Cook this: Nonna Gemma’s buttery, salty French toast

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I miss my grandmother. It still feels weird to talk about her in the past tense, that she doesn’t “exist” anymore. I don’t like writing that she “was” a big part of my life; she still is. She helped raise me. She taught me to knit and hand stitch in her sewing room. She taught me to pick out good produce at the market, and cook it like a pro. She made outfit after outfit for me, including the veil I wore on my wedding day. She gave me crap for my ripped jeans, asking if they needed mending, and telling me I looked ridiculous. She always started phone conversations by asking if I’d eaten (no, it’s not some Italian joke, she legit asked every time), and how Marley, my dog, was going. After she’d told me off for not answering my phone earlier in the day (sorry Nonna, I’ve been at work. “Why?!” was her response, most of the time – I could never tell if she was serious or not).

Anyway, I married a teacher, so I observe the comings and goings of the school terms. With the mention of the school term about to end, a memory filled my head and took over for a second, like one of those crazy movie flashbacks… I was a primary school aged kid again, at Nonna’s house. I’d usually stay at her house a few nights every school holidays, so we could just hang out together and do stuff that mum wouldn’t let me do. I was sitting at the bench in the kitchen, on the wooden stool you can see in the picture below, where we had breakfast together, watching her cook French toast for us. And I felt my soul crack a little. It’s cracking again right now, as I type this.

Nonna would work SO intently at her little stove top, making sure our breakfast was just right. Everything had to be perfect for her grand children, especially the food. Our favourite breakfast was French toast, made with thick, fresh Italian bread, cooked in an absolutely ludicrous amount of butter, with more than a sprinkle of salt. It was always perfectly crispy and golden without ever burning. She was a master, really.

Yes, it’s indulgent, and no, it’s not going to benefit your health to eat this regularly. But sometimes when your soul is crying out for a hug, comfort food is where it’s at. Here’s my best attempt to re-create Nonna’s French toast.

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It was pretty simple – a few eggs and milk whisked together, dip the bread in (I went a la Nonna and used a loaf of Italian bread, bought from the Preston market, sliced myself with the crusts removed) and fry up on a non-stick pan containing a small ocean of butter. And yes, I added some fruit to try to justify all of the butter and carbs. If you need a pick me up too this weekend, whip yourself up a plate of this buttery deliciousness this weekend – trust Nonna Gemma, it’ll make you happy!

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Cook this: Lemon chia seed cake

I’m basically a little old lady who loves a cup of tea and a piece of cake. I also really like a good lemon dessert, so I thought I’d make a lemon poppy seed cake. Then I realised I didn’t have poppy seeds… but I did have chia seeds. I figured they’d work pretty well in cake, which they really, really did.

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Ingredients:
– 1½ cups plain flour
– 1½ tsp baking powder
– 115g butter, softened slightly
– 125g caster sugar
– 2 large eggs, at room temperature
– zest and juice of 2 lemons
-180g plain Greek yoghurt
– 2 tbsp chia seeds
– 2 tbsp milk

 

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C and line a 9″ round cake tin with non-stick baking paper.
2. Combine the flour and baking powder in a bowl and set aside.
3. In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric beater for a few minutes and until light in colour, creamy and fluffy. Then, beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides as needed.
4. Beat in the lemon zest and juice next for a few minutes, until completely combined.
5. Stir in half the flour mixture with a spoon, then add the yoghurt and the chia seeds. Once they’re mixed in, add the rest of the flour and stir until completely incorporated.
6. Finally, mix in the milk, then pour the batter into the cake in and smooth out.
7. Bake for 35 minutes, until golden on top and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
8. Allow the cake to cool for 15 – 20 minutes in the tin, then remove and dust with a little icing sugar to serve.

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Cook this: Peanut Butter Nutella Cookies

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Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I’m a chronic chocoholic, with a particular weakness for Nutella, which I inherited from my dad. I also LOVE peanut butter. Sweet chocolate + salty peanut butter = happy Jess.

I came across a recipe for Nutella Peanut Butter Cookies at Averie Cooks the other day. As far as I was concerned, my hands were tied. As usual, I played around with the recipe a bit (I can’t follow instructions in the kitchen without messing around with them), and here’s what happened…

 

Ingredients to make around 20 cookies..
– 1 large egg
– about ⅘ of a 220g jar of Nutella
– ½ cup crunchy peanut butter – my weapon of choice is Mayvers Crunchy Peanut Butter
– ½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– ½ cup all-purpose flour
– 1 tsp baking soda
– pinch of salt
– 180g dark chocolate, chopped

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To create heaven…

1. Combine the egg, Nutella, peanut butter, brown sugar and vanilla in an electric mixer or with a hand beater for about 5 minutes – you’ll know it’s done when it’s smoother and oily and comes together nicely.

2. Add the flour, baking soda, optional salt and beat to incorporate. The dough will be quite different to regular cookie dough; it won’t really come together and will be a little flaky. All good, it’ll be fine. Mix in the chocolate chunks.

3. Take scoops of approximately 1 tablespoon (you can go bigger if you prefer) and use your hands to compact them into a ball. Place a sheet of non-stick baking paper on a large plate or tray, and place the cookies on top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a bare minimum of 2 – 3 hours – I left them overnight.

4. Preheat oven to 180°C, line 2 baking sheets with non-stick baking paper. Place your cookies on the baking trays, leaving an inch or so between (they’ll spread quite a bit). Bake for around 10 minutes, or until top have just set, even if slightly under baked in the center. It’ll be tempting to let them cook a little longer, but they will firm up as they cool, and baking too long will result in cookies that set up too crisp.

5. Leave the cookies to cool on their trays for 10 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack to come down to room temperature. Or just wait until they’re cool enough to handle and tuck in.

 

A little crunchy on the outside, gooey and fudgy on the inside. Very sweet, a little salty, completely delicious. There’s not much I’d change about this recipe – the only thing I can think of would be to maybe add some crushed, toasted peanuts to balance out the sugar a little more. Really glad I went on a 12km walk this morning. Feel like I might need to walk another 12km now. Worth it. Enjoy.

Cook this: White chocolate, raspberry & pistachio brownies

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It seemed like a good idea at the time. How many stories start like this and end really, really badly? A high percentage, right? I’m still not sure how, because I’m usually the poster girl for these kind of stuff ups, but this recipe is somehow the exception to the rule and miraculously turned out really, really well!

 

Ingredients:
– 300g white chocolate, broken into pieces
– 190g butter, chopped
– 1 cup caster sugar
– 285g plain flour, sifted
– 3 eggs at room temperature, lightly whisked
– 1 heaped cup of frozen raspberries
– 85g pistachios, slightly crushed

 

Method:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C and line a lamington tray with non-stick baking paper.
2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a small pot of simmering water. Stir until completely melted and smooth, and set aside for 5 minutes to cool.
3. Stir in the eggs with a wooden spoon, then the sugar and the sifted flour.
4. Gently stir in the pistachios, then the raspberries – try not to over stir or the batter will turn pink.
5. Pour the batter into the tin, smooth it out and bake for 40 minutes, or until lightly golden and set, but still a little chewy inside as a good brownie should be!
6. Allow to cool completely in the tin before taking it out to slice up.

 

It’s like a super thick, dense mud cake/brownie hybrid. You just need to take care not to over cook it as it’ll lose its chewy brownie-like centre. I’m a big fan of white chocolate for a bit of a change every now and then, and I’m sure you could use this brownie base to mix just about anything in – it’s pretty versatile. Enjoy!

 

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