Sunday, 13 October 2013

easy peasy summertime succotash

Yet another dish from The Kind Diet. This one's super duper easy to whip up and I couldn't find lima beans in the supermarket so I just bought some frozen Edamame beans (which I've been meaning to get for ages!) and used those instead. Edamame beans are just so tasty by themselves. I could easily eat a whole bowl for a snack. And apparently, it's one of the popular summertime snacks in Japan, commonly eaten in the hot summer evenings after work by Japanese, washed down with a glass of chilled beer. It was funny because I'd read about it in this book by Naori Moriyama ('Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat') just a few weeks ago, and a few nights back while walking past a random restaurant with a bar, I spotted three Japanese men dining al fresco, each with a bowl of edamame beans and glass of beer in hand. So it IS true.

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Recipe for this dish can be found HERE. 

Fun fact - Succotash is a bean dish (usually with corn/lima beans/other shelled beans) that's a traditional Thanksgiving dish especially in New England and the Native Americans were apparently the first to come up with the dish. Looks like it'll be something to cook again next month along with pumpkin bread/pie. :D 

Once again, this was technically meant to be a vegan dish but at the moment it's only vegetarian because I ended using normal butter. ;p Not too keen on using the Earth Balance butter that I bought the other day after using it for the tofu cheesecake because normal butter just smells and tastes soooooo much better in my opinion. 

I've been checking out more vegan cookbooks and have just placed an order for Vegan Cooking for Carnivores by Roberto Martin. Though at the moment I'm not ready to make such a drastic shift in diet but I do like the idea of gradually increasing my repertoire of vegetarian/vegan dishes such that one day, maybe I'll find myself wholly capable of eating vegetarian (or vegan!) on a day-to-day basis. Who knows? But I definitely like the idea of doing something that's not only better for my health but with ripple effects on the environment. More to come soon. 


Thursday, 10 October 2013

muesli love

You know it's a good day, when you can start it off with a hearty bowl of muesli. :) It's something that, for me at least, requires time and patience to savour. Sounds strange, I know, since it's probably a dish that most people view as a quick/on-the-go type of breakfast. But on working days, sleep (even a luxurious mere 2 minutes more) trumps breakfast anytime. Since I had some leftover thawed berries (from the almost vegan triple berries cheesecake attempt) and a glorious Sunday morning ahead of me, I was able to put together muesli with Silk soy milk (soooo good) and leftover berries.

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This week has been so tiring. But I'm so relieved that the weekend is almost upon us!! Hang in there.


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

the almost vegan cheesecake

This weekend was a pretty productive one in the kitchen. :) I remember how there was a period sometime towards the end of the year last year when I used to back practically every weekend because it was something cathartic and stress-relieving...but that was also when I was still a student and have weekends off to rest and supposedly study. Ohh the sheer luxury of a weekend off. Yes, it's the case that weekends now are no longer a guarantee for rest and that's probably one of the few things I miss about being a student. That, and the fact that as a student, if you aren't up to going for lessons, you really can just take a break for the day without any consequences to bear. But now, even taking sick leave is pretty impossible because there's the real concern of how everyone else left behind is going to have to take up your share of the workload. Moral of the story is, if you're a student, enjoy your days of insouciance and inconsequentiality.

So recently, I've started exploring a little more about a vegan diet, and by exploring, I really mean reading The Kind Diet , a book written by Alicia Silverstone (whom I used to have a huge girl crush on back in the days of Clueless)(I mean who didn't love her??) that is part memoir, part crash course in the nutritional aspects of a vegan diet, and also a recipe book with tons of recipes that look so delicious. After watching youtube interviews of her explaining about her decision to turn vegan and how she went about doing so, it definitely got me thinking about how this is a possible lifestyle that I might want to lean into in the future. Everything started with the book, Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, that was the catalyst for my pescatarian diet change, and it seems that more and more I find myself thinking about the meaning of the choices I make when it comes to my diet. Like Foer mentioned in his book, he started exploring the topic because he wanted to be able to explain to his son (a new born at the time) why we eat the way we do, because not only do our choices reflect who we are but they affect our children in ways that we can't entirely control. And it does seem a little finicky to just say, oh I eat all kinds of meat but not dog meat because dogs are cute. It just seems insane how the food industries have been driven by the very fickle and subjective taste preferences of humans. I mean in a parallel universe, if humans weren't at the top of the food pyramid, it's plain sad to be at the mercy of some animal because of a random taste whim. But ok, this discussion could go on forever, and in the words of a dear carnivorous friend of mine, he'd just end it off by going, "Humans rule. 'nuff said", and go back to stuffing his face with pork ribs.

(Btw, I HIGHLY recommend reading Eating Animals. :) Just because Jonathan Safran Foer is one of my favorite writers and once you read that book, you'll at least get an inkling of how food gets from the farms to your plate. Essential knowledge if you care about what goes into your mouth.)

Last thursday, when I had the amazing good fortune of a random afternoon off, I decided to try out some recipes in The Kind Diet cookbook - namely the vegan berry cheesecake and the oatmeal-nuts-dried plum cookies. The vegan berry cheesecake looked so good in the photos and I was so excited to try out some new vegan ingredients, namely Earth Balance butter that is kinda expensive >< but I was really curious to see what it would look/taste like. Managed to get it at this incredible organic food store called Supernature at their Orchard Boulevard outlet and boy was it INCREDIBLE. They have racks and racks of organic items and I'm tempted to spend a proper afternoon there just browsing the aisles to see what's on offer.

Back to the Vegan Berry Cheesecake, recipe available HERE

PLUS POINTS - I really like how it makes use of silken tofu, which is definitely healthier than the usual whipping cream/truckloads of refined sugar/sour cream combination. But I couldn't actually find any non-dairy cream cheese (yeah, is there really such a thing?!) in the supermarkets so the cheesecake ended up being half vegan only.

MEH POINTS - All the while when I was working the ingredients for the cheesecake, the overaraching thought in my mind was that this would SMELL/TASTE SO MUCH BETTER with normal butter. When I had to melt the Earth Balance butter to mix the crushed graham crackers in, there was no delightfully sinful waft of molten butter that is typically the case with the delicious french beurre butter that I usually use. ;p Plus the recipe almost didn't work out because I really wasn't sure how the cake was supposed to look like after 45 min - 1 hour of baking in the oven. Some tips that I've now garnered from this experience is that:

1. You need to drain out as much water as possible from the silken tofu before incorporating it into the batter. I might no have been so careful with that, so in the end my batter kept bubbling slightly in the oven, which definitely affected the baking consistency. Most of the time it looked like the top layer was getting baked when the deeper portions were still molten.

2. These tofu cheesecakes need time to harden up! They ain't going to be hard immediately when you take them out from the oven so give them time to harden as they cool off to room temperature + with refrigeration. I was soooo disappointed at first when I thought that the cheesecake was a gone case because when I took it out after an hour in the oven, it was still 70% molten beneath the surface. :( I was all ready to dump it but then I decided to stick it outside to cool off for about 1-2 hours, before I chucked it into the fridge, hoping that it would eventually harden up overnight. WHICH IT DID. So I suppose the point is, don't rush these cheesecakes. That said, for this one, the berries definitely saved the cake - both in terms of taste and looks. It's definitely not as rich as a typical non-vegan cheesecake because the tofu makes it so much lighter and softer, but it was pretty decent and felt healthier. Not too sure that I would make it again though because of the traumatic - why is it not hardening up!! response I had initially.

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Ta-dah. :) I'm thinking the next cheesecake I'll try will definitely incorporate tofu again but with the other typical dairy products. I suppose at this stage, I'm not ready to go vegan in terms of my baking ingredients. I will definitely be aiming to replace the refined sugars with healthier alternatives like brown rice syrup and maple syrup but in terms of the essential ingredient - butter, I'm still going to be sticking with my french butter for the time being.

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Another recipe I tried was the Oatmeal, Walnut and Dried Plum Cookies (RECIPE HERE. This was definitely more successful than the cheesecake in that I didn't have so many problems with it coming out of the oven. Only thing is that these really EXPAND in the oven! I should've kept the cookie dough portions to 1 teaspoon large portions rather than the tablespoon ones as listed in the recipe. ;p Because the larger ones ended up rather MASSIVE and were so weak that they broke easily when I tried lifting them off to the cooling rack. The smaller ones were just right and retained some crunchiness at the edges. Added in raisins as well to these cookies.

OOh boy, where did the night go? Time to listen to some music before bed. Here's a song that I simply adore now.

And don't you think the lead singer's voice is like silken tofu?

Good night. 


Saturday, 5 October 2013

The Kitchen Table Cafe and Bake

Finally, a Sunday of rest to look forward to tomorrow. :) I'm so grateful whenever there is a day off in the week. It just makes all the difference - that ONE day of rest. Not that it's enough (in the ideal world we'd all be working 3 days a week and resting the next 4 ;p) but the days are so much more manageable with that one day to break the tedium and drudgery. That said, I do miss brunch. 

One of the best parts of my NZ trip was checking out all these great cafes where we would sloth around, eat great food and plan our next destination. In general, traveling for food was something we all agreed on. The NZ trip was about the time when I was starting to make a change in my diet though - sort of the start of my attempts at eliminating meat from my diet. Yeshhh, it's been about 5 months now since I've started my pescatarian ways, since I've not been able to cut out seafood/eggs/dairy from my diet to become completely vegetarian. ;p Maybe it'll be the next step. But anyhow, I realized pretty quickly that a grad trip with friends is not the ideal time for a change of that scale. At first I persisted, but then in the end I realized it would be much harder for our resident chef to cater for 4 minced meat and melted cheese mushrooms + 1 muesli dish for breakfast... Still, NZ was probably the time when I started to really develop a liking for muesli. I love how it's simple, hearty and downright healthy most of the time. 

Here's a cafe we happened to pass by - The Kitchen Table Cafe and Bake, in Dunedin, NZ. I just remember it being a very cozy place with really yummy muesli that came in a ginormous serving size. MMFF.

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Nothing quite as satisfying as smoked salmon with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. I don't know how I'm ever going to be able to turn vegetarian because I can't quite foresee life without those flavours. GAH. 

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The gorgeous bowl of muesli with a great variety of nuts strewn in. I love the combination of milk and a berry compote as well with muesli.  

 photo kitchencafe5small_zps16573504.jpg LOL. My friend's bagel as it was the cheapest thing on the menu. Quite a decently sized one though. (And wouldn't you agree that toasted bread/dough is just about the best taste on earth? With butter that is.) 

111 Moray Place 
Dunedin Central 
Dunedin City 

And of course, the other place we had to visit was the Dunedin Railway Station - apparently THE most photographed site in the whole of NZ.

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How badass are they? ;) 

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Heh. I really don't remember us doing very much apart from walking around the town centre, called The Octagon, really quickly. It's a quiet, chill sort of place and the best find was probably that cafe - amazingly, because it was while we were in search of another one that we never found. I like drawing meaning and conclusions from instances such as this. Conclusions such as, 'expect the unexpected' or 'you might not find what you're looking for, but in the process, something better might settle right in front of you'. Obviously I ain't gonna be writer of fortune cookie prophecies any time soon. 

Here's to a restful Sunday! 

Friday, 4 October 2013

Of sashimi and sky blue lakes

Yet another very very belated post. Incase you were wondering, I'm still here. I've just been sinking in the quagmire that is work. Some days are good and some days are plain bad. But most days are tiring. Usually the only thing I think of when I wake up in the morning on weekdays is the time when I can come back home to sleep. But inevitably, after work, there's a sudden spurt of energy, and I'm so much more awake to do stuff - ANYTHING FUN - that keeps me up later than I should be up to at night... and then the entire cycle starts again. Ever felt that way? ;/ 

I haven't been able to blog very much because whenever there's free time, it's usually spent - eating/sleeping/reading/surfing the net, in that order. (oooh and of course, thinking about where and what to eat, and when to sleep). I'm pretty sure I was something akin to a sloth in my previous life. Either a sloth or a very very lazy dog. I don't see how people can be bored when there's no work. I'm sure everyone has that one friend who always complains of boredom within days of the school holidays starting. Yeah, I can't understand those creatures either. But for me, there always seems to be so much to do and too little free time to do it all. I know it's all to do with prioritising and rest should definitely come up the top of the list... but sometimes I get carried away with going out and doing things that are a little more exciting though I know my body needs the rest. Am warming up to the idea that my body really just can't take the stress after awhile and 36 hours or so of no sleep is probably my limit. Why we need to subject our bodies to that sort of pressure in this line of work is beyond me. But so many have gone through it, survived, and lived to tell the tale. So I need to be able to pull through and survive too. 

Before I lose myself in a very tangential ramble, it's probably better that I lift my spirits and go back to some photos from New Zealand. ;) Still a bunch more that I've been dying to post because these are all places I highly recommend you check out if you ever get to go to the South Island. Just a few more posts, I promise, and then it'll be on to more recent things! 

So here we go - possibly one of the prettiest places I've been to. EVER.

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Lake Tekapo - just driving by was one of the best parts of the trip! I think we were on our way in our caravan to a hot spring where we would be staying the night... but this was another place in our guide book that was recommended and MAN, was it worth it. You NEED to check out this place if you're in the vicinity (and by that, I mean the entire country of NZ) -- Mt Cook Alpine Salmon farm. It's famous for its sashimi which I presume is exceedingly fresh catch from the salmon farm that's created by the hydro canal fed by Lake Tekapo. We were stark raving ravenous when we were on our way. On hindsight, it's probably because we knew we were going to be feasting on some terrific salmon sashimi so we didn't eat much for breakfast and that ride in the caravan was probably the longest/most excruciating one that we passed...playing bridge. It was hilarious because we were driving by all these great sights, like Maori artwork on rocks (something to that extent), but we looked out of the window for a second, then returned to chanting, "SA-SHI-MI! SA-SHI-MI!", before turning back to our game of bridge to quell the hunger in our bellies. 

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:D I love the lighting in this photo! It was just about 5pm in the evening and the sun was setting. Many fond memories of this place because it was so dang gorgeous. And naturally so! 

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OOHHHHHHHH YEAHH. Cold, thick, juicy slices of fresh salmon sashimi. We probably cleared this in...50seconds? Felt that way. ;) 

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And within the span of about half an hour, the sun set, changing the colours of the landscape every few minutes. It was gorgeous. And the colours of these photos aren't edited in any way at all. :) I found that most of the NZ landscape shots didn't really need brightening/editing at all because of its sheer natural beauty. 

Sigh. Ok, I feel a lot more contented just having re-lived a few moments of that trip through these photos. 

Now, time for bed and work tomorrow. At least it's a half day on Saturday. I'm grateful for whatever I can get.