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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Southern Sushi

I don’t know who first called the cheese roll “Southern Sushi” but the title works well because sushi and cheese rolls both take time and care in preparing and rolling.  Describing cheese rolls as “Southern Sushi” also makes locals laugh as they immediately connect with the imagery.   

It’s a hard job finding the perfect cheese roll but my Mum (affectionately known as CV) perfected the cheese roll and any major family event usually included ‘chomping’ cheese rolls.    My sister Kerry has inherited the role of cheese roll maker for Mackay clan gatherings and in turn is teaching our youngest nephew Alex the secret of the perfect cheese roll.

Alex serving some of the toasted cheese rolls (Southern Sushi)

The cheese roll is perfectly suited as a southern comfort food with a buttery crunch outside and a hot cheesy filling that oozes when bitten into.

Kerry has agreed to share the recipe and method with you all.   This time Kerry added grated Mozzarella cheese. Mum would make up to around 500g of grated tasty and a smaller pack of vintage tasty to give extra bite. Kerry has made it easy by buying the pre-grated bags of cheese.

CV’s Cheese Rolls

375 g packet of Vintage tasty grated cheese
Similar packet of grated Mozzarella cheese
1 tin of Carnation evaporated milk
1 packet of Maggi onion soup
Chopped parsley – as much or as little as you like 
Mix together and let sit overnight
2 loaves of sandwich cut bread – ideally, the bread is lightly grained which will roll easily.
Alex with the cheese roll mix watching Kerry do the spread of cheese
Next day cut the left and right sides of bread to assist with rolling.  The cheese mix should be the consistency of porridge – add fresh milk if the mix is too stiff.  Place on an oven tray and butter each slice.  (In winter to make the rolling easier place a roasting dish of boiling water under the tray- this warms and melts the butter into the bread and makes rolling easier).   
Left and right sides of bread trimmed and then buttered

Next turn over the buttered side to face down on tray surface.

Alex turning the buttered bread face down on oven tray

Now, spread the cheese mix onto the centre of bread making sure you leave space around the edges of the bread to allow for spread of mix once melted.
Spreading the cheese mix
The next step is to roll up and store back in bags.   I recorded the action….

(If you cannot view the movie on making cheese rolls, I have included a link to the video on You Tube.)

Cook in a fan oven at 200C turning once to make sure each side browns.

The final turn of the rolls

They take approx 20 minutes to cook.
Kerry made the cheese rolls the day before we ate them and stored them in plastic bags in the fridge overnight. She also made some small packs to leave in the freezer for Alex to enjoy another day.  They do freeze really well and can be cooked from frozen but that will take slightly longer.

Anthropologist, Professor Helen Leach, from Otago University has investigated the cheese roll and it’s place in history.  Helen and her colleague found an amazing 140 cheese roll recipe references in Southern community cookbooks dating from the 1930’s to the 1990’s. I discovered 3 different recipes in a St Peters College, Gore, recipe book from the 1970’s.  

I remember in the 60’s and 70’s every cafe in the South offered cheese rolls.  The original recipe was a pre-cooked cheese filling but the recipe we use is as Helen Leach calls it the “convenience food” recipe  where the cheese mix sits for a day and then spread onto the waiting bread.   This was the recipe I also followed when making hundreds of cheese rolls as a school fundraiser in the 90’s – there are still plenty of  southern parents making cheese rolls as a dependable fundraiser.

What separates the fundraiser cheese rolls from my Mum’s is the quality of cheese and the addition of some grain in the bread.   The real secret is to make sure the rolls are buttered before rolling rather than buttering after cooking.  

The cheese roll is only found in the South Island, and is held with affection by Southerners.   The cheese roll has never migrated north – I wonder why not?