Still Life With Wooden Spoon


Wooden Spoon Moves Home
October 24, 2010, 3:25 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Hello all – from now on I’ll be blogging from www.woodenspoon.co.za – thanks to the ever-capable tech assistance of the avant-gardener. See you there…



Socialisation
August 31, 2010, 6:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

So, just in case you weren’t in the know, I’m doing a weekly post on The Socialite. It’s the same name, same laissez-faire approach to cooking, and an extra dose of SLWWS to beat the Monday blues… Lovely…



Gnudi Descending a Staircase
July 27, 2010, 12:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

I am a sucker for gnocchi. I know that they’re usually an incredibly rib-stickingly heavy meal, especially when combined with a rather sinful blue cheese sauce, but I think food needs a certain amount of indulgence to be worthwhile. Even if only once in a while.

So, on one of those neverending Friday afternoons at work, when it feels like 5 o’clock is never going to come true, what did I find but a marvellous recipe for the heavenly lovechild of gnocchi and ravioli – be still my beating heart. It’s from the rather lovely Koek! blog, to which I would definitely recommend a visit.

Now, I had only ever attempted to make gnocchi on one rather abortive occasion. Needless to say, all I ended up with was a plate of terrifyingly dense and sticky potato bullets that were all but inedible. I decided to give it another chance with this recipe though – being devoid of potato, I thought it might have a different cooking karma around it.

It’s all easy enough to execute – wilt some spinach, then squeeze out the liquid and chop. When combined with some ricotta, flour, parmesan and egg, you’re left with a sticky-ish dough (I suppose it would be called). This is then deftly rolled out on a floured surface and chopped into little dumpling-ettes. With a brief boiling, and subsequent caress of napoletana sauce, they make for a marvellous dinner.

I can see myself doing this as a starter in future. You can make the gnudi in advance (I did for this) and just cook them up when you’re ready to eat. How lovely.



The Tao of Scrambled Eggs
July 25, 2010, 12:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

It was the morning after a night before – along with a certain dryness behind the eyes that can only be the result of multiple gin and tonics – and breakfast was required. Now, I am the first to admit that I am a bit of an egg fascist. I’ll accept, and even look forward to, variations and interpretations in any other dishes, but in the theology of the kitchen, eggs are my dogma. Now that that is out of the way – on to the breakfast. Or, to be more precise, scrambled eggs with pesto.

It’s deceptively simple. After mixing together six eggs (I was cooking for 3), a healthy portion of pesto, salt and pepper, the pan is heated and introduced to an indulgent knob of butter. Once frothing, the eggs are added and stirred. After a couple of seconds, I like to turn the heat off and just let the eggs thicken themselves, giving them a good mix around every now and again. I find that the residual heat does the trick, and doing them this way stops them from drying out. I actually end up “cooking” the eggs for quite a while, stirring for ages, and turning the gas on for a bit again if they need a bit of coaxing. The end result is, however, delightful. Creamy, rich, and flecked through with rather delicious pesto.

Once done to the required done-ness, the eggs just need to make the acquaintance of some cunningly preprepared toast and breakfast is served. There’s something incredibly zen-like about perfect scrambled eggs, especially when eaten on a balcony in marvellous company on a rather lovely Saturday morning. Accompanied by a cup or two of coffee, the hangover was sent on its way, and the weekend could continue. Lovely.



An Aubergine by Any Other Name
July 21, 2010, 10:56 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

Now, I am an avowed carnivore and firmly believe in the virtues of red meat. This is not, however, to say that I am averse to the gentle pleasures of a good vegetarian dish. I have had a run of cruelty-free dinners lately, including almost-chicken cacciatore, and a rather delicious broccoli and feta soup at the House with No Flour. Inspired such virtuous, gentle cuisine, when I opened the fridge at home and was confronted by some brinjals and feta, I knew what had to be done. Brinjal and feta rolls.

You begin by slicing the brinjals lengthways, coating with a lick of olive oil and then griddling them. Just be careful not to overcook them at this stage, or it’ll all go to mush in a minute. Once they start to go translucent they’re pretty much done. The residual heat with do the rest of the work.

Brinjals taken care of, you crumble a wheel or two of feta into a bowl and introduce it to a generous squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of lemon zest. Then, add dash of chilli (I used some mazavaroo that was lurking in our fridge), some black pepper, and a bit of chiffonaded rocket (mint would be great here, but we had none).

Once the two elements are ready, you just place a spoonful of the feta mixture onto a slice of brinjal and roll it up. You can use toothpicks to secure it all, but I just warn whoever’s eating it to be careful of it all unravelling, and we’re usually fine.

So there you have it – a rather zesty, summary morsel that works well as part of an antipasto-type platter, or a great veg side dish.



The House with No Flour
July 6, 2010, 10:36 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

It is with much shamefaced-ness that I post this highly belated update. There has been far too much writing of copy and far too little weekend in the past while, but hopefully this butternut and mushroom pasta will serve as a moderately exculpating factor.

So, presented with the challenge of preparing a dinner that was both suitably impressive, and vaguely healthy, the murky beginnings of this dish began to form in my mind. I’d made something somewhat along these lines as a ravioli filling and risotto variant in the days when I was unemployed and flush with free time, so I briskly stepped up to the (hot)plate and started cooking. The stars of this show, in no particular order, are: pumpkin (diced), mushrooms (sliced), garlic (minced), and rocket (plucked).

After a putting the mushrooms on to sauté with the merest hint of garlic, the pumpkin was briefly microwaved and then grilled – with more time, inclination and effort it should be roasted, but grilling gives a suitably analogous flavour when under time constraints. Once both were brought to submission, a healthy knob of butter was used to smooth the introduction of the two, and a two-man clutch of pasta was boiled until al dente. With said pasta boiled, it was added to the mushroom/pumpkin mixture with a manly fistful of baby rocket (impressively cultivated on-site). And thus was a Sunday night dinner born.

Now, to the point of the title. I would have liked to lubricate the resultant sauce with a slug of cream, but alas there was none. As a back-up plan, I decided to try and concoct a sneaky béchamel to bind it all. And there lay the rub. I had happened to happen upon the only house in the greater Durban area devoid of flour. No cheeky baked goods graced these walls apparently. The moral of the story, however, is that the pasta was quite delicious without these calorific additions. Either could – and probably will in future – be added, as required.

And so a rather lovely weekend was rounded off. A virtuous Sunday night dinner to end a somewhat overindulgent weekend (or Friday night at least).



Panforte anyone?
May 9, 2010, 5:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

I decided to make panforte as a treat for Mother’s Day. It’s one of my Mom’s favourite nibbles, and I tweaked the recipe somewhat to include her fruit of choice, figs. This is usually a Christmassy affair, but I don’t think that this dense combination of nuts, glacé fruit and spices is something that should ever be kept for only once a year. It’s somewhere between nougat and Christmas cake, but without all the raisins to spoil it.

Now, this recipe requires a hint of daring, because it requires one to get out the cooking thermometer and delve into the somewhat scary world of cooking with molten sugar. I don’t think I’ve ever gone through this ordeal without at least a few scars afterwards, but if you grit your teeth, and prepare for a bit of pain, the results are worth it. This time I managed to flick an incendiary piece of the molten sugar onto my lip, but such hazards are to be expected.

So, one begins by chopping up and combining a combo of glacé fruit and nuts and then combining it with cocoa powder, spices and a hint of flour. Then you melt sugar and honey until it hits the magic mark on the thermometer and, throwing caution to the wind, combining the two mixtures. Once coaxed into prepared pans (quickly, mind you, because this solidifies incredibly quickly) and baked for half an hour, the results are always magical. Once it’s done, a liberal dusting of icing sugar keeps it from sticking to all and sundry. Sliced into slivers and served with coffee, you’re ready to impress everyone with your delightful confection, and street-cred scars…

Panforte:

150g mixed nuts (toasted) – I used almonds and walnuts.
175 g glacé cherries, peel and figs (chopped)
50 g flour
25 g cocoa powder
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp mixed spices
100 g caster sugar
100 g honey

Line the bottom of a round 20 cm pan with baking paper.
Preheat the oven to 150°C.
Mix nuts, fruit, flour, cocoa, cinnamon and mixed spices.

Mix sugar and honey in a large sauce pan and gently heat until the sugar has dissolved/melted. Raise the temperature and allow the mixture to cook until 115°C. Immediately add the nut, peel and flour mixture and stir until combined.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a wet spoon. Work as quickly as possible because the mixture will firm up when it cools.
Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan. Invert and place the right side up. Generously dust with a mixture of icing sugar.

I suggest some daring, devil-may-care music while making this. Morrissey is always a good choice when throwing caution to the wind and “You are the Quarry” has the right hauteur for the occasion. That, and I just like listening to Morrissey. No-one usually lets me, but when in possession of a vat of scorching sugar, not many will argue with one’s music choice.



Home-made pizza
May 3, 2010, 6:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

I used to think that making pizza would be the biggest shlep known to man. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fucked this up a couple of times. It’s like anything though, after a couple of times, once you’ve got the knack, you wonder how you ever didn’t do it yourself. There’s one caveat though. You pretty much have to use proper 00 flour. I’ve made these bases once with normal bread flour, and they reminded me so much of the entirely off-putting “pizzas” we used to get in res that I’ve never done it with anything but 00 since. You can get it at some delis and speciality stores, and it’s worth buying two while you’re at it, because once you’ve made these once, there’s no turning back.

So, you’ve bought your 00, now who do we turn to for a suitable recipe? Jamie Oliver of course. I’m not usually the hugest fan of his, but I found this recipe online and it’s worked so well I’ve never needed another. I make the whole kilo of flour into dough at a time because it freezes exceptionally well. You can get between 10 and 12 bases out of one kg, depending how big you make them. The best part of this is, once you’ve taken one of your – separately wrapped and frozen – globules of potential pizza out and left it to thaw at room temperature for an hour, you can win friends and influence people with a fresh focaccia in mere minutes.

I assume you know how to assemble a pizza once you’ve made the dough. Roll it out, cover with the merest hint of some good napoletana, add cheese and toppings and bake in a fairly hot oven until it bubbles and blisters to mouth-watering doneness.

My personal topping preference is for capers, olives and salami, with a sprinkle of raw rocket once it’s out of the oven – but do what you will. Just remember, pizza toppings are like an edible Rorschach test. So, anchovy lovers, assemble at your own peril. Anyway, the recipe itself follows, but here are my pizza rules. If you use this recipe, you have to follow the rules. If you don’t, you may as well order Debonairs.

1) Pizza is not a topping free for all. A little goes a long way. And yes, cheese is a topping, not a base.
2) Use a decent napoletana sauce for the base. Throw some fresh herbs in while you’re at it. You deserve it.
3) Roll the base out really, really thinly. Once again, this isn’t Debonairs.
4) Get your oven really really hot, and preheat your pan. It’s all about the crisp.

So go on. Make this at least once in your life. Your friends and significant others will thank you.

Home made pizza - note the rustic baking tray

If you want the full pizza making experience, I suggest some decent wine and music at the ready. I’m going through a Patti Smith and Sauvignon Blanc stage. How can you not love a woman with lyrics like:

It was if someone had spread butter on all the fine points of the stars
‘Cause when he looked up they started to slip.
Then he put his head in the crux of his arm
And he started to drift, drift to the belly of a ship…

The woman is a genius. And goes very well with a dry white wine. Like all the best.

Pizza Dough (Jamie Oliver)

Ingredients:

• 1kg strong white bread flour or Tipo ‘00’ flour
• 1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
• 2 x 7g sachets of dried yeast
• 1 tablespoon golden caster sugar
• 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 650ml lukewarm water

Method:

Sieve the flour and salt on to a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. In a jug, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.

Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands – this is called knocking back the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in clingfilm, in the fridge (or freezer) until required.



Cookies, risotto and kittens, oh my!
April 19, 2010, 6:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

So this weekend turned out to be quite decent in the foodie arena. The family and I tried out the new Mama Luciana’s in Glenashley and, despite my restaurant-chain fears, it proved to be quite alright. Very decent pizzas and pastas were had by all, and they serve a mean antipasto starter vibe, with all the requisite parma ham, coppa and pickles. It’s nothing that’s going to change the world, but with a dearth of decent restaurants on this side of the river, it’s good to have another place to go for dinner without having to pack a tent and padkos for the journey.

But now for the cooking. On Saturday evening I went over to my friends Marc and Sinead’s place with the express purpose of making the most indulgent cookies possible. I’ve had a recipe by Nigella Lawson just waiting on my desktop for such an occasion, though was slightly wary of the vast amounts of chocolate it calls for. When she cooks it on her show, the conceit is that a friend has just broken up with her boyfriend, and these are ostensibly the comfort food. Hence the scads of chocolate.

So, watching out not to stand on their newly-acquired kitten Dakota (who is incidentally, possibly the cutest feline in the world) and putting trepidation to one side, Sinead and I embarked on the various choppings, meltings and mixings. After all of this, we were left with a (quite dry) batter to dollop in great lumps on the baking tray. I was slightly worried about the consistency, but we forged ahead and baked them nonetheless. I took them out early because I was worried about them burning, and despite their initial gooeyness, when they set, we were left with the most amazing biscuits I think I have ever had in my life. Incredibly rich, and just calling out for a cup of tea, but still amazing.

Nigella’s Cookies Link

The next day, I rekindled my love-affair with risotto.

Now, I’ve been making risotto since puberty. I learned how from the Carlton Food Network back in the day. Usually, though, it always turned out way too stodgy. Though, on the up-side, when rolled into balls, dredged in bread-crumbs, and deep fried they made a kick-ass starter. I’ve been craving it lately though, so I thought I’d have another go.

I did some recipe hunting, and by synthesising a few together, I think I’ve come up with something pretty good. I started with the usual shallot, garlic and butter loveliness, added the Arborio and a very healthy glug of wine and reduced.

I’ve learned that stock has to be warm, otherwise it messes the risotto juju up. Warm stock is happy stock, after all. Now, some patience is required. Very gently one introduces the stock to the risotto until it they are well acquainted. I kinda play it by ear at this point, and wait to reach the squidge-crunch-creamy sweet spot, when you’ve got perfectly al dente rice suspended in a marvellously rich ooze. What could add to this combination you ask? Well, the zest of one and a half lemons, for one. And a knob of butter. And a handful of parmesan. When stirred together, magic results. A  handful or so of peas also helps.

So that’s it, one would think. Not quite.

Because I wasn’t so keen on the salmon the rest of the family was going for, I decided to poach an egg (the proper way), to have with my risotto dinner vibe. With a healthy handful of shredded rocket and coriander and another good measure of parmesan, I was done. I cannot emphasise enough how delicious this was. I know most people would’ve turned their noses up at the egg, but something about the runny yolk mixing in with the risotto was doing something else to me. Paired with a lovely Tokara Zondernaam Sauvignon Blanc, I can’t think of a better Sunday dinner. Also, with a decent panful of leftovers, I was treated to a perfect gloomy Monday lunch at work. That citrusy goodness got me through the first day back after the weekend the way nothing else could’ve. I just took the leaves separately, added some nice Mozzies ham and I was set.

Soundtrack:

So, I threatened to include a music bit to my posts, so here it is. At M & S’s, I was obliquely introduced to the Avett Brothers, who I still need to explore more before I make any firm decisions. For the risotto, I started with a bit of Francoise Hardy – inspired by a friend’s Facebook status – which was nice for that Sunday evening, glass of wine and cooking feeling. Otherwise, I rediscovered Bill Callahan (ex-beau of Joanna Newsom) after a long absence – “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle.” For a bit of slightly deppro, but incredibly engaging freaky-folky-country you can’t do much better. There are definite shades of Johnny Cash and Bonnie Prince Billy in the album, but with a healthy New Weird America sensibility.



So… here’s the thing…
April 12, 2010, 7:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ah… the inaugural blog post… So much potential. Anyway, here’s the rundown:

I kinda like food. I may be a mild-mannered copywriter by day, but outside of office hours (and that one time, during) I try and cook as much as I can. So, I said to myself, I’d kinda like to write about food. I also kinda like music, and so that may seep into it at some point (it’s “The Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nations’ Millennium General Assembly” by Le Loup at the moment).

I could kick myself, because I have had a fairly decent run of dishes lately – old fashioned fish cakes and caper hollandaise, and lamb shanks and penne aglio olio on the weekend, and some kick ass banana and cranberry muffins tonight. Had I had the foresight to take some pictures, these would probably be the subject of today’s post. I’ll try harder in future… I promise.

So anyway – there will be food, there will be music, and there will be unapologetic literary references – the title of the blog for one  – and I hope someone reads it all.

And that, unfortunately, shall be it for the night.

PS – I promise to change the lame-ass stock standard blog theme soon.




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.