Canned heat: Salmon and Feta Flan

New Zealand chef and writer Ray McVinnie says he didn’t become a good cook until he learned to be patient – that some recipes are for when you have hours to spare in the kitchen and some are for when there are a million other things to do. It’s quite a good motto for life in general, when you think about it – especially if you’re prone to a bit of ‘argh-I’m-not-achieving-anything-on-my-to-do-list-itis’.

This recipe is for one of those nights (or days) when time, energy, money and inspiration are in short supply. Unlike those recipes that claim to let you get dinner ready in the wink of an eye (very funny post here about the latest Jamie Oliver ’30 Minute Meals’ book), this really does just need just five minutes of your attention before you throw it in the oven and recover with a gin and tonic.

Salmon And Feta Flan

Salmon and Feta Flan
This is a very forgiving recipe. Feel free to swap the salmon for tuna and the feta for another hard cheese, or use a little cream or plain yoghurt if you don’t have enough milk. Eaten hot, it has a light, souffle-like texture, but it’s pretty good cold too. Leftovers are good in a lunchbox the next day.

4 eggs
1/2 cup plain flour
1 3/4 cups milk
1 onion, finely chopped
100g feta, crumbled
handful of grated cheddar
200g tin salmon, drained
handful of parsley, finely chopped
zest of a lemon
black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease a 23cm metal or glass pie dish (not a loose-bottomed one or your flan will escape to the darkest recesses of the oven).
Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and beat like fury with a wooden spoon until they are well mixed (you can also do this in a food processor if you don’t have the energy for a bit of beating). Pour into the prepared dish and bake for around 45 minutes, until golden and set. Eat hot or cold, with some crusty bread and a crunchy green salad dressed with a lemony vinaigrette. It’s also good with a dollop of Yoghurt Tartare Sauce.

Musical Monday: Andalucia

The Boy Wonder put this song on my iPod and for ages it really irritated me – the opening riff reminded me of the theme tune to ‘Friends’, which I found teeth-grindingly awful. But he kept telling me to watch the video and I’d change my mind. Well, constant dripping wears away the stone, and I have to admit, he’s right. Hope you enjoy this little burst of Spanish passion. Ole!

Sweet sweet Friday: Superfruity Halloween Muffins

I’ve been haunting every green grocer and supermarket in our neighbourhood this week, looking for a Halloween pumpkin. But Cinderella’s fairy godmother must have been around and turned them all into carriages because there were none to be found (plus, of course, it’s spring here and pumpkins aren’t exactly in season).

The main reason I wanted a pumpkin – apart from the Halloween connection – was to make Aine’s Vegan Pumpkin & Poppy Seed Muffins. Aine is an actress and dedicated vegan and she has a lovely and inspiring blog, PeaSoupEats. You should check it out, even if your idea of veganism is choosing chicken instead of steak.

Anyway, with no pumpkins to be found I thought laterally and went for the next best thing – carrots (well, they’re orange, at least). I fiddled around with Aine’s recipe and this is what I came up with. The trick with these is that they look like a treat but they’re full of stuff that’s good for you (and the little horrors in your life). Hope you have a sweet sweet Friday and a Happy Halloween.

Superfruity Halloween Muffins
The stewed apple replaces oil in this recipe (thanks for the tip Aine!) and I found date syrup in my local ethnic warehouse. You could use golden or maple syrup, but once you’ve tried date syrup you won’t go back!

1 3/4 cups white flour

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
pinch sea salt
1 1/2 tsp cinammon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dates, roughly chopped
2 carrots
1 small overripe banana
3/4 cup low fat milk
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1/4 cup stewed apple (or applesauce, or apple puree, or whatever else you call it)
1/4 cup date syrup
1 Tbsp blackstrap molasses

Preheat the oven to 200C and prepare your muffin tins. There is no oil in this recipe so it pays to grease the tins well or use paper or silicone liners.
Peel the carrots and slice into coins, then cook in boiling water until soft and mashable. Mash to a puree and let cool. This should yield about 3/4 of a cup. Make it up to one cup with mashed banana (you may not need all the banana).
Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl, then stir in the nuts and dates.
Pour the milk and vinegar into a large jug and let it sit for five minutes to curdle and thicken. Add the other ‘wet’ ingredients (stewed apple, date syrup, molasses) and stir gently.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and fold together gently. DON’T beat it or your muffins will be Halloween horrors.
Dollop into muffin tins (I made a dozen mini and six full-size ones) and bake for 20-25 minutes, until they are springy and pass the clean skewer test. Dust with icing sugar and serve with pride.

In my pantry (again)…

Ever since the Christchurch earthquake the Boy Wonder has had a bee in his bonnet about getting an earthquake kit organised. You have to love a man who is so concerned for our safety (or, at least, I have to love him), but this kit is a bone of contention. I’m quite happy for him to stockpile toilet paper and rubbish bags and torches, but we’re having trouble deciding what ‘non-perishable’ food items to store.
In the meantime, I’ve pulled open the pantry door for Debby’s meme. Her pantry is a vision of ‘orderliness and harmony’ – I think mine is more of a work in progress…

Wine, pasta, teabags – there’s no need for anything else!

 1. Nigella Lawson keeps a secret stash of pigs ears in her freezer that she deep-fries for a crispy, solitary snack. Do you have anything similarly sordid in yours?
Crumbs, I can’t compete with that. At the moment our freezer is very wholesome, with loaves of bread, homemade chicken stock and assorted frozen slabs of meat, plus the all-important frozen peas. I think frozen peas are the greatest invention ever and feel uneasy when there are none in the house.
But I do have my Nigella moments. Back in June, after we had a decadent winter solstice dinner, our freezer held two large leftover pottles of very posh chocolate ice cream that had been augmented with Grand Marnier-soaked dried cherries. I used to sneakily eat it for lunch sometimes (and then wonder why I felt like a nap afterwards!)
Until about a month ago I regularly stocked the freezer with various baby-friendly purees and mashes, but the Small Girl is too grown up for them now. I do love having a freezer full of easily defrosted leftovers – casseroles and sauces and the like. Perhaps it’s hereditary – we used to joke that my great aunt Makiri’s freezer was full of individually wrapped roast potatoes – but I like to think of it as the culinary equivalent of money in the bank!

2. What foods would I always find in your fridge and why?
Milk, yoghurt, cheese (of various sorts), mustard and apples. The milk is largely for the Small Girl, but all three of us eat cheese and yoghurt like it’s going out of fashion. I am planning to start making my own yoghurt before the year is out, but in the meantime we buy the plainest, least tampered with kind. Oh, except Catherine and Terence bought a tub of Apple Crumble Yoghurt around on Saturday night and we are now hooked on it. When it comes to cheese, the Boy Wonder is strictly a cheddar man (it could be worse, he could eat the plastic sort he grew up on), but I like it as stinky and runny as possible. At the time of writing, the Small Girl favours cheddar but will happily eat room-temperature Brie (she turns her nose up at it straight out of the fridge). We always, always have a jar or two of French mustard, partly because it makes the BW nostalgic for the year we spent driving around France with a jar of Dijon’s finest in the glovebox, and partly because it’s an essential accompaniment to sandwiches, steaks and sauces. The apples are mostly for me – when we lived in the UK I always looked forward to New Zealand Braeburns appearing in the shops even though the airmile factor was horrific. They’re not very good at this time of year, having spent months in cool storage, but I can’t give them up.

3. Do you have a standby, never-fail recipe that you like to have the ingedients on hand for unexpected guests?
We eat a lot of pasta and Asian-ish noodle dishes, so we always have them in the house. My version of Nigella’s linguine with mushrooms and thyme is my current fallback dinner, but the BW’s idea of an easy dinner is a traditional roast chicken. I think he gets it from his mother, who claims a roast with masses of potatoes, pumpkin and parsnip, is the easiest thing to cook even in high summer. Anyway, we usually have a chicken in the freezer just in case.

4. What is your favourite comfort food?
If I’m cooking myself a special treat, then it’s chicken livers dredged in seasoned flour and gently sauteed in butter, then finished with a splash of wine. If the cupboard is bare or I’m feeling especially fragile, it’s bread and butter. Proper bread, cold butter, and maybe a dollop of honey. Usually eaten standing at the kitchen sink while I wait for the kettle to boil or wonder if I should have a glass of wine.

5. Do you have a chocolate drawer or secret hoard of sweet or savoury snacks?
The Boy Wonder used to eschew chocolate for crisps, but now he’s given them up and has taken to eating my 72% cacao Whittakers Dark Ghana chocolate, which is why there’s none to photograph! I treat myself to a square or two when the Small Girl has her afternoon nap. I also eat a lot of dried fruits, nuts and seeds (which go very well with chocolate!)

Sublime to the ridiculous

6. What’s inside your store cupboard? I wonder if like me you too squirrel things away like a little mammal preparing for a hard winter? Or maybe you favour zen-like sparsity. Don’t you just love nosing inside someone else’s cupboards?
One of my sisters once said that you knew you were proper friends with someone when you could wander into their house and open their fridge in search of something to eat. I think cupboards are the same. Our old house had an enormous walk-in pantry and I felt very much the Domestic Goddess when I opened it and saw the shelves neatly stacked with packets and tins. I still don’t feel particularly well stocked here, despite spending great sums at various supermarkets and grocers. At the moment our pantry is a mix of the prosaic (pasta, rice, olive oil, useful things in tins like tomatoes and tuna) and the exotic (various Asian condiments and noodles, Spanish smoked paprika, French chestnut puree, a tiny tin of foie gras I got for my birthday). I always have a bag of flour and the wherewithal for some kind of baking (sugars, raising agents, cocoa, spices), both because it’s handy to be able to whip something up for visitors and I find baking very soothing. One of the things I miss most about living in London is that I don’t have the same access to all the things I became so used to having. All those lovely European and Middle Eastern foodstuffs I used to casually toss into my basket are either unavailable or prohibitively expensive, which is terribly annoying. But as long as I can get frozen peas and dark chocolate, I think I’ll cope.

Now, how do I get into this packet?

What about you? What’s in your cupboards?

Ladies who lunch

Go into journalism, they said. Enjoy long lunches, get wined and dined, meet interesting people and write Pulitzer-winning stories about them. Hmmmm. Well, at least the ‘meet interesting people’ bit turned out right. Long lunches, however, are a complete myth, with most journalists of my acquaintance eating something over their desk. Now, as a freelancer and chief controller of a Small Girl, lunches are even less exciting. I take great joy in thinking up meals for other people, but when it’s just me I lose all motivation and usually end up having whatever the Small Girl is having (or even her leftovers).

But yesterday I pulled out all the stops and made myself a proper lunch – the sort of thing that people who work in offices think that people who work from home do all the time. No, it wasn’t asparagus and hollandaise (though that would have been lovely), or spaghetti alio olio (no one to complain about the garlic perfume), but a simple toasted sandwich.

I foraged for tuna, gherkins and cottage cheese and piled them on a thick slice of wholemeal toast, then topped it with a bit of grated cheddar and lots of black pepper before putting the second slice of toast on top. Then – and this is the magic bit, I wrapped it tightly in baking paper and put it on the ridged grill pan which was heating on the stovetop. I put our massively heavy cast iron frying pan on top and wandered away to think deep thoughts (ie placated Small Girl, stopped her from pouring milk on the floor, sent a text message, worried about the credit card bill… oh, what’s that burning smell?) before flipping it over and cooking for a few more minutes.

Then, I took my little package (attractively charred a little more than desirable) on one side and sat at the table to eat it while I considered the news of the week (with Small Girl on knee, feeding her pieces of it and stopping her from sticking a pen in her eye). This, my friends, was a gourmet lunch AND I ate it sitting down.

Do you have lunch at home alone? What do you make for yourself? Inspire me, please!