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I often reminisce as to the joys of my Granny’s pea soup with fried bread.

I used to love walking into the house on a cold, bleak day to the smell of gammon bubbling in its cauldron of yellow split peas.  If truth be told, when done well, pea soup is probably one of my favourite dishes of all time.

I remember we’d dry our rain-wet hair and crowd around the dining table.  Snuggled round a small, circular table, elbows touching, necks down plunging spoons into the golden, lava-hot, gloopy, yellow split pea soup we’d share our morning’s routines.

 The delicious chunks of gammon having imparted their flavour and savouriness to the mixture, which falling apart added great flavour and substance to the dish.  Scooping ham and soup on slices of fried bread is what made this soup a meal.

My Granny would shallow fry a slice of white bread per person – crusts and all – and then slice it on the diagonal.   This, dipped into the thick pea soup was utter heaven to me.

I love yellow split pea and ham soup so much, that my shock at once being given green pea and ham soup by my great aunt was an unfortunate disappointment; flavoursome though it was!  But my all time favourite pea soup tale was when I was a vegetarian (now that I’ve told you I may have to kill you!) and I’d returned from university and my Granny had made my favourite dish and assured me that she hadn’t added the ham but you could see the pink gammon flecks throughout the entire bowl!  I think she then tried to offer me a cheese sandwich with a very thin slice of ham…

Admittedly, my Granny was right; there is no point in having pea soup without the gammon.  It’s the gammon that imparts a full on rounded flavour and seasons the soup with great depth.  Sometimes, pieces of the gammon flake off in the cooking and get blitzed into the soup adding to the savoury baconness!

A different kind of meal to be had at this time of year where everything is either a turkey dinner or Christmas table leftovers.

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At this time of year I always like to make a glazed ham (as many of you do too).  As always, I buy a large piece to ensure there are leftovers but there’s only so many cold-cuts with chutneys to be had.   With the rain pouring down outside, I want something warm and comforting instead of cold-cuts, so why not add your already cooked ham to a pot of bubbling yellow split peas to make glorious pea soup with its volcanic ferocity warming you through these cold and dark nights.

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Yellow split pea soup is so easy to recreate you can cook the gammon in the soup itself or add cooked ham pieces to the final soup.  Either way – this is a delicious thick soup that like a hot water bottle warms and comforts you.  Fried bread takes this to another level but pan fried croutons or the healthier oven variety convert this into a satisfying main course.

I keep this really simple:

Ingredients:

1 cup of split peas, 1 medium onion, slice of pumpkin to add colour and sweetness and a stock cube.  Uncooked gammon or leftover boiled ham to taste.

4323177072-IMG-4600Method:

1st: Cut the onion and pumpkin into pieces and fry in some oil until the onion becomes soft.
2nd: Add the split peas and crumble in the stock cube. Stir well and add the gammon/boiled ham.
3rd: Top up with enough water to cover the gammon – at least 3 times more water to split peas.  Boil for 35mins or until the gammon is cooked.  Season to taste.
4th: Remove any large chunks of gammon and blitz the soup.  Flake any gammon pieces and add them to individual bowls.
5th: Fry slices of plastic white bread in hot oil.  Slice on the diagonal and serve up.

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If I could only use one herb or spice for the rest of my life, seasoning aside, I would have to (pun intended) stick with cinnamon.

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Spice prized for both flavour and medicinal properties; the brown coloured, woody spice is evocatively aromatic with warming sweet and savoury notes at the same time.

Ancient Romans used cinnamon to make their bitter wine palatable and Ancient Greeks used cinnamon to season meat and vegetable dishes.  The Arabic world used it to flavour tea and now include it in most sweet and savoury dishes.  The rest of the world add it to baked goods and continue to sprinkle it over sweet treats and desserts.

Cinnamon is high in antioxidants and contains anti-inflammatory properties; it helps protect cognitive function, the heart and fight diabetes.  Regular cinnamon use, such as sprinkled over your morning porridge, can help lower your glycemic load and even help you to lose weight.

In cooking, the sweet-spicy flavour and warmth of cinnamon enhances the taste of fruits and vegetables, is a perfect partner for chocolate and no apple pie would be worth eating without cinnamon.

When baking with cinnamon, the entire house smells comforting and feels safe, warm and homely.

As the temperature drops and autumn makes itself known to us it’s this feeling of comfort and warmth that I’m trying to evoke through my food but I’m not ready for hot custard over fruit crumbles sprinkled with cinnamon nor hearty stews infused with cinnamon stick; something sweet to accompany a morning coffee sounds just right and there is nothing better than a cinnamon roll in the morning (or at any other time of day!)

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Proper cinnamon rolls can be cumbersome to make as you need to make an enriched dough, allow time to prove etc. as can be seen above but they are seriously good to eat.  However, there are a couple of cheats that make this easy to do for breakfast without even having changed out of your PJ’s.

Cheat Cinnamon Rolls

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Ingredients:
1 Pack of Puff Pastry
Melted butter
Brown Sugar
Cinnamon powder
Icing Sugar and water for the glaze

Method:
1st: Spread the melted butter over the unrolled puff pastry
2nd:  Sprinkle over the brown sugar and cinnamon powder.
3rd: Roll the pastry back up and cut into slices.
Place in a preheated oven at 200˚C for 10-14mins or until puffed and golden.
4th: Allow to cool on a wire rack and once cool prepare your glaze.  Drizzle over your cinnamon rolls.

Vietnamese cuisine is one of the most varied on the planet.  From the Chinese and Khmer dynasties, Indian empire and Japanese occupation but in particular, the French colonial rulers.  Vietnam is a delicious mix of the food of its colonial visitors and native techniques and flavours.  War, climate and immigration tell the tale of Vietnamese cuisine.  

Vietnamese cuisine is incredibly light and fresh; herby-fresh: lemongrass, mint, coriander and Thai basil frequently mixed through dishes.  Fish sauce is used liberally but is never as pungent as the Thai variety (nam pla) and vegetables such as carrot, cabbage or green papaya are chopped into crunchy batons adding colour and texture to a dish.

People sat curbside on plastic stools enjoying a bowl of pho or congee before dealing with the rest of their day; the smell of food wafting through side streets and intoxicating the senses.   Food is pivotal to Vietnamese lifestyle and can be found on every street corner.  The food served in local cafes and restaurants just as good as the street-food served by women carrying a yoke around the town or balancing baskets on hips.

All dishes are created with the Asian principle of the five elements creating harmony. The principle of yin and yang providing balance that is beneficial to the body: wood (sour), fire (bitter), earth (sweet), metal (spicy), water (salty).

So having just got back from my travels in Vietnam I couldn’t wait to get back in the kitchen and try and recreate some delicious Vietnamese dishes with these principles in mind.

Here is my version of a Vietnamese Chicken Salad with noodles using the ingredients I had in the fridge at the time.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad (Gŏi Gá).

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Ingredients:
For the dressing:
Limes
Palm sugar
Fish Sauce
Garlic
Hot Water
Chilli (to taste)

For the salad:
Carrot
Cabbage (White or Asian)
Red Pepper
Sugar snap peas
Rice Noodles (vermicelli)
Cooked chicken breast
Mint
Basil (use Thai Basil if you can find some)
Coriander
Roasted peanuts (red skinned)

Method:

1st: Prepare the sauce by adding the juice of a lime, palm sugar, fish sauce, minced garlic, chilli and hot water to a jar and shake well until all the sugar is dissolved or place into a blender and blitz until everything is thoroughly mixed together.

2nd: Cut the carrot and red pepper into batons.  Roll the cabbage leaves and slice into strips.  Tear the cooked chicken breast into mouth sized pieces.   Cut the mint, basil and coriander.

Thai Basil v Italian Basil
Thai basil has an aniseed, almost liquorice, flavour to it whereas, Italian (Mediterranean basil) is sweet.  Both are incredibly fragrant.
If you can’t find Thai basil which is generally difficult to source outside of Asia, just use a combination of Italian basil and mint.

3rd: Pour boiling water over the vermicelli noodles and allow to rehydrate for 2/3mins.  Drain and rinse in cold water.  Drain and shake off excess water.

4th: In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together and add a splash of the sauce.  Toss together.  Add more sauce and lime juice to taste and drizzle with sesame oil (optional) and top with roasted peanuts.

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Serve heaped on a large plate in the centre of the table for everyone to serve themselves as part of a main course or make it small enough as a light lunch for one – the ingredients can be doubled up and changed to suit what you’ve got in the fridge.  During the summer I tend to have carrots and cabbage knocking about in the fridge to make coleslaw and I’ve always got red peppers in my deep freeze.  Remember to use veg that you can eat raw as you need it to be fresh and crunchy to work in this dish. I used nuggets of palm sugar brought back from Cambodia but regular granulated sugar works just as well.

The great thing about dishes like this is that you can tailor make them to suit your needs – instead of chicken add duck for a different taste, fried squid to make it a super light summer meal, tofu to keep it meat-free.  I say chilli to taste as depending on how much heat you can take will determine whether you use birds eye chillies or opt for a milder variety.  Always remember you could make this very fresh and mild and provide either birds eye chillies or tabasco sauce for those who can take a bit more heat.

Chúc ngon miêng
Bon apetite!

Who doesn’t like a good fajita? Strips of chicken or beef mingled with peppers and onions in a tex-mex salsa and wrapped into a flour tortilla, served with guacamole, cheese and sour cream drizzled over and freshened up with a spritz of lime.

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The fun being assembling them at the table. Everyone trying to see how loaded they can roll their tortilla wrap without it’s contents spilling from either end. If you prefer guacamole but not cheese it’s your decision to take – generally fajitas are a safe meal that everyone at the table can enjoy, spice them up with jalapeños, cool them down with sour cream. Everyone loves a good taco, especially children, it’s the whole eating with your hands and getting stuck in that appeals.

spice them up with jalapeños, cool them down with sour cream

Faja in Mexican means an underskirt. Fajita refers to the strips of meat, peppers and onions to be placed inside a tortilla to make a taco or burrito.

Originally, fajitas were made with skirt steak that required long, slow, low temperature cooking and this incredibly tender and flavoursome meat was then wrapped in a flour tortilla to make a taco. Nowadays people generally gravitate towards the chicken version as this can be easily put together midweek by working parents.

Increasingly, however, people are trying to eat less meat. Those who choose to go meat-free tend to be short changed with tacos as they will generally pick out the meat (stricter vegetarians will need their peppers and onions cooked separately) but either way, their taco will lack bulk and substance.

Just because you choose to go meat free doesn’t mean you should go hungry! A good way of bulking out a meat free taco is by using thick slices of sweet potato.

Sweet Potato Tacos

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Ingredients
1 Sweet potato
1 Red onion
1 Red pepper
1 Yellow pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp pimeñtón
Salt & pepper
Tortillas and any taco extras you wish

Method
1st: Slice the sweet potato, peppers and onion and mix together with the chilli powder, ground cumin and pimeñtón. Spread onto a sheet pan and bake at 180°C until the sweet potato is soft.

2nd: Warm a tortilla of your choice and fill with the vegetable mix. Add any taco essentials you wish from avocado to sour cream.

Another great taco filling that I’ve come across recently is fish. Yes, fish tacos are a thing; like a mexicana fish finger sandwich. Even though I used haddock, you can use any flakey white fish such as cod, halibut, pollock or even use king prawns or lobster.

Fish Tacos with mango salsa

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Ingredients
White fish fillets
1 Red onions
1 Red peppers
1 Mango
Limes
1 Jalapeño
Fresh Coriander leaves
1 tsp Cayenne pepper
1 tsp Ground cumin
1 tsp Ground coriander
Tortillas
1/4 Red cabbage
Salt & pepper

Method
1st: Place the fish fillets on a sheet pan and sprinkle with cayenne pepper, ground cumin and ground coriander. Squeeze some lime juice over the fish and allow to marinate for 15mins. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

2nd: Make the mango salsa: chop the mango, the red onion, red pepper into similar sized pieces. Finely dice the jalapeño and mix everything together with lime juice and coriander leaves. Season with salt and pepper.

3rd: Bake the fish in the oven for 10 to 15 mins. Heat the tortillas, I used coconut tortillas which added a hint of tropical flavour to the overall dish.

4th: Assemble your taco with a fish fillet, mango salsa, shredded red cabbage, coriander leaves and a squeeze of lime.

And bite.

So why don’t you join me this week and chomp your way through Taco Tuesday?!

IMG-9263These are the sort of thing that you snack on quite easily without realising how many tails you are unashamedly stacking on the side of your plate!  Don’t be fooled, this is nothing like the whiff of Hawaiian Tropic sun lotion nor is it dessert-sweet – just a delicious morsel of crispy fried prawn with a tropical twist.  Actually, this would be perfect with pineapple rice on the side as a main dish.

1Kg of prawns easily serves 4 as a part of a mezze style table, however, depending on appetites depends on whether you’ll be fighting over the last prawn or calling it quits before sneakily stealing one last one before dessert.

Ingredients:

1Kg of uncooked grey prawns

1/2 cup of plain flour (all purpose)

1/2 tspn salt

1/4 tspn garlic salt

2 egg whites

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1 cup dessicated coconut

Method:

1st: Remove the shell off the prawns leaving the tails in tact.  Devein the prawns and butterfly them.  Press down on the prawn using the back of a knife to flatten the prawn.

2nd: In one bowl mix the flour, salt and garlic salt.  In another whisk the egg whites and in a third bowl mix the panko breadcrumbs with the dessicated coconut.

3rd: Hold the prawn by its tail, and dredge it first through the flour mixture, then the egg whites and then the panko breadcrumb mixture.

4th: Place on a baking sheet and chill in the fridge for 30mins to an hour.

5th: Fry by your chosen method.  When shallow frying keep an eye on the colour of the oil and change as necessary.  Drain on kitchen paper

6th: Serve with chilli jam to dip the prawns in or a spritz of lime, or pineapple rice.

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. would be happy to serve these in their restaurants!

 

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Once the staple of healthy hippies, sourdough has quickly become the best thing since sliced bread!  The superb flavour of a finished loaf cannot be beaten with its tangy, chewy, smoky taste; this robust bread is the undisputed King of Bread for a reason.

Sourdough is on the rise (pardon the pun) and is as trendy as hipsters, beards and unicorn frappuccinos.  Instagram is flooded with photos of artisan slices of sourdough toast with obligatory avocado topping but sourdough isn’t new of course – it’s the oldest form of leavened bread and is thought to have been around since Ancient Egyptian times.

The moreish, tangy taste blinds you to the Sourdough Paradox: it is the simplest and yet most complicated of breads to bake!

Its simplicity comes from its ingredients as all you need is flour, water and salt.  You will also need patience, lots of it.  This is not one of those quick loaves that you’ll knock up one afternoon in time for tea.  Sourdough is not difficult to make in terms of kitchen technique but makes for great weekend baking as you will need time to potter to and from the kitchen letting the dough rest, kneading, proving, etc.  Alternatively, it’s something that can be prepared on a Friday evening ready for baking on Saturday morning.  Whereas commercial yeast will rise a loaf in hours, the sourdough journey takes days, helping develop its flavour and distinct crust and it all starts by making a sourdough starter.

Sourdough Starter

Sourdough Starter 1A sourdough starter is just a mix of flour and water that you leave to ferment in a warm place; its new home, keep your eye on it and feed it every day.  Basically, the wild yeasts feed off the flour and generate carbon dioxide which you want to trap in the bread.  At the same time the bacteria present also feed, multiply and produce ethanol – which can be seen as a liquid floating on top of the batter that gives the starter its sweet, beer smell.  Stir this back into the mixture as this is what gives the sourdough its distinctive taste.

Every day for a about a week, you need to feed your sourdough starter.  Add equal measures of flour and water, give it a good stir and allow it to rest in its warm home.  Alex French Guy Cooking on Youtube uses only mineral water as he believes the chlorine in tap water can kill both yeast and bacteria – I have used tap water without problems.

Paul Hollywood adds slices of seedless grapes to his starter, whereas Nigel Slater has been known to add yoghurt and sultanas to his.  Rhubarb can also work just as well.  Nigella adds a sprinkling of commercial yeast to kick hers off.  I prefer to keep mine plain and true to its ancient roots.  If you are going to use fruit, I recommend you sieve this out after the initial ferment as you don’t want bits of grape/rhubarb in your dough.

Sourdough Starter 2

The starter can be as fickle as a tamagotchi pet!  Keep your eye on it as it may seem slow at first and almost as if the thing has died on you but keep up with the ritual of pouring some out, adding equal parts of flour and water as eventually it will bloom.  As long as it doesn’t smell off then you’re ok.  Monitor its progress daily as suddenly it can erupt from its vessel leaving a lava-like spill down the sides of your jar and onto the shelf it’s resting on, which is not as easy to clean as you’d think!  If you think there may be danger of this, pour some of your sourdough starter out reserving at least 75g of starter.  Keep topping up flour and water so that you have 225g of flour mixture to work with.

At any stage you can give any excess starter to friends, neighbours – as I did, however, let them know at what stage of the process you’re at.  The photos below show her results following a Paul Hollywood recipe:

Once you’ve got this going, as long as you feed it every now and again, you’ll never have to make one from scratch again!  Keeping it in hibernation in the fridge will also help prolong its life or even freeze some of it for future use.

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At least 12 hours before you start making your bread, mix 225g of your starter culture with 75g of flour and 75g of warm water so that you have a total of 375g (300g for the loaf and 75g to keep).  Mix well and leave in a warm place.  This is now the “levain” that you will be using to raise your sourdough loaf.

If it’s bubbling away several hours later, you know it’s ready.  One final check is the floating test: put a spoonful of it into some water, if it floats its ready.

Sourdough bread

I followed a Hobbs House Bakery recipe but there are many sourdough recipes that you can follow and youtube tutorials to follow.

Ingredients:

460g of strong bread flour (either all white flour or a mix of spelt/wholewheat/rye)

300g sourdough starter (levain)

10g sea salt

230ml warm water

Method:

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1st: Autolyse: Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly using a dough scraper, a food mixer or your fingers.  Let the mixture rest for 30mins so that the flour hydrates fully as this makes for a better dough.  Cover with cling film or a tea towel and keep in a warm place.

2nd: Kneading and Folding: Hold the dough in your hands slap the overhang onto the surface where it should stick, and fold the rest of the dough you are still holding over.  Rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat the process for a few mins.

Repeat every 30mins for at least 3 or 4 hours (First Prove) depending on the tackiness of the dough.

3rd: Shape the dough into a ball by folding from the edges of the dough to the centre and invert this onto your surface.  Use a dough scraper, cleaver or your hands and try to create some surface tension over the surface of the ball of dough by pulling the dough towards you, rotating the ball and repeating.  Once you have created enough surface tension it is ready for its overnight prove.

4th: Second Prove (Overnight prove): Use either a proving basket called a banneton, or line a Pyrex bowl with a clean dishcloth and liberally dust with flour to stop the dough sticking to the basket/dishcloth.  Place the dough ball upside down in the bowl and cover. Allow to prove overnight in the fridge.IMG-0171

5th: Take the proved dough out of the fridge at least 2 hours before you bake it so that it comes up to room temperature.  Before you are ready to bake, place a dutch oven or large casserole pot into the oven and preheat to 250˚C.

6th: Very gently take the dough out of its proving basket / pyrex bowl by upturning it onto a floured bakers peel, tray or board.  Taking care not to burn yourself, sit the dough in the dutch oven and spray liberally with a water bottle.  Clamp on the lid and place in the oven.  Bring the temperature down to 230˚C and bake for 20mins with the lid on and then another 20mins with the lid off.

If you are not going to use a dutch oven/casserole pot, then spray water directly into the oven or put a tray of boiling water into the oven as the steam generated in the oven is what gives the Sourdough its magnificent crust.

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Once the bread is baked – you can check this by tapping the base, if it sounds hollow it’s ready; allow it to cool on a wire rack for at least 40mins before you cut into it.

Toasted sourdough and butter is great for Weekend breakfast as is the trendy avocado and quail’s egg or salmon combo.

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Sourdough Planner

1. Sunday night create your sourdough starter.  Remember to feed it every day as explained above.

2. Once you have an established starter culture: Thursday night take your sourdough starter out of the fridge and give it a feed.

3. Friday morning prepare your levain as explained above.

4. Friday evening complete stages 1 to 4.

5. Saturday morning complete stages 5 and 6.

I know that all this sounds much more complicated than going to the shops and buying a sourdough loaf but in Gibraltar, we suffer with the terrible affliction of bad bread!  Everything is mass produced and plastic wrapped, frozen bread.  We have few if no legitimate bakeries.  Going through the process of baking your own delicious bread from scratch is not just rewarding; it feels right.  It would be great to see your results.

Chocolate Mousse

Posted: March 25, 2018 in Uncategorized

2 medium eggs

65g dark chocolate

2 tspn sugar

1) melt the chocolate

2) separate the eggs

3) whisk the egg whites and add the sugar

4) add the yolks to the melted chocolate

5) fold the egg whites into chocolate mixture taking care not to lose the air you’ve whisked into the whites

6)pour into teacups, espresso cups, bowls and chill

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Pancake Day aka Shrove Tuesday aka Mardi Gras

Shrove Tuesday is once again upon us and everyone will be stocking up on flour, eggs, milk to make their runny batter and have a gluttonous sugary feast before being shriven of these excesses in diet as well as in life.

As a child, I was brought up with the tradition of crêpes scattered with sugar and a squeeze of lemon. I never really went in for the jam, chocolate spread, ice cream concoctions which many favour now but I dare say if you’re going in for one full on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) kind of blowout, the lemon-sugar variety does seem somewhat austere.

For me it wasn’t necessarily about the pancake eating, even though I had more than my fair share of them, but more about the sheer fun of the evening spent watching everyone have a go at tossing the pancake and then regaling everyone at school about how high we managed to successfully toss the pancake into the air; or alternatively any hilarious anecdotes.

Normally I have supper followed by a pancake tossing session for dessert but recently I have tried to make the pancake my evening meal.  Hence why I’ve been trying to find alternatives to the standard runny batter crêpe to enjoy on Shrove Tuesday.  In the past I’ve made American style pancakes, savoury courgette and cheese ones and last year enjoyed an avocado and banana pancake. This year, I’ve attempted making banana pancakes with only 2 ingredients. Yes. Only 2 ingredients. Eggs and bananas.

Literally blitz 2 eggs and 2 bananas in a blender to create the batter and then fry the pancake dollops on a lightly buttered skillet. They have a foam-banana sweet taste and smell. If you don’t like bananas give these a go with a splash of vanilla extract or cinnamon. The eggs soufflé the banana mixture making these incredibly light and fluffy. Take care as you flip them as they have a tendency to break as you turn them. Seriously given these a go. Please, just try them.

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Drizzle them with maple syrup, sprinkle cinnamon or icing sugar and sliced bananas.

Happy Birthday Robbie Burns!!
Here’s a simple 3 course Burns Night Menu for anyone who wants to give it a go. Auld Lang Syne

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On 25th January, we celebrate the life of Robbie Burns.  Many of us have often gone to organised Robbie Burns Nights where the festivities begin with The Selkirk Grace followed by a procession of pipes, tributes and toasts paid to the haggis before a dinner of ‘haggis, neeps and tatties’ followed by speeches; The Immortal Memory and a Toast to the Lassies with a reply to the Laddies.

Generally there is also much revelling in between and a bit more than a wee dram of whiskey (always scotch) must be consumed.

Finally the evening is called to a close by everyone being asked to stand, hold hands and sing Auld Lang Syne.

However, for those of you that want to give this a go at home, without the traditional order of ceremony only need follow my recipe ideas below for a fuss free feast of an evening.  All recipes…

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Gallery  —  Posted: January 25, 2018 in Uncategorized

French Toast

Posted: January 25, 2018 in Breakfast, home cooking, Weekend

The origins of French Toast are very unclear.  The English sometimes refer to French Toast as Eggy Bread, unless it’s the slightly more medieval reincarnation called Poor Knights of Windsor*, the French call it Pain Perdu, “lost bread” more because the bread has become stale and you’ve lost the chance to eat it fresh rather than you’ve misplaced it! The Spanish know them as Torijas, cinnamon French Toast soaked in syrup.   Was it a French chef who came up with the idea or a person called Chef French who in 1724 created this for the first time? To further add to the mystery, over the years there has also been some confusion as to Gypsy Bread and Gypsy Egg, where one should not be confused with the other; the former refers to eggy bread, french-toast style and the latter to Huevos A La Flamenca!

*Poor Knights of Windsor is a dish very similar to French Toast.  However, unlike French Toast, it is sugar and sherry that are stirred into a shallow dish of milk before dipped on both sides in egg yolk and then frying in butter.  These “Poor Knights” are then sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and served with jam.

5328006576_IMG_4781Weekend Breakfast

Personally, French Toast makes for the perfect weekend breakfast. 

Just: soak your bread, get your coffee ready, steam your milk, fry your bread and you’re pretty much good to go. 

It’s slightly more difficult than a slice of toast or a bowl of cereals but something quite easy to make at a leisurely pace.  Nothing too strenuous nor stressful and very manageable to put together whilst still wearing your pyjamas. 

I’m not quite sure I’d like to wake up to a boozy version of this, hence why the poor knights might never make it to my breakfast table.

Bread

Of paramount importance.  The bread you choose is pretty much what makes this.  Now is not the time for granary, wholemeal, spelt flour varieties – the flavour would interfere too much with the final outcome.  Pale, light, plastic bread, slightly stale, is probably going to be your best soaking vehicle that won’t disintegrate into a porridgy-crumb but for me it has to be the sweet enriched dough of challah bread – a braided Jewish bread made with eggs – that to me always comes courtesy of Idan Greenberg at Verdi Verdi, Gibraltar.  Sliced challah holds its shape perfectly after soaking in the eggy mixture, maintaining its shape and firm crust as it fries.

Challah bread making at Verdi Verdi, Gibraltar.

Mixture

There are several different variations of the eggy mixture – some people use cream instead of milk in the mixture, others will add spices such as cinnamon and flavours like vanilla, lemon & orange zest, others will use caster sugar in the mixture rather than sprinkling it over at the end, others will make a sugar syrup to dunk the French Toast (torijas) in after they come out of the frying pan.

Personally, I think one egg per person, splosh of milk, cinnamon, icing sugar as this dissolves in the milk and vanilla are your essential ingredients and anything straying from there will depend on what you’re going to eat drizzled or spooned over your French Toast. 

Nothing is wrong and everything is right.

Soaking the mixture varies on the type of bread used, how stale it is and the thickness which you’ve cut the slice.  You can soak it from anything from 30 secs a side to 20 mins; some wait for all the liquid to be absorbed.  I go with my eye as I don’t want the bread to disintegrate on touch!  I usually tend to go for around 5mins a side and if there is too much liquid left I’ll give it an extra few mins for good measure, as you do want the eggy mixture to permeate through as much of the bread as possible to almost soufflé the bread as it cooks.

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Only two options – put it in the oven or fry it – but to be totally honest, oven baked eggy bread sounds as if it might end up dry and leathery.  So for me, it’s frying all the way.

Frying must be in butter but by the time you’ve turned the toast around to fry the other side, the butter has turned brown (noisette) and adds an unpleasant taste to your French Toast and an odd smell to the kitchen!  Adding sunflower/vegetable oil will help stop the butter burning but this is not a guarantee as butter no matter what its mixed with will still burn.  However, a clever alternative is using clarified butter. 

Topping

Cinnamon & Vanilla flavoured French Toast is great as it is but I always like mine topped with some fruit compote or even a drizzle of maple syrup or if I’m being particularly greedy, both.

To make the fruit compote is very easy: put some fresh/frozen berries in a pan with some water and sugar.  Boil it down until the liquid has reduced and the fruit mixture syrupy.  On this occasion I even added some luscious strawberry jam given to me as a food gift.

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Remember to get your Challah on Friday and surprise someone this Weekend!