Saturday 30 December 2017

Recipe: Mushroom and lentil loaf

For nearly 10 years now, I have brought a version of this loaf along to our family Christmas lunch. I'm very lucky that my family makes many of the festive sides vegan-friendly, but if I want something substantial to eat, I need to bring it along. For awhile, one of my cousins was vegetarian, so I became the default supplier of the main part of the meal for the 'picky eaters'. I don't mind, and over the years, people have started to ask for portions of the loaf too - no more serving myself a slice then putting it away to save room on the table, no sirree!
I posted a couple of my practice meals online in the lead up to Christmas, and had quite a few questions so I thought I better finally type up the recipe. It started from a long ago recipe I found online, but I have since tweaked what I do so much, it wouldn't be recognisable in any way to the original.

It's delicious, scales well, is very flexible and forgiving, and best of all, can be made ahead and then just popped in the oven on the day. Winning! I often make multiple at the same time because if I'm going to do one, I might as well make a few, and who doesn't like to share food right?
The original recipe called for a specific ratio of cooked brown rice and cooked French lentils. I have since simplified that for myself by mixing equal amounts of the uncooked and rinsed grain/pulse in the rice cooker and then using the amount I need once cooked. I think it tastes equally good this way and makes my life easier too.

Mushroom and lentil loaf
printable link

  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced (any will do, I tend to use button as they're so readily available)
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrot, finely diced
  • salt and pepper to taste 
  • 2 3/4 cup cooked brown rice/lentil mix
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vegan Worcestershire sauce (Coles brand is vegan for Australia)
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard
  • fresh parsley, finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs (mine was made from the stale crusts of my sourdough loaves)  
  1. Preheat oven to 180C degrees. Line a small loaf tin with baking paper and set aside. 
  2. In a small bowl, combine the tomato paste, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, molasses, liquid smoke, and about 1/3 of the minced garlic. Set aside.
  3. In a fry pan over medium heat, add some olive oil and 1/2 cup onions. Sauté 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms, and sauté for another 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl. Add a little more olive oil to the pan, and sauté celery, carrot, the remainder of the garlic, salt and pepper over low heat. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  4. In a food processor, pulse rice and lentils until they combine nicely but are not complete mush (about 10 times), then transfer to a large bowl. Again in the food processor, pulse cooked vegetables, Worcestershire sauce, remaining soy sauce, mustard, parsley, cornflour, and 1/3 of the tomato mix about 10 times, then add vegetable mixture to rice and lentils. Fold in reserved sautéed onions and mushrooms, breadcrumbs, and the 1/2 cup raw chopped onion. Check seasoning and adjust to taste.
  5. Assembly time! Press half the mixture into the loaf pan and spread with half of the tomato topping. Add the rest of the mixture into the pan and press it down (wet hands help) and coat with the remainder of the tomato topping. Cover with foil. At this point you can stop, and put it in the fridge to be cooked later. If you do this, let it come to room temperature first. 
  6. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes covered, then 15 minutes uncovered until the top is browned. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 20 minutes before serving. 
  • This is one of my favourite dishes and always makes me think of Christmas. Served hot from the oven and cold as leftovers for lunch, both ways are delicious. When I can't face eating it anymore, I freeze individual slices ready to pull out for making sandwiches or quick meals when needed.
  • It's very forgiving - you can add more carrot and celery or change the ratio of rice/lentils if you prefer. Sometimes I've been lazy and just mashed with a fork instead of getting out the food processor and that works well too.
  • It's great if you happen to have gravy (everything is amazing with gravy!) but it doesn't really need it.
  • You could leave out the Worcestershire sauce if you wanted, and maybe add a bit more soy sauce instead.

Wednesday 20 December 2017

Recipe: Eggplant parmigiana

I recently posted about my eggplant glut and asked my Instagram followers for some suggestions to use up the harvest. Someone said eggplant parmigiana and I thought that sounded amazing.

It worked out well, because Mr Fork was craving chicken parmigiana so it was a nicely themed meal for everyone.

It was such an easy dish to make, very flexible and uses simple staple ingredients that I generally have on hand. I grew the eggplants and the basil used in it, I made breadcrumbs from the crust of my sourdough, and I got to include a few sneaky extra vegetables in the sauce. I was so happy with how it turned out, I thought I'd share. I think this would be great for a festive meal, and I know it's going to be fabulous as leftovers for work lunches this week too. Everyone wins!

In my opinion the key to making this dish especially delicious is the tomato sauce. I made mine from a mix of tinned and fresh tomatoes that I cooked up with onion, garlic and other seasonings, let it reduce until it was thick and concentrated, and then added fresh herbs to really jazz it up. You could always use pasata and add your own seasonings as well.

Vegan Eggplant Parmigiana
printable link

  • 5 medium sized eggplants (or maybe 3 large ones)
  • olive oil
  • garlic, minced
  • dried oregano
  • 1 onion, diced
  • tomatoes (I used a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, and maybe another 400g fresh ones, diced)
  • fresh basil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • nutritional yeast
  • a large handful of breadcrumbs (mine was made from the stale crusts of my sourdough loaves)
  1. Slice the eggplants into rounds, and salt them. Leave that to sit for 10 minutes or so while you get the sauce going.
  2. In a saucepan, add a little olive oil, the garlic and onion, and a shake or two of dried oregano. Fry that up until it gets fragrant and then add the tomato. I also added a little water to mine, but you may not need to do that - you want the sauce to be thick and not too watery. Cover and let it simmer away for 15 minutes or so.
  3. Rinse the eggplant rounds and then fry or grill them. I did them in batches in a fry pan, putting the done ones aside on a plate while I cooked the next lot.
  4. Check on the sauce and season it. It should be reduced, and the tomatoes should be broken down - I added a little salt, pepper and a bit of red wine vinegar. I also stirred in some fresh basil and some baby spinach leave that needed using up. 
  5. Time to assemble! I used a square dish, about 25 x 25 cm. I started with a thin layer of sauce, then a sprinkling of nutritional yeast, then a layer of eggplants. Keep going in that order: sauce, nutritional yeast, eggplant until everything is used up. Finish with a layer of sauce then a sprinkling of nutritional yeast.
  6.  In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with some dried oregano, salt, pepper and olive oil. I also added a bit of fresh minced garlic, but I know that's not to everyone's tastes. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the dish.
  7. I baked it for about 30 minutes in a 200C fan forced oven until it was all bubbly and golden.

  • This was so good. Served hot from the oven and cold as leftovers for lunch, both ways were delicious. I plated it topped with torn basil on my plate, and little pieces of mozzarella for the kids.
  • If you wanted, you could sub parmesan for the nutritional yeast, but I wanted a vegan version. You could also mix cheese into the breadcrumb layer as well.
  • Next time for more protein and to help absorb a bit of the moisture from the eggplants as they cook, I will add some quinoa into the sauce to help thicken it up a bit. Also, I think sliced mushrooms would be a great sauce addition. 
What will you be eating for Christmas festivities?

Sunday 17 December 2017

Urban trading

My eggplants are producing far too prolifically for me to eat and enjoy them all at the moment. Here's a picture of this week's harvest alone - eleven good sized fruits, and many more nearly ripe still weighing down the plants.
I mentioned my dilemma to a colleague and she said that her lime tree was doing the same. We just looked at each other and brought in a bag of produce to swap the next day! I enjoyed those limes as salad dressing, with gin, in soda water and numerous other ways. Limes are amazing!

Speaking of salad, I traded more eggplants to another colleague for some cucumbers and a lettuce. I generously ended up with too many cukes to use while they were good so I traded some of them plus eggplants for a pawpaw (which was delicious, and I'm hoping some of the seeds will sprout for me).

I have not yet properly learned the art of planting in appropriate amounts or staggering my planting, so soon I’ll have oodles of chillies to play with... anyone interested? 
Gosh I love my gardening friends. Who says that the bartering economy isn't alive and well?!

Do you have a group of like minded people you trade with? What's a hot commodity for you right now?

Wednesday 6 December 2017


Today, my (little) big girl has her kindy graduation. Next year she starts prep at 'big' school and will attend 5 days a week. Until now, she has attended daycare 3 days each week and spent the other two at home with me. We fill our time with extracurricular activities (swimming, acrobatics), social catch ups with friends and learning through doing regular every day activities like library visits, cooking, gardening and playing.

It will be strange to hand over the bulk of her days to someone else. I used to think having one child was hard, and then I had a second and wondered what I complained about. Now as I prepare to have days with only one child again, I wonder how I will cope. How he will cope without his big sister and constant companion. How she will cope at school without me. Have I laid a strong enough foundation for her to build on? I hope so.

I was harvesting my neglected garden recently. It's a bit sad - the basil is defiantly dry and crispy, the leafy greens are present but wispy and bug eaten and the rosemary is looking rather brown. Surprisingly though (or not) because of all the drenching rains we've had lately, my eggplants are thriving. The other herbs are lush and green, and the onions that sprouted in my pantry are pushing through green growth and developing seeds in an effort to preserve themselves and give me future onions. If I'm honest, if I cut the basil back it will come back better than ever. The greens are seeding and when planted will be so strong and healthy. The rosemary will come good with love. I guess it's the compost and chicken poo I lavished deep in those beds paying off for me.

I even have a little self seeded marigold, standing proud next to those previously mentioned onions and doing it's best to repel pests and bring in bees.
What I guess I'm getting at is, gardens, just like people, are resilient. Putting in early work and enthusiasm and love is so worth it, and even with a little distance there, the things you grow and reap are wonderful surprises.
She'll be fine. And so will I.

Monday 30 October 2017

Oh... hi there!

Well would you look at that… it feels like forever since I’ve updated this blog. In fact… oh my, eight months or so (thank you domain registration reminder for giving me some incentive). I haven’t been completely absent, I’ve been reading other blogs and infrequently commenting, but I still remember when I wrote more regularly, so sorry about that readers! (Do I have any readers left?)

What’s been happening in my life of late?

I’ve been working more hours and taking on more responsibilities. I mean, I’m technically still part time, so I’m accruing flex time at alarming rates, but I love my job and we are doing so many new and experimental things and I just want to be involved. I’m loving that I get to stretch mental muscles and have deeply intellectual conversations about concepts that don’t even exist properly yet because we haven’t built them. It give me nerdy chills! Of course, it also means I have less time to do other things, but I make time for the important stuff.

My 5 year old with attitude
Ellie starts Prep next year. It feels like just moments ago I held her for the first time in my arms, barely 2.5kg of weight. Now, she still looks tiny, dwarfed by her school uniforms which I bought big so she could grow into them (it’s the frugal Asian side of me). The one thing that isn’t tiny is her attitude and sass. She’s such a wonderful little person who can have conversations with me and looks after her little brother with equal amounts of love and exasperation. She’s so smart, and so confident and so full of pizazz and cheer. I know she's going to blow us all away one day.
My newly minted 3 year old
Jimmy turned three yesterday! Remember when he was born? I do! We had some drama with his daycare and I wasn't happy with them anymore, so I went through the (long, drawn out) process of moving him a few months ago and he seems to be settling in and thriving now. He is talking so much and becoming his own person. And just for the record in case I start getting mushy and thinking about wanting more children…. toilet training. Oh my word I hate it so much… and that says a lot because remember I’m the mama who did cloth nappies!

He loves to be carried and held close, so I still carry a wrap for those moments where he just needs to be up. One such moment happened at a shopping centre lately... he was just losing composure so a sloppy wrap job later and he was snoring onto the back of my neck. J weighs almost a third of what I do these days, so I cherish these little moments while I still can.
Extracurricular activities
Ellie started acrobatics this year and while I was signing her up I noticed an adult tap dance class. I’ve never tapped before but I’ve done dance of some sort most of my life so I was intrigued. I started with a bunch of other like minded adults and I love it. Admittedly, it’s a new style for me so I’m still messing up all the time, but it’s such fun! I go once a week and quite frankly… it’s an amazing stress buster and I get to kick the floor and take all my frustrations out on it while dancing my (unfit) heart out. Win!

I'm also continuing pottering in my kitchen garden, and the recent rains have done wonderful things for all the plants I must say! 

After work, and family and cooking and life in general, I find myself sitting down of a night and just wanting a quiet activity. I've been reading a lot lately, both Kindle and paper books as the mood strikes. There is something to be said for turning paper pages and smelling a book (is that weird?) but I also appreciate the sheer convenience of eReaders too.

As my kids get older, they get more definite with what they will and won’t eat. They have a few meals they always love (pasta, rice and stir fry, chicken nuggets, pancakes and sweets) but I long for them to love vegetables and be flexible with their food preferences. It seems that what was a favourite last week is off the menu the next. Maybe they are following in their daddy's carnivorous influence and not my healthy choices.

I find myself often cooking wonderful (meat free) meals that they’ll taste and then turn up their noses at even though they'd eaten them last week, so I portion it out and freeze it to try again another time. I have a freezer full of meals that only I seem to eat now… no matter how many time I present my lovingly prepared and often home grown creations. Kids! Still, it means that I have fabulous lunch options and no excuse for takeaway on nights when I just can’t be bothered! I'm all about the silver linings.

Fill me in on your news. What’s been happening in your life lately?

Monday 6 February 2017

What's in my kitchen, February 2017

I'd originally intended to talk about what I've been cooking and eating lately, but I had some other photographs ready, so this is more of a hybrid between a proper in my kitchen crossed with what's growing in my garden. With the weather being as hot as it has been recently, I've been loathe to plant anything new in the garden. I grow most of my produce from seeds, and it's far too hot for brand new seedlings to be outdoors. That, and my brand of gardening means my plants need to be hardy enough to thrive on careful neglect means I don't have the time to baby along new plants.

I do however like to see things grow and I thought in the interests of being scientific and letting the smalls get involved, that we might put a few things in water and watch what happens from the relative cool of my kitchen window sill, where we can easily top up the water as it evaporates.

When avocado prices dropped a few months ago, I was on those little green/black morsels like a pig in mud. Eventually, I got tired of just throwing the seeds into the compost... they take so long to break down so I thought we'd grow one. I admit, I was spurred on by an ad that seems to be appearing regularly on my Facebook page, where someone has invented a sort of floating mini boat to put an avocado seed in and grow. I thought that it seemed a bit ridiculous to need a specific device so I determined to do it armed with nothing more than a tall glass and some toothpicks.

I peeled the avocado seed, then impaled it on a trio of toothpicks and submerged about half of it into a glass of water. A monokuro boo glass as a matter of fact; I love those little black and white pigs! I digress. It took some time, but eventually, we saw progress. This seed has probably been growing for at least 6 weeks, possibly a bit longer.
It has shoots and roots, and the interesting thing in my opinion is that as that shoot grew, it cleaved the seed entirely in half! The only thing holding it together now is the shoot/root structure. I don't know whether it's providing any fuel or its now purely decorative, but it's sure interesting. The kids are more interested in the fact that if they turn the glass around, the shoot will orient itself to point out the window toward the light. I'm debating where to plant it in the garden when it gets big enough. I'm not sure how long avocado trees take to produce fruit but I suspect a long time.
I saved the top of my tiny piney and let it dry out a little after scraping off the bulk of the flesh so that it didn't get smelly. When it was dry, we strategically placed some toothpicks (left over from a cheese tasting from the look of them) to stop it from falling into the jar, and left the bottom part submerged in water. A few weeks later we have tiny roots growing (you can see one at about 7 o'clock in the jar), and the top is getting a bit taller as well. When the root system is better established and the days are less hot, I'll relocate this little baby into the garden. While we likely won't get any fruit for at last two years, rough leaf pineapples are so delicious and the chickens decimated my last bed of pineapples so I'm starting over.
We've also been saving the roots of spring onions and planting those directly in the garden, and re-establishing a sweet potato patch from a sweet potato that was neglected and sprouted in storage. These have gone directly into the soil in the hope that I will again have thriving sweet potato vines to use for cooking (turns out the chickens were huge fans of them as well).

I guess this post demonstrates that I've been growing a lot of things on my kitchen windowsill lately, which is true. In the heat, I've tended toward not cooking as much as possible, so many of our meals have been simple, fast and not very photogenic. Hopefully as summer rolls to a close, I will start posting more food posts!

I'm sending this to Lizzy, of Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things for linking in to her monthly IMK roundup.

Monday 23 January 2017

How does your garden grow, January 2017

I've had the most glorious gentle beginning to the new year. It's been a very slow pace, and very unstructured. There has been lots of catching up with family, lots of feasting and festivities, and lots of cheer. There has also been plenty of time to potter around the house and garden doing all the little things I always put off during the busy-ness of the year.

I regularly sign up to do courses online as I hate feeling like I'm stagnant and not learning anything new. My most recent course is called Science of Gardening, it's actually a HECS scholarship unit offered by the University of Tasmania, which means that domestic students don't incur any tuition fee or debt for the unit. It actually counts toward the UTAS Bachelor of General Studies, but I'm just taking it for the fun of it (nerd alert!). UTAS often do HECS scholarship units and I find it a good way to keep my brain ticking away.

I'll just steal the explanation about the course and leave it here:
Important and interesting questions for gardeners include why are plants arranged into families, and what features do they share? What are plants made of, and how do they grow? How do seeds know when to germinate, and how does the environment shape the way they grow? What are the crucial factors determining when plants flower and set seed? Why does soil type and nutrients affect plant health? Answers to all these questions and more when you study Science of Gardening.
It's actually a really interesting learning curve for me. It's completely online which is fine, but although it's called the science of gardening, I didn't really think I'd be delving into the chemical composition of soil, admiring the biological cross sections of plants, or re-learning the periodic table and how to recognise deficiencies or toxicities of soil and then diagnose how to correct them.

It's made me look at my garden in a whole new light and consider how I might tweak my gardening practices to make my plants more productive and happy. I appreciate just how much effort these little clumps of cells go to just to end up on my plate!

All that said, here's a peek into my garden right now.

I grew a tiny pineapple and it was delicious, if extremely small (dirty looking Sophie the Giraffe for comparison). It was so sweet and the acid was barely there at all. It was just enough for a morning tea for the smalls and me.
My eggplants are producing prolifically, as they usually do. My soil must be appreciated by eggplants. Although these two are different sizes, the right time to harvest eggplants are when they are plump and glossy. I have taken a batch over to my mother in law's house so that she can use them for Chinese New Year dishes. Yum.
Here is a picture of my sad looking lemon tree. I had an assignment where I had to diagnose citrus deficiencies, which was interesting. As my tree has healthy new growth, and the yellowing is mainly on the older leaves, I suspect magnesium deficiency, which is easily adjusted by watering in some epsom salt. I think there may also be a minor zinc deficiency also, which could be adjusted with a kelp solution spray. It's a sad tree, there is also some leaf miner activity, but it has improved of late, so there is still hope.
The chilli, eggplant, and what I'm 90% sure is a pumpkin are doing well, despite the recent heat. Mr Fork has been putting the water from his fish tank onto my garden when he does water changes, and they seem to appreciate all the fish poo.
One of my assignments also involved testing the ph of my soil. It's something I never really gave much thought to, but now I know that my soil is definitely on the acidic side. I suppose that means I should stop dumping my coffee grounds directly onto the soil and compost them instead. I also need to get some dolomite lime and see if I can raise the ph a bit for happier plants.
Our girls went rogue and built a secret nest under the house where it's lovely and cool. They were sneaky about it, continuing to lay in the regular box too, so I just thought they were slacking off in this heat. It's such a pretty nest, lined with bits of purloined sugar cane from the garden and dried grass. Sneaky things. These will be the last of our eggs as Mr Fork has gotten sick of cleaning chicken poo from the deck and has promised the chickens to a friend who has a large garden, doesn't care about chicken poo and swears not to eat them. I think perhaps it's an unlucky move, especially so close to the Chinese New Year when it switches over to the year of the Rooster, but who am I to come between a man and his BBQ-ing space. Especially when I don't eat eggs myself!
How is your garden growing?


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