Monday, March 29, 2010

Melbourne zoo, the bloggers and the PR company - I give you Kitkatgate

You’re most likely here because you like food. I like to eat, I like to cook and on the surface those are rather innocuous activities. Way back when, I did my first degree in political science. It didn’t necessarily qualify me to do much except become a public servant or be highly opinionated. While I flirted only briefly with the former, the later has become my life work.

No pretty recipes here today, so only hang in for the ride if you want to chew on a few thoughts about how bloggers are becoming unwitting players in an extraordinary act of greenwashing. Or skip down til you get to the pictures of cute, cuddly animals.

To say I’m rather conflicted about the whole getting a freebie because I’m a blogger thing, is putting it mildly. I have new admiration for those who write in this genre and have decided to totally resist the lure of the public relations sirens. I thought I could navigate my way through the odd event that took my fancy by making it clear I was under no obligation to blog about it. But when we are used as naïve pawns, it gets very difficult to participate.

It seemed innocuous enough, an invite to attend a green event at the zoo. I like and am happy to support Zoos Victoria, they are a great organization, backed by hardworking, committed staff and amazing volunteers. I haven’t a bad word to say about them (though a petty grumble that I wish the entrance fee was cheaper).

Despite the wonderful reptile wrangler (a great guy who deserves a medal) who toyed with my phobia of snakes, the cute meerkats, the good music, I was thrown for six before the tour and festivities even begun.

It began and ended with the goodie bag. A small swag of things I’d never buy, nor had any desire to use, though on second thoughts the itty-bitty bottle of water came in handy, likewise the rain poncho. Buried at the bottom was a family sized block of a confectionery bar that’s been in the news of late.

Here’s were the problem began.

Was it total naivety, sneakily cross-promoting a possible client or out and out greenwashing to add the confectionery bar that’s been in the news for the company’s use of palm oil, leading to one of the worst social media/PR fails in recent years? While the white chocolate version of the famous finger-like sugary junk food, apparently does not contain palm oil, some of the chocolate versions do but more importantly the product and the brand has so recently been linked with the clearing of habitat of orang-utans for palm oil crops, threatening the survival of the species.

The clincher is the Melbourne Zoo is actively involved in the don’t palm us off campaign, putting their weight behind a political campaign to raise awareness about the palm oil issue.

Everywhere you go through the zoo you see these huge banners supporting the campaign.

However the person I spoke to from the PR agency, who I immediately returned the offending item to, looked at me blankly. Perhaps she'd never been inside the zoo (this occurred at the assembly point at the gate), looked at the Zoos Victoria website or been in a media bubble all week. I explained considering the whole N*stle, Greenpeace video, palm oil issue I could not accept it.

First thing this morning I called the communications manager for the zoo. She was, to put it mildly, horrified that the confectionery was promoted as part of the event. This was the first she knew of it and promised to get back to me later in the day when she had taken the matter further. I repeat, Zoos Victoria were as big a patsies as bloggers in the whole kitkatgate scandal. Don't take it out on the zoo, just encourage them to make more ethical PR partnerships in future.

Food bloggers by nature are not political. It takes time and energy to get riled up about the issues behind the news. But if we (along with Zoos Victoria) play along with these manipulations without questioning the strategy, quite frankly we deserve the lack of respect we get from the traditional media.

Update 30.3.10:Apology and disclaimer from the company "It was a major oversight on our part, and we unreservedly apologise for any offense that it has caused to any person attending. However, please be assured that in no way was this an attempt to influence or greenwash. It was an honest mistake." You can read the comment in full.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

simple food - harissa prawn recipe

No need for a DNA test, I am definitely my father’s daughter. Bob is often heard to lament, “You can’t get decent prawns in New Zealand”. So, as the daughter in exile here in the land of “throw another shrimp on the barbie”, I do my best to eat his quota of our favourite crustacean.

While it’s easy to gorge on prawns, a mere half dozen per person is easy on the budget to add a little bit of special-ness to a meal. Though with medium-sized prawns being sold locally for a mere 40-50 cents a pop, a larger serve can still be much cheaper than a fillet of fish or a steak. Or even a block of organic tofu, come to think of it.

With an abundance of hot red chillies growing in the garden (do you want some?), every few weeks I’m making a batch of harissa paste to throw into a tagine or just spice up some vegetables. I have always been a sucker for sizzling plates of old-fashioned garlic and chilli prawns served in Spanish restaurants, so going the whole spice route hog and rubbing them with harissa made total sense to me.

Harissa prawns

1 tsp of stripped back harissa paste for every 6-8 prawns*

Rub paste on the prawns and refrigerate for about an hour.

Heat vegetable oil (olive, raw sesame etc) in a heavy based fry pan and cook prawns a couple of minutes. Drain on a paper towel. As this doesn’t take long, cook in batches so not to overcrowd the pan.

The prawns are simple and stunning. The cumin in my latest batch of harissa is quite coarsely ground, imparting a tantalizingly nutty flavour. They can be served hot or cold, though it is very difficult to not scoff the lot en route from pan to plate.

Serving suggestions

A platter of harissa prawns goes well with a selection of salads. The nuttiness compliments brown rice, toasted almonds, green beans and white bean salads in particular. Or try a simple potato and green salad combination .

Substitute harissa prawns for tempeh in a cross-cultural version of my meat-free nasi lemak.

As canapés, for finger food with a kick.

* Here’s my version of harissa again
6 medium hot red chilies
6 plump cloves of garlic
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds

Toast the seeds in a pan, swirling all the time so they don’t burn. After a couple of minutes the aroma will tell you they are cooking nicely. Keep swirling until the coriander seeds begin to brown. Remove immediately from the pan (residual heat = burnt seeds) and grind with a mortar and pestle.

Chop the chilies into quarters (if you really don’t like the heat, deseed or use less chilies) and process with the garlic, a touch of salt and a drizzle of oil. Throw in the pounded roasted seeds and whiz until you have a nice paste. The consistency I aimed for was runny enough to process easily but a paste rather than a slurry. I used raw sesame oil not necessarily out of authenticity, just because we’ve got a surplus of it at the moment.

The raw paste had a kick but a nice rounded flavour from the other herbs as well. Given that I have a heavy hand when it comes to heat, this quantity of paste would be enough for a meal of about 6 people with good tolerance, or two meals of 4 for those who like things a little milder.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Australian food bloggers conference - how and why I blog about food (part 2)

Why do we blog about food? Aren’t we are all mad, passionat,e food obsessed beings, or is that just me? Some go into blogging with strategies and hopes of book deals or income streams, while others may see it as a way of diversifying their career. I can only talk about why and how I fell into writing about food. Here’s my story so far.

If not for fame and fortune – why blog about food?

In 2004 I got the blogging bug and spent hours venting my over-politicized spleen about the injustices of the world. Not many people read them, so for light relief I’d post about food occasionally. If site meters are anything to go by, it’s abundantly clear that those trawling the net are more interested in reading a hastily put together post about gyoza, than the result of half a day agonizing about the inhumanity of extraordinary rendition.

I created an ill thought out side blog about food (unintentionally offending a few of my potential readers), grabbed a name from the top of my head, used another Blogger template and with it came the identity from my other blog bearing little relevance to food. Five years on it is still the case.

I believe blogs have a life of their own, most evolve in their own direction no matter how we shape them. What has risen to the surface in these years as The Food Nazi is a cook’s journal. As an instinctive home cook, I find it near impossible to follow a recipe to the letter. This blog is the place I record the adaptations (just how many variations on the wonderful banana-based muffins can I make?) and use the site as an online cookbook.

But more than that, this recipe repository has something an offline one can never have – feedback. Blogs like this with open comments create an environment where thoughts can be shared and some discussions can help recipes evolve. For example, this summer when I got addicted to lemon cordial, Cindy’s comment suggesting a magic ingredient turned good homemade lemonade into great lemonade.

Community, on and off line, is a bit like the twist in the recipe. Having a blog has spawned unexpected friendships and delightful experiences. Far from the archetypal spotty computer geek tapping away on his computer alone, the world of food blogging frequently crosses over into real world happenings, perhaps more so than other genres because food after all is inherently social and nurturing.

When not writing recipes, I like to discuss thoughts on cooking, blogging and eating. To talk with others online about anything from food politics (how vegetarians and coeliacs are treated in the food industry), to cooking for invalids, frugal eating and take away coffee. I've loved every one of these interactions with blog writers and readers.

While my vegetarian gyoza recipe may have attracted my all time greatest number of hits, writing about food blogging ethics draws some of the strongest responses from within our world. When my name went onto the speakers list for Eat.Drink.Blog I got a number of emails asking if I could cover this topic at the conference.

Some thoughts on food blogging ethics

Keep in mind these are just my thoughts, not a code of ethics, rather what makes sense to me. Feel free to tell me yours.


Who owns a recipe? According to some upsets in the food blogging realm in recent years, the general consensus is that while a list of ingredients cannot be copyrighted, ownership of the method can be.

Personally, I choose to only blog my own recipes and not transcribe other people’s. I can see why an author or magazine publisher may get uppity if they find their work splashed about the internet for free. It’s one thing to copy a recipe word for word or snip it from a magazine for a physical recipe book but putting it out on public domain is another thing altogether.

The same respect applies to other bloggers. I’ll post my adaptations but link to their original recipe and pay my dues.


I blame Ruth Reichl for my growing unease about blogging restaurant reviews. I fell in love with her memoir Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, recounting her years as food critic for the New York Times. The lengths she went to dressing up in different disguises to check out a restaurant at least three times before writing a review puts our local food journalists to shame. But what about bloggers? We don’t carry anywhere near the weight of reviews in print media? I’ve flirted with reviewing, I read blog reviews of those who share a similar palate but at the end of the day, I doubt that I can do it fairly (even more so as my dietary choices often mean I can eat only a small selection of the menu). But more than that, when I eat out – I want to connect with my dinning companions, enjoy the food, the company and not be side tracked by taking sneaky shots of the food.

I do like to post food highlights from trips overseas, having gleaned the best places for my budget and food preferences from the internet and guidebooks. Not the least, so I can actually remember the name of the place when people ask me a year later. And it’s exciting to know that sometimes these holiday food rants encourage other bloggers travel itineraries too!

Perhaps all my ambivalence about reviewing crystallized in an unexpected phone call I received last year. When you blog anonymously, being outed in your real life is an uncomfortable collision. Though I think I did a fair and honest job musing about why a local eatery wasn't attracting many customers, I got rather annoyed about a string of comments on the post, all made by unknown male personas who’ve never appeared in our local food blogging community before or since. In the same tone they uniformly told me they loved the place and there was something wrong with me if I didn’t. Rather like the bloke (co-owner and chef of said restaurant) when he outed me at work and got all shouty. When your review is the only one of two to appear anywhere for a newish eatery, people read it. If the tone has any traces of negativity the owners won’t like it and potentially it can impact on their business.

I’d suggest if you do review – be fair, own your criticisms and if possible base it on more than one visit.

Then there is the issue of restaurant photography – do we ask before shooting, does the chef have the right to ask us to remove them if our lack of photographic skills make the dish look like shit? I really don’t know the answer to those questions. Sometimes I think that the low lighting in so many restaurants is a deliberate ploy to make us keep our cameras in our bags!

Would you like some sponsorship with that?

Oh the lure of getting something for “nothing”!

I’ve blogged about how we’ve been targeted by those lovely folk in Public Relations before. Some PR people get what blogging is about and know just how to tempt (or manipulate) us but most don’t. Why does someone think I will be wildly excited, even flattered, to write a post about beer, cheese or even cooking classes that I can’t attend in another state or even country?

Personally, product placement can’t be bought on my blog. Every now and then an offer comes my way to go to a food show or the likes that I’d normally consider attending, just as similar invites come my way for industry related events in my day job. I will take up the offer only on the understanding there is no expectation to mention the event on the blog.

I know some food bloggers have another approach, some even actively ask for goodies to display on their blog. I think there’s room for greater analysis of what occurs within the transaction, whose getting the better deal I wonder? Some events and products get amazing, free promotion for a non-cash reward. In a similar vein, when we write for free or give away our photos to a commercial website for a mere link or a mention – we are helping them make money and exploit those who write for a living.

So, how and why do you blog about food?

Taking a closer look at my backdrop for the talk - about every point was covered by a speaker at the conference. The biggest question of them all being "who still uses blogger?".

It was a privilege to be a panelist at the inaugural Australian Food Bloggers Conference. With little or no prior knowledge it was wonderful how my fellow presenters on the How and Why We Blog panel dovetailed into each other. I loved Zoe’s ode to community and writing (and heartfelt wish that her beer brewing partner would find an outlet like blogging to express his passion) and Reem’s delightful tale of starting a blog as a single woman.

See my post on top ten tips for food blogging for the first installment of my talk.

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Monday, March 22, 2010 - Australian food bloggers conference

It was an honour to be the first cab off the rank yesterday at the inaugural Australian Food Bloggers Conference. Many of us mentioned a wonderful bonus from blogging is being a member of an awesome community and the day (and night!) certainly validated that.

I’ll update other parts of my discussion later – but first the bit I skipped over due to lack of time.

The Amateur Gourmet posted Ten Rules for Food Blogging last month. It’s been a great talking point, including a discussion over at Lisa Dempster. Here’s my version:

The Food Nazi's food blogging top 10 tips

1. Focus on what you are passionate about? What type of a food worshipper are you – cooking, preserves, baking, eating out, in search of the best coffee, working your way through a massive cookbook collection or are you the leftovers queen? You tend to write best about what you are most passionate about.

2. Take photos, preferably without a flash. But in reality, I think a post without a photo is better than every post with a very bad photo! Resist uploading lots of fullsize, downloading-guzzling photographs.
At Eat.Drink.Blog there were many varying opions on this

3. Most blogs have a life of their own. Unless they are an over-engineered, PR-strategised assignment – blogs tend to evolve in directions that we don’t always anticipate. Just go with the flow, you can always rename or subtitle your blog later.

4. Read other food blogs, comment when a post inspires you. But resist blanket commenting on every blog just for the sake of it. One well thought comment or hearty support is better than 5 mediocre, nothing comments. Show that you’ve actually thought about what the blogger is saying/doing.

5. Update frequently – yes. And while three times a week is a good aim, quality tends to win over quantity. Three mundane posts about an average cup of coffee you drank in a café last week is more likely to cause a drop off in readers, than one well thought through post a week.

6. If you are busy, do a short post updating your readers with what’s going on and when you expect to get back on schedule. Share a little about your life but if your post is about food rather than parenting – a full update on the ins and outs of your family/dog/cat/job etc will probably turn off more readers than the few it snares.

7. Ask for help or feedback when appropriate. Don’t be afraid to post disasters, they tend to pull people out of the woodwork to comment. We can’t be perfect all the time and blogging about it is a great way to learn.

8. If you are new to blogging and want more readers get involved in blog events and even offer to host one if you have the time. (Is my blog burning? is a good source).

9. Get help with the nitty gritty of blogging when you need it. Food Blog S’cool have great advice on food pron photography through to dealing with spam.

10. Have fun. If blogging is your hobby not your job – to hell with the rules!

What are you're thoughts?

PS: Great to put faces to so many names. Hopefully we'll all put up information from our talks at the conference website, though it might take a little time for a few heads to clear first! Thanks to the wonderful organiser - Ed, Reem, April and Mellie who did a stellar job, Mistress Tammi who moderated the panels and kept us in line, The Essential Ingredient for providing a great venue, Daylesford & Hepburn Springs Mineral Water for keeping us hydrated, Der Raum for supplying the hangovers amazing herbal coctails (chamomile infused vermouth with dry ice - wow!) and the fantastic crew at St Ali who fed and watered us. Special thanks to the chef for providing so many enticing meat-free alternative courses.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

coming soon...

Loving all your thoughts in relation to talking at the conference tomorrow about how and why we blog.

If you've got more to say on the subject, this is your last chance to add to the discussion. Go for it!

PS: made the most fantastically easy dish this week - green prawns rubbed with homemade harissa, left to marinate an hour and then pan fried. Simple and absolutely stunning.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

thinking about how and why we blog about food

The inaugural Australian Food and Drink Bloggers Conference is happening this Sunday. I've been musing quietly to myself on the journey from initial rumbles two or three years ago, about having our own event in conjunction with the annual food and wine festival, to what is happening this weekend.

The good news is it's a fully (yet ethically!) sponsored event so we can sit and chat, be fed and watered at zero cost but the downside is it's a bit like Willy Wonka's golden ticket - places are limited and every seat has been duly balloted and alloted. Unfortunately it's not going to be a forum for inexperienced or want-to-be bloggers, so I wonder just where I'll take my contribution to the panel on How and Why We Blog.

I can only talk from my perspective, blogging for the last five years or so. But I wonder if you are coming (or not and want me to report back here about what I covered) are there any burning questions you wish answered or explored under the scope of the session.

Looking back on some of my high (and low) points of blogging as I have done today, for me it's the interaction with readers and other bloggers through the comments that make blogging worth it. I love the feisty discussions on ethics, as much as the joys of having a reader share their tweaks to the recipes I've posted.

Blogging about food is ultimately a highly sociable forum. Please fell welcome to join in.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010


What you need comes to you

I tripped off to the new(ish) Fitzroy market on Saturday before Armageddon hit. It reminded me of Glebe market when I first went there twenty-something years ago. Smaller. But Has Promise.

The rent from the stalls at the market goes to Fitzroy School’s Kitchen Garden project. That’s reason enough to support it.

A couple of days before I’d made a batch of marinated olives. Carbon dating the original recipe*, I scribbled it down and first made them in the mid ‘80s. It’s a simple concoction – a few herbs, good Kalamata olives, a decent olive oil. I’d assembled the marinade bar one vital ingredient – a couple of bay leaves. Too bad I thought, I'm sure it will be ok without it. And forgot about it.

At the Fitzroy market my eyes fell upon a big tub of laurel branches, a generous stallholder giving them away. Take two they urged. No one’s enough there’s so many leaves on the branch. A nice chat, then off home with the lush foliage peeking out of my bag.

The missing bay leaves, fresh and vibrant, now added to the marinated olives.

Follow your instincts

Before I skipped out the door in the last of the sunlight, I’d put the tagine in the laundry tub to soak. The terracotta pot, when not used every day, needs a bit of a dip, time to dry and then a rub with oil to season it before cooking.

At lunchtime I whipped up a simple vegetable tagine with a big dob of harissa from my freshly harvested chillies, threw in some left over green olives and gently put it in a cold oven. The plan was to cook it all afternoon on very low (about 125C) and forget about it til dinner.

With the sun still high in the sky but feeling a little lazy after my morning wander, I drove rather than walked the kilometre or so up the road and submitted myself to a much needed massage.

Relaxed and a little dazed I stumbled out onto the darkened street and wondered where I was. Had I been transported to a winter’s afternoon in London? Not even 3 and the sky was so dark, every car had its lights on. Coming back to my senses, I was full of foreboding and started driving home. In the short trip the sky opened and pelted me with hail. It was a storm on monolithic proportions.

Safely inside, the house was infused with the aroma of the slow cooking tagine, locals tweeted amazing images of impromptu rivers running down city streets, hail stones the size of lemons and general chaos.

It was quite a storm.

And quite a tagine!

veggie tagine ready for a long slow cook: eggplant, pumpkin, leeks, fennel, green olives, parsnip, homegrown cherry tomatoes and harissa


I don’t need a calendar to know when autumn has arrived. Nor look for fallen leaves to crunch under my feet. Autumn officially begins the morning I awake craving porridge (oatmeal) and when I get the urge to make a big pot of soup.

Today is the day. Goodbye summer. Farewell asparagus. See you later berries. Bring on the pumpkin!

Porridge for breakfast (with crushed nuts and maple syrup) and a pot of autumn vegetables and bean soup cooking on the stove.

I'm ready!

*Marinated olives

The original recipe
(Source unknown)
2 c Kalamata olives
1 c olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 dried red chillies, crushed
2 bay leaves

Mix ingredients in a bowl then transfer to a sterilized jar. Marinate for 1 week, stirring occaisionally. Use the marinade for salad dressings etc or reuse.

My version
In a clean jar combine fresh chillies, black pepper corns, bay leaves and lots of garlic with the best quality olives and olive oil you can find. Keep out of direct light, at room temperature and try to resist eating them for at least a week. Shake the jar daily.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Eat.Drink.Blog and Exhibit

Just on the off chance you are one of the few Australasian food bloggers who don't know - on March 21st the inaugural Eat.Drink.Blog underground conference will be held in Melbourne. It will be small and sweet this time, attendance is free but the catch is seats are limited and you need to register your interest now to get one of the 45 seats.

Oh and I've been asked to be on a panel talking about how and why we blog!

A side event with the conference is an exhibition open to all Australian and New Zealand food bloggers. The rules are simple (the main one being it must be your own work and has appeared in your blog in '09/'10) but be quick the deadline is soon - Midnight Sunday March 7 2010.

The Guidelines and small print.

1. Submissions are open to Australian and New Zealand food and drink blogs only.

2. Try and limit your submissions to half a dozen or less.

3. Each picture will be framed and the entrant will received the framed copy. At some point we will need to get hold of a high resolution copy of the pic for printing.

4. The pictures should be original works from 2009/2010, have been blogged and the copyright owned by the entrant.

5. In return for SBS Food’s support, I’ve said they can include each of the pictures in the exhibition in an online slideshow which will include a blogger profile on the SBS Food website. By entering you will be agreeing to this.

6. That’s about it. All entrants will be invited to the cocktail launch.

7. A judge cannot vote on their own work but we’d love them all to enter.

8. That’s all.

To enter - submit your photos (maxium 6) to the Eat.Drink.Blog.2010 Flickr group by Sunday night. A panel of judges (all food bloggers) will select entries to be exhibited and framed courtesy of SBS.

For more information check out the conference site.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

baked eggs

It’s time for lunch
It’s after two
What on earth am I going to do?

Baked eggs are not the best “I need to eat now” kind of food. But boy do they ever hit just the right spot.

I’ve been playing with this recipe for a while. It is simple, flexible and once you understand the basics, the combinations are endless.

Although it’s not dairy-free due to the luscious inclusion of butter, olive oil is an ok substitute as my recipe contains no cream or cheese. If you have a good feel for flavour combining, just use your imagine. If you're after some ideas, pick an ingredient, grab Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook's Companion and consult the notes on what it goes well with. She’ll guide you through the right companions.

I’ve been given a lot of sage lately and checked with Stephanie as to what non-meaty things it goes with. Leeks! Butter! Eggs! Oh yes…baked eggs with leeks and sage here I come…but first some basics.

Baked egg basics

• This is such a flexible recipe – just as easy for one as it is for six.
• Use two eggs per person (unless you are very hungry).
• Choose an ovenproof dish that will snugly hold the number of eggs you want to cook. They want to nestle next to each other.
• Use an even smaller dish if you are doing plain eggs, just butter the dish, dot the eggs with butter and sprinkle with salt, pepper and herbs if desired.
• If using a base e.g. chilli beans or a thick tomato sauce, create a well with the back of a spoon for the eggs to sit in separately.
• Cook in a bain maire, an oven dish filled with water to go half way up the dish you are baking the eggs in – the eggs seem softer and fluffier when cooked this way.
• Eggs like to be cooked low and slow. Be patient.
• Remember to pre-heat the oven to 180c (175c fan-forced).
• Cooking times vary depending on how you like your yolks. 10 minutes is very runny, 15 in between, 20 softly set (ideal for pregnant women and those with a compromised immune system).

Baked eggs with leeks and sage
(Serves 1)

1/2 –1 leek, sliced about 2-3 cm wide
4-6 fresh sage leaves
2 organic eggs
“Greek fasting fetta” (dairy-free cheese) – about 1 tablespoon, crumbled
Salt and pepper.

Melt some butter in a small frying pan. Use olive oil if you’d prefer it or half and half oil and butter. Cook the leeks on low, covered with a lid for 5-10 minutes til soft.

Grease your ovenproof dish. Spread the cooked leeks in an even layer in the bottom of the dish. Rip up a couple of sage leaves and scatter over the leeks. Carefully break your eggs one at a time and place on top. Now sprinkle on the crumbled fetta, more sage and salt and pepper if desired.

Cook at 180c for 15-20 minutes.

Fresh out of the oven. I like my eggs just set

Baked eggs also go well with arepas.

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