Friday, June 21, 2013

Savory Butternut Parmesan Muffins

I made up another small batch of savory muffins to go with our dinner one night this week. These butternut muffins with herbs and a little parmesan and cheddar were a wonderfully flavored side and matched well with our rosemary and garlic pan-fried lamb steaks, roasted cauliflower, and roasted brussels sprouts with garlic and walnuts. I had leftover roasted butternut squash from a couple of nights ago, which made these very easy to throw together,  just stuck them into the oven in the last 20 minutes of roasting the cauliflower and brussels sprouts.  

savory butternut parmesan muffins {made with whole grains} @ Southern Spoon blog
savory muffins full of roasted butternut squash, herbs,
 a little parmesan & cheddar cheese
Like the savory pepper cheddar oat muffins I posted last week, these butternut beauties are a fairly quick way to get a little homemade something on the table, even on busy nights. I remember coming home from school after late practices, starving, and realizing that mom had a batch of savory muffins in the oven to go with dinner. The smell of homemade bread of any sort baking in the oven is amazing, but I always liked muffins best.
savory butternut parmesan muffins {made with whole grains} @ Southern Spoon blog
packed with flavorful vegetables & topped with cheese = ideal savory muffin 
You could doctor these to suit whatever you have on hand, some chopped feta instead of cheddar and parmesan would be good, and rough chopped spinach stirred through would add some nice color. A little chopped bacon or prosciutto would also be amazing here--slightly sweet pumpkin always pairs well with salty cured meat. We can usually find prosciutto cured only with salt (no preservatives) in most grocery stores and delis-- try to use this instead of anything cured with sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite. The combination of half wholewheat and half wholegrain spelt flours worked beautifully, but feel free to experiment with your favorite flours.

There are only a couple of muffins in these photos because we ate the rest before I had a chance to pull out the camera... hope you get a chance to whip some up soon, then watch them disappear just as quickly as you made them!

Savory Butternut Parmesan Muffins
makes 6 muffins (double recipe for 12 muffins)

1/3 cup mashed, cooked butternut squash (or other pumpkin)
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
2 tablespoons oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)
1 tablespoon finely grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons finely grated cheddar (divided use)
1 cup flour (I used half whole wheat and half wholegrain spelt flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of freshly ground sea salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat oven to 190C / 375F. Prepare a muffin tray (use paper liners sprayed with a little oil, or generously oil and flour the muffin cups directly).

In a large bowl, whisk together the mashed butternut, milk, egg, and oil. Add the parmesan and 2 tablespoons of the cheddar cheese, whisk well. Scatter the dry ingredients evenly over the butternut mixture. Mix just until combined (avoid overmixing to ensure a soft crumb).

Spoon the batter into the muffin tray, distributing evenly amongst 6 muffin cups. Sprinkle the top of the muffins with the remaining tablespoon of cheddar cheese. Bake at 190C / 375F for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean and the tops are beginning to turn golden brown. Serve warm. 

Will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fisherman's Pie topped with Crispy Capers

I had never had fisherman's pie before living in England, but it soon became a go-to item whenever I saw it on a pub menu. The flavorful base of seafood, onions, and cream, topped with piping hot mashed potatoes, was an ideal dish for warding off chilly fall and winter nights. The hubs and I began making it from scratch, sometimes using a sweet potato topping to change things up. Since our move down under we've fallen out of the habit of cooking some of the cold-weather dishes we used to rely on so often. The chill is in the air, however, on these Sydney winter evenings, and I find myself cooking up casseroles and roasts like we used to in our tiny London flat.
Fisherman's Pie topped with Crispy Capers @ SouthernSpoon blog
fisherman's pie hot out of the oven: fish and prawns in a fragrant white sauce
with leeks and onions, topped with mashed potatoes and salty capers
So fisherman's pie is back on the menu, until it begins to warm up again in a few months. I was delighted to discover that Katie Quinn Davies includes a recipe in her What Katie Ate cookbook, and have used it as my inspiration the past few times I've baked up a fisherman's pie. She tops the mashed potatoes with crispy, pan-fried capers: genius! We love capers, and the hubs finds any excuse to add them to whatever we're making. Though I've simplified Katie's method by sprinkling the capers straight from the bottle onto the top of the pie, rather than frying them up first, the taste really sets this recipe apart from your tried-and-true fisherman's pie. 
Fisherman's Pie topped with Crispy Capers @ SouthernSpoon blog
Fisherman's pie, adapted from the wonderful What Katie Ate cookbook
The celery, onion, leek, and green onion layer on the bottom is glorious; don't leave out the leeks. We use whatever combination of fish we feel like: a few fillets of firm, white fish, a couple handfuls of prawns, or a seafood medley of baby octopus, prawns, calamari, scallops, etc from our fishmonger. I also use milk rather than cream in the pie filling, just to slim things down a bit, though cream in place of half of the milk called for would make a beautifully decadent pie. Be careful when poaching the fish in the milk and cook over very low heat, stirring often, as milk can burn very easily on a thin-bottom pot over the stove (you'd think I would learn the first time...). If you're feeling adventurous, try sweet potatoes on top!
fisherman's pie, perfect dinner for a cold night
If you've never made fisherman's pie, I highly recommend this recipe for a cold night's dinner. Bookmark it away if it's too hot in your region at the moment to contemplate cooking a savory pie for dinner. I've often thought this would be a nice and casual winter dinner party dish if cooked in individual mini-casseroles. The pie also keeps well for a day, and the leftovers are even more flavorful. Enjoy.

Fisherman's Pie topped with Crispy Capers
5 hearty servings
adapted from the What Katie Ate cookbook

5-6 medium potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
3 fillets firm, white fish (such as Basa)
1 1/2 cups raw prawns (shrimp), peeled and deveined, tails removed
3 cups milk (divided use; any fat content will do)
freshly ground sea salt
freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 long sticks celery, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large leek, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
4 green onions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon capers

Preheat oven to 200C / 400 F, and lightly grease a (4 qt) casserole dish with oil. Set casserole dish aside.

Chop the potatoes into large pieces and place in a large pot of water. Bring the potatoes to the boil over high heat, then turn down to medium and simmer until a blunt knife cuts through the potato easily, about 10-12 minutes. Drain potatoes, return to pot, and mash with a fork or potato masher. Add a pinch of freshly ground pepper, a dash of freshly ground sea salt, and gradually drizzle in 1/4 - 1/2 cup of milk, whipping to combine and adding additional milk only as necessary, until thick and creamy. Set the mashed potatoes aside to use as your pie topping.

Meanwhile, in a medium pot over low heat, poach the fish in 2 1/2 cups of milk with a pinch of freshly ground pepper and a small pinch of freshly ground sea salt. Watch careful and stir often to make sure the milk does not burn on the bottom of the pot. Cook until fish is done and flakes easily with a fork (about 8-10 mins, this will vary depending on the thickness of your fish fillets). In the last couple of minutes that the fish is cooking, add the raw prawns, and cook until they turn pink. Remove the cooked fish and prawns from the pot to a chopping board, and reserve the milk for the white sauce filling. Roughly chop the cooked fish and prawns. Set aside. 

Make the sauce: Return the pot of reserved milk that was used to cook the fish to low heat. Whisk in the tablespoon of cornflour, whisking constantly for a minute until it is completely dissolved. Add the mustard, parsley, oregano, and basil. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes on low to let the herbs flavor the sauce. This white sauce will thicken up a little bit, but will remain fairly thin. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and leeks and sauté for about 5-6 minutes, until leeks begin to soften and break apart easily. Add the green onions, and saute for a further 4-5 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic, and sauté for another 2 minutes, stirring often to ensure the garlic doesn't burn. Remove from heat. Scrape the leek-onion mixture into the bottom of the prepared casserole dish, spreading the mixture evenly over the bottom.

Top the leek-onion mixture with the chopped fish and prawns, then pour the white sauce evenly over the fish. Spoon the mashed potatoes over the top, roughing up the surface a bit so that it's not a smooth layer. Place casserole in pre-heated oven and bake at 200C / 400F for 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, remove casserole from oven and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon capers. Return to oven and continue to bake at 200C / 400F for another 10-15 minutes, until the edges are bubbly and the mashed potatoes are beginning to turn a bit golden brown in places. Serve immediately.

Will keep in the fridge for up to one day.  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Savory Pepper Cheddar Oat Muffins

This week has been full of busy nights, working a bit later than usual to stay on top of everything. It's weeks like this when what we eat for dinner matters most, fueling us through and keeping us healthy. But sometimes there just doesn't seem to be enough time or energy left in the day to prepare an entire dinner from scratch. As I mention often on this blog, we have allergies to preservatives and artificial food additives, so most processed foods aren't an option for us. This is a great thing! And it forces us to rely on whole/real food, but it can make shortcut meals more challenging.

There are a couple of local, Australian organic soups on grocery store shelves that I've been buying a bit more often lately to have on hand for busy nights. The soup flavors are creative, with generous portions of vegetables, and they're filling enough to leave us both satisfied. One night this week I grabbed a couple of these soups and decided to make a bit of an effort with homemade muffins to serve alongside. It took very little time to throw the ingredients together and put them in the oven as soon as we got home from work. By the time we'd washed the mixing bowl, set the table, and warmed up the soups, the muffins were ready to eat, and made our shortcut soup dinner taste homemade.

Pepper & Cheddar Oat Muffins @ SouthernSpoon blog
small batch savory muffins with oats, pepper, herbs, and cheddar

The hubs is looking over my shoulder as I write this post and insists that *mustard is the main drawcard* for these muffins, and that I should call them Mustard Cheese Muffins. Such a man. This guy eats mustard from a spoon. I kindly overruled and insisted back that Mustard Cheese Muffins is perhaps not the most attractive recipe title. But he does have a point-- the little bit of mustard in these savory muffins, along with the mix of freshly ground pepper, herbs, and shredded cheese, really does make them stand out. Oats are always a winner at our house (heart healthy!), and I loved the soft but hearty texture of part spelt / part wholewheat flour.

Savory Pepper Cheddar Oat Muffins @ SouthernSpoon Blog
savory pepper and cheddar oat muffins with a tiny hint of mustard: delicious dinner accompaniment

I've only baked these in a small batch (six muffins), but I'm sure doubling the ingredients will work fine to bake a full dozen. They're best eaten warm, so serve straight out of the oven, or reheat in the microwave for a few seconds. Whip up a tray of these savory, cheese-topped muffins for your next weeknight dinner, and enjoy fresh-from-the-oven, homemade taste even on your busiest days!

Savory Pepper Cheddar Oat Muffins 
makes 6 muffins (double recipe for 12 muffins)

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon rolled oats (not instant)
3/4 cups milk (any fat content will do)
1 - 2 teaspoons prepared mustard (to taste)
1 egg white, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cups flour (I used 1/2 cup spelt flour & 1/4 cup wholewheat flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground sea salt
1/2 - 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (to taste)
1/4 cup plus one tablespoon shredded cheddar cheese

Prepare 6 cups in a muffin tin (use paper liners or lightly grease and flour) and preheat oven to 190C / 375F.

In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon oats and 1 tablespoon shredded cheese. This will be your muffin topping: set aside.

In a large bowl, combine 1/2 cup oats and the milk. Add egg white and olive oil, and mix well. Add remaining ingredients (flour through 1/4 cup shredded cheese), and stir until just combined.

Distribute the batter evenly amongst the 6 prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with the oat-cheese mixture. Bake at 190C / 375F for 18-20 mins, until muffins begin to turn golden brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out with only a few crumbs. Serve warm.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Simple Crepes + Breakfast Crepes with Mushrooms, Spinach, & Eggs

It's a long weekend here in Sydney, with Monday off for the Queen's birthday. (Not QE II's real birthday, mind you, but her commemorated birthday date in Australia... except for Western Australia. Commonwealth holidays can be confusing!) So we're enjoying a beautiful, crisp, sunny 3 days' break. Planning to walk down to the beach this afternoon, then maybe head into the city tomorrow to read all day and sip coffee at a café.

To kick off the weekend yesterday morning, the hubs suggested trying out a new crepe place that just opened around the corner from us. When we lived in London's beautiful village of Hampstead, just a few stops up from the city centre on the Northern Line, we used to indulge a little too often in the famous creperie stand on Hampstead's high street. Some weekends, the line (queue) would be a block and a half long, everyone waiting patiently while the two French cooks inside the tiny metal stand churned out savory and sweet crepes. They were folded into big triangles and given to patrons to-go in triangle-shaped cardboard wrappers with a fork and napkins, and cost only a few pounds each. While they poured batter and skimmed the flat wooden paddles across the crepes to make them huge, thin, and crispy, the cooks chatted back and forth in French, reaching across each other to grab cans of ratatouille, heaping spoonfuls of sautéed spinach and fresh shredded cheese, or big spoonfuls of Nutella. Every time we ate a crepe, standing in the little laneway just behind the cart, that little corner of Hampstead felt like our own authentic mini-break to Paris.
Hampstead Creperie @ SouthernSpoon Blog, via GourmetTraveller88
I hope they serve crepes in heaven. Beautiful pic of the
Hampstead Creperie in London from Gourmet Traveller 88.
We haven't had a crepe since we moved to Sydney's north shore from Hamsptead almost two years ago, so this new creperie around the corner looked enticing. But when I had a glance at their (small) menu, I was taken aback by the prices. For one crepe! Sydney is notoriously expensive (ranked as the 3rd most expensive city in the world this year by The Economist Intelligence Unit), but this was just silly. I suggested instead that we make crepes at home-- how hard can it be? One of my college roommates used to make them all the time, without any of that fancy equipment: the big, flat, crepe griddle, the long wooden paddle to smooth out the batter. So we did. And they were easy, incredibly delicious, and we got a whole half dozen of them for a fraction of the cost of just one at the recently-opened creperie.

Breakfast Crepes with Mushrooms, Spinach, and Eggs @ Southern Spoon Blog
Delicious breakfast crepes with mushrooms, spinach, garlic, cheese, and an egg. 
This is an easy, fool-proof crepe recipe that can be used for savory or sweet fillings, serving as a main course for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Your imagination is the limit for turning a stack of crepes into a creative meal or gorgeous dessert. Keep a few in the freezer and warm them up in the microwave for a quick start to a meal or a tasty snack. Below the simple crepe recipe, I've given the method we used to make some spectacular breakfast crepes, full of sautéed mushrooms, garlic, spinach, topped with melted cheese and a fried egg. These were filling and truly delicious, and could easily serve as a main course any time of day.
Breakfast Crepes with Mushrooms, Spinach, and Eggs @ Southern Spoon Blog
Crepes in the morning: breakfast bliss
My next crepe mission: to make the mouth-watering crepe cake from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Be fearless and try your hand at crepes!

Simple Crepe recipe @ Southern Spoon Blog
Simple crepes. Super easy, and ready to serve as a base for creative breakfasts, dinners, or desserts.

Simple Crepes
makes 6 crepes
adapted from Cooking Light

1 egg
1 cup milk (I used skim, any fat content will do)
2/3 cup flour (I used 1/3 cup whole wheat and 1/3 cup wholegrain spelt flour)
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (or buckwheat, wholegrain wheat, or wholegrain spelt flour)
pinch of freshly ground sea salt
oil for coating pan to cook crepes (I used extra virgin olive oil)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg and milk until combined. Add the flour, flaxseed, and salt, whisking to combine. Cover with a tea towel and set aside for 15-30 minutes while you prepare your fillings.

To cook the crepes, heat a wide sauté pan over medium heat. Coat with a thin film of oil. When the pan is hot, pour a scant 1/4 cup of crepe batter into the centre of the pan, lifting and tilting it in a circular motion so that the batter spreads out into a wide circle. Set the pan back on the stove top and cook for about 1-2 minutes, until the crepe can be easily moved around the pan with a spatula and is golden brown on the bottom. Flip the crepe over and continue to cook for another 30 seconds to one minute, until golden on both sides.

Set the cooked crepe on a plate and cover with a paper towel, square of parchment/baking paper, or wax paper, and repeat with remaining batter. Make sure to layer the cooked crepes with a paper towel or similar so that they don't stick together as they cool. To keep them warm as you're cooking the entire batch, place the cooked crepes in a pre-heated 100C/215F oven. Serve warm with your choice of filling. (See Breakfast Crepe recipe suggestion below). Or just go with Nutella, always a winner.

* Storage Tip: Store cooked crepes, layered with paper towels or parchment paper or wax paper, in a freezer-proof bag in the freezer. To use, reheat crepes in the microwave until warm.

Breakfast Crepes with Mushrooms, Spinach, and Eggs
Serves 2 (multiply ingredients as required)

2 cooked crepes
extra virgin olive oil for the pan
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups baby spinach leaves
pinch of freshly ground sea salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 eggs

Heat a thin film of extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add the sliced mushrooms. Cook mushrooms, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until they begin to turn golden around the edges. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the minced garlic. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring often. Add the spinach, salt, and pepper, and cook for about 3-4 minutes, until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat.

Turn the oven broiler (grill) onto medium-high. Lay the two crepes on a large baking sheet. Distribute the mushroom/spinach mixture over the crepes, and top each crepe with the shredded cheese. (Save the sauté pan for the eggs). Place the baking tray in the oven about 5 inches from the heat source at the top of the oven, and crack the door open an inch or two.

While the crepes are in the oven with the cheese melting, make two fried eggs. Return the sauté pan to medium heat, add a thin film of oil, and cook the eggs sunny-side up: until whites are opaque but the yolks are still runny. Keep an eye on the crepes in the oven to make sure they don't burn. (If the crepes are done before the eggs, turn the broiler off and move the baking tray to the middle of the oven so that the crepes stay warm).

To serve, place each crepe on a plate and top with a fried egg. Serve open-faced, or fold the crepe in half to keep the filling warm. Serve immediately.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Baked Potatoes with Carne Asada + Recipes for Guacamole and Pico de Gallo

Last weekend I stumbled across a recipe on the Homesick Texan for baked potatoes stuffed with carne asada and topped with melted cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and pico de gallo. The hubs saw it on my computer screen and we both agreed to recreate it asap. The Homesick Texan explained that this was her interpretation of a Mexi-Cali dish where carne asada and all the toppings are served over a pile of french fries. I look forward to sampling that version in California in the hopefully not too distant future. But in the meantime, carne asada over baked potatoes was a genius winter meal for our Sunday dinner.
Baked Potatoes stuffed with Carne Asada @ SouthernSpoonBlog
homemade pico de gallo and guacamole top carne asada stuffed baked potatoes
This marinated meat is incredible-- tastes just like *real* carne asada in a restaurant! We used just over a kilo of skirt steak (about 2.5 lbs). This made plenty for three big dinner servings of carne asada over baked potatoes, with enough meat leftover to go into some hearty kale and roasted bell pepper quesadillas the next night (so 2.5 lbs of steak would probably serve 5 people if you're just making the stuffed baked potatoes). I found half of a baked potato generous enough for me, the hubs used a whole baked potato for his portion.

I made a pico de gallo (sans tomatoes due to allergies, used finely diced red bell peppers instead), and we served our carne asada-stuffed baked potatoes with a little shredded cheddar cheese, greek yogurt, homemade guacamole, pico de gallo, and hot sauce on top. They were delicious, filling, and totally worth throwing the meat marinade together in the morning so that the skirt steaks could soak up the flavor all day.

Baked Potatoes stuffed with Carne Asada @ SouthernSpoonBlog
baked potatoes stuffed with delicious marinated skirt steak (carne asada)
Rather than sear the meat then broil it in the oven as the Homesick Texan suggests, we simply cooked the steaks on a hot griddle on the stovetop. This took a bit longer (5-6 mins per side), but cooking time will depend on the thickness of your steaks and your preference for doneness. As suggested, let the steaks rest for a good 10-15 minutes (we just set ours on a plate and covered them with a large bowl), as this really makes a difference in the tenderness of the meat.

Highly recommend this recipe for baked potatoes with carne asada, which you can find here at the Homesick Texan. Below I include simple recipes for a homemade guacamole and a tomato-free pico de gallo. Perfect toppings for this recipe and many more Tex-Mexi-Cali dishes.

yields about 1 cup

1 large, ripe avocado
1-2 tablespoons finely diced purple onion (to taste)
2 tablespoons finely diced bell pepper (any color, red is pretty)
2-4 teaspoons fresh lime juice (to taste)
pinch of freshly ground sea salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1-2 teaspoons mild hot sauce (such as Cholula), optional
1-2 teaspoons water

In a non-reactive bowl, mash the avocado meat with a fork until fairly smooth. Add remaining ingredients, adjusting onion, lime juice, salt* and pepper, and (if desired) hot sauce to taste. Stir to combine. If you prefer a smoother guacamole, add 1-2 teaspoons water and mix well.

Serve immediately, or store in the fridge for up to 24 hours (the lime juice will prevent it from turning brown).

* If you'll be serving the guacamole with salted tortilla chips, taste the guacamole with a chip before adding additional salt so as not to over-salt.

Pico de Gallo (without tomatoes)
yields about 1 1/4 cups

1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper (sub chopped tomatoes if desired
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped purple onion
2 teaspoons finely chopped hot chili pepper (such as jalapeño or birds eye chili pepper)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (or fresh lime juice)
pinch of freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (or 2 teaspoons dried parsley)

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl (glass rather than metal).

Serve immediately, or store in the fridge for up to 2 days.