Hi all, I’m back!! Thanks for all the lovely messages that you left me while I was away. The past couple of months have been really hectic with family, travel and the big move into our new place, but everything has finally settled down.
The funeral of my uncle was very sad, but I am glad that I got to go down to say my goodbyes. It was the first funeral that I have attended of someone that I really knew my whole life. So it was really heart wrenching and a reminder that we can all go at any time. On the bright side, my grandfather who was also in the ICU, ended up being well enough to return home. However, it was also a reminder that my grandparents are getting older and won’t be around for much longer. Something I sometimes forget when I’m going about my life interstate.
Anyway, after that was my big trip to Japan for a wedding of two dear friends. I had so much fun and definitely got the travel bug again. Not such a great thing now we have a mortgage, but I can’t help it. I just love to experience different cultures, eat interesting food, photograph everything and of course the shopping! When we arrived back we moved straight into the new house and have been busy moving in our stuff and renovating when we haven’t been at work. So its been pretty crazy, hence why I hadn’t been back to blogging till now. But now the New year has finally begun I am feeling more motivated to start cooking and writing again.
As promised I have much to share about Japan. If you were hoping for an inspirational vegan travel guide to Japan you will be very disappointed. I tried to stay true to my vegan journey, but it was difficult and I slipped a lot. Do I regret it? Not really. What I love about travel is experiencing the food. There is something about trying something that looks strange and taste different that I have always loved when I travel. I was probably the most food curious and adventurous person on the trip. I did stick to pescetarian/vegetarian diet though. I did not eat any meats or dairy. This was not always easy when you are travelling with 20 other people and meals where often preplanned by our hosts at carnivorous restaurants and can not speak Japanese. But I always managed to find something else where ever we went. Unless you eat in only vegan restaurants in Japan it is hard to stick to a strict vegan diet. Many Japanese snacks and dishes are flavoured with fish products, even simple things like miso soup and noodle soups. Rather then scrutinise everything before I put in it my mouth, I just accepted the fact that the food wasn’t going to be all vegan. But since being back I’m striving get back to a vegan diet.
The wedding we attended was in Osaka, which is where we spent most of our time. After the wedding the bride and groom took us on a tour around Osaka and on day trips to Kyoto, Nara and Inari. After that Marco and I visited Tokyo and Hiroshima before heading home. We visited many temples, got to immerse ourselves into Japanese everyday life and experience all different types of Japanese foods . The highlights were: watching our friends get married in a beautiful ceremony overlooking the Osaka city lights; eating the amazing food in Osaka; dressing as a Geisha in Kyoto; shopping was Harajuku, Tokyo and visiting the Hiroshima A-Bomb Museum.
Here are some of the vegetarian options that I found in Japan:
One of my favourite discoveries in Japan was Mochi. I have heard a lot about it, but had never seen it in real life. I feel in love the first time I tried it. When we first arrived we went to a food department store in Osaka and were told by our friends to buy this Mochi with a fresh Strawberry inside. After the first bite I was kicking myself I didn’t by more since I had to share this one with Marco. The outside was soft like a mash mellow and the inside was so sweet. I couldn’t believe how fresh the strawberry was. After that day I was addicted to Mochi. I usually buy a strawberry Mochi fromt the convenience store in the morning or have it for dessert if it was available in the restaurant. Chocolate Mochi is also really amazing and the perfect end to a good meal.
Another delicious discovery was Warabimochi, which is a jelly-like confection made from bracken starch and covered in sweet toasted soybean flour. I first tried this at a Sushi train. But I also found it available at markets and given a side dish in Japanese restaurants. It is sweet but not too sweet and is also a little spongy in texture. Have you tried it? What did you think? Marco wasn’t a huge fan, but I loved it.
Another sweet discovery was Soy bean milk Soft serve and Tofu Donuts. I saw these at the Nishiki Market in Kyoto. I haven’t had a soft serve in years. I gave up the 50cent cone long before I went dairy free. Someone told me it was made out of pig fat, which turned my stomach. Soybean milk Soft serve tasted just as good as the regular one and had a really mild soy taste. The Tofu Donuts were great. They didn’t taste like tofu at all. Wish I bought two bags of this after sharing them with everyone. Pretty sure these are vegan. After having to make mooing sounds to the guy selling them, he understood what I was asking and said no to cows milk products.
Another thing that I finally got to try in Japan was Natto. I have heard that this fermented soy bean is really healthy and great for the stomach. We were at the sushi train and one of the guys picked it off and put a whole Natto boat in his mouth. He said that it tasted disgusting and dried up all the saliva in his mouth. Everyone was confused what this strange ingredient was, but I recognised it straight away. I have been looking for Natto for so long, so I was very excited when he gave me the other Natto sushi. I decided to be safe I would just try a little bit of the Natto. It was so stringy like cheese. There was this clear like glue that stretched from the sushi to my mouth, which didn’t make it pretty to eat. The taste was horrible. It was nutty with a strong bitter taste. Everyone else took my word that it was horrible and were content not to try it. We at least I know now. Otherwise I may have surprised Marco with Natto for dinner.
To celebrate moving into our new place, we decided to have Christmas at our house this/last year. I didn’t have very long to prepare and was lacking inspiration. So I researched recipes that I thought everyone would like while I was at work. I was going to make it a completely vegan Christmas, but in the end we decided to doing a couple seafood dishes. Here are some of the dishes that I made for my Christmas buffet. I doesn’t look like much, but there was so much food. I was up from 6.30 baking the breads, cooking the mains and sides and preparing the desserts. We ended up making it a Christmas dinner because we didn’t get to eat till after 5. It was so hot that we didn’t get to eat as much as I hope, but at least we had so many leftovers that I didn’t need to worry about cooking for everyone the days after. I was just so burnt out.
Some of the dishes include Rice pilaf with Almonds & Cranberries, Roasted Eggplant with Sumac Tahini Dressing, Traybaked Fish & Prawn Keralan Curry, my Eggplant Parmigiana, Roasted Potatoes, Carrots, Pumpkin and Beetroot; Tahini Thyme Flat bread and Olive Rosemary Foccacia.
These are Tahini Thyme Flat bread and Olive Rosemary Foccacia, as well as some Kiflice that Marco’s sister prepared. The Flat bread probably took the longest to prepare out of anything for Christmas. I should really read the recipes before taking them on. But it wasn’t until I made the dough and left it to rest that I realise it needed to rest 4 times in 45 min intervals before being baked. Luckily it was the first thing I prepared that morning, so I had plenty of time. The recipe for this Flat bread can be found here. It is from recipe book The Bourke Street Bakery’s Bread and Butter Project; by a Bakery in Sydney. Only thing I did different was use whole soy milk instead of cows milk and dry yeast instead of fresh. The bread was pretty good and it tasted just as good the next day and it didn’t go hard. However considering how long it took me I think I would prefer to just make the Foccacia next time, which was just as good. I got the recipe from here. I didn’t have any Saffron, but other then that I stuck to the recipe. It was probably the most successful Foccacia that I have ever made. I made it again for New years and it was still very popular with the family.
This Rice pilaf with Almonds & Cranberries was probably one of the most popular dishes on the day. Everyone loved it. It was adapted from Jewelled wild rice with Almonds. So I decided to include the recipe for you. Its is full of flavor and a great crowd pleaser that that can be serve on the side with just about anything. For my version I only used white basmati, which was all I could get on short notice and I cooked mine in the pot instead of the oven. This was actually not the plan but it just happened to cook on its own and I forgot about it.
Rice pilaf with Almonds & Cranberries (vegan, gluten free, soy free)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
500g basmati rice
100g dried cranberries
1 litre vegetable stock
sea salt to taste
2 bay leaves
2 large thyme sprig
small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
50g toasted flaked almonds
finely grated zest ½ orange
serve with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice to taste
1. Take a heavy based casserole pot and heat the olive oil. Then add the onion and cook on a medium to low heat for 15 minutes, until the onion starts to go golden.
2. Add the basmati rice and the cranberries and stir through until coated with the onions.
3. Then add the vegetable stock and sea salt to taste.
4. Place the bay leaves and thyme into the pot. Don’t stir them through, just leave float on the top.
5. Bring the pot to the boil, then down to a simmer with the lid on and leave to cook for 10-15 minutes, until the rice is half cooked. There should still be plenty of liquid in the pot.
6. Turn off the heat and leave the lid on for 15-20 minutes. In this time the liquid will be absorbed and the rice will be cooked, light and fluffy.
7. Add the parsley, almonds and orange zest.
8. Serve warm or leave it to go cold cold. Top with some extra olive oil and lemon juice to taste.
Another big hit at Christmas with the guest was this delicious Roasted Eggplant with Sumac Tahini Dressing. I haven’t made this since Sally’s 60th. Its really easy to prepare and is so delicious. I ended up making a double portion for New years to feed the demand for eggplant. You can find the recipe here. I guarantee you guests will love it! The original recipe is from Honestly Healthy: Eat with your body in mind, the alkaline way, by Natasha Corrett andVicki Edgson.
So for my Christmas dessert buffet I had plans to make more then this. But with time restrictions this is what I managed. Firstly I finally got around to making this Pumpkin Tiramisu from Chef Chloe’s website. I have been wanting to try this for so long. I learned my lesson a few years ago making a traditional Tiramisu for everyone for Christmas that I could not eat. Not only was it depressing, but my skin broke out after I had to try all the elements before putting it all together. So this recipe is completely vegan and seemed like a better option. I would love to say that I fell in love with this recipe, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed. I’m not sure if it was because I used fresh butter nut pumpkin purée instead of canned pumpkin or because I had to use a hazelnut syrup instead of alcohol. But I just found the color was off, there was far to much sugar, especially in the vanilla cake. Everyone who tried it said it was nice, but that I shouldn’t of ruined something that’s perfect already. I think the concept of the pumpkin creme was excellent though and very creamy and thick like mascapone and eggs. I think next time I would use some Savoiardi if I can find dairy free and definitely some alcohol.
This dessert was actually more popular that I had to make it again for New years. It actually looked a lot more stunning with the fresh fruit on top, but I forgot to take photos just before serving. It is slightly adapted from Vegan Two-Bite Blueberry Cheesecake by Cheeky Kitchen. I used vegan ginger snap biscuits for the base, frozen mixed berries for the berry compote and fresh blueberries, strawberries and cherries for the topping. I also made 8 serves instead of 12-15. So they were more of a full dessert serving then a bite size. The recipe is really easy to prepare and very quick. So long as you remember to soak the cashews with coconut cream the night before. It actually turned out more like a pudding instead of a cheesecake.
Mixed Berry Pudding with Ginger snap base (vegan, gluten free, soy free)
2 cups cashews
2 cans full-fat coconut cream
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup finely crushed ginger-snap biscuits (vegan gluten free)
3 tablespoons evaporated cane sugar or raw sugar
3 tablespoon vegan butter
2 cups frozen mixed berries
pinch ground cardamon
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup fresh mixed berries
1. The day before, place cashews and coconut cream into a bowl/container. Stir in the vanilla extract. Then cover and place in fridge overnight.
2. The next day place the cashew & coconut cream mixture into a Vitamix blender. Add 1/2 cup of maple syrup and blend until smooth.
3. In a small bowl, combine ground ginger-snap biscuits, sugar, and melted butter. Spoon mixture into the bottom of small serving bowls. Place a dollop of cashew-coconut milk mixture on top.
4. Take a small pot, heat together blueberries, 1/4 cup of maple syrup, cardamom, and lemon zest. Cook until the berries begin to bursting. Allow to cool.
5. Melt nutlex in a small pot, then add the biscuit crumbs on a low heat.
6. Spoon the biscuit crumbs into 8 dessert glasses. Then top with cashew coconut cream and berry compote. Place the glasses into the fridge until ready to serve.
7. Top the dessert with fresh berries and serve.