Lemon & Thyme Infused Polenta With Monster Vegan Brunches!

Polenta has been foreign to me for most of my life. The first few times I tried making it I was young, living out of home and my attempts failed horribly. Feeling highly scarred and discouraged, I didn’t try again for a few years. I’ve now mastered these humble corn grits and while they look pretty with stripy grill marks on them, I like them even better when baked as chips/fries!

Lemon & Thyme Infused Polenta
Serves 4

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Death Star Cake Pops

Well, here it is: Mr. AA’s birthday “cake” – a fleet of nerdy, edible Death Stars.

Death Star Cake Pop - Vader 1
Darth Vader endorses Death Star cake pops.*

Despite them being a bit of a “craze”, I didn’t really know much about cake pops until this experiment – and although I did a bit of research and asked a friend of mine plenty of questions, I still ran into a few problems. I’ll talk you through the process with some photos below. Continue reading

Pastisio/Pasticcio

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

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

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

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

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Lentil Bolognese

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

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

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

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

Lentil Bolognese
Yields 8.5 cups and is suitable for freezing.

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Chocolate Mousse Crumble

This is a semi-raw, rich & creamy mousse that’s dairy, gluten and egg free! There’s a hint of coconut flavour from the coconut milk, but you can’t taste the avocadoes at all, I promise. The tartness of raspberries cuts through the richness of this nicely – I recommend serving with fresh or defrosted raspberries (or any other berry), or a berry coulis.

I made this on a whim tonight, with a list on ingredients but no guidance on quantities. A huge thanks goes out to my friend Jodie for the inspiration.

Choc Mousse Crumble
Serves 10

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Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Tangy Chive Oil

Today’s recipe is another one that will require my cashew béchamel sauce. Soup may not seem that exciting, but to get a soup this rich and creamy and vegan (and soy free!) is quite an accomplishment. Brace yourselves, chefs and other dairy enthusiasts – because this concept will knock your socks off.

Cream of Cauli Soup2
Yields approx 2.8L

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Coconut-Cashew Vanilla Ice-Cream

I’ve been in the mood for a sweet treat this week and banana soft serve simply wasn’t cutting it. I wanted something creamier, richer and fattier. Thus, I’ve come up with a coconut-cashew vanilla ice-cream recipe for you! It’s quick to throw together, but you’ll need to devote about 6 hours to being close to your freezer unless you use an ice-cream maker (don’t worry, most of it is inactive, so you can go about your business doing whatever you need to get done at home). The texture of this is smooth and creamy. Many cashew based ice-creams use water and this causes them to form icicles as they begin to freeze – you won’t have that problem here.

Coconut Ice-Cream
Yields approx 750ml

2 C Coconut Milk (use a good quality one without preservatives if possible)
1 1/2 C Raw Unsalted Cashews
1/4 – 1/2 C Agave Nectar (to your taste – 1/2 C will be VERY sweet)
2 t Vanilla Extract

  • Blend all ingredients together in a high speed blender until smooth. I normally give it about a minute.
  • Pour into a 1 litre air tight, freezer friendly container and place in the freezer with lid on.
  • Stir/mix/agitate every 2 hours for 6 hours with a miniature whisk. You could also use a fork if need be.
  • Leave in the freezer overnight/8 hours, then dig in when you’re ready! Serve with some dessicated coconut if you’re feeling fancy.

Recipe Notes
If you don’t have a high speed blender, you can use a food processor – but only a top notch food processor will work. I would make the following recommendations to make sure your ice-cream isn’t grainy:

  • Soak the cashews in the coconut milk for an hour or two before doing any blending.
  • Start by grinding only the cashews in the food processor, then slowly adding in the wet ingredients. This will encourage your food processor to create a smooth paste and will avoid grainy bits.
  • Follow the remainder of the instructions as written above. You may need to process a few more times as it starts to freeze.

Chunky Tomato Fire Sauce

I’m not shy when it comes to spicy food; anything that makes my mouth tingle after eating it makes me a very happy camper indeed. If you’ve got any stomach sentivitity issues like ulcers or gall stones, I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home (though if you really want to – you should probably omit the chili and go easy on the peppercorns). The recipe below is for “regular hot”. If you want it super duper hot, by all means, dump some cayenne pepper in there too (but don’t blame me if your butthole burns the next day, k?).

I served this with some crumbed tofu, brown rice & fresh, torn basil. I’ll give you some vague directions on that, but really, this post is about the sauce.

Chunky Tomato Fire Sauce
Serves 4

1-2 TBSP Olive Oil
1 Red Onion, diced
1/4 C Pitted Green Olives, sliced
1 tsp Canned Green Peppercorns, roughly crushed or chopped
2 Small Red Chilies, finely diced
2 TBSP Balsamic Vinegar
1 tsp Soft Brown Sugar
2 TBSP Tomato Paste (no added salt)
2-3 Large Vine Ripened Tomatoes, roughly diced

  • In a heavy bottomed pan, sauté the red onion in the olive oil until softened.
  • Add all other ingredients except tomato to the pan and stir until heated through and mixed well.
  • Add diced tomato, agitate pan and cook for a couple of minutes until thick and heated through.

Accompaniments:

  • I cooked 3/4 C long grain brown rice in approx 1+3/4 C water with the lid on until all the water was absorbed. (Sorry guys, I don’t always measure out the water or time how long it takes!) The rice will have a little bit of chew to it – don’t worry, that’s normal for brown rice.
  • For the tofu, I used a good quality firm, organic, 250g block of tofu. I cut it into 8 thick batons, dipped in rice milk, then dipped in crumbs and pan fried. The crumbs were panko bread crumbs (you could use rice crumbs if you need these to be gluten free), about 1 TBSP of seedy seasoning & lots of freshly cracked pepper.

For anyone who isn’t vegan but might be making this for a vegan, read your bread crumb ingredients VERY carefully, or make your own with bread that you know is vegan. Unfortuantely, most Aussie bread crumbs contain tuna oil!

Cashew Béchamel Sauce (White Sauce)

This béchamel sauce is pretty close to my heart. It developed as a result of two things: soy milk bechamel being utterly revolting and the raw food world sucking me in with delicious cashew creams and cashew based dips.

There’s a number of ways you can use this very versatile sauce, so please don’t feel limited by my suggestions. My favourite way to have it is baked on nachos (instead of cheese), but it’s also good with lasagne, enchiladas & moussaka. It’s a great creamy pasta sauce base and works well on cauliflower & broccoli. I’ve also used it in a creamy potato bake (scalloped potatoes) which turned out pretty special! You’ll probably see it referred to more than once on this blog. I don’t like to brag, but this is one of my best creations. Make it a food staple in your life; you won’t regret it.

Cashew Bechamel
Makes 3 & 1/4 cups

1 1/2 C Unsalted Cashews*
2 C Water, divided into 1 1/4 C & 3/4 C
1/2 tsp Powdered Stock (I use Vegeta)
1 tsp Savoury Yeast Flakes
1 TBSP Olive Oil Spread or Margarine
Pinch of Pepper

High Speed Blender Instructions

  • Blend cashews and water together until smooth & creamy.
  • Add the cashew/water mix to a pot on low heat and whisk in the powdered stock & savoury yeast flakes. Slowly add in the extra 3/4 C of water until your desired consistency is reached. The longer you leave the sauce on the stove, the more it will thicken.
  • Stir in the olive oil spread and add a pinch or two of pepper if desired.
  • Remove from heat & serve or proceed to use in another recipe.

Food Processor Instructions

  • Grind cashews in food processor and add 1 1/4 C water in a slow, steady stream. It will be a little grainy – don’t panic.
  • Add the cashew/water mix to a pot on low heat and whisk in the powdered stock & savoury yeast flakes. Slowly add in the extra 3/4 C of water until your desired consistency is reached. The longer you leave the sauce on the stove, the more it will thicken.
  • Stir in the olive oil spread and add a pinch or two of pepper if desired.
  • Remove from heat & blend again in the food processor until smooth & creamy, then serve or proceed to use in another recipe.

Notes:

  • Keep in mind that this sauce will continue to thicken as it cools down.
  • The sauce will also thicken a little further when baked.
  • The best thing to use to get this out of a pot without making a mess is a rubber/silicone spatula; the kind you use for baking (not the egg flip sort).
  • This sauce is freezer friendly but will need to be blended again after thawing to ensure smoothness!

*You can use “raw” or dry roasted cashews, it really doesn’t matter that much. I prefer to use “raw” (which are actually steamed), but will often use roasted if that’s all I can find.

Thick & Rich Ratatouille

Ratatouille
Serves 4

2 TBSP Olive Oil
1 Brown Onion, roughly diced
2 C Eggplant, cut into 1cm dice
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1/4 of a Green Capsicum, cut into bite sized chunks
1 Red Capsicum, cut into bite sized chunks
1 Zucchini, cut into 1cm thick semi-circles
1/2 tsp Dried Oregano
1 1/2 C Tomato Puree (no added salt)
1/8 C Red Wine (I used a Yalumba Cab Sav)
1/2 tsp Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 tsp Raw Sugar
S+P to taste
Fresh Parsley to serve

  • Heat oil in a deep saute pan on med to high heat. Add onion & eggplant. cook for 3 minutes, agitating but not stirring. You’ll want to keep in as much heat as possible.
  • Add the garlic, capsicums & oregano. Cook for a further 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Turn the heat down if necessary.
  • Add the zucchini, tomato puree, wine, balsamic vinegar and salt. Stir to combine, then cook on low heat with lid on for approx 10 minutes or until zucchini is tender but not mushy.
  • Stir in salt & pepper to taste, then serve with some fresh parsley if desired.

Ratatouille is excellent served with bread; in the picture, I’ve served it with cous cous. If you’re looking for a gluten free alternative, try rice or a simple risotto, some millet or quinoa.