Mediterranean Morsels

Yum.

This post could quite easily be titled “Yummy things made from bits and pieces in the fridge” but it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

It’s true, however.

I came up with this recipe to use a heap of bits that were cluttering up my refrigerator. I had some tri-colour quinoa that was left over from something else, a bit of feta cheese that needed using, a handful (literally) of shredded mozzarella and half a red capsicum that also needed to be used.

It’s also turned stinking hot here again, after a week of almost chilly weather, and I consider finger food to be the way to go at times like these. Finger food in this house means something more-ish, but not junky.

Quinoa can really be quite pretty.

Quinoa can really be quite pretty.

Anyway, I came up with these here yummies to combine all the bits into something that The Boy declared he could, “literally devour by the handful.”

You heard it here first, Folks!

So, I started off with the leftover quinoa. The amount turned out to be two cups worth (which is going to look a whole lot more professional in a recipe), so that’s what I used. If you’ve not cooked quinoa before, you’ll find instructions here. If you don’t have quinoa then cooked rice of any colour or description would also work.

I popped it into a medium sized bowl and stirred in a couple of tablespoons of plain flour to help bind it together (it also gave me time to think about what to do next). If you have a celiac in your family then gluten-free flour will work too.

I’d decided that I wanted to make it a Mediterranean flavoured …whatever… so I added a tablespoonful of an Italian Mixed Herb blend that I had and a teaspoon of minced garlic. From a jar. Sue me.

Still pretty.

Still pretty.

That was all mixed through quite thoroughly, then the red capsicum was diced and added. I was glad it was in there when I saw the finished products as it gave a pop of colour to something that might have been too beige.

Moving on. I also had one spring (green) onion so I sliced it up and added it too. Why not?

Confetti-like capsicum and scallions

Confetti-like capsicum and scallions

Next the Mozzarella went in and I contemplated the feta. I’m not a fan of feta, but The Boy loves it. However, I adore black olives, so I pitted and minced three of those and stirred them through.

Black kalamata olives rock.

Black kalamata olives rock.

Then the feta cheese. I didn’t weigh it, sorry, but I’d say I had about 3/4 of a cup when it was chopped up. That was mixed through too.

The Feta Cheese was next to be deployed.

The Feta Cheese was next to be deployed.

I thought that looked like a rather tasty little mix and stopped adding stuff. If you are a hard-core carnivore, some diced ham or bacon would be a tasty addition too. You’re welcome.

Now, in between all the dicing and mixing I had decided to make something to bake, so at this point I turned the oven on and started gazing soulfully at my baking trays.

I have one for tiny little cupcakes/muffins that I rarely use and which seemed perfect for this, so I retrieved it and then went on the hunt for the paper cases that I knew were in the pantry somewhere

They were found but I didn’t have quite enough, so I just sprayed the empty cups with oil.

The quinoa still needed something to bind it a little more, so I whisked up 2 eggs and mixed them through. Then I filled each cup with about 2 teaspoons full of the quinoa mixture, making sure that a piece of the capsicum could be seen on the top of each cup – because pretty.

Mix in a couple of eggs.

Mix in a couple of eggs.

Then the tray was placed in the oven for 20 mins, until the morsels smelled amazing and the cheese was starting to brown.

All done.

All done.

The Boy followed his nose into the kitchen as they were being retrieved from the oven and I had to stand guard until they were cool enough to eat.

These little mouthfuls of flavour will find their place in lunch boxes during the week, but they would be just as at home at a party or BBQ. They’ll keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, but try to bring them up to room temperature again before eating to allow the flavours to develop.

Hint: Get the kids to help you make them and they’ll be more likely to eat them.

Enjoy.

Mediterranean Morsels

Mediterranean Morsels

Mediterranean Morsels

  • Servings: 24 pieces
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

2 cups cooked quinoa or rice

2 tbsps plain flour

1 tsp crushed garlic

1 tbsp mixed herbs (add a few chilli flakes for a mild bite if you wish)

½ medium red capsicum (bell pepper), diced.

1 spring (green) onion, sliced finely

3 black olives, pips removed and minced finely

½ cup shredded mozzarella

¾ cup diced feta cheese

1 lean rasher of bacon, finely diced (optional)

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Method

Heat oven to 180ºC/350ºF.

Line a mini cupcake tray with paper cases or oil well.

Place quinoa or rice in a medium-sized bowl and add the rest of the ingredients one at a time, stirring well between each.

Fill paper cases with quinoa mix – about 2 rounded teaspoons per case.

Bake for 20 mins.

Allow to cool in the tray before removing to a cooling rack.

Serve at room temperature.

Will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

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Yum.

Yum.

 

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Cheesy Spinach Parcels

I simply adore toasted pine nuts.

I think I mentioned a little while ago that the Budget Bounty household now has a plot at the local Community Garden.

This has been an adventure over the last few months as we have managed to grow things quite well, without actually growing anything to harvest, viz our Brussels Sprouts were overwhelmingly Brussels with nary a sprout in sight. *sigh*

We have, however, cracked the Silverbeet growing thing. You might call it Chard, or Spinach or some such, but I grew up calling this particular leaf Silverbeet. It’s thick, it’s squeaky (!) and we have oodles of it – although I think it may be about to go to seed.

I also don’t like it very much. Don’t tell The Boy, please.

He does like it. Very much. So, having returned from our last visit to our patch with several armfuls of the stuff, I had to find something to do with it all! There was no way it was all going to fit into the refrigerator and the weather we are currently experiencing would see it wilt to inedible in no time. So I cooked it.

I washed it, shook it dry, tore the leaves off the stems and crammed them all into my largest pot, with the lid on and over the lowest heat – and just let it all wilt. I ended up with this.

Cooked Spinach

Cooked Spinach

Looks attractive, dunnit?

I now had a large glass container full of spinach to contend with, but there was no rush to do it. A breather had been orchestrated. Yay.

I wanted to make a Spanakopita that I had made before from www.Food.com (way back when it was still Recipezaar) but I just don’t have the energy right now to give it the attention it deserves. So I searched the Interwebz and my recipe books for things-that-look-like-a-thing-but-aren’t-quite and got overwhelmed by it all.

I bought Feta cheese, I bought Ricotta cheese, I thought about buying Filo/Phyllo pastry and then mentally backhanded myself for even considering it, so I bought puff pastry instead… and I still didn’t know what I was going to do.

This is Not. Like. Me.

So I took bits from everywhere and basically made something up. The something I made up was a hit with The Boy, who took one mouthful and exclaimed, “You have to post this!”

This is me, doing as I was told.

Let me start by saying you could use Filo pastry for this if you wished. I just don’t have the co-ordination to deal with it at the moment. I used a 1 kg packet of puff pastry sheets that I had thawed in the refrigerator, and they did the trick beautifully. If you want to make your own, then all power to you.

Store bought Puff Pastry. Sue me.

Store bought Puff Pastry. Sue me.

Then I got out my food processor, because knives and I are not a good combination right now.

Into the processor bowl went various things, starting with 100 g of the cooked spinach – weighed after I had squeezed most of the water out of it.

Cooked, squeezed spinach in a bowl I later managed to break.

Cooked, squeezed spinach in a bowl I later managed to break.

Then I added a drained can of chickpeas. These were some I had canned myself with the addition of a touch of Cashew Za’atar, but a normal store-bought tin will do just fine. I put these in because I wanted to add a depth of flavour and texture. I was worried that, if I just made it with cheese, spinach and puff pastry, it would be a little insipid and watery. This would make it more filling and ground it a little (I hoped).

Add some chickpeas

Add some chickpeas

Then I added 100 g each of Feta and drained Ricotta.

Prepare to be blended.

Prepare to be blended.

And whizzed it all up to a nice puree.

Gotta love technology.

Gotta love technology.

Then I decided that I didn’t want it to be all bland mushiness inside and toasted up a spoonful or so of pine nuts to stir through.

Stir them through, don't whaz them!

Stir them through, don’t whaz them!

About this time, I turned the oven on and retrieved the pastry from the fridge. Which is when I had to figure out how to attack this. The pastry sheets look kind of uninspiring. But I got one out, keeping it on the dividing sheet of plastic – which later came in quite handy.

Blank canvas.

Blank canvas.

I figured that one sheet would make two good sized pastries or hand pies. So I got out a sharp knife and scored it down the centre.

Let’s just skip over the fact that I then dropped the knife and it plunged, tip-first, a good centimetre into the hardwood floor right beside my foot…  Ahem.

The pastry and said knife.

The pastry and said knife.

I meditated for a bit, then filled a coffee mug with some cold tap water. I dipped two fingers into this and ran them around the outermost edges of the pastry sheet and on either side of the score line, rewetting as necessary.

Then I very precisely dolloped some of the puree into the middle of the top of the pastry strips. Like so.

Behold! The dollop!

Behold! The dollop!

For those who want to know the precise volume of the dollops – I dunno. Try about ¼ – ½ a cup’s worth.

You’re welcome.

Then I folded it in half, bottom to top, still leaving the plastic attached. Once the corners were matched, I pressed down quite firmly with my fingertips, going all around the outside and down both sides of the middle score line. Then I peeled the plastic back.

Look what I did!

Look what I did!

I wanted them to brown up a bit while they cooked, so I broke an egg into a small jug and beat it a little with a fork for an egg wash. First though, I grabbed another fork and pressed quite firmly around all the edges with it. Then I lined a baking sheet with parchment paper and transferred the parcels onto it.

I don’t have photos of this, but I slid an egg flip under them and turned them bare-side down onto my other palm. This let me remove the rest of the plastic. Then I placed them with that side down onto the baking sheet.

Ready to go.

Ready to go.

I could only fit two on to the sheet as I didn’t wish to crowd them. Using a pastry brush, I glazed them with the egg wash and popped them in the oven for 15 minutes.

It worked.

I'm quite pleased with that, really...

I’m quite pleased with that, really…

Then I immediately plated one up and served it to The Boy. History was made.

This is a bread and butter plate, so they are quite large.

This is a bread and butter plate, so they are quite large.

I baked another four to have as lunches throughout the week. The rest I flash froze after glazing. Then, when they were chilled sufficiently, transferred to a large bag for longer term storage. I’m not quite sure how long they would take to cook from the freezer, but I’m going with 30 minutes until proven wrong.

Cheesy Spinach Parcels

Cheesy Spinach Parcels

Enjoy.

Cheesy Spinach Parcels

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

1 kg packet puff pastry sheets (you want 6), defrosted.

100 g of cooked spinach, squeezed as dry as you can (you can use frozen spinach from the supermarket, defrosted)

400 g tin chickpeas, drained

100 g feta cheese

100 g ricotta cheese, drained a little

1 tsp dried dill (optional)

¼ cup pine nuts (optional)

Cup of luke warm water for sealing

1 egg, beaten slightly

Method

Note: Keep the packet of puff pastry in the fridge. Remove one sheet at a time and replace the rest of the packet in the fridge while you are working with that one. This will keep the pastry relatively firm and make it easier to work with.

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/450°F.

Line one or two baking sheets with baking paper.

In a food processor bowl, combine spinach, chickpeas, feta and ricotta cheeses.

Add dried dill, if liked. Other spices or herbs may be used according to your preference.

Process until the chickpeas are fully incorporated.

Remove to a small bowl.

In a small frying pan, toast the pine nuts over a low heat until lightly browned and fragrant. Approx. 3-4 minutes. Watch them carefully to avoid scorching.

Add pine nuts to contents of bowl and stir through.

Take one sheet of puff pastry. Using a sharp knife score down the middle, dividing it into two rectangular strips of equal size.

Using the cupful of warm water, dampen your index and middle fingertips and run them around the outer edges of the pastry surface as well as down both sides of the centre score line. This will help the pastry joins to seal and avoid the filling leaking out during baking.

In the middle of the top half of each strip place several large spoonfuls of spinach and cheese mixture. The exact amount will depend on the size of the pastry sheet you are using.  It should be around ¼ – ½ a cup of the mixture.

Then fold the bottom of the pastry sheet (including the plastic lining) over the filling, matching the corners and pressing firmly. Using your fingertips, press each edge together including the one with the fold. You should have two nicely sealed pockets of pastry.

Peel back the plastic.

If you wish, you can now use a fork to crimp the edges you just pressed together with your fingertips. This is optional, but may give you a much better seal.

(And it looks pretty 😉 )

Transfer the pastry packets to a lined oven tray with the crimped edge upwards. You may only be able to fit two to a tray.

Take a pastry brush and paint the top of each parcel with the beaten egg. It doesn’t need to be done thickly.

This will help to get a golden finish on the pastry as it bakes.

Bake in oven for 15 minutes and eat immediately or remove to a rack to cool.

Prepare the next lot of parcels as the previous batch bakes.

To store: cool thoroughly on a rack before placing in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Eat within 3-4 days.

To freeze: prepare up to the egg wash stage. Place on a flat surface in the freezer and leave for 30 minutes. Once frozen, transfer to a sealed container or freezer bag.

To reheat from frozen: place in a 220°C/450°F oven for 30 minutes until puffed and golden brown.

To serve: May be eaten on its own as a light meal or lunch or served with a salad for a main course.

Apple and Oat Bars

Stay calm and eat Apple and Oat Bars...

Last night, The Boy declared – out of the blue – that I should do a muesli (granola) bar recipe. Because school goes back next week or something and this could be useful to people.

I think he just wanted muesli bars.

I also think he could have told me before I did the fortnight’s shopping and could stock up on the expensive stuff that goes into these snacks.

So, I compromised. I’m good at that.

I made these little Apple and Oat Bars from stuff I already had and which – most likely – you already have too. Because that is how we roll in the Budget Bounty kitchen.

Simple AND good-for-you-ish.

Simple AND good-for-you-ish.

The recipe for these came from one of the first cookbooks I ever bought for my now massive collection. It’s called Good Cooking by the people at Good Housekeeping and was published way back in 1988. Which is why I have changed one of the ingredients from margarine to butter…

It’s a recipe that literally takes only minutes to put together and which you could quite easily do with smaller versions of yourself HELPING.  Ahem.

You will need some butter, some honey, some brown sugar, some rolled oats and an apple or two. Also a bowl, a baking tin and a microwave proof jug and spatula.  Sound complicated?

After setting your oven to 190°C get out a set of scales and your microwave proof jug. Into your jug measure your butter, brown sugar and honey, like so:

Melt these things together.

Melt these things together.

Heat them for 1 minute at a time at 80% power until the butter is melted. You can do this in a saucepan on the stove, if you wish.

While it is melting, measure the oats into a medium sized mixing bowl and line a baking tin with parchment. The original recipe called for an 18 cm/7 inch square cake tin.

Pour your now liquid ingredients into the oats and mix well.

Add the wet to the dry. Stir.

Add the wet to the dry. Stir.

Press half this mixture into the base of your tin. Do NOT do what I did and use a silicon tray. You want the oats to crisp up and they just get soggy if you follow my example. Honestly.

Press half your oats into something that isn't silicon and is preferably metal...

Press half your oats into something that isn’t silicon and is preferably metal…

Now get a large cooking apple (around 250 g worth), peel it and slice it thinly.  Arrange the apple slices in overlapping rows to cover the oat base.

Cover your base with overlapping slices of apple.

Cover your base with overlapping slices of apple.

Sprinkle your slices with cinnamon. I was cooking for an adult who likes it, so I also used ground ginger on mine.

Sprinkle with your choice of spice.

Sprinkle with your choice of spice.

Top with the rest of the oats, press down firmly and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.

Cut it into portions while still hot and in the pan. Leave in the tin to cool. You want your butter and honey to set before you try to move anything, or it will all fall apart.

Elevenses, Anyone?

Elevenses, Anyone?

Store in an airtight container somewhere cool. Wrap in cling film and send as part of a school lunch, serve as an after school snack or use to accompany a much deserved cuppa.

Easy. Affordable. Tasty.

Apple and Oat Bars

  • Servings: 12 -15
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

100 g/4 oz butter

60 g/2½ oz brown sugar

2 tbsp honey

225 g/8 oz rolled oats

1 large cooking apple (250 g/9 oz) peeled, cored and thinly sliced

ground cinnamon.

Method

Heat oven to 190°C/ 375°F.

Lightly grease or line an 18 cm/ 7 inch square shallow baking tin.

In a microwave proof jug or bowl, combine the first three ingredients and heat at 80% power for 1 minute intervals until melted. Stir together. This may be done in a small saucepan on the stove top if wished.

Measure the oats into a medium-sized bowl. Pour liquid ingredients over the oats and mix well.

Divide the mixture in two and press half into the base of your prepared tin.

Arrange the sliced apple over the top of the oats in overlapping rows.

Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Top with the remaining oats and press down gently.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and crisp.

Cut into slices while still hot and then leave in the tin until cool.

Variations:

  • For a gluten-free version, substitute a gluten free muesli or granola mix for the rolled oats.
  • Try using different spices for variety. A Pumpkin Pie spice mix might be just the thing for you.
  • Sprinkle a handful of sultanas over with the cinnamon.
  • Add a scattering of choc chips over the apple for a special treat.

 

Hidden Treasure Muffins

Allow to cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.

So, you’ve made yourself some Dulce de Leche, or even some Lemon Curd – now what?

Make these.

Simple, tasty, made from things you’re likely to have already and hiding a sweet(er) surprise, what’s not to love about these morsels?

You now you want one.

You know you want one.

A batch or two of muffins mixed up on a Sunday afternoon and stored in an air-tight container can provide you with a week’s worth of school/work lunch treats. That can save you quite a bit of money over the medium to longer term, especially if you provide your own beverage as well.

They taste better than most mass-produced cakes (there’s a certain floury taste to things made from a premix) and you get to look mysterious when people beg you to tell them where you bought them…

Get picky. Eat only the best, and that usually means things made from scratch – it doesn’t mean things that are too difficult to make yourself. I promise.

These particular muffins make use of things you’ve already learned how to make here: dulce de leche and/or lemon curd.

Before I start to guide you through it, though, just a quiet word. Muffins are sensitive souls. They need a gentle touch – one that will let them know they are loved and then leave them alone…

In other words, don’t overmix them!

As soon as all the flour is incorporated, stop. Just stop. That is all.

Treat them gently, and you too could have a platter that looks like this.

A veritable treasure trove.

A veritable treasure trove.

If you do happen to overmix them, it simply means your muffins won’t rise as much and will be slightly denser in texture.

This is not a tragedy.

This is a reason to try again and see if you can improve your results.

Shall we begin?

Preheat your oven to Moderately Hot.

Start by sifting your Self Raising flour and baking soda together into a large mixing bowl.

Add your brown sugar, but be careful to pack it into your measuring cup first! When you tip it into the mixing bowl it will look like those sand castles you used to make with your bucket at the beach.

This is a brown sugar sandcastle.

This is a brown sugar sandcastle.

Mash it up with your spatula or wooden spoon to get rid of lumps and stir into the flour.

How are you doing so far?

Believe it or not — you’re nearly done!

Melt your butter. This can be done in a small saucepan over a low heat on the stove, or in a microwave.

I use a pyrex jug for mine and zap it at 50% for a minute and then repeat until it’s liquid. Then I stir the buttermilk into the milk.

Mix your butter and buttermilk together.

Mix your butter and buttermilk together.

If you can’t find buttermilk anywhere, then a 50/50 mix of plain yoghurt and milk will also work; alternatively add a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a cup of milk and wait 5 minutes.

Break your egg into your butter mixture and whisk well with a fork.

Then make the ever-necessary well in your flour and pour the liquid into it.

Add the wet to the dry

Add the wet to the dry

Then stir – quickly and gently. Try stirring around the outside and then slicing underneath. It’s hard to describe and I think I may need to post a video at some stage.

In the meantime…just don’t beat the life out of it.

When all the ingredients are just combined. Stop. This is not a cake batter, it will not be smooth and liquid. It will look lumpy – like this.

Stop when it is just mixed together.

Stop when it is just mixed together.

Place some muffin cases into your muffin tray. You could just grease the cups, but the paper cases make eating your snacks a much cleaner experience, means they don’t stick together when stored and also make it easier to pack them for lunches.

If you don’t own a muffin tray (I’ve had mine for nearly 20 years, add it to your list.) then use a flat baking sheet or pizza tray and place double thickness muffin cases on top and close together. You could even do this in a cake tin, if you wished.

Dollop spoonfuls of the mix into the bottom of your muffin cups. Don’t spread or smooth the batter, just leave it as it falls.

Fill the bottom of your muffin cups.

Fill the bottom of your muffin cups.

Now for the fun bit. Deploy your fillings. I used a teaspoonful of dulce de leche per muffin in this example. It’s quite sweet and I thought that would be sufficient. You may use more, of course!

I would use a tablespoon of Lemon Curd for this purpose, but it’s still up to you (and how much you have to hand!)

It helps to fill a coffee cup with boiling water and dip your metal spoon into it before dipping it into your cold filling. The heat will cut through the cold caramel and help it to slip nicely off into the cups. There is no need to dry your spoon between dunkings.

Use a cup of hot water to help spoon out your filling.

Use a cup of hot water to help spoon out your filling.

Now cover your caramel with the rest of the muffin mix.

Hide the treasure.

Hide the treasure.

Pop into your hot oven to bake for 20 mins, while you wash up ;-).

If your oven is not fan-forced, you may wish to rotate the tray at the half-way point to ensure even browning.

When done, test by inserting a toothpick or skewer into the center of the thickest muffin. If it comes out clean of raw batter, it’s cooked. Just remember you may hit caramel or lemon curd too!

Allow to cool in the tray for 10-20 mins and then move to a cake rack to cool completely. Set up a guard if you wish to keep them for lunches during the week to come…

Allow to cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.

Allow to cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Muffins: If you tire of using your Dulce de Leche or Lemon Butter in these, and the budget permits, then try sifting a ¼cup of cocoa in with your flour and using a cup of Nutella to fill with.

You’re welcome.

 

Hidden Treasure Muffins

  • Servings: 12
  • Print

Ingredients:

2½ cups self raising flour

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (Baking Soda)

½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed

125g butter, melted

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup (250 ml) buttermilk

2/3 cup Dulce de Leche or Lemon Curd

Method:

Grease a 12 hole muffin pan, or line with paper cases. (I find this makes transporting them a lot easier.)

Heat your oven to Moderately Hot – 200°C or 400°F.

Sift flour and bicarb into a large bowl.

Add brown sugar and break up any lumps as you stir them together.

In a pyrex measuring jug (for ease) heat your butter in a microwave for 1 minute at 50% power. Repeat until melted. (This step can be done in a small saucepan over low heat if a microwave is not available.)

Add butter milk to jug and whisk together, then add eggs. Mix liquid thoroughly.

Make a well in your flour and pour in all the liquid at once.

Fold together until just mixed. DO NOT BEAT!

Cover the bottom of your muffin cups with a tablespoon or so of the batter.

Place a spoonful or so (it is up to you how generous you wish to be…) of your caramel or lemon curd on to this and then top with the rest of the batter.

Bake on the top shelf of your oven for 20 mins, rotating the tray halfway through.

Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick or skewer through the thickest part of a muffin. If it comes out clean of batter, it’s done.

Leave to cool in the muffin tray for 20 mins or so, before removing to a cake rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container.

Enjoy!