Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Paprika Chicken with Sour Cream and Thyme

This creamy oven-baked chicken dish, subtly flavoured with smoked paprika and thyme, is perfect for family dinners. The chicken pieces are smeared with a yoghurt marinade two or three hours before they're baked, which gives them a great succulence. If you want to cut down on calories, you can use plain yoghurt in place of the sour cream, but it will curdle slightly in the oven (see notes).

I used whole chicken legs (that is, Marylands, or pieces with drumstick and thigh still joined) but any cut of chicken will do. You could also use skinned, deboned chicken breasts, but you will need to reduce the cooking time by at least half.

If you can't find smoked paprika, use ordinary, fresh paprika (which should be a vivid brick-red colour, not brown or dusty).


This is lovely with new potatoes and sugarsnap peas, or a green salad. My kids really liked this, although the oldest was a bit huffy because he doesn't like 'gristly bits' in any sort of meat and is a boneless-breast and fillet-steak sorta guy. Hmmmph.

Baked Paprika Chicken with Sour Cream and Thyme
12 pieces of free-range chicken
salt and milled black pepper
200 ml plain white yoghurt
1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1 onion, peeled and very finely chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and crushed
the juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp (15 ml) paprika
1 tsp (5 ml) smoked paprika
a handful (about 3Tbsp; 45 ml) fresh thyme leaves
300 ml sour cream or crème fraîche

Season the chicken pieces well with salt and pepper. Place them, skin-side up and in single layer, in an ovenproof dish. In a separate bowl, combine the yoghurt, olive oil, onion, garlic, lemon juice, paprika, smoked paprika and half the thyme. Mix well, and then, using your hands, smear the paste all over the chicken pieces, top and bottom. Cover with clingfilm and set aside to marinate for two to three hours.

Heat the oven to 200°C. Bake the chicken pieces in a hot oven, for 25 minutes, or until the skin begins to brown and crisp. Now cover the dish with a lid or tin foil, turn down the heat to 160° C and bake for 1 hour. Remove the dish from the oven and scoop off any excess fat with a large spoon (or drain by tilting the dish over the sink). Pour the cream (see note below) all over the chicken pieces, sprinkle with the remaining thyme and give the dish a good shake to combine the juices. Bake, uncovered, for another 20 minutes, or until the cream is slightly thickened.

Serves 6-8

Notes:
- If the sour cream or crème fraîche is too thick to pour, thin it down first with a little warm milk or water.

- If you use yoghurt instead of cream, choose a thin pouring yoghurt, and whisk in 1 tsp (5 ml) of cornflour [Maizena or cornstarch] before you pour it over the chicken. This will help to minimize (not prevent) curdling.
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Sunday, 29 March 2009

Hot Caprese Salad on Phyllo Pastry

This tart, with its crisp phyllo base, ripe tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, is dead easy to make and quite delicious as a light lunch or quick snack.

The idea for this tart came to me because I am trying to convince my 9-year-old daughter to like tomatoes. She usually picks them out of a salad, or off the top of a pizza, although she tolerates them in sandwiches. But I don't want her merely to tolerate them; I want her to adore them, as I do!

Caprese Salad is, I think, one of the world's greatest salads, least of all because it's so incredibly simple, and because the combination of flavours is, in a word, sublime.

I knew my daughter wouldn't go for the raw tomatoes, so I thought I'd pizzafy the salad. The pizzafication worked: she ate the tomatoes.

The mozzarella in this photograph isn't real Italian mozzarella but the South African equivalent, which is rubbery and, when melted, super-stringy.

The only producer of authentic Buffalo milk mozzarella in this country is Wayne Rademeyer of Buffalo Ridge in Wellington. His cheese is just gorgeous, but at around R70 for a small tub, way too pricey to eat often. Buffalo Ridge mozzarella is available from Cheese Gourmet in Linden, and also stocked by Melissa's and by Giovanni's in Cape Town.

If you can find vine-ripened plum tomatoes (unlike the supermarket tomatoes I used here) use those. This is also good with sweet cherry tomatoes.

I don't think this salad needs anything else but a glass of crisp and very cold white wine. Definitely no rocket or garlic.


Hot Caprese Salad on Phyllo Pastry
6 sheets of phyllo pastry
a little melted butter or olive oil, or a mixture, for brushing
8 ripe tomatoes
500 g mozzarella (I used Simonsberg, which comes in a cylinder shape)
fresh, small basil leaves
olive oil
flaky sea salt and milled black pepper

Preheat the oven to 160° C. Using a pastry brush, brush the bottom and sides of a shallow baking tray with the butter or oil. Add a sheet of phyllo pastry, allowing the edges to drape over the rim of the tray. Use your fingers to press the pastry into the corners, and brush the sheet generously with butter. Continue layering and brushing the pastry sheets until you have used up all six. Gently press the pastry to squeeze any air pockets towards the edges. Cover with a damp tea towel. Using a razor-sharp knife, top and tail the tomatoes and slice thinly. Cut the mozzarella into thin slices (if you're using a cylinder-shaped piece of mozzarella, cut it in half lengthways first. Slice, then use your fingers to ease each slice back into a semi-circle (the cutting will have squashed it).

Set out layered stripes of the tomato, mozzarella and basil on the phyllo pastry base, as shown in the second photograph. Sprinkle with sea salt and a good grinding of milled black pepper, and sprinkle with olive oil. Bake at 160° C for 10 to 15 minutes, checking every five minutes to make sure that pastry isn't catching. Remove from the oven and cut into squares using a sharp knife or a circular pizza-cutting knife.

Serve immediately.

Serves 8-10 as a snack or starter; 6 as a main course.

Notes:

- Another way to serve this tart would be to bake the case for about 10 minutes, then arrange the uncooked ingredients on top. To prevent the pastry from puffing up too much in the oven, bake it blind: cover with a piece of greaseproof paper or tin foil and weigh down with lentils or beans for the first five minutes of cooking.

- You can use a pair of scissors to trim the edges of the pastry (or round the corners; see photo above) if they look too scruffy.
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Thursday, 26 March 2009

Easter goodies: Chocolate, Amaretti and Coconut Fridge Biscuits

Fridge biscuits made with butter and crushed biccies were all the rage in the Seventies, when nobody cared how much sugar and fat they ate, and aunties always kept a stash of them in their humming old General Electrics. A cold, nubbly fridge biscuit with a glass of iced milk is a thing of beauty, not least because it requires no baking and is easy enough for a six-year-old to make. [Please note that I use the word 'biscuit' in its British sense: that is, in the US sense, a cookie.]

Unbaked fridge tarts are still popular in South Africa. Made with Marie biscuits, Tennis biscuits, ginger nuts or Boudoir Biscuits, they usually include condensed milk, whipped cream, grated chocolate, tinned fruit, or a combination of all four.

The undisputed queen of fridge tarts is the icky but strangely compelling Peppermint Crisp Tart, about which my fellow South African food blogger Jeanne of Cooksister has written a full treatise. For a selection of eat-until-you-turn-green fridge-tart recipes from around the world, have a look at this newsletter from Funky Munky.

You can use any combination of biscuits and nuts and flavourings for this recipe, provided you stick to the basic quantities (too little crumb material, and you'll end up with a biscuit that's too hard to bite into). You can also add raisins or dried cranberries or apricots, but I personally think fruit should have no part in this tart.

These biccies cry out to be served on a doily (see my note about doilies at the end of this post).

Chocolate, Amaretti and Coconut Fridge Biscuits

175 g butter
150 g good dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1 packet (200 g) of Tennis biscuits (or light, crumbly coconut biscuits)
14 Italian amaretti biscuits
1/2 cup (125 ml) desiccated coconut
1/2 cup (125 ml) icing sugar
3/4 cup (180 ml) nuts (I used walnuts, but pecans, macadamias or almonds will do)
a few drops of almond extract/essence, or a good glug of Amaretto liqueur

Melt the butter and the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring gently now and then. Or melt it in the microwave (find tips for melting chocolate at Godiva.com). Put the amaretti biscuits in a big plastic bag and, using a rolling pin, crush to a coarse powder. Now put the tennis biscuits in the packet and lightly crush them so that you have a mixture of crumbs and small bits. Tip the biscuits into the chocolate and butter mixture and add all the remaining ingredients. Stir well to combine. Press into a buttered 20cm x 20cm square glass or ceramic dish and refrigerate until firm; about two hours. Remove from the fridge and slice into squares (this is easiest done by cutting the whole slab into quarters, then slicing the quarters on a chopping board). Keep in the fridge.

Makes 12 biscuits.

PS Do you like my heart-shaped doilies ( see photo)? I bought a packet of these, and some gold ones, at a Chinese discount shop, knowing that a doily occasion was bound to arise sooner or later. This is exactly the sort of biscuit that requires a doily.

Do you know that doilies are dying out? An article in The Telegraph in 2007 reported that sales of paper doilies have plummeted in recent years:

'Once, no self-respecting cake stand or plate was complete without one.

'But now the traditional paper doily, for decades a symbol of suburban gentility, is on the verge of extinction.Asda reported yesterday that it sold only 400 packs last week, compared with an average of 12,000 a week 15 years ago.

'The terminal decline in demand is down to changing social trends, says the supermarket. Since the 1950s doilies have been regarded as a sign of high class and good manners.But many now view them as outdated and the preserve of snobs - as epitomised by Hyacinth Bucket in the sitcom Keeping Up Appearances.' Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Cauliflower with Butter, Lemon, Parsley and Crispy Breadcrumbs

"Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education." I think of Mark Twain's famous words every time I look at the curious 'brain' of a cauliflower, which I reckon is one of the world's most underrated vegetables, along with parsnips and celeriac.

Okay, I concede that overcooked, flabby cauliflower is just revolting - fartily whiffy, slimy, and stinking of boarding school - but a dishful of fresh, springy white cauliflower florets, cloaked in cheesy Béchamel sauce or a zinging salad dressing, or crunchily pickled with peppery spices, is just a joy.

I only ever make cauliflower cheese (or my cauliflower-cheese soup recipe) so I was interested to come across a recipe, in Robert Carrier's seminal seventies book Great Dishes of the World, for Cauliflower à la Polonaise. The combination of lemon juice and cauliflower had never occurred to me; but it works so well here, with plenty of butter, and crunchy fried breadcrumbs.

You can do this with a whole head of cauliflower, or you can break the cauliflower up into florets and coat them in the sauce. I took the picture above with a whole head, trying to be clever - like a cauliflower! - and then decided this was a ridiculous idea, as the sauce wouldn't be able to coat every chunk. I then broke the cooked head apart, tossed everything together, and served it up to the hordes.

Robert Carrier's original recipe calls for diced ham, but I don't think this dish needs it.

Cauliflower with Butter, Lemon, Parsley and Crispy Breadcrumbs

1 small, fresh head of cauliflower
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
a slice of lemon
2 extra-large free-range eggs
½ cup (125 ml) melted butter
4 Tbsp (60 ml) breadcrumbs (blitz a few slices of white bread in a food-processor)
the juice of 1 lemon
4 Tbsp (60 ml)  finely chopped fresh parsley
salt and milled black pepper

Fill a big saucepan with water, add the salt and the lemon slice, and bring to the boil. Remove the green outer leaves of the cauliflower and trim the stalk, and any brown bits.

Submerge the whole head of cauliflower in the boiling water and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until it's just tender and yields to a knife. (Cauliflower cooks beautifully in a microwave oven: see Cook's Notes at the end of this post.)

In the meantime, put the eggs on to boil. Fill a small saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Gently lower the eggs into the boiling water, and cook for 10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, pour off the boiling water, and run cold water over the eggs until their shells feel cool to the touch. Crack and peel the eggs, chop them into a fine dice, cover with cling film and set aside.

Remove the head of cauliflower from the water and drain, upside down, in a colander over the sink.

Heat the butter in a frying pan. When it stops foaming, tip in the breadcrumbs and fry them for a few minutes, or until they turn golden brown and crunchy. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, parsley and chopped boiled egg. Season well with salt and pepper.

Put the head of cauliflower into dish, and pour the buttery mixture over it. Or - if you're not looking for a cheffy result - break the cooked cauliflower into florets, place in a dish, and coat with the butter sauce.

Serve hot, with extra parsley.

Serves 4 as a side dish.Cook's Note:

To cook a whole cauliflower in the microwave oven, put it in a deep glass or ceramic dish and add half a cup of water. Cover with a plate or lid and microwave on high for about eight minutes. Push a sharp knife into the cauliflower to test for doneness. If it feels crunchy and unyielding, continue to cook it in two-minute bursts, or until it is just tender to a sharp knife. At this point, remove it from the microwave, douse it in cool water for a minute, and set it upside down in a colander to drain. Don't allow the cauliflower to sit in its steaming dish: it will turn into an overcooked mush. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Mashed Madumbis with Spring Onions, Butter and Cream

This is a version of champ - that dreamy Irish dish of potatoes, spring onions, butter and cream - but it's made with madumbis (also known here in South Africa as amadumbe).

A madumbi is a type of yam (Colocasia esculenta, or taro), with a rich earthy flavour and a starchy flesh. In South Africa, you might be able to find organic madumbis in Woolworths food stores, or perhaps at your local greengrocer's, where I bought mine.

I'm ambivalent about madumbis, but, then again, I don't have a taste for any vegetable with a starchy, slightly sweet flesh. I can do without yams (sweet potatoes, they're called here) and pumpkin entirely, and only barely tolerate butternut squash. But, in the interests of broadening my family's palate, I thought we might try mashed madumbis, champ style. They like the dish - "but we can't eat a lot of it, mom."

Madumbis tend to discolour as they are boiled, so add a thin slice of lemon, and plenty of salt, to the boiling water. Don't over-mash them, or they will become a bit glutinous.

If you can't get madumbis, try this decadent and delicious dish with ordinary potatoes. This recipe contains a scandalous amount of butter.

Mashed Madumbis with Spring Onions, Butter and Cream

6 madumbis
200 g salted butter
a small bunch of spring onions, white and pale green parts only, finely sliced
2 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and crushed
1 cup (250 ml) cream
milk to thin the mixture
salt and milled black pepper

To serve:
a few cubes of cold butter, and sliced spring onion

Bring a big pot of salted water to the boil, and add a thin slice of lemon. Peel the madumbis and cut them into small chunks. Put the chunks in the boiling water as you go. Boil until completely tender (about 40 minutes, depending on the age of your madumbis) skimming off any grey foam as it rises. Drain the chunks in a colander and set aside for a few minutes to cool and dry out. In the meantime, heat the butter in a deep pot and add the slice spring onions and the garlic. Allow to cook, very gently, for a few minutes, or until the onions are softened, but do not allow to brown. Tip the cooked madumbis into buttery spring onions and, using a potato masher, mash over a medium heat until smooth. (If you need a perfectly smooth mash, put madumbis through a potato ricer first). Add all the cream, and enough milk to make a smooth, creamy mixture. Don't over-beat the mixture, or it will become sticky. Season well with salt and pepper.

Pile the piping-hot mash onto a big platter - or onto individual plates - in a big, conical, volcano-like mound. Make a hollow in the top of the mound and fill it with a few cubes of cold butter. Scatter with a little more sliced spring onion.

Good with steak, boerewors and chicken.

Serves 6 as a side dish. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Cheesy Tuna and Sweetcorn Lunchbox 'Muffins'

Cheesy Tuna and Sweetcorn
Lunchbox 'Muffins'
I have no talent whatsoever in the lunchbox department, no doubt because I was traumatised by the healthy lunches packed for me by my own sainted mother.

Making lunchboxes is a chore I hate, because I'm just too disorganised in the mornings to cut fruit and veggies up into pieces or make little dips or energy bars or the three-course designer meals that nestle smugly in the lunch boxes of some of my kids' friends.

It would help if my children all liked the same things, but of course, they don't. So I got to thinking, what snack could I put into their lunchboxes that they all like, that can be made in a jiffy, and that packs some protein, energy and fibre?

Here is my solution. These  muffin-like savoury bites are ridiculously quick and easy to make, and you can add anything you like to them. Fresh sweetcorn cut from the cob would be lovely, if you have it, and you can use wholewheat (Nutty Wheat) flour if you'd like a more substantial muffin.

Cheesy Tuna, Sweetcorn and Courgette Lunchbox 'Muffins'

1 x 170 g tin solid-packed  tuna, drained
1 x 210 g tins sweetcorn kernels, drained
1 cup (250 ml) coarsely grated courgettes [zucchini]
1 cup (250 ml) grated Cheddar
1 cup (250 ml) flour
1 cup (250 ml) milk
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) baking powder
3 extra-large free-range eggs, lightly whisked
2 Tbsp (30 ml) finely chopped chives or spring onions
juice of half a lemon
½ tsp (2.5 ml) mild mustard
cherry tomatoes and extra cheese for topping
salt and milled pepper

Heat the oven to 180°C. Generously grease a large, deep muffin pan (or use paper muffin cups) with butter or oil. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Fill each muffin cup to the brim, and press half a cherry tomato, cut side up, into the surface. Sprinkle with more Cheddar.

Bake at 180° C for 30 minutes, or until puffed and brown. Run a knife around the edge of each muffin while it's still hot. Store, covered, in the fridge.

Makes 12 muffins. 

Cook's Notes: 

  • Season these muffins generously with salt - they need more than you would think.
  • A cube of feta cheese pressed into the top would be nice.


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Monday, 23 March 2009

Weekend bliss: camembert, halloumi, roast lamb, a birthday and a nomination

I had such a lovely, golden, sun-soaked weekend that I felt as gloomy as a goldfish as I mooched to my desk this morning; what a lovely surprise to find that this blog, and my other blog, Salmagundi, jointly written with my friend the terrible Muriel, are both finalists in the 2009 South African Blog Awards.

Thank you for nominating us, dear friends and readers, and please cast your vote for this blog by clicking on the gold tag at the top right of this page (or click here, which will take you to the voting page and automatically check the box next to my blog; all you need do is fill in your email address at the bottom of the page and respond to the confirmation email when it arrives).

Two things made my weekend memorable. One, I went to a cheese-making workshop, hosted by Brian and Jo Dick, who own that wonderful shop, Cheese Gourmet, in Linden, Johannesburg. Cheesemakers Hans Keller and Barbie Pretorius of the De Rust Cheese-Making Academy, near Hartebeespoort Dam, showed us how to make halloumi cheese, that lovely, salted, springy taste of Cyprus.

Do you know how easy it is to make your own halloumi? It's a piece of old cheesecake. If you have 10 litres of raw, fresh milk, a thermometer, 6 ml of rennet, and some sterilised pots and trays and weights, you can make a lovely, squeaky halloumi cheese in your own kitchen in under two hours.

Ok, I haven't tried it myself yet, chiefly because I'm at a loss as to where to find 10 litres of raw fresh milk - pasteurised, homogenised supermarket milk won't do, says Hans - but I intend to give it a try the minute within udder's tweak of a cow, or at least close to a proper dairy. And I have good reason for wanting to make my own - my 16-year-old son thinks that crispy fried halloumi cheese is the best thing since sliced bread, and is also under the impression that it's as cheap as sliced bread. I can't afford to indulge his cravings too often, much as I'd like to (bones that are growing as fast as his surely need all the calcium and protein they can get).

Anyway, once I've tried halloumi-making myself, I will pass on the details of my experiment. In the meantime, if you'd like to try making your own, click here for details of courses offered by Hans and Barbie, and here to contact The Cheese Gourmet. If you live in the Cape, check out the two-day cheese-making courses offered by Finest Kind of Plettenberg Bay.

During the demonstration, Brian Dick presented a selection of superlative hand-made South African cheeses for us to taste, and it was just fascinating to hear Hans commenting on each cheese, and talking about the art of cheese-making: a blend of chemistry, experience, instinct and sheer alchemy.

All the samples were gorgeous, but the most sublime, for me, were the organic cheeses from the Jersey herd at Dalewood Fromage, near Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands. Their unique Huguenot cheese - a mature, semi-hard cheese - is neither a Gouda nor a Cheddar, but in an indefinable category of its own. They also specialise in a range of bries flavoured with chilli, green fig, crushed olives and wild mushrooms. Their Cape Chilli Brie, an oozy dream of a cheese with a subtle zing of red chilli, is just outstandingly delicious; I'm not surprised to learn that it's won numerous awards.

I also took home some of their Wineland Blue camembert, decadently creamy and delicately freckled with patches of blue mould. This made a wonderful salad (see pic above) combined with baby salad leaves, ripe figs, walnuts and just a lick of olive oil and Balsamic vinegar.

Now to the second thing that made my weekend wonderful. My darling honorary niece, Julia, turned 18 this weekend, and her mother and uncles threw a celebratory Sunday lunch for her and her best friends. Is there anything - anything - to beat a long, lazy lunch on a shady Highveld patio, surrounded by trees and singing grassland, overlooking a sparkling dam? Lazy jazz sounds drifting over the lawn, crisp white wine, candles, presents and sparkling conversation? And the food: I wish you'd been there. James made his signature dish of seared fresh tuna with rocket, avocado and Wasabi mayonnaise, Claire pulled from the oven mountains of lemony, herby, slow-cooked shoulder of lamb, served with with roasted baby vine tomatoes and new potatoes, and we finished up with fudgy chocolate birthday cake and a dreamy Tarte Au Citron.

Oh, my, I feel lucky.

PS On the subject of halloumi cheese, try my halloumi salad with a lemon-caper dressing. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday, 20 March 2009

Quick, Easy Chilli-Bite Chicken Strips

"Just as good as KFC crispy strips," was the verdict of my teens when they tasted these spicy, crunchy chicken fillets, made by coating yoghurt-marinated breasts in dry chilli-bite-mix powder and quickly shallow-frying them. Now, I would have preferred them to say, "'Oh, our Sainted Mother, Giver of Life and Much-Valued Maker of Supper, these are way, way better than KFC!", but, face it: to a 17-year-old, nothing can taste better than a greasy bucket of the Colonel's finest factory-reared poultry product.

I had intended to use ordinary flour to coat the strips of chicken, but I'd run out, so I thought I'd experiment with Pakco Chilli-Bite Mix. This is a well-known and loved South African brand of instant batter, made from gram flour (chana or chickpea flour), spices and a little baking powder. Mixed with water, it makes a thick batter that is combined with chopped onions, chillies, coriander, spices and other flavourings and dropped, in blobs, into hot oil to make puffy 'chilli bites', which are similar to a pakoras, or to Britain's national snack, the ubiquitous onion bhaji. The wet batter can also be used to coat fish, chicken and vegetable chunks.

I'm not a big buyer of instant mixes (okay, I sometimes buy caramel instant-pudding, and and I think felafel-mix is a great stand-by) but these strips were so good - tender and garlicky on the inside; crunchy and spicy without - that from now I will always keep a packet of Pakco powder in my store cupboard.

You can buy this product from online stores peddling South African foods (such as African Hut in the US, and the SA Shop in the UK, or you could make up your own chilli-bite mix, using the dry ingredients in this recipe ( I haven't tried to make my own mix, and don't intend to - the whole point of this recipe is that it's so effortless!)

This recipe is easily halved.


Quick, Easy Chilli-Bite Chicken Strips
10 deboned, skinless chicken breasts
salt and milled black pepper
1 cup (250 ml) plain white yoghurt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
the juice of one lemon
about a cup (250 ml) of Pakco Chilli Bite Mix (see notes, above)
oil for frying

To serve:
chopped fresh coriander (cilantro or dhania)
lemon wedges

Prepare the chicken and the marinade an hour or two in advance. First, cut the breasts into thin strips of a roughly equal size: Lay the chicken breasts flat on a board. Put one hand on top of the breast and, using a sharp knife, blade held parallel to the chopping board, cut horizontally through the breast to make two 'leaves'. Cut each leaf into two or three strips.

Season the breasts with a little salt and pepper (be sparing with the salt, as the the coating powder is quite salty) and put them in a flat glass or plastic dish. In a separate bowl, whisk together the yoghurt, crushed garlic and lemon juice. Pour the marinade over the chicken strips, and toss well so that every strip is well coated. Set aside in a cool place to for a few hours (no longer than three hours, or the yoghurt will tenderise the chicken to a point of mushiness).

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C. Spread a cup or so of the chilli-bite mix onto a plate or flat dish. Heat a non-stick frying pan and add enough vegetable oil to cover the base of the pan to a depth of about one millimetre. While the oil is heating, remove the chicken strips, in batches of five or six, from the marinade (scrape off any excess marinade, if it's really thick) and roll the strips in the chilli-bite mixture, pressing down so that they are well coated on both sides. Shake off any excess powder, and place the strips in the hot oil. Fry for a minute or so, or until golden brown and crispy, and then turn and fry for another minute. Remove from the pan and drain for a minute on several layers of kitchen paper. Slide the cooked chicken strips onto a dish and place in the oven to finish cooking while you fry the remaining chicken in batches. Don't overcrowd the pan, which may cool the oil, and don't allow the oil to get too hot. If the pan accumulates dark-brown bits, wipe it out with a sheet of kitchen paper and add some fresh oil.

Serve piping hot, with fresh coriander and lemon wedges.

Serves 10 as a starter or snack; 6 as a main dish. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Jack's Granadilla Cake: best with Coca-Cola and a sunbeam

Jack's Granadilla Cake
The cake in this picture is made with double the quantities in the recipe below.
If you double up the recipe, it will take around 45 minutes to bake, and it will
also be slightly denser than the 'single' version.
The cool dusty scent of hydrangeas, a slice of Jack's heavenly granadilla cake and a little glass bottle of icy Coca-Cola are my fondest memories of my grandmother's house in Pietermaritzburg. Ndudlane Jack Mthalane was my Norwegian granny's ancient Zulu cook: he had salt-and-pepper hair and a face as wrinkled and enigmatic as a tortoise's.

Granny would herd my mother into her bedroom to Talk About Things, while my sisters and I were parked on the warm sun-porch to wait until the conference was over.

The moment when Jack came out of the kitchen with a freshly iced cake and a clinking trayful of bottles was the highlight of our annual trip to the coast. We didn't drink Coca-Cola at home, and I'd watch, thrilled, as Jack popped the tops and the dark elixir hissed as it rose in its frosted bottles.  I'm convinced my life-long love of cold Coke started here, and to this day there are few swigging sensations that satisfy me more than the bubbling sting of iced cola against the back of my throat.

I cringe now at the thought being waited upon - as a girl of six or seven - by such an old man (at least Jack seemed old to me; he might have been in his fifties for all I know).  That's how it was in South Africa in the 1960s.

This is the first recipe I ever wrote down (when I started my own recipe book at nine) and I've been making it for over 35 years. I still have the original, torn-out pages (see left) containing the recipe (a basic, Fifties-style chiffon cake with chocolate-, granadilla- and orange-flavoured variations ) written in laboured cursive and spattered with oil, egg, cocoa powder and the occasional fossilised granadilla pip.

It's a plain recipe, but the sharp granadilla perfume of this cake, and the crunch of its seeds between my teeth, makes me feel as if I've just seen (in the words of one of my uncles) Father Christmas's red coat whisking around my bedroom door on Christmas Eve.



Jack's Granadilla Cake

1½ cups (375 ml) cake flour
2 tsp (10 ml) baking powder
a pinch of salt
1 cup (250 ml) caster sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup (80 ml) sunflower oil or vegetable oil
80 ml milk
100 ml fresh granadilla pulp [passion fruit], seeds and all

For the icing:
2 T (30 ml) soft butter
the pulp of a large granadilla
icing sugar (about 2 cups; 500 ml)
a little freshly squeezed lemon juice
extra granadilla pulp, for drizzling

Heat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line the bases of two 21-cm cake tins with buttered baking paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and half the caster sugar (1/2 cup) into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk together the egg yolks, oil, milk and granadilla pulp. Tip the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and stir well. In a new, spotlessly clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff (but not dry). Add the caster sugar in batches and continue whisking until thick and glossy. Stir a big blob of egg white into the cake batter to loosen the mixture, and then, using a metal spoon, gently fold in the remaining egg white.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tins and bake at 180° C for 25-30 minutes, or until the mixture is pulling away from the sides of the tin and a skewer comes out clean. Immediately turn onto a cake rack, remove the rings and bases and peel off the baking paper. Allow to cool completely.

To make the icing, combine the butter and granadilla pulp. Work in the icing sugar, in batches, adding enough lemon juice to make a spreadable icing.

Sandwich the two halves of the cake together with half the icing, and spread the rest over the top. If you like, you can drizzle more fresh granadilla pulp over the top.

Eat in a sunbeam.

Makes one 21-cm cake.


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Monday, 16 March 2009

Tinned peaches with cold Ideal Milk: long live tinned food!

If you grew up in South Africa in the 1960s and 70s, you might well fall into a dead faint at the mention of tinned Koo peaches and Ideal Milk. This was the definitive pudding of my childhood: big, sweet, golden cling-peach halves swimming in nectar and doused with ice-cold evaporated milk, poured straight from the tin. Into a little scratched plastic bowl. Eaten, tummy-down, on the sun-baked floor of the stoep, or on the slasto (crazy-paving).

[Note: September 2013: A shortened version of this post was published as a column in the Sunday Times on Sunday 22 September. Click here to read it].

If you don't remember that, you will surely remember those pale wobbling jellies made from Ideal Milk, gelatine and tinned fruit.

This may sound to you like shudder-inducing, trashy food, in these days of seasonal, organic greens and carbon footprints and exhortations to live greenly. But it wasn't: it was just the best taste ever invented, along with Coca-Cola, Simba Salt-and-Vinegar Chips, Smarties, All-Gold Tomato Sauce, Zoo Biscuits and Eskimo Pies.

Canned, bottled and frozen foods have had a lot of bad press, which I think is an impertinence on the part of foodies and TV chefs. First, it's easy to shun preserved food if you have a fridge and electricity and live in a land of milk and honey. But for millions of poor folk in Africa - and elsewhere - a tin of food is an unimaginable luxury.

Righteous indignation aside, there is another reason why preserved foods deserve a little respek.

Turn your nose up at a tin of soup, okay, but don't overlook the fact that the ancient technology of preserving surplus food - starting with sun-drying, and moving on across the millennia to salting, pressing, brining and pickling - is what allowed our ancestors to get sleek and healthy, live to a long age, and give birth to strong, big-brained children. Where would the Greeks and Romans be without olive oil? Or the nations around the Atlantic without salt cod? Or South African pioneers without biltong?

You might shun preservatives and additives and irradiation, but without your distant ancestors having had the savvy to preserve what they harvested for the lean months ahead, you probably wouldn't be here at all.

I'm not saying for a moment that preserved food is better or healthier or worthier in any way than fresh. But I chafe at the notion that eating anything that wasn't plucked, still beaded with dew, from your own garden, or from the organic farm next door, is an act of eco-terrorism.

In the characteristally sneering words of A.A. Gill, trashing Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's* greeniness: 'Growing your own vegetables is a bit like making your own fridge or whittling a car. Possible, but stupid.... The idea that ideal people should strive to live like 18th-century crofters is intellectual silage.'

Of course I don't like tinned pilchards, or canned Vienna sausages; I'm lucky enough to be able to afford good food that's fresh and tasty and not crawling with flies or seething with salmonella. But don't ask me to pour scorn on preserved foods.

There are some ingredients that, when tinned, have no ambitions to be anything like the fresh versions of themselves, but have a special and distinctive character of all of their own. They're not looking to be a substitute for the fresh thing. They're Tinned and Proud Of It.

Take, for example, solid tuna in oil, white asparagus cuts, chickpeas, tinned green and black olives, Italian plum tomatoes, salty little anchovies wrapped around capers, protein- and fibre-packed beans, and smooth apricot jam. And then there are the tinned South African fruits (the best of which are cling peaches, pears and guavas): perfect, blemish-free, delicious sweet nuggets that are ten times better tinned shortly after picking than delivered, bruised and mushy, to the local supermarket.

But back to Ideal Milk. This is a famous South African brand - and popular in several other African countries - that has a distinctive milky flavour that I can't describe to you, suffice to say that it tastes like mother's milk to me.

Evaporated milk is made by drawing off the water content of the milk, which enriches and slightly thickens it. When it's chilled - six hours in the fridge, or an hour and a half in a domestic freezer - it can be beaten to double its original volume into a thick, creamy swirl. It adds a smooth creaminess to soups, mashed potato and white sauce, makes wonderful jellies, fridge tarts, fudge and icecream, and coffee drunk around a camp fire just doesn't taste the same without it.

It's also a good substitute for cream, and the new lower-fat version (which has about half the fat of Ideal Milk) is good if you're watching calories.

There is only one suitable implement for opening a can of condensed or Ideal Milk - a tin puncher the likes of which I haven't seen in a shop since 1987. It has a sharp triangular tongue that punches a notch in the top of the tin; you need to make one hole on either side.

Try this lovely quick lemon sherbert: light as thistledown, and doesn't need to be stirred while it's freezing (unless you want a perfectly silken result). You can't use a small domestic ice-cream-maker for this, because the mixture is too fluffy.

Lemon Sherbert

1 tin (410g) ice-cold evaporated milk (it must be refrigerated overnight)
1 cup (250 ml) caster sugar
the grated rind of a lemon
juice of 1-2 lemons, to taste

Put the evaporated milk and caster sugar into a large bowl and beat, using an electric hand-held beater, until it has doubled its volume and very fluffy.

 Beat in the lemon rind and lemon juice. You might need to add more lemon juice, if you want a tart sherbert. Pour into a cold metal or plastic dish and freeze for a couple of hours, stirring now and then. Lovely with an amaretto biscuit.

Serves 4.




Peach and Orange Mousse

Mild, peachy comfort food for invalids, children and grown-up children.

1 Tbsp (15 ml) powdered gelatine
3 Tbsp  (45 ml) water
1 tin (410 g) yellow cling peaches (apricots are good too) and their juice
the finely grated zest and the juic of one fresh range
1 tin (400g net mass) ice-cold evaporated milk

Put the water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine over its surface. Set aside for five minutes, or until it has solidified into a 'sponge'. Now sink the bowl, just up to its rim, into another, bigger bowl or pot of boiling water, and stir until the gelatine dissolves. Or you can warm it until it has dissolved in the microwave (about 20-30 seconds on High), but don't allow it to boil, which may destroy its setting properties.

Put the peaches, their juice, the orange juice and the orange zest into the goblet of a liquidiser or blender. and process to a fine purée. Stir in the dissolved gelatine. In a separate bowl, whip the evaporated milk until doubled in volume. Gently fold the puréed fruit mixture into the beaten milk. Pour into glasses or a rinsed jelly mould and refrigerate for 3 hours, or until set.

Note: Leaf gelatine is now available in South Africa, and I think it produces a nicer and better-tasting jelly. As a general rule, use two sheets of leaf gelatine to one teaspoon (5 ml) gelatine.

* I have no quibble with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; he's one of the few TV cooks I really admire, least of all because he's sincere and practises what he preaches. And, of course, his 'River Cottage' series isn't aimed at Africa's hungry masses (although African subsistence farmers could certainly benefit from his expertise. How about it, Hugh?).


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Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

The reason the croutons in this photograph are in the shape of twee little hearts is because I just love this recipe: it's one of the best soups I've ever tasted. The recipe comes from Simon Hopkinson's book Roast Chicken and Other Stories*, and includes poached scallops, but as Johannesburg is hardly the epicentre of scallop production I had to make do without. And oh, my goodness, it is good: creamy, earthy, slightly nutty, with a mere whisper of thyme.

My friend Julia gave me a whole bag of these beautiful Jerusalem artichokes, which she grew from a few tubers given to her by someone at a farmer's market. These aren't easy to find, but greengrocers here in Johannesburg occasionally stock them.

These veggies are the very devil to peel, but you do need to peel them well to prevent your soup being freckled with brown bits. A very sharp, short-bladed paring knife and loud music is the way to go.

I added a peeled potato to this recipe (oh me of little faith; I thought there was too much liquid to too few artichokes) , but I needn't have, because the milk reduces as the artichokes cook. Still, I've kept the potato in this recipe. Do use a good home-made chicken stock.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

50 g butter (about 3 T; 45 ml)
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
300 ml good chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
400 ml milk
220 g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
salt and milled black pepper
100 ml cream
a handful of chopped fresh parsley

Heat the butter in a saucepan and add the chopped onions. Cook, over a medium heat, until soft, but don't allow them to brown. Add the chicken stock, bay leaf and thyme, cover and cook gently for 10 minutes. Now add the milk, the artichokes and the potato, season with salt and pepper and simmer until the artichoke and potato pieces are very soft. 'You may find that the liquid has a messy separated look about it, but once it has been liquidised... it will all come back together,' says Hopkinson.

Fish out the bay leaf and thyme and use a stick blender or liquidiser to purée the soup. Strain back into the pot and stir in the cream and parsley. Serve hot, with croutons.

Serves 4.

* This book, co-written with Lindsey Bareham,was voted the most useful cookery book of all time, and it's not difficult to see why. The sequel is just as good.

* Hopkinson says he first saw this recipe in The Four Seasons Cookbook by Margaret Costa Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Beautiful, hand-made porcelain dinnerware

Take a look at this beautiful bespoke dinnerware by master potter David Walters, who has just completed an order for my favourite restaurant, Reuben's, of Franschhoek.

David's reduction-fired porcelain platters, plates and bowls are all the rage among restaurateurs in the Cape, and I'm not surprised, because they're beautiful, elegant and simple. And practical too: dishwasher- and microwave-proof, and as tough as nails.



Dave makes monogrammed sets for individual clients, and will also design your own personal stamp.

David is my uncle (yes, I know I've already featured my aunt Gilly Walters on this site - Gilly is David's sister-in-law - but can I help it if I have so many talented relatives? Am I bovvered?)


I have two beautiful beautiful smoke-fired David Walters platters in my kitchen (see one below) that I use as fruit bowls, and I love them. Next time you're in Franschhoek, pop into Dave's gallery, Roubaix House, to take a look.




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Saturday, 14 March 2009

Easy Peasy Home-Made Gherkins with Garlic and Chillies

Easy Peasy Home-Made Gherkins with Garlic and Chillies
I blame McDonald's for the fact that my kids don't like gherkins. I've tried to persuade them that the putty-coloured flap of sea-slug that has burrowed into a McDonald's rat-burger could hardly be described as a gherkin, but they've been put off for life.

I love gherkins - specially little snappy cornichons - but I find the shop ones here in South Africa so acidic that they strip the skin from my tongue.

How difficult could they be to make, I thought, when I spotted a pile of little gherkin cucumbers at my greengrocer's. Easy peasy, is the answer. These were ready to eat three days after I bottled them, but I have no idea how long they will keep - I will let you know in a few weeks' time. (See note about storage at end of this post.)

I turned, for a recipe, to my all-time favourite recipe book, Lady Fettiplace's Receipt Book by Hilary Spurling. (More about this wonderful book later, but, in nutshell, these are the passed-down-over-generations recipes of a lady of the manor living at the time of Shakespeare, and they are astonishingly modern in their refinement and sophistication. Lady Fettiplace's hand-written recipe for 'white bisket bread', for example, is the earliest documented meringue recipe.)

In her brine for the recipe To Keep Hartichocks All the Yeare (which she uses for both pickled artichokes and 'cowcumbers') Lady Fettiplace uses water, verjuice, fennel and hyssop. A wonderful verjuice is produced here in South Africa by The Verjuice Company, but I didn't have any to hand, so I used half good white wine vinegar and half ordinary white spirit vinegar.

The book's author, Hilary Spurling, recommends cider vinegar in place of verjuice, but adds that white wine vinegar is probably better as it won't affect the colour of the brine. In any event, do use a a white wine vinegar that has a slight sweetness to it. White balsamic vinegar would be fantastic, if you can afford it.

You can add all sorts of spices and flavourings to these gherkins: here's the recipe as I made it.

Easy Peasy Home-Made Gherkins with Garlic and Chillies

1.2 kg fresh, crunchy pickling cucumbers
700 ml water
350 ml white wine vinegar
350 ml white spirit vinegar
5 tsp (20 ml) coarse sea salt (Kosher salt is perfect; see notes)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) black peppercorns
1 tsp (5 ml) fennel or dill seeds

Optional flavourings:
celery seeds
dried bay leaves
dried red chillies
sprigs of fresh dill
coriander seeds
whole garlic cloves, peeled

First sterilise some jars. Use pickling jars with loose lids and screw-on rings (see notes) or sturdy glass jars with metal lids lined on the inside with plastic. I sterilise jars by boiling them and their lids in a large pot for 10 minutes. I fish them out with the end of a wooden spoon, and put them (the jars only, not the lids) in an oven heated to 140°C for ten minutes to dry out, before placing them upside-down on several sheets of newspaper.

Wash the cucumbers and drain well. Put the water, the two vinegars, the salt, peppercorns and fennel or dill seeds into a large enamel (or Teflon-coated) pot, bring to the boil and boil hard for 5 minutes. Add the cucumbers in three batches - about one batch per minute - and quickly bring the brine and cucumbers back to the boil.

 As soon as the brine boils again, scoop the cucumbers out of the liquid, using a slotted spoon, and tightly pack them, vertically, into the warm, dry, sterilised jars. Keep the brine boiling briskly.

 Add a few peppercorns and fennel seeds from the pot - plus bay leaves, red chillies, whole peeled cloves of garlic, and whatever flavourings you'd like to add - to the jars. Use a clean chopstick to push chillies down into jar, or they'll bob to the top. Using a soup ladle, pour the boiling brine over the cucumbers, and fill to within 2 mm of the brim of each jar. Screw on the lids tightly. After fifteen minutes, tighten the lids again to form a tight seal. Store in the fridge. Ready after three to four days.

Makes 4 large (about 500 ml) jars.

Cook's Notes: 

- Metal utensils will react with the vinegar, so use a wooden or plastic spoon and an enamel or Teflon-coated pot.

- Use fresh, snappy, crunchy pickling cucumbers for this preserve. The crunchier your cucumbers are, the snappier your gherkins will be. I haven't tried this, but I read that you can make pickling cucumbers even crunchier by soaking them for two hours in an ice-cold bath of water and ice cubes.

- You can buy sturdy glass pickling jars (which come with metal, plastic-lined disc lids, and rings) in most supermarkets. Or, if you live in Johannesburg or Stellenbosch, you can get these directly from Consol shops.

-A recent study showed that fermented dill pickles can contain listeria so, to be on the safe side, keep your gherkins in the fridge. And read this.

- Don't use idiodized table salt, which may cloud your brine.

POSTSCRIPT:
These gherkins lasted very well in the fridge. I opened and ate them after 6 weeks, and they were crunchy and snappy. The last jar was opened a week ago (end of June) and they were still flavoursome, although losing some of their crunch. The jars containing chillies were by far the best. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Shredded Cabbage Salad with Chilli-Lime Dressing, Crunchy Noodles and Refried Peanuts

A scrumptious, easy recipe tends to fly around the world as swiftly as a bald-faced lie*, but sometimes passing recipes around is a bit like playing Broken Telephones. By the time a fabulous formula falls into the inbox of the ten thousandth cook who's received it, the recipe - and the tale behind it - has lost something in translation.

Consider the Neiman-Marcus Cookie recipe (now an infamous Internet urban legend), the Ultimate Fruit Cake Recipe, and the repulsive Bacon Explosion.

This recipe, for a cool shredded-cabbage salad topped with crunchy fried Heinz two-minute noodles, did the rounds two or three years ago, and was called, for some reason I cannot figure out, 'Hong Kong Salad'. I first tasted it at a dinner at my friend Margie's house, and it was so fresh, crunchy and unusual that I begged her to email me the recipe.

Which she had lost, so she typed it up from memory, as had the last five thousand cooks before her. And then I lost the recipe too, so I made up my own version, and of course it just didn't taste the same. Plus, we couldn't finish the bowl: it was lovely eaten fresh, but by the next morning it had become the Soggy Leftover No One Wants to Eat.

I remembered this recipe today as I was staring glumly into the much-depleted vegetable drawer of my fridge, trying to find something nice to make for supper. My choice were: two carrots as wizened as goblins' fingers, five weeping cherry tomatoes, a pack of mange-tout, a bunch of fresh coriander, and two crisp little baby cabbages.

The cabbages eagerly held up their leaves, and I decided to try to recreate the recipe, and to improve on it.

The original salad, I seem to recall, had a dressing that involved using the little foiled pack of spices that comes with a block of 'Oriental' Heinz two-minute noodles. My cupboard is bulging with instant noodles - I have two teenage sons - but I draw the line at actually eating ancient spice-dust.

Instead, I raided one of my favourite new cookbooks, the brilliant Reuben Cooks: Food is Time Travel, and adapted Reuben Riffel's chilli-lime dressing.

This salad should be assembled at the very last minute, so its toppings are piping hot and crunchy.

Shredded Cabbage Salad with Chilli-Lime Dressing, Crunchy Noodles and Refried Peanuts

For the chilli-lime dressing:
1 fresh green chilli, seeds removed and very finely chopped (or more, to taste)
1 fresh red chilli, seeds removed and very finely chopped
3 T (45 ml) white caster sugar
3 T (45 ml) Thai fish sauce
3 T (45 ml) Chinese rice wine vinegar
4 T (60 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice (lemon juice will do)

For the salad:
2 baby cabbages (or half a big cabbage)
1 punnet (about 2 cups) sugarsnap peas or snow peas ( (mange-tout)
a handful of chopped fresh coriander (cilantro or dhania)

For the garnish:
1/2 cup (125 ml) sunflower or vegetable oil
1 packet of two-minute noodles (that is, one block)
1/4 cup (60 ml) peanuts (optional)

First make the dressing. Put the green and red chillies, the sugar, the fish sauce and the rice vinegar into a saucepan. Set over a high heat and bring to the boil. Boil for one minute, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool to room temperature. Stir in the lime or lemon juice and set aside.

Halve the baby cabbages vertically and cut a triangular notch to remove the white stalky bits. Using a mandolin or a razor-sharp knife, cut the cabbage into very fine shreds. Make a stack of peas and cut them, on a sharp diagonal, into fine slices. Put the cabbage, the peas and the coriander into a salad bowl and toss well.

Ten minutes before you serve the salad, heat the oil in a small saucepan. Put a few pieces of absorbent kitchen paper on a plate. When the oil is good and hot roughly crumble the block of noodles into the oil, and fry for 30 seconds or two, or until just beginning to change colour. (**see important note, below) Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon, shake well, and tip onto the kitchen paper to drain. Now put the peanuts into the hot oil and fry for about 30 seconds and then remove, before they change colour, and drain on the kitchen paper.

Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well. Scatter the hot, crispy noodles and peanuts over the salad, and serve immediately.

Serves six, as a starter or side dish.

* "
A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on." - attributed to Winston Churchill.

** You can test whether the oil is hot enough by dropping a shred of dried noodle into it. If the oil bubbles energetically around the bit of noodle, and it turns golden within 15 seconds, the oil is hot enough. Remove the noodles and the peanuts before they turn golden brown, as they carry on browning after you've taken them out of the oil. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Bunny and Turtle Flapjacks for kids

Here's my take on what my late granny used to call 'crumpets', but they're actually griddle cakes or flapjacks. Scribbled into animal shapes, they make a fabulous weekend breakfast for kids. It took a bit of practice to get the shapes just right, and I tried a spoon, a funnel and a piping bag before I settled on the right tool: a turkey baster. [Postscript: a commenter on this post suggested a squeezy bottle: a brilliant idea, as it holds that much more batter. ]

(Funny. No one ever wants to help me make these 'crumpets' - just like the tale of the little red hen and her cake - but this time there was a queue of children demanding a turn. I wish I had photographed the smiley faces, anarchy signs, etc, devised by the teen.)

Some tips:

-This is quite a thick batter, and it needs to be, or else the liquid spreads too quickly. Squeeze the bulb of the baster tightly and suck up as much batter as you can get in one squeeze.

-Make sure the pan is very hot, but not smoking. Work quickly, or the batter will go brown before you've had a chance to do the fiddly bits.

- Don't make the joins between the legs and body too thin, or they will break off as you flip the cakes.

-Draw the outline of the animal first, and then fill in the gaps. For the turtle, draw in the four feet, in a square formation, fill them in, then swiftly outline the body. Add the head, fill it in, and finally fill in the body.

For the bunny, do the ears, then the head, then the body and finally the tail. Flip over, cook for a few minutes, and serve.

I've abandoned my Granny's crumpet mixture (sorry, Gran) in favour of this one, which is thicker, fluffier and more reliable. This griddle-cake batter comes from one of my vintage cookery pamphlets: The Royal Cookbook by 'The Royal Hostess' , published the Royal Baking Powder (no date, but looks about 1958, judging from the photographs).

Royal Griddle Cakes

2 eggs
1 and 1/2 cups (375 ml) milk
2 cups (500 ml) white cake flour, sifted
a pinch of salt
6 t (30 ml) baking powder
3 T (45 ml) white sugar
2 T (30 ml) melted butter

Put all the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and beat until smooth. If you don't have a food processor, beat the eggs and milk together in a big bowl. Sift over the flour, salt and baking powder and whisk until well combined. Finally, stir in the sugar and the melted butter. Set aside for 10 minutes, but do not stir again.

Heat a frying pan or flat griddle and grease lightly with a knob of butter wrapped in waxed paper. Drop the mixture in spoonfuls on the hot griddle, leaving room for spreading (or use turkey-baster - see above - to make shapes). When bubbles appear on the top, use a pallet knife or fish-slice to flip the the cakes. Cook for another minute or so, place between the folds of a clean napkin or tea towel, and keep warm.

Lovely hot with honey or syrup, and whipped cream or plain Greek yoghurt.

Makes about 16 griddle cakes. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Gilly's Egg 'Bavarois'

A delicate, old-fashioned buffet dish, lightly jellied and subtly flavoured with bay leaves, onion, cloves and nutmeg. This is from the the recipe book of Gilly Walters, the first local cook to be featured in my new 'South African Food Fundis' series.

Click here to read about Gilly and Wedgewood Nougat.

This makes a large quantity - about 1.4 litres - but is easily halved (use four hard-boiled eggs).

'Lovely with caviar,' says Gilly, 'but who can afford caviar these days? Try it with sweet chilli sauce, or chilli jam, instead.'

Gilly's Egg 'Bavarois'

450 ml milk
half an onion, peeled
1 clove
a pinch of nutmeg
6 peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 bay leaf
2 t (10 ml) powdered gelatine
200 ml hot chicken stock
7 eggs, freshly hard-boiled, cooled and peeled
150 ml thick mayonnaise (home-made, Hellman's, or a mild, thick mayo)
150 ml plain, thick white yoghurt
salt and milled black papper
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
200 ml cream, lightly whipped

First make the sauce. Heat the milk in a saucepan and add the onion, clove, nutmeg, peppercorns and bay leaf. Bring to just below boiling point, then remove from the heat and set aside to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.

In a new saucepan, make a roux by melting together the butter and flour and cook, stirring, for a minute or so (don't let the mixture brown). Now strain the warm milk over the roux (discard the flavourings) and bring to the boil, stirring constantly as the sauce thickens. Turn down the heat and simmer for two minutes. Cover the surface of the sauce with a piece of clingfilm or wax paper (to prevent a skin forming) and set aside to cool.

Add the gelatine to the hot chicken stock and stir until dissolved. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

Halve the boiled eggs and remove the yolks. Finely chop the whites, and, using the back of a big spoon, press the yolks through a sieve. Lightly combine the whites and yolks in a big bowl. Pour the lukewarm gelatine/stock mixture into the pot of cool white sauce and stir well to combine. Tip this mixture over the chopped eggs, add the mayonnaise and yoghurt, and gently combine the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper, and add a squeeze of lemon juice, to taste. Finally, gently fold in the whipped cream.

Pour the mixture into an oiled jelly [Jello] mould or individual, oiled ramekins, and chill for two to three hours. Turn out onto a serving dish. (To loosen, dip the mould into hot water for a few seconds. If you're using ramekins, run a sharp knife around the edges of each ramekin to release the vacuum.)

Serve with chilli sauce or caviar, and melba toast.

Serves 12-14 as a buffet dish; makes about 1.4 litres. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Gilly's Easy Nougat Ice Cream

An ultra-quick and deeply delicious dessert made with shop-bought vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and frozen, nutty nougat chunks. Gilly Walters, the inventor of Wedgwood Nougat, came up with this recipe as a way using nougat offcuts from her home factory.

This is the second recipe from Gilly's cookbook, and forms part of my new series about South African food fundis. Click here to read about more Gilly and Wedgewood Home-Made Confectionery.

Gilly's Easy Nougat Ice Cream

2 x 110g bars of Wedgewood home-made honey nougat
1 litre good vanilla ice cream
1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream
1/2 cup (125 ml) plain thick yoghurt

The night before you make the icecream, put the whole nougat bars into the deep freeze. Remove from the freezer and chop into pieces using a heavy knife or cleaver. Now cut the pieces into little chips. (You can also do this by placing the chunks into the jug of a food processor fitted with a sturdy metal blade, and briefly pulsing the chunks until they are reduced to bits about the size of chocolate chips.)

Remove the ice cream from the freezer and leave at room temperature for about 30 minutes, or until slightly softened.

In a large bowl, whip the cream. Stir in the yoghurt. Tip the softened icecream and the chipped nougat into the bowl and gently fold together.

Refreeze the ice cream in a dish or mold.

Serve with Wedgewood Angel biscuits.

Serves 6. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Gilly's Citrus Poppy Seed Cake

Gilly's Citrus Poppy Seed Cake
This lovely, moist citrus cake comes from the the recipe book of Gilly Walters, the first local cook to be featured in my new 'South African Food Fundis' series. Click here to read Gilly's entry.

This cake is so easy to make, and is an absolute knock-out.

This recipe is easily doubled, if you're catering for a crowd. Omit the icing, if you'd like a less sweet pud, and serve with whipped cream.

Gilly's Citrus Poppy Seed Cake

For the cake:
3 extra-large free range eggs
1½ cups (375 ml) caster sugar
½ cup (125 ml) sunflower oil
1 cup (250 ml) plain white yoghurt
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla essence
1¼ cups (310 ml) self-raising flour, sifted
1 cup (250 ml) desiccated coconut
a pinch of salt
80 ml poppy seeds

For the syrup:
grated rind of lemon or orange
100 ml lemon or orange juice
100 ml white sugar

For the icing:
1 Tbsp(15 ml) softened butter
1 cup (250 ml) icing sugar
fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a square cake tin (about 25 x 25 cm). Beat the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy. Stir in the oil, yoghurt and vanilla essence. Now fold in the flour, coconut, salt and poppy seeds. You will have a fairly wet batter.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tins and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out dry. Remove from the tin and allow to cool.

To make the syrup, combine all the ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, and bubble for three minutes. Brush the hot syrup over the cooled cake.

To make the icing, cream together the butter and icing sugar, adding lemon juice, a few drops at a time, to make a smooth, thick icing. Spread over the top of the cake.

Makes one 25 x 25 cm cake.


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Friday, 6 March 2009

South African Food Fundis: get to know our brilliant local food heroes

Starting this month, I'm expanding this blog by starting a series of articles - with recipes - about local food fundis, those lesser-known food heroes of South Africa who are making delicious waves in kitchens, bakeries and small home-factories, and on farms throughout the country.

I'll be showcasing the creativity and flair of some very talented home-cooks and caterers, along with bakers, bread-makers, farmers, smokers, picklers, bottlers, cheese-makers and purveyors of fine, fresh seasonal produce.

The first food fundi in the series:

- Gilly Walters of Wedgewood Nougat. Click here to read about her.

Michael and Michele Karamanof: Two professionals who have made food and cookery their passion.

Coming soon:

- Peter-James Smith, food critic and sausage-maker extraordinaire

- Jo and Brian Dick, of the Cheese Shop, in Linden

If you'd like your food or your produce featured here, please drop me a line. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

SA Food Fundis: Gilly Walters of Wedgewood Nougat

I've never forgotten a single heavenly dish cooked by Gilly Walters, cook, caterer, innovator and the creative brain behind Wedgewood Home Confectionary, a thriving family business based in the Natal Midlands, and now branching out in the UK and elsewhere.

I've been in raptures about Gilly's wonderful home cooking since I was four years old. And although she has long forgotten making those dishes, I certainly have not, and the memory of every slice of home-made, wild-yeast bread, every tender flake of roast chicken, every feather-light piece of cake, is indelibly imprinted on my tastebuds.

Welcome to the first of my new series about local South African food heroes!

I'm kicking off this series with Gilly Walters (my aunt) because she is quite simply the best home cook I know. Her instinctive flair in the kitchen, her fine palate, and her love of fresh, seasonal, locally produced ingredients are all vital ingredients in the magic Gilly-Walters formula. Even more important is that Gilly understands that food is there to feed not only your body, but your soul too.

Her food is simple, honest, fresh and heart-warming. And did I mention damn delicious? Whenever I, and my family, stop over at Gilly's house, en route to the Kwa-Zulu-Natal coast, we take along cricket bats and stun-grenades so we can beat off all the other people stampeding to her table. There's always a crowd gathered in Gilly's kitchen at meal times - her sons, her daughters-in-law, five million grandchildren, and assorted nogschleppers* - and it's a very happy bunfight.

Wedgewood Nougat

Gilly is very well known in the Natal Midlands, where she's spent many years cooking, catering and teaching. Her herb and veggie garden - which would make Martha Stewart weep with envy - is a green fountain. Her artisan-bread-making classes are legendary, as are the meals she's served up at classical music concerts hosted by her and her husband, my uncle Taffy Walters, at their home in Hilton, Natal.

It was at one of these concerts that Gilly served her first batch of home-made honey nougat, to the delight of her guests: a light-textured, not-too-sweet prototype that eventually became the popular brand Wedgewood Nougat. The range has since expanded to include a variety of nougat products containing macadamias, almonds, pecan nuts, black cherries and cranberries. Gilly's 'Angel Biscuits' - thistledown shortbread containing nougat chippings - have also proved to be big sellers.

Thanks to the energy and flair of Taffy Walters and the Walters brothers - my cousins Jon, Steve and Paul - Wedgewood confectionary is now sold all over South Africa, and overseas (under the brand name Walters Handmade Honey Nougat)

The famous Angel biscuits!
Their new factory in the Natal Midlands is a model for small family businesses: sustainable, socially responsible, and friendly to the environment. My cousins have developed their own Bio-Fuel plant that converts used fast-food oil into a high quality diesel; Wedgewood's vehicles, biscuit oven and forklift truck are all run on old chip-fryer oil.

Gilly has shared three of her recipes with me (I begged her to give me these particular recipes, which sent me into a faint when I tasted them).

Note: I've added these recipes to the blog in individual posts: click on the links to see them.

- Citrus Poppy-Seed Cake
- Easy Nougat Ice Cream
- Egg 'Bavarois'

And here are two of her secret flavour strategies:

Gilly's Gorgeous All-Purpose Pepper Sauce

'I picked up this tip from a cook who had trained at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland,' says Gilly. 'It's just delicious with fish and chicken.'

'You can also use it to make a fabulous salsa - finely chop the peppers, instead of puréeing them.'

4 ripe red peppers (capsicums)
a little olive oil
a little mild roasted garlic paste (see recipe below)
sweet chilli jam
salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Remove the stalks from the peppers, cut them in half, and strip out any white pith and seeds (or leave them whole).

Put the peppers in the oven, directly on the oven racks, and bake for 35 minutes or so, or until they are soft and the skin is lightly blistered, but not charred.

Remove from the oven, cover with cling film and set aside to cool for 30 minutes. Peel off the skin, dice, and place in a blender with a a little olive oil, a few teaspoons of garlic paste [see below] and a few teaspoons of sweet chilli jam or sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and blitz to a paste. Store in the fridge.

Gilly's Mild Roasted Pepper Sauce

'I always keep a jar of this delicious mild garlic mixture in my fridge,' says Gilly. 'I make a new batch about once a week. This paste should be added, in small quantities - just a teaspoonful at a time - to stews, soups, and so on, just before they are served.'

'Save energy by putting the garlic into the oven at the same time as you're cooking or baking a roast or cake.'

Do use fresh, snappy, plump white garlic for this recipe, not old, withered, yellow or sprouting cloves, which will taste stale and oxidised when cooked.

4 whole heads of fresh garlic
olive oil
salt

Remove the papery outer skin of the garlic bulbs and break apart into cloves. Put the cloves onto a large piece of tin foil, shiny side in, and wrap into a parcel. Bake at 180° C for 30 - 40 minutes, or until the garlic cloves are soft. Remove the parcel from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes. Using a pair of sharp scissors, snip the pointy end off each clove and squeeze the softened clove into a bowl - they should pop out easily.

Add a generous glug of olive oil and some salt, and whizz to a fine paste using a stick blender, or the small grinder on a food processor. Tip the paste into a lidded jar, or a small plastic container with a lid, and pour a film of olive oil over the top to prevent the paste from coming into contact with air and oxidising.

Store in the fridge.

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* Nogschlepper: it's difficult to define this piece of hybrid South African slang. It sort of means, a hanger-on, or someone who tails behind. It's a very nuanced word. 'Nog' means 'also' in Afrikaans, while 'schlep' is a Yiddish word meaning to move laboriously or slowly. In a South African context, 'schlep' means having to drag yourself off somewhere, largely against your will: 'It was such a schlep to go to to the supermarket'.

So, put together, the two words signify a person who drags themselves along too. Or 'with', as South Africans say. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly