Still Life With Wooden Spoon

Thoroughly Marvellous Vegetables
September 25, 2010, 8:49 am
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Getting over my fear of deep frying was a major milestone for me. I had heard too many horror stories in my life of kitchen infernos and the like, and was put off for ages. I’m not saying I don’t burn myself each and every time I do it, but I see the pain as penance for the calories that ensue. All this being said, I have been eyeing out this Jamie Oliver recipe for curry-infused veg fritters for ages, and with a friend’s coming home dinner on the cards, it was the perfect time for their debut.

You start by putting 1 tsp cumin seeds, 2 tsp mustard seeds, 2 dried chillies and 1 tsp black peppercorns in a dry pan and toasting them all off briefly. Then they go swiftly into the pestle and mortar to be ground to oblivion. Left to cool, they are then added to 200g flour that’s also had 1/2 tsp turmeric and a pinch of salt thrown in. Pour in a bottle of cold beer, mix it all up, and you’ve got a rather lovely (and quite versatile) batter.

Next you prep some veggies by chopping them up into mouthful sized pieces and dredging in flour. I went for cauliflower, red pepper and broccoli. Put a fair amount of oil on to heat (remember never to fill the pan more than a 1/3), batter the veg, and fry in batches until golden and crunchy. Serve with a sprinkle of salt and decent couple of squeezes of lemon juice and you’re done. Marvellous.

These veg were served with a truly amazing beetroot and creme fraiche salad whipped up by the Avant Gardener, using beetroot from the garden. After boiling them until tender they were simply chopped up and mixed together with a pot of creme fraiche, splash of red wine vinegar and some shredded rocket – creamy, tangy, and the perfect complement to the veg. All in all a delightful evening – and mostly virtuous…


Mmm… Meatballs
September 19, 2010, 5:28 pm
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It’s difficult to find out that you’ve been doing something the wrong way for years. This was most certainly the case with the way I make meatballs. For ages, I had soldiered on and done them the same way, using only beef mince. This is all well and good, but by doing so you run the risk of producing little beef-flavoured bullets because the mince tends towards dryness. The epiphany came for me a year or so ago, when I read about using a mix of half pork sausage meat, and half beef mince when making them, and life’s never been quite the same. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of recipes that call for a third of each of these, and then a third of veal mince, but when someone can find me a supplier and funder for the latter in Durban, then I’ll give it a go. Until then, this will do just fine, thank you.

Anyway – to make a rather lovely Sunday night meal, that’s just one notch above omelettes on the simplicity scale, you can’t do much better than this meatball recipe. You start with 500g beef mince (I like it quite lean) and 500g sausage meat, squeezed from the casings. Place in a bowl, and add a fistful or two of breadcrumbs*, some mixed herbs, one egg, crushed garlic and chill, and a touch of salt and pepper. Mix this all together – using your hands I’m afraid, no getting around it – and shape into little balls. I tend to make them about the diameter of a R5 coin.

With your meatballs ready, fry them off in batches in the tiniest touch of oil. You’re not looking to cook them, but just brown them for now. Put them into a baking dish as you go. When you’re done, place a knob of butter in the frying pan, add some garlic and chilli. Add two tins of chopped tomatoes, a squeeze of tomato past, some mixed herbs, and a sprinkle of sugar if it’s tasting a bit tart. Simmer away for about 15 mins or so. Once the tomato is fairly soft, pour over the meatballs and bake for 25 mins or so at 180ºC. About halfway through the cooking time, take out the dish and sprinkle over some parmesan and mozzarella. Once the cheese is golden and the meatballs are cooked through, you’re done.

You can either serve this with some cooked pasta or, more simply, with a couple of hunks of decent bread and a green salad. I tend more towards the latter, but either way it’s well a great dish. Delicious.

*Tip: if you ever find yourself with a substantial amount of stale bread, blitz it all up in a food processer and place in a Glad bag in the freezer. That way you’ve got breadcrumbs on demand for the foreseeable future. A touch of foresight required, but rather useful nonetheless.

On the Virtue of a Well-Prepared Chicken
September 15, 2010, 5:52 pm
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I used to hate roast chicken. When I was little it was the bane of my existence. In my mind it was always so dry it squeaked against your teeth, and was devoid of any flavour whatsoever, striking fear into my prepubescent heart. This may, however, be due to the fact that our much-loved domestic at the time was no kitchen virtuoso. There were many things that she was a pro at, though. She made amazing banana bread and scones the size of your head, the likes of which I have never been able to replicate. Chicken, unfortunately, was not her forte.

When I began to learn to cook, then, I was determined to make the roast palatable, and it was dear Delia Smith who showed how. The secret – as in so many dishes – lies in butter. Lots and lots of butter. Smooshed up with garlic and lemon zest and shoved under the skin, you just roast away and can be sure in the amazingness of the results. For this evening’s chicken, however, there was to be an added element. We have had a glut of pork sausages in the house for various reasons, and so some stuffing was the designated way to use them up.

So, with the meat of four sausages squeezed out of the skins, a single apple was peeled, cored and grated and then chucked in the bowl. With an onion grated and fried to join this mix, a healthy dose of sage was added, a couple of handfuls of breadcrumbs co-opted into the mix, and an egg introduced to bind the lot. Shoved up the chicken’s jacksie till bursting, the bird was then oiled up, seasoned and banged in the braai.

After about 50 minutes or so on the braai (it was a small-ish bird), it was ready to carve up. The lemony tang from the top of the bird mingled beautifully with the appley savoury flavours underneath, and much joy resulted. If you’re not feeling the stuffing vibe – and to be honest, we seldom do – just quarter up the lemon that you zested to go under the skin and then chuck it in the cavity with some garlic before roasting. A different dish results, but one that is just as pleasing in its own right. And so the humble roast can be lifted to something rather lovely – expecially when you serve it up with a nice green salad and some crisp roasted potato wedges. How marvellous.

Behold the Flammkuchen
September 11, 2010, 2:41 pm
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You may have read in one of my previous posts about a rather memorable encounter with Flammkuchen at the Old Biscuit Mill when I was in Cape Town recently. This completely addictive dish involves spreading pizza dough with crème fraiche and then sprinkling with onion, spring onion, smoked ham and a touch of cheese before baking in a blisteringly hot oven. It was possibly a strange choice for Saturday morning breakfast, but it was suitably memorable to bear replication when I returned home to Durban.

So, on my way out of the house to the Avant Gardener’s, with a vague promise of producing dinner for the evening, I remembered some pizza dough that I had made a week or so ago. It is remarkably freezer tolerant, and simply needs to be left out on the counter for an hour or so to be revived for use. A few balls were quickly whisked into a bag, and I was off, with my eyes squarly set on an evening of Flammkuchen. A quick stop off at Woolworths was, however, necessary. Say what you will about dear old WW, where else can one get crème fraiche at 6:30 in the evening?

Once arrived at the AG’s place, we fired up the oven and began the cooking. With the dough rolled out using a bottle of that student favourite, Cheateau Libertas, the crème fraiche and other toppings were liberally applied. I had read online that one could use emmental cheese as a topping in order to complement the sour cream taste, but we opted for plain old mozzarella. It should be noted too that, if cooking this for vegetarians, the ham can be substituted with spinach and/or mushrooms. Not tonight though. It was to be Flammkuchen as the Germans/French/Alsatians intended…

Et voila. With 15 minutes or so at 200 degrees the Flammkuchen emerged from the oven in all their golden glory. With a masterfully prepared side salad, care of the AG, and making use of garden harvested rocket, dinner was served. Delicious.

On the Virtue of Proper Mash
August 30, 2010, 6:38 pm
Filed under: Cooking, Musing | Tags: , , ,

So, my parents returned home yesterday with a briefcase filled with artisinal, pork-based products from the Joostenberg Deli in Cape Town. Such a thing is not completely unheard of in my family; one of my earliest memories is of my father returning home from the UK with a whole wheel of stilton secreted in his suitcase. Foodiness must run in the blood. This strange, Proustian moment aside, amongst these porcine delights were some packages of rather special sausages (Toulouse and British Bangers). These were simply crying out for some proper mash tonight – a combination which rather effectively banished the Monday blues.

Now, I have mentioned previously that I am a scrambled egg fascist. Well, my totalitarian tendencies also extend to mashed potatoes. I believe that Proper Mash (note the capitalisation) is the cornerstone of western civilisation (note the lack of capitalisation) and, as such, warrants a blog post of its own.

In order to craft the ideal mash, you need to peel and boil a number of potatoes until tender. You could, alternatively, steam them, but there is something suitably Dickensian about a boiled potato. Once this is done – after about 20 minutes have passed – you strain the potatoes, and leave them to drain in a colander. While this is accomplished, you place a rather indulgent knob of butter in a saucepan with a decent splash of milk, and apply some heat until melted and combined. Then you mash the potatoes, combine with the butter and milk mix, and beat with a wooden spoon until gloriously silky. Add a generous grind of salt and some (I cannot emphasise this enough) white pepper, beat a touch more, and you’re done.

If you haven’t scrimped on the butter, and have applied a suitable amount of elbow grease to the whole process, what you should be left with is the most amazing mashed potato of your life. Even the meanest of mean reds (see Breakfast at Tiffany’s) would disappear when confronted with such a dish. Enjoy.

A New Way with Gnocchi
August 19, 2010, 10:39 am
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I am a big fan of gnocchi. I know some people it to be a touch on the heavy side, but I find that with a modicum of self-restraint in portion sizing, they are marvellously satisfying. When it comes to sauces for the little dumplings of joy, though, I had only experimented with riffs on blue cheese or napoletana bases up ’til now. Opening the fridge, I was this time, however, confronted with the usual panoply of healthy vegetables with which the Avant-Gardener likes to stock his kitchen. Mushrooms were the first candidates to be roped into the sauce – no huge surprises there – but then I was tempted by a co-star that was just unusual enough to work: broccoli.

With a lick of olive oil to lubricate the pan, some minced garlic was briefly sautéed, followed by some sliced mushrooms. I sliced the broccoli up into fairly small chunks, and then added them to the pan to cook for a touch. This being done, a generous knob of butter was introduced into the equation, followed by a liberal sprinkle of flour. This mixture was left on the heat briefly to let the flour cook out, and then milk was added until it reached the right consistency – something just a touch thicker than thick cream.

The end now in sight, a healthy handful of grated parmesan was added to the sauce, with a liberal grinding of black pepper. All this while, some water was put on the boil, and the gnocchi given their brief cooking while the sauce finished up. The cooked gnocchi was tossed in the sauce to coat, and then served up with another generous sprinkle of cheese.

Now, it may seem like a strange combination, but the broccoli adds a welcome crunch to the sometimes too-squidgy gnocchi. The presence of some greenery also assuages the guilt of a cheesy sauce, so it’s win-win on all accounts. Deliciousness abounds.

Leisurely Weekend Oats
August 16, 2010, 8:12 am
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I used to think that oats were the singularly most dismal food known to man. In my opinion, they looked like despair, tasted grey, and generally left one picking husks out of one’s teeth all day. My mother is a firm believer in their virtue, however, and was on my case for ages to give them a try. With her coaxing, a touch of honey and some raisins I can now just about bear them as a breakfast, but when the weekend rolls around, I believe you can tart them up sufficiently to actually make them something you would *want* to eat. And I do so as follows:

With the oats put on to boil with some water and a pinch of salt, I throw in some raisins and nuts (in this case sunflower seeds took the latter’s place). Then I grate two apples, skin and all, and throw them into the mix. Finally, a pinch or two of cinnamon, and a decent swirl of honey are introduced into the pot to finish it all off.

Not the most complicated of recipes, but it’s rather tasty. The leisurely preparation also allows for some Sunday morning conversation while the pot bubbles away to itself. And so, with a cup of decent coffee (organic, or course), and taken on a sunlit balcony, these are oats done right.