Lingering Sunday breakfasts: blackberry and cream cheese French toast

On Sunday mornings, I usually wake up sleepily just before 9am, dream of lingering in bed, then jolt myself out into the shower and tear off to my Pilates class at 10am. Last weekend, however, the studio I go to was closed for the Bank Holiday (and redecoration), and I had the rare opportunity to wake up late and cook up a lazy morning breakfast.

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The recipe I had my eye on was an intriguing one called ‘Poor Knights of Windsor’ which came in a brunch-themed booklet with an old BBC Good Food magazine. It called for sandwiching slices of bread with cream cheese and blackberry compote and then dipping them in a mixture of beaten egg, milk, and sugar, which is more or less what I call French toast. Similar recipes throughout Europe are referred to as ‘Poor Knights’, and in Britain the additional, geographically specific, reference to Windsor refers to an order of Alms Knights forced to liquidate their estates to pay ransoms for their release following capture by the French army during the Battle of Crécy in 1346. In return for a lifetime of daily prayers for the sovereign, these military pensioners received a stipend and were lodged at Windsor Castle.

Apparently the difference between French toast and Poor Knights of Windsor is that, in the former, the eggs and milk are beaten together, whereas the latter recipe does not do so. While this is true of very old recipes, in more modern versions (by which I mean the 19th century), this difference seems to have been lost along the way. Certainly in the BBC Good Food version, the eggs and milk are whisked together.

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As much as the flavours of the Poor Knights recipe intrigued me, it clocked in at a massive 767 calories per serving. Even for an indulgent weekend breakfast, that is a high number, especially considering it would be consumed on a day where I would actually skip exercise. In addition, I didn’t have all the ingredients required and couldn’t be bothered to trek to the supermarket. (Admittedly it’s a psychological trek rather than a physical one, because it’s very close by, but anything which allows me to avoid the aisles wars, dodging wild children and arguing couples, is very welcome). I also halved the number of eggs because four seemed excessive to soak four slices of bread. It seems my suspicion was right because the amount of liquid was perfect.

With my changes, I managed to save around 215 calories, with each portion clocking in at 552 calories (or so; it depends on the brands you have used), which is much more manageable for breakfast, I think. You could also cut down on the amount of butter a little, I think, but you don’t end up eating it all. It’s a great dish: crisp, slightly sweet bread, and, once the outside is crunched through with a knife, the soft, pudding-like interior, and the slightly sharp cream cheese offsetting the sweet, delicate, even childish blackberry jelly. If you want more of a contrast between the sharp cream cheese and sweet jelly, you could even leave out the teaspoon of maple syrup used to sweeten the cheese. These are perfect for a weekend of lounging in front of the TV in your dressing gown, especially if the weather’s turned a bit. With the weekend about to start, why don’t you try it?

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TV and fried food: stuffed courgette flowers and Nigella Lawson’s Tuscan fries

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It was not too long ago, although it seems a political lifetime away, that my boyfriend and I settled in front of the TV to watch the ITV EU referendum debate, accompanied by platefuls of crispy, deep-fried goodness. There has been plenty to keep anyone glued to the television lately: Brexit and Trump for the politically inclined; Euro 2016 for the sport-inclined (it’s football or something); and the final episodes of the latest series of Game of Thrones. I’m going to  admit that of this list I paid keenest attention to the EU membership referendum debates. Now that the referendum has passed, those politically inclined can continue watching Trump, the dissolution of the Labour shadow cabinet, and post-Brexit negotiations. Those disappointed by England’s defeat in the Euros could always switch their support over to Iceland, who are in their first major international tournament, or my own team, the Red Devils (not Manchester United…this totally confused my boyfriend when I first told him “I only really support the Red Devils”.) Or, you know, tennis, since Wimbledon began, although you could have missed the news, drowned out as it has been by politics, which has been in a state of what you might call ‘flux’. And if you watch Game of Thrones, well, I know less about that than I do about football.

Whatever takes your fancy, you may wish to eat while watching. There is something that feels so decadent eating off a tray on the sofa as an adult, especially when things are eaten with fingers, even more so when you have allowed yourself not the low-fat hummus and crudites but the good stuff, the actually fried stuff: onion rings, calamari, whitebait, aubergine tempura, fried chicken, Scotch eggs, even the humble crisp, all have benefitted by being submerged in hot oil until their water has evaporated and they have returned from this slightly dangerous baptism crisp-skinned and tinged with gold. While there is nothing wrong with a torn-open bag of Doritos’ finest (Cool Ranch if you know I’m coming over, please), if you want to up your game a bit, or perhaps combine a love of deep-fried food with seasonal eating, may I recommend the fried and battered courgette flower?

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Courgette blossoms, tenderly cossetted, before filling, dredging and frying

All right, so that possibly sounds like the most pretentious sentence ever written, but I bought some of these flowers, prevalent in spring and summer during courgette/zucchini growing time, stuffed it with cheese (and anchovy – I would characterise this as optional), battered it and fried it, as per Tessa Kiros’ recipe in her elegant Falling Cloudberries (her writing is lyrical, at times a little purple, but hugely evocative of mood, place, memory). The flower itself had a delicate, slightly milky freshness, the petal both tender and yet robust enough to chew; the batter crunched under my teeth; the mozzarella oozed in long and delectable melted strands. There is nothing exclusive about this kind of textural and taste pleasure. The only problem will, of course, be getting hold of the flowers themselves. In London, this may be, at most, a hassle rather than impossible: Wild Country Organics sells them at various farmers’ markets and Borough Market, as well as online. You can buy courgette flowers online via Farm Direct, Natoora and other specialist food sellers. They are not the absolute cheapest things to buy – they are seasonal and delicate so must be harvested and transported with care. For the recipe below you will need about two, maybe three, total, flowers per person, depending what you are serving them with, so if you want to try this but are also cost-conscious, this is the perfect dish to serve up for just you, or perhaps you and your partner or a close friend. The mozzarella and batter makes the tender blooms surprisingly filling. They are scattered with a final flutter of battered and fried sage leaves.

Tuscan fries, oil blotted
Tuscan fries, oil blotted

Nigella Lawson‘s Tuscan fries, from her book and show Nigellissima, which focused on Italian food Anglicised, or perhaps Nigella-ified, is perhaps, if not quite the opposite of the fried courgette flowers, an easy introduction to deep-frying; deep-frying for the cautious. The method is unorthodox: you fry chunks of potato, starting in cold oil, adding aromatics such as unpeeled garlic and herbs at the end. I used sage, because sage was called for in the battered courgette blossom recipe and I wanted to use up the packet: the fried herbs are perfectly crisp and dry at the end, crunchy and paper-thin and shattering delectably against the tongue. I actually much preferred these naked leaves to their battered cousins. Rosemary would also be very good here.

Frying the chips in cold oil, Nigella assures us, does not leave them greasy or soggy. I think mine browned a little too much – I should have turned the heat down a little – and they were slightly limp in the middle (they could have been cut a smidge finer, and I think I used the wrong variety of potato – see my notes below), but indeed they were no greasier or oilier than chips cooked in the more traditional two-part method. While you definitely, certainly, should not ever ever ever leave boiling oil unattended in the kitchen, you can certainly potter around the kitchen and prepare other parts of the meal when cooking the chips using this method, keeping the occasional close eye on them. I did let the oil used for frying cool and then strained and saved it for possible further use.

I wouldn’t advocate this meal for every night (masses of oil + TV means your hips, stomach, waistline and bum won’t lie) but, with a cool glass of prosecco, it’s the perfect, slightly classy-but-still-fried accompaniment to the political TV/sporting event/brutally bloody Middle Ages themed TV show your heart could desire watching.

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Video: May 2016 Food Favourites

It’s late in the month – May is a memory – but I still wanted to share some of the great food, drink and cooking items which have crossed, or in some cases recrossed, my path in May. Once again featuring cookbooks (by Diana Henry and Thane Prince), my dish of the month (a really rather good Thai seafood salad), a spectacular restaurant, a new way to keep cut fruit and veg fresher, great breakfast items, a delicious snack and – of course – and new, excellent tea. I hope you all enjoy watching!

Fin-de-siecle carrot, cabbage and beef stew for changeable seasons

Here in London we swing from chilly, bright mornings to warm, light-filled afternoons, and back into evenings cool enough to make hot water bottles a tempting prospect. Weather like this requires an arsenal of recipes in one’s back pocket, from cool noodle salads for evenings drowsy with humidity to warming recipes that provide ballast against the creeping coldness of a surprisingly crisp spring night.

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So to this recipe. It’s inspired by one I found in a magazine…nothing out of the ordinary there, except that the magazine in question is one from 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War. It was published in the early, rather than high, summer, a reminder that British summers, too, can run to cool. The recipe as it was printed would, I’m sure, confound many stereotypes about British food: it read surprisingly modern with its combination of beef, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage and macaroni, a veritable one-pot meal sprightly with tender vegetables. The magazine in question was a penny a week and so accessible to upper-working or lower-middle class women with a bit of extra income, and was most explicitly directed at the kind of woman who had servants, but usually no more than two (a cook and a maid); sometimes the imagined readers’ income could stretch to no more than a charlady (“the woman of the future will even have to scrub” was a particularly cautionary phrase mid-way through the First World War).

I put this together based on some shredded cabbage languishing in the fridge after a recipe called for only half a head and the vague memory of this recipe, buried under the many, many magazines I read for my MA dissertation in the summer of 2014. What I mostly remember is the serialised romances – the mill-girl swapped at birth, the man who loses his arm at Mons – but some of the recipes stood out too. I didn’t have any macaroni in the house so served it with boiled, unpeeled potatoes, but I think the pasta would be a great addition; simmering in the tomato sauce, it will absorb the flavours and add a slip of silky starchiness to the stew, subtly thickening it.

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Video: April 2016 Food Favourites

It’s Sunday the 15th of May today, so pretty much bang on halfway into the month, but I have put together another video of my favourite food and cooking items from the month of April (see my first video of March favourites here). I talk about things to read, a fabulous recipe for a wonderful white loaf, my new breakfast obsession (handy hint: it’s skyr) and a lifechanging cooking implement (hint: I’m holding it in the thumbnail). I hope you enjoy it!

A new thing: my first food video!

I recently made a video where I talk about the food and food-related things I’ve been enjoying recently  – restaurants I’ve been to, dishes, and particular food products. It’s a new departure for me since I’ve always been very focused just on writing, but it was a lot of fun to make – although the editing process was admittedly a slog! Anyway, if you like discovering new food things it would be lovely if you’d take a look; I hope to make them a more regular thing as and when I have the time. I anticipate it will be a new and fun way to get to know the food community!

 

Meat Free Monday: Crispy tofu, broccoli, and rice

This meal – crispy tofu, steamed or blanched broccoli, and plain brown rice – is one that brings me right back to my childhood, and in many ways I think it epitomises hippie vegetarian food for a lot of people (although vegetarianism is no longer the preserve of hippies). There’s the tofu, the brown rice, the lightly cooked cruciferous vegetables. This is healthy, wholesome food, plain (but not tasteless) and uncomplicated – I imagine this simplicity is actually what appealed to me as a child. But for all its simple lack of pretension, it has much to please an adult palate.

The quintessential hippie vegetarian triumvirate: tofu, cruciferous vegetables, brown rice. I love it!
The quintessential hippie vegetarian triumvirate: tofu, cruciferous vegetables, brown rice. I love it!

Firstly, the meal offers a contrast of taste: nutty rice, milky tofu and sweet green broccoli. There’s also a satisfying interplay of textures between the grains, slightly firm but silkily yielding vegetables, and the crunchy tofu coating which gives way to the jiggly beancurd beneath. For me this is a standby recipe: I don’t make it every week, by any means, but it’s always there in the back of my mind if I have a pack of tofu sitting in the fridge.

Serve with soy sauce, if wished
Serve with soy sauce, if wished

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