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!

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.

Death Star Cake Pops

Well, here it is: Mr. AA’s birthday “cake” – a fleet of nerdy, edible Death Stars.

Death Star Cake Pop - Vader 1
Darth Vader endorses Death Star cake pops.*

Despite them being a bit of a “craze”, I didn’t really know much about cake pops until this experiment – and although I did a bit of research and asked a friend of mine plenty of questions, I still ran into a few problems. I’ll talk you through the process with some photos below.

First up, I was horrified to learn that the inside of a standard cake pop is crumbled cake mixed with icing to bind it all together. This just seems like WAY too much sugar for my liking. Mr. AA isn’t much of a sweet tooth, so I tried to find a way around this by purchasing one of these silicone moulds that will bake your cake into spheres (hence eliminating the icing altogether). I thought this was a rather brilliant solution. The outside of a standard cake pop is made from “candy melts” – something that isn’t even remotely vegan. The next best thing? Melt some chocolate. Easy peasy.

To make the process a little quicker, easier and gluten-free-friendly, I started by using an Orgran cake mix. This back fired on me a little – the gluten free gal I shared them with thought they were great, but this was hands down one of the worst cakes I’ve ever tasted. It was rubbery in texture and fairly bland. You could tell it was made with water and the sugar and chocolate flavours just weren’t strong enough. The cake mix also didn’t rise too well, leaving my spheres a little flat and lop sided.

Death Star Cake Pop Tray
Silicone cake pop tray in action. Cakes pictured contain gluten.

So… I went ahead and made two more batches of cake batter from scratch. I used the “basic chocolate cupcakes” and “simple vanilla & agave nectar cupcakes” from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World. These worked brilliantly – they rose the right amount and tasted amazing.

Tips/notes:

  • Use a cupcake recipe rather than a cake recipe for the batter.
  • Don’t be conservative – fill the pods to the top.
  • The holes in the top half of the silicone tray are for releasing steam. Don’t try and poke your sticks through there.
  • Place the silicone tray on a metal tray or it’ll flop around and you’ll make a mess with your batter.
  • After cooking, leave to cool for a couple of minutes before peeling off the top half of the silicone tray.
  • Leave to cool a little longer before removing the spheres and popping onto a cooling rack. If you’re having trouble removing the balls, poke a sharp toothpick into the sides to help loosen them.

DS Cake Pop Insert Stick

Right. Next! I was told by more than one person that the best way to get your stick to stay in there comfortably is to freeze the balls, melt some chocolate, dip the stick in melted chocolate and insert into frozen balls. The freezing probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it helps. Trust me. It means your cake won’t fall apart in your hands when you’re trying to push the stick in and the cold temperature will set the chocolate fairly quickly.

Death Star Cake Pop Cut Out

Now that the sticks are in, it’s time to cut out the “dish”. You can skip this step if you’re making regular cake pops, but who would want regular cake pops when they could have DEATH STAR CAKE POPS. Am I right?

Whether you want to freeze these for a little while again or not is totally up to you. If it’s a hot day, I’d recommend it. If not, grab your paring knife and get started. I hope this part is fairly self explanatory, as I didn’t take any photos or video of me doing it. But basically a small, sharp, pointy knife will go a long way in making this easy for you.

Time to put these back in the freezer (yes, again). At this point, you’re probably thinking I’m a little insane, so I’m just going to point out two things. 1/ I really really love Mr. AA and 2/ I worked on these 3 nights in a row after work. They didn’t come together in a few hours… So yes, they will require some love, time and effort.

DS Chocolate Coating

The next step is to melt some chocolate. You don’t need a special pot for this – I used a small pot with some water in it and a ceramic bowl on top. The golden rule is: don’t let the boiling water touch the bowl. If it does, your chocolate will over heat and be ruined to the point of no return.

You’ll need a chunk of polystyrene for this – I recommend making a series of holes in it in advance with a skewer or screw driver. Leave it in the freezer.

Cover each cake pop with melted chocolate by dipping it into the bowl and twirling it around. Tap on the edges of the bowl until all the excess chocolate drips off, then stand it in the polystyrene in the freezer. Repeat for each individual cake pop. This process is a little slow and painful, but worth it.

Tips/notes:

  • If you’re using dark chocolate, you won’t have any issues. If you use white, chocolate, however, you’ll find that it doesn’t melt down quite as thin. In fact, it’ll still be fairly thick and difficult to work with. Whisk in a little canola oil to help thin it out. If you don’t, your bowl will be full of cake that has been torn off by the thick chocolate. It might make you cry. Or swear. Or both.

You’re nearly there…

Death Star Cake Pop Fleet

I painted these guys with some cheap paint brushes, as I don’t have air brushing tools. It worked fine, but you’ll need to leave the base coat to dry for a few hours before painting on the smaller details.

Tips/notes:

  • Don’t take these out of the freezer and try to paint them on a really hot day. Condensation will keep building up on the chocolate making it near impossible to paint – especially since the paint is water soluble.

Death Star Silver Food Paint

I used this silver food paint, which claims to be both vegetarian and gluten free. As far as I could tell, it’s also vegan – however ingredient E110 states “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”. Probably not the best thing to be putting into your body, but I made an exception for this special occassion.

There wasn’t enough difference between the light & dark shades of silver paint, so I mixed some black food colouring into the dark silver which made it show up a lot better against the light silver, but it also reduced the colourfast-ness of the paint and resulted in silver lips while eating. Oh well. It’s ok to look like a space man once in a while!

So there you have it – a lengthy tutorial on a special Star Wars dessert.

Death Star Cake Pop - Vader 2

*This is not an official endorsement; I’m just being silly.

Watermelon Keg

After seeing this link via Facebook, I simply couldn’t resist trying to make my own watermelon keg.

I don’t drink alcohol often, so when I do, you know it’s a special occassion – and I don’t do special occassions by halves. I invited a few girlfriends over for a catch up the other week so that I could try and impress someone with this exciting project.

Watermelon Keg
Mr. AA and I successfully made our own watermelon keg!

This is really not as hard as it looks – the worst part is trying to hunt down a tap for it. I tried various hardware stores but had no luck and the local home brew store only had fancy beer taps for $50+ – in the end, I used a tap that was a spare part for our ceramic water filter which cost me $20. The type of tap you’re looking for is called a “spigot” and will have a grommet and nut of some sort on the back to hold it in place. The watermelon was pretty heavy – that came in at just under $10.

Watermelon Keg

After cutting a flat spot on the bottom and making a “lid” out of the top, we proceeded to scoop out all the flesh and install the tap. I juiced the flesh on a low setting on my juicer, then blended the juice with ice, vodka & lime juice, stirring in some lemonade after I’d poured the cocktail into the keg. I figured if I put the lemonade in the blender, it’d create a fizzy explosion. Make sure your drink is a thin liquid – be careful of using a smoothie in this keg, as the smallest lump will block your tap.

In regards to offering advice from my own experience… I’d recommend trying to find a watermelon that isn’t too curved around the bottom. Mine was fairly spherical, which meant that installing the tap near the bottom made it point downwards on a strange angle. The only other thing I would change for next time would be to cut the top (lid) off in a bit of a zig zag pattern so that the lid stays on without slipping and it keeps the drink cold – we had to use a few toothpicks to hold this smooth lid place.

Trial & Error: Star Wars Ice-Cream Sandwiches

As some of you may already know, I’m not a Star Wars fanatic. At all. However two very important men in my life are (Mr. AA & our tattooist), so a couple of times a year, you’ll see some kind of Star Wars themed dessert pop up on this blog. I love to make silly things for people’s birthdays that I know will make them happy – because birthdays are the best! And I do not in any way claim to be a baking extraordinaire… I just like to have fun and experiment.

Star Wars Ice-Cream Sandwiches
“Dark Side” Ice-Cream Sandwiches.

I used the snickerdoodle recipe from the Vegan Yum Yum cook book and as it turns out, this biscuit (cookie) dough is really impractical for shaped biscuits. It’s great for pretty, rustic, cracked snickerdoodles, but not defined shapes. I want to make it very clear that this is not Lauren Ulm’s fault (in my experience, her recipes are excellent!), it’s mine – because I was using the recipe for something in which it was not intended.

After a few batches of trial and error, I managed to make it work for me – the trick is to freeze the dough, roll it out/cut it/place on baking paper and freeze again. These biscuits will ONLY work if the dough goes into the oven frozen and the oven is properly pre-heated. If not, your biscuits will spread, crack and become unrecognisable. You also need to cook them for 10 minutes ONLY, or they’ll get too crispy and start to brown.

In addition to my ice-cream sandwiches, my tattooist’s girlfriend, Andrea, made up these wicked chocolate Stormtrooper cupcakes. She made/hand painted these edible chocolate cupcake toppers and has really raised the bar for Mr. AA’s birthday next month!

Stormtooper Cupcake 1

Stormtooper Cupcake 2

Stormtooper Cupcakes

Sweet Potato Chips (Fries) & Za’atar Salad

Hi Everyone,

Sorry for the late post this week! I’m juggling a couple of different recipe ideas which you’ll be seeing on the blog soon – they’re just not quite perfect yet. Here’s last night’s dinner to tide you over!

Nachos x

Sweet Potato Chips & Za'atar Salad
Serves 4

Sweet Potato Chips
4 C Sweet Potato, cut into chips (fries)
Spray Canola Oil
Seasoning of your choice

  • Preheat oven to 200C.
  • Arrange chips on two trays with baking paper and spray lightly with oil. Season as desired.
  • Bake for 20 minutes at 200C, then toss the chips around and bake a further 12 minutes, but at a higher temperature of 230C.

TIPS:

  • Use the spray oil sparingly. If you use too much, your chips will be soggy.
  • Do not crowd the chips in the oven. I suggest spreading them out across two trays so they have a more even exposure to the heat.
  • If you’re unsure about choosing a seasoning, I can recommend some combinations. Salt & rosemary, salt & thyme, pepper & lemon or lime zest, or you could even use pre-made seasonings such as Herbamare & Trocomare, which can be found in the health food aisle of most supermarkets.

Za’atar Salad

4C Rocket
1 Large Eggplant
Oil
4 TBSP Sprouts (Lentils & Mung Beans)
24 Olives (Green or Kalamata)
1.5 C Chickpeas (Cooked or Canned)
1 tsp Za’atar Seasoning*
4 Lemon Wedges
S+P

  • Cut your eggplant into 12 rounds, approximately 1cm thick. Heat up a griddle pan with some oil in it and fry in batches on both sides, leaving to drain on paper towel afterwards.
  • Assemble your salad. Rocket first, then 3 slices of eggplant per serve, followed by 1/4 of the chickpeas, 6 olives, 1 TBSP of sprouts and 1/4 tsp za’atar.
  • Serve with a lemon wedge (to be squeezed over the top) and salt & pepper.

*I haven’t attempted making my own za’atar yet so I can’t offer you a recipe but there’s plenty available on the internet. On this occasion I used a pre-made mix from my local health food store. The ingredients are: Oregano, sumac, sesame seeds, ground cashews, ground almonds, black pepper & paprika.

Tips: Pumpkin Soup

I know what you’re thinking. Pumpkin soup? Seriously? It’s a no-brainer. Well, yes… to some. Which is why I’m not going to offer you a recipe in this post, but rather some guidelines to consider.

Pumpkin

  • Organic pumpkins aren’t just better for you, they actually taste sweeter too. Make sure you choose one with deeply coloured orange flesh – the deeper the orange, the richer the flavour.
  • Which variety? I know a lot of people like to make their pumpkin soup with butternut pumpkin, but in my eyes, nothing beats an organic jap pumpkin.
  • Less is more. It’s easy to get a little crazy with making soup; truth be told, I make my pumpkin soup a little different every time because variety is the spice of life, right? The thing you need to know is this: if you’ve got a good pumpkin, you don’t need to drown it in your creativity. Allow it to be the star, rather than letting onions, carrots and potatoes bully it. This applies to adding spices to the mix, too.
  • The quality of your stock is important. If you’re going to use a cheap, trashy stock, your results will reflect this. If you’re too lazy or don’t know how to make your own stock, buy a nice one – and dilute it a little. You don’t want it to overpower the pumpkin.
  • Creamy goodness. Everyone loves it, but it’s not always necessary. As a vegan, I can tell you straight up, using soy milk or soy creamer in your soup is a nasty thing to do. Pumpkin soup is delicate and mixing it with soy is like calling the queen a whore. It’s rude and absolutely uncalled for; especially when you can blend in some coconut cream or good quality, unsalted cashews… or even make a cashew cream separately to stir in.
  • Roasting vs. Boiling. There’s no rules here; boiling is good for two reasons – it’s quick and it doesn’t involve adding extra fat (oil) to your soup which will work in your favour if you’re watching your weight. Roasting, however, is pretty amazing – so if you have the time to do it, then do it. Let the edges of your pumpkin caramelise a little; you won’t regret it.

Pumpkin Soup