Monday, 19 January 2015

Vegan raspberry and coconut cheesecake

These days there is a growing appreciation and understanding of vegetarian and vegan diets. I'm sure that many of you have friends or family that follow these diets, whether full-time or perhaps on selected days, for religious, ethical, or environmental reasons. So, for the last course in my four-course menu assignment, I decided to make a vegan-friendly dessert. As an extra challenge, I decided to take on a dessert that relies heavily on non-vegan ingredients, namely, the cheesecake! My aim was to modify an existing cheesecake recipe so that it could satisfy special dietary requirements (in this case I managed to make the cheesecake both vegan and suitable for lactose intolerant individuals) without sacrificing on flavour!

My first adjustment was to use tofu as a replacement for cream cheese – tofu is rather firm and creamy, like cream cheese, and from afar they even look similar! Tofu is also a good source of protein, and so adds another health benefit to those who are vegetarian. It is important to use the right texture of tofu though. For this recipe I used a high-protein tofu which was far too firm, and so the mixture ended up being a bit grainy (as you may be able to see in the picture), as well as a slightly yellow colour and a bit too strong in tofu flavour. I think a regular firm or a silken firm tofu would work far better.

The other big replacement I made was to use coconut cream instead of dairy cream. I found quite a few online tutorials showing me how coconut cream can miraculously be whipped just like regular cream! First, you need to use a coconut cream that does not contain any thickeners or stabilisers, as these prevent the cream part from separating from the liquid. Second, the cream needs to be cold, so put your can in the fridge overnight, or in the freezer for 10 minutes. This also helps the fat to separate from the liquid. Finally, you only want the cream part of the coconut cream, so scoop this off the top of the can and leave behind the liquid. This is the part that is nice and thick, and what will make your coconut cream whip up.

Finally, I replaced the gelatine in the original recipe with cornflour. However, I'm not sure this step was necessary as the mixture had a bit of floury after-taste. So I think I need to experiment with this some more!

I tested this recipe on Mr Duckie's family, who normally won’t go anywhere near tofu! So how did it go? Well, funnily enough, when I had a small taste test of the filling, I thought that it tasted awful! I even felt sick thinking about it! Unfortunately, I didn't have enough tofu to try again, so, with a heavy heart, I served up my cheesecake with lots of caveats and warnings.

However, I shouldn't have worried, because everyone else seemed to love it! The cream part itself was very mild and most people did not pick that it contained tofu. My mother in law said that it was nice and light, not too sweet, and a good way to end a heavy meal. A visiting uncle (who inadvertently also turned into a test guinea pig) said “pretty good for a healthy dessert, although I still prefer regular cheesecake”. Even Mr Duckie, who normally wouldn’t poke tofu with a stick, decided that it was “not too bad” and went back for another serve.  Now I thought that everyone was just being nice to me, but, the cake was finished by the end of the day! 

Apparently, I managed turned a family of tofu-haters into tofu-lovers, so I think it is definitely worth giving this recipe a shot, regardless of whether you are a vegan or carnivore! It was also a very fun process to modify a recipe to suit different dietary needs, so I definitely encourage some kitchen experimenting with different ingredients to suit your needs!

On a final note, I once again may disappear from this blog for a few weeks as I prepare to go on my first clinical placement in the Blue Mountains! I'm both excited and a bit nervous, but looking forward to learning a lot and developing my skills as a dietitian!

Vegan raspberry and coconut cheesecake

Serves 8

250g plain sweet biscuits
125g canola spread
3 tsp cornflour
1/4 cup hot water
500g firm tofu
100g caster sugar
300ml coconut cream, chilled, creamy part only (see note)
1-2 tsp rosewater (depending on how strong you prefer the flavour)
200g frozen raspberries
30g caster sugar, extra
Coconut flakes, to decorate


Grease and line a 20cm-round springform pan. Process biscuits until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add canola spread and process to combine. Press mixture over base and side of prepared pan. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Combine cornflour and boiling water and stir to combine. Using an electric mixer, beat coconut cream until it becomes thick. In another bowl, beat tofu and sugar until smooth. Fold in coconut cream, cornflour mixture, and rosewater. Pour into prepared pan. Cover, refrigerate overnight.

Combine raspberries and extra caster sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat to form a sauce. Set aside to cool.

Remove cheesecake from pan and transfer to a plate. Cover with raspberry sauce and coconut flakes to decorate. Serve.

Note: for coconut cream, start with chilled coconut cream - either put the tin in the fridge the night before, or in the freezer for 10 minutes (be careful not to keep in the freezer for too long). Remove tin from fridge/freezer and open tin. Scoop out the top, thick creamy part only, leaving the liquid behind in the tin.

Original cheesecake recipe (for comparison against modified recipe)

Recipe taken from

250g plain sweet biscuits
125g butter, melted
3 tsp gelatine powder 
¼ cup boiling water
500g cream cheese
1/2 cup caster sugar
300ml thickened cream, whipped
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
300g fresh or frozen blueberries
Icing sugar mixture, to serve

Grease a 6cm-deep, 20cm-round (base) springform pan. Process biscuits until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add butter. Process until just combined. Press mixture over base and side of prepared pan. Refrigerate for 20 minutes or until firm.

Sprinkle gelatine over boiling water in a heatproof jug. Whisk with a fork until gelatine is dissolved. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.

Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Gradually beat in gelatine mixture until combined. Fold in whipped cream, then 1 cup blueberries. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Smooth top with a spatula. Sprinkle remaining blueberries over cheesecake. Cover, refrigerate overnight.

Remove cheesecake from pan and transfer to a plate. Dust with icing sugar. Serve.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Botswanan beef and lemon casserole

Hi everyone! I’m back again after an extended Christmas/summer break! It certainly has been nice to have some time off and just relax! Now I thought I would pick up where I left off, with the next course of my special four-course meal.

For my third (main) course in my four-course meal assignment, I decided to do a meal from an unfamiliar culture. This one was tricky, because the requirement from our lecturer was that if we had regularly eaten the food before, it doesn't count as unfamiliar, even if that food is from a different cultural background to our own. As someone who loves food and who has certainly tried a lot of food, I realised I would need some inspiration!

Luckily, I am an an avid reader, and it is through books that I travel to new and exotic locations, and learn about different places, and different foods, around the world (and of course I also love reading food blogs from around the world!). One of my earliest literary-inspired food memories was from The Chronicles of Narnia, in which the White Witch tempts Edmund to betray his siblings with Turkish Delight (of course, this then magically made me love Turkish Delight).

More recently, I have been enjoying The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, by Alexander McCall Smith. These books are set in Botswana and tell the story of Mma Ramotswe, who starts the country’s first ever female-owned detective agency. I have actually always been rather intrigued by Botswana since learning about the Okavango Delta in high school. These beautiful stories, with their strong, wise, and funny characters, and the depiction of a delightful, genteel culture, inspired my imagination further. Food of course features prominently in the stories, particularly as Mma Ramotswe gathers her family around the dinner table. So I wanted to cook a meal that would be right at home at Mma Ramotswe’s house.

One prized ingredient in Botswana (as I learned from the book series) is beef, with the size of a family’s cattle herd reflecting a family’s wealth.  After a thorough search online, I found a Botswanan beef and lemon casserole, which in its simplicity and homeliness I thought would be right at home in Mma Ramotswe's kitchen. I served the beef with a spicy Botswanan cabbage and Mealie Pap, which is essentially like polenta.

I received some mixed reviews about the various parts of the meal. We all enjoyed the beef, which was very tender, with a tasty, tangy sauce. Our uncle said “the beef is nice and soft, melts in the mouth, and is a good casserole for a cold day.” However, the cabbage rather divided the crowd. Our 14 year old cousin gave rated it 4 out of 10, explaining that she thought it was too spicy! Luckily, the mealie pap was fairly well liked, with the family deciding that the pap soaked up the beef sauce nicely.

I hope that this dish brought a little bit of Botswana to Australia, and I am looking forward to trying out some more new exotic recipes!

Beef and lemon casserole

Recipe adapted from Celtnet

Serves 6

1.4 kg gravy beef, cut into strips
2 x 130g unwaxed lemons, thinly sliced (remove any pips)
2 small onions (180g), sliced into thin rings
200ml water
2 tbps (40ml) olive oil
1 tbsp (10g) plain flour
Salt and pepper, to taste


Preheat oven to 160°C. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan. Fry beef until brown on both sides. Layer beef into a casserole dish, separating each layer of beef with a layer of onions and lemon slices. Finish with a layer of lemon slices on top. Pour in water and season with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 90 minutes. Remove foil, then mix plain flour with 2 tbsp water to a smooth slurry. Stir this into casserole. Return to oven and cook for a further 15 minutes. Serve with mealie pap and cabbage.

Botswanan cabbage

Recipe adapted from Celtnet

1 tomato, finely chopped
1 onion, sliced
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried chilli
½ small white cabbage, shredded
2 tbsp olive oil


Heat oil in pan over medium heat. Fry onion and tomato for five minutes, then add herbs and spices. Stir well until a thick paste forms. Add cabbage and sauté for 2 min to combine. Then cover and cook for 5-10 min or until cabbage is soft.

Mealie pap

Recipe adapted from Global Table Adventure

170g polenta
1 L water
1 vegetable stock cube


Heat water in a medium pop and bring to boil. Add stock cube and stir to dissolve. Stream in polenta slowly. Whisk to keep mixture from lumping. Simmer mixture gently, stirring constantly, until cooked to desired consistency, about 5-10 min.