Breakfast Pie

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There are few ingredients that don’t benefit from being tossed irreverently into a perfectly-flaky pie crust but for the life of me, I can’t think of what they are right now. As a general rule of thumb, I think mostly everything is better in pie form. Cheese? Check. Berries? Check. Meat? Check. Potatoes? Do you really have to ask?

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The great thing about this theory is that it’s also a god-saver for when you need something respectable on the table, pronto. Take this humble little breakfast pie, for instance. If you were to be served plain spinach and tomatoes, with a side of eggs for breakfast – meh. But in a pie crust? Popped into the oven and baked until the spinach is crisp, the eggs are just done and the cheese is golden? I think you’d be impressed.

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In terms of prep work, this pie is fairly low on the scale of one to tearing your hair out. Tomatoes are diced and cooked for a few minutes with onions and chopped garlic, spinach is briefly sauteed with butter and egg crumbs and flour is kneaded with butter to make a quickie crust. Everything is poured into the shell, crack a couple of eggs and some cheese over it and you’re 15 minutes away from having an honest-to-god healthy breakfast pie.

Ingredients

For the pie crust (these amounts make enough for an 8″ pie dish):8 tbsp of unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups of flour
4 tbsp of iced water
1/2 tsp salt

For the filling:
3 tomatoes
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 bunch spinach
2 or 3 eggs
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup chopped/grated cheddar
Salt to taste

Method:

Prepare the pastry dough: whisk together the flour and salt in a bowl. Make sure the butter is cold (I popped it into the freezer for 10 minutes before using it) and chop it into tiny chunks. Add this to the flour mixture and mix with your hands until the flour feels silky and the butter is reduced to pea-sized bits.

Add the iced water one tablespoon at a time, kneading the dough as you go. Pat it into a ball, wrap it in cling film and refrigerate it for half an hour.

In the meantime, turn your attention to the filling: finely chop of the tomatoes and the onion, and mince the garlic. Heat a little butter in a pan and sautee the garlic until fragrant. Add the onions and cook until softened and translucent. Add the tomatoes and 1/4 cup of water. Cover the pan and let it simmer for 15-20 minutes.

In another pan, boil some water and blanch the spinach. Don’t let the spinach cook for more than about 30 seconds: you don’t want it too soggy. Set aside.

Check the tomatoes and onions – they should have reduced to a thicker, sauce-like consistency. Add the red pepper flakes and salt and cook for another minute, before taking the pan off the heat. Stir the spinach into it and set aside.

Grease the pie dish. Take the pie dough out of the fridge and roll out on a flour-dusted surface till it’s around 1/4 inch thick. Roll it around a rolling-pin and then flip it over the pie dish. Trim the edges.

Pour the tomato base into the pie shell. Crack the eggs over the top and add the chopped or grated cheddar. Bake at 180 C for 20 minutes. Start checking in on the pie at the 15-minute mark to judge when the eggs are done. Once they’re cooked, take the pie out of the oven and let it cool before slicing.

Spicy Pumpkin Loaf

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Am I the only person who got sick of the influx of pumpkin-infused recipes that took over the web this winter? Because there were A LOT – I know that everyone has to do at least one pumpkin pie over the holidays, but surely we don’t have to ram pumpkin into our coffee, cupcakes, frosting, buns, cinnamon buns, breakfast bowls and oatmeal? What really got to me was that most of the recipes followed the same format: take a lot of pureed pumpkin, add a lot of cream, top with a lot of cinnamon and brown sugar and voila! – you’re done.

Yes, it really irritated me.

Which is why I’m mildly ashamed to show you this. It is, I will admit, pumpkin, and there’s no getting around that. But I suspect that in this case, you won’t mind.

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This isn’t one of those overloaded-with-caramel pumpkin dessert recipes. In fact, this is a savory loaf. A deceptively light savory loaf that you can slice and enjoy with a bit of butter at breakfast, or tea time. It isn’t made with pumpkin puree or stuff from a can, but honest-to-god fresh pumpkin that is diced, sprinkled with olive oil and herbs and roasted for the better part of an hour, until it is tender and aromatic and altogether delicious.

This is then mashed with the back of a fork (or, if you’re super enthusiastic, a blender) and mixed with some flour, herbs, a smattering of cheese and crushed red peppers for a bit of a kick. This recipe (which is adapted from one of my mother’s passed-down recipes for a cheese loaf) is beautifully simple, does not require any finicky steps and produces a thick, chewy loaf that’s a nice palate cleanser from all the over-sweet pumpkin dishes we’ve been eating the last few months.

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Ingredients

3 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/4 of a large pumpkin (should reduce to a cup of mash after being roasted) + 1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup grated or crumbled cheddar

2 cups whole wheat

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tbsp dried sage

1 tsp dried oregano (or any other herb of your choice)

1 tsp crushed red peppers

1/2 tsp salt + more to taste

Method

Dice the pumpkin into square-inch cubes and lay it out on a well-greased/sprayed baking tray. Sprinkle a tablespoon of olive oil and some salt on it, then add the oregano/herb of your choice and bake at 150 C for around half an hour to 45 minutes. If you bake it for longer and at a lower temperature, the flavours should intensify best. When it’s done, the pumpkin should be a rich, golden-orange shade and tender.

Let the pumpkin cool, and then mash it with a fork or in a blender. Once it’s pulpy and as smooth as you can get it, whisk together the eggs and milk and pour it into the pumpkin mash, beating to ensure everything combines well.

Sift together the dry ingredients: the whole wheat, baking powder, sage, crushed red pepper and salt, and then add the pumpkin mixture in three batches, beating in between. Once it’s holding together, stir in the crumbled cheddar.

Pour the batter into a greased/sprayed loaf pan and bake at 180 C until it’s well done, around an hour. Test with a toothpick to make sure it’s done (the top should be golden-orange and puffy), and then allow to cool before slicing. Tastes best with a knob of butter.

Notes: this recipe, while it had a lovely crumb and held together beautifully, was a touch on the eggy side. If this isn’t your style, you can reduce the number of eggs to 2 and it still works out perfectly (I tried it the following week).

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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Flatbread, Fried Egg and Spicy Garnish

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Here is the worst-kept secret in the world: Jamie Oliver is a boon to cooking novices across the globe. Not just because he’s handsome but because unlike most chefs, he is fully aware of the fact that the average person does not own a flambé torch or ice-cream machine, or understand what beurre noisette means. His recipes are simple, quick to make and more importantly, are the kind of thing you might actually make on a daily basis.

A couple of days back, I chanced upon this few-step recipe for flatbread on his site. It wasn’t until I realized there was no bread in my kitchen, though, that I actually thought I should make it (I was having an insane scrambled egg-and-toast craving). Once I’d actually kneaded the flour, I thought I might as well go to the whole hog by frying the eggs and adding a little fanciness in the form of garlic butter, herbs and chopped jalapenos.

Flatbread, Fried Egg and Spicy Garnish

Ingredients

175 g flour

175 g fresh curd

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp butter

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp thyme

1 tsp crushed dried chilli/2 tsp red chilli flakes

3 eggs

2 tbsp chopped jalapeno

1 tbsp pickled green peppers

1 tsp chilli garlic oil

Pepper to taste

Method

Knead together the flour, curd, baking powder and salt. It will form a soft, silky dough. Keep aside for about 15 minutes, then knead again and divide it into three portions.

Roll out the portions into circles that are around 1 or 2 mm thick. Using the edge of a spatula or flat spoon, make six little indents on each piece (as shown in the picture). Blend the butter, garlic, oregano, thyme and red chilli flakes to make a spicy, tangy spread. Brush this spread onto each piece of flat bread before baking.

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I kept them in the oven at 170 C for about 15 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when they’re soft and chewable but with a dash of crispiness on the edges.

Fry the eggs in butter (separately) on low heat, so they are soft rather than thin and crispy. The yolks should still be runny.

Place a fried egg on each piece of flatbread and then sprinkle the chopped jalapeno and green peppers on top.

Finish with a sprinkle of pepper and a light drizzle of chilli garlic oil.

This should be eaten hot for it to be good; and trust me, it’s delicious. The combination of the soft flatbread, spicy garnishing and the creamy egg yolk makes for the perfect breakfast or brunch. I paired it with some garlic mayonnaise and a red chilli, which for me was just the right amount of spice to make the egg and flatbread interesting.

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Of Sticks and Scones

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Apple and Cinnamon Scones

There’s nothing quite so delicious as a perfectly-constructed scone. I had my first scone at a small tea shop near Oxford, and spent the next few hours ordering platter after platter. The combination of lightly crisp crust and soft, flaky interior had me absolutely hooked, especially when served with generous bowls of clotted cream and strawberry jam.

Last week, I baked up two separate batches of scones and came to a very important realization: scones are not for the faint-hearted, but they do allow for some short-cuts. The first batch I made (following this recipe), called for all forms of torture in the kitchen: the dough had to be kneaded just so, rolled into specific dimensions and folded in a particular number of times. After about an hour in the kitchen, though, it seemed the effort was worth it – the scones were light, fluffy and perfectly crisp on the outside. I switched the blueberries in the recipe for large grapes, which gave it a slight tartness, and scooped the dough onto the baking tray instead of cutting it into triangles for the cloudy perfection that I remembered from my first taste.

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Grape Scones with Strawberry Jam

The second batch, which I bravely attempted a few days later, were a pleasant surprise. I dug out an old recipe from one of my mother’s handwritten cook books and stirred some chopped apple and cinnamon into the dough. It was a no-nonsense recipe (the just-put-everything-in-a-bowl-and-mix-it variety) and although it didn’t have the same texture as the previous batch, it was still delicious. They kept for a couple of days and were great at teatime or even for breakfast.

Apple and Cinnamon Scones

Ingredients:

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3 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup chopped apple

1 cup frozen butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup milk

Method

Sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and then cut the butter into it in dime-sized pieces. Mix it so that the butter is well-coated and a crumbly dough is formed.

Combine the milk and vanilla essence, whisk for a minute and then add to the dough. The best way to do this is to create a well in the middle of the bowl and pour the mixture in.

Toss the chopped apple with cinnamon and stir it into the mixture.

Sprinkle some flour on any clean surface, and knead the dough until it holds together in a firm ball. Then, roll it out into a circle (mine was about 9 inches in diameter) and cut off slices like a pie.

To add some extra crispiness, brush melted butter on each scone and sprinkle some sugar over that.

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Grease a baking tray and bake them for around 15 minutes at 200 C.

They’re best enjoyed with clotted cream, if you can get your hands or some or have the eight hours it takes to make it. Otherwise, they’re also delicious spread with orange marmalade or a slightly tart jam.