Monday 23 November 2009

Off to Cape Town, and a whole new food adventure

A view of the bay, from Chapman's Peak Drive
Oh Scrumptious friends, one and all, please forgive me for not having posted new recipes recently. Our entire family - kids, dogs, furniture, plants - is moving to Hout Bay, Cape Town, in a week's time, and I have had neither the time nor inclination to cook.

My batterie de cuisine (apart from a few spoons, cups, plates, and an electric frying pan) has been boxed and taped shut, and I'm spending most of my days teetering on a ladder turfing out the contents of my shelves and cupboards.

Packing up a house is spine-crunching work (I'm not the spring chicken I used to be) but at the same time it's wonderfully cathartic, and I feel fizzily invigorated after dumping a third of my books, and many boxes of junk (or what my local, fund-starved library eagerly calls 'brick-a-brack'.)

Beautiful Hout Bay harbour. 
I cannot tell you how dizzily delighted I am at the thought of moving back to Cape Town, where I lived with my husband for nine years BK (Before Kids).  I feel so lucky to be going back to a city I love, and one that is surely among the most astonishingly beautiful places on Earth.

What's more, I have two sisters who live in Hout Bay (they inconsiderately moved there some years back, the shameless trollops, leaving me with no babysitting support, no chance to really get to know my nieces and nephews, and no opportunity for regular family jollifications).

My lovely mum, who also joined this reverse Great Trek, lives an hour away from Cape Town, in Franschhoek, right next door to my dear uncle, aunt and cousins. And then, oh, delight, there are many old friends, some of them recently settled in Cape Town, others I got to know during the Eighties, and all of whom I have sorely missed.  And then, of course, there are my virtual friends, the food bloggers of Cape Town, who have so enthusiastically supported this blog.

But there's another reason I can't wait to get to Cape Town: the restaurants, the markets, and the beautiful fresh produce that flows into the city from farms and smallholdings on its outskirts, and further afield.

And, please excuse me while I faint at the thought: fresh fish whenever I want (and can afford!) it. Our new house is ten minutes away from Hout Bay harbour which, despite attracting gazillions of tourists in summer, is as delightful and authentic a fishing harbour as you are likely to find anywhere in the world: it remains a working harbour, with many of its fishing boats worked or owned by fisher-people who've lived in Hout Bay for generations.

I'm not very experienced at cooking seafood (good, fresh fish is just so expensive in Johannesburg) and I really look forward to sharing my cooking adventures with you.  There'll be a silence on this blog for two weeks or so, while I drag our travelling circus southwards, and when January comes, I'll be diving into my tiny (but perfectly formed) new kitchen to try out some new recipes.

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Thursday 12 November 2009

Val's Apple and Apricot Selby Tart, with an Easy Biscuit Base and Topping

I have a passion for passed-down-through-generations family recipes, and this lovely, easy sweet tart epitomises everything that's good about an ancestral recipe: it's quick and simple to make, it uses ingredients you're likely to have in your cupboard, and it tastes exactly like home.

My mom made this many times during my childhood, and we always knew it as 'Selby Tart'. I don't know where that name came from, but I can tell you that the recipe originally came from a close friend of our family, the late, dear Val Horak. (She was one of those honorary 'aunties' most people have: that is, you think she's a blood relative until you discover, to your astonishment and disappointment, that she's not related to you at all.)

This is a versatile, biscuit-style base and topping that you can make very quickly. There is no need to bake the base of the tart 'blind' to crisp up its base (look, this is a family pud, with not a hint of cheffiness); simply press it thinly into the base and up the sides of a tart or quiche pan, add the filling, grate over the remaining pastry and sling into the oven. And, of course, serve with billows of whipped cream, or cold vanilla ice cream.

I filled my latest Selby Tart with gently stewed fresh, peeled apples and depipped apricots, but, if you're in a hurry, you use any fruit you like as a filling: drained, tinned apples, peaches, guavas or apricots; spicy Christmas mincemeat from a jar, or just a thick layer of lovely strawberry jam.

Val's Apple and Apricot Selby Tart, with an Easy Biscuit Base and Topping

For the dough: 
230 g butter, softened
1 cup (250 ml) caster sugar or white sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 t (5 ml) vanilla extract
400 g white cake flour
2 tsp (10 ml) baking powder
a pinch of salt
the finely grated zest of a small lemon

For the filling (or use a quick filling; see above):
1 cup (250 ml) white sugar
375 ml water
a slice of lemon, peel and all
an inch-long stick of cinnamon
5 large apples
10 fresh apricots

To top:
3 T (45 ml) granulated white sugar
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) ground fresh cinnamon

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. First make the dough: put the softened butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and, using a wooden spoon, beat well, for about a minute, or until the mixture is well blended. Gradually add the beaten eggs and the vanilla essence dollop by dollop, whisking well after each addition. Don't worry if the mixture looks as if it's going to curdle: all will come right when you add the dry ingredients. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the butter mixture, add the lemon zest and then, using a wooden spoon, gently mix to form a soft biscuit dough. When the dough forms a ball under your spoon, knead it lightly with your fingertips for 30 seconds, and slice the ball in half. Wrap one half of the dough in cling-film and place in the deep freezer, for about 20 minutes, to firm up. Wrap the other half in cling-film and place in the fridge.

Now make the filling (or use an instant filling, as suggested above). Put the water and the sugar into a saucepan, place over a moderate heat, and bring to the boil, stirring frequently. Add the lemon slice and cinnamon stick, then turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 10 minutes to create a clear syrup. Peel and core the apples, chop them into chunks and drop them in the simmering syrup. Halve the apricots, remove the pips, and add them to the syrup. Allow to simmer, on a low heat, for 10-15 minutes, or until the apples are just tender. (Poke the tip of sharp knife through the thickest apple chunk: if there is no resistance, the fruit is ready.) Put a colander over a big bowl, and tip the fruit into the colander, allowing the syrup to drain into the bowl beneath. Set aside to cool slightly.

Take the refrigerated half of the dough out of the fridge and press it, using your fingertips, into to the base, and up the sides, of a shallow tart case or quiche pan, spreading it quite thinly (it should be 3-4 mm thick). Trim the edges of the dough using a sharp knife.

Pile the cooled, drained apples and apricots (or the filling of your choice) into the dough case. Remove the other half-ball of dough from the freezer, and coarsely grate it (using a cheese grater) all over the fruit topping. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and bake, at 180° C, for 25 minutes, or until golden-brown.

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Sunday 8 November 2009

Zaheera's Easy Sweetcorn, Coriander and Chilli Crustless Egg Tart

I am smitten by this most unusual crustless egg tart. Although cheekily spiked with fresh coriander, green peppers and a little green chilli, it is a surprisingly delicate dish, with a lovely trembling texture and a crunchy topping of poppy seeds.  This is, to me, a perfect family recipe: easy to make, economical and just so moreish that I suggest you double the quantities.

Zaheera's Easy Sweetcorn, Coriander and Chilli Crustless Egg Tart
I first tasted this, cold and cut into squares (and it is just as good cold as it is warm) at a school-mommy tea party, and I begged Zaheera, who made the dish, for the recipe.

She sent me her hand-written recipe a few days later, which I promptly lost. While packing my house this weekend (we're moving to Cape Town in three weeks' time), I found her recipe tucked into my diary, and fell on it with joy.

This is the first recipe I've ever come across that contains coarsely grated green (bell) peppers.  It's never occurred to me to grate a green pepper, but what a good idea.

You can omit the minced green chilli if you don't like hot food, but do consider leaving it in: this dish has the mildest bite, which is beautifully balanced out by the sweetness of creamed sweetcorn.

Thanks, Zaheera!

Zaheera's Easy Sweetcorn, Coriander and Chilli Crustless Egg Tart

1 x 410 g tin creamed sweetcorn
1 fresh green chilli, deseeded and finely minced or chopped
½ cup (125 ml) chopped fresh coriander [cilantro]
½ cup (125 ml) coarsely grated green pepper [bell pepper]
60 g (60 ml/4 Tbsp) cold butter, grated on the coarse side of a cheese grater
3 extra-large free-range eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup (125 ml) cake flour
2 tsp (10 ml) baking powder
¾ cup (180 ml) grated Cheddar
½ tsp (5 ml) salt, or more, to taste
freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp (15 ml) poppy seeds (or toasted sesame seeds)

Preheat the oven to 180 °C.

Butter a 20-cm round or square ceramic dish, or a non-stick metal quiche dish.

Put all the ingredients, except the poppy seeds, into large bowl, and mix well. Pour the mixture into the buttered pan and sprinkle the poppy seeds on top.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until slightly puffed and golden-brown on top.  Serve warm or - if you're making this as a snack - allow to cool and cut into small squares.

Serves 4 as a main course, or 8 as a snack.

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