Monday, 11 June 2018

What's in my kitchen, June 2018

I know people who aren't in Queensland scoff when I say it's getting cold. For example, today, the temperature is expected to range from 8 - 22 degrees (Celsius) and was a chilly 12 when I was up making breakfast. My colleagues based in Melbourne often laugh at me when we are having video meetings and I'm encased in a woolly jacket and scarf while they are still walking around in t-shirts in much colder temperatures. What can I say, I'm thin blooded and feel the cold more! So, with that in mind, something that is back in my kitchen now that the weather has cooled down, are my old trusty Ugg boots... I do so appreciate toasty toes!
Leading into the end of financial year time, work starts to get very busy and the hours longer. I always have a snack drawer with various bits and pieces in it to tide me over, but of late I've noticed lots of sweets creeping in along with the porridge sachets and soup mixes. It feels like I hadn't had gummy anything for ages (due to gelatine) but lately I'm noticing lots of vegan friendly gummy things... like these highly addictive Sour Patch kids. It's hard to stop at one or two, but they're great for a sour/sweet sugary hit.
While grocery shopping, I like to walk methodically aisle by aisle, just looking at all the things available. My kids saw this in the jelly crystal section and couldn't walk past the glitter. Surprisingly, it's also another ninja vegan product, with no gelatine in it either. I didn't eat any, but both my children highly approved of it as a treat.
I had to pick up a few bits and pieces from Ikea recently, and as usual, I walked out with what I intended to get, and a haul of things I didn't know I needed but obviously did (hmmm). I like to look through the food hall after shopping and spied this vegan-friendly imitation black caviar. I had to have it, even though I've never eaten caviar in my life. I just like to support vegan friendly products when I see them, and the novelty of it tickled me. I don't actually know how to consume it - any suggestions?
While meeting a friend for a catch up at a vegan friendly bakery, the little man and I shared this piece of vegan carrot cake. I really loved that the cake was so moist and appropriately carrot and walnut packed. My child was rather taken with the icing more than the cake, although it's fair to say he also ate his share of the cake too. A definite winner. Cake is good anytime, but I especially appreciate it when served with coffee and eaten with friends.
I have wanted to try spaghetti squash as soon as I heard of them. They have always seemed illusive, and I thought it was just one of those things that wasn't to be had in Australia. However, I happened to be near a fruit shop I don't usually frequent and popped in for a look. They had half of a spaghetti squash for sale (and for a bargain 99c!) so I snapped it up. I scraped the seeds out, sprinkled it with a bit of olive oil and roasted it cut side down for about 40 minutes. I then used a fork to scrape the inside and all these glorious little strands resulted. I was pleasantly surprised at just how much flesh there was - it all easily detached from the skin. I served these little squash strands topped with a quick mushroom stroganoff sauce made with cashews for creaminess and it was delicious, but I think that was overkill. If I get my hands on another one, I think it would be best served more simply, maybe as a side dish with some good olive oil, salt and pepper.

I'm not-so-secretly hoping the seeds sprout from the compost. Mr Fork does not like me growing pumpkins on purpose as he is very proud of his lawn, and the pumpkin vines do tend to sprawl out of my garden space and take over whatever they touch. If one was to grow *accidentally* of course... well, it's like it was meant to be, right?!
Finally, talking of gardens, ripening on the windowsill of my kitchen (and visible behind the spaghetti squash above) are homegrown tomatoes. I'm not sure what variety they are, they are smaller than a roma but bigger than a cherry variety. They grow like a truss and are sweet and delicious with a good flavour. I think they might be from a heirloom variety I threw in and have just sprouted randomly. I am picking a handful daily and they make a nice addition to winter salads or just for snacking. 
I am linking this into the monthly In My Kitchen round-up, hosted by Sherry of Sherry's Pickings. What's happening in your kitchen this month?

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Vegan snack exchanging

After the success of my previous snack exchange I couldn't help but let out a squeal when I saw talk of a random vegan snack exchange. In fact, I don't think I've ever been more excited for an exchange theme. As the only veg*n in a family of meat eaters, it's very rare that I get vegan goodies unless I make or buy them for myself, or explicitly point out what I want, which does sort of ruin the surprise.

The random part of the exchange was also fun. Random being, you sign up for it and then when sign up closes, all participants are randomly assigned a match. The person could be in a different country and the only caveat on the whole exchange was that anyone was welcome to sign up, but anything sent had to be vegan. As there is no option to communicate directly with your giftee in this case, all participants had to fill out a short questionnaire about allergies, preferences and whether they were happy to accept home made snacks. The exchanges don't really specify a budget but say that most participants usually spend about $20-25 (excluding postage), although you are welcome to spend more as you like.

I watched the statistics and analytics on this exchange quite avidly. Many of the people who signed up were vegan or vegetarian, but others were not although were curious to try. When gifts are received, many people post a picture to a gallery and there were lots of surprised comments about how some foods were unexpectedly vegan (Oreos! Pringles! Hummus! Skittles!). There were also a few disappointed posts about how they could tell their match had tried, but just wanted to point out that a selected snack had beeswax, or milk, or gelatine in, so wasn't considered vegan. I'm sure these were honest mistakes though, as I remember how hard it was to read labels when I started to vet my food in the beginning too.

Anyway, in the spirit of sharing again, here's what I sent my giftee:
  • BBQ flavoured broccoli chips
  • French onion flavoured chickpeas
  • Spinach and wholegrain protein crunch bar
  • Sweet carrot rice chips
  • Roasted pumpkin seed munch snacks
  • Lemon 'jelly' crystals (made from agar)
  • Salted caramel mylk chocolate
  • Chia seeds

I had a lot of fun picking out what I'd send. My giftee told me their preference was for savoury snacks and things that weren't too commonly found so I think I got it pretty right. I'd also baked a batch of herbed sourdough crackers to include, but somehow Mr Fork and the kids managed to consume them in between baking and the postage deadline, so they didn't make it in.
Here's what I got back. I really think my Santa went above and beyond with my gift. Everything was individually wrapped and carefully packed with bubble wrap (I did not get a picture of this unfortunately as my kids were all.... wrapping! bubble wrap! and deconstructed it all while I was mid blink admiring it all).

There was also a hand written note describing all of the thoughtful inclusions, and even suggestions for using them. I am really looking forward to making those patties...and eating the cacao spread... and, well, everything!

I was also really spoilt with some non-snacky things - a reuseable bag as a little love note to the environment (perfectly handbag sized and great timing with the major supermarkets discontinuing single use plastic bags!) and even some vegan Lush goodies.

I am so, so happy with my exchange. While some of these products I had tried before, some of them are also new to me, and I really appreciate all the thought my gifter put in.
I really love getting mail, and I love seeing the thought that all the participants have been putting into this exchange. I'm keeping a list of all the delicious things that pop up that I need to try! So many ideas and regional favourites I'm learning about! What would be in your package if you sent a food exchange to someone?

Monday, 28 May 2018

Busy, not busy

Just recently as I was leaving the office on the last day of my work week, a colleague told me to enjoy my time off. It really ground my gears. What is this ‘time off’ thing they speak of?! 

It was on the tip of my tongue to start a rant about how I actually work full time (and then some!), I just get paid a part time wage, but then I bit off my words and swallowed them back. I know that my days off aren't spent loafing around idly. I'm pretty sure my husband and family appreciate all that I do when I'm at home too. I guess that's the important thing, not what the people at work think (so I won't rant here about gender stereotyping or making assumptions or accepted inequalities).

Instead, here’s some of what I did on that “day off”. I woke up and made everyone breakfast (naturally, no one wanted the same thing as anyone else). I made nutritious school lunches - no pre-packed food either, not that there is anything wrong with that, but everything was homemade (although to be honest, I did retrieve some baked goods from the freezer). I washed and hung out a load of laundry, before making sure bags were packed and doing the school drop off. 

After that, I came home, cut out some pants from old clothes which Mr Fork had worn through. I had time to pin them together and start sewing before the small man and I left to meet a friend who needed to talk. I entertained and distracted small man while there so I could chat, then came home to harvest and tend the vegetable garden. A friend was dropping by to pick up some kombucha scoby, so I brewed up a fresh batch for me and portioned some out for sharing. I also needed to write detailed instructions for booch brewing. 

After that, small man and I went and volunteered for an hour in preparation for my preppies upcoming school fete. After an hour, I got a message that our afternoon guests were running early and they'd be over shortly, so we came home to make lunch for said unexpectedly early guests that I wasn't expecting to feed.  Hurrah for always having homemade bread because paired with lots of odds and ends, it made for delicious sandwiches that hit the spot for everyone. The kitchen was tidied, and then I entertained small man for awhile since he refused to nap. We then returned back to continue the school fete preparations for a few more hours and stayed there until it was time to pick up the school child. 

We came home and I made afternoon tea. Folded the freshly washed laundry and started the dinner preparation. Oh, and I also finished whipping up those pants for everyone (I'll note here that both kids got a new pair of pants, and Mr Fork had his favourite jeans extensively mended and patched, so everyone except me got clothing out of it).
At this point, it was nearly time for Mr Fork to come home, so I stopped specifically noting my activities, but that certainly wasn't the end of my day. There was the usual night routines of dinner, cleaning, bathtime, reading etc etc.

Days off are so exhausting!

Here's a bonus picture of a focaccia I made on the weekend for a dinner party. While weekends are still busy (and also technically "days off") I'm particularly happy with how this bread turned out. I made two loaves, this one (grated haloumi, sun-dried tomato and oregano) and one plain - and therefore less photogenic! They were mixed in between swimming lessons, grocery shopping, errand running, a birthday party and various other tasks. The colder weather threw off my schedule so they also required some babying along with their own personal wheat packs to get some rise happening. Regardless, it was a delicious pre-dinner snack to share with friends. I've said it before and I'll say it again... I'm so grateful for the ability to make fresh bread and how with a little planning, I can easily fit the mixing and baking of it into my busy (not busy!) days.
Modern life is so busy, but things like fresh bread and good coffee are small treats that I always make time for. Do you have tips to share for coping with everything that needs doing?

Monday, 23 April 2018

Recipe: Fire Cider

Some time ago I went to a fermenting workshop and got to try a whole bunch of fermented goodies brewed by the workshop facilitators. One of the things I tried was a Fire Cider, and I remember at the time thinking it was amazingly delicious. I took my booklet of recipes home, and promptly put it aside, making nothing more exciting than my constantly-on-the-brew kombucha.

Recently I was chatting to a fellow school mum and she mentioned that she'd just put on a new batch of fire cider to ferment away. I remembered my workshop, went home to dig out my notes and made a few jars as soon as I collected all the ingredients. I posted about it on my recent In My Kitchen post, and I had a few questions about it so I figured I should post about it all by itself.

Google tells me that fire cider is rooted in folk medicine and is a great remedy for winter colds and ailments. Packed full of good things, it's a great immunity booster, helps with digestion, and is delicious all in it's own right.  It does take about a month to six weeks to ferment fully, so now is a good time to get started if you want a batch. Many people take a tablespoon or two daily throughout Autumn and Winter as a preventative, and more often if actually ill. I also like to personally have it as a tea (added to hot water) or a salad dressing, and dilute it in a little juice for my smalls.

It's very flexible, so please just use the below as a guide and adjust to your tastes.

Fire Cider 
clickable link

Equipment
Jars (sterilised)
Baking or waxed paper

Ingredients
1/2 cup peeled and shredded ginger
1/2 cup garlic
2 large white onions, diced
4 lemons
4 chillies (the hotter the better in my opinion, I like jalapenos), diced
1/4 cup peeled and diced turmeric
peppercorns
sprig of rosemary
1/2 cup peeled and shredded horseradish (optional)
Apple Cider Vinegar

Method
Add everything into your jar. You can dice it, slice it, shred it, arrange them prettily if you like. For the lemons, I peeled two of them and use the zest and juice of those, then slice the others and arrange them (skin and all) in the jars. Pack everything down semi firmly and top off with the apple cider vinegar. You want everything to be under the vinegar so it doesn't go mouldy - either use the heavier roots at the top to hold everything down, or put a weight on the top (the herbs and chillies tend to float so arrange accordingly). Keep in mind that some of the roots will expand during the process, so top it all off well. 

If you're using a metal lid, line it with waxed paper so the vinegar doesn't rust it. That's it, you're done. Pop those jars somewhere out of direct sunlight and leave them alone for a minimum of 4 weeks.
It does look all pretty fermenting away in the jar
When they're ready, give the jars a shake, then strain everything out through some cheesecloth. Store the liquid in the fridge and consume as needed. You can add sweetener to taste, but I don't bother.

Just a note here. I'm all about reducing waste, and this cider is so packed full of goodness I didn't want to throw away all of those veggies and roots after I'd strained them - what a travesty! After some thinking, I decided to blitz them up in the food processor. There was a lot of it, so I portioned it out into my old pods that I used to store baby food in. This one comes with a silicon lid so it reduces the potent smells that might take over the freezer. 
Blended fire cider pulp
Smells so good all blended up - glorious colour thanks to the turmeric
Here are some other suggestions that I have in mind for using the pulp up:
  • It was delicious added into a minestrone soup (although it did add a serious kick so was not at all kid friendly)
  • Shaken up with a bit more vinegar and used as salad dressing
  • Use as a flavouring for stews or lentil loaves
  • Mixed into smoothies
  • A marinade (I'm thinking tofu and eggplant would just soak up the flavour!)
  • A sandwich condiment
I'd love to hear if anyone else makes fire cider, and how you use it (and the leftover pulp!)

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

I did a snack exchange thing...

Recently I took part in a snack exchange through a site I participate in regularly. Basically, you respond to someone's post asking for an exchange partner, agree on a dollar amount of food that you are willing to trade (excluding postage) and then exchange boxes of local food. Sure, it might be cheaper to buy the exchange items off Amazon or whatever, but it wouldn't be nearly as much fun or mystery.

My exchange partner was from Texas, told me that her birthday was coming up and she wanted foreign snacks to enjoy. She had no preferences or dietary restrictions, but liked gummy things, chocolates and hadn't tried anything from Australia so was happy for me to choose a selection (she wasn't enthusiastic about Vegemite or I'd have popped a small pack in too). We agreed on a budget of $15USD for snacks, which worked out to be just under $19AUD. I think I got a pretty good representation of Australian snacks!

I always like seeing both side of an exchange, so here's what I sent:

  • French Fries
  • Chicos
  • Allens Party Mix
  • Twisties - both cheese and chicken variety
  • TimTam - gelato messina choc mint and cherry coconut varieties
  • BBQ shapes
  • Pods - snickers variety (because Americans are all about the horrible Tide Pod challenge at the moment and I thought it would be funny to send actual edible ones)
  • Chicken salt - surprisingly, this is a uniquely Australian seasoning and even more surprisingly is ninja vegan! Who knew
  • Not pictured - half a container of a Favourites selection that I used to fill the gaps - Cadbury mini cherry ripes, moro, boost, dairy milk, crunchie, turkish delight, flake and dream bar

I wrote a note explaining each item, explained the TimTam Slam and why she should try it and told her I'd love to know what was her favourite item once she got through them all (Pods are the winner at the moment but she hasn't tried everything yet).

Here's what I got back in my box. I hadn't provided any dietary restrictions because I figured if I wouldn't eat something, Mr Fork or the smalls would. The only thing I said was that I would prefer not to get any American chocolate (I think it's not very nice) and when asked I said I was happy to have spicy snacks! Every single thing she sent was totally new to me and if I'm honest, I don't even know what half of it is!

Lots of it is spicy and some of it I think are Spanish or Mexican sweets so the ingredients lists aren't in English at all.
   
The bright lollipops on the right are watermelon flavoured and then coated with spicy coating (I think they're amazingly delicious). The colourful chain of lollies underneath are spicy tamarind coated things which are delightfully spicy and sour at the same time.

Interestingly, the twizzlers (root beer and cherry flavoured) are both ninja vegan and SO GOOD! I haven't had a gummy sweet in a long time and these were good (I wasn't sure initially but I quite like the root beer flavour). The Laffy Taffy (watermelon and guava flavour) is also a ninja vegan product and I found it a chewy, fluffy sort of starburst type thing. It was good.

My smalls liked the milky (real milk!) lollypops, and there were also some soft caramels which Mr Fork tells me were amazing (but very milky... he thinks maybe goat milk). Mr Fork also claimed the spicy Fiesta mix and warhead worms as soon as he saw them. 

It was a super fun thing to do - I had fun picking snacks and then the anticipation of trying something surprising and new-to-me was half of the excitement, and then it was like opening a box to get a glimpse of someone else's favourite snack culture.

I'd definitely do it again in the future, and Mr Fork is already putting in requests for exchange locations to keep an eye out for. I certainly have some places in mind I'd like to try snacks from... I've even seen some posts pop up where people are looking for vegan or healthy snack exchange partners too which seems fun.

So I'm interested to know, if you could choose a location to exchange snacks with, where would you pick? And what would you send in an exchange that was representative of your location or your favourites?

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Breaditation

Ever since I was gifted my sourdough starter four years ago (thanks Celia!), I have been baking bread. I'll admit it, I've had some shockers during my bread baking journey - and yet every single loaf I've turned out I've been ridiculously proud of. I still can't believe that I thought learning a new hobby with a newborn would be a smart idea. Actually, now that I think about it, I also can't believe that my little Attila the Bun will be four this year... not so little and bun-like anymore!

So years later, I'm still baking regularly. I can say with complete honesty that my loaves aren't perfect - they're rustic and not at all fancy, but they're edible and friends ask me to bring them when we have gatherings so I must be doing something right!

I like making regular sourdough loaves and I'm a big fan of fruit and nut loaves (I recently posted a pineapple and date loaf which I'd love to make again with some hazelnuts included). I can also do a decent focaccia which seems to be a hit.

Lately, I've started making extra discard on purpose, and using it to branch out from just regular *bread*.

Here are some sourdough crackers that I made using the King Arthur flour recipe as a base. They turned out great and way better than store bought crackers. I can't believe it took me so long to make them when I've heard so much about home made crackers. I love to go really heavy on the herbs and not be shy with the salt on top. These are a huge hit with everyone I've shared with.
Here's another shot with them next to some simple chia loaves that I baked to take to work. My co-workers have been asking for a loaf for awhile so I was happy to oblige!
Finally, this is my latest creation - sourdough English muffins. I was so ridiculously excited to bake these that I got up at 4am on a weekday, snuck out of bed so the kids didn't realise I'd left (they are very snuggly, clingy and warm so this was hard) and crept into the kitchen to finish off the baking after letting them rise overnight. I didn't use a single particular recipe for these, but an amalgamation of a few that I found online.
I didn't want to use dairy milk so I subbed in almond milk instead and I think they turned out pretty good. Next time I'll cook them a little longer so they brown more, but I didn't hear any complaints when I served them up warm for breakfast. I'm sticking all of the leftovers into the freezer so I don't eat them all, they are that tasty!
So, to all the bloggers who have been so generous with their knowledge and inspirations... literally thank you for giving me my daily bread. Thanks for what I've taken to calling my breaditation moments - when I sneak out of bed early, when the house is all quiet and still and I can knead and shape and bake in the silence. Then, if I've managed to do it quietly enough, I can enjoy a cup of coffee while the house is still asleep and watch the sun rise while the baking bread smell wafts from the oven. It's my favourite part of the day!

Monday, 5 March 2018

What's in my kitchen, March 2018

It feels like the year has only just started, and yet, here we are at the beginning of March. It's Autumn! Where did all the time go? I feel like I can no longer say that my daughter has just started school. The year has no longer just begun. Where does the time go?! Having said that, I'm looking forward to the onset of colder weather. We have been having an unusually long spate of hotter than usual weather, which is playing havoc with my sleep, my garden, my laundry schedule (due to lots more storms than usual), and my moods. Cold weather to me means lots of comfort foods, not waking up in a sweaty heap, and fun snuggly clothes. Anyway, here are a few of the things that have been occupying my kitchen lately.

In my kitchen is...


Scrolls for my preppie's lunch. We've had some trial and error packing her school lunches, but these seem to be a consistent winner, and they're super easy to make. I have Ellie help me make them too, so I think that provides extra incentive for her to eat them since she had a hand in their creation. They're just store bought puff pastry (because I do not have the time or patience to make my own), spread with filling, rolled, sliced and then baked until puffed and golden. She is a particular fan of this version, which is pizza sauce, diced ham and shredded cheese filling. Her second favourite is a simple vegemite and cheese filling.
In my kitchen is...


While on the topic of school lunches, these biscuit bars have also been a hit. I found the recipe in a recent Coles magazine that was a lunch ideas special. Ellie was immediately drawn to the sweets pages (typical!) and as soon as she saw these, insisted that they needed to be made. They are not vegan, as they have egg and milk in them, but they seem to be a hit. I tweaked the base recipe slightly, reduced the recommended sugar, subbed in some healthier options (some wholemeal flour, swapped the brown sugar for coconut sugar etc) and then added some mini m&ms and dark chocolate buttons (her request). I cut them smaller than the magazine suggested, so I got 24 biscuit slices from a single batch. They freeze well and are super easy to pop into lunch boxes too. 
In my kitchen is...

Pierogis! My friend invited us over for a pierogi making session (yes, that's also the bottom of a wine glass in the background, because, wine!). Pierogis are Polish dumplings and, I can say from personal experience, are absolutely delicious. We made a huge batch with two different fillings - cheese potato and truffled mushroom with cabbage. My favourite ones were the mushroom ones, but both versions were amazing. We cooked and ate some fresh after making many trays, and I was sent home with a doggy bag of leftovers and some frozen for later consumption.
Yum!
In my kitchen is...

A fruity loaf of sourdough that I experimented with, not really expecting that it would turn out as well as it did. I cleaned out the pantry and unearthed some dried pineapple and dried dates that needed to be used. I added these to the mix, as well as some mixed spices and it turned out absolutely amazing... not overly sweet, but very fruity and a little reminiscent of hot cross buns due to all the spices I added. If I make it again, I think some nuts, maybe hazelnut, would be an awesome addition.

It's delicious served plainly with Nuttelex - who needs to go out for breakfast?!
In my kitchen is...

Some jars packed full of all kinds of things, hidden away for six weeks or so to turn into fire cider. As well as sourdough and kombucha, I've started fermenting other things as  well. Fire cider is something I saw at a fermenting workshop many months ago, and was recently reminded of again. I thought it would be something nice to have on hand as an immunity booster coming into the colder months, so I finally got all the ingredients and put it together. In my jars are garlic, ginger, onion, chilli, peppercorns, rosemary, tumeric, lemons and galangal, all topped off with apple cider vinegar. I'll update how it works out in a month or so, but if the initial smell is anything to go on, it will be delicious!!
I'm sending this to Sherry, of Sherry's Pickings for linking in to her monthly In My Kitchen link up.

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