Oven-Roasted Leek

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Forgive me, for I know this dish does not look good.

It is not sleek, shiny or pretty in any way. In fact, it’s a bit of a mess. I tried all kinds of different ways to assemble it so that it didn’t look like a pile of random stuff on a plate, but to no avail – a pile of random stuff it is.

But in my defence, it is a delicious pile of random stuff.

Because really, while it is difficult to make any combination of mashed potatoes and stock look good, it’s also very difficult to get them to taste bad. Add a few different textures and flavors to the dish and it’s definitely a winner.

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Here, the potatoes and stock form a warm, versatile base. The potato is creamy and flavored through with a spoonful of pumpkin-seed oil, but you could really use anything with it – minced garlic and olive oil, or mushrooms sauteed in butter come to mind. It isn’t ground too fine, so it still has chunks and a bit of bite.

The star of the show here is really the leek. It’s cooked in two ways – whole stalks dipped into a bowl of rich vegetable stock and roasted in the oven along with a few cloves of garlic. A few leftover bits are chopped really fine and crisped in hot butter and pepper as a spicy sprinkling for the finish.

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The whole thing is doused with a bit of stock and topped with an egg. Really – tell me that won’t be delicious.

The nice thing about this dish is that it’s so easily adaptable according to personal tastes. The mashed potatoes can be flavored differently or even switched for scrambled eggs (with chives, maybe?). Vegetable stock can be swapped for something meaty, and pretty much all vegetables taste good when they’re roasted in stock. I’d recommend you keep the egg, but really, anything goes.

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Oven Roasted Leek

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

4 large potatoes

2 tbsp cream

2 tbsp butter

1 tsp pepper

2 tbsp pumpkin-seed oil

3 cups of vegetable stock

3 cloves of garlic

5 large leeks

4 eggs

Salt to taste

Method

Peel the potatoes, tip them into a pan of hot water and bring to boil. Leave them on till they’re soft and falling apart. Salt them and then mash them with the cream and one tablespoon of softened butter. Once it’s mashed (you don’t want it too fine), stir the pumpkin-seed oil through.

Pour the stalk into a shallow dish. Mash the cloves of garlic and add them in, as well as 4 of the leeks. Bake at 170 for 10 minutes. The leeks should be soft but firm when they’re out.

Chop the fifth leek very finely. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a pan, add the pepper and then fry the chopped leek until crisp right through.

To assemble, first spread a layer of the mashed potato on the plate. Add the roasted leeks and spoon some stock over it. Top with an egg (poached or fried, according to your liking) and then sprinkle some of the crisped leek over it.

Eat before anyone has the chance to take any pictures.

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Orange Tea Cakes

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I love the idea of sitting down for tea. You know what I’m talking about – sunny Sunday afternoons, a white table on a lawn, buttered scones and crumpets, a butler in coat-tails and possibly an English castle in the background. When I cannot recreate this scenario, however (which is surprisingly often), I like to pick up/make foods that are associated with tea-time. Scones (which I’ve attempted earlier) are one of my favorites but tea cakes come a close second.

The USP of tea food, I think, is that it’s sweet and pleasant but not too rich. Meaning, you can eat a lot of it and not sit in a dull, sugar-induced haze after. These tea cakes fit the bill perfectly – they’re spongy (no denseness at all, here), have citrus undertones, a dash of sweetness and a little crunch. They’re the sort of cakes you’d pile on a platter and eat (in one shot) while downing a pot of spiced tea.

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Each cake is made with light batter that fluffs up into a little cloud of sugar and butter while baking. They’re flavored with spoonfuls of orange rind and a hefty slug of juice, for a sweet finish. They are then covered with a little vanilla-orange glaze, before being topped with crushed walnut. The result is a fun combination of sugary, fruity and nutty flavors, which would make it both a kiddie and adult favorite.

Orange Tea Cakes

2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp vanilla

1/2 cup orange juice

1 tbsp orange rind, crushed

2 eggs

Cream together the butter and sugar for around three minutes. Break the eggs in, one at a time, and beat until everything is well incorporated.

Powder the sugar and then sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large bowl.

Stir the vanilla and orange rind into the orange juice.

Pour the flour and vanilla mixtures into the butter-sugar-egg mixture in batches, beating at the lowest setting until it’s all combined. The final batter will be thick and shiny, with the slightest tint of orange.

Grease a cupcake tray and pour in the batter (this much batter will make around 20 cupcakes).

Bake at 170 C for 15 minutes. It might take a little longer, depending on the size of your cupcake tray, so check with a toothpick before taking the trays out of the oven.

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Vanilla Orange Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 tbsp orange juice

1/2 tsp orange rind

Stir everything into a bowl and beat until well combined and sticky.

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Crushed Walnut

1 cup chopped walnuts

Toss the cup into a blender and pulse it until it’s coarse and crumbly. Make sure you don’t process it for too long, though, or it will start to leave oil and turn into a butter.

Once the tea cakes are cool, scoop them out of their trays. Add a spoonful of glaze on top of each (I turned them upside down, for fun) and then dip it into a bowl with the crushed walnut.

Eat it with a large pot of mint tea, with maybe a basset hound lying at your feet – preferably on a lawn somewhere.

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Coconut Cream Tart

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Who here does not love Calvin and Hobbes?

Calvin and Hobbes

No, I mean really.

As far as I’m concerned, Calvin is right about everything (school is a boring waste of time and YES, the world would be better with dinosaurs) but not about coconut. Because as wise and profound as that six-year old kid is, he does not understand coconut.

Coconut can be delicious – it can be toasted, creamed, strained into stews and pressed into oil that’s sweet and flavorfull all at the same time. This coconut cream tart has a rich filling, with mixed-in coconut milk that laces it with a pronounced, but not overwhelming, flavour. The texture is buttery and soft, perfectly complemented with the crisp crust.

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The crust: it has oats, mixed with browned butter, sweetened with brown sugar and given an additional nuttiness and crunch with flaxseed. The flaxseed actually lends a lot to the flavour and texture, somewhat like a subtle seasoning that goes surprisingly well with the coconut.

Even better: it does not take time. You can assemble the entire thing in 20 minutes, pop it into the oven and forget about it. And while it certainly is creamy, it isn’t as rich as a more traditional dessert, which makes it perfect for a really heavy dinner or even a teatime snack.

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Coconut Cream Tart

Ingredients

For the crust:

1 cup oats

1 cup butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup flaxseed

Pinch of salt

For the filling:

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup softened butter

1 egg

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp baking powder

For the topping:

A handful of fresh grated coconut

Method

For the crust:

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Heat the cup of butter on a low flame, until it melts. Stir it occasionally and continue heating. Eventually, it’ll start to bubble and then brown. Wait till it turns a dark shade and starts to smell nutty, and then take it off the flame and cool.

Stir together the brown butter and oats. Add the sugar, flaxseed and salt and mix. Transfer the entire dish to a pre-greased 6″ flat dish, and press it down with a spatula/spoon until it evenly coats the bottom of the vessel.

Bake at 170 C for 10 minutes.

For the filling:

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl.

Beat the butter until it turns pale. Add the eggs one by one, beating as you do so that it’s well incorporated. Then, add the sugar, the coconut milk and cinnamon.

Pour the coconut milk mixture into the flour in three batches, stirring with a spoon so that it’s well incorporated.

Pour the mixture into the baked oats crust, and bake for another 20 minutes, reducing the temperature to 160 C. When it’s done, the filling should be firm but have a slight creaminess on the inside.

Sprinkle the grated coconut over and serve.

Tell people not to believe everything that Calvin says.

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Broccoli and Sausage Spaghetti

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I haven’t really featured any meat on this blog yet, and for a very good reason: I’m a vegetarian.

And what’s more, I’m one of those weird vegetarians who was born into a family of meat-eaters and rejected the idea – not because I’m all for hugging animals, but because I simply don’t like the taste.

The other day, though, I had a few friends over for dinner (obviously to show off my new-found skills in the kitchen) and was told quite clearly that while they were very fond of me, there would have to be meat.

So here’s the problem: since I’ve never cooked meat, I don’t know what to do with it. Sure, I could scour the internet for recipes but the bottom-line is that I would probably have no idea to tell when it was cooked through. Even worse, since I don’t eat it, I can’t really taste the recipe while it’s on the stove or just out of the oven to check whether the seasoning et all is alright. Really, I have no idea what to do with meat.

So I made this spaghetti.

If there’s one thing I learned in college (from a bunch of perpetually-drunk teenage girls who were always hungry) it’s that if you can’t cook meat, you can still make something pretty amazing with sausage. Sausage is forgiving. There is practically no way to go wrong with this. And the sausage in this spaghetti came pre-infused with cheese, garlic and chives so I figured there was absolutely no chance in hell I’d mess this up.

Normally, assumptions like that end up with me curled up in a fetal position on the kitchen floor, crying and covered in flour and dried bits of egg. But this time, irony decided to be nice to me. I never tasted the spaghetti but was told (on good authority) that I could heave a sigh of relief – it was good.

Broccoli and Sausage Spaghetii

Ingredients

250 g pre-packaged spaghetti 

1 broccoli

16 cloves of garlic

4 tbsp of butter

6 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp crushed red chilli flakes

1 cup grated cheese of your choice (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Method

For the spaghetti:

Tip the spaghetti into a large bowl, fill to the brim with water and add a generous handful (yes, I said handful) of salt.

Crush two garlic cloves into the bowl

Bring to a boil and then simmer it till it’s done. It should take between 10 and 15 minutes. Pull out strands to taste, so that you’ll know when you want to take it out – this recipe will probably be better with more of a bite.

Once it’s done, drain the water, add a tablespoon of olive oil and toss it so each strand is coated. This will prevent the spaghetti from turning into a sticky, congealed mass that looks like white brain. Set aside.

For the broccoli:

Chop off the florets and soak them for a minute.

Tip them into a pan and fill with water till all the pieces are covered. Add two teaspoons of salt and bring to a boil.

Let it simmer until the broccoli has turned bright green and softened a little (around 5 minutes). Then, take out the florets and drain them.

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In a wok or large skillet, heat two tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil until very hot. Finely chop five cloves of garlic and fry till soft and brown. Then, add a tablespoon of red chilli flakes and the broccoli. Saute it for a while, then add some salt and cover it.

The broccoli will start to bleed water as soon as it’s in the pan. Cook it till all the water has evaporated, turning it around so the florets get evenly browned. When it’s done, sprinkle some more salt on it and keep aside.

For the sausage:

Chop the sausage into bite sized chunks.

Repeat what you did with the broccoli: same amount of butter, olive oil, garlic, red chilli flakes and salt. Cook until the sausage is brown (but what do I know?). 

For the sauce:

The sauce I used was a traditional aglio olio recipe: heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in the wok, add 4 cloves of chopped/crushed garlic, a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of dried red chilli. In a few minutes, the garlic will turn crisp and the oil would have absorbed all the delicious flavours.

Finally:

Toss together the spaghetti, broccoli and sausage with the aglio olio sauce. You might want to add more salt; you’ll definitely want to add the crushed pepper. If you want a little more fat in the dish (since all that butter and olive oil wasn’t enough), grate some cheese over it and toss again.

 

 

 

Upside Down Peach Cake

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I love upside-down cakes for many reasons.

For starters, there’s always this exciting sense of drama that comes with flipping the cake, crossing your fingers and marveling when it comes out whole and perfectly-baked (when it doesn’t, you sit down in front of the TV and shovel buttery, broken pieces of cake into your mouth in one go so nobody can see how much of a failure you are).

There’s also the moment of delight when you first see the pretty mosaic of fruit (because what else would you use in an upside-down cake, I ask?) – even if you were the person who, half an hour earlier, cut and arranged the fruit in that exact same pattern.

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But mostly, I love the combination of thick, sweet pieces of fruit and soft, buttery cake. Really, it’s a match made in heaven. Just look at this upside-down peach cake.

I could have sliced the peaches before layering them on the bottom of the cake pan but let’s be honest – large, soft, golden chunks of peach are so much better to bite into. They’re sweet and juicy enough to texture and flavor the cake around them.

And yes, the cake. This cake is just the most velvety, melt-in-your-mouth cake you could ever eat. Spoon it into your mouth when it’s hot out of the oven and it’s perfection on a plate. Keep it in the fridge overnight so it’s a just a bit denser, and the flavor of peach would have intensified and taken over – delicious. 

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Basically, you can’t go wrong with it.

And it’s EASY. It’s such a basic and forgiving recipe that you can fling in some peaches, toss in some batter and bung it in the oven without too much stress. 

What makes it even better? This delicious butterscotch sauce, which took about five minutes to make and tasted like all the candy I’ve ever eaten in a single bowl.

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Upside-Down Peach Cake

Ingredients

230 g flour

230 g unsalted butter

200 g powdered sugar

2 tbsp brown sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tin peaches + 1 tbsp syrup

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Pinch of cinnamon

Method

Grease a 9″ cake pan and pre-heat the oven to 170 C

Drain the peaches (reserve a tablespoon of the syrup) and line the halves against the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon over them.

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Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Melt the butter for a few seconds (so it’s soft and just a bit runny around the edges) and add. Then add the sugar and vanilla and stir them in till combined.

Crack the eggs into another bowl and beat until pale and frothy. Pour it into the bowl with the flour mixture and add a tablespoon of the peach syrup – this will give the entire cake a peachy flavor and a touch of sweet moistness. Continue beating the batter until it is silky and has a slight sheen to it. 

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Pour this over the peaches and bake for 35-40 minutes. You can do the whole toothpick thing to make sure it’s cooked on the inside. Personally, I like the tops of the cakes to be a bit spongy but if you’d prefer a harder version, five extra minutes shouldn’t hurt too much.

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Spiced Biscuits

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Normally, I belong to the school of thought that believes that desserts should be filled with everything that is sweet, gooey, extravagant and altogether too scrumptious to be good for your waistline. But every now and then, I come across a recipe that temporarily threatens to change my mind: like this plain vanilla biscuit that I found in an ancient Oysterizer cookbook that’s been rattling around inside our cupboards for decades now. The recipe was simple and fresh, with all the attention drawn towards the sweet vanilla flavor and crispness of the biscuit.

I tried it out the other day, but with a twist that I think completely redefined the biscuit. I left off the vanilla and instead, used powdered spices. They went perfectly with the simplicity of the biscuit, giving each bite a certain sharpness. I also skipped the cold-cut butter for browned butter, which added a slight nuttiness.

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The biscuit is perfect for tea-time. It’s not so sweet as to overpower the palate, but has a delightful crunch that makes them a great way to enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon

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Ingredients

1 1/2 cups flour

1 tbsp cardamom

3 sticks cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg powder

1 clove

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

1 egg

Method

Brown the butter and tip it into a large bowl. Add the sugar in three batches, whisking it while you do so to blend it in properly.

Crack the egg into the bowl and blend some more, until it’s combined into a smooth dough.

Grind the cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg powder and clove until it becomes a fine powder. The cardamon skins won’t be as fine as you like but don’t worry about them – you’ll be sieving them out.

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Tip the flour, baking powder, and spices into a bowl, combine them and then sift the entire amount into the dough. Knead the dough with your hands until it’s well combined, and then wrap it in a zip-lock bag and put it refrigerate it for an hour.

After that, take it out and roll it into a log before cutting of slices. These biscuits will spread, so it doesn’t matter if your slices aren’t perfect – the point of the rolling and slicing is to ensure no dough is wasted.

 

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Grease a baking pan with olive oil and place the cookies with at least 1 1/2 inches of space between them. Bake at 180 C for 10 minutes. Let them cool for at least 15 minutes before snapping them off and serving them. A sprinkle of cinnamon or powdered sugar would really bring their taste out.

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Baked Egg Bites

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I’m a huge fan of eggs for breakfast (or lunch or dinner, for that matter), whether’s simply fried, creamy scrambled (with cheese, obviously) or even boiled and sliced into a salad. But after sometime, these options can get a little boring. This weekend, I tried baking eggs in mini-muffin pans for a change, adding some potato to sculpt each bite as well as a smattering of cheese on top. The eggs were perfect: the potato gave a crispy finish to the outside, while the eggs cooked perfectly, with a puffed out, golden top and a soft, creamy interior. The best thing about these bites are that they’re ridiculously easy to make.

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Ingredients (enough for 8 bites)

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4 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup chopped jalapenos

4-6 cloves of garlic

1/2 cup grated cheese

1/2 a potato

Salt and pepper to taste

Method

Beat together the eggs, milk, salt and pepper until light and frothy.

 

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Chop the jalapenos and garlic cloves.

Grate the potato and cheese.

Grease six cups of a mini-muffin pan liberally with olive oil. Start with the potato, packing down the shreds at the bottom of each cup. Once that’s done, pile on the chopped jalapeno in garlic.

Spoon some of the egg mixture into each muffin cup until its full.

Add a teaspoon of grated cheese on top of each.

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Bake at 170 C for around 10-15 minutes. You can check when it’s done by inserting a toothpick into one of the bites and seeing whether it comes out clean. Once it’s done, each bite should be puffed up and golden-brown from the cheese. Eat it hot, though, because they start to sink in as soon as they’re out of the oven.

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Vanilla Chiffon Cake Platter

DSCN1551 Exotic cakes may be alluring but in terms of stolid, delicious, classic comfort, few things can beat a vanilla chiffon cake. It’s simple, has just the right blend of ingredients and is both sweet and light at the same time. The best thing about vanilla chiffon cakes, though, are their versatility – they can be chopped up into bread-and-butter puddings, paired with fruit, layered in trifles or smothered in pretty much any kind of frosting and still hold their own. In fact, they make a perfect base for slightly more experimental or quirky desserts. The other day, we had some family over brunch and I was trying to decide what dessert to make (my new-found enthusiasm in the kitchen has given me an almost permanent access to this department). I knew I wanted something classic, but I also knew I wanted a fun twist to it; two hours of baking, creaming and garnishing later, I had this pretty cake platter and I couldn’t have been happier. DSCN1556 DSCN1572 A cake or pastry platter is a great way to make desserts more interesting. The individual pieces are small and light, and you can incorporate all kinds of variations into the platter based on the tastes of the people eating it. Oddly enough, I chose my platter ingredients based on color: I wanted the palette to have elements of cream and apricot. In terms of flavor, I decided that the safe base of vanilla chiffon would lend itself well both to fruitiness as well as a subtle spice: which is why I decided to incorporate a marmalade-almond cream, pineapple, cinnamon and clove into the platter.

A lot of people prefer boxed vanilla cakes to homemade recipes, mostly because they’re pumped with enough soda and preservatives to retain their fluffiness long after they’re sealed in plastic packets and shipped hundreds of miles. But the cake recipe I used for this platter (which I dug out of one of my mother’s old cook books) not only produces a fine, fluffy cake but is also remarkably easy to make. DSCN1513 DSCN1516 Vanilla Chiffon Cake: Basic Recipe

Ingredients

4 eggs, separated

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1/2 cup olive oil

3/4 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla essence

Method DSCN1487 Note: The key to getting a fluffier chiffon cake is to sift the flour multiple times before adding it into the mixture. I passed mine through a sieve three times before I lost patience (the ideal, I think, is supposed to be four).

Beat the sugar into the egg whites in 3 batches until it forms a glossy meringue with stiff peaks and keep aside.

Beat the egg yolks until they turn pale, then pour in the olive oil and milk and beat again till well incorporated. Stir in the vanilla essence.

Sift the flour (for the fourth time) into the egg yolk mixture and make sure it’s combined. This recipe doesn’t use a lot of flour so the batter should still be velvety and fluid.

Pour the egg yolk mixture into the meringue in two batches, folding it in gently till it’s incorporated. Don’t over-beat it.

Bake it at 150 C for around 25-30 minutes. When you think it’s done, stick a toothpick into it to make sure the insides are cooked.

(I read online that after you take a chiffon cake out the oven, you’re supposed to let it cool upside down. I haven’t tried that but it sounds like fun, no?)

Once you’ve got your cake out of the oven, let it cool and then stick it in the refrigerator for about half an hour. This will make it easier to cut and the individual pieces will hold their shape. You can work on the cream while it’s chilling.

Marmalade Almond Cream

Okay, so this is something I’m insanely proud of. I went with the ingredients on a hunch and they worked out beautifully together; a slight tartness, subtle spiciness and refreshing booziness, all folded into the goodness of whipped cream. Seriously, even if you’re not thinking of making a cake, put together a batch of this and spend a day licking the bowl clean – it’ll be well worth it.

Ingredients

250 ml fresh cream

3 tbsp marmalade (if you have the kind with scotch in it, so much the better)

2 tbsp Amaretto almond liquor/toasted, ground almonds and any alcohol of your choice

1/2 cup sugar 1 tsp cinnamon

Method DSCN1506 DSCN1509 DSCN1501 Whip the sugar into the fresh cream in two batches. You have to keep at the cream till it becomes light and fluffy. Add all the other ingredients and simple whip till well incorporated (as simple as that).

Assembling the Platter

Now comes the fun part – actually putting the platter together. The first step is to decide what elements you want in it. Generally, try and incorporate some fruit, some spice and some nuts. If you like, you can even opt for a dash of some other form of liquor. Like I mentioned, I opted for a particular color palette (it sounds weird, I know, but it actually worked). So my platter had cashew nuts, raisins, figs, cinnamon, cloves, pineapple and papaya (which I got out of one of those fruit cocktail cans). DSCN1491 Chop the cake up into squares/rectangles and then do whatever the hell you want. Frankly, there are no rules to assembling the platter. You can make cake ‘sandwiches’ or simple pile toppings on to a single slice. Try making sure that every slice has a generous dose of the cream, because it’s the perfect complement for the vanilla flavor of the cake. Fruits will lend tartness and juiciness, while nuts and spices will add texture and an unexpected punch. DSCN1566 DSCN1568 You can also spruce up your platter with whole fruits and flowers. Again, I flung a few frangipani and whole pomegranates in there, only because I thought they went well with the color scheme. Serve the platter for dessert and you’re guaranteed to get some appreciation. DSCN1576    

Spinach, Mushroom and Egg Bake

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Let’s be perfectly honest: is it possible to go wrong with a combination of spinach and mushroom? When they are sauteed in a delicious amount of butter and seasoned with garlic paste? And then baked to crispy, rich perfection?

The answer is no.

It is, however, possible to make it even better – with eggs.

I saw this recipe when I was looking around for a side dish to make for a Sunday lunch and I was infatuated at first glance. Yes, infatuated. There is no other way to describe my reaction to this powerfully seasoned, deliciously buttered bake. The best thing about the recipe is it is so ridiculously easy to make. I literally spent about fifteen minutes on it (while popping out for cocktail breaks with my family and friends and snacking on appetizers) and everyone loved the result.

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This is a slightly altered version of the recipe:

Spinach, Mushroom and Egg Bake

Ingredients

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500 g spinach, washed

250 g mushroom, washed and sliced thin

1 onion, chopped

2 tbsp butter

2 tsp of garlic paste

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1/2 cup fresh cream

3 eggs

Method

Cook the washed spinach in a wok with a bit of water. Keep turning it over so that the leaves cook evenly. In about five minutes, it would have wilted down to around 1/4 of its prior volume.

Tip it out of the wok, drain it and then chop finely.

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Brown the butter in a pan and add the garlic paste. Once it sizzles, add the chopped onion and saute till the pieces turn transparent. Then add the sliced mushrooms and salt. Cook till the mushrooms have browned and soaked up the butter and then add the chopped spinach.

Stir in the cream and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Grease a baking dish and spoon the spinach-mushroom mixture into, pressing down with a spatula so it’s packed densely. With a ladle or teaspoon, make three sockets and crack an egg into each. Sprinkle the pepper evenly over each egg.

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Bake at 180 C for 10-15 minutes. When it’s done, the egg yolks should still be creamy.

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