Thursday 27 December 2012

Freddy's Smashed Green Olives Marinated with Garlic and Coriander

This is a famous recipe in my family, because my brother-in-law Freddy, who is of Cypriot descent, makes it every time our tribe gathers for a feast.  It's an absolute zinger of a snack: big shining green olives drenched in garlicky, lemony olive oil, with plenty of coarsely crushed coriander seed. The warm, citrussy coriander notes are heavenly with green olives, while the lemon juice adds an irresistible acidity. This dish, elies tsakistes (literally, crushed olives) is popular all over Cyprus, and I am pretty sure Freddy learned the recipe at the elbow of his late mother Amaranth Sitas, who wrote an excellent book about Cypriot cooking (Kopiaste,  K P Kyriakou Books, Cyprus, 1989).

Freddy's Smashed Cypriot Green Olives (ελιες τσακιστες elies tsakistes)
I snapped this on Christmas Day, just before the hungry hordes
 polished off the lot. 
I know how to make this, but mine never taste quite as good as Freddy's, so on Christmas Day I pinned him down and made him write out the recipe. You can use any sort of green olive here; Freddy uses a combination of what are called 'buffet' olives in South Africa - the smaller olives in the picture on the left - and big juicy queen olives. This can be made with pitted olives, but it isn't as nice as using whole ones (and, besides, half the fun of eating olives is seeing how far you can spit the pips).

Serve this with a loaf or two of warm bread for soaking up the olive oil.  If there is any marinade left over, cover it and use it the next day to douse some new olives, adding a little extra fresh garlic and lemon juice. These keep for a long time in the fridge: if you're going to chill them, decant them into lidded jars, but take them out of the fridge a few hours before you serve them so any congealed oil has a chance to come up to room temperature.

Don't skimp on the coriander seed - it's essential for an authentic taste.

I know Freddy will frown on me for saying this, but a handful of dried chilli flakes - or a sliced fresh chilli - is a fine variation on this theme.

This is a great choice of snack if you're on a low-carb regime.

If you like this recipe, do try my version of Freddy's baked aubergines with garlic yoghurt.

Freddy's Smashed Marinated Green Olives

2 packets small green 'buffet' olives, drained (about 2 cups/500 ml after draining)
2 packets queen olives, drained of brine (about 2 cups/500 ml after draining)
5 big cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
4 Tbsp (60 ml) whole coriander seeds
2 large, juicy lemons
1 cup (250 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Tip all the olives onto a board. Using a small, sharp knife, cut a slit in the side of each one. Now gently bash each olive, using a rolling pin or the blade of a heavy knife, just firmly enough to crack it open.  Tip the olives into a bowl. Using a mortar and pestle, coarsely crush the coriander seeds and add them to the olives along with the chopped garlic. Squeeze the lemons over the olives and mix well.  Cover the bowl with clingfilm and set aside to steep for six hours or longer (but a minimum of three).

Tip the olives into one or two pretty serving dishes and pour over the olive oil.  Add salt and pepper, to taste (although Freddy never does).

Serve with warm bread.

Serves 8-10, as a snack with drinks. 

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Friday 21 December 2012

Christmas Profiteroles with a Passion Fruit & Mascarpone Filling

A fine finish to a festive meal: feather-light choux puffs filled with an indecently rich mixture of fresh passion-fruit pulp and mascarpone, and glazed with a mixture of icing sugar and water.

Profiteroles with a Double-Cre
amy Blue-Cheese Filling
My three granadilla vines have just started to flower, and I am looking forward to
a bumper crop of fruit this year.
I adore savoury profiteroles (especially when they're indulgently bulging with a dreamy Double-Creamy Blue-Cheese Filling), so I thought I'd try a sweet filling this Christmas.

Passion fruit - or granadillas, as we call them here in South Africa - are so intensely flavoured and headily perfumed that they do need to be used with some restraint in desserts; too much of the sharp-sweet pulp in a mousse or fruit salad can leave your guests with faces as puckered as prunes.

I tried both cream cheese and whipped cream in this recipe before settling on sinfully thick fresh mascarpone as their perfect foil.

This filling is easy to make, but  I have to admit that profiteroles can be a bit tricky if you've never made them before.

However, if you follow my instructions (which I've taken from the above-mentioned blue-cheese profiterole recipe) to the letter, you are unlikely to go wrong. Please refer to my Cook's Notes at the end of this page for some tips.

Profiteroles with a Passion Fruit & Mascarpone Filling

For the profiteroles:
1 cup (250 ml) cake flour
a pinch of salt
125 g butter (this is a quarter of a 500-gram block of butter)
1 cup (250 ml) water
4 extra-large free-range eggs
icing sugar, for dusting

For the filling:
one and a half x 250 g tubs (375 g in total) fresh mascarpone, at room temperature
the pulp of 4 large passion fruit
6 Tbsp (90 ml) caster sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) finely grated lemon zest
about 4 Tbsp (60 ml) pouring cream - see recipe

For the glaze:
4 Tbsp (60 ml) icing sugar
a little water

Profiteroles with a Double-Creamy Blue-Cheese FillingFirst make the profiteroles.

Heat the oven to 180º C. Line a baking sheet with a rectangle of baking paper. Sift the flour and salt, from a height, onto a large plate or a sheet of baking paper. Put the butter and the water into a medium saucepan and set over a brisk heat. When the mixture begins to boil rapidly, remove the pan from the heat. Immediately tip the sifted flour and salt, all in one go, into the butter/water mixture. Stir energetically with a wooden spoon, and return to the stove. Turn down the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring vigorously and continuously, for one to two minutes, or until the mixture forms a ball that comes cleanly away from the sides of the pan (see picture, left).

Take the pan off the heat and allow the ball of pastry to cool for 4-5 minutes, or until just warm to the touch. Now, using a wooden spoon or an electric whisk/mixer, beat in the whole eggs, one at a time. The mixture will not come together immediately, but you must persist with furious beating  Once you've added the fourth egg, you should have a glossy and thick - though slightly slack - mixture that is just capable of holding its shape without flattening out (see picture, below).

Profiteroles with a Passion Fruit and Mascarpone FillingPile the mixture into a large piping bag fitted with a big plain nozzle, and pipe blobs the size of a litchi onto the baking paper (or use a teaspoon to make neat little dollops).

Put the baking sheet into the hot oven and immediately throw five ice cubes (or a quarter of a cup of water) onto the bottom of the oven - the steam will help the puffs rise.

Bake for 25-35 minutes (depending on the ferocity of your oven),  or until the puffs are well risen and  golden brown. Turn off the oven, open the door, and let the profiteroles  dry out in the oven for 10 minutes.

Remove the profiteroles from the oven and turn them onto their sides. Use a piping nozzle (or the handle-end of a wooden spoon) to poke a hole into the bottom of each one. Set aside to cool completely.

Profiteroles with a Double-Creamy Blue-Cheese Filling
In the meantime,  make the filling. In a large bowl, whisk together the mascarpone, passion fruit pulp,  caster sugar and lemon zest.  Add just enough cream (about 4 Tbsp/60 ml usually does the trick) to loosen the mixture so you can easily pipe it into the profiteroles; it should be  about the consistency of very thick mayonnaise.

Wash and dry your piping bag and fit a medium nozzle to it. Fill the piping bag with the mascarpone mixture, and poke the nozzle into the hole you've made on the underside of each profiterole, squeezing  in enough of the mixture to fill the cavity completely.

If you don't have a piping bag, pile the filling into a large polythene bag, snip off a small corner using a pair of sharp scissors, and use that to pipe the mixture into the choux buns.

To make the glaze, put the icing powder in a little bowl and add just enough water - a few drops at a time -  to form a slightly runny glaze, about the consistency of honey. Drizzle the glaze over the top of the profiteroles.

Sift icing sugar over the puffs and serve immediately or -  if you would like the filling to firm up a bit -  refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. The profiteroles will soften slightly in the fridge, but I promise you no one will care.

Makes 12 large profiteroles, or 18 small ones

Cook's Notes
  • Choux pastry, although easy to make, is a little temperamental, and you can only really learn from experience when the batter is of a perfect consistency. Much depends on the flour you're using, and the size of your eggs. Measure all the ingredients exactly, and follow the instructions above to the letter.
  • If your first batch of choux pastry doesn't turn out well, don't be discouraged. Try again, and you will be so pleased when you nail the recipe.  Perfect choux buns are light and crisp, hollow on the inside, and golden-brown on top.
  • When you're piping the choux buns onto the baking paper, you might find it difficult to release the end of the nozzle from the top of the blob, because the paste is so sticky. The secret is this: confidently pipe out a sphere of paste, then very swiftly, in one sharp movement, lift the nozzle up and away from the blob.  
  • If you have forgotten to take the mascarpone out of the fridge to let it come to room temperature, you will find it difficult to beat to a smooth consistency.   Set the mixing bowl to one side for 30 minutes, then try again.
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Wednesday 19 December 2012

Olive, Mozzarella and Rosemary Christmas wreath

Inspired by a picture I pinned to my Pinterest festive board, I thought I'd expand on this lovely idea and create a wired-together rosemary wreath that can be rinsed off after Christmas and hung up to dry on a kitchen wall.

Olive, Mozzarella and Rosemary Christmas wreath

I've used green and black olives, baby gherkins, caperberries, cherry tomatoes, peppadews and beautiful bocconcini to make this wreath, but of course you could add anything you like to it - marinated feta, roast peppers and baby aubergines, rolled anchovies, sundried tomatoes, quails' eggs, and so on.

When you're done with the wreath, rinse it under running
water, shake off the moisture, and hang it up in a breezy
place to dry out. Crumble the dried rosemary into stews,
casseroles and roasts.
I photographed this on a board because it looked so pretty against the white and then (because I wanted to take it along to a carols-by-candlelight evening at my sister's house) transferred it to a big green platter. I tore the mozzarella balls into smaller bits to make sure everyone got a piece or two, and drizzled the whole wreath with olive oil, home-made pesto and plenty of black pepper.

This is so easy to make. You need:

- about 32 twelve-cm end-sprigs of fresh rosemary
- a long length of bendy vine, stripped of leaves
- green florists' wire
- pliers

I used a length of grape vine, stripped of leaves, but you could use any flexible branch from a non-toxic climbing plant.  A bent-into-a-circle wire coat-hanger covered in green florists' tape would work too.

First bend the vine into a circle, using your biggest, most beautiful platter as a size guide. Twist the vine ends around the circle, and secure with florists wire.  Coax the circle into a neat shape if it looks a little wonky.

Now, starting at the top, wire the rosemary sprigs onto the circle, their tips pointing slightly outwards, and overlapping one another by about two-thirds of their length (see picture below).

Loosely wire the sprigs to the vine circle, overlapping them by two-thirds of
their  length, and nudging them so the florists' wire is hidden. 

Put your wreath on its platter and arrange the cheese around the circle. Add all the other ingredients, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and milled black pepper.

If you're entertaining two days in a row, you can rinse off the wreath and put it in the fridge overnight to  'refill' the next day.

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Wednesday 12 December 2012

Roast Aubergine, Gammon & Mung Bean Salad, to please a Christmas crowd

My festive recipes every year always include a dish made with left-overs from the main feast, and this year I thought I'd devise a big, sumptuous salad ideal for feeding a hungry horde the day after Christmas.  But once I'd made it - using left-overs from this dish - I liked it so much that it struck me it's worth buying a small gammon specifically for this recipe. So the second time I made this, I bought a 1.5 kg boneless gammon, used half of it for the salad, and put the other half in the fridge for filling future sandwiches. It was flattened in a day, but I'm not complaining, because gammon is still remarkably inexpensive compared to lamb or beef, and it's way cheaper than buying sliced ham at your local deli counter.

I love the mysterious browns and greens of this salad,  and adore the earthy combination of beans, salty pork, garlic, lemon and cumin, but I have to say my kids weren't wild about it. Then again, they are suspicious of anything resembling a lentil.

If you're a vegetarian, or expecting vegetarian guests, I suggest you use crisp-fried halloumi cheese in place of gammon in this recipe: make the salad a few hours ahead, and then add the hot cheese at the last minute.

The first time I made this, I noticed that the flavours of the dressing had faded considerably by the next morning as they were absorbed by the beans.  In my second try, I tweaked the dressing to make it more punchy, so please don't be alarmed by all the garlic and mustard - the flavours will mellow and mingle as the salad sits.  This is best at room temperature, so if you make it the day before, take it out of the fridge an hour or two before you serve it.

This quantity serves six to eight as part of a festive meal; make double this amount if you're entertaining a bigger crowd, or serving it as a meal in its own right.  If you can't be bothered to soak and cook dried mung beans, used tinned lentils (4 tins should be enough), but rinse them in a sieve and drain them well before you add them to the salad.  You don't need to salt and rinse the brinjals if they are very young and sleek, but I usually do as this stops them from soaking up oil like a sponge.

Roast Aubergine, Gammon and Mung Bean Salad, to please a Christmas crowd

2 cups (500 ml) dried green mung beans, soaked for an hour in water
6 large aubergines
5 Tbsp (75 ml) olive oil
salt and milled black pepper
1 tsp (5 ml) cumin
about 3 cups (750 ml) of gammon chunks or shreds (see gammon recipe at the end of this page)
6 spring onions, green parts only, finely sliced
150 g (about two 'wheels') feta cheese, crumbled
½ cup (125 ml) pumpkin seeds
5 Tbsp (75 ml) finely chopped fresh mint

For the dressing: 
4 fat cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
a pinch of salt
a pinch of sugar
4 tsp (20 ml) Dijon mustard
1 tsp (5 ml) cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) good quality paprika
the juice of two medium lemons
¾ cup (180 ml) olive oil

Heat the oven to 190 ºC. Drain and rinse the mung beans and simmer them in unsalted water for 30-40 minutes, or until soft. Drain and set aside. Skip this step if you're using tinned lentils.

In the meantime, cut the aubergines into large cubes.  Place these in a large colander, in layers, and sprinkle with salt. Weigh down with a plate and allow to degorge for 20 minutes. Rinse the aubergine cubes under running water to remove excess salt, and pat dry on a tea towel. Arrange the pieces in a single layer in a  roasting tray, drizzle with the olive oil and, using your hands, toss well to coat. Roast for 35-45 minutes, or until they are golden and rustling, soft on the inside and beginning to collapse. Sprinkle with one teaspoon (5 ml) of  cumin and season generously with salt and pepper.

Put the mung beans, aubergine cubes, gammon chunks, feta and spring onions in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing and pour it over the salad, tossing gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover with clingfilm and set aside for an hour or two so the flavours can mingle. Just before you serve the salad, stir in the freshly chopped mint.  Taste the salad, and add a little more lemon juice if you think it needs sharpening up. Pile the salad onto a platter and drizzle with a little extra olive oil.  Toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry frying pan, over a low heat, and sprinkle them over the salad.

Serves 6. 

To cook the gammon:

1 x 1.5 kg boneless gammon
one bottle (330 ml) of your favourite beer, or ginger beer, or apple juice, or cider
1 large onion, peel on, quartered
3 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
2 bay leaves
12 black peppercorns
4 whole cloves
a small bunch of parsley
water, to cover

Put the gammon, fat side up, in a large, deep pot and add the beer, onion, carrots, bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves and parsley. Pour in enough water to cover the gammon to a depth of 2 cm. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat so that the gammon cooks at a brisk simmer. Partially cover the pot with a tilted lid.  Cook the meat for 30-35 minutes per kilogram (an hour and a half for a 1.5 kg piece), or according to the directions on the packaging. Check the pot now and then, and top up with more water: the meat must be completely submerged. Turn the gammon over half way through the cooking process.

Turn off the heat and leave it in its liquid to cool completely. Strip off the skin and trim off all the fat.  Put half in the fridge for sandwiches, and shred the other half to use in the salad. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Monday 10 December 2012

Low-Carb Bacon-Wrapped Chipolatas with Whipped Mustard Sauce

I took this snap of Happy Piglets (with mustard sauce in the background)
while my book's  photographer Michael Le Grange was setting up the shot.
Bowl and plate by my uncle David Walters.
Flops and failures are part of the process of developing new recipes from scratch, and often I have to remake a dish several times before I'm satisfied with it. Sometimes, though, a recipe falls into place in one go, and this whipped mustard sauce - which I dreamed up for my cookbook - is one of of those.

This is a light, silken, creamy sauce with a good zip of mustard and a lovely mild aniseedy note of tarragon;  it stiffens a little when chilled, and keeps beautifully in the fridge for up to 5 days without any loss of taste or texture.

As I've mentioned about a thousand times elsewhere on this blog, bacon-wrapped chipolatas (which I call 'Happy Piglets') are the highlight of our festive feast, to the point that mild panic sets in a few days before the big day, with various sisters surging from supermarket to butcher in order to hunt them down and corral them into freezers and fridges.

We usually dish them up with the turkey, but they also make excellent festive snacks. I served them with this sauce at both my 50th birthday party and my book launch, and they were gone in a flash; I recommend that you double the recipe if you are expecting a crowd.

Half-cook the piglets to save oven space.
This Christmas we partly cooked the happy piglets ahead of time because we had limited oven space.

To do the same, place them in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until they are half cooked, then set aside, covered with foil. Then put them in a blazing-hot oven for 10 minutes to crisp up just before you serve them.

This sauce is a little fiddly to make because it's egg based, but if you follow my directions to the letter you cannot go wrong.

If your eggs curdle because you've over-heated them, you'll have to throw them out and start again.

Fresh tarragon isn't easy to come by, so I use dried tarragon, which is beautifully pungent.  If possible, use Maille Dijon mustard, and not some over-yellowy substitute.

This recipe is low in carbohydrates, and suitable for anyone on a #LCHF or diabetic regime.

Low-Carb Bacon-Wrapped Chipolatas with Whipped Mustard Sauce

16 rashers streaky bacon, halved crossways
32 pork chipolatas
fresh rosemary sprigs

For the sauce:
5 Tbsp (75 ml) white wine vinegar
half an onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp (5 ml) dried tarragon
3 free-range egg yolks
2 Tbsp (30 ml) water
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) hot English mustard powder
4 Tbsp (60 ml) Maille Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp (15 ml) butter
salt and milled black pepper
175 ml cream, whipped to a soft peak

You can prepare the Happy Piglets well
 in advance and keep them in the fridge.
Heat the oven to 180 °C. Wrap the bacon around the sausages and tuck a small rosemary sprig into each. Place on a non-stick baking sheet and bake for 20–30 minutes, or until the sausages are cooked and the bacon crisp.

For the sauce, simmer the vinegar, onion and tarragon in a saucepan for 4–5 minutes, or until reduced by half. Put the egg yolks, water, mustard powder, Dijon mustard and butter into a metal or glass bowl and whisk until creamy.

Strain the warm vinegar onto the eggs and mix well. Put the bowl over a pan of simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, for 4–5 minutes, or until hot and very thick. Do not allow the mixture to come anywhere near boiling point. You'll know it's ready when it suddenly thickens.

Season to taste, cool for 5 minutes, and then fold in the whipped cream. Chill.

 Serve the sausages hot with the cold mustard sauce.

Serves 8 as a snack. 

Cook’s Notes
Although best hot from the oven, the sausages can be baked a few hours in advance and reheated in a moderate oven. You can make the mustard sauce up to 24 hours in advance.

Recipe from Scrumptious Food for Family and Friends by Jane-Anne Hobbs, courtesy of Random House Struik.

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Saturday 8 December 2012

Cheesecake with a Fresh Plum Topping

I think plums are overlooked in this country as a noble festive fruit, and I blame the raspberry. Before I warm to the topic, though, here is a picture of my new Christmas dessert: a baked cheesecake with a trembling topping of  tart-sweet plum purée.

The tiny strawberries on top of this slice are from my patch of wild strawberries.
The fruit withered in the heat before it had a chance to ripen properly.
There was a time in South Africa when a tin of Koo cling peaches was considered a compulsory ending to a Christmas feast, whether plonked in a bowl with vanilla ice cream, or layered  in an extravagant trifle consisting of sherry-soaked Swiss roll, greengage and cherry packet jelly, lurid Moirs or Bird's custard and a final flurry of whipped cream.  (I have to wipe away a little tear remembering this sort of pudding: the stalklets of angelica, the chocolate shavings, the glacé cherries and silver balls and nibbed almonds...)

Raspberries and their fashionable purées, coulises and compotes have elbowed our glorious South African tinned peaches off festive menus (at least they have in well-heeled homes; a tin of peaches is still a luxury in many households). I suppose this is inevitable, given that this quintessentially British fruit is now grown locally, and is freely available both fresh and frozen  in our supermarkets.  A plethora of British cookery programmes on South African pay channels has helped to drive sales of raspberries and enthuse local food writers, to the point that you cannot open the December issue of a food magazine without seeing raspberries smallpoxing the surfaces of every cake, ice creams and pavlova in sight.

I'm not knocking raspberries - they're glorious and beautiful - but, like cherries, they're not a fruit that grows with any abandon in our hot country, and so they are ruinously expensive.  I reckon that if you're planning to feature magnificent South African fruits on your festive menu, it's best to stick to the ones we do best in the hot summer months, and those are mangos, litchis, watermelon, peaches and, best of all and most fitting for Christmas, plums.

The wide variety of beautiful plums that fill supermarket shelves from the end of October to the last days of April always tempts me to fill my basket to overflowing . I love the scent and dusky taste of a good plum, whether it's oxblood-red inside and out, or crimson-skinned and fleshily yellow on the inside, or purple and brown as the best prune plums are.

Plums are so versatile. They make brilliant  jams, jellies and sweet-sour Asian-style sauces. You can pickle them, chutney them and compote them, or simply serve them in a shining pyramid surrounded by greenery, as the centrepiece on a Christmas table.

So here is my celebration of December plums. This is a dense-textured baked cheesecake scented with vanilla and lemon zest, glazed all over with a lightly jellied topping of puréed poached plums.  It takes a while to make - and you can do this over a day or two - but it's easy, and the only real effort you will have to make is waiting patiently for everything to chill.

Christmas Cheesecake with a Fresh Plum Topping

1 x 200 g packet tennis or shortbread biscuits, or biscuits of your choice
80 g unsalted butter, melted
3 x 250 g tubs good-quality cream cheese, at room temperature
1½ cups (375 ml) caster sugar
3 extra-large free-range eggs
2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract or essence
finely grated zest of a small lemon
1 Tbsp (15 ml) cornflour

For the plum purée:
7 just-ripe, juicy red plums
1 cup (250 ml) water
½ cup (125 ml) white sugar
a thumb-length strip of lemon zest

For the glaze:
1½ cups (375 ml) plum purée
1 Tbsp (15 ml) water
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) powdered gelatine

Heat the oven to 170 ºC, or 160 ºC if you have a fan-assisted oven. Break up the biscuits and whizz them to fine crumbs in a food processor.  Stir in the melted butter. Press the crumbs evenly over the base of a non-stick 24-cm springform cake tin.

Use the side of a small glass gently to flatten the biscuit base, rolling it around in a circle. Chill the crust while you make the filling.

Put the cream cheese and caster sugar into a large bowl and, using a rotary beater, whisk until just smooth and combined. Beat in the eggs one by one, then whisk in the vanilla, lemon zest and sifted cornflour.

Place a large sheet of heavy-duty tin foil on the counter, and another one the same size on top of that. Place the springform tin on top and bring up the sides of the foil to make a nest around the tin (see picture below). This will prevent water from the bain-marie seeping into the tin.  Fill a large roasting tin three-quarters full with warm water.

Pour the filling into the crumb crust and place the tin in its water bath, making sure the water level is not so high that it will flow over the edges of the foil. Bake for an hour to an hour and a quarter (this will depend on the efficiency of your oven. It is done when it is slightly risen, pulling away at the edges, lightly freckled, and wobbles reluctantly in the centre when you give it a shake). Turn off the oven, open the door, and let the cheesecake cool completely in the oven.  Refrigerate, in its tin, for at least four hours.

Make the purée right away. Cut the plums in half and remove the stones. Put the water and sugar into a saucepan and bring gently to the boil, stirring occasionally. When all the sugar has dissolved, add the plum halves, turn down the heat and simmer for about 8 minutes, or until the plums are just beginning to collapse.  Remove the lemon strip, allow to cool for 10 minutes, and then whizz to a fine purée. Taste the mixture, and add a few drops of lemon juice if you think it's not tart enough. Strain (or leave it slightly coarse), cover and refrigerate until ice-cold.

To glaze the cheesecake, put the water in a little heat-proof bowl and sprinkle the gelatine over it. Set aside for a minute to sponge. 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 from the water. Measure exactly one and a half cups (375 ml) of the very cold plum purée into a mixing bowl and stir in the melted gelatine, scraping every last drop of gelatine into the bowl, and mixing very well.  Set aside for 10 minutes to thicken.

Remove the cheesecake from the fridge and run a knife round the edges. It will have shrunken away from the tin a little. Drizzle the plum purée over the centre of the cheesecake, letting it ooze lazily to the edges and trickle down the sides.  If the glaze slides right off the top, the plum mixture isn't cold enough, and you will need to let it chill in the fridge for a while.

Refrigerate for another two hours, or until the jelly has set. Gently release the cake from its ring, slide it onto a plate and cut into sections with a knife that you've dipped in hot water.  Note: you can try sliding a palette knife between the springform base and the crust to loosen the entire cake, but I don't think it's worth the risk.

Makes one 24-cm cake; serves 8.

Cook's Notes:

- Make sure the cream cheese is at room temperature when you make the filling. Cold cream cheese is difficult to whisk until quite smooth, and you may end up over-beating the batter.

- If you forget to take the cream cheese out of the fridge, you can warm the tubs (all at once) in the microwave, in 30-second bursts.

- If you'd like very thick glaze, you can apply a second layer once the first has set, using the left-over plum purée. Use one teaspoon (5 ml) of gelatine per 250 ml purée.

More of my Scrumptious plum recipes:

Fresh plum jelly with a Lemon Panna Cotta Topping

Fresh-Plum and Almond Cake

Glazed Roast Pork Neck with a Gingery Fresh-Prune Relish

Spiced Plums with Tamarind

Christmassy Plum and Tamarind Sauce

Festive Phyllo Crackers with a Spicy Plum and Almond Filling

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Tuesday 4 December 2012

Bacon-Wrapped Apricot & Macadamia Stuffing Balls for Roast Turkey

If you roll your eyes every year at the wodges of pallid, soggy stuffing that are scooped from the inside of  the Christmas turkey, here is a recipe I think you'll love.  Crunchy macadamia nuts, fresh herbs and little nuggets of apricot mebos are combined with bread crumbs, then rolled into balls, wrapped in bacon and roasted alongside the Christmas gobbler to make a stuffing everyone will want to eat.

Christmas Turkey with Bacon and Apricot Stuffing Balls
Stuffing balls, rustling roast potatoes and a garnish of fresh thyme and
rosemary will transform a humdrum supermarket turkey into a feast.
This beautiful platter was made by my uncle David Walters.

I'm not a huge fan of turkey, but every year I dutifully stuff and roast a big bird for my extended family's Christmas Eve dinner, partly because it's become a minor tradition, pleasing the British-born members of our clan, but also because there's a lot that pleases me about carrying a big golden bird to the table, where it can roost proudly alongside rustling roast potatoes, jug of gravy and several trayfuls of sizzling bacon-wrapped chipolatas.

 There is something faintly ludicrous about roasting a turkey and all its lovely trimmings in the singing heat of a South African December night, but I don't care, because it's part of the madness I so love about the festive season.  The turkey is always eaten in a desultory sort of way, the bacon-wrapped porkies being the star of the show, and hardly anyone eats the stuffing.

I can understand this aversion. No matter how carefully you season and flavour a stuffing, it's essentially still a ball of bread bound with egg and steamed in the cavity of a pre-frozen turkey of dubious quality.  There are those who argue that cooking stuffing inside a bird helps to infuse it with a turkeyish flavour, but there's not much flavour in there to begin with.

Christmas Turkey with Bacon and Apricot Stuffing Balls
Crisp golden roast potatoes that rustle when you shake them...

Why? Because we can't get luscious, plump, fresh free-range turkeys in South Africa, and because no amount of brining, basting, barding and larding will make the slightest difference to the flavour of a factory-reared bird.  Even more important: cramming flavoured bread crumbs into an inferior turkey will significantly slow down the cooking time, resulting in sawdusty breasts and bone-dry wings.  So, the solution, if you'd like a passable Christmas turkey: roast it fairly quickly without stuffing (but with plenty of fragrant aromatics such as lemon, garlic and herbs in the cavity) and serve it with these crunchy little balls of delight.

You can make this stuffing, and wrap it in bacon, the day before your feast, and then simply sling the balls into the oven towards the end of the turkey-cooking time.

Look out in the supermarket for unsugared mebos, which is made from dried, salted apricots.  It has a powerful tart-sweet flavour, so don't be tempted to use too much of it. If you're not in South Africa, use good dried apricots instead - see recipe below. If you'd like to try another sort of stuffing, you'll find links to three more of my festive recipes at the end of this blogpost.

Bacon-Wrapped Apricot & Macadamia Stuffing Balls for Roast Turkey

2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
1 large white onion, peeled and very finely chopped
3 cups (750 ml) fresh white bread crumbs
2 Tbsp (30 ml) finely chopped unsugared apricot mebos (if you can’t find this, use 3 Tbsp finely chopped dried apricots)
2 small cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Dijon mustard
4 Tbsp (60 ml) chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp (30 ml) very finely chopped fresh sage leaves
the finely grated zest of a small lemon
100 g whole macadamia nuts, or a similar nut of your choice
1 extra-large free-range egg, lightly beaten
salt and milled black pepper
6 rashers of rindless streaky bacon
a few extra sprigs of thyme, for decorating
olive oil, for brushing

Heat the oil in a large pan and sauté the onion over a medium-low heat for 4-5 minutes, or until it is soft and just beginning to turn gold.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the bread crumbs, mebos, garlic, mustard, thyme, sage and lemon zest.

Christmas Turkey with Bacon and Apricot Stuffing BallsNow prepare the macadamia nuts. Put them in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and push the pulse button quickly a few times, just enough to process them to a mixture of coarse crumbs and some bigger chunks the size of frozen peas.  If you don’t have a food processor, chop two-thirds of the nuts very finely, and bash the remaining third into big bits using a rolling pin.

Stir the nuts into the stuffing mixture along with the beaten egg and mix thoroughly and gently until everything is just clinging together in a large, soft clump. Season to taste with salt and pepper. At this point, it’s a good idea to take a good pinch of stuffing, press it lightly into a miniature patty and fry it on both sides in a little hot oil until gold.  Taste the stuffing, and perk it up with more salt and pepper if you think it needs it.

Pinch off large pieces of stuffing – each about the size of an apricot - and gently roll them between your hands to form balls.Cut the bacon rashers lengthways into two long, narrow strips.  This is easiest to do using a very sharp pair of scissors. Wrap a length of bacon around the ‘waist’ of each stuffing ball, and press it down gently.

Bake the stuffing balls along with your roast potatoes and turkey at 180 ºC for about 35 minutes, or until the bacon has crisped and the stuffing is golden and crunchy on top. Watch them closely, as they burn fast.

Makes 12 balls. Double this quantity if you are roasting a giant bird.

More stuffing recipes:

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