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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Spiced orange and walnut biscuits

It’s actually ridiculous how many things I’ve made out of oranges and walnuts over the past few weeks. If you’ve been following, you’ll know that I’m house-sitting on a farmlet on the Fleurieu Peninsula, and attempting to eat only homegrown, local, seasonal produce. So, being winter, there is a lot of citrus gracing the fruit bowl, and having a home-grown supply of walnuts is keeping us happy in the nut department.

Luckily, this month’s Sweet Adventures Blog Hop is themed “Nuts about sweets”. Winning. I have nuts. I would have been in trouble if it was apples or something. I mean, I’m resorting to mandarines in my porridge…

Due to my current restrictions on processed and packaged food, anything resembling butter or margarine was out, and sugar is kept to a minimum. This poses a small challenge when making desserts, but as a result, these vegan tasties have an almost cake-like texture, which is wonderfully offset by the crunchiness of the walnuts.

These are good have-with-coffee-or-tea biscuits, which is exactly what I’ve been doing all week. And because they’re actually pretty healthy (or not too unhealthy), you don’t have to feel bad if you have several tea breaks each day!

Spiced orange and walnut biscuits

3/4 cup plain flour
3/4 cup wholemeal flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raw sugar (add a tad more if you want them sweeter)
applesauce (1/2 apple + 1 tablespoon water, whizzed together in food processor)
1/4 cup non-dairy milk
1/4 fresh orange juice
zest of one orange
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon cardamon seeds, ground
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 200C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, cardamon and cinnamon in a large bowl to combine. Add oil and applesauce and rub together with fingertips to achieve a breadcrumb consistency. Stir through walnuts.

In a smaller bowl, whisk sugar, milk, orange juice and zest until well combined, then add to dry ingredients. Stir until well combined, then place dessert-spoon sized portions on prepared baking tray and flatten slightly into biscuit-shaped discs. Bake for around 15 minutes or until golden.

This post is part of the July Sweet Adventures Blog Hop, hosted by Nic from Dining with a Stud. To check out what other sweet treats are being created with nuts, click the icon below and scroll down.

Eating ethically.

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**Heads up! – The following post is a bit of a ramble on the ethics of food. If you’re just keen to see some pictures of delicious food, scroll to the bottom! (I won’t judge you).

So I did have a huge, in depth post about the philosophies I follow around food, but it got deleted. Looking on the positive side, this is probably good, as you now don’t have to endure such a ramble about food ethics. Nevertheless, I shall recap a little of what I had, so I don’t feel like I wasted hours thinking about this.

The other day, I went to lunch at one of my favourite vegan eateries in Adelaide. My friend pointed out a delicious-sounding dish on the menu. Being 100% organic (and of course vegan), eating at this particular place is usually so simple, because you don’t have to consider each item on the menu for its suitability to your diet. However on this occasion, something really struck me about this dish. Eggplant and tomato. Had it been summer, I would definitely have gone for this delectable curry, however standing there in my scarf and jacket, I couldn’t help but feel something was wrong. I couldn’t possibly choose to eat this curry when eggplants and tomatoes are summer fruits.

So here’s the thing. Joe and I are house-sitting at the moment. We decided that this would be a great opportunity to actively pursue food choices that fit with our ideals around eating as ethically as possible. What does this look like? Mostly fruit and vegetables grown in our own or our friends’ gardens, and trying to get everything else locally from farmers markets. To ensure we were still eating a nutritionally balanced diet, we also allowed organic legumes (namely lentils and chickpeas) grown within 500km. Challenging? It sounds like it, but actually, it’s been a brilliant insight into eating seasonally, and being creative in the kitchen using ingredients that are available.

Everyone values different things when it comes to food. Some people will prioritise convenience, price, flavour, or preferred brand, while others with consider things like brand ethics, seasonality, the environment, or production method. Each person’s “rules” around food are different, and that’s okay! Diversity is wonderful, and conversations about food are a great way of challenging your own ideas and philosophies.

So here are mine. They are very much a work in progress, and constantly being challenged. ‘Tis quite the journey.

I eat a predominantly vegan diet, due mainly to the ethical/environmental problems associated with industrial production. I don’t eat meat, dairy, or other animal products (such as gelatine). I do, however eat eggs if they are from happy chickens (store bought eggs are not happy eggs). This means chickens that are valued as part of a greater system (eg contributing to fertility and pest/weed control in a vegetable garden). I avoid eating honey unless it is from happy bees (similar philosophy) – lucky my friends produce honey in their backyards!

In the past year or so, I’ve also become very aware of the ethics of vegetables and other food products too. To me, there is not much use in avoiding meat and dairy due to their environmental implications, without also considering the vast distances much of our food travels to get to us. Where possible, I am now trying to only eat food that is in season, and produced locally. I prefer organic, but also recognise that organic certification certainly doesn’t indicate that the food has been produced in a sustainable way. On a predominantly vegan diet, soy products have also started to ring alarm bells. Would it be better for me to get my calcium from fortified soy made from beans grown as a monoculture in Switzerland? Or would finding a system I am comfortable with involving a local with a cow, farming Joel Salatin style be better? I’m still working on this one.

I do think it’s important to be flexible. If I am a guest at someone’s house, and they offer me a cheesy veg lasagne, I will hardly decline. I also ate goats cheese, milk and yoghurt while wwoofing recently. It made sense. Likewise, I am very open to the idea of eating meat and dairy, if I were to find a system I was okay with. At the moment, this would probably be home-produced dairy animals (eg cow or goat), and either roadkill or elimination of pest species (eg rabbits, fish). I would also need to be okay with butchering the animal though, and I’m definitely not there yet. To me, it comes down to knowing how my food is produced, and being okay with it.

Maybe I sound like the fun-police here, and you are wondering how anyone could live on such a boring and strict diet – no meat or dairy, minimal soy and rice, no tomatoes or eggplants in winter, and never shopping at Woolworths and Coles (did I mention I loathe them?)…

I do want to just point out that eating ethically (whatever that means to you), doesn’t need to be a drag. In the past few weeks of house-sitting, I have eaten so incredibly well, and the kitchen has seen a lot of exciting food being prepared. There is something quite wonderful about coming up with a meal based on what you have, rather than nipping down to the shops to get the ingredients you need for a recipe you had in mind.

Agree or disagree, I think it’s always good to have conversations about where our food comes from. If you like, leave a comment below about your food philosophy. I would love to hear what you think! For more info, you might like to check out some writings by Michael Pollan, watch some episodes of River Cottage on ABC iview (love Hugh!), or maybe even have a listen to the annoying vegetarian debating the much more convincing meat-eater on last week’s Triple J Hack program.

And so, I will leave you with some pictures of the things we’ve been eating on our as-ethical-as-possible diet. Yes, it does help that Joe’s family produces wheat on their farm (hello bread and pasta!)

Food!

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Orange and wattleseed muffins

Are you across wattleseed?

It is brilliant, and what’s more; an Australian native. What could be better than cooking with plants that are native to your own backyard? Though there are hundreds of species of Acacia, only a few are useful in the culinary world. The one I’ve heard used most frequently is Acacia victoriae, and in this case, it is roasted and ground. In this form, it can be used to make a delicious brew – often called wattleseed ‘tea’ – with a taste kind of similar to coffee (but not quite…)

Last week I was pondering the change of season, and the somewhat scarce selection of fruit that comes with winter. It’s citrus, really… oranges, mandarines, lemons, limes. That’s not to say that other fruits aren’t available. Supermarkets make sure of that. But I’m really keen to pursue local and seasonal produce, and with that comes a brilliant opportunity for creativity, especially when your favourite ingredients aren’t around. I’m also going to mention here, that I’ve recently come into a supply of small-batch-milled wholemeal flour courtesy of my lovely boy’s family farm in the Clare Valley. This is pretty well as close as I will ever get to home-grown wheat/flour, which is a tad exciting. I also retrieved some oranges from the tree at said boy’s house this morning, which leads me back nicely to the citrus. So I was contemplating the potential pairings with orange, and my mind went to the packet of wattleseed laying almost forgotten in the meat safe. After some quick consultation, I was assured that this combination would work, so I set about figuring out what makes a good vegan muffin.

I have to admit to being pretty pleased with the result here. Light and fluffy muffins that are not too sweet – great with a bit of butter/spread as a breakfast or morning/afternoon tea treat. The orange and wattleseed actually go really well together. Being a flavour that can’t really be described, I suggest you find yourself some wattleseed and give it a try. They are also vegan and very low in fat, if these are qualities you seek in a muffin. Otherwise, feel free to substitute with milk if you have a cow etc. Happy seasonal baking!

Orange and wattleseed muffins

2 cups wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground, roasted wattleseed
approx 1/4 cup applesauce*
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup soy or other non-dairy milk
1/2 cup orange juice – (approximately one large orange)
rind of one orange
1 tsp vanilla extract

*To make instant applesauce, combine one apple (cored and roughly chopped) with 2 tablespoons of water in a food processor until smooth. This yields the correct quantity for this recipe.

Preheat oven to 180C and grease or line a 12 cup muffin pan.
Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and wattleseed in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
In a small bowl, mix applesauce, sugar, soy milk, orange juice, orange rind and vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth and well combined.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, and whisk together until combined.
Spoon mixture into muffin pans until 3/4 full, then bake for 18 minutes or until golden and an inserted skewer comes out clean.