Still Life With Wooden Spoon


Wooden Spoon Moves Home
October 24, 2010, 3:25 pm
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.




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