Monday 25 April 2011

Spiced Butterflied Chicken with Saffron and Yoghurt

This is an easy oven-baked dish that adds great flavour and succulence to a whole chicken. It doesn't take long to prepare, but it does need to marinate in its spicy, yoghurty cloak for two to three hours.

Spiced Butterflied Chicken with Saffron and Yoghurt
I'm a great fan of thick natural white yoghurt, especially in savoury dishes, not only because it has a lovely texture and taste but also because of its amazing tenderising qualities.

It's taken me several tries to get this new recipe right, because yoghurt is a tricky ingredient. It tends to curdle at heat, and even more so when combined with one of the great loves of its life, namely lemon juice. I can't promise you won't have some degree of curdliness (I know that isn't a word, although it should be) but if you roast the chicken in a moderate oven it should turn out perfectly.

This recipe is based on my marinade for butter chicken, described here, although I've added saffron to the mix. The reason some people have an aversion to saffron is, I think, because restaurant chefs have a somewhat heavy hand with it, even though it's such an expensive spice. The trick with saffron is to use just a tiny pinch of threads - and by that I mean a smidgen; perhaps 8 to 10 threads, depending on the quality of the saffron you've bought. Those delicate filaments may look as if they won't add much flavour to your dish, but just a whisper of saffron packs a powerful punch. If you don't like - or don't have, or can't afford - saffron, leave it out, and use one to two teaspoons of turmeric instead.

Don't be tempted to add more than one slice of lemon to the roasting pan, or it will make the pan juices bitter.

If you can't find a butterflied chicken - what is charmingly called a 'flattie' in South Africa - ask your butcher to butterfly it for you. Or buy a whole chicken and do it yourself: it's very easy. Here are some good written instructions.

This is delicious with boiled new potatoes and a simple salad of dark leaves dressed with the hot pan juices (the ones in the picture are red-vein sorrel, which I grow in pots).

Spiced Butterflied Chicken with Saffron and Yoghurt

1 large free-range chicken, fat trimmed, and butterflied
a thin slice of lemon, peel and all
3 bay leaves
a large sprig of fresh thyme
1 cup (250 ml) thick white yoghurt
2 fat cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
2 T (30 ml) grated fresh ginger
the juice of a large lemon
1 tsp (5 ml) chilli powder (or more, to taste)
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) garam masala
1 tsp (5 ml) coriander
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cinnamon
a pinch of saffron threads (or 1½ tsp [7.5 ml] turmeric]
salt and freshly milled black pepper
a little melted butter, for basting

To serve:
chopped fresh coriander [cilantro]
lemon wedges

Using a sharp knife, make deep slashes in the thighs, breasts and drumsticks of the butterflied chicken. Lay it in a roasting pan and tuck the lemon slice, bay leaves and fresh thyme sprig underneath. In a bowl, mix together the yoghurt, garlic, ginger, lemon juice and all the spices. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the mixture over the chicken and rub it into the skin, pressing it deeply into the cuts. For even more flavour, gently separate the breast skin from the meat and spread some of the marinade into the 'pocket' you've made. Cover the pan with clingfilm, place it in the fridge and allow to marinate for two hours, or longer (but no more than four).

Spiced Butterflied Chicken with Saffron and Yoghurt
Sprinkle a few pinches of extra chilli powder, cumin, black pepper and sea salt over the top of the chicken. Roast at 160ºC for an hour and fifteen minutes, or until cooked through. (Check by inserting the point of a sharp knife into the deepest part of the thigh: if the juices run clear and there's no sign of pinkness next to the bone, the chicken is cooked). Every twenty minutes, baste the chicken, using a pastry brush or a big spoon, with the pan juices and a little melted butter.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Cut into portions, scatter with some freshly chopped coriander and serve hot, with lemon wedges.

Serves 4

Cook's note: Line the bottom of the dish with good baking paper, which will make it easier to clean.
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Monday 18 April 2011

Hot-Cross-Buns Bread-and-Butter Pudding with Pears

Here's an excellent way to use up left-over hot cross buns: slice them, butter them, add a tin of pears, then cloak them in a custard made with cream and the pear syrup. I came up with this recipe yesterday as I was on the point of throwing out six hot cross buns I'd hidden in a cupboard and forgotten about. This pud has a nice, light texture and is pleasantly spicy - but you don't have to add a thing because all the spice - and the raisins - are already there in the Hot Cross Buns.  I've added lemon zest to the custard to cut through the richness of the spices, and the pears because I think South African tinned pears are quite delicious.  Lovely piping hot, with enormous dollops of cream.

Hot Cross Buns Bread-and-Butter Pudding with Pears

6 hot cross buns
75 ml (75 g) softened butter
1 x 410g tin of pears, cubed (reserve the syrup)
the finely grated zest of a lemon
4 free-range eggs
1 cup (250 ml) cream
150 ml milk
4 Tbsp (60 ml) caster sugar
200 ml reserved pear syrup (see below)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) smooth apricot jam, for glazing

Heat the oven to 160 ºC. Slice the buns into 7-mm-thick slices, and generously butter each slice on one side. Arrange the slices in a 24-cm pie dish or baking dish, in overlapping rings.

Tuck the pear cubes in amongst the slices. Sprinkle the lemon zest all over the slices.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, milk, caster sugar and 200 ml of the pear syrup. (If there isn't enough in the tin, make it up to 200 ml with some extra milk). Strain the custard through a sieve over the hot cross bun slices. Cover with clingfilm and allow to stand for half an hour.

Place the pudding in a bain-marie (a roasting dish filled with water; it should come three-quarters of the way up the sides of the dish) and bake at 160º C for about 40 minutes, or until the pudding is set but still has a delicate wobble in the middle.

Just before you take the pudding out of the oven, gently heat the apricot jam in a saucepan (or in the microwave) until it is runny.  Use a pastry brush to paint the hot jam all over the top of the pudding.

Serve right away with flurries of whipped cream, or with vanilla ice cream.

Serves 6.

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Friday 15 April 2011

Spiced Baked Aubergines with Yoghurt and Pomegranate Seeds

Every family has a handful of famous recipes, and a famous recipe in my family is my brother-in-law Freddy's Aubergines with Garlic Yoghurt. (We call them brinjals, as do most people in South Africa.) Freddy, who is of Cypriot descent, always makes this excellent dish for family gatherings, along with his equally famous Smashed Olives).

Spiced Baked Aubergines with Yoghurt and Pomegranate Seeds
Spiced Baked Aubergines with Yoghurt and Pomegranate Seeds

Freddy's recipe involves salting and rinsing thick slices of brinjal, frying them in hot oil until crisp and golden, then layering them in a dish with thick, garlicky yoghurt and few secret ingredients. (I assume he has secret ingredients, because when I make this, it doesn't taste half as good as Freddy's.)

This recipe is a variation on the theme, except that I have added lemon thyme, and lightly spiced the slices with some warming flavours of the middle east. The combination of aubergines, cumin, coriander and yoghurt brings to mind Persan cuisine, so I've also added a scattering of fresh pomegranate seeds, which pop gloriously in your mouth and provide a bright crunchy contrast to the silken centres of the brinjal slices.

Also, I've baked these, not fried them, to prevent the spices from turning bitter in the pan.

This is a good party dish because you can prepare the brinjals in advance and keep them, covered, in the fridge until you're ready to bake them. You will find that the slices suck up the oil like blotting paper (especially if you haven't degorged them; see below), but don't be tempted to add more before you bake the dish: I promise they'll be beautifully golden and crispy-edged when they come out of the oven.

It's not strictly necessary to degorge the brinjals before you bake them (today's modern varieties are not as bitter as the brinjals yesteryear) but I have found that this process helps to prevent the slices from absorbing too much oil. Choose firm, tight-skinned brinjals with a dark glossy skin, and not too big.

A very rich, creamy Greek yoghurt is essential. Use ordinary thyme if you can't find lemon thyme.

The sumac sprinkled on the slices at the end of cooking gives them a lovely tang. Sumac is available at good delis and spice shops, but if you can't find it, leave it out. Smoked paprika is now widely available, but you can use ordinary paprika. As always, use very, very fresh cumin and coriander (and by that I mean that you bought them less than a week ago!).

Spiced Baked Aubergines with Yoghurt and Pomegranate Seeds

4 medium aubergines
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
⅓ cup (80 ml) olive oil
1.5 tsp (7.5 ml) cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) coriander
½ tsp (2.5 ml) smoked paprika
½ tsp (2.5 ml) chilli powder (or more, if you'd like some real heat)
milled black pepper
8 sprigs of lemon thyme
1 tsp (5 ml) sumac

To serve:
thick natural Greek yoghurt
fresh pomegranate seeds
extra olive oil
lemon wedges

Heat the oven to 180 ºC. Remove the tops and tails of the aubergines and cut them into 1-cm thick discs. Sprinkle the slices with the salt, place them in a colander, put a small plate on top and allow to degorge for half an hour. Pat them dry with a piece of kitchen paper (but don't rinse them).

In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, chilli powder and pepper. Take a spoonful of the oil and smear it across the bottom of a baking sheet. Rub each slice, top and bottom, with a little of the remaining oil. Arrange the slices on the baking sheet, scatter over the thyme sprigs and season quite generously with black pepper.

Spiced Baked Aubergines with Yoghurt and Pomegranate Seeds
Brush the aubergine slices with the spiced olive oil. 
Bake the slices at 180 ºC for 25 minutes. Now turn the heat down to 160 ºC and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the slices are golden and rustling on the outside and soft and silky inside. Crumble the now-dry thyme leaves over the slices and discard the stalks. Sprinkle the sumac over the slices and season with salt, if necessary (but remember they may be salty enough after degorging).

Arrange the slices on a plate. Add dollops of yoghurt and drizzle with a little extra olive oil. Scatter with pomegranate seeds and serve piping hot or warm, with lemon wedges.

Serves 6 as a starter or side dish.

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Wednesday 13 April 2011

Baby Mielies with Smoked Butter, Chillies, Lemon and Garlic

A flavour-packed cold butter dabbed on hot-off-the-braai baby mielies. Baby mielies are a vegetable I don't often buy because I've found they tend to be somewhat tasteless, even soapy. All that has changed recently, as I discovered when I bought a punnet of dear little ears of corn on impulse. My goodness, they were good: packed with nutty, sunshiney flavour, and so good I ate most of them raw.

Plate and espresso cup by David Walters

I imagine that this new breed of super-tasty mielie is the product of careful hybridisation. Whatever the case, I'm going to be buying them by the bucketload from now on.

They're lovely with plain butter and plenty of salt, but I'm such a fan of flavoured butters that I thought I'd add some vibrant Mexican flavours. Please try to get hold of some smoked butter, which adds a most delicious tweak to this dish. It's not something that's readily available; enquire at your local deli (or order in from Cape smokehouse Aphrodisiac Shack). If you can't find it, use 200 g salted butter.

This is lovely with boiled mielies, but there's something about the nutty taste of a braaied mielie that just cannot be matched. If you're not in the mood for firing up the braai, cook the mielies on a ridged, oiled griddle pan, over a high heat.

Baby Mielies with Smoked Butter, Chillies, Lemon and Garlic

two punnets of baby mielies, or 6 whole mielies cut into thirds

For the butter:

100 g salted butter, softened
100 g smoked butter, softened
2 red chillies, seeds removed, finely chopped
the finely grated zest of a lemon
a squeeze of lemon juice
a big clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 Tbsp (60 ml) finely chopped fresh coriander
salt and milled black pepper.

To make the flavoured butter, combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Go easy on the salt, though, as the butter is already salted. Pack the butter into a pretty little bowl and place in the fridge to firm up.

Braai [barbeque] the baby mielies over a medium flame, until just tender, or cook in a ridged griddle pan (see above).

Serve piping hot, with nuggets of cold butter.

Serves 6 as a starter or side dish.

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Tuesday 5 April 2011

Introducing my sparkly new Scrumptious Newsletter

If I've seemed rather quiet recently, it's because I've been slaving over Scrumptious News, my new venture.

Scrumptious News is an email newsletter delivered free to your inbox every fortnight or so, containing the freshest food news from South Africa and beyond. I'll be featuring the very best of local food blogs, interesting foodie news, a miscellany of fabulous recipes, and some top kitchen tips and hints. I'll also be offering you an assortment of links to all sorts of worthwhile sites -  food competitions and recipe challenges; cooking classes and demos; hot new international trends; inspiring recipes from celebrity chefs, and snippets of fascinating food-related and fine-dining news from all over the Internet.
Scrumptious News
Interested? I hope so. I'm asking you to support my new endeavour, and hope that you'll send me your comments, suggestions and queries. If you'd like to receive the newsletter free in your inbox, please add your email address to the form at the top left of this page. You can unsubscribe at any time in a single click.

If you'd like a preview of my Scrumptious Newsletter, here are links to two preliminary (and experimental!) newsletters I've sent out recently to food bloggers who requested them.
  • The latest letter - which you can view here - contains an editorial style sheet for food bloggers, and much more, including:  how to spell food words; helpful tips for measuring quantities for recipes; keyboard shortcuts for fractions; and a list of American equivalents for common South African ingredients. 
I'll be archiving all these newsletters on this blog, so you can browse them at your leisure. 
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Saturday 2 April 2011

Quick, Easy Fish Cakes with Tinned Tuna & Butter Beans

A rib-sticker that ticks every box in the family-recipe department: versatile, uses store-cupboard ingredients, packs a hefty nutritional punch, tastes like home and made in a jiffy. Well, almost a jiffy. Sure, you could fry a couple of frozen fish fingers faster than you can make these from scratch, but I promise it's worth spending an extra 15 minutes in the kitchen to prepare these scrunchy little numbers.

>> Click here to go straight to the recipe.

I love home-made fish cakes, whether they're delicate little salmon cakes, or springy, zingy Thai cakes, or - best of all - comforting mommy-style ones made with leftover flaked linefish and mashed potatoes, with plenty of fresh parsley and lemon juice.

But the trouble with the last variety of fish cake is that if you don't have leftover mash to start with, you have to faff around peeling and boiling potatoes, which is more effort than I'm prepared to make when I'm standing (with sore feet and a bad attitude) in front of the fridge, wondering what to make for supper. My answer is to use pureéd tinned butter beans.

Also, this is a versatile recipe, because you can add virtually anything you like: chopped capers or gherkins, grated onion, tinned or fresh sweetcorn kernels, freezer peas, fresh ginger, finely chopped green or red chillies, crumbled feta, grated Cheddar, or all manner of herbs and spices, such as chopped fresh parsley, chives, dill and mint, or warming powders such as cumin, coriander and turmeric.

Similarly, you can serve these with any sort of sauce (although I bet that anyone under the age of eight will be satisfied with a squirt of violent-red ketchup): a herby mayonnaise or tartare sauce, or a bright lemon-ginger vinaigrette, or a hot-sour-salty Asian dipping sauce.

The very best fish cakes are floured, egged and dipped in breadcrumbs before they're shallow-fried in hot oil, to achieve a super-crunchy golden crust. But this is family food, and I urge you not to waste your time on breadcrumbing. Dust the fish cakes lightly with seasoned flour just before you fry them in a good lick of sizzling-hot oil, and I promise they'll turn out with a lovely crispy skin.

This mixture is easier to handle if you leave it in the fridge to firm up for a few hours. If you have time before you go to work, mix it up in the morning and leave it in the fridge, covered, all day. Roll into small flat cakes, or burger-sized patties, as you please.

Quick, Easy Fish Cakes with Tinned Tuna & Butter Beans 

2 x 400 g tins butter beans, or similar white beans
1  clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1  free-range egg
2 tsp (10 ml) Dijon mustard
4 Tbsp (60 ml) white cake flour
the finely grated zest of a lemon
2 x 170 g tins solid-packed tuna, drained and flaked
½ cup (125 ml) finely chopped fresh parsley (or fresh herbs of your choice; see above)
salt and freshly milled black pepper

For dusting and cooking:
200 ml cake flour
salt and freshly milled pepper
sunflower or olive oil, for frying

To serve:
lemon wedges
a dressing, sauce or mayonnaise of your choice

Open one tin of butter beans. Drain the beans well in a colander and put them into the goblet of a food processor or liquidiser along with the garlic, egg, mustard and flour. Whizz at high speed until you have a fairly smooth purée. Now drain all the liquid from the second tin of beans and add them to goblet of the food processor. Press the 'pulse' button a few times to process everything to a thick, slightly chunky texture: there should be a few small lumps and bumps of beans. Tip this mixture into a mixing bowl and add in the lemon zest, flaked tuna and parsley. Using a large spoon or your hands, mix well to form a firm, chunky paste. Season generously with salt and pepper.

At this point, you can cover the mixture and put it in the fridge for a few hours to firm up. Or, you can shape the cakes and cook them right away.

Put the dusting flour into a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Generously sprinkle a chopping board with some of this seasoned flour. Pinch off portions of the tuna-bean paste and form into neat patties between your palms. (If you want perfectly formed patties, tip all of the paste onto the floured board, pat out to a thickness of 3 cm, and cut out circles with a cookie-cutter or the bottom of a drinking glass, as if you are making scones). Coat each cake with seasoned flour and shake or blow gently to remove any excess.

Heat the oil to a depth of 1-2 mm in a large frying pan. When the oil just begins to shimmer, add the fish cakes (in batches of three to six, depending on their size) and fry, over a medium to brisk heat, for a minute or two on each side, or until crispy and golden. Flip the cakes over and fry for another two minutes. Drain well and keep hot in the oven while you cook the remaining cakes.

Serve piping hot with lemon wedges, your choice of sauce or dressing, and a crisp green salad.

Serves 6. 

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