Thursday 22 July 2010

My Scrumptious Blog news. Reluctantly.

I don't like interrupting the flow of recipes on this blog for general chit-chat, opinion and news, because I reckon the least you deserve when you land on a food blog is a recipe (and a photograph that looks good enough to eat).  Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I've steered away from chit-chat over the past year or so, and have concentrated on the actual food, and the story behind each recipe I present to you.

This hasn't been a deliberate strategy, but rather a gradual attuning to what the readers of this blog really want. In the early days of this blog, I posted a lot of indignant opinions about food, recipe-writing and food blogging.  As time went on, I noticed that the amount of traffic (page views, in other words)  these posts attracted was negligible. Few people read these posts, fewer commented on them, and nobody linked to them. On the other hand, tried-and-tested recipes, especially those with an interesting personal 'back-story', have prospered, and attracted a steady stream of pageviews over the years. (Here is a list of the most popular recipes on this blog.)

I've also avoided sharing every aspect of my life and my family with you, as many other bloggers do with great, and deserved, success. This is not because I'm a shrinking violet - in real life, I'm noisy, opinionated, outgoing, bossy and a champion chatter - but because I have a wariness about the Internet. It's a story that's too long to tell here but, in a nutshell, I was on the receiving end of a nasty campaign, waged by a bunch of teenagers, in the earliest days of the Internet in South Africa, and since then have tried to stay anonymous. That's why I started this blog using the pseudonym 'Juno'.

I loathe self-congratulatory blogs, and boasting or preening of any sort, but I have come to understand that my blog won't grow unless I actively promote it.

The rise of social media over the past 18 months has forced me to step, blinking like a bewildered mole, from under my little brown cloak. Also, as this blog has grown, I've been obliged to stand up and speak my mind, in the real world.

And this hasn't been a bad thing. After my presentation at the South African Food Bloggers' Conference last year, I met a whole lot of new, interesting, enthusiastic people - some of them friends I've made online; others complete strangers - who have really enriched my tentative Facebook and Twitter experiences.

And here endeth the sermon, and beginneth the news.

- I'll be speaking, bossily, and along with winemaker Mike Radcliffe of Warwick and Vilafonte, at the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting next Wednesday. If you'd like to come along and hear me speak about food blogging, recipe development and recipe writing, please click here to book. Mike Radcliffe will be presenting a selection of his wines for tasting.

- My recipe for Sweetcorn Chilli-Bites with a Mint Yoghurt Dip has just won the 'Battle Corn' food challenge on this blog

- I've taken on the job of writing recipes for Verlaque Fine Foods, a Cape Town company specialising in balsamic reductions, infused olive oils, preserves, jellies and grilling glazes. Try my Peri-Peri Calamari With Chouriço, Parsley and Preserved Lemon.

- My recipe for Pricky Pear Granita is one of the eight top-rated entries in the Foodista Best of Food Blogs competition, and I'm hoping it will make it into the Foodista cookbook, which will be published in October.
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Tuesday 20 July 2010

Oven-Baked Vegetables in a Spiced Coconut Gravy

This is, of course, a vegetable curry, but I'm loathe to use those two words in the title of this recipe because I don't want to put you off trying this most delicious and satisfying dish.

And you might well have been put off, as I have been, by the slush passed off as 'vegetable curry' by certain restaurants and eager vegetarian friends.  Pulpy vegetables padded out with cheap lentils and over-spiced with bitter cardamom pods and creaking canoes of cinnamon are just not my cup of ghee - and are certainly not worth giving up meat for.

Not that I want my family to give up meat - the verrry thought, Gertrude ! - but I would like my teen sons to stop pulling faces when when I announce a Meatless Monday, or a present a veggie dish containing not a trace of flesh, cheese or egg.  They do, at a push, enjoy a plate of oven-baked ratatouille or pasta-with-pesto, but only if it's smothered in grated Cheddar or Parmesan.

This mild vegetable curry finally broke the deadlock.  Okay, I did add lots of interesting retro toppings (in my opinion, the best way to encourage kids and teens to try new things), but I was pleased to hear not a single cry of  'But I'm still hungry!'

Gently baking (rather than boiling) the vegetables in their gravy prevents the chunks from disintegrating, and at the end of the cooking time the veggies still taste like themselves. (Oh, all right, my gas bottle ran out and I was forced to sling the curry into the oven.  But it worked, and I won't ever again simmer a veggie curry on the stove-top.)

I used a pack of pre-chopped soup vegetables (fine cubes of carrot, leek, onion, turnip, celery and potato) from my local supermarket for the base-gravy of this dish, and I suggest you save time by doing the same. If you can't find a fresh soup-pack, you'll need to chop them yourself.  The only essential ingredients for the base gravy are onions (or leeks), celery, carrot and potatoes; the first three ingredients flavour the gravy, while the potato cubes thicken it as they disintegrate. As always, please use very fresh curry spices.

Oven-Baked Vegetables in a Spiced Coconut Gravy

For the gravy:
3 T (45 ml) vegetable oil
1 4-cm quill cinnamon
10 curry leaves, dried or fresh
2 t (10 ml) black mustard seeds
1½ t (7.5 ml) fenugreek seeds
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-cm cubes
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-cm cubes
1 stick celery, finely sliced
two tins peeled, chopped tomatoes
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, coarsely grated
one tin low-fat coconut cream
4 t (20 ml) fresh cumin powder
2 t (10 ml) fresh coriander powder
2 t (10 ml) mild curry powder
2 t (10 ml) turmeric
1 t (5 ml) chilli powder, to taste
salt and pepper
a little water

For the vegetables:
a large butternut, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
12 young potatoes, sliced in half, or in thirds if they are bigger than plums
2 big aubergines, cut into big chunks
4 red or yellow peppers [capsicums], or two of each each, sliced into big strips

To top:
natural yoghurt
freshly chopped coriander [cilantro] or flat-leaf parsley
plus, and optional: chopped, toasted cashew nuts; Mrs Ball's Chutney; mango atchar, 'hotters' made with chopped fresh tomato and onion; desiccated coconut; and so on.

Preheat the oven to 160ºC.  Heat the oil in a large, oven-proof dish or pan.  Add the cinnamon quill, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds and mustard seeds and fry, over a moderate heat, until the mustard seeds begin to pop and sputter. Tip in the chopped onions, carrots, potatoes and celery and fry, stirring gently, for 3-4 minutes, or until the vegetables are slightly softened, and taking on some golden colour. While the vegetables are cooking, put the tinned tomato, garlic and ginger into a liquidiser, or a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Whizz to a coarse purée. Tip the purée into the pan containing the vegetables and stir well. Turn down the heat and cook over a moderate heat, for 7-10 minutes, or until slightly reduced.  Stir in the coconut milk, cumin, coriander, curry powder and chilli powder.  Simmer for a further five minutes, or until you have a slightly thick, rich gravy.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tip the prepared vegetables into the gravy and stir well.  The liquid should come three-quarters of the way up the sides of the vegetable chunks: if it doesn't, add a little water.  Cover the dish with its lid, or with a tight layer of tin foil, and place in the oven. Bake at 160ºC for an hour (stirring once or twice, and adding more water if necessary), or until the vegetable chunks are just cooked through.

Serve piping hot with Basmati rice, yoghurt, chopped fresh coriander, and/or toppings of your choice

Serves 6-8.  Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Lightly Spiced South African Guava Ice Cream

The perfume of fresh guavas drifting through a warm kitchen is one of the quintessential scents of a South African childhood. It's impossible to describe the scent of a perfectly ripe guava to someone who hasn't experienced the coral-pink deliciousness of this most luscious fruit, which you'll find piled high in supermarkets, and on roadside stalls, during South Africa's winter months.

Lightly Spiced South African Guava Ice Cream
I've always taken guavas for granted - as children, we ate them fresh in bucketloads, and tinned guavas with tinned Ideal Milk (another classic South African treat; recipes here) - were a staple dessert in our household. I was interested, then, to read the comments about the rarity of guavas by an American intern working in South Africa during the World Cup. In her article Ten South African Things I Wish They Had in the USA, Samantha Hermann writes: 'In the US, guava is a rare, tropical, and expensive fruit. Here you can get fresh guava, guava juice, guava yogurt, dried guava, and the list goes on. As a guava lover, I am quite envious of South Africa in this regard.'

You may be wondering what has possessed me to want to make ice cream in the middle of winter.  Well, this is when guavas are in season in South Africa and, besides, there are many winter days here in Cape Town that are sunny and mild enough to warrant whipping out the ice cream machine.  (If you don't have such a gadget, use the freeze-and-beat method, which will result in a slightly crystalline but still most delicious ice).

This is a light, sugar-syrup-based ice cream with just a touch of cream (you can use yoghurt if you're watching calories). I have added a a stick of cinnamon and a star anise to the sugar syrup to give the ice cream a slight spiciness, but you can leave these out altogether if you would prefer a cold blast of pure guava flavour.

Lightly Spiced South African Guava Ice Cream
1½ cups (375 ml) water
1 cup (250 ml) white granulated sugar
one whole star anise
one 4-cm quill of cinnamon
one thumb-sized strip of fresh lemon zest, white pith removed
8 ripe guavas
2 tsp (10 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
75 ml cream or plain white yoghurt

Put the water, sugar, star anise, cinnamon and lemon zest into a saucepan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until the sugar syrup is quite clear.  Set aside to cool completely, then place in the fridge for an hour or two, or until cold.  Top and tail the guavas, but do not peel. Cut into chunks and place in a liquidiser, or a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Whizz to a rough purée.  Tip the purée into a sieve set over a large bowl and, using the back of a soup ladle to press vigorously down on the pulp, strain off the liquid. Discard the pulp and seeds. Strain the chilled sugar syrup into the bowl containing the strained guava (discard the spices and lemon peel). Add the lemon juice and cream (or yoghurt), and stir well to combine. Place the mixture in the bowl of an ice cream machine and churn until done (or use the freeze-and-beat method). 

Serve the ice cream in chilled glasses (place them in the freezer an hour before you serve the dessert).

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Tuesday 6 July 2010

Hazelnut and Chocolate Cheesecake

A chocolatey, nutty biscuit base, a dash of Frangelico and a topping of scribbled dark chocolate give this unbaked cheesecake a luxurious touch. Even though I'm not a lover of cakes and sweet things, I must say I can be persuaded to eat cheesecake, although I prefer a baked one over the gelatine-set variety.

Hazelnut and Chocolate Cheesecake
This unbaked cheesecake is easy to make, with a lovely
flavour of hazelnuts.

I have to laugh at my family. They are rather pudding-deprived, having a mother with a salt tooth, so when I do occasionally make something sweet, they are so overjoyed that skirmishes break out in the kitchen. 'His slice was bigger than mine!' one will cry. 'But you nicked a sliver out of the fridge earlier!' says the other. 'I saw you!'
Hazelnut and Chocolate Cheesecake
This picture appears in my cookbook (see below). Image by
Michael Le Grange © Random House Struik

This cheesecake is best with full-fat cream cheese, but you can use low-fat cheese, or creamed cottage cheese, for a perfectly acceptable lower-calorie version. Measure the amount of powdered gelatine exactly, so that the texture is just firm enough to hold together, without a hint of rubberiness.

Postscript: I included this recipe in my cookbook and it is one of my favourite recipes in the desserts section.

Hazelnut and Chocolate Cheesecake

For the biscuit base:
75 ml whole hazelnuts
200 g chocolate digestive biscuits
100 g soft butter

For the cheesecake:
½ cup (125 ml) water
4 tsp (20 ml) powdered gelatine
2 x 250 g tubs of cream cheese
1 cup (250 ml) caster sugar
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Franjelico hazelnut liqueur
1 vanilla pod (or 1 tsp/5ml vanilla extract)
250 ml (1 cup) cream

For the topping:
8 squares of dark chocolate

Put the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan and toss for a minute or two over a medium flame, or until lightly toasted. Wrap the nuts in a clean tea towel and rub them between your palms to remove some of the skins (don't worry if bits of skin remain here and there).

Break up the chocolate digestives and place them, with the hazelnuts, in a food processor fitted with a metal blade, or a liquidiser. Process to coarse crumbs, but don't over-process, which will make the chocolate sticky. Place in a bowl, add the soft butter and stir well to combine. Press the mixture evenly onto the base of a non-stick 24-cm springform cake tin. Place in the fridge while you make the topping.

Put the water in a little heat-proof bowl or ramekin and sprinkle the gelatine on top. Set aside for a few minutes, or until the gelatine has sponged. Put the bowl in a pot of simmering water (the water should come half-way up the sides) and stir occasionally as the gelatine melts. When the liquid is clear, remove the bowl from the hot water and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Combine the cream cheese, caster sugar and Franjelico in a large bowl, using a whisk or rotary beater. Cut the vanilla pod in half, scrape out the black seeds with the blade of a knife, and add to the mixture. Add the warm gelatine mixture and stir well to combine. Whip the cream in a separate bowl until it forms soft peaks. Fold half the cream into the cream cheese mixture, and then fold in the other half. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and tap the tin gently on the countertop to release any bubbles. Place in the fridge for four hours to set.

Hazelnut and Chocolate Cheesecake
I think a cake like this deserves a doily, don't you?

Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Place in a piping bag fitted with a fine nozzle (or make a piping bag from greaseproof paper; a syringe will also do). Scribble the chocolate all over the cake. If there's any chocolate left over, scribble a few more patterns on a piece of greaseproof paper, allow to set, peel off and arrange on top of the cheesecake. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes, or until the chocolate is cold and set. Release the cake from its tin (see Cook's Notes, below).

Slice into portions (see Cook's Notes, below) and serve with a few extra toasted hazelnuts.

Makes 1 24-cm cake.

Cook's Notes
  • There are various methods of loosening a gelatine-set dessert from its mould. Professional chefs use a blowtorch, which is briefly flicked over the outside of the tin, but this is a risky business, as a few seconds too long can liquefy the outside of the cheesecake and, besides, it's useless if you're using a plastic jelly mould. A better way is to dip a kitchen cloth in boiling water, and press it to outside of the cold tin for a few seconds. But the best way of all, I've found, is to use a hot pack designed for soothing acheing muscles. If you don't have a Happy Hugger, here's how to make one yourself. (I keep one of these in my kitchen drawer for the sole purpose of loosening jellies!). Steal a long cotton sock from someone's drawer. Fill it with rice or barley, and tie a firm knot in the open end. Place the sock in a microwave oven for 2-3 minutes, or until very warm to the touch. Press the hot pack around the edges of the gelatine mould, for 30 seconds at a time, moving it around the edges as necessary. At the same time, release the spring-form lever in small increments.
  •  When you cut the cheesecake, use a hot knife (heated over a flame, or in a bowl of boiling water) to slice through the chocolate scribbles, then switch to a cool knife to cut through the rest.
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