I make a cooked breakfast every Sunday. It’s a luxury—a gift I give myself as much as to the family. So it doesn’t feel like a chore to get up early and cook once a week.
At least, most of the time it doesn’t. Once in a while I’m uninspired on a Sunday morning, particularly if I spent Saturday in the kitchen.
Last week was one of those Sundays. I couldn’t be bothered making scones or pancakes or muffins. So I pulled out a recipe my mother gave me years ago. One I don’t recall ever having made, but it was a simple, stir-together baked oatmeal that struck me as just the thing for a Sunday I didn’t feel like cooking. Best of all, the bread oven was still hot from the previous day, so I didn’t even have to use the electric oven.
I modified the recipe a bit (because I can’t seem to ever make a recipe exactly as it calls for).
here’s my version of baked oatmeal—delicious with a generous dollop of unsweetened yogurt or a splash of milk.
125 g (1/2 cup) melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups quick cooking oats
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup raisins
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Pour into a 23 cm (9-inch) square baking pan. Bake at 180ºC (350ºF) for 30-35 minutes.
Ugly but delicious.
Gooseberries are ripening by the bucketful right now, so when I was planning dessert for a party last Saturday night, I naturally turned to gooseberries for inspiration.
I made a large batch of gooseberry pie filling and baked up dozens of gooseberry tarts. Unfortunately, the fruit bubbled over, creating a sticky mess that glued the tarts into their pans.
Almost every one broke when I tried to take them out of the pans. One was so crumbled I had to spoon it out …
… right into my mouth. It was a sublime experience. Deliciously sweet and sour with a flaky crust, I thought I’d serve them anyway. I requested a second opinion from my husband and kids, giving them each the most broken tarts. They moaned in pleasure and nodded.
No one at the party mentioned how the tarts looked. I’m not sure they sat on the tray long enough for anyone to examine them—one taste and they vanished.
A delicious baking disaster. I’ll definitely have to do it again.
Gooseberry Pie Filling (enough for two full-size pies)
8 cups fresh gooseberries
4 cups sugar
2 Tbsp corn flour (cornstarch)
enough water to prevent sticking (less than 1/4 cup)
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook 1-2 minutes, until berries soften. Crush berries in the pot with a potato masher. Boil about 5 minutes longer until the mixture begins to thicken.
The pie filling can be baked in a double or a single crust. If you choose a single crust, top with streusel topping:
2/3 cup flour
2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
5 Tbs (80 g) melted butter
Blend all ingredients with a fork until crumbly.
I baked my tiny tarts for 35 minutes at 190ºC (375ºF). A full pie should take 45 – 60 minutes.
The online recipes for marinated artichoke hearts tend to be for small quantities—enough to make a small jar. So when I decided to make marinated artichoke hearts with eight large artichokes left over from dinner, I took those recipes as a general guide, and made it up as I went.
Into the bowl with the cooked artichokes went equal quantities of cider vinegar and water until the vegetables were mostly covered. Then I added a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, some ground dried garlic (because I had none fresh), and a handful of chopped fresh oregano. I poured olive oil over the whole thing until the artichokes were completely covered by liquid, and then I stirred to mix it all.
The result was a beautiful vat of marinated artichoke hearts so good, they need a fancy dinner party to go with them.
A few days ago, after a busy day, I couldn’t be bothered to cook. I decided to throw together a quick pasta, so I headed to the garden to pick a few vegetables.
But when I arrived in the garden, the sight of the winter spinach, growing like a weed and thinking about bolting, inspired me.
All that spinach would make an excellent spinach quiche. I even had some feta in the fridge, and there’s nothing better than spinach with feta.
Of course, a quiche is a whole lot more work than pasta …
And it really would need dill, too …
I scoured the weedy parts of the garden for volunteer dill, because my seedlings weren’t ready to pick yet. The weedy dill plants clinched it.
No longer tired, but inspired, I set about cooking. The result was worth the effort (as I knew it would be).
And that’s what I most enjoy about gardening—when the daily grind gets me down and I just want to order takeaways, it provides the inspiration to instead make a glorious meal.
Sometimes, I work long and hard to create a fancy meal. I worry about taste and presentation, and fuss with every detail. Other times, a meal just comes together, and ends up as beautiful in the dish as in the mouth, with very little work.
I made a simple chilli the other day to go with a pair of ripe avocados. There was nothing to the chilli—kidney beans, grated carrot, chopped tomatoes, onion, and a whole lot of herbs and spices. My husband made guacamole and grated some cheddar cheese. While the chilli simmered, I made up my fabulous corn chips (so tasty and so easy to make).
Suddenly, we had a glorious meal—beautiful colours, textures and flavours—and I felt like I’d hardly worked for it. Nice when it all works out that way.
A few weeks ago, my dentist rang. not to tell me I was overdue for a checkup, but to ask if I wanted any hazelnuts (we have a long history of trading produce—I try not to arrive at an appointment without some gift from the garden).
Turns out his hazelnut gift was 10 kilos of nuts! So I’ve been using hazel nuts in everything lately. And, of course, my thoughts turned to homemade Nutella.
There are plenty of recipes online. I chose this one and had a go. The only change I made was to use dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.
The result was quite good, but not nutty enough for my taste—the chocolate to nut ratio was too high, swamping the flavour of the nuts. It also set too hard—probably because I used dark chocolate instead of the milk chocolate called for in the recipe.
Of course, that means I’ll just have to make it again … you know, to get it right. I have plenty of hazelnuts.
If at first you don’t succeed …
A few of the two dozen or so loaves from Saturday.
Saturday was a bread day, so while I headed to the garden in the morning, my husband began making up the dough and getting the fire lit in the oven. As I worked, the familiar scent of wood smoke wafted across the yard. The bread oven smell is different from the smell of the wood burner or a brush fire—from the first wisp of smoke, it declares itself a cooking fire. The smell always gives me a sense of well-being. It tells me that soon there will be a bounty of baked goods, and we will eat well for days on the delicious things we’ll bake.
Bread days are always busy—baking is done on top of the gardening, mowing, and cleaning on the weekend’s to-do list. By mid-day Saturday, I had planted out my peas and hauled a dozen loads of compost to the garden, and the kitchen was full of rising loaves in a variety of shapes and sizes. It was time for me to join the baking. While my husband managed the bread, I chopped vegetables for what would become dinner.
It was an especially hot oven Saturday. Pitas baked in seconds, kaiser rolls in a handful of minutes, the vegetables came out beautifully caramelised in no time, and focaccia bubbled up quickly and came out sizzling. While the larger loaves baked, I mixed up pound cake and hazelnut biscotti to slip into the oven after the bread was through.
Dinner was a feast of roast vegetables and salad greens stuffed into fresh pita breads followed by pound cake and biscotti—a celebration of good food after a day of intense work. The only problem with it was there was no one besides us to share it with.
(For those of you who missed it a few years ago, you can check out our kitchen during a bread day in this time lapse video.)