Savoury French Toast

Spring is almost here at Fat Weka Farm…but not quite. The daffodils are starting to make an appearance but this flowering cherry taken last year  on 1 October is my true sign of spring.  Perhaps it will flower earlier this year. It’s still holding out with it’s tightly wrapped buds.   In the meantime I won’t be saying goodbye to the nightly warmth and handy cooking space of our wood burner.

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A fire and a dark beer is the perfect matchings for this easy dinner option in winter.

Throughout winter I’ve utilised this radiant warmth to also cook our dinner most nights. One quick favourite has been savoury French toast with a winter slaw.

French toast for breakfast is generally sweet and is a great way to use up sourdough bread.  Sourdough tends to get hard rather than go mouldy.  Sometimes it’s so hard you can work up a sweat just slicing it.  But it magically revives as does any stale bread with the french toast treatment.

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I was lucky enough to be given some duck eggs making a richer custard and a good yellow colour.

Simply mix one egg with half a cup of milk, salt, pepper and about 1 Tbsp of parmesan cheese grated.   If you want a herby punch then add a little sage or thyme. One egg should be enough for four slices of bread and 2-4 people depending on what you choose to add as toppings.  It needs to be thin enough to soak in and coat the bread with the eggy milk liquid.

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I tend to soak the bread in a flat bottomed plate – a pasta dish is ideal. Give it a minute to soak in.

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This bread is a wholemeal from Gilberts and I’ve added some thyme to the egg and milk.

Heat a heavy pan (ideally cast iron) and add a knob of butter or your favourite oil.  Once it begins to sizzle add the soaked bread to the pan.  Cook each side until it browns.

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To assist with the melting of cheese I cover with a pot lid for a few minutes.

Once you have turned over one side you can add a slice of cheese on top.

I like to add slaw on top but you can top with anything you like.  In this case I added some smoked mackerel along with the slaw.

 

20170907_084518 Another option for breakfast is a topping of bacon. When I do this I first begin cooking the bacon and then the french toast in the same pan.

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In summer it’s delicious with tomatoes, basil, black pepper and a drizzle of your favourite oil.  It’s a year round easy breakfast, lunch or dinner depending what you have in the fridge or garden to top it off and an option when the bread is no longer fresh and needs reviving.

A  weekend treat is to have a classic sweet French toast.  Just replace 1 tbsp of parmesan and the salt and pepper for 1 tbsp of caster sugar and either a dash of  vanilla essence or a grinding of nutmeg.  I like to make this sweet version using a raisin bread or sweet bread. Our local bakery Gilbert’s Fine Food’s Date and Walnut sourdough or their delicious and rich Brioche works a treat but when I use a sweet bread like these I just add 1 tsp of sugar.

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Date and Walnut sourdough from Gilbert’s Fine Food bakery, Dunedin.

Top with sliced banana or cooked apple, kefir or yoghurt and a little maple syrup. Our grandson Beau’s favourite is just with maple syrup.  My favourite of course is with my son’s preserved apricots – Augustines of Central.

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Augustines preserved apricots are available at Farro Fresh stores in Auckland, Moore Wilson’s in Wellington, Provisions in Cromwell and Florences in Wanaka. They are tree ripened, spray free and processed by hand in a Central Otago Riesling syrup.

When spring gets here with longer days of daylight, I will want to spend more time outdoors so time saving dishes like this are useful.  One real time saver I have discovered this winter on a trip to Melbourne has been three little hand peelers….more on that next posting.

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Missing Midwinter in Dunedin

Tonight marks Midwinter Solstice, the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere.  In a more temperate Auckland midwinter passes by without too much fuss; but down south, midwinter is celebrated in style. Down south, there is something invigorating about a true winter’s day… and the weather is always the first topic of conversation.

June also marks 6 months since we left Dunedin for Auckland, so it’s timely that I reflect on the things I miss about Dunedin.  Here is a tour of my Dunedin favourites:

Jack Frost on stilts – a great and warm viewing place is up
in Bacchus Wine Bar & Restaurant – excellent food
and a wonderful selection of Central Otago wines
(Dunedin’s first wine bar) Photo: Alan Dove Photography – Facebook  
The Midwinter Carnival held on the Saturday nearest to the shortest day has a  procession with hundreds of lanterns, many made by children, stilt walkers and performers in the city’s centre…if the weather permits!

 Lighted Lanterns are a feature of the Midwinter Carnival in the Octagon,
St Paul’s Cathedral in the background.  Photo: courtesy of Dunedin Tourism


It will be no surprise that my tour of Dunedin city is focused on food.  My choices have been influenced by my interest in the Victorian and Edwardian architecture of the city. 

Left Wedgewood tiles adorn the interior of the Railway Station;
centre; First Church  and right; Robbie Burns with St Pauls Cathedral in the Octagon.
Photos courtesy of Tourism Dunedin

Scotia Bar and Bistro

In a city that looks, sounds (busking bagpipers) and feels like Scotland (a wee bit chilly) it’s most fitting that there is a restaurant called Scotia Bar and Bistro.
Victorian Terrace Houses built for the country landlords as
town houses.  Photo courtesy of Tourism Dunedin

I like the ambience and cosy feel as well as the good food. Enter this Victorian terrace house and you come to a bar with a wall of whisky and a warming fire.  You can choose to have a pre-dinner drink beside the warm fire.   The food by chef Andy Aitken has a touch of Scotland in the menu choice.  You can choose Haggis as an entree, which is surprisingly tasty and I had the best cooked Bluff oysters there.  Smaller, cheaper meals are on offer, which are ideal before going just up the road to the The Fortune – Otago and Southlands Professional Theatre.


Taste Nature – Organic shop and kitchen

Taste Nature or as known in Dunedin as The Organic Shop is situated in lower High Street opposite the Southern Cross Hotel.   Taste Nature ticks three boxes for me –
First it’s got a large range of organically grown fruit and vegies, organic meats and a large selection of flours, grains, oils, dried goods, garden seeds, herbal products and spices.  I must say it’s one of the best organic supply shops around.

I suggest going down to the back of the shop where large glass jars contain different dried fruits and find the crystallised ginger short sticks from the US, fill a small bag and enjoy the sugar coated punch of ginger.  I haven’t found that ginger anywhere else.    Ginger is great eaten with dark chocolate and almonds…yum.
Photos from Taste Nature
Second, the kitchen that used to only do takeaway lunches now has seating so you can choose to have your lunch on site.   I love the casual atmosphere here, where you help yourself to a warming soup from a slow cooker for around $6 and another $1 for a thick slice of fresh baked bread, and pay later at the shop counter.
 The soup is made from ingredients from the shop and Mark the owner’s garden at Waitati.  It’s great soup, the best value in town with probably the best food values as well – and believe me soups are very desirable midwinter in Dunedin.

Thirdly, the building has a wonderful history dating back to the 1800’s when Dunedin was a boom town. You can still see along the top of the building Bing Harris.  They were importers of the materials that supplied the many clothing manufacturers in the city. The new property developers have used old features really well, preserving the integrity of the old city for modern use.

Around the corner on Princes Street another lovely old building houses Nectar Espresso Cafe where you can get an excellent coffee.  It’s fitted out in a modern style, with the good bones of the old building very much in evidence (and their pinwheel scones are yum but you have to be there before 11 because they usually sell out fast).

Hair Raiser Tours & City Walks

You always remember a city by the characters you meet.   Both Athol Parks of City Walks and Andrew Smith of Hair Raiser Ghost Tours certainly fit that bill.   Athol has a quiet manner and conveys insights into Dunedin’s Victorian and Edwardian architecture with passion and knowledge.  Athol is usually dressed for the Dunedin climate in a weather proof jacket while the flamboyant Andrew wears a top hat and cape for his ghost stories and yarns about the mysterious characters of early Dunedin. 
Athol left and Andrew right; here they are celebrating the life of
a famous Dunedin walker Joe Scott with a walking race around
the Octagon during the Rugby World Cup 2011.
Andrew’s Hair Raising tours operate every day and the ghost tour every night over winter at 6pm -a good way to work up an appetite before dinner.  Athol’s tours run only by request over the winter but keep him in mind if you are in Dunedin from October on.

Everyday Gourmet

Everything I have ever eaten at Everyday Gourmet has been delicious.  The Supreme coffee is excellent and the service friendly.  Having been in business for 18 years it is a Dunedin institution.  Longevity in a cafe speaks of consistency and quality.   For under $10 you can get a tasty and seasonal salad and coffee. 

It is also a fabulous ‘deli’. I have met many small producers at Farmer’s markets and when asked if they have an outlet in Dunedin often the reply would be, “Yes, Everyday Gourmet sells our product”.
Tempting edibles under those glass domes, and a wall that
runs the entire length of the shop is loaded with gourmet products
from  New Zealand and overseas.
 Everyday Gourmet can be found at the north end of George Street near Knox Church…its worth the walk.

Quadrant Gallery in The Quarter, Moray Place

Quadrant Gallery features contemporary jewellery, some made by owner David McLeod as well as stunning glass sculptures and ceramics.  I love the whimsical work of potter Peter Henderson.     I particularly like his coffee cups with animals.  The glaze is top quality and can take a beating in the dishwasher for years.  I worked in Quadrant for a short time and thought I had landed in paradise amongst so many lovely pieces of jewellery.  
A couple of examples of Peter Henderson’s bowls
 The building where Quadrant is situated,  Bracken Court,  is owned by Ted Daniels. Ted an accomplished jeweller himself and loves buildings with character. When a recent fire destroyed this building, instead of pulling it down and replacing it with a modern one, he kept the stone facade and made a sympathetically designed modern building behind.  Next door to Quadrant is Cilantro Cafe where you can enjoy a coffee and admire lovely objects through the internal glass walls.
Quadrant is just one of many galleries and interesting shops in this ‘quarter’ of the old city.

Otago Farmers Market at the Railway Station

The farmers market has been operating for 12 years and is a regular Saturday morning routine for Dunedin foodies.  It’s not only fresh produce on sale, its an opportunity to talk to producers directly, try new things and catch up with friends.

To find the Farmers Market you only have to spot the Railway
Station at the end of Stuart Street – the market is at the north end
of the station (left of picture) Photo: Tourism Dunedin

The highlight of my visit is catching up with Alison Lambert in the mobile kitchen.   Alison demonstrates easy ways of cooking with produce on sale at the market.  She is inspirational in the way she can produce something delicious out of a caravan with just a gas hob and small oven, sometimes in a southerly gale.  This means every recipe she makes is simple and anyone can make her recipes.  

You can watch Alison cook and have tastings every Saturday morning at the
market and if you are quick enough, grab a printed recipe sheet.  Its not only the recipes – its all the handy
tips that are so helpful.   Photo courtesy of Otago Farmers Market

From Otago Farmers Market Recipes I have chosen one especially for my brother Jamie whom I introduced  Cavolo Nero recently.  It is also known as Italian Kale or Black Cabbage. Jamie loves silverbeet and grows lots of it, but after tasting Cavolo Nero, the silverbeet may end up in the back row of his garden.

Like growing cabbage you need to give Cavolo Nero
plenty to eat and it will reward you with greens all winter

Caldo Verde – Portuguese Soup – a recipe from Alison Lambert

Alison’s Caldo Verde uses a combination of greens including cabbage. To get a richer green colour and flavour, add some Cavolo Nero or silverbeet.  Remember, the darker the green, the better for you.

Serves 4

Ingredients
2 fat onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
60ml olive oil
1 chorizo sausage or chilli salami (basecamp)
6 large potatoes
1.5 litres good vegetable or chicken stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 bay leaves
large bunch of greens or cabbage

Method
Gently fry the onions and garlic in the olive oil until softened and translucent.
Chop the chorizo or chilli salami into small chunks and add to the pan with the onion.
Fry the onions and sausage for a few more minutes and then add the diced potatoes. They will absorb all the flavour from the sausage.
Add the stock, seasoning and bay leaves, and cook until the potatoes are soft.
Meanwhile, very finely chop the cabbage
When the potatoes are ready, mash them into the broth to make a thick base, add the greens/ cabbage to the simmering broth.
Add as much cabbage as the broth will support – if you want heavy soup add loads of greens, if lighter, add less.
Simmer for a few minutes. The soup will go the colour of jade.
Serve drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
………….

You can buy some great sausages at the market to go into this perfect soup for a midwinter’s weekend.  

So Dunedin, here’s wishing you a clear fine evening for the Midwinter Carnival – wish I was there.

… oh and I haven’t forgotten the Otago Peninsula.  I think that needs a posting all to itself. Next posting I will be mixing it with penguins and seals and having tea at a castle.  


Carrots – eat lots of them!

There is nothing quite like pulling a carrot straight from the garden, running it under the tap and eating the crunchy sweetness straight away.      But is it healthier to eat a carrot raw or cooked?  

I was surprised at the answer.  Carrots are more nutritious when cooked.   
A European study has revealed that 3% of the total beta-carotene content is released from raw carrots when consumed in raw pieces, juiced or pulped 21%, and cooking the carrot the accessibility was up to 27%. Addition of oil to the cooked pulp further increased the released amount to 39%.   It’s to do with the ability of our digestive system to extract the beta-carotene from the tough cellular walls of the raw carrot. (Reference: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2002)   
That childhood favourite of bubble and squeak (parsnip and carrot mash) is the healthiest of all if you add olive oil.
Don’t stop eating them raw – you do benefit from the vitamin C in carrots that is lost in cooking.   
The last of my autumn planted orange and purple carrots – their  “hairy legs”  show their age but they still taste sweet when cooked in the oven

This is good news for me because I love carrots cooked in the oven and Farmers Market chef Alison Lambert gave me an excellent way of cooking them.   I have a request for that recipe to go with the gremolata topping I gave in the parsley posting.  

Caramelised Carrots with Gremolata (lemon and parsley topping)

(serves 4)
2 Tbsp oil 
50g butter
600 g carrots (if small keep whole or cut in half lengthwise) *
(or a mix of carrots and parsnips)
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, squashed lightly but kept unpeeled
Preheat the oven to 180C.  
Place your roasting dish into the oven to heat up so that when you add the carrots they immediately roast and colour up.
Put carrots, thyme, and garlic into bowl with oil, butter and season.  Toss and combine so that the carrots are coated in oil.
Toss into a preheated roasting tray and give it a light shake, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes
Remove foil and continue to roast for a further 20 minutes or until tender and golden.
Toss  through or sprinkle on top the gremolata and serve immediately – you need to do this last minute so that when the vegetables are placed on the table they have that fresh fragrance of the parsley and lemon zest.  
You can also mix in some mint with the parsley which would work really well for some vegetables, e.g courgettes and asparagus.
Use this method of mixing the oil or dressing through and then tossing onto a preheated tray for all your vegetable roasting adventures and experiment with other herbs e.g. marjoram, rosemary
 * Good to know:   Carrots cooked without being sliced have one quarter more of the anti-cancer compound falcarinol than those that are chopped up first.  So limit the cutting up as much as you can until after they are cooked.   I saw on a television programme that it doesn’t take any longer to cook a carrot whole than to cook it sliced.   

Purple carrots are not just a trendy addition to your carrot options.   They tend to have greater quantities of anti-oxidants and vitamins than the orange variety.   
The more intense the colour, the higher beta-carotene content the vegetable or fruit has and this includes greens like kale, silverbeet and broccoli.   I have purchased six orange cauliflowers called Cheddar Cheese so I imagine these contain beta-carotene.
My family used to joke that my son Francis was raised on raw carrots like a rabbit.  He was my only fussy eater but he would eat raw carrots.   Perhaps Francis knew a thing or two because carrots are so good for you.   Carrots help your eyesight, hair and nails,  regulate blood sugar, lower blood pressure, improve your ability to fight infection, assist in fighting liver and heart disease and for breast feeding mothers can enhance the quality of breast milk – so why wouldn’t you eat lots of them!    

But there is a warning that you can overdose on vitamin A especially if you are consuming lots of carrot juice.   People have turned up in doctors surgeries looking quite orange with vitamin A poisoning.

My favourite juice combination is carrot, apple and ginger and is a great tonic to take if you are fighting infection or feel your body is under stress – and it tastes so good!

Jamie Oliver first introduced me to baking carrots and I often do carrots this way or mix with some other vegetables.  He uses thyme but I often use marjoram – you can use either or try tarragon as it’s delicious with carrots.


Baked Carrots with Cumin, Marjoram and Chardonnay
(serves 4)
450g preferably whole new carrots scrubbed
1/2 tsp ground cumin* (you can add a little more as to your taste but cumin can easily dominate)
About 1 Tbsp of fresh marjoram or oregano or a couple of sprigs of thyme
Olive oil or I really like Avocado oil with lime for this – or you can use butter
1 glass chardonnay (or any leftover white wine and just as much as you have leftover)
Seasoning with salt and pepper

Jamie Oliver does this all in a large piece of foil.   I tend to use a covered casserole dish.  He mixes everything together on the foil (like I did in the bowl in the previous recipe), brings the sides up and then add the wine and scrunch the foil together to seal.

He cooks this for 45 minutes at 220C or longer for older bigger carrots.  I tend to cook them for 50 minutes at 180C fanbake in the casserole dish.   But it can fit in with whatever else is in the oven temperature wise – just the cooking time will vary.

I often cook potatoes and other vegetables this same way with some squashed garlic to make a one pot vegie meal for the two of us.    New potatoes are especially delicious.

The foil method is handy to use if you haven’t got much room in your oven as it can be shaped to fit, or if you are somewhere where there are not enough oven dishes.  It’s great to present for an outside meal as it looks rustic and casually thrown together…which is it.

* Its important that your ground spices are fresh so that the oils and fragrance remain.   You don’t need to buy ground cumin you just need cumin seeds.   Put them into a small heavy pan on the stove top and toast until you can smell the fragrance – it will only take about ten seconds.  Now put the seeds into a spice grinder (a coffee grinder you keep for the purpose) or grind with a mortar and pestle.  Now smell the difference between the ground cumin you buy and the one you have prepared.

Carrot tops contain vitamin K but the carrot itself doesnt

I didnt know you could eat carrot tops.   I won’t will be eating my aged carrot tops for vitamin K but I will try some baby carrot tops when they arrive.   I need to plant some carrots soon so that I can enjoy lots of carrots over the summer.    I do prefer to get my vitamin K from parsley (see my previous post on parsley).

Parsley – a super food not simply a garnish

The humble parsley – who would guess it’s actually a super food rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre.    Yet how many times do you see it looking sadly discarded on a plate at a restaurant?

Curly Leaf parsley – not quite as strong a flavour as Italian flat leaf for cooking



To grow parsley at the start can be tricky but once its established you will always have it.   It doesnt like being transferred as it has a root system like a carrot, but I have had better luck if the seedlings are really little. One plant will usually last for two seasons.    I let parsley run to seed and in my garden wherever it lands it stays.   It seems to thrive in partial shade but it also grows in the sunny sites.


Gremolata 

My son, Gus the chef, let me into this secret of creating a fresh bouquet for dishes that have been slowly cooked, especially casseroles.   It’s really easy and so effective.

Finely chop parsley, half a clove of garlic and zest from a lemon and add last minute to your dish so that the aroma is still there when you take it to the table.   Now that’s a garnish!





I was reminded again of  Gremolata last night when I  attended chef Alison Lambert’s 3 hour cooking class celebrating spring.   Alison introduced us to this topping as a final garnish/flavouring for her oven roasted carrots.   

Alison gave us a wonderful night’s entertainment talking about living and working in Europe for 10 years, giving us handy hints that I will pass onto you (promise) and a gorgeous two course meal featuring a Greek lamb dish with pasta…yum! (might make that for the next family gathering).   Alison is the Dunedin Farmers’ Market chef and like me she stands by herbs stating that they can change dishes from ordinary to something extraordinary.    

I am sure, like me, you will now have new respect for the humble herb parsley. 

Parsley is said to assist in treating PMT, menopause and easing cramps. Eating parsley everyday is claimed to reduce blood pressure.  It’s probably the richest herb source of Vitamin K and is loaded with vitamins A, C and B that strengthens the body’s immune system, stimulates digestion of protein and fat.   It is a diuretic that helps to rid the body of sodium and a good source of folic acid as well as iron. Chlorophyll found in parsley is a good cure to stop and avoid bad breath – that’s why it is recommended that you eat it after consuming garlic.