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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A warming Frittata made in the Hayden skillet

A frittata is an easy one pan comfort meal where the ingredients can usually be found in your fridge, your garden, and if you are lucky, from your henhouse.

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I used to get confused between a frittata and a tortilla.  What is the difference?  Well, not a lot.  They both originate in Europe with the Tortilla from Spain and the Frittata from Italy.  Both feature eggs and potato.

James Potato Tortilla from Nigel Slater's "EAT"
James Potato Tortilla from Nigel Slater’s “EAT”

The Spanish tortilla is really a potato pancake made mainly from finely cubed or grated raw potato with 1-2 eggs. Like a pancake its flipped to brown both sides.

The Italian frittata uses a lot more eggs and usually contains cooked potatoes, but can have alternative vegetables.  Like the tortilla it is cooked on the stovetop but is finished off under the grill in the oven.

In July I was staying with my sister Kerry in Dunedin and had planned a visit to the wonderful Otago Farmers Market to gather some local treats for our dinner. Saturday morning arrived with a storm.  We took one look at the weather and decided to forgo the market and stay put by the fire.

I declared I could make something delicious from the stores available in the kitchen and garden. Kerry has hens so where there are eggs there’s a meal in the house.

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Kerry’s hens lay eggs with beautiful coloured eggshells from duck egg blue to khaki.

Both tortilla and frittata produce the best results in a heavy weight pan, preferably cast iron.  Kerry is the proud caretaker of the Hayden skillet.  Peter’s mother from Napier gifted us the skillet and she may not have realised that the skillet was returning back home to the south.  I’ve discovered it was made in the Booth MacDonald foundry in Christchurch.

My son Gus is a chef and appreciates cast iron or heavy steel pans and has appointed Kerry and I to hunt out and buy any good cookware on our excursions to Dunedin’s opportunity and second hand shops. One of our favourite stops is the Hospice Op shop in the old part of the city (block behind Mojo coffee on Princes Street).  I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw another Hayden skillet that I would get for Gus.

The skillet has the name Boothmac on the handle.  This foundry made grenade housing used i for World War 2.
The Hayden skillet bears the name Boothmac – Booth MacDonald foundry also made grenade bodies for use in World War II.  But Boothmac is probably most famous for manufacturing farm water pumps and no doubt some are still pumping water around farms in NZ.

Fritatta

This is not so much a recipe as some guidelines, as you can use whatever ingredients you have on hand and the number of eggs will depend on the size of the finished frittata. Its an easy throw together recipe and quick to make, especially if you have cooked potatoes on hand.

As you need cooked potatoes, you can do this earlier in the day or ideally preparing for a previous night’s meal you boil an extra few for the frittata. I tend to use at least half a dozen medium potatoes.  Potatoes give the recipe that comfort food feeling but you could replace the potatoes with kumara or pumpkin.   I have also seen recipes where you use broad beans. Again the number of potatoes and added vegetables will depend on the size of the frittata.

Next I sauté the other vegetables that will give the frittata more flavour.   Gently sauté one chopped onion until translucent. Add either chopped celery or as I had available from Kerry’s garden a fennel bulb thinly sliced.

Use whatever you have available.  Bulb fennel is a delicious addition but celery is also good.
Use whatever you have available. Bulb fennel is a delicious addition but celery is also good.

Next finely chop and squash 1-2 cloves of garlic and add to the pan.  This dish is perfectly delicious vegetarian but I do like to finely chop a rash of bacon if I have some, or as we had in Kerry’s fridge a cooked chorizo sausage.  I also like to add a little lemon zest or you could use a touch of preserved lemon just to add that fresh citrus flavour.

Now your Frittata is ready for the eggs.
Now your Frittata is ready for the eggs.

Either add potato and move the sautéed vegetables around or if you like it more organised, put the sautéd vegetables into a dish and sprinkle over layers of placed potato slices.   Make sure you have a slurp of oil in the bottom of the pan so that it doesn’t stick too much.  At this point you could also add other vegetables you have on hand like cauliflower or broccoli. If you are adding beet or spinach you will need wilt and cut up before adding.

The egg is now added to act as a binder for the vegetables.
The egg is now added to act as a binder for the vegetables.

Whisk 5-8 eggs depending what you have available and what size your pan is.  Kerry’s hens were still off the lay so the most I could use were 4 eggs.  Season the egg with salt and pepper and if you only have 4 or 5 eggs then you could add a little water (like an omelette just 1-2 tbsp of water per egg). You can also use milk but I like to think of this dish more as a omelette than a quiche. Gently pour the eggs to fill in the gaps and cook gently on the stove top until the egg is nearly set.

When the egg has started to set but there is still some liquid on top, that is when you add cheese and herbs and place under the grill.
When the egg has started to set but there is still some liquid on top, that is when you add cheese and herbs and place under the grill.

Meanwhile heat up the grill of your oven, grate on some cheese and chopped herbs and put under the grill for about 5 minutes or until fully set and a golden crust. Keep on eye on the oven at this stage because you can quickly burn the top under the grill.

When Frittata is set and golden on top it's ready to serve.
When Frittata is set and golden on top it’s ready to serve.

 The frittata was a simpler meal than it would have been had we gone to the market but it was just perfect for the weather.

 The burner warmed our plates and kept the frittata hot until we were ready to eat.
The burner warmed our plates and kept the frittata hot until we were ready to eat in front of the fire.

Being an inside day I took the opportunity to learn about Instagram from Kerry.   Instagram is a mobile phone app that allows me to share images.  You can find me on Instagram on @Jeannieskitchen.  I have also taken up the 100 Days Project Challenge where each day for 100 days I  enter an image and a possible future blog subject.  I have called it Food Triggers and you can find me on 100 Days Project – Jeannie.

Eat …Nigel Slater’s little book of fast food

“Cooking should, surely, be a light hearted, spirited affair, alive with invention, experimentation, appetite and a sense of adventure.”  Nigel Slater 

I like to think of the English chefs Nigel Slater and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall as my “cooking boyfriends”.  They are often with me in the kitchen whether it be following a recipe from one of Hugh’s River Cottage cookbooks or an inspirational idea from one of  Nigel’s columns on The Guardian website.

Left Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at River Cottage and Right Nigel Slater
in his London garden

Both Nigel and Hugh give me great recipes but best of all I like the way they write about food.

Looking at the photos above I realise they do look alike.  They are alike in that they each encourage home cooking using fresh and often home grown produce.

They are different because Hugh lives a country life at River Cottage farm and has actively participated in campaigns to improve the tragic lives of egg laying hens and the chickens who never get to leave a cage, protested at the dumping of fish in the sea and the price of milk in the UK (sounds familiar!).

Whereas Nigel appeals to those of us living in an urban landscape.  How encouraging it is to see the range of vegetables and fruit he can produce in his compact back garden in London.

Nigel’s descriptive writing style clearly conveys his passion for food and its infectious. He makes me laugh, especially in his book “Eating for England”.


“A beautiful, mysterious thing when seen on the stalk in a foggy field in January, the Brussels sprout has a fairytale look to it…  A pity then that the vegetable shares so many of its attributes with a fart… “

I haven’t until now owned a Nigel Slater book. “Eat” was an impulse purchase, sight unseen, simply based on the reviews.  From the moment I opened the package I knew I had a different sort of cookbook in my possession.  It’s the size of a novel, with a stunningly simple black title printed onto a rich pumpkin fabric cover.

Who says you can’t judge a book by it’s cover!   Open “Eat” and you are rewarded with clean, modern design and layout that allows you to easily and quickly read the recipes.

Nigel tells me the book I have in my hand is,
“A little book of straightforward, contemporary recipes, quick or particularly easy to get to the table.  A collection of recipes that are fast, simple and, I hope, fun. ” 

The book is divided into 10 chapters with dishes grouped together based on the method of cooking.

In the hand
In a bowl
In the frying pan
On the grill
On the hob
Little stews
In the oven
Under a crust
In a wok
On a plate

And ends with a chapter simply called Puddings.

Each chapter has an intro in a large font, followed by a list of his favourite
dishes for that style of cooking.

Nigel himself best describes the layout,

“The form of the recipes is new.  Written in the style of an extended tweet, they are no dogged ‘1-2-3’ sets of instructions.  The ingredients lists are next to a picture of the finished dish, both at the top of the method so you can see, at a glance what you will need and then, in more detail, within the method”

 The first recipe I tried from “Eat” was rather rich but simply delicious.

 I would normally steer away from this amount of butter and cream…but I was curious and the tag line he puts at the bottom of the recipe intrigued me. “Soft, white, supremely citrus fish”

To give you an idea of how the recipes are presented I copied the recipe just as it is laid out in “Eat”.

We enjoyed this creamy fish dish with the new potatoes
gathered from our community garden.  You can follow our
gardening exploits on my other blog Sanctuary Garden Diary

Cod with Lemon, Tarragon and Creme Fraiche

cod, lemons, tarragon, creme fraiche, capers, bay, butter, black peppercorns
Put 350g cod fillet, cut from the thick end of the fish, into a large shallow pan with the juice of 2 lemons and 40g butter.  Chop half a small bunch of tarragon and add to the pan with a bay leaf and 6 black peppercorns.  Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for about 10 minutes, till the fish is opaque.  Remove the fish with a fish slice and keep warm.
Chop the rest of the bunch of tarragon and add it to the pan with a teaspoon of capers and  3 tablespoons of creme fraiche. The creme fraiche will turn a little grainywhere it meets the lemon juice.  
No matter.  Coarsely flake the fish and spoon the sauce over it.
   For 2: Soft, white, supremely citrus fish.
The butter contributes to the rich flavour of the sauce
This dish would be really good with southern blue cod but as it’s not a locally available fish in Auckland I chose Tarakihi,  NZ Seafood’s Fish of the Month: January 
The lemon juice and the herb Tarragon is the secret to the success of this dish.  And true to his word it takes only a few minutes to make.

French Tarragon

The not so well known herb French Tarragon gave the dish a subtle hint of aniseed.  I made this recipe in early December when my tarragon was starting to take off.  It was a great way to show how a little tarragon adds to the flavours of fish, lemon and cream. 
This tarragon I took with us from Dunedin in a small pot and it has thankfully
continued to grow in a pot.  Use the younger new leaves to avoid any bitterness.
French Tarragon is a delicate herb to grow.  It hides underground all winter and in early spring small green shoots appear and is ready to harvest early summer.  Tomatoes , eggs, chicken and fish all benefit from the addition of tarragon but it is most commonly used to flavour vinegar and mustards.  Tarragon hates wet feet and enjoys a sandy soil. It requires good drainage so I have had the most success growing it in a pot where I can control the conditions.

The taller growing Russian hasn’t the flavour of  French Tarragon.  To test whether you have the right nationality of tarragon simply bite a leaf and keep to the front of your tongue.  A true French Tarragon will numb the tip of your tongue.

I will leave the last word on tarragon to the boys:

“The crowning glory, the whole point of this herb, is as the principal flavour in sauce Béarnaise, the unctuous, egg-yolk rich emollient for steak. (Even though it’s the chips I really make it for.) … But it is with chicken that tarragon reigns supreme. The leaves, especially larger ones, will stand up to the cooking time and gently impart their aniseed notes to the sauce. ”  Nigel Slater


“With its aniseedy, liquoricey punch, its slight pepperiness and its hints of pine, tarragon is not something to use with a heavy hand, but in the right quantities and the right company, it can be sublime.”  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall


One great feature of “Eat” is what Nigel calls “little extras”,
“Opposite many of the recipes are ideas that have bounced off them, a scattering of notes, suggestions and narrative recipes that might also interest you”.

After returning home rather late from work I was hungry and wanted something fast.  I tried one of his suggested off-shoot ideas, A salsa scramble from the featured recipe Spiced Scrambled Eggs. 

A salsa scramble

Sizzle a finely chopped tomato, a little finely chopped chilli and some chopped spring onion in a little butter, then stir in half a chopped avocado, a squeeze of lime juice and a little coriander.  Use half as the base of the scramble, adding the eggs to it once it is hot.  Serve the other half as a salsa on the side.
We grew this wonderful tomato and its companions basil, tarragon and
spring onion.
This meal took 10 minutes at the most to make.  I started by collecting what ingredients I had to match Nigel’s recipe.  Darn only one egg left and the scrambled egg recipe used 5 eggs.  The recipe was made for two though so I knew one egg would work to create a slightly different version of the salsa scramble.   Half an avocado and half a green chilli, although not shown in the photo, I also used.
I didn’t have any coriander on hand but have heaps of basil and as tarragon goes well with egg I added a little of that as well.
Another change to Nigel’s recipe was to use lime infused olive oil instead of butter as I love olive oil and felt that would better suit the salsa.
As it is cooked very quickly you need to do all the cutting up before you start cooking.  
Only just cook the tomatoes and other vegetables before dividing the salsa into two as you want the salsa portion to be like a salsa, not a sauce.
Drop the egg or eggs into the pot and stir immediately.   Now I knew that this would taste delicious but mix red tomato with yellow egg and the resulting the peach colour looked like something regurgitated.  With more eggs it would look better… but I had a plan.   In another pot I quickly cooked a few summer beans as the colour green does wonders.
Nigel suggests using the remaining salsa as a side.  I decided to top my hot scramble with the lovely red and green salsa.  My resulting dish was more of a scrambled soup because I only used one egg but it didn’t matter…it was truly delicious.  I could taste the basil and tarragon, then get a hit of chilli and enjoy the texture of the avocado.  Tomato and egg is a heavenly combination anyway, and it was created in ten minutes!    
Nigel has created this book to reflect the times – we are often time poor.  How easy it is to grab something ready prepared from a takeaway but Nigel is right when he says,

“Making yourself and others something good to eat can be so little trouble and so much pleasure.  And much more satisfying than coming home to a meal in a box”.

Thank you Nigel for all the good fast food meals I will make from your little book “EAT”.