Blueberry and Brazil Nut Baked Porridge

Blueberry and brazil nut baked porridge

Blueberry and brazil nut baked porridge

I am fickle about many things, but never breakfast.  Even when I have been through phases of not eating meat, limiting carbs and doing just about every diet imaginable, I have never, ever considered skipping breakfast.  For me, the day does not begin until I have had, at the very least, a cup of strong tea and something small to eat.  In recent years I have reluctantly embraced brunch, but found waiting until late morning to eat a bit of a struggle.  I just need a jump-start like you wouldn’t believe.  It comes, as many things often do, from childhood.  My mum was adamant that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, and we were not allowed to go anywhere without having something to eat first.  It is a habit that has stuck.

Breakfast during the working week is usually something that can be prepared and eaten very quickly as, let’s face it, none of us give ourselves enough time in the mornings. Toast is my default option of choice, mainly because I can eat it whilst walking around the house (a habit that my husband despises); or cereal that can be eaten quickly.  At the weekends there is much more time to make something delicious that can be lazily devoured over the newspaper supplements.  Only under very extenuating circumstances will I have breakfast at my desk.

I can just about manage porridge, although I no longer have a microwave, so it does require a bit of watching and stirring, which is a bit of a drag.  Recently I read a blog post on baking oats rather than boiling them, and became intrigued about how this could work in the morning.  The basic principle for this is that the liquid (milk) and flavourings are added to the oats in the same way, but cooked in the oven for about half an hour rather than in a pan for a few minutes.  Yes, it does take longer this way, but it doesn’t need any further attention after the oven door has closed.  If you can bear to get up early enough, you could pop this in the oven and go back to bed (provided you had a reliable enough alarm clock to get you up afterwards!)

This particular porridge is cooked in a mixture of milk, golden syrup and egg. The syrup gives it some much-needed sweetness (I still cannot abide plain porridge) and the egg sets it a little in the dish.  You can add just about anything you like to the mixture; mine contains half a punnet of blueberries that I had left in the fridge and the last of the brazil nuts, left over from the double espresso and Brazil nut cake I made last week.  Use very ripe blueberries if you can as they disintegrate in the oven to form little jammy pockets within the oats.  Finely chopping the brazil nuts gives them the grainy texture of coconut, which works well with the softness of the porridge.

For the second batch of this porridge, I made it the night before and reheated it the following morning in the oven for 10 minutes with a splash of milk.  It wasn’t quite as good as cooking it fresh, but it does save you 20 minutes.  You win some, you lose some.

Blueberry and Brazil Nut Baked Porridge

150g rolled oats
Large handful of brazil nuts, finely chopped
125g ripe blueberries
85g golden syrup
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 large egg
435g whole milk
30g melted butter
1½ tbsp coarse Demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 175ºc.  Lightly grease a large baking dish with butter.  Scatter in the oats, Brazil nuts and blueberries.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the golden syrup, salt, cinnamon, egg, milk and melted butter until smooth.  Pour over the oats mixture and gently stir to ensure everything is evenly distributed.

Sprinkle over the Demerara sugar and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until just set.

One Year Ago:  Street Food Saturdays: Brockley Market

Coconut Bread

Morning glory

Morning glory

I have reached the point, as I do every year, when the arrival of spring ceases to be a joy and becomes a damn nuisance.  I am talking, of course, about the scourge of pollen; the enemy of allergy-sufferers.  Hayfever season has bloody arrived.  For a few months we walk around puffy-eyed, drowsy on antihistamine and wondering if we will ever stop sneezing, until mid-summer comes and we are back to normal once again.  For the last few mornings, I have woken up with eyes so swollen it would be reasonable for people to assume that I had been in a fight.

Of course, I have ways to combat this: an antihistamine tablet and the dabbing of a cold flannel will usually bring it down in half an hour or so.  Rather large sunglasses are also a great disguise if they do not, but it does mean getting up that little bit earlier to give it time to work.  Always one to see the positives, I have used this time to rediscover the beauty of taking time over breakfast.

A leisurely breakfast is one of the joys of the weekend.  With ample time, we will either languish in a cafe reading the papers, ordering coffee after coffee; or will cook something enormous and sit at the kitchen table, listening to the radio and gossiping about the night before.  During the week there is no such bliss and breakfast is either a piece of toast eaten whilst trying to wrestle my hair into submission, or whatever delights my office canteen is offering up that day.  Interpret ‘delights’ as you will.  With my new-found time, I have rediscovered my love of perfectly-brewed leaf tea (something definitely not available from the office canteen) and breakfasts so substantial I seldom need much for lunch.

Coconut bread

Coconut bread

A while ago, I was perusing the Caravan breakfast menu online and fixated, perhaps a little too much, on their grilled coconut bread with strawberries and lemon curd cream cheese.  Since then, I have not been able to get the idea of coconut bread out of my head.  I bake rather a lot with coconut as its crunchy graininess gives an extra dimension to many a tried and tested recipe.  My banana bread with rum and coconut is an old family favourite and, recently, I added it on a whim to some chocolate brownies with surprisingly good results.  This recipe for coconut bread originally came from breakfast supremo Bill Grainger, with a few tweaks by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen.  It has also been given an extra tweak by me, swapping the ordinary milk for coconut milk. Yes, coconut milk is bloody expensive these days (the cheapest can still always be found in the World Foods aisle, if you have one), but it heightens the coconut flavour and adds a little extra moistness. 

There is a fair bit of sugar in the bread, but it isn’t actually that sweet.  I used ordinary unsweetened desiccated coconut and unsweetened coconut milk, but if you want a sweeter bread, you could seek out some of the sweetened stuff.  Or add a sprinkle of Demerara sugar to the top of the bread before baking.  Either way, you’re going to love this.

Coconut bread

Coconut bread

Coconut Bread

  • 85g butter
  • 325g plain flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 200g granulated sugar
  • 150g desiccated coconut
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 300ml coconut milk

Preheat the oven to 175°c / 350°f / gas 4.  Grease a medium or large loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper.

In a small saucepan, heat the butter until melted and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, sugar and coconut milk and make a well in the centre.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs vanilla extract and coconut milk until fully combined.  Pour into the dry ingredients and mix together until fully incorporated.  Stir in the melted butter but do not over mix.

Scrape the ingredients into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the oven for around one hour, or until risen and brown and a skewer inserted into the centre of the bread comes out clean.  Cool in the tin for 20 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.  Serve in slices.

Breakfast at No. 67 at the South London Gallery, Peckham

Breakfast in the sun

Breakfast in the sun

Another belated post, I’m afraid, but with the sun shining so brightly in London this morning I couldn’t resist writing about a bit of alfresco dining.  One week ago today, just before we flew out to San Sebastian, Ollie and I went to the registry office in Peckham to register our intent to marry.  It was a pretty painless process really, but we still felt that anything that required us getting up early on our day off and bringing along our passports deserved a big breakfast afterwards.  Just across the street from the registry office is the excellent South London Gallery and it’s in-house cafe/restaurant, No. 67 – so named because of its location at 67 Peckham Road.

The good weather arrived in London a couple of weeks ago after months of torrential rain, and last Friday was the best day of all.  The sun beamed down on an empty picnic table on the front terrace of the cafe, where we quickly established ourselves and started to look at the menu.  At that moment, I received a text from my Dad to say that Southampton, a mere 75 miles away, had been enveloped in fog.  If there was a moment to develop weather-smugness, that would have been it.

The breakfast menu at No.67 is similar to what you might find in other smart south-east London cafés: good coffee, juices, organic yoghurt and muesli and a range of scrambled egg dishes with ham, salmon or spinach.  One anomaly, however, caught my eye – a baked egg, tomato and red pepper stew.  There is something wholesome yet rather decadent about having a stew for breakfast and at the weekend, if I have time, I will often make a the classic Mexican egg dish Huevos Rancheros (literally: ranch eggs) or the middle-eastern equivalent, Shakshuka (David Lebovitz’s version with chunks of feta is my favourite).  Both involve making a thick, spiced tomato sauce and cooking the eggs in it – either on the hob or in the oven – so that when served, the yolk spreads throughout the sauce.  Can you think of anything better?

Baked egg, tomato and red pepper stew

Baked egg, tomato and red pepper stew

The baked eggs, tomato and pepper stew at No. 67 arrives with two slices of lightly toasted sourdough drizzled with olive oil, which I set aside for mopping up the remnants of the sauce later.  The egg, sat in the middle of the dish, is fresh and, although perhaps a touch overcooked for my liking, yields a little yolk into the sauce.  The stew itself is rich and thick, made with what I suspect to be the best quality tinned tomatoes, rather than fresh, which for this time of year will give a more substantial flavour.  A strong kick of black pepper and a smoky hint of paprika give it a deep flavour that works alongside the richness of the egg.

A very substantial and tasty breakfast.  If you want something that sets itself apart from the usual Eggs Benedict / Florentine / Royale, this could be the spot for you.

No. 67 Café and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Peach Pancakes with Chai Syrup

Peach pancakes with chai syrup

Yesterday was sheer pancake pandemonium.  During a little trip to the John Lewis food hall at lunchtime to pick up some lunch and my free coffee (hurrah!), I ended up in a scrum of people desperately grasping for the bisquick, maple syrup and nutella.  The fridge containing the ready-made pancakes and raspberry coulis had been utterly decimated.  Luckily, they thought ahead and put everything into convenient little displays.  Gotta love John Lewis.  They did the same with the haggis and whisky in the run up to Burns night.

The pancake display in John Lewis

My Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds were full of pictures of pancakes, videos of people successfully (and sometimes unsuccessfully) flipping pancakes and an array of imaginative toppings.  Despite there being far too much squirty cream for my liking, I loved the fact that there were so many people all indulging in the same thing on the same evening.

Whenever Shrove Tuesday comes around I wonder why I don’t make pancakes more often, especially at the weekends when I have more time in the mornings to whip some up for breakfast.  My favourite kind is the American-style pancakes – the ones containing baking powder that fluff up when in the pan – stacked up as high as possible and drenched in syrup.  I first had them in the states about eight years ago and rejoiced when we all became culinary Americanophiles and they started popping up in diners here.  I love crepes too, but am terrible at making them.  Ollie worked in the John Lewis cafe whilst at sixth-form and his spell on the crepe stand made him a master crepe-maker.  Just a shame he often works through dinnertime.

I found the recipe for these pancakes in a magazine I picked up at JFK some years ago, it was called ‘Comfort Food’ or something similar.  Knowing I was going home to sub-zero temperatures in the UK I found it quite apt.  The magazine has since been discarded, save for a couple of recipes that were cut out and stuck into a notebook I use to house interesting cuttings.  So it is not really my recipe, but I know not whom to credit.  I have also converted the measurements into metric – I do have a set of cups at home, but prefer my scales.  Puréeing the peaches means that you get a smooth batter, however you could instead chop them very small if you are a fan of the fruity pancakes, like the ubiquitous blueberry ones.  The addition of wholemeal flour (I used half wholemeal wheat flour and half wholemeal spelt flour as that was what I had in the cupboard) gives it a more wholesome and grainy texture, although you could use entirely white flour if you wished.  The peach flavour is fairly subtle, however the addition of the chai syrup, made with the reserved juice from the can amps it up a little.  If you’re not into the flavour of chai, you could make it without the teabags or simply add a scant teaspoon of your favourite spice.

Peach Pancakes with Chai Syrup

For the pancakes

  • 2 tins of peach slices in syrup
  • 2 large eggs
  • 125ml whipping cream
  • 180g wholemeal flour
  • 125g plain flour
  • 80g dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp fine salt

For the syrup

  • 250ml reserved peach syrup
  • 60g dark brown sugar
  • 65ml water
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • 2 chai teabags

Start by making the chai syrup.  Combine the peach syrup, dark brown sugar, water and cornflour in a small saucepan and stir over a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the teabags and cook and stir until the mixture is thickened and bubbling.  Cook for an extra two minutes before removing the teabags and allowing to cool.

To make the pancakes, pulse the peach slices in a food processor until puréed.  Transfer to a large bowl and, using a large balloon whisk, whisk in the eggs and cream until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, spices and salt.  Add this mixture to the peach puree, stirring until just combined.  The batter may be a little lumpy, but that is OK.

Lightly grease a small skillet or frying pan and place over a medium-high heat.  Ladle some of the batter into the pan and gently spread out with a spatula.  Cook until bubbles start to form on the surface and the edges look dry.  Gently flip the pancake over using a large spatula and cook on the other side.

Served stacked and drenched in chai syrup.

Petitou, Peckham

Pain au Chocolat

Pain au Chocolat

Sometimes on Fridays I have a day of working from home.  As I am spared the 45-minute commute from East Dulwich to Portland Place, I allow myself a bit of extra time for a leisurely breakfast.  South east London has a myriad of breakfast options from little backstreet cafes that bake their own bread and serve excellent coffee, to acclaimed restaurants with gourmet, and well-priced morning menus.  As all of London seems to go out for breakfast and brunch at the weekend, a day off in the week is a gem of an opportunity to sample these places when they are at their quietest.

I first discovered Petitou a couple of years ago.  I was having a particularly stressful morning trying to shop on Rye Lane for last minute essentials for a trip to Australia, flying later that afternoon.  Almost on my knees from balancing shopping bags, trying to find Australian dollars and taking a barrage of work calls, I needed a coffee and there it was.  Two espressos and some homemade crumpets with Marmite later and I was good as new.  Petitou is a lovely little cafe on the backstreets of Peckham, just off of Bellenden Road.  In the summer, you can sit out on their mosaic-tiled terrace and people-watch and in the winter, the windows completely steam up to create a warm cave, cut off from the world.  Theirs is not an extensive menu, but has enough small and large dishes to satisfy the needs of their diners.

Scrambled eggs and ham on toast

Scrambled eggs and ham on toast

The breakfast menu has a selection of pastries and bread options, including the aforementioned crumpets – so good I had to mention them again.  We shared a pain au chocolat, that was fresh and warm with a decent amount of chocolate inside.  We also ordered scrambled eggs and ham on toast – you can subsitute the ham for other items, including smoked salmon if you wish.  The ham was sourced from the excellent local butcher, Flock and Herd, and had a subtle smoky flavour and a tender texture that didn’t even require a knife to cut through it.  You could just gently flake it with your fork.  The eggs were creamy and flecked with chive and the toast hearty with a good amount of butter.  We also drank rather a lot of tea.

I intend to go for lunch very soon, the salads on their website look fantastic.

Petitou, 63 Choumert Road, Peckham SE15 4AR.

Petitou on Urbanspoon

Sunshine Breakfast

Shredded peel

Shredded peel

I have had the same standard breakfast since I was about five years old: two slices of brown toast with butter and either jam or marmalade.  I know it’s nothing groundbreaking, but it can be quite magical.  At the weekend I was gifted a beautifully rustic sourdough loaf from 10 Greek Street that made perfect breakfast toast.  Being January, there was also an enormous jar of homemade marmalade in my fridge (and several more in the cupboard) and a pat of slightly salted butter in the butter dish, slippery from the warmth of the kitchen.  I woke up a couple of mornings ago to find Ollie at the kitchen table, leafing through the paper with sticky orange fingers. “I love marmalade season,” he said.

As do I.  With all of the pitfalls of January; a lack of funds, terrible weather and a bit of post-Christmas junk in the trunk; there is always Seville orange season, which is enough to brighten up a dull month.  Almost as soon as new year is over, I go in search of those tough and slightly wrinkled little oranges that, I hope, will bring me lovely breakfasts for the rest of the year.  I spend many a happy January evening in the kitchen, shredding peel into matchsticks with a stanley knife, perfect for a month in which economy drives and health kicks keep us in the house.  Building up a storecupboard full of preserves gives you the virtuous feeling that you are stocking up for the year ahead.

The first batch of orange, lemon and ginger marmalade

The first batch of orange, lemon and ginger marmalade

I make several batches of orange marmalade in January, when Seville oranges are readily available, and then top up my cupboard with various other citrus marmalades, and jams, throughout the year.  This year I intend to make a batch of ‘Wedding Breakfast’ marmalade to be opened around the time of my nuptials in June, but am still yet to decide on which type of alcohol to add (it has to be boozy!), and would also like to experiment a little with the addition of blood oranges and grapefruit.  The first marmalade I make, however, is my all-time favourite, never-fail marmalade: Nigel Slater‘s Orange, Lemon and Ginger marmalade.  The recipe is extremely easy to follow: the peel is shredded and placed in a bowl and the juice squeezed over by hand, followed by a couple of litres of cold water.  The leftover pulp and pips are wrapped in a muslin bag and pushed into the bowl and the whole thing left overnight.  The pulp and pips are the most pectin-rich part of the fruit, so their addition will help the marmalade to set.  The mixture is then boiled and simmered to soften the peel before the muslin bags are squeezed out and discarded, the sugar is then added and the mixture boiled again until it reaches setting point.  It sounds like a lengthy process, but it is remarkably simple.  The most difficult part is deciding when the setting point has been reached.  I was lucky enough to have some advice on this from preserve maestro Vivien Lloyd who recommends the ‘flake test’  – this works really well, or you can use the chilled saucer method that Nigel recommends in his recipe.

This marmalade has the perfect combination of sweetness and sourness with a rather unsubtle punch of heat from the ginger – great if you like a little spice in your breakfast – and a generous amount of peel.  It never fails to bring a little sunshine into these dark and gloomy January mornings.

The recipe, by Nigel Slater, can be found here.

In Praise of Granola

Breakfast is, without a doubt, the most divisive meal of the day – everybody has an opinion on its importance, when it should be eaten, where it should be eaten and what should be eaten.  Unlike dinner, or to a lesser extent, lunch, our habits of eating this early morning meal differ wildly from one another.  For example, you have the breakfast purists:  those who believe in a hearty, early morning breakfast eaten at the dining room table (usually porridge), extravagant types who shun the kitchen in favour of buying their breakfast or those who take a more relaxed, any-time-anywhere approach.  The latter are often seen in London – in the queue outside my local Starbucks, the construction workers who seem to loiter outside the McDonalds in Victoria Station every morning, smug flexitimers in beautiful Soho cafes and, most disturbingly, those who eat on public transport.  In the last few months I have seen a woman eat a whole pepperoni take out pizza on an 8am journey on the number 12 bus (I would love to know where you can get hot pizza in East Dulwich at that time of day) and a woman on the Jubilee Line eating left-over take out curry from a foil tray using…. wait for it…. the naan bread as a scoop.  Some people, like myself, prefer to eat as soon as they wake, putting them somewhat into the purist category, however there are some who find the idea of eating in the morning nauseating and prefer to break their fast later in the morning, much like my colleague Trish who tortures me with the smell of a sausage sandwich at around 9.30am every morning when my mid-morning peckishness is starting to take hold.

My breakfast habits are very clearly divided into two camps: those during the week and those at the weekend.  The weekend is when breakfast really comes into its own – having a morning at leisure means that I can mix up batch of pancake batter or spend half an hour caramelising onions until they make the perfect sweet accompaniment for a sausage sandwich – but during the week it is impossible, even for an early riser, to dedicate this amount of a morning to food preparation.  So whilst the weekend breakfasts are all about eating beautiful and imaginative food (and usually foregoing lunch as a result), weekday breakfasts are more about convenience and something that will stave off the hunger pangs until lunch.  Of course, toast and porridge are the likely contenders but, during the hot weather this summer, I was thrown a wildcard in the form of granola.

Of course, I had eaten granola before, but in the form of tooth-achingly sweet shop-bought granola dumped on top of some equally sweet yoghurt.  The only place I ever saw proper granola was in cafes and restaurants, usually at the weekend, when the temptation of eggs benedict was too high for me to try it.  Whilst sweltering in the local supermarket and feeling thoroughly uninspired by the cereal selection, I decided that it was definitely time to attempt making my own.  The beautiful thing about making granola is that, provided you get the proportion of wet and dry ingredients about right, you can pretty much ad lib all of the ingredients and customise it to suit you.  The wet ingredients are usually made up of a combination of oil and syrup or honey, and the dry ingredients of oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit.  This can lead to a bit of a rampage in the baking aisle of the supermarket, frantically grabbing every nut and seed in sight, but the best way to approach it is to bulk by the main ingredients.  Oats are key and, thankfully, cheap and for me, another essential is desiccated coconut as it gives that little crunchy graininess.

Some tips for making granola:

  • Always gently heat the oil and syrup/honey together before combining it with the dry ingredients – it loosens it up and makes it easier to mix.
  • Stir the mixture half way through cooking to ensure it bakes evenly.
  • If you are going to add dried fruit, always stir it into the cooked granola – never bake it.

Below are two of my favourite recipes.  The first is a chocolate granola, adapted from the wonderful Orangette blog – this is a great granola to make for children or adults with a sweet tooth, the second is a maple, walnut and cranberry granola adapted from a recipe by Lorraine Pascal.  Both will brighten up your morning.

Chocolate Granola

Chocolate Granola

Chocolate Granola

  • 300g rolled oats
  • 50g sliced almonds, roughly chopped
  • 30g sunflower seeds
  • 80g desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 6 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 150g dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 150ºc / 300ºf / gas 2.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with baking parchment.

Combine the oats, almonds, seeds, coconut and sugar in a large bowl.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil and honey over a low heat until combined and the honey is loose.  Stir in the dry ingredients, ensuring that they are all coated in the honey mixture.

Spread on to the prepared baking sheet and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, stirring half way through to ensure it bakes evenly.

Once cool, stir in the chocolate and store in airtight containers.

Maple, Walnut and Cranberry Granola

Maple, Walnut and Cranberry Granola

Maple, Walnut and Cranberry Granola

  • 75ml maple syrup
  • 20g caster sugar
  • 25ml sunflower oil
  • 250g rolled oats
  • 85g mixed seeds
  • 75g walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 50g flaked almonds, roughly chopped
  • 50g desiccated coconut
  • 75g dried cranberries.

Preheat the oven to 150ºc / 300ºf / gas 2.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with baking parchment.

Combine the oats, seeds, walnuts, almonds and coconut in a large bowl.

In a large saucepan, heat the syrup, sugar and oil over a low heat until combined and the sugar has dissolved.  Stir in the dry ingredients, ensuring that they are all coated in the syrup mixture.

Spread on to the prepared baking sheet and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, stirring half way through to ensure it bakes evenly.

Once cool, stir in the cranberries and store in airtight containers.