Attempts to find tasty cheaper pesto: rocket hazelnut garlic pesto

I really like pesto but let’s be honest, I can’t really stomach paying a lot for a huge bunch of basil + pine nuts on a regular basis. For something like seafood, perhaps I would be more willing to pay. But not really for a herb and a nut, no matter how nice they are.

Hence the search was on to create a tasty pesto which doesn’t break the bank. Enter rocket.

Hazelnuts were substituted for the pine nuts, though I’m sure almonds and walnuts would be nice too, depending on what you can get cheaply at the time.

Cheese was removed because.. err well I ran out that day. You can put the cheese back in if you like but it masks the flavour of the garlic and hazelnuts a bit. Also depending on where you live, it might be costly too. Shavings of parmesan would probably be appreciated though.

Maybe my point is just that you can sub out basil for any green, and pine nuts for any nut, and cheese for something a bit pungent like garlic.

Or maybe I have no point and I just like garlic. That might be it too ūüôā

Pretty green

Rocket hazelnut garlic pesto

Inspired by a pasta sauce a friend had at Crown Melbourne. Credit to the Kitchn for the idea of using rocket. 

A handful of hazelnuts, toasted
4-5 cloves of garlic
A big bunch of rocket
Salt, pepper, and chilli flakes to taste.

  1. Blend the garlic and hazelnut into chunks.
  2. Fry the garlic-hazelnut mix with a little salt in some olive oil until the garlic is fragrant.
  3. Return the contents of the pan (including oil) to the blender and blend in the rocket. If the mixture is a little dry, add more olive oil.
  4. Taste, add salt, pepper and chilli flakes as needed.
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Descent into auntie-food (like lotus stir-fry)

Lotus root as a bit of a bad rep sometimes as being very traditional, and boring, and possibly not-food (I know some people who refuse to eat the lotus in soups as it is considered not-food and therefore not-edible).

Yes, I did get funny looks when I very excitedly found an ugly  potato-root-looking thing in the market. Yes, it was an effort to persuade Bigfoot that I did in fact want to buy this rather expensive thing that looked a bit like a petrified hotdog bun. But it was worth it in the end.

I didn’t think it was ugly at all. Or even auntie-ish. In the end, you can’t beat simple, tasty, and most importantly quick food ¬†after a long day.

I swear it tastes good

Lotus Stir-Fry

Adapted from Just Bento’s version.

1 lotus root, peeled and sliced
2-3 cm ginger, chopped
3-5 cloves garlic (depending on size), chopped
1 bunch of spring onions, chopped into approx 1cm lengths

chilli flakes or whole red chilli, to taste – I used around 1/2 teasp red chilli flakes
1 teasp brown suger
1 teasp rice / balsamic vinegar
1-2 tablesp sesame seeds
1.5 tablesp soya sauce
2 teasp sesame oil
white pepper to taste

  1. Slice lotus root and leave it in some slightly vinegared water while preparing the other ingredients.
  2. Fry ginger and garlic in oil until fragrant, over medium heat. Drain the lotus slices and add to the pain in a single layer, flipping as needed.
  3. Add chilli, spring onions, sesame seeds, pepper, soya sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, and vinegar. Cook until slightly caramelised.

A prettier pie than previously anticipated

Or is it a galette? I don’t know what the rules are for naming pies. It is in a pastry. Therefore, it is a pie. Feel free to elucidate if you know the pie-rules. Don’t report me to the pielice (get it, pie-lice/po-lice?) Let’s leave it on that terribly embarrassing¬†note and proceed to the recipe, shall we?

This is a pretty flexible recipe. The only requirement is that the filling is dry and solid enough that it is able to stand by itself in the centre of the puff pastry and not leak out. And the smoked cheese really adds something. By adding something, I mean in the sense of fancy food bloggers “oh my goodness, it really adds a special something!!!” as opposed to the view that, of course, if you add cheese then you are adding ‘something’, i.e. cheese, to the pie.

I think this is one of the tastiest pies I’ve made so far, and it tasted awesome over the next 4 days as cold lunch. If you want to crisp up the pastry again, reheat it in the toaster oven for a couple of minutes.

Soon to be pie See ugly folding - but it didn't fall apart! Isn't it pretty

Seafood Leek Smoked Cheese Galette 

1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg
2 handfuls of grated smoked cheese – I only had enough for 1 handful, so I used a second handful of cheddar
1 handfuls mixed seafood
2 small fillets of fish
3 large leeks
1 tablesp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablesp sugar
1-2 teasp black pepper
A pinch of salt
A dash of chilli flakes

1 egg + a splash of milk for the eggwash

Oven temperature: 180 degrees C

  1. Slice the leeks and fry over medium heat with a little oil until soft. Add the sugar and balsamic vinegar, and continue to heat until the leeks caramelise slightly on the edges.
  2. Mix the egg, cheese, leek, salt, pepper, and chilli flakes – reserve a couple of tablespoons of cheese for later. Add the mixed seafood.
  3. Place the puff pastry on a sheet of baking paper, and scoop the pie filling into the centre of the sheet of pastry. Leave around 2 inch clearance on each side of the filling.
  4. Cut the fillets into strips, and place on top of the filling, skin up (if the fillets have skin).
  5. Fold up the edges of the puff pastry into a pie shape, starting with one corner and working around until all sides are folded up. Take a look at the picture above for an idea of how to fold it up.
  6. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the assembled pie. Rub a little eggwash (egg mixed with milk) on the exposed puff pastry.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes, until the pie is a nice golden colour.

On the Clash of Cuisines

Bigfoot and I have this problem, in that he says all Chinese food is bland and I strongly, vehemently, and occasionally violently disagree with him. And I continue to politely suggest that his taste buds have been corrupted by a lifetime of curry powder and exposure to poor quality pork-free cantonese  food.

There is a whole world (of Chinese food) out there. And I will win this personal crusade. Bit by bit, fighting tooth and nail each step of the way.

After this meal, the score stood at 5,001:0 (me being the victor. Of course, I’m also the only one keeping score, but whatever).

Preconceptions vanquished

Szechuan Eggplant with Spicy Tauchu 

Adapted from Smokywok.

2 medium sized eggplants – cut into sticks
1 cm knob salted fish – chopped
5 (small) cloves garlic – chopped
Thumb sized knob of ginger – sliced
3 stalks spring onions – chopped into 1-2 inch lengths
2 red chilli – chopped
1 teasp szechuan peppers

2 tablesp spicy tauchu (bean paste)
2 tablesp soya sauce
1.5 tablesp sugar
2 tablesp chinese black vinegar
1/4 cup water

  1. Pre-cook the eggplant – either fry it for a couple of minutes in a wok, or toast it in the toaster oven for 5 minutes. I toasted mine.
  2. In a claypot (or a pot with a lid), fry with a little oil: salted fish, garlic, ginger, spring onions, chilli, and szechuan peppers.
  3. Throw in all the sauces and the pre-cooked eggplant. Stir it up and wait for the sauce to boil.
  4. Once the sauce boils, lower the heat to medium-low, and cover with a lid. Cook for 10 minutes or so, until the eggplant is cooked and the sauce is absorbed.

Ode to pie

Everyone likes pie. Do you like pie? I like pie.

Far too cutesy pie beads

Pie is not really a thing that one can say no to. And today, in the silence of the still morning, amongst the clackings of my keyboard, I suddenly decided: I want pie.

Why? Does pie need a why? One can never deny the pie.

* end of self indulgent poorly written rhyming *

Pre-caramelised leek Post-caramelised leek

Also, I work from home at present and so I can do these odd things like make pie in the middle of the day. Of course, that means I am back here at the computer working at midnight. Very clever. The sacrifices we make for pie, sigh. (Pie? Sigh? Geddit? snigger snigger)

Hello pie!

Caramelised Leek and Feta Pie with Zaatar Crust

I had leeks in the fridge so cobbled something together. I didn’t like the pie crust I used, and will update the recipe when I find one that I do like.

3 leeks
2 tablesp balsamic vinegar
1 tablesp sugar
Approx 1/2 cup feta, cut into small cubes
3 eggs
150ml milk
Black pepper

1 portion of your favourite savoury pie dough + 1 tablespoon zaatar

  1. When you make your pie dough, add the zaatar to the flour and then continue to prepare the pie crust as per normal. 
  2. Slice the leeks so they are approx 3cm long each. Stand them all up in a frying pan. Pour over a little oil and fry them standing up that way for 5 minutes on medium-high heat.
  3. Slosh the vinegar into the pan, and wait for a couple of minutes so it drys a little. Then sprinkle in the salt.
  4. If you want, gently flip all the little leek cylinders upside down, so both sides char. The easiest way to do this is with a pair of chopsticks, in my opinion
  5. When cooked (and the pie crust is ready to be filled), arrange in the pie crust and place cubes of feta between the bits of leek.
  6. Whisk the eggs and milk together. Pour over the leeks into the pie crust.
  7. Bake for around 15-20 minutes until browned. Use the same temperature as required by your pie crust.

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 Р3 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.¬†

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 Рamount 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 РI 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).

More Easy Vegetables: Sesame-Sugar Long Beans

Easy vegetable recipes are pretty much my staple, with a throw-everything-in-and-fry omelette and rice.

Here is yet another one. Sometimes, dinner is for watching Masterchef Professional after a long day on Excel, rather than actually cooking.

Be lazy, lik ea bean

Sesame-Sugar Long Beans

Learnt it from my uncle, this works with any green / leafy veg

3-4 servings of green beans, chopped
2 tablesp sesame oil
1 teasp soya sauce
1 teasp sugar, brown / white
A dash of white pepper

2 thin slices of ginger – for blanching. They don’t even need to be skinned, just clean ūüôā

  1. Boil some water in a pan, and drop in the two slices of ginger. Cover with a lid, and bring everything to a rolling boil. 
  2. Blanch the ¬†beans for 30 seconds or so, taste one to check done-ness. If it’s how you like it (I like mine under-done), drain off the water and transfer to a bowl. If not, keep checking until it is cooked enough.
  3. While hot, pour all other ingredients into the bowl, and stir well. Taste. Adapt as you like.

Sweet like a Restaurant

You know how vegetables are always so much sweeter in Chinese restaurants? Sweet and crisp.

Crispiness aside, the sweetness aspect is a trick. Apparently they use ginger to sweeten the vegetable. Don’t ask me how that works, but it does.

Supposedly it’s because the ginger soaks up the “toxins” and other baddies, so the vege loses its bitterness. And you aren’t allowed to eat the ginger afterwards. You should discard it. It’s very bad for you. Tsk tsk.

Well, this all sounds very (NOT) scientific to me. But it does work, so what can I say. If you know why this works I’d love to hear about it.

Not bitter or squishy at all

In the mean time I’m going to continue enjoying the easiest vege ever.

Sweet and Crispy Chinese Vegetables – choose your sauce!

Source: one of my aunties told me

A bunch of leafy vegetables
4 slices of ginger – no need to peel it, just wash it well
3-5 cloves garlic, crushed
A splash of sauce of your choice – fish, soya, oyster, anything really
A dash of white pepper, if you like

  1. Get some water in a pot. Drop in 2 slices of ginger and bring everything up to a boil.
  2. Blanch your vege, and then cool it in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking.
  3. Fry the remaining 2 slices of ginger in a little oil. Add the garlic and keep going until it gets fragrant, but not too brown.
  4. Add the vege and  sauce of your choice, and give it a couple of quick stirs. Remove from heat immediately. Add the pepper if you want to.