Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Spinach, Kale and Triple Cheese Slab Pie

Spinach, Kale and Triple Cheese Slab Pie

I've recently gotten into the habit of cooking up a big batch of food on a Sunday evening, to have for lunch at work throughout the week. The idea of this was to save money, and eat a little healthier. (Basically, I hate that feeling of being caught short at 1pm and thinking: "Crap! Need to get something quick before my next meeting! Terrible food court takeaway, here I come!") Previous options have included grilled lamb backstrap and chickpea'd couscous, and lean pork Frikadellen with zucchini noodles, roast broccoli and sweet potato mash.


This week's effort was this glorious slab of a pie - spinach, kale, ricotta, feta and haloumi, all covered in golden rich shortcrust pastry. I can't say that this is particularly health conscious (three cheeses, white flour and a generous amount of butter in the pastry), but it certainly is satisfying. And delicious! (And, it doesn't give me that feeling of self-loathing that I get when I inhale a lemon chicken and fried rice from the food court, heh). It took quite a bit of time to make, and I won't pretend it's a quick endeavour, but I love baking and was happy to spend a few hours pottering around the kitchen on a chilly weekend afternoon.

This is basically a variation on one of my favourite recipes, Nigella's ricotta, spinach and bulgur wheat pie, from How to be a Domestic Goddess. (I say "variation"; I mean "expansion"). I kept most filling ingredients the same, but added extra haloumi and feta for extra salty deliciousness and texture, and increased the quantity of pastry. (Story of my life). I also replaced some of the spinach with kale, because I saw frozen kale at in the freezer at the supermarket and wanted to try it out. (It worked! Yay!) Up to you if you want to go all spinach, all kale, or a mixture of both.


The filling is easiest mixed together with your hands. Food gloves make this much less messy!


Here's the pastry! It's extra golden due to addition of egg yolks, which also makes the pastry extra rich tasting. I used a 20 x 30 centimetre roasting tin with deep sides to make my behemoth slab pie. You can see I lined the tray with baking paper - this isn't strictly necessary, but it does make it easier to remove the whole pie after baking. Also, I usually roll out pastry between two sheets of baking paper anyway, as this makes it easy to move the rolled-out pastry and keeps my bench clean, so it made sense to use the same baking paper to line the tray as well. No point being wasteful! The sprinkling of breadcrumbs on the pastry helps to soak up any excess liquid from the filling.


Filled pie

You can see that my pie-lid was a little messy, but it all looked fine once it was baked.

Topped pie




This pie is super sturdy, and is good warm or at room temperature. I think it would be good picnic food, if you're into that sort of thing. Given our cold weather, I haven't got any picnics in sight, and I'm just eating the pie for work lunches. Hot tip: microwave a slice to heat it through, then toast it in a sandwich press to re-crisp the pastry. BOOM.

Spinach, Kale and Triple Cheese Slab Pie
Adapted from Nigella's Spinach, Bulgur and Ricotta Pie in How to be a Domestic Goddess

For the Pastry
375 grams plain flour
185 grams cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 cm cubes
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons iced water
1.5 teaspoons salt
1.5 tablespoons caster sugar
For the Filling
100 grams bulgur wheat
1 teaspoon vegetable stock powder
750 grams frozen chopped spinach or kale, or a mixture, defrosted and very well drained
450 grams ricotta
180 grams feta, crumbled
180 grams haloumi, crumbled or grated
4 spring onions, chopped
2 eggs
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of dried thyme
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
1 egg, extra, for glazing the pie

To make the pastry
Place the flour and butter into a dish, and place in the freezer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks, water and salt, and put this into the fridge.
Once the 10 minutes is up, place the cold flour and butter into the bowl of a food processor, add the sugar, and whizz until the mixture resembles damp sand. (Streaks of butter are fine - desirable, even). With the processor running, add the liquid, until the mixture just comes together. (You may not need all the liquid, or you may need to add a tablespoon or so extra of cold water).
Tip the dough out onto a floured surface, and press it together with your hands. Divide the dough into two pieces, one smaller than the other, wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.
To make the filling
Preheat the oven to 200˚C.
Place the bulgur and stock powder in a bowl. Pour boiling water over to cover. Place a plate over the bowl and set aside for 15 minutes. Drain well, pressing out excess moisture.
Place the bulgur, spinach or kale, ricotta, feta, haloumi, spring onions, eggs, cayenne pepper, dried thyme and lemon zest in a bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper, and mix well to combine.
Roll out the larger piece of dough to approximately 5 millimetres thick. Line a 20 x 30 cm roasting tray with deep sides with the pastry. (If you like, line the tray with baking paper first - this will make the whole pie easier to remove later).
Sprinkle the pastry with the breadcrumbs, then tip in the cheesy kale and spinach filing inside, spreading gently with a spatula.
Roll out the remaining pastry and place on top of the filling. Crimp the edges with a fork to seal. Brush with beaten egg, then slice three steam vents in the top of the pie.
Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180˚C and cook for a further 45 minutes.
Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting into generous slices to serve.
Makes a huge pie, serves 8-16 depending on how hungry you are

Sunday, May 24, 2015

"Taste by Appointment" by Grey Goose at Saint Crispin

Thomas Olive Bar, St Crispin

I was absolutely thrilled when I received an invitation to Taste by Appointment by Grey Goose in February - I remember reading about Winston's experience at the last round of Taste by Appointment events in October last year, and thinking it looked fantastic!

Hosted by Grey Goose vodka and brand ambassador Andy Wren, the idea behind Taste by Appointment is for guests to explore their palates through a series of matched cocktails and dishes, each with specific flavour profiles, giving us the ability to articulate what we like to drink. Life skillz, yo.

Grey Goose Vodka

The event was hosted at Saint Crispin, a restaurant I had wanted to visit for the longest time. If the prospect of Grey Goose cocktails wasn't enough, then the offer of a three course dinner at Saint Crispin totally sealed the deal. Delicious! And educational! And cocktails! Woohoo!

So, the evening started with drinks in Saint Crispin's upstairs bar, Thomas Olive. I love fruity and light cocktails, especially those with a dash of fizz in them (think: Aperol spritzes, bellinis, Champagne cocktails and so on), so I loved the Grey Goose "Le Fizz", which combined Grey Goose vodka with St Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh lime juice and soda water.

Grey Goose "Le Fizz": Grey Goose vodka served with chilled St Germain elderflower liqueur, freshly squeezed lime juice and soda water

From here, it was time to take our seats and begin the sensory tasting experience.

Amuse Bouche Tomato Plate
SWEET: Joe Gribac's home grown tomato and watermelon salad with strawberries
SOUR: Under ripe green tomato dressed with a lime and tomato consommé vinaigrette
BITTER: Bitter tart of tomato with a salad of shaved radicchio and endive

Paired with Grey Goose "Le Fizz"
Grey Goose vodka served with chilled St Germain elderflower liqueur, freshly squeezed lime juice and soda water

Amuse Bouche Tomato Plate
Sweet: Joe Gribac's home grown tomato and watermelon salad with strawberries
Sour: Under ripe green tomato dressed with a lime and tomato consommé vinaigrette
Bitter: Bitter tart of tomato with a salad of shaved radicchio and endive

The first course was made up of three tomato-based amuse bouches, each with a dominant flavour: sweet, sour or bitter. Our favourite of the three amuses would give us a clue as to which flavour we'd prefer in cocktails. All of the amuse bouches were delicious, but I particularly liked the bitter tomato tart with shaved radicchio and endive. My preference for bitter flavours wasn't a huge surprise to me, given my personality (hah!) and my obsession with Campari and Aperol.

Having identified our flavour preference, we were then instructed to make our own custom cocktail, using a base of vodka, and adding our choice of soda, bitters, sugar syrup, salt, pepper, lemon rind, and mint to taste.

Custom cocktail making accoutrements

Pepper, mint, lemon rind

Pro tip: smacking mint leaves between your hands really releases their flavour and aroma.

I mixed a bit of everything into my cocktail -  vodka, ice, soda, sugar, lemon juice, lots of bitters, lemon zest, mint and pepper, why not? Pepper was an unexpectedly winning addition to my cocktail!

Sarah's custom cocktail

With all the hard work out of the way, we could move onto the main course. (Phew! That was some serious thinking*).

Main Course
Wagyu beef fillet and cheek, soy and roasted onion consommé, wakame and mushroom fricassee with Pacific oyster and sesame seed crunch

Paired with Grey Goose "Umami Poulet"
Grey Goose vodka with roast chicken, cherry tomato and carrot medley with Noily Prat stirred with a dash of thyme and lemon peel vinegar

Wagyu beef fillet and cheek, soy and roasted onion consommé, wakame and mushroom fricassee with Pacific oyster and sesame seed crunch

The beef dish was fantastic. The fillet was cooked to a perfect pink, and the incredibly tender cheek had a deeply umami crust of sesame seeds and (I believe) dried seaweed. It also included a mixture of mushrooms, wakame seaweed and a Pacific oyster, and all the elements were brought together with a really rich soy and roasted onion consommé. It was such a great, well balanced dish!

Grey Goose "Umami Poulet": Grey Goose vodka with roast chicken, cherry tomato and carrot medley with Noily Prat stirred with a dash of thyme and lemon peel vinegar

The main course was paired with a Grey Goose "Umami Poulet" - a really unusual but very appealing cocktail based on chicken fat-washed vodka. The drink had a wonderful mouth-filling fattiness and was really savoury. It literally tasted like a roast chicken dinner in a glass!

Sorry, I just have to sneak in another photo of that beef dish, because it was just so good! Check out that melty tender beef cheek!

Mmm... melty beef cheek

White and yellow stone fruit, vanilla panna cotta, oat and almond praline and warm peach tea

Paired with Grey Goose La Poire
Grey Goose vodka with a crisp smooth taste and the freshness of an Anjou pear

White and yellow stone fruit, vanilla panna cotta, oat and almond praline and warm peach tea
Paired with Grey Goose La Poire: Grey Goose vodka with a crisp smooth taste and the freshness of an Anjou pear

The dessert was also very impressive: a mixture of stone fruits, with vanilla panna cotta and a crisp oat and almond crumble, served with a warm peach tea. It was almost like breakfast... except that it was also served with a glass of Grey Goose La Poire, a pear-infused vodka that had a strongly alcoholic aroma, but finished with a smooth, crisp and fruity taste.

Tea and coffee with trigeminal chocolates

Trigeminal chocolates

To finish off the meal, we were served some espressi and some "trigeminal" chocolates. These little truffles were infused with flavours of coffee, mint, and chilli, and were designed to tingle our trigeminal nerve, which is the nerve that controls how we bite and chew, and is responsible for feelings in the face.

Then it was back to the bar, where we could test our newfound knowledge of our palettes by ordering custom cocktails. "Something bitter please".


"Bitter" cocktail

If you get an opportunity to attend one of the Grey Goose "Taste by Appointment" events, I would highly recommend it. The whole evening was fun, informative, and full of excellent food and cocktails. Big thanks to Grey Goose, Andy Wren, Saint Crispin and f4 Consulting for a fantastic night!

Sarah and Jimbo attended Taste by Appointment as guests.

*If you were thinking: "I'm sure she meant to say "serious drinking"", then you'd be right.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Apple Sponge Pudding

Apple Sponge Pudding

Brr, it's cold. Pudding time. I've been making this apple sponge pudding, on and off, for the last year or so. It's so good! Basically it is just a layer of cooked apples, covered in a light sponge batter. It's warm and comforting, but not stodgy or heavy. Super delicious! The original recipe is from Jamie Oliver's website, but I've tweaked the recipe to satisfy the apple-loving contingent in my household. I reduced the quantities of cake batter to make a very thin layer, barely covering the apples. Boom. "Best dessert you've ever made".

It's quite quick to make, especially if you have an electric hand-held whisk, but if you were feeling energetic then all you'd need is a normal whisk and some arm power!

Ready for the oven


Apple Sponge Pudding

Apple Sponge Pudding

As I mentioned above, I have made this pudding a number of times, and if you want a thicker layer of cake, simply double the quantities of the sponge-layer ingredients. When I make it with the double-quantity of sponge mixture, it turns out thick and fluffy, as per the below picture.

Apple Sponge Pudding - double sponge

Whether made in double or single quantities, I like it best served hot out of the oven, drenched in hot vanilla custard. Gah! Perfect cold-weather treat!


Apple Sponge Pudding
Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver

For the apple layer:
3 apples
25 grams caster sugar
1 tablespoon water
For the sponge layer:
25 grams caster sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
30 grams self raising flour
1/4 teaspoon mixed spice

To make the apple layer:
Peel, core and chop the apples into approx 1-cm chunks. Place in a small saucepan with caster sugar and water. Cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples are softened. Set aside.
To make the sponge layer:
Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter a baking dish. (I used a 18 x 24 cm oblong baking dish). Place the caster sugar and egg in a small mixing bowl, and whisk with an electric mixer until thick, aerated, and pale in colour. Gently whisk in the vanilla extract. Sift in the flour and mixed spice, and fold in gently until combined. Place the apples in the pie dish, and top with the eggy batter. Use a spatula to spread it out to the corners.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until the sponge topping is golden brown and cooked through.
Dust with icing sugar to serve.
Serve plain, or with vanilla custard or ice-cream.
Serves 3-4