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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Watercress and Eggs

Watercress and eggs are natural partners on the plate and with spring comes lots of fresh watercress and the first eggs from our hens. Vitamins make watercress a super food. A watercress omelette makes a super quick and easy meal.

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Our girls free range in the afternoons and are bantam crossed with larger mixed heritage hens.

Our hen advisor, my sister Kerry, told me to grab free pullets on offer in late summer as a start to our hen apprenticeship. They lay petite eggs – a number 5 size at the supermarket.

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The top brown egg is a normal sized egg amongst my girl’s smaller eggs.

I’ve always been a fan of eggs more than hens but I have to admit I’m rather fond of our girls …except for when they get into my vegetable garden and uproot freshly planted things after that illusive bug.

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Watercress has hollow stems so that it can easily float on water. It’s official name may be nasturtium but it is no relative – although both have a peppery taste.

I’m so lucky to have an abundant supply of watercress Nasturtium officinale  that I can forage to add a mustardy tang to a salad. It’s from the mustard or Brassicaceae family  of plants and is closely related to rocket, garden cress and radishes.

The pungency or the mustard punch of watercress is best complemented by the addition of something sweet like oranges, apple and pear or something creamy or bland like avocado or potato.

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A foraged salad for lunch of watercress, thinly sliced crisp apple, smoked salmon topped with pickled onion weed bulbs and nasturtium seeds and drizzled with Augustines quince dressing.

One of my favourite sandwiches is egg and watercress.

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A toasted egg, wild garlic and watercress sandwich.

This easy watercress omelette is simply delicious.

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Watercress ideally needs to be eaten the same day as picked.  It can only be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days and the best way to keep it is to wash, take off stems and laid on damp kitchen paper inside a plastic bag in the fridge.

The ingredients are 2 of my smaller eggs per person with chopped parsley and 2 tbsp of water per egg, salt and pepper. Grate some cheddar cheese or any cheese of your choice.  20161016_205043

The watercress is washed and I couldn’t resist using some stems of wild onion weed, keeping the flower-heads aside for later….but this is not necessary.

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Cast iron pans are the best for making good omelettes and while you can make one omelette at a time, I find it’s best to make two at once if cooking for two. Melt butter and then divide the egg mix between the two pans.

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Once it starts to bubble push with a fork to assist all the egg to disperse and cook evenly. Once it sets on top pile on the greens and cheese on one half.

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Then run a spatula or fish slice around the outside edge of the omelette lifting and sliding under the omelette to gently flip over to cover the filling.

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Sometimes it won’t look as perfect as this but it will still taste great.  Once you see the cheese melting and the watercress wilting it’s ready to serve.  I used whole stems so it was a little chewy.  If you have the time just strip the leaves from the stems to avoid this. Sprinkle the wild garlic flowers over the top or garnish as you will.

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Watercress is an aquatic or semi aquatic plant so needs plenty of water and can be found near streams or in boggy places.   Be careful when collecting watercress as it will pick up contaminates very easily.  As we do not run animals anywhere near our watercress and the water source has been filtered through natural bush I know our cress is clean and safe to eat raw. If you come across it on land where you don’t know its history or land use, do not collect and eat raw – you could use it if you cook it well first.

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Watercress growing on our valley floor in amongst giant chickweed, buttercup and grass.

Watercress is a very healthy vegetable and gram for gram contains more vitamin C than oranges, four times more beta-carotene and vitamin A than apples, tomatoes and broccoli, more vitamin E than broccoli, more calcium than whole milk and more iron than spinach. It’s this combination and chain reaction of vitamins that makes watercress a super food.
If you cook it then the vitamin C will reduce but the other vitamins will remain.

In the UK a nutritionist did an experiment with women eating a bag of watercress raw a day.  It was the only alteration to their diet and the changes to their skin were noticeable..even wrinkles disappearing.
Read more at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2216852/Eat-way-facelift-Watercress-latest-wonder-food-battle-anti-ageing.html#ixzz4O1W28r3j

I’m not sure I want to consume a bag of watercress daily, but it’s a good food to eat plenty of when in season – spring and autumn. Once it flowers it becomes too strong or bitter to enjoy. Most of the watercress you buy is hydroponically grown and as an aquatic plant is well suited to this method of cultivation.  But for me half the pleasure of watercress is putting on my gumboots and harvesting it myself  from the wet spots in our valleys.

Roasted Cauliflower Salad and Shepherd’s Purse

Mark Twain once said of the cauliflower, “a cabbage with a college education”.   He was right about the cabbage connection because both come from the same vegetable family (Cruciferae) as does broccoli, rocket, brussel sprouts, bok choy, mustard greens, radishes, kale and even the swede.

Today it seems to me that the cauli has been overlooked for its green cousin broccoli.  This could be due to the way cauliflowers were served up to us as kids.  How many of you think of cauliflower cheese when a cauliflower comes in view?   Because it’s not green we somehow think the white curd of cauliflower doesn’t share the same good food properties as broccoli.  How wrong we are!

Roasted cauliflower, red onion and toasted almonds on a bed of rocket

While there are still some cauliflowers about I would like to share with you a winning recipe from “Pipi the cookbook”.   I have served this frequently as a warm salad option to much acclaim as it brings out the true nutty flavour of cauliflower.   It can be served cool but I wouldn’t serve it chilled because it will lose flavour.   It’s a good salad to have when the weather is still not that warm.  The secret is roasting the cauliflower and onions and letting the orange and olive oil dressing soak in while still hot.

Cauliflower and Almond Salad with Orange Dressing

A recipe from Alexandra Tylee of Pipi restaurant in Havelock North with my suggested variations (serves 4)
Preheat oven to 170 C
For the Salad
2 red onion (or white onion) peeled and cut into wedges
1 particularly splendid cauliflower, cut into 2cm wide florets
½ cup toasted almonds
small bunch parley
1 Tbsp red peppercorns (I didn’t have these so I used sliced semi-dried tomatoes) 
For the dressing:
100 ml olive oil
juice of 2 oranges
1 dessertspoon Dijon mustard
½ tsp sugar
Salt and pepper

Heat a large oven tray, oil the onion before placing on the hot oven tray and cook until soft and starting to brown (about 30-40 minutes)
The cauliflower is dressed with oil as per the onions and place on the second half of the hot tray 20 minutes into cooking the onion.  It takes 20 minutes for them to be soft all the way through but not mushy (stir frequently).
While this is cooking prepare the dressing.
Once vegetables are cooked put them into a bowl and pour dressing over immediately
I usually lay a bed of green leaves on a platter and then the salad.  I find rocket a good peppery addition.  The greens will soak in the plentiful dressing. Cover with almonds. parsley and red peppercorns  (or any other colour addition to the dish like calendula petals, or finely sliced red peppers when in season).   I have often replaced the parsley for chervil because of its delicate leaf and aniseed flavour.   
I like to serve this salad on a long glass platter
I made this salad over the weekend for friends and as I could only find one small cauli at the market, I did 50/50 broccoli/cauli and it still worked well.  I cook the cauli a little longer than the broccoli.   You could use all broccoli if you prefer.  I ran out of almonds and used freshly shelled and roasted walnuts instead and it was just as delicious – you could also use hazelnuts. 

If you have a small cauli you need to halve this recipe.  There is plenty of dressing in the recipe and I usually have some leftover to toss through a green salad as well.  Otherwise, the dressing will keep for a week in the fridge.

The Cruciferous Group

Named Cruciferous because of its flowers.   They have four equal-sized petals that form  a crucifix or cross-like shape.   Any of you growing rocket will notice as weather warms they quickly bolt to flower and their white flowers have this distinctive cross shape. (By the way I use the rocket flowers in salads).  But the name “cruciferous” is undergoing change.   Scientists are now starting to favour the term “brassica vegetables” instead, and that makes sense if you are a gardener.

Left Italian Kale flowers, centre Rocket flowers, right wild roadside brassica flowers

This family of vegetables come out on top of the nutrient charts.   Scientists have been studying them for their cancer prevention qualities.   It’s suggested you eat vegetables from this group at least 3 times a week, preferably five times, and have a serving size of a cup and a half.  Like carrots they are better cooked with oil or butter to get the most of the beta-carotene and minerals.

Alison Lambert, the Otago Farmers Market chef, has a really good quick recipe for sauteed cauliflower.  I witnessed her turning around previous haters of cauliflower with this method of cooking.
Simply Cooked Cauliflower – Alison Lambert

If you want to know more about the cauliflower and cruciferous vegetables with research references then I recommend plunging into this site…
WHFoods: Cauliflower

For selecting and storage of cauliflowers

Cauliflower will keep in the refrigerator for a week but it should be stored with the stalk down so that air can circulate and no moisture gets into the curd (head).

Always pick a cauliflower with a white firm curd – not starting to separate.
Cauliflower will keep much longer if it still has its green protection leaves in place.
Cauliflower will turn yellow in alkaline water, to keep white add a little milk or some lemon juice to the water.

The curd or head of the cauliflower will become discoloured and bitter tasting if exposed to too much sunlight.   So once the curd reaches the size of a tennis ball, pull up 3 or 4 of the outer leaves and tie them loosely around the curd – this is called blanching.  It is usually ready to pick within a week or two after blanching.   
Plant them early spring and in late summer.   They require rich soil that retains moisture – and a fortunate run of weather because they will bolt if too cold or too hot and dry.
I have to admit I haven’t had a lot of success with cauliflowers and usually opt to buy them from the market.  They are a bargain when I think how difficult it is to grow them.   I thought this year I would have another try with the 6 purple caulis seedlings I planted a few weeks ago. 

The pouches of the Shepherd’s Purse


Shepherds Purse was the first plant I remember learning about in primary school – I was fascinated by its name and the heart shaped pouches.   
It was named because the fruit resembles the shape of the purses carried by the shepherds of Bethlehem. Through the centuries it has also been called Witches’ Pouches, Poverty Weed, Mother’s Heart, Poor Mans Pharmacy and many more. 
I had no idea that this little “weed” was actually related to the cauliflower until I discovered it on the Cruciferous family list.

You can eat all of this plant – the little seed pouches are peppery and can be added to soups for an added zing and the dried roots have been used as a substitute for ginger – no less! Its used as a food in Japan, China and Korea.   
It’s had a history of use as a medicinal herb and is supposed to stop bleeding. In China it’s used to reduce fertility and is traditionally used in childbirth because of its uterine-contracting properties. 

Usually found on waste or roadside land as a pioneering plant, its a weed that appears on poor or recently disturbed soil.  If it’s growing in abundance in your garden then it’s an indication that your soil needs some help. Rather than pulling it up immediately why not let it do some of the work for you by absorbing excess salts and turning them into organic compounds.   

For more information on this super little weed take a look at this link
Shepherd’s Purse Herbal History

Shepherd’s Purse growing along Portobello Road

Shepherd’s Purse is in its full fruiting glory on the Otago Peninsula.   It’s going to seed just like its cousins rocket and kale – indicating to me that it is warming up here in the south…..a little.