Monday 26 December 2011

Shredded Duck With Crisp Skin and Dried-Pear Sauce

Cooking a duck may seem daunting, but this dish - a starter or snack - is so easy and has such a delicious, lip-smacking depth of flavour that I eagerly encourage you to give it a go. My sweet, spicy relish is made with dried pears, an excellent South African ingredient (and rather neglected in this country, I reckon).

Shredded Duck With Crisp Skin and Dried-Pear Sauce
There are many schools of thought when it comes to achieving very crisp skin on a duck. Some recommend that you pour boiling water over it or blast it with a hair dryer, or prick the skin a million times, or separate the skin from the fat with a blast of compressed air, or let the skin air-dry for 24 hours, or all of the above. I have tried some of these methods (the boiling water, the hair dryer and the pricking) but I really haven't noticed an appreciable difference in the end result. So these days I skip the duck-torturing steps and slow-roast the bird, with an initial blast of heat at the beginning and end of the cooking time. This creates a skin of acceptable crispness.

 I'm not saying it's the most brittle duck skin on earth, but it's satisfyingly crunchy, and absolutely achievable in a domestic oven. You will need to cook this in a fan-assisted oven, however, because the circulating heat helps to dry out the skin.  The duck is roasted for a long time, but you need have no fear of it drying out, provided that you use a duck of excellent quality.

Supermarket ducks are cheap, but they're not very good, consisting largely of bone and fat (and each one feeds only two to three hungry people). A plump free-range duck from a good butcher or food market will cost you more, but you won't be disappointed by its flavour and succulence.

Shredded Duck With Crisp Skin and Dried-Pear Sauce
1 large free-range duck
1 Tbsp (15 ml) flaky sea salt or coarse salt
1 Tbsp (15 ml) Schezuan peppercorns
1 Tbsp (15 ml) black peppercorns
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, sliced
half a lemon
3 spring onions, whiter parts only,  finely sliced

For the sauce:
10 dried pear halves (about 100 g)
¾ cup (180 ml) water
½ cup (125 ml) white sugar
2 whole star anise
a stick of cinnamon
a thumb-length strip of orange zest

Heat the oven to 200 ºC. Dry the duck with kitchen paper, inside and out. Grind the salt and peppercorns together with a mortar and pestle to make a coarse powder, then pat the mixture all over the duck breast, sprinkling a little into the cavity. Tuck the ginger and half lemon into the cavity and roast the duck, breast-side up and uncovered, at 200 ºC for 15 minutes. Now turn the heat down to 160ºC and roast the duck for one and three-quarter hours, with the oven fan on. Every half hour, slide out the roasting dish and use a ladle to scoop out the rendered fat (keep it for roasting potatoes). Now turn the oven heat back up to 200ºC and roast the duck for a further 20 minutes, or until the skin is dark golden and crisp.

In the meantime, bring the sauce ingredients to the boil in a saucepan, stirring occasionally. Turn down the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until the pears are soft but not collapsed. Allow to cool and discard the anise, cinnamon and peel. Fish out the pears using a slotted spoon and place in a blender. Press the pulse button a few times to create a chunky sauce, adding just enough of the cooking syrup to allow the blades to turn freely.

When the duck is done, allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Scoop all the remaining fat from the pan, but leave any juices. Prepare the duck as follows: peel the crisp skin off the top, pull the breast and leg meat away from the bone, and using two forks, pull it into shreds and flakes. Tip the meat back into the roasting dish and toss it in the remaining pan juices. Cut the crisp skin into very thin slices. Tip the duck into a warm serving platter (or divide it among ramekin-sized bowls, or ceramic Chinese spoons, or ‘cups’ of crisp lettuce). Sprinkle the crisp skin and the spring onions over the duck and serve immediately with the pear sauce.

Serves 8 as a snack or starter

Like this recipe? Try my Easy Duck Rillettes

Easy Duck Rillettes
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Saturday 24 December 2011

Low-Carb Jellied Turkey Terrine with Parsley and Capers

Jellied Turkey Terrine with Parsley and Capers
Here's an unusual way to use up left-over roast turkey: a delicate terrine set with naturally jellied stock and flavoured with a zingy mixture of fresh parsley, capers and gherkins.

I made this with the leftovers of two chickens (not having a spare gobbler to hand) but it will work just as well with turkey, provided that you boil the stock long enough for it to form a gentle jelly.

If you have any left-over gammon, cut it into cubes and add it to the terrine to create a beautiful white, green and pink mosaic.

Speaking of gammon, the inspiration for this recipe comes from the memory of a glorious ham terrine I tasted in France more than 20 years ago.

My husband and I had (foolishly, in hindsight, considering we had a nine-month-old baby at the time) spent a few weeks driving around France, and while we were in Burgundy we bought a thick slice of jambon persillé - a classic of French charcuterie - from the local shop. I can honestly say it was one of the most delicous things I've ever tasted, with its  cubes of rosy ham encased in a sparkling, flavoursome jelly and layered with plenty of finely chopped parsley.

Jellied Turkey Terrine with Parsley and Capers
This is easy to make, but you will need to simmer the entire turkey carcass (or two chicken carcasses) for at least two hours in order to extract enough collagen from the bones to achieve a set.

If you're not confident that your stock will set, add 6 to 8 whole raw chicken wings to the pot.

I've added chopped cocktail gherkins and capers to the terrine because I love their spiky flavours, but you can use a mixture of chopped fresh herbs of your choice, and add anything else you fancy.

Jellied Turkey Terrine with Parsley and Capers
2-3 cups leftover roast turkey, pulled into large shreds
1 cup (250 ml) finely chopped fresh parsley 
7 Tbsp (105 ml) capers, rinsed and chopped 
7 Tbsp (105 ml) finely chopped cocktail gherkins
the juice of half a lemon
salt and milled black pepper

For the stock:
a turkey carcass, or two chicken carcasses
3 litres water (or enough to cover the bones)
1 cup (250 ml) white wine
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) sea salt
1 onion, halved and studded with 3 whole cloves
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
a stick of celery
a few stalks of parsley
a sprig of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tsp (5 ml) black peppercorns

First make the stock. Place the turkey bones in a large stock pot and add the wine, water and salt. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, skimming off any foam as it rises. Now add all the remaining stock ingredients and cook, covered with a tilted lid, at a gentle simmer for two hours, topping up with a little more water if necessary.

Strain the stock through a sieve lined with a laundered napkin (or a new kitchen cloth) and pour it back into the rinsed-out pan. Bring to the boil again and simmer briskly for another 30 minutes, or until the stock has reduced by about a third. Strain the stock again and allow it to cool to lukewarm. Skim off any fat and set aside.

Line a wet metal loaf tin with clingfilm. If you have a silicone loaf tin, there's no need to line it. Combine the parsley, capers and gherkins in a bowl, stir in the lemon juice and season well with salt and pepper. Scatter quarter of the parsley mixture on the bottom of the tin and arrange a third of the chicken strips on top. Sprinkle more of the parsley mixture over the chicken, and carry on layering until you have used up all the chicken and parsley. Season each layer with a little salt and pepper. Press down firmly on the mixture with the flat of your hand.  Now gently trickle the cooled turkey stock into the terrine; the stock should cover the top layer to a depth of about 3 mm. Cover the tin with clingfilm and chill for 3 hours, or until the jelly has set.

Serve cold, with crusty bread, or with boiled new potatoes and salad.

Serves 6-8, depending on the size of your loaf tin.

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Thursday 22 December 2011

Feeding a crowd: Roast Butternut and Baby Corn Salad

Lovely nutty flavours and sunset colours make this bountiful salad a real crowd pleaser. Roasting the vegetables takes a little time, but you can do this well in advance and let them steep in their own toasty juices for a few hours before you assemble the salad. And making stuff ahead is the key to success when you're tackling a big festive feast, isn't it?

I'm a fan of big composite salads like this one because they go a long way and don't cost very much to make. I served this with my Christmas Gammon with a Sticky Orange and Ginger Glaze and a platter of crunchy potato wedges, and it easily fed ten very hungry people.

I'm not crazy about butternut - sweet vegetables aren't my cup of tea - but I don't mind it at all plainly roasted with tender ears of corn and baby carrots, then combined with feta, watercress, spinach and peppery rocket. Lemon juice in the dressing adds necessary acidity, while soy-sauce-coated sunflower seeds provide a bit of crunch and texture.

Roast Butternut and Baby Corn Salad with Feta and Sunflower Seeds

1 large butternut, peeled, deseeded and cubed
2 cups (500 ml) tiny little carrots (or big carrots, peeled and cut into cubes)
1 large punnet baby sweetcorn
7 T (105 ml) olive oil
salt and milled black pepper
2 large packets mixed rocket, watercress and baby spinach, or similar dark leaves
1 stick celery (no leaves), finely sliced
140 g (about two 'wheels') peppered feta cheese
½ cup (125 ml) sunflower seeds
2 T (30 ml) Kikkoman soy sauce

For the dressing:
reserved juices from the roast vegetables
a pinch of Hot English Mustard powder, or ½ tsp (2.5 ml) prepared Dijon mustard
a pinch of caster sugar
the juice of a small lemon
1 tsp (5 ml) Kikkoman soy sauce
2 T (30 ml) white wine vinegar
3/4 cup (180 ml) olive oil, or a mixture of sunflower and olive oil
salt and milled black pepper

Heat the oven to 190ºC.  Put the butternut cubes on a roasting tray and drizzle them with half the olive oil. Season generously with salt and black pepper and, using your hands, toss well to coat. Roast the butternut, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are nicely freckled with brown. Push the cubes to one side of the tray and arrange the baby sweetcorn and carrots on the other side. Drizzle the remaining oil over them, season, toss well and return the tray to the oven. After 15 minutes, remove the butternut cubes, place them in a large bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave the sweetcorn and carrots in the oven for another 15 minutes, or until they are toasty and just tender. Add them to the cooked butternut cubes and set aside at room temperature until you're ready to use them.

To make the dressing, tip any juices that have accumulated under the roast vegetables into a small mixing bowl.  Add the mustard powder, caster sugar, lemon juice, soy sauce and vinegar and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Now whisk in the olive oil to make a smooth emulsion.  Season with salt and pepper. If you'd like a tangier dressing, add more lemon juice or vinegar to taste.

Put the sunflower seeds in a large frying pan and toss them gently over a medium-low flame until lightly toasted.  Turn the heat up to medium, add the soy sauce and stir well so all the seeds are coated. Leave over the heat for 30 seconds, or until the pan is dry, then set aside to cool slightly.

Lay the leaves on a big serving platter and arrange the roast vegetables, chopped celery and feta - broken into chunks - on top.  Immediately before you serve the salad, pour over just enough dressing to coat the leaves lightly, and sprinkle with sunflower seeds.

Serves 10 as a side salad, or 6 as a main course. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Christmas Gammon with a Sticky Orange and Ginger Glaze

I'm a bit bored with honey-and-mustard glazes, so this year I thought I'd try burnishing a Christmas gammon with a sticky Asian-style glaze flavoured with ginger, soy sauce and fresh orange juice. The combination of smoky gammon and sweet, spicy citrus was delicious, and I'm going to use the same glaze for the ham I'm planning for Christmas Eve. What a pity that the gammon itself was neither succulent nor tender. Although the flavour was good, it was thoroughly overcooked, and I'm still fuming about this.

A gorgeous glaze, but the ham was a long way off tender and juicy.  
I don't usually moan on this blog about products that disappoint me (do you find whining blog posts as boring as I do?) but I'm annoyed enough to make an exception here. I decided to bake rather than boil my gammon this year, because the giant bone-in gammon I bought last year collapsed into sodden shreds in the pot. (We had to rush out and buy an emergency gammon because all that was left was a pile of grey mush. The same thing happened to a reader of this blog, who had bought the same joint from Woolworths.)

Baking the gammon in liquid would, I figured, prevent any chance of collapse, and I was also interested to see if baking would produce a texture superior to that of a boiled gammon. I bought a boneless gammon (again from Woolworths), and carefully read the cooking guidelines on the packaging, which gave instructions for both boiling and baking. I thought it odd that the cooking time for both methods was identical (namely, 30 minutes per 500 g, plus 25 minutes extra), given that the recommended temperature for baking the meat was 160ºC.   How could a gammon baked at  this temperature require the same cooking time as one simmered on the stovetop at 100ºC, the boiling point of water? Still, I decided to cast my doubts aside and follow the instructions to the letter. After all, I'm always telling people to follow the damned recipe.)

The gammon after 3 hours in the oven: rather shrunken.
My gammon weighed 3.4 kg, so the cooking time added up to just under 4 hours (an hour per kilogram, plus an extra 25 minutes). I baked the gammon in a deep roasting pan, half submerged in a mixture of stock and beer.

The instructions advised covering it tightly with foil, which I did, and I added an inner layer of wet baking paper secured with string, because I was worried about the meat drying out. After it had been in the oven for 3 hours, I did a finger-poke test. The meat felt hard, and I could see through the foil that it had shrunk to about two thirds of its original size.  At this point I whipped it out of the oven, but it was too late. The meat was flavoursome enough, I suppose, but had lost all its juiciness, and was a long way off tender.  I served it to my guests (it was too late to make anything else) but I wasn't happy about it, and I gave myself a good kick in the pants for not trusting my instincts and cooking it at a much lower temperature.  (I have pointed out, on Woolworths' Facebook page, that their instructions are incorrect, but have received no response.)

I am going to try the baking method again with the next gammon, but this time will set the oven to 100ºC. I'll let you know how it turns out.

In this recipe, because I don't want your gammon ruined too, I've given you instructions for simmering the meat on the stovetop in a beery broth (this is the same liquid and method I use for cooking my Christmas Gammon Glazed with Brandy and Coke).

Christmas Gammon with a Sticky Orange and Ginger Glaze

For the gammon:

a large gammon, weighing 2.5 to 3 kg, bone in or out
one can (330 ml) ginger ale
one bottle (330 ml) of your favourite beer
2 whole star anise
3 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
2 carrots, scraped and roughly chopped
a small stick of celery
a few parsley stalks
1 tsp (5 ml) whole black peppercorns
water, to cover
whole cloves, to stud

For the glaze:

the finely grated zest of a large orange
juice of two oranges
3 Tbsp (45 ml) Kikkoman soy sauce
3 Tbsp (45 ml) rice vinegar
3 Tbsp (45 ml) soft dark sugar
2 Tbsp (30 ml) honey
2 Tbsp (30 ml) grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
the juice of half a lemon

Make a note of the weight of the gammon before you discard the packaging. Put the gammon, ginger ale, beer, star anise, bay leaves, cloves, onion, carrots, celery, parsley stalks and peppercorns into a deep pot. Add enough water just to cover the gammon to a depth of 1 cm. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat so that the gammon cooks at a simmer. Partially cover the pot with a tilted lid. If you’re using a boneless gammon, cook the meat for 30-40 minutes per kilogram. If you’re using a gammon with a large bone, cook it for 45-55 minutes per kilogram, or according to the instructions on the wrapping. Check the pot now and then, and top up with more water if necessary. Turn off the heat and leave the gammon in the liquid to cool completely.

Put all the ingredients for the glaze, except the lemon juice, into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Bubble the the glaze for about 10 minutes, or until it has reduced by about half, is slightly syrupy and is forming big, slow-popping bubbles. Remove it from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Lift the gammon out of the cooking broth, pat it dry on kitchen paper and place in a roasting pan. (Strain the stock and freeze it for future use in stews and soups). Peel away the rind and discard it. If there is a very thick layer of fat below the rind, scrape most of it away, leaving behind a thin layer. Using a sharp knife, score the top of the gammon in a diamond pattern. Stud the gammon with whole cloves.

Pour the glaze over the gammon and place the pan under the hot grill, on the middle shelf of the oven.  Every two minutes or so, baste the meat by scooping the glaze off the bottom of the pan and trickling it all over the top and sides.  Leave the oven door slightly open and watch it like a hawk: the glaze burns easily. When the gammon has a rich, sticky crust, and there is just a little glaze left in the bottom of the pan, remove it from the oven.  Let the pan cool for 10 minutes then, using a pastry brush, paint any remaining glaze over the top and sides of the gammon (or dribble it on with a teaspoon).  Serve hot or cold, with a green salad and potatoes.

Serves 8-10 as part of a festive feast

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Sunday 18 December 2011

Warm Marinated Olives with Lime, Thyme and Chilli

Fresh limes and olives are unlikely bedfellows, I know, but I was fresh out of lemons when I made this yesterday, so slices of lime it had to be. And, my goodness, the lime tasted good! (Although there's no startling difference in the final taste, a green and perky note of lime adds special zip to the olive-oil marinade.)  I often make this dish in summer as a snack to go with drinks: it's so quick and easy to prepare in advance, it tastes gorgeous, and it goes a long way if you serve it with a big platter of sliced crusty bread for dipping.

Warm Marinated Olives with Lime, Thyme and Chilli
It's not essential to warm the flavouring ingredients in the olive oil (if you're in a hurry, pack everything into a jar and leave it to steep for three days) but I've found that heating the marinade helps to release the lovely aromatic oils in the thyme, citrus zest, chilli, garlic and pepper.

It takes less than a minute gently to reheat the olives before you take them to the table, and it's well worth the effort, because the aromas that drift from the warm oil are quite irresistible.

You can stone the olives if you like, but I think half the fun of eating an olive is rolling its pip around your mouth (and then seeing how far you can spit it  placing it daintily on the side of your plate).

I alway use Calamata olives because they're so big and glossy and delicious, but you can use any sort of black brined olive, or a mixture of green and black olives.

Warm Marinated Olives with Lime, Thyme and Chilli

1 large jar Calamata olives, drained (or olives of your choice)
enough extra-virgin olive oil to cover the olives (about a cup and half; 375 ml)
2 slices of fresh lime or lemon
½ tsp (2.5 ml) dried red chilli flakes
1 large fresh red chilli, split in half lengthways (or more, to taste)
4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled and sliced in half lengthways
2 large sprigs of fresh thyme
2 fresh lemon leaves, if you can find them
milled black pepper
flaky sea salt
the juice of half a lemon

If you have time, cut a slit in the side of each olive.  Pour the olive oil into a saucepan and stir in the olives, lime slices, chilli flakes, fresh chilli, garlic, thyme and lemon leaves. Add plenty of freshly ground black pepper (eight to ten twists of the mill). Very gently heat the olive oil over a low flame, until it's quite hot and beginning to seethe, but not yet bubbling; this will take 3-4 minutes.

Take the pan off the heat and, using the back of a fork, squash and squish the garlic cloves to release more of their flavour. Tip the mixture into a lidded plastic container (or a very large glass jar) and set aside at room temperature to steep for at least six hours - preferably overnight.

If you'd like to make this a few days in advance, you can refrigerate the mixture. Don't worry if the oil solidifies in patches: it will melt down again when you rewarm the mixture.

When you're ready to serve the olives, tip the mixture back into the saucepan and reheat it gently over a medium flame for one minute, or until very warm, but nowhere near piping hot.

Remove the pan from the heat and squeeze in the fresh lemon juice. Season with flaky sea salt, add a few more grinds of black pepper and stir well. Tip the mixture into a shallow serving dish and take it straight to the table with some sliced fresh bread.

Serves 6-8  as a snack

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Tower of Christmas Ice Cream with Berries and Meringues

Tower of Christmas Ice Cream with Berries and Meringues
I think a Christmas dessert should draw gasps of delight and excitement when it arrives at the table, because that's what feasts are all about, aren't they? My attempt to make a splendid tower of ice cream certainly drew some gasps when my family saw me making it, although whether these were of delight I can't say. Bafflement, more like. "Are you sure that's not going to topple over?" my daughter asked.  Well, I wasn't  sure, but it turned out all right in the end.

Okay, the tower had a rakish tilt to it, but once I'd festooned it with meringues and poured summer berries all over it, it looked pretty spectacular (although it was another matter fitting it back into the freezer, and I think I'll draw a veil over that episode).

I used three plastic flower pots of diminishing size to mould the ice cream, first plugging the holes with a blob of Prestik and lining the bottom of each pot with with a circle of baking paper.

The tower used exactly five litres of just-softened  vanilla ice cream (proper dairy ice cream, that is) and each layer contained a different filling.

To the base layer, I added a jar of fruit mincemeat, chopped hazelnuts, chocolate chips and crumbled Amaretti biscuits.

 A dessert of dizzying height
The second layer contained coffee, whiskey and more chopped up chocolate, and the third layer was plain ice cream (a special concession to picky eaters).

You can add anything you fancy to the ice cream - have a look at my Layered Christmas Ice Cream Cake with White Chocolate and Berries for more ideas.

When the layers were frozen, I pulled out the blobs of Prestik to release the vacuum and then wrapped heated cloths around each pot to loosen the ice cream.

Once the layers were stacked, the tower went back into the freezer for half an hour to firm up (oh, okay, I had to take out two of the drawers to fit it in) and then I poured the berries all over it.

You can make the individual layers a few days ahead of Christmas, but cover each one tightly with clingfilm so that the ice cream doesn't pick up an unpleasant whiff of freezer.

The quickest way to heat a cloth is to wet it and put it in the microwave for 30 seconds. You'll need to reheat the cloth a few times for each mould.

More of my Christmas recipes (find all of them on my festive Pinterest board

Boozy, Fruity Trifle Cake for Christmas

Layered Christmas Ice Cream Cake with White Chocolate and Berries

Christmas Gammon Glazed with Brandy and Coke

Butterflied Turkey with a Ricotta, Nut and Apricot Stuffing

Mango and Macadamia Turkey Stuffing with Sage and Sausage Meat

Festive Turkey Stuffing with Green Peppercorns, Pork Sausage, Apple and Thyme

Festive Phyllo Crackers with a Spicy Plum and Almond Filling

Roasted Pressed Beetroot with Sour Cream, for a Christmas buffet

Christmassy Plum and Tamarind Sauce
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Thursday 8 December 2011

Boozy, Fruity Trifle Cake for Christmas

I couldn't decide between a chocolate-nutty cake or a boozy-fruity one for this, my second Christmas recipe for 2011, so I asked my Facebook friends which one they'd most fancy on the table this year. Although a few were doggedly in the chocolate camp, most voted for a boozy/fruity pudding.  My friend Fiona Snyckers summed it up very well: "When Pooh Bear was asked to choose between honey or condensed milk, he got over-excited and said 'both!'. But if I have to pick one, I'd say boozy-fruity because it's a once-a-year thing. You can have choc-nutty every other day of the year. Christmas is all about the brandy-soaked cherries."

Boozy, Fruity Trifle Cake for Christmas 

My sentiments exactly. I'm not sure what to call my new Christmas confection, because it's something of a hybrid: part trifle and part cheesecake, with a nod to a classic Italian zuccotto. With a creamy, fruity filling and a lining of booze-soaked Madeira cake, it's sure to appeal to guests who are expecting a wickedly rich, Christmassy-tasting dessert at the end of a festive meal.

This is easy to make and can be prepared a day (or even two) in advance, although the whipped-cream icing should be made and spread over the cake not more than an hour before you serve it. 

I used a delicious Klein Constantia sweet dessert wine for soaking the Madeira cake, but you could use sherry, hanepoot, port or any similar fortified wine.

You can add anything you like to this filling. I used toasted slivered almonds for crunch, and crushed Amaretti biscuits for their lovely bitter almondiness, but I think what would make this pud perfect is some sour-sweet brandied cherries (thanks for the suggestion, Fiona). I didn't have any of these to hand when I made this,  but I'm soaking fresh cherries in brandy as we speak for use on the big day.

Part trifle and part cheesecake, with a nod to a classic Italian zuccotto

Boozy, Fruity Trifle Cake for Christmas

2 Madeira-cake loaves (trifle sponges)
1 cup (250 ml) sweet dessert wine, or similar
3 Tbsp (45 ml) tepid water
4 tsp (20 ml) gelatine powder
400 g cream cheese (I use full-fat cream cheese, but you could use a half-half mixture of full-fat and low fat)
2/3 cup (160 ml) icing sugar
1 cup (250 ml) fruit mincemeat, from a jar
2/3 cup (160 ml) slivered almonds, lightly toasted
16 Amaretti biscuits, lightly crushed
3 Tbsp (45 ml) brandy or whiskey
1 cup (250 ml0 cream

For the icing:
350 ml cream
3 Tbsp (45 ml) icing sugar
a few drops of vanilla extract

Grease a 24-cm spring-form cake tin and line it with baking paper. (Cut out a circle for the base, and a long strip of paper that's the same width as the height of the cake ring. Alternatively, you can line the tin with several sheets of clingfilm.)

Cut the Madeira loaves horizontally (that is, with your bread knife held parallel to the chopping board) into long, 1-cm thick slices. Each slice will be about as wide as the cake tin is high. Pour the dessert wine into a shallow dish. Quickly dip each slice into the wine and then press the slices one by one around the edges of the tin. Use more dipped slices to line the bottom of the tin, pulling them into pieces if necessary and fitting them together like a jigsaw. Don't worry if the sponge lining looks uneven and messy: the whole cake will be covered with whipped cream. Reserve any left-over slices of cake for the topping. Put the tin in the fridge while you make the filling.

Put the tepid water in a teacup-sized bowl, sprinkle over the gelatine powder and set aside to 'sponge' for a few minutes. Place 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 and set aside to cool for a few minutes. (Alternatively, you can melt the gelatine very gently in a microwave oven.)

I served this on my Mum's silver tray.
In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and icing sugar, until smooth. Stir in the mincemeat, almonds, crushed Amaretti biscuits and brandy (or whiskey). Stir in the melted gelatine.

In a separate bowl, whisk the cream to a soft, thick peak. Gently fold the cream into the cream-cheese filling mixture. Pour the mixture into the cake-lined tin and smooth the top. Dip the remaining slices of Maedira cake in the leftover wine and press them lightly over the top surface of the cake.  Cover the tin with clingfilm and refrigerate.

An hour or two before you're ready to serve the cake, make the icing. Whip the cream, icing sugar and vanilla extract to a firm and voluptuous (but not stiff) peak.

Take the cake out of the fridge and gently loosen it from its mould. Invert the cake on a serving platter and gently peel away the baking paper or clingfilm.

Spread the whipped cream evenly in a fairly thin layer all over the cake and decorate with silver balls, or chocolate shavings, or brandied cherries, or other festoonments of your choice.

Serve cold.

Makes one cake; serves 8-10

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Saturday 3 December 2011

Christmas: Butterflied Turkey with a Ricotta, Nut and Apricot Stuffing

Cooking a whole turkey is a pain in the neck, isn't it? I can't think of any other component of a Christmas feast that causes more anxiety to home cooks than the confounded, damned, blasted (and sometimes bloody) turkey. In this dish, my first Christmas recipe for 2011, I've tried to solve the twin and contradictory problems of turkey dryness and turkey undercookedness in one go by butterflying the bird and pushing a tenderising stuffing directly under its skin.

Christmas Recipe: Butterflied Turkey with a Ricotta, Nut and Apricot Stuffing
I would happily ban turkey from my extended family's Christmas feast if I could. Over the past few years,  I've tried. 'How about a leg of lamb?', I ask. 'Or a lovely slow-roasted shoulder of pork?'. Turkeys, after all, have nothing at all to do with South Africa and are spectacularly inappropriate for a festive meal on a sweltering December day. But my husband and two of my three brothers-in-law were born in Britain, and they need a turkey on the table on Christmas Eve in the same way  they need apple crumbles, custard, mashed potatoes, and packets of choccie biscuits in the cupboard at all times. (And, okay, I was firmly in the turkey camp for many years. This backfired on me because my kids quickly acquired a taste for Christmas turkey - and especially for the gravy and bacon-wrapped pork chipolatas and crunchy roast potatoes that accompanied it - and now they eagerly look forward to the moment an enormous, golden, crisp-skinned gobbler appears on the table. They don't care if the breasts are a bit dry, and the wings so tough you could use them to crowbar open a car door: the Christmas turkey is all about ceremony.)

I've figured out, after cooking many whole turkeys with varying degrees of success, that the most you can expect  is succulent dark meat and lovely crisp skin.  The breasts will always be slightly dry and chalky, no matter how carefully and slowly you cook and baste the bird. This has everything to do with the anatomy of a turkey and nothing to do with your turkey-roasting skills. Breast meat on turkeys (and all other birds, for that matter) doesn't need to be cooked for long to achieve perfect tenderness and succulence, but dark, dense thigh and leg meat needs plenty of time.

I often butterfly roasting chickens when I'm in a hurry to get a meal on the table. There are two advantages to removing the backbone of a chicken and flattening it out. One, it cooks in just under an hour. Two, the breasts (wedged as they are in the middle) stay moist and tender while the legs (splayed on the outside of the bird) cook to perfection. I thought I'd try the same method with a small turkey, and it worked beautifully. The breasts were soft and juicy, and the thigh meat succulent. And, as a bonus, the bird was cooked through in an hour and fifty minutes. I left it to rest in its pan for 25 minutes, under a bonnet of foil, and I found it very easy to carve. (Have you noticed how people who fancy themselves expert carvers vanish when it's time to cut up the turkey? It's a thankless task. Even if you're an experienced carver, the bird always ends up looking as though a hand grenade detonated in its cavity. You only need to look at the photograph above for proof of this.)

Butterflying a whole turkey is not at all difficult, but you will need a pair of heavy kitchen scissors, or a heavy knife with a very sharp blade. Pushing the stuffing under the skin and deep into the thighs and drumsticks is also easy to do, although this is, I admit, not a job for the fainthearted.  The turkey, when butterflied, looks faintly ridiculous, very like a fat, bossy school mommy with her hands on her hips (see picture below).  I ended up with my arm shoved almost elbow-deep under the stretchy skin of the turkey, and couldn't stop laughing because I was irresistibly reminded of the scene in which Mr Bean climbs so far into a turkey that he gets it stuck on his head.

This is a long recipe - I thought it important to give you detailed instructions so there are no disappointments on the big day - but rest assured that this is really quite easy to make, provided that you take a little time with the stuffing and stock.  You can prepare both of these well in advance.

The stuffing in this recipe contains fresh ricotta cheese which, I have found, has an almost magical tenderising effect on poultry breasts; I can only imagine it is the lactic acid in the cheese that (like yoghurt) helps soften the flesh.  You can, however, use any poultry stuffing of your choice. Try my 2010 Turkey Stuffing with Green Peppercorns, Pork Sausage, Apple and Thyme, or my 2009 recipe Mango and Macadamia Turkey Stuffing with Sage and Sausage Meat.

The cooking time of a butterflied turkey will depend on its size and the ferocity your oven; see recipe and Cook's Notes (at the bottom of this page) for more information.

Roast Butterflied Turkey with a Ricotta, Almond and Apricot Stuffing
one turkey (about 3.5-4 kg is ideal), thawed
a large onion, roughly sliced, skin and all
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
a little olive oil
salt and milled black pepper

For the stuffing: 
3 T (45 ml) olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 rashers streaky bacon, finely diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
finely grated zest and juice of an orange
1/3 cup (60 ml) chopped dried apricots (or fresh ones)
1/3 cup (60 ml) chopped dried cranberries (optional; I used dried pomegranate arils)
1/3 cup (60 ml) flaked almonds (toast them if you have time)
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped
1 cup (250 ml) breadcrumbs, fresh or dried
1 cup (250 ml) ricotta cheese
3 T (45 ml) softened butter
1 extra-large free-range egg, lightly beaten
salt and milled pepper

For the stock and gravy:
3 Tbsp (45 ml) butter or vegetable oil
trimmings from the turkey (see recipe)
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1 stick celery, finely sliced
1 large carrot
a few parsley stalks
4 cups (1 litre) water
3 T (45 ml) cake flour
1 cup (250 ml) white wine
1 T (15 ml) redcurrant jelly or smooth apricot jam

If you're going to cook the turkey right away, heat the oven to 170 ºC.  Alternatively, you can butterfly and stuff the turkey and place it in the fridge for up to 8 hours before roasting it.
Christmas Recipe: Butterflied Turkey with a Ricotta, Nut and Apricot Stuffing

First make the stuffing. Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the onions and bacon over a medium heat for 4-6 minutes, or until the onions are soft and golden. Stir in the garlic, orange zest and juice and let the mixture bubble for one minute. Tip the contents of the pan into a large mixing bowl and add all the remaining stuffing ingredients. Using your fingers, gently combine the mixture. Don't overwork it, or it will turn mushy. At this point, it's a good idea to test the stuffing for seasoning. Press a small ball of stuffing into a little patty and fry it in hot oil until lightly browned. Taste the mixture and add more salt, pepper and other seasonings of your choice if necessary. Cover the stuffing and set aside.

Now butterfly the turkey. Unwrap the bird and remove the plastic packet of giblets. (You can use these for the stock if you like but because I'm not a fan of gizzardy-looking or offally bits, I always fish out the neck of the bird and give the rest to the dogs.) Rinse the turkey with cold water, inside and out, and pat it dry using kitchen paper. Remove the pop-up plastic device (that is, the cooking indicator) stuck into the breast.  Place the turkey, breast side down and with the ends of the drumsticks facing you, on a big chopping board. Cut off the pope's nose and set it aside for the gravy. Using a pair of heavy kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, cut out the backbone by making a long incision on either side of the spinal column, crunching right through any small ribs you encounter. This is a bit of a grisly task, but be bold, and don't worry if your cuts are ragged.  Set the backbone aside for the stock. Turn the turkey around so the ends of the drumsticks are facing away from you and snip through the small, tough band of cartilage that connects the two breasts at the neck end. Now turn the bird over so it’s skin side up and bring your fist down smartly between the breasts to break the breast bone. Flatten out the turkey with the heel of your hand. Tuck the wing tips under and behind the bird. You'll end up with what looks like a buxom and knock-kneed person lying on her back with her hands on her hips (very comical, a butterflied turkey looks!).

Christmas Recipe: Butterflied Turkey with a Ricotta, Nut and Apricot Stuffing

Starting a the neck end, slip your hand under the skin over the breast and gently loosen it to form a pocket (use a hooked finger to break through the membrane connecting the breast to the skin). Now push your hand deeper under the turkey skin and separate the skin over the thighs and thicker parts of the drumsticks in the same way (turkey skin is elastic and quite tough, so have no fear about fearlessly plunging in, Mr Bean style). Pack half the stuffing into the pockets over the thighs and drumsticks, and the remaining half over the breasts. Gently pat the skin to smooth and even out the stuffing.  Pull the neck skin down and under the turkey and secure it with toothpicks.

Put the onion slices, bay leaves and thyme in a large roasting pan and place the turkey, skin-side up, on top. Drizzle a little olive oil over the skin and season generously with salt and pepper. Cover the turkey loosely with a large piece of tin foil and roast at 170 ºC for an hour.  Now remove the foil and roast for another 40-60 minutes (see Cook's Notes, below), or until the skin is crisp and golden, and the bird is cooked through to the bone. Baste the bird with a little melted butter now and then, and watch the breast portion like a hawk, because it will brown  quickly. If the skin over the breasts looks as if it's darkening too quickly, tightly cover it with a triple layer of tin foil.

In the meantime, make a quick stock. Brown the turkey neck, the backbone, the pope's nose and the sliced onion in the olive oil or butter for a five minutes, or until golden. Add the celery, carrots, parsley stalks and  water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer very gently for an hour. Strain into a clean jug, cover and set aside.

Remove the turkey from the oven, lift it from the pan using two spatulas, place it on a platter and allow it to rest, lightly covered with foil, for up to 25 minutes while you make the gravy and get a any vegetable accompaniments ready.

Put the roasting pan - don't remove the onions or herbs -  over a medium heat and, when the fat begins to sizzle, stir in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for a minute or two, then whisk in the white wine and two cups of turkey stock, scraping to dislodge any sediment on the bottom of the pan. Turn down the heat and let the gravy bubble very gently for 8 minutes. If it seems too thick, add more stock or water. If you'd like a thicker, gloopier gravy, thicken it with a little slaked cornflour.

Serve the turkey with gravy, peas, roast potatoes and (essential, in my opinion) bacon-wrapped pork cocktail sausages.

Serves 8, depending on the size of your turkey

Cook's Notes

I can't give you an exact time for cooking a butterflied turkey because this will depend on the size of the turkey and on your oven. It will certainly take a shorter time to cook than the time specified on its plastic wrapping. As a general rule of thumb, a spatchcocked turkey will cook through in well under two-thirds of the cooking time recommended on the packet. I suggest that you roast the a medium turkey for 90 minutes (see recipe, above) and then test it for 'done-ness'.  Use a sharp knife to make a deep cut, right to the bone, in the thickest part of the thigh.  If there is any trace of pinkness, or if the flesh and bone are lukewarm to the touch, roast the turkey for a little longer. The turkey is done when the biggest, deepest thigh bone is very hot to the touch and the juices run quite clear.

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Tuesday 29 November 2011

Flowers, Christmas and Pinterest

Can you believe it's already December? I feel as though the end of the year has crept up and pounced on me like a hungry bear. I've had a furiously busy few months, and haven't had any time to think about my Christmas feast, or to do any proper Christmassy planning and plotting, or to send out my regular newsletter (apologies for that). Please watch this space, though, because I'm busy developing and testing some interesting new festive recipes that I think you'll really enjoy (for links to my Christmas recipes from last year, scroll to the end of the page).
Christmas and Christmas Flowers
One thing I have been thinking about is festive table settings, partly because I'm working on an assignment that involves styling tables, but also because I've recently developed a night-time addiction to Pinterest.  I don't sleep very well when I'm feeling tired or pressurised, and over the last few weeks I've whiled away many hours scouring this interesting site and creating my own visual 'stories'. (Here are my boards on Pinterest). This site (which is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting and exciting start-ups of the last  year or so, with massive potential) allows you to create virtual notice-boards, or 'mood boards' of pictures that inspire and excite you.

Christmas and Christmas Flowers

I lurked, with some interest, on Pinterest for several months after the clever Paige Nick showed me the site (and this only minutes after we'd met in real life at the Franschhoek Literary Festival,  following a Twitter acquaintance) but it was only when I created my own 'boards' that I began to appreciate how clever this site's concept is, and how useful it is for finding inspiration, focusing your creativity and - most important of all - distilling your ideas into a coherent 'story'.

Pinterest is a really, really useful tool for anyone who has a strong visual sense, and who is feeling a bit flattened, creatively speaking. By diligently collecting images that strongly appeal to you - whether you harvest them yourself from the Net, or 're-pin' them from other boards collated by Pinterest users - you can gain very (and I mean very) interesting insights into what your subconscious creative self really likes, and what fires up the cobbywebby pathways in the old grey matter. For example, I didn't appreciate (until I set up some Pinterest boards) that I have a real fascination with  - among other things - antiques, antiquities, African design and fresh flowers.

Flowers, in particular. Before I moved to Cape Town two years ago, tomorrow, I was a passionate gardener, with a particular interest in old-fangled flowers and herbs. I shed a few tears leaving behind in Johannesburg a herb garden I'd slaved over, and a treasured collection of blowsy old English roses, but I didn't fret for long, because it was such a pleasure to move into a house with a garden filled with indigenous Cape flora.  A pleasure, until I needed something to pluck in order to fill a few vases. Slim pickings indeed - a few proteas and pincushions left, and some wind-whipped lavender flowers and bruised arum lilies - and so I had to raid my friends' gardens, and my local supermarket, for gorgeous blooms. My mum, when she came to visit, lent me this beautiful fat-bellied silver jug (see picture above), which I filled with proteas, white gerberas and a few branches of exquisite indigenous silver leaves.

She also bought me several armfuls of old English roses from Ludwig's Roses, but because it was a very hot day, most of them had blown by the time I had a chance to take a photograph.  Here's a surviving bloom, in a very pretty slim single-bloom vase, also lent to me by my mum.
Christmas and Christmas Flowers

I recently borrowed some very beautiful napery from Cape Town designer Emma Wyngaard. I'm very taken by Emma's beautifully printed and carefully stitched linen runners, napkins and aprons, some featuring prints of old silver cutlery, and this one (below) with recipes. I've given Emma my phone number and address, so she can track me down to get her samples back, but little does she know that I have gave her fake details, because I intend to sneak away in the dead of the night, with every single item in my knapsack. Aren't her linens gorgeous?

Christmas and Christmas Flowers

Christmas and Christmas Flowers

Christmas and Christmas Flowers

Christmas recipes from this blog:

Tweeting Christmas recipes: the fun, the festivities, and the failure

Christmas Gammon Glazed with Brandy and Coke

Layered Christmas Ice-Cream Cake with White Chocolate and Berries

Festive Phyllo Crackers with a Spicy Plum and Almond Filling

Christmassy Plum and Tamarind Sauce

Festive Turkey Stuffing with Green Peppercorns, Pork Sausage, Apple and Thyme

Mango and Macadamia Turkey Stuffing with Sage and Sausage Meat

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Saturday 26 November 2011

A Salad of Scotch Quails' Eggs in Straw-Potato Nests

I had never tasted a proper home-made Scotch egg until I married an Englishman*, and his mother Audrey Rayner made a clutch of them for a picnic. They were the shape of small rugby balls, crisp and golden, and inside the shells of spicy pork-sausage meat were whole eggs cooked to perfection, their yolks as yellow and fluffy as the centre of a daisy. This is a dish that takes a bit of effort and split-second timing. (And if you leave out the potato nests, these make excellent low-carb snacks.)

  Salad of Scotch Quail's Eggs in Straw Potato Nests
Scotch Quails' Eggs in Straw-Potato Nests
I was instantly smitten by this classic English picnic food and I ate three of them, with dabs of Mrs Balls Chutney, as I sat on on a tartan blanket on the slopes of Table Mountain, swigging warm tea from a (tartan-patterned) thermos flask. Audrey was probably a bit dismayed at how many of the Scotch eggs I wolfed that day, but I couldn't help myself.  They were very, very good, like all the proper English food that flowed from Audrey's kitchen, and I'm really sorry I didn't plague her for her secret formula before she passed away a few years ago. She would willingly have given me the recipe - really good and accomplished home cooks never mind sharing - but somehow I never got around to asking her.

I've done my best to recreate that delicious porky casing in this recipe. It's a daintier version of Audrey's one, using quails' eggs, newfangled salad greens and a nest of straw potatoes, and while it may not have the retrolicious appeal of cold Scotch eggs swaddled in tin foil and eaten while ants crawl over your legs, I promise there will be a few squeals of delight - from children, at least - when you bring the dish to the table.

I am interested to learn that the English department store Fortnum and Mason takes credit for inventing the Scotch egg in 1738.  I can't find any evidence online to back up this claim, nor any reference explaining why they are called 'Scotch'  eggs.  Wikipedia claims that the first printed recipe for Scotch eggs appeared in Maria Rundell's 1807 book A New System of Domestic Cookery, and here it is. Mrs Rundell's recipe is just five lines long, and uses anchovies or 'scraped ham' to flavour the forcemeat casing for the eggs, although it makes no mention of a breadcrumb coating.  'Fry of a beautiful yellow brown,' she says, 'and serve with good gravy in the dish.'

Quail's eggs, being so small, need to be cooked with some care so you don't end up with yolks like yellow bullets. For eggs with perfect centres, and no nasty green rings, exactly follow the cooking time I've given below. I have specified more eggs than you need to allow for breakages and other mishaps.

Salad of Scotch Quail's Eggs in Straw Potato Nests
20 quails’ eggs
12 good-quality pork sausages
6 fresh sage leaves, very finely minced
the finely grated zest of a lemon
a pinch of cayenne pepper (or more, to taste)
a pinch of allspice (optional)
a quarter of a whole nutmeg, very finely grated
salt and milled black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup (125 ml) flour
1 cup fine dry breadcrumbs (Panko crumbs are ideal)
6 potatoes
sunflower oil for deep frying
2 bags of mixed green salad leaves, or enough for 8 people
a vinaigrette or salad dressing of your choice

Bring a large, deep pot of water to a gentle rolling boil.  Put all the eggs in a large metal sieve, immerse it very slowly in the boiling water, then very gently tilt the sieve so all the eggs roll out into the boiling water. (If you do this too quickly, the water will come off the boil and your timing will be ruined.) Boil the eggs for exactly two minutes and 20 seconds (set a timer!). Pour off the boiling water and fill the pot to the brim with cold water from the tap. Leave the pot under a trickling cold tap for 7 minutes, allowing the water to spill over the edges.

Drain the eggs, gently crack the shells and peel them. The shells should come away easily, but if they do not, peel them under cold running water. Pat the eggs dry and set aside.

Squeeze the meat out of the sausage skins and place in a mixing bowl. Add the sage, lemon zest, cayenne pepper, allspice and nutmeg, mix well, and season with salt and black pepper. Before you enclose the eggs, check the seasoning of the sausage meat by pinching off a marble-sized piece, flattening it into a patty and frying it in hot oil. Add more salt, pepper and spice, if necessary, and to taste.

Divide the sausage meat into 16 equal portions. Roll a portion into a ball, flatten it in the palm of your hand to make a patty and put a cooked quail’s egg on top.  Gently wrap the the meat around the egg to enclose it completely, pinching the mixture to close any gaps. Now roll the ball delicately between your palms to create a pleasing egg shape. Repeat with the remaining eggs.  Put the eggs on a plate, cover with clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes to firm up.

Place the flour on one large plate, the beaten eggs on another, and the breadcrumbs on the third plate. Roll the Scotch eggs in the flour and shake to remove the excess. Dip the eggs in the beaten egg yolk, then roll them gently in the breadcrumbs, patting down gently so that the crumbs stick.  Half fill a narrow-sided pot with sunflower oil and heat it to 165ºC. (If you don’t have a cooking thermometer, click here for deep-frying tips). Fry the eggs, four or five at a time, for four and a half minutes, or until crisp and golden brown. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

Next make the straw potatoes. Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, cut the potatoes – no need to peel them – into slices 3 mm thick. Place the slices in stacks and cut them vertically into very slim 'matchsticks'. Dry the matchsticks by squeezing them gently in a clean tea towel.  Heat the oil again and fry the matchstick potatoes, in three or four batches, for 2-3 minutes, or until they are golden and crisp. Drain well on several layers of kitchen paper and season generously with salt and pepper (or any highly seasoned salt you have in your cupboard).

To assemble the salad, arrange the leaves on a large salad platter. Pile the matchstick potatoes in a ring in the centre of the platter, and heap the warm Scotch eggs in the middle. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the leaves and serve immediately.

Serves 8. 

* My husband may have been born an Englishman, but actually he only lived in England for 8 years, and has been a South African for 43 years. The only trace of English about him these days is his ridiculous passion for Manchester United, and his fondness for steamed puddings and blackcurrants. Oh, and he also says 'yoggit' and 'tea towel' not 'yo-gert' and 'dish cloth'.

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Tuesday 15 November 2011

Pork-Shoulder Casserole, and the patient cook

I was smitten by the slow-cooked goulash-style pork casserole my friend Tracey Hawthorne made for me when I visited her for an evening of wine-quaffery last Friday. I was filled with appreciation not only because she'd made it with her usual love and gusto, but also because this dish - and the two other courses Tracey made - had all the hallmarks of an accomplished cook who has spent many, many years in the kitchen making good food for family and friends.
 Pork-Shoulder Cassero

Producing a heartwarming dish of excellent simplicity and deep, lip-smacking flavour isn't something you can learn to do overnight. Making food like this - and, even more important, serving it piping hot, perfectly cooked and on time, with minimal kitchen-faffing - requires planning, technique and a lot of experience, not to mention a knowledge of food and flavour and a deft touch with spicing and seasoning. (It certainly can't be learned from watching TV chefs perform their 30-minute, 6-ingredient 'miracles'. This is a cherished hobbyhorse that I will climb on to another time; suffice to say that I think it's a crying, sobbing shame that so many young people are learning to cook by watching reality television. These skills have to be learned at the elbow of an expert - preferably your grandmother or mother, although an esteemed cookery school, a mountain of good cookbooks or many years of slogging in the kitchen will suffice.)

Anyhow, back to Tracey. My talented friend (who now is the sole writer on Salmagundi, my first blog, which we co-wrote for several years before I decided to focus on food) has lived in a lovely old house in the Swartland village of Riebeek Kasteel for many years. This year, in between working flat-out as a freelance writer and editor and keeping readers of her blog in stitches, Tracey revamped both her house and her garden (read about the renovations here and here).

I was very taken by the magnificent mosaics on the new fish pond and fire pit in her Zen-Karoo garden, the work of Cape artist Jill Gordon-Turner (click on the link to have a look at more of  her beautiful work). The pond mosaic includes indigenous plants (a protea, disa and gasteria), a Swartland scene, a favourite motto contibuted by Tracey's daughter Isabella, and a binding rune selected by her son Daniel.  The circular firepit, with its licking blue flames, carries Tracey's word-contribution to the garden project: 'geselligheid' (meaning, loosely, conviviality).

Mosaic by Jill Gordon-Turner

Mosaic by Jill Gordon-Turner

Tracey is famous for her brilliant (okay, legendary) parties - at least, among those who can remember a thing the next morning - and these always start off with excellent food. When you arrive at her house, there is no inkling, apart from some lovely drifting aromas, that a feast is on its way. The massive old-wood kitchen counter is wiped clean, the dishwasher is humming and Tracey is sitting calmly on the veranda surrounded by numerous cats and dogs and getting started on a bottle of wine. Then, as if by magic, the food arrives at the table, delicious mountains of it, and every dish perfect. Again, this is a sure sign of an experienced cook and entertainer: clever planning and hours of hard work in advance. Apart from the pork-shoulder casserole (recipe below) Tracey made an entire tray of nutmeggy spinach cannelloni cloaked in mozzarella and Parmesan (her idea of a starter for four people) and a most luscious, boozy chocolate mousse in a bowl the size of a swimming pool.

I don't want to go on and on blowing Tracey's trumpet (we don't want her getting a big head, now) but there really are very few home cooks I know who can turn out a feast of this sort without spending half the meal fiddling around in the kitchen and entirely neglecting their guests in the process. Among these kitchen champions are my mother Jenny Hobbs, my aunt Gilly Walters, and my talented friends Judy Levy and Mike and Michele Karamanof.

Knowing how to cook food slowly and patiently, and taking great care over it, is in danger of becoming a dying art, in my opinion. But more about that - and the curse of reality TV cooking - in another post.

 Pork-Shoulder Cassero

Here's Tracey's dish, which she has adapted from a recipe by Jamie Oliver.  Normally I can't resist formatting and tweaking a recipe, but I give it to you as she gave it to me, because it can't be improved.

Goulash-style Pork Shoulder

'You need about a 2 kg pork shoulder, deboned, rind removed but fat left on. Score the fat in a diamond pattern, rub it generously with olive oil, salt and pepper, and place it fat side down in a big deep preheated ovenproof casserole, over a medium-high flame, for about 15 mins, to render the fat.

'Remove the pork. In the same ovenproof casserole, fry up (you can add some more olive oil if necessary): a couple of red onions, sliced; 2 red chillies, seeds removed and chopped; smoked paprika (be careful – it’s easy to overdo it and you don’t want the smoked paprika taste to completely overwhelm the dish; I use about 2 heaped teaspoons); some caraway seeds; a nice handful of fresh oregano or marjoram; a mix of peppers (2 red, 2 yellow, 1 green); either a jar of grilled peppers or a jar of marinated peppers (depending on what you can get), chopped; and a tin of plum tomatoes. Once this has become nice and sticky, replace the pork, fat side down. Add a very generous splash of red wine vinegar (about 1/3 cup) and enough water just to  cover the pork. Stir everything around so the pork is immersed in the veggies.

'Cook at 180ºC for at least 2½ hours. Test the pork with a fork – it should fall apart. Cook it for a bit longer if it doesn’t.

'I serve this with creamy mashed potatoes and a chickpea/cucumber/yoghurt/garlic salad.'

Serves 6.

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Friday 4 November 2011

Chakalaka Soup with Little Boerewors Balls

My upside down, inside-out version of a much-loved traditional dish. Chakalaka is a highly spiced Southern African vegetable relish usually eaten cold as an accompaniment to braaied (barbecued) meat. Here I've reinvented it as a soup bursting with punchy flavours. Topped with juicy mini-meatballs made from the squeezed-out insides of boerewors, this is a dish that will bring tears to the eyes of chakalaka devotees (and more so if you increase the quantity of fresh chillies specified in my recipe).

Chakalaka Soup with Little Boerewors Balls
Chakalaka, said to have been invented by Johannesburg's migrant mine workers, usually includes chillies, peppers and curry spices, plus - depending on who's making it - carrots, beans, cabbage, and so on.

You may be wondering why I've turned a relish into a soup. Well, because I love soup, I really do. Also, I like turning recipes around to see what happens.

This soup is good on its own, but the little spicy meatballs make it special. (I'm  grateful to my friend Nina Timm of My Easy Cooking for showing me how to make instant boerie balls.)

You can leave the baked beans out of the soup, if you like (as I did in the photographs, because I wasn't in the mood for beans) but I recommend including them because they help thicken the soup. If you can't find authentic South African boerewors, use a raw, loose-textured sausage and, before you roll it into balls,  mix in a teaspoon or so of toasted ground coriander, plus some of the spices listed in this recipe.

This is also very good with chopped green beans and cauliflower florets. If you don't have tomato juice, use a tin or two of chopped Italian tomatoes and a little tomato paste instead.

The chickpea flour and spices are used to give the meatballs a nice toasty crust. Chickpea flour, also known as channa flour, is available from spice shops.

Chakalaka Soup with Little Boerewors Balls

3 Tbsp (45 ml) sunflower oil
4 carrots, peeled
3 small green peppers, finely sliced lengthways
4 onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
1 green or red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (or more, to taste)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 Tbsp (30 ml) grated fresh ginger
6 large, ripe tomatoes
4 cups (1 litre) tomato juice (the sort you’d use for a tomato cocktail)
3 cups (750 ml) water or vegetable stock
2 tins baked beans in tomato sauce
2 tsp (10 ml) medium-strength curry powder
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) cumin
salt and milled black pepper
½ cup (125 ml) finely chopped fresh parsley or coriander

For the boerewors balls: 
500 g slim boerewors, or similar sausage
½ cup (125 ml) channa [chickpea] flour
1 tsp (5 ml) paprika
½ tsp (2.5 ml) turmeric

Heat the oil in a large pot. Dice two of the carrots and set the others aside. Fry the diced carrots, pepper slices, onions, celery, chilli, ginger and garlic over a medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes, or until softened but not brown. Roughly chop the tomatoes, place in a blender and pulse to form a rough purée. Pour the purée, the tomato juice and the stock into the pot and cook at a brisk bubble for 30 minutes, skimming off any foam as it rises. Stir in the baked beans, curry powder and cumin, season to taste with salt and pepper and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

For the meatballs, squeeze the boerewors filling from its casing and roll into balls the size of a marble. Combine the channa flour, paprika and turmeric on a plate and lightly roll the balls in the mixture. Fry in hot oil over a medium heat for 4 minutes, or until cooked through. Drain on kitchen paper. Coarsely grate the remaining two carrots. Serve the soup piping hot, topped with hot frikkadels, grated carrot and a shower of parsley.

Serves 8. 

Chakalaka Soup with Little Boerewors Balls

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Friday 28 October 2011

Perfect Padkos: Spicy Frikkadels with a Surprise

Everyone loves a frikkie, or a kofta, or whatever name you give to this delicious, much-loved South African snack. A melting nugget of feta cheese wrapped in fresh mint is the surprise inside these lightly spiced meatballs.

Spicy Frikkadels with a Surprise
Perfect Padkos: Spicy Frikkadels with a Surprise
Frikkies are a very important component of padkos. This is an Afrikaans word that is impossible to translate, although its literal meaning is 'road food'. But padkos is so much more than just food for the road.  Most often, you'll take padkos in the car with you on a long trip, but you can also use the word to describe any food you'd take to eat on the hoof. Or on a plane, or a train.

I have fond memories of the long train trips I used to take when I was a student at Rhodes University in the early 1980s. The final leg of the journey involved changing trains at Alicedale, a small railway town in the Eastern Cape. The train that used to run between Alicedale and Grahamstown was pulled by an ancient Puffing Billy that toiled so slowly up the hills that you could hop off and jog alongside the train without any fear of being left behind. On one occasion, half starved, having spent all my pocket money the previous day, I was delighted to see the auntie sitting in the seat opposite me hauling out a big, battered polystyrene cooler box. She and her daughter, who both looked like overstuffed sofas in their floral crimplene dresses, carefully unpacked a wonderful assortment of padkos, including chilled grapes, sandwiches, vetkoek, lemonade and big plastic blikkie [box] lined with foil and filled to the brim with juicy-looking frikkadels. Then, without so much as offering me a taste, they methodically demolished the lot, dolefully chewing on their meatballs all the way to Grahamstown, their bovine eyes fixed on a point six inches above my head.

I asked my friends on Twitter to help me define #padkos. The best suggestion, from @NixDodd, was, 'The refreshing victuals packed to sustain travellers on the long South African roads."   Spot on: 'victuals' is an excellent word for describing this sort of food.

And what, I asked Twitter, constitutes proper padkos? There are too many victuals to list here, but the most popular items included hard-boiled eggs (with salt in a twist of foil), egg- or chicken-mayonnaise sandwiches, frikkadels, biltong, cold boerewors, pork sausages, crisps, rusks, samoosas, naartjies, moerkoffie in a flask (preferably sweetened with condensed milk), toffees, sweets and cold chicken drumsticks. All these suggestions were tweeted with great fondness and nostalgia, revealing just how important a part padkos plays in South Africa's culinary heritage.

If you're still not convinced by the idea of cold meatballs, try my special formula (although you may want to leave out the cheese if they're going to be eaten on the road). You can make these with minced lamb, beef, or pork or – best of all – a combination of beef and pork.

Prepare the raw frikkadels up to 12 hours ahead and keep them covered in the fridge. These need to be fried and then finished off in the oven, or they will darken in the pan before they’re cooked right through. The chickpea and spice dusting helps to create a rich golden crust. Chickpea flour is available from health shops and spice shops. But you can, of course, use ordinary flour.

Spicy Frikkadels with a Surprise
The middles of these frikkies contain a nugget of feta and a mint leaf

Spicy Frikkadels with a Surprise

1 large egg
5 Tbsp (75 ml) natural yoghurt
1 cup (250 ml) fresh white breadcrumbs
750 g minced beef, lamb or pork
1 small onion, peeled and finely grated
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
½ cup (125 ml) finely chopped fresh coriander
1 tsp (5 ml) finely grated lemon zest
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) ground coriander
½ tsp (2.5 ml) chilli powder, or more, to taste
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) salt
milled black pepper
100 g feta cheese, cut into 1-cm cubes
a small bunch of fresh mint
sunflower oil, for frying

For the 'crust':
½ cup (125 ml) chickpea (channa) flour
1 tsp (5 ml) turmeric
1 tsp (5 ml) paprika

Whisk the egg and yoghurt in a large mixing bowl, stir in the breadcrumbs and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Now add the mince, onion, garlic, coriander, lemon zest, spices, salt and black pepper to taste. Using your hands, squish everything together to make a fairly firm paste.

To form the meatballs, pinch off a ball the size of a large litchi. Slightly flatten it in the palm of your hand, place a mint leaf on top, and on top of that a cube of feta. Gently squeeze and pinch the mixture to fully enclose the filling then roll it, very gently, between your palms to form a ball. Put them in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.

Heat the oven to 180º C. Mix the chickpea flour, turmeric and paprika together a plate and season to taste with salt and pepper. Roll the meatballs, eight at a time, in the seasoned flour and dust off the excess. Fry in hot oil, in batches, for 3-4 minutes, or until crusty and golden brown all over, draining on kitchen paper. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet and roast in the hot oven for 5-7 minutes, or until cooked right through.

Stick a toothpick into each one and serve hot or cold, with Lemon-Yoghurt Dipping Sauce

Serves 8 as a snack.

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Friday 14 October 2011

Thief-proof Nachos Towers with Avocado and Mint

There’s a crucial design fault to one of the best snack dishes invented: the person who pulls off the first tortilla chip usually snaffles half the melted cheese.  I'm always reminded of Linus dolefully dragging his blanket behind him when I see a great sheet of Cheddar vanishing from the top of the nachos pile into one lucky person's mouth.

Arguments break out in our house for this reason whenever I make stacked nachos for my sons and their friends (which I do quite often, because this dish could have been designed with famished teens in mind).

I've solved the problem by making vertically stacked nachos towers which guarantee that each person gets all the molten cheese she or he deserves. This is a somewhat fiddly recipe because you need to line the muffin tins with paper strips to make them easy to lift out, and so they won't stick, but it's well worth the effort.  These also make a good snack to go with drinks because you can assemble them an hour or two ahead and sling them in the oven when your guests arrive.  Make the avocado topping no less than an hour before you're going to serve it, and feel free to brighten it up with interesting ingredients of your choice - bottled chillies, fresh coriander, crumbled bacon, and so on.

Thief-proof Nachos Towers with Avocado

500 g packet plain tortilla chips
480 g Cheddar

For the topping:
2 Tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice
2 large, ripe avocados
2 ripe tomatoes
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 Tbsp (30 ml) finely chopped fresh coriander
salt and milled black pepper
100 ml sour cream
24 small mint leaves

Heat the oven to 180ºC. Lightly oil a large sheet of greaseproof baking paper on one side and cut it into 24 strips each 25 cm long and 3 cm wide. Now lightly oil two 12-serving muffin pans. Line each pan with a strip of paper, oiled side up, by pressing the centre of strip across the base and sides, allowing the two ends to poke up out of the pan. These strips will let you lift out the nachos, and prevent them from sticking.

Coarsely grate the cheese on big board and divide it into 24 equal little piles. Press down lightly on each pile. Each stack will use 3 servings of cheese. To make a stack, put a chip on the board and top it with a pile of cheese. Add another chip, and another pile of cheese. Add a third chip, and top off the stack with a third serving of cheese. Press down very lightly. Drop the stack into a lined muffin pan and repeated with the remaining chips. Bake at 180ºC for 7-10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted. Put the lemon juice in a bowl.

Remove the flesh from the avocados, cut into neat 5 mm cubes and toss them in the lemon juice. Cut a cross in the tops of the tomatoes and put them in a bowl of boiling water for 3 minutes. Slip off the skins and dice neatly. Add to the bowl along with the chopped chilli and coriander, mix gently together and season with salt and pepper. Remove the stacks from the muffin pans and gently peel away the paper. Arrange the stacks on a platter and top each one with a tablespoon of the avocado mix, a blob of sour cream, and a small mint leaf. Serve immediately.

Serves 8 as a snack.

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