr Bite of the benefits of chocolate shopping.

The Fremantle store is definitely smaller than the Margaret River version, although that's to be expected. There is a viewing gallery where you can see chocolate being created, but there wasn't much happening on the Saturday afternoon we were there.

There were tastings bowls with dark, milk and white chocolate chips, and we took advantage of the dark bowl.

In addition to chocolate, there were fudge packets and old-fashioned sweets for sale, of the lemon sherbet and aniseed ball (and similar) variety.

Fremantle Chocolate Factory (Source)

Fortunately, we were buying presents for others as well as chocolate for ourselves, so we had the luxury of choosing multiple items, with justification.

For ourselves? We settled on the Dark Chocolate Peppermint Brittle Crush. It was a toss up between this and the mango brittle crush, but peppermint won out.


I was a little concerned that this would be all brittle and no chocolate, but I needn't have worried.


The squares were chunky and chocolatey, and the mint brittle provided a nice flavour and texture contrast to the smooth tones of the dark chocolate surrounding it.


All in all, this was definitely worthy of a visit, and the chocolate provided a nice change to the usual, easy to come by varieties.


Walks

We've been adventurous lately in trying some new walk locations, rather than sticking with familiar favourites. Thus far, the destinations haven't disappointed.

Odd swamp-based paperbark trees.


Somewhere to shelter if it rains? We were in Winter sunshine and had no such need.

 
Although we've been fortunate enough to receive some winter rain lately, after a long, hot Summer and Autumn, the weather has still been mostly fine. The crisp and sunny Winter days have been perfect for exploring new locations.


Holiday Planning

It's now 10 days until we leave for Tasmania! Or at least, it will be if the Chilean ash decides to move on...all of the airports involved in our travels (Perth, Melbourne, Launceston) have now been affected, which is a bit worrying. I'm hoping that 10 days is plenty of time for it to all dissipate. 

After planning and booking our trip some months ago, it's only now that I'm reminding myself of what we want to do and where we will be. And given that I love the planning stages of holidays almost as much as the trips themselves, this last minute lead up should keep me entertained. Especially as I have re-borrowed the Lonely Planet Tasmania guide from our local library - happy bedtime reading indeed.

We're driving around the island over two weeks, with the following route:

Map courtesy of Google

It also seems that we're not the only one's heading to Tasmania shortly, which makes me feel a bit better about our decision to go in winter :) Tasmanian weather can reportedly be cold at any time of year, so at least this way we will be prepared for it. I have borrowed a ski jacket from my brother (which makes me look like the Michelin Woman) and am planning to take just about all of my winter clothes, possibly to wear simultaneously.

And writing this post has cheered me up considerably!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

An ode to cereal - Part II

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I've been home today with a fairly impressive cold, and my sore throat and general lethargy mean that I haven't done much of interest. At all. I also seem to have lost the ability to combine multiple thoughts or ideas.

With this being the case, I thought it might be a good time to get to Part II of my cereal chronicles. In Part I, I talked about the basics.  Cereals that could be placed in the nutritious category.

In Part II, I'm focusing on a slightly different set.

Snack Cereals

These cereals rarely feature on my breakfast menu, but I like them enough to eat them as snacks on a semi-regular basis. Sometimes in a bowl, sometimes dry, and sometimes dry from a mini Tupperware container at work. (As a side note, spell check just told me to capitalise Tupperware. Clearly the company is more famous than I ever knew.)

Cheerios, Wildberry Rice O's, Special K

None of these products are nutritionally bad, by any stretch of the imagination. But they do have a certain snack-y feel about them, at least to me.

Cheerios



Interestingly, Australian Cheerios (made by Uncle Toby's and containing corn, oats, rice and wheat) are different to American Cheerios (which are made from oats only). 

American Cheerios come in a lot more flavours, which I find a little unfair. However, I do find the Australian variety fun to eat, because the different grains give the Os different colours. And if you're like me, it can be fun to select Os out based on colour. 

Because that's entirely normal, obviously.


This is a fairly sweet cereal, which can make it a nice alternative to biscuits / cookies, and it is easily transported for at-work consumption.








 Nutritionally, I'd call it average. It is high in fibre, but that's about the only claim to be made.


Orgran Wildberry Rice O's

Please excuse the lighting. Clearly the sun and I were not appropriately positioned.

In fairness to these Rice Os, which contain 59% rice flour, 12% milled yellow pea and 8% millet flour (and don't contain gluten, wheat or dairy), the nutritional profile is probably worthy of breakfast, at least if you ignore the low protein content.



In my mind, though, they're a healthier version of Cheerios, and I tend to eat them in a similar manner. 

This is one cereal I always have dry, because I find the taste changes (not for the better!) when wet or in yoghurt.


They're less entertaining than Cheerios in a colour sense (no variation!), but you do get wildberry flavour to make up for it.


Special K



I'm almost a little embarrassed to admit my enjoyment of this cereal. The advertising approach that lauds the product as a weight loss and lifestyle tool, and the variety of spin off flavours that don't always sound breakfast appropriate (the chocolate variety comes to mind...although I did enjoy trying it :P ), have, I think, given the brand a few undesirable connotations.

But, I really, really like it. There's something about the taste and texture that just seems to work.




I probably would eat this for breakfast if it had more staying power, but it tends to leave me hungry quite quickly (which is slightly odd when considering it has a higher protein content than most cereals). 

Given this, I mostly reserve it for weekends when I eat breakfast late, or for weekday snacks.

The product is 62% rice and wheat, and has slightly less sugar than Cheerios (14.5% vs. 17.8%), but less fibre.

Although I have tried all the flavour variations (or at least, all the Australian flavour variations...America and England stock considerably more!), I've settled on original as my favourite, although Special K Advantage comes in a close second.





And with that, I conclude Part II. One set left to come! Do you tend to snack on cereals? Do you have any favourites?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting

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Recently, I ordered and received two vegan cookbooks from the Book Depository, after they had a 10% off offer in May.

I am now feeling personally accountable for Border's recent decision to close their stores in Australia. Online book ordering was, after all, the main contributor to the flagging store-based book trade. Borders, I am so very sorry. I was so excited when you arrived. I am quite devastated that you're leaving.

In an effort to partially absolve my guilt, I plan to get a lot of use out of the cookbooks.

And where better to start than with dessert?




The inspiration for today's baking. I know, it isn't actually a cupcake recipe. But it is a cake recipe. 


The Vegan Table, by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, was the first book to arrive. I have flagged a number of her recipes to try, savoury and sweet, but decided to start with a cupcake adaptation of the Red Velvet Cake with Buttercream Frosting. I felt like making cupcakes, I had never before made vegan cupcakes, and it seemed like a good choice for a sunny Autumn Sunday.

My main adaptations, other than converting cake to cupcake (and thus halving the recipe quantities), was to increase the cocoa and omit the red. Thus, chocolate cupcakes were born:

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting

Adapted from The Vegan Table's recipe for Red Velvet Cake with Buttercream Frosting

 Makes 12 - 16


Cupcakes:

  • 1 cup non-dairy milk (I used soy)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt

  1. Preheat oven to 180'C and prepare your cupcake tin
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the milk, sugar, oil, vinegar and vanilla, and beat with an electric beater on medium speed for 1 - 2 minutes.
  3. Add the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt and mix well. 
  4. Bake for 20 - 22 minutes, until the cupcakes spring back slightly when touched.





Frosting:

  • 50g non-dairy spread, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp water
  1. Combine the ingredients and beat on medium - high speed with an electric beater, until light and fluffy.
  2. Spread over completely cool cupcakes.


Clearly, this isn't a particularly healthy treat. It isn't low in fat or sugar, and it does use refined ingredients. It does taste pretty good though - and at least no animals were involved.

The cupcakes themselves are light and fluffy, and the icing tastes exactly like the dairy buttercream frosting I remember on cupcakes as a child. I certainly wouldn't have any qualms serving these at a non-vegan party.


I might keep this batch just for us though.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Some entirely normal foods

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I've done a post like this once before, when I thought I might have blogged just a little too much about baked treats and a little too little about normal food.

This time, I don't think there has been a disproportionate amount of baking (although, perhaps, slightly more discussion than usual of chocolate...) but I seem to have accumulated a number of photos on my laptop, which I would quite like to put to use. And I thought ordinary food might provide some variety to my musings.

So! Here we go...

Quinoa stuffed peppers

Usually we have peppers stuffed with rice, but on this occasion I branched out. Unfortunately, Mr Bite wasn't a big fan of the change - or of my decision to try adding apple to the vegetable and rice mix - so I may return to the safety of rice (and no fruit!) next time. 

If you do like the contrast of sweet with savoury, though, I would recommend trying apple in rice / quinoa dishes. 



I added the apple to this mix after the quinoa and vegetables had been cooked in vegetable stock, and then baked the peppers for ~20 minutes.

The night after we had these, Kayla also posted a recipe for a much more sophisticated version, which seemed a nice coincidence. 


 Crumpets


I think of these as a cold weather food, which may explain why I have re-discovered them of late.

I like my crumpets microwaved rather than toasted, and with honey.

I also like them fresh. Sadly, they are a product that can go stale quite quickly. Although that does offer a good reason to eat them quickly...



Fruit English muffins

These are related to crumpets in my mind, and thus feature more frequently in the cooler months. And whilst I like most English muffins varieties, fruit is probably my favourite.

I like these plain, at any temperature. And especially with a cup of tea.



Lentils

Whenever I have these, I ask myself why I don't have them more often. 


I only wish I knew how to photograph them so they looked attractive!


Yoghurt parfaits

This title sounds misleadingly fancy.

However, since I've eliminated artificially flavoured, gelatine containing yoghurts, I've had fun mixing various additions into the plain, pot-set varieties I now exclusively buy.

It's fun!





Strawberries, puffed millet, cinnamon...and yoghurt


Grapefruit

This last one is a bit of a trick. I probably eat grapefruit half a dozen times a year, so this isn't really a 'normal' part of my diet. But with summer fruits gone, and winter fruits being a bit monotonous (and bananas still costing >$10 / kg...), I have been buying some of the fruits I don't eat as often.

I do very much like grapefruit, it's just too squirty for every day consumption!








So there we have it...some meals and snacks from the last few weeks. Do any feature in your days or routines?