A Raw Food Portrait

When my friend Brendan, who is an art student, asked me to create a portrait of him, he was pretty loose on the details. He must have sensed my nerves and apprehension because he quickly told me that it could be words, or something abstract, or anything I felt comfortable with. The thing is… I consider myself creative, but I’m certainly not an artist by any stretch of the imagination. I did, however, accept the challenge.

Brendan
Raisins, silverbeet, celery, zucchini, mushroom, red capsicum, strawberries, carrot & apple.

I decided on a food portrait for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Brendan and I met via our mutual interest in raw foods. He constantly works towards a happier, healthier existence, so it felt fitting to portray him with a variety of items I found in my organic food delivery! Secondly, food is a medium I’m obviously pretty comfortable with – I’d say most of us are fairly well versed in making faces out of our food from a young age (am I right?).

These days I just eat… And sometimes talk. I’m starting to re-think my strategy – afterall, what’s wrong with a bit of re-arranging and day dreaming? Life is so fast paced sometimes. A couple of pea-eyes in my mash could transform a horrible, exhausting day at work into a happy, relaxed evening of silliness and laughter.

House Toast
“House Toast”. Not because I have kids, but because I AM a kid. And yes, I realise the chimney is crooked and that’s a horrible photo. Whatevs! I’m in it for a smile today, lack of perfection isn’t going to bother me.

Decadent Choc Hazelnut Cheesecake

A few weeks ago, I found myself channel surfing and consquently fixated on an episode of Nigellissima, where a Nutella Cheesecake was being born. “Utter brilliance”, I thought. I love chocolate-anything. It was a fairly straight forward recipe and all the ingredients were pre-packaged. As I began to mull over how to make a vegan version of this, I found myself getting a little too carried away and complicating things.

I’ve held back greatly on the many ideas whirring around in my head here – the one thing that I wasn’t going to compromise on, though, was a gluten free base. And one that doesn’t use packaged biscuits – because I’ve done that before. I wanted to try something different, so the base is an adaptation of this recipe – literally the first Google search result for “vegan rice crispy recipe”.

Decadent Choc Hazelnut Cheesecake 4

Decadent Choc Hazelnut Cheesecake

The Base:

4 C Crispy Rice Cereal, NOT soft puffed rice (read the ingredients, most brands list “barley malt” which contains gluten, check your health food aisle rather than the cereal aisle)
1/8 C Flax Meal
1/2 C Agave Nectar
1/3 C Hazelnut Butter/Spread (or other nut butter of your choice – almond or peanut would also be good!)
1 t Vanilla Extract
Vegan margarine, such as Nuttelex

  • Lightly grease a 25cm springform pan with vegan margarine, then line with baking paper. You can use a smaller springform tin, but don’t use a larger one.
  • Pule 3 C of the crispy rice cereal in a food processor or high speed blender until broken up, but not powdery. Place in a mixing bowl with the remaining 1 C of crispy rice cereal and the flax meal.
  • On low heat in a small pot, stir together the agave nectar, hazelnut butter and vanilla extract. Once combined, pour into the mixing bowl and mix, mix, mix! If you’re afraid to get your hands dirty, you can wear gloves.
  • Press mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom of the springform pan and leave in the fridge to set for an hour or so.

Decadent Choc Hazelnut Cheesecake 3

Because all the vegan chocolate spreads I have access to are allergen-friendly, they’re nut free – which means I had to mix together chocolate spread and hazelnut butter to get the “Nutella” effect. I found this frustrating at first, but later realised that it’s great if you want to change it up and use a different nut (e.g. peanuts or almonds).

The Filling:

300g Dark Chocolate Spread (I used the fair trade Oxfam one, which is available at Woolies)
100g Hazelnut Butter/Spread (or other nut butter of your choice)
2 tubs + 2 TBSP Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese (500g)
3/4 – 1 1/4 C GF Icing Sugar (3/4 C will give you a bittersweet dark chocolate taste, whereas 1 1/4 C will give you a more widely palatable milk chocolate taste)
3 pinches of Salt

  • Bring the cream cheese to room temperature, then beat with the chocolate spread and hazelnut butter.
  • Sift in the icing sugar and beat until smooth and combined.
  • Pour into the springform pan on top of the rice crispy base and leave to set overnight.
  • Carefully remove from springform pan and place on a plate or platter.

Decadent Choc Hazelnut Cheesecake 1

The Topping:

1 C Strawberries, sliced
2-3 TBSP Hazelnuts (or other nut of your choice)
Agave

  • Roast the hazelnuts at 150C for about 10 minutes; keep an eye on them. When the skins start to split, remove them from the oven and leave to cool. You can remove the skins the slow/hard way (by hand), or you can rub a handful of them in a clean tea towel. You don’t need to remove all the skins, just the loose ones. Leaving some on will give you some extra texture and a rustic look.
  • Roughly chop the hazelnuts.
  • Scatter the strawberries on the cake, followed by the chopped hazelnuts, then lightly drizzle some agave on top.

Decadent Choc Hazelnut Cheesecake 2

Voilà! A party favourite that will literally get devoured before any other dessert on offer (that’s a tried and true fact).

Tips:

  • Serve this straight from the fridge. If you let it cool or serve it on a hot day, it’ll soften and be more of a mousse-cake than a cheesecake!
  • If using peanut butter, make sure you select one that’s natural/doesn’t contain any salt or sugar.

Don’t Waste Produce: Juice & Freeze

Although our diet isn’t 100% organic, our home is fairly well stocked with organic foods compared to most and in addition to never wanting to waste money, I never like to waste food. You know that line parents use to guilt their kids into eating everything on their plate? “What about all the starving kids in Africa?” Well, it stuck with me and I can’t waste food without feeling like an ungrateful little brat – so the trick is to not waste it.

A lot of people carry on about organic food being expensive and sure – in some cases, it really is outrageous (I’ve seen celery for $6.95 a bunch lately and red capsicums for $24.95/kg) but in most cases, you can shop smart by buying in season and in bulk. It’s common sense, really.

So what’s a girl to do when she buys in bulk but can’t eat it all?

Freeze it. In some cases I will juice and freeze things, or blanch and freeze them – it just depends. Today, I’m going to focus on juicing.

Apple Juice
Frozen organic apple juice.

I’ve recently started juicing all the fruit & veg that I realistically won’t be able to eat before it goes bad and freezing it in mini silicone cupcake trays – each pod holds exactly one tablespoon of liquid. When they’re solid, I transfer them to a container or zip lock bag and keep them in the freezer; I also freeze the pulp. For the most flexibility/options for use, I juice only one fruit or vegetable at a time, rather than mixing items together.

What’s it good for?

  • Blend cubes in smoothies with fresh or frozen fruit of your choice. It’s a great alternative to plain ol’ water ice cubes.
  • Cocktails. Need I say more?
  • You can defrost the juice (in the fridge or at room temp) in any combination you like for a refreshing, cold juice.
  • Add the frozen juice to a glass or jug of water.
  • The pulp can be used for making raw crackers. I’m yet to come up with another use for this, but feel free to throw some ideas at me!

This simple act feels like some kind of genius accomplishment to me. For one, it means I only have to dirty my juicer once to get several serves of juice. That’s right, folks. No more messin’ about trying to clean the 5,632 parts of your juicer while you’re still half asleep in the morning!

Mister Nice Guy’s Bake Shop!

Mister Nice Guy - Outside
Mister Nice Guy
151 Union Rd
Ascot Vale
VIC 3032
AUSTRALIA

OK, guys. Get your bandwidth ready because I have quite a few photos here! Whittling this down to three or four wasn’t really an option – you’d be missing too much eye candy!

Mister Nice Guy - Inside

I loved the shop’s retro, kitschy fit out. I’m no stranger to lovin’ vintage and these guys had gone to some great lengths with detail – from the rounded 50s style fridge behind the counter to the pastel vintage cannisters up on the top shelf! This was right up there on my list of “things to marry”.

Betty White Cake
Betty White Cake (choc/coconut) – gluten free.

These guys make a point of having several gluten free options available daily, so celiacs don’t miss out! And I’m telling you from experience that you can’t tell by taste that the items are gluten free.

Rockin' Roller Cake
Rockin’ Roller Cake.

Sign
I didn’t realise these guys used organic ingredients! Yay!

Cinnamon Buns
Cinnamon buns – I really regret not buying one of these.

Mister Nice Guy - Cabinet 1
The cabinet where sugar comas are born! There’s some raw cupcakes on the bottom shelf… I regret not trying those, too.

Sampler
I bought a variety of things to share, but couldn’t get through it all. It’s been a while since I gorged on sweets – which is a good thing, really.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Mini Red Velvet Cupcakes.

These were my favourite of the cupcakes I tried. They were adorable, bite-sized and the perfect little burst of creamy sweetness.

Beetlejuice Cupcakes (Cookies & Cream)
Mini Beetlejuice Cupcakes (cookies & cream).

These were also really delicious, but the name is a little misleading. Turns out “Beetlejuice” flavour is actually cookies and cream, not liquorice! I think I would have prefered a chocolate cupcake as opposed to the vanilla and the icing was a little grainy which I suspect was from the cookies, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t eat them again!

Pebbles Cupcake
Pebbles Cupcake (raspberry & white chocolate) – gluten free.

SO GOOD. The cupcake was light, fluffy and not as all recognisable as “gluten free”. Loved these.

Pecan Pie
Pecan Pie.

This tasted a lot better than it looks, though sadly, I probably wouldn’t buy this again. It has sultanas in it, which ruined it for me. Without the sultanas, I’d love it a whole lot more, but I understand that not everyone would feel that way. If you dig sultanas, grab a slice!

Baked NY Cheesecake
Baked NY Cheesecake/Cheezecake.

This was a hundred times more impressive than I was expecting! It was so smooth and creamy and, well, cheesecake-like! Both non-vegans that I shared it with agreed that it was very much like the real deal. I’d love to see Mister Nice Guy make more cheesecake flavours – they’ve executed the concept beautifully.

Banoffee Pie
Banoffee Pie – gluten free. Photo courtesy of Mister Nice Guy (my photo was hideous!).

I’ve saved the best for last! This dessert has single handedly raised the vegan-sweets-bar for me. If I had a third thumb, I’d give it three thumbs up. The whipped centre melts in your mouth, the banana is there without being over powering and the decadent caramel is set off in your mouth by chunks of salt. It’s literally one of the most divine things I’ve ever eaten – if you go to Mister Nice Guy’s for one thing, let it be this. Or the cheesecake. But mostly this.

Mister Nice Guy - Business Cards

There’s a good variety of both hot and cold drinks on offer, which didn’t even make it into the equation for me because I took my desserts away to eat at a friend’s house – but I’d be keen to hang around for a coffee next time. The staff were so lovely, I must have spent 10-15 minutes in there just having a chat. If you like them on Facebook, you can get updates of what’s available in the bake shop – the menu changes daily. I made a not-so-subtle suggestion that something peanut-buttery should always be there because it was the only thing that disappointed me during my visit!

Mister Nice Guy's Bakeshop on Urbanspoon

Shebelle: Ethiopian & Moroccan Restaurant, Café & Bar

African is the new Mexican. Well… For me, at least.

Shebelle 1
Shebelle
241 Barkly St
Footscray, VIC 3011
AUSTRALIA
Ph: (03) 9689 8188

Shebelle 2

Although they share a continent, Ethiopia and Morocco aren’t exactly close in proximity. Their cuisine, however, pairs up pretty fantastically. Shebelle is just up the street from Lentil As Anything; look for the numbers on the shops, because the signage doesn’t stand out when you’re driving past.

Shebelle 3

The restaurant was quiet when we arrived, but we were quickly greeted by a charming African man who was both the owner, chef and waiter. That’s right, guys. It was a one-man operation – and an impressive one at that. So if you sit down and aren’t served immediately, try to be patient because he’s juggling a few jobs at once. Later when more people arrived, there was also a friendly woman helping out who was very modest when we showered the food with praise.

In regards to ordering vegan, I noticed “clarified butter” listed with some of the dishes, so I asked the owner about this and he raised his arms and said “I’m the chef, I’ll cook it however you like!” (seriously, this guy has such a happy, relaxed attitude, he’s great), so I just asked for all the veg dishes to be cooked with oil instead of butter. You might want to do the same if you’re vegan/can’t have dairy.

Shebelle 4
Injera

For those of you who’ve never had injera, it’s like the amazing love child of pancakes (flapjacks) and sourdough bread – and it’s both gluten free and vegan! Traditional injera is simply teff flour, water and salt. Teff flour is made from the milled seed of teff grass (native to Ethiopia) – it’s not a grain.

Shebelle 5
Injera – close up

Check out that sexy, spongy goodness! This didn’t come with anything we ordered, so we asked for it as an extra on the side, and I’m glad we did.

Shebelle 9
Guacamole served with a basket of pita crisps (basket not pictured)

This was a Moroccan style guacamole that had tahini stirred through it. The owner gave me a big grin when I ordered it and said “you won’t like it” and asked me if I knew what tahini was. We both laughed and I insisted on trying it, because I love a bit of food-adventure. Turns out, this was so freakin’ great. Jasmine (who I’d brought to the restaurant with me for her birthday) couldn’t get enough of it – she was full and STILL TRYING TO FIND ROOM TO KEEP EATING THIS. I can’t believe I never thought to mix tahini into my guacamole; what brilliance.

Shebelle 6
Shebelle Special

The description in the menu said “combination veggies and Ethiopian salad” – I didn’t immediately identify any part of this as being “salad” but didn’t care because it was all delicious! Clockwise from the top left was: mashed split peas, beetroot, greens and an unidentified legume. The mashed split peas and beetroot were subtly spiced, the greens were fairly straight forward (which I loved, because greens are great just as they are!) and the other legume dish was a little heavier in flavour, which I think was predominantly cinnamon and chili (?). I ordered this mild for my dinner guest but I think when I go back with Mr. AA, I’ll ask for it hot!

The greens and split peas were my favourites, while the beetroot was Jasmine’s favourite.

Shebelle 8
Moroccan Eggplant

I don’t know how I can explain how much I loved this dish without sounding like a dirty food-perv. I pretty much creamed my knickers with the first bite. The eggplant had been left in tact at the top and sliced through (see photo below) which I thought was a pretty special touch and the tomato based sauce had a variety of veggies in it, including my favourite: broccoli. It was firm but not crunchy, total perfection in my opinion. Nothing makes me sadder than people over cooking broccoli.

The fresh herbs on top were a tasty, bright addition to this dish… As I write about it, I’m seriously sad that I’m not eating it again right now.

Shebelle 7

All of this plus a non-vegan dish (not pictured) cost only $50. I gave them a 20% tip and still didn’t feel like I’d paid enough for this amazing experience.

Shebelle Ethiopian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Giveaway: 40 Days of Green Smoothies

I just wanted to direct you all to Ally’s blog for an e-book giveaway/competition. Ally is a vegan mum and fellow Aussie blogger based in NSW – please show your support by visiting her blog, she posts some wonderful food & recipes. All you need to do to enter the competition is leave a comment 🙂

In relation to Ally’s latest post, I want to also send my thoughts out to everyone affected by the bush fires. I live in a risky area and evacuated with my two dogs and two rabbits last week. It’s a stressful time of year, I hope you all manage to stay safe.

For anyone wanting to make monetary donations, you can contact various State Emergency Services (VIC, NSW, TAS, QLD, SA, WA, NT), and/or donate to various wildlife rescue organisations across the country (here is my local one).

Brown Grain Thai Restaurant

Brown Grain 1
Brown Grain
190 Timor St
Warrnambool
VIC 3280
AUSTRALIA
P: 03 5562 2576

We walked past Brown Grain on a hot day and swiped a take away menu from out front, later deciding it would be a good place to visit. Whilst Brown Grain are very willing to meet your dietary requirements as a vegan, there was a bit of a language barrier between me and the staff so I later submitted additional menu questions in writing to get confirmation of all the info I was seeking for my readers. Definitely visit this restaurant – but not without being armed with the info in this post!

Edit: I have been informed that Brown Grain have a separate gluten free menu. Sadly I didn’t get the opportunity to view it, so I can’t speak for what may or may not be suitable for vegans on it.

The restaurant was buzzing and is obviously popular with the locals. The decor was warm and inviting, though the chairs were hard and uncomfortable. We found the service to be absolutely stellar during the rush, but when it died down, I struggled to make eye contact with any of the wait staff and felt a little disgruntled by having to walk up to the counter twice only to be greeted by staff chatting amongst each other with their backs to me both times.

Brown Grain 2
#21, Larb Tofu

If you go for anything on the menu that’s a salad, request “no fish sauce” because all the dressings contain fish sauce; Brown Grain will be happy to subsitute soy sauce for you. I’ll be honest – I wasn’t a huge fan of this dish. I think it might have been the pounded rice that was stuck to the tofu; it was gritty and horrible, like when you haven’t washed your salad greens properly. I also found the tofu to be a little too soft/silken and “eggy”, and I’m quite sure that the dressing was tossed with lemon juice, not lime, which is what the menu specified.

Brown Grain 3
Satay Tofu with Salad (on request – this was basically a “special meal” I made up from what I could see on the menu)

THIS. WAS. BRILLIANT. I loved it! I was a bit tofu-ed out by the end of it, but it was soooo good. The satay was thick and dreamy, and not too sweet.

We really wanted to sample some dessert from the menu, but both vegan options had sold out for the night. SADFACE. Even Mr. AA was disappointed – and he’s not big on desserts. The vegan options were: sweet pumpkin in coconut milk or banana in coconut milk. We weren’t willing to be defeated though, so we ordered this:

Brown Grain 4
Black Sticky Rice

FYI, the item on top is a coconut custard and it is NOT VEGAN. So if you order this, ask for no custard. I do recommend ordering it – I sampled spoonfuls of black sticky rice and syrup (that weren’t touching the custard, of course!) and it was divine.

Below are some menu photos and tips for ordering that I wish I’d known before visiting. If you can, give Brown Grain a heads up about your visit – they have now had to deal with me, so they’re prepared for anything! (Ha.)

Brown Grain 6

  • #6 Golden Tofu: Vegan.
  • Soups: can be made vegan on request, ask for no fish sauce (they will use soy sauce instead). The soups do not contain any shrimp paste.
  • #21 Larb Tofu: can be made vegan on request, ask for no fish sauce (dressing will be made with soy sauce instead).

Brown Grain 7

  • #26 Green Salad: can be made vegan on request, ask for no fish sauce (dressing will be made with soy sauce instead).
  • Curries: all pastes are vegan (do not contain shrimp paste). Simply order the “vegetables and tofu” option.
  • Stir Fries: most are made with an oyster sauce base, but can be made vegan on request. Ask for no oyster sauce (stir fry will be made with soy sauce instead).

Brown Grain 5

  • The noodle section is a little harder to navigate. To be sure, specify no oyster sauce, fish sauce, eggs or egg noodles.

Continue reading

Random Dinner Photo

Crumbed Tofu & Chilli Rice

From top to bottom…

  • Topping: snow pea sprouts, sesame seeds, fresh lime, tamari & chilli sauce.
  • Crumbed & fried tofu. The crumbs were a mixture of my creole seasoning, panko crumbs, salt & pepper. To make this gluten free, use rice crumbs or polenta instead of panko crumbs.
  • Blanched broccoli & green string beans.
  • Basmati rice with tumeric & sambal oelek (chilli paste) stirred through.

Eating Out: Thai Food

Eating at a restaurant you’re unfamilliar with can be an overwhelming and frustrating experience if you’re vegan (or allergic to gluten!). Over time, I’ve learned to ask the “right” questions about ingredients by learning what goes into the dishes. This means looking up non-vegan recipes and reading labels of pre-made curry pastes etc. because while ignorance is bliss, knowledge is power and I’d much rather be in charge of what’s going into my body.

Below are some tips/a basic guide to get you through eating Thai food.

Bunja 3

1. Don’t assume people know what “vegan” is; chances are, you will have to explain it. Try not to patronise the wait staff – in most cases, they will do their best to help you out – but it pays to help yourself out too, because they can’t know everything, especially when put on the spot. Know your product; And if you don’t, refer to this guide!

2. If you need to eat gluten free, I’d recommend avoiding Thai restaurants altogether. You’ll have to ask if any of the dishes don’t contain soy sauce/kecap manis or can be made without these ingredients. If they’re a fairly modern restaurant, you may be in luck with tamari being on hand in the kitchen (though don’t count on it, as I’ve never been to a Thai restaurant that has it). Oyster sauce isn’t vegan and sometimes isn’t gluten free either, so that’s another ingredient worth asking about.

3. If you’re ordering from the curry or soup menu, ask if the menu item contains shrimp paste. This is a common ingredient in Thai curry pastes and tom yum soup paste. Even if the restaurant makes these pastes from scratch, they could still use shrimp paste. You should also check that the soups don’t contain any non-vegetable stock.

4. When eyeballing the salad menu, ask if the dressing contains fish sauce and if it does, could the dressing be made without it? Fish sauce is in a lot of Thai and Vietnamese dressings.

5. When it comes to stir fry, chances are there will be some oyster sauce in there. This applies to both Thai and Chinese food. If you’re cooking at home, you can substitute with mushroom oyster sauce but again, I haven’t been to a Thai restaurant that keeps this in the kitchen. I’ve ordered plenty of stir fries without the oyster sauce though, and they’re still damn fine!

6. Noodles dishes in Thai restaurants are generally made with rice noodles, though it’s always worth checking if it’s not specified on the menu (you don’t want to be served egg noodles!). Egg is something you will always find in “pad Thai” and sometimes other dishes. Oyster sauce is another ingredient you’ll have to ask about in noodle dishes.

7. You will just about always be safe to order a veg/tofu satay.