Sunday, 25 November 2012

Ten Facts when Travelling to England

I arrived in England two days ago and have been absolutely thrilled with every second. I'd love to post for hours about it, but I'll keep it short:

1. Emirates provides VEGAN DESSERTS!! I had a great raspberry muffin AND a chocolate mousse cake on my flights, both of which were really good.

Actually, all of my vegan meals were really good on the flight. I was expecting rubbish alternatives, but my food often looked better than everyone else's. Emirates is great.

2. The moon is upside down.

3. Visit Mildred's. 

In Soho, my brother and sister-in-law took me here on my first night out. Most of the menu is vegan, and there are gluten-free and wheat-free options as well. Everything on their menu is labelled, with many meals offering a vegan option, providing omnivores with something they will be happy with. And its super cheap too - I think this is the case for most food in England, but the mains were around 10 pounds each, and desserts around 6 pounds!
They offer fresh juice (I enjoyed a beetroot, orange and ginger juice) as well as smoothies, beer, wine, etc. The three of us all ordered the same main: Mixed mushroom, porcini and ale pie served with fries and mushy peas.
This was fantastic and if you're taking an omnivore who insists they only love meat, this vegan dish will more than satisfy. My grandfather would have loved it (and he is definitely an omnivore..)
My sister-in-law mentioned saving room for dessert and my mouth dropped. There was a full dessert menu, with 5 of the 8 dishes vegan. N-o w-a-y. I had spent 3 days in Melbourne before travelling to England and spent an entire night searching for a vegan dessert to no avail. This was heaven in a handbag! ;)

A major regret in my life is not making Chocolate Banoffee Tart before I was told I was dairy intolerant.
(About a month before I found out about my intolerances I came across this recipe for chocolate banoffee tart and couldn't get it off my mind - it was going to be the next sweet thing I baked. I was too busy to get around to it. Then I found out about my allergies. This is a major regret in my life.)

The second dish on this dessert menu was vegan Banoffee Tart. I cannot express the excitement I felt when I saw this. All three of us ordered the same again and it came out and my expression was like a little girl given the keys to fairy-land. I don't like to take photographs of my food in restaurants but this pie made me itch to do so. Sorry folks, you'll have to go and see for yourself.

This pie was creamy, crunchy, sweet, rich, chocolatey, banana-ry.. everything a girl could dream of. My sister-in-law asked me what I thought and stopped herself. She said the look on my face said it all. I was in culinary heaven. The gods had answered my prayers.

Visit Mildred's. Now.

4. Coffee is cheap. A tall Starbucks black coffee is £1.50. That's $2.30 AUD!! Two days ago I was paying a minimum of $3.50!

5. The tube is easy. But it stinks. It's loud, cramped, smelly, dirty, but really fast, efficient and easy to figure out.

6. In Australia, we are so blessed to have so much space. In London, when you think you've seen a big house, you realise it's been divided probably more than once. There are very few backyards.

7. When crossing the road find a group of people and cross with them. If your crossing is empty (rare) walk to the next block to avoid death ;)

8. People will know you are a tourist if you take photos of the rubbish bags piled beside the steps of people's flats. I am a tourist.

9. Phone cameras come in handy to disguise point 8. Conveniently I have a great phone camera.

10. People will also know you are a tourist if you smile all the time. I smile at people's voices. I smile at the buildings. I smile at the Tube. I smile at the trees. I smile at the buses. I smile at... you get the picture. Londoners don't smile. This one I don't think I'll change.

11. (An extra one)
Everyone in London is tired. At home, I am the only one with dark rings around my eyes most days.. In London my eyes look good enough to model glasses! You notice this on the Tube in particular. Every single person looks exhausted at every time of the day.

I don't think I'll move here, but my goodness it's a beautiful place to visit! More to come!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Pancakes: BEST, accidentally vegan

I think I bake when I get excited and nervous..
This morning I woke up at the crack of dawn and wanted to do one thing: cook. What do you cook in the early hours of the morning? Pancakes!

My mum (I blog in American! I just wrote 'mom'. Why do I think only American bakers blog?! Aussies, I need to know you're there!) is the pancake queen of our house (I think all houses should have one). She, however, hates pancakes. She eats half a pancake and after half an hour will feel like she's been hit by a truck. So she just cooks them and in return feels the love of her family's full bellies. This might be a good moment to mention my darling mother isn't much of a housewife. She can only cook two things: Thai Green Curry and Pancakes. Both of which are the best you can get your hands on. Until now!

All this baking has left me eating a little too much of the good stuff, so I thought I'd whip up some pancakes for my brother and his friends (containing allergens which means I couldn't eat them even if I was tempted :p) whom I knew would be waking up a feeling a little seedy in the a few hours.

There's something you should know about me. I have a heavily filled bookmarks bar. All my bookmarks have been categorised into folders. These folders have subfolders. And every single link is to a recipe.

A large portion of these recipes are for pancakes.

Perhaps I'm a collector? I've bookmarked pancake recipes from various blogs I've come across, some vegan, some not. Today I opened a lot of these and had a look at what they had in common. Got a bit of an idea and deleted them all. No more pancakes recipes! Well, almost. I still have Manifest Vegan's Pumpkin Maple Pancakes recipe and Triple Chocolate Pancakes recipe (saved as 'BIRTHDAY BREAKFAST ONLY' in my bookmarks bar), but when you click on these links and see the photographs you will understand why.
I then opened the fridge to find.. No milk. No eggs. No butter.
So, dear readers, formed the best pancakes I have ever had, completely 100% accidentally vegan. Oh, and refined sugar free too.

Pancakes: For dairy lovers and vegans alike
makes 10-15 large pancakes
2 cups SR flour
2 1/3 cups almond milk
2 psyllium eggs (or two eggs/other substitute)
4 tbsp butter substitute (I use Nuttelex original), melted + extra
3 tsp stevia (powdered)
Pinch of salt
Dash of vanilla

1. Prepare psyllium eggs by adding 6 tbsp boiling water to 2 tsp psyllium husk, mix and set aside, stirring occasionally.

2. Whisk flour and almond milk. Add melted butter.
3. Once the eggs are good and gluggy whisk them in too, then add the stevia, salt and vanilla.

4. Heat a (preferably flat) saucepan with some butter substitute, then add some pancake mix. Swirl the pan around much easier if you have a fry pan with a handle.. life could be a dream.. to evenly spread the pancake mix and once bubbles form (it won't be long) flip the pancake and cook the other-side until lovely and golden.

You'll notice I don't give a stove temperature of low/med/high here. This will vary depending on the pan you're using/how long you've been cooking the pancakes (I usually have to turn the heat down when I'm about half way through cooking) etc. Just find what's right for your kitchen.

I particularly enjoyed these with long slices of banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

I made a second batch of these and stirred in about 150g of chocolate chips before cooking and these were the ones I actually gave to the seedy teens filling my house. Said teens have been quoted saying "These are the best pancakes I have ever had!", "This is house is amazing to stay at!" and when I told one of them they were vegan and sugar-free (well, apart from the chocolate chips) she said "No way. They were so good!".

The best response? My mum came down as I was making these and ate three in total during the morning. She said she didn't feel at all sick afterwards and half an hour after eating them couldn't tell that she had at all! She loved them. If you know someone who feels rubbish after pancakes, give this a go and see if you can change their outlook on life - pancakes are smiles for the tummy!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Cake Decorating Courses, Maths Degrees and Trips to Europe - What a life!

This week I achieved a major milestone. I completed the final exam in my maths major. Phew.
What an incredible(ly) long journey.
Apparently, when I was 8 years old we drove past the Maths and Physics building at UTAS and I said to my mother "I think while I'm deciding what I want to do as my career I'll get a maths degree." Proudest moment of her life, she says. Well, I did it. Why? Good question. It was incredibly painful and apart from the cringe of horror when I became aware that I was making up and laughing at maths jokes in regular conversation, provided little enjoyment to my university experience.

I've been taking part in a cake decorating course through Adult Education and it ended (thankfully) this week. It was.. not great. I learnt a few things - like how to make stunning modelling paste flowers - but it was terribly slow moving and after a full day of intense exam study, three hours of listening to a lady talk about her experiences with left over icing at decorating conferences whilst I watched her make royal icing wasn't really what I was in the mood for.

In the last class we had to leave with a completed cake and I had planned to make a birthday cake for my grandmother with maroon ribbons. Never plan to make anything with maroon fondant. Just don't.
After far too much time spent kneading not-maroon fondant I quit this challenge and brainstormed for another. MATHS!
The following day I had a maths tutorial for my final exam, something the last 8 years of my life had been building up to, and I decided a celebratory cake was in order!

The Maths and Physics Department of our university had the phrase 'Maths and Physics: A Bright Idea!'. I always think of this whenever I see "Maths and Physics" written around our university, but usually follow it with.. 'who's bright idea was this?'. So that was the theme of my cake!

 These photos were sent to one of my many thankful lecturers. The cake was a Coles brand fruit cake and apparently very nice (contained many allergens so I didn't sample). He quoted: Before, and after.

So that was the end of that. Good riddance bye mathematics! This new mathematician will hopefully see nothing of you for a very long time.

To say well done, my family congregated on the beautiful Salamanca Lawns to share ciders and fish and chips, play some music together and finally breathe for the first time in months. I took a moment to thank my family for the reliable dinners left out for me each night, putting up with my ranting, and to my poor brother for listening to me fly off the handle about things like eating my food and not washing up. Darling family that I have!
The responded by telling me.. I'm going to LONDON!
My beautiful family have organised a trip to England to celebrate the end of this long period of my life and I could not be more ecstatic. So what did I do to celebrate? I got baking!

I started with Caramel Slice, my boyfriend's favourite. I remembered my cousins birthday dinner was approaching and this happens to be one of his favourites, so made a doubled batch for him as well. This left some extra base as my pan wasn't quite the right size, so I whipped up some lemon curd and made some lemon slice!
My other cousin isn't much of a chocolate fan, but adores lemon so I figured I'd make two young boys happy! These were both packed with dairy and eggs so I couldn't taste as I went, but the willing tasters loitering in my kitchen assure me it is deeelish.
(Also made a failed vegan brownie and some vegan nutella, but they will come later when I've perfected them.) Cheers!

Caramel Slice, Matthew's Favourite
I always make this in triple.. it never lasts long (shhh)

1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup brown sugar
125g butter, melted.

400g tin condensed milk
2 tbsp golden syrup
60g butter

125g dark chocolate.. and a little bit more

Preheat oven to 180C.
Whisk (replaces sifting) the dry base ingredients together, then add the butter.
Press into a 28 x 18cm lamington pan and bake for 15 minutes until sides begin to golden.
Leave to cool completely (once at room temperature, refrigerate).

Whisk condensed milk, golden syrup and butter over low heat in a saucepan until well combined and somewhat thicker (about 15 minutes). Leave to cool until base is ready - if the base is ready to go there is no need to let it cool!
Pour over cold base and bake in oven for about 15 minutes until set slightly. (Use your judgement).
Leave to cool completely - to room temperature, then in the fridge.

Melt chocolate and pour over chilled base. Get ready to slice it straight away with a HOT knife - once the chocolate has set it will break when cut.
Tip: clean the knife with wet paper towel after every cut to keep the chocolate clean.

Store in the fridge overnight, then in a cool place (fridge or room temperature) until everyone eats it all! (It won't be long, you have been warned).

Lemon Slice
Base: (as above)
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup desiccated coconut
1/4 cup brown sugar
60g butter, melted

Lemon Curd Filling:
I'm told this tastes just like store bought Lemon Curd
4 lemons
4 eggs
1 cup caster sugar
125g butter

Preheat oven to 180C.
Whisk (replaces sifting) the dry base ingredients together, then add the butter.
Press into a 14 x 9cm lamington pan (I've just provided half the size needed for my Caramel Slice, pick and choose!) and bake for 15 minutes until sides begin to golden.
Leave to cool completely (once at room temperature, refrigerate).

Finely zest one lemon and juice all four. 
In a heatproof bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until well combined, then add lemon, whisking until combined.
Whisk continuously over a bowl of simmering water for about 15 minutes, until custard-like consistency (it's ok to walk away from for a few seconds, but wouldn't for longer than that). You will see a definite change after about 10 minutes, whisk for a little longer. 
Remove from the heat and add butter, whisking to combine. 
Allow to cool completely, then spread over chilled base.

Refrigerate overnight, slice away! It will set to the consistency similar to soft jelly, firmer than it appears below.