Berenjenas Fritas con Miel

My slightly less glamorous attempt

My slightly less glamorous attempt

The first time I tried this simple yet amazing spanish tapas creation was at Casa Marcos in Villaverde, Fuerteventura, at what is currently still my number one restaurant in all of Europe. The place was pure magic, in so many ways. Great food, decor, service, wine, prices, sizes, oh and did I mention? The food was amazing.IMG_5017 (480x640)

One of the items we ordered, on the recommendation of the waiter (who I think was also the owner) was ‘Berenjenas Fritas Con Miel’ – also known as fried eggplant with honey. More than just a mere “what do you recommend,” the whole service model was for the waiter to bring out a chalk board of their (continually changing) menu items, put it on a chair and talk you through each one. More than just translating what they were, it was a conversation about exactly what we felt like and what each meal was and very nearly a counselling session on our culinary hopes and dreams. You could imagine if it was a concept restaurant somewhere like L.A. he’d be wearing a name badge that said “Food Consultant.” Luckily for us we were on the very definition of a dessert island (there’s actually only sand on the beaches because it gradually blew over from Africa).

That's the look you get when you know you're about to have an amazing feed

That’s the look you get when you know you’re about to have an amazing feed

So we indulged in some delicious, slightly crispy, fried eggplant slices, drizzled with tasty local honey. Having never been the greatest fan of eggplants, I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty and yet simple it was.

I was reminded once again of this dish more recently at a tapas restuarant in Copenhagen called “El Porron.” The food was great, and is once again restoring my faith in Spanish food (until that restuarant in Fuerteventura I’d been rather quite disappointed in Spanish Cuisine). Equally tasty (and filling me with nostalgia for the extremely relaxing time I had in the Canary Islands), I decided that now that I have my own kitchen, the budget for experimental cooking and a stocked pantry for what feels like the first time in over a year I’d hunt down a recipe and try them out myself.

Actually my first attempt was “how hard can it be? Fry a slice of eggplant, put honey on it.” But alas, there is more skill required, as I ended up with a pile of eggplant-y mush covered in honey. As it turns out you have to get the moisture out of the eggplant slices, and put a little flour on them first. The trick to removing the moisture is to either just squeeze them out, or to sprinkle some salt over them and leave them for and hour on a paper towel (the salt draws the water out) and then squeeze them. Another recipe also suggested soaking them in milk to ‘remove the bitterness’ and then ringing out the slices.

Lucky for me one eggplant is about 3 portion sizes, so got two more chances to redeem myself. I tried the milk option next, which didn’t really work that much better I thought, and then the salt option. I learnt that you really should be careful to sprinkle as little salt as possible – I overshot the mark on one of the eggplant slices and felt like I’d bitten into the ocean when it was time to eat them. But as far as getting crispy eggplant slices, it was definitely the best method.

Next, dip them in flour (I used buckwheat flour to keep it gluten free, which worked fine) and then fry. I also used coconut oil, which I think works pretty well for the sweet/savoury combination. Finally, place on a paper towel to soak up excess oil, then drizzle with honey when you serve. Apart from waiting for the slices to dry out (which can be hurried along by just skipping the salt and ringing them out) it was quick, easy and super delicious. It seems the flour really is necessary, and perhaps wheat flour would have been more effective, but a gluten free alternative worked perfectly fine.

Verdict: Easy, novel and tasty. Nostalgia made it even more so.IMG_5021 (640x480) IMG_5019 (640x480)

88. The Tram Museum

On the walk between Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium and Sibelius Park, I saw a strange looking building with huge doors. Just as I was standing there pondering what could be going on inside, a tram came rolling along, and the huge doors slowly swung open. It was the tram depot! A huge grin spread across my face as the Thomas The Tank Engine Theme was all of a sudden in my head. With a musical skip in my step and plenty of nostalgia (I’m beginning to think I’ll never grow up) I carried on towards the park.

A few hundred metres down the road I noticed a sign that had the words ‘free’ and ‘gallery.’ Having had great success in galleries in the Design District I thought I’d check it out. Turns out it was actually a Tram Museum. I couldn’t help but laugh as I recalled a most hilarious (but only retrospectively) moment in Geoghegan family history. My father is probably responsible for my love of museums. He seems to not be able to get enough of them either. Being an engineer, the day we drove past the Train Museum on a family road trip, he couldn’t resist stopping to check it out. I think it was somewhere near the Waiuru Army base, and we were halfway through a ten hour road trip from Coromandel to Wellington on a stinking hot day. The absolute last thing anyone wanted to do was extend the trip for an extra hour, let alone inside a building that not only wasn’t air conditioned, but had a multitude of steam engines going at full boar. It was like being in a sauna with a jet engine.

So we have this hilarious photo of the most disappointed, angry, unimpressed facials, as we sat outside roasting whilst waiting for Dad to stop oooh-ing and aaaah-ing over train engines at the most boring and uncomfortable museum ever. I believe he still gets reminded every time anyone else in the family wants to go somewhere he doesn’t “Remember the train museum? We’re going to that art gallery.” “You’re taking us shoe shopping to make up for that time you took us to the train museum.”

And there I found myself in a tram museum cracking up laughing! Dad would have loved checking out the old trams of Helsinki, learning about the transition from horse-drawn trams to electric ones. In amongst the old carriages there was a big huge description of how people were annoyed at ticket prices, like it was the only place in the world where people complain about public transport pricing or something. It was actually pretty interesting and had a really nice cafe, and a big stage in the middle where they were setting up for some kind of gig later on. Unlike train museums in New Zealand, I would definitely recommend the Tram Museum in Helsinki, and maybe even take my Dad there and lose him for the next four hours.

79. Home Made Hot Cross Buns

I woke up this morning to a drizzly view out the window, and a fine realisation that it was Good Friday, everyone was home and I had absolutely no plans. And with that I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to make hot cross buns. I’ve never actually made them myself, but last time I was at home for Easter mum made a tonne of them, and the weather was exactly like today. A perfect day to stay inside all day, bake and be nostalgic!

The first hurdle, however, was whether or not we had all the ingredients in the cupboard for a somewhat ambitious impromptu baking session. After a few different translation attemps it was established we didn’t have any raisins in the house, and the look of horror on my host mother’s face at the thought of getting the kids to eat them lead to a quick change in plans. Inspired by good old Quality Bakers (even though home made hot cross buns are in a delicious league of their own) and I whipped up some child-friendly hot cross buns. So here’s my version of the traditional Good Friday treat. I must say, I felt awful grown up preferring raisins to chocolate, but although hot cross buns have had quite the contentious history themselves*, they’ve always been difficult to introduce to kids, so the compromise version was fine by me!

While some might consider the method laborious, I think it is ideal for a relaxing day off, and slowly making them over the course of the day is a great way to enjoy being inside with the family, or motivate myself to study with scheduled breaks in the hot cross bun process! Perhaps it was festivity and familiarity, but they smelled amazing, even the dough. also enjoyed the lovely baking soundtrack that was Hungry Kids of Hungary while I made them. So here’s my version of the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (240 ml) milk
  • 7 grams active dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 500g all purpose flour
  • 55 grams light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 70 grams butter, melted
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 C chopped dark chocolate

In a small saucepan, heat the milk using a very low heat until lukewarm. Add the yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar and stir to combine. Set aside for about 10 minutes or until the yeast is foamy.

Combine the flour, sugar, spices, and salt. Once the yeast is foamy, gradually add to the flour mixture and beat until the dry ingredients are moistened. Add the melted butter and egg and beat until incorporated. At this point I really would have liked to have had my mother’s Kenwood Cake mixer, which is older than me and wouldn’t surprise me if it had its own specific mention in the will, but alas, some intense elbow grease was applied.

Gradually add the chocolate peices and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Add more flour if it is sticky, until it makes a good dough-y consistency.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning the dough once, so the top is lightly greased. Cover with plastic wrap or a teatowell and place in a warm spot to rise until it has almost doubled in size (about 1 1/2 – 2 hours).

When the dough has doubled in size, gently punch it down to release the air, and divide into 12 equal pieces. Form each piece into a small round ball and place on a tray lined with baking paper. The buns should be spaced so they have enough room to double in size. Brush with a glaze made of one beaten egg mixed with 1 tablesoon of milk. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm spot until they have almost doubled in size (about 60 minutes).

While they are rising, mix up the “crosses” by combining 1/2 cup plain flour and 4 to 5 tablespoons water. Pour in to either a piping bag, or snip the corner off a snaplock bag.

Preheat oven to 205 degrees C. Brush the tops of the buns with the glaze again cut a ‘cross’ in the top of each bun. Pipe a cross in to the gap on each bun and pop in to the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the buns are nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Place on a wire rack to cool completely before glazing.

Makes 12 delicious buns.

*Hot Cross buns were at one stage banned in Protestent England as they were thought to be propogating a few too many Catholic values, but Queen Elizabeth passed a specific law allowing bakeries to sell them at Easter and Christmas. Good to see deliciousness took precedence over politics.