The Scrooge’s Brunch: Avocado and Feta Sourdough Toast, with Pomegranate Seeds et al.

Hello hello, and welcome to The Scrooge’s Brunch.

The aim of the game is to have a sublime and divine (and other posh words) brunch, without having to spend upwards of $20 (AUD!!) for a single plate of wholesome, tasty, real (i.e., recognisable components) food.

The good thing about wholesome “real” food is that it isn’t so hugely extraordinarily hard to figure out what went into the meal. If you can figure out what went in and approximately how to make it, then technically, a Melbourne style brunch should be within your grasp every weekend (twice!). And by you, I mean me, because I have unfortunately been seduced by Melbourne cafe culture, and eat brunch out far too often.

Inspiring stuff, no? I’ll at least attempt to plate everything in a nice cafe-ish way. And I’ll obviously only try to recreate dishes that I thought kicked some serious coffee cup.

Also, I promise not to ask any of cafes in question about how they make their food. That’s cheating, plus they will probably look at me weirdly/hipster snub me. The point of the exercise is independent recreation at home, not the copying  of a cafe recipe to a T.

First up is a variation on the infamous Avocado and Feta Sourdough Toast. I decided to start with a relatively easy one.

The original:

The original

The Scrooge’s Brunch: 

Pomegranate thievery!I overmixed a littletwo orders of avo-feta sourdough coming up!

Avocado and Feta Sourdough Toast, with Pomegranate Seeds + Other Fun Stuff

Fresh and crunchy and yum, this is a refreshing and satisfying brunch for relatively little effort. 

1 large ripe avocado
1/3 cup feta – I used about half the amount of feta to avocado, it isn’t an exact science here
1/2 cup cooked, drained, cooled chickpeas
2 – 3 radishes
1/2 a pomegranate
1/4 cup toasted pistachios – I used cashews because I didn’t have pistachios
1/8 cup fresh coriander leaves

Loaf of sourdough

  1. Ingredient preparation:
    • Avocado: peel and chop roughly in cubes, at least 1.5 cm long
    • Feta: crumble
    • Chickpeas: if tinned, drain, rinse, and set aside. If you cook them yourself you need a bit more prep time – use a water ratio of 1:4, and stick them in a slow cooker for 2-3 hours the night before. Drain, and leave to cool in the fridge overnight. If you pop the little skins off the texture will be better, do this by gently rubbing them against each other in a metal sieve.
    • Radishes: clean and slice into little sticks that look like toothpicks. Mine as pictured are a little thick.
    • Pomegranate: as carefully as possible, extract all the little pretty seeds.
    • Nuts: toast your nuts briefly and allow to cool
    • Sourdough bread: toast this!
  2. Now, in a big bowl, gently mix all the toppings together. You don’t want to mash it. As you can see above, I mixed a little too enthusiastically.
  3. Just before serving, artfully (yeah right) scoop it onto the toasted bread. Hooray, you saved $20!

Portion control: makes enough for 4 regular portions or 2-3 “Melbourne brunch” portions

Do aheads: you can do the chickpeas, radishes, pomegranate, and nuts ahead. Then just toast the bread and mix everything up with the feta, avocado, and coriander before brunch.

Verdict: 70% likeness, because I swapped the pistachios for cashews. I’m also pretty convinced they candied their pistachios, Bigfoot claims otherwise – this dispute requires another brunch visit to settle it. Also, my radish slices were too thick.

A note on attribution: I have left the name of the cafe in question off the post, as I thought it was better not to publically identify how to make specific dishes at specific cafes (even though this is a re-creation rather than the actual recipe) – though in my view, a huge part of Melbourne brunch culture is the cafe atmosphere, for which, of course, there is no recipe. If this isn’t correct attribution, please let me know and I’ll happily fix it. 

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Eggplant-zilla

This is the weirdest looking, largest eggplant I’ve ever seen. I bought it for that reason alone.

The world trembles beneath her feet

Having bought it, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with so much eggplant. Initially I considered eggplant parmagiana, but the thought of breadcrumbing and frying the eggplant slices individually was a bit overwhelming.

So, lasagne it is. I didn’t manage to use all the eggplant in the end. It was too much, too much.

..Help?

Please excuse my bao-lo fa-ke sweaterDon't hog the parmesan topping, not sociable at all

Eggplant Lasagne

You can do this with pretty much any vegetable, I did one with pumpkin and baby spinach a few days later. Quick-cooking vegetables like spinach don’t need pre-grilling. 

1/2 a humongous eggplant, cut to 1cm thick slices – equivalent to 1-2 large eggplants
1.5 – 2 cups tomato sauce – I used this, but any tomato-pasta-sauce is fine.
Lasagne strips – amount depends how big your baking dish is, I used  6 strips.
Cheese strips / grated for layering – again, depends on the size of your dish and how much you liked cheese. I used about 150g of colby cheddar, cut into thin strips. Mozzarella would probably be nice.
1/4 cup (or less) Grated parmesan to top

  1. Slice and grill your eggplant. Easiest is to do this in an oven / toaster oven – I stuck mine on an oiled tray in the toaster oven for 20 minutes at 220 degrees C. 
  2. Time to start layering – get out your oven dish, and start by pouring in about 1/4 cup of tomato sauce. Spread it around well.
  3. Then add a layer of lasagne strips. Break them to get them to fit if you need to.
  4. Then, another layer of tomato sauce – spread it over the pasta until it is all covered thinly.
  5. Then, a layer of grilled eggplant. Distribute your eggplant so you have enough for at least 2-3 layers.
  6. Then, add a layer of cheese. I just sprinkled strips sparingly across my eggplant, but I don’t like loads of cheese inside mine. Use more if you do.
  7. Repeat steps 3-6.
  8. Now, if you have space in your dish height-wise, repeat steps 3-5 again. If not, then just layer up what you do have, and make sure you end with a layer of lasagne strips.
  9. Now, pour on what is left of your tomato sauce, and scatter the parmasan cheese on top.
  10. Look down the sides of your baking dish. Is there sauce everywhere, or does it look dry? If it is dry, gently pour a 1/4 cup of water down the side of the dish, without disturbing the lasagne structure. This is to help the lasagne noodles cook.
  11. Stick the whole thing back in the toaster oven / oven for 20-30 minutes on 220 degrees C. If it starts to burn, cover with foil.
  12. To test if it is cooked, try sticking a fork in it – if you feel no resistance from the pasta, it’s done!

The Humble Tomato

I didn’t really want to write about tomato sauce, I want to write about eggplant lasagne. Which is more awesome than I imagined, and I have snacked on it three times between lunch and dinner. It tastes good cold. My next post will be about eggplant lasagne.

I am writing about tomato sauce because Bigfoot pestered me into writing about it.

I figure: tomato sauce, who wants to read about tomato sauce. If you’re interested in tomato sauce, you probably already know how to make it and don’t need to hear my ramblings. Especially since I don’t have a proper recipe for you. If you aren’t interested in tomato sauce, you probably bought it from the supermarket last time you wanted it. In the form of tomato paste, or possibly Prego. No shaming here – in my memory Prego tastes pretty decent.

My point being, if you don’t feel like it’s worth the hassle, then to you it probably isn’t.

Why do I make my own tomato sauce then? And why always with fresh tomatoes?

These are the discount-almost-off type of tomatoes

Err. Sentimental reasons. Sort of. Also, I like the taste.

When I was in university, the dining hall food was awful. And by awful I mean really quite bad. Except for certain days, like spaghetti day.

If, because you were ill / not hungry / overly fussy *embarrassed face*, you didn’t want to eat the dining hall food, then you were allowed to exchange your meal allocation for 4 fruits. For some reason, in this university, tomatoes were classified as a fruit along with bananas and apples. To give them credit, I did see people chomp into whole tomatoes after meals so perhaps it was a cultural thing.

4 tomatoes + garlic + pasta made for a much better dinner than what I used to find in the dining hall.

I didn’t have a pot of my own back then, and the one I did borrow was lidless. And for some reason I thought that tomato sauce needed to be stirred constantly to prevent it from burning. Probably an indication that I had the heat too high, but it was therapeutic none the less.

Since then, I’ve figured this cooking business out a little bit better. But for me, on a cold evening, comfort food (with minimal effort) doesn’t get much better than a simmering pot of fresh tomato sauce.

It's so hard to make tomato sauce look attractive

Note: I used loads of tomatoes because of $1 (for a big bag of) tomatoes. Yay tomatoes!

Basic Tomato Sauce

I use variations of this in most recipes requiring some sort of tomato base, unless it’s tomato paste to be mixed into a sauce or something. Then I’d probably just buy tomato paste. 

Basic:
4 medium sized tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic

Balsamic vinegar – for balancing. I’ve done this with white vinegar too, but be careful and use only a tiny bit as it tastes harsh.
Sugar – again, for balancing.
Olive oil

Optional: onion (up to 1/2 a small one), chilli (fresh or flakes), anchovies, various herbs, various other vegetables to flavour the sauce.

This looks long but it is really just a few steps: add garlic, add tomato, simmer, season, simmer. The rest is descriptive.

  1. Prep:
    Grab a pot with a lid, and put in a little olive oil. I use about a teaspoon. Leave the lid off, and let the oil heat over a medium-low flame. 
  2. Garlic:
    Crush your garlic and roughly chop it. As you finish chopping, add it to the pot. Stir a little and make sure it doesn’t burn.

    • At this point you can add your extras:
      • I almost always add 1/4 to 1/2 a sliced onion, depending on the size of the onion. I also usually add a sprinkle of chilli flakes.
      • I recently discovered anchovies, and sometimes add one or two small ones.
  3. Tomato:
    While the garlic + extras are cooking, chop your tomatoes. Roughly chopped is fine, they don’t need to be too small. I don’t bother blanching off the skins, as I like my sauce chunky anyway.
  4. Tomato:
    As the garlic turns golden and onions (if using) turn translucent, drop in the tomatoes. Note that garlic can burn quite quickly, but as long as you put in a couple of tomatoes before the garlic burns it’ll be fine. Apparently this has something to do with the liquid coming out of the tomato, and is called deglazing. Once all your tomatoes are in, cover the pot and crank up the heat to med-high. Make sure your lid fits well, if not you may need to add water later. If you want you can add other random vege to flavour the sauce here too – a grilled (charred) capsicum is nice, chopped roughly.
  5. Simmer:
    That’s it! Now leave it alone for 15 minutes. You don’t even have to stir, just make sure it doesn’t dry out – if so, turn down the heat a bit and add a little water.
  6. Season:
    By now your tomatoes are mushy and the beginnings of awesomeness are blossoming. Time to balance the flavour.

    • When I lived in UK / NL /and now Australia, I generally use/d very little seasoning – half a teaspoon of balsamic, perhaps a quarter of a teaspoon of sugar or less. You can also add herbs, if you feel like it. Taste and adjust until it is to your liking. Also, a little salt helps if you like that (I usually don’t salt it much).
    • Sorry Malaysia and Singapore, I love your food but your tomatoes are sour. I couldn’t figure out what was going wrong at the beginning. I generally use half to one teaspoon of balsamic, and up to a teaspoon of sugar, but don’t add it all at once, taste and adjust slowly.
  7. Simmer:
    Close the lid of the pot and keep cooking on medium for as long as you want. The longer you cook it for, the longer the humble tomato has to turn into the soothing balm that is good tomato sauce. Keep an eye on it in case it gets dry.
    If you turn the heat down to low, you can pretty much leave it alone while you figure out the rest of your food-related tasks. If it gets dry, add a little water. If you need it thicker, leave the lid off (e.g., if you use it for pizza sauce).