Saturday, 24 October 2009

Vegan feta crackers for sleepless nights

It’s been a good week for food but not for Sylvia sleeping. I have cooked stuff that I have had in my head for too long. Much experimentation. Some good. Some bad.

I wish I wasn’t finishing off my pumpkin bread pudding as I write because it is superb. The wonderful memory of velvety nettle soup lingers on my tongue. I still have visions of my vibrant purple dinner. But I am a bit unsure about the gluten free gingerbread and am ready to throw out the poppy seed cupcakes. Most of these will appear on the blog soon, provided I can find time.

Today I wanted to tell you about how when babies don’t sleep it can drive you (to) crackers. Great vegan crackers! My idea of heaven this week is to lie in bed eating my tofu crackers and pumpkin bread pudding, reading a good book and drifting off into a long deep sleep.

Sylvia has been great at sleeping while we sleep until just recently when she has started to wake in the night. I saw the nurse for her 8 month check up yesterday and we discussed all sorts of reasons for this. The most likely seems to be that she is teething. A few people have suggested I try cutting dairy out of my diet, not just to help her sleeping but also for her dry skin.

I understand the sense of cutting out dairy. The introduction of lots of new foods as she starts solids is quite a strain on her little system as well as my varied diet that she consumes through the breast milk. Others have said it wouldn’t make much difference. Contradictory advice seems par for the course with caring for a baby. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try going dairy-free for a week or two.

It wasn’t as easy as I expected. In the past I have enjoyed some vegan baking – once to the extent that my housemate got tired of it and left a note on the fridge saying ‘let the wild soy run free’! I don’t like eggy or creamy food very much but I love my cheese and yoghurt. On a couple of occasions I found myself eating cheese without even realising it. I had thought I could find some cheese substitutes but I haven’t found anything to love.

I’ve been to Radical Grocery (347 Sydney Rd, Brunswick). I’ve tried different vegan cheeses. I was surprised to find that the first soy cheese I bought was only lactose free but still had casein in it. It tasted like Kraft slices (or Velveeta). The tofutti cheese was so full of ingredients it didn’t look too healthy and the cheezly that I tried was dry. We bought soyatoo cream (which is called slag cream in our house because the German translation is Soya Schlag Crème) and was shocked at how sweet it was – more like that horrible synthetic cream in a can than anything out of a cow. E likes it. He also likes the soy milk we have bought. The dairy substitutes didn't thrill me but I loved the Lara Bars and fudge.

My dislike of vegan faux cheese is no surprise given that I have never been a fan of faux meat as a vegetarian. But what I have liked in the past are vegan cheese sauces such as this one, that are made out of ingredients such as tofu, nutritional yeast flakes, mustard, and tahini. So I decided to try reworking a recent feta and pepper cracker recipe that I loved.

The crackers are adapted from a Feta and Cumin Crackers recipe from Lisa’s Kitchen. I liked the idea of rubbing the feta and oil into the flour rather than using butter. They were quite bready rather than light and crisp like I expect of crackers (or dry biscuits). They are lovely plain or with some dips. I tried using tofu and nutritional yeast flakes rather than feta because I thought it would give the right texture and cheesy saltiness. I also added some pesto from La Manna Fresh (403-407 Sydney Rd, Brunswick) that I was pleased to find is vegan. The vegan crackers were as good as the feta ones, even better, E said.

I made a double quantity because I was optimistic about this recipe. I wished for even more. They were eaten quickly and with enjoyment. We ate them with nettle soup, E took some to work and shared them with colleagues, I took them to a friends’ house, I took some down to my parents’ place, and I even found myself snacking on one in the middle of the night after getting up to settle Sylvia.

This experience has made me think about a vegan diet. Niki has an interesting post on cheese from a vegan perspective. Kathryn directed me to an interesting article, ‘Against Meat’ by Jonathan Safran Foer in the New York Times (7 Oct 2009), which describes being vegetarian simply as not hurting animals. At a gut level, I feel right about being vegetarian – I had the upsetting experience of finding out that when our pet lambs had ‘gone to greener pastures’ we had eaten them. But I lived with chooks in the backyard and regularly visited dairy farms as a child and never felt these animals were being treated badly. I respect those who are vegan but I am not about to veganise my diet. However, I think I will try and reduce my dairy intake.

In thinking about being vegan, I have wondered about if a breastfed baby is a vegan. I had a look on the web and couldn’t find an answer. I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on this.

I am giving both feta and tofu crackers recipes and am sending the tofu crackers to Yasmeen who is holding an event called Health Nut Challenge 2: guilt free snacks. I think these fit the bill in more ways than one!

Feta Cheese and Pepper Crackers
adapted from Lisa’s Kitchen
makes about 3 dozen

1 cup of wholemeal flour
½ cup white bread flour
¼ cup buckwheat flour
½ teaspoon baking powder (Lisa used bicarb of soda)
100g feta cheese, crumbled
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
¾-1 tsp pepperberry, ground (or black pepper)
¾ cup milk

Place the flours, baking powder, salt, pepper, olive oil and feta in a large bowl and rub together with your fingers to combine. Make a well in the centre and pour in the milk. Stir to combine and knead briefly to form a ball. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and place in freezer for roughly 30 minutes if you are in a hurry or in the fridge for at least 45 minutes.

I found the dough quite soft once cool but still fine to work with if you are generous in dusting it with flour. Divide the dough in half. Roll out a portion of dough on a floured surface until it is about 0.5 cm thick. Use a scone cutter or glass to cut out rounds or shapes of your choice. Roll out the extra dough and repeat. Place crackers on baking tray lined with baking paper. Prick with a fork.

Bake the crackers in a preheated 180 C or 350 F degree oven for about 25 minutes until they are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Tofu and Pesto Crackers
makes about 6 dozen

2 cups of wholemeal flour
1 cup white bread flour
½ cup buckwheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
350g firm tofu, crumbled
8 tbsp (120ml) vegan pesto
6 tbsp (90ml) olive oil
6 tbsp (90ml) nutritional yeast flakes
2 tsp sea salt (maybe 1 tsp would be enough)
1 cup soy milk

Place the flours, baking powder, salt, nutritional yeast flakes, pesto, olive oil and tofu in a large bowl and rub together with your fingers to combine. Make a well in the centre and pour in the milk. Stir to combine and knead briefly to form a ball. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and place in freezer for roughly 30 minutes if you are in a hurry or in the fridge for at least 45 minutes. I left some of this dough in the fridge for 48 hours and it was ok although a little tougher than the fresh batch.

I found the dough quite soft once cool but still fine to work with but dust with lots of flour. Divide the dough into four portions. Roll out a portion of dough on a floured surface until it is about 0.5 cm thick. Use a scone cutter or glass to cut out rounds or shapes of your choice. Roll out the extra portions and repeat. Place crackers on baking tray lined with baking paper. Prick with a fork. (NB I forgot to prick the second batch and they puffed up a little.)

Bake the crackers in a preheated 180 C or 350 F degree oven for about 25-30 minutes until they are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Update 10.10.10: I made these today and only had about 6tbsp of pesto so I added a little pumpkin instead of the last few tbsp of pesto - worked well! Sylvia loves them!

On the stereo
Classic Steve Winwood – Steve Winwood

13 comments:

  1. I love the look of those and am sure I could eat that double batch by myself! Thanks for veganizing Lisa's great recipe. Let the wild soy run free (in your baking)!

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  2. Those crackers, look great, am adding them to an ever growing list of must makes recipes. Also, didn't know about the pesto, thanks!

    I think breastmilk is definitely vegan, I can't see any possible problem with it. With the dairy comment, it's not just about about how the cows are being treated but also the link between dairy products and the horrible veal industry. Also, the environmental impacts and health related issues with dairy. For me, it really does seem crazy to eat dairy when you consider the concept that cow's milk is actually meant for baby cows. It's like me giving your breastmilk to my cat or something. I gave up dairy before I become vegan for a whole host of reasons, so I get a bit passionate about it, so sorry if I have waffled on about it!

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  3. Thanks ricki - they are very moreish - am really in the mood for crackers right now so stay tuned

    Thanks Kristy - hope you get to make these crackers - they are great - and check out the pesto - I haven't read much about the dairy industry but your information is useful for me to think about

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  4. Those look delicious, and I love how thick they are!

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  5. Great little recipe - have you tried the cashew 'goats cheese' that Ricki was using a month (or maybe two) ago? It's incredibly easy and really quite good.

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  6. Yum they look great! Good one on your for your determination to try dairy substitutes. Thanks for sharing my link too! :)

    Like Kristy commented, even if you don't observe anything untoward going on if you visit a dairy farm, you won't be witness to the nasty stuff that goes on in the background of every dairy farm. Dairy is not the only product of that industry - veal calves are the other - they live in such tiny crates they can't even turn around. And the slaughter that awaits every single dairy cow after their short lives is as terrifying and painful as any other farm animals' inhumane slaughter, and 23% of them will be pregnant at the time (there is a horrific youtube video of this which I can't watch).

    (I'm sorry too if I waffle on, obviously you read my post! I just feel that it's obvious you have compassion for animals hence you being vegetarian, and if you knew more about the dairy industry there is just no way it would sit right with you).

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  7. Thanks Alisa - I like thick too

    Thanks Lucy - I haven't tried the cashew cheese because when I have tried grinding cashews in my blender for cashew cream they weren't ground enough

    Thanks Niki - it is an interesting experience trying dairy substitutes, and sad to hear how much the veal and dairy industries are bound up together as I am not at all a fan of veal practices but I am not able to give up dairy altogether for a few reasons but I can see that if I did it would be harder than I expected

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  8. Best of luck with the dairy free! I eat both (as you know) and the non dairy counterparts can take a bit of getting used to. Vitasoy Oat Milk is quite creamy and doesn't have much of a "flavour". I really like it, but it doesn't go well in coffee (coffee is my downfall when it comes to dairy!). Home made almond milk if you have the time is delicious also.

    Cheese I'm not so much help on. I can't eat any of the one's available in the shops although I've read often that you should take a break from cheese before trying subs (that being said, I really love cashew feta).

    For cream, you can chuck a can of coconut milk in the fridge for a day or so, scoop out the cream off the top (leave the milk for something else), add a bit of icing sugar to it and whip it with electric beaters. Mmm it's awesome (and you can adjust the sweetness).

    I'll stop taking over your post now! Best of luck!

    And I LOVE these cookies! Makes me desperately wish I could eat tofu!

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  9. Scrumptious snacking...I love both the kind.Thanks for sharing with me :D

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  10. I love how you modified the feta cracker recipe! I've been thinking I should make crackers soon because of all the yummy crackers I've seen you make!

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  11. Thanks Vegetation - I have found a cheese spread I can do with tofu and nutritional yeast - don't know how I would go without tofu - but have craved yoghurt. The coconut cream sounds a great option and I don't really care about how the milk tastes as I don't like milk by itself but have to find one that E likes.

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  12. Johanna,

    I adore diary, but sadly it does not adore me so have largely cut it out. I think that the trick is not to think of vegan cheeses as cheese but as somthing to have instead of cheese. I am constantly making tofu and have a soymilk machine to make the process easier, I love my tofu ricotta which is a pressy good imitation of the diary version.

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  13. Thanks Helen - I have been enjoying a sort of tofu cheese spread with nutritional yeast flakes - I think without dairy I would eat a lot more tofu!

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