From the Neilson kitchen…

It’s been a little while since we’ve shared some recipes, so here’s a few of our favorites that have made frequent appearances in the Neilson kitchen these days… Enjoy, friends!

Mel’s Muesli Bars

Delicious when crumbed over yogurt, or as an energizing, nutrient-filled snack to eat on the go!  The dried fruit and seeds can easily be interchanged for other dry goods you have on hand.

1 ¼  cup shredded coconut

1.5 cups rolled oats

½ cup whole almonds, loosely chopped

½ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup pumpkin seeds

¼ cup sesame seeds

¼ cup flax seeds

¼  cup sunflower seeds

½ cup dried papaya with lime, chopped

¼ cup dried gogi berries

Pinch salt

100g butter

¾ cup honey

1 Tbsp sugar

1.        In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, honey, and sugar together.  Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat without stirring for 7 minutes.

2.       Meanwhile, combine coconut, oats, almonds, and seeds in a skillet and toast over med-low heat until coconut and sesame seeds are golden.  Remove from heat.

3.       Combine the rest of the dry ingredients in with the toasted mixture in a large bowl.

4.       After letting the honey mixture cool for a few minutes, pour over dry ingredients and stir to coat evenly.  Press into a square baking pan, greased and lined with foil.  Let cool completely before cutting into bars.

Savoury French Toast

A tasty twist on the traditionally-sweet breakfast item we all know and love…  These savoury morsels are perfect for brunch, lunch, dinner, or as an appetizer/entree.

1 baguette

3 eggs

3/4 cup milk

1/2 red pepper (capsicum)

1/2 yellow pepper (capsicum)

1 small onion

salt & pepper

olive oil

a handful of baby spinach leaves

your favorite cheese, sliced (we like old cheddar)

1.  Dice peppers and onion.  Saute in a little bit of butter or olive oil on low heat until vegetables are soft and onions are clear.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.

2.  While vegetables are cooking, slice the baguette into slices, 1 inch thick. 

3.  Whisk the egg and milk together in a shallow dish.  Dip the bread slices, one a time, into the egg mixture, letting it soak it up the mixture for a few seconds on each side.

4.  Transfer the saturated bread slice to a hot griddle or skillet coated with butter or cooking spray, and cook to brown each side until golden.  Transfer cooked slices to a baking sheet.

5.  Once vegetables and french toast are both ready, it is time to assemble!  Top cooked french toast with a slice of cheese, followed by a few baby spinach leaves, and a tablespoon of the sauteed vege mixture.

6.  Slide the tray of assembed french toast bites into the oven at 180 degrees C just long enough to slightly melt the cheese. 

7.  Transfer to a serving platter, and devour!

Mother Earth Bread
An extremey simple but tasty bread recipe that I got from my mother in law, who snagged it out of “Mother Earth” magazine.  The dough is super quick to whip up, and easily customizable.  It sits in your fridge for a minimum of 8 hours or up to 2 weeks, and then you just pop it on a pan to bake when you’re craving some fresh bread!   Can’t get more simple or awesome than that.
To make dough:
In a large bowl, combine…
3 cups water
1.5 tsp salt
1.5 tsp yeast
6 cups flour (I use whole wheat)
(Any additional ingredients used to flavour bread may also be added here. *See bottom for suggested variations.)
Stir ingredients together.  Put in fridge 8 hours or overnight, or store in sealed container for up to 2 weeks until you are ready to use it.
To bake:
1.  Cut off the amount of dough you are going to use.
2.  Shape dough on pan dusted with flour. (No need to kneed it)
3.  Let dough rest 30 min on pan.
4.  Dust dough with flour.  Score top of dough with knife.
5.  Bake @ 450 degrees F on middle rack with a tray of water underneath for approx. 30 min, or until crust is crisp and golden.  Let cool slightly before slicing.
*Variations we enjoy:
Savoury (Italian Herbs & Cheese)- Add a tablespoon of italian seasoning and 3/4 of shredded cheddar cheese added to dough, then grated cheddar on top when ready to bake.
The Hearty Variation- Add a few handfuls of seeds- sunflower, pumpkin, flax to the dough.
Honey Oat- Make the dough as normal, then when bread is ready to bake, brush with honey and sprinkle with oats.

Mrs. Neilson’s Spicy Pumpkin Cake with Chocolate Chunks

Pumpkin and chocolate?  An odd combination, you might think… but surprisingly delightful!  This is an adapted version of a cake I used to make back home every October… it’s got all the familiar flavours of pumpkin pie, but with a delectable twist.  I made it for my students, and as skeptical as they were, they ate it right up!  Word of “Mrs. Neilson’s pumpkin cake” spread quickly around the school, and many people have since asked for the recipe.  Here  it is!

3 cups whole wheat flour (or all purpose)

 2.5 tsp baking soda

 2 tsp cinnamon

 1 tsp nutmeg

 1 tsp cloves

 2 cups pureed pumpkin

 2 cups firmly-packed brown sugar

 1 cup low-fat or non-fat buttermilk

 2 large eggs

 2 Tsp canola oil

 1 cup dark chocolate, chopped


1pkg cream cheese

250ml whipping cream

1/3 cup sugar

Cinnamon (to sprinkle on top)

1.  Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.  Grease a large rectangular cake pan.  2.  Mix flour, baking soda, salt, and spices together in a medium size bowl.3.  In a large bowl, beat pumpkin puree, brown sugar, buttermilk, egg, and oil together.  Add dry ingredients to wet, stirring just until moistened.  Stir in chocolate chunks.4.  Pour batter into greased pan.  Bake for approx. 30 min or until cake is golden in color, and a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean.  5.  Let cake cool completely before icing.6.  To make icing, whip cream with sugar until stiff peaks form.  
7.  Beat cream cheese until smooth, then fold in whipped cream.
8.  Spread icing on cooled cake.  As a finishing touch, dust with cinnamon.  Enjoy by itself or with a cup of chai tea.  Serves 12-15.

North Island Excursions

After returning from our busy interisland roadtrip, Tash and I spent the last week in Auckland, taking in some of the highlights of this more balmy region.  While the weather definitely could have been better, it was certainly warmer up here than it was down South, making us thankful it was just raining instead of freezing and raining.  And we did try to make the most of it when the sun was shining!  Some of the highlights of our time in Auckland included

A Saturday morning trip to the French Market, where we admired all the delicious French pastries, and Tash picked up the most amazing hot crossed buns.

Easter Dinner and Chinese tea with the “Canadian Fam.”

Strolling the lovely main street of Devonport in the sunshine, and a fun photo session, atop Victoria Hill.

A Zumba photoshoot out at a rainy Piha.  We really wanted to get these photos in, and with the forecast predicting rain all week, we decided to just do it… in the rain.  More photos from the shoot can be viewed here.

It was a real treat to be able to take an intermediate contemporary class together at City Dance one evening.  There was even a sweet, young woman observing in the studio that evening who offered to look after Micah so that Natasha could dance… her kind actions were such a blessing.

A daytrip out to the Coromandel to hit up hot water beach and Cathedral Cove.  While the forecast predicted showers, we thankfully experienced nothing of them!  We were greeted by the brilliant morning sun at our 8:00am arrival to Hot Water Beach, the time of low tide that day.  Two young, entertaining German lads let us share the pool they had already dug, thankfully meaning that we didn’t have to dig our own.

There was a brief shower while we took an intermission in a cafe near hot water beach, but by the time we were ready to tackle Cathedral Cove, the sky had cleared up and it was gorgeous out again.  Amazing.

On Tash’s last night here, we went out for dessert to the Chocolate Boutique, a cute chocolate shop/cafe in Parnell Village that was made famous because Bill Clinton once had tea there during a visit to NZ.  We were extremely lucky to get a table at this popular joint, and thoroughly enjoyed our chocolate tiramisu cheesecake, although the shot of liquified chocolate we ordered was a tad intense on the sweetness level… We were glad we only decided to order one chocolate shot between the two of us!

Looking back, we really did accomplish a lot and see a lot of things over the 7 days Tash & I got to share on the North Island!  Micah was a real trooper, and an awesome baby and traveller.  Miss those two already!!  It was truly special to be able to share this time together.

4 years ago…

It was four years ago, on that beautiful spring day in the Taylor Chapel that we said “I do” and committed our lives together in Holy Matrimony.

The snow that had fallen the day before had melted, the week of rainfall that had preceded the snow had ceased, and the sun came out that Saturday morning to light up a fresh, green world.  It was perfect.  We will forever cherish that day and the special people that surrounded us as we began a new journey of togetherness.

Going with the traditional gift for 4 years of marriage, Brendon surprised me with a beautiful fruit basket that he had fashioned himself.  I laughed, it was so cute!!  And probably the prettiest fruit basket I had ever seen.  What a sweet and thoughtful husband I have!

We celebrated four years of matrimony with a date to one of our favorite spots nearby… the Belgian Beer Cafe.  Some grilled pesto and parmesan mussels, frites with aoli, and a Belgian waffle topped with ice cream and Belgian chocolate sauce were thoroughly enjoyed.

And what better way to reminisce than with a few pictures from that happy day 4 years ago…