Sunday 30 December 2007

Heaven on a plate: Fillet, Mash and Rocket with Balsamic glaze

My recipe of the year - this really is heaven on a plate; the most sublime combination of flavours and textures. Actually, it's not my recipe, but my humble imitation of an exquisite plate of food served up at Al Fiume, a very good Italian country restaurant set on the banks of the lovely Hennops River, about 45 minutes' drive north of Johannesburg. In the kitchen is the inspired Giancarlo Pironi, formerly of Assaggi and arguably South Africa's best Italian chef.
Fillet with Mash and Rocket
This is the perfect dinner-party dish. It's easy to make and not at all fiddly, provided you move quickly, keep everything piping-hot and buy the very best matured fillet and and the pepperiest, freshest rocket and sharpest Parmesan. This recipe serves 10, but is easily halved.

I blush at the fact that this dish is vertically stacked on the plate (I detest towers of food, but in this case the piling of rocket upon steak upon mash is entirely justified).

Fillet with Mash, Rocket, Parmesan and a Balsamic Vinegar Glaze

2 whole fillet steaks
2 T (30 ml) Dijon mustard
2 T (30 ml) olive oil
3 T (45 ml) good soy sauce (Kikkoman)
salt and milled black pepper

oil and butter for frying

10 large floury potatoes, peeled and quartered
milk and butter

fresh rocket (about 3 'pillow packs', or enough to fill a medium salad bowl)
a wedge of cold Parmesan or Grana Padano
freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons
a glug of olive oil

200 ml balsamic vinegar

An hour or two before you're going to cook them, trim and prepare the fillets (click here for details). Place the fillets in a ceramic dish and, using your hands, smear with the mustard and olive oil. Pour the soy sauce over the meat, cover with clingfilm and set aside (out of the fridge, so they can come up to room temperature).

Preheat the oven to 190°C and place a baking sheet in the oven to heat.

Put the potatoes into a pan of salted water, bring to the boil and cook until quite tender. Drain in a colander, allow to dry out for 5 minutes, and then put them back in the pan. Place the pan back on the heat, add a splash of milk and a large knob of butter, and mash until fluffy and very smooth. Season with salt and pepper, cover and keep hot.

In a large frying pan, heat some olive oil and butter until very hot - just short of smoking. Remove the fillets from the ceramic dish, shake off the liquid, season well with salt and pepper and place into the hot fat. Quickly brown the fillets on all sides until nicely caramelised (this should take about 6 -7 minutes). Put the fillets on the heated baking sheet and place them in the oven for 7-12 minutes, or until done (they should be a nice rosy pink inside - cut a slit in the thickest part of the fillet to check for doneness). Leave the frying pan and its juices on the stove. Put 10 plates in the warmer drawer.

While the fillet is baking, tip the rocket leaves into a deep bowl. Using a potato peeler, shave the Parmesan or Grana Padano into large thin flakes and add to the bowl. Now add the lemon juice and olive oil, in equal quantities, season with salt and pepper and toss well to coat.

Turn the heat on under the pan you fried the fillets in. Tip the liquid left in the ceramic marinating dish into the hot pan and stir well to loosen any sediment. Pour in the balsamic vinegar. Allow to bubble over a high heat until reduced by about half, to a slightly syrupy glaze.

To serve: Take the fillets out of the oven, cover and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Carve into 20 1-cm-thick slices. Put a generous mound of hot mashed potato into the centre of each plate and drizzle with a little olive oil. Place 2 slices of fillet on the mash (they should lean casually against the mound). Sprinkle with a few drops of balsamic glaze. Top with a generous handful - an extravagant crowning tuft - of the rocket and Parmesan.

Now, in best cheffy style, take a teaspoon of the balsamic glaze and make a pretentious designer dribble around the edges of the plate.

Serve immediately, to rapturous applause.

Serves 10.

Note: Don't shave the Parmesan in advance - it tends to dry out and get a bit greasy.
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Thursday 8 November 2007

Hot baby potatoes with cold tuna-caper dressing

This recipe is inspired by the sublime Italian dish Vitello Tonnato - thin slices of poached veal coated in a silken sauce of mayonnaise, tuna, capers, lemon juice and olive oil. Not having any thin shavings of baby cow on hand, I tried it with garlicky baby potatoes. Heaven.

I never peel new potatoes, but for this recipe, a peeled spud is essential. You can buy ready-peeled new potatoes at Woolies. (Or you can buy, for a mere R150, a potato-peeling appliance. Post a comment if you want to know more.)

For the potatoes:

1 kg baby potatoes, peeled
30 ml (2 T) butter
1 clove garlic

For the dressing:

1 tin tuna, drained of brine or oil
1-3 anchovy fillets, to taste
juice of two fat lemons
250 ml good mayonnaise (Hellman's, or home-made, but not salad cream)
150 ml olive oil
10 capers
a pinch of salt (but taste it first; the anchovy fillets may be salty enough)
freshly milled black pepper
a little hot water

To garnish:

a scattering of capers

First make the dressing. Put all the ingredients except the hot water in the goblet of a blender and whizz until very smooth and fine. The dressing should have the consistency of thick pouring cream, or a thin custard - it it's too stiff, add a little hot water. Process the dressing until it's silky and absolutely smooth. Pour into a jug or bowl and chill for an hour or two in the fridge.

Cook the potatoes in plenty of briskly boiling, salted water (or microwave in a covered glass bowl) until tender but not falling apart (about 25 minutes). While they are cooking, crush the garlic to a fine paste, mix it with the butter in a small saucepan and heat it gently until the butter begins to bubble. Cook for a minute or two, but don't allow the garlic to brown. (You can also do this in the microwave). Drain the potatoes thoroughly, tip them into the saucepan and toss well to coat. Scatter the capers over the potatoes.

Serve the potatoes piping hot, and pass around a jug of cold dressing.

Serve six as a side dish. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Saturday 6 October 2007

Mince for supper again? Try this quick easy no-fry method

What a great stand-by beef mince is when you're feeding a family. I'm not wild about mince ( isn't it an annoying and gristly word, 'mince'?) and I loathe the way it goes all lumpy and grey and sticks to the pan when you fry it. However - provided that it's lean mince you're using - it's a good healthy high-protein staple, loved by most kids and teens and also by men hankering after mom's spag. bol or meat loaf.

Here's a quick way to cook beef mince that involves no tedious frying. Using this method, you can get dinner on the table within 30 minutes. Purists will be shocked at the idea of not browning mince first but, if you're cooking for kids, what's the point? You might miss out on that extra layer of flavour that the caramelising of a meat's surface produces, but no child (or husband, for that matter) is likely to notice the difference. It might look grey to begin with, but once you've added all the bits and pieces you'll end up with a mince of a nice reddish-brown and a good flavour.

Another plus about mince: the way I got my kids to appreciate fresh salady ingredients was to present them with mince (or stir-fried chicken) with a whole selection of healthy crunchy toppings. This mix-and-match approach has really worked: I've noticed that, as they get older, they take bigger helpings of lettuce and tomato and cucumber and avocado, and smaller helpings of meat and cheese.

You can serve this within half an hour, but the longer and slower you cook it, the better it is.  If you have a slow cooker, make this in the morning and leave it to bubble all day. Alternatively, mix all the ingredients together in the morning, and place in the fridge to marinate until you get home. The mixture will taste the better for it.

This is a versatile recipe, because you can add any of your favourite seasonings and spices to it: anchovies, sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce, tomato paste,  shavings of black truffle, clippings of dragons' toenails; whatever. This recipe contains the flavourings I use.

Quick, Easy No-Fry Mince
1 kg lean minced beef [ground beef]
2 tins of All Gold tomato-and-onion mix** (or two tins of good canned tomatoes, finely chopped, and with their juice)
1 cup (250 ml) white wine (or red wine, or stock, or water)
salt and freshly milled black pepper
2-3 cloves garlic, finely crushed
a handful of fresh herbs, finely chopped (thyme, oreganum, rosemary, sage)
OR 2 T (30 ml) good dried herbs
4 T (60 ml) tomato sauce [ketchup]
3 T (45 ml) Worcestershire sauce
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 tsp (5 ml) powdered cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) powdered coriander
1 tsp (5ml) paprika
salt and milled pepper, to taste

Put all the ingredients into a big saucepan. Using a fork, stir and stab briskly to break the mince up into granules. Set the pan over a medium heat, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and allow to bubble gently for 25-30 minutes, until cooked through. If the mixture seems too dry, add a little water.

Serve with boiled or mashed potatoes, or rice, or spooned over fresh buttered rolls.


For Beef 'Chilli': Add 1 tsp (5ml) of dried red chilli flakes or cayenne pepper (or more if you aren't feeding kids), another teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander, and a can or two of red kidney beans or white butter beans, drained of their liquid. Cook over a high heat until the liquid in the pan reduces. Serve in hot bowls with the following toppings: grated cheddar, sour cream (or Greek yoghurt whisked with a clove of crushed fresh garlic and a few tablespoons of mayonnaise), shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped fresh green chilli and a handful of chopped fresh coriander. A few slices of freshly baked mielie bread make this meal a real winner.

For beef wraps:
Cook the mince well until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Warm a packet of rotis or naan bread, or even pita bread. Serve the mince with the wrapping breads and any or all of following toppings: avocado mashed with a bit of lemon juice, Greek yoghurt, grated cheddar, chopped tomato, chopped cucumber, chopped fresh parsley or coriander or mint, hummous, and so on.

** Tomato-and-onion mix: a useful South African staple consisting of chopped tomatoes and pre-cooked onions in a can. I will not hear a word against this product, which is so useful when you're making a stew or a potjiekos and don't feel like chopping onions.

Serves 4 Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday 5 October 2007

Quick family dinner: pork fillet with mustard, tarragon and cream

I'm not a huge fan of pork. I do, admittedly, have a severe bacon deficiency - I cannot do without a few rashers of streaky bacon cooked to a crispy brown crumble every now and then. I also appreciate a nice slice of good pink ham with a lick of sharp gritty mustard - but I can live without hunks of pork covered in crackling. Having said that, pork fillet is very tasty and lean, and it's inexpensive when compared to beef fillet.

My kids don't much like pork either, but I partially won them over by concocting this quick and simple - and not particularly healthy - dish. It's creamy, tangy, tender and tasty, and cooked in a jiffy. It went down so well that I think I might make it once a week.

The tarragon is essential to this dish. It's bloody difficult to grow in your garden, and is only occasionally available in supermarkets, so I suggest you use the excellent dried French Tarragon leaves from the Cape Herb and Spice Company. I found these in my local Spar, and at Pick 'n Pay. If you can't find any sort of tarragon, use a handful of fresh parsley.

Pork Fillet in a Creamy Mustard Tarragon Cream Sauce

1 -2 pork fillets (about 1 kg for four people)
30 ml (2 tablespoons) flour
salt and freshly millled black pepper
15 ml (1 tablespoon) olive oil
5 ml (1 tsp) butter
25o ml (1 cup) white wine
125 ml (1/2 cup) water
(1 T) dried tarragon leaves
30 ml (2 T) wholegrain mustard (or a teaspoon each of wholegrain mustard and Dijon mustard)
125 ml cream
juice of half a lemon

Pat the pork fillet quite dry with a paper towel and cut into 1-cm-thick slices. Put the flour onto a dinner plate and season well with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil and butter in a frying pan. While the fat is heating, dip each slice of pork in the seasoned flour, and then shake off any excess flour. Put the pork slices into the hot fat and fry, for about four to five minutes on each side, until golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pork slices from the pan and put them on a plate. Cover the plate with a piece of tin foil, or an upturned plate.

Pour the white wine and the water into the frying pan and stir briskly, loosening any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Allow to bubble for 3-5 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Now turn down the heat and stir in the tarragon leaves, the mustard and the cream, and give the sauce a thorough whisk. When the sauce is slightly thickened and smooth, tip the pork pieces and their juices back into the pan. Squeeze over the lemon juice and season well with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to virtually nothing and let the pan bubble for another 5 minutes, or until the pork fillet is cooked through and well coated with its mustardy sauce.

Serve hot with - hmm, let me think - boiled new potatoes, some tender-crisp microwaved broccoli, and a dab of sauce.

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Thursday 27 September 2007

Microwaving veggies: try a paper bag!

Since my last post about the deliciousness of microwaved vegetables, I've spent a few hours experimenting with different cooking techniques for various lovely seasonal veggies, including fresh asparagus and broccoli, ears of sweetcorn, tiny new potatoes and frozen peas.

I've tried everything: putting the veggies naked on the turntable; placing them in a glass jug topped with an upturned plate; wrapping them in various things (clingfilm, sandwich paper, dry newspaper, wet newspaper, clingfilm); putting them in a bamboo steamer; even sealing them in a Tupperware container. All were good, but not one technique stood out as brilliant, until....

UNTIL... the white paper bag. I put a fistful of fat fresh asparagus spears into a plain white paper bag, added a tiny sprinkling of water, folded the top of the bag over once or twice, and microwaved on High for three minutes. To say that I nearly fainted when I tasted them, dipped deeply into a bowl of foaming lemon butter, is no exaggeration. Try the technique: you will be amazed at the results. The paper bag traps all the steamy flavour, allows the veggies to cook quickly, and keeps them moist and slightly springy - but never soggy. I then experimented with broccoli, sweet corn and sugar-snap peas, with the same excellent results.

Though I used white paper bags, I'm sure a plain brown paper bag would work just as well.


- Put the veggies into the paper bag immediately before you microwave them. If you leave them lying around in the bag, the paper might go soggy and split.

- Add a few flavourings to the bag. To my broccoli bag, I added a dash of Kikkoman soy sauce, a squeeze of lemon juice and a fresh garlic clove. To a paper bag of frozen peas, add a few sprigs of fresh mint and a lump of butter. A sprig of rosemary tucked into a bag of tiny new potatoes will impart a lovely resiny flavour.

- Instead of adding a splish of water to the bag, try a sprinkling of lemon juice, white wine or chicken stock. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Saturday 15 September 2007

Are you scared of your microwave oven? Try broccoli in it

What's with this paranoia about microwave ovens? I know people who won't have one in the house, let alone cook anything in one. Presumably this aversion stems from a terror that the microwaves will seep from the machine and fry the brain and/or frazzle the pets. Or perhaps the belief that microwaving somehow damages food on a molecular level, or creates toxins or carcinogens when plastic's involved, just runs very deep. Celebrity chefs are among the worst culprits when it comes to microwave-phobia. 'A MICROWAVE OVEN?' I've heard Gordon Ramsay roar on his show Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. Ok, I can understand him getting vicious about some lazy yobbo zapping everything in the microwave, but I just don't understand the general prejudice. There are certain foodstuffs that turn out better - or at least just as good - when microwaved that they do subjected to any other type of cooking. Look, it's not a long list, I concede, but if you're a home cook toiling at the rockface of family catering, the microwave really is your best friend.

Here is my list of eminently microwavable foods:

Broccoli and asparagus (method below). The tender-crisp crunch, flavour and brilliant colour of properly microwaved broccoli and asparagus beats boiling, steaming and grilling hands-down. Carrots, peas, courgettes, mielies (corn cobs), cauliflower and leeks are good done this way too.

Chocolate Chocolate melts extremely quickly and beautifully in a microwave. Why sweat with a bowl suspended over boiling water? Tips for melting and tempering chocolate in a microwave from

White sauce There's less stirring involved when you make a white/bechamel sauce in a sturdy glass bowl in the microwave, and the jug is definitely easier to clean afterwards. Don't be alarmed if lumpy clumps appear at the bottom of the jug during the process: give the mixture a good whisk to disperse the lumps and carry on microwaving it. Recipe here.

Popcorn Popcorn dry-microwaved in a paper bag is so quick and easy - and you don't get burned and unpopped bits. See my blog post with instructions here.

Microwaved Broccoli or Asparagus
Put the broccoli or asparagus in a glass or ceramic bowl or dish. Add 1 tablepoon butter (or olive oil, but butter is better). Cover with a lid, or with a piece of greaseproof paper. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and toss the vegetables well so that they are thoroughly coated. The remaining cooking time will depend on the quantity of veggies and the size of the bowl: the best method is to continue cooking the vegetables in one minute bursts, checking for doneness after each minute.

When the veggies are just tender (ie, you can push a sharp knife tip through the thickest part of the stem without feeling any springy resistence) remove the dish from the microwave and set aside for 30 seconds. Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice or whatever. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Monday 10 September 2007

A million ways to roast a chicken: here's mine

Roasting a chicken really is a no-brainer, and something a 10-year-old child could master with ease. But have you noticed how much conflicting advice there is out there about the best method? Cookbooks and TV programmes boast about having the BEST EVER recipe, one that produces a result far more crisp, tender, tasty and flavoursome than your pathetic attempts at roasting a bird.

My chickens, ready for the oven
Put the chicken on its front. No, put it on its back. Put it on its front, then turn it  on its back. Put it on its side for half the cooking time. Heck, no, stand it up in the oven! Put a can of beer up its bottom! But before you do that, brown it all over in a hot pan then put it in the oven.

Wrong: put it in a roasting bag. Remember to loosen the breast skin and pack in plenty of butter and (freshly plucked) herbs. Or a glug of olive oil. Or drape some bacon over the breast.

Trim off the excess fat, and the pope's nose and wing tips. No, on second thoughts, leave them on so the chicken doesn't dry out.

And what about the cavity? Put nothing it it. Put lime leaves in it. Put half a lemon in it. Boil the lemon first (Jamie Oliver). Or, put garlic in it. Or herbs. Or garlic and herbs. Or, garlic, herbs, and an old bicycle pump.

A bay leaf is essential. NO, it's not! Only rosemary will do. Rosemary? Are you a freakin' Philistine? Only thyme organically grown by Sherpa maidens on the upper slopes of the Himalayas will suffice!

Well, you get the picture.

Here is my method of roasting chicken. It works for me, but I cannot claim it is the BEST EVER.

POSTSCRIPT, 2016: I used to roast chickens at 180 °C, but - oops - in recent years I've had better results with a cooler oven temperature and more time in the oven (see amended recipe below). The longer roasting time allows time for flavour-packed sticky golden residue to form under the chicken, and the flesh remains juicy and tender.

Roast Chicken

1 fresh free-range chicken
vegetables to go under the chicken: sliced carrots, celery, unskinned onions
1 lemon
fresh herbs of your choice (thyme, rosemary, a bay leaf)
fresh garlic, plus a slice of onion
chicken spices of your choice
salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 150° C. Arrange a bed of vegetables the same size as the base of the chicken in a roasting pan. Put the chicken on top, breast-side up.

Cut the lemon in half. Squeeze the juice over the chicken. Put the squeezed-out lemon halves, herbs and garlic into the cavity.

Tie the ends of the drumsticks together. Grind a little salt and pepper over the chicken and dust with spices/seasonings of your choice.

Roast for about two hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut into the thigh joint (the bone should feel very hot,and the drumsticks should move independently of the body when you give them a wiggle). Remove the chicken from the oven, cover loosely with tin foil, and rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.

Serves 4 - 6. 

Now that I've got that off my breast, tell me how you roast YOUR family chicken.

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Sunday 2 September 2007

Favouring Curry: Green Pawpaw and Granadilla Chutney

Try this palate-tingling fresh chutney next time you make a curry - it's quite simply delicious, with elusive and unusual flavours. It's adapted from Atul Kochhar's wonderful book Simple Indian. I saw first saw Atul cooking on the BBC food programme Great British Menu, and was so intrigued by the praise he got from the judges (Prue Leith called him 'a genius with spicing') that I bought the series cookbook and tried out a few of his recipes. After I tried his Tandoori Chicken with Black Lentil Sauce and Herb Pulao, I had to agree - a genius.

The original recipe calls for raw green mango, but as mangoes are out of season I used a green pawpaw (papaya). Atul sieves the granadilla pulp, but I kept the seeds in, for a lovely crunch.

Green Pawpaw and Granadilla Chutney
1/2 a large, green-skinned, underripe pawpaw, deseeded and peeled
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and sliced
1 green chilli, chopped (remove the seeds if you want less heat)
grated zest and juice of 1 lime or lemon
100 ml coconut cream
1 t (5ml) palm sugar, grated (ordinary sugar will do)
1/2 t (2.5 ml) salt
2 T (30 ml) finely chopped fresh mint
pulp of 1 fresh granadilla

Coarsely grate the pawpaw and set aside. Put the garlic, chilli, lemon zest & juice, coconut cream, sugar and salt into a blender and whizz to a paste. Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the grated pawpaw, mint, and granadilla pulp. If the mixture is a little too stiff, add more coconut cream.

Serves 4 as a side dish. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Sunday 19 August 2007

How I got my kids to eat fresh fish

It is an abiding mystery to me that small children adore fish fingers, yet loathe the taste and very idea of fresh ocean fish. To me, a fish finger tastes like pencil shavings ground up with chalk, yet even the pickiest toddlers I've known have not been able to resist the finger of a fish, especially if it's fried to a lovely crisp in a panful of oil, and served up with a puddle of scarlet tomato sauce. I've spent years - actually, more than a decade - fruitlessly trying to convince my kids that a thick, toothsome steak of flapping-fresh fish is just the most delicious thing imaginable. Finally, tonight, I prevailed, and here's how.

First, the reason why kids hate fish:

1. It's frozen, and its texture has become slightly mushy. Even the best frozen fish you can buy, whether crumbed, battered or coated in crushed Smarties, still has a pappy* texture. Kids under the age of 12 appreciate a bit of springy bounce in the foods they eat: why do you think they love chicken nuggets so much?

2. If it's not frozen, it's bony. Not nice chewy rib or chicken bones, but spiky, gelatinous, throat-lodging bones.

3. If it's not frozen or bony, it's smelly. And smelly fish does not tread lightly on the nostrils of the under-10s. I personally love the rich fishy flavour of anchovies, Thai fish sauce and Peck's Anchovette, but to juvenile noses the aroma of fish is on a par with cooked cabbage, stale farts and sun-baked doggie-doo.

Yesterday I went into a local fish shop and was pleased to see that the selection of fish was actually rather fresh (although it's one of Jo'burg's most popular fish delis, the stench that sometimes billows out from this shop needs to be smelled to be believed. My daughter actually holds her nose when she comes into the shop with me).

An assistant was frying up some sample nuggets of fresh fish in a garlicky, lemony dark sauce, which my daughter, astonishingly, agreed to taste. 'Lovely!' she cooed. 'Just like chicken!' She had another piece, and then another, and I dragged her away before she polished off the lot.

I was so impressed that I bought a couple of thick steaks (they called it 'red snapper', but it looked like Red Roman to me; whatever it was, it was a meaty, snow-white and robust fish, with no bones and good thick white flakes ) and tried to replicate the sauce. All three kids devoured the fish - and asked for more. Hall-e-luh-ja.

Fish Chunks for Kids

1 kg thick, fresh, meaty fish steaks
1 teaspoon (5 ml) white flour
1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive or sunflower oil
1 tablespoon (15 ml) butter

For the sauce:
1-2 fat cloves garlic
a good pinch of salt
2 teaspoons (10 ml) balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) good soy sauce (eg, Kikkoman)
juice of 1 fat lemon
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) honey

Trim the fish steaks of any dark-red, thin or bony bits, and give these to the cat. Cut the remaining flesh into chunks of about 2cm x 2 cm. Put the flour into a plastic bag, add the fish chunks and shake well so that the fish pieces are lightly dusted with flour. Heat the oil and the butter in a frying pan until very hot, but not quite smoking. Add the floured fish chunks and fry, tossing frequently, for 7-10 minutes, or until golden brown and just cooked through.

While the fish is frying, make the sauce. Using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic cloves with the salt to a fine paste. (Or squash the garlic cloves into a bowl, using a garlic crusher). Now stir in the remaining sauce ingredients and stir well. When the fish is cooked through, turn down the heat and pour over the sauce. Stir or toss well, turn down the heat and allow to bubble for another minute, or until the fish chunks are coated with a lovely sticky glaze.

Serve with lots of lemon wedges and no tomato sauce.

Recipe rating
My rating: 6/10
My Significant Other's rating: Not at home tonight.
Teenagers' rating: 7/10 'Not bad. Not bad at all. Can you make it again?'
Small-daughter rating: 8/10 ('This tastes like chicken. It's a sea-dwelling chicken with fins and a beak like a dolphin')

* 'Pappy' A term used by my family to describe fish with a mushy texture. The opposite of 'pappy' is 'tacky'. When a fish is 'tacky', it's springy, and makes your teeth stick together for a fleeting instant during the chewing process.

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Wednesday 15 August 2007

Bless Jamie Oliver for this lekker baked butternut

Jamie Oliver seems to irritate a lot of people in the celebrity-cook and cheffy* world, but for a hard-working home cook like me, he's a hero. I love his simple, hearty, lip-smacking recipes. Oliver understands that I don't have the time or energy to to faff around preparing platesful of pretentious, vertically stacked food nestling in jus, or topped off with clouds of almond air. I also take my hat off to him for his effort to shake up the quality of crappy school dinners, and to encourage disadvantaged (and often incredibly loutish) kids to consider a career in cooking.

Anyway, here is my version of Oliver's lekker baked butternut recipe, which I took from his book Cook With Jamie . I've adjusted the recipe for family tastes (I left out the red chilli flakes, cut down a bit on the spicing, and instead of a cup of cream used half thick Greek yoghurt and half cream) but it was still astonishingly good.

Jamie Oliver's Baked Butternut

1 large butternut squash, unpeeled
3 tablespoons (45 ml) olive oil
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) coriander seeds, crushed
1 tablespoon (15 ml) fresh thyme leaves (I used fresh oreganum)
salt and milled black pepper
1/2 cup (125 ml) cream
1/2 cup (125 ml) plain white yoghurt
1/2 cup (125 ml) white wine
1/3 of a nutmeg, grated
1 cup grated Parmesan (Grana Padano or Pecorino will do)

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cut the butternut into 1-centimetre-thick slices, using a heavy cleaver or knife. Cut each slice in two, and scrape out and discard any seeds or pulp. Don't bother peeling the butternut. Put the butternut into a suitably sized oven-proof ceramic dish (the chunks should fit into the dish in a single layer. Jamie emphasises that they should be tucked up closely against one another). Pour the olive oil over the pieces, add the coriander, the thyme and the salt and pepper, and, using your hands, toss well to coat. Cover the dish with a piece of tin foil and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the butternut is tender. In the meantime, whisk the cream, yoghurt and white wine together in a bowl. Stir in the nutmeg and half the Parmesan. Taste the mixture, and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

When the butternut is tender, remove it from the oven, drain off any liquid by tipping the dish over the sink, and pour over the cream mixture. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan on top. Put the dish back in the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes longer, or until the dish is bubbling hot and browned on top.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

* An example: Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux has said, snottily, of Jamie: "He's served the purpose of being able to bring young people to understand that food is something to enjoy and even cook for themselves. But when someone tells me he's a chef I just say 'You're joking'."

Recipe rating
My rating: 7/10
My Significant Other's rating: Not at home tonight.
Teenagers' rating: 'We're not hungry, honest, mom. We had 20 peanut butter sandwiches at 5 pm'
Small-daughter rating: 5/10 ('I think I might like pumpkin') Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday 14 August 2007

How to cook (or braai) a fillet of beef to perfection

Over the years I must have tried ten different ways to cook a lovely fillet of beef, with results ranging from an incinerated log to a bloody shame. After much experimentation, I reckon this is the way to go. This method gives you a lovely crusty brown skin on the outside, and meat that is melting, rosy-pink and tender on the inside.

How to cook (or braai) a fillet of beef to perfection
Left-over fillet steak thinly sliced and served with home-made mustard
mayonnaise and fresh dill. I like fillet quite pink in the middle, but if you
prefer it medium, leave it in the oven for a little longer.
The challenge with roasting or braaing (barbecuing) a fillet is achieving a caramelised mahogany-coloured crust on the outside without over-cooking the inside. It's tricky to know when a fillet is done to perfection, as this depends on so many factors: the size and maturity of the meat, its internal temperature when you start to cook it, the heat of your frying pan or fire, the ferocity of your oven, and so on.

Even with the aid of a digital cooking thermometer/probe, I've found it difficult to get the same results every time, so now I judge the 'done-ness' of a fillet by touch and  instinct, and sometimes by going against all the cheffy rules of cooking and slicing deep into it to check whether it's ready (see below).

So try this:

Three hours before you're going to cook your fillet, take it out of its packaging (strictly speaking, it shouldn't be wrapped in plastic at all, but let's not be precious about this), drain off all bloody liquid, pat it quite dry with a paper towel and put it into a ceramic dish so it can slowly come up to room temperature.

One or two hours before cooking, trim and flavour the fillet. Using a sharp knife, cut through then peel away the 'silverskin' (membrane) on the outside of the meat (good instructions here).

Double the thin end over and tie it to the main fillet with kitchen string. Don't worry if one end is much thicker than the other (the thick end will cater for those who like their fillet rare, and the thin, doubled-over end will do for those who like brown beef).

Whether you're braaing or frying, preheat the oven to 190°C, and place a metal roasting pan in the oven to heat through.

Immediately before you cook the fillet, put a dollop of good prepared mustard (such as Dijon mustard) in the palm of your hand and smooth it all over the fillet. Sprinkle liberally with olive oil and a little salt, and grind over plenty of fresh black pepper. Add any other flavourings that you think might be good (a dash of good soy sauce or a very light dusting of mild curry powder are to be recommended, but don't use fresh garlic, which turns bitter when it browns in hot fat).

If you're frying: Heat one to two tablespoons of olive or sunflower oil in a frying pan over a high flame.  Wait until the oil is very hot, and is just beginning to shimmer in the pan (but it should not be so hot that it is smoking). Put the fillet into the pan and cook on one side for about two minutes -  without moving or disturbing it - or until it's a rich brown colour. Turn the fillet and brown it on all sides in the same way; this shouldn't take longer than six to eight minutes. This is a smoky business - if there is no smoke in your kitchen, your pan is not hot enough.

Now add a tablespoon or two of butter to the pan and turn the fillet over a few times so it's coated.

(If you're braaing: Make sure your coals are very hot.  Put the well-oiled fillet directly onto the grid and brown it all over in the same way; again, this should take about seven to eight minutes.)

Now put the fillet onto the heated roasting pan and bake in the pre-heated oven for 10-25 minutes, depending on the degree of pinkness you want. A slim fillet takes about 10 minutes; a full-size one 15-25.

If you're not sure, cut a deep slit in the underside of the thickest part of the fillet to check for doneness.  This will result in the loss of a little juice, but as you're only going to be cooking the meat for a little while longer, the damage will be minimal. If the meat looks unpleasantly raw and bloody on the inside, give it a few minutes longer.

Alternatively, and a somewhat less accurate method: plunge a fork deep into the meat, leave it there while you count to ten,  then hold the tines to your upper lip. If they feel very hot - but not so hot that they burn your lip -  the beef should be medium rare inside.

Remove from the oven, cover loosely with a piece of clingfilm, foil or kitchen paper, and set aside to rest on a plate 8 minutes.

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Monday 6 August 2007

Roast Chicken with Lime Leaves and Curried Celeriac

It's rich of me to post a recipe with hard-to-find ingredients, considering that not even 4 days ago I was bitching about recipes with exotic ingredients. Well, it just so happened that I had the ingredients on hand.

Why would I even have celeriac in my fridge? Last week I dragged My Significant Other (MSO) off to Impala Fruiterers in Northcliff (out of my way, but arguably the best fruit and veg shop in South Africa) and he fell upon a pack of celeriac with cries of joy. I've only cooked it once in my life, and have avoided it ever since, on the grounds that, with its gnarled whiskery legs, it looks like the creepy Mandrake babies in the first Harry Potter film. But MSO grew up in England, and is the son of a brilliant cook, and rates celeriac up there with blackcurrants, green gooseberries, rhubarb, clotted cream and a juicy Sunday roast with all the trimmings.

So we bought them, and they writhed at the bottom of the veggie bin until I hauled them out and cooked them - and, my, how fantastic they tasted. A cross between a parsnip, a potato and celery, with a deep, flavoury earthiness. Use potatoes or parsnips if you can't find celeriac.

And the lime leaves? I ran out of lemons to stuff up the chicken's backside, so I used the remains of pack of lime leaves I'd bought to make a Thai curry, along with a handful of fresh lemon leaves from my new little lemon tree. The pungent lemon oils infused every morsel of chicken - and from now on, to hell with lemons.

Roast Chicken with Lime Leaves and Curried Celeriac
1 free-range chicken
a large handful of lime leaves, or fresh lemon leaves off a tree, or both (bruised lemon grass might work too)
2 unpeeled cloves garlic, crushed
a thick slice of onion, unpeeled
3 Tbsp (45 ml) lemon juice
1 bay leaf
a glug of olive oil
salt and milled pepper

For the celeriac:
4 large celeriac bulbs
1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
2 tsp (10 ml) black mustard seeds
1 Tbsp (15 ml) butter
4 tsp (20 ml) mild curry powder
1 tsp (5 ml) ground cumin
2 Tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice
salt and milled black pepper

For the gravy:
4 tsp (20 ml) flour
1 glass white wine
1 cup (250 ml) water
1-2 Tbsp (15-20 ml) dark soy sauce, or a few drops of gravy browning (for colour)

Preheat the oven to 200 °C.

Trim any excess fat off the chicken and place in a roasting pan. Crush the fresh lime and lemon leaves to release the fragrant oils, then place in the cavity of the chicken, along with the garlic cloves, onion and bay leaf. Rub the olive oil over the chicken, sprinkle over the lemon juice and and season with salt and pepper. Put the chicken into the hot oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 180 °C. Roast for an hour to an hour and a half (depending on the size of the chicken), or until the juices run clear when you cut into the thigh joint.

In the meantime, prepare the celeriac. Trim off all the brown and knobbly bits and cut into quarters. Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the mustard seeds and fry over a medium-high until they begin to sizzle and pop. Turn down the heat and add the butter, curry powder and cumin. Now add the celeriac cubes, toss well to coat, fry for another minute or so. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Tip the cubes into an ovenproof dish and place in the oven with the chicken. Roast until golden brown and tender right through, tossing a few times to coat every piece.

When the chicken's done, remove from the oven, put it on a plate, cover with tin foil or an upturned bowl and allow to rest for 10 minutes while you make the gravy.

Tip the juices in the roasting pan into a soup bowl and allow to settle for a few minutes. Now put about 2 tablespoons of the fat that has floated to the top of the bowl back into the roasting pan, set on a high heat and wait for the oil to get really hot. Add the flour and stir briskly with a fork or flat sauce whisk.

 When the mixture is just beginning to brown, pour in the wine, water and soy sauce (or gravy browning), all the while stirring furiously to loosen any brown bits. If the gravy seems too thick, add a little more water. Turn down the heat so that the gravy bubbles gently. Spoon and discard all the fat off the top of the chicken juices in the bowl and pour the brown juice that's settled at the bottom of the bowl into the gravy, along along with any liquid that's seeped out of the resting chicken. Stir well, season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

Carve the chicken and serve hot with minty peas or a plain green salad.

Serves 4-6

Recipe rating
My rating: 8/10
My Significant Other's rating: 9/10
Teenagers' rating: 7/10
Small-daughter rating: 2/10 ('I'm not hungry and the potato tastes horrible') Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday 1 August 2007

How hard is it to write a clear recipe?

I'm pernickety about the way recipes are written (everyone has a monkey, right?).  Is it too much to ask that cookery writers measure things accurately, give clear instructions and, occasionally, test the recipe before they send it to print?

I can't tell you the number of times I've eagerly rushed out to buy expensive ingredients, and then had to throw everything away because a recipe writer has omitted an ingredient, given a wrong measurement, or failed to mention some some vital step in the cooking process.

Look, I'm not saying my recipes are perfect, but at least I've actually made them, and accurately measured the ingredients, in a rounded-off and sensible form. I recently came across a recipe that called for 47 ml of crushed garlic, and another that wanted 58 g of sugar. Fine if you have a microscopic measuring spoons or a digital scale, but useless for home cooks.

I was freshly annoyed reading a soup recipe in The Times yesterday ('An easy soup for TV night'). Like so many of the recipes in The Times, it's lousy. It's badly edited, ungrammatical, vague, and contains no seasoning at all. (In fact, most of the recipes published in The Times specify neither salt or pepper in the ingredients list.) The recipe calls for a total of one litre of liquid for a soup to serve six people. Even making allowance for the 600 g of leeks and potatoes, each slurper of this soup would end up with a serving of around 180 ml each - that's a teacup!

And what's this 'allow to cook off' nonsense? What's wrong with just saying 'simmer until tender'? Why are the ingredients not listed in order of use? Why's 'sauté' got an accent on the e, but not 'puree'?

It seems to me that the cleverer and more creative the cook or chef, the sloppier their recipes are. I wouldn't dream of mentioning names here, but Braam Kruger, who writes in The Weekender, springs to mind. I can forgive Braam's disorganised recipes because he writes so knowledgeably about food, but I would like The Times to pull up its stocks. (How about smaller photographs and headlines, and interesting, new recipes that are tested, precise and unambigious?) I suggest that the people who choose the recipes for The Times take a good look at the fastidious, well-tested and original recipes of brilliant non-cheffy home cooks like Lynn Bedford-Hall, Hilary Biller (Angela Day), Ina Paarman, Carmen Niehaus and Phillippa Cheifitz.

Here's what I expect of a perfect recipe:

1. Make sure it works. You've actually made it, preferably more than once, and during that time you've improved and then - even better - perfected it.

2. Give us your own recipe. If it's not yours, acknowledge who you've nicked it off, or who inspired it. Believe it or not, there are many cookery writers who, under pressure from deadlines set by magazines or publishers, don't actually test their recipes. More than a decade ago, I worked for a leading Cape Town publisher with a thriving cook-book department. I will never forget being given the task of reading a cookery book sent in by a famous local cook. The 'manuscript' included several photocopied Martha Stewart recipes that were liberally plastered with Tippex. The 'author' had metricated these American recipes using her trusty white-out kit, changed the recipe titles, and was passing them off as her own.

3. List the ingredients in order of use. This is an established recipe-writing convention for a good reason.

4. Convert the quantities with care and good sense. It's just annoying to be told to measure out 28 grams of flour. Yes, I know that's the metric equivalent of 1 ounce, but are two extra grams of flour really going to break the back of your sponge cake? Say 30 grams, and be done with it. And please don't ask me to add '55 ml' egg yolks to a sauce. One, two, or three yolks?

5. Give clear instructions. Please don't specify that should I 'braise or fry or sauté' the lamb pieces in oil, or butter, or the eyelash greasings of Andean sacrificial virgins, for about 5 to 60 minutes, over a hot or cool heat, until they are 'done'. Don't ask me to put a tembling wobble of beaten-by-hand-for-45-minutes mixture of egg, flour and sugar into a hot oven, without asking me to preheat the oven first. I want precise, unambigious instructions. I felt very grumpy yesterday making the sainted Simon Hopkinson's Lemon Chicken Soup when he forgot to say what I should do with the chicken bits he'd told me to set aside in a bowl. Blend them with the rest of the soup? Tip them in at the last moment? Knit them into a jersey?

6. Be realistic about serving sizes. A chicken cut into eight joints, fine - if you're serving four people. But if you have six over for dinner, does that mean that two unfortunate guests get only a chicken wing each?

7. Don't specify ridiculously exotic ingredients. Or, if you must, remember to tell me where to buy them. Recently I read a long, pretentious feature in a local South African foodie magazine that called for pomegranate seeds in virtually every dish. When last did you find a glistening packet of pomegranate seeds in your local Pick 'n Pay? Look, I appreciate a new and exotic ingredient as much as the next chap, but please spare me the shaved white truffles.

I could go on forever, but I'm off to drink my 180 ml of soup. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday 31 July 2007

Crunchy Quinoa Salad with Beetroot and Feta

Anyone remember tabbouleh? This crunchy Lebanese salad, made with bulgur (or cracked wheat) , mint, parsley, tomatoes and spring onions, was a huge hit among health-conscious suburbanites during the eighties, but hardly anyone seems to make it nowadays. I suspect that the reason why it’s fallen out of favour is because it was so rough and filling (and more so when when washed down with few beers) that you ended up spending the entire night craftily flapping the duvet as you deflated in the dark.

I was feeling a bit nostalgic about my mom's tabbouleh, however, so I devised a new version, similar to the original but made with quinoa. This ancient South American staple is becoming increasingly popular among lentil-heads because of its unusually high protein content, its bouquet of healthy amino acids, and its romantic spiritual history*. It’s similar to bulgur, but lighter, fluffier and tastier - and I can assure you it’s lot less aggressive on the farting and bloating front.

What makes this salad so tasty is its abundance of chopped fresh herbs. Leave out the coriander if you must, but the mint and parsley are essential. Ask your local health shop for quinoa, or, if you live in Joeys, get it at Thrupps.

Crunchy Quinoa Salad with Beetroot and Feta

For the salad:
3-4 young beetroot, washed, topped and tailed (if you don't like beetroot, use finely sliced baby red cabbage, or grated radishes)
a lick of olive oil
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
½ cucumber, finely diced
2 plump, ripe tomatoes, diced
3 spring onions, finely sliced
1 cup (250 ml) finely chopped parsley
¾ cup (190 ml) finely chopped mint
¾ cup (190 ml) finely chopped fresh coriander
salt and milled black pepper
1 handful shelled pumpkin seeds (optional)
2 disks feta cheese, crumbled

For the dressing:
1 cup all-purpose cooking elixir**
Juice of one fat lemon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put the the beetroot on a large piece of tin foil, add a dribble of oive oil and a grinding of salt and pepper, and toss well to coat. Wrap into a loose parcel, place in the oven and bake until tender right through. (This can take between an hour and three, depending on the size and age of the beetroot). Remove, allow to cool slightly and slice into slim wedges. Put the dried quinoa into a sieve and rinse well under cold running water. Now put the quinoa, water and salt into a saucepan, set over a high flame and bring to the boil. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the quinoa is fluffy and tender. While it’s cooking, combine the cucumber, tomatoes, spring onion and chopped herbs in a salad bowl. Drain the quinoa in a sieve and allow to cool for five minutes. Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Now tip the warm quinoa into the salad bowl, pour over all but 2 tablespoons of the dressing and toss well to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Top with the beetroot slices, crumbled feta and pumpkin seeds. Shake the remaining dressing over the top of the salad so everything looks glossy. Allow to stand for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to develop. Serve at room temperature with hot pita bread.

Serves 6.

** If you haven’t made all-purpose cooking elixir, use the following dressing:

3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/3 cup good olive oil
1/3 cup sunflower oil (or other flavourless oil)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon or seed mustard
2 tsp tahina (optional)

* Wikipedia says: 'The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, referred to quinoa as "chisaya mama" or "mother of all grains", and it was the Inca emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using 'golden implements'. During the European conquest of South America quinoa was scorned by the Spanish colonists as "food for Indians", and even actively suppressed, due to its status within indigenous non-Christian ceremonies.' Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Saturday 28 July 2007

Oven-roasted Chicken with Tomato, Feta and Olives

Here is a good recipe for a crowd. If you judge the cooking time right, and you use good, fresh, free-range chicken, you'll end up with the most succulent, tender chicken, infused with a summery flavour of tomatoes and basil. This recipe was inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe that I saw while browsing one of his books in Exclusive Books. I tried to memorise the ingredients, but by the time I'd got home I'd forgotten them. I remembered the tomatoes, both chopped ones and cherry ones, and had to invent the rest of the recipe. Here's a quick version using my all-purpose cooking elixir.

Oven-roasted Chicken with Tomato, Feta and Olives

For the marinade:
1 cup (250 ml) cooking elixir*
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary needles
finely grated rind of 1 lemon

For the dish:
8 pieces of free-range chicken (thighs and breasts are best)
salt and milled black pepper
1 large punnet ripe cherry tomatoes
4 plump, ripe tomatoes, quartered
1 cup (250 ml) white wine
a handful fresh basil leaves
1/2 (125 ml) cup black olives
2 disks feta cheese (about 1 heaped cup when crumbled). I use Simonsberg black-pepper feta, which crumbles beautifully. Don't use Danish feta cheese.
½ cup (125 ml) cream (optional)

To garnish:
Fresh basil

Place the chicken pieces in a large ceramic or stainless-steel oven dish. Season well with salt and pepper. With a fork, aggressively prick the chicken pieces all over, top and bottom. Shake your jar of cooking elixir well, measure out a cup and pour it over the chicken pieces, turning each one well to coat. Place in a cool spot and allow to marinate for at least an hour (or overnight, in the fridge).

Preheat the oven to its highest setting (22o°C on most ovens), and place the dish in the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the chicken skin is golden and beginning to blister.

Remove the dish from the oven and drain off excess fat by tilting the dish over the sink. Scatter the cherry tomatoes and quartered tomatoes all over and in between the chicken pieces. Pour in the wine. Roughly tear the basil pieces and tuck down between the chicken pieces.

Return the dish to the oven, turn the the heat down to 180°C and cook for 30-40 minutes, or until the chicken pieces are cooked right through. (Test by poking a knife into the thickest part of the chicken thigh: if the juices are crystal clear and unbloody, the chicken is ready). Remove the dish from the oven, and toss the chicken pieces so they are well covered with juices. If you are feeling decadent, add the cream now. Scatter with olives and crumbled feta cheese. Put the dish back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

Allow to rest for five minutes before serving. Scatter with freshly torn basil and serve with new potatoes or crusty bread, and a green salad.

* If you haven't made a batch of cooking elixir, use this marinade:

3 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
Juice and finely grated rind of two lemons
1 T (15 ml) soy sauce
1 tsp (5 ml) Tabasco sauce
100 ml olive oil
10 ml dried oregano

Serves 6. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday 26 July 2007

Squashed Crispy Potatoes with Rosemary and Parmesan

My sainted auntie Gilly Walters (who is possibly South Africa's most talented home cook and definitely the Nougat Queen of the universe) invented this recipe when she over-boiled a pot of potatoes. I've altered it slightly so it uses my All-Purpose Cooking Elixir.

Squashed Crispy Potatoes with Rosemary and Parmesan
6-8 huge, floury potatoes
3/4 cup all-purpose cooking elixir
10 fresh rosemary needles, chopped
salt and milled black pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 200 C. Put the potatoes, skin and all, into a big pot of salted boiling water. Cook until the potatoes are tender right through and are starting to split. Drain in a colander and allow to dry out for 5 minutes. Now arrange the potatoes in a large, lightly oiled baking tray or oven dish. Cut a cross in the top of each potato. Squeeze the potatoes so that the flesh squidges up and out, and the skins flatten against the base of the tray. Using a fork, fluff the potato flesh into generous crumbs and crags. Using a pastry brush, liberally paint the cooking elixir all over the potatoes, making sure every bit is well coated (add more elixir if necessary). Season with salt and pepper and top with the rosemary and the Parmesan. Bake in a hot oven for about 30 minutes, or until the potato is golden brown and crispy.

Serves 6. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Alll-purpose Cooking Elixir: seven quick family meals from one easy mixture

It's tedious crushing garlic, chopping herbs and squeezing lemons every night, when you're tired and grumpy, right? I have a solution: make a big quantity of this all-purpose flavouring elixir at the beginning of the week, put it in a jar in the fridge and use it to add zip, zing and ka-pow to your next seven meals. Over the next seven days, I'll be posting simple, tasty family-meal recipes that use The Elixir.

The Elixir, admittedly, contains a lot of garlic, but please don't be put off by this. The garlic's pungency will fade to almost nothing when you add it to a hot dish. Please don't use pre-crushed or bottled garlic, which has a horrible oxidised tasted. Buy your own fat, firm cloves, and peel and crush them yourself.

The Elixir

5 -7 cloves of fresh garlic, finely crushed
1 tsp salt
1 cup (250 ml) freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
1 cup (250 ml) good olive oil
1 cup (250 ml) sunflower oil (or other flavourless oil)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) white or red wine vinegar (avoid the Balsamic!)
2 tsp (10 ml) Dijon Mustard
3 tsp (15 ml) good soy sauce (Kikkoman brand is the best)
1 tsp (5 ml) runny honey, or 1 tsp sugar
4 teaspoons (20 ml) tahina (a sesame-seed paste, available at health shops and most Spars)
2 tsp (10 ml) good-quality dried herbs (or a handful, finely chopped, of parsley, thyme and oreganum)
milled black pepper

Put all the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake well to combine. Open lid, taste, and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Store in the fridge. Shake well before using.

Makes about 800 ml. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday 5 July 2007

Blender Iced Coffee: long, cold and creamy

I love a simple recipe that works like a bomb and tastes amazing, and nothing could be quicker and plainer than this one. When it's blitzed, the mixture develops a thick, amazingly creamy foam, like the head on a good pint of Guinness. Excellent for hangovers. Don't try this unless your blender/liquidizer is robust enough to chop ice. The amount of sugar and coffee you add depends entirely on you. I tend to use less, rather than more, of both.

Blender Iced Coffee
500 ml very cold water
3-5 teaspoons (15ml - 75 ml) sugar, to taste
500 ml cold milk
3-5 teaspoons (15ml - 75 ml) instant coffee (Nescafe or similar), to taste
8 ice cubes

Put the water and sugar into the goblet of a blender and process for a few minutes to dissolve the sugar. Now add the remaining ingredients and blitz until a good foamy head has developed. Serve in tall glasses, poured over ice cubes.

Makes about 1 litre. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday 4 July 2007

Mexican-Style Sweetcorn Soup: bliss in a bowl, for adults and tots

I wish I could remember who gave me this recipe, because I'd like to thank them very much for it. It's everything I want in a recipe: quick as a flash, filling, nourishing and tasty. Best of all is that it can be spiced to the eyebrows for adults who appreciate heat and crunch, or served plain and creamy to young and picky eaters.

White wine and mustard powder are not traditional ingredients in Sopa de Maiz, but I find that they elevate what is essentially a sweetcorn (and thus very sweet) purée to another level.  A good home-made stock adds lovely depth of flavour: when I have time, I made a chicken stock from scratch using a whole chicken, and add the cooked chicken flesh to the soup.  If you'd like a really rich soup for vegetarians, stir in two cups of grated Cheddar just before you serve it.

Mexican-Style Sweetcorn Soup

6 cups frozen mielie (corn) kernels
2 cups (500 ml) very hot chicken or vegetable stock, or boiling water
3 Tbsp (45 ml) butter
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine
1½ cups (375 ml) milk
2 tsp (10 ml) good dried oreganum
1 tsp (5 ml) Hot English Mustard Powder
salt and milled black pepper
a squeeze of lime juice

For adults, add any or all of the following, to taste:
green chillies, finely minced
red chilli flakes
a few shakes of Tabasco sauce

To serve:
grated Cheddar
sour cream or plain white yoghurt
finely sliced spring onions
finely chopped tomatoes
chopped fresh coriander
fresh lime wedges

Put the mielie (corn) kernels, still frozen, or thawed if you have time, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pour in the hot stock or water and process to a thick, creamy purée. If the mixture seems too thick, add a little more stock or water. Melt the butter in a large pot, add the garlic and cook for a minute, without letting the garlic brown. Pour in the white wine and bubble briskly for five minutes, or until the wine has reduced by half. Now add the puréed sweetcorn mixture, milk, oreganum and mustard powder. Stir well and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, skimming off any foam as it rises.  If the mixture seems too thick and is bubbling volcanically, thin it down with more stock.

If you're making the soup for adults, add your choice of the ingredients listed above, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Just before you serve the soup, add a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon juice - just enough to give it a pleasant sharpness. Don't add too much, though, or the soup may curdle, and make sure the heat is turned off when you add the juice. If the soup looks a bit grainy, give it a good blitz with a stick blender (or in a liquidiser) until it is creamy again.

Serve in heated bowls, topped with grated Cheddar, a dollop of sour cream or white yoghurt, and  a flurry of crunchy and/or silky toppings. Avocado Whip is gorgeous blobbed onto this soup.

Serves 8. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Quick Oven-Baked Meatballs with Tomato and Spag

A heap of hot, herby meatballs in a tangle of tomatoey spaghetti is my idea of heaven on a grey winter day. This nourishing and comforting family classic has 'Mom' written all over it. The problem, though, is that this particular Mom doesn't have the patience to stand over a hot stove frying things, and nor do I fancy having to make a tomato sauce from scratch - so I came up with this method of oven-baking them dry, then smothering them with a garlicky tin-derived tomato sauce, then baking them again. Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients: like a curry, this dish has lots of things in it but - provided you have a food processor - is really quick to make.

This is a low-fat version of the classic (there is no added fat) but even so it has a lovely unctuous texture. A garnish of rocket leaves or torn basil leaves adds a lovely final bite. My instructions assume you have a food processor; if not, you’ll have to chop the ingredients by hand. You can soften the minced onion in a little olive oil before you add it to the meatballs, but I never bother - the onion adds a gentle crunch to the meatballs. Don't omit the yoghurt - it keeps the meatballs soft and juicy.

Quick Oven-Baked Meatballs with Tomato and Spag

For the meatballs:
4 slices brown bread
Small bunch each of parsley and (optional) fresh coriander
1 large onion, cut into chunks
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 kg lean minced beef
2 teaspoons (10 ml) powdered cumin
2 teaspoons (10 ml) powdered coriander
2 tablespoons (30 ml) dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon (5 ml) Tabasco sauce (optional)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) tomato sauce (ketchup)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) plain white yoghurt
1 large egg, lightly whisked
Salt and milled black pepper, to taste

For the sauce:
3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp good dried oreganum (or fresh herbs of your choice)
2 tins plum tomatoes (or tomato-and-onion mix)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) sugar
500 ml white wine (or chicken stock, or water)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) soy sauce
1 teaspoon (5 ml) flour
Salt and milled black pepper to taste

To garnish:
grated Parmesan or Pecorino
Fresh rocket or basil

Pre-heat the oven to 220 C. Place the bread in the bowl of food processor fitted with a metal blade, and blitz until you have fine breadcrumbs. Now add the fresh herbs and pulse a few times so that they are finely chopped. Tip into a big mixing bowl. Place the onion and garlic in the bowl of the food processor and pulse until finely minced (scrape down the sides with a spatula if necessary). Add the onion and garlic to the the breadcrumb mixture. Now put all the remaining meatball ingredients into the mixing bowl and, using your hands, squish and squeeze until the mixture is well combined.

Roll into golf-ball-sized balls. Rub a thin film of olive or sunflower oil over the base of a large, flat, ovenproof dish and place the meatballs in the dish, about 10 mm apart. Brush with a little olive oil, place in the hot oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until sizzling and browned on top.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce: put all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse once or twice to combine (the sauce should be slightly chunky).

Remove the meatballs from the oven and drain off any fat by tilting the dish over the sink. Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs, and give the dish a good shake to coat the meatballs evenly. Replace the dish in the oven and reduce the heat to 180 C. Cook for 30-35 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced to a lovely rich goo. Serve on a pile of spaghetti, covered with torn rocket or basil leaves and a shower of grated Parmesan.

Serves 6.

Recipe rating:

My rating: 7/10
Teenagers' rating: 8/10
Small-daughter rating: 5/10 ('Something tastes funny in the meatballs') Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday 29 June 2007

Everybody-Loves-It Beef Stir-fry with Coca-Cola

This recipe contains an unlikely ingredient – a generous glug of Coca Cola - which adds a wonderful toothsome stickiness. Admittedly, Coke isn't the most wholesome of foods (even though I think it's one of the best tastes ever invented by man - sweet, acid, fizzy, zingy and totally addictive) but somehow it just makes this recipe. If you have time, let the beef strips soak in the marinade for an hour or so.

I serve this tucked into warmed split pitta breads, with a choice of crunchy fresh toppings: shredded lettuce, finely chopped spring onions, alfalfa sprouts and cucumber relish. Chopped coriander, parsley or mint will add extra pep.

Everybody-Loves-It Beef Stir-fry with Coca-Cola

For the marinade
2 T (30 ml) balsamic vinegar or rice vinegar
juice of one fat lemon
1/2 cup (125 ml) Coca-Cola
2 T (30 ml) dark soy sauce
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh garlic, finely grated or chopped
freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste

For the stir-fry
750 g lean beef, cut into slim strips
2 T (30 ml) sunflower or olive oil
2 T (30 ml) sesame seeds, raw or roasted
2 T (30 ml) smooth peanut butter

Put the beef strips into a shallow dish. Combine the marinade ingredients and pour over the beef strips. Toss well. Allow to marinate for 10 minutes (an hour would be better).

Drain the beef strips and reserve the marinade.

Put the oil into a wok or deep frying pan, set on a high flame and heat until the oil is smoking. Stir-fry the beef strips, in small batches, for just a few minutes, until lightly browned but not cooked through. Put the cooked beef onto a warmed plate while you stir-fry the rest. Tip any excess fat out of the wok and pour in the marinade. Turn up the heat and allow to bubble furiously for about 3-5 minutes. Add the peanut butter, stirring well to 'melt' it into the mixture. Now tip the cooked beef into the wok, stir well to coat the strips, turn down the heat and allow to bubble for a minute or so, or until the beef is cooked through but still tender. Stir in the sesame seeds and grind over plenty of black pepper. Check seasoning - you might need to add salt.

Serve in warm pitta breads.

Serves 4. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday 26 June 2007

Warm Grilled Aubergines with Chilli and Pesto: good for gunshot victims

Last night we had some friends over for dinner, and I made this to go with slow-cooked lamb shanks and roast spuds. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, looking at the cheerful faces of my dear old friends as they sat around the table. One of them was shot, just a week ago, through the arm and chest, in a garden in the Northern Suburbs of Jo'burg, by a gang of armed robbers who 'gatecrashed' a Father's Day family lunch. That he survived is a miracle; that he was eating a hearty supper a week later is astounding. Another man at the table, who has been a dear friend of mine since my school days, also took a bullet (in a more intimate spot) a few years ago, also in Joeys, in drive-by shooting. A third guest, another dear school friend, was hijacked a few years back at gunpoint. And all of us feasting and making merry, as if this is a perfectly normal way to live. Only in South Africa.

Back to the recipe. I'm far too lazy to stand at the stove frying aubergine slices, so I grill/bake them instead. Provided that the oven is hot enough, they turn out beautifully browned, but aren't sodden with oil.

Warm Grilled Aubergine Slices with Chilli and Pesto
4 large, shining aubergines
3/4 cup olive oil
milled black pepper
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
juice of 4 lemons
2 anchovy fillets
5 tablespoons basil pesto
1 tsp red chilli flakes (or more, to taste)
a handful of chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the grill of your oven until it's blazing hot. Remove the tops of the aubergines and slice, vertically, into pieces about 1 cm thick. Rub the base of two baking sheets with a olive oil. Arrange the slices in a single layer on the baking sheets (it doesn't matter if they overlap slightly here or there). With your hands, rub the uppermost surface of each slice with a film of olive oil. They should be evenly coated, but not soaked. Grind over plenty of black pepper. Put the aubergines in the oven and grill for ten minutes, or until they're golden brown and beginning to char on the edges. Now turn the oven down to 180 C and cook for another 10-20 minutes, or until the slices are soft and unctuous.

In the meantime, make the dressing. Put the garlic, lemon juice, anchovy fillets, pesto and chili flakes into the goblet of a blender, and pulse until the mixture is smooth. If you don't have a blender, mash the garlic with the anchovies until you have a very smooth paste, and stir in the remaining dressing ingredients. Taste the dressing and add salt if necessary (the anchovies are usually salty enough in their own right).

Remove the hot aubergine slices from the baking sheets (use a palette knife if they stick). Put a glug of the dressing on the bottom of a nice flat dish and spread it out. Add a layer of brinjal slices, and drizzle over more dressing, using your fingers to make sure that every slice is coated. Continue alternating layers of dressing and brinjal, ending with a good drizzle of dressing. Grind over some more black pepper and sprinkle with parsley. Serve warm, with lemon wedges.

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

Sunday 24 June 2007

Rooibos Tea Ginger Beer

This is a scrumptious variation of old-fashioned ginger beer. The idea of adding rooibos came to me while I was waiting for my ginger beer to cool while drinking a cup of rooibos tea. It has a delicate rooibos taste (add more teabags if you like a strong brew) and a wonderful apricot-orange colour.

Rooibos Tea Ginger Beer
Make the ginger beer according to this recipe, but add 4-6 teabags of rooibos tea (or 4-6 tablespoons of loose rooibos tea) along with the lemon juice and rind. Leave the teabags to steep in the mixture while it ferments, and remove only just before bottling the mixture. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Old-fashioned, home-made South African ginger beer

A delicious taste of childhood: lemony, gingery and fizzy. It's so refreshing and so easy to make that I have now resolved to make a batch every two days. It's the taste of dusty summer days, burbling swimming pools, country fêtes and beaming grannies.

Click here to go straight to the recipe.

Old-fashioned, home-made South African ginger beer
Wonderfully refreshing home-made ginger beer from South Africa.
My mom used to make this often when I was a child: I have wonderful memories of hearing a ka-pow! as a glass bottle exploded (they were matured on the veranda for this reason) and a lovely yeasty, gingery perfume came drifting through the house.

Home-made South African Rooibos or Earl Grey ginger beer
This is a variation using Earl Grey tea. It's also delicious made with
 Rooibos tea - scroll to the end of this page for details. 
This is my mother's recipe, which I have altered and tweaked over several years until I've got the proportions just right for my liking. (You can tinker freely with the amount of sugar, lemon juice and ginger, according to your taste.)

It's a great drink for kids (although it's called 'beer', it's not alcoholic because it's not fermented for long enough). It's packed with Vitamin C (from the lemons and ginger), Vitamin B (from the yeast). Also excellent for nausea and general queasiness.

It's really a doddle to make, but I have given quite detailed instructions so that your batch turns out perfectly every time.

Note: To make a Rooibos Tea or Earl Grey Ginger Beer, scroll down to my Cook's Notes at the end of this page.

Old-fashioned, Home-Made South African Ginger Beer

grated rind of 2 lemons
2 thumb-sized pieces of fresh ginger
250 ml (1 cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice (see Note 2, below)
3 grape-sized knobs of whole dried ginger (optional, see Note 3)
6 raisins
750 ml (3 cups) white sugar (if you prefer a dry beer, use 650 ml)
5 litres water
a 10-gram sachet of instant (active dry) yeast

Using the fine teeth of a cheesegrater, grate the lemon rind directly into a large, very clean plastic bucket (or a plastic bowl capable of holding 5 litres of water; see Note 1, below). Be sure not to grate in any any bits of white pith, which will make the beer bitter. Now grate in the fresh ginger, using the coarse teeth of the grater. Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice, the whole dried ginger (optional), the raisins, and the sugar.

Old-fashioned, home-made South African ginger beer
Pour 1 litre of hot water into the bucket and stir well for about 3 minutes, or until the sugar has completely dissolved. Leave to cool for 5 minutes. Now pour another 4 litres of warm water into the bucket, keeping a finger in the bucket to monitor the temperature of the water. The mixture should be warm - a few degrees above blood temperature - but not so warm that your finger thinks it's having a nice hot bath.

Sprinkle the dried yeast over the top of the water and leave for five minutes, or until it's dissolved. Now give the bucket of liquid a good stir with a wooden spoon or similar implement.

Cover the bucket with cling film and put it in a warmish place (not in direct sunlight). Leave for about 4-5 hours, stirring once or twice. During this time, you'll see the raisins begin to spin in the water and the mixture will burble softly. When the raisins float to the top, the ginger beer is ready to bottle.

Scoop out the floating ginger pieces and lemon rind with a sieve and discard. Now strain the ginger beer, through a sieve, into a large jug with a pouring spout (you may have to do this in batches, if your jug is small). Put a towel or some newspaper on the counter while you do this, because there will be spillage.

Decant the strained ginger beer into clean, rinsed plastic bottles (see Note 4, below), filling each bottle to about 7 centimetres from the top. Put a single raisin (taken from the raisins you added earlier) in each bottle, screw on the lids tightly, and set the bottles on a counter-top, at room temperature. They shouldn't be in a warm place, or in direct sunlight.

Leave overnight (or for at least 8 hours). During this time, the mixture will develop a lovely fizz. (See Note 5, below).

Now open each bottle very carefully: unscrew the lid gingerly (excuse the pun), in small increments, so that the gas escapes in little puffs. The liquid inside should fizz satisfyingly. When you've released the excess gas, screw on the lids tightly again, and put the bottles in the fridge. (The cold will all but stop the fermentation process).

Leave to chill completely. Serve with a slice of lemon and plenty of ice. Or try it with a stiff glug of gin.

Makes about 5 litres. Keeps well in the fridge for up to a week.


Note 1 A 6-litre plastic bucket with pinched rim/pouring nozzle and a tight-fitting lid is perfect. You can use an ordinary bucket, or a very big bowl, but there will be a bit of splashing.

Note 2 Measure the amount of lemon juice exactly. It takes about six lemons, depending on juiciness, to make a cup of lemon juice. If you don't feel like squeezing lemons, ask your green grocer to squeeze out a litre of fresh lemon juice on his orange-squeezing machine. You can use the rest to make lemonade or use in dressings. If you'd like a tarter ginger beer, add a teaspoon of tartaric acid along with the lemon juice.

Note 3 Dried whole ginger was used in my mom's recipe because fresh ginger wasn't available in the Sixties. It's not essential, but it does add a special something to the taste of the ginger beer. You can still buy it in those little orange boxes in the supermarkets. If you can' t find it, try adding two teaspoons of powdered ginger.

Note 4 Sturdy plastic 1- or 2-litre fruit-juice bottles (like Woolies or supermarket fruit-juice bottles) are perfect. One- and 2-litre cooldrink and mineral-water bottles also work well, but be very careful when you open them to release the gas, because the narrow necks of the bottles almost always result in a fizzy volcano. Don't use glass bottles (they might explode) or plastic milk bottles (the lids aren't air-tight).

Note 5 If the ginger beer is flat, and has no bubble, you will need to discard the batch and start again. There should be an audible release of gas when you open the bottle. There are two main reasons why a batch goes flat: 1. The yeast was stale, and 2. The water was either too hot, or too cold, for the yeast to thrive.

Here is a scrumptious variation of old-fashioned ginger beer. The idea of adding rooibos came to me while I was waiting for my ginger beer to cool while drinking a cup of rooibos tea. It has a delicate rooibos taste (add more teabags if you like a strong brew) and a wonderful apricot-orange colour.

Rooibos Tea or Earl Grey Ginger Beer:

Make the ginger beer according to the recipe above, but add 4-6 teabags of rooibos tea (or 4-6 tablespoons of loose rooibos tea) along with the lemon juice and rind. Leave the teabags to steep in the ginger beer mixture while it ferments, and remove only just before bottling the mixture.

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday 22 June 2007

Potatoes and kids: needn't be a match made in McDonald's

I am in awe of potatoes. What I mean is that I think that, with their skins on, they are a most fantastical family food: wholesome, filling, comforting, cheap, easy to prepare and crammed with good things (Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and, believe it or not, almost double the potassium content of a banana).

Kids don't automatically like potatoes (unless, of course, they're skinned, deep-fried and come in a red box emblazoned with a yellow double arch) and it takes a bit of low cunning to convince them to eat them, skin and all, every day. Over the next few days, I'll be offering some wily strategies for potatofying your children.

Baked potatoes
They always turn out okay if they're slashed, tossed onto the rack of a hot oven and baked for an hour or so, but they're indisputably crispier and tastier with a lick of oil and some salt. After many years of experimenting, I've settled on this clean-hands method. Cut a cross in the top of each potato. Place on a baking sheet (a muffin tin works even better; stand the spuds up in the muffin tins and they'll bake very quickly). Spray with a light film of olive oil, from a spritzer or aerosol** can. (I keep a can of olive oil in my cupboard specifically for baked potatoes; you don't get your hands oily and you use only a tiny bit of fat). Dust with a pinch of salt. Bake at 200 C for an hour, turning and tossing the spuds once.

** I am reminded of a wonderful joke. You need to tell this in a thick Swedish accent:

A man walks into a chemist in Sweden.
Man: 'I'd like a can of deodorant, please.'
Chemist: 'Ball, or aerosol?'
Man (cheerfully): 'Neither! I'd like it for my armpits.'

Tomorrow: Perfect mash from unpeeled potatoes. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Avocado, Feta and Garlic Whip

What is it with pears? Have you noticed that avocados and pears stay stubbornly hard for days and days, then all ripen simultaneously, stay ripe for precisely 15 minutes and then go vrot? I bought a whole box of avos that did this, and to prevent a terrible waste of R45, turned them into this zingly, garlicky all-purpose avocado dip/sauce/baked-potato topping.

Avocado, Feta and Garlic Whip
8 big ripe avocados
6 cloves garlic, chopped
juice of 4 lemons
100 ml olive oil
1/2 cup thick white yoghurt
2 tsp Tabasco sauce (a green chilli would be nice too)
2 big handfuls fresh coriander, chopped
2 discs feta cheese
salt and milled black pepper

Put all the ingredients except the feta and half the coriander into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz to a very smooth, soft, whippy texture. Check seasoning. Crumble in the feta and the remaining coriander and press the pulse button again so that the cheese and coriander stays a bit chunky.

A thin film of oil poured over the top of the dish, or clingfilm pressed directly onto its surface, will keep it nice and green for days. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday 21 June 2007

Beer-can chicken on a braai

Tony Park, a reader of my other blog Salmagundi, sent this recipe. I haven't tried it, but I will, as soon as it warms up outside.

'Can't cook to save my life (except for barbies - braais to you - a skill which australian males learn from birth). Here's my only variation on sticking stuff on the fire - and I learned it from a South African psychology professor, in Kruger.'

Beer Can Chicken on a Braai
1 can of Castle
1 cardboard box lined with aluminium foil, and with four pen-diameter holes punched in the top.
1 braai with hot coals
1 chicken

Drink two sips from can of Castle, insert it up chicken's bum. Stand the chicken on the braai, using its two drumstick bones and the can as a kind of tripod, to hold it upright. Braai grid should be about 20cm over the coals.

Place cardboard box lined with foil (held in place with strategic use of duct tape) over the chicken. Make sure the foil overlaps the sides of the box so it doesn't catch fire.

Wait one hour.

Eat perfectly roasted, tender chicken.

Do not drink contents of can.

This recipe reminds me irresistibly of that wonderful scene in Withnail and I when the boys try to kill a chicken.

Withnail: What are we supposed to do with that?
I: Eat it
Withnail: Eat it!? Fucker's alive
I: Yeah, you've got to kill it.
Withnail: Me!? I'm the firelighter and fuel collecter.
I: Yeah I know but I got the logs in. It takes away your appetite just looking at it.
Withnail: No it doesn't, I'm starving. How can we make it die?
I: You've got to throttle them. Withnail, I think you ought to kill it instantly in case it starts trying to make friends with us.
Withnail: All right, you get hold of it. I'll strangle it.

They try stuffing it into a kettle, and then give up and sit it upright on a brick, with a wet boot on either side to keep it upright. Wonderful movie (I saw it again a few weeks ago, and it hasn't dated a bit). Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday 19 June 2007

Lemony Chicken Strips: my family's all-time top-rated supper

It's a nice recipe, I admit, but not so tasty it sends me into raptures. So why do my kids beg me on bended knees to make this week after week? Is it the lemonyness? Is it the chickeniness? You tell me: make it yourself, try it out on the kids, and send me some feedback.

This is a simple recipe with just a few ingredients. It's a bit too much work for my liking - I detest having to stand in front of a stove frying things - but I admit that it's worth the effort. I can't remember where I read this recipe - I seem to remember that it was in an article about the favourite dishes of famous chefs.

Lemony Chicken Strips
8 deboned, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup (125 ml) white flour
salt & freshly milled black pepper
2 T sunflower oil
2 T butter
1 skinny clove garlic, crushed
the juice of 3 lemons
1 cup (250 ml) white wine or stock
a generous handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped

Lay the chicken breasts flat on a board. Cut out the fillet and slice vertically into two strips. Now cut horizontally through the breast, to make two thin leaves. Cut the leaves lengthways to make thin strips about 5 cm long.

Put the flour into a plastic bag or bowl and add a few pinches of salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Now add the chicken strips and toss well to coat.

Heat the oil and butter in a large, flat-bottomed pan or frying pan, over a high flame. When the fats stop foaming, turn the heat down to medium. Remove the chicken strips from the bag or bowl and shake off any excess flour - they should be lightly dusted. Fry the chicken, in batches, until it's golden brown on the outside (don't worry if the strips are not cooked through). Put the cooked chicken strips onto a plate while you fry the rest. Add more oil to the pan if necessary, but don't let any dark, burned bits develop. (If they do, wipe out the pan with some kitchen paper, and start again with fresh oil and butter).

Remove the last pieces of chicken from the pan. Tip the frying pan over the sink to remove any excess fat, then replace on the heat and add the lemon juice, the garlic and and the wine (or stock or water). Using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir and scrape to release the golden-brown residue on the bottom of the pan. Turn down the heat, and allow the mixture to bubble for a minute. Now put the chicken and its leaked juices back into the pan and stir gently. As the flour is released from the chicken strips, the sauce will thicken slightly. Allow to simmer for a few minutes, or until the strips are cooked right through, but still meltingly tender. Turn off the heat, season with salt and black pepper, stir in the chopped parsley and toss well.

Serve with lemon wedges, a green salad and boiled new potatoes.

Serves 5.

Recipe rating:

My rating: 7/10
Teenagers' rating: 10/10. 'Don't finish it all, you pig. I want some in my lunch box tomorrow.'
Small-daughter rating: 10/10. Not one complaint. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly