Still Life With Wooden Spoon

On the Virtue of Midweek Treats
August 22, 2010, 2:16 pm
Filed under: Musing | Tags: , , ,

Now, working up where I do presents me with the most double-edged of swords. Every day, I schlep up from the coast to Kloof, to the Bellevue Campus, an exceptionally leafy little enclave just off Field’s Hill. Some usual business-y type companies are based here, along with a rather lovely little art gallery / curiosity shop and restaurant. While I successfully manage to resist the temptation to get lunch from the restaurant, despite the food being rather good (I’ve heard), they also have a delightful range of patisserie-type treats that are impossible to ignore.

My workmates and I usually resist the siren-song of baked goods until at least Wednesday, when willpower crumbles like the rather light pastry of these treats. I am a big fan of the chocolate and orange tarts, and the deliciously zesty pasteis de nata. This week I succumbed to a sinfully good almond tart, which sufficiently perked up the spirits to carry me through to the weekend. A kind of jammy amazingness binds the nutty insides of this delight, housed in crisp pastry and topped with chewy caramalised almonds. Altogether the last thing I actually needed to consume, but I am a firm believer in the virtue of the midweek treat. And anyway, there’s always gym to counteract the indulgence. In theory…


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.

Bacon and Broccoli Carbonara
August 1, 2010, 11:13 am
Filed under: Dinner | Tags: , , ,

Spaghetti Carbonara has saved my life on many occasions. Whether because the only fridge contents happen to be bacon and eggs, or because a hangover called out for this most indulgent pasta, it’s a rather useful little dish to have in one’s repertoire.

While I like the pared down, more classic incarnation of this sauce, I do enjoy playing around with it to make for a slightly more interesting meal. The addition of asparagus is always welcome, I’ve discovered, and because of that, other greenery has gradually become incorporated. For this meal, broccoli was chosen to play a supporting role, and it did so stunningly.

After cutting up the broccoli into easily manageable floret-lets, and slicing some bacon into chunks, the latter was fried off with the merest hint of oil. Once suitably crispy, the broccoli was added to the pan for a sauté. Be sure not to overcook the broccoli to the squidgy, smelling like socks stage – it needs to stay crisp to be of any use.

While this is going on, you separate out some eggs, placing two yolks into a mixing bowl per person you’re serving. I replace one of the yolks with one whole egg, just for some added substance. A slug of cream is an optional extra here, but with none available, I just added the briefest glug of milk. A healthy handful of grated Parmesan is added to the eggs and the whole lot is mixed up with a grind of black pepper.

All this while, some pasta needs to be put on the boil, timed so that its doneness coincides with that of the bacon and broccoli. This being done, the pasta is drained – reserving some of the cooking water – and added to the egg mixture. Mixing furiously to prevent curdling, the residual pasta heat cooks the eggs and you’re left with a creamy, silky sauce coating the lot. If it’s looking a touch too sticky, a teaspoon or so of the pasta water should slacken the mix as needed.

Once the bacon and broccoli are combined to the pasta mix, the whole thing is served up with some garden fresh rocket and a grating more of parmesan. It may not be the most classic variation of this dish, but it does make for a marvellous, Saturday chill, DVD watching kind of evening, dinner.

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.