Crunchy cheese, potato and onion bake

When all this is over, I’m going to declare a fatwa on potatoes and cheese. We’re a potato-based household at the best of times, but right now it feels like we’re practically living on them. I’d do anything for a bit of variation on the cheese front, too. Just before lockdown started I had a wedge of my favourite Whitestone Aged Windsor Blue that I ate all too quickly. And oh, to be able to eat any of the cheeses I ate in France last year…

However, in the spirit of being grateful for small mercies, even the most ordinary potatoes and cheese can make life seem a little brighter. This is a riff on my sister-in-law Jenny’s famous cheesy potatoes (I aspire to make them as well as she can). If you squint, it’s sort of a poor man’s tartiflette – I made this Thomasina Miers’ tartiflette many times in France with enormous wheels of reblochon last year. And one day, I will again.

CRUNCHY CHEESE, POTATO AND ONION BAKE

Serves 4

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

If you’ve got cold leftover roast or boiled potatoes, you can use them instead – just blanch the spinach or silverbeet in boiling water, then add it to the potatoes and crush. Also feel free to swap the bacon for ham (or a small amount of anchovies, or olives). Other good additions include cherry tomatoes, little florets of broccoli or cauliflower, chunks of other cheeses – whatever your lockdown cupboards or fridge offers up.

  • 5 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 large onions, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 6-8 large agria potatoes, scrubbed and cut into large chunks
  • 200g spinach or silverbeet, washed and roughly chopped
  • 150g streaky bacon, diced
  • 2 cups grated tasty cheese

Heat the oven to 200C. Put 3 Tablespoons of the olive oil and the sliced onions in a roasting dish and toss well. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes while you’re getting the potatoes ready.

While the onions are cooking, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 15 minutes, until just about falling apart when prodded with a fork. Drop the spinach into the pot and cook for two minutes, then tip the whole thing into a colander and leave to drain.

Remove the onions from the onion and take most of them out of the dish. Layer some potatoes and spinach on top, crushing the potatoes with a fork, followed by some grated cheese and bacon. Repeat these layers, ending with cheese and bacon. Season well with lots of black pepper, drizzle over the remaining olive oil and bake in the oven for 40 minutes, until everything is crunchy. Eat with lots of hot mustard and something green.

Chocolate pikelets with spiced honey butter

You may well feel that life is too fraught at the moment to even consider making your own hot cross buns (you might feel like that all the time, in which case you have my sympathies). Even if you do like a bit of baking therapy, your plans might be stymied by a lack of yeast, or flour, or energy to do anything other than get through the day. I know the feeling. But in case you feel like making something, here’s an Easter-ish breakfast treat that uses basic ingredients, doesn’t require you to nurture a living thing and takes very little time to make. 

Chocolate pikelets with spiced honey butter

A note on substitutions for these straitened times: using butter gives these a better flavour, but using oil is fine if butter’s in short supply. Use any sugar (white, caster, brown) – but don’t pack brown sugar into the cup. Use any milk and any flour – omit the baking powder if you’ve only got self-raising, use a little less if you’re using wholemeal (and be aware the pikelets will be a bit sturdier). If you don’t have honey, use golden syrup in the butter (I had to do this for the photo – it was still delicious). 

Makes about 20 pikelets, serves 3-6 depending on greed, hunger, boredom etc

Preparation time: 10 mins

Cooking time: 10 minutes

  • 1 tablespoon melted butter or oil
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ – ¾ cup milk
  • 3 Tbsp cocoa
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup plain flour

For the spiced butter:

  • ½ cup (125g) soft butter
  • 2-3 generous Tbsp honey 
  • 1-2 tsp cinnamon

Whisk together the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla and ½ cup milk. Sift over the dry ingredients and stir together until just combined (don’t over-mix or the pikelets will be tough). Add a litte more milk if the mixture is very thick.

Set a large heavy frying pan over medium heat. Grease with a little butter or oil.

Drop dessertspoons full of the mixture into the pan (hold the spoon vertically to make the pikelets round). Cook until bubbles appear and pop on the top, then gently flip over and cook for another couple of minutes. Remove to a plate lined with a teatowel or a cooling rack.

To make the spiced butter, beat the butter and honey together until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the cinnamon. 

To serve, pile the pikelets on a serving plate and accompany with the butter. Any leftover pikelets can be frozen and reheated in a toaster. Any leftover butter is great on hot cross buns or toast.

If you fancy a few more Easter cooking projects, you might like to try these Pretend Hot Cross Buns (gluten-free) or these Homemade Marshmallow Easter Eggs (also gluten-free and dairy-free).

Hope you have a happy Easter, wherever you are. Don’t go anywhere, will you?

How to make fridge pickles

If you’re an organised person, you’ve probably spent the last month pickling and bottling your summer harvest. (If reports of queues outside New Zealand supermarkets were anything to go by yesterday, then you probably spent yesterday panic-buying hand sanitiser and disinfectant.) Not me, on either count. As in most parts of my life, I’m the cricket who sang all summer and then realised they should have been storing stuff away for winter. I mean, you should see my Kiwisaver.

The good news is that you can have your fun – and your pickles – without all the hassle you might think is involved in such a task. Once you learn how to make fridge pickles, you’ll be every bit as smug as one of those people who does everything in advance.

How to make fridge pickles

To make a basic cold pickle brine, use a 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar, plus salt, sugar and flavourings (whole spices, garlic, chillies) to taste. Use your favourite kind of vinegar – I think white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar are best. Here’s a sample pickling brew to give you an idea:

  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar

Put everything in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir well until the mixture is hot and the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the spices/flavourings of your choice – about 1 tsp whole seeds to a cup of brine. Taste it to make sure you like the flavour – adjust the salt and sugar accordingly.
Pack whatever washed (and/or peeled) vegetables you want to pickle in a sterilised jar (cleanliness is even better than godliness when it comes to pickling – wash jars in hot soapy water, rinse well and heat in a 120C oven for 20 minutes. Soak lids in boiling water for 10 minutes, then dry thoroughly with a clean tea towel). I recommend the following, either separately or in a mixture:

  • Carrots – slice them into long strips, lengthways
  • Cucumbers – slice them into long strips, lengthways
  • Chillies – keep them whole
  • Radishes – slice them into discs or batons
  • Zucchini –  slice them into discs or batons

Make sure the vegetables take up all the room in the jar – but leave about a 2cm gap at the top. Pour over the brine to cover the vegetables, making sure there are no air bubbles (tap the jar on the bench to pop them, or poke around with a skewer). Seal tightly and store in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. These pickles can be eaten after 48 hours – and you’re best to consume them within two months.

Thanks to Amber Sturtz (of Taco Addicts fame) for an excellent pickling tutorial at a recent Welly Hospo Wahine event.

HEMP HEART COOKIES

Is Valentine’s Day a ridiculous commercial construct, designed to part fools and their money? Yes, probably. Will I ever get over the time I was given a plastic rose for Valentine’s Day when I was 17? No, probably not (though the giver went on to disappoint me in far more damaging ways – I knew the rose was a sign!).

Whatever you might think of Valentine’s Day, the world’s going to hell in a handcart. If ever there was a time to eat heart-shaped cookies (especially these ones), it’s now. Make them to give away, make them to eat yourself. Love means never having to say ‘I’m sorry, I ate the last one’, right?

Hemp products are the current darlings of the wholefood world, especially hemp seeds (also known as hemp hearts). Their nutritional profile (they are high in protein, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron and zinc, among other things) means they have so-called superfood status. I think you’d need to eat a heck of a lot of them to benefit, but it’s all good marketing just the same. Flavour-wise, they have a sweet, nutty taste similar to pine nuts (and cost nearly as much, so you don’t need a lot!) The glossy, green oil is also incredibly delicious (and a bottle of it would make a great Valentine’s Day gift for that person you adore, hint hint)…

Hemp heart cookies

These are based on a wholemeal biscuit recipe from my mother’s notebooks. I remember her making them once or twice and we spread the tops with melted chocolate for a kind of primitive chocolate digestive biscuit. Oh, I do love chocolate digestives! There’s no chocolate on these ones, but don’t let that stop you drizzling a bit on top after baking.

  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp wholemeal flour
  • 1/3 cup self-raising flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3 firmly packed Tbsp brown sugar, plus 1 Tbsp more for sprinkling
  • 3 Tbsp hemp hearts, plus 1 Tbsp more for sprinkling
  • 60g butter
  • 2 1/2 – 3 Tbsp milk

Heat the oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with baking paper (or grease lightly).

Put all the dry ingredients in a food processor and whiz to mix. Add the butter and process until blended. Keep the motor running and pour in the milk until the mixture clumps. Alternatively, do this by hand: mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, rub in the butter until it looks breadcrumb-y, then mix in the milk.

If you’ve got time, wrap the dough in a piece of baking paper and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. If not (I don’t think it makes a huge difference), roll out to about 3-4mm thick and cut into shapes.

Transfer to the lined baking tray and sprinkle over the brown sugar and hemp hearts. Bake for about 15 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool on a rack. Makes about 15 small cookies.

Nectarine tartines with chilli and mint

What’s that saying about necessity being the mother of invention? I apply it to what we eat on a daily basis – I am the self-appointed queen of resourceful cooking. I think I learnt this from my mother, growing up on a farm where you didn’t nip to the shops if you ran out of something, but didn’t get good at it until I was a student with a Mother Hubbard-style pantry. Now it’s such a habit I do it without even thinking, like weaving between two languages without having to translate them in my head.

Sometimes though, the cupboards are full enough that this ‘invention’ is easy. The day after making and photographing the recipes for this week’s Eat Well spread on stonefruit, I opened the fridge to discover lots of good things to make breakfast from (being home alone also helps in these situations – good things vanish less quickly and you can eat whatever you like). This simple tartine (an open sandwich – tartiner means ‘to spread’ in French) was the result.

Nectarine tartines with chilli and mint

I’m not sure this is a recipe, exactly, but a set of loose instructions. You could vegan-ise it by using cashew cream cheese, or use peaches and basil instead of nectarines and mint. Or you could go down a completely different route and use plums and dark chocolate, as in this Black Forest sandwich. The options are limited only by your fridge…

  • 2 slices sourdough or other good bread
  • 3-4 Tbsp cream cheese
  • 1 ripe nectarine, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 fresh red chilli, thinly sliced
  • A small handful of mint leaves, roughly torn
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Toast the bread, then spread generously with cream cheese. Top with nectarine slices, then scatter over the chilli and mint leaves. Drizzle over a little olive oil. Eat immediately. Serves 1-2.