thoughts: nigella’s avocado on toast

I saw something in the news this morning about Nigella Lawson getting a bit of flak on Twitter for featuring a recipe for avocado on toast on her newest recipes, Simply Nigella.

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Picture: BBC

Does a bit of smashed avo on bread really constitute a recipe? Probably not, but in Nigella’s defence, it wasn’t just avocado on toast, it was a mini work of art. Granted, avocado is a wonderful subject matter to spread on toast; it’s naturally creamy, it blends so perfectly with sweet or salty components and it oh so healthy if you’re into that sort of thing.

Simply Nigella is about taking everything a step back; so many cooking shows are becoming so extravagant when I think they really should be showing people how to cook delicious, yet simple meals at home. No one is going to watch a TV show to learn to make a croque-en-bouche.

Even though Nigella’s recipe was simple, it was by no means the simplest avocado on toast presentation I have seen. She compliments with avocado’s soft flavour with zingy lime juice and dill, topping it off with crunchy radish slices.

If anything, I think we should commend the woman on being so enthusiastic about breakfast; if I was that peppy in the mornings, imagine what I could achieve with my day!

banana almond muffin pudding

The heart wants what it wants, and so does the stomach. During winter I don’t give strawberries a second thought but I could eat them any day of the week when they are in season. But there are some foods that you can’t help but crave – regardless of the season and once your head starts asking for it, your stomach won’t stop needing it until it is satisfied. The other day, despite the humidity, I decided that I needed bread pudding.

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Maybe it was the little bout of rain we had last week that make we want to curl up on the couch with a nice, steaming bowl of pudding. I am not one to ever deprive my stomach of what it wants – it really is the force that drives, and controls me, so I made this little variation of a traditional bread pudding.

I am not a huge stickler for sticking too close to a traditional recipe; if you can change it to make it better – do it! While a bread pudding usually uses bread (as per the name), I have seen it made with brioche and croissants so I don’t think anyone is going to be too scandalised by the fact that I made mine with muffins.

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To begin, break or cut three large and slightly stale muffins into eight chunks each. You could use three croissants or pain-au-chocolat instead of muffins, or six slices of white bread. The muffins I used were banana and almond flavoured which I knew would give the pudding a lovely moreish flavour and it also meant that I wasn’t going to have to add much else to make it delicious – the work was already done for me!

Place the muffin pieces into a baking dish and set aside. In a recipe using just bread, pouring a little melted butter over top of the bread chucks is recommended, but these muffins were practically bleeding butter so I decided to skip this step for time’s sake.

For each muffin that you use (or for each two slices of bread) whisk one egg, a ¼ cup of sugar and a ½ cup of milk with a teaspoon each of vanilla and cinnamon. This is essentially going to form he custard that the bread absorbs.

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“Custard-soaked bread” is not a description that does this dish any justice, so we need to make it a little more exciting. Sprinkle about a ½ cup of dried fruit or chocolate drops over the bread and pour over the custard mixture. You could use raisins, pistachio nuts or even cubes of apple. As I mentioned, my muffins already had banana in them and were topped with almond slithers, but I topped mine with fresh slices of banana and a few dried cranberries for a little colour.

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Bake your assembled pudding at 175°C for 45minutes until crisp and golden on top.

A nice crunch on top, and an oozy warmth in the centre; folds of bread filled with bursts of custard – just what the doctor ordered! And by doctor, I mean my stomach. Enjoy piping hot while staring out the window as the rain runs down the window, like tears at the realisation that summer will eventually finish, or refrigerate overnight to enjoy as a cooling treat in the midday heat. Or eat the leftovers for breakfast. I did, and trust me, your arteries might not thank you, but your taste buds surely will!

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fancy french toast

Before we begin, I know that I have posted about French toast before, and I know that this version is a little less traditionally sound, but I don’t actually care.

In celebration of the end of Blogging 201, I decided to make myself a little celebratory breakfast, but you could also say that this meal was a self-congratulations on making it to the end of the week alive.

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The baguette being the exception, I don’t particularly fancy white bread – never have. And the sliced, white loaves that you find in French supermarkets are sickly sweet and dissolve in your mouth like fluffy plastic. That being said, I did buy a loaf for Bastille Day; I was making croquet-monsieurs and they do taste better with white bread.

Since then, the half eaten loaf had slowly been pushed further and further into the dark depths of the back of the fridge, next to the shrivelled carrots and half-eaten tubs of unnaturally coloured yoghurt (both of which belong to my colocs, not me). Not one to want to throw anything away, but also not being in a huge rush to eat it, I decided to treat myself.

It all depends on the staleness of your bread, but I work off the ‘algorithm’ of one egg and one gulp of milk to every three slices of bread. Whisk the milk and egg together with whatever additions you fancy; cinnamon, cocoa, or nutmeg and soak the bread, on both sides until as much of the liquid is absorbed up as possible.

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Fry in melted butter until both sides reach the level of crunch that you so desire, use a medium heat to avoid burning and to warm the bread the whole way through. I lathered each slice with a healthy dollop of lemon curd, before topping with fried banana and a drizzle (more than a drizzle) of coffee cream sauce. If you freeze the banana before you fry it, the outside softens into a gooey, caramelised paste, but the centre remains cool and fresh with the flavour and consistency of banana ice-cream.

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Even though French toast is generally considered a breakfast food, with this many elements I think it is socially acceptable to eaten any time of day. And anyway, as an adult, I don’t have to conform to social norms, I can do what I want – and if that means French toast for dinner, so be it!

brioche à la praline

Why, hello there, 2015! How are you? Exhausting, that’s how. We are a mere four days in and I already just want to curl up into a ball and sleep for a week. But seeing as that is not possible, I instead just daydream about all the delicious food I ate a Christmas-time.

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This year, Christmas breakfast was accompanied with homemade brioche laced with sugar-coated almonds. The morning was unusually humid so the dough didn’t rise as well as I would have liked it to, but it was still really delicious and rather easy to make.

Easy to make and not too time-consuming, however, should not be thought as two of the same, especially in this situation. Regardless of when you want your bread to be ready, you will need to start the day before; the dough is best when refrigerated overnight.

To make this delicious beauty, you will need…
240grams of flour
25grams of sugar
5grams of salt
7grams of instant yeast
70milliltres of milk
2 eggs
125grams of softened butter cubes

Mix your dry ingredients together before adding the milk and eggs. Use an electric mixer at a low speed for a couple of minutes before moving to a medium speed for another eight or so. Or use your own arm strength like me until you have an elastic dough like this.

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Mix in the butter a cube at a time; I find that this way the batter is smoother. Cover the dough with cling film at chill overnight, if you cant wait that long, a few hours should suffice.

DAY TWO
Roll your dough out into a large square on a surface dusted with flour; it should be about a centimetre thick. Brush the dough with egg wash and cut into 16 evenly sized pieces. Sprinkle about two thirds of almonds overtop, fold each piece in half and arrange them in a loaf tin. Brush again with egg wash and sprinkle the remaining almonds overtop before leaving in a warm place for 45 minutes to rise.

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Bake for 30 minutes at 180°C or until you can poke a knife into it without any dough sticking to it.

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The food colouring used in the almonds will run through the dough as the sugar coating the almonds melts giving it a beautiful marbled effect.
This is a perfect sweet snack to dunk into your coffee, and having divided the dough into pieces before baking, it is so easy to break into chunks and share with loved ones.

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forgotten things

It has been a number of weeks since I last updated this blog. Life has been a bit hectic; I found a new apartment to move into and then at the last minute they decided to give it to someone else, so I was a little in limbo for a while and not becoming homeless was my main priority.

But all is well now, I have moved into a new place with a lovely view of the river and a nice, big kitchen.

So, in theme of things being lost and forgotten I thought I would make this classic French breakfast; French Toast. You may ask what the connection between French Toast and lost-ness is. Well, let me explain. Ironically, if you talk to any French person about French Toast, they will have no idea what you’re talking about. That’s because in France French Toast is not called French Toast, it’s not even just called toast. It’s called pain perdu, which translates to lost or wasted bread.

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While elsewhere in the world we would generally just use a regular loaf of bread to make this dish, in France it is made with baguette- more specifically, baguettes left over from the day (or two) before. So for this recipe you will need a baguette that is at least a day old, two is better. The point of using old bread is that it is not as soft as when freshly baked so it absorbs the eggy milk mixture without going soggy and collapsing.

Because I was cooking just for myself I used half a baguette. Firstly, cut the baguette into thick slices, then in a bowl mix one egg and half a cup of milk for each half of baguette you’re using. I added a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon as hot chocolate powder, this is completely optional but gives it a nice flavour.

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Whisk this all together and then add the chunks of bread, flipping them after about 30 seconds so they absorb the mixture evenly throughout.

Melt a knob of butter in a pan and add the pieces of bread. Spoon the remaining mixture that was not absorbed over top of each piece for good measure. After a few minutes the  pan will really start to sizzle, check the underside of the bread to see how cooked it is, when it is a nice golden brown or cooked to whatever degree you like flip it over and repeat on the other side.

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Remove from the pan and leave to cool for a moment, sprinkle with sugar or icing sugar and drizzle with a bit of honey or agave nectar (what I used). Usually I would eat this meal with bacon but it is extremely difficult to find proper rashers of bacon in France; it basically only comes in the form of lardons. And besides, the idea of eating something so salty as bacon as a breakfast food would make any French person’s stomach turn.

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Serve hot with a cup (or two) of fresh coffee and a newspaper- the perfect Sunday brunch!

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life explained through pancakes

Some friends of mine came over from England last week and they spent a couple of days staying with me. I woke up one morning to find that they had gone out to buy breakfast. They had all the essentials; croissants, nutella, eggs and milk. However, the milk they had bought was not actually milk, it looked like a milk bottle and it did say LAIT on it but it was in fact ‘lait fermenté’; fermented milk which also called acidified milk and very similar to buttermilk. It has the consistency of cream, the taste of unsweetened yoghurt and does not go nicely in a cup of tea.

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So, that was a bit of a fail, but seeing as the bottle was not in English, or even really in French and we don’t speak Arabic, they were forgiven. Not wanting to waste it, I got a-searching on marmiton.com for some way of using it; the easiest thing being pancakes.

480 mls of buttermilk or fermented milk combined with 2 eggs, 250 grams of flour, a teaspoon of baking soda, 60 grams of sugar, a pinch of salt and a large teaspoon of melted butter should do the trick! Mix the wet ingredients together.

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I added a bit of cinnamon too.

Slowly add the dry ingredients, sift them to add fluffiness and combine until you have a mix unlumpy batter. Now take a moment to clean the kitchen slightly because it will probably be a mess.

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This all seems pretty simple, but during the time I was making this I came up with a  few tips to perfect the whole thing, and most of it can really be applied to life in general.

Here is what I learnt:

– Life is full of disappointments: This is probably something that a lot of people apply to a lot of situations, I am applying it to pancake batter. This recipe said that it would serve four, it did not. It probably created half a meal for three of us, so double or triple it, unless you are mice. It would probably be four servings for mice.

– Be prepared: Ingredients are important, having the right ingredients is also important so make sure you have the right ingredients before you begin. Because they are all relatively essential.

– Improvise when appropriate: If you were not prepared, don’t fret! adjust the recipe for what you have; sometimes you don’t have eggs, half a mashed banana will do almost the same job and will give it a nice flavour. And feel free to add flavours as you like; cinnamon, vanilla, rum, cocoa etc…

– Stay calm!: If it is all going wrong as you’re trying to flip them, if you can’t help but smoosh them up a little, don’t stress out or it will just go more wrong. Stay calm and cool, and that applies to the pan too, don’t make it too hot.

– Good things come to those who wait: Yes, I know, probably a little overused but it’s true. Having to cook one pancake at a time means that you’re going to be there for a while but don’t try and rush it. If you think that it’s time to flip it, it probably isn’t. wait until the bubbles on top have burst and then some. A little crispy on the outside is a lot better than raw on the inside.

Size DOES matter: A big frying pan on a small element is going to be a disaster, so use a big element, or a small pan. Actually a small pan is going to make the pancakes smaller and easier to flip, so maybe that’s better… The debate continues…

– Always own a good spatula: If your spatula is anything like mine you will want to punch yourself in the face. And that is a feeling you should always try and avoid.

After all this stress, you will hopefully be left with a nice batch of yummy goodness.

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There was one other thing that I learnt in this experiment: I flippin’ hate making pancakes. So find someone who likes to make them, and is good at it, and keep them!