Friday, 22 August 2008

Olympic baking missions

"You are better than I am," Inigo admitted.
"So it seems. But if that is true, then why are you smiling?"
"Because," Inigo answered, "I know something you don't know."
"And what is that?" asked the man in black.
"I'm not left-handed," Inigo replied, and with those words, he all but threw the six-fingered sword into his right hand, and the tide of battle turned.
- The Princess Bride by William Goldman

As I've mentioned earlier, there have been a lot of birthdays lately (a lot of leos around obviously!). This last weekend we had two in a row and I was baking for both!

Although technically not until the following Tuesday, my cousin D celebrated her birthday on the Saturday with a family dinner. We made the trip across the bridge in the wonderful wet winter weather we're having here at the moment. I helped D whip up a batch of good old Mac and Cheez which always goes down a treat as she'd always wanted to try it since I'd mentioned it to her.

I was in charge of D's cake but I just couldn't decide what to make. In fact even when I had decided, I changed my mind a bit once I got in the kitchen. So perhaps a marble cake is a perfect cake for indecision! This is basically the Black Forest Chocolate Cake from the good old Damn Tasty Vegan Baking Guide (yes, again!) but I decided to mix it up a bit. Dividing the ingredients in half I added cocoa to only one half of the mixture (balancing it out with a little more flour in the other mixture) then added chopped dark chocolate to the dark mixture and white chocolate chips to the white mixture. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture into your baking pan then swirl it a little with a fork and hey presto, marble cake!

I blended up a tin of strawberries (didn't even know they existed until I found them on the shelf) and thickened it up with cornflour then added some melted chocolate and peanut butter and spread the mixture thickly between the layers with some good old chopped banana. It was very well received!

It was a pretty exciting night as we spent all evening after dinner watching the Olympics and screaming at the screen as our rowing team raced. We were hoarse and shaky after cheering on the rowers then gobsmacked as we made it to the gold medal race of the men's pursuit and very nervous over the women's shot-put. But it made for one very impressive evening of Olympic watching.

Here's the
 Evers-Swindell twins (they're the team closest to the camera) about to pass the German team and win by a ridiculously close margin. I don't know if you've been able to tell but we've been addicted to the Olympics during the past couple of weeks. I don't think I've watched this much television all year as I have since the Olympics began!

Anyway, the following day J's good friend was celebrating his birthday and J had suggested I make the Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie from Have Cake Will Travel I made a while back. When it actually came down to making it I realised I'd run out of cocoa for the crust so there were a few changes made (throw in some wholemeal flour and some toasted coconut and we're set) and goodness knows where you'd get agave nectar here so I tend to use molasses 'cause, well, molasses tastes yummy!

Since we've had so many birthday cakes lately the change to a pie was really refreshing. Plus it's a lot quicker to make and decorate than a cake. The only thing is that the melting of the chocolate (I do it in a pot over a saucepan of boiling water) can make one feel a little woozy as the wafting smell of chocolate surrounds you!

As well as birthdays, J and I had a little celebration of our own last week and J treated me to dinner at Sawadee. I had a red tofu curry which doesn't even seem to be on the online menu but it was delicious. The bowl was deceptively huge so I had to doggie bag over half of it! Of course that's never a problem since I can just have it another night!

I think that is the end of most of the birthdays and celebrations around here for a little while which really will be quite nice since it can be rather exhausting having such a busy social calender. It's busy enough as it is!

Monday, 18 August 2008

Warm me up please

'So how come you left the Evil Dark Lord business, Harry?' said Cohen.
'Werl, you know how it is these days,' said Evil Harry Dread.
The Horde nodded. They knew how it was these days.
'People these days, when they're attacking your Dark Evil Tower, the first thing they do is block up your escape tunnel,' said Evil Harry.
'Bastards!' said Cohen. 'You've got to let the Dark Lord escape. Everyone knows that.'
- The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett

It is definitely got that winter feeling around here although our spin instructor this morning announced that there was only 2 more weeks of winter to go...hahaha. It doesn't snow in Auckland but if you had squinted your eyes a little a few weeks ago in the dark evening you would have been forgiven for mistaking the thick layer of hail for snow. According to records snow was officially recorded on the ground in Auckland in 1939. On Thursday, July 27 1939 snow lay on the hills (up to 2 inches on the top of the Waitakere Ranges and Eastern Bombay hills) around Auckland with dustings to sea level. This is the only record of snow lying on the ground in the Auckland City area since meteorological records began back in 1853. It would have been exciting to discover it really was snow this time but, well, no. It was freezing though especially coupled with the strong winds and heavy rain.

Then not long after that we got blasted by storm after storm. Nothing too bad in Auckland but if you lived in some suburbs on the North Shore you lost power and hot water. Other parts of the country were not so lucky with serve flooding and damage from the powerful winds. We just had rain...and more rain. Oh, and some icy gusts.

So when the winter has well and truly set in you need warming foods and what better way than a thick, chunky soup.

The other night I adapted good old Alison and Simon Holst's recipe for Corn Chowder using kumara instead of potato (it just sounded yummier), adding chopped up capsicum and spicing it up a bit with a rather large dash of J's mother's homemade chilli tomato sauce. (oh, and omitting the cream which I replaced with more soy milk). Just what we needed to warm up our insides.

Cooking up hearty dishes in the oven also helps keep not only us warm but also the whole house as the heat from the oven radiates through the living room (not to mention the delicious smell).

I hadn't made calzones or pizza dough in a while since I couldn't use my right arm to help kneed but it's improved a little (admitedly I mostly used my left arm anyway). So here we have a partly eaten ginormous calzone filled with vegetables, beans, more chilli tomato sauce and grated 
sheese (we've been trying the smoked chedder style and it's delicious).

Next up, pizza...there is nothing like homemade pizza dough. Mine is usually a half/half wholemeal/white with some coarse polenta thrown in for good measure!

Over the top of a thick coating of tomato paste I scattered sliced veges and marinated some tofu with a sprinkling of yeast flakes and some more of the sheese grated and added in the last few minutes of cooking to stop it going crispy.

Here's another variation on wraps. Lately I've always got a store of these fancy wraps from the fruit and vege store in my freezer (these are apparently basil pesto wraps but the sun-dried tomato ones are also deliciously vegan as well). They defrost in a matter of minutes (well, enough to be flexible then you just chuck the whole wrap in the oven to warm it up). Very handy for those lazy, cold, wet (very wet lately) nights when nothing springs to mind.

The wraps are filled with homemade falafel and veges with a good dosing of J's Mum's spicy tomato sauce and some homemade hummus.

And what better way to warm your tummy with a simple crumble and custard for dessert. Perfect!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The celebration of eating...and more eating

If you think you've been spotted, don't panic. If you react straight away it is very obvious that you have been rumbled. To escape from the situation, look at your watch or pretend to check a text message, then loudly exclaim, "Oh no, I'm really late!" and run past the person you are tailing rather than away from them. This looks far less suspicious.
- The Girls' Book: How To Be The Best At Everything by Juliana Foster

The problem with having so many birthdays in close proximity is that there is a lot of food consumed...a lot of cake, a lot of going out for dinners, lunches, brunches, a lot of snacking, a lot of licking of the spoon and taste testing the icing or cake mixture! We've only just begun the birthday season and yet I've still managed to eat so much cake I felt ill!

Next on the birthday agenda after J's birthday on Monday was, well, mine! To celebrate we did a heck of a lot of eating...

My Mum came into town to visit me and we wandered round until lunchtime when we met J and my lovely cousin D for lunch at, you guessed it, Raw Power! I couldn't decide what to have so ended up going with the
baked kumara again. As usual it was delicious. D experienced her usual menu order envy (basically wanting what everyone else ordered!) as our dishes arrived but once tucking into her thick and creamy looking vegan leek and potato soup she looked quite satisfied!

Dinner, well, neither J nor I felt like cooking so we ate one of my favourite fast foods...Burger Fuel! Lime Soy Malt Shakes (okay, they're huge so we shared the one), kumara fries and the Combustion Tofu Burger (minus the aioli of course). I love it how big the burgers are and how they make them with wholemeal buns. I could almost kid myself they were healthy!!!

You'd think that your birthday only lasted for one day each year but J seemed determined to take me out for brunch on Saturday morning and as I walked into the living room as we were about to leave I found out why. Sitting on my couch was my best friend B and another of my good friends E. I was so gobsmacked I had to walk out of the room again and come back in! You see, B lives in Christchurch and although I'd talked to him the week before he'd said nothing...those cunning boys!

So off we went to try out a cafe I'd heard a bit about in Kingsland, Roasted Addiqtion. I ordered the Vegan Tofu Florentine and it was superb. Words do not describe how delicious it was so I'll just post a photo instead and you can make up your mind (hint: it was awesome).

Sitting in their counter display was a mouthwatering slice of vegan chocolate cake so despite us all being full I decided we would all help devour this slice of cake...and it went down very well!

If you were thinking that was my birthday cake or wondering whether I even had room for cake after all these birthday celebrations that week well the birthday cake was still to come. Early on Saturday morning I'd got out of bed and whipped up the cake part of the Boston Cream Pie from
The Damn Tasty Vegan Baking Guide and in the afternoon whilst the boys were immersed in SmashBros Brawl (??) on the Wii I made some cookies and cream frosting as we had some cookies that needed using. Together it made for a very successful and highly delicious cake.

It was so good in fact that at the end of the night there was none left including the off cuts from the top of the cake!

This is not the last birthday within the astrological sign of the Leo this year though so there are plenty more birthday cakes and celebrating to come. Almost everyone I know seem to be Leos which makes it a bit of wonder we all get along considering the typical nature of the Leo. Supposedly we are ambious, materialistic, great extroverts, power hungry, leaders etc. Hmmm...