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?

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.

Black Doris plum and coconut clafoutis

How familiar are you with the collected works of Enid Blyton? If you’re considering choosing the English writing powerhouse as a Mastermind topic, I’d think again. She churned out hundreds and hundreds of books, short stories and other pieces during her lifetime – that’s a lot of Faraway Trees, Naughtiest Girls and Famous Fives, among others. Wikipedia says she’s the seventh-best-selling fiction author of all time, with an estimated 600 million copies sold. (In case you still want to refresh your memory, the Enid Blyton Society should be able to answer your every query.)

Black Doris clafoutis

Many of her works seem hopelessly outdated now, reflecting the morals (and quite frankly, sexist and racist attitudes) of another time, but they still capture children’s imaginations with their adult-free adventures. Most recently I’ve been reacquainting myself with the boarding school stories (the St Clares’ and Malory Towers series’), in which midnight feasts, pranks and being sent to Coventry all feature frequently.

The midnight feasts all involve secret stashes of tinned goodies like condensed milk, pineapple and sardines (sometimes eaten together, such is the desperate creativity of the boarding school pupil) and bottles of ‘pop’. I’m not sure I could stay awake long enough for a midnight feast these days but if I was planning one based on tinned food I’d make sure to include Black Doris plums. Can’t you imagine slurping them down with a splash of condensed milk, perhaps with a slice of ginger cake from Janet’s aunt?

If your tastes are somewhat more adult and respectable, you might like to try the plums in this pudding. A clafoutis is a simple French pudding, traditionally made with cherries. I won’t tell them that we’re bending the rules if you don’t.

BLACK DORIS PLUM AND COCONUT CLAFOUTIS

It should go without saying that any leftovers are delicious cold for breakfast. If you like, reserve the syrup and heat it up to pour over the finished pudding when serving.

  • 1 x 800g tin Black Doris plums, drained and stones removed
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 cup coconut cream (I use the Ayam brand, which comes in a 270g tin)
  • 50g white chocolate, roughly chopped (optional)
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Heat the oven to 180C. Grease a shallow ovenproof dish (like a 25cm enamel pie plate) and set aside.

Put the eggs, vanilla, sugar, flour and coconut cream in a bowl. Whisk until smooth and pour into the prepared dish. Push the plums down into the batter and scatter over the white chocolate (if using).

Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and set in the middle. Leave for five minutes, then dust with icing sugar and serve in wedges with a dollop of coconut yoghurt or cream.

Creamy parsnip soup

I’m currently trying to get to grips with a range of different French idiomatic expressions involving food, such as ‘raconter des salades’ (literally: to tell some salad – to spin a story), and ‘la moutarde me monte au nez’ (literally: the mustard goes up my nose – I’m getting really angry).

This has reminded me of two things – one, teaching a Khmer colleague in Cambodia the New Zealand expression that ‘it’s all going to custard’ and two, of the English saying that ‘fine words butter no parsnips’. The former is a way of saying that everything is going wrong, but the latter is somewhat harder to explain. I think it means that fancy words mean little, but I’m not entirely sure. However, I am much more certain about this parsnip soup, which is entirely fine and yet contains very little butter. I’m not telling you any salads, I promise.

Creamy parsnip soup

Serves 4-6

60g butter

2 tsp olive oil

2 large onions, finely diced

3 large cloves garlic, finely sliced

1 kg parsnips (about 8 large ones), peeled and cut into chunks

1 sprig fresh thyme

4 cups chicken stock

Juice of one lemon

½ cup cream, plus a little extra for drizzling

Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy pot. Add the onions and garlic, and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parsnips and cook for a further 10-15 minutes, until softened and starting to turn golden. Add the chicken stock and simmer gently for another 5-10 minutes, until the parsnips are soft. Remove the thyme, and puree with a stick blender or a mouli. To make it really silky, push the puree through a sieve (tedious, but worth it). Stir in the lemon juice and cream, then return to the heat and warm through (don’t let it boil) before serving.

If you’re in the mood for more winter soups, check out my latest crop of recipes on bite.co.nz.