Monday, 26 March 2012

Sylvia Says #9: Quick Bean and Avocado Salad

I know that everyone thinks that vegetarians/vegans live on salad, or air, but we don't actually eat a lot of salads at home. We have them now and then, but mostly survive on fast one pot wonders during our hectic weeks. I tend to make salads when we're entertaining, and I usually use a grain such as quinoa or brown rice to make them more interesting.

I whipped up this salad in desperation one day when I needed something fast. I was pleasantly surprised at how much Sylvia loved it. I think she loves the sweetness in the dressing, and anything with avocado is always a hit with her.

She also just loves saying the word salad.

Sylvia usually makes this salad with me, and eats it right out of the mixing bowl!

Quick Bean & Avocado Salad

1 avocado, chopped
1 tin mixed beans, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp grapeseed oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp mustard

Mix all ingredients together and serve! 

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Glenbrook Vegan Treats

Life rocks! I found two fabulous places that sell great food, although not exclusively vegan, they are great nonetheless. I'd heard that Rubyfruit (the amazing cake maker of Leura, in The Blue Moutains) frequented a food market in Glenbrook (at the beginning of The Blue Mountains up from Penrith), once a month. I live about 15 minutes away.

The day was cold and rainy, I had commitments in the morning and also in the afternoon but nothing could stop me going there. There weren't many people selling, I went from stall to stall searching for RF. I asked someone, they said RF cancelled because of the weather, sob... The saw my disappointment and said that there was a cafe a couple of streets away that sold her cakes.

Jazz Apple Kitchen
6a Ross St, Glenbrook

This was a funky little cafe with an interesting menu. They had vegan, vegetarian, meat, and gluten free dishes. They even had vegan cakes (not RF). Live music, family friendly and open late for dinner.

Mash Cafe and Restaurant
19 Ross St, Glenbrook

This place had the goods, an amazing RF chocolate cherry cake to die for. It was across the road from Jazz Apple and had primarily an organic menu. Good place but Jazz Apple Kitchen had a better atmosphere.

Next time you are heading up the mountains, Glenbrook is definitely worth a stop.


Sunday, 18 March 2012

Sylvia Says #8: Best Vegan Bolognese

With the exception of the "chicken strips" for our sweet and sour chicken, we don't generally buy fake meats. Sometimes I am tempted and hover around them at the supermarket, but after reading the labels I just can't bring myself to buy them. They're also pretty expensive!

This recipe for homemade vegan "mince" was a real discovery. It adds substance, texture and a beautiful flavour to dishes and contains none of the nasty additives or other artificial things found in commercial faux meats. I usually make a big batch and freeze it so it's on hand when needed.

Just like the sausage rolls, it's hard to imagine how good this will taste before you try it. It is made from cauliflower, walnuts and some spices, all ground up and roasted. You can add it in to lots of dishes, but our favourite way to eat this is in bolognese sauce. Sylvia loves anything tomato-y, but she really loves this sauce. And it's so healthy!

Best Vegan Bolognese Sauce

Half a batch of faux meat

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
about 8 tomatoes, diced
2 heaped tsp tomato paste
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried oregano

Fry onion in oil for a few minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for about 20 minutes. I usually blend the sauce with an immersion blender at this stage because Sylvia prefers the smooth consistency. Add faux meat and simmer for a few more minutes. Mix sauce with pasta, or anything else you choose!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Sylvia Says #7: Vegan Borscht and Popcorn Tofu

Borscht is a Ukrainian soup made with beetroot as the main ingredient, but it usually contains meat. My version is more like a stew and obviously contains no meat. So I probably have no claim to call this Borscht, but my dad is Ukrainian so I do!

Sylvia loves beetroot, as the stains on her clothes demonstrate. This is a great way to get her to eat lots of veggies in one go. It's a beautiful pink colour so the other veggies she may normally pick out are disguised. 

I like to serve our Popcorn Tofu with the Borscht. I've been making this tofu for years and years. My partner started calling this Popcorn Tofu and it has stuck. He says it's "because it's like a snack tofu - you pick it up and eat it like popcorn". Hmmm, makes sense. Anyway, it tastes yummy and is quite addictive. 

Vegan Borscht

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, chopped
1 large beetroot, chopped into small pieces
2 sticks of celery, chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 large granny smith apple, peeled and chopped
1 stock cube

Fry the onion in oil in a large saucepan for a few minutes. Add the carrots, celery and garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Add the potatoes, apple, beetroot, stock cube and enough water to just cover the vegetables. Bring up to the boil then simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally and topping up with water if needed.

Popcorn Tofu

1 packet firm/extra firm tofu, cut into smallish cubes
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp curry powder 
2 tsp flour
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Place all ingredients in a container and shake around until tofu pieces are coated. Fry in oil on medium to high heat until golden brown. Yep, that's it!


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Sylvia Says #6: Vegan Sweet and Sour "Chicken"

Sylvia knows this dish as "chicken". She doesn't connect it to the animal, but I still cringe every time I hear her say it. So I tell Sylvia it is "pretend chicken". It gets very complicated. Why can't I think of something else to call this dish? 

This is a veganised more wholesome version of a fast food dish. I think most vegetables would work in this dish. Ginger would be a nice addition too. I usually just throw in whatever veggies are in the fridge that need to be used! 

Vegan Sweet and Sour "Chicken" (serves 4)

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup of cabbage, chopped
1 cup of mushrooms, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 heaped tbsp brown sugar
1 heaped tbsp cornflour
2/3 cup pineapple juice
salt to taste

In a large saucepan, fry all vegetables in oil for about 10 minutes on medium heat or until cooked to your liking. 
While the veggies are cooking, heat oil in a separate fry pan and cook the chicken strips as directed on the packet.
Add the tamari, worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, sugar and cornflour to the vegetables and cook for a few minutes on medium heat, stirring constantly. Then slowly pour in the pineapple juice, stirring constantly. Simmer for a few more minutes, then add the chicken strips, mix and take off the heat.
Serve over rice or noodles.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Spinach Noodles

It's sad but the truth is that I am a lazy cook. It's tricky cooking food that is tasty, quick and nutritious but I feel I have got a reasonable grasp on it (except when I go to my niece's house - she is a vegan gourmet cook). Anyway, one reliable recipe is spinach noodles, children seem to like it too:

- Boil pasta - any will do.
- Thaw frozen spinach in frypan
- When defrosted add either two tablespoons of tomato paste or a can of chopped tomato pieces
- Stir in 1-2 tablespoons of tahini
- Salt, pepper, dry stock to taste.
- Serve on top of pasta

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Sylvia Says #5: Our Top Vegan Products

If we run out of any of the below products, I feel a sense of panic. How could we survive a day without flaxseeds? Wouldn't we collapse without our daily dose of savoury yeast flakes? What will happen if Sylvia asks for "vegemite toast" and - horror - we've run out of natex? You get the idea... 

Here are some of our favourite vegan products.


This is a great Vegemite substitute (actually, Sylvia calls this Vegemite) because it is low salt and has no artificial colours or flavours. It's a great source of B12. Sylvia has always loved this on toast on its own or with avocado.

Savoury Yeast Flakes

Sylvia calls these "sprinkles". If you're vegan, then you've probably tried this or at least heard of it. We absolutely love them. They have a kind of cheesy salty flavour and are rich in vitamin B. We use this to make creamy sauces, sprinkle on top of avocado on toast and pretty much anything else!


This is a great healthy sweetener and is high in calcium and iron. Molasses has quite a strong licoricey flavour but mellows when it is mixed with other foods/drinks. We use it in baking, mixed in "milk" or on toast - tahihi, molasses and savoury yeast flakes on toast... try it!


We grind these seeds, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, in a coffee grinder and keep it in a jar in the fridge. We mix it in our porridge and use it in baking - it is my favourite egg replacer in baking.


I was surprised to see that Sylvia likes tahini on its own because it has quite a unique taste. We have it on toast, mixed into puddings or in sauces and dressings. This is a great source of calcium and so many other nutrients.

Chia seeds 

We've only discovered these quite recently. They are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They're great in chocolate pudding or in overnight oats

Dairy free chocolate chips

OK, not healthy at all but I had to include this because Sylvia is a chocoholic! Great in cakes, biscuits, pies... need I go on?


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Sylvia Says #4: Creamy Corn Chowder

I'll start with a confession. When I presented Sylvia with a bowl of this last night, she wrinkled her nose and said firmly: "no". But I promise that every other time I've made this she has loved it, so I am treating this as an aberration!

This is a lovely and comforting one pot meal and it is simple to make.  It's more like a thick stew than a soup - I don't tend to make many soups because Sylvia has not been keen on them to date. The flavour is best when the corn is really sweet, so try to find sweet corn! The corn really does need to be fresh and I think soy milk is the best "milk" to use to add that creaminess.

Hopefully Sylvia will rediscover her love of corn chowder in the future!

Creamy Corn Chowder (about 4 servings)

2 tbsp grapeseed oil
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 carrots, chopped
corn from 4 cobs of corn 
2 sticks of celery, chopped
2 large potatoes, chopped
3 cups of soy milk
2 tsp stock powder or to taste
salt to taste

Fry the onion in oil in a large saucepan for a few minutes. Add the carrots, celery and corn and cook for a few more minutes. Add the potatoes, soy milk and stock powder. Bring up to the boil then simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer about half of the chowder into a blender and blend until smooth. Tip this back into the saucepan, give it a stir and test for seasoning, adding salt if necessary. 

Monday, 5 March 2012

Sylvia Says #3: Healthy Chocolate Pudding

This pudding is smooth, sweet and chocolatey and almost a meal in itself - handy when whatever else we are having for dinner is not to Sylvia's liking!

It's a pretty versatile recipe that you can make with whatever you have on hand.

Healthy Chocolate Pudding (1-2 servings)

half a banana
2 tbsp avocado
1 tsp tahini
1/2 - 1 tsp Udo's DHA Oil
1 tsp ground sunflower seeds/pumpkin seeds
1-2 tsp sweetener (such as agave syrup, brown rice syrup or maple syrup)
1/2 - 1 tsp cocoa

Blend all ingredients together until smooth. Serve!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Sylvia Says #2: Vegan Sausage Rolls

Each day I ask Sylvia what we should have for dinner. She usually answers "sausage rolls".

It's hard to express just how seriously good this recipe is. I came across it on a blog years ago and I have been impressing omnivores with it ever since. 

Before you try it, it's hard to believe that all the random ingredients in these will be so delicious together and so similar to sausage rolls in texture and taste. In fact, it took me some time to convince one very committed meat eater that these do not contain meat.

These sausage rolls are a hit with Sylvia. She loves being able to eat them with her hands and dip them in tomato sauce. Puff pastry (Borg's is vegan) may not be the healthiest thing in the world, but the filling contains lots of healthy stuff like oats, tofu and pecans.

Make them for parties or just for dinner! You can find the recipe here.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Sylvia Says #1: "Cheesy" Pasta

Cooking for a toddler can be challenging in many ways, but I love it. Nothing matches the exhilaration of watching them eat and enjoy your food when you know that their praise is dished out so sparingly and honestly! 

It has made me a more flexible and open minded cook. After slaving away in the kitchen for hours on a dish you are super excited about only to have your toddler take one mouthful and proceed to spit it out in disgust, you need to a) laugh, and b) think of other food options!

I think that taste is only part of the reason why toddlers try and enjoy some foods and not others. Certain textures and appearances seem to turn Sylvia off. Control is also important for her - if she feels pressured, or that eating the food is not her idea, forget it!

Over the past few years I have found many great tips and recipes on blogs that have inspired me. I always find it fascinating to read about what other vegan toddlers are eating, although tastes vary a lot of course. 

So now I'd like to share some of the food, in no particular order, that Sylvia loves the best!

"Cheesy" Pasta

OK, so there is not a veggie in sight and you wouldn't call it a balanced meal on its own. It is so simple that it can hardly be called a recipe. But this is a quick and reasonably healthy snack or part of a meal, full of B vitamins and good fats. The grapeseed oil has a unique 'buttery' taste that really makes this dish.

1 cup of pasta (approx)
2 tbsp of savoury yeast (called nutritional yeast in the US)
1-2 tbsp grapeseed oil
Pinch of salt

Cook pasta and drain. Immediately mix though the savoury yeast, oil and salt. Serve!