Adventures in catering – Tom’s 21st.

A couple of weeks ago, I ventured into unchartered territory. My cousin’s 21st promised to be quite a rad event. With the Facebook event stating “90 people are attending”, and an enticing description of the likely happenings (soup, fires, couches, bring your own musical instruments), I was very keen to put my hand up to create some things for people to munch.

Catering isn’t really something I see myself doing as a career, but I do love cooking, and what better way to practise some skills (namely preparing large quantities), than cooking for a big party?

I really enjoyed this. A lot. Coming up with food suitable to all tastes and dietary requirements, as well as planning what to prepare when, is a fun activity for a chronic list-maker. With supplementary soups and meat dishes by my aunty and mum, there was a serious spread on offer. It was lovely to see people enjoying things I’d made, and made the “oh my god I hope they don’t hate it” moments all okay.

Here are some brilliant photos by Kate Kneebone Video and Photography. Check out her work on Facebook too – seriously great things happening from this girl!

Cheers! And happy birthday Tom :)

Hummus trio. Classic, spicy pumpkin, beetroot and thyme. Success. 
100% rye flatbread. For my wheat-free friend.
Vegetarian ‘sausage’ rolls. Mega success, and so sneaky! Even the meatiest of meat eaters were impressed.
Puff pastry pizzas. Potato and rosemary, jerusalem artichoke and lemon thyme, tomato and red onion. Classic. And how good is puff pastry?! Vegan yums!
Assorted vegan muffins. Orange and wattleseed, apple and rhubarb, chocolate.
Gluten-free orange and choc-chip chickpea cakes.
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Lemon chickpea slice

Abundance! What a brilliant word. But when it comes to citrus, you really have to get a little bit creative. Oranges are great because you can just eat or juice them. Lemons and limes are a tad more tricky – pickled limes, preserved lemons, marmalade? Tick. And there are still bags of fruit coming off the trees.

Desserts.

Lemon and lime sweets generally use very few fruit, which will hardly make a dent in the abundance of your heaving lemon tree. But any use is better than none, right? Especially a tasty one.

This is a variation on a recipe I posted a while ago for choc-berry chickpea slice. That one was vegan – this one is dairy-free and uses eggs. I must say that this version is rather lovely. It has a much lighter consistency, rather than the more fudgey chia-egg version. Not to say I don’t love a fudgey slice, but the eggs really do make a difference to the texture. Lighter is better when it comes to lemon I think. It also has no oil! Why did I even include that in the first place?! (And it still excites me that you’re getting a little dose of legume in your dessert!)

Lemon chickpea slice

1 cup chickpeas, cooked and drained
1 cup plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup raw sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice

Preheat oven to 180C and line a square or rectangular baking tin (the type for making brownies, or square cakes) – about 20 x 20 or 30 cm.

Whizz the chickpeas in a food processor until the texture resembles something between breadcrumbs and flour. This will be easier if the chickpeas are well-drained.
Place the chickpeas in a large bowl with the flour and baking powder, and whisk to mix together and remove any lumps.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and juice. Add to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix until well combined.

Pour the mixture into prepared baking pan and bake for 40 minutes until the top is golden and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Allow to cool, then remove from pan and ice with lemon icing by combining approx 1 cup icing sugar with a dash of lemon juice (or dilute with non-dairy milk if you want a more subtle lemon flavour).

When icing has set, cut into slices of your desired shape and size.

Eat.

Choc berry chickpea slice

On the weekend, I got a little creative. (The best kind of weekend, right?)
I challenged myself to make a slice, using the berries that have been sitting in the freezer for longer than I care to admit. Not knowing exactly how to make a slice, I experimented and was quite pleased with the results. After refining the recipe slightly, I am now happy to report that this is quite delicious, and also has chickpeas in it! I’m yet to try it with only chickpeas (and no flour), but if you experiment yourself with this one, please let me know how it goes!

I love using chickpeas in baking because they’re such a great little alternative to flour, and so full of protein that you can feel a little bit less guilty for indulging in baked goods – winning! These are also vegan (if you use vegan chocolate). Huzzah!

Chickpea tip: We always have chickpeas pre-cooked and frozen in small portions in zip lock bags. Cook up a whole heap at once, then you can just use them as you need, rather than having to think ahead in order to soak them in time for your meals!

*Edit – Take a look at Lemon chickpea slice for a light and lemony variation.

Choc berry chickpea slice

1 cup chickpeas, cooked
1 cup plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup raw sugar
2 chia eggs (2 tablespoons ground chia seeds, whisked with 6 tablespoons water)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup water
1 cup mixed berries (or whatever berries you please) – could be fresh or frozen
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips, or block chocolate cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 180C, and line a baking pan (of the sort you would make brownies in), about 20cm x 30cm.

Make up your chia eggs in a small bowl and allow to sit for a few minutes. Meanwhile, whizz chickpeas in a food processor until they resemble something between breadcrumbs and flour:

Place them in a large bowl with all other dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon). Whisk together to mix and get rid of any lumps.

In a medium bowl, whisk together oil, chia eggs, vanilla essence and water until well mixed. It should be quite thick. Then add this mixture to the dry ingredients, and mix until well combined. Carefully fold in berries and chocolate until just mixed.

Pour mixture into prepared tin and bake for around 40 minutes, or until golden brown and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Allow to cool for a while in pan before removing to cool on a wire rack. Once cool, slice into bars or squares, and serve dusted with icing sugar.

**Don’t be concerned if they look a bit undercooked once you’ve sliced them. These are really moist and fudgey due to the moisture from the berries, which gives them a really great texture.

Cooking from abundance.

There is nothing more satisfying than walking through the garden and making a meal from what’s available. Ever found yourself deciding on dinner then going to the shops to buy ingredients? If so, you might like to read on and discover the joys of creating from what’s available. If you start with what you already have, there’s very little chance you can go down the wrong path and cook out of season, over-processed or well-travelled “food” (read: items from the supermarket). Cooking from the abundance of your garden also gives you this crazy-brilliant feel-good buzz. True! Harvesting actually releases dopamine, and makes you feel good, supposedly a remnant from our hunter-gatherer days, where finding food triggered a release of dopamine, resulting in a feeling of bliss or mild euphoria. (Also supposedly the same process in play with compulsive shopping – ever heard of retail therapy?) But I digress!

Those who know me will be aware that I spent the past 6 months in Victoria, travelling, learning, wwoofing and exploring.

For those not in the know, WWOOF stands for ‘willing workers on organic farms’, and is basically a program whereby you stay on host farms and properties as a wwoofer, working approximately 4-6 hours per day in exchange for food and board, while receiving the benefits of learning and sharing skills, knowledge and culture with your hosts. Pretty cool way of exploring the world.

We spent three weeks at the end of last year on a permaculture property in Violet Town, which was super-peaceful, had an abundance of fruit, and where each day was started with a trip to the olive grove to milk the goat. Our second host was in Castlemaine, where we had stayed several times previously, and ended up being our semi-permanent home for around four months. A secluded and semi-cleared bush property on a hill with a yurt dwelling and a huge vegetable garden.

With each host, we mostly had meals provided, but on occasion (like when we got the chance to farm-sit the Violet Town property for four days) the garden and kitchen were entirely ours to express our culinary creativity. I have to say that while in Violet Town, there wasn’t all that much in the way of abundance except for a lot of greens, goats milk/cheese/yoghurt and fruit. If there is one thing I learnt at that farm it was this:

It is very hard to go wrong if you combine garlic, olive oil, salt and chilli.

This is a winning combination, and even if you only add a few leaves of chard to these ingredients, you already have a pretty delicious side dish.

By the time we got to the second property, we were pretty well into zucchini season. Queue “101 ways with zucchini”. I made everything: pasta sauce, chocolate muffins, stuffed zucchinis, pickle, sandwich fillings… you name it. I’m pretty certain that by March I alone was consuming an average of three zucchinis per week.

But the moral of the story is that cooking from abundance is fun. It allows for an incredible amount of creativity and expression, and it’s unlikely that you any two dishes will ever be the same, because the products of the garden are forever changing and evolving.

So here’s a celebration of home-grown-and-cooked meals, with a selection of my favourite farm/garden meals from my travels.

Homemade fettucini with new potatoes, zucchini and mint

Serves 2

Pasta:
300g flour
3 happy eggs

Topping:
2-3 potatoes, boiled and diced
olive oil
sprig mint, chopped
several (2-4 depending on size) cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 spring onions, sliced
1 zucchini, diced
salt and pepper

Place flour on a clean surface, make a well in the centre and crack in eggs. Mix all together, slowly incorporating flour until a dough is achieved. Knead well and allow to rest for an hour in the fridge. If you have a pasta machine, use it now – roll into thin sheets and cut using the fettucini cutter. Otherwise, it’s a rolling pin and knife.

Heat oil in a pan, add zucchini, spring onions, then garlic, cooking until zucchini is soft. Add boiled and diced potatoes and carefully stir in chopped mint, and season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling water for a few minutes until al dente, then drain. Add pasta to pan with other ingredients and some more olive oil. Carefully mix together. Season with more salt and pepper if required, then serve.

Stuffed roasted zucchini

Excuse the shifty photography…
Serves 2

I totally can’t remember the exact quantities here. Just play.

one large zucchini
3 leaves chard/silverbeet
3-4 cloves garlic, diced
olive oil
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
handful fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup (approx) roasted almonds, chopped
salt and pepper

Cut two rounds of zucchini, hollow out (keeping inside intact) and roast in the oven covered in oil and salt. Dice the remaining zucchini (or another one if not enough), including the hollowed out part.

While hollowed zucchini roasts, prepare filling by cooking remaining zucchini until soft with garlic. Add coriander seeds, and finely chopped chard. Toss in almonds, season with salt and pepper, then remove from heat. Stir through tomatoes and fresh coriander.

Stuff the roasted zucchini with the filling, and garnish with fresh coriander.

I served this on toast (as we had an abundance of bread), but it would definitely go much better with a potato rosti or similar.

Spiced potatoes and chickpeas with chapatis

I’m getting pretty tired, and am doing some major procrastination by writing this, so I’ll just give a basic outline of what’s in this.

chickpeas, cooked
potatoes, diced and boiled
onion, chopped
garlic
whole cumin seeds, roasted
salt
olive oil (farm grown might I add)
pepper
fresh coriander

Combine ingredients in a pan in a logical order, and serve with chapatis:

Chapatis:
flour
water
pinch salt

Combine ingredients to form a dough. Roll out and dry fry in a hot pan. Applying pressure with a tea towel can help them puff up :)

Experimenting with wholefoods

Orange/cardamon, and gluten-free choc-chip biscuits

The other day I made a fantastic recipe for Apple, Cinnamon & Quinoa Muffin Top Cookies from Oh My Veggies. The most exciting part for me (apart from eating them), was using quinoa. I’m a fan of quinoa, I’ve just never really got to the point where I’ve actually prepared it myself. Now the challenge of course was that the recipe called for 1 cup of cooked quinoa, and I, clutching my paper bag full of whole quinoa straight from the organic shop, had no idea how much dry = cooked quinoa. So I ended up just following the directions I had googled for cooking one cup of dry quinoa (yielding more once cooked), with the idea that I’d use the remainder in a salad or something.

Alas! Creativity got the better of me, and yesterday I found myself in the kitchen with a plastic container full of cooked quinoa, and a vague idea of trying to make biscuits. I’m generally more of a muffin/cupcake/bread type of baker, so I’m not sure why I thought I’d be capable of inventing a biscuit recipe. However, it actually worked out okay, much to my surprise and amusement.

Another love of mine is using chickpeas in baking. I’m not sure if I’ve already shared this, but there’s a great gluten-free cake recipe here (from The Smallest Smallholding), which uses chickpeas as the staple ingredient. I’ve also encountered some seriously delicious chickpea treats from Scullery Made, a regular at the Barossa Farmers Market (- if you’re ever out that way, seriously check them out – amazing baked goodies and beautiful teas).

So it was decided that I would embark on this adventure with both quinoa and chickpeas in tow. I really wish I could post the recipe here, but I didn’t actually measure anything out. It was a very rough experiment that I didn’t expect to actually yield anything worth sharing, but it was basically a keep-adding-stuff-in-until-you-get-the-right-consistency kind of job. If you want to get experimental too, by all means do! It is fun, and the worst that can happen is that you have to eat all your biscuit dough raw, which I’m sure we all acknowledge is not a bad thing.

So this was the result: two batches of biscuits, both dairy/egg free, and made using quinoa and chickpeas. I’ve included the ingredients (and measurements where I remembered), so you can experiment at will! I made the basic dough up all together, then divided it into two and added extras.

Basic dough
cooked quinoa (around 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup cooked chickpeas, whizzed in a food processor
rice flour (around 1/4 – 1/2 cup?)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
honey (around 1/4 cup)

Orange and cardamon biscuits (inspired by The Mindful Foodie)
5 cardamon pods, seeds removed and ground to a fine powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
zest and juice of one orange
wholemeal flour, to make up a moist dough

Mix all ingredients together. Form tablespoon-sized balls and flatten slightly on a lined baking tray, about 2-3cm apart. Bake at 170C until golden (around 20 minutes).

Gluten-free choc-chip biscuits
1/4 cup chopped chocolate, or chocolate chips
a touch more rice flour (1/4 cup?)
almond meal to make moist dough

*Note that this mixture was a lot moister/oilier than the orange biscuits. I had my doubts, but they actually worked brilliantly! Soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside :)

Mix and bake as above.

Happy experimenting!