Still Life With Wooden Spoon

A New Way with Gnocchi
August 19, 2010, 10:39 am
Filed under: Cooking | Tags: , ,

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
Filed under: Cooking | Tags: ,

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.

Salt and Pepper Calamari
August 15, 2010, 5:34 pm
Filed under: Cooking | Tags: , ,

My parents have recently discovered an amazing new fishmonger in Durban North, under the Gourmet Burger Co. I have not yet ventured there, but they returned from there yesterday with an admirable haul, including some sinfully fresh tuna and Patagonian Calamari. Now, I have a love-hate relationship with calamari, and have been disappointed too many times by greasy, chewy morsels that don’t quite live up to their full potential. When it’s done well though, it’s one of the best dishes, I feel, and well worth a blog post. And that time is now…

This calamari was mercifully preprepared, and came washed, trimmed and the like, ready to be cooked. It takes minimal effort really – I merely dipped the calamari into some lightly beaten egg white, and then dredged in equal amounts of flour and cornflour that was liberally seasoned salt and black pepper. This being done, I simply deep-fried for the briefest two minutes – just until the rings rose up in the boiling oil. With a quick draining on some kitchen towel, it’s all ready to be plated up.

I quite like serving this with a squeeze of lemon juice and some fresh aioli. Alternatively, it’s also beyond delicious when accompanied by a Vietnamese-style dipping sauce (a recipe which I will one day blog). Crispy, salty, and deliciously moreish – nothing could be better really.

Double Excitement
August 15, 2010, 2:26 pm
Filed under: Musing | Tags: , ,

I have enjoyed dipping my toes into the vast blogosphere ocean lately, nurturing my little bloglet with posts, and exploring the grooviness of others’. I’ve been a food blog follower for a while now – a subject for a future posting all of its own – but some other local sites have well and truly caught my eye recently. They are, in no particular order:

Sprig – A Superlative Exploration of All Things Green
This is a great site for finding out more about various gardening projects, sustainability issues, and general green ephemera. A combination of authored, crowdsourced, and curated posts means that there is plenty going on here – all of it rather interesting.

Mint – A Retro Wonderland
If, like me, you have a fondness for all things retro, Mint will probably be your new favourite site. Whether you’re looking to buy some (exceptionally well priced) vintage smalls, or just like to perve over the retro-goodness, it’s well worth a visit.

Bridget McNulty – Local Author Extraordinaire
A peek into the mind of this rather groovy lady, with musings on life, cooking, and everything in between. The perfect place to get your recipe fix, or just escape an afternoon’s ennui.

So, the title of this post suggests not one, but two items of blogworthy excitement. The aforementioned trio of websites was, of course, the first of these, and now for the second. After years of resisting gardening, I was coerced into helping with the establishment of three rather sweet little permaculture pots of goodness. I should mention, though, that only the impending edibility of everything that was planted motivated me getting my hands dirty. Some beetroot, basil, coriander, lettuce and pak choi are all now nestled in their pots, so it’s only a matter of time before they become an ingredient for future posts. Marvellous.

The Simplest of Starters
August 13, 2010, 10:38 am
Filed under: Starter | Tags: , , ,

I’m usually quite ambivalent about starters. I find doing individual plates of fiddly bits and pieces rather twee, and am a firm supporter of the mezze platter camp. Give me some little bowls of intensely flavoured olives and the like, with some bread to soak the sauce up, and I’m happy. So, with a somewhat special dinner planned, and a starter required, I turned to my favourite back up: foccacia.

I shared a pizza dough recipe on this blog before (link) – and this is the same dough I made up for this dinner. After the kneading, rising and knocking back, all that’s needed is to roll it out nice and thinly with a lick of olive oil, some garlic, herbs salt and pepper. In a blisteringly hot oven it puffs up rather marvellously and impressively, ready to be torn apart at the table.

When it’s not going to be used to soak up mezze sauces, I like to make a napoletana to have with my foccacia. It’s a trick I learned from Primi Piatti – of all places – when it first opened in Gateway (and was still decent). Making this sauce couldn’t be easier: sauté some garlic in a pan with a knob of butter and some olive oil. Add the tinned tomatoes, some tomato paste, and some chopped fresh rosemary. Once it’s all cooked down, you’ve got a rather simple, but altogether delicious napoletana.

So that’s it, starter sorted. A freshly baked foccacia, and piping hot napoletana for the dipping. Perfect for that “kinda-casual-but-I-still-need-to-impress-a-little-bit” occasion.

A Rather Collaborative Soup
August 12, 2010, 10:37 am
Filed under: Dinner | Tags: , ,

It has been freezing in Durban this week. Given, winter was incredibly mild up until now, but this has been a cold snap with a vengeance. And so, with this being the case, a dinner to warm the spirits was on the cards.

The Avant-Gardener and I settled on a Thai-inspired vegetable soup as being the most weather-appropriate meal. If one was being incredibly generous with the nomenclature, it could have been termed a Tom Yum, but that may be a bit of a stretch. Whatever it was, it was delicious, and made as follows:

An onion and red pepper were first chopped and sautéed in a hint of oil. Following this, we added some red curry paste and cooked it off a touch. This being done, carrots, Brussels sprouts, green beans, and broccoli were all chopped into manageable chunks and added to the mix. Some rice noodles were soaked in just-boiled water until soft, and added to the pot, along with their water, and a tin of coconut milk. Finally, some raw peanuts were added, along with a healthy squeeze of lemon juice, as well as some soy sauce. Finally, with the briefest of simmering, the soup could be dished up in steaming bowlfuls.

And so, with me chopping and the Avant-Gardner driving the hob, we managed to cobble together a Thai Fanagalo broth. The perfect combination of vegetable crunch, noodle slurp and spicy warmth – altogether healthy, tasty, and guilt-free.

Flourless Chocolate Cake
August 10, 2010, 10:38 am
Filed under: Dinner | Tags: , , ,

So, with a casual, Monday night dinner on the cards, and some people coming over, a pudding was required. Now, I’m a huge believer in the zen of the pre-dinner prep, and am quite happy to start cooking at lunch time, if it means I can spend more time actually enjoying the company (and food) later. Being one of the most disorganised people on the planet doesn’t help my case here much, but I believe that intentions of organisation are better than a lack of planning altogether.

This all being the case, I have plumbed the depths of various time-tolerant chocolate-y desserts, and always come back to this one. The classic flourless chocolate cake. When done well it exhibits the perfect combination of dense sweetness and a bitter, almost fruity cocoa-ness. Because someone else was paying for the ingredients, I splurged out on Lindt chocolate too – much indulgence.

I’ve done versions of this cake with ground nuts, or cocoa, replacing the flour, but this is a purist version: chocolate, eggs, sugar, butter, and nothing more. Well, I say nothing more, but I felt like adding some coarsely chopped hazelnuts for the hell of it. They are, I feel, strictly optional. I know I don’t usually put strict recipes up, but for baking it is somewhat different, and for anyone who wants to replicate this, here it is:

300g dark chocolate
85g butter
2 tsp vanilla extract/essence
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 c sugar

Preheat your oven to just under 180ºC, and prepare (butter and flour) a springform pan with a circle of greaseproof on the base. Then chop and melt together the chocolate and butter – I am a recent convert to doing this in the microwave (shock horror), but what the hell, it really is the easiest way. Add the vanilla and let it cool.

In another bowl combine the eggs and sugar and beat until it triples in volume. Pour in the cooled chocolate mixture and fold together. You can also add the nuts now if you’re so inclined. Pour into the pan and bake until it forms a crust on top and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean-ish, but with some squidge attached. It takes about 20 minutes for me, but just keep an eye on yours – all ovens are slightly different.

And there you have it. Once cooled, the top will collapse somewhat, but such is the aesthetic of this cake. Dust with cocoa powder or icing sugar to prettify it somewhat – I also added some crushed meringues to the top of mine, but only because they were forthcoming. This being done, serve with thick cream and enjoy. Delicious.