Category Archives: Savoury Foods

Soups, salads, quiches, stews, roasts, etc.

Pumpkin, caramelised onion, black olive & feta tart

I’m still a little seasonally-confused.  I thought that by now I’d have settled into the whole winter-in-June/July/August thing, but I guess not.  I think part of the problem is that for a fairly large proportion of the winter so far, we’ve actually had better weather and similar temperatures (at least during the day) to the summers that I’ve spent in Scotland.  A bit depressing for anybody in Scotland, but also not very helpful for my poor little brain.  My flat is on a street lined with deciduous trees, so seeing their bare branches helps to remind me that it’s winter, but there are also plenty of evergreen trees around, NZ species that aren’t fir trees.  I’m not familiar with them and their greenness sometimes throws me.  At least it’s pretty difficult not to notice the fairly short winter days with night falling at around 17:30, since it means that I walk home in the dark every day.  That’s my failsafe reminder that it’s winter.  That and the fact that our lab is significantly colder than it was during the tail-end of summer when I arrived, and I’m starting to seriously consider having a “lab blanket.”

Another great way of telling the season is by what fruit and vegetables are available.  Thank goodness for the Farmers’ Market because at first glance, supermarkets aren’t particularly helpful when it comes to seasonal food.  I saw cherries the other day and got all excited that cherry season had started because I temporarily forgot I’m in the Southern hemisphere and it’s most definitely not cherry season.  Then I saw that they were imported from the US.  Oh yeah, it’s winter here.  No cherries for me.  For the most part, they’re very good here at labelling where fruit and veg are from (which is great!), so I’ve been working on the assumption that if it’s from NZ, it’s most probably in season.  So if there’s an overabundance of NZ-grown apples, it must be autumn, even though it’s April.  NZ apricots?  It must be summer, even though it’s February.  NZ pumpkins?  It must be autumn or winter, even though it’s June.  You get the idea.  Obviously this only works for fruit and vegetables that I’m familiar with, but I think it works pretty well.

Since it’s winter, there are plenty of pumpkins and squashes around at the moment.  I love pumpkin and I’ve got plenty of bookmarked pumpkin recipes, but I often get put off because I don’t like to waste the seeds but separating them out and cleaning them can be a really time drain.  Plus pumpkins tend to be quite big, and as much as I love them, I try to vary my diet and not eat the same thing for a whole week.  Luckily I discovered that you can buy half pumpkins that are already de-seeded, which solves both problems.  Genius!  So I dug out a recipe that I’ve had my eye on for a while: pumpkin, caramelised onion, olive & feta tart.  It turned out to be quite a time-consuming recipe, but luckily I’d anticipated this and prepared the caramelised onions the evening before whilst I was cooking something else.  It might be time-consuming, but it’s not a work-heavy recipe (as long as you don’t have to de-seed the pumpkin) since the caramelised onions more or less do their own thing, as does the pumpkin and then you mix it all together, pop it into the pastry case (ok, so you have to make the pastry, but it’s not particularly difficult) and it bakes away by itself.  So you can get other things done whilst the oven/frying pan takes care of the rest.  And the end result is definitely worth it.  The sweetness of the roasted pumpkin and caramelised onions balances out the sharpness of the feta and the flavour of the olives.  Actually, I don’t think that this recipe really helped my seasonal-confusion because the olives and feta make me think of the Mediterranean, which I associate with warmth and sunshine and summer.  Despite that, since pumpkin is in season (and delicious), I’m submitting it to Simple and in Season, a blog event started by Ren at Fabulicious Food and guest hosted by Laura at How to Cook Good Food this month.

Pumpkin, caramelised onion, black olive & feta tart

Serves 6-8 as a starter, 3-4 as a main course
Adapted from Two Spoons

The caramelised onions take quite a while as it’s important to cook them over a low heat (resist the temptation to turn the heat up!), so if you’re a little tight on time, you can make them in advance (such as the night before) and store them in the fridge for a couple of days until required.  You could substitute sweet potato instead of pumpkin.  If you’d rather make a more quiche-like version of this, just add an extra egg and 3-4 extra tbsp of crème fraîche.  This tart is delicious both warm and cold, served with a dressed green salad on the side.

Ingredients

For the caramelised onions:
3 medium onions
Drizzle tsp rapeseed oil (canola oil)
1½ tbsp light brown sugar
1½-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp chopped dried thyme

For the rest of the tart:
Quiche/tart pastry (click for recipe or use your favourite)
400g pumpkin (weight with seeds removed)
Drizzle of rapeseed oil (canola oil)
100g pitted black olives
150g feta cheese
1 egg
3 heaped tbsp crème fraîche
½ tsp chopped dried thyme
1 tsp Dijon mustard (optional, but brings out the flavours)

Directions

For the caramelised onions:
1.  Finely slice the onions.  Add to a large lidded frying pan or saucepan, along with a drizzle of oil and the brown sugar and melt over a low heat, covered, stirring every 5 mins or so.

2.  Once the onions are golden brown (don’t worry if they’re sticking a little to the pan), add the balsamic vinegar and thyme, stir and cover, once again stirring until every 5 mins or so.  Once they are dark brown (but not burnt!), remove from the heat and let sit in their pan, uncovered.  If making in advance, allow to cool, then store in the fridge in an airtight container until required.

To assemble the tart:
3.  Butter a 24cm fluted tart tin and dust with flour.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.

4.  Prepare your pastry, roll out to a 3 or 4 mm thickness and line the prepared tart tin.  Trim the edges and prick with a fork.  Refrigerate for 30 mins.

5.  Meanwhile, prepare the pumpkin.  Remove the skin, dice into about 1.5 cm cubes, and place in a roasting tin.  Drizzle with oil and toss to coat.  Bake for about 20 mins on the top rack of the oven, until softened and the edges are slightly browned.  Remove from the oven and switch the rack to the centre of the oven.

6.  Line the tart pastry with baking paper and cover with baking beans.  Blind-bake for 15 mins, remove the baking paper and beans and return to the oven for a further 5 mins.  Once removed, lower the oven’s heat to 190°C/170°C.

7.  Meanwhile, prepare the filling.  Halve the pitted olives and dice the feta into about 1cm cubes.  In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg with a fork.  Add the crème fraîche and mix together.  Add the caramelised onions, roasted pumpkin, olives, feta thyme and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Stir together.

8.  Spread the mustard over the blind-baked tart pastry (optional, but it helps to enhance the flavours in the tart) then add the filling and evenly spread around the tart.  Bake for about 30 mins until the tart is golden and the eggs and cream are cooked.  Allow to cool on a wire rack for a couple of minutes before serving (or allow to cool fully) with a dressed green salad.

Enjoy!

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Angostura bitters and venison – wait, what?

This month’s AlphaBakes challenge is being hosted by Ros over at The More Than Occasional Baker, and the random letter is “V.”  I immediately thought of vermouth and vodka, but since I probably spend enough time sounding like a borderline alcoholic, I thought it might be a good idea to go for an ingredient of a non-alcoholic variety.  Other than “vegetable” (which I think might be a little too vague), I drew a blank for a while, until I was perusing my collection of winter recipes and it hit me: venison.  Perfect!  Venison is wonderful in winter-y dishes such as stews, and since it was the winter solstice on Thursday (which means that hurrah, the days are going to start gradually getting longer), it’s definitely the right season for it!  It’s also a very lean meat, so a healthier choice than beef (though usually more expensive unfortunately).  I was initially going to make venison stew, but wasn’t sure if it would count for the challenge as it wouldn’t see the inside of an oven.  I decided that I’d go for venison pie instead, since that would definitely be baked and is still a wonderfully wintery dish.  I just had to decide on a recipe…

Sometimes I go to the library and browse through the cookbooks there for inspiration.  Particularly those that I don’t want to buy since I know that I wouldn’t realistically ever use, but are still interesting to read through.  The Exotic Meat Cookbook is one such book – the opportunity to turn a crocodile, camel or kangaroo into a meal has yet to arise for me so buying the book would be a slight waste of money at the moment, but it’s still fun to read the recipes and imagine the flavours.  And the next time I’m called upon to cook zebra, I’ll know which recipe book to add to my collection.  Actually, it also includes some meats that I wouldn’t really class as exotic, such as veal, rabbit and hare, mutton and… venison.  A recipe for Angostura venison cobbler caught my eye as I was leafing through the book.  I am, of course, familiar with Angostura bitters in cocktails, but cooking with Angostura bitters?  How intriguing…  And by that I mean: oh my gosh, must try!

I’ve never really been sure what exactly cobbler is, but it seems to be fairly similar in concept to a pie but with a topping made of scones, which may or may not cover the whole thing, and no pastry on the bottom.  So basically the main similarity with a pie is that the filling can be sweet or savoury.  I was so intrigued by the  flavours in the recipe that I scrapped the venison pie idea and decided to try this out instead.  Well, it turns out that Angostura bitters goes very well with venison.  Who knew?  (Other than the authors of the cookbook…)  It definitely adds an unexpected, but delicious, flavour to the meat – kind of pepping it up.  It’s an unusual combination, but certainly a very tasty one.  I’ll definitely be experimenting more with Angostura bitters in cooking.  I was expecting the scone topping to cover the whole dish, but the recipe only made enough for a ring around the edge of the dish.  I was initially a little disappointed by this, but the topping turned out to be rather filling so perhaps it would have been too much if the whole dish was covered.  I’ll double the amount of topping the next time I make this and then I can decide how I prefer it.

Angostura venison cobbler

Serves 4-6
Adapted from The Exotic Meat Cookbook

This dish would also work well with most other minces, such as lean beef or lamb.  If you don’t have a casserole dish or something similar that can be used on both a stovetop and in the oven, you can cook the venison in a saucepan on the stovetop and then transfer it into an ovenproof dish for the oven part.  Adjust the amount of bitters that you add to your personal taste – if you’re very sensitive to the taste of bitters or don’t enjoy it very much, use 1½ tbsp, but if you enjoy the taste, go for the full 3 tbsp, though add a little at a time and taste the sauce as you go to check the flavour isn’t too overpowering.  I found that the topping recipe only made enough for a ring of topping around the edge of the dish, so if you want to have the whole dish covered, I’d suggest doubling the topping recipe.

Ingredients

500g venison mince
2 carrots
2 parsnips
1 large onion
1 clove of garlic
8-9 fresh sage leaves
300ml beef stock
1½-3 tbsp Angostura bitters
1 tbsp tomato purée
2 tsp cornflour, if necessary

For the scone topping:
170g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
40g unsalted butter
5-6 fresh sage leaves
1 egg
2-3 tbsp milk, plus extra for brushing

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Gently brown the venison in an oven-proof casserole dish (add a few drops of rapeseed oil if necessary).  Whilst the venison is browning, peel and dice the carrots and parsnips, slice the onions and finely chop the garlic clove and sage leaves.  Add them to the venison once it’s browned and cook for a few minutes more.

3.  Pour in the beef stock, along with the bitters and tomato purée, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir. Bring to the boil.  If the sauce is too liquidy, add the cornflour to a small ramekin with a few drops of cold water and mix into a paste.  Stir into the sauce and cook until thickened.

4.  Cover the casserole and transfer to the oven for 20 mins.

5.  Meanwhile, make the cobbler topping.  Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and add the cubed butter.  Rub together until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Finely chop the sage leaves and stir into the mixture along with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add the egg and a little bit of milk and gently bring together into a soft dough.  Add more milk if necessary.  Transfer the dough to a floured surface and pat or gently roll out to a thickness of 1cm.  Cut out circles of dough with a 5cm biscuit cutter.

6.  Remove the venison from the oven and turn the oven temperature up to 190°C.  Arrange the cut-out scone circles in an overlapping ring around the edge of the venison mixture.  Brush with a little milk.  Return the casserole dish to the oven and bake uncovered for a further 20 mins, or until the topping is golden and well-risen.

Enjoy!

PS – You know what else starts with V that I’ve just thought of?  Vanilla.  Which is only one of the most commonly-used ingredients in baking.  Facepalm.

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Butternut squash, gorgonzola & sage tart

I’ve had my eye on a squash, gorgonzola and sage tart recipe for quite a while (since butternut squash came into season nearly two months ago actually) but kept running into two minor issues.  Firstly, I couldn’t find any gorgonzola, and secondly, I couldn’t find any sage.  With two of the three main ingredients eluding me, spot the minor flaw in my plan to try the recipe out…  I can deal without access to gorgonzola – after all, I can always substitute a creamy blue if absolutely necessary – but the lack of sage is a tough one because I have quite a few recipes that require sage, and I’ve definitely read recipes in Kiwi publications that call for sage.  So it must be available somewhere, but the question is where?  After weeks and weeks of unsuccessfully scouring the supermarket aisles, I was starting to think that my squash, gorgonzola and sage tart wasn’t going to happen.

Then, at the farmers’ market on Saturday, I spotted some sage.  I snapped up the last bag a little over-enthusiastically and just managed to stop myself from doing a victory dance on the spot.  I think the stallholder lady thought I was a little crazy (imagine if I had done the dance…), but I really didn’t care.  I had sage, therefore I was winning.  (Winning at what, I have no idea.  The great game of tart-making?)  That afternoon I decided to go investigate the big supermarket that’s rather further than the smaller one that I usually go to (and only barely within carrying-heavy-shopping walking distance) and guess what?  They had Kiwi-made gorgonzola-style cheese.  Jackpot!  Incidentally, they also had sage.  Oh.  So clearly my usual supermarket just makes poor stock choices (they both belong to the same chain).  Good to know.  Anyway, armed with my Kiwi gorgonzola and sage, I enthusiastically  tried the tart.  Which took forever, by the way, because I forgot that you’re supposed to roast the squash first.  But it was definitely worth waiting for!  The wonderfully autumnal flavours are perfect together, with the slight sweetness of the butternut squash cut through by the gorgonzola’s “bite,” and the sage adding that little extra dimension.

Squash, gorgonzola & sage tart

Serves 6-8 as a starter, 3-4 as a main course
Adapted from Baking – 100 everyday recipes

Remember to take the roasting time of the butternut squash when planning this recipe (totally not speaking from experience, ahem).  As a rough guide, I found that 500g was half of a large butternut squash.  Pumpkin would also work instead of butternut squash.  If you’re not too keen on blue cheese, I’d suggest reducing the amount of gorgonzola a little bit, but that depends entirely on personal taste.  This tart is delicious eaten both warm and cold, and can easily be prepared in advance, though the pastry will begin to soften after about a day.

Ingredients

500g of butternut squash
1 tsp organic rapeseed oil
Quiche pastry (click for recipe – it’ll make twice as much as you need)
5 tbsp crème fraîche
2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
200g gorgonzola (or similar creamy blue cheese)
10-15 fresh sage leaves

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.  Butter and flour a 24 cm fluted tart tin.

2.  Cut the butternut squash in half (if necessary) and place the halves cut-side up on a baking tray.  Drizzle the cut side with the oil and bake for 30-40 mins until browned and soft.  Set aside to cool a little, then remove the seeds (you can toast them and use them as a snack).  Scoop the flesh out into a large bowl and throw the skin away.

3.  Meanwhile, whilst the squash is roasting, make the pastry.  Roll it out and line the prepared tart tin.  Trim the edges, prick the pastry with a fork and refrigerate for 30 mins.

4.  Blind bake (line the pastry with baking paper and fill with baking beans) the pastry for 10 mins (the oven should still be at 190°C), then remove the baking beans and baking paper before baking a further 5 mins.

5.  Whilst waiting for the pastry to bake, mash the squash flesh with a fork.  Add 2 tbsp of the crème fraîche, season with freshly ground black pepper and mix together.  Set aside.  In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, egg yolk and remaining crème fraîche and set aside.

6.  When the pastry has been blind baked, thinly spread the mustard over the base of the quiche, then evenly cover with the squash mixture, making sure to spread it right into the edges of the pastry case.  Crumble or slice the gorgonzola and spread evenly over the top of the squash layer.  Top this with the egg mixture, making sure that it settles evenly across the tart.  Decorate the surface with the sage leaves.  Bake for 30-35 mins until cooked through and golden.  Allow to rest in the tin for 10 mins before turning out and serving accompanied by a green salad.

Enjoy!

PS – I apologise for the dreadful photos – I was pretty hungry by the time this came out of the oven, so I made do with my phone.  Turns out that was a bad plan.

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When is a carbonara not a carbonara?

Winter is definitely starting to creep up on us…  It seems that with the exceptional Indian summer that we’ve had, autumn has been completely by-passed.  The temperatures have dropped a little during the day (ok, so it was still 17°C outside yesterday lunch time, but inside the lab it felt like about 15°C.  Which is really cold when you’re just sitting at your desk not moving much) and rather a lot during the night – it’s cold first thing in the morning.  I think I’m going to have to dig out my bed socks soon (I am obviously the epitome of hotness, in case you didn’t know) and switch to my warmer duvet (though I don’t think I’ll be needing my full-on winter 14.5 tog one here… that might be a little much).  Despite the weather taking a turn for the colder, at least the sunny weather is forecast to continue for at least the rest of this week.  Sunshine makes everything better.  So does pasta.

I wanted some comfort food when I got home yesterday evening, and a mushroom and spinach carbonara recipe that I’d seen in Cuisine over the weekend fitted the bill perfectly.  I’m not sure that it can quite be described as a carbonara – there’s no pancetta, and I used blue cheese rather than parmesan in the sauce.  But the sauce is made up of barely-cooked eggs and a touch of cream, so it is very carbonara-esque (though apparently there Italian-made carbonara doesn’t involve cream… according to Wikipedia, source of all knowledge).  Are there rules on what can and can’t be called a carbonara?  I’ll call it a carbonara until somebody informs me otherwise.  Mostly because I don’t really know quite what else to call it…

Reason #564 that I love NZ: you can get real shallots here.  So I’ve been adding shallots to almost everything lately because I’m still so excited about that.  Almost everything savoury, I should add, and this was no exception.  The original recipe calls for wide lasagne noodles, but half the fun of a carbonara is elegantly twirling it onto your fork and then inelegantly splattering it all over your chin.  I couldn’t find any tagliatelle, which is my favourite twirly pasta (very technical term), so I went with spaghetti, wholewheat of course, dahling.  I try to use wholewheat pasta whenever I can – it’s better for you after all, no more effort than using normal pasta and doesn’t even take much longer to cook (unlike wholegrain brown rice which takes forever to cook).  It’s a cheat’s way of eating slightly healthier.  Although perhaps slightly negated when you make cream-based sauces to go with it, but shhhh!  In my mind the spinach and wholewheat pasta totally counterbalance the cream, eggs and cheese in this recipe.  That’s how healthy eating works, right…?  Ok, ok, it doesn’t, and this isn’t the healthiest of recipes, but I’m not suggesting that you eat this everyday.  From time to time though, it makes perfect comfort food that can be prepared fairly quickly to boot, which makes it perfect to throw together after a long day in a cold lab.  Now, where did I put my bed socks…?

Mushroom & spinach blue cheese carbonara

Serves 2-3
Adapted from Cuisine (May 2012)

Since the eggs in the sauce are only barely cooked, make sure to use fresh eggs.  If you don’t like blue cheese, you can use 30g of parmesan, as specified in the original recipe, or 80g of feta.  I’m sure that a crumbly goat’s cheese would also work well.  If you are cooking this for vegetarians, make sure to pick a vegetarian-friendly cheese.  I use reduced fat crème fraîche, as that’s just what I always have in the fridge as it’s slightly healthier.  Don’t try and be healthier by using oil instead of butter for the mushrooms though – they won’t taste as good.

Ingredients

20g butter
250g Portobello mushrooms (other mushrooms would work fine)
1 shallot
1 clove of garlic
180g wholewheat spaghetti or tagliatelle
3 eggs
4 tbsp crème fraîche
80g creamy blue cheese, plus extra to serve
200g fresh spinach
Black pepper, to serve

Directions

1.  Bring a large pan of water to the boil with a little salt.

2.  Slice the mushrooms and finely dice the shallot and garlic clove.  Melt the butter in a large frying pan or wok over a medium heat and add the mushrooms, shallot and garlic.  Sauté for about 10 mins, stirring from time to time, until dark and tender.

3.  Meanwhile, add the pasta to the pan of boiling water, and cook until according to package instructions until al dente.

4.  In a small bowl, lightly beat together the eggs and crème fraîche.  Whisk in the crumbled blue cheese and set aside.

5.  Once the mushrooms are cooked, add about 4 tbsp of the pasta cooking water and the spinach (you can slice the spinach if you want – I totally forgot to do so) and stir for a few minutes until the spinach is wilted.

6.  Drain the pasta and return to the saucepan.  Add the egg mixture to the pasta over a low heat, and stir for about a minute so that the eggs begin to cook.  Add the pasta to the mushrooms and spinach fold together (depending on the respective sizes of your saucepan and frying pan/wok it might be easier to add the mushrooms and spinach to the pasta rather than the other way around).

7.  Split between pasta bowls, top with a little crumbled blue cheese, season with black pepper and serve whilst hot.

Enjoy!

PS – The obvious answer to the question in the title is “when it’s in my belly” or some variation thereof.  Bonus points to you if you thought that to yourself on reading it.

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Spinach and feta “quichelets”

I have a tendency to bookmark recipes involving spinach. It’s a habit that I picked up in St Andrews, thanks to Kat. She’s on medication that basically limits the amount of alcohol that she can drink to about 2 glasses of wine a day. Which wasn’t ideal for dinner parties (because unfortunately the 2 glasses a day aren’t transferable to the next day if you haven’t consumed them). However, she also had to limit the amount of vitamin K because it has the opposite effect on the medication to alcohol. So clearly, if she ate more vitamin K, she just had to balance it with an extra glass of wine or three and vice versa… Spinach is jam-packed full of vitamin K, so whenever I had Kat for dinner, it was highly likely that spinach would feature at some point. I didn’t want Kat to have to feel limited to drinking less than everybody else, because that’s just not fair. Of course, the obviously sensible thing to do would have been for everybody else to cut down on the amount of wine being consumed… but as fourth year undergrads, let’s be realistic here.

In fact, Kat was first prescribed this medication over the summer of 2010, which she unexpectedly spent living with me in St Andrews – this was the summer that definitely cemented our friendship. We spent a large part of the summer perfecting the amount of spinach required to balance out various quantities of wine and gin. We got it down to a fine art. This wasn’t quite as irresponsible as it sounds since Kat was conveniently having plenty of check-ups to check the levels of her medication throughout the summer. Kids: don’t read this and think it’s a smart idea to play Russian Roulette with your health, it’s not and that’s really not what I’m suggesting you should do. Rather hypocritical, I know, but I felt a disclaimer was probably a good idea.

So anyway, as a result of this, I have lots and lots of bookmarked recipes involving spinach. This particular recipe is adapted from a wonderful little cookbook that Craig (who was also involved in many of the spinach vs wine/gin experiments) gave me for Graduation, so I never got around to trying it out before I moved from St Andrews. The original recipe has been bookmarked for a long time, partly out of habit, partly because it uses egg yolks (I’m always looking for recipes that use up egg yolks) and partly because it sounded delicious. And it turned out scrumptious, as I was expecting – I’ve tried the spinach and feta combination before, and have always enjoyed it. I decided to make these as mini quiches (or “quichelets” as I like to call them), as suggested in the book, but it would also work as a larger quiche, particularly if you want to make this as a main course rather than a starter or light lunch.

Spinach & feta “quichelets”

Serves 6 as a starter
Adapted from Baking – 100 everyday recipes

You could, of course, just make one big quiche, but making the mini quiches doesn’t take that much more time and effort (just the time to cut the pastry from the tartlet tins). A larger quiche will take longer to bake – I can’t give you a time estimate, so I’d suggest just monitoring it, and toasting the pine nuts in a small frying pan and just topping the quiche with them when it comes out of the oven. I always add a tiny bit of Dijon mustard to the bottom of all my savoury tarts and quiches because I find that it subtly heightens the flavours, but it is entirely optional. If you’re not a big fan of cheese, you may wish to reduce the quantity of cheese down to about 100g.

Ingredients

Quiche pastry (click for recipe – it’ll make twice as much as you need)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
250g fresh spinach
1 tbsp butter
150g crème fraîche
3 egg yolks
2 tsp ground nutmeg
150g feta (pick one that crumbles easily)
25g pine nuts

Directions

1. Grease and flour six 9 cm tartlet tins (or one large quiche tin). Divide the pastry equally into six and roll out each portion to about 4mm thick and line one of the tartlet tins. Prick with a fork and refrigerate for about 30 mins. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.

2. Line each pastry case with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Blind bake for 10 mins.

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, lightly beat together the egg yolks, crème fraîche and ground nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper (don’t be afraid to be a little heavy-handed with the pepper). Set aside.

4. Blanch the spinach for 1 minute in a large pot of boiling water. Drain and squeeze all the water out (having just been in boiling water, the spinach is very hot – I’m not sure how you would do this if you don’t happen to have asbestos hands like me… Use the back of a spoon perhaps?). Roughly chop the spinach (again, good luck if you don’t have asbestos hands). In a frying pan or wok, melt the butter and add the spinach and cook over a low heat to evaporate any remaining water.

5. Add a tiny dollop of mustard to each blind-baked pastry case and spread evenly. Crumble the feta and split evenly between the six tartlets. Stir the creamy egg mixture into the spinach, mix well, and spoon over the feta. Bake for 10 mins (if you’re making a large quiche, the cooking time will be a bit longer).

6. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the mini quiches and bake a further 5 mins.

7. Remove from the oven and serve immediately accompanied with a green salad or allow to cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

PS – Kat, I wish I could have shared these quichelets with you!

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World Domination vs. mini-croissants

For this month’s Random Recipe challenge, Dom banked on the high likelihood that food bloggers received at least one recipe book for Christmas.  The theme is “new year, new book“, which I think is pretty self explanatory – this month’s recipe had to be chosen from our newest book.  As correctly predicted by Dom, my newest recipe book was, indeed, a gift for Christmas.  It was a wonderful gift from my friend Emma, whom I went to visit in Paris to bring in the New Year.  It wasn’t just a recipe book, it was a recipe gift set.  Although I didn’t immediately realise that.  On opening the gift, my eyes were drawn to the shiny part and I thought she’d given me some sort of torture implement to help me on my way with my (not so) secret plan for World Domination.  I then saw the accompanying book entitled Mini-croissants pour l’apéritif, and realised that it wasn’t a torture implement at all but a mini-croissant cutter.  Uhm, hello amazing idea (the croissant cutter, not torture.  Obviously.).

The random number generator on my trusty calculator directed me to a recipe for goat’s cheese and rosemary mini-croissants.  How yummy do those sound?!  So with the deadline for the challenge rapidly approaching (not that it’s today or anything, ahem) I put my plans for World Domination on the back-burner (for now) and decided to give these mini-croissants a go.  I wasn’t dreading making them or anything, I just haven’t been organised enough.  Speaking of lack of organisation, I totally failed to take part in last month’s Random Recipe challenge.  And you know why?  Because we left for France a whole two days earlier than I was expecting, and when I realised this it was too late because the recipe required overnight soaking.  I will eventually make that recipe though.  I might need to work on my planning skills before World Domination becomes a reality.

In the meantime, I’m all about the mini-croissants.  They are so cute!!  And delicious!!  I clearly need to work on my croissant-rolling skills, but I’ll let myself off since these were my first try.  I didn’t make the puff pastry, so these were super-quick and easy to prepare.  Which is always a good thing.  The original recipe called for pine nuts rather than walnuts, but guess who forgot to check whether we had any pine nuts?  Ya, me.  How did you guess?  The walnuts worked perfectly with the goat’s cheese and rosemary though, so potential disaster was averted.  I wasn’t sure whether these would come out a bit dry, but they came out perfect.  If I didn’t have to share them with my mum, I could easily have inhaled the whole batch!

Goat’s cheese, walnut & rosemary mini-croissants

Makes 16-18 mini-croissants
Adapted from Mini-croissants pour l’apéritif

These are perfect to serve as little appetisers, or as a savoury snack, and are delicious whether served warm or cold.  Using shop-bought puff pastry is absolutely fine (I usually do), though do make sure that it’s good quality butter-based pastry (rather than margarine or something).  For the goat’s cheese, I used a soft and crumbly cheese, but I’m sure a grated hard goat’s cheese or even a creamy goat’s cheese would work, although the flavours and texture would change a little.

Ingredients

200g puff pastry
3 sprigs rosemary
80g fresh goat’s cheese
20g chopped walnuts
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 egg yolk

Directions

1.  Line a baking tray with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Roll out the pastry to about 3mm thickness.  Use the roller to cut out 18 little triangles.  If you don’t have a mini-croissant roller, use a knife to cut strips of pastry of about 8cm in width.  Then divide these strips into triangles (the base should be about 9.5 cm wide).

3.  Strip the rosemary leaves from the sprigs, chop and set aside.  In a small bowl, mix the goat’s cheese, chopped walnuts and some freshly ground black pepper (add to taste) together.  Deposit about ½ a teaspoon of the cheese mixture at the base of each triangle, and sprinkle with a small pinch of the chopped rosemary (there should still be some rosemary left over once all the triangles are done).

4.  Starting from the base of the triangle, roll the triangle up towards the tip to form a croissant, sealing them as best as possible (to prevent the filling from leaking out whist baking).  Place the mini-croissants on the baking tray.

5.  Brush the croissants with the egg yolk (add a couple of drops of water if the egg yolk is too thick) and sprinkle with the remaining chopped rosemary.  Bake for 20 mins, until golden.

Enjoy!

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Pear, pancetta & Stilton soup

I’m half British, so it’s only reasonable to bring up the weather from time to time.  You may have heard about the storm that battered Scotland and northern England yesterday (obviously if you live in Scotland or northern England, you’ll be well aware of it).  Unofficially christened “Hurricane Bawbag” on Twitter – it became a trending topic, probably confusing most of the rest of the world, and a Twitter account, facebook page and Wikipedia entry were all quickly established for it – the storm was responsible for a lot of travel disruption and general chaos (something like ⅔ of schools in Scotland didn’t open or closed early).  I was supposed to go up to St Andrews for the afternoon, and because I’m stupidly stubborn I decided that I would attempt it anyway, despite the red weather warnings issued (did I mention that I’m stubborn?).  I didn’t get any further than Edinburgh Bus Station though – thanks to gusts reaching up to 135 km/h, all bridges into Fife were closed and all the buses were cancelled.  So I’m going up this afternoon instead.  Hopefully I’ll be en route when this post is published…  (Fingers crossed!)

Now, cold, wet, windy and just generally thoroughly miserable weather is usually soup weather…  Last month’s Random Recipe challenge was supposed to be a soup.  The first recipe that I’d randomly picked was for pear, pancetta and Stilton soup, which sounded intriguing and I couldn’t wait to try it…  Until I realised that it’s really not vegetarian, which was one of the stipulations of the challenge.  Of course, I could have just removed the pancetta and used vegetable stock instead of chicken stock in order to rectify that, but it seemed wrong to just completely remove one of the title ingredients.  So I bookmarked the recipe and randomly picked a different one for the challenge.  Usually when I bookmark something, I forget about it more or less immediately and then happen across it several months later when none of the ingredients are in season anymore, but I was so intrigued by this combination that I actually remembered about it!

It turned out to be absolutely delicious!!  It’s definitely a bit unusual, and if you don’t like sweet and savoury flavours in the same dish then this probably isn’t for you, but against my expectations, the flavours work perfectly.  The saltiness of the pancetta and the Stilton perfectly counterbalance the sweetness of the pears.  I’m glad I didn’t remove the pancetta to make it vegetarian because I’m not sure how well the soup would work without that dimension of flavour.  Certainly the pancetta would have to be substituted for something equally strong and salty in taste, but I’m not really sure what exactly would fit the bill.  Non-vegetarians though, I certainly recommend trying this out.  I think I might trot it out at my next dinner party (although due to the living-at-home situation, combined with the only-knowing-two-people-in-Edinburgh situation, I’m unlikely to be having a dinner party any time soon…!), depending on whether my guests are into the sweet and savoury combination or not.

Pear, pancetta & Stilton soup

Serves 4-6
Recipe adapted from Food 52

This soup is very much a balance of sweet and savoury.  The strong salty flavours of the pancetta and Stilton counteract the sweetness of the pears.  Half of the pancetta that I used was smoked and it did add a lovely subtle flavour to the soup – if you can get some, I’d definitely recommend using it.  My mum thought she might prefer the Stilton to be blended into the soup, but I preferred it sprinkled over the top as in the recipe – I think that it just comes down to a matter of preference, but adding the Stilton at the end does give some control of the strength of the flavour if somebody isn’t too keen on it.

Ingredients

1 onion
2 garlic cloves
225g potatoes (this was 1 large potato)
1 carrot
160g pancetta (half of it was oak-smoked pancetta)
1 tbsp honey
5 pears
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp ground nutmeg
700 ml chicken stock
120 ml crème fraîche
100g Stilton

Directions

1.  Chop the onions and set aside.  Finely chop the garlic clove and set aside with the cubed potatoes and sliced carrot.  Peel, core and roughly cube the pears and set aside.

2.  Fry the pancetta in a large pot.  Once crispy, remove to a plate lined with a paper towel (to allow to drain) using a slotted spoon.

3.  Remove all but 1 tbsp of fat from the pot (don’t pour it down the sink – the fat may solidify and block your sink).  Add the butter and return to the heat.  Once the butter has melted, add the onion and sweat for about 10 mins over a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until softened but not browned.  Add the garlic, potato and carrot and cover.  Cook for a further 10 mins, stirring occasionally.

4.  Add the honey, pear, thyme, nutmeg and a good pinch of salt, stirring well to coat the pears in the honey and spices.  Cook for 5 mins, stirring frequently.  Add the chicken stock, bring to the boil and turn the heat down to low.  Cover and simmer for about 15 mins until the potatoes and pears are cooked.

5.  Blend the soup until smooth and velvety, either in batches in a blender or using an immersion blender.  Return to the pot if necessary, and stir in the crème fraîche.  Add salt and pepper to taste (I found the pepper to be a largely unnecessary addition).

6.  Ladle the soup into bowls and serve sprinkled with the pancetta and crumbled Stilton.

Enjoy!

 

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Getting into the festive spirit with pear, date, walnut & Stilton muffins

It’s December now, which means one thing…  Well, two things.  Firstly, uhm, how is it already the last month of 2011?!  Seriously, when did that happen?  Let’s ignore it and move on swiftly (and with style) to the next thing: December means getting all festive!!  Now, leading up to December, I am a complete and utter scrooge and I detest everything to do with Christmas.  In any month other than December, I could probably give Scrooge a run for his money.  Possibly even Scrooge and the Grinch combined.  Then, as soon as it’s December, you could flick a switch and suddenly I get all enthusiastic about it.  Well, about the festive spirit.  Not the overly-commercialised you-must-buy-as-many-hideous-and-useless-presents-as-possible aspect to it (which is a rant for another day.  I’m sure you’re looking forward to it already…).  But let’s all give a huzzah for the festive spirit!  And for mulled wine!  (Although that’s acceptable from Bonfire Night.  Or as soon as it starts getting cold really.)  And mince pies – I love mince pies!

You know what else makes me think of Christmas?  Dates.  Of the edible variety (as opposed to the going-for-dinner variety).  Every year my mum makes dates stuffed with home-made marzipan, and I could easily hoover up enough of them to feed a small army in approximately ten seconds.  I have a recipe for pear, date, walnut and Stilton muffins which to me just sounds like such a Christmassy combination, and that I’ve been meaning to try out for over a year, but I completely forgot about it at Christmastime last year.  When I eventually remembered about it in April it was neither Christmas nor pear season.  So I bookmarked the recipe with a giant hot pink post-it note so that when Christmas rolled around again, I would be more likely to remember.  And guess what?  I did!  (Which is an achievement in itself.)

I should probably add the caveat that if you really detest blue cheese, these probably aren’t the muffins for you, but if you’re a bit on the fence about blue cheese, maybe give them a try – the Stilton really doesn’t come through as much as you might expect so it really doesn’t over-power the muffin, and the sweetness of the dates combined with the subtle pear flavour counter-balance it really well.  Even though they’ve got both sweet and savoury elements, I’ve categorised these muffins as savoury because they work really well as a light lunch or snack.  They could possibly even work as an informal alternative to a cheese board.  However you decide to eat them, they’re definitely deliciously seasonal!  Here’s to getting into the festive spirit!

Pear, date, walnut & Stilton muffins

Makes 13 muffins
Adapted from Mad About Muffins

The pear is quite a subtle flavour, so I made sure not to mash it up completely so that there were still a few chunks to give little explosions of flavour.  I used Stilton, but I’m sure that most blue cheeses would work.  The Stilton doesn’t come through as much as you might expect it to, so don’t worry if you’re not too keen on blue cheese.  As with most muffins, these won’t keep all that long, but they will store well in an air-tight container for a couple of days.  These are delicious both warm out of the oven or fully cooled.

Ingredients

355g all-pupose flour
160g caster sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
250g pears (just use the weight as a rough guideline)
100g organic rapeseed oil
2 eggs
60g pitted ready-to-eat dates
100g Stilton
100g walnut halves

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.  Butter or line 13 muffins pan sections or set out 13 silicon muffin moulds on a baking sheet.

2.  Roughly chop the walnut halves.  Chop the dates and crumble the Stilton (don’t crumble it too finely – little chunks are good).  Set aside.

3.  Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl and mix together.

4.  Peel and core the pear and add to a clean bowl.  Mash roughly with a potato masher (make sure there are still some little rough chunks left).  Add the oil and eggs and gently beat together with a fork.

5.  Fold the pear mixture into the dry ingredients with a large metal spoon, until just combined (it’s fine if there’s still a little bit of flour visible).  Carefully fold the dates, Stilton and half of the walnuts into the mixture before spooning into the prepared muffin pans or moulds.  Sprinkle the remaining walnuts evenly over the tops of the muffins.

6.  Bake for 22-25 mins, until the muffins are golden and well risen.  The tops should spring back when lightly prodded.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool a little before eating.

Enjoy!

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Random Recipe #10: Celeriac soup

Here in the Northern hemisphere, it’s definitely soup season.  So it’s very apt that for this month’s Random Recipe challenge, Dom has teemed up with Jac from Tinned Tomatoes who runs the No Croutons Required blog challenge, which involves sharing a vegetarian soup or salad recipe.  The rules for the joint challenge were simple: we had to randomly choose a soup (or salad – but I’m very definitely sticking to soup for this one) from our cookery books, and then make it.  Oh, and the soup also had to be vegetarian.  Easy-peasy.  Or so I thought…  Most of my cookery books are oriented towards desserts and baking, or specific foodstuffs like muffins or macarons, so it turns out that soup recipes are rather few and far between.  But I have a fair amount of soup recipes that I’ve collected from magazines or blogs, so I decided to randomly choose one of those instead.  A random number generator directed me to a rather delicious-sounding pear soup with pancetta and blue cheese soup, and I was looking forward to trying it out.  Until I noticed that one of the main ingredients is pancetta (I know, it’s in the title of the recipe – how did I not notice??), which makes it very much not vegetarian.  I randomly chose a further three recipes, none of which were vegetarian either (who knew there were so many non-vegetarian soups?!) and was starting to get rather frustrated at this point.  So I switched tactics, and randomly picked a recipe from my mum’s folder of recipes (it’s still a randomly chosen recipe, so I’m not breaking the rules or anything… right?).

The recipe I chose was for celeriac soup, and was definitely vegetarian.  Success!  It’s a recipe that my mum had quickly noted down whilst watching a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall cookery programme a while ago.  Up until we made the soup, I’d always thought that celeriac and celery were the same thing (namely celery sticks), and were maybe just an American/British vocabulary difference or something.  Turns out they’re not the same thing at all.  Well, I mean they’re both from the same plant, but they are different parts.  As my mum put it, celeriac tends to get a bit neglected because it’s ugly (it’s the big round thing that isn’t an onion or a potato in the photo above) and people don’t necessarily know what to do with it.  Or know that it exists, if you’re me.  I don’t really know how I’d describe the taste.  I was sort of expecting it to taste a bit like celery sticks or something.  Thankfully it doesn’t (since they taste of approximately nothing), but it doesn’t have a particularly strong taste.  The soup was good, but I wouldn’t say it was ground-breaking.  Because I’d never really had celeriac soup before, it was different, but ultimately, it was a bit on the bland side, and I’m not sure what I’d add to bring the flavours out better.  But it hasn’t put me off from trying other celeriac soup recipes.  In fact, I’m rather determined to find a delicious one!  Not by the challenge deadline though, so this will have to do for now…

Celeriac soup

Serves 4-5
Adapted from a Hugh F-W recipe in my mum’s folder of recipes

Whilst this soup is good, it is a bit bland on the bland side and needs something to lift the flavour, though I’m not sure quite what (not very helpful, I know – suggestions on a postcard in the comments welcome).  The original recipe called for vegetable stock rather than water, but we felt that the flavour of the stock might over-power the fairly mild taste of the celeriac.  Perhaps we were wrong and the vegetable stock would have improved the soup.

Ingredients

1 small leek
1 celeriac
1 potato
2 small onions
1 garlic clove
Ground nutmeg, to serve (optional)

Directions

1.  Slice the leek and peel and dice the celeriac, potato, onions and garlic (none of these have to be diced or sliced perfectly evenly – it’s all going to be blended at the end…).

2.  Melt some butter in a large pot on a medium-low heat, add the vegetables to soften for about 10 mins, stirring frequently so that the vegetables don’t colour.

3.  Add just over 1 litre of water to the pot (the amount of water that you add depends on how thick you want your soup.  Make sure that there is enough to cover the vegetables though – we used about 1.1 litre), cover and simmer for about 30-35 mins until the vegetables are cooked and tender.

4.  Remove from the heat, season and either pour into a blender or use a hand-held immersion blender to blend until smooth.  Return the blended soup to the heat until heated through and serve immediately, with a sprinkling of ground nutmeg and fresh bread on the side.

Enjoy!

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Roast figs with honey & goat’s cheese

My mum is currently on holiday, which means that I’ve been left to fend for myself for two weeks.  I managed to fend for myself, feed myself, and generally survive during my four years of university, so this isn’t exactly a challenge.  Far from it, in fact.  Since I don’t have any essays or deadlines to worry about, I can play around with food-related ideas without having to feel guilty because I should actually be reading papers or pulling my hair out analysing data.  Not that that ever really stopped me anyway…  In theory, I could try out recipes and churn out a batch of cupcakes or macarons or cookies every day.  There’s just one teeny tiny little problem…  I have nobody to share all these theoretical baked goods with, and there’s no way I could eat an entire batch every single day without making myself feel sick (plus, I already don’t go to the gym nearly as often as I’d like, so eating a batch of baked goods every day probably wouldn’t help matters.  And I’d also like to avoid diabetes for a little longer, thanks).

In St Andrews, it was easy to find eager recipients for baked goods – I suspect that a large proportion of my friends were only friends with me because they wanted cake.  In Edinburgh, I have a grand total of one friend (actually that’s a lie, I managed to bump the total up to two yesterday.  Oh the achievement.  Actually, it’s not even much of an achievement – I already knew them, I just didn’t know they were currently studying in Edinburgh).  So I can’t really try a new muffin/cookie/macaron flavour every day and share the results.  But I still want to try out new recipes, particularly since I currently have the time.  The obvious solution is to experiment with savoury recipes, because even if I don’t want to eat a batch of cupcakes every day, I’ll definitely be eating lunch and dinner, thanks very much.  And breakfast, too, obviously, though I’m usually not too keen on having to put a significant amount of effort into breakfast before I can sit down and actually eat it (muffins baked the night before though, no problem).  I’ve cooked quite a few delicious dinners or lunches that I would have liked to share, but haven’t been happy with the photos.  I find it quite difficult to make savoury foods look really appetising in photos and I would also quite like to eat my dinner warm.  I think I just need more practice in styling food brilliantly and quickly.  A lot of practice.  Ideally, I’d also like a proper camera, but my little five-year old point-and-shoot camera usually manages alright with cupcakes and macarons, so I don’t think my camera is really the problem…  (Any tips on photographing savoury food appetisingly are definitely welcome!)

Anyway, you well wonder where all this rambling is going (I may or may not be wondering the same thing).  My original point was that I’m currently on my own, which means that if a particular food experiment fails miserably doesn’t quite work, having toast and pâté for dinner is a totally acceptable back-up plan.  I’m not sure that my mum would agree, so I’ve been trying a few ideas out.  Ideas of the I’ve-no-idea-what-I’m-doing-so-I’ll-just-make-this-up-as-I-go-along-but-I’m-sure-it’ll-be-fine variety.  When I was in Waitrose a few days ago, I saw they were selling fresh figs at half price, and since it’s getting to the end of fig season, and they were in really good condition and just looked so tempting, I bought a packet (I’m like a retailer’s dream customer sometimes – ooo it looks pretty, ooo it’s half price, yes please!).  When I got home, I remembered that I don’t really like fresh figs.  I know, I know.  But they looked so beautiful…  Anyway, I decided that roasting them with honey would probably make them a delicious dessert, because honey makes everything better.  Then I had a moment of inspiration yesterday, and I decided to make them savoury by adding walnuts, goat’s cheese and rosemary and have them for dinner.  My theory was that the goat’s cheese and rosemary would make it savoury enough to work as a dinner, even with the honey (back-up plan: toast).  And you know what?  It totally worked!  The dish turned out to be ridiculously easy to throw together (except that I couldn’t find our stash of rosemary, so I had to use thyme instead), and it turns out that I love roasted figs.  Now, excuse me whilst I go see if Waitrose have any beautiful half-price fresh figs left…

Roast figs with honey & goat’s cheese

Serves 2 as a starter, 1 as a light meal
From my imagination

I’d originally planned to use rosemary, but our supply appears to have run away, so I used thyme instead – both work really well, so just use whichever you prefer or have available.  This recipe is super easy and quick to throw together, so it would make a delicious but easy starter or quick lunch.  The ingredient quantities are more guidelines than anything else.

Ingredients

Handful of walnut halves
4 fresh figs
4 tbsp of runny honey
Several sprigs thyme or rosemary (or about 1 tbsp if using dried herbs)
70g crumbly goat’s cheese

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.

2.  In a small frying pan, lightly toast the walnut halves for a few minutes, until they start to release their smell (make sure not to let them burn).  Remove from the heat, allow to cool a little and roughly chop (depending on how large you want the pieces to be).

3.  Cut a cross in the top of the figs to about half way down the fig so that they open up a bit if gently squeezed at the bottom (I cut a little too close to the bottom on mine so they opened right up when roasted) and place in a small roasting tin.  Sprinkle the chopped toasted walnuts into the opened figs, dividing evenly between the four.  Drizzle about 1 tbsp per fig of honey over the walnuts (don’t worry if some of the honey spills out of the figs).  Finely chop the thyme or rosemary and sprinkle over the honey (or add a large pinch of dried herbs to each fig), followed by the crumbled goat’s cheese (don’t worry if some falls out of the fig), finished off with some roughly ground or cracked black pepper.

4.  Roast in the oven for 10-12 mins, until the goat’s cheese begins to melt and just turn golden.  Serve immediately on a bed of salad (peppery rocket works really well) with the juices from the roasting tin drizzled over the top.

Enjoy!

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