Sunday 29 May 2011

Oven-Baked Pork, Sage, Cider and Potato Stew

Oven-cooked Pork, Sage and Potato Stew
A tender-flavoured winter stew of pork, sage and apple, a well-loved combination that I like to think of as a polygamous marriage (with pork being the boy, of course, and sage and apple the spirited gals*).

Apple is without a doubt the senior wife in this flavour alliance, because few other ingredients have such an affinity with the juicy sweetness of pork. 'On a plate, these two are made for each other,' writes Niki Segnit in her brilliant book The Flavour Thesaurus. 'With a plate of proper roast pork, by which I mean one with a curly roof of crackling, your apple pulls back the curtains and throws open the window of your plate.'

Sage is an interesting but strident herb that works best when used sparingly. (In other words, an aggressive bitch among herbs; delicious in small doses.)

I almost always bake stews in the oven these days because I find that long slow cooking at a steady temperature produces a better result than a pot put over a flame. Oven-baked stews don't catch on the bottom of the pot, and you can neglect them as they gently burble to perfect tenderness. Do stir the stew now and then, though. Or reach into the oven with gloved hands and give the dish a firm shake.

Ask your butcher for the most suitable cut for this dish. I've made it several times using pork neck (and it's faintingly good) but I think, because this is such a mild-flavoured stew, a leaner cut is better suited.

* Please don't admonish me for this. After all, 'pork' is not a suitable name for a woman.

Oven-cooked Pork, Sage, Cider and Potato Stew

4 T (60 ml) oil (mild olive oil or sunflower oil)
2 T (30 ml) butter
4 leeks, white parts only, rinsed and sliced
two stalks of celery, finely sliced
4 large carrots, peeled and cubed
2 bay leaves
a large sprig of fresh sage (about 6 leaves)
an 8-cm sprig of fresh rosemary
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 kg lean pork (cut from the shoulder or leg), cubed, or in thick strips
3 T (45 ml) flour
2 cups (500 ml) dry cider (such as Strongbow)
2 cups (500 ml) water
½ cup (125 ml) clear apple juice (Liquifruit, or similar)
3 T (45 ml) Dijon mustard
1 tsp (5 ml) finely grated lemon zest
8 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
salt and freshly ground black pepper

To finish:

½ cup (125 ml) cream
the juice of a small lemon
a handful of chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 170ºC. Heat half (2 tablespoons) of the oil in a large, shallow ovenproof pan or casserole dish. Add the leeks, celery, carrots, bay leaves, sage, rosemary and a pinch of salt. Cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables have softened slightly. Don't allow the onions to catch or burn. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside.

Put the flour in a deep bowl and season with salt and black pepper. Add the pork and, using your hands, toss well so that every cube or strip is dusted with flour.

Add the remaining oil to the pan and turn up the heat. Brown the pork cubes, in several small batches, for a few minutes, or until they have developed a golden crust. Add more oil, if necessary. Push the browned cubes to one side of the pan while you brown the rest (or set them aside on a plate). If there is a lot of fat in the pan, tip all the cubes into a colander set over a sink and drain off the excess. Now return the vegetables, herb sprigs and set-aside pork to the pot. Mix the cider, water and apple juice in a jug and pour it into the pan, stirring briskly with a spoon or whisk to disperse any lumps. Bring to a gentle boil. Stir in the mustard and lemon zest. Add the peeled potatoes and season with more salt and black pepper, if necessary.

Mix everything together well, cover with a lid or tin foil and place in the oven. Cook for an hour at 170ºC. Open the oven, remove the lid, and give everything a good stir. Turn down the heat to 160ºC and cook for another half hour or so, stirring once or twice, or until the potatoes and meat are very tender, and the gravy has thickened a little. If the gravy seems too thin, put the pan on the hob and allow to bubble gently for ten minutes, or until it has reduced to your liking. Immediately before serving, stir in the lemon juice, cream and chopped parsley. Don't reheat on the stove, as the gravy may curdle. Serve piping hot, with a plain green salad, or some hot buttered peas.

Serves 8
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Wednesday 25 May 2011

Slow-Cooked Moroccan-Spiced Beef and Apricot Stew with Naartjie Couscous

This is a deeply savoury, tagine-style stew that needs many hours to cook, but is well worth waiting for. It's a melting, slow-cooked concoction ideal for a frosty winter night, packed with the singing flavours of North Africa.

Slow-Cooked Moroccan-Spiced Beef and Apricot Stew
This is one of the earliest recipes from my blog archive, and one I'd almost forgotten. I've recently resurrected it (the recipe definitely needed some tweaking, showing as it did some signs of an inexperienced hand with spicing) and photographed it, in response to a request from Yuppiechef's Spatula magazine.

The editor of Spatula drew my attention to Eat for the Earth, and asked me to contribute a few of my favourite recipes to this excellent initiative. What's this all about? Please head over to Eat for the Earth to find out more. (Here's a clue: it involves friends and lunch. And possibly a lot of wine.)

Anyway, back to the recipe. Please don't be put off by the prunes in this recipe: they are an essential ingredient, enriching and darkening the sauce as they dissolve. Prunes, like anchovies, are magical ingredients that should never be mentioned when someone says, 'My, this tastes amazing. What did you put in it?'

The couscous: 'naartjie' is the South African word for tangerine. South African naartjies are just delicious, and something of an iconic fruit in our country. You can, of course, use fresh oranges, but tangerines have a special zing and fragrance.

In this recipe, the spicing is done in two stages, for good reason. Because it's a dish that requires long, slow cooking, the spices tend to blur together after a few hours, fading into gentle background music. Half an hour before it's served, the dish is re-spiced and given a smart kick in the pants. Please use really fresh spices.

I've specified shin for this dish - an inexpensive cut that dissolves into the most tender and unctuous meat - but you can use stewing beef of any kind. Ask your butcher. Avoid ordinary chunks of steak ('goulash meat' it's called in South Africa) because it tends to turn stringy and dry after prolonged cooking.You can also make this with a nice cut of pork, such as pork neck, or with cubes of lean lamb.

Slow-Cooked Moroccan-Spiced Beef and Apricot Stew with Naartjie Couscous

For the spicing (added in two stages; please read recipe below)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) ground cinnamon
a generous pinch of saffron threads
2  Tbsp (30 ml) ground cumin
2  Tbsp (30 ml) ground coriander
1  Tbsp (15 ml) turmeric
1  Tbsp (15 ml) ginger

Combine all the spices, and then divide the mixture in half. Set aside.

For the stew: 
4 tsp (20 ml) vegetable oil
4 tsp (20 ml) butter
3 onions, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1.5 kg stewing beef (preferably boneless shin, see notes above), fat and sinew removed, and cubed
2½ cups (625 ml) stock (chicken, beef or vegetable)
1 cup freshly squeezed naartjie or orange juice
1 x 400g tin of Italian tinned tomatoes, chopped
10 prunes, depipped and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp (10 ml) honey
¾ cup (180 ml) dried apricots, roughly chopped

For the couscous: 
1 x 500g packet couscous
boiling water or stock, according to packet instructions
1 x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained
1 Tbsp (15 ml) finely chopped preserved lemon
the finely grated rind and juice of a naartjie or orange
the juice of a lemon
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml)  cumin
salt and freshly ground pepper

To top:
a handful of flaked, toasted almonds
finely chopped fresh coriander

Put the olive oil and butter into a big pot or pan and place over a high heat. When the oils have just stopped sizzling, turn down the flame a little and add the onions, garlic and ginger, and the set-aside half-quantity of spices (see above). Cook over a moderate heat, stirring often, until the onion softens and begins to turn golden. Don't allow the mixture to burn, which will make it bitter. Using a slotted spoon (so that fat drains back into the pan), remove the onion-spice mixture and set aside. Now turn up the heat and fry the beef, in batches, until it is lightly browned on all sides.

Return the onion mixture to the pan. Pour in the stock and add the naartjie juice, tinned tomatoes and prunes. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, and then immediately turn down the heat. Cover the pot with a tilted lid and turn down the heat to a low setting so that the stew bubbles gently.

Cook for three hours, stirring every now and then. The cooking time depends on the ferocity of your hob, but, as as a general guide: when the sauce is rich and slightly thickened, and the meat is very tender when nudged with a fork, it's time to do the second spicing. Remove the lid, add the remaining spice mix, and stir in the apricots and the honey. Allow the dish to simmer, uncovered, for another thirty minutes.

Twenty minutes before serving, make the couscous: Prepare the couscous according to the packet instructions, using hot water or a good stock.  Fluff up the grains with a fork and mix in the remaining couscous ingredients.  Toss well to combine.

To serve: tip the couscous into big warmed serving dish. Pile the beef stew on top, and top with toasted flaked almonds and a chopped fresh coriander.

Serves 6-8 Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Monday 23 May 2011

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Prosciutto, Fried Breadcrumbs and Aïoli

A pile of squeaky green beans dressed with lemon, olive oil and garlic is my idea of heaven on a plate. In this recipe, I've added a luxurious touch to the beans by topping them off with crunchy fried prosciutto, breadcrumbs and a flurry of pungent, garlicky home-made aïoli.

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Prosciutto, Fried Breadcrumbs and Aïoli
Michael Le Grange's photograph of my Lemony Green Beans with Aïoli. In this version of the recipe, from my cookbook, I added toasted, flaked almonds. Image © Random House Struik 2012. Bowl by David Walters.
As I mentioned in my previous post (Dill Baby Potatoes with Smoked-Salmon Mayonnaise) I'm a great fan of dishes that take a small quantity of a luxurious ingredient and spread it between many portions, and this is such a dish. Top-quality Italian prosciutto is very expensive, but you need only six large slices (although of course you are free to add more, if you're throwing caution to the wind).

Here, I've used Richard Bosman's excellent locally cured prosciutto, which is available in selected delis and other outlets in Cape Town. I know it may seem like heresy to fry prosciutto, but it is so splendidly crisp and flavoursome prepared this way that every time I taste it I want to fall into a dead faint.

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Prosciutto, Fried Breadcrumbs and Aïoli
Although authentic aïoli calls for olive oil only, I use a mixture of good fruity olive oil and sunflower oil for a lighter mayonnaise. Feel free to add more garlic, if you want your mayo to deliver a good punch in the nose.

You can serve these beans piping hot or at room temperature. If you're not serving them hot, don't omit the step of plunging them into iced water to set the colour.

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Prosciutto, Fried Breadcrumbs & Aïoli

two packs of young green beans (enough for six)
4 Tbsp (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
the juice of a lemon
salt and milled black pepper
six slices of prosciutto
two breadrolls
sunflower oil for frying

For the aïoli:
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
a pinch of salt
1 tsp (5 ml) Dijon mustard
150 ml light vegetable oil (such as sunflower or canola oil, or any other flavourless oil)
170 ml good, fruity olive oil
the juice of a lemon
a large clove of fresh garlic, finely grated (or more, to taste)
freshly milled black pepper

First make the aïoli. Put the two egg yolks into a small bowl (a ceramic soup bowl is ideal) and add the salt and mustard. Mix the vegetable oil and olive oil in a small jug with a sharp pouring nozzle. Place a damp cloth underneath the soup bowl so that it doesn't skid around while you're making the mayo. Using a rotary beater (electic whisk) beat the egg yolks and salt for a minute. If you don't have such a gadget, use an ordinary wire whisk, and plenty of elbow power.

Now, as you whisk the egg yolks with one hand, pick up the jug of oil with the other, and dribble a little splash of oil onto the yolks. Keep whisking and dribbling, a little splash at a time, with great energy, and within a few minutes you will see the egg mixture begin to thicken rather dramatically. Keep adding the oil, a dribble at a time, until you have a thick yellow ointment. You may not need to add all the oil: stop adding oil once the mayonnaise has thickened to your liking. Stir in the lemon juice, garlic and pepper, and add more salt if necessary. Set aside.

Fill a bowl with cold water and add to it a handful of ice cubes. Top and tail the beans. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and add the beans. Boil rapidly for 2-3 minutes, or until the beans are just tender. (How long you cook them will depend on the size and age of your beans.)

Drain the beans. If you're not serving this piping hot, immediately plunge them into the ice water. Leave in the water for three minutes, then drain and pat dry.

In the meantime, prepare the toppings.  Heat sunflower oil, to a depth of a millimetre, in a frying pan. When hot, but not smoking, add the prosciutto slices, a few at a time, and cook for a minute or so, or until frizzled and crisp. Drain on a piece of kitchen paper.  Now crumble the breadcrumbs into the hot oil and fry until crisp and golden (remember that they will carry on browning once you remove them from the heat, so don't let them get too dark). Drain on kitchen paper.

To serve, toss the beans in the olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.  Pile onto a platter (or onto individual plates) and top with the prosciutto and breadcrumbs.  Serve with a large dollop of aïoli.

Serves 6.

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Saturday 21 May 2011

Dill Baby Potatoes with Smoked-Salmon Mayonnaise, Deep-Fried Capers and Frizzled Dill

I'm a great fan of economical dishes that stretch a luxury ingredient between plenty of hungry people. Here's a new recipe I think you'll love: top-quality smoked salmon (or, in this case, local smoked trout) whizzed into an unctuous home-made mayonnaise, poured over hot new potatoes tossed in fresh dill, lemon juice and olive oil, and then topped with frizzled dill and crunchy deep-fried caper 'flowers'. You've never seen a mayo of such a pale and delicate pink!
Dill Baby Potatoes with Smoked-Salmon Mayonnaise, Deep-Fried Capers and Frizzled Dill
I can't resist lovely earthy baby potatoes, boiled until just tender, and this is a new variation on one of my all-time favourite recipes, Hot Garlicky New Potatoes with a Cold & Silken Tuna Sauce.

Please don't be put off by the idea of making your own mayonnaise. It's really easy to do, and once you get the hang of it you'll be making your own mayo once a week. (Here's some great advice about making mayonnaise.)  I've given instructions for using a blender or food processor here. If you don't have such a gadget, you'll need to make the mayo by hand, and pulverise the salmon with a mortar and pestle.

Dill Baby Potatoes with Smoked-Salmon Mayonnaise, Deep-Fried Capers and Frizzled Dill

In this dish, I've used Franschhoek company Three Streams's superb cold-smoked trout (which I think is one of the very best ingredients the Cape has to offer) but you can use any local brand of really good smoked salmon.

To my bafflement and disappointment, no one in my family really appreciates dill. I regard this as one of the Rolls Royces of herbs (along with thyme) and it maddens me that the ungrateful wretches turn their noses up at dishes containing more than a whisper of it. If you're faced with such philistines, used finely chopped fresh parsley or chervil instead. The Greek yoghurt is there to add a slight tang and lightness to the mayo, but you can leave it out if you like.

I love the contrast of hot potatoes and chilled mayonnaise, so I suggest you make the mayo a few hours in advance.

Dill Baby Potatoes with Smoked-Salmon Mayonnaise, Deep-Fried Capers and Frizzled Dill

For the mayonnaise:
2 large free-range egg yolks, at room temperature
a small pinch of sea salt
1 tsp (5 ml) Hot English mustard powder (or Dijon Mustard)
200 ml light vegetable oil (such as sunflower or canola oil, or any other flavourless oil)
100 ml good olive oil
the juice of a large lemon
6 large slices of smoked salmon, chopped
a little hot water (see recipe)
3 T (45 ml) thick Greek yoghurt

For the potatoes:
1.2 kg baby potatoes (or enough for six)
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
5 T (75 ml) olive oil
the juice of a lemon
salt and freshly milled black pepper
3 T (45 ml) finely chopped fresh dill (or parsley/chervil)

To garnish:
4 T (60 ml) light vegetable oil, such as sunflower oil
36 capers, drained of their brine
ten small sprigs of fresh dill
6 thin slices of smoked salmon

First make the mayonnaise. Put the egg yolks, salt and mustard powder into the (small) bowl or jug of a liquidiser, blender or food processor. (Or place them in a beaker, and use a stick blender.) Blend for a minute, until slightly frothy. Mix the vegetable oil and olive oil in a small jug with a pouring nozzle. Now slowly dribble the blended oils, in tiny increments to begin with, into the chute of the blender or food processor. Keep adding the oil, a little splash at a time, and within a few minutes you will see the egg mixture begin to thicken rather dramatically. At this point, add the oils in a slow and steady stream.  When the mixture becomes so thick that the blades of the liquidiser refuse to turn, add the lemon juice and smoked salmon pieces, and just enough hot water (add it teaspoon by teaspoon) to blend everything together into a thick, smooth, silky sauce. Season generously with black pepper, and add more salt if necessary. Decant into a mixing bowl, stir in the yoghurt and place in the fridge until you need it.

Put the new potatoes into a large pot, cover with cold water to which you have added the teaspoon of salt, and bring quickly to the boil. Turn down the heat slightly, and boil the potatoes briskly for 10-15 minutes, or until they are tender and cooked right through, but not falling apart.

Now make the fried capers and dill. Using a piece of kitchen paper, pat the capers quite dry. Heat the oil in a small sauce pan until very hot, but not smoking. Drop the dried capers into the oil and fry for a minute or so, or until they open up like flowers, and become very crispy. Remove the capers from the pan with a slotted spoon, drain well on kitchen paper and reserve. Add the dill sprigs to the oil, two at a time (stand back, as they will spit and sputter with great drama as they hit the oil).  Fry for 30-40 seconds, or until crisp.  Drain on kitchen paper and reserve.

Drain the new potatoes in a colander, and allow to cool for a five minutes. Cut them into thick slices, or halve them if they are very small. Place in a mixing bowl and add the olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Scatter the chopped dill over the potatoes and very gently toss together until each slice is coated with oil and herbs. Strew the fried capers and crisped dill over the top.

Arrange the warm potatoes in a heap on a big platter, arrange a few whole slices of salmon on top, and bring to the table with the bowl of chilled salmon mayonnaise.

Serves 6 to 8. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday 19 May 2011

Quick, Easy Sandwich-Press Chicken Breasts for Kids (and Singletons)

Quick, Easy Sandwich-Press Chicken Breasts for Kids and Singletons
Oh, how I wish I'd discovered this when my kids were toddlers: here's how to cook a chicken breast, in a flash, between the plates of an ordinary sandwich press. (Not that it's too late: now that I've discovered this method, I'm merrily churning out low-fat, high-protein snacks for the teens in my life.)

If you live on your own, and can't be bothered to cook a proper meal for yourself, give this method a try.

Why, you might ask, cook a chicken breast in a sandwich press? Well, let's talk first about chicken breasts. They are quite expensive, I grant you that, but they are also a fabulous low-fat protein source for children and teenagers. And, besides, kids like them: almost every child I know - bar the very pickiest of eaters - will happily munch on tender, juicy, well-seasoned slices of chicken breast.

My teens are really enjoying these quick-cooked breasts on open sandwiches layered with crunchy ingredients (the picture above includes cucumber, dill, Parma Ham and a lovely mushroom-filled brie), or eaten as-is, in piping-hot strips, with a dollop of home-made mayonnaise.

And here's how to serve chicken-breast strips for toddlers and under-tens: hot, with crunchy fresh vegetables and big dollop of what I call Yoghurnnaise. This is a mixture that I make three or four times a week, and that my kids love: two-thirds natural yoghurt to one-third good mayonnaise (home made, or Hellman's), with a spritz of lemon juice, a whisper of garlic and some salt and pepper.

Quick, Easy Sandwich-Press Chicken Breasts for Kids and Singletons
Cooking chicken breasts this way is also so quick and convenient. First, the breast is done in half the normal time, because it's cooked simultaneously on both sides. Second, there is no tedious washing up of a frying or grill pan involved: all you need do is wipe down the non-stick surfaces of the sandwich press. Third, this is a tummy-filler that even a five-year-old child can make on his or her own, with little risk of burning, or setting clothes on fire, or getting an eyeful of spitting-hot fat. And last, most new sandwich presses heat very quickly, so this is a good way of saving energy.

You can cook these chicken breasts as they are, but they are better when well seasoned. I buy eight or ten chicken breasts at a time, flatten them (see below) and then toss them in a little lemon juice and olive oil, with a few fresh herbs and spices added to the mix. I store them in a lidded plastic container in the fridge, and the kids help themselves - and cook the breasts on their own - whenever they're hungry.

A tablespoon or two of natural yoghurt added to the marinating mixture helps to tenderise the breasts, but don't add too much, or the breasts will turn to mush after a day or two. You can use any of your favourite flavourings for the marinade - basil pesto, some lemon zest, commercial spice rubs, chilli flakes, mustard, and so on - but don't add any extra salt, which will make the breasts 'weep' in the fridge. If you've marinated the breasts, be sure to pat them quite dry with a piece of kitchen paper before you cook them.

Uncooked chicken breasts soaked in a slightly acidic marinade keep well in the fridge for up to four days, but should not be stored for longer than that.

Flattened chicken breasts take exactly two and a half minutes to cook in my sandwich press, but you might need to experiment with yours to find the optimum cooking time.

Quick, Easy Sandwich-Press Chicken Breast for Kids and Singletons
a deboned, skinless chicken breast
salt and pepper
spices and seasonings of your choice
a little butter

Heat your sandwich press for five minutes. In the meantime, place the chicken breast between two sheets of clingfilm or baking paper. Using a rolling pin or a heavy frying pan, gently and evenly 'bash' the thick end of the chicken breast to flatten it to the same thickness as its narrow end. The breast will spread out a bit as you flatten it.

Season the breast with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and any other flavourings you fancy. Rub a small knob of butter or a dash of olive oil on the bottom surface of the hot sandwich press, then close the press briefly to coat its upper side with fat. Place the chicken breast on the lower surface and close the press. Cook for two to three minutes, or until they are just done, and there is no sign of pinkness when you cut a small slash through the breast.

Remove from the heat and allow to rest for a minute. Slice into 'fingers' if you're feeding a child or toddler. If you're feeding yourself, put a thick slice of bread into the hot sandwich press and toast it for a minute or so. Top with some lovely crunchy ingredients, and eat piping hot. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Audrey's Cape Brandy Tart

A rich, boozy, classic of Cape cookery that will warm the heart of anyone who appreciates warm, cakey puddings. This recipe was given to me by my late mother-in-law (an excellent baker) some twenty years ago, just after I was married, and I've made it countless times since.

Audrey's Cape Brandy Tart
Boozy Cape Brandy Pudding, with thick cream
It's one of those faultless recipes that should be framed in gold and hung on a wall: it always works, it's fairly easy to make, and everyone loves it - even kids! Look, I'm not advocating that kids binge on the stuff, but don't worry about them eating a small slice. Because the brandy sauce is poured over a very hot cake, much of the alcohol content evaporates.

I think Cape Brandy Tart is best with whipped cream, but like all hot cakey puds is also lovely with custard or ice cream, or both. This recipe serves six hungry people, but is easily doubled (and in fact, I recommend you make more, because it reheats very well). If you like, you can add some chopped pecan nuts to the mix, but I prefer this without nuts.

Audrey's Cape Brandy Tart
one 250 g block of pressed dates
1 tsp (5 ml) bicarbonate of soda [baking soda]
1 cup (250 ml) boiling water
120 g butter, softened
1 cup (250 ml) caster sugar
1 extra-large egg
1¼ cups (310 ml) flour
a pinch of salt
½ tsp (2.5 ml) baking powder

For the syrup:
½ cup (125 ml) water
½ cup (125 ml) brown sugar
¾ cup (190 ml) brandy
2 Tbsp (30 ml) butter
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 180ºC. Chop the dates, quite coarsely, using a heavy knife, and place them in a bowl. Sprinkle the bicarbonate of soda over the dates and pour over the boiling water. Set aside to cool slightly. Put the butter and sugar into a large bowl and, using an electric whisk (or a normal whisk and a lot of elbow power), cream together until pale, light and fluffy. Break the egg into one side of the bowl and gradually incorporate it into the butter/sugar mixture. Beat for another minute. Take your time over getting a really light, fluffy mixture.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into the mixture (hold the sieve up high, so the dry ingredients fall from a height; this helps to aerate the flour). Add the warm date/water mixture and very gently fold everything together. Pour the mixture into a deep 22-cm buttered ceramic or glass pie dish. Bake at 180 ºC for 30-40 minutes, or until the cake is well risen, dark-brown and cooked right through.

Ten minutes before the cake is ready, make the syrup.  Put the water and brown sugar in a saucepan and bring gently to the boil, stirring frequently  to dissolve the sugar crystals. When the syrup is clear, remove from the heat and stir in the brandy, butter and vanilla extract.

Remove the cake from the oven. Pour the hot syrup, in batches, over the hot cake, tipping the dish so that it sinks in evenly.  The syrup will bubble furiously at the edges of the dish.

Serve warm, with whipped cream.

Serves 6-8. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Sunday 8 May 2011

Home-Made Baked Spring-Roll-Pastry Cones with Delicious Fillings

I've always loved making interesting little bites for parties and other happy gatherings, and consider this the most exciting and interesting of all cooking challenges.

Home-Made Baked Spring-Roll-Pastry Cones with Delicious FillingsSmoked-Salmon 'Roses' with Cottage Cheese, Lemon, Capers, Baby Mustard Greens and Chives

Making ten or twelve platters of beautiful, fresh, zingy bites for a party is finicky work and takes many hours and a lot of planning, but there's little to beat the satisfaction you feel when you watch your guests fall like starving puppies on the food, emitting yaps of delight at every mouthful.

For several months now I've been thinking about how to make a small savoury cone. I love the clever and simple design of an ice-cream cone: it's easy to hold, lovely to eat and imbued with all sorts of good seasidey childhood memories. So why not, I thought, serve little 'bouquets' of food in crisp pastry cones? They can't slip out of your fingers, or slither off a plate, and you can grab two or three at a time without having to put down your glass of wine.

Home-Made Baked Spring-Roll-Pastry Cones with Delicious FillingsClockwise, from top left: Smoked Salmon Dip with Green Peppercorns; Roast Chicken with Baby Corn, Guacamole and Marjoram; Hot Chicken Curry with Rice, Chutney and Yoghurt; Guacamole with fresh Coriander.

I abandoned ordinary puff pastry and phyllo pastry almost immediately, because the first wasn't firm enough to hold its shape and the second was too delicate and temperamental. Spring-roll pastry, which you can buy in any Chinese food store, was ideal, but I couldn't figure out how to mould it into a perfect cone that could be baked. In the Forties and Fifties, you could buy tin moulds for cream horns in any kitchen shop, but these are a rarity nowadays. After experimenting with cardboard cones of various designs (all of which were failures) I found the solution: commercial ice-cream cones, wrapped in foil.

I expected the cones to collapse in the heat of the oven, but they didn't, and I've found that you can reuse the same foil-wrapped cones up to three times before they disintegrate.

Rolling the pastry around the cones and removing the moulds is, I have to warn you, fiddly, and takes some practice, but once you've got the hang of it, you can easily turn out several dozen in under an hour.

The pastry cones stay perfectly crisp for 24 hours (in fact, some of the left-over cones I made were still crisp after three days). Store them, once they're completely cool, standing up in a bowl, and covered with netting to keep insects away. (If you're living in a humid climate, store them in a cake tin or large lidded container.)

If you're adding a semi-wet or soggy filling to these cones, they should be filled no more than 10 minutes before you serve them. Dryer fillings (for example, smoked salmon or roast chicken) can be added an hour or so before. Fill the bottom part of each cone with torn green leaves (such as rocket, or cos or butter lettuce) that have been thoroughly dried. Don't use a watery lettuce such as iceberg, which will make the cones soggy.

If you're anxious about the cones becoming soggy, take them out of the oven four minutes before the end of the baking time and, using a pastry brush, paint beaten egg all over the inside of each cone. Return them to the oven and bake for a further four minutes. This will 'waterproof' the insides.

You can use either one or two sheets of pastry for each cone. Single-sheet cones are more difficult to make, but are beautifully light and delicate. Double-sheet cones are more robust, and suitable for heavier, wetter fillings. For extra flavour, sprinkle finely grated Parmesan and some salt and pepper between the layers.

As there are bound to be some failures the first time you try this, I suggest you make 16 foil-covered moulds to allow for duds.

To serve the cones, arrange them upright in narrow-sided bowls or vases, or in individual shot glass or (as I've done in these pictures) in tea glasses.

Party food: Home-Made Baked Spring-Roll-Pastry Cones

To make 12 cones, you'll need:
a pack of spring-roll pastry
a large roll of heavy tin foil [aluminium foil]
a box of ice-cream cones
vegetable oil
a little beaten egg

Heat to oven to 180ºC. Take the pastry out of its plastic packaging and wrap it in a slightly damp tea towel.

Place the roll of tin foil on your counter. Using a pair of scissors, cut 12 square pieces of tin foil (to measure out the squares, fold a bottom corner of the foil up to meet the top edge of the foil strip, as you would do if you were making an origami square).

Take the first square of  tin foil and lay it on the counter. Place an ice-cream cone on its side, narrow end  pointing towards you, on the right-hand edge of the foil square. Pick up the edge of the tin foil and roll the cone in an arc to the left, gently squeezing the foil against the cone to enclose it completely. Twist the top open end, as if you were twisting the end of a Christmas cracker, and then gently prod the twisted end down into the wide end of the cone. You'll use this 'handle' to pull the mould out of the pastry casing; make sure it's a big, sturdy twist of foil, or it will break off. Repeat this process with the remaining eleven cones.

Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Lay a piece of clingfilm or greaseproof paper on the counter and smear it with a light film of vegetable oil. Sprinkle with a little salt (and pepper, if you like). Place a sheet of spring-roll pastry on top, and sprinkle with a little more salt. If you're making double-sheet cones, place another sheet of pastry on top, and brush again with oil. Brush a stripe of beaten egg, using a pastry brush, across the bottom edge of the pastry square (the edge closest to you). Now wrap the mould in the pastry in the same way you wrapped it in foil: place a foil-wrapped cone, narrow end facing you, on the right-hand edge of the pastry sheet, half a centimetre away from the bottom edge. Fold the bottom edge of the pastry over the thin end of the cone, then pick up the right edge and wrap it firmly around the cone as you roll the cone in an arc to the left. Stretch the pastry a little, tucking it under as you go, or you won't get a tight wrap. Press firmly on the the egg-washed edge to seal the cone. 

Now trim the top open edge of the pastry with a pair of sharp scissors to that it protrudes 5 mm above the tim of  foil-wrapped mould.

 This takes some practice to get right, but do persist! Don't worry if there's a little gap at the thin end of the cone.

Place the pastry cone, seam side down, on the lined baking sheet. Repeat this process with the remaining 11 cone moulds.

Bake the cones at 180ºC for 12-15 minutes, or until they are crisp and golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a minute or two. Grasp the twisted end of foil in one hand, and the pastry cone in the other, and gently pull the foil-covered mould out with small yanking movements. If you can't get the mould out, gently snap away any rim of pastry overlapping the mould.

Place the cones on a drying rack and allow to cook completely.

See my notes above for storing and filling filling the cones.

Makes 12. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Hot Ricotta Dip with Thyme, Chilli and Garlic

The word 'dip' implies a cold mixture, but why shouldn't it be piping hot, molten and herby? Because winter's coming roaring towards us in the Cape, my thoughts have turned to comforting food, so here's my first cold-weather recipe of the season.
Hot Ricotta Dip with Thyme, Chilli and Garlic

I'm such a fan of good ricotta cheese. I admit that it doesn't have the sexy, fatty, stringiness of melted hard cheeses, or the creamy crumbliness of a good feta or similar white cheese. But I love the plainness and cleanness of the taste of ricotta, and its wonderful grainy texture.

Here's a basic recipe for a hot ricotta dip that you can gussy up with all sort of interesting ingredients. Here, I've used chopped artichoke hearts, lemon juice, garlic, herbs and dried chilli flakes, but you can really add anything you please, provided that it's an ingredient that tastes good hot. Avocado, for example, is out, and I'd avoid anything with a vaguely bitter taste, such as olives.

Make sure you serve this piping hot, and straight away. The leftovers are lovely on hot toast, for breakfast. This makes quite a large quantity, but the recipe is easily halved.

Hot Ricotta Dip with Thyme, Chilli and Garlic

Hot Ricotta Dip with Herbs, Chilli and Garlic
350 g fresh ricotta cheese
100 g finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) dried red chilli flakes
the juice of half a lemon
a clove of garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
2 tsp (10 ml) fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp (10 ml) finely snipped chives
2 T (30 ml) olive oil
a tin of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
salt and milled black pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 180ºC. Set aside a quarter of the grated Pecorino. Put all the remaining ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir very well to combine. The mixture should form a slightly firm paste. If it looks too dry, add a little milk. Pack the mixture into bowls and top with the remaining grated Pecorino. Bake at 180º C for ten minutes, or until the mixture is bubbling and heated right through. Now turn on the oven grill and grill for a few minutes, or until the topping is golden. Serve very hot, with nachos or crackers.

Serves 6 to 8 as a starter Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly