Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Low-Carb Silken Chicken-Liver Pâté with Green Peppercorns

If you're looking for a brilliant snack to serve friends and family over the festive season, try this velvety chicken liver pâté with green peppercorns.  My formula is the culmination of many years of making retro party pâtés, and I hope this easy, inexpensive dish will knock the socks off your guests. (Scroll to the end of this page for links to more of my potted pleasures).

My Low-Carb, Silken Chicken Liver Pâté with Green Peppercorns. 



Wine recommendation from Michael Olivier: He says: "Leopard's Leap Culinaria Muscat de Frontignan Collection 2013, made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes from Robertson. A sweet wine goes very well with paté."

It looks like: Elegant packaging. The wine is pale salmon in colour. 

It smells like: Rose petals and Turkish Delight.

 It tastes like: Rich and sweet grapiness. Though not cloying in its sweetness. Percent balance of beautiful aromas, luscious sappy fruits, good counterbalancing acidity and a long gently waning aftertaste with an undertow of rose geranium.


I can't bear gritty, greyish chicken-liver pâtés: for me even to consider eating liver (shudder), the mixture must be very smooth and fine, with a complex flavour, a boozy undertone and a slight rosy blush on the inside. I've added Madagascan green peppercorns to this recipe because I love the way the way their peppery pop surprises your tongue and adds lovely contrast to the richness of the livers.

There are two important watchpoints here: Don't overcook the livers - a gentle pinkness as you cut into the pâté is essential - and do strain the mixture through a fine sieve to remove any gristle and ensure a silken result. The clarified butter topping isn't essential to seal the top of the pâté, but it looks so pretty, with its scattering of both crunchy pink peppercorns and brined green ones.

This recipe is low in carbohydrates and suitable for diabetics. If you're on a #LCHF regime, I suggest you serve it with slim discs of cucumber or crisp celery sticks, or caperberries, as shown in the picture above. If you're not banting, serve this with slices of fresh baguette or Melba toast.

Low-Carb Silken Chicken-Liver Pâté with Green Peppercorns 

500 g chicken livers, thawed
150 g (150 ml) salted butter
a small onion or two shallots, peeled and very finely chopped
1 large sprig fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbsp (30 ml) brandy, plus an extra teaspoon
2 Tbsp (30 ml) cream
4 tsp (20 ml) brined green peppercorns
a grating of whole nutmeg
salt and milled black pepper, to taste

To top:

50 g (50 ml) salted butter
a few green peppercorns
a few red peppercorns
a sprig of thyme

Trim any gristle or unpleasant-looking bits off the chicken livers, rinse under cold water and drain for 10 minutes in a colander.  Pat them dry on kitchen paper. If they are of unequal size, cut the biggest ones in half.

Melt 100 g of the butter in a large frying pan, over a medium heat, and add the onion and thyme sprig. Cook gently for 4-5 minutes, until the onion bits are soft. Don't allow the onions to brown  - they must seethe happily in their bath of golden butter, without catching. When the butter begins to turn a rich golden-brown at the edges of the pan, add the garlic and cook for a further minute.

Now turn the heat right up and tip in all the chicken livers. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, turning them over now and then. The butter should bubble enthusiastically, and the livers must must take on a little colour, while remaining pink in the middles. To check, cut the biggest piece in half - it should be rosy, but not raw, on the inside.  Remove the livers with a slotted spoon and put them in a blender.

Add the brandy to the pan - stand back, in case it ignites - and bubble furiously for a minute or two, or until the alcohol has burned off and the liquid has reduced by about half. Remove the thyme sprig and pour the hot pan juices into the liquidizer.

Put the cream, the remaining 50 g butter and 1 tsp brandy (to taste; you might want to add a little more) into the goblet, and blitz to a smooth pureé.

Put a fine sieve over a bowl and tip the warm mixture into it.  Strain it through the sieve by pressing down on the mixture with the back of a large spoon.

Stir in the green peppercorns and a little freshly grated nutmeg, to taste.  Season with salt and black pepper. Let the mixture cool to for a 5-10 minutes (this is to prevent the peppercorns sinking to the bottom), stir well, then pour into a clean pâté dish. Smooth the top to as level as you can get it.

Scatter over a few more green peppercorns, and some pink peppercorns if you fancy those, and lightly press a sprig of thyme to the centre. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for 2 hours.

To prepare the clarified butter, melt 50 g butter in a pan or your microwave.  Place a new or laundered cloth (a dishcloth like this is perfect) in a sieve, and pour the butter through the sieve over the pâté, to form an even layer.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat.

Serve with crackers and pickles.

Serves 6 as a snack or starter.

Like this recipe? Try some of my other potted pleasures:

Potted Pork Shoulder with Green Peppercorns

Easy Duck Rillettes

Potted Pork Belly with Mace & Pepper

Old-Fashioned Potted Salmon or Trout


Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Christmas Gammon in a Wonderbag, with an Oros, Brandy & Ginger Glaze

One of the highlights of my year as a food writer is sharing a new Christmas gammon idea every November, because these recipes are always so warmly received. Much head-scratching went into this year's recipe, and I hope you'll like it. I've varnished this gammon with an Oros glaze because I wanted to use a South African ingredient I know will strike a chord with anyone who grew up drinking this iconic orange squash. (My recipe for Gammon Glazed with Brandy and Coke remains one of the most popular on this blog.)

Christmas Gammon Glazed with Oros, Ginger & Brandy, with my favourite
topping of fresh pomegranate seeds & pink peppercorns.  For a plainer
version studded with cloves, please scroll down the page. 

Oros has a distinctive sherberty taste and a lurid orange colour, which is part of its appeal. (It's free of tartrazine, if you're worried about that). My family were sceptical when I announced this as my choice of glaze. "Seriously, Mom? Oros?"  But the result was spectacular: citrussy and spicy, with glorious sunset colours.


Wine recommendation from Michael Olivier: He says: "Corder Cool Climate Elgin Syrah 2013. Matured in a combination of French and America oak barrels for 14 months.  Lots of fruit and spice which will meet the gammon perfectly."

It looks like:  Deep plum at the core, gem-bright purple garnet around the edges.

It smells like: Ripe bloodplums, pepper and oak spice.

It tastes like: Brambles and elderberries and spicy plums.  Soft and easy to drink with gentle ripe tannins which make it a excellent food wine.  Long and gently waning aftertaste.


I have used my trusty Wonderbag to come up with a recipe for tender, succulent gammon. I've had many successes and failures cooking Christmas gammons, and after testing this recipe several times, I'll never cook a gammon another way. The meat is deliciously soft and juicy, because its flavours don't leach out into the boiling liquid.  If you don't have a Wonderbag (and I urge you to buy one) you can simmer your gammon in stock, in the usual way. You'll find full instructions at the end of the recipe.

I made two versions of this, with two slightly different glazes: one with white wine wine - which preserved the glorious orange Oros colour - and the next with brandy, which produced a richer burnish. The first I studded with cloves (my family detested these) and the second with my favourite choice of gammon topping: fresh pomegranate seeds and a scattering of crunchy pink peppercorns.

If you don't fancy my Oros glaze, you'll find links to my other gammon recipes at the end of this page.

For this gammon, I used white wine, plus a studding of cloves. My
family didn't like the cloves, but I think they are very Christmassy.
Plate by David Walters

>> To see my gammon glazes of Christmasses past, plus three other recipes using the leftovers of a gammon, please scroll to the very end of this page.



Christmas Gammon in a Wonderbag, with an Oros, Brandy & Ginger Glaze

1 x boneless uncooked gammon, 1.8 kg to 2 kg, skin on
1 onion, peeled and thickly sliced
water, plus ginger ale or your favourite lager, to taste (see recipe)
2 bay leaves
1 star anise
half a stick cinnamon
1 grape-sized knob fresh ginger
1 small wedge of fresh lemon
4 whole cloves
5 allspice berries (optional)
1 tsp (5 ml) coarsely cracked black pepper

For the glaze:

1 cup (250 ml) Oros, or a similar sweet orange squash
½ cup (125 ml) white wine, or ¼ cup (60 ml) brandy
finely grated zest of a small lemon
4 tsp (20 ml) brown sugar
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) powdered ginger

To cook the gammon: place the sliced onion in the bottom of a pot big enough to fit the gammon, with some room around it. Put the gammon on top of the onions. Do not remove the netting around the meat.

(If you don't have a Wonderbag, please scroll down for my instructions about boiling a gammon.)

Fill the pot to a depth of 2 cm with water. Now add enough ginger ale or lager to bring the level of liquid up to 4 cm.

Add all the remaining spices and bring to the boil. Now turn the heat down to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and simmer for exactly 45 minutes.

Without opening the lid (which will cause the temperature in the pot to drop), place the pot in the Wonderbag, quickly cover with the cushion, and draw up the strings. The residual heat in the meat and pot will finish the cooking process. Set aside on the counter for at least six hours, or overnight, without opening the bag.

In the meantime, make the glaze. Put all the ingredients in a large saucepan, stir well and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat to medium and bubble briskly for about 15 minutes, or until the glaze has reduced by two thirds. You might find that the mixture seethes up in the pan: to prevent it from boiling over, stir it now and then, and place a spoon across the top of the pot.

Remove the gammon from the pot (reserve the gorgeous cooking liquid for soup, stock or gravy) and place it in a roasting dish. Use a pair of scissors to cut through and remove the netting. Now gently peel off the gammon's skin, making sure to leave a generous layer of fat behind. With a sharp knife, score the fat in a neat diamond pattern.  If you like, you can press a clove into the intersection of the diamonds.

At this point, you can put the gammon in the fridge for several hours - preferably overnight.  I recommend overnight, because it allows the meat to cool right down before it's glazed.  If you try glazing it while it is still hot, and not properly rested, the juices will leak from the meat and dilute the glaze.

Turn the grill to its hottest setting, and wait 15 minutes for it to heat to blazing.  Pour the glaze all over the gammon (don't worry if most of it runs off) and place the roasting dish about 20 cm below the grill. Watch it like a hawk, turning and tilting the pan often so the parts furthest from the heat brown evenly.  Use a big spoon to trickle the glaze over the gammon every few minutes.  It's really important to give the gammon your full attention while it's glazing - I put on a pair of oven gloves and perch myself on a chair in front of the oven.

When your gammon is sizzling and the fat layer a lovely rich golden colour all over, remove the tray from the oven, place it on the countertop, and tuck a folded-up cloth underneath one end to set it at a tilt. Continue for the next 10-15 minutes scooping and dribbling the run-off glaze gathering in the pan's corners over the gammon. As the glaze cools, it will cling to the fat.

Serve warm or cold, with pickles and potato salad, or as part of a Christmas feast.

Serves 6 as a main course with veggies and/or salad. 

To boil your gammon (This method comes from last year's gammon recipe):

1 x boneless uncooked gammon, 1.8 kg to 2 kg, skin on
1 can (340 ml) ginger ale
1 can (340 ml) lager of your choice
2 bay leaves, dried or fresh
3 cloves
10 peppercorns
½ tsp (2.5 ml) coriander seeds
1 star anise
1 grape-sized knob fresh ginger
1 small wedge of fresh lemon
1 onion, cut in half, skin on
1 large carrot, cut in thirds
a few stalks of parsley
water, to cover

Boiling a gammon in stockPut the gammon into a big deep pot and add all the remaining stock ingredients. The liquid in the pot should be at a level of about 2 cm above the top of the gammon.

Bring the gammon to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer at a very low burble, covered with a tilted lid, until it is cooked through. Please use your common sense here. I find that the cooking times given on the packaging for bone-out raw gammon (usually 55 minutes per kilogram) are excessive.

Every now and then top up the pot with more water, and skim off any mocha-coloured froth as it rises.

When the gammon is cooked, remove it from the pot, cover with clingfilm and let it sit for two hours on the countertop. Alternatively - and I recommend this method, as it allows the meat to cool and contract, without drying out - let your gammon cool overnight in its stock. (I always freeze the stock in small plastic boxes for use in future soups and stews.)

Now glaze as described above.

My other gammon glazes, plus five recipes using the leftovers of a gammon:


Christmas Gammon with a Beetroot & Wasabi Glaze

Christmas Gammon with a Pomegranate and Pink Peppercorn Glaze


Christmas Gammon with a Sticky Orange & Ginger Glaze
Christmas Gammon with a Sticky Orange & Ginger Glaze

Christmas Gammon Glazed with Brandy & Coke
Christmas Gammon Glazed with Brandy & Coke

And here's what to do with left-over gammon:

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Low-Carb Wine-Braised Leeks with Cream, Thyme & Parmesan

A dish of silken baby leeks cloaked in a wickedly creamy Parmesan sauce. The leeks take about half an hour to braise in their bath of wine, garlic and thyme, but once they're tender, the sauce takes just a few minutes of brisk bubbling to reduce and thicken. This dish is low in carbohydrates, and suitable for diabetics and anyone on a low-carb #LCHF regime.

Low-Carb Wine-Braised Leeks with Cream, Thyme & Parmesan.
This beautiful plate by my uncle David Walters, Master Potter of Franschhoek.

Wine recommendation by Michael Olivier.  He says: "Boland Cellar Granny Smith Nouvelle 2014. Nouvelle is a grape developed by Chris Orffer at the University of Stellenbosch by crossing Semillon and Ugni Blanc. First planted on the Geldenhuys family farm Klipvlei near Perdeberg, Nouvelle is grown in the Swartland, and it's a belter. 

 It looks like: Lime-green tinge of youth. Packed in a green-tinged bottle, with Granny Smith dancing on the label. 

 It smells like: Well - Granny Smith apples and fynbos herbs scrunched in your hand. 

 It taste like: Yes, you guessed, Granny Smiths again - and vibrantly so. A real thirst quencher: zesty, crisp and dry. A nice counterfoil to the leeks and cream.


I'm mad about baby leeks, and feature them often on this blog (recipe links below).  One watchpoint: even the slimmest leeks can be stringy, so be sure to keep them bubbling in the wine until they're as tender as a kiss.

If you don't cook with wine, you can use a cup of chicken stock in its place.

Here are more of my baby leek recipes. The first one is low in carbs, and the second and third are too, provided you omit the breadcrumbs and croutons.

Low-Carb Wine-Braised Baby Leeks in Prosciutto

Braised Baby Leeks with Halloumi 'Popcorn' and Frizzled Prosciutto

Salad of Warm Baby Leeks with Blue Cheese and Chilli Croutons



Low-Carb Wine-Braised Leeks with Cream, Thyme & Parmesan

750 g baby leeks
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half lengthways
1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 cup (250 ml) cream
½ cup (125 ml) finely grated Parmesan, plus a little extra for topping
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste

Fry the leeks in the oil until they take on a little
colour here and there. 
Trim the bases of the leeks and cut off the upper dark-green parts (freeze these for using in your next chicken stock).

Heat the olive oil in a large shallow pan and fry the leeks over a medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes, or until they take on a little colour here and there (see picture, left).

Add the garlic and fry for another minute, without letting it brown.

Pour in the wine - it will bubble furiously -  and add the thyme sprigs.

Now turn the heat right down, cover with a tilted lid and simmer for 25-35 minutes, or until the leeks are very - and I mean very - tender.

When almost all the liquid has evaporated, add
the cream.
Take off the lid. The liquid in the pan should have reduced to just a few tablespoons. If it has not, continue cooking the leeks, uncovered, until there are just a few tablespoons of liquid left in the pan.

Turn up the heat again, pour in the cream, and bubble briskly for a few minutes, or until the cream has reduced and thickened to the consistency of thin custard.

Stir in the Parmesan, turn the heat right down, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for a further minute, or until the cheese has melted.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt - the Parmesan is salty enough in its own right.

Remove the pan from the heat. Now add a spritz of lemon juice - just enough to give the sauce a little acidic lift.

Remove the garlic pieces and the thyme sprigs.

Serve hot, with an extra grating of Parmesan.

Serves 4 as a side dish. 


Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday, 31 October 2014

Luscious Low-Carb, Sugar-Free Vanilla Cheesecake with a Nut Crust

I have made many cheesecakes in my life and this one is, I think, the very best. The baked part is luscious, dense and creamy, with an almond-flavoured nut crust, while a top layer of barely jellied vanilla-scented sour cream adds a delicious final flourish. You won't believe, when you taste this, that it contains not a speck of sugar.

Luscious Low-Carb, Sugar-Free Vanilla Cheesecake with a Nut Crust. In this version I used
crème fraîche for the topping, which creates lovely swirls. 

Wine recommendation from Michael Olivier:  He says: "KWV Classic Collection Red Muscadel. We have the most underrated and under-priced sweet fortified wines in South Africa. This is pure Red Muscadel juice fortified with grape spirit and matured in large French oak barrels for a year. The most perfect wine for a rich and creamy cheesecake. You want something to cut through the cream and to make a statement. A wine that’s packed with flavour, and yet is not all about sweetness. The acidity offers contrast and the alcohol a little oomph. Do serve it chilled and in a wine glass, not a mean little liqueur glass. And pour it over ice if it takes your fancy."

It looks like: Gem bright like a ruby tinged amber. Pretty ‘cathedral windows’ appear on the side of the glass when you swirl the wine. 

It smells like: Berries and raisins and a whisper of oak. Begs you to go in and taste it. 

It tastes like: Phwoar! Big waves of fabulous fruit, raisins, red and black berries, a wash of the alcohol and oak, a little acid twist and an aftertaste that slowly rides off into the sunset.


For sweetening, this cheesecake relies on a little Xylitol, plus Canderel sweetener in powder form, which I find the least offensive of sugar substitutes. (I tried, while testing this recipe, using powdered stevia, but I found its bitterness impossible to disguise). The choice of sweetener is yours; please see my Cook's Notes at the end of this page. This recipe is ideal for anyone on a low-carb #LCHF regime, and suitable for diabetics.

Because this is an expensive cake, containing four tubs of cream cheese, I've provided detailed instructions so it turns out perfectly for you every time.

The most important thing is to use top-quality vanilla for the filling, and excellent almond extract for the nut base. I use this lovely vanilla paste from Yuppiechef, but if you can't find it, you can use good vanilla extract, plus the scraped-out seeds of a vanilla pod.

Also: don't over-cook the cheesecake, which will result in a somewhat dry and crumbly result. Baking the cheesecake nestled in crumpled foil, in a bain-marie, is crucial, as is judging when to take it out of the oven. Follow my instructions in the recipe closely, and you cannot go wrong.

I use low-fat Lancewood Cream Cheese for my cheesecakes, but you can choose any similar product.

In this version I used sour cream, which creates a perfectly smooth topping.



Luscious Low-Carb, Sugar-Free Vanilla Cheesecake with a Nut Crust

For the crust: 

¾ cup (180 ml) whole nuts of your choice - I use a mixture of almonds, walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts
1 cup (250 ml) almond flour
3 Tbsp (45 ml) melted butter
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Xylitol, or more, to taste
a few drops of good-quality almond extract

For the filling:

4 x 250 g tubs cream cheese, at room temperature (see Cook's Notes at the end)
1/3 cup (80 ml) Xylitol
2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract, or 1 Tbsp (15 ml) vanilla paste
1 Tbsp (15 ml) cornflour or flour
4 extra-large free-range eggs
3-5 paper 'sticks' Canderel sweetener, or a sweetener of your choice (see recipe)

For the topping:

1 Tbsp (15 ml) water
1 tsp (5 ml) gelatine
1 cup (250 ml) sour cream or crème fraîche
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract, or 2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla paste
1 'stick' Canderel powder, or a sweetener of your choice (see recipe)

First prepare your tin. Generously butter the sides and bottom of a non-stick 24-cm springform cake tin, or similar. Cut a long strip of baking paper to roughly the same width as the height of the tin, and use it to line the sides of the tin.  Now butter the baking paper, or varnish it well with cooking spray.

Heat the oven to 180 ºC.

Put the nuts into a dry frying pan and toast them gently over a medium-low heat for a few minutes, tossing frequently and watching them closely. Chop into small bits, tip into a mixing bowl and add the almond flour, melted butter, Xylitol and almond extract.

Stir well, then press evenly onto the base of the tin.  My top tip for an even crust is to put a small drinking glass (such as a shot glass) on its side, rim pointing towards the edges of the tin, and roll it around in a circular fashion.
Press the crust into a springform pan lined with baking paper.
Bake the crust at 180 ºC for about 10 minutes, or until it's just beginning to turn golden at the edges. Watch it like a hawk, as it burns in an instant. Take the tin out of the oven and set aside to cool. Turn down the oven to 170 ºC.

In the meantime, make the filling. Put the softened cream cheese - see Cook's Notes, below - in a large mixing bowl. (I make this in a jiffy using my faithful Kenwood mixer, but if you don't have a similar gadget you will need to whisk this by hand, or use a rotary beater).

Add the Xylitol, vanilla and cornflour, and whisk till smooth and combined. Now add the eggs, one at a time, beating hard.  The mixture might take a while to come together, but if you work patiently, it will soon form a beautiful smooth cream. Now sweeten the mixture to taste, with a sweetener of your choice.  I find that four sticks of Canderel are enough.

Pour the cheesecake mixture over the crust, aiming at the centre so it spreads evenly to the edges.

Make a foil 'nest' for your cheesecake. This image
comes from my recipe for Cinnamon-Stencilled
Cheesecake
, where I did  not line the tin with
baking paper. 
Place the tin on two large squares of tin foil, then bring up & crumple the foil to create a 'nest' that will keep the water from seeping into the base.

Fill a large roasting pan to about the half-way mark with hot water, and place in the oven.  Slide your foil-wrapped baking tin into the water bath, and bake at 170 ºC for about an hour, or until the cheesecake is lightly freckled with brown, set at the edges, and has the slightest wobble in the middle.

Turn off the heat, open the oven door a crack and leave the cake to cool completely in the oven.

Refrigerate, in its tin, for 4 hours (or overnight), until very cold.

To make the topping, put the water in a teacup or similar small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine over it. Set aside for a minute or two to sponge.

Place the cup in a pot of simmering water (the water should come half-way up the sides) and stir occasionally as the gelatine melts. When the liquid is clear, set the cup aside to cool slightly.

Whisk the sour cream or crème fraîche in a bowl to loosen it, then whisk in the gelatine, vanilla paste (or extract) and sweetener. Pour the mixture over the top of the chilled cheesecake and smooth the top (see Cook's Notes if your cheesecake has shrunk away from the sides of the pan).  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Release the cheesecake from the tin by briefly pressing a hot cloth against the outside rim  (I do this by wetting a dishcloth, and microwaving it until very hot.)

To serve, cut into thin slices using a big knife dipped for 45 seconds in a jug of boiling water.

Makes 1 cheesecake; serves 8-10. 

Cook's Notes
  • It really doesn't matter which non-nutritive sweetener you use in any of the three layers of this cheesecake, because the sweetener will not affect their textures.  
  • The cream cheese should be soft, or you will find it difficult to beat to a smooth mixture. Leave the tubs on your counter for at least 6 hours, so they can come up to room temperature. If you're in a hurry, take the lids and foils off the tubs, arrange them in a circle on your microwave's turntable, and blast on high for 45 seconds at a time, until the cheese has softened.
  • If you find your cheesecake has shrunk away from the edges of the pan, leaving a gap into which the topping will run, here is what to do:  ease the cake out of its ring. Wrap a long strip of acetate (available from stationers) around the cake to form a close-fitting collar, and secure with sticky tape. Pour over the topping and refrigerate. The acetate will peel away easily once the topping has set. 

MORE OF MY CHEESECAKES:

Cinnamon-Stencilled Cheesecake

Hazelnut and Chocolate Cheesecake

Buttermilk Cheesecake with a Strawberry Topping


Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly