Category Archives: Savoury Baking

Caramelised Onion and Blue Cheese Biscuits

I often begin to write in my head. My thesis, these blog posts, all begin in iterations in my head. Sometimes while I am walking to catch a bus. On a run up the hill. Often just when I am trying to go to sleep. As a rule, I never write these iterations down. I let them fumble about in my head, seep into my unconscious and then, much later, and usually in normal waking hours, I put pen to paper (or hands to keyboard, depending on my mood and energy level) and I write things out. I don’t fight the head-writing process. Even though it keeps me awake for an extra hour, or makes me look like I am talking to myself, I simply work through what is in my head until I am distracted by something on my route or I fall asleep or my mind loses the train of thought and I drift to thinking about other things. Rarely is the written version in anyway related to what was in my head, but the writing in my head helps – it clears my thoughts and focuses the idea. And eventually, it calms the thoughts in my head to a whisper and I can sleep.

_DSC1794

Such is my writing process. Of course sometimes, like today, I write an entire blog post about something and then I put it on the back burner, save it into drafts and let things lie for a while. The same is true of thesis writing. I write things, often with a pen on paper, and then I cross them out, begin again. Write more. Get up, walk around. Go for a run. Make a casserole, or cake. Watch many (many) episodes of Foyle’s War. Start up my computer, because, perhaps, today, I will begin by typing something straight into Word, rather than writing it out by hand. Then I write another paragraph. And then perhaps another. (My worst is when the head writing process has turned out some rather fabulous lines that I know are in my subconscious somewhere, but I just can’t access them. That’s when I think that actually I should be writing everything down.)

I am busy working on finalising a research project and I am fixing the policy chapter of my thesis. Both of these require an endless amount of sitting at a desk, writing and thinking. If my PhD has taught me one thing, it is that I am not good at sitting at a desk. You want me to run around for hours, taking plates of food to people? Sure. You want me to make a wedding cake, a process that takes three days (and a lot of wine)? No problem. You want me to go out and talk to people, ask them questions about their lives? I am totally game. But then you want me to sit down, be still, and coordinate those thoughts into something readable? I am useless. I am also a fantastic procrastinator. So some days I have to simply tell myself, over and over, just another 25 minutes, just another 25 minutes. And slowly, slowly, those minutes build into hours and the process of being still and sitting at the desk turns out to be productive. But my oh my, sometimes it is hard work.

Today has been a day like that. To compensate, I made a late lunch of these caramelised onion and blue cheese biscuits. Deb over at Smitten Kitchen wrote about caramelised onion and gruyere biscuits earlier this week. And the new Delicious magazine has a recipe for a caramelised onion tart with a walnut and parmesan crust (I am still going to make that) so I guess I had caramelised onions on the brain. The recipe is based on my Ngonu’s scone recipe – a savoury version. I made big biscuits which I then ate with crispy bacon and balsamic roasted cherry tomatoes. They’re very good with butter too. I only cooked three (although the recipe made eight) so I’ve frozen the rest, already glazed for later in the month, when I cannot possibly be bothered to cook.

Caramelised Onion and Blue Cheese Biscuits

2 cups plain flour

2 heaped tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

2 tbsp caster sugar

80g cold butter, diced

1 egg broken into a 250ml cup and filled with buttermilk

1/2 cup gorgonzola pieces (you can add up to 3/4 cup of gorgonzola pieces if you want)

3/4 large white onion, finely sliced

Make the caramelised onions first as these need to cool. Heat a heavy bottomed saucepan and add a glug of olive oil. Add in the sliced onions and cook on a low heat until they are a pretty golden brown. This takes about 20 minutes and you need to pay attention so they don’t burn. Once they’re golden, remove them from the pan – put them onto a plate or into a bowl – and set aside to cool.

_DSC1778 _DSC1780 _DSC1786

Put the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a large bowl.

_DSC1783

Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles rough breadcrumbs. Then add in the blue cheese, making sure the pieces are fairly well coated in flour. Add in the cooled onions, coating in the flour too. Mix in the egg/buttermilk. Don’t add it all in at once. You need to reserve some for brushing the tops of the biscuits and the flour may not need all the liquid anyway. So add enough to form a soft, shaggy dough. Don’t overwork the dough. You want to stir it enough that it comes together but then stop. You don’t need to knead it or anything. Just bring everything lightly together. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate for half an hour.

_DSC1787

Preheat the oven to 220C and line a flat tray with baking paper.

Flour your work surface. Turn out the biscuit dough and pat it down, until it is about 1.5cm thick. The dough is super soft and so won’t take well to be rolled out. Just shape it as best you can with your hands. Use a cutter to cut biscuits to your desired size – you can have small or big ones. I made big ones and the mixture makes about 8 large biscuits. Place the biscuits on the baking tray and brush with the leftover egg/buttermilk mixture.

_DSC1789

Bake for 10-15 minutes until risen and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before eating.

_DSC1792

Pear and Blue Cheese Tart

I had a meeting with my supervisor on Monday. It is a strange thing, the supervisor-supervisee relationship. I have not written about it much here but I thought, now that I am nearly at the end (the beginning of the end as it were), I would start to do so. Monday’s meeting got me thinking about the PhD-supervisor relationship and how it changes over the course of a PhD. I am not the person I was three and a bit years ago when this journey began. I have done the research. Read the literature. And now I am busy putting my thoughts (and to a certain extent myself) on display for critique for the first time. I am learning to defend my work. And I am learning to absorb criticism. Monday’s meeting was the first face-to-face discussion following my supervisor’s comments on my draft…

_DSC1733

To a certain extent, every meeting feels like a performance. I embody my PhD-self, competent and informed, ready to answer questions, discuss issues and ultimately defend my work. I regard the relationship as a fairly formal one, as a student seeking advice from a more knowledgeable sage. But our relationship is also fairly informal – after we have discussed my work and progress, we often talk about current affairs in the world of food, education, obesity and health studies. My supervisor often sends me emails with links to articles, posters, tea towels – some are related directly to my work and others are merely for interest. I appreciate the ones for interest as much as the ones for work. We get on quite well, I think, but this meeting was our first one after she had read my thesis, provided very specific feedback (read: tore my thesis apart, chapter by chapter) and I was nervous. What if she had decided I was (what all PhD’s ultimately fear) completely inadequate and not actually suited for academic life? (After I first read through the comments, I had a proper crisis of self that questioned this very thing. Fortunately I then got over that and resigned myself to the long slog towards the finish line. And to be fair, she had warned me not to ‘throw myself over a bridge’ after reading.) But, as she explained, being a ‘mean’ supervisor, and tearing my draft apart is part of the process of a) writing a thesis and b) ultimately becoming an academic. You have to get used to (and build yourself up against) critiques from all sides. And, as we discussed, it is much much much worse if such a thing happens in the viva. So, at some point in our relationship, she had to embody the ‘mean’ supervisor.

_DSC1681

By many accounts, I am lucky. My supervisor has been supportive, championing my data, providing guidance and where necessary, criticism. This is not the case for all PhDs – as has been written about here – and I know of several other PhDs who are regularly reduced to tears by their supervisors. I’m not sure how you cope with the stress of a PhD if you don’t have good supervisory support. It is a strange relationship, but a hugely important one. I’m fairly sure there is a course you can take called ‘Managing Your Supervisor’ – I have not yet had to resort to such help but I think sometimes supervisors do need managing – when you have to remind them that it is your research and that you are the expert. This is not an easy thing to do when they are experts in their own fields (probably a larger part of your own). On Monday, we discussed (and have now agreed via email) a timetable to the completion of all these corrections (three months!) and the overarching arguments and flow of my thesis. Most importantly, I left the supervision feeling re-energised about finishing. I am no longer petrified about the quality of my work. Yes, it needs to be improved, but it seems more like an achievable goal than an insurmountable task, following the meeting.

So I came home and got organised. I wrote out the projected timetable and started to do some reading. I am returning first to Foucault, to fix the chapter that frames the thesis, and then to the policy chapter. So, you will forgive me if I start to talk about healthy subjects, nutrition discourses and how we come to know what is good to eat over the next few weeks. Foucault and I are spending some more time together right away.

And so, to compensate for this return to some thinking work, and because my New Years resolution was to blog every Wednesday, I made this tart! I have labelled it a tart because the filling is partly on top of the egg-custard and partly encased by it so I’m not really sure it is a quiche; to be fair, I’m not really sure I understand the difference between quiches and tarts. Can tarts only be sweet? Quiches savoury? Tart sounds so much more daring than quiche. This tart is daring. It is bold. Creamy. Rich. The harsh blue cheese notes are rounded out by the sweetness of the pears. I made it over Christmas and have not stopped thinking about it since so I thought I would share it with you here. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Foucault is waiting.

Pear and Blue Cheese Tart.

For the pastry (makes enough for two tart cases):

250g plain flour

125g unsalted butter, cold, diced

approximately 100ml cold water

pinch of salt

For the filling:

1/3 cup double cream

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

2 small rocha pears, finely sliced

150g blue cheese (I used a combination of Stilton and Bleu D’Auvergne)

In a large bowl, place the flour, salt and the diced butter. Rub this together with your fingers until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

_DSC1684

Add in the cold water, a little at a time, until you can combine all the flour to form a sticky dough.

_DSC1686

Knead this on a lightly floured work surface until the dough is as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

_DSC1687

Divide the dough in half, shape these into two balls, flatten them, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour. You will only need one ball, so you can freeze the other for later use. While you are waiting, whisk together the double cream, milk and eggs until smooth. Set aside.

Remove the dough from the fridge and lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/2cm thick.

_DSC1704

Line a pie dish, leaving some of the dough to overhang the sides. (Trim excessive overhang like that pictured below.)

_DSC1705

_DSC1706

Refrigerate again for an hour. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line the pastry case with some baking paper and baking beans or rice. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the rice/beans and paper and return to the oven for 5 minutes, until the pastry is dry.

_DSC1724

Crumble the blue cheese onto the pastry case. Then fill the case with the custard mixture. It’ll fill about 3/4 of the way. Arrange the sliced pears atop the filling.

_DSC1731

Bake for approximately 25 minutes. You want the egg custard puffed around the edges of the tart and the middle only just set. It can wobble but should not be liquid. Remove from the oven. Trim the excess pastry overhanging the edge with a sharp knife and allow to cool before slicing and serving with a side salad. (This tart works fantastically well cold too. For a savoury breakfast.)

_DSC1737

Butternut, Bacon and Blue Cheese Quiche

So it seems that even when I remember to photograph the stages of a particular dish, upload these photos, and have a tested recipe, I am still struggling to blog. There is a simple explanation for all this of course – I am thesis writing. Actual thesis writing. For a while, in March and April, I thought I would never write anything ever again. I was immersed in the work of Michel Foucault – the man wrote a ridiculous amount and I’ve had a crash course in the last few months. I began to talk about Foucault like a boyfriend I had to return home to all the time, he came to exist as an invisible entity in my life. It was (is) very weird. (I’ve also resolved that the way to fix this problem is of course, to get a cat and name it Foucault. Because at least then Foucault will be an actual living being, rather than a dead French philosopher I have re-created. It also has to be a cat. I don’t think Foucault works as a name for a dog – it needs to be a being that feels superior.)

_DSC0610

So that is pretty much what I have been doing for the last few months – reading Foucault, talking about him, cursing him, and now, finally, writing about him – or at least, his ideas and concepts. It’s been spectacularly stressful. (Someday soon I will write the thesis analogy post I’ve had in my head. But for that I think we need cake and today I have only quiche.)

_DSC0588

I made this quiche a few weeks ago. (When does quiche become pie? This is something I’ve wondered recently but don’t yet have the answer to and is of course completely irrelevant to this train of thought so let’s move along swiftly.) We’ve been on holiday here and I was cat-sitting for friends. They have an excellent kitchen and I took full advantage whilst I was there. Obviously you can do whatever you want for the filling – I like the combination of butternut (and other yellow/orange vegetables), blue cheese and bacon, but a myriad of things will work. The pastry is what I’m most excited about really. It’s crispy and crunchy. It’s got more presence than plain pastry. It’s also super easy and comes together in minutes.

_DSC0590

Wholemeal Poppyseed Pastry
100g wholemeal spelt flour
150g plain flour
125g unsalted butter, cold
pinch of salt
a few tablespoons ice cold water
1 tbsp poppyseeds

In a bowl combine the two flours and salt. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add in the poppyseeds. Add in the water, a little at a time, until the pastry comes together to form a ball. Flatten this into a disc and refrigerate for at least an hour.

_DSC0598

In the meantime, prep the quiche filling and make the egg mixture.

Egg Mixture
3 eggs
125ml double cream
125ml milk
salt and pepper
Whisk the eggs into the double cream and milk. Add in the salt and pepper. Set aside until needed.

_DSC0605

Roll out the dough until 1/2cm thick. You want it thin but not so thin you can’t roll it up. Line a pie or tart dish – I let the edges overhang in case of shrinking. Refrigerate again for half an hour.

_DSC0601

Preheat the oven to 180C. Blind bake the tart shell. I find it takes 20 minutes with rice/beans in and then another 5 minutes with the rice removed to just completely dry it out. Reduce the oven temperature to 165C. Fill the tart shell with filling of your choice followed by the egg mixture.

_DSC0607

Bake until risen and set – about 30 to 40 minutes. Allow to cool before serving. Eat in large quantities, with salad.

_DSC0608

Sundried Tomato and Feta Quiche

Happy Human Rights Day all! We’ve been having a long weekend over here in the south of Africa. The weather has been supremely miserable with major downpours and general bleak cloudy-ness. Today was slightly better but not great. As a result, I have barely left the house. I’m not a fan of going out in the wet and this weekend just meant I spent a lot of time on the couch, re-reading Twilight. (Yes, I know!) I also did a little baking. Saturday morning the house was filled with the aroma of cinnamon, reminding me strongly of Easter (for which I am preparing by buying loads of easter eggs in advance.) I always bake cinnamon buns at Easter but my sister requested some this weekend and I was only to happy to oblige.

But I am getting off track. I wanted to tell you all about quiche. Quiche used to be extremely unfashionable. It was the kind of thing you were given when you went for tea at great aunt’s with whiskers and the base was soggy and the filling bland. Not any more. I make this quiche as a standard for most Sunday lunches with friends and they will attest its fabulousness. The key is getting the pastry very thin so that it is crispy and rounding off the decadence with cream in the filling. You cannot go wrong. And your friends will love you.

Sundried Tomato and Feta Quiche
Pastry:
250g plain flour
125g cold butter, in cubes
5ml salt
45ml cold water
In a mixer, mix the flour, butter and salt until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Slowly add in the water and allow the dough to come together before turning it out onto a surface and kneading it smooth. Wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 mins.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Roll the pastry out until its thin enough that the surface is showing through – this should be large enough to line a 22cm tart tin with some extra left over for mending. Refrigerate again for 30 mins.
Line the tart with baking paper and fill with rice. Bake for 20 minutes and then remove the baking paper and rice and return the tart to the oven for 5 more minutes. Your tart shell should be golden and dry. If there are any holes, brush the entire shell with egg white.

For the Filling:
125ml double cream
125ml milk
3 eggs
Whisk all the ingredients together, strain and then add in a pinch of salt and pepper.

200g olives
200g sundried tomatoes
150g feta
Roughly chop the olives and tomatoes. Put these into the tart shell and then crumble the feta over. Pour in the filling.
I find it easiest if the tart shell is on a tray that can go directly into the oven so you don’t have to lift it once the filling is in.

Bake at 170C for 25-30 minutes until the tart is golden at the edges and set in the middle. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before serving.