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Gooseberry and Elderflower Bircher Muesli

Gooseberry and elderflower bircher muesli

As I’ve mentioned before, I love an oat or two. They form the basis of about 75% of my breakfasts (we’ve written extensively about my other choice in the shape of a duck egg) and the year is split into two phases: porridge or bircher muesli. The latter tends to herald the arrival of summer when I switch from the creamy warmth of porridge to the softness of soaked oats and a heap of seasonal fruit to start the day. However this year, the switch has not been followed by an actual change in the seasons so I decided to make my muesli a bit more of a treat and flavour it with the light and tangy tastes of gooseberry and elderflower.

Super simple, but so good it’ll make you leap out of bed on a Monday morning, this is a seasonal treat and a half. Instead of using the more traditional apple juice to soak the oats, I used elderflower cordial.

Gooseberry and Elderflower Bircher Muesli (serves one)

  • 50g oats  (use jumbo oats or look out for Flahavans)
  • 60ml/1/4 cup elderflower cordial
  • 60ml/ 1/4 cup water
  • 2-3 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
  • handful gooseberries, topped and tailed
  • teaspoon sugar
  • vanilla extract

This is a dish best prepped the night before, but don’t panic, it’s very simple. First add a teaspoon of sugar per handful of gooseberries and add a scant sticky trickle of vanilla extract and then roast your gooseberries in a 180℃ oven for about 20 minutes or until they collapse in their own syrup slightly. Set aside.

Soak the oats in the elderflower/water mix overnight. You can do it for 5 or 10 minutes before you eat, but overnight really plumps the oats up and makes them even better.

Then next morning, fuelled by the live giving power of tea, tip a couple of tablespoons of Greek yoghurt (proper stuff, not that weird no fat high sugar stuff that advertisers seem to think womenhood is entirely constructed of) and add in your roasted goosegogs. Stir round and then melt into the sweet creamy oats and sour kick of the yoghurt and fruit and feel ten times more awake, surprisingly healthy and totally full up til lunchtime. It might even kid you it’s actually summer…

Twice as nice… our daily bread

It’s said man cannot live on bread alone. Considering this statement, I’m surprised organised religion remained so popular for so long on our wee island, when you think what a cracking range of Irish breads there are (veda, potato bread, soda farls and wheaten bread amongst others). I’m all for a bit of decent bread, slathered with butter, rather than some dour sermonising or happy clapping. I’ll probably be smitten down by the hand of a deity for saying that, but at least I’ll go with a smile on my face and a full tum…

Sundays are ripe for laziness*, cooking, and loafing around the house. Today’s mission was to make a decent and homely wheaten bread, to help counter the autumnal blues outside. However we’d been out drinking in Leeds yesterday (sampling some great ales from Leeds and Ossett breweries amongst others), and after a late night and a fuzzy head this morning, something special was required for breakfast first.

I’d planned to make baked eggs, following the recipe from the Parlour Café Cookbook. These have rapidly established themselves as a brekkie standby, not least because they’re so easy to cook. Their simplicity belies their deliciousness. I swapped the Parma ham from their original recipe with some slivers of locally hand-crafted air-dried ham from my friends at Porcus. Their rare-breed pork is heavenly, and I’m privileged enough to get samples of their splendid ham from time to time. These were perfect to line the ramekins, before cracking a hen’s egg in each. But I felt I needed something a tad more substantial to accompany these, so I made some potato bread – a family favourite – for the first time ever.

As Miss South’s previously explained, it’s meant to be made with leftover mashed potato, but that’s rarer than hen’s teeth in my house, so I quickly cubed and boiled up a few spuds, ran them through the potato ricer, then mixed in some plain flour & a knob of butter to create a light dough with a bit of bite. Proportions may vary depending on how waxy/floury your spuds are, but normally you want 4 to 5 times more flour than mash. Miss South’s said it before and we’ll say it again: potato bread is dead easy… it takes a Herculean effort to mess it up. A perfect compliment to any kind of ham and eggs…

Wheaten bread, otherwise known as brown soda bread, is another one of those wonderfully yeast-free breads we love back home. As with soda farls, the secret is the baking soda which helps it rise. You can buy it in many supermarkets, ready-made and branded courtesy of Paul Rankin; and both it and the more well-known white soda breads are gaining popularity on this side of the water. No wonder, it’s both healthy and oh-so-tasty. The ever-reliable Dan Lepard popped up on Women’s Hour’s “Cook the Perfect…” last week with his own take on it, and this spurred me on to do it the North/South way…

We’re a bit more old school in our family, and the core ingredients for wheaten bread are normally just flour, buttermilk, baking soda, and a pinch of sugar. Wheaten bread’s at least as easy to make as potato bread, especially if you have some Northern Irish wheaten bread mix to hand (thanks to my mum for bringing some across this summer). Of course, you can instead use a good mix of plain and wholemeal flour instead… but try and use as coarse and bran-heavy a mix as possible, as this really contributes to the flavour. In a mix, the baking soda’s already in place, so today all I had to do was add buttermilk and sugar.

I’m lucky enough to be able to get buttermilk in my local Morrisons, but I hear it’s hard to source in many parts of the country, so you can use full-fat milk and sour it with some lemon juice, or mix in some live yoghurt instead. Use roughly 3 parts flour to 2 parts buttermilk… in this case I used 500g of flour and about 330ml buttermilk, with a teaspoon of caster sugar just to bring out that nuttiness of the bran even more.

Mix it all up until you get a nice dough, not too sticky or overworked. Then normally I’d roll it out into a roundish shape, about 1″ / 3cm thick, before scoring the top into quarters. I dusted it with a little plain flour, but it’s also good finished with some chopped rolled oats.

As I was mixing the dough I realised I’d not made this for far too long; in fact since I went to Rotterdam to visit friends from all over Europe and enjoy a good shared meal. My Italian mate knocked up some fantastic food, so I thought it’d be right to bring a decent Irish loaf to add to the mix. Most people smuggle addictive substances out of the Netherlands: I may be the only person to have smuggled a loaf of wheaten bread in!

This is a bread with instant gratification in mind, with no leavening or proving required. I baked this straight on the shelf in a pre-heated oven, rather than on a tray, for 35mins (200C/400F/Gasmark 6) straight. Once it came out, sounding hollow when tapped, it had to sit and cool down on a wire rack. This is one of my strongest kitchen memories as a kid. I used to hang around, greedily watching while my mum baked glorious bannocks of wheaten bread, but the hardest part was waiting for them to cool, far too slowly, on a wire rack, with a tea towel covering them. As I found out today, self-control still isn’t one of my strong points when it comes to wheaten bread, even after all these years. We succumbed while the bread was warm enough to melt great slatherings of butter.

Simple and effective with good butter, though I had a last-minute hankering for a bit of blue cheese, which works so well with the nutty sweetness of the bread. Cashel Blue would be the natural Irish choice, but I was able to pick up some very decent Jervaulx Blue instead, which I enjoyed along with a pot of Yorkshire Tea. Living just inside West Yorkshire, it seemed a perfect choice. It also makes superb toast. If you’re looking for something a little more special, slices of buttered wheaten bread alongside some good Irish smoked salmon, finished with a sprig of chervil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some cracked black pepper is to die for.

*”Oh wheaten it be nice…” with apologies to the Small Faces…

 

Duck and scramble with huevos rancheros

It struck me earlier I don’t often blog about breakfast, which as we all know is the most important meal of the day. I’m a great fan of a hearty, lazy, savoury breakfast… something which isn’t normally possible with the bustling routine of the working day. So weekends are the time to reclaim the tradition of cooking up a proper breakfast.

Today I’m going to cover huevos rancheros (or raunchy eggs as my breakfast companion called them earlier).These ranch-style scrambled eggs have a bit of a kick to them. I’ve only made this dish once before, many moons ago, when a mate crashed over after a night on the beers, and we felt we needed something to counter the first signs of a hangover. I remembered it was delicious, but also a bit of a faff. Definitely the kind of low-intensity task best suited to lazy Sunday mornings with the brain switched to low power mode and some good tunes in the kitchen. Perfect for this morning, in fact.
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Lángos and beer for breakfast…

The locals love lángos

(Mister North’s in Budapest for an old university friend’s wedding this weekend). I was determined to enjoy lángos for breakfast, as I’d read it’s as Magyar a food experience as paprika or goose liver, and much more unhealthy.

The local English language edition of Time Out recommended a stand-up gaff in Fény utcai piac market near Moszkva Tér. My friend and I wandered about, eyes on stalks at the profusion of local produce, from freshly picked cherries and strawberries, kohlrabi and paprika to kolbász sausages and fogas (pike-perch from Lake Balaton). Eventually we tracked down a tiny stall at the back of the building: the smell of fat and garlic wafted across the queue of punters waiting patiently for their cholesterol levels to be boosted heartily.

We tried ordering two sima lángos (the basic kind where one paints on a garlic paste and flakes of salt) in halting Hungarian, but the nice lady behind the counter helped up out by replying in much less poor English. We also decided to accompany these with a pint of the local dark beer (well, most locals seemed to be doing this even though it was only mid-morning, so who where we to argue?)

It may’ve been unhealthy, but boy was it ever good. Think deep-fried garlic bread or focaccia; light yet filling, with a superbly nutty beer on the side. Next time I’d like to graduate to the significantly more unhealthy sour cream and cheese numbers which are so popular with the locals. Who needs an Ulster fry when you can have your heart attack on a napkin in your hand, with a pint on the side? Marvellous!

I’m surprised we Norn Irish folk haven’t fully embraced lángos: they may be ‘foreign’ but after all they’re made with flour and potato, deep fried, and salted heavily. If it wasn’t for the lashings of garlic on the top I’d suggest this would be a prime candidate take over kebabs and pizza as a post-pub meal in Belfast on a Saturday night.

Giving thanks for ham and turkey eggs

Ah, turkey eggs. Not quite as rare as hen’s teeth, but still something you don’t see every day. I was lucky enough to be given one a couple of years ago by a colleague whose dad works with a lot of farmers (and I made a 3 egg frittata, with hen, duck and turkey egg… wow!) Thanks to Mr S for that experience…

I’ve been trying to source them ever since, but there are two fundamental issues in tracking down turkey eggs. Number 1: turkeys don’t lay as many eggs as, say, your average chicken. Many fewer, in fact, so that many eggs are actually fertilized and used to grow little turkey chicks. Number 2: they taste rather wonderful as well, so even if they’re not going to be used to expand the turkey population, only somebody benevolent or with bounteous quantities of spare eggs is actually going to allow other non-poultry farmer types to sample them.

As you can see, they’re delightfully speckled and have a distinctive pointed end – not sure if this makes them any easier to pass – turkeys often look rather aggrieved so perhaps not. They also have a very flavoursome taste and a creamy consistency.

I was lucky enough to have been given a few as a birthday present by my friends from Porcus up at Height Top Barn this morning, alongside picking up my bread order, so I resolved to make a luxurious breakfast. First I toasted a couple of slices of wonderful home-made bread, generously buttered it and covered it with some torn air-dried ham, before finishing with two poached turkey eggs and a good dose of freshly ground black pepper. As the photo above might suggest, such a simple and classic combination as ham and eggs was taken to the next level with this delightful breakfast plate.

So, if you ever get the chance to sample a turkey egg, don’t let it slip through your fingers. Although my final advice would be that, due to the thickness of their shells (equal to goose eggs) even if they do slip through your fingers they may well land intact. They just won’t be around for long afterwards!