A Brace of Fat Mushrooms and a Sweet Heart….

It’s true that I am the mushroom lady’s biggest fan and find it hard to resist all her different fungi. I got this fat brace of portabello mushrooms this week and cooked them up with some of my favourite olive oil, the juice of a lemon, a tiny pouring of cream, freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt. Then I served them in their juices with a splash of balsamic vinegar, shaved parmesan and a sprinkling of the Alba goats feta! A thick wedge of the Cereal Brown Bread from Michel’s baker on Oude Molstraat and some red chard finished off my fine fat mushrooms!

Not a fan, kids won’t try them? Then be clever. Mushrooms are a power house of protein, fibre and an excellent source of B1, B2, B3, and B6 and their GI is so low that it can’t be measured! So do attempt to get your kids to give them a go. As we say in our house “Try it before you deny it!”

I have managed to get my darlings to try them in salads (particularly the little tiny button ones) or in stir-fries. Marinate them in some fresh lemon juice, slice into slivers, season a little and throw them in. Place thinly on pizzas or fry some shitakes in rice bran oil with some mirin and tamari. Dip them into fondues, yoghurt or aioli with other veggies. We also make a gravy with leftover mushrooms, finely chopped rosemary and thyme, a little corn flour and sweet chilli sauce and a good quality veggie stock.  Tiny button mushrooms can be stuffed with a walnut, pesto, cream cheese mix and topped with a tad of grated cheese, baked at 175 for about 10 minutes and served warm. There is so much to be done with these fine specimens that it beggars belief. You can tell that I am rather fond, can’t you!

I think my love of these velvety gilled creatures stems from my early morning mushroom forays down on the farm. Out I went on misty Autumn mornings with bucket in hand trying to find the biggest before the cows stepped on them. It was magic to see how they had sprung up overnight and become huge where there were none the day before.

I find foraging for food often makes our fussy charges give a new food a go, which is why I am keen to try out some new veggies in my small and slightly shadowy urban plot this year. I have begun to prepare my soil with fertilizer and am hoping to grow loads of salad leaves, snow peas, beans and strawberries this year. If you are planning to grow some food this year do email me with your stories and photos. I would love to see how you fare.

Never let it be said that there is no room for a friand every now and then! I am all for home baking and these are my favourites. Move over Muffins! When there is a friand in the house muffins become mean by comparsion. The difference is that friands use ground almonds or hazelnuts and are of a denser but more subtle flavour. Here is one that I served up to my friend Nancy Mayer last week. Actually I needed to make these in order to place a small but perfectly formed dollop of passionfruit curd (which I adore) on top of something. Oh, it was lovely! Careful, these are sometimes foods that are rather delectable and should come with a warning.

Blueberry Friands

100 gms of melted butter

1 cup of ground almonds or hazelnuts ( I got mine at Kellys but you can grind your own)

1 cup of sugar (I used maple sugar for this and suggest that you could use a bit less than a cup)

1 tsp real vanilla paste

a quarter of a cup of milk

3 eggs separated

a pinch of salt

half cup of self raising flour ( I used half wholewheat but this will make them a bit heavier)

1 cup of frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 180 if using a fanbake.

Melt butter and pour into a mixing bowl. Add in almonds, sugar, vanilla and milk. Stir well to combine. This mixture will look pretty curdled but don’t panic.

Add egg yolks to bowl. Then beat egg whites in a clean bowl until stiff peaks are formed. Remember the bowl has to be free of water otherwise you won’t be able to beat them stiffly.

Gently sprinkle flour over the stiffly beaten whites and fold into the almond mixture. Don’t not overmix otherwise they will be as tough as old boots. Fold with a rubber spatula if you have one. They are the best for these sorts of jobs.

Spoons mixture into either silicone heart cake forms or into cupcake papers in muffin tins. Add your frozen blueberries or any other berry fruit such as raspberries into the middle of each cake. They are quite sticky so the silicone is better if you can get hold of them. Place forms onto baking tray and bake until golden, about 12 – 15 mins. Check to see if they are done by gently pressing a cake with your finger – it should spring back if cooked.

Cool and don’t turn out immediately. Then serve with a dollop of lemon curd (or make your own passionfruit curd if you haven’t been to New Zealand lately) and a cup of tea or coffee. You won’t have to store them as they will be gone in a flash – they are that delicious.

quails eggs, passionfruit curd, Man o War honey, alba goat's feta, South Pacific sea salt

I’ve been around the world a time or two…….but these tomatoes were the best!

Aint nothing like home grown heirloom tomatoes

I am feeling rather dislocated both seasonally and time-wise. Our family just had a sun-filled month away on the magical New Zealand island of Waiheke. We were there for a summer wedding and we made the most of every waking moment, attempting to do everything I remember doing in my childhood – fishing for snapper off the rocks, snorkeling, digging for shellfish with your toes, looking for fresh scallops after a storm, bush walking, watching the ponderous wood pigeons ingest berries until they could hardly fly – oh, it was a treat. And the food – we embraced the local farmers market trying jams, pickles, chutney, cheeses, artisan breads, homemade baking, crepes on the beach, quails eggs from a lady who’s birds produced exactly 7 eggs a day (and she sold them on for NZ$ 5 for a dozen. I noticed that due to the recession more people are growing vegetables, doing their own baking and trading produce. Even though times are a little tough there was an abundance of  new cafes which will have to excel to survive. And there were some stunning menus: broad bean fritters served with haloumi cheese and a dab of dilled cottage cheese to finish, lots of freshly made blueberry and watermelon smoothies, zucchini marinated in garlic and lemon, drizzled with a local peppery oil, light as feather tempura pumpkin, local cheeses served with long crispy cigar thin baguettes, honey mixed with olive oil, onion jams etc. Wherever you turn on the island there are lots of people working very hard to tempt us mere mortals with delectable delights. And then we travelled home via Tokyo where food is taken extremely seriously and arranged with great care even in Disneyland. But my favourite meal was Sam Osborne’s home-grown tomatoes, served with a local goat’s feta, fresh basil, some of the Two Fat Bird’s Blueberry infused vinegar and no. 29’s olive oil and garlic, cracked pepper and Southern sea salt. Thanks Sam, you’ll go down in history for that!

This is Jack’s snack today using wholemeal scones baked yesterday (store in clingfilm to keep fresh) some apple rings from organic market, celery stalks with parmesan cheese inside, and a rice cracker from Japan. Our daughter has discovered the joy of caesar salads and I am encouraging it. Here’s her favourite recipe.

Caesar Salad for school lunch

Toast one slice of brown bread. Cut into some croutons. Crisp up some pancetta in a non stick pan (no oil needed). Cool. Grate some parmesan cheese, add to torn pancetta and croutons and place a little lemon zested up mayo in a small container in plastic lunch container. In a cooled gel salad container (we got ours online from Amazon.com) place shredded celery, chopped cucumber, chives and lettuce. Mix everything at school and don’t forget to put in a spoon, knife and fork. Done!

Lastly a word of warning. New Zealand is getting much fatter. We are fast following in the footsteps of the US although are still behind the UK and Australia. It’s a huge (sorry bad play on words) concern in terms of diabetes and heart disease and we should all be concerned. Fast food outlets target areas where there are secondary schools, shop owners offer huge discounts on bad food like cheapo meat mince pies, chips and fizzy drinks! We need to educate our kids about the health and environmental concerns of eating such food and its throw away containers. I believe in balance, in cooking from scratch, in buying locally, and in trying to grow a few vegetables yourself. Above all teach your kids to cook and you kids, cook with your mums and dads – it really is fun. Go on Bake Someone Happy! (that wonderful quote from http://www.parinto.com – see their fab designs)  And guess what you don’t need those fizzy drinks either!

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