Sunday, 23 March 2008

Baked eggs: friend of the leftover

I’ve mentioned before how my parents hated food wastage. Sunday night presented a prime opportunity for all of the week’s leftovers to be transformed into a cohesive meal that was called dinner. As you can imagine this clearing out the fridge approach to cooking had mixed results, but on the whole, positive. Leftover meat became a curry, any combination of cooked vegetables was smothered in white sauce or breadcrumbs and baked, and there were endless variations on risottos and pasta sauces.

I’ve developed my own version of the Sunday night leftover dinner, discovering that there aren’t that many dishes that can’t somehow be turned into a base for baked eggs.

Baked eggs are almost obligatory on breakfast menus in Melbourne cafes. I remember Birdman Eating on Gertrude St in Fitzroy had four ‘baked eggs of the day’ which were always really interesting and unusual combinations of ingredients like chilli jam and green beans or braised fennel and trout. Now I think I may have stumbled upon the secret to their popularity - baked eggs are a great way to use up leftovers.

Here are some of my experiments

First life: Mint and pea crostini

2 cups of frozen peas
clove of garlic
squeeze of lemon juice
handful of roughly chopped mint
couple of generous glugs of extra virgin olive oil
couple of tablespoons of finely grated parmesan plus shavings for ganish

Cook peas in boiling salted water for 2 minutes – drain, run cold water over the peas, and drain well. In a (largish) mortar and pestle, pound garlic to a paste with a good pinch of sea salt. Add the peas, lemon juice, mint, and mix to a coarse paste in the mortar and pestle. Add the olive oil as you go to loosen the mixture until it looks like it can be spread on crostini (bread toasted and rubbed with cut garlic). Season with salt and pepper and top crostini with pea spread and shaved parmesan.

Roasted butternut squash with thyme and garlic

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Cut squash into wedges, toss with olive oil, whole cloves of garlic, salt and pepper and sprigs of thyme and roast until tender: around 30-40 minutes.

Caramelised onions

Heat 2 tbls olive oil and 1 tbls butter in frying pan. Add 2 peeled and sliced onions and cook over gentle heat until they are soft- 10- 15 minutes. Add 1 tbls brown sugar and heat until the sugar melts and caramelises. Add 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and stir together.

Second life:
Minted peas and broccolini baked eggs
Roasted butternut squash and caramelised onion baked eggs

Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F). Grease a small dish/ramequin, lay the leftovers at the bottom.

Make a little hole and break an egg into it. Drizzle with olive oil. You can also add 1 tablespoon of crème fraiche or yoghurt before you add the egg (as I have done here) which is the way the French do egg croquette.

Put the dish in a baking tray and pour hot water in the dish to about half the height of the dish. Put in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how runny you like your eggs.

First life: Chickpea, eggplant and chorizo stew

1 medium eggplant salted for 20 minutes, drained and cut into 1 cm dice
1 red onion roughly chopped
about 50 g chorizo cut into 1cm dice
clove of garlic finely chopped
2 tomatoes peeled, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 can chickpeas
½ cup chicken stock
good dash of white wine
handful spinach
Greek yoghurt to serve

Cook the eggplant in some oil and remove from pan. Cook chorizo and diced red onion in the pan over medium heat until onion is soft (no need to add oil as the chorizo will release its fat as it cooks). Add garlic and cooked eggplant to pan- stir for a minute. Add tomatoes and drained chickpeas and stir to combine flavours. Add a dash of white wine, stock and let stew simmer for 10- 15 minutes. Before serving, toss through a handful of baby spinach until it wilts. Serve with a dollop of Greek yoghurt.

Second life: Chickpea, eggplant and chorizo baked eggs with greek yoghurt

Cook leftovers in a dish with the egg following the sam recipe as above. Before serving, drizzle the baked egg with greek yoghurt.

Friday, 21 March 2008

A site to behold

If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning, you may be wondering whatever happened to the café I came to London to start. All this researching and talking is well and good but there comes a time when you just need to start walking.

Well let me assure you, I want to walk. I want to run, sprint and leap but I feel like I’m in that recurring dream where I’m trying to run but no matter how fast my legs move I always stay in the same spot.

The first hurdle has been finding a site. As an independent start-up with no track record and trying to do it on my own rather than paying for a scouting agent, this has been no easy task. It has involved lots of meetings with estate agents, lots of web searching, lots of cycling around London and lots of frustration.

Finally a break through came in October last year. I found a site in Bute Street, South Kensington, which met most of our selection criteria: an inner city suburban area populated by high income professionals and ‘yummy mummys’, room for outside seating, near a school, a tube station and lots of crap cafes. The best part was that it was already operating as a popular café so I could move straight in and start trading.

It was a done deal. We’d popped the champagne, I’d quit my job at Tom’s. I’d even drafted the blog entry “You Bute”. With the Fulham site, I’d learnt that if it looks to good to be true, it probably is. With Bute St I learnt my second lesson. A property is not off the market until contracts are exchanged.

It is a long sorry saga that dragged on for many months but the short of it is, we were gazumped not once but twice and finally had to accept that this was not the site for our cafe.

Of course the reason I am able to write this blog entry is because we now have a site - although contracts have not officially been exchanged. What was that lesson I said I’d learnt? I’m a believer in happy endings and my gut instinct tells me that I’ve found the site for our café. But before I pop the champagne or say too much more I might just wait until there is ink on a contract.

Watch this site…

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

The gastronomic rewards of research

Last Saturday I finally made it to Broadway Market in Hackney to check out a place that I’ve wanted to try called L’Eau a la Bouche.

After browsing the small café/deli and taking mental notes (and sneaky pictures) of their recycled timber shelving and food display units, the lure of the produce and east london locals on display outside at the farmers market was too great and I opted for a takeaway coffee (La Marzocco was there in la Bouche but in the company of Union rather than Monmouth coffee).

I had a recommendation from a local and before he could say ‘ouvre la bouche’ I had devoured a damn tasty sandwich from Sporeboys's mushroom stall prepared using their magnificent looking wild mushrooms in a small fry pan and extreme wind conditions.

I took down the recipe in my mental note pad.

Fried mushroom sandwich

Throw a couple of generous handfuls of a mixture of sliced mushrooms (note nifty slicer in foreground of photo) into a fry pan with melted butter. Stir for a few minutes then add salt and pepper, some chopped garlic, and a handful of flat leaf parsley. Transfer mushrooms onto a slice of sourdough bread, grate with fresh Parmesan and drizzle with olive oil before topping with another slice of sourdough.