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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The Good Oil on Southern Walnuts

 As I step off the plane and take in that first deep breath of chilled, clear, Southern air, I rejoice to be back in Dunedin.  Just down the road, beyond the airport, an enterprising pair have set up a roadside stall selling walnuts. Walnuts, like people from the South, are hardy and thrive in a cooler climate.


Walnuts are close to my heart because they connect me to the South and are a reminder of when my Mum lived in Central Otago with a massive walnut tree on her property.   






Looking rather strange and wrinkly, walnuts are the second most popular nut in the world.  Nuts in general are good for us, but walnuts excel in the health stakes.  They are great for your brain (they look a bit like a human brain).  They help ensure a good night’s sleep and keep your heart healthy.  




Back home in Auckland with my roadside walnuts and a bag of sweet pears from my sister’s orchard, my first thought is to make one of my favourite salads.   



Pear and Walnut Salad

First, roast shelled walnuts  (as many as you like but at least 1/2 a cup) in the oven with a little oil and 1/2 to 1 tsp of ground cumin.  This should take as little as 8 minutes in a moderate oven.

Keep a watchful eye on the walnuts as they easily burn.  Roasting improves their flavour and adds crunchiness to the salad.  


While the nuts are roasting, slice up the pears.  It depends on the pear whether or not you decide to keep the skin on.  Not peeling is the healthiest option.  

This is just one large pear I sliced and if you have a pear that is perhaps a little hard and not soft and juicy like this one, then a good trick is to also roast the pear slices.  Cooking them softens and makes them sweeter.




To avoid the pear browning with exposure to air, I slice them into a bowl and squeeze half a lemon over the fruit.  If roasting your pears, also add a little oil.

The third important ingredient is cheese.  I use blue cheese but I had half a block of feta that needed using and I discovered the sharpness of the feta goes particularly well with the sweet pear and the earthy walnuts.



The pears, walnut and cheese are laid out on a bed of green salad.  I am lucky enough to still have lettuce and some rocket growing but this salad would also work with a base of young spinach.   

Final touch is a drizzle of my favourite oil which is usually avocado oil infused with lime, but any good oil would do.  Walnut oil would be the ideal.   

Since discovering the power of walnuts, I decided to buy a small bottle of walnut oil. The only walnut oil I could readily find came from France.  In Canterbury where walnuts grow very well a company called A Cracker of a Nut has set up a factory making walnut products including walnut oil from nuts they purchase close to home and from all over New Zealand. I will let Professor Geoffrey Savage from Lincoln University convince you on the Health Benefits of Walnuts



The colour of butter – Walnut oil from A Cracker of a Nut

I am keen to track down a local source of The Golden Oil so named because of its wonderful colour. It’s an expensive oil so I would only ever use it for salads, as a dipping oil or to brush over food as a finishing oil.

In our house we have also begun to use the oil for its other external uses.  Walnut oil helps relieve psoriasis, gets rid of wrinkles, massaged into the scalp will relieve flaky scalp and can get rid of fungal infections like athlete’s foot.


The walnut tree in Clyde; Mum on the bike shows the scale.


At my mother’s property in Clyde, Central Otago,  there was a massive walnut tree. It was a constant job collecting and drying walnuts when they turned brown in March or April and dropped from the tree.  For those of you lucky enough to have walnuts growing in your garden there is some good advice on Harvesting Walnuts.

So when the Stonehouse company approached her in the early 80’s to purchase half of the tree’s production while they were still green to produce pickled walnuts, she jumped at the opportunity.  I am sure that tree is still being harvested by Stonehouse pickled walnuts today.

I haven’t tried the Stonehouse walnuts that can be found in most deli food stores around New Zealand because I have been gifted pickled walnuts from two adventurous preserving friends at different times. I still had a large Agee jar of pickled walnuts in our Dunedin pantry when we made the shift north.

The process of preserving walnuts is long and complicated,  so I just couldn’t leave Ken’s jar of walnuts behind. The pickled walnuts migrated north with us.  I opened the jar the other day to try what the English (who first began pickling walnuts) state as a winning combination – Stilton  cheese and pickled walnuts.   





And they are right.  You need the sharp cheese to counter the pickle – together they are a delicious mouthful.  You don’t necessarily need to use Stilton – any strong flavoured blue cheese would do.
Having run out of capers, I suggested to Peter to replace capers for pickled walnuts for his oven baked lamb chops with garlic, thyme and rosemary.   The pickled walnuts worked really well with the flavour of meat so that forgotten jar of pickled walnuts is now having its time out in the sun in our kitchen





It’s not just in savory that walnuts enhance.   I used some of my freshly cracked walnuts for an Oat Pancake breakfast.  First I roasted the nuts in a small skillet on the stove top, and while still hot added a tablespoon of honey.  The honey sizzled and coated the walnuts in a devine sweetness.





The oat pancake recipe you can find on my posting “The Secret to Light and Fluffy Oat Pancakes” October 2013.  I complemented the pancakes with Augustines of Central preserved Vulcan apricots, bacon, yoghurt and the honeyed walnuts.

A perfect start to a lazy Sunday.


It does take time to crack your own walnuts but walnuts keep for longer in their shells.  Once shelled I always keep the jar in the fridge to prolong their lives.  A rancid nut is not good for you and tastes terrible.

My Mum would spend winter nights in front of the fire and television cracking walnuts with this well worn nut cracker.  She wrapped the handles in soft material and covered with parcel tape to make the cracking easier on her hands.  It’s 

now one of my most treasured kitchen gadgets. Every time I use it I think of her ‘good life’ years in Clyde when she tirelessly harvested and cracked walnuts to gift to family and friends. She was not only giving us something delicious but a gift of natural medicine.