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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Apricot tastings and potato curry

While visiting Auckland to spend time with my grandson Beau, I took the opportunity to promote my son’s preserved apricots by carrying out tastings at the Farro Fresh stores around the city.  Farros is to a foodie what a sweet shop is to a child.

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Each time the Farros staff gave me a hot coffee to enjoy and it’s so true they do support New Zealand’s food artisans.

With so many tempting products to choose from it is essential that Gus has regular tastings to get customers to remember Augustines of Central preserved apricots.

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I was usually lucky being placed by the cheese and deli section of the stores so I could entertain myself thinking of what piece of cheese I would buy once my tasting was over.

I got lots of positive feedback about the fresh and delicious flavour of the apricots.

A tasting lasts for 3 hours so when a spicy aroma drifted over from another area of the store I had to see what was being offered. I discovered a warming curry paste simply cooked up with potatoes and a little tomato.

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There are hotter pastes available but I went for the medium spiced curry paste.

Naaz authentic Indian curry paste came about when one partner was out of work.  This product was born by creating the paste in a friend’s commercial kitchen and selling at a local market as many New Zealand food producers have done. Naaz now offers other pastes and are stocked in a number of North Island stores.  I like that this product has no preservatives and because of once opened it has to be used within 3 weeks. No problem – it’s so delicious and tastes real and I found it easy to use up in  that timeframe.

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The potato harvest I think would be about 25 kg. Plenty of potato curry nights ahead thanks to Gemma who planted them for us.

It takes a lot of time and spices to make such curry pastes and this instant option I decided would be excellent to take home south to create quick and warming meals from the masses of potatoes I had harvested from my garden. It’s always good to have something easy when you first arrive home from a trip away. Going to a supermarket after getting off a plane is no fun when you just want to get home and most of us have one or two potatoes, kumera or a pumpkin in the pantry that could be used as the vegetable base for this curry.

Naaz Potato Curry

(serves 2)

Cut up 3 or 4 potatoes diced into 2cm cubes

1 finely chopped onion (optional)

2-3 Tbsp of Naaz curry paste (to taste)

1-2 chopped tomatoes (use canned when out of season)

1 small can coconut cream or yoghurt

Chopped coriander, mint or parsley

Gently fry onion in a little oil.  I used coconut oil but would have used ghee if I had it. Once transparent, add 2-3 Tbsp of Naaz authentic Indian paste and fry a little to release the oils from the spices before adding the potatoes.

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Stir to cover the potatoes with the paste and then add enough water to just cover potatoes and simmer.  Chop up one or two tomatoes and add to the mix.  The tomatoes thicken up and add flavour to the sauce.

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Just before serving add one of those small tins of coconut cream.  Alternatively add a couple of dollops of yoghurt.

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The coconut cream I let cook for a while, but yoghurt you add at the end of cooking. At this stage with the addition of a creamy taste double check that there is enough curry paste in your dish.

At this stage check to see if you need to add a little more curry paste. If it’s at the right level of spiciness, and the vegetables are cooked then its ready to go.  Serve with Indian flatbread, dosas, or poppadoms. I had none of these options in the pantry but I did have some Lebanese flatbreads that I fried in a cast iron pan with a little oil, both sides and that worked perfectly well.

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Ideally Indian breads would be served with this, but I found flatbreads worked fine.

As a side dish I sauted coloured silver beet or chard from the garden to add colour and another texture to the meal.  I sliced the stems and sauted them first with garlic in a little oil as they take longer to soften, then added wet sliced green tops and cooked until wilted down and soft. The stalks add colour although it is said the plain silver beet white stems are tastier than the coloured ones.

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An easy and delicious curry that tastes authentic.

Peter told me he could eat vegetarian every night if it was like this curry which is very encouraging so I will need to order another jar or two of Naaz curry paste. But it needn’t just be used in a vegetarian curry, it works well with chicken, lamb or fish.

At the Epsom store I met the sister of Wild Wheat baker Andrew and heard how their sourdough loaves take over 48 hours to create from start to finish and do not have additives or preservatives.Their bread was really good and quickly disappeared at our house.

The charming Massimiliano from Il Casaro cheese (Italian for cheese maker) I knew from the Sunday Grey Lynn market. He was tasting a new product line next to my table – truffle cream made from butter cream. I tried his recipe handout for a mushroom pasta made with the truffle cream. It was a delightfully delicious way to taste the exotic flavour of truffle.

The other tasters I met were sampling fermented black garlic, cocoa pops and muesli, and cold pressed organic juices. Look into their stories and like Gus these producers have taken years of trial and error to produce the products that now sit on the Farro Fresh shelves. Often those people serving up the tastings, like me, are family or the producer themselves.

 

 

Almond Pudding Cake for Augustines Apricots

I’ve been experimenting with my favourite pudding cake recipe to showcase Augustines of Central preserved apricots.

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Augustines of Central apricots are stocked in Auckland in the Fine Food section of Auckland’s Smith and Caugheys department store.

Our son Gus is the producer of these perfect preserves and he gave me a challenge recently. Could I find a good cake recipe for his apricots? Gus is an excellent chef but really cakes are not his specialty. He was never the one hovering around the cake mixer as a child.  First up I tried a rustic cake recipe from Nigel Slater that Gus suggested.

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It was good sized cake but I felt the apricots were a little lost in the cakeyness.

So I turned to my often used Almond Pudding Cake recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “River Cottage Everyday”. It’s a light cake with a higher ratio of fruit to cake.

A pudding cake can be served warm as a pudding or dessert with cream, custard or yoghurt, or cut up cold with a tea or coffee.

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The original recipe uses sweet dessert apples that keep their shape. (Cooking apples or tart apples have too much malac acid to keep their shape). I have used pears and they work really well so try some of those sweet Winter Nelis pears featured in my previous post.

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I used OOB organic blueberries from Omaha north of Auckland.

My first experimentation with the Almond Pudding Cake recipe was to use Gus’s suggested combination of blueberries and his apricots. I liked this idea for three reasons. First, using two summer fruits preserved in time, one quick frozen and the other in a preserving jar.  Second, using fruits from two ends of New Zealand – north of Auckland for the blueberries and Central Otago for the apricots. Thirdly, the colour combination is gorgeous.

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I decided to make this cake again to take to our community garden‘s work day shared lunch to get some feedback.

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This time I cut up the apricots to ensure everyone would get some apricot and to make it more like a cake than a pudding.

I got a great response from my fellow gardeners but I felt it didn’t really need the blueberries. The apricots could stand on their own. So too could the blueberries work solo as a feature fruit in this Almond Pudding Cake.

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Apricot and Almond Pudding Cake

This cake recipe is for a 20 cm springform cake tin, but as I only have a 22 cm tin so used that. It still works but the cake doesn’t reach quite the height it would in a 20cm tin. It comes out a little more like a flan which is fine for a dessert.

Grease your tin and line the base with baking paper and preheat the oven to 170°C.

Ingredients:

150g butter softened

125g caster sugar

2 medium eggs

1 tsp almond essence (optional – if you like extra almond flavour – I prefer not to add this)

75g self-raising flour

75g ground almonds (or blanched almonds whizzed in a food processor – and I have used whole almonds ground into a meal as well)

Pinch of salt

For caramelizing of the fruit:

8-9 Augustines of Central apricot halves

25 g butter

1 heaped tbsp of brown sugar

To save time and effort just place the apricots on top without the caramelising as unlike the apples the apricots are already cooked. But I enjoyed the extra sweetness as the apricots are lovely and tart and the caramel does create a rich coloured crust.

If using other fruits than the apricots like the original apples you will need 3-4 apples or pears, or around 1½ cups of frozen berries.

It’s also an option to add a little cinnamon when caramelising the fruit.

Method:

Sift the self raising flour, keeping aside 1 Tbsp of flour and then mix in the ground almond or almond meal. The almond meal is made from whole almonds not blanched ground almonds.

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It’s important to beat really well the butter and sugar until the sugar almost melts. The secret is to just soften the butter so that it will cream or fluff up.  If too melted it will become a sugar slurry.  Many a time I have left the bowl in the oven too long.  You can fix this by quickly taking out the butter and sugar from the hot bowl and throw into the freezer for around 10 minutes and then repeat the beating process.

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It’s much easier to use a cake mixer, but you can opt for a bit of a workout and beat with a wooden spoon.  Add the eggs one at a time.  To prevent curdling add 1 Tbsp of the flour measurement with the second egg.

This creaming process will ensure your cake is light, as will sifting the flour.

The final step is to fold in the dry ingredients.  It’s important you fold rather than stir or beat to keep the mix light and airy.  My little kitchen helper, Beau, filmed me demonstrating this action.

YouTube…click on this link: Beau filming folding flour for cake
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One of the perks helping with baking for Beau is getting the opportunity to lick the mixer.

Spoon the cake evenly into the prepared tin. It’s best to start the caramelising while making the cake to ensure the cake goes into the oven quickly.

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Melt the brown sugar and butter in a heavy pan and let it sizzle to caramelise a little.  Then add your fruit.  I put the apricots cut side down and only for a minute or two. The apples and pears need to partly cook for about 5 minutes. Keep the pan moving so that they don’t stick.

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Now it’s time to place the fruit on top of the cake mix.

The apple and pears I would do as Hugh suggests and slightly dig them into the cake mix so that they are in the middle of the cake.  I prefer to just place the apricots on top.  The cake will rise around them but it’s nicer to see a glimpse of their colour on top of the cake.


Pour over the caramelised juices and bake for around 50 minutes at 170°C.  Be guided by the smell – if you can smell it, the cake is probably getting ready – but to make sure test with a skewer into the centre to see if it comes out clean. Another indication that it’s cooked is when it begins to shrink from the edge of the pan.

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Augustines apricots on the production line.

Preserved apricots contain as much vitamin A, antioxidants and minerals as a fresh apricot  Unripe fruit will only have half the vitamin A compared to a ripe apricot. All of Gus’s apricots are tree ripened so by staying on the tree longer Augustines of Central preserves will have maximum vitamin A content.

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Juicy apricots on top of other stone fruits from Seamans on Basil Road off Meeanee Road, Napier

There is nothing more delicious than a tree ripened apricot and as a fresh fruit it’s a low calorie fruit with loads of nutrients including vitamin C and soluble fibre. But it’s not easy sourcing sweet fresh apricots.  The best apricots in New Zealand come from Central Otago and Hawkes Bay and to get the best, you need to buy from roadside stalls or the excellent Hawkes Bay Farmers Market in Hastings every Sunday or Otago Farmers Market in Dunedin every Saturday morning over the summer.

Not that most of us have to be persuaded to eat an apricot as they are delicious. But it’s interesting that apricots, raw, cooked or dried, are particularly good for improving eyesight especially for those of us with ageing eyes who spend a lot of time in front of screens being exposed to harmful blue light.

I’ve succeeded in my small challenge to find a cake recipe to complement Gus’s preserved apricots. It’s also a recipe that will work with any seasonal fruit.

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Photos of Gus preserving pears by Photo by Mickey Ross of Micimage

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Gus has a much bigger challenge ahead.  He has to source more Central Otago spray free orchards because his 2015 stock has already sold out and more stockists are lining up to stock Augustines of Central in 2016.