Saturday, December 31, 2011

Some recipes for the New Year: Tofu and Rice Noodle Salad and Raspberry-Banana 'Ice Cream'

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I don't know about you, but sometimes even my sweet tooth has had enough of sweet food. The aftermath of Christmas and 4 days away from home is, I think it may be safe to say, one of those times.

It will probably only take a day or so for my tastes and eating to even out to their usual levels, but right now, vegetables are looking pretty good and fruit is about as sweet as I want to go.

Fortunately, this can translate to some highly enjoyable dishes. So enjoyable, in fact, that it can be hard to believe that they have short ingredient lists and minimal preparation time.



Tofu and Rice Noodle Salad and Raspberry-Banana 'Ice Cream' are the first two dishes to come out of my kitchen this year, and they have proved fitting matches for my January taste preferences. Both are very easy to put together, and could easily be modified to match the ingredients you have on hand (and/or to your own tastes).

The details of each are below, but as noted, the recipes would be easily modifiable. In fact, I hesitate to even call them recipes - they are that simple to make.


Tofu and rice noodle salad

Serves 3
Adapted from Taste.com.au
Print recipe

Ingredients
125g rice (vermicelli) noodles, soaked in cold water for 15 minutes
1 cup green beans, chopped, steamed or stir fried until just cooked
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
1 capsicum, thinly sliced
200g tofu, marinated and cooked 
(either marinate firm tofu in a mix of soy sauce and sweet chilli sauce, and then stir fry slightly until firm, or buy a pre-marinated variety, such as Soyco)

1 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
3 tbsp soy sauce
Basil leaves, to serve



Method
Cook the green beans and prepare the tofu
Combine all ingredients except the basil in a large mixing bowl, and toss to combine
Serve with the basil leaves



The salad has subtle Asian flavours, with a slight zing from the lime. It is filling enough to be a meal, but still light enough to suit the Australian summer weather. I imagine it would work well hot as well as cold, and I suspect I'll be making it again before summer is out.

Another dish I'll definitely be making again this summer is the following twist on frozen banana soft serve...

Raspberry-Banana 'Ice Cream'

Serves 1

Ingredients
1 medium - large frozen banana, peeled and cut in half
~1/2 cup frozen raspberries
~1 tbsp plain or vanilla yoghurt (I used homemade natural non-fat yoghurt, but you could use any variety, including soy, or sub in 1 tsp milk / non-dairy milk)
1 - 2 tsp desiccated coconut, optional (I used 1 tsp)



Method
Process all ingredients in a food processor

(I did the banana and raspberry first and then added the yoghurt and coconut)

This managed to taste exactly like the homemade berry ice cream I remember eating on a Berry Farm as a child. In other words, very good! I was surprised at how creamy it was, given that raspberries are a rather icey fruit when frozen, but the banana worked well to keep the consistency like ice cream.


I only wish I'd made a double batch.

Do you have any favourite Summer or January recipes? Or any favourite versions of frozen banana soft serve?

Reflections on 2011

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As my silence this week may have suggested, we have been out of Perth for the past few days. We spent 4 nights in the forests south of Perth, along with Mr Bite's family, in a region that is known for its intermittent mobile phone (and internet) coverage. Returning to connectivity is somewhat of a novelty now...it's a little disconcerting to think how much it is part of my life when I'm at home.

South-west forests, Western Australia

This brief blogging break means that my focus is jumping from Christmas straight to New Year, a leap that I am quite happy to make. Although I'm not one for New Year's Eve parties (my temperament is aligned with going to bed quietly so I can wake up refreshed in the new year, rather than staying up until midnight and thus feeling tired before the next year has even begun), I do like the freshness that the dawn of January brings.

Margaret River, Western Australia

I spent some of our time down south reflecting on what 2011 has meant to me. The list that comes to mind is below - mostly, it is a good one, and I am grateful to be able to write it.

2011

A wonderful trip to Tasmania

The first full year living with Mr Bite

A reasonably large shift in my approach to food and eating, and in my food preferences

A renewed and extended love for baking and cooking

My sister departing for Europe, and then returning

My brother moving out of home

My maternal grandmother passing away

My friends starting to have babies...and more babies

Some changes in my exercise routine, including the additions of cycling and Body Attack

The start of blogging

A new camera

35 books read, down from 60 in 2010 (see point two on this list as to why!)


There have been years in the past when I've looked back and thought "I'm glad that year is over", but this one - and indeed the last few - have been quite the opposite. It's a fortunate position to be in.

I am now looking forward to 2012, and have some goals and aspirations for the year that span work, travel, life, and fitness. However, they shall come in a later post. For now - Happy New Year!


Nannup cow, south-west Western Australia


How do you like to celebrate New Year's Eve? What does 2011 mean to you?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Bite-Sized Christmas, 2011

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My parent's tree, somewhat more impressive than our mini version

I always find the aftermath of Christmas to be slightly odd. There is a quietness, even slothfulness, in how I visualise the last few days of December. Once I found this quite difficult (I'm not really a sloth by nature) but now I don't really mind the lull, and find it makes a nice contrast between the busyness prior to Christmas and the 'newness' of the New Year when January rolls around.

Moving back a step, though, Christmas day itself was a good day. Mr Bite and I tend to separate to our respective families for the main lunch, as neither of our families is really big enough to cope with the absence of one family member. Similarly, neither family is well suited to having a dinner instead of lunch (or a Christmas Eve celebration instead of Christmas Day).

Given this, we have hit on the system of having the morning to ourselves at home, separating to our respective families around midday, and reconvening in the evening. This year I went to his family on Christmas evening, whilst he came to visit mine on Christmas Eve.


In my family, Christmas day traditionally starts with stockings, then breakfast, then 'tree' presents, then lunch. Arriving after 12pm means that the first two items in that list happen at my own house, and lunch started after 1.30pm. This suits me fine, a later meal allowing me to build up sufficient appetite for the occasion!

Our main Christmas meal has followed a similar pattern for as long as I can remember. The dishes follow a traditional theme, with the exception of a starter salad, which is more typically Australian;

To start-
  • Salad with mango, avocado, prawns and a creamy dill dressing

The main-
  • Roast turkey with gravy and/or cranberry sauce, and stuffing
  • Scalloped potatoes
  • Brocolli and cauliflower in cheese sauce
  • Baby carrots
  • Peas
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Chipolata sausages, the only time of year I ate them as a child

After a decent pause, dessert-

As soon as I was old enough to express taste preferences, I had my starter salad without avocado and dressing; my broccoli and cauliflower without cheese sauce; skipped the brussels sprouts; and skipped the Christmas pudding / mince pies / Christmas cake aspects of dessert. I also dropped the sausages towards the end of my teen years.


This year, of course, things were somewhat different!

After ending up with an amazing array of vegetarian and vegan Christmas meal choices, I settled on three as my contributions to Christmas lunch: 

All had the advantage of being able to be made in advance, and I also served the quinoa dish cold, thus minimising re-heating work on the day.

Picking a nut roast was hard, given how many choices there were, but I was so glad I settled on the purple option. The novelty of using beetroot and the interesting flavouring components (marmite, smoked paprika) were what sold it to me in the end. 


I used 2 beetroot and 2 carrots instead of the recommended 1 of each, and had to settle on regular varieties rather than heirloom ones (which I have never been able to find). Thus, my final product was less purple than Johanna's. It was still colourful enough to entertain me. I increased the flavouring components slightly to counter the extra vegetables, and probably could have done so to an even greater extent, but didn't change anything else.


I was delighted with how this turned out. Not having had nut roast before, I wasn't sure what to expect and was concerned it might be stodgy and dense. However, I really enjoyed both the texture and flavour. For lack of another comparison, I found it like a particularly good veggie burger. Slightly sweet, slightly crunchy from the nuts, with a mix of enjoyable flavours.


My only fault in the roast was one I brought about myself, in that I under-cooked it by about 10 minutes when I made it, thinking that would prevent burning when it was re-heated at my parent's. However, I think that contributed to the centre being very slightly soft. This didn't detract from the eating experience, but did make it slightly harder to cut. Next time I would bake it for the full time initially and just cover with foil to prevent excess crispiness on re-heating.

With the side dishes, the cinnamon sweet potato chickpea salad was incredibly easy. It was also incredibly delicious. I can see myself making this for work lunches on a regular basis.



This is also a good dish to make in advance, because it can go back in the oven to re-heat quite happily - although I think serving it cold would also work.


The quinoa dish was one I expected to like more than I did. Something about the flavours didn't quite work for me, although I didn't actively dislike the dish either. I usually like fruit in quinoa (and rice) dishes, but perhaps this particular combination just wasn't to my tastes.


I found it slightly too sweet but also slightly lacking in depth - I think perhaps it needed some more savoury components to round it out. Generally I add dried fruit to quinoa cooked in vegetable stock, whereas this had cinnamon and maple as the base flavours.

It did photograph beautifully though, and it was suitably Christmassy.



In the main, my family stuck to their traditional Christmas fare, but my Mum tried some of each of the vegetarian dishes and reported liking all. The sweet potato and chickpea dish was also tried by most people, given that it was easy to take a small amount, and was well liked.




All in all, I was happy with the dishes and will definitely be making the nut roast and sweet potato and chickpea dishes again. I left the table feeling very satisfied, and found pairing the plain vegetables from my Mum's selection with these vegetarian dishes made for a perfect Christmas meal.

I was, as always, also left feeling lucky to have family to celebrate with on Christmas, to be healthy enough to do so, and to have those I care about healthy too. It was a Merry Christmas and I hope yours was too!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas

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I have Christmas songs swirling around my head.


(Except for right now, because Mr Bite is playing The Smiths. They make a nice contrast to Christmas tunes.)

Christmas presents are wrapped and ready to go.


The weather forecast for Christmas day is sitting happily around 30'C (~85'F).

I have left my office(s) for the final time in 2011!


(Hopefully.)


I have decided what dishes to make for Christmas day. And bought the ingredients.


(The ingredients aren't mince pies, but mince pies [not for me - ick] were easier to photograph.)

The house is half cleaned.

Our kitchen is full of chocolate and sweet food.



I think it must be time for Christmas!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend, however you spend it, 
and if you celebrate Christmas, a wonderful Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas cookies, the Usborne First Cookbook way

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For one of my childhood birthdays, perhaps my sixth, I received two books from my UK grandparents.




Newer editions of these books are still being printed, and if you have children - look these books up. I loved my copies, as did my siblings after me (although I reclaimed the books when I moved out of home!).

In my versions, the First Cookbook has sections on 'Hot Things', 'Sweet Things' and 'Party Things' ...





...as well as general tips and advice, some of which I suspect I could benefit from attending to even today.



The Simple Things to Make and Do collection covers Growing Things, Party Fun, and Making Presents.




As with the cooking book, some of the contents remain useful even now;



We haven't made all of the recipes or tried all of the activities, but these books served my family very, very well. Certain recipes and ideas became favourites that we did again and again.

Looking through the books as an adult thus brings back many memories. The worn nature of the cookbook, including the page where my sister's fudge efforts went a little messy (right on top of the safety warning about the hazards of fudge preparation!) also make me smile every time I look at the pages.



This post isn't just about the books, though, despite my extended attention to them. It's really about the Iced Spice Biscuits in the First Cookbook.  My Mum has made these biscuits at Christmas for as long as I can remember, quite possibly since the first year I got the book.


To me, it wouldn't quite be Christmas without these biscuits. I have loved carrying on the tradition since leaving home, and this year I had the privilege of baking a double batch on the weekend and then having my Mum and sister over to decorate them this afternoon.


We made a mess

Although I don't make these cookies at any time other than Christmas, the biscuit base is one of my favourites. This year I ventured to try an egg-free variation (I just subbed in commercial egg replacer), with a certain amount of trepidation lest I ruined the familiar flavour. To my relief, I couldn't detect any differences in the flavour or texture and they were still very, very good.

Although I like these cookies plain, they decorate beautifully. My Mum's icing and decorating efforts have always exceeded mine, but even if you have a shaky hand and clumsy tendencies, you can turn these biscuits into mini Christmas tokens very easily.

They're great for presents, for sharing with family, and for taking in to share at work. And, of course, for eating.

Iced Spice Biscuits, for Christmas

From The Usborne First Cookbook
1 batch (as below) makes about 20 cookies

Ingredients
125g brown sugar
125g dairy-free spread, or butter
250g plain flour
Egg replacer to the equivalent of 1 egg, or 1 egg
Pinch salt
2 tsp mixed spice

Method
Preheat the oven to 190'C and line 2 - 3 baking trays with baking paper

Beat the brown sugar and butter together until fluffy

Gradually beat in the egg or egg replacer

Add the flour, salt and mixed spice and mix well to combine

Knead briefly to form a ball of firm dough

Roll out the dough on a flour-covered surface, to ~1/2 cm thick

Cut out shapes using cookie cutters

Bake on prepared trays for 15 minutes, until light brown (the cookies will continue to firm up after coming out of the oven - they are better coming out a little soft than too hard)

Allow to cool on the tray for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely


To make the icing
Combine 125g icing sugar with 1 - 2 tbsp hot water; mix thoroughly

 Separate the icing into 3 small bowls

Colour icing with food colouring as desired

Decorate and top with cachous, mini M&Ms or other decorations to taste



No matter how hard we try, there are always some demented biscuits left over from the decorating efforts. The above pictures show the 'acceptable' ones - those that may be presented to others or put out when non-family people are around.

Here are some of the ones that will be kept just for home;

A hippy reindeer with a broken leg (among other things)...


...including what is almost my favourite creation, because it is just so odd! I don't know what I was thinking when I decorated this...at least the M&M surplus should make it appealing for eating.

Quality of the cookie decorating aside, I love having this tradition and being able to sit down with my Mum and sister to fulfill it. It's certainly one I will miss if I ever move away (or one of them does).

Do you have any childhood recipes that you still enjoy today?

Friday, December 16, 2011

I'm dreaming of...

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Remember when I talked about closing the door on work? Just 1 week ago?

I need to try harder.

I also need to try harder to put in to practice very useful and sensible points discussed in a workshop that I attended, only 3 weeks ago, on how to manage work commitments in a balanced fashion.

Points like remembering that there really are only so many hours in a week, and that saying yes to every 'great opportunity' that comes along, will mean that none of those great opportunities will be as useful as they could be.

Last week I seemed to decide that I wanted to see what would happen if I threw the door wide open and said yes to everything. It's not an experiment I would recommend.

This week I am going to try much, much harder.

In the meantime, I have started to look forward to the Christmas break with a certain amount of desperate anticipation. 10 days off! It feels almost like school holidays, but with the benefit of earning money whilst not at work.

Even though we haven't even had Christmas (and I am looking forward to that too, very much so), and even though I'm conscious that not everyone will have 10 days off at Christmas, I thought I'd ponder in written form the things I am dreaming of doing over the Christmas break.

I'm sure I won't get to all of these, but that's ok too...

1. Read 

I'm sure this one comes as no surprise. The combined benefits of a charity book sale, a birthday, and some kind people who lend me books (and a bonus public library visit) mean that my bedside book pile has had to be broken up into multiple piles. One is in the cupboard. Reading needs to happen!


2. Practice photography

One of the books in my reading pile is this one, a beautifully chosen birthday gift from Mr Bite;


I am so excited to sit down and play with my new camera with guidance for a few hours.



3. Bake

Not much more needs to be said on this one...


4. Cook (grill)

Another of my birthday presents was the Scanpan grill that I raved about when house sitting at my parents. Being able to grill means that there are so many more veggie burger and tofu options I can play with, and I'm really looking forward to having the time to do so.



5. Clean the windows and blinds

I meant to clean the windows last summer. This is rather embarrassing to admit, because it highlights that they were dirty then and now are dirty plus have a bonus year of dirt. 


6. Clean the fridge

The condiments shelf is starting to become a health hazard.


7. Clean / re-organise the pantry

Again.


8. Shopping

Tranquil, no-pressure shopping (although the chances of that in post-Christmas sales may be minimal...) with browsing the aim more than buying. 

I used to wander shopping centres or the city on a semi-regular basis, and these days I either don't have time or am tearing around with a list of urgent purchases I "have" to find in the next hour. Window shopping at leisure sounds pretty good.


9. Blogging

I keep meaning to change my header and layout, and not getting the time to do so. I'm also mindful of not knowing half of the things that Blogger could let me do. I would like to schedule in half a day on figuring it all out!


10. Getting outdoors

This can be difficult in Australian summer temperatures (or at least, it is for those who don't like extreme heat and get sunburnt in about 15 minutes) but I'm sure we will manage it.




What are you dreaming of at the moment?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas food ideas: No bake edible presents

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I'm conscious that there are a number of posts around on edible Christmas gifts (and non-edible ones for that matter), but I have so much fun with Christmas treats and baking that I didn't want to skip over this post.

The food-related presents I make at Christmas usually change from year to year. My Mum set up a tradition of making decorated Christmas cookies with me and my sister, and those are a stand-by that I can't imagine not making. Around those cookies, though, I enjoy trying different things and experimenting with whatever takes my fancy each year.

This year I decided to make peppermint chocolate bark, raw papaya and cashew balls, and milk chocolate hearts. As a bonus, none require an oven and all can be made at least a week in advance.


I used Lindt when chocolate was involved, thanks to Coles heavily discounting the Lindt Excellent blocks last weekend. However, any chocolate of your choice would work.

You can print all recipes (such that they are) here, but they are also below - and all are incredibly simple.

Peppermint chocolate bark

This idea came from my Chocolate Recipes calendar, with peppermint bark providing the December recipe. It is extremely easy and the bark could be also used to top cupcakes or cakes.


There are only 3 ingredients and the preparation is limited to melting and then setting chocolate. Simple!

Melt 100g Lindt Dark Chocolate with Mint (or equivalent)

Spread over the base of a lined loaf tin

Set in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes

Then melt 100g Lindt White Lindor chocolate (or equivalent)

Spread the white chocolate over the dark chocolate

Sprinkle 2 large candy canes, crushed, over the top

Return to the refrigerator and set for at least 1 hour

Break the bark into rough pieces

Serve 

(or eat)





These are going to Mr Bite's family, but we squeezed in some taste tests of our own - which I greatly enjoyed. I really liked the inclusion of mint in the bottom chocolate layer, and the crushed candy canes provided a fun texture. 

Raw papaya (pawpaw) and cashew balls

I thought it was probably wise to do something non-chocolate, and this was it. Although I don't usually like cashews, I thought they might pair best with papaya and the ingredients did seem to work well together. The balls taste mostly of papaya, with a little coconut, and there was no discernible (to me) cashew flavour.

This recipe has 1 more ingredient than the bark, but it is equally simple!


Place 160g (~1 cup) chopped dried papaya and 80g (~1/2 cup) cashews in a food processor and process until well chopped and combined 

Add 1 tsp vanilla and 20g (~1/4 cup) dessicated coconut and continue processing until the mixture clumps together

Remove the mixture from the food processor and roll into balls, coating each with extra dessicated coconut

Place on a lined baking tray and refrigerate until set, about 1 hour




I really like the pink colour and suspect I'll be using papaya in fruit and nut balls again in the future. These are going to my Mum, but a repeat effort may happen in the future so I can have a whole batch to myself...

(Edit: For a pineapple version of these tried on 17th January 2012, see here!)


Milk Chocolate Hearts

These require small heart-shaped moulds in which to set your chocolate. I used silicon ones, which help with removing the chocolate, but I have also seen foil moulds in supermarkets, including some decorated with Christmas themed pictures.

I used dried cranberries, almonds, and crushed peanuts to decorate the hearts, but any decorations you like would do.

I also had enough melted chocolate left over to make two round discs, which were set in the bottom of sturdy foil muffin liners.


Melt 150 - 175g Lindt milk chocolate (or equivalent)

Use half of the melted chocolate to fill 8 small heart-shaped moulds approximately 3/4 full

Top each of these 8 hearts with dried cranberries, an almond, or crushed peanuts

In 8 separate heart-shaped moulds, place dried cranberries, an almond, or crushed peanuts in the bottom of the mould

Then fill these 8 hearts with the remaining melted chocolate, approximately 3/4 full

Place hearts on a plate or baking tray and refrigerate at least 2 hours, until fully set

Remove the chocolate hearts from the moulds before serving



Three products, minimal kitchen time, easy to package up, and from my taste testing - all highly enjoyable.



As the top photo may suggest, I also packaged up some non-homemade food. Liquorice allsorts in bags for my sister and her boyfriend; a jar with layered chocolate almonds, cashews and liquorice for my brother; and a bowl with nuts and chocolate almonds for my Dad.



It's feeling rather Christmassy under our mini Christmas tree...



Do you have favourite treats or gifts to make at Christmas?



Previous Christmas food posts:
Cranberry rolls
Christmas ice cream and jazzed up fruit
Main meals and sides (recipe round up)