Monday, May 30, 2011

Easier than it looks!

Thanks MaliceInWickedland for the photo.
Progress report on my vegan apprenticeship:

✓ Taste buds adjusted to soy milk in tea.
✓ Taste buds adjusted to soy milk on cereal.
✓ Trying new vegan recipes and loving the results.
✓ Finding alternatives to replace old non-vegan grocery items.
✓ Discovering that Oreos are vegan :)

So far my vegan apprenticeship is proving much easier 
than I thought it would.

I used to think that it would be very hard to be vegan.  I thought that a vegan diet would be boring and difficult to maintain.  But I am happy to report that I was wrong!  I also thought that vegans would be skinny - how could they possibly be fat?  Seems I was wrong about that too - there are plenty of options for vegan pig outs.

So what is the next step for this for this vegan apprentice?  I am still sticking to my strict vegan day once a week on Mondays.  And I am also finding that I am naturally making vegan choices on other days too.

Should I just focus on stretching to 2 then 3 strict vegan days etc?  I think the tricky thing is going to be sticking to the plan when not at home.  So many restaurants/cafes etc have a good range of vegetarian choices, but vegan - not so much.  And I can't really expect all my friends and family to keep soy milk on hand just in case I pop in for a cuppa.

Perhaps it will be easier to focus on making all my meals at home vegan first.  That should not be too hard.  I can manage without eggs in meals and baking at home.  But there are plenty of useable items in my fridge and pantry that "contain milk products".  Wasting them would not be environmentally friendly!  So I will use up what is already in the fridge and pantry, but have started reading all the labels carefully when I am shopping.  Reading labels is a pretty scary enterprise.  I had not realized how many basic foods have "flavors" and "colorings" added.  Hmmmm!  So I am trying to avoid artificial nasties like that too.   Admittedly Oreos have the ubiquitous "flavor" added.  But I have to have some vices.

So here goes:  My next goal is to be totally vegan at home.   I am aiming to tick this box by the end of June.

Dinner tonight - barley, split pea and vegetable soup, with a good splash of Chardonnay.  Smells delicious!  Just perfect for a cold, rainy day.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Best Burgers - Seriously!

Everyone loves burgers right?  I sure do.  And these burgers really are the best.  And by best I mean delicious, nutritious, satisfying, versatile and very easy to make.   I think that even die-hard meat eaters will love these, especially if you don't mention they contain soya beans and chick peas!  They really are tasty and the texture is just perfect.

I have the wonderful Dame Alison Holst and son to thank again for this one!  I have made just a few changes to the original recipe found in "Meals Without Meat".  Unfortunately this fantastic cook book is currently out of print.  I got my copy in a dusty second hand book shop in Christchurch a few years ago and have baked many delicious dinners from it.

Vegan Best Bean Burgers
Makes 8-12 depending on the size.

½ cup (80gm) chick peas
½ cup (75gm) soybeans
½ cup (60gm)sunflower kernels
½ cup (35gm)rolled oats
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
¼ flour
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon salt

About 1 cup water
1½ tablespoons sweet/dark soya sauce (30ml)
2 cloves crushed garlic
Optional - ½ onion very finely chopped
Oil to cooking them in

1. Use a food processor, or blender, or coffee grinder to grind the first 4 ingredients to the consistency of dry bread crumbs.  Depending on the machine you use, it will probably be best to do a little at a time.  I found that my blender worked best, especially on the "ice" setting.  The chickpeas and soyabeans do take a bit of grinding (and therefore noise making).  Process the oats just a little - not too fine (or you could just use quick oats instead). 
2. Mix together all the dry ingredients.  It comes to about 3 cups of dry ingredients.
3. Add most of the water, soya sauce, garlic and onion if you are using it.   If the mixture doesn't come together easily then add a little more water.
4. Allow to stand for at least 15 minutes.
5. Shape into burgers.
6. Generously coat a fry pan in oil and bring to medium heat.
7. Cook the burgers for 5+ minutes on each side.  It is best to cover the pan with a lid as the steam will ensure that the burgers cook through properly without burning the bottom.
8. Enjoy!

You can prepare these burgers up to step 2 and then store the dry ingredients in an airtight container until required.  So next time I am going to grind up multiple batches worth while I have the blender out so that I can have the burger mix ready to go for quick and easy dinners.

Also, I only cooked 4 burgers the first night and then cooked the rest fresh the next night.  The mixture held together even better when it had soaked over night.  We had the burgers with jacket potatoes and other veggies the first night.  And then we had them as "burgers" in buns with lots of salad.  The bean burgers worked really well for both these meals.

If you use onion it really does have to be chopped finely.  The onion is weakest link in the binding of these burgers.  So leave the onion out if you will find it distressing to have a little piece crumble off.  I think I would leave the onion out if I was taking these burgers to a BBQ so I wouldn't have to worry about a heavy handed burger flipper possibly damaging my creations.

The original recipe calls for pea flour.  Pea flour!!  Certainly not at my local supermarket.  But a sweet lady at my local organic store kindly ground up some split peas to flour consistency.  I think the pea flour does add to the flavour but don't worry if you can't get it - the burgers will still be wonderful with regular flour.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ginger Kisses

I fell in love with ginger kisses while living in New Zealand.  But then one fateful day I bothered to read the ingredients and was disappointed to see they contained "animal fat".  This imprecise description could mean that the fat came from just about any animal.  And it almost certainly indicates inhumane and disgusting slaughter house practices.  Yuck!!!!  So I have been meaning to try making my own for years.  

Warning!!  This recipe is:
- unhealthy
- addictive

My next sweet vegan recipe will be far healthier.  Promise.  I am thinking maybe a protein pumped version of Anzacs with some nuts and seeds.

I spent a lot of time over a couple of days reading about ginger kisses on line.  (Embarrassing really!)  So I garnered clues from lots of sites.  The recipe that I followed mostly is here.  And for help with veganifying it (ie replacing the eggs) I decided on a suggestion on the PETA website.

Vegan Ginger Kisses:
Makes about 24 complete kisses.
185gm non-dairy margarine (⅜ of tub)
⅔ cup brown sugar
¼ cup golden syrup
3 tablespoons* (60ml) of water
2 tablespoons (40ml) oil - I used canola
¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
2. Beat the margarine until soft.  Add the next 5 ingredients and beat on high speed until fluffy.
3. Sift together the 4 dry ingredients.
4. The gradually add the dry ingredients to the marg mix and beat on low speed.  I sifted the dry ingredients again as I added them.
5. Shape into half walnut sized balls.  If you want to roll them into balls you might need to refrigerate the dough for ~20 minutes.  And if you want to press down with a fork you may need to dip the fork in flour to stop it from sticking.
6. Bake for ~ 8 minutes.  Do not over cook. 
7. When cool sandwich together with mock vanilla cream filling.
8. Refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving. 

I often don't bother to sift ingredients, which for some recipes is ok.  But sometimes sifting will make a big difference.  I think that the double sifting probably adds to the lightness of these cookies.  So I suggest you take the time to sift in this case.

Vanilla Cream Filling 

65gm margarine (⅛ of a tub)
1½  cups icing sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
1 tablespoon soy milk

1. Beat the butter on high speed until soft.
2. Add the soy milk and vanilla essense and beat until fluffy.
3. Add the icing sugar and whip the hell out of it.

I tried a few different ways of shaping my cookies, including piping them.  But the pipped ones were fussy, messy and frankly looked a bit too much like doggy do-do.

Blobs - shaped using two spoons and then a little patting to smooth them a little. 
Rolled into balls, flattened and marked with a fork.  I liked these best.
The ginger kisses are still delicious before refrigerating.  I know this because I ate 2 at this stage - greedy, greedy!  But they were a little more like a melting moment (ginger moments?).  After a few hours in the fridge they acquire a softer, moister, more cakey texture which is more similar to the traditional kiwi ginger kisses.
*An Australian tablespoon is 20ml, as opposed to everywhere else in the world where a tablespoon is 15ml.  We like things big in Aus!   :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Big One - B12

Overall a vegan diet is very healthy and can lead to reduced risk of heart disease.   However a "lazy" vegan diet can lead to specific nutritional deficiencies.  By far the biggest nutritional issue for vegans is B12.  B12 is important!  Every cell in our bodies needs B12 and you cannot live without it. 

Our daily requirement for B12 is 2-3 micrograms.  That doesn't sound like a lot, right?  But the problem is that humans, and all other animals, cannot produce B12. 

So where does the B12 in animal products come from?  It is either produced by helpful bacteria in the animal's gut, or they get it from eating other animals.

Plants also cannot produce B12.  Plant food does not have any B12.  It is possible that you can get some B12 from eating unwashed vegetables due to the dirt and bacteria on the skins.  But an exclusively vegan diet does not contain enough, if any, naturally occurring B12.  So vegans need to either take a B12 supplement or eat foods that are B12 fortified (ie foods that have a B12 added).

Only certain bacteria, and some algae, are able to produce B12.  The B12 in supplements comes from bacterial fermentation.  It is not artificially synthesized.  It is vegetarian and vegan friendly.

Many foods are now B12 fortified:
- most soy milks and many other non-dairy milks
- many cereals
- marmite and some other yeast spreads (but not good old Aussie Vegemite!)
To see what percentage of your daily B12 you will get from a "serve" just check the label.

But what about mushrooms?  "Meat for Vegetarians" the add calls them. That may be stretching it slightly.  Mushrooms are not a plant and yes mushrooms do contain some B12.  However you would have to eat literally bucket loads every day to meet your B12 requirements.

FAQ about Mushrooms

A typical serve of mushrooms may contain as much as 5% of your daily requirements so you would have to eat 20 serves of mushrooms every day.  Now I like mushrooms but surely no one likes them that much!

For further discussion about possible (but definitely not proven) vegan sources of B12:

But beware, some foods that are said to contain B12, like spirulina, actually may contain a pseudo-B12 molecule that can lower your metabolically active B12.  This can potentially be dangerous for vegans.

The good news is that most people have a lot of B12 stored in their body and the liver is very good at recycling B12.  So if someone switches from a traditional western diet to a strict vegan diet they probably have a starting point of 3-5 years worth of B12 in their body.  Meaning that they won't have to stress to much about B12 for a while and can focus on other issues of adjusting to their new diet.  Also people who just reduce their animal product intake (rather than being strict about it) probably do not need to worry at all.

The Take Home Messages:
1. Vegans (and some vegetarians) need adequate B12 supplementation, either from a pill or from B12 fortified foods.
2. Mushrooms can provide you with a little B12 but not enough to live on
3. If you are a vegan or vegetarian I recommend that you see your GP every 2 years or so for a blood test to check your B12 level.  While you are at it I also recommend that you get your iron and Vit D level checked too.

If you want to read more about B12 check out Vegan Health - B12

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I will have mine with Soy Milk thanks!

Hooray!  It is official.  I now like my tea better with Soy milk than with cows milk.

I have been drinking tea with soy milk when at home for the last 3 weeks as part of my vegan apprenticeship.  My taste buds protested for only a couple of days, then became apathetic, and now are enthusiastic converts!

But I have still been drinking my tea with regular milk while away from home.  Today I am at uni and ordered myself a cup of tea.  I didn't even think about stipulating what kind of milk I wanted.  Now here I am sipping tea with cows milk and not really enjoying it.

Just goes to show how adaptable we are.  For anyone else out there who has ever thought of making a change in their diet, I would say "Give it a Go".   You just might surprise yourself!  Whether it is to reduce salt, or sugar, or to go dairy free, I am convinced that you will not only adjust but come to love your new and healthier diet. 

In other news my one day per week of strict veganism is going really well.  I have changed my vegan day to Monday as it suits better with other things I am doing.  Yesterday was a breeze!  I even tried vegan chocolate and really liked it.

My next challenge:  adjusting to soy milk with cereal.  So far I love it with porridge but haven't quite come to love it with cereal.  But I am sure it won't take long!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Club Sandwiches

Hope you all enjoyed your Mothers' Day.  I know I did.  And I am not even a Mother!  We had a yummy High Tea for my wonderful mum.  Though with so many grandchildren running around it was a more "mess" than "high", but of course that only made it more fun!

As I am all enthused about vegan dining right now I decided to make some vegan offerings.  You just can't have High Tea without some form of cucumber sandwiches, so I decided to make vegan club sandwiches.  With one layer easily decided (cucumber) it took a little thinking to know what to put in the other layers. 

To make these delectable and delicate sandwiches I used 3 loaves of bread of different shades: Wholemeal, Multigrain and White.  The different coloured breads look pretty and help people know where one sandwich ends and another begins.  I wanted to use a nice dark rye for one of the layers but couldn't find a loaf in the neat, square shape I needed.  When the triple decker sandwiches were assembled I carefully sliced off the crusts and then cut each sandwich into 3 "soldiers".

The flavours I eventually decided on were:
1. Cucumber and Tomato Pesto
2. Gherkin and Tasty Corn Filling

The tomato pesto was shop bought unfortunately, but next time I will make sure I have time to make my own!  The Tasty Corn Filling is my own design.  I love inventing recipes so the corn spread is where I got to be a little more creative.  Here is the recipe:

Tasty Corn Sandwich Filling:
1.5 cups cooked corn
1 tablespoon seeded mustard
1 tablespoon margarine
1 small spring onion chopped

I gave all this a brief whiz in the food processor, leaving it still fairly chunky.

Confession - I did feel a bit guilty about cutting off the crusts.  It seemed like such a waste!  But as it was a special occasion I need to make sure that the sandwiches were delicate and high-tea-appropriate.  Also, as I was taking these platters to a very non-vegan gathering I wanted to make sure that the sandwiches were appealing to everyone.  

Overall I think the result was just perfect for High Tea and everyone seemed to enjoy them.  They were complimented perfected by Iced Tea.  I am already dreaming up flavour combos for more vegan club sandwiches.  Of course if I make them at home I will eat my crusts!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sassy Shortbread Cookies with Nephews.

Two of my adorable nephews came to stay for a sleep over.  So of course we baked!  We always bake with Aunty Mandy - the difference this time is that it was vegan baking.

With a 6 and 7 year old at work I did not think it would be a good idea to experiment with a recipe of my own designing so we used this one: Sassy Shortbread Cookies.  However we did find that we needed to add a some extra flour (about half a cup) to make it into a workable consistency for little fingers.

I am not sure what is meant by "not tub margarine" in the recipe, but I used half of a tub (i.e. 250gm) of Nuttelex light and it seemed to work just fine.  Although come to think of it, maybe that is why we needed the extra flour.

Here is some photos of our fun afternoon.  My kitchen looked like a disaster zone by the time we finished, with sticky finger prints everywhere.  But it was definitely worth it!

The kitchen is still pretty clean at this stage.

Let the mess making begin!
That's just how I roll...
Zach: "I am just like a real chef!"
Ready to go into the oven.  I love Sam's skater complete
with knee pads, and Zach's shooting star.

Getting creative with icing and sprinkles.
The finished product.  We are so proud of ourselves!
Cheers to a job well done!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Vegan Shepherds Pie

This recipe is adapted from"Meals without Meat" by the mother of NZ cooking, Alison Holst, and her vegetarian son, Simon.  I highly recommend this book - lots of tasty meals that are inexpensive and will satisfy many "meat" eaters also.  A great place to start if you want to gradually incorporate some meatless meals into your diet.

A) Potato Topping
1 kg of potatoes
2 tablespoons vegan margarine (I used Nuttelex olive)
Half cup soy milk

B) Hearty Vegan Mix
2 large onions (this time I used 1 onion and half of a large leek that was left over from the Corn Chowder)
2 cloves garlic
Good splash of olive oil
400gm Mushrooms
3 tablespoons plane flour
1 generous teaspoon each of
- basil
- oreganum
- marjoram
- paprika
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 teaspoons veggie stock powder
2 tins red kidney beans, drained (or you could soak/pre-boil one cup of kidney beans)
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1.5 cups of water

1. Put the potatoes on to boil in lightly salted water.
2. Brown the onions and garlic in the olive oil until medium brown - do not rush this step
3. Add the mushrooms and cook until reduced and lightly browned
4. Add the flour and cook until browned - you need to keep stirring at this point but don't worry if it gets a bit stuck to the bottom as it will add to the hearty flavour as it lifts off when the water is added.
5. Add all the rest of the ingredients and heat until it is cooked through.
6. Drain the potatoes thoroughly and then mash with margarine and soy milk.  I get out the electric beater and give them a good whipping.
7. Assemble in a lasagna dish or similar - with Hearty Vegan Mix on the bottom and Potato mash on top
or - if you have more time (or just really like pies) then line 2 pie dishes with shortcrust pastry, bake blind for ~ 10 minutes then assemble the pie.
8. Spread a little melted margarine on top so that it browns nicely.  I sprinkled some paprika on top of mine this time but I think it looks nicer without so I will leave it off next time.  Then bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes.
9.  Enjoy!  Serve it with some steamed greens to make it a more balanced meal.  I served it with Brussel sprouts and green beans which complimented the pie really well.

The original recipe uses capsicum but unfortunately it gives me indigestion so I have always used mushrooms instead and it works really well.

We thoroughly enjoyed out dinner.  And the pie is even better the next day (who doesn't love leftovers).  Definitely a recipe I will come back to regularly.

*** For my faux pas with Worchestershire sauce see the comments below.  Oops!