Friday 26 October 2012

Scrumptious in Garden & Home magazine

A few months back South African Garden and Home magazine asked me if they could come and photograph a relaxed 'summer luncheon' at my house, featuring some of the recipes from my book.  The idea filled me with horror - I'm a known camera-dodger, and can't bear lifestyle magazine features filled with fabulous people fabulously eating fabulous food - but I could hardly say no without seeming very ungrateful, could I?

Anyway, I'm pleased with the resulting article (one page here), and with Greg Cox's lovely photographs. The text was written by Hout Bay journalist Diana Wemyss, in a strange little twist, because the last time I saw Diana was 20 years ago when I edited a book she wrote about gardening.

Instead of inviting the usual suspects (my collection of louche old friends) I asked some of my favourite Cape Town food bloggers, a talented bunch who are also a damn sight better looking than my personal posse. They happily obliged by dressing up in summer clothes on a chilly late-winter day, petting my basset hounds, and making a valiant stab at being fabulous.

My guests were Ishay Govender from Food and the Fabulous, Fritz Brand from Real Men Can Cook, Matt Allison from I'm No Jamie Oliver, Ilse van der Merwe from The Food Fox, food-and-wine social media specialist Linda Harding from The Squashed Tomato, my son Luke, and my book's firecracker publicist Kim Taylor, of Random House Struik.

Ishay helped me in the kitchen (thanks, Pushy!) and I styled the food and table for the shots, sticking to the magazine's request for a blue-and-white theme.  For the table, I used white damask with an overlay of  indigo Shweshwe cloth, which I love because it has a fascinating history, smells delicious when new and doesn't need to be hemmed (it's starchy when you buy it, so all you need do to make a runner is fold up the edges and run an iron over them). For flowers, I chose sweet-smelling white jonquils and lavender in glass vases with mirrored rims.

I was also excited to use, for the first time, the beautiful cake stand given to me for my 50th birthday by my friend Lisa Key of African Relish.

And, on the menu:

White Gazpacho with Tomato Granita
Griddled Courgettes with Mint and Mozzarella
Quick Tomato, Fennel and Thyme Bread
Crumbed Linefish with Whipped Caper Butter
Buttermilk Cheesecake with a Granadilla Topping

Because it was a cold day, I also made a giant tray of Mike's Youvetsi, which is one of my all-time favourite recipes for feeding a crowd. It's also in my book, and here's a version I posted here on my blog three years ago. 

All the recipes above are in the November issue of Garden and Home.
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Monday 22 October 2012

Coriander & Coconut Satay Chicken with Creamy Peanut Sauce

I'm often disappointed by satay chicken made by restaurants and caterers because the chicken is almost always chalky and tough, and the peanut sauce a gloopy, oily, over-spiced mess. After some experimenting, I've come up with a version (using chicken thigh meat) that is fresh-tasting, tender and juicy, with a mild and creamy peanut sauce. The basic marinade mixture used for the chicken is also used in the sauce (this cuts down on preparation time), and I've added yoghurt to the chicken marinade because it's a brilliant tenderiser.

Allow me a little rumination (okay, a moan) on the subject of chalky chicken here. The problem can be blamed, I reckon, on the ubiquitous skinless, deboned chicken breast. Although it's the darling of dieters (and for good reason because it's so lean), the chicken fillet has a lot to answer for when it comes to spectacular failures on the poultry-recipe front.

If chicken breasts are cooked over too fierce a heat or for too long, they will turn into rubbery curls or into sawdust-dry cubes. They have the least flavour of any cut of chicken, and the only two things they really have going for them is that they are very low in calories, and can be most succulent if correctly cooked. For example, the soft breast meat torn from a properly roasted whole chicken, still attached to papery golden skin (and possibly dunked in a gorgeous gravy) is an unforgettable eating pleasure.

The ingredients for this dish.

I can't help but be annoyed by recipes (and there are many) that ask you to cook cubed or sliced chicken breasts in their sauce for 30 or 45 minutes, or even longer. This isn't necessary, and will only result in unpleasant mouthfuls of what might as well be boiled sea sponge. It's a waste of an expensive (and, let's face it, wasteful) ingredient.  It often strikes me, when I buy six deboned breasts, that three chickens gave up their lives for me to obtain a perfect packet of smooth, pink, flavourless flesh.  Look, I appreciate that the remainders of the birds are used elsewhere in the chicken-farming business, but I think that - because this is a luxurious and expensive ingredient -  it needs to be cooked with care and respect.

To find out how to oven-poach chicken breasts (for salads, sandwiches and so on) so that they are meltingly tender and juicy, see my recipe for Summer Linguine with a Cold Sauce of Poached Chicken, Tomatoes and Basil.   

For a touch of Thai, you could add some fish sauce to this marinade, but I'm not convinced it needs it. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are available at Woolies. You can, of course, use breasts here, but they won't be as soft and juicy.

Coriander & Coconut Satay Chicken with Creamy Peanut Sauce

800 g skinless, boneless chicken thighs
a little sunflower or canola oil, for frying

For the marinade: 
1 x 400 ml tin coconut milk
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
3 fat cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp (10 ml) Kikkoman soy sauce
1 tsp (5 ml) brown sugar (or palm sugar, if you have it)
the finely grated zest and juice of a lime
a small green chilli, deseeded and sliced, or a large pinch of red chilli flakes
milled black pepper (but no salt)
1 cup, fairly closely packed (250 ml), fresh coriander
½ cup (125 ml) thick natural or Greek-style yoghurt

For the sauce: 
8 Tbsp (120 ml) smooth peanut butter

Trim any visible fat globules from the chicken thighs and prepare them as follows:  place a thigh, shiny side down, on a chopping board. Holding a knife parallel to the board, slice horizontally through the thicker part of the thigh to take off an upper 'leaf' of meat (see picture, below). Repeat with the other thighs.

Cut all the chicken into long strips about the width of your thumb. Don't worry if there are some raggy left-over bits and pieces: each thigh should yield one or two nice neat strips, and some smaller pieces. Thread a few pieces of chicken onto each stick and arrange them in a plastic or ceramic dish with their thick ends facing inward in  'teepee' formation (see picture, below).

Place the coconut milk, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, lime zest, lime juice and chilli into a blender, or the jug attachment on a stick blender, and whizz at high speed until smooth. Now add the coriander and pulse until the leaves are very finely chopped, but not obliterated.  Measure out three-quarters of a cup (180 ml) of this marinade into a small bowl and add the yoghurt. Stir well. Cover the leftover marinade and set aside (you'll use this for the sauce).

Pour the yoghurt marinade all over the chicken kebabs, turning them gently to make sure they are coated. Add the squeezed-out lime halves, cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least an hour, preferably two. (You can marinate these for up to 24 hours without any discernible loss of texture.)

Just before you're going to cook the chicken, make the peanut sauce. Into a saucepan, put the peanut butter and 4 tablespoons (60 ml) of the reserved, non-yoghurty marinade (don't use the marinade you poured over the chicken!)  Over a very low flame, heat the sauce, stirring constantly, until it comes together smoothly and begins to darken. Don't allow the mixture to boil. Whisk in just enough of the remaining reserved marinade (about three-quarters of a cup should do this trick) to create a smooth, creamy, thickish sauce. When it is very hot, but before bubbles break the surface, remove from heat. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning: it may need a little more fresh lime juice for acidity, or some salt and pepper. Cover the surface of the sauce with a sheet of clingfilm and set aside.

Heat a large frying pan or flat griddle pan and add a lick of oil.  Shake the excess marinade from the chicken kebabs and fry them over a medium-high heat, in batches, for about 6 minutes, or until the chicken flesh is just cooked through and there is not a trace of pinkness. They will stick to the pan at first, but let them fry undisturbed for at least two minutes on one side before gently nudging them with a spatula until they loosen. Then flip them over and fry the other sides.

Serve immediately with lime wedges and the warm peanut sauce.

Makes about 24 kebabs; serves 6 as a snack or starter.  Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday 12 October 2012

Luxurious Broccoli and Cheese with Gammon, and a Parmesan Crust

This is a green and decadent version of cauliflower cheese, consisting of just-tender broccoli florets in a creamy, mustardy, nutmeggy white sauce. With cubes of smoky gammon. And a crunchy breadcrumb-and-Parmesan topping. And lots of Cheddar. And fairies skipping around in glittery frocks all over the top of the dish.

Luxurious Broccoli 'n Cheese with Gammon, and a Parmesan Crust
I realise this dish is crammed with calories, but I maintain that the abundance of broccoli it contains cancels out the cream, milk, cheese and gammon, especially if you're trying to convince your kids to appreciate this king among vegetables.

All three of my children love broccoli, and are happy to eat a lot of it. This may be because the stuff is intrinsically delicious (really, it is) but I suspect it's because I've fed them broccoli since they were tots. I love the stuff, especially when it's a very vivid green and still squeaking as it comes out of the pot, to be dressed with a lick of olive oil and Kikkoman soy sauce.

But for most kids, broccoli is an acquired taste, and I hope this recipe will help them aquire it, because its luxurious cheesy-bacony sauce is so good.

Don't discard the broccoli 'tree trunks'. 
I cook broccoli in plenty of rapidly boiling, salted water when I need a great quantity of it, but if I am making a small quantity, I use a microwave oven. (I don't care what food purists say about microwave ovens: they are excellent when it comes to cooking peas, broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and similar green veggies to al dente perfection, provided that you get the timing just right.)

When boiling broccoli, remember that the stalks  ('tree trunks' my kids used to call them) take longer to cook than the outer dark-green bits.  People often discard the tree trunks, but these are very good, so I suggest you slice them about 1 cm thick, and put them in the boiling water for two minutes before you add the top bits.

Don't omit the step of plunging the broccoli into a bowl of iced water: this will set the colour, and prevent it from turning a muddy khaki in the final dish.  Drain them thoroughly too, or residual water will seep out as the dish bakes and thin the cheese sauce.

Leave the gammon out if you're a vegetarian.

Luxurious Broccoli 'n Cheese with Gammon

900 g (about three whole heads) fresh broccoli
400 g smoked gammon steaks
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sunflower oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) fresh lemon juice
½ cup (125 ml) breadcrumbs
60 g Parmesan, finely grated
a little paprika or cayenne pepper, for dusting

For the cheese sauce:
90 g butter
6 Tbsp (90 ml) flour
1 litre cold milk
2 cups (500 ml) grated Cheddar
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp (30 ml) fresh lemon juice
½ cup (125 ml) cream
a quarter of a nutmeg, finely grated
a handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
salt and milled black pepper

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add a handful of ice cubes. Cut the broccoli 'trunks' into 1-cm-thick slices. Throw these into a pot of rapidly boiling salted water, and two minutes later add the remaining broccoli, broken into florets.

Cook for exactly 7 minutes, then drain in a colander under plenty of cold running water. Plunge all the broccoli into the bowl of iced water and leave it there for 10 minutes.

Cut the gammon steaks into small cubes. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the cubes for 3-4 minutes, or until they are nicely browned.  Drain off any fat, add the lemon juice and toss the cubes over the heat until all the juice has evaporated. Set aside.

To make the cheese sauce,  melt the butter in a medium saucepan and tip in the flour. Cook over a medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for a minute, without allowing the flour to brown.

Pour in the milk, all in one go, and beat energetically with a wire whisk to disperse any lumps. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring constantly. When it is bubbling, thick and smooth, turn down the heat and let it burble  gently for 3 minutes.

Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the grated Cheddar, mustard and  just enough lemon juice to give it a pleasant zing. Don't add any salt or pepper yet. Cover the surface with a piece of clingfilm and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, drain the broccoli, pat it dry on a clean tea towel and arrange the pieces in a large baking dish (or in individual dishes).

Stir the gammon cubes, cream, nutmeg and parsley into the sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. You won't need much salt as the gammon and Cheddar are quite salty in their own right.

Pour the sauce all over the top of the broccoli and gently prod the pieces so each one is evenly coated.

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and Parmesan over the top, and dust with a little paprika or cayenne pepper.

At this point, you can set the dish aside for up to 6 hours. When you're ready to cook it, bake at 180 ÂșC for about 25 minutes, or until the inside is very hot and the topping is golden and crunchy.

Serves 6. 

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Monday 8 October 2012

Nasturtium & Macadamia Nut Pesto

One of the things I most look forward to about spring is picking fresh nasturtium leaves and flowers to use in salads, sandwiches, stir-fries and egg salads. These lovely fresh peppery leaves grow in great profusion on banks and sidewalks here in Hout Bay, and I have no compunction about leaping out of my car and picking big bunches to take home.  (No one else seems to want them, and as they are not native to South Africa I feel no guilt at all in harvesting this free crop!)

Nasturtium leaves can be used to make a bright, peppery pesto. Spread your pesto
 on slicesof toasted bread, or toss it through hot pasta. 
I often use them to flavour home-made mayonnaise for my egg and fennel salad, but I've never made any other sort of sauce with them. The idea of a pesto occurred to me in the middle of the night (I often think about recipes in the wee hours) but I wasn't convinced it would work.  

Although nasturtium leaves have a powerful flavour - at least as pungent as that of basil -  I didn't know how they'd taste with garlic, and the idea of combining them with resiny pine nuts didn't appeal at all.  

So, when formulating the recipe, I used buttery, meek-flavoured macadamia nuts to tone down the pepperiness, and a modest single clove of garlic.  The result was a thick pesto of a glorious pistachio green, with an intriguing flavour and a satisfying zing.  I did find, however, that much of the pepperiness had faded by this morning, and that the olive oil, garlic and Parmesan flavours had pushed their way to the front. So this is a pesto for making in smallish quantities and serving immediately.

All the ingredients you need for a nasturtium pesto.
I slathered the pesto onto hot bruschetta, and served these with little fresh leaves, but I'm looking forward to trying it on a tangle of hot spaghetti, and with some pan-fried fish fillets.

I almost always make pestos in the old chemists' mortar that once belonged to my grandfather, but you can whizz this all up in a food processor or the jug attachment to a stick blender. Take care not to over-process it, however, or the nuts will become greasy and the pesto will lose its interesting texture.

This is a good choice of canapĂ© for surprising friends and family, who will probably not be able to guess the ingredients.  I made this for one of the courses I served at my 'Secret Supper' at the recent Spier Festival, and it was received with delight.  And if you leave out the toast and spread use this as a dip for veggie sticks, it's low-carb and suitable for diabetics.

Nasturtium & Macadamia Nut Pesto

1 cup (250 ml) whole unsalted macadamia nuts
1 clove garlic, peeled
a small pinch of flaky sea salt
2 cups (500 ml), fairly closely packed, fresh young nasturtium leaves and their stalks
8 Tbsp (120 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
30 g Parmesan, finely grated
the juice of half a lemon, or more, to taste
3 nasturtium flowers (for colour)

Put the nuts, garlic and salt into a mortar and pound until you have a coarse paste. Add the nasturtium leaves and continue pounding until you have a thick, slightly gritty paste. Add the olive oil tablespoon by tablespoon - you may not need to use it all - until the pesto is the desired consistency.  Stir in the Parmesan and lemon juice (to taste) and season with salt. As the Parmesan is already salty, go easy! You won't need to add any pepper.

Finely chop the nasturtium flowers and stir them into the pesto. Use within 8 hours for best results. It will still taste good the next day, but the peppery flavour will have receded somewhat (see my notes above).

Makes about 1½  cups.

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