Food Wank: Episode I

I’m normally too impatient to create artwork on a plate, but the thing is… I’m capable of it. And so are you. It’s not practical for every day eating, but for special occassions, why not treat yourself (and others) to a fun, frivolous meal?

I’ve decided that a few times a year, I’m going to go all-out and create something special like this for you guys – something that looks incredibly fancy, but is really easy to put together, given some organisation and patience.

Food Wank: Episode I

There’s a few elements that you should consider making the night before: the polenta, orange balsamic reduction & salted mango cream. The latter two don’t need to be made well in advance, but it’ll make your life easier when assembling the dish. The polenta, however, will need at least 8 hours to set in the fridge.

You’ll have left overs of all these elements – be creative and create your own “food wank” with the excess! I’ll try to refer back to the individual elements of this dish in other posts to give you some ideas.

Polenta
Close up of a polenta disc after being removed from the silicone mould.

Rosemary Polenta

1 C Polenta
800ml Stock (your choice)
200ml Orange Juice, freshly squeezed (2 oranges)
1 T Fresh Rosemary Leaves, chopped
1/4 t Tumeric

  • Place all ingredients into a pot, stir on low heat until thick.
  • Pour into silicone moulds and leave in the fridge for 8+ hours to set. I used two large muffin moulds and a mini cupcake mould – the mixture will yield 12 of each size.

*You may find that you need to trim your polenta discs a little when you pop them out of the mould. Don’t worry – it’s still far less wasteful and time consuming than setting it all as a rectangle and trying to cut individual circles out of it with a cookie cutter.

**Excess discs can be frozen for use at a later date.

Orange Balsamic Reduction

Spiced Orange Balsamic Reduction

1 C Balsamic Vinegar
3/4 C Orange Juice, freshly squeezed
3 t Raw Sugar
1/4 t Allspice
3 Pinches of Cinnamon
1 Pinch of Nutmeg

  • Simmer on low heat for 25-28 minutes. You don’t need to pay much attention to it until the last 5 minutes – make sure it doesn’t burn. if it starts to bubble up too much, remove it from the heat momentarily. When it settles, pop back over the burner.
  • When ready, it’ll be the consistency of maple syrup when warm but will thicken and become fairly sticky when it cools.

*Use a rubber spatula to get this out of the pot with minimal mess.

Salted Mango Cream

Salted Mango Cream

1 C Raw (steamed), Unsalted Cashews
1/2 C Water
1 Mango, flesh only
1/4 t Salt

  • Soak cashews in water for an hour.
  • Blend cashews and salt in a food processor. Slowly add the water in a thin stream to make a thick paste.
  • Add all the mango flesh, chopped, and blend until smooth. Use as much of the mango flesh as possible, not just the cheeks.
  • Store in a container in the fridge. When ready to use, give it another quick whiz in the food processor. It’ll look a little grainy, but it’ll taste fine. If you have a high speed blender, use that for the second blending. Pictured above is the food processor only version – I didn’t want to put off anyone who doesn’t have a high speed blender!

*If you can’t think of anything to do with the excess cream within 24-48 hours, you can freeze it in a silicone muffin/cupcake mould and defrost individual discs in the fridge when needed.

You’re almost there…

    • To finish off the polenta, heat up a griddle pan on medium heat with a spray of oil. Grill the first side for 5 minutes, flip, grill the second side for 3 minutes. Your discs will have beautiful black marks and just a hint of charred taste. Each serve will require two large discs and two small discs.
    • Roast 1 red capsicum by following these directions – or – cheat and use some from a jar! Slice them into thin ribbons. Each serve will require 1/4 of a capsicum.

Blanched Broccolini

  • Blanch your broccolini® for 2-3 minutes. You’ll need 4 stalks per serve.
  • Lightly toast a handful of flaked almonds in a dry skillet. If you don’t toast them, they’ll be a little chewy. They work best in this dish when crunchy! Each serve will use 4 flaked almonds.

Assembly…

Food Wank: Episode I (layout)

Here’s an aerial view of the plate. Start by placing a dollop of salted mango cream on the imaginary left third of the plate. Gently press a spoon into it and smear it to the right. Place 2 long stalks of broccolini® on top. In the thickest edge of the mango cream, wedge in a few of your toasted flaked almonds.

Polenta stack

The stack on the left is a large disc of polenta with 2 heads cut from broccolini® stalks, a few slivers of roast capsicum and a flaked almond. You’ll probably need to dip the bottom of the almond in some salted mango cream to make it stick.

Polenta stack #2

The stack on the right is another large polenta disc with a more generous pile of roast capsicum and a couple of short lengths of broccolini® stalk on top. Cut the stalk ends on an angle for a fancier look.

Food Wank: Episode I

The third polenta stack is simply 2 small discs – one flat and another leaning on it.

The orange balsamic reduction is dotted on two areas of the plate. You should be able to do this with a spoon but if your reduction is particularly sticky, use a syringe (without the needle).

Max Polenta
Max, our friendly neighbourhood magpie thieving some polenta when I was trying to take photos.

Las Vegan Bakery/Café

Las Vegan Bakery/Café in Melbourne

Las Vegan Bakery/Café
22 Smith St
Collingwood
VIC 3066
AUSTRALIA
Ph: (03) 9415 9001

Upon entering Las Vegan, it was apparent to me that my anxiety levels were quickly rising, so Mr. AA & I opted for a table outside, even though the weather was a little questionable. The space is small and cramped with badly arranged furniture that makes you feel like an intrusion. I didn’t take any photos inside because it felt too awkward, but there’s potential for the space to feel a lot more comfortable, it just needs some attention. Thankfully, our waiter was kind and relaxed, and after looking at the menu, I could see these guys had a sense of humour.

Las Vegan Bakery/Café in Melbourne

Everything on the menu is reasonably priced, though I’m not sure much of it would appeal to a non-vegan. There was a few mock meat & fish options, lentil options and black bean options. The specials of the day were eggplant parmas and lasagne – both were tempting! However Mr. AA & I were both drawn to the same item on the menu: the mushroom mince.

Las Vegan Bakery/Café in Melbourne

Mr. AA chose the sloppy joe burger with chips and I chose the mince on rice with salad. The mis-matched plates amused me… I’m not sure if this was an attempt at being kitschy or a symbol of their firm hippy/recycling beliefs. Either way, I didn’t have a problem with it – it made me feel like I was eating food made with love in someone’s home.

Las Vegan Bakery/Café in Melbourne
Las Vegan Sloppy Joe Burger with mushroom mince.

Las Vegan Bakery/Café in Melbourne
Mushroom mince on rice with gourmet salad.

We were both big fans of the mince – it has a really good, mild flavour and a realistic texture. Admittedly, I was expecting a higher mushroom to TVP ratio – in fact, I was hoping for no TVP at all because I don’t really dig it, but in this case, there’s no question about making an exception. It was pretty damn tasty. Also – two thumbs up for serving this with brown rice, not white.

The “gourmet salad” was fairly plain and barely dressed, but I liked the grilled eggplant and capsicum in it and I honestly prefer salad to be under dressed as opposed to over dressed and soggy. My only complaint here is that the olives weren’t pitted, so I almost broke a tooth! Watch out for those little suckers.

Las Vegan Bakery/Café in Melbourne

The chips were… pretty amazing. Perfectly crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside – they’re exactly what Mr. AA & I look for in a chip!

We (*I*) also grabbed a slice of the raw lemon cheesecake to take home. There were Mr Nice Guy cupcakes on display and a dense looking chocolate bundt cake with icing dribbling all over the place (which looked delicious!) but I wanted to take a chance and try something that I’d only ever made at home, to see how someone else’s version compared.

Las Vegan Bakery/Café in Melbourne
Raw Lemon Cheesecake.

This was, hands down, my favourite item. I took it back to the car with the SOLE intention of sliding it out of the bag and taking photos before the agave spread out and looked ugly/messy. My stomach was full and I planned to save it for after dinner that night, but… Well, look at it, guys. I couldn’t resist having a little taste and before I knew it, I’d stuffed the entire slab of compressed nuts into my face and my hands were sticky with agave. But I didn’t care. Because it was incredible.

These guys do take-away and have gluten free options. One thing I didn’t take a photo of (and wished I had) was the glasses of juice we ordered. It wasn’t fresh juice, but I suspect it was organic and the size of the glasses was impressive. You know how most places serve a $7 juice in a slim high ball glass with lots of ice? Not these guys. They’ll give you your money’s worth!

Pastisio/Pasticcio

This dish, pronounced “pastitzo” to the Greeks and “pastichio” to the Italians is something my yia yia (Greek grandmother) made often when I was a child and I loved it. Of course, her version was made with a meaty bolognese and a Greek style béchamel that has an egg whipped into it. You might have tried that type of white sauce before on moussaka.

At the age of 12 when I was trying to become vegetarian, this dish was one of my weaknesses and much to my yia yia’s dismay, I eventually started scraping out the layer of bolognese and just eating the pasta and béchamel. Thankfully, with a bit of imagination and skill, I can recreate a vegan version of this childhood memory in my very own kitchen!

Traditionally, yia yia always used tubular pasta but you could use any pasta you like – including gluten free.

Pasticcio 3
Serves 8-10, depending on the shape of your baking dish. Mine divides into 9 comfortably.

400g Dry Pasta of your choice, gluten free if required
4 C Lentil Bolognese
2 Batches Cashew Béchamel
Seedy Seasoning (optional)

    • Cook & drain the pasta. Spread it evenly across the bottom of a baking dish.

Pasticcio 1

    • Spread the lentil bolognese sauce evenly across the top of the pasta.

Pasticcio 2

  • Spread the cashew béchamel evenly across the top of the lentil bolognese, sprinkle with seedy seasoning & bake @ 180C for half an hour to heat through or 1 hour to brown on top.

Lentil Bolognese

I haven’t really divulged or discussed my heritage on this blog… What better time to tell you than now! One of my parents is Italian and the other is Greek – so as you can imagine, I was surrounded by some pretty amazing food while growing up. In addition, I was brought up in a culturally diverse suburb of Melbourne where being caucasian made you the minority – so I learned to accept and embrace different races and cultures from a very young age. I can’t thank my parents enough for bringing me up in such an environment and I have no doubt that this has heavily influenced my curiosity with international cuisine.

Although I was born and raised in Australia, because of my upbringing, I sometimes struggle with understanding Australian slang and colloquialisms and am also both baffled and humoured by Australian home style cooking. You know what I’m talking about – desserts using Kellog’s cereal or Arnott’s biscuits as the main ingredient; meals that are flavoured with tinned soup or sachets of dried soup… And of course Vegemite, which will always confuse and bewilder me. I may have had a chance with Vegemite once upon a time, however my sister convinced me that it tasted like Nutella so I shoved a heaping tablespoon of it in my mouth. To this day, the smell of Vegemite makes me want revenge.

I also have some very amusing food quirks and opinions that I don’t even realise are odd until someone laughs at me for voicing them. For example – we always used flat leaf parsley in our house and mum referred to the curly variety as “Aussie parsley”, while insisting that it had no flavour; kalamata were the only type of olive I’d eaten until I was in my twenties.. and of course: tomatoes are rubbish unless they’re home grown.

I’m sure as this blog develops, you’ll read more bits and pieces about what led me here – but for now, a recipe!

Lentil Bolognese
Yields 8.5 cups and is suitable for freezing.

1-2 TBSP EV Olive Oil
2 Cloves of Garlic, crushed or finely diced
1 Brown Onion, diced
2 C Diced Eggplant OR Button Mushrooms
2/3 C Red Capsicum, diced
2/3 C Carrot, diced
2/3 C Celery, diced
1 C Dried Green or Brown Lentils (2.5 C cooked)
1/3 C Red Lentils
2 C Vegetable Stock
140g/4.5 TBSP Tomato Paste (no added salt)
1.5 C Tomato Puree
1.5 C Diced Tomatoes (400g tin)
1/4 C Red Wine
1/4 t Raw Sugar (optional)
4 Bay Leaves
1 t Dried Oregano
1/4 C Fresh Basil, chffonade or torn
1/2 C Fresh Parsley, chopped
S+P

    • Bring 1L (4 cups) of water to the boil. Add the dried green or brown lentils and cook with lid on for 35-40 minutes on low heat. Soak your red lentils in about a cup of cold water.

Bolognese Chopped Ingredients

    • Meanwhile, dice up all your veggies and prepare your other ingredients. By the time you’ve done this, your lentils should be cooked – drain and set aside. Also drain the red lentils that have been soaking in cold water.

Bolognese Other Ingredients

    • Add oil to a deep sauté pan on medium-high heat. Cook onion for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic and all other fresh veggies, stirring every couple of minutes until the veggies are tender but not soggy. The veggies should start releasing their own juices; constant stirring will release too much heat and slow this process.

Bolognese Saute

  • Add all the lentils, diced tomato, tomato paste & puree, oregano, bay leaves and stock. Simmer on low heat with lid ON for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the lid, add the sugar (if using) and leave to cook on low heat for a further 10 minutes. This will reduce and concentrate your sauce.
  • Stir in the fresh basil & parsley with some salt & pepper (if using), then serve on pasta of your choice.

Savoury Corn Muffins & Bean Salad

These corn muffins have become a favourite of ours and I make them often. They’re great with bean salad on a hot day or chili on a cold day. Initially we used to just spread vegan margarine on them, but now I prefer them with avocado; try both!

Savoury Corn Muffins
Serves 4

Savoury Corn Muffins

1 C Polenta
1 1/2 C Plain Flour or Gluten Free Alternative
1 TBSP Caster Sugar
1 TBSP Baking Powder
1 TBSP Flax Meal
1-2 TBSP Canola Oil
1 3/4 C Water + 1 TBSP
1/2 t Dried Parsley Flakes
1/4 t Salt
2/3 C Corn Kernels (I used frozen)

  • Pre-heat oven to 200C.
  • Stir together dry ingredients.
  • Add wet ingredients & corn kernels. Mix well and leave to sit for a couple of minutes. The flax meal will cause the mixture to thicken.
  • Grease muffin tray(s) and fill 12 muffin cups with batter. These won’t rise much, so you need to be generous with the batter; fill them to the top.
  • Bake for 20-22 minutes in a fan forced oven.
  • Leave these in the tray for a few minutes to cool, but don’t leave them in the tray too long or the bottoms will become tough/chewy.

 

Bean Salad
(Sorry, this one will be a bit vague – I didn’t measure everything out.)

1x 400g Tin of Mixed Beans
2 Truss Tomatoes, diced
1 TBSP Red Onion, Finely Diced
1 TBSP Sliced Spanish Olives
Juice from 1 Lemon
Fresh Parsley
Drizzle of Olive Oil
S + P

  • Toss together all of the above ingredients. Leave to marinate for 5-10 minutes, then serve. There will be liquid at the bottom of your bowl – try to drain the scoops of salad a little before putting on a plate.

Gluten Free Spinach Crepes

I took the week off from blogging last week because my brain was feeling a bit overloaded; I’ve had too many ideas on the go at once lately and none of them were becoming finished products, they were just lingering around as something stressful on my to-do list! I’ve also had a super slow internet connection. So slow, in fact, that my last post took an hour and twenty minutes to show up online. Lame!

Anyway, today I’ve got something impressive but super simple for you – spinach crepes! They were inspired by Mission‘s Garden Spinach & Herb wraps, which are pretty delicious, but not gluten free.

You can eat these at any time of day & serve them with whatever you like. In the photo, I’ve used mashed pumpkin, some very thick cashew béchamel sauce & julienned granny smith apple.

Spinach Crepes
Makes 8 Crepes

2 C Baby Spinach, tightly packed
2 1/4 C Water
3 TBSP Canola Oil
2 C Chickpea Flour (Besan)
1/2 t Salt

  • In a blender, blend together the baby spinach, water & oil. Don’t sweat it if it’s not completely smooth, a bit of texture isn’t a bad thing!
  • Place your chickpea flour & salt in a mixing bowl, and slowly whisk in the green liquid from the blender.
  • Heat an 8″, heavy bottomed non-stick skillet on low heat. Spray with oil. When hot, add a ladle full of batter and swirl to spread across the pan. Cook until the batter appears to have dried out, then flip with a non-metal spatula and cook opposite side for no longer than a minute (you want to only *just* give it some colour).
  • Continue the above method for the remainder of the batter, using a fresh spray of oil each time.
  • Serve rolled up with your stuffings of choice!

Rustic Mashed Soup

This is a hearty winter recipe that’ll warm you up! Actually, it’s less of a recipe and more of a concept; it’s a meal-soup. It’s not just some wimpy little weight loss tool; it’s something proper and filling with protein in it, that’s less likely to give you the farts than a bowl of beans.

Now… There’s no real rules to this. If you don’t like parsnip, use cauliflower! If you don’t like potato, use sweet potato! If you don’t like pumpkin, maybe you should get yourself checked out…

The title of this post is the fancy pants name for the recipe; What I’ve decided to affectionatelly nickname it is “Root Soup” – because of the root vegetables in it, and its double entendre value. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Australian colloquialisms, “root” is another word for the f-bomb.

Veg

The inspiration for this came from two separate people in my life. The first being a very close friend who has generously shared many pumpkins from her garden with me this winter. She recently suggested that I add some oats to my pumpkin soup for a change of scenery & texture. Of course I was unable to resist this simple little tip, however I’ve opted to use quinoa instead of oats because quinoa is gluten free, high in protein, and a whole grain.

The second person that influenced this soup is a co-worker who proudly brought in his first attempt at pumpkin soup for lunch one day but looked at me sheepishly and told me that he mashed it with a potato masher because he didn’t have a blender. While he said this in an embarrassed, I-cook-like-a-student kinda way, I was pretty impressed and thought that mashing the soup was a brilliant idea! Thus, I have stolen it and created a recipe that’s 50% in his honour! Hah!

Rustic Mashed Soup

This makes 6-8 servings.

1kg Jap Pumpkin, peeled, seeded & cut into very large chunks
1 tsp Fresh Garlic or Ginger, minced
2 Carrots, cut into half moon shapes
1 Cup Potato, diced with skin on
2 Cups Parsnip, peeled & diced (remove the woody centre)
2 Cups Veggie Stock (I used Massell which is GF)
6 Cups Water
2x 15cm (6″) Sprigs Rosemary
Some Black Peppercorns (or not, depending on how you feel about pepper)
1/2 Cup Quinoa
S+P

  • Roast pumpkin for 40 minutes at 220C/425F. You can dry roast this or use a little spray of oil. Don’t panic when you see some burned bits on your pumpkin – it’s supposed to happen. It adds an awesome flavour to the soup.
  • Quickly sauté garlic/ginger in a smidge of oil, then add carrot, potato, parsnip, stock & water.
  • Tie rosemary & peppercorns up in some muslin like a bouquet garni*. Simmer with lid on for 10 minutes.
  • Add quinoa to the pot and cook with lid on for a further 10 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat, remove the rosemary and carefully add the roasted pumpkin to the pot, trying not to let crap splash everywhere. Grab your trusty potato masher and mash away until you get a consistency/texture you’re happy with.
  • Season with S+P, serve with a little seedy seasoning and a few leaves of fresh rosemary. Easy peasy!

*If you don’t have anything like this, I’d suggest throwing the rosemary in with the pumpkin while it’s roasting. Whatever you do, don’t add the rosemary loose to your pot of soup because you’ll be pulling out bare twigs at the end and the loose rosemary leaves will be unpleasant.

Mushroom Stroganoff

One day, when having dinner at the in-law’s house, Mr. AA’s mum had made a beef stroganoff for the family; it had been YEARS since I’d eaten stroganoff – so a few days later, when it had finally eaten away at me enough, I called and asked her for her recipe. This is my [vegan, gluten free] version of it! It serves 6 hungry people and is freezer friendly.

Mushroom Strog

Ingredients
750g Button Mushrooms, quartered or chopped fairly chunky (this is the “meat” of the dish)
1.5 Cups Cooked Kidney Beans (1x 440g tin)
1 Brown Onion, diced
3-4 Garlic Cloves, minced/finely chopped
140g Salt Free Tomato Paste
1-2 Cups of Stock (I used Massel “chicken” stock, which is gluten free)
A splash of red wine* (optional but highly recommended)
1 tsp tamari** or soy sauce
Cashew Cream (recipe follows)
A CRAPLOAD of freshly cracked pepper
2 TBSP Lemon Juice
Fresh Parsley (to serve)

  • To make your cashew cream, blend 1/2 cup unsalted cashews with 1/2-3/4 cup water. If you don’t have a high speed blender, you may want to soak or blanch the cashews first so that your cream isn’t grainy. It should be really smooth.
  • Sauté your onion. When it starts getting a bit of a tan, add the garlic, followed closely by the mushrooms.
  • Add kidney beans, tomato paste, stock, wine, tamari/soy sauce & cashew cream. Stir through.
  • Add a crapload of cracked pepper – go on, don’t be shy!
  • Turn off the heat, stir through the lemon juice and serve on brown rice with fresh parsley.

OK – really, you could use any kind of rice/pasta/noodles… I’m just trying to encourage you to have healthy bowel movements. Let’s face it – nobody likes to be constipated.

*Traditionally, you would use sherry in stroganoff but since I’m not much of a booze hag, I don’t have any lying around at home. Red wine definitely does the trick here.

**Tamari is the gluten free version of soy sauce. If anyone eating this dish has celiac disease, make sure you do the right thing by them.

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EDIT: You may only need 1 cup of stock, depending on personal preference.