Tag Archives: Light meal

Bringing back childhood food memories

During summer visits to my French grandparents when I was little, I’d always get excited when my grandfather brought in a big bunch of silverbeet (côtes de bette) from the garden.  It meant one thing: silverbeet gratin was in my future.  My grandmother wasn’t exactly an imaginative cook, but in this case, that was absolutely fine by me.  Silverbeet gratin is one of my favourite childhood food memories.  Perhaps because we only ever got to eat it once or twice a year – silverbeet wasn’t available in any of the countries I grew up in – and that made it magical to little Mel.  By the way, this is what I mean by silverbeet:

Silverbeet

I think it’s similar to what is called chard in the UK, but I’m not convinced that it’s exactly the same thing.  When my grandmother was no longer able to cook for herself, my yearly summer silverbeet gratin treat was suddenly restricted to my memory.  Until I moved to NZ last year and discovered that silverbeet exists here.  I was embarrassingly excited about it and promptly made silverbeet gratin.  And proceeded to make one a week for about a month.  Just because I could.  (Balanced diet, woop!)

Silverbeet gratin 1

To be honest, this is barely a recipe – it’s literally a case of cooking the stems, mixing them into a béchamel sauce, topping the whole thing off with cheese and grilling it until bubbly and golden.  Boom, simple as.  The recipe quantities are more guidelines than set in stone.  I never usually measure anything out when I make a béchamel, so doing so to write up the recipe was a bit of a novel experience.  I apologise for the slightly uninspiring photos by the way – I was more focused on actually eating the gratin.

Silverbeet gratin 2

Silverbeet gratin

Serves 2-3 as a light meal, 3-4 as a side dish
Recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves

Although the silverbeet leaves aren’t used in this recipe, don’t throw them out – they work interchangeably with spinach in many recipes (although be warned that they are slightly more bitter).  Comté cheese is the best cheese to use, but if you can’t get it (or it’s prohibitively expensive), gruyère will also do the trick.  The gratin can be served as a side dish alongside meat, or by itself as a light meal, accompanied by a side salad.

Ingredients

1 bunch silverbeet (about 900g)
½ lemon (optional, helps prevent slight browning)

For the béchamel:
50g unsalted butter
2-3 heaped tbsp all-purpose flour
200-250ml whole milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp ground nutmeg

150g comté or gruyère

Directions

1.  Wash the silverbeet, trim the leaves from the stalks (you won’t need the leaves, but keep them as they can be used for other things).  Slice the stalks into 1-1.5 cm slices.

2.  Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, add the silverbeet slices and the juice of the half lemon.  Cook for about 20 mins, until a knife point easily slides into the stalks.

To prepare the béchamel:
3.  Pre-heat the oven to a hot grill setting.

4.  Meanwhile, make the béchamel.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.  Add 2 heaped tbsp of flour and stir until smooth.  Add more if necessary, but a little at a time, ensuring that it remains smooth.  Stir in the milk about 50ml at a time, constantly stirring and allowing the sauce to thicken before adding more.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and the nutmeg.

5.  Drain the silverbeet, and add to the béchamel sauce (or add the sauce to the silverbeet, depending on the size of your saucepans) and stir together.  Pour into an ovenproof dish, and top with grated comté or gruyère.  Grill until the cheese is melted and browning.  Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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Silverbeet & feta quiche

It’s that weird inbetween season where the winter vegetables are coming to the tail end of their season, but the summer vegetables haven’t yet made an appearance.  Well, that’s not quite true – I saw courgettes at Nosh yesterday… priced at a casual $19 a kg.  I love courgettes, but not quite that much.  Silverbeet, however, seems to be in season all year round here.  From what I understand it grows wonderfully in the climate here, well, here in northern NZ anyway.  I think it’s called different things in different places, so this is what I mean by silverbeet:

Silverbeet

This whole always-in-season thing is rather marvellous because I love silverbeet.  Well, specifically the stems, which I will post about later.  I’m sort of doing this backwards, I should really post about the stalks first and why I love them so much (clue: there’s cheese involved).  But instead, I’m going to talk about the leaves.  They’re super bitter, so I wouldn’t eat them raw, but when it comes to cooking them, you can generally use them interchangeably with spinach.

Silverbeet leaves

I had a bunch of silverbeet leaves to use up, so I decided to throw them into a quiche with some feta.  Quiches are the best way to use up leftovers or ingredients loitering in the fridge.  Throw some ingredients together, beat together a couple of eggs and some crème fraîche, throw them all together in a pastry-lined tart tin, and boom, a fancy-pants vehicle for leftovers that’s actually insanely easy to prepare.

Silverbeet & feta quiche 1

AlphaBakesBonus: any leftover quiche can be eaten cold for lunch (or warm for lunch, that works, too).  Basically, quiche is a winner.  This silverbeet and feta quiche is definitely a winner.  It’s pretty light, perfect for lunch or a starter.  Since it’s not totally filled with eggy mixture, the silverbeet leaves on the top go all crispy in the oven.  Scrumptious!  I’m submitting this quiche to September’s AlphaBakes, where the special letter is “Q.”  The challenge is being hosted by Caroline Makes this month.

Silverbeet & feta quiche 2

Silverbeet & feta quiche

Serves 4-6 as a starter, 3 as a main course
Recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves

This would work equally well with spinach leaves, and feel free to throw in some toasted pine nuts if you have some (unfortunately I didn’t).  This quiche is delicious either warm out of the oven, or cooled down to room temperature and makes an excellent light meal or starter.  If you want a more filling quiche, add more feta and silverbeet leaves, or add another egg and some more crème fraîche.  This recipe is pretty flexible, so knock yourself out (not literally, please).

Ingredients

1 quantity of quiche pastry of your choice (I used this recipe)
200g silverbeet leaves
3 cloves garlic
Drizzle extra virgin olive oil
1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
250g feta
3 eggs
175g crème fraîche
Salt and pepper

Directions

1.  Butter and flour a 24cm fluted tart tin.  Make your pastry, roll it out and line the tart tin with it.  Prick the pastry with a fork.  Refrigerate for at least 30 mins.

2.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.

3.  Wash the silverbeet leaves, pat them dry and slice them widthways in about 1cm strips (it doesn’t have to be perfect, we’re making quiche here).  Peel and finely mince the garlic cloves.

4.  Heat a drizzle of oil in large frying pan over a medium heat.  Add the garlic and sauté for 1-2 mins.  Then add the silverbeet leaves.  I generally add half the leaves and allow them to wilt for a couple of minutes before adding the remaining leaves to the pan.  This helps to prevent silverbeet overflow.  Cook until thoroughly wilted and reduced.  Set aside to cool a little.

5.  Remove the pastry from the fridge.  Spread the mustard thinly over the base, then evenly crumble the feta over the top.  Evenly spread the garlicky spinach over the top of the feta.  In a medium bowl, lightly beat together the eggs, then whisk in the crème fraîche and season with salt and pepper (you won’t need much salt since feta is usually quite salty).  Pour over the top of the spinach.

6.  Bake for 50 mins to 1h, until golden and cooked through.  Allow to cool in the tin for about ten mins before serving or transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy!

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Just bear with me whilst I wax lyrical about Auckland’s public libraries

I mentioned in this post that I’d requested a copy of the River Cottage Veg Every Day! book from my local library.  I requested it back in April, but apparently half of Auckland had the same idea (ok, a slight exaggeration perhaps…) so there was quite a waiting list for it.  Of course, I could have just gone and bought it rather than wait, but I’ve resolved not to buy any more books (cookbooks or otherwise) if I can borrow them from the library because A) books from the library are generally free, B) books from the library only temporarily eat up valuable and limited bookshelf space, C) library books won’t take up expensive box space when I next move country, D) if I detest a book I can just give it back rather than being annoyed that I spent good money on it when I could have used said money to buy butter or gin, and E) if I love a book so much that I know I will definitely read it again or realistically cook more than ten recipes from it, I can then go out and buy it, knowing that it will be a worthwhile investment.  Basically, it’s like test-driving books.  Particularly when it comes to cookery books (so should that be test-cooking?).

This plan only works because the Auckland public library system is brilliant.  All the public libraries across Auckland are managed by the council (apparently this is a relatively recent development and only happened in the last couple of years) and all linked up to the same computer system.  So when I request a book, it will come from whichever library has it available, it’ll be delivered to the library of my choice, and, most importantly, there aren’t any inter-library loan charges involved.  To me this seems the most blatantly logical way to run a network of libraries, but apparently it doesn’t work like that in, say, Edinburgh.  Since this system covers 55 libraries (yes, 55!), you won’t be too surprised to hear that the selection of books is very comprehensive and includes the latest releases (albeit often accompanied by long waiting lists).  This was something that I was extremely pleased, and indeed impressed, to discover.

So anyway, back to River Cottage Veg Every Day!, which is what this post was actually supposed to be about, rather than my over-enthusiasm for Auckland’s public libraries.  I finally made it to the top of the waiting list and was able to pick up a copy about a fortnight ago.  Flicking through it randomly, there were plenty of recipes that I wanted to try and I couldn’t choose what to try out.  I decided to be logical and start reading from the beginning and pick out one recipe to start with.  I got as far as the second recipe, chachouka, a North African dish which I’d never heard of but looked pretty damn delicious in the accompanying photo.  It’s a spiced (but not spicy) and flavourful sort of stew that consists of peppers, onions and tomatoes, topped with baked eggs.  It’s perfect for a lunch or light dinner, and I loved it!  The egg means that the leftovers don’t reheat all that well, so I’ll be keeping this one bookmarked for when I have guests over.

Chachouka

Serves 4
Adapted from River Cottage Veg Every Day!

Be warned that this dish does take a wee while to cook, but it isn’t difficult to prepare and doesn’t take too much effort.  This is best eaten as soon as it is prepared, accompanied by a simple green salad and bread to mop up the egg yolk.  This dish doesn’t really make for great leftovers – unsurprisingly, the egg yolks cooked completely when I reheated the leftovers for lunch the next day, so I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as when freshly cooked, although the pepper and onion mixture was still delicious.

Ingredients

3 tbsp organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)
2 medium onions
2 garlic cloves
1 red peper
1 yellow pepper
¾ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
Pinch of saffron
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
4 eggs

Directions

1.  Pell and finely slice the onion.  Heat the rapeseed oil in a large frying pan (use an ovenproof one if you have one) and add the onions.  Cook over a medium heat for 8-10 mins, stirring frequently until soft and golden.

2.  Meanwhile, deseed the peppers and finely slice them (I’d suggest slicing more finely than I did in the photos),  Feel and finely chop the garlic cloves.  When the onion is ready, turn the heat down to low and add the peppers and garlic to the pan.  Cook for at least 20 mins, stirring frequently, until the peppers are softened.  Add the spices about 10 mins in.

3.  Add the tin of tomatoes, including the juice, and season with salt and pepper.  Continue to cook over a low heat for 10-15 mins, stirring occasionally.

4.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C.

5.  Adjust the seasoning of the pepper mixture if necessary.  If your frying pan isn’t ovenproof, transfer the mixture to an ovenproof baking dish.  Make four hollows in the mixture and carefully break an egg into each one.  Bake for 10-12 mins, until the egg white is cooked, but the yolk is still runny (it can be a little difficult to tell if the egg yolk is still runny, but basically remove it from the oven as soon as the egg white is cooked).  Serve accompanied by bread and a green salad.

Enjoy!

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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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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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